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though they be not so strict and nice as others, yet they shall do as well as they. This hope is compared to a spider's web (Job viii. 14), a poor slight thing, that is gone with the blast of every temptation; when the besom comes, both spider and web are swept away. And it is said Job xi. 20, “ Their hope of the wicked] shall be as the giving up of the ghost;" and these in a moment take an everlasting farewell of their hopes : so their hopes fail in the greatest extremity. This carnal and secure hope in God, presumption of his mercy, it is but a waking dream, as a dream fills men with vain delusions and phantasms. It is notably set out by the Prophet, “ It shall even be as when a hungry man dreameth, and behold he eateth; but he awaketh, and his soul is empty” (Isa. xxix. 8). There will an awakening time come, and then the dreain of a hungry man torments him more. Carnal men are like dreamers, that lose all as soon as they are awake; though they dream of enjoying sceptres and crowns, yet they are in the midst of bonds and irons. Vain illusions do they please themselves with, that make way for eternal sorrow and shame.
Let us see how this false hope of the wicked differs from the true hope of God's children.
(1.) This hope is not indeed built upon God: God hath the name, but indeed they trust upon other things; as those women the Prophet speaks of, “ We will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel ; only let us be called by thy name, to take away our reproach” (Isa. iv. 1). So they call their hope after God's name, but their hearts are borne up with other things, as appears, because when outward things fail they are at a loss, and begin to awake out of their dream, especially in a distressed case when it pincheth hard.
2. It is not a serious and advised trust, but a slight and superficial hope, that grows upon us we know not how, a fruit of ignorance and incogitancy; when they are serious, they begin to feel it a foolish kind of presumption, upon which no account can be given. How can they give a reason of their hope? (1 Peter iii. 15.) But gracious souls, the more they consider their warrant and the promise of God, the more their hope is increased.
(3.) It is a dead and a cold hope, not a “lively hope” (1 Peter i. 3). They have no taste, no groans, no ravishing thoughts about the happiness which they expect, no strong desires after the thing hoped for: “Rejoicing in hope," saith the Apostle (Rom. xii. 12); they have but cold apprehensions of such great things. And the hope that we expect is so excellent, that it should stir up the greatest longings, the greatest waiting, and put us upon earnest expectation.
(4.) It is a weak, inconstant hope, a loose, fond conjecture, a guess rather than a certain expectation : “I therefore so run, not as uncertainly" (1 Cor. ix. 26); not at random, but upon sure and solid grounds. A child of God hath a due sense of the difficulty, yet withal an assurance of the possibility and of the certainty of it; and therefore it continues: he presseth on, if it be possible be may attain to his great hopes, the resurrection of the dead.
(5.) It is a lazy, loitering hope. Carnal men would have Heaven and happiness; but they make no haste towards it, they give no diligence to make sure of it, it is but a devout sloth; whereas, he that hath a true hope is pressing forward (Phil. iii. 14), and hastening and looking for the coming of Christ (2 Peter iii. 12).
But then, there is a true hope in God, both for final deliverance, present support, and present mercy, that will never leare us ashamed : “ They trusted in thee, and were not confounded” (Psalm xxii. 5): and, “O my God, I trust in thee; let me not be ashamed, &c. Yea, let none that wait on thee be ashamed" (Psalm xxv. 2, 3). What is a true Christian hope? It may be discovered by the grounds of discouragement, but most sensibly by the effects.
1. By it the heart is drawn from earth to Heaven, earthly desires and, hopes abated : “For our conversation is in Heaven, from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. iii. 20); they live as those that within a few days expect to be with God. Christ in Heaven hath a magnetic virtue to draw up the hearts of believers thither; as a man that hath looked steadfastly upon the sun, can for a great while see nothing else.
2. By it the heart is enlivened in duty, and quickened with diligence in the business of salvation. Hope apprehends the difficulty, as well as the excellency and possibility, of salvation; therefore what a man truly hopes for in this kind, he maketh it his business to get it, and look after it: “This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before" (Phil. iii. 13); they mind it seri. ously, and not superficially, by-the-by.
3. It engageth the heart against sin. We that look for these things, “ what manner of persons ought (we] to be in all holy conversation and godliness ?” (2 Peter iii. 11.) Holiness implies purity, and godliness dedi. cation to God. Now, a false hope is consistent with the reign of sin, suffers a man to be vile, carnal, careless, neglectful of God, full of malice, enry, pride, but without any serious and solid ground; it is but a lying presumption. Now, this hope that is thus fixed upon God will never disappoint us. For,
(1.) The fruition will ever be more than the expectation : God doth for us above what we can ask or think (Eph. iii. 20). When the prodigal son came and said, Make me as a hired servant,' the father brought forth the fatted calf, and put a ring on his finger, &c. Solomon asked wisdom, and God gave him riches, honour, and great abundance. But much more in the world to come will the fruition be above expectation; for prophecy is but in part, we are not now capable to know what we shall then enjoy : we have but childish thoughts of things to come, as a child comes short of the apprehensions of a man (1 Cor. xiii. 9–11).
(2.) This hope cannot be abated with the greatest evil. To a worldly man death is the king of terrors, and to a godly man it is his last end; though it vanquish his body, it doth not vanquish his soul: “ The wicked is driven away in his wickedness; but the righteous hath hope in his death" (Prov. xiv. 32). When other inen's hopes vanish, his hopes go down with him to the grave (Psalm xvi. 9); as in a bed of ease, they shall sleep until the waking time.
UsE.-Oh! be not deceived with false promises; we must expect blessing according to the tenour of the covenant, only things promised, and no otherwise than they are promised : temporal things with a limitation as good for us, and with the exception of the cross; spiritual blessings, their essence rather than degree of grace. And take heed of false hope, that is groundless and fruitless. Groundless; the warrant of true hope is the word of God: “In his word do I hope” (Psalm cxxx. 5). Hope that is without a warrant will be without effect; when men please themselves, they
shall do well enough, contrary to the word of God (Deut. xxix. 19). And it is fruitless; it doth not fill the heart with gladness, and quicken to holiness, and stir up to walk with God. And take heed of false experi. ences; that is, building upon temporal blessings and bare deliverances out of trouble. Men are not so much preserved, as reserved to further trouble : many are spared but for a time; it is but a reprieve.
I proceed to the 117th verse, “Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe; and I will have respect unto thy statutes continually.” Here observe, 1. A repetition of his request for sustaining grace. 2. A renewing of the promise of obedience conceived before (verse 115).
1. A repetition of his request for sustaining grace, “Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe.” Where observe, the request, “ Hold thou me up;" and the fruit and effect promised to himself, “ I shall be safe.”
(1.) The blessing asked, “Hold thou me up:" a metaphor taken from those that faint, or those that slide and are ready to fall. (2.) The fruit of it, “ I shall be safe." Before, he had said, “Uphold me according unto thy word, that I may live;' now he promiseth himself more from the Divine assistance, safety. By safety he means either the safety of the outward or inward man. Why not both? I shall be safe from those warpings and apostasy, and all dangers and mischiefs that do attend it. Turning aside from our duty doth not procure our safety, but perseverance in our duty. God's children, when they have failed, have run themselves into much temporal inconveniences, as Josiah ran upon his own death by his own folly (2 Chron. xxxv. 22).
2. The resolution of his obedience, that is renewed and promised upon obtaining of this mercy. And there take notice, (1.) of the accuracy of that obedience promised, “I will have respect unto thy statutes.” The constancy of it, “ continually ;' not for a moment only, a few days, in a pang, or when the mercy is fresh and warm upon the heart; but constantly, without intermission, without defection.
First, Observe from the repeating of the same request,
DOCTRINE I.—That sustaining grace must be sought with all earnestness and importunity. “Uphold me" before, and now again, “ Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe.”
REASON I.—They that have a due sense of things upon their hearts, will do so; that is to say, that have a sense of their own weakness, the evil of sin, and the comfort of perseverance in obedience.
1. That have a sense of their own weakness, as David was touched with a sense of his own necessity; therefore he repeats this prayer, “Hold thou me up;' and, if David need to be held up, what need have we? If pillars are not able to stand of themselves, what shall reeds do? If giants are overthrown and vanquished, children much more: “Happy is the man that feareth alway” (Prov. xxviii. 14). How so? With a fear of caution, not a fear of distrust; with a fear of reverence, not with a fear of bondage; otherwise, it were a torture, not a blessedness. That man that is sensible of his own frailty, is more blessed than other men ; why? Because he will ever have recourse to God to set his power awork for the good of his soul: “Be not high-ininded, but fear” (Rom. xi. 20). Though weakness be a misery, yet a sense of it is a degree towards blessedness; because it makes way for the great Christian grace, which is trust and dependence.
2. They have a sense of the evil that is in the least sin. This is the difference between a tender conscience and a hard heart; one is afraid to offend God in the least matter, the other makes nothing of sin, and so runneth into mischief (Prov. xxvii. 14). Well then, a man that hath a tender heart, is loth to fall into the least sin; he is ever drawing to God, to be kept from all sin. When we are earnest in this matter, it is a sign we are sensible what an evil sin is. Men that side with their own lusts and interests, may wonder at the frequent requests of the Psalmist here, establishment and preservation from their sin; but those that have a tender conscience, are, like the eye, soon offended, and make it their business to keep it from offence, they are thus solicitous and earnest with God to be upheld.
3. They are sensible of the good of perseverance in obedience. There are two things here: first, obedience is good; the more we experiment it, the more we would desire to keep it up in an even tenour of close walking with God, without interruption, without intermission. God appeals to experience: “Do not my words do good to him that walketh uprightly ?” (Mic. ii. 7.) And when men wander, they have this experience, “Am I a barren wilderness?' “O my people, what have I done unto thee, and wherein have I wearied thee? Testify against me” (Mic. vi. 3). The more we find liberty, sweetness, and comfort in the ways of God, the more we should desire to continue in them. Secondly, as obedience is good, so perseverance in obedience is good; for it strengthens grace, especially in an hour of temptation, when many make defection. The choicest discovery of good men, is in bad times: Noah was upright in his generation (Gen. vi. 9); to stand when others decline; to be like fish, that keeps its freshness in salt water; to hold fast there where Satan hath his throne (Rev. ii. 13); and to be faithful as is said of Judah, when “Ephraim compasseth me about with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit” (Hos. xi. 12). It is comfort and honour to persevere with God.
Reason 11.—This sustaining grace must be asked, because God will show his sovereignty, that it is not at our beck; it must cost us waiting, striving, and earnest and renewed prayer: “For this thing I besought the Lord thrice" (2 Cor. xii. 8). God will not answer at the first knock, but at the third, then God came in. So Christ, the third time he came and repeated the same thing (Matt. xxvi. 44); then, if you compare Luke, he received his consolation by an angel. God doth not come at the first knock; therefore we must pray again, “ Uphold me.”
REASON III.— Without continued influences of grace, we cannot be safe ; therefore they must not be sought once and no more, but daily. As we seek daily bread, so we should seek daily grace; the word onzepov, “ this day," hath respect to all the petitions; this day we must have our daily bread, this day lead us not into temptation, this day keep us from evil. While temptations continue, we must continue prayer. Long suits, though often denied, may prevail at length. In short, the continuance of strength and assistance from God is necessary to preserve both habitual and actual grace; therefore they must be continually asked.
1. To preserve habitual grace, the seed that remains in us. We would wonder to see an herb thrive and grow in the midst of many weeds; so that grace should be there where there is so much pride, love of pleasure, worldly care, and brutish lusts, especially when any of these are set awork by temptations without. The angels and Adam fell, when there was nothing within to work upon them but the mutability of their nature; so, when there is so much within to work and temptations without, it is hard to keep grace in the soul.
2. For the quickening and actual stirrings of the soul to good. We should soon faint and tire in the ways that we have begun, were it not for God's sustaining grace; these sparks would quickly go out, if God did not keep them alive. When the people were in a high point of willing. ness, “Keep this for ever in the imagination of the thoughts of the heart of thy people" (1 Chron. xxix. 18). When we have gotten any good frame of spirit, we cannot preserve it without this continual influence.
Reason IV.-Renewed prayer is a means of persevering, not only for it, but by it. God keeps us alive in the way of grace, as by the word, so by prayer. “Praying in the Holy Ghost" is one means of establishment (Jude 20). Prayer is a solemn preaching to ourselves, or a serious warming of our souls in our duty, in the sight of God. Now, means of support must be used, not once, but often. There must be constant meals for the increase of bodily strength. If a man be never so strong, yet he cannot always grow in strength by one meal, there must be new refreshment: so this is one means for our preservation; therefore it must be often used.
USE.—For reproof of those that ask sustaining grace customarily and carelessly, without any deep sense or renewed importunity. We are too cold and formal when we say, “Lead us not into temptation.". Consider,
1. None stand but may fall in some degree; and it is our business to take heed we do not. Every hour we are in danger, either of getting some distemper or letting out some corruption. Of getting some distemper, being spotted and defiled in the world, or at least being made dull and indisposed in the service of God. Or else of letting out some corruption; if God do not keep our heart and all, “ Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips" (Psalm cxli. 3), how soon should we betray our folly! And therefore it is a happy day, and we have cause to bless God, when we have not, by some words or works of ours, interrupted our communion with him. Consider,
2. How many things concur to lead us aside, corruptions within and temptations without, and, it may be, sometimes the example of others that are of esteem in the church. Corruption within, always fighting against grace, the flesh lusteth against the Spirit; and temptations without, the favours and frowns of the world ; if these things have not, they may befall us, and it is too late to seek armour in time of conflict.
3. And then to see men, eminent for knowledge and profession, turn back from the holy commandment, and glorious stars fall from their orb and station; this overturns the faith of many (2 Tim. ii. 18). So that, all these blessings considered, we cannot stand a moment without God; and therefore we should be more earnest with him for grace.
DOCTRINE II.—The constant safety of God's people lies in sustaining grace.
First, Negatively; without it we cannot be safe; partly, because there are so many trials and temptations between us and home, by reason of the sleights of the flesh, the cunning of Satan, and oppositions of the world ; and partly, because the measure of grace received is so small (Phil. iii. 13), and the danger of sinning against God is so great: “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for