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Secondly, That the outward mercy in his providence, is either in kind or in value. God doth not always answer us in kind, by giving us the thing asked; but doth give us something that is as good or better which contents the heart, by denying the thing desired, and giving something equivalent. Many times we ask temporal mercies, defence, victory, deli. verance, and God gives spiritual; we ask deliverance and God gives patience. Paul asked thrice that the thorn in the flesh might depart from him; but God gives him sufficient grace (2 Cor. xii. 8, 9). God doth not answer us always according to our will, but certainly according to our weal and profit: many times he will give the blessing in kind, but at other times he gives us the value of it which is better. God may give tem. poral comfort in kind, in anger; but the value, the blessing, he never gives in anger, but always in love: when they asked meat for their lusts, God gave it in kind, in anger (Psalm lxxviii.); and “ I gave thee a king in my wrath” (Hos. xiii. 11): when we are passionate and eager upon a temporal request, God doth answer in wrath; the mercy is more when he gives us that which is better.
Thirdly, God delays many times when he doth not deny for our exercise.
1. To exercise our faith, to see if we can believe in him when we see nothing, have no sensible proof of his good will to us. The woman of Canaan, she comes to Christ, and first gets not a word from him; Christ "answered her not a word;" afterwards Christ breaks off his silence, and begins to speak; and his speech was more discouraging than his silence; she meets with a rough answer, “ It is not meet to take the children's bread and to cast it to dogs.” Then the woman turns this rebuke into an encouragement, “ Lord! yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master's table.” Then Christ could hold no longer: “O woman! great is thy faith, be it unto thee even as thou wilt” (Matt. xv.). So, many times we come to God, and meet with a silent oracle, cannot get an answer ; but if we get an answer, it may be we begin to think God puts us off as none of the sheep he is to look after: O! but when we wrestle through all these discouragements and temptations, then “great is thy faith.” In short, we pray for a blessing, and sometimes though God love the suppliant, yet he doth not seem to take notice of his desires, that he may humble him to the dust, and may have a sense of his unworthiness, and pick an answer out of God's silence, and a grant out of his denial, and faith out of these discouragements.
2. To exercise our patience : “Be followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Heb. vi. 12). Our times are always present with us, but God's time is not yet come. A hungry stomach would have meat before it is roasted or sodden. Impatient longings must have green fruit, and will not stay till it be matured and ripened. Now God will work us out of this impatience. The troubles of the world are necessary for patience as well as faith.
3. To try our love. Though we be not feasted with felt comforts, and present benefits, yet God will try the deportment of his children, if indeed he be the delight of their hearts : “ Yea, in the way of thy judgments, O Lord, have we waited for thee” (Isa. xxvi. 8). When we love God, not only when our affections are bribed by some sensible experience or comfort, but when we can love God in the way of his judgments. A child of God is a strange creature, he can love God for his judgments, and fear him for
his mercies. When our heart is like lime, the more water you sprinkle upon it, the more it burns ; our desires glow the more, the more disappointments we seem to meet with. We love his benefits more than we love God, when we delight in him only when he doth us good. But when we can delight in him even when our desires are delayed, and nothing appears but tokens of God's displeasure, this is delight indeed.
4. To enlarge our desires, that we may have a greater income of his mercy. As a sack that is stretched out, holds the more; God will have the soul more stretched out, when he means to fill it up with grace. Delays increase importunities : “ Ask, seek, knock” (Matt. vii.). If God will not come at the first asking, we must seek : if seeking will not bring him, we must knock, be importunate, have no nay: “ Because of his importunity he will arise” (Luke xi. 8). The man is impudent, he stands knocking, and will not be gone.
Fourthly, God may seem sometimes to deny a request, yet the end of the request is accomplished : for instance, God's children, they have an end in their requests; we pray for the means with respect to an and. Now, many times God gives the end when he will deny the means. Paul had grace sufficient, though the thorn in his flesh were not removed (2 Cor. xii. 9). A Christian prays for the light of God's countenance, for sensible feeling of God's love; why? to strengthen him in his way. Now God denies him comfort, because he will do it by the word of promise, it shall not be by sensible comfort. We pray for victory over such a lust, the mortification of such a sin; why ? that we may serve God more cheerfully. God denies such a degree of grace, because he will mortify a greater sin, which is pride in the heart. And thus we miss the particular that we desire, yet still we have the end of the request. We pray for giving success to such an enterprize; why ? that we may serve God safely; God will bring it about another way
Fifthly, If God do not give us the blessings themselves we ask, yet he gives us many experiences by-the-by, in the manner of asking; one way or other sometimes comes into the soul by praying to God: as those in Psalm lxxxiv., their end was to go to Jerusalem, but in passing through the valley of Baca, they met with a well by the way. So we meet with something by the way, some light, or some sweet refreshing, some new consideration to set us a work in the spiritual life. By praying to God; unawares, unthought of by you, there are many principles of faith drawn forth in the view of conscience, not noted before, some truth or other presented to the heart, or some spiritual benefit that comes in with fresh light and power, that was never aimed at by us.
USE I.-If God be so ready to hear his people, let us not throw away our prayers as children shoot away their arrows; but let us observe God's answer, what comes in upon every prayer; in every address you make to God, put the soul in a posture of expectation : “ I will direct my prayer unto thee and look up" (Psalm v. 3): “I will hear what God the Lord will speak : for he will speak peace unto his people” (Psalm lxxxv. 8). See what God speaks when you have been praying and calling upon him. It argues a slight, formal spirit, when you do not observe what comes in upon your addresses. To quicken you to this, know
1. If you observe not his answers, God loseth a great deal of honour and praise ; for it is said, “ Call upon me in the time of trouble, and I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me" (Psalm 1. 15). Every answer of prayer makes for the glory of God: and, “ Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving" (Col. iv. 2). You are not only to see how your hearts are carried out in prayer, but watch for God's answer, that you may gather matter of praise. We should not be su barren in gratulation as usually we are, if we were as ready to observe our experiences, as to las forth our necessities.
2. You lose many an argument of trust and confidence. Answers of prayer are an argument against atheism, which is so natural to us, and inbred in our hearts ; it persuades us that there is a gracious being : “ O thou that hearest prayer, unto thee shall all flesh come” (Psalm lv. 2); we have called upon him, and found that there is a God; and against the natural unbelief which doubts of his truth in his promises : “ The word of the Lord is tried : he is a buckler to all those that trust in him” (Psalm xviii. 30). Well, saith the soul, I will build upon it another time; there is more than letters and syllables in it, there is something that speaks God's heart : 80, “ The Lord hath heard my voice and my supplications : because he hath inclined his ear unto me, therefore will I call upon him as long as I live" (Psalm cxvi. 1, 2). Promises shall not lie by as a dead stock, I will be pleading them.
3. It increaseth our love to God: when we see how mindful he is of us, and kind to us in our necessities, it is a very taking thing. Visits maintain friendship : so when God is mindful of us, it maintains an intercourse be: tween God and us: “I love the Lord, because he hath heard my supplications" (Psalm cxvi. 1). Therefore observe what comes in upon your prayers, especially when your hearts are earnestly carried out by the impulses of his grace.
USE II.-To admire the goodness of God to poor creatures, that he should be at leisure to attend our requests; “ I declared my ways, and he heard me.” When a poor soul that is of no regard among men, shall come with conflicts and temptations, and the Lord presently hears him, it renders his grace truly admirable: “ This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles" (Psalm xxxiv. 6). He doth not say, this eminent prophet, or this great king ; but “this poor man.” Oh! that such contemptible persons as we, should have such audience! For great ones here in the world to let a poor man tell his tale at large, that would be counted great patience, much more if he finds relief in the case. But beyond all this, observe the goodness of God. The more we declare our ways, the sooner doth he hear us; he doth not turn away from us when we tell him plainly we cannot believe in him, or trust in him. Come to a man, and tell him, 'You have made me great promises, but I cannot believe you speak truth,' this will provoke him; but when you come to the Lord, and say, “Lord, thou hast made a great many promises,' though we cannot trust him as we should, yet we have declared our sins, conflicts, temptations ; yet, Lord, pity our weakness.
III. Here is his petition, “ Teach me thy statutes."
First, I observe, David having been once heard of God, expects to be heard in the like manner again. Here, “Thou hast heard me;" and then comes with a new request, “ Teach me thy statutes."
DOCTRINE I.-Those that have sped with God in one address, they will be dealing with God for more mercy: for so doth David. The reason is,
1. Because God is where he was at first; he is not weary by giving, nor doth waste by giving; but what he hath done, that he can do, and will do still. I Am, is God's name, not I was, or will be ; for ever remaining in the same constant tenor of goodness and power. His providence is still new and fresh every morning. God is but one, always like himself. He hath not so spent himself, but he can work again. Creatures have soon spent their allowance; but God cannot be exhausted. There are no decays of love or power in him, no wrinkle in the brow of eternity. There was, is, and will be a God.
2. Experience breeds confidence, the Apostle teacheth us so (Rom. v. 4); when we have had former experience of God's readiness to hear us, it is an argument that breeds confidence of the like audience for the future. “He that delivered me out of the mouth of the lion,'&c. God that hath been gracious, surely will be gracious still ; for then promises are sensibly confirmed, and then former mercies are pledges of future ones. By giving, God becomes a debtor: “Is not life more than meat, and the body than raiment ?” (Matt. vi. 25.) Our Saviour's argument was this; • If God give life, he will give food; if a body, he will give raiment.' If he hath given grace, the earnest of the Spirit, he will give glory. If he hath given us Christ, he will give us other things together with him. If he hath begun with us, he will end with us (Phil. i. 6). One mercy is the pledge of another.
3. We are endeared to God not only by acts of duty, but by every act of mercy: what is the argument he urgeth for Sion : “Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire ?" "The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan” (Zech. iii. 2). Have not I delivered Sion, and shall I suffer that to be destroyed which I have delivered ? The Lord urgeth his own mercy, and his former kindness.
USE.—To quicken us not to grow weary of dealing with God. Let us go often to God. Men think it an uncivil importunity to require to do more when they have done already: Solomon gives us that advice : “ Withdraw thy foot from thy neighbour's house ; lest he be weary of thee, and so hate thee” (Prov. xxv. 17); men waste by giving, but God doth not ; when you have been with him, and he hath done liberally for you, yet he upbraids you not: God that hath vouchsafed grace, you may desire the continuance of his grace, and to crown his own grace.
Secondly, Observe the mercy which he asks is God's help in a course of holiness, namely to walk worthy of the mercy.
DOCTRINE II.-They that upon declaring their ways have found mercy with God, their care should be to walk worthy of the mercy.
The Lord hath heard me, what then ? “ Teach me thy statutes.” “The Lord will speak peace to his people, but let them not turn again unto folly” (Psalm lxxxv. 8). Mark, when God hath spoken peace, when they have an answer of peace, after you have prayed to God, take heed of turning to folly, do not lose the favour you have got, walk more holily, and more worthy of such a mercy : “ Forgive us our sins;" what then?“ lead us not into temptation" (Matt. vi. 12). Upon supposition the Lord hath forgiven us our sins, 0, let us not sin again. Many would invite God to favour their ways, when they have no respect to his ways; which is in effect to make God a servant to our lust: but if you would have mercy from the Lord, beg that you might walk worthy of the mercy. The children of God should do so upon a double ground; in point of prudence and thank. fulness. In point of prudence, as they have smarted under their former folly : and in point of thankfulness, as they have tasted the Lord's grace in his answer.
1. When you have declared your way with brokenness and bitterness of heart, you have experience of the evil of sin; and when you know how bitter it is by sound remorse, it is folly to return to it again; mark the reason: “Is the iniquity of Peor too little for us, from which we are not cleansed until this day ?” (Josh. xxii. 17.) Our former sense of the evil of sin when declaring it, should be a restraint to us, else your cure is in vain. A man that is recovered out of a deep disease, is willing to escape the like again; or as Christ said to the man that had an infirmity thirty-eight years, “Go thy way, sin no more, lest a worst thing happen unto thee.” When a man hath had the bitter sense of the fruit of sin, this will make him more cautious for the future: they are foolish children that remember beating no longer than it smarts, when they are scarce yet whole of the old wound. Though God hath taken out the sting of the sin, and granted us comfort, yet remember your former smart, that you may not fall into it again.
2. Out of thankfulness for God's gracious answer. Every answer of grace leaves an obligation upon the sinner, that he may not offend God again. See what a holy argument is used (Ezra ix. 13): should we after such a deliverance as this break thy commandment? will you again relapse ? “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much” (Luke vii. 47). Grace melts the heart. When a man hath received much mercy from God, his heart is wrought out into thankfulness : and the more they have been in sin, the more will they be in godliness, when once they have tasted the sweetness of pardon, and had answer of grace from God.
Thirdly, Note, they that would steer their course according to God's holy will, had need of the conduct and assistance of his holy Spirit; for he goes to God,“ Lord teach me thy statutes:" “ Show me thy ways, O Lord, teach me thy paths” (Psalm xxv. 4). “Teach me thy way, O Lord, and lead me in a plain path, because of mine enemies” (Psalm xxvii. 11). “ Teach me thy way, O Lord, I will walk in thy truth: unite my heart to fear thy name" (Psalm lxxxvi. 11). These places show that he addressed himself to God that he might not follow any sinful course in the time of trouble and temptations, that he might not dishonour God.
SERMON XXVIII. VERSE 27.- Make me to understand the way of thy precepts : $0
shall I talk of thy wondrous works. In the former verses the man of God layeth forth his calamitous condition, and beggeth comfort and audience, not merely to prosper his affairs, but to better his heart. Many will invite God to favour their ways, when they have no respect to his ways, which in effect is to make him a servant to their lusts. But David's chiefest care was about duty rather than success; therefore he desireth God to direct him how to walk in the way of his precepts, his heart, was much upon that.
In the close of the former verse he had said, “ Teach me thy statutes." And here again, “ Make me to understand the way of thy precepts," &c.
In the words there is, first, a request; secondly, an argument. Wherein is intimated, (1.) The fruit of divine illumination. He should thereby see his “wondrous works.” (2.) His duty thereupon, Then will “ I talk, of them. The word signifieth also to “meditate.” Septuagint, “I will