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xxxiii. 1). It is unseemly, in a wicked man's mouth, that he should be praising of God: it is his duty, but it is not so comely ; but praise to the upright, this is suitable. Canticum novum et vetus homo male concordant (saith Austin), the new song, the psalm of praise, and the old man, make but ill music. We need a new heart, if we would go about this work. It is an exercise becoming the godly. We should be reconciled to God, and have his grace and favour. Under the law, they were to bring their peace-offering, and lay it on the top of the burnt-offering (Lev. ii.). When we come to offer a thank-offering to God, we should be in a state of amity and friendship with him, that is the clear moral of that ceremony : “ Sing with grace in your hearts ” (Col. iii. 16). Others have not such matter, nor such hearts, to praise God; they are but tinkling cymbals ; but those that have grace, it is acceptable and comely for them.
4. I observe again, “I will praise thee when I shall have learned,” &c. Those that profit by the word, they are bound to praise God, and acknowledge him as the author of all that they have got. The grace of a teachable heart, we have it from him ; therefore the honour must be his. He that gave the law, he it is that writes it upon the heart. Alas! we in ourselves are but like the wild asses' colts (Job xi. 12), both for rudeness of understanding, and also for unruliness of affection. Well then, if we be tamed and subdued, he must have all the glory and the praise: “I will bless the Lord, who hath given me counsel: my reins also instruct me in the nightseason" (Psalm xvi. 7). It was God which made the word effectual, and counselled us how to choose him for our portion. We were as indocible and incapable as others: if God had left us to our own swing, what fools should we be.
USE.-It reproves us, because we are apt to intercept the revenues of the crown of Heaven, and to convert them to our own use, like rebels against God. This proud pronoun, ego, I, I, is always interposing, this Babel which I have built.' We are sacrificing to this proud self, "This I have done;' and if God be mentioned, it is but for fashion-sake, as those women in the prophet Isaiah, “Only call us by thy name, we will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel” (Isa. iv. 1). God must bear the name, but we sacrifice to ourselves in all we get, as if it were our own acquiring. “God, I thank thee,” saith the Pharisee; yet he trusted in himself, that he was righteous (Luke xviii. 11). O learn then the commendable modesty of God's servants, of ascribing all to God (Luke xix. 16): he doth not say, my industry, but “thy pound hath gained another.” Again, “ By the grace of God, I am what I am.” “And I laboured more abundantly than they all:" he corrects it presently, “ Yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me" (1 Cor. xv. 10); so again, “I live," and then presently, “ not I but Christ liveth in me" (Gal. ii. 20). Thus, should we learn to be faithful and loyal to God, and deal with him as Joab did to David when he was like to surprise Rabbah and take it, “Encamp against the city, and take it, lest I take the city, and it be called after my name” (2 Sam. xii. 28). Let us be very jealous that we do not get into God's place, and self interpose and peak up with what we have attained unto : for the Lord must have all the glory; the praise must be his.
The Fourth circumstance in the text, is the manner of performing this duty of rendering praise, “with an upright heart.” I shall not discourse of uprightness in ger.eral, but uprightness in praising God. God must le praised with a great deal of uprightness of soul, that is the note. This uprightness in praising, lieth in two things, not only with the tongue, but the heart; not only with the heart, but the life.
1. Not only with the tongue, but the heart : “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name” (Psalm ciii. 1). Mark, not only with my tongue, with my glory, as he calls it, but with my soul. Formal speeches are but an empty prattle, which God regards not : “ Sing ye praises with understanding” (Psalm xlvii. 7). It is fit the noblest faculty should be employed in the noblest work : this is the noblest work, to praise God; therefore all that is within us must be summoned. Churchadversaries took up a customary form: “Blessed be the Lord, for I am rich” (Zach. xi. 5). And in Nehemiah it is said, “Your brethren, that hated ine, said, Let God be glorious." In instruments of music, the deeper the belly of the instrument, the sweeter the melody; so praise, the more it comes from the heart, the more acceptable to God.
2. This uprightness implies the life as well as the heart. Honour given to God in words is many times retracted and disapproved, by the dishonour we do to to him in our conversations. This is the carrying Christ on the top of the pinnacle, as the devil did, with an intent he might throw down himself again; so, we seem to advance and carry him high in praises, that we may throw him down in our lives : “ They profess that they know God, but in works they deny him" (Titus i. 16). Empty complements God accepteth not, as long as there is blasphemy in their lives. Our lives must glorify him. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your father which is in heaven” (Mat. v. 16).
USE.-It reproves us that we are no inore hearty and serious in the praises of God. In our necessities when we want, then we can howl upon our bed: our necessity doth put a shrill accent upon our groans, and sharpen our affections in prayer; but in praise, how cold and dull are we! surely we should be as warm in the one as in the other. Then it may press you to live praises, and show forth the praises of him in your conversation, (1 Peter ii. 9). Hezekiah had been sick, God recovered him; he penned a psalm of thanksgiving (Isaiah xxxviii. 9); yet it is said, “he rendered not according to the benefit done unto him,” &c. (2 Chron. xxxii. 25); because his heart was proud and lifted up. If you do not walk more humbly and closely with God, it is not praise with uprightness of heart; it must issue and break out in our actions, and course of our conversation.
SERMON IX. VERSE 8.—I will keep thy statutes : O forsake me not utterly.
This verse, being the last of this portion, is the result of his meditation eoncerning the utility and necessity of keeping the law of God. Here take notice :
I. Of his resolution, “I will keep thy statutes.”
It is his purpose to keep the law; yet because he is conscious to himself of many infirmities, he prays against desertion. In the prayer there is a litotes ; more is intended than is expressed. “O forsake me not;” he means, strengthen me in this work; and if thou shouldst desert me, yet but for a while, Lord, not for ever; if in part, not in whole.
Four points we may observe hence :
1. That it is a great advantage, to come to a resolution in a course of godliness.
2. Those that resolve upon a course of obedience, had need to fly to God's help.
3. Though we fly to God's help, yet sometimes God may withdraw, and seem to forsake us.
4. Though God seem to forsake us, and really doth so in part; yet we should pray that it may not be a total and utter desertion.
The notion of statutes I have opened, and also what it is to “keep ” them, in mind, heart, and life. That which we now are to take notice of, is David's resolution. Hence observe :
DOCTRINE 1.—That it is a great advantage to come to a resolution in a course of godliness. Let me speak to this point,
Negatively.-1. This is not to be understood as if our resolutions had any strength in themselves to bear us out. Peter is a sad instance how little our confidence and purposes will come to; and, therefore, David, here, when he was most upright in his own resolution, is most diffident of his own strength, “Oh! forsake me not;' implying, if God should forsake him, all would come to nothing. God must enable us to do what we resolve.
2. Nor is it to be understood, that it is in a man's power to resolve ; this would put grace under the dominion of our will. It is by preventing grace that we are brought to a serious purpose: he giveth “to will and to do” (Phil. ii. 13). Man's will is the toughest sinew in the whole creation. The very purpose and bent of the heart, is the fruit of regeneration. Free-will hath its pangs, its velleities, which are like a little morning dew that is soon dried up : “ Our goodness is as the morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away” (Hos. vi. 4). But the will and resolution, that we are to understand here, is the fruit of grace.
3. Not as if the obligation to obedience did arise from our own purpose and promise, rather than from God's command : this were to set man's authority above God's ; and to lay aside the precept, which is the surer bond and obligation, and to bind the soul with the slender thread of our own resolutions. When we purpose and promise obedience, we do but make the old bond and engagement of duty the more active and sensible upon the soul; so that it is not to justle out God's authority, but to yield our consent. However, the obligation is the greater; for, to disobey after we have acknowledged an authority, among men it is counted a more heinous crime, than standing out against the authority itself. A thing that is not due before, yet when we have promised, or dedicated it to God, then it is not in our power, as in the case of Ananias (Acts v.); but now, we are not free before the contract; we have bonds upon us; and the business of our promise and resolution is only to make our obligation more powerful upon the conscience.
4. Not as if it were an arbitrary thing thus to do, and practised by the saints only for the more convenience of the spiritual life ; no, but it is a thing required : “He exhorted them all, that, with purpose of heart, they would cleave to the Lord” (Acts xi. 23).
Positively.-1. It is a course which God will bless; he hath appointed ordinances for this end and purpose, that we might come to this resolution. The promise is first implicitly made in baptism; therefore is it called “the answer of a good conscience toward God” (1 Peter ïïi. 21). How so? Why, the covenant binds mutually on God's part and on ours; and so do the seals which belong to the covenant. It doth not only seal pardon and sanctification on God's part, but there is a promise and answer on our part. An answer to what? To the demands of the covenant. In the covenant of grace, God saith, I will be your God (baptism seals that), and we promise to be his people. Now, our answer to this demand of God, and to this interrogatory, he puts to us in the covenant; it is sealed by us in baptism; and it is renewed in the Lord's-supper. Look as in the old sacrifices, they were all a renewing of the oath of allegiance to God, or confirming their purposes and resolutions ; you have the same notion to the sacrifice that is given to the Lord's-supper, for it is called “the blood of the covenant” (Exod. xxiv. 8). In the ordinance of the Lord's-supper, there we come to take an obligation upon us; half of the blood is sprinkled upon us. And this purpose and resolution to it is still continued and kept afoot in our daily exercise, invocation, and prayer, wherein either we explicitly or implicitly renew our obedience; for every prayer is an implicit vow, wherewith we bind ourselves to seek those things we ask, or else we do not engage God to bestow them. Thus it is a course that God will bless.
2. It is of great necessity to prevent uncertainty of spirit; until we come to resolution, we shall be liable to temptation ; until we fully set our faces towards God, and have a bent and serious purpose of heart, we shall never be free from temptation from the Devil and from evil men, or from ourselves. From the Devil : “A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways ” (James i. 8). As long as we are wavering, and suspensive, we can never carry on uniformity of obedience. While we halt between God and Baal, Satan hath an advantage against us. So for evil men, David doth express himself as coming to a resolution in this psalm : “ Depart from me, ye evil-doers; for I will keep the commandments of my God” (verse 115). There is no way to shake off those evil companions and associates, till there be a bent seriously towards Heaven. So for ourselves, we have changeable hearts, that love to wander (Jer. xiv. 10). We have many revoltings and reluctances; therefore, until a sanctified judgment and will concur to make up a resolution and holy purpose, we shall still be up and down. The saints, being sensible of their weakness, often bind this upon themselves : “ I have said, that I would keep thy words ” (Psalm cxix. 57). There was a practical decree passed upon the conscience. And, verse 106, “I have sworn, and I will perform it, that I will keep thy righteous judgments.” An oath is the highest assurance among men, and most solemn engagement; and all little enough to hold a backsliding heart under a sense and care of our duty. As long as the Israelites had a will to Canaan, so long they digested the inconveniences of the wilderness. Every difficulty and trouble will put us out of the way, and we cannot be secured against an unsteady heart, but by taking up such a course, a serious resolve of maintaining communion with God. And as it is useful to prevent temptation, so to excite and quicken our dulness : we forget our vow and purpose, and therefore we relapse into sin. The Apostle saith, he “hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins” (2 Peter i. 9); that he did renounce these things in baptism. And Paul puts us in mind of our engagement : “ We are debtors not to the flesh, to live after the flesh” (Rom. viii. 12). You make vows and promises to God, to renounce the flesh and vanities of the world, and to give up yourselves to God's service, and these things are
forgotten, and therefore we grow slight, cold, careless in the profession of godliness.
Use.—The first use is to press us to come to a declared resolution to serve and please God, and to direct us in what manner.
Ist, Make it with a full bent of heart. Rest not upon a Shall I, shall 1; but “I will keep thy statutes.” As Agrippa was almost persuaded to be a Christian, but not altogether; so men stand hovering and debating. You should resolve: “I have inclined my heart to perform thy statutes alway, even unto the end” (Psalm cxix. 112). It is God's work to incline the heart; but when the work of grace is passed upon us, then the believer doth voluntarily incline himself, his will is bent to serve God, not by fits and starts, but alway to the end. “ Now, set your hearts to seek the Lord” (1 Chron. xxii. 7); that is, resolve, be not off and on.
But, 2ndly, In what manner shall we make it ?
1. Seriously and advisedly; not in a rash humour. The people, when they heard the law, and were startled with the majesty of God, answered, “All that the Lord hath spoken, we will do.” It was well done to come to a purpose and resolution: but“O that there were such a heart within them," saith God, “that they would fear me," &c. (Deut. v. 27, 29, &c.). “We will serve the Lord,” say the people ; “You cannot serve the Lord” (Josh. xxiv. 19, 21), saith Joshua. Do you know what it is? Rash undertakings will necessarily be accompanied with a feeble prosecution; and, therefore, count the charges, lest you repent of the bargain (Luke xiv. 28).
2. Make Christ a liberal allowance, if you would come to a resolution : “ He that will come after me," he that hath a heart set upon this business, let him know what he must do, “let him deny himself,” &c. (Matt. xvi. 24). When we engage for God, he would have us reckon for the worst, to be provided for all difficulties. A man that builds, when he hath set apart such a sum of money to compass it, while he keeps within allowance, all is well; but when that is exceeded, every penny is disbursed with grudging : so, if you can do anything in this holy business, make Christ a liberal allowance at first, lest we think of returning into Egypt afterward, when we meet with fiery flying serpents, and difficulties and hardships in our passage to Heaven. Let it be a thorough resolution, that come what will come, we will be the Lord's. There should be a holy wilfulness. Paul was resolved to go to Jerusalem, because he was bound in spirit; and though they might even break his heart, yet they could not break his purpose.
3. Resolve, as trusting upon the Lord's grace. You are poor, weak creatures; how changeable in an hour ! not a feather so tossed to and fro in the air ; therefore, we shall fail, falter, and break promise every day, if we go forth in the strength of our own resolutions. Resolve, as trusting in the direction and assistance of God's Holy Spirit; if God undertake for us, then (under God) we may undertake. To resolve, is more easy than to perform; as articles are sooner consented to, than made good. A castle is more easily built in time of peace, than maintained and kept in a time of war; and therefore still wait, and depend upon God for his grace.
4. You cannot promise absolute and thorough obedience (though you should strive after it), for this you will never be able to perform; and your own promises, purposes, and resolutions, will but increase your trouble, though you are still to be aiming after it.
DOCTRINE II.—Those that will keep God's statutes, must fly to God's help.