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Let thy tender mercies come unto me, that I may live: for thy law is my delight.—Ver. 77.
THE man of God had begged mercy before, now he beggeth mercy again. The doubling the request showeth that he had no light feeling of sin in the troubles that were upon him; and besides, the people of God think they can never have enough of mercy, nor beg enough of mercy; they again and again reinforce their suits, and still cry for mercy. After he had said, ‘Let thy merciful loving-kindness be for my comfort,’ he presently addeth, ‘Let thy tender mercies come unto me, that I may live.’
In the words we have two things:—
1. His request, let thy tender mercies come unto me.
2. A reason to back it, that I may live.
First, The request consists of three branches:—
1. The cause and fountain, let thy tender mercies.
2. The influence and outgoing of that cause, or the personal application of it to David, let them come unto me.
3. The end, that I may live.
1. The cause and fountain is the Lord’s tender mercies: it is remarkable that in this and the former verse he doth not mention mercy without some additament; there it was merciful kindness, here tender mercy. Mercy in men implieth a commotion of the bowels at the sight of another’s misery; so in God there is such a readiness to pity, as if he had the same working of bowels: Jer. xxxi. 20, ‘My bowels are troubled for him,’ or sound for him. Now some are more apt to feel this than others, according to the goodness of their nature, or their special interest in the party miserable. We expect from parents that their bowels should yearn more towards their own children than to strangers; so God hath the bowels of a father: Ps. ciii. 13, ‘Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him.’ There needeth not much ado to bring a father to pity his children in misery, if he hath anything fatherly in him.
2. The outgoing of this mercy is begged, ‘Let it come unto me;’ where, by a fiction of persons, mercy is said to come or find out its way to him.
3. The effect, ‘That I may live.’ Life is sometimes taken literally, and, in its first sense, for life natural, spiritual, or eternal, by a metonymy for joy, peace, comfort: now which of these senses shall we apply to this place? Some take it for life natural, that he might escape the death his enemies intended to him. Certainly in the former verse he speaketh as a man under deep troubles and afflictions, and in the following words he telleth us that the proud dealt perversely with him, and therefore he might have some apprehensions of dying in his troubles, which he beggeth God to prevent. Some think he beggeth God’s mercy to preserve him in life spiritual, and Bellarmine understandeth it of life eternal. But I rather take it in the latter sense, for joy and comfort, which is the result of life, where it is vital and in its perfection. Non est vivere sed valere vita. 1 Thes. iii. 8, ‘We live, if ye stand fast in the truth.’ A man that enjoy eth himself is said to live. But if we take it in this notion, a double sense may be started; for it may imply either a release from temporal sorrows, and so the sense will be, Have pity upon me, that I may once more see good and comfortable days in the world, for a life spent in sorrow is as no life. Or, he putteth life for some comfortable sense of God’s mercy, or assurance of his love to him. Most interpreters, both ancient and modern, go this way. Νέκρον ἑαυτὸν ἡγεῖται τῆς θείας ἐστερημένον εὐμενείας, saith Theodoret. He counted himself but as a dead man without the sense of God’s favour and good-will to him, but it would be as a new life or resurrection from the dead if God would show him mercy, and cast a favourable aspect upon him. This sense suiteth well with the context, for David was for the present deprived of the tokens and effects of God’s tender mercy; why else should he so earnestly beg for that to come to him which he had already; and it suiteth well with a gracious spirit such as David had.
The points are:—
1. That God’s tender mercy is the fountain of his people’s comfort and happiness.
2. That it is not enough to hear somewhat of the mercy of God, but we should by all means seek that it may come unto us.
3. That it is life to a believer to have a sense of God’s mercy and love in Christ, and death to be without it.
4. Such as would taste or have a sense of God’s mercy must delight in his law. This was David’s plea.
The two last propositions I shall insist upon, the other being handled elsewhere, and so much consideration of them as is necessary for the opening and improving of this verse will occur in one or both of these points.
That it is life to a believer to have a sense of God’s mercy and love in Christ, and death to be without it.
David was a dead man because he felt not God’s mercy as formerly: he did eat, and drink, and sleep, and transact his business as others did; but he counted this as no life, because he felt not the wonted sense of God’s love. Gracious spirits cannot live without divine comforts, they take no joy in the world unless God favourably look upon them.
Let me illustrate this note with these observations:—
1. Observe, he seeketh all his comfort from mercy, and tender mercy; so in the former, so in the present verse. I shall show you the necessity and utility of so doing.
[1.] The necessity of it. The best of God’s children have no other claim. For a publican to come and say, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner,’ Luke xviii. 13, is no such wonder; but for a David to use the same plea, that should be noted. From first to last the children of God have no other claim; it is mere mercy that took us into a state of grace at first, and mere mercy that keepeth us in it, and furnisheth us with all the supplies that are necessary to keep it up in vigour and comfort, and mercy that giveth us the final consummation and accomplishment of it at last. Our first entrance into the state of grace is always ascribed to mere mercy. Nothing moved the Lord to bestow life upon dead and graceless sinners but his mere pity and tender compassion: 1 Peter i. 3, ‘Of his abundant mercy he hath begotten us to a lively hope:’ Eph. ii. 4, ‘God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he hath loved us, while we were yet dead in trespasses and sins, yet quickened us:’ Titus iii. 5, ‘Of his mercy he hath saved us, by washing us in the laver of regeneration.’ Mercy was, then, exercised not only without our desert, but against our desert: God was not moved to bestow his grace by any goodness which he did foresee or find in us, but merely by his own pity; misery offered the occasion, but mercy was the cause of all the good done unto us. After conversion, all our supports and supplies are given us of his tender mercy: Gal. vi. 16, ‘As many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them.’ New creatures and the most accurate walkers are not so free from sin but they still stand in need of mercy. All their receipts come to them not in the way of merit, but undeserved mercy. Our peace and comfort, when we walk most according to rule, is the fruit of mercy. The elect are called ‘Vessels of mercy,’ Rom. ix. 23, because, from first to last, they are filled up with mercy, and supplied by the free favour and love of God in Jesus Christ. Our final consummation is from mercy: the same mercy that lays the first stone in this building doth also finish the work: Jude 21, ‘Looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life.’ We take glory out of the hands of mercy, and it is mercy that sets the crown upon our heads, after we have done and suffered the will of God here upon earth. We can merit no more after grace than before.
[2.] The utility of it; this giveth boldness and more hopeful expectation; that will appear if we consider what mercy is. It is God’s propension and inclination to do good to the sinful and miserable, so tar as his wisdom seeth convenient. As mercy is a perfection in the divine nature, so God is necessarily merciful as well as just; but the exercise of it is, I confess, free and arbitrary: it is not necessarily exercised but according to his will and good pleasure, to some more, to some less, as his wisdom thinketh fit. Yet this advantage we have by it, that mercy rather seeketh a fit occasion to discover itself than a well qualified object, as justice doth; for it doth not consider what is due or deserved, but what is needed. Therefore, first, the needy and miserable have some hope, for misery as misery is the object of mercy; and therefore when our afflictions are pressing and sore, our miseries and straits are some kind of argument which we may plead to God: Ps. lxxix. 8, ‘Let thy tender mercies speedily prevent us, for we are brought very low;’ they plead their miserable condition. Mercy relents towards a sinful people when they are a wasted people: he heareth the moans of the beasts, and therefore certainly he will not shut up his bowels against the cries of his people; their very misery pleadeth for them. Secondly, the broken-hearted that have a sense of their misery have a greater advantage than others, and are more capable of God’s mercy, because they are not only miserable, but miserable in their own feeling, especially if this feeling be deep and spiritual; they are sensible of the true misery, and they are more troubled about sin than temporal inconvenience: Mat. ix. 13, ‘Go learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy and not sacrifice.’
3. When we flee to his mercy, and seek it in the appointed way of repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ: the Lord will not utterly destroy a sinner fleeing to his mercy; he hath engaged his word and oath, Heb. vi. 18; and this comfort we may make use of partly when the sense of guilt sits heavy upon the soul; go humble yourselves before the merciful God, and sue out his favour and reconciliation with you, as David doth, Ps. li. 1, ‘Have mercy upon me, according to thy loving-kindness; according to the multitude of thy tender mercies, blot out my transgressions:’ you know not what a merciful God may do for his undeserving and ill-deserving people. And partly when God is upon his judicial process, and calleth a people to an account for their sins, he still retaineth his merciful nature: Hab. iii. 2, ‘In the midst of wrath he remembereth mercy:’ his wrath and indignation doth not so far transport him as that he should forget his merciful nature, and deal with his afflicted people without all moderation. When God is justly angry for sin it is a special time wherein to plead for mercy.
Secondly, He beggeth that it may come to him. Let us see the meaning of the request, and then what may be observed upon it. Coming to him noteth a personal and effectual application.
1. A personal application, as in the 41st verse of this psalm, ‘Let thy mercies come to me also, even thy salvation, according to thy word.’ David would not be forgotten, or left out or lost in the throng of mankind, when mercy was distributing the blessing to them.
2. Effectual application, that noteth—(1.) The removing of obstacles and hindrances; (2.) The obtaining the fruits and effects of this mercy. First, The removing of obstacles. Till there be way made, the mercy of God cannot come at us, for the way is barricaded and shut up by our sins. As the Lord maketh a way for his anger, Ps. lxxviii. 50, by removing the hindrances, eating out the staff and the stay, taking away that which letteth, so the Lord maketh way for his mercy, or mercy maketh way for itself, when it removeth the obstruction; sin is the great hindrance of mercy. We ourselves raise the mists and the clouds which intercept the light of God’s countenance; we build up the partition wall which separates between God and us, yet mercy finds the way. Secondly, The obtaining the fruits of mercy. The effects of God’s tender mercies are common or saving. We read, Ps. cxlv. 9, ‘The Lord is good to all, his tender mercies are over all his works;’ not a creature which God hath made but the Lord pitieth it and supplieth its wants. But there are spiritual effects of the Lord’s tender mercy, his pardoning our sins, restoring us to his grace and favour, and repairing his image in us: Eph. i. 3, ‘Who hath blessed us with spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ;’ such spiritual blessings as are a sure effect of God’s favour, never given in anger. Riches may be given in anger, so may also temporal deliverance, but pardon of sin is never given in anger, nor the Spirit of the Lord Jesus to dwell in us. Of spiritual blessings, some are comfortable to us, others honourable to God; some fall in with our interest, others suit with God’s end; as pardon is of the first sort, and the subjection of the creature to God of the latter. We are willing to be pardoned and freed from the curse of the law and the flames of hell, but to be renewed to the image of God and quickened to the life of grace, and put into a capacity to serve our Creator and Redeemer, that we are not so earnest for; and yet these are the undoubted pledges of the special mercy of God to us, and absolutely necessary to the enjoyment of other relative benefits. We must suppose David to intend both in his prayer, ‘Let thy mercy come unto me.’ Once more, these spiritual benefits may be considered as to the effects themselves, and the sense that we have of our enjoyment of them. Our safety dependeth upon the saving effects and fruits of God’s special mercy, and our peace, joy, and comfort upon the sense of them. Both are comprised in that petition, ‘Let thy tender mercies come unto me.’ This being stated as the full meaning of the words, let us observe:—
[1.] That it is not enough to hear of somewhat of God’s saving mercies, but we should beg that it may come unto us, be effectually and sensibly communicated unto us, that we may have experience of them in our own souls; the hearsay will do us little good without experience; the hearsay is the first encouragement: ‘We have heard the kings of Israel are merciful kings:’ that moved them to make the address in a humble and submissive manner for their life and safety: 1 Kings xx. 31, ‘Let us, I pray thee, put on sackcloth upon our loins, and ropes upon our heads, and go to the king of Israel.’ We may reason at a better rate concerning the God of Israel. We have heard that the God of Israel is a merciful God, that he delights in mercy; but then, Let us try what he will do for us. Upon the participation of the saving effects and benefits of his mercy, our comfort and interest beginneth. (1.) We shall never have such admiring thoughts of mercy as when we have felt it ourselves; then we know the grace of God in truth, Col. i. 6. A man that hath read of honey, or heard of honey, may know the sweetness of it by guess and imagination, but a man that hath tasted of honey knoweth the sweetness of it in truth; so by hearing or reading of the grace and mercy of God in Christ, we may guess that it is a sweet thing, but he that hath had an experimental proof of the sweet effects and fruit of it in his own heart, and all that is spoken of God’s pardoning and comforting of sinners is verified in himself, this giveth him a more sensible demonstration of the worth and value of this privilege, then more admiring thoughts of mercy, when he can say, as Paul, 1 Tim. i. 13, ἠλεήθην, I was saved by mercy. (2.) We shall more love God: Phil. i. 9, ‘I pray that your love may abound in all sense:’ the spiritual gust maketh love abound. (3.) We cannot speak of it with that fulness, life, sense, and affection to others, nor so movingly invite others to share with us, as when the effects of his goodness are communicated to us: Ps. xxxiv. 8, ‘Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good.’ A report of a report is a dead cold thing, but a report from experience is lively and powerful. Well, then, let it come to me.
[2.] The sense or participation of God’s saving mercies is to believers the life of their lives, the heaven they have upon earth, the joy and comfort of their souls, and the want of this is a kind of death to them; for so David expresseth himself, ‘Let thy tender mercies come unto me, that I may live.’
The reasons are taken partly from the object, and partly from the subject—from the thing itself, and from the disposition of a renewed heart.
1. From the thing itself, from the object; and there, first, the value of this privilege, compared with all that may be called life. Life is either natural, spiritual, or eternal.
[1.] Compare it with life natural, and there the Psalmist will tell you: Ps. lxiii. 3, ‘Thy loving-kindness is better than life:’ life is not life without it; without the feeling of this love, or the hope of feeling it, it is little worth. To have the light of the sun, which is the comfort of the senses, without the light of God’s countenance, which is the comfort of the soul, is a sad and dark estate, especially to the children of God, that know they are made for another world, and for this only in their passage thither. Natural life only giveth us a capacity to enjoy the comforts of sense, which are base, dreggy, and corruptive; but the special favour of God lets us into such consolations as perfect the soul, and affect it with a greater pleasure than our natural faculties are capable of. Life natural is a frail, brittle thing, but these saving effects of God’s mercy lay a foundation of eternal happiness. Life natural may grow a burden, but the love of God is never burdensome; the days may come in which there is no pleasure, Eccles. xii. 1; Job xxxiii. 20, ‘His life abhorreth bread, and his soul dainty food:’ in sickness and age, in troubles of conscience. Men do pretty well with their worldly happiness till God rebuke man for sin; then all the glory, profit, and pleasure of the creature doth us no good: Ps. xxxix. 11, ‘When thou with rebukes dost correct man for iniquity, thou makest his beauty to consume away like a moth.’ Judas haltered himself when filled with the sense of God’s wrath: Job chose strangling rather than life. At death, when all worldly things cease, and are of no more use to us, the sense of God’s love will be of great use to us. All the world understand the worth and value of God’s love when death cometh; then a child of God feeleth it. Oh, saith he, I would not for all the world but that I had made sure of the love of God before this hour! How terrible else would it have been to leave all and leap out into an unknown world! Jer. xvii. 9, ‘The unjust man at his latter end shall be a fool:’ and Job xxvii. 8, ‘What is the hope of the hypocrite, if he hath gained, when God cometh to take away his soul?’
[2.] Life spiritual: the soul hath no life but in communion with God, who is the fountain of this new life. Now the more sensible and close this is, the more they live; the vitality of this life lieth in the sensible participation of the effects of his special grace and mercy; then we have it more abundantly, John x. 10; not only living, but lively.
[3.] For eternal life, a comfortable sense of God’s mercy is the be ginning and pledge of the true and heavenly life, Rom. v. 4-6. The shedding abroad the love of God in the heart of a believer maketh this his hope sure and certain, he needeth not be ashamed, for he hath earnest beforehand.
(1.) God’s favour furnisheth us with a remedy against all evils and miseries; i.e., wants, troubles, sins. The want of other things may be supplied by the love of God, but the want of the love of God cannot be supplied with anything else; if poor in the world, yet we may be rich in faith, James ii. 5; if afflicted, destitute, yet this loss may be made up by the presence of God in the soul, 2 Cor. iv. 16. As our outward man decayeth, our inward man is renewed day by day. If they want the creature they have God; there is no want of a candle when they have the sun; if they want health, the soul may be in good plight, 3 John 2, as Gaius had a healthy soul in a sickly body. If they want liberty, they lie open to the visits of his grace; the Spirit of God is no stranger to them, nor can his company and comforts be shut out. Tertullian telleth the martyrs, You went out of the prison when you went into it, and were but sequestered from the world, that you might converse with God: the greatest prisoners are those that are at large, darkened with ignorance, chained with lusts, committed not by the proconsul, but God. If they want the favour of men, they have the favour of God: God smileth when the world frowneth; they may be banished, but every place is alike near to God and heaven. Some climates are nearer and some further off from the sun, but all alike near to the sun of righteousness. Ubi pater ibi patria, that is our country where God is. We are harassed, beaten, afflicted in sundry manners, but the sting is gone; the rod that is dipped in guilt smarteth most, but a pardoned man may rejoice in tribulations, Rom. v. 1, 2. But now, on the contrary, suppose a man high in honour, wallowing in wealth, spending his time and wealth in ease and pleasure, but after all this God will bring him to judgment. The world is his friend, but God is his enemy and he is all his lifetime subject to bondage, Heb. ii. 14; not always felt, but soon awakened; and during the time of his comfort and delight, he is dancing about the brink of hell, liable to an eternal curse; and there is but the slender thread of a frail life between him and execution, a few serious sober thoughts undo him.
(2.) Sin; that is the great evil, both as to the guilt of it and the wages of it, the guilt and obliquity of it. No creature can provide a plaster for this sore; to get our consciences settled and our natures healed, this is the special fruit of God’s mercy in Christ; his business is to save us from sin, Mat i. 21; Acts iii. 26, ‘God having raised up his son Jesus, sent him to bless you in turning away every one of you from your iniquity:’ Rom. xi. 26, ‘There shall come out of Zion the deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:’ have God’s image repaired, and restored to his grace and favour. Those that have felt sin a burden, nothing will satisfy till the Lord looks graciously upon them.
(3.) The favour of the Lord is the fountain of all blessings. Get an interest in his special mercy, and then all things are yours. You have God for your God, who commandeth all things: 1 Cor. iii. 22, ‘Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come, all things are yours:’ Mat. vi. 33, ‘First seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you:’ Prov. x. 22, ‘The blessing of the Lord maketh rich, and he addeth no sorrow with it.’
(4.) It sweetens every comfort; a piece of bread with the love of God is a plentiful feast. ‘A little that a righteous man hath is better than the revenue of many wicked.’ Quid prodest regium alimentum si ad Gehennam pascal?—what profiteth it to be fatted for slaughter?
2. Reasons from the subject, or disposition of the renewed heart.
[1.] They have once had an apprehension of their true misery by reason of sin and the curse. None prize the favour of God, but they have been burdened with the sense of sin and misery. We speak in vain to most men; it is only the sick will prize the physician, the condemned be earnest for a pardon.
[2.] They are renewed. Till a man be holy he cannot rejoice in spiritual things; the fool’s heart is always in the house of mirth, Eccles. vii. 4. For masks, and plays, and merry meetings, feasts and banquets, and vain company, and idle games and pastimes, these are the life and joy of their souls. A fool will make a foolish choice, as children prefer their rattles and toys before a solid benefit: Rom. viii. 5, ‘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:’ 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. 3; many have affections for anything but God.
Use 1. The use is—(1.) 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, Luke xii. 19, ‘Eat, drink, and be merry.’ 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: Prov. i, 28, ‘They shall call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but shall not find me.’ (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 have smarted 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. 15. 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 2. 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: 2 Peter i. 10, ‘Give diligence to make your calling and election sure,’ &c. No cost: Mat. xiii. 46, ‘When he had found one pearl of great price, he went and sold all that he had, and bought it;’ Phil. iii. 8, 9, denying lusts and interests.
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, Mat. ix. 15.
Doct. 2. 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,’ Ps. xl. 8; and Ps. cxii. 1, ‘Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord, that delighteth greatly in his commandments;’ 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 in them. 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 are only fit to ask mercy.
2. These are qualified to receive mercy.
1. These are only 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: Rom. vii. 24, ‘O wretched man that I am!’ 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: Mal. i. 13, ‘What a weariness is it!’
[2.] These ask more regularly; therefore it is said, Ps. xxxvii. 4, ‘Delight thyself in the Lord, and he shall give thee the desire of thy heart.’ Why so unlimitedly? Because delight in the Lord retrencheth carnal desires and moderateth earthly desire; their hearts are not so set upon outward things as the hearts of other men are: John xv. 7, ‘If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.’ 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: Prov. xxviii. 9, ‘He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, his prayer is an abomination to the Lord.’ These are included: 1 John iii. 22, ‘And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.’ 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, Jer. ix. 21. 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.
2. These are qualified to receive mercy, according to the tenor 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 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, Acts xx. 18. 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, Ps. xxv. 10, and 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.
Object. But you will say. How, then, shall we take comfort in the new covenant, who are so many ways faulty?
Ans. 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, 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 1. 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 I delight in thy word.’ 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: Luke xix. 18, ‘Thy pound,’ not my industry; and 1 Cor. xv. 10, ‘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.” 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 to God.
Use 2. 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 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 is 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., 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.
3. Consider, this comfortable sense of God’s mercy should induce us to this by way of argument: 1 John iv. 19, ‘We love him because he first loved us;’ 2 Cor. v. 14, 15, ‘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;’ and Gal. v. 6, ‘In Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but faith, which worketh by love.’ 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 marvellous 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 will be troubled about our 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 3. 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, Hosea xi. 8, as sometimes to sin, 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. xxxii. 20. So also the 30th verse, ‘Their rock sold them, and the Lord hath 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; now, ‘We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; 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 shown 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 laver 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 brokenness 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 are only capable; renew your covenant of serving God.
5. The godly have common comforts. What will serve one’s turn will serve another’s also. They have all the same fundamental work of grace in their hearts; they are all born of God, have his image stamped on them, have the same Redeemer; the same Spirit worketh in all, and the promises are made alike unto all, not upon personal considerations.
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