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I have sworn, and I will perform it, that I will keep thy righteous judgments.—Ver. 106.
DOCT. 4. I now come to the fourth point, that our oath of obedience to God should be often revived and renewed upon us.
David recognises and takes notice of the oath wherein he was bound to God, and here he renews it again, ‘I will perform it.’ It should be so:—
1. Because we are apt to forget, and not have such a lively sense of a thing long since done, so that we either break the oath, or perform our duty very negligently. Our old baptismal covenant we are apt to forget it, especially by being under the bond of it in innocency, and dedicated to God by the act of another, viz., our parents. The apostle instanceth in those that were baptized in grown years, 2 Peter i. 9; he intimates they were apt to ‘forget they were purged from their old sins.’ I suppose it relates to baptism in that clause, forgotten his baptismal vow and obligation of renouncing his sin, and giving himself to the service of the Lord; and therefore there should be a purpose to revive it upon our heart, and the obligation should ever and anon be made new and fresh to quicken us to our duty.
2. This forgetfulness it will cost us dear, it will be an occasion of many and great troubles. Jacob had forgotten his vows of building an altar at Bethel; God quickens him to his duty by sharp affliction: Gen. xxxv. 1, ‘Arise, go up to Bethel,’ &c. God was fain to quicken him with a scourge. Samson, when his vow was broken, how many dangers is he thrown into? taken, and bound, and made a sport of by the Philistines. God will rub up the memories of his servants by some sharp and severe dispensations of his providence, when they are not sensible of their vow and faith plighted to God. Never forget your obligation to God: Deut. iv. 23, ‘Take heed to yourselves, lest ye forget the covenant of the Lord your God.’
Quest. But when should we renew our covenant, or our oath of allegiance to God?
1. Partly when we stand in need of some special favour from God, or when we draw nigh to him in some special duty; as Jacob, when God manifested himself to him, and he had communion with him at Bethel, then he vowed a vow, Gen. xxviii. 21. So Num. xxi. 2, Israel vowed a vow to the Lord when they were in some distress; and Ps. lxvi. 14, ‘I will pay the vows of my distress, which I made when I was in trouble.’
2. Again, after some special mercy, when under some love pang of spiritual rejoicing, and we have a deep sense of God’s love to us, or a new pledge of his love to us either in spiritual or temporal benefits, and our soul melted out towards God in acts of spiritual rejoicing: Ps. cxvi. 8, 9, ‘For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling: I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.’ And when God breaks the force and power of enemies, when he makes the wrath of man turn to his praise, then Ps. lxxvi. 11, ‘Vow and pay unto the Lord your God.’ Those pagan mariners they made their vows to God when the Lord delivered them from the storm, Jonah i. 16.
3. When all things go to ruin, when the state of religion is collapsed, either in a nation or in our hearts, after some notable breaches of covenant by a people, or by a person, and we have warped from God, seem to have wrested ourselves out of his arms, then to bind ourselves to him again, and to renew our vows; for upon this occasion doth Josiah enter into covenant with God, and ‘cause the people to stand to the oath,’ 2 Chron. xxxiv.
4. When we are to draw nigh to God in the use of the seals of the new covenant, when a man is to revive his own right in the covenant of grace; so when we are to draw nigh to God in the Lord’s Supper, which is the New Testament in Christ’s blood, which is the seal of the covenant, then we should solemnly bind ourselves to the duty of it, and swear to the Lord anew.
Use. To press you with all earnestness to enter into covenant with God, and then to keep it and make it good; to be sensible of the vow of God upon you, and to keep firm in the bond of the holy oath.
First, To enter into solemn obligation to God, a purpose of holy and close walking with God. I shall press you hereunto:—
1. God’s laws are holy, just, and good, therefore certainly we should not be backward to swear to him; because we cannot bring ourselves seriously to give up ourselves to the Lord, they are righteous judgments. Suppose you could be free, yet subjection to God were to be chosen before liberty; therefore, when Christ invites us to take his yoke upon ourselves, he doth not so much urge his authority, ‘All things are given to me of my Father,’ therefore come to me; but he urgeth the sweetness of obedience, and the pleasure we may find in coming to him: Mat. xi. 29, ‘My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’ If a man were free to choose whether he would be for God or no, yet the perfection or well-being of the reasonable nature being so much concerned in obedience to God, you should choose those laws before liberty. What doth the Lord require of you? To be holy, just, temperate, often praying, and praising his name; and are these things hard? A man is not a man if he do not yield to these things, Titus ii. 12. All our duties are comprised in those three adverbs, ‘soberly, righteously, godly.’ By being sober, a man delights himself; and by being just and righteous, a man delights others: without this, the world would be but like a den of thieves; and by being godly, he doth delight God. If we had only leave to love God and serve him, much more when we have a command to serve him, to be often in communion with him, it is the happiest life in the world. There is a great deal of pleasure, sweetness, and rational contentment doth accompany the exercise of these three graces, sobriety, righteousness, godliness.
2. We are already obliged by God’s command, so that whether you resolve or no, you are bound. There are some things that are left free in our own power before the vow passeth upon us; as, Acts v. 4, ‘Was it not in thy power?’ Ay! but there are other things that are not in our power. God’s right over the creature is valid, whether he consent to it or no; as the natural relation doth infer and enforce duty without consent. This is the difference between voluntary and natural relations. Look, as a father is a father, whether the child own him or no in that quality and relation, and without his consent; a father as a father hath a right to command the child. But there are duties that depend upon our consent, as in the choice of a husband or master. So here is a natural relation between God and us, he our creator, we his creatures, he our superior, and we his inferiors, by reason of his authority and eternal right; and God may urge this, ‘I am the Lord,’ though he do not urge that, ‘I am the Lord thy God.’ Sometimes, ‘I am the Lord,’ Lev. xviii. 5, his own sovereignty; sometimes, ‘The Lord thy God,’ ver. 2; which argues our choice and consent to choose him for our God; therefore thou art not free.
3. Actual consent and resolution on our part is required, that the sense of our duty may be more explicit upon our heart: 2 Chron. xxx. 8, ‘Yield yourselves to the Lord.’ In the original, Give the Lord the hand; that is, strike hands with him, enter into covenant with him, say, Lord, I will be for thee, and thou for me; choose him for your portion, and give up yourselves to be the Lord’s people: Rom. xii. 1, ‘Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.’ He alludes to the eucharistical sacrifices. All our offerings must not be sin-offerings, but thank-offerings; so present yourselves. Under the law, a man he brought his thank-offering, and laid his hand upon it, ‘Lord, I am thine.’ It was implied in your baptism, and it is but reason that you should own your baptismal vow when you come to years of discretion. A bargain that is made for an heir during his nonage, it is confirmed by him when he comes to age. You were dedicated to God’s service when you were young, and knew not what you did; now when you come to choose your own way, and at years of discretion, you should stand to what was done in your name to God; therefore there must be a serious and solemn consent of your heart.
4. It is for your profit to choose the strictest engagements; not only to approve the ways of God, but purpose; not only purpose, but put it into a promise or declared resolution; and not only resolve, but bind this resolution by an oath. Why? For you have more reason to expect God’s assistance this way than any other, because this is the appointed means practised by all the people of God when they expected the grace of the covenant. Surely God’s blessing is best expected in his own way, and the greatest engagement to God the more apt to hold us to our duty than a looser engagement.
5. Consider the necessity as well as the profit.
[1.] Laziness is the cause of our backwardness and hanging off from God. We are loath to come to God, are off and on, hang between heaven and hell; we have many loose and wavering thoughts, until we come to a firm purpose and determination; but that engageth the heart—Jer. xxx. 21, ‘Who is this that engageth his heart to draw nigh to me?’—when you lay a command upon yourselves. We are weak and wavering in our purposes and wishes, but it puts an end to this when we come once to a full and firm purpose: Acts xi. 23, ‘He exhorted them all, that, with purpose of heart, they would cleave unto the Lord.’ Austin, in his Confessions, tells us how he would dally with God, and how long he struck88Qu. ‘stuck’?—ED. in the new birth, until he was resolved, until he bound himself firmly to shake off all his carnal courses, and mind the business of religion.
[2.] Because of our fickleness, and the strength of temptations that will draw us off from God. He that is not resolved cannot be constant: James i. 8, ‘The double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.’ Christians! when an unconstant and rebelling heart meets with temptation without, all our wishes and cold purposes will come to nothing, but we shall give out at the first assault, and be unstable in all our ways; but when we are firmly and habitually resolved, then Satan is discouraged. While we are thinking and deliberating what we shall do, the devil hath some hope of us, we lie open to temptation; but when he seeth the bent of the heart is fixed and settled, and we have firmly bound ourselves to God, his hopes are gone. He that is in a wavering condition is easily overborne when temptation comes, but a fixed man is safe. Papers, feathers, and things that lie loose upon the ground, are tossed up and down by every blast and puff of wind, but those things that are fastened to the ground, though the wind blows never so strongly, they remain. Many set out towards the ways of salvation, but are discouraged, and turn back again to a course of sin; but when you solemnly give up yourselves to God, then you will not have so many temptations as before. Look, as Naomi was ever dissuading Ruth that she should not be a companion with her in her sorrows, but go back to her own country; but when she saw she was resolved, and steadfastly minded to go with her, then she left speaking unto her, Ruth i. 18. Or let me take another instance, Acts xxi. 14. The disciples were persuading Paul that he should not go to Jerusalem, though they did even break his heart, they could not break his purpose; but when they saw that he was so set that he went bound in the spirit, then they said, ‘The will of the Lord be done.’ Thus will tempters be discouraged from importuning and setting upon us to draw us off from God, when once our bent is fixed. By resolution we are quickened to more seriousness and diligence, for when once we come under the bond of the holy oath, the awe of an oath will still be upon us, and quicken us to more diligence and seriousness, to make a business of religion, whereas otherwise we make but a recreation and sport of it, and but a business by the by: Ps. xxvii. 4, ‘One thing have I desired of the Lord; that will I seek after.’ When we have laid firm bonds upon ourselves, this makes us awe-ful, serious, and resolute in a course of obedience.
Thus it directeth us to resolve. For the manner of entering:—
1. It must be a resolution of heart rather than of the tongue: Jer. xxx. 21, ‘Who is this that engageth his heart to seek the Lord?’ Acts xi. 23, ‘He exhorted them, that, with purpose of heart, they would cleave unto the Lord.’ Resolutions are not determined by the tenor of our language so much as by the bent of the heart; therefore empty promises signify nothing, unless they be the result of our very souls, and not only of a natural conscience. Deut. v. 29, the people did not dissemble certainly when the Lord appeared to them by the sound of a trumpet and those mighty earthquakes; but saith the Lord, ‘Oh, that there were such a heart in them to fear me always!’ That there were a heart, and such a heart; that is, that this were not merely the result of an awakened conscience, but the resolution of a renewed heart. So Ps. lxxviii. 37, ‘Their heart was not right with him, neither were they steadfast in his covenant.’ Surely they did not dissemble in their distress, but their heart was not right with him; that is, it was not a sanctified heart, it was only the dictate of an awakened conscience for the present.
2. When you thus engage yourselves to God, let it not be a weak, broken, but full resolution; cold wishes are easily overcome by the love of the world and a half purpose: Acts xxvi. 28, ‘Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.’ Carnal men, although they are not converted, yet they have a kind of half turn, almost, but not altogether. Upon a lively sermon, or in sickness, they have their purposes and wishes; but it is not a full strong bent of heart, and love must be a serious bent: 1 Chron. xxii. 19, ‘Now set your heart and your soul to seek the Lord your God.’
3. It must not be a wish, but a serious resolution, such as is advised, all difficulties well weighed. In a fit and pang of devotion men will resolve for God, but it will never hold: Josh. xxiv. 19, ‘Ye cannot serve the Lord, for he is a holy God; he is a jealous God, he will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins;’ and therefore you must reckon what it is to serve this holy God; you must sit down and count the charges, what it is likely to cost you, that this dedication of yourselves to God may be grounded upon serious consideration. Do you know what lust of the flesh you must renounce, what interest of yours you must lay at his feet?
4. It must be a thorough, absolute, and perfect resolution, whatever it cost, as he that sold all for the pearl of price, Mat. xiii. 46. A marriage even made may be broken off; some will take up religion by way of essay, to try how they like it, as men go to sea for pleasure, but will not launch so far into the deep but that they may be sure easily to get to shore again; but a man for a voyage resolves upon all weathers. So, whatever disappointment, here is my business, thus will I do; and ‘though he should kill me, yet will I trust in him,’ Job xiii. 15.
5. It must be a resolution for the present, not for the future; for all resolutions for the future are false: Ps. xxvii. 8, ‘When thou saidst, Seek ye my face;’ like a quick echo, ‘My heart answered, Thy face, Lord, will I seek.’ And we must resolve so to engage presently, for what we do for hereafter it is but a cheat we put upon ourselves, merely to elude the workings of heart, to avoid the present impulse.
6. It must be a resolution according to the covenant of grace, in a sense of our insufficiency and dependence upon Christ, not in a confidence of our own strength. Peter went forth in a confidence of his own resolution, and how soon did he miscarry! Therefore we must resolve in the strength of God: Ps. cxix. 8, ‘I will keep thy precepts; O forsake me not utterly.’ If God forsake, all will come to nothing. Thus we should solemnly dedicate ourselves to his use and service.
Secondly, Having entered into such a solemn engagement to be the Lord’s, keep this covenant and oath made with God. For motives:—
1. From the nature of such a solemn engagement; it hath more in it than a single promise. There is in every solemn dedication or vowing of ourselves to God an attestation or calling upon God to take witness, and there is an imprecation. An attestation, a calling God to witness of our serious intentions to perform, and will you call God to be witness to a lie? And an imprecation, a calling upon God to punish us if we do the contrary; therefore, being entered into the bond of such a holy oath, how should we tremble to break it! For lie that renews his oath of allegiance to God, he doth as it were dare God to do his worst, for you thereby wish some heavy plague to fall upon your heads if you do not fulfil the duty of your oath; that is, he that eats and drinks the body and blood of Christ unworthily, he is guilty of damnation, guilty of the Lord’s blood, because these solemn rites do not only confirm the promises, but confirm the threatening; and there is implied not only an invocation of blessing, but an imprecation upon ourselves; that is, if you do not fulfil the duty of the covenant, you offer yourselves as it were to God’s curse.
2. Consider the tenderness of God’s people in case of any oath or solemn promise, though it concerned their duty to man. Josh. ix. 19, 20, it is spoken of the league with the Gibeonites, ‘We have sworn unto them by the Lord God of Israel: now therefore we may not touch them, lest wrath be upon us, because of the oath which we sware unto them.’ They looked upon it as horrible impiety to break an oath. Now much more doth this hold in our engagements to God. Shall we not look upon it as a horrid impiety to break a solemn oath so solemnly renewed, and our faith so solemnly plighted? Every sin of ours is made the more heinous because of this oath.
3. Remember the great quarrel that God hath against the Christian world and all the professors of his name is about his covenant and oath taken. What is the reason God doth visit Christendom with famines, pestilences, inundations, and wars? Because they do not stand to the oath of God that is upon them. Every professor of the name of Christ, he is supposed to be in covenant with God: Heb. x. 29, ‘Of how much sorer punishment shall he be thought worthy, who hath counted the blood of the covenant wherewith he was sanctified an unholy thing?’ All visible professors of Christianity are under a covenant with God, to take God for their God, and to live as his people; now because of their looseness and profaneness, they do not stand to their engagement, therefore so many plagues are upon them: Lev. xxvi. 25, ‘I will bring a sword upon you, that shall avenge the quarrel of my covenant;’ that is, because they did not perform the duties sworn to him.
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