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Thy testimonies have I taken as an heritage for ever: for they are the rejoicing of my heart.—Ver. 111.
USE 1. It informs us what is the reason why a believer, that hath nothing in hand, nothing to live upon, yet is not only patient, but comfortable and joyful, as the men of the world when their corn, wine, and oil increase. Whence are these men maintained, supplied, and kept at such a rate of cheerfulness? Their inheritance lies in the promise. As Christ said, ‘I have meat and drink the world knows not of;’ so they have land and estate the world knows not of; they have all in God. You account him a richer man that hath much land, and a thousand pounds in bonds, than he that hath only a hundred pounds in ready money; so a child of God that hath one promise is richer than all the world: he hath bonds, and his debtor cannot fail him. Let me tell you, a man may not only live by faith, but he may grow rich by faith. You read of living by faith, Gal. ii. 20; this is that which supports and keeps up a believer in heart and life. This will not only keep body and soul together, but help us to grow rich.
Use 2. For examination. You have heard much what it is to have an heritage in the testimonies of the Lord. Oh! but who is the man? Try yourselves. Let me propound a few plain questions.
1. Were you ever chased out of yourselves in the sense of the insufficiency of your worldly portion, and the curse due to you? Are you driven out of yourselves? Heb. vi. 18, there is a comfortable place: ‘God, willing to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation.’ Oh! who are these heirs of promise? If we could find out that, we are sure there is enough in God; there they are named who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us. There is none ever took the testimony of the Lord for their portion, but they came first to take hold of it as men in danger, ready to sink and perish and be undone. Our first redress is to take sanctuary in the covenant, to flee to Christ, represented there as a city of refuge, that we may be safe. It is an allusion to a man which fled from the avenger of blood. When taken out of the city of refuge, under the law he was to die without remedy. So a poor soul that first takes hold of the covenant runs for sanctuary there first, before he comes to take possession of the comforts of it.
2. What do you take to be your main and your great work? Do you make it your main care to keep up your interest in the promises? the great business you drive on, you would sit down in as your work and employment? What do you wait upon as your great project and design in the world? Mary chose the better part, Luke x. 42; do you make this your choice, your work and business you drive on, that you may be possessed of the whole land of promise, and enjoy eternal life, and clear up your right and title to heaven? 1 Tim. vi. 19, ‘Laying up in store a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold of eternal life.’
3. Are you very chary of your Interest? Oh! you would not hazard it upon such easy terms. This is that all your happiness depends upon. What! shall I break with God for such a trifle? Are you afraid to lose your inheritance by sin, as a man his treasure by theft? Are you careful and wary in this kind, that you may not hazard your interest? 1 Kings xxi. 3, said Naboth, ‘God forbid that I should sell mine inheritance.’ Mark, there was a king would traffic with him, and that inheritance was but a poor vineyard of the earth, but it was that which was descended from his father: now God forbid I should sell it. Thus will be the disposition of God’s children. Oh! here lies my all, my happiness, my daily supplies from God. God forbid that upon every trifle and carnal satisfaction I should break with God. It was a great profaneness in Esau, Heb. xii. 16, ‘who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.’ It is an argument that God is little valued, or the covenant and testimony of the Lord, when you can part with them for a mess of pottage, when the consolations of God are so cheap, and you can part with them for a little temporal satisfaction, and sell your part in Christ at a very easy rate.
4. What respect do you bear to the promises of God? Do you often meditate upon them? Have you recourse to them in straits? Do you keep them up as the choicest things upon your heart, upon which all your comfort depends, as a man would keep the key safe which opens to all his treasure? Do you carry the promises as a bundle of myrrh in your bosom? Because this is the key that gives you ad mission to the blessings promised. A man will keep his bonds chary, and will be often looking over them and considering them. So are you meditating upon the promises? Are they the rejoicing and delight of your souls? Do you keep them near and dear to you? When alone, do your hearts run upon them? For a man may know his heritage by his musing and imagination. When Nebuchadnezzar was alone, ‘Is not this great Babel which I have built for the honour of my majesty?’ He was thinking of his large territories. So if you have taken the testimonies of the Lord for your heritage, your heart will be running upon them. Oh! what a happiness is it tor God to be my God, and my interest cleared up in eternal life, and the great things of the covenant! Many times the flesh interposeth: Ps. cxliv. 15, ‘Happy is that people that is in such a case.’ You will be ad miring carnal excellency sometimes, but then you will check your souls: ‘Yea, rather, happy is that people whose God is the Lord.’
5. If the testimonies of the Lord be your heritage, then you will live upon them, and make them the storehouse from whence you fetch all your supplies, as righteousness, peace, comfort, and spiritual strength; nay, all your outward maintenance. This will be comfort in straits, strength in duty, provision for your families. There are two sorts of the children of God, either those that are in prosperity, or those that are in want, and both live on the covenant. A child of God that hath a plentiful affluence of outward comforts, yet he doth live upon God, 1 Tim. iv. 5, to them that believe, for everything is sanctified by the word and prayer. Though God hath supplied them with mercy, yet they have their right; all comforts and blessings owe their rise from the promise. I take them immediately out of God’s hand, from a God in covenant with me; and so I use the blessing and praise God. Otherwise, if you look only to present supplies, you live by sense, not by faith. Every one is to say, ‘Give us this day our daily bread,’ to fetch out his supplies from God every day, rich men as well as others, when you see you have a right and liberty by Christ. So God’s leave and God’s blessing go along with all; by this means rich men live upon the covenant. Ay! but chiefly in want; the word quickened and strengthened him when he was in distress and in want of all things. Do you find the word afford maintenance in distress and want of all things? The covenant is a storehouse that never foils. When all else fails, God is alive still, and the promises are the same; when the field yields no meat, when there are no calves in the stall, &c., yet then you can live upon your covenant interest, and comfort yourselves in the Lord your God, Hab. iii. 18. Though the course of nature may fail, yet the covenant of God doth not fail, for that is beyond the course of nature, or beyond the common providence of God. When you can see that all the accidents which fall out in the world can never take your portion from you, you have enough to live upon; when you see more in the promises than the creature can take away from you, and can see all made up in God. As the children of Israel in the wilderness had no house, but, Lord, ‘thou art our dwelling-place,’ Ps. xc. 1. Faith gets a living from promises when nothing comes to hand in sense and outward feeling; and nothing can be taken from us but what the covenant can restore again, and to fetch quickening and support from heaven.
Use 3. For exhortation, to press you to take God’s promises for an heritage; the poorest, that are born to nothing, may put in for a share. Take those motives:—
1. Consider every man hath an heritage, he hath a chief good: Ps. iv. 6, ‘Many say, Who will show us any good?’ There is something that man takes to be his happiness. The soul in itself is a chaos of desires; like a sponge that sucks and thirsts, it hath not sufficiency in itself; it was made for something without ourselves. Now man. being such a needy creature, is always looking abroad for a happiness, for a portion to maintain and keep him up in comfort and life, Every man must have a portion. Men are not men without looking after something to maintain them as a portion. Now there is no portion like this, like the testimony of the Lord; there is none so full as this, God’s covenant notion is all-sufficiency; here is all things to be found in God. When God came to indent with Abraham, ‘I am God all-sufficient.’ He that hath the testimony of the Lord for his portion, hath God’s all-sufficiency engaged to give him everything he stands in need of.
2. This is a portion will go along with you wherever you go. If you go into exile, a foreign land, into prison, into the grave, your heritage will follow you there. Your estate, though it lay in jewels, cannot be carried safe with you; but this portion you may carry with you, they cannot plunder and deprive you of it. There is a notable expression: Prov. xiv. 14, ‘A good man shall be satisfied from him self.’ A very strange expression: it is the highest sacrilege and usurpation that can be to be sufficient to ourselves; it is an encroachment upon God. Man, when he first fell from God, self was the next pretender. To seek that in ourselves which is only found in God, now is it meant a good man shall be satisfied from himself?’ What! shall the Lord be laid aside? shall he be sufficient to his own happiness? No; it is not meant in opposition to God, but in opposition to external things that lie without him. He is satisfied from himself; that is, from the comfort God lets into his own heart. A godly man is independent, his comfort doth not hang upon the creature; if you take away the creature, you do not take away his portion. As the philosopher could say, when all were he wailing the loss and spoil of the enemy, I carry all mine with me; so a Christian carries all his treasure about him. There is the same expression, Heb. x. 34, ‘Ye took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance.’ A Christian hath a substance that is out of the reach of spoiling, since inward comfort is far better than riches, and all this lumber that is without.
3. All other things will never give you satisfaction. A worldly heritage may give us a bellyful, but cannot give us a heartful: Ps. xvii. 14, ‘Their bellies are filled with hid treasure.’ They which are rich and great in the world have more dishes at their tables, but those have a more delicious feast in their souls that have chosen God for their portion. All other heritages do but yield more matter for sin, more fuel for wickedness, to be spent upon lust, pride, luxury, appetite; that is all the difference. The heart of man is not satisfied with these things; and yet if the heart could be satisfied, conscience could not, for that is a sore place; still our sore will run upon us. Thus you see there is no heritage like this, that lieth out of the reach of the world, and that will fill up the whole heart, and yield satisfaction. You know all other things cannot help us in many worldly cases. In sickness spiritual comfort doth only relish of sweetness. A man doth never relish the comfort of the covenant as when he is under sickness, and-deprived of other things. For all other heritages, we know the best of them at first, but this is a heritage that grows upon us; here we have the pledge and earnest of our inheritance: an earnest is a small thing to bind the bargain in lieu of a greater sum.
4. This heritage sanctifies all our heritages. Oh! it is a sad thing to enjoy a heritage with a curse and the wrath of God. ‘First seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all other things shall be added;’ then they are cast in over and above, as paper and pack thread into the bargain, and are cast in in a sanctified way. A man may grow worse for every other portion, all the world will not bring one dram of grace; but this improves the world, and betters us.
5. Again, this is a good sign of adoption, when we have the spirit of God’s children, both in God’s gift and our choice. When men take the promises for their portion, it is a sign they have a good spirit. There is no mark put upon them that have an excellent disposition and dexterity to grow great in the world; but to be labouring and striving after an interest in the testimony of the Lord, it is a sign we have a child’s spirit.
6. Again, this is a peculiar portion, and always goes along with the favour of God. Other things a man may have with the hatred of God; God giveth gifts to all his creatures. Isaac had the inheritance, but the children of the concubines had gifts. So every creature may have common gifts, a common portion, abundance of supplies in outward things, but no right in the promises of God; and all this may be without the love of God.
7. Again, they that refuse this heritage the Lord will cause his vengeance to seize upon them. It is not arbitrary whether you will take the testimony of the Lord for your heritage or no. God cannot endure to be despised. When Nabal despised David’s kindness, ‘I will cut off every one that pisseth against the wall.’ So when the Lord hath made such an offer of himself and his Christ in covenant, and love hath gone to the uttermost to save, and we turn hack, then ‘snares, and brimstone, and a horrible tempest, this shall be the portion of their cup,’ Ps. xi. 6. It would make a man’s heart tremble to think of the heirs-apparent of the land of darkness, that is, wicked men: God will give them their portion with hypocrites in ‘everlasting burnings.’ Therefore take heed of refusing this portion; you can look for nothing but terrible things from God, for his love is despised. Well, then, go in God’s name, and take hold of the covenant.
Again, this may be of use to press believers to live answerable to such an heritage. Am I an heir of heaven, and so uncomfortable and dejected? Can I have an interest in the promises and be no more affected? This returning upon our hearts, Rom. viii. 31. When the apostle had spoken that we should be co-heirs with Christ, and laid forth the privileges of the covenant, he concludes, ‘What shall we say to these things?’ So, Christians, go home, return upon your heart, and say, Have I an interest in him, and live at such a low rate both for comfort and grace? Do I walk in such a low and unsuitable manner? Do I look upon this as the only sure heritage for my soul. Urge your heart with such questions as these.
Doct. 2. The taking of God’s testimonies for our heritage breeds joy and rejoicing in the heart.
Now this joy ariseth partly from the portion itself, partly from the disposition of the saints, and partly from the dispensation of God.
1. From the portion itself. It is a portion that deserves to be rejoiced in, it is so full, and God cannot be possessed without great joy. A man cannot think of a little pelf and worldly riches that is his own without some comfort; and can a man think of these great things without comfort? Consider both what we have in hand and hope, and still it is matter of joy. In hand, there is reconciliation with God. Oh, to have God in amity with us! Rom. v. 1. If one have but a great man to his friend, it comforts him that he hath such a prop and stay. Oh, but now to have God reconciled! And then to have the care of providence, to have God engaged as a father—God caring for us—to be under a promise that he will never fail us till he hath brought us to heaven. And then to have heaven kept for us, those glorious things: ‘We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.’ Joy is pitched upon our hopes in many places, something in possession, and something in reversion; this must needs breed a joy in our soul: Heb. iii. 6, ‘The rejoicing of hope;’ and Rom. xii. 12, ‘Rejoice in hope.’ A Christian hath cause to rejoice for what he hath in hand. God is at peace with him, he can go to him as a friend, as a God in covenant with him; he is bound to provide for him as a father; and then, at the end of all, a glorious happiness that is to be enjoyed.
2. It ariseth from the disposition of the hearts of God’s people; partly from their esteem, their faith, their assurance; they take it for their heritage, they esteem it as their portion, they believe it, and reflect upon their own interest; and all this causeth joy. It comes from their esteem; that which I esteem I will delight in: Mat. vi. 21. ‘Where the treasure is, there will the heart be.’ Affection follows esteem, and above all the affection of delight. A man may desire a thing that is nothing worth; when he comes to enjoy it, then he slights it. We are not acquainted with the imperfection of all worldly things until we come to enjoy them; but delight, that is an argument of esteem, the choicest affection. And then it comes from faith. Many hear of such great promises, but they hear like men in a dream. But now a believer, that hath a piercing sight, that seeth the reality and truth of them, his heart leaps within him. Heb. xi. 13, it is said, ‘These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them.’ When a man is persuaded of the truth, the reality, and goodness of the promise, oh! his heart leaps. They hugged the promises. Here is a promise that will yield glory, heaven, and happiness, and all that I stand in need of. Spiritual sight makes way for spiritual persuasion, and spiritual persuasion for holy rejoicing; that is the order: ‘In whom believing, we were filled with joy.’ Faith is the immediate ground; and that is the reason why carnal men do not feel such lively joy, they do not believe it. Then it comes, too, from assurance and reflection upon their own interest, when they can challenge it as theirs, when it is made over to them. The rejoicing of faith is not only good in common, but propriety is a ground of rejoicing, and delight is nothing but a complacency in our portion: 1 Sam. xxx. 6, ‘David encouraged himself in the Lord his God.’
3. It comes from the dispensation of God; for when we esteem the promises and delight in them, then the Lord fills the heart with sweetness: Rom. xv. 13, ‘The God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing.’ The Lord rewards delight with delight. Thou shalt ‘call the Sabbath thy delight’ in one place, then, presently ‘Thou shalt delight thyself’—there is the promise. There is a delight and rejoicing that is our duty, and a delight and rejoicing that is God’s dispensation. God loves to reward grace with grace. Look, as in a way of judgment he punisheth sin with sin, as when security is punished with sottish obstinacy and hardness of heart; so it is a sweet mercy when grace is rewarded with grace, when our delight in the promises is rewarded with a sweetness and taste of the promises.
Use 1. The portion of God’s children and religion is no dark gloomy thing. The people of God have hidden joys. As the sun shines many times when it rains, so, though they be under affliction, yet they have the shine of God’s face, the comfort of God’s promises. Let me show the excellency of the spiritual heritage above the carnal. A carnal heritage, alas! that is a poor thing; there is no strong consolation in it. The comforts of wicked men are poor, weak comforts, they cannot comfort us in any affliction, poor things soon overcome; but to God’s people their heritage affords strong consolation, in overcoming worldly lusts, in spoiling the relish of other pleasures, overcoming worldly care and worldly sorrow, in bearing us out in all. afflictions; nay, the strength of it is seen in overcoming the terrors of the Lord, death, hell, judgment to come, the fears and doubts of our own conscience. It will not only swallow up the sense of poverty, disgrace, and affliction, but will bear us out in life and death; they have a joy that will make them to do and to suffer the will of the Lord. When once they have tasted the comforts of God’s presence, other things will go down easy. I might press you to look after this rejoicing of heart. It makes much for the glory of God, for the honour of our portion, that we do not repent us of our choice, that we bear up cheerfully. And it is of abundant profit: the joy of the Lord is a Christian’s strength; it bears him out in doing for God. To this purpose you should beware of sin; that is a clouding, darkening thing. Men or angels cannot keep their hearts comfortable that sin against God. Sin takes away all joy, peace, and the whole strength of men; and an angel cannot make the conscience of a sinner rejoice: therefore the children of God must take heed that they do not allow sin. In Acts ix. 31, ‘They walked in the fear of God and comfort of the Holy Ghost.’ Usually these two go together, and the oil of grace makes way for the oil of gladness; and usually obedience concurs to the establishing of our joy. Above all, look after communion with God, for he is the fountain of joy; and the more communion we have with him, the more we rejoice. The more communion in prayer: 1 Sam. i. 6, when Hannah prayed, ‘she was no more sad.’ Prayer hath a pacifying virtue in it. And then in the use of the seals, for these are assuring ordinances. Now the more we revive the grounds of assurance, the stronger the consolation; that appears Heb. vi. 18, Acts viii. 39. The eunuch when he was baptized ‘went away rejoicing.’ When a man hath an inheritance made over to him, passed in court, all things done, the title not to be made void, then he goes and rejoiceth. So when the promises have been confirmed by a solemn ratification, it makes joy. Then meditation and thanksgiving keep this joy alive; thanksgiving gives vent, and meditation that maintains it.
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