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Deliver me from the oppression of man; so will I keep thy precepts.—Ver. 134.
IN the former verse, the man of God had begged grace with respect to internal enemies, to the bosom enemy the flesh, that no sin might have dominion over him; now he beggeth deliverance from external enemies. The saints are not only exercised with their own corruptions, but the malice of wicked men. We have to do both with sin and sinners, with temptations and persecutions; and therefore he desireth first to be kept from sin, and after that from danger and trouble; first from the dominion of sin, and then from the oppression of sinners. Both are a trouble to us; they were a trouble to David; and God can and will in time give us deliverance from both, deliver me from the oppression of man, &c.
In the text we have—
1. A prayer for mercy.
2. A resolution, vow, and promise of duty. The one is inferred out of the other, so will I keep thy precepts.
First, A prayer for mercy, ‘Deliver me from the oppression of man.’ In the Hebrew it is, from the oppression of Adam, the name of the first father, for the posterity. This term is put either by way of distinction, aggravation, or diminution.
1. Man by way of distinction. There is the oppression and tyranny of the devil and sin; but the Psalmist doth not mean that now. Hominum non daemonum, saith Hugo.
2. Man by way of aggravation. Homo homini lupus; no creatures so ravenous and destructive to one another as man. It is a shame that one man should oppress another. Beasts do not usually devour those of the same kind, but usually a man’s enemies are those of his own household, Mat. x. 36. The nearer we are in bonds of alliance, the greater the hatred. We are of the same stock, and reason should tell every one of us that we should do as we would be done to. Nay, we are of the same religion. Eodem sanguine Christi glutinati. We are cemented together by the blood of Christ, which obliges to more brotherly kindness; and if we differ in a few things, to be sure we have cords of alliance and relations enough to love one another more than we do. But for all this there is the oppression of man.
3. Man by way of diminution. And to lessen the fear of this evil, this term ‘Adam’ is given them, to show their weakness in comparison of God. Thou art God, but they that are so ready and for ward to oppress and injure us are but men; thou canst easily over rule their power and break the yoke. I think this consideration chiefest, because of other places: Ps. x. 18, ‘Thou wilt judge the fatherless and the oppressed, that the man of the earth may no more oppress.’ The oppressors are but men of the earth, a piece of red clay, earth in his composition, earth in his dissolution, frail men, that must within a while be laid in the dust. But it is more emphatically expressed, Isa. li. 12, 13, ‘Who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of a man that shall die, and of the son of man that shall be made as grass; and forgettest the Lord thy maker, which hath stretched forth the heavens, and laid the foundations of the earth; and hast feared continually every day because of the fury of the oppressor, as if he were ready to destroy? and where is now the rage of the oppressor?’ When thou hast the immortal and almighty God to be thy protector and saviour, shouldest thou be afraid of a weak mortal man, that is but Adam, a little enlivened dust? Within a little while he and all his fury is over and gone.
Secondly, The promise of duty, ‘I will keep thy precepts.’ Which is a constant observation of all God’s commandments, if God would interpose for his rescue. But did David do well to suspend his obedience upon so uncertain a condition? I answer—No; we must not understand it so as if he did indent with God upon those terms and no otherwise; or as if before he had not kept them; and would then begin. No; he would keep them, however, and had kept them; only this would be a new engagement to press him to keep them more constantly, more accurately. Look throughout this psalm, and you shall find David still at his duty whatever his condition be: ver. 51, ‘The proud have had me greatly in derision; yet have I not declined from thy law.’ There he is scorned, but not discouraged. Ver. 61, ‘The hands of the wicked have robbed me; yet have I not forgotten thy law.’ There plundered, wasted, stripped of all, yet not discouraged. Ver. 69, ‘The proud have forged a lie against me; but I will keep thy precepts with my whole heart.’ There falsely accused, but not discouraged. Ver. 83, ‘I am become like a bottle in the smoke; yet do I not forget thy statutes.’ There dried up and shrunk into nothing, yet not discouraged. Ver. 87, ‘They had almost consumed me upon earth; but I forsook not thy precepts.’ Ver. 141, ‘I am small and despised; yet I do not forget thy precepts.’ So that his meaning was, not that he would serve God no longer unless he would deliver him; but the meaning is, he should have a new obligation and encouragement: this will engage me afresh. He doth aforehand interpose a promise that he would walk with God more closely. From the words thus opened, we have three points:—
1. Deliverance from oppression is a blessing to be sought from the hands of God in prayer.
2. When God delivereth us from the oppression of man, we should be quickened and encouraged in his service.
3. When we are praying for deliverance, we may interpose a promise of obedience.
First, For the first point, that deliverance from oppression is a blessing to be sought from the hands of God in prayer. I shall show it first by answering the question why, and then show you how.
1. Why? The point may be strengthened by these reasons:—
[1.] We have liberty to ask temporal things. Many think it too carnal to pray for health, food and raiment, long life, temporal deliverance. What God hath promised we may lawfully pray for; for a prayer is but a promise put in suit. Now these blessings are adopted into the covenant, as being useful to us in our passage; and therefore we may ask them. What Christ has taught us to pray for, that we may pray for; for he said, ‘After this manner pray ye,’ Mat. vi. 9; and one request is, ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’ Protection and maintenance we ask, as well as pardon and grace. It conduceth to the honour of God that we should ask these things of him, that we may testify our dependence, and acknowledge his inspection and government over the affairs of the world: Ps. ix. 7, ‘He hath prepared his throne for judgment.’ Courts of justice among men are not always open to hear the plaintiff, but the Lord holdeth court continually; we may come to the Lord every day. No man’s petition and complaint is delayed for an hour. He hath prepared his throne for this end and purpose, to hear the complaints of his people when they are oppressed; therefore we may pray for temporal things.
[2.] Our spiritual welfare is concerned in such temporal deliverances, that we may serve God without impediment, and without distraction. (1.) The oppression of man is an impediment; it taketh us off from many opportunities of service and bringing honour to God; and though God will dispense with us at such a time, yet it is uncomfortable; as God dispensed with David when he was hunted up and down the wilderness: Ps. lxiii., lxxxiv., xlii. As Christ biddeth them pray, Mat. xxiv. 20, ‘Pray that your flight be not in the winter, or on the sabbath-day.’ Though it was lawful, it was grievous; as grievous to the body to have their flight in winter, and grievous to the soul to have it on a sabbath-day, that might call to mind their pleasant opportunities of conversing with God by prayer. When God denieth liberty and opportunity of enjoying and performing the exercises of religion, we are excused from positive duties. But yet it is a great mercy to have our liberty restored, to serve God in peace without distraction, to have a little breathing-time: Acts xix. 31, ‘Then had the churches rest.’ The oppressions and persecutions of men are among the temptations, and may weaken obedience to God; and if not altogether drive us from his service, yet clog our spirits and hinder our cheerfulness and readiness in it: Eccles. vii. 7, ‘Oppression will make a wise man mad.’ It will strangely shake and discompose our spirits, especially as it may be circumstantiated; that is, when we have base indignities put upon us, as when exposed to all manner of insolency and contempt: Ps. cxxiii. 4, ‘Have mercy upon us, for we are filled with contempt.’ Our friends afraid to pity us, Eccles. iv. 1. Take it at best, it is no small discouragement and trial to a godly man. Therefore it being so that oppression is ever reckoned among the temptations, we may pray not to enter into temptation; as Theophylact observeth well on the place, the rather because one way by which God helpeth his people is by taking away the temptation, as well as ministering a supply of grace: Ps. cxxv. 4, ‘The rod of the wicked shall not always rest upon the lot of the righteous;’ 1 Cor. x. 13, ‘But will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that we may be able to bear it.’
[3.] The glory of God is concerned. His people will honour him more if one, especially an eminent one, be delivered from the oppression of man: Ps. cxlii. 7, ‘Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise thy name: the righteous shall compass me about, for thou shalt deal bountifully with me.’ They will be flocking about him, and inquiring what experiences of God and his goodness he hath found: 2 Cor. i. 11, ‘Helping together by prayer for us, that for the gift bestowed upon us, by the means of many persons, thanks may be given by many on our behalf.’ Much more when the whole church is delivered: Ps. li. 18, 19, ‘Do good in thy good pleasure to Zion; build thou the walls of Jerusalem: thou shalt be pleased with the sacrifice ‘of righteousness,’ &c. Every heart will be thinking of honour and praise to God. And besides the honour done to God by his people, God will more discover himself to the world, his justice will be more evidenced: Ps. ix. 16, ‘The Lord is known by the judgment which he executeth.’ The world is led by sense; he will not be taken to be a friend to persecutors and oppressors. In short, it is not for the honour of God that his people should be left under oppression, as if he sought not, and cared not for their welfare. You shall see the afflicted condition of the church is called ‘the reproach of the heathen,’ Ezek. xxxvi. 30; and Ezek. xxxiv. 29, ‘Thou shalt not bear the reproach of the heathen any more.’ The heathen would cast this in their teeth, as if their God had no respect to them, or were not able to help them.
[4.] Prayer engageth us to constancy. God’s deliverance will be better for us than our own; that is, than those sinful shifts and ways of escape that we can find out. What we ask of God must be had in God’s way. It bindeth us to seek no other way of escape than we can commend to God’s blessing in prayer. It is said of the saints, Heb. xi. 35, ‘That they were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might receive a better resurrection.’ Would any refuse deliverance when it is tendered to them? Yes, upon such spiteful conditions: they were commanded to do something contrary to the laws of God; therefore they would have God’s deliverance, not their own. Every one of them was offered release in the midst of their torments and tortures, if they would yield to the eating of swine’s flesh, or that which was forbidden by God.
[5.] Seeking deliverance at the hands of God doth ease the heart of a great deal of trouble, and deliver it from those inordinate affections and afflicting and tormenting passions which otherwise the oppression of man might raise in us; as fear, grief, sorrow, anger, envy, and despair; fear and dread to suffer more, grief and sorrow for what we suffer already, anger and envy against those oppressors by whom we suffer, and despair and impatience because of the continuance of our molestations and sufferings. All these are mischiefs to the soul, and all these are cured by prayer.
(1.) Fear, because of the mightiness of them that oppress, or threaten to oppress. The fear of man we are told is a snare: Prov. xxix. 25, ‘The fear of man bringeth a snare; but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe.’ We are full of distracting and perplexing thoughts, and if we cherish them they will weaken our trust in God and dependence upon his promises; for fear of man and trust in God are there opposed. Nay, the mischief will not stop there; for they that trust not God can never be true to him: it will destroy our trust in God, and then we shall run to carnal shifts, and so fear men more than God, do things displeasing to God for fear of being oppressed by men; so that you may be soon sensible of the mischief of carnal fear. But how shall we ease our hearts of this burden by prayer? Partly because then we use our fear aright when it only driveth us to seek his protection; that is the commendable use of fear: 2 Chron. xx. 3, ‘Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the Lord.’ When Jacob feared Esau, he set himself to wrestle with God, Gen. xxxii. And partly because prayer discovereth a higher object of fear: Eccles. v. 8,. ‘There is a higher than the highest regardeth, and there be higher than they.’ And so the fear of God driveth out the fear of man, as a great nail driveth out the less. In God’s strength we may defy enemies: Ps. xxvii. 1, ‘The Lord is my light and salvation, whom shall I fear?’ The Lord is the strength of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?’ We can set God against the creature, and this will quell our fears of them. When we set ourselves against them, our interest against theirs, we may see cause to fear; but set God against them and engage him, and you have no cause to fear. Then—
(2.) For grief and sorrow. It cloggeth the heart, and stayeth the wheels, so that we drive on heavily in the spiritual life. Worldly sorrow worketh death, 2 Cor. vii. 10. It brings on deadness and hardness of heart, and quencheth all our vigour: Prov. xv. 13, ‘By sorrow of heart the spirit is broken.’ A dead and heavy heart doth little to the purpose for God. Now how shall we get rid of this? The cure is by prayer; for vent giveth ease to all our passions: Phil. iv. 6, ‘Be careful for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.’ As when wind is gotten into the caverns of the earth, it causeth terrible convulsions and earthquakes till it get a vent; so the mind is eased when we can pour out our care into the bosom of God, and wait till deliverance cometh from above. Prayer showeth there is some life in our affairs, that our right for the present is not dead, but sleeps; there is a God in heaven, that heareth our groans, and is sensible of our sorrows, and then we may say, Ps. xlii. 5, ‘Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise him,’ &c. Prayer is the old refuge of the saints, and the blessed means to pluck up their spirits. Whilst there is a God in heaven, we are not at an utter loss. So ver. 9, ‘I will say unto God, my rock, Why hast thou forgotten me? why go I mourning because of the oppressor?’ David first reasoned with him self, yet the distemper continued; but when he comes to reason the case with God in prayer, then he gets ease.
(3.) The violent passions of anger, envy, and revenge against oppressors, these are all naught, and do a world of mischief. Anger discomposeth us, and transports the soul into uncomely motions against God and men, makes us fret and malcontent; it tempts us to atheism, Ps. lxxiii., maketh us weary of well-doing, Ps. xxxvii., tempts us to imitation of their wicked course. The devil worketh much upon spleen and stomach and discontent, and we are apt to run into these disorders. Now how shall we do to get rid of these distempers? By prayer, in which we get a sight and prospect of the other world, and then these things will seem nothing to us; acquaint ourselves with God, and the process of his providence, and so we shall see an end of things, Ps. lxxiii. 17; then all is quiet. And as for revenge, too, that is an effect of the former; when we plead before God, we see the justice of what is unjust, and hard dealing from men to be justly inflicted by God; and so the heart is calmed: ‘The Lord bid him curse,’ 2 Sam. xvi. 11. There is reason enough for this dispensation in the upper tribunal, whereunto when we appeal we should render no man evil for evil, Rom. xii. 17. We ought not, we need not, it is God’s work: Deut. xxxii. 35, ‘Vengeance and recompense are mine.’ Nay, our very praying is a committing ourselves to him that judgeth righteously, 1 Peter ii. 23. In prayer we vent our zeal, and that hindereth us from venting our carnal passions. It is a resignation of our person and cause to him under unjust sufferings, not out of malice, desiring judgment and vengeance on persecutors; that is to make God the executioner of our lusts, to establish that which we would prevent in prayer. But saints in prayer labour only to show their faith and meekness, and to leave things to the righteous judge, to do what is for his own glory, and their good.
(4.) For the other evil, impatience and despair, it is a very great evil, and contrary to faith and hope and dependence, which the Christian religion doth mainly establish; and maketh way for the worst evils, either total apostasy from God, or atheism, or self-destruction. Now this is very incident to as when oppressions lie long upon us: 2 Kings vi. 33, ‘This evil is from the Lord: why should I wait on the Lord any longer?’ So Jer. ii. 25, ‘But thou saidst, There is no hope.’ Desperately! ‘No; for I have loved strangers, and after them will I go;’ I will take my own course; there is no hope; it is in vain to wait upon the Lord any longer. And if things do not grow to that height, yet the children of God grow weary and faint in their minds, Heb. xii. 3. Now we keep afoot some hope while we have a heart to call upon God. The suit is still depending in the court of heaven when it seems to be over on earth; and we see there is cause to wait for God’s answer. He that shall come, will come, Hab. ii. 3. God may tarry long, but will never come too late. Thus why.
2. But how is this to be asked?
[1.] This is not to be asked in the first place, as our main blessing: Mat. vi. 33, ‘First seek the kingdom of God.’ If we seek our ease and temporal felicity only, that prayer is like a brutish cry: Hosea vii. 14, ‘They howled upon their beds for corn and wine.’ A dog will howl when he feels anything inconvenient. You will never be freed from murmuring and quarrelling at God’s dispensations, and questioning his love, if this be the first thing that you seek, and so your prayers will become your snare. Besides the great dishonour to God, it argues the great disorder of your affections, that you can be content to have anything apart from God: Ps. cv. 4, ‘Seek ye the Lord and his strength; seek his face evermore.’ In all conditions that must be our great request, that we may have the favour of God.
[2.] It must be asked with submission. It is not absolutely promised, nor intrinsically and indispensably necessary to our happiness, but if the Lord see it fit for his own glory and our good. We cannot take it ill if a friend refuse to lend us a sum of money which he knoweth we will lay out to our loss and detriment. God seeth it fit sometimes, for his own glory and our good, to continue us under oppression, rather than take us out of it. There are two acts of providence—relieving and comforting the oppressed, and punishing the oppressors. Sometimes God doth the one without the other, sometimes both together. Sometimes God will only comfort the oppressed; we cry to him in our afflictions, and God will not break the yoke, but give us a supply of strength to bear it: Ps. cxxxviii. 3, ‘In the day when I cried thou answeredst me, and hast strengthened me with strength in my soul.’ He giveth you strength to bear the burden, if you continue in your integrity. Sometimes God doth punish the oppressor, yet that is no relief and reparation to you; you must bear it, for you are to stand to God’s will, and to wait his leisure to free you from it.
[3.] Your end must be that God may be glorified, and that you may serve him more cheerfully. So it is in the text, ‘Deliver me from the oppression of man,’ then shall ‘I keep thy precepts;’ Ps. ix. 13, 14, ‘Have mercy upon me, O Lord; consider my trouble which I suffer of them that hate me, thou that liftest me up from the gates of death; that I may show forth all thy praise in the gates of the daughter of Sion: and I will rejoice in thy salvation.’ So David beggeth salvation in order to praise. Temporal mercy should not be loved for itself, nor sought for itself; but as we may glorify God by it; that is to be our end. Lord, I seek not my own interest, but thine. If you have a carnal end, you miss: James iv. 3, ‘Because you ask to consume it upon your lusts,’ that we may please the flesh as sweetly and quietly as we did before, live in the height of pomp and splendour, gratify our lusts without disturbance, or see our revenge; or if a mere natural end, the mere conveniency of the outward man, we bespeak our own denial.
[4.] We must pray in faith that God can and is ready to deliver from the oppression of man, and will do so in due time, when it is good for us.
(1.) God can deliver us. Though our oppressors be never so mighty and strong, God can break their power, or change their hearts, or determine their interests, because the omnisciency of God is a great deep. It is a great relief to the soul to consider the several ways that God hath to right us, either by changing the hearts of the persecutors and oppressors: Acts ix. 31, ‘Then had the churches rest throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, and were edified; and, walking in the fear of the Lord and the comforts of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied.’ They had nothing to do but to build up one another. When was that? When Paul was converted. He was an active instrument against the church, and God turned his heart; then had the churches rest. Or else the Lord may do it by determining their interests that they shall show favour to his people though their hearts be not changed: Prov. xvi. 7, ‘When a man’s ways please the Lord, he maketh his enemies to be at peace with him.’ Enemies, while enemies, may be at peace with us. Please men, and you cannot say God is your friend; but please God, and he maketh your enemies at peace with you. There is much in the secret chain of providence: Dan. i. 9, ‘Now the Lord brought Daniel into favour and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs.’ What was that favour? To wink at him for doing that which was contrary to the law of their religion. Or else he can break the yoke by some apparent ruining judgments, by which he will defeat all their advantages, either by power or law, rescuing his people out of their hands: Isa. xlix. 24, 25, ‘Shall the prey be taken from the mighty, or the lawful captive delivered? But thus saith the Lord, The captains of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered: he will contend with him that contendeth with thee, and will save thy children.’ Whether they plead might or right, when God goeth that way to work, nothing shall let, no power shall be able to detain what God will have delivered and restored. Or it may be by some secret ways God will bring on some judgment: Job xx. 26, ‘A fire not blown shall consume him;’ that is, the oppressor; a curse not invented by those he hath wronged, or any man else, but sent immediately by God. It shall come nobody knoweth how. Therefore we should not be discouraged with unlikelihoods when we go to God, who hath many ways which poor short-sighted creatures cannot foresee.
(2.) He is ready. The love which the Lord hath for his afflicted people will not suffer his justice to be long at quiet. That God is ready to help and deliver, three things will evidence:—
(1st.) It is his nature to pity and show mercy to the oppressed, and to revenge the oppressor. He pitieth the afflictions of them that suffer most justly, and far beneath their desert, from his own hand: Judges x. 16, ‘And they put away the strange gods from among them, and served the Lord, and his soul was grieved for the misery of Israel;’ and 2 Kings xiv. 26, ‘For the Lord saw the exceeding bitter affliction of Israel.’ How much more will he pity them that are unworthily oppressed! Isa. lxiii. 9, ‘In all their afflictions he was afflicted;’ Acts vii. 34, ‘I have seen the affliction of my people which is in Egypt, and have heard their groaning,’ &c. And the Lord’s pitiful nature doth incline him to deliver his people: ‘And when the oppressed cry, I will hear them; for I am gracious,’ Exod. xxii. 21-27.
(2dly.) It is his usual practice and custom: Ps. ciii. 6, ‘The Lord executeth judgment and righteousness for all that are oppressed.’ If for all, surely for his people. He sits in heaven on purpose to rectify the disorders of men. So Ps. xxxiv. 19, ‘Many are the troubles of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth them out of them all.’ God hath a plaister for every wound; God’s people plunge themselves into trouble, and his mercy delivereth them out of it.
(3dly.) It is his office as judge of the world: Ps. xciv. 2, ‘Lift up thyself, thou judge of the earth; render a reward to the proud: shall not the judge of the earth do right?’ Look upon him only in that notion, according to our natural conceptions, as the supreme cause and judge of all things. Again, his office as protector of his people; he is in covenant with them, he is their sun and shield, he is the refuge of the oppressed, his people’s refuge in time of trouble, Ps. ix. 9; when they have none else to fly to, he will be their refuge.
(3.) He will do it when it is good and necessary; for God hath made promises and repeated promises of deliverance, and surely these are not in vain. If God had spoken but once, we had no reason to doubt; but he telleth us over and over again we should cast our care upon him, and refer all things to him without despondency and distraction of mind: Ps. ix. 18, ‘For the needy shall not always be forgotten; the expectation of the poor shall not perish for ever.’
Use. Instruction to teach us what to do when we are oppressed.
1. Patience. It is the lot of God’s children to be often troubled by the world, and hardly used. Satan is the ruler of the darkness of this world, the blind, carnal, malicious, superstitious part of the world; and they cannot away with those that would overturn Satan’s kingdom. The good are fewest, and therefore we must look to be oppressed; if there be any breathing-time it is a mercy: 2 Tim. iii. 12, ‘Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution;’ Gal. iv. 29, ‘For as he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the spirit, even so it is now,’ and will be so; we should want our way-mark without it.
2. Let us be prepared to commend our cause to God: Ps. x. 17, 18, ‘Lord, thou hast heard the desire of the humble; thou wilt prepare their heart, thou wilt cause thine ear to hear; to judge the fatherless and the oppressed, that the man of the earth may no more oppress.’ God prepares the hearts of the humble. How so? The trouble continueth till we are sensible of the misery of the sin, of the cause: Hosea v. 15, ‘I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offences, and seek my face; in their affliction they will seek me early.’ It is a long time before men can be sensible of the hand of God upon them. Slight spirits are not grieved, but lull themselves asleep, Jer. v. 3. If they have a natural sense of the judgment, they have no sense of sin as the cause; then they fly to human help to be eased of the trouble: Jer. iv. 14, ‘Wash thy heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved; how long shall vain thoughts lodge within thee?’ When past human help, then seek the favour of God to take up the controversy, 2 Chron. vii. 14; when driven to an earnest attendance upon God, and all probabilities spent; we have no help but what heaven and a promise can afford, and upon these terms continue our importunity, Luke xviii. 7-18. It is a long time ere men will lay it to heart, to see his hand and seek to him for relief.
3. When you have prayed, then wait. It is a good sign when we are enlarged in prayer, and encouraged to wait. Enlarged to pray; for when God hath a mind to work, he sets the Spirit of prayer a-work. God will not pour out his Spirit in vain; the Spirit knoweth the deep things of God: Ps. l. 15, ‘Call upon me in a time of trouble, and I will deliver thee.’ So when we are encouraged to wait. How can our prayers be heard when we regard them not ourselves, and expect no issue? How should God hear when we pray out of course, and do not think our prayers worth the regarding? Ps. lxxxv. 8, ‘I will hearken what God the Lord will speak,’ &c.; Ps. xl. 1, ‘I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined unto me and heard my cry;’ Hab. ii. 1, ‘I will watch to see what he will say.’ Look for an answer. God doth not usually disappoint a waiting people.
Secondly, When God delivereth us from the oppression of man, we should be quickened and encouraged in his service.
1. Because every mercy inferreth an answerable duty: 2 Chron. xxxii. 25, ‘But Hezekiah rendered not according to the benefit done unto him.’ There must be rendering according to receiving.
2. This is the fittest return, partly because it is real, not verbal. The Lord cares not for words; he knows the secret springs of the heart, Isa. xxxviii. 9; and see Ps. l. 23. It is good to be speaking good of God’s name. This is one way of glorifying, but ordering the conversation aright is that which is most pleasing to him. And partly too because our clogs of fear and sorrow and other impediments are taken away: Ps. cxix. 32, ‘I will run the ways of thy commandments when thou shalt enlarge my heart.’ This was God’s end, to deliver us out of the hands of our enemies, that we may serve him without fear, Luke i. 74, 75. Those wretches that said, Jer. vii. 10, ‘We are delivered to do all these abominations,’ to return to the practices of their vile courses afresh, did pervert God’s end in their deliverance. What use shall we make of such a point in our deep sorrows?
Ans. 1. We are not altogether without this benefit: 2 Chron. vii. 12, ‘The Lord said, I have heard thy prayer.’ Many times God maketh his love conspicuous to his people in a low condition; they are oppressed sore, but not grinded to powder; it is a blessing we are not quite destroyed. Exod. i. 12, The Israelites, the more they were afflicted, the more they multiplied; and the Egyptians were grieved for the children of Israel, that they were not extinguished. God dealeth with us as then he did with them, 2 Sam. xii. 7. But I will grant them some deliverance.
2. We are now under the sad effects of our former unthankfulness, and by remembering our duty we may see our sin, Hosea iv. 3, 4. Ingratitude and walking unanswerably to received mercy is the great and crying sin of God’s people; therefore we should humble ourselves that we did so little good in former times of liberty, that God had so little glory and service from us. Now God by his present providence showeth us the difference: Deut. xxviii. 47, 48, ‘Because thou servest not the Lord thy God with joyfulness, and with gladness of heart, for the abundance of all things; therefore thou shalt serve thine enemies,’ &c.; 2 Chron. xii. 8, ‘Nevertheless they shall be his servants, that they may know my service, and the service of the kingdoms of the countries.’ First we must be humbled for the abuse of former mercies before we seek new.
3. That we may know what to have in our eye, when we are asking for mercies. The end is first in intention, though last in execution. Do not pray to serve thy lusts more freely, nor think how to execute revenge, be quits with those that hate us, nor how we shall be provided for; but what glory and service we may bring to God: Ps. lxxv. 2, ‘When I shall receive the congregation, I will judge uprightly.’ These mercies must not be abused to licentiousness, or to nourish our selves in sin or stupid security; but in duty and service.
4. It teacheth us how to make our promises, and oblige ourselves to God. When you come to promise duty and obedience to God, be sure to be sincere and holy; make due provision that it may be so by mortifying the roots of such distempers as will betray us. When a people in a low condition have a real inclination to praise and glorify God by their mercies as soon as they shall receive them, it is an argument God will hear and grant.
Thirdly, But when we are praying for deliverance, we should inter pose promises of obedience, as David doth here, ‘Deliver me from the oppression of man: so will I keep thy precepts.’ (1.) To show there is the ratio dati et accepti, to show the law of giving and receiving is natural to us; it is an ingrafted principle in men’s minds. When we think of God’s giving, we should think of returning something. An intercourse between God and us is maintained by mercies and duties: not that God needeth, or that we can oblige him, but this qualifieth us. Intercourse is lost when we would receive all and return nothing. (2.) A solemn promise is necessary to excite and quicken our dulness, or a bond upon us, or a bridle to our inconstancy. We cannot unbind ourselves again from our strict obligation to obedience.
Use. Well, then, let us make good the vows of our distress; they must be paid, or else God is mocked: Eccles. v. 4, ‘When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed;’ Job xxii. 27, ‘Thou shalt make thy prayer unto him, and he shall hear thee; and thou shalt pay thy vows.’
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