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Make thy face to shine upon thy servant; and teach me thy statutes.—Ver. 135.
THIS verse is wholly precatory. Most of the verses of this psalm have a prayer with an argument, but here both the branches are petitory. Observe in the words—
1. The blessings prayed for.
2. The order of these petitions.
3. The connection that is between them.
1. The blessings he prayeth for are two—(1.) For God’s favour; (2.) For his direction in God’s ways; spiritual consolation and increase of sanctification. David could not live out of God’s favour nor without his direction; therefore he prays heartily for both.
2. The order of these petitions—first, ‘Make thy face to shine;’ and then, ‘Teach me thy statutes.’ God’s favour is the fountain of all goodness to his children and servants; and until we have that we can have nothing: there we must begin. They that have not the favour of God are left to their own sway, and their own hearts and counsels; but those whom he loves know his secrets and are guided by his Spirit.
3. The connection. He prays not for one, but for both; for God giveth both together, consolation and direction, and we must seek both together; for we cannot expect God should favour us while we walk in a wrong way and contrary to his will.
Let me speak of the first petition. Where I might observe—
1. The matter of the petition, make thy face to shine.
2. The person, upon me.
3. The character by which he describeth himself, thy servant.
1. As to the matter, ‘Make thy face to shine.’ It is a metaphor taken from the sun. When the sun shines, and sheds abroad his light and heat and influence, then the creatures are cheered and revived; but when that is obscured, they droop and languish. What the sun is to the outward world, that is God to the saints. Or else here is a metaphor taken from men, that look pleasantly upon those in whom they delight; and so the Lord gives a smile of his gracious countenance upon his people: indeed it alludeth to both; for the allusion to the light and influence of the sun is clear in the word ‘shine;’ and the allusion to the pleasant countenance of a man upon his child is included in. the word ‘face.’ The phrase may be understood by what is said, Prov. xvi. 15, ‘In the light of the king’s countenance is life, and his favour is as a cloud of the latter rain.’ That place will illustrate this we have in hand. Look, what the smiling and pleasing aspect of the king is to those that value and stand in need of his favour, that is the favour of God to the saints. The same form of speech is used in other places; as in the form of the priest’s blessing: Num. vi. 25, ‘The Lord make his face to shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee;’ and in that prayer, Ps. lxvii. 1, ‘God be merciful unto us, and bless us, and cause his face to shine upon us, Selah.’ Well, then, the thing begged is a sense of God’s love.
2. For whom doth David beg this? For himself, ‘Cause thy face to shine upon me;’ David, a man after God’s own heart. But did he need to put up such a request to God? (1.) Possibly God might seem to neglect him, or to look upon him with an angry countenance, because of sin; and therefore he begs some demonstration of his favour and good-will. David had his times of darkness and discomfort as well as others, therefore earnestly beggeth for one smile of God’s face. (2.) If you look not upon him as under desertion at this time, the words then must be thus interpreted: he begs the continuance and increase of his comfort and sense of God’s love. God’s manifestations of himself to his people in this world are given out in a different degree, and with great diversity. Our assurance or sense of his love consists not in puncto, an indivisible point; it hath a latitude, it may be more and it may be less, and God’s children think they can never have enough of it; therefore David saith, ‘Lord, cause thy face to shine.’ If it did shine already, the petition intimates the continuance and increase of it.
3. He characterised himself by the notion of God’s servant; as Ps. xxxi. 16, ‘Make thy face to shine upon thy servant; save me, for thy mercies’ sake.’ We must study to approve ourselves to be the Lord’s servants by our obedience. If we would have his face shine upon us, we must be careful to yield obedience unto him.
The points are four:—
1. The sense of God’s favour may be withdrawn for a time from his choicest servants.
2. The children of God, that are sensible of this, cannot be satisfied with this estate, but they will be praying for some beams of love to be darted out upon their souls.
3. They that are sensible of the want or loss of God’s favour have liberty with hope and encouragement to sue out this blessing, as David did: ‘Lord, make thy face to shine upon thy servant.’
4. God’s children, when they beg comfort, they also beg grace to serve him acceptably.
First, The sense of God’s favour may be withdrawn for a time from his choicest servants. David puts up this petition in point of comfort. There is a twofold desertion—in appearance and in reality.
1. In appearance only, through the misgivings of our own hearts. We may think God is gone, and hides his face, when there is no such matter, as through inadvertency we may seek what we have in our hands. Thus a child of God thinks he is cast out of the presence of God when all the while he hath a full right and place in his heart. Thus David, Ps. xxxi. 22. We think God hath forgotten us, neglects us, casts us off, hath no respect for us, when in the meantime the Lord is framing an answer of grace for us. One chief cause is misinterpreting God’s providence, and our manifold afflictions. The Lord sometimes frowns upon his children, as Joseph upon his brethren, when his affections were very strong; so the Lord covers himself with frowns and anger, the visible appearance of it speaks no otherwise.
2. It may be really when he is angry for sin: Isa. lvii. 17, ‘For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth and smote him; I hid me and was wroth.’ As the fathers of our flesh show their anger by whipping and scourging the bodies of their children, so the Father of our spirits by lashing the soul and spirits, by causing them to feel the effects of his angry indignation. Or else withdrawing the spirit of comfort, suspending all the acts and fruits of his love, so that they have not that joyful sense of communion with God as they were wont to have. Now the reasons why God’s people may want the light of his countenance are these:—
[1.] God out of sovereignty will exercise us with changes here in the world, even in the inward man; there we have our ebbs and flows, that we may know earth is not heaven. He hath an eternity wherein to reveal his love, and to communicate himself to his people; therefore he will take a liberty as to temporal dispensations: Isa. liv. 8, ‘In a little wrath I hid my face from thee, for a moment; but with ever lasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer.’ He hath an everlasting love and kindness for us, therefore here in the world he will exercise us with some uncertainties; as David concealed his love towards his son Absalom, when yet his bowels yearned towards him. Here he takes liberty to do it, because he will make it up in heaven. All your changes shall then be recompensed by an uninterrupted comfort.
[2.] To conform us to Jesus Christ. We should not know the bitter agonies our Redeemer sustained for us unless we had some experience of it ourselves. He tasted of this cup, Mat. xxvii. 46. And though it be a bitter cup, yet it must go round; we must all pledge him in it. Conceit will not inform us so much as experience.
[3.] His justice requires it, when we surfeit of our comforts, and play the wantons with them, that he should withdraw them. We ourselves breed the mist and clouds which hide from us the shining of God’s favour. We raise up those mountains of transgression that are as a wall of separation between us and God; whence that expression, Isa. lix. 2, ‘Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you.’ As the sun dissolves and dispels mists and clouds by his bright beams, so God of his free grace dissolveth these clouds: Isa. xliv. 22, ‘I have blotted out thy iniquities as a cloud, and thy transgressions as a thick cloud.’ Now there are two sins especially which cause God to hide himself—(1.) Too free a liberty in carnal pleasures and delights; (2.) Spiritual laziness.
(1.) Too free a liberty in carnal pleasures and delights. When we live according to the flesh, we smart for it, these mar our taste; and when our affections run out to other comforts, we forfeit those which are better, Ps. xxx. 6, 7; when we begin to sleep upon a carnal pillow, to compose ourselves to rest, and lie down and dream golden dreams of earthly felicity. Carnal confidence and carnal complacency make God a stranger to us. This carnal complacency hinders a sense of God’s love two ways—meritorie et effective, Not only meritoriously, as it provokes God to withdraw when we set up an idol in our hearts, but also effectively; as carnal delights bring on a brawn and deadness upon the heart, so that we cannot have a sense of God’s love, for that requires a pure, delicate spirit. Our taste must be purged, refined, sensible of spiritual good and evil. Now this will never be except the soul be purged from carnal complacency; for while there is so strong a relish of the flesh-pots of Egypt, we are not fit to taste the hidden manna; but always the more dead the heart is to worldly things, the more lively to spiritual sense ever: Jude 19, ‘Sensual, not having the spirit,’ i.e., spiritual joys, feelings, operations. When Solomon withheld not his heart from any joy, God left him. When he was trying the pleasures of the creature, and went a-whoring from God, God left him.
(2.) Spiritual laziness is another cause why God hides his face from his people, Cant. v. 6, compared with ver. 2, 3. The spouse neglected to open to Christ upon light and frivolous pretences, and then her beloved had withdrawn himself. If we lie down on the bed of security, and grow lazy and negligent, then Christ withdraws.
[4.] It is necessary and useful for us sometimes that God should hide his face. Cloudy and rainy days conduce to the fruitfulness of the earth, as well as those that are fair and shining; and the winter hath its use as well as the summer. We are apt to have cheap thoughts of spiritual comforts, Job xv. 11, apt to run riot, and to grow neglectful of God and be proud, 2 Cor. xii. 7. Paul had his buffetings to keep down his pride. We have changes even in our inward man to keep us in the better frame, the more watchful, diligent, and waiting upon God.
Use. Well, if it be so, all the use I shall make is to put this question—Is this your case, yea or no? There is nothing that conduceth to the safety and comfort of the spiritual life so much as observing God’s comings and goings, that we may suit our carriage accordingly. Our Lord saith, Mat. ix. 15, ‘Can the children of the bridechamber mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?’ Is God present, or is he gone? When God is gone, riot to lay it to heart argues great stupidness. You are worse than that idolater, Judges xviii. 24. He thought he had reason enough for his laments and moans when they had taken away his images, his gods. So if God be gone, shall we digest and put up with such a loss, and never mind to lay it to heart? Job complains of this, chap. xxix. 3, that the candle of the Lord did not shine upon his head as it did of old. Surely they that have any respect to God, any tenderness left in their hearts, will be sensible of God’s going. On the other side, if we get anything of God, his grace and favour to our hearts, it should be matter of joy and consolation to us: Rom. v. 11, ‘We joy in God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.’ Jesus Christ hath made the atonement, but we have received the atonement when we get anything of the blood of Christ upon our own consciences, when we have any sense of reconciliation. A little sunshine enliveneth the poor creatures, the birds fall a singing that were melancholy and sad before in cloudy weather, they are cheered and comforted when the sun shines. How should we observe the least glimpse of God’s favour if he but show himself through the lattice! Cant. ii. There is nothing keeps grace lively, and freeth us from a dead and stupid formality, so much as this. But when men are careless, and do not observe God’s accesses and recesses, hardness of heart increaseth upon us presently, and loseth that worship and reverence and invocation and praise that is due from us to him. Therefore our eye should still wait upon the Lord, and as the eyes of servants are on their mistresses, Ps. cxxiii. 3, so should our eye be still on God’s hands, and observe what he gives out in every duty, or what of God we observe in this or that ordinance.
Secondly, The children of God, that are sensible of this, cannot be satisfied with this estate; but will be praying and always seeking the evidences of his favour and reconciliation: Ps. lxxx. 3, 7, 19, three times it is repeated, ‘Turn us again, O Lord of hosts; cause thy face to shine, and we shall be saved.’ Their great happiness is to be in favour with God. They can dispense with other comforts, and can, want them with a quiet mind; let God do his pleasure there, but they cannot dispense with this, with the want Of his favour and manifested good-will to them. This is the life of their lives, the fountain of their comforts; this is the heaven they have upon earth, without which they cannot joy in themselves: ‘Thou didst hide thy face, and I was troubled.’ What are the reasons of this?
1. Because of the value of this privilege; the favour of God is the greatest blessing. It may appear in sundry respects. Take but that consideration: Ps. lxiii. 3, ‘Thy loving-kindness is better than life.’ The favour of God is the life of our souls, and his displeasure is our death. A child of God values his happiness by God’s friendship, not by his worldly prosperity; and is miserable by God’s absence, and by the causes thereof, his sin and offence done to God. Nay, his lovingkindness is not only life, but better than life. A man may be weary of life itself, but never of the love of God. Many have complained of life as a burden, and wished for the day of death, but none have complained of the love of God as a burden. All the world without this cannot make a man happy. What will it profit us if the whole world smile upon us, and God frown and be angry with us? All the candles in the world cannot make it day; nay, all the stars shining together cannot dispel the darkness of the night nor make it day, unless the sun shines; so whatever comforts we have of a higher or lower nature, they cannot make it day with a gracious heart, unless God’s face shine upon us; for he can blast all in an instant. A prisoner is never the more secure, though his fellows and companions applaud him, and tell him his cause is good, and that he shall escape, when he that is judge condemns him. Though we have the good word of all the world, yet if the Lord speak not peace to our souls, and shine not upon our consciences, what will the good word of the world do? 2 Cor. x. 18, ‘He is approved whom the Lord commendeth.’ A sense of God’s love in Christ is the sweetest thing that ever we felt, and is able to sweeten the bitterest cup that ever believer drank of: Rom. v. 3, ‘We glory in tribulation.’ It will be a blessed thing when we cannot only bear tribulations, but rejoice in them; but how come we to rejoice in them? Why, because ‘the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given unto us;’ so he goes on. If we would know the value of things, the best way is to know what is our greatest comfort and our greatest trouble ‘in distress; for when we are drunk with worldly prosperity and happiness, we are incompetent judges of the worth of things; but when God rebukes a man for sin, what is our greatest trouble then? that we may take heed of providing sorrow to ourselves another time; then we find sin and transgression the greatest burden when any notable affliction is upon us, Job xxxvi. 9; and what will be your greatest comfort then? for then your comforts are put to the proof. One evidence of an interest in Christ, a little sense of the love of God, how precious is it! Ps. xciv. 19, ‘In the multitude of my thoughts within me, thy comforts delight my soul.’ His thoughts were entangled and interwoven one with another, as branches of a crooked tree; for so the word signifies there. When his thoughts were thus intricate and perplexed, then ‘thy comforts delight my soul.’ Oh! then, what should we labour for, but to be most clear in this, that God loves us. This will be our greatest comfort and rejoicing in all conditions. It is good for us in prosperity, then our comforts are sweet; and in adversity and deep affliction, to see God is not angry with us. Though we feel some smart of his afflicting hand, yet his heart is with us.
2. They deal with God as worldly men do with sensible things; for as others live by sense, so they by faith. Now worldly men are cheered with the good-will of men, and troubled with the displeasure of men upon whom they depend. The down-look of Ahasuerus confounded Haman, and put him to great trouble: ‘He was afraid,’ Esther vii. 8. Absalom professes it were better for him to be banished than to live in Jerusalem and not see the king’s face, 2 Sam. xiv. 32. Surely it is death to God’s children to want his face and favour upon whom they depend. Their business lies mainly with God, and their dependence and hope and comfort is in God; they live by faith. Poor worldlings walk by sense, therefore their souls run out upon other comforts, in the smiling face of some great potentate, or some friend of the world: this is their life, peace, and joy. But they that live by faith see him that is invisible, and value their happiness by his favour, and misery by his displeasure.
3. The children of God have tasted the sweetness of it, therefore they know it by experience. The best demonstration of anything is from sense. Description cannot give me such a demonstration as when I taste and feel it myself: 1 Peter ii. 3, ‘If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious.’ They have an experimental feeling of that which others know only by guess and hearsay. Carnal men know no other good but that of the creature. The spouse did so languish after her beloved, being sick of love; when her desires were disappointed, it made her faint, Cant. v. 6. They that have not seen and known him, know not what to make of those spiritual and lively affections that carry us out after the favour of God with such earnestness and importunity; but they that have tasted and know what their beloved is, their hearts are more excited and stirred up towards him: John iv. 10, ‘If thou knewest the gift of God,’ &c. You would more admire the favour of God if you knew it, especially by experience; you would find it is a better good than ever you have yet tasted.
Use. Is this our temper and frame of our hearts? Can we live contentedly and satisfiedly without the light of his countenance? A child of God may be without the light of his countenance, but cannot live contentedly without it. Are we troubled about it, ever seeking after it? Surely this is the disposition of the children of God, they are ever seeking after the favour of God. I shall press to this by this argument.
1. God bespeaks it from you: Ps. xxvii. 8, ‘Thou saidst, Seek ye my face.’ There is a dialogue between God and a gracious heart. The Lord saith, ‘Seek;’ he saith it in his word, and speaks by the injection of holy thoughts, by the inspiration of his grace; and the renewed heart, like a quick echo, takes hold of this, ‘Lord, thy face will I seek,’ Ps. cvi. 4. You should ever be seeking after God in his ordinances, seek his favour and face.
2. The new nature inclines and carries the soul to God; it came from God, and carries the soul to God again. The spirit of the world doth wholly incline us to the world: they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; and the Spirit of God doth incline us to God, and therefore the people of God will value his favour above all things else. David speaks in his own name, and in the name of all that were like-minded with himself; he speaks of all the children of God in opposition to the many, the brutish ones, that were for sensual satisfaction: Ps. iv. 6, ‘Many say, Who will show us any good? Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us.’ He doth not say, upon me, but upon us, as the common language of all the saints. The favour of God is so dear and precious to the saints, that they can compare with the affections of carnal men, take them at the greatest advantage. He doth not consider their worldly things in their decrease, but he considers them when they are increased; and he considers them in the very time when they are increased, in the vintage and harvest time. The shouting of vintage and joy of harvest are proverbial; and the comforts of this life, when new and fresh, most invite delight. They that place their happiness in these things cannot have so much joy as they that have a sense of their interest in God. Now, shall we be wholly strangers to this temper and disposition of soul.
3. If we be backward to seek after the favour of God, the Lord whips his people to it by his providence; for sometimes their spiritual disposition may be marred: Hosea v. 15, ‘I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence and seek my face. In their affliction they will seek me early.’ The Lord withdraws his gracious presence for this reason, not that we may seek ease or freedom from trouble, but that we may seek his face, and the applying of his grace to our consciences.
4. God is not wholly gone, neither is the desertion total, when there is such a disposition in the heart. He hath left something behind him which draws you after him. The estimation of God’s favour keeps his place warm till he come again; it keeps room in the soul: Ps. lxxxviii. 13, 14, ‘Unto thee have I cried; in the morning shall my prayer prevent thee: Lord, why castest thou off my soul? why hidest thou thy face from me?’ But when they can digest such a loss with patience, it is an indifferent thing whether they have any sense of God’s love, yea or no.
5. We find it to be a sad thing to lose any worldly comfort, and shall we lose the favour of God too, and never lay it to heart, and live contentedly without it? It is a sign we despise that which the saints value, and which is the principal blessing; you will not have cheap thoughts of the consolation of God, Job xv. 11.
6. Unless we seek God’s favour, all our labour is lost in other duties: 2 Chron. vii. 14, ‘If my people, that are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven,’ &c. This is put in among other conditions, and without this the promise is not made good to us. Many seek to the Lord in their distresses, but it is only for redress of temporal evils, or obtaining necessary temporal supplies; but do not seek his face: then their prayers are but like howlings, but like the moans of beasts, Hosea vii. 14. They do not seek reconciliation and communion with God, but only ease and riddance of present trouble. Those are not holy prayers.
7. It is the distinguishing point that will separate the precious from the vile, to have a tender sense of God’s favour: Ps. xxiv. 6, ‘This is the generation of them that seek him, that seek thy face, O Jacob.’ There are many thoughts of interpreters about that place, I find; though they differ in it, yet they all agree in this sense, that they are the true Israelites, the true Jacob’s posterity, that cannot brook God’s absence, that seek his face, that will not let him go, but strive with him till they get the blessing. These are not Israel in the letter, but Israel in the spirit. Jacob said, ‘I will not let, thee go unless thou bless me,’ Gen. xxxii. 26. Such diligent seekers ‘of God should we be, never to give over till we find him. Or, as Moses said, ‘Lord, if thy presence go not with us, carry us not up hence;’ we will not stir a foot without thy favour and presence.
Thirdly, They that are sensible of the want or loss of the favour of God have liberty to sue for it with hope and encouragement to find it. For so doth David, ‘Make thy face to shine.’ Whence comes this liberty?
1. Because of God’s promise, because of the mercy of God pawned to us in his promises. He hath told us, none shall seek his face in vain, Isa. xlviii. 19; Prov. viii. 17; Ps. xxii. 11, 20. One that seriously and diligently is seeking after God, before he hath done his search, he shall have some opportunity to bless and praise the Lord; some experience of grace shall be given to him, if he conscionably, diligently, and seriously seek it.
2. Because of the mediation of Jesus Christ, you may come in his name and seek the favour of God: Ps. xxxvi. 7, ‘How excellent is thy loving-kindness, O God! therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of thy wings.’ Interpreters upon that place conceive the shadow of God’s wings does not allude to an ordinary similitude of a hen that, when vultures and kites are abroad, covers her little ones, gathers her chickens under her wings: no; but they think the allusion to be to the outstretched wings of the cherubims; and this is the ground of our trust and dependence upon God. Let the sons of men put their trust under the shadow of his wings, there to find God reconciled in Christ; for the throne of grace was a figure of that propitiation. He is called the propitiation, God propitiated and reconciled in Christ is the throne of grace interpreted. However that be, it is clear, Ps. lxxx. 1, ‘Thou that dwellest between the cherubims, shine forth.’ When they would have God hear, they give him the title of one that sits upon the mercy-seat, reconciled by Christ. Though the cloud of sin doth hide God’s favour from thee, he can make it shine again; and here is our ground, the merciful invitation of God’s promise, and then God propitiated in Christ.
Use. Oh! then, let us turn unto the Lord in prayer, and in the use of all other means, humbling ourselves and seeking his favour.
1. Waiting for it with all needfulness: Ps. cxxx. 6, ‘My soul doth wait for the Lord, more than they that watch for the morning;’ and he repeats it again, ‘I say, more than they that watch for the morning.’ Look, as the weary sentinel that is wet and stiff with cold and the dews of the night, or as the porters that watched in the temple, the Levites, were waiting for the daylight, so more than they that watch for the morning was he waiting for some glimpse of God’s favour. Though he do not presently ease us of our smart or gratify our desires, yet we are to wait upon God. In time we shall have a good answer. God’s delays are not denials. Day will come at length, though the weary sentinel or watchman counts it first long; so God will come at length; he will not be at our beck. We have deserved nothing, but must wait for him in the diligent use of the means; as Benhadad’s servants watched for the word ‘brother,’ or anything of kindness to drop from the king of Israel.
2. Work for it: for I press you not to a devout sloth. All good things are hard to come by; it is worth all the labour we lay out upon it. There is no having peace with God, any sense of his love, without diligent attendance in the use of all appointed means: 2 Peter iii. 14, ‘Be diligent, that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot and blameless;’ and 2 Peter i. 10, ‘Give all diligence to make your calling and election sure.’ That comfort is to be suspected that costs nothing, but, like Jonah’s gourd, grows up in a night, that comes upon us we know not how.
Fourthly, God’s children, when they beg comfort, also beg grace to serve him acceptably; for ‘teaching God’s statutes ‘is not meant barely a giving us a speculative knowledge of God’s will: for so David here, ‘Make thy face to shine,’ and, ‘Teach me thy statutes.’ And why do they so?
1. Out of gratitude. They are ingenuous, and would return all duty and thankfulness to God, as well as receive mercy from him: therefore they are always mingling resolutions of duty with expectations of mercy; and when they carry away comforts from him are thinking of suitable returns. And while they take Christ for righteousness, they devote and give up themselves to his use and service. The nature of man is so disposed, that when we ask anything, we promise, especially if a superior: Hosea xiv. 2, ‘Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously; so will we render the calves of our lips.’ The children of God resolve upon duty and service when they ask favour. So Ps. ix. 13, 14, ‘Have mercy upon me, O Lord; consider my trouble; that I may show forth all thy praise in the gates of the daughter of Zion.’ We are thinking of honouring and praising God at that time when we seek his favour.
2. The children of God do know that this is the cause of God’s aversion from them, that his statutes are not observed; and therefore, when they beg a greater experience of God’s special favour, they also beg direction to keep his statutes. They cannot maintain and keep up a sense of the love of God unless they be punctual in their duty. He knows nothing of religion that knows not that the comfort of a Christian depends upon sanctification as well as justification; and the greater sense of obedience the fuller sense of the love of God; and the degrees of manifesting his favour are according to the degrees of our profiting in obedience, for these go along still. Jesus Christ is king of righteousness and king of peace. He is Melchisedec, king of Salem; he pours out the oil of grace that he may pour out the oil of gladness, Heb. vii. 2. But especially see one place, John xiv. 21, ‘He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me; and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father; and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.’ Christ was then most sweetly comforting his people, but it was not his mind that they should be emboldened thereby to cast off duty. No; he says, the only way to assure them that they were not delusions, and to clear their right to these comforts, was this, ‘He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me; and he that loveth me, shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.’ That is the way to get confirmation and evidence of the love of God.
3. This is a notable effect and evidence of God’s favour, to guide you in his ways; therefore it is a branch of the former, for whom the Lord loveth he teacheth and guides: Rom. viii. 14, ‘As many as are the children of God, they are led by the Spirit.’ Others are left to their own heart’s counsels. And Ps. xxv. 14, ‘The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him; and he will show them his covenant.’ The communication of secrets is a note of friendship. Now the secret of the Lord, the knowledge of his covenant, and what belongs thereto, it is to those that fear God. There is the qualification.
4. He showeth that he does not desire a greater proof of God’s love. He would chiefly experience the good-will of God to him in being taught the mind of God. The most slight that which David prizeth. But if our hearts were as they should be, we would prefer this before all other good things, sanctification, to be taught of God. For—
[1.] It is a better evidence of God’s favour than worldly comforts. Pardon freeth us from punishment, sanctification from sin and pollution; sin is worse than misery, and holiness is to be preferred before impunity. Christ in the work of redemption considered the Father’s interest and honour as well as your salvation. The taking away of worldly comforts doth not infringe our blessedness; yea, when it is accompanied with this benefit, it maketh way for the increase of it: Ps. xciv. 12, ‘Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, O Lord, and teachest him out of thy law.’ All the comforts of the world are not worth one dram of grace. The loss of them may be supplied with grace, and man be happy, comfortable, and blessed for all that; but the loss of grace cannot be supplied with temporal things. We cannot say, Blessed is the man that hath lost grace for the world’s sake. Again, all the riches and honours heaped upon a man cannot make him better, they may easily make him worse; but grace can never make us worse, but always better, more amiable in the eyes of God, and fitter for communion with him. These may be given to those whom God hateth, Ps. xvii. 14; but this is the favour of his people. Grace is never given but to those whom he entirely loveth. These may be given in wrath, but sanctifying grace never in wrath. The more we have of these things, the more wanton and vain, Deut. xxxii. 15. They are often used as an occasion to the flesh, Gal. v. 13. prove fuel to our lusts, increase our snares, temptations, difficulties in heaven’s way, Luke xviii. 25. Our table becometh a snare, Ps. lxix. 22. But the saving graces of the Spirit make all easy, and help us towards our own happiness.
[2.] Profiting in obedience or sanctification is a greater effect of God’s favour. Sanctification is a greater privilege than justification, Perfect and complete holiness and conformity to God is the great thing which God designed, as the glory of God is holiness, Exod. xv, 11. Moral perfections exceed natural; and of all moral perfections holiness is the greatest. It is better to be wise than strong, to be holy than wise. Beasts have strength, man hath reason, but holy angels, a holy God. Sanctification is a real perfection, but justification is but a relative. It rendereth us amiable in the eyes of God. God hateth sin more than misery. Sin is against God’s very nature. God can inflict punishment, but he cannot infuse sin. God’s interest and honour is to be preferred before our comfort and personal benefit. In sanctification, besides our personal benefit, which is the perfection of our natures, God’s honour and interest is concerned in our subjection to him. Justification is a pledge, but sanctification is not only a pledge but a beginning; it is removens prohibens. We love him for pardoning, but he delighteth in holiness: he delighteth in us rather as sanctified than pardoned. We love much because much is for given, Luke vii. 47. But God delighteth in the pure and upright: Prov. xi. 20, ‘Such as are upright in their way are his delight.’
Use 1. For reproof of three sorts:—
1. Of those that would have ease and comfort, but care not for duty; would have the love of God to pacify their consciences, but never mind this, to have their hearts directed in God’s ways: Hosea x. 11, ‘Ephraim is as an heifer that is taught, that would tread out the corn but not break the clods.’ It yielded food, Deut. xxv. 4. They would be feasted with privileges, yet abhor service, when they prize comfort. To these we may argue not only ab incongruo—how disingenuous it is to separate duty and comfort; to be so ready to expect all from God, and so unwilling to do anything for him. It is contrary to the disposition of God’s children, Titus ii. 11, 12, and Rom. xii. 1;—but ab impossibili. Will God ever delight in you till you be conformed to his image? Christ came not to make a change in God, but in us; not to make God less holy, but us more holy. It is not agreeable to the reasonable nature to conceive that God should be indifferent to good and bad, or a friend to those that break his laws. Would you think well of that magistrate that should let men rob and steal and beat their fellow-subjects, and not only connive at them but receive them into his bosom? You that have but a drop of the divine nature cannot delight in the company of sinners, 2 Peter ii. 8.
2. Those that would have the favour of God, but expect it should be showed to them in temporal things. Alas! these things are promiscuously dispensed to all; can be no evidence of his special love. God is behindhand with none of his creatures, Eccles. ix. 1, 2; sometimes evil things to good men, and good things to evil men. Josiah died in wars as well as Ahab. Is Abraham rich? so is Nabal. Is Joseph honoured by Pharaoh? so is Doeg by Saul. Hath Demetrius a good report of all men? 3 John 12, so have false teachers, Luke vi. 26. Hath Caleb health and strength? Josh. xiv. 11, so have wicked ones: ‘No bands in their death;’ Ps. lxxiii. 4, ‘Their strength is firm. Was Moses beautiful? Acts vii. 20, so was Absalom, 2 Sam. xiv. 25. Did God give learning and wisdom to Moses and Daniel? &c., Dan. i. 17, so to the Egyptians, Acts vii. 22. Long life to Ishmael, Gen. xxv. 17, as well as to Isaac, Gen. xxxv. 20.
3. The children of God that murmur and repine at their sufferings when others, ignorant of the mind of God and the strictness of his ways, fare better, Ps. xvii. 14. It is often seen that ‘he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow,’ Eccles. i. 18. Drones and sots have their ampler revenues, but we should not be thereby discouraged. It is their portion: Prov. iii. 31, 32, ‘Envy thou not the oppressor, and choose none of his ways; for the froward are an abomination unto the Lord, and his secret is with the righteous.’ They are hateful to God while they flourish. It is a greater evidence of God’s favour and friendship to understand his counsel in the word, and to be acquainted with the mysteries of godliness, than to enjoy all the power and greatness in the world; the knowledge of a despised, hated truth, than to flourish in opposition against the ways of God, through ignorance, obstinacy, and prejudice.
Use 2. Is direction to us:—
1. For strict walking. If we would have a comfortable sense of God’s love, we must resolve upon a strict course of holy walking: Gal. vi. 16, ‘And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy upon the Israel of God;’ and Ps. lxxxv. 8, and Eph. iv. 30.
2. If we would walk strictly, we must go to God for continual direction: Ps. lxxxvi. 11, ‘Teach me thy way, O Lord; I will walk in thy truth: unite my heart to fear thy name;’ Ps. cxliii. 10, ‘Teach me to do thy will, for thou art my God; thy spirit is good, lead me into the land of uprightness.’ Especially when blinded with interest, or apt to be carried away with temptations.
3. God’s teaching is not only directive, but persuasive; it prevents sin, Ps. cxix. 133; quickens to duty, Ps. cxix. 33-35. Teach and keep, and make me to go; for that is the difference between literal instruction, which we have from man, and spiritual instruction, which we have from God. God’s teaching is drawing, John vi. 44, 45.
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