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Complete Works of Thomas Manton, D.D. Vol. VIII.
« Prev Sermon CXXI. Thy testimonies have I taken as an… Next »

SERMON CXXI.

Thy testimonies have I taken as an heritage for ever: for they are the rejoicing of my heart.—Ver. 111.

IN this notable psalm there are many independent sentences expressing David’s affection to the word of God. In this verse you have—(1.) David’s choice, ‘Thy testimonies have I taken as an heritage for ever.’ (2.) The evidence of that choice, ‘For they are the rejoicing of my heart.’ I call it the evidence, for so it is a proper demonstration that he took God’s precepts for his heritage; this is the mark and sign of it, ‘They are the rejoicing of my heart.’ It did his heart good to think of his heritage, and what an ample portion he had in his God.

First, Let me speak of his choice, whence this observation. It is the property of believers to take God’s testimonies for their heritage. In the management of which truth, I shall show—

1. What are God’s testimonies.

2. What it is to take them for an heritage.

3. The reason why it is their property to do so.

1. What are God’s testimonies. Any declaration of his will, in doctrine, precepts, threatenings, promises. The whole word, it is the testimony which God hath proposed for the satisfaction of the world. It is God’s deposition or testimony, to satisfy men what is his mind and will concerning their salvation. God’s testimony is the public record, that may be appealed unto in all cases of doubt, Ps. xix. 8, ‘The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart,’ &c.; ‘The testimonies of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple.’ By the statutes of the Lord, is meant in general the whole counsel of God delivered in the word. But then more specially and chiefly they imply the evangelical or gospel part of the word, the promises of the covenant of grace, Isa. viii. 20, ‘To the law and to the testimonies.’ Testimony in this sense is contradistinguished to the law or God’s precepts, what is required of us; thus ‘the ark of his testimony’ is called by that name. Mark this notion of calling the word God’s testimony; it shows us what regard we should have to the precepts and promises of God; you need regard them, it is God’s testimony to you and then against you. Christ would have his word preached ‘as a testimony against them,’ Mat. xxiv.,—a testimony to them that they might know God’s mind, and then, if it were not received, a testimony against them at the last day; when God comes to judgment, the sinner will be without an excuse, but will not be without a testimony; every sermon will rise up against him in judgment; it will be a testimony for their conviction.

And as we should regard his precepts, so it shows in what regard his promises are, which are chiefly his testimony; therefore it is said, John iii. 33, ‘He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true.’ You give God the glory of his truth by venturing your souls upon his testimony, whereas otherwise you ‘make him a liar,’ a blasphemy which is most contrary to the glory of his being: 1 John v. 10, ‘He that believeth not makes God a liar.’ Look upon the promises as God’s testimonies, you may urge it to your own heart and to God. We may urge it to our own heart when we are full of doubts and troubles; here we have God’s testimony to show for it, ‘Why do ye doubt, O ye of little faith?’ Here is God’s testimony. Nay, it is a testimony under an oath, that the heirs of promise might want no satisfaction, Heb. vi. 18. If we had but God’s bare word it should beget faith, for God stands much upon his truth; but we have his oath, his hand and seal. Why! after such a solemn assurance shall I make God a liar, as being in doubtful suspense? And they are a testimony which you may produce to God himself: Lord, thou hast said, and here is a promise wherein thou hast caused me to hope; I expect nothing but what thou wilt perform. Look, as Tamar showed the tokens to Judah when he was about to condemn her, showed him the ring and the staff as a testimony, and said, Whose are these? Gen. xxxviii. 25, you put God in mind of his promise; here is the testimony he hath called you to these hopes whereby you should wait upon him. How shall we take it here? for the precepts of God, or the promises, or both? Surely the precepts of the word are the heritage, or the gospel and treasure of the church, a treasure not to be valued; and every single believer is to take up his share, and count them his treasure and his heritage. No man can take the promissory part of the word for his heritage, but he is to take the mandatory part also; as in every bond and indenture the conditions must be kept on both sides. So if you should take it for the whole covenant of God, wherein God is bound to us and we to God, there were no incongruity. Yet the notion of an heritage is most proper to the promises, and these are the rejoicing of our soul, the foundation of our solid comfort and hope. The promises are a witness in our hearts how he stands affected to us, of which we are most apt to doubt through our unbelief. Natural light will convince us of the justice and equity of his precepts; therefore by the special use of the word the promises of God are called his heritage. Again, the promises are put for the things promised, and testimonies for the things contained and revealed in them; for the promises properly are not our heritage, but they are the evidences, the charters which we have to show for our heritage. The blessings of the covenant are properly our heritage, and the promises are the assurance and conveyances by which this heritage is made over to us. As we say a man’s estate lies in bonds and leases, meaning he hath these things to show as his right to such an estate; so the promises, that is the blessings contained, or the testimony revealed there, they are the things a believer takes for his portion. Thus I have showed what is meant by the testimonies of God.

2. What is it to take them for our heritage? There are two words, heritage, and I have taken them. The word heritage first notes the substance of our portion, or what we count our solid and principal estate; secondly, it notes our right and propriety in it; thirdly, the kind of tenure by which we hold it; fourthly, many times actual possession. Now saith David, I have taken; that implies actual choice on our part. We are not born heirs to this estate, but we take it, we choose it for our portion. And mark, he doth not say they are, but I have taken them for my heritage. Every believer cannot say, These are mine, they are my heritage, for everyone hath not assurance; but yet every one should say, ‘I have taken them,’ there I look for my happiness; for every believer is alike affected, though not alike assured. David doth not here so expressly mention his interest, though that is implied, as his choice. Briefly, to take God’s testimony for our heritage implies four things:—

[1.] To count them our choicest portions. Let others do what they will, this is my share, my lot, my portion, saith David; that which I esteem to be my happiness; this is as lands, goods, treasures to me, dearer and nearer than all temporal things whatsoever. Look, as a believer in the duty part of religion takes the precepts for his counsellor, so David saith, Ps. cxix. 24, ‘Thy testimonies also are my delight and my counsellors,’ or the men of my counsel. Answerably in the happy part, they are my heritage and the rejoicing of my soul; it is my wealth, my treasure, my chief estate. Every man is known by the choice of his portion; now David was not taken up with any worldly thing, so as to make that his heritage, or account it his solid happiness, wherein his soul could find complacency and contentment.

[2.] It signifies to make it our work to get and keep up an interest in God’s testimonies; this is to take them for our heritage. Esteem is manifested by prosecution. That which is our chiefest work, that shows us what we take to be our heritage. What 1 is it to grow great in the world, to shine in pomp, to flow in pleasure, or to get and maintain an interest in the covenant? What do we seek first? Is it ‘the kingdom of God and his righteousness’? Mat. vi. 33. The main care is to make sure an interest in the covenant, to get a right and propriety in it.

[3.] To hold all by this tenure: heritage is a child’s tenure. We do not come to this right by our own purchase, but as heirs of Christ; not by our own merits, but by adoption, God making us children and ‘joint-heirs with Christ,’ Rom. viii. 17; ‘and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.’ Adam’s tenure was that of a servant; the blessings that he expected from God, by virtue of the covenant of works, he looked upon them as wages of obedience; but now, we take the promises as an heritage, as a right devolved upon us as heirs of Christ, because believers are called the seed of Christ, and upon the account of that are possessed of the privileges of the covenant: Isa. liii. 10, ‘He shall see his seed, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hands.’ This is a heritage purchased for us before we were born, before we had done either good or evil; and we have the right and title of sons, John i. 12; he hath given us this privilege to be the sons of God. Whatever we receive, we receive it from God as a child’s portion.

[4.] Heritage signifies actual use and possession, and living upon them; and so I have taken thy testimonies for my heritage; that is, I mean to live upon them, and fetch all my comforts thence. A believer’s interest is not an imaginary thing. We do enjoy somewhat by virtue of the promises. It is true our full fruition is suspended till hereafter, but we begin here. The testimonies of the Lord they are of present use in the present life; therefore we are said to be ‘Heirs according to the hope of eternal life,’ Titus iii. 7. God doth not take us to heaven presently upon our spiritual nativity or new birth. It pleaseth God to exercise us for a while in our nonage, under tutors and governors, and to make us differ little from servants; but for the present we have maintenance, we live by faith, Gal. ii. 20. We live upon our heritage, and fetch thence not only peace and righteousness and grace, but meat, drink, and clothing, protection, and defence. So that to take God’s testimonies for our heritage is to live upon them as far as the present state will permit, to fetch out all our supplies from the covenant; otherwise we should make the promises to be but a conceit and imagination, if they did not afford present support. A believer doth not live upon outward supplies only, but upon the covenant; not upon meat and drink, food and raiment, but he fetcheth all from the covenant, by the exercise of faith, and so these things are sanctified to him. So that to take them as our heritage is to make them the grounds of our future hopes, and the storehouse from whence we receive our present supply. And this is that which is called living by faith, fetching all our supports and supplies out of the promises: Gal. ii. 20, ‘All that Hive in the flesh’ (so in the original), ‘I live by the faith of the Son of God.’

3. For the reasons, why it is the property of believers to take the testimony of God for their heritage; before I come to that, first, I must show what kind of heritage it is; secondly, How believers only, and no others, can take them from their heritage.

[1.] What kind of heritage it is. It is a heritage which exceeds all others in three particulars—it is full, it is sure, it is lasting; therefore we must pitch upon it for our solid happiness.

(1.) It is a full heritage, and nothing can be added to the completeness of our portion; for in the promises here is God, heaven, earth, providences, ordinances, all made ours, and all inward comforts and graces they are a part of our portion; and what can a soul desire more? Here is God made over to us; the great blessing of the covenant is, I am thy God. Other men say (and they will think it a great matter when they can say), This kingdom is mine, this lordship is mine, this house, these fields are mine; but a believer can say, this God, this Christ, this Holy Spirit is mine. Alas! riches and honour and worldly greatness are poor things to a God made ours in covenant. Nay, mark the emphasis; God is not only ours, but ours as an heritage: Ps. xvi. 5, ‘The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance.’ They may claim a title to God, and enjoy the possession of God as freely as a man would do his own inheritance. I say, they have as sure a right to God, and all that he is and can do, as a man can have to the patrimony whereunto he is born. And as the Lord is theirs, so heaven and earth are both theirs. Heaven is theirs: let a believer be never so despicable in the world, yet he is an heir-apparent to the kingdom of heaven, James ii. 15. Though, it may be, you are poor persons, nothing to live upon; poor apprentices, nothing to set up withal, yet ‘God hath chosen the poor of this world to be heirs of a kingdom.’ Poor believers are but princes in disguise, princes in a foreign country, and under a veil; they have a large patrimony; it lies indeed in an unknown land to the world, it is in terra incognita to them; but believers know what an ample portion God hath laid up for them, heirs of a kingdom. If that be not enough, take that other expression, Rom. viii. 17, ‘Heirs, co-heirs with Christ.’ Christ as mediator, and we as members of his body, possess the same God, one father, one husband, one estate; we dwell together, live together; where he is we are. Besides God and heaven there is the world too. Here is the difficulty, how a Christian, that hath not a foot of land, yet should be heir of all the world. All things are theirs, saith the apostle, 1 Cor. iii. 21. And it is said of Abraham, who was ‘the father of the faithful,’ and whose blessing comes upon us, that through the righteousness of faith he became ‘heir of the world.’ He was re-established in the right which Adam had before the fall, that wherever God should cast his portion, he should look upon it as made over to him by grace, as a sanctified portion belonging to the covenant; and in this sense he was heir of the whole world. All creatures are sanctified to a believer, and the comfortable enjoyment of them fall to our lot and share; and therefore, 1 Tim. iv. 5, it is said, ‘commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving, to them that believe and know the truth.’ Mark, believers only have a covenant right to meat, drink, land, money, and the things that are possessed in the world, to make use of the good creatures God hath bestowed upon them. Others are not usurpers; I dare not say so. All men have a providential right; it is ‘their portion God hath given them in this world;’ but they have not a covenant right. Whatever of the world falls to their share comes to them in a regular way of providence, that shall be sanctified, and truly without this covenant right, if we had all earthly possessions, it would be a mere nothing, and no blessing. Once more, providence is theirs, even those things which are against us, afflictions, death; not only life, but death, 1 Cor. iii. 22, as part of their portion. Ordinances are theirs, all the gifts of the church, Paul, Apollos, Cephas, all for their benefit. And graces are theirs; the righteousness of Christ and the graces of the Spirit, they are all a part of their portion, made over to them by virtue of God’s testimony. As to the righteousness of Christ, it is said of Noah, Heb. 11, 7, that he ‘became an heir of the righteousness which is by faith.’ The great legacy which Christ hath left is his righteousness. As Elijah when he went to heaven left Elisha his cloak or mantle, so when Christ went to heaven, he left the garment of his righteousness behind him as a legacy to the church, in confidence whereof we appear before God. Look, as fathers leave lands to their children, and such as they have, so Christ hath left us what he had. In the outward estate we are despicable. Silver and gold he hath not left us, that is no solid portion; but he hath left us his righteousness and obedience, as a ground of our acceptance with God. No monarch in the world can leave us such a portion; it cost Christ very dear to purchase it for us. Then the graces of the Spirit; we have grace enough to maintain our expenses to heaven, and carry us on till we come to the full enjoyment of our portion. Thus God in covenant, heaven, earth, whatever is great and magnificent, the ordinances of the church, the graces of the Spirit, all these belong to our heritage; it is a full portion.

(2.) It is a sure portion, both on God’s part and ours. On God’s part, there we have his word, and that is better than all the assurance in the world: ‘He hath magnified that above all his name,’ Ps. cxxxviii. 2. If we had but God’s single word, that is enough, for God is very tender of his word, more than of heaven and earth; and all things he hath made: ‘Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my word shall not pass away.’ Then we have it confirmed with an oath, Heb. vi. 6, 7. God thought our heritage could never stand upon terms sure enough, therefore he condescended to give us an oath over and above his word. An oath is given in a doubtful matter. But now because unbelief possibly might not be satisfied with God’s bare word, he hath interposed by an oath, and pawned all his holiness and glory, laid them at pledge with the heirs of promise, ‘that they might have strong consolation,’ for that is the effect of God’s oath, when the Lord swears, ‘As I live, saith the Lord;’ as if he should say, Take my life in pawn, count me not an excellent, glorious, holy God, if I do not accomplish this for you: I will make good this promise. There is no inheritance in the world so sure as this, made over to the heirs of promise. And then on our part, there it is made sure. God will maintain our right to this inheritance. We should embezzle our inheritance, lose it every hour, if it were wholly committed to us; but mark, ‘Thou art the portion of mine inheritance, thou shalt maintain my lot, O Lord,’ Ps. xvi. 5. A heritage is either wasted by the prodigality of the owner, or else wrested from us by the violence and cunning of others. Now, for the prodigal disposition of the owner: indeed we should spend our patrimony apace, soon embezzle our portion, if we had the sole keeping of it, for we are prodigals. But mark, under the law, Exod. xxv. 23, an Israelite, though he might alienate his inheritance for a while, till the year of jubilee came, yet God forbids him to sell it away for ever. So we blot our evidences often, we cannot read our title; there is an interruption of comfort, a kind of sequestration from the privileges of the covenant for a while; but Jesus Christ is our guardian to look after them that take the promises for their heritages. And then it cannot be wrested from us by the violence of others. All heritages in the world are liable to violences. Princes have been driven from their kingdoms, and men from their heritages; but this is a heritage God will maintain; he hath engaged his own power: John x. 28, ‘No man is able to pluck them out of my hand.’ It shall not be wrested from us by any pleas in law. The devil would soon pick a flaw in our title, there are so many temptations and accusations; but now God will maintain our right and possession of the privileges of the covenant. He is deeply engaged to maintain their right whose hearts depend upon him: they may take away life, but not the favour of God.

(3.) It is a most lasting and durable inheritance, as being eternal: ‘I have taken thy testimonies for my heritage for ever.’ You know all estates are valuable according as they last. A lease for years is better than to be tenant at will, an inheritance is better than a lease. Our inheritance lasts for ever and ever. All other heritages determine with life, but then ours begins—this heritage of God’s testimonies. A worldly portion may crumble away and waste to nothing before we die, but these testimonies will give us a good estate when all things else fail. A believer, when he is stripped of all, and reduced to bare promises, is a happy man; and when he is reduced to exigencies, then is the time to put the bonds in suit. God by promise hath made him self a debtor: ‘As having nothing, yet possessing all things,’ 2 Cor. vi. 10. They have all things in the promise, though nothing in sense. If we have but one gracious promise left to subsist upon, we cannot be poor; it is better riches than all the world, for then our right to God and eternal life still remaineth. If an estate here should last till death, yet then certainly men try the weakness of their portion. When other men find the worthlessness and baseness of their portion, you find the sweetness, fulness, and comfort of yours. Carnal men have but an estate for life at best: Luke xvi. 25, ‘Son, in thy lifetime thou receivedst thy good things;’ when they come to die they can look for no more; then they find the gnawing worm of conscience prove matter of vexation and torment; but then your heritage comes to the full: Ps. lxxiii. 26, ‘My flesh and my heart faileth; but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.’ Not only when all outward comforts fail, all creatures in the world have spent their allowance, but when the flesh begins to fail, when we consume and faint away, and hasten to the grave: Lord, then thou failest not, thou art the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever. We have an interest in the eternal God, and we shall live eternally to enjoy him. God lives for ever, and we live for ever, that we may enjoy God.

[2.] Now I come to give the reasons why it is the property of believers to choose this for their portion, and why no others can do it. It is the property of believers to do so upon two grounds:—

(1.) Because of the wisdom that is in faith. Faith is a spiritual prudence. You shall see faith is opposed not only to ignorance, but to folly, because it teacheth us to make a wise choice. Reason makes us wise to choose a good portion in this world: ‘The children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light,’ Luke xvi. 9. But faith is for the inward and spiritual life. Worldly men are wise in worldly employments, to make a wise choice, and accomplish such things they affect, turn and wind in the world; there they excel the children of God; but faith makes us wise for eternity, and therefore it chooseth the better portion. Faith is a spiritual light, and seeth a worth in other things. It is a notable saying, Prov. xxiii. 4, ‘Labour not to be rich: cease from thine own wisdom.’ How came these two things to be coupled? If we had no better wisdom than our own, we should spend our time, strength, and care to labour to be rich. Human wisdom doth only incline and enable us to the affairs of the present life, but God infuseth a supernatural light into the saints; they have counsel from the Lord: Ps. xvi. 7, ‘I will bless the Lord, who hath given me counsel: my reins also instruct me in the night seasons.’ As if he had said, Ah! Lord, if I am left to myself, and the workings of my own natural spirit, I should be as vain and foolish as others are; but thou hast given me counsel.

(2.) The next reason is, because of the nobleness and height of spirit that is in faith. Faith will not be satisfied with any slight fancies; it must have better things than the world yieldeth. The great privilege of the covenant and work of grace is to give us a new heart; that is, another manner of spirit than we had before. Our natural spirit is the spirit of the world, a cheap, vile, low spirit, that will be satisfied with every base thing. Every man seeketh something for his portion, for no man hath sufficiency in himself, but seeketh it without. Natural men go no further than the world, riches, honour, pleasure; they seek it some in one thing, some in another. There is none more unsatisfied than a worldly man, for his heart cannot find rest, and yet none are sooner satisfied. A worldly man is not dainty, but taketh up what is next at hand. You think there is no such excellent-spirited men as they that have high designs in the world, and can achieve greatness and honour. But a poor Christian is of a more excellent spirit; these things will not give him contentment, nothing on this side God. Faith yieldeth a man a choice spirit, it maketh us take the testimonies of the Lord for our heritage. A renewed soul it hath its aspirings; it gets up to God, and will not be satisfied with worldly delights; but ‘thou art my portion, saith my soul,’ Lam. iii. 24. Others hunt after other things beneath God, heaven, the graces of the Spirit, the righteousness of Christ. Therefore thus it must needs be the property of God’s children, because they have another understanding and another heart. And then none but the children of God can have these privileges. Why? Because though they are very magnificent and glorious, yet they are invisible, and for the most part future and to come; they make no fair show in the flesh; this is hidden manna, meat and drink the world knows not of. Carnal men look upon an estate that lies in the covenant to be but a notion and mere conceit, and they cannot believe they shall be provided for if God bears the purse for them; they cannot live immediately upon God, they must have something visible, outward, and glorious: and partly this inheritance is to come, therefore they cannot have this property: Heb. vi. 12, ‘Be ye followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.’ The testimonies of the Lord are an inheritance we cannot come at presently, there needs a great deal of faith and patience in waiting upon God: as a hired servant must have money from quarter to quarter, and cannot with the child expect when the inheritance will befall him. A carnal heart dares not trust God, cannot tarry his leisure; wicked men ‘have their reward,’ Mat. vi. 2; they must have present wages, glory, honour, and profit here; they discharge God of other things, because it is a thing which costs them much waiting. A humble dependence upon God conflicts with many difficulties and hardships. Carnal men see no beauty in it, and because it is to come, it turns their stomachs.

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