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Uphold me according unto thy word, that I may live; and let me not be ashamed of my hope.—Ver. 116.
IN the former verse, David had bound himself by a firm resolution to keep the commandments of his God. Now presently he turneth to prayer, ‘Lord, uphold me according to thy word, that I may live; and let me not be ashamed of my hope.’ Our purposes and resolutions will not hold out without God’s confirming grace. David, that would have the wicked depart from him there, would have God draw nigh to him here. Both are necessary if we would keep the commands. The company of the wicked, as a great impediment, must be removed: ‘Depart from me, ye evil-doers;’ and then the assistance of God must be entreated: ‘Uphold me according unto thy word,’ &c. Two things he begs of God in this verse:—
1. Confirmation in waiting.
2. The full and final accomplishment of his hope.
In the first request there is—
1. The blessing prayed for, confirmation or sustentation, uphold me.
2. The ground or warrant of asking, according unto thy word. Some translations have it, ‘by thy word,’ making it the instrument of his support.
3. To what end, that I might live.
In the second request an argument is intimated, that frustration or disappointment of his hope would bring shame.
I begin with the first, the blessing prayed for, sustentation and support, ‘Uphold me.’ David speaketh not this with respect to his outward man, as if God should keep him alive, maugre the rage of his enemies. Indeed, God doth uphold his creatures in that sense, by his outward providence and divine maintenance. But he speaketh this of his inward man, the support of the soul, that God would sup port him in a way of faith and comfort. In ver. 114, ‘Thou art my hiding-place and my shield: I hope in thy word.’ Now, Lord, that I might live, keep up the life of this hope. And ver. 115, ‘I will keep the commandments of my God.’ And now he desires God would support him in a way of courage and obedience. Hence observe—
Doct. Sustaining grace is necessary to the saints. Confirmation in a state of grace is as necessary to them as conversion to it.
There is a twofold grace which God gives—habitual and actual; either he works upon us per modum habitus, infusing grace, permanentis, or else per modum auxilii transientis.
First, There is habitual grace, called in scripture the new heart and new spirit, Ezek. xxxvi. 26; and by St John called σπέρμα αὐτοῦ, 1 John iii. 9. the abiding seed; and by St Paul, 2 Cor. v. 17, καινὴ κτίσις, the new creature. All these expressions intend those fixed and permanent habits which are the principles of holy actions.
Secondly, There is actual grace, for the former is not enough to carry us through all duties, and to uphold us in all the varieties of this mortal condition. Why? Quia non totaliter sanat—habitual grace works not a total, but only a partial cure. Though there be the new creature wrought, though there be an abiding seed, yet there is something of sin, and something of the flesh still left in the soul. Therefore we want perpetual supplies of actual grace. Now this kind of grace serveth for divers uses.
1. To direct us in the exercise of grace formerly received. A ship already rigged needs a pilot; so, although God hath renewed the heart, yet there needs direction how to exercise and put forth that grace that we have received; therefore David, Ps. cxix. 5, ‘Oh, that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes;’ and 2 Thes. iii. 5, ‘The Lord direct your hearts into the love of God,’ &c. In the exercise of every grace we need new directions from God.
2. To excite and quicken the habits of grace. This is like blowing up the sparks of fire that are buried under the ashes. There needs continual excitation, which is often sought by the saints: ‘Quicken me, O Lord, according to thy word.’ And draw me, saith the spouse, Cant. i. 4.
3. This actual grace serves for this use, to strengthen them in the operation, and to facilitate the work. This is that which is expressed Ps. cxix. 32, ‘When thou shalt enlarge my heart;’ that when the inclination of the renewed heart to good things is powerfully set a-work, this is like filling the sails with a good wind, which carries on the ship merrily to its port and haven.
4. Use it to sustain, protect, and defend the grace that we have against the assaults and temptations and varieties and casualties of the present life. And this is that which is meant here, ‘Uphold me, Lord, that I may live.’ Now this use of God’s actual assistance by way of sustentation and protection is necessary for us upon three grounds—(1.) Because of the natural changeableness of our spirits. (2.) Because of daily assaults from Satan. (3.) Because of the great impression which our temporal condition makes upon us.
[1.] Because of the natural changeableness of our spirits. Man of himself is an unstable creature. Take him at the best, he is but a creature, and to be a creature and to be mutable is all one. God found no stability in the angels; they are creatures, and therefore they might sin. God only is impeccable; and why? Quia Deus est, because he is God. But all creatures may fail; angels fell, and Adam fell in innocency; and how can we hope to stand unless God uphold us? The best of God’s children are often troubled with fits of unbelief and decays of love; their faith and love are not always at one stay and tenor, but sometimes more and sometimes less. David felt the waverings, and was afraid of himself; therefore saith to God, ‘Uphold me, that I may live.’ And so all that have any spiritual experience see that without continual grace they cannot live, and keep body and soul together. They find that often purposes and resolutions are upon them to those things that are good, but within a while their hearts sink again. Such is the inconstancy and uncertainty of their affections; now, they hope, anon they fear; now a great flush of affections, anon dead again; now humble, anon proud; now meek, anon passionate; now confident, then full of fears and anguish; like men sick of an ague, sometimes well and sometimes ill. What a Proteus would even a good man seem, if all his affections and passions were visible and liable to the notice of the world! None differ so much from them as they seem to differ from themselves. Sometimes they are like trees laden with fruit, at another time they are like trees in the winter, which, though they seem to have life in the root, yet to appearance they differ little from those that are stark dead. Nay, in those very particular graces for which they are eminent, how have they failed! Abraham, that was the father of the faithful, so eminent for faith, yet in Abimelech’s country he discovered much carnal fear, Gen. xx. Moses, that was the meekest man upon earth, yet in what a froward passion was he when he struck the rock twice, Num. xx. 10, 11, ‘And he spake unadvisedly with his lips,’ Ps. cvi. 33, which God took so heinously, that he only gave him a sight of Canaan, and would not permit him to enter. Peter is noted to have the greatest fervency and zeal of all the apostles (you know he had so much courage that he ventures against a band of men that came to attack Christ), and yet how was he surprised with cowardice and sinful fear at a damsel’s question! And therefore we need this sustaining grace, and to go to God: ‘Lord, uphold me.’ The wards of the lock are held up only while the key is turned, so God must uphold us or we fall. Or let me express it thus: As meteors are kept up in the air while the sun stays, that which first drew them up must keep them up, or else they fall to the ground; so we sink presently when this sustaining grace is withdrawn. Or as Moses, when he was but a while in the mount with God, how soon the people fell to idolatry! So if God be but away we shall be found as unstable as water.
[2.] Because of the daily assaults of Satan. When a poor soul is gotten out of his hands, he pursues him with continual malice, 1 Peter v. 8; no less doth he aim at than the utter destruction of our souls, and wrestles to recover the prey, to plunge us in that estate of misery wherein himself lies; therefore we must be defended and protected every day. When cities are besieged, they are not left to their ordinary strength and standing provision, but fresh supplies of men and ammunition are sent to their relief; so God deals with us. As we are unstable creatures, we need the continual assistance of God, for all depends on him, in esse, conservare, and operari. But here is another consideration to help to uphold us under assault. When the disciples were tossed to and fro, and shaken with sundry temptations, then Christ prays than their faith may not fail, begs further assistance, Luke xx. 31; so when Paul was buffeted by Satan, God makes him a promise of additional grace: 2 Cor. xii. 9, ‘My grace is sufficient for thee.’ We need further help from God, that we may stand against his batteries and assaults.
[3.] Because of the great impression which our temporal condition makes upon us. We are now happy, anon afflicted. Now, as unequal uncertain weather doth afflict the body, so do our various conditions distemper the soul. To abound and to be abased, to be up and to be down, to carry an equal hand in unequal conditions, is very hard, and will call for the supporting strength of God’s Spirit. So the apostle, Phil. iv. 12, 13, ‘I know how to be abased, and how to abound; every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need: I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.’ From that place let me observe something.
(1.) That we are subject to change of conditions in outward things; sometimes in credit, sometimes in disgrace; sometimes rich, some times poor; cut short by the providence of God; sometimes sick, sometimes in health; sometimes enjoy all things comfortably, at other times reduced to great necessity. Now it is very hard to go through all these conditions, not to be dejected on the one side or puffed up on the other.
(2.) Observe again from that place, either of these conditions have their snares, so that we need all the grace that possibly we can get to avoid them. Some think that snares and temptations lie but on one side, namely, they think it is easy to be rich, and to maintain hope and comfort in God then; but it is hard to be poor, and to be destitute of all things. When they have nothing to live upon, they cannot see how they should live by faith, or keep from murmurings, repinings, or uncomely dejections and sinkings of heart. On the other side, some think it easy to be poor and religious; but how to keep a good conscience in a full estate, where there is so rough to draw them from God, to keep down pride and security, and to live under a lively sense of the comforts of the other world, to do this in the midst of opulency, this is hard. There are indeed temptations on both hands.
(3.) Observe, again, some that have held well in one condition have failed in another. One sort of temptations have a greater force upon some spirits than others have. When God hath kept men low, they have been modest and humble; but when they have been exalted, then they have showed themselves, their pride, their disdain, their forgetfulness of God, their mindlessness of the interest of Christ. On the other hand, others have carried it well in prosperity, yet when the bleak winds of adversity are let loose upon them, they are withered and dried up. Some cannot encounter terrors, others blandishments. As the prophet saith of Ephraim, he is a cake not turned, that is, baked only of the one side, very dough on the other; so it is with many men; on one side of providence they seem to do well, but when God puts them in another condition they have foully miscarried. 1 Kings xiii. the young prophet that could thunder out judgment against the king, when the old prophet enticed him, he is gone.
(4.) Nay, and which is more, to have these conditions to succeed one another makes the temptation the greater. To be cast down, after that we have got on the top of the wheel, and have tasted of the world’s happiness, is the greater trial. And so on the other side, to be lifted up after extreme misery; sudden changes affect us more. Now, to possess things without love, or lose them without grief; to be temperate and sober in the enjoyment of worldly happiness, or to be meek and patient in the loss of it; or to exercise a Christian mode ration as to all these dispensations; it is a very hard thing to keep the heart steady and right with God; and therefore we need the influence of God’s special grace, as the apostle presently adds, ‘I can do all things through Christ that strengthens me.’
Use. To press us to look after this upholding and sustaining grace, that as we come to God, so we may keep with God. In some cases perseverance is more difficult than conversion; it is a harder thing to persevere than to be converted at first. In the first conversion we are mainly passive, if not altogether, but in perseverance active. It is God that plants us into Christ, but when we are in Christ we ought to walk in him. As an infant in the mother’s womb before it is born lives by the life of the mother, and is fed and grows by the mother’s feeding, without any concurrence of its own; but when born, indeed it is suckled by the mother still, but the child sucks itself, and applies nourishment to itself; and the more it grows, the more the care of its life is devolved upon itself; so the first conversion is chiefly God’s work, and when converted we cannot persevere without his help, but the care of the spiritual life is more devolved upon us than before. God doth give perseverance as well as conversion: 2 Peter i. 5, ‘We are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation;’ but so that more is required to be done by us when converted than in conversion itself. Eph. ii. 10, the apostle tells us that we ‘are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works;’ there is an action required of us. What is conversion? A consent to the terms of the gospel convenant, that is the great act of conversion on our part. But now perseverance is the fulfilling of the duty of this covenant. Now it is more easy to consent to the terms than to make them good. As in the matrimonial contract, the promise of the duties proper to that relation is more easy than the performance; so the consenting to God’s covenant, all the business is to make it good, because of our unstable nature, manifold temptations, and great discouragements in the way of holiness. Certainly, to keep in the life of grace in the soul is a very hard thing. The Israelites, after they were brought to consent to receive Moses for their captain to lead them to Canaan, yet when they came out of Egypt, and had trial of the difficulties of the way, and were exposed to so many dangers, they were ever and anon desiring to return. So it is with us; it is hard to hold out against all assaults; many things will be interposing, and breaking your resolutions, and taking you off from God. The flesh will be interposing, so that you must often say, as Rom. v. 12, ‘We are not debtors to the flesh, to live after the flesh,’ to fulfil it in the lusts whereof. And the world will be threatening, and you must say as they, Dan. iii. 16; ‘We are not careful to answer thee in this matter,’ Dangers will grow upon us and increase, and then we must say, as Esth. iv. 16, ‘If we perish, we perish.’ Friends will be soliciting, and you must say, as Paul, Acts xxi. 13, ‘What mean you to break my heart? I am ready to die for Christ;’ or as Christ said to his mother, John ii. 4, ‘Woman, what have I to do with thee?’ ‘Must I not be about my Father’s business?’ Seducers will be persuading, and we must be ready to say, as Acts iv. 19, ‘Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye.’ Nay, God himself will seem to discourage us, and to be against us; and you must even say to God, as Job xiii. 15, ‘Though thou slay me, yet will I put my trust in thee.’ To keep up this life in this vigour of faith and this courage of obedience in the midst of all these interposings, is a very difficult, hard work. What then? Therefore go to God: ‘Lord, uphold me, that I may live.’
1. Ask it of God earnestly, because of your necessities. Secondly, In faith, because of his all-sufficiency. First, earnestly, because of your necessities. Without God’s upholding a man, he hath within himself no power to withstand any the least temptation or occasion unto sin. There is no evil so foul, nor sin so grievous, but there is a possibility that we may fall into it. Ps. xix. 13, David saith, ‘Keep back thy servant from presumptuous sins.’ Mark the expression, ‘keep back;’ it implies that he felt an inclination and readiness in his heart, and therefore desires God to hold the bridle of grace the more hard upon him: Lord, keep back thy servant. When Satan disguiseth a gross sin with a plausible and tempting appearance, and when he bribes the flesh with some pleasure or advantage, oh! how soon is lust set agog and the heart overborne by the violence of its own affections! and how soon do we faint and are discouraged when we are exercised variously with divers assaults on this hand and that! Secondly, In faith, because of God’s all-sufficiency: 1 Peter v. 10, ‘The God of all grace make you perfect, establish, strengthen, settle you.’ Observe the title that he gives to God, ‘The God of all grace;’ it notes that he hath good store, and hath a gracious inclination to give it. And then he reckons up the several kinds of graces. What would you have? Would you keep that which you have already attained to? The Lord establish you. Would you increase what you have? The Lord perfect you. Would you act what you have with life and vigour, and grow more resolute? The Lord strengthen you. Would you grow more resolute against difficulty? The Lord settle you. So the apostle, 2 Thes. ii. 17, ‘The God of all grace comfort your hearts, and establish you in every good word and work.’ There is an all-sufficiency in God to help you, and carry you through all trials and all your difficulties. Therefore ask it of God.
2. Do not forfeit this assisting grace by presumptuous sins. God withdraws his protection and defence when we provoke him: Isa. lii. 2, ‘Your sins have separated between you and your God, and made him hide his face from you;’ and Hosea v. 15, ‘Now I will go to my own place,’ I will leave them to themselves, ‘till they acknowledge their iniquity.’ David prays for this after he had fallen foully: Ps. li. 12, ‘Lord, uphold me with thy free Spirit.’ He had lost his strength in God, his largeness of love; he wanted the assistances of God’s grace; he had been tampering with forbidden fruit: Lord, come again; ‘Lord, uphold me with thy free Spirit.’
3. Do not expose yourselves to temptation, for you are weak and cannot stand without confirming grace, which is not at your beck, not given out according to your pleasure, but he giveth us ‘to will and to do,’ κατὰ εὐδοκίαν, ‘according to his good pleasure,’ Phil. ii. 12. Christians! when we will try mysteries, and run into the mouth of danger, and be dealing with them that are apt to seduce us into evil, God will no more show the power of his grace than Christ would show a miracle to satisfy Herod’s curiosity and wanton fancy. Oh! therefore, let us not unnecessarily and unwarrantably throw ourselves upon the enticements of sin. For instance, as if no evil company could infect, or no carnal sports corrupt, or ambitious affectation of high places, when God doth not call us up by the voice of his providence; this doth but increase our temptation. When we will be rushing into places of danger, as Peter into the high priest’s hall, we go thither without our defence. A man that is sensible what will do his body hurt is very cautious how he meddleth with it. The like care should we have of our souls.
The second thing in the text is the ground and warrant of his request, ‘According to thy word;’ or by thy word, as some read it. God hath promised support to those that wait upon him: Isa. xl. 29, 31, ‘He giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, and they shall walk and not faint.’ Before their full and final deliverance come, they shall have present support and strength renewed to them every day. This note should quicken us:—
1. To pray to God for grace to stand with the more confidence. God hath promised to uphold those that cleave to him, and run to him; therefore say, Lord, thy word bids me to hope; though I am an unstable creature, I will hope in thy word: Ps. xxxi. 24, ‘Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the Lord.’ Though nothing else be stable, yet this is stable.
2. Bless God and own his grace; look upon it as a fulfilling of his promise, if you have sustentation, or any strength renewed upon you, though your trials and temptations are yet continued to you: Ps. cxxxviii. 3, ‘In the day when I cried, thou answeredst me, and strengthenedst me with strength in my soul.’ It is an answer of prayer, fulfilling of a promise, when we have strength to persevere without fainting; though we be not delivered, to have support before the deliverance come. I thank God, saith St Paul, for the sustentation I have. Great sustentation I have, though spiritual suavities I taste not many. It is matter of thanksgiving and comfort if we have but sustentation, and keep up the life of grace in the soul, though we taste not Christ’s banquets and dainties.
The third circumstance is the end, ‘That I may live.’ David speaks not this of bodily life, not the life of nature, but the life of grace. And then the note is this—
Doct. The children of God do not count themselves to live, unless their spiritual life be kept in good plight.
David, that enjoyed the pleasure and honour of the regal state, he doth not count that to live, though he were king in Israel, of an opulent and flourishing kingdom, and had mighty successes and victories over the people round about him, but when his heart was upheld in the ways of God. So Col. iii. 3, ‘Your life is hid with Christ in God.’ They had a life visible, as other men had; but your life, that which you chiefly esteem, and indeed count to be your life, is a hidden thing.
Here I shall inquire—(1.) What is this spiritual life. (2.) Show that there is a spiritual life distinct from the natural. (3.) The excellency of the one above the other. (4.) When this spiritual life is in good plight.
1. What is meant by spiritual life? It is threefold—a life of justification and sanctification and glorification.
[1.] The life of justification. We are all dead by the merit of sin. When a man is cast at law, we say he is a dead man: ‘Through one man’s offence all were dead,’ Rom. v. 5. We are sensible of it when the law cometh in with power, Rom. vii. 9; we begin to awaken out of our dead sleep. God’s first work is to awaken him and open his eyes, that he may see he is a child of wrath, a condemned person, undone, without a pardon. When the law came, ‘sin revived and I died;’ before he thought himself a living man, in as good an estate as the best; but when he was enlightened to see the true meaning of the law, he found himself no better than a dead man. Now, when justified, the sinner is translated from a sentence of death to a sentence of life passed in his favour; and therefore it is called justification of life, Rom. v. 18, and John v. 29, ‘He that believeth shall not enter into condemnation, but hath passed from death to life;’ that is, is acquitted from the sentence of death and condemnation passed on him by the law.
[2.] The life of sanctification, which lies in. a conjunction of the soul with the spirit of God, even as the natural’ life is a conjunction of the body with the soul. Adam, though his body was organised and formed, was but a dead lump till God breathed the soul into him; so till our union with Christ, by the communion of his Spirit, we are dead and unable to every good work. But the Holy Ghost puts us into a living condition: Eph. ii. 4, 5, ‘We were dead in trespasses and sins, yet now hath he quickened us.’ There is a new manner of being, which we have upon the receiving of grace.
[3.] Life eternal, or the life of glory, which is the final result and consummation of both the former; for justification and sanctification are but the beginnings of our happy estate; justification is the cause and foundation, and sanctification is an introduction or entrance into that life that we shall ever live with God.
2. Now this life is distinct from life natural, first, for it hath a distinct principle, which is the Spirit of God; the other a reasonable soul: 1 Cor. xv. 45, ‘The first man Adam was made a living soul, the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.’ Parents are but instruments of God’s providence to unite body and soul together: but here we live by the Spirit or by Christ, Gal. ii. 20; God and we are united together. Then we live when joined to God as the fountain of life, whence the soul is quickened by the Spirit of grace. This is to live indeed. It is called the life of God, Eph. iv. 18, not by common influence of his providence, but by special influences of his grace. Secondly, It is distinct in its operations, Unumquodque operatur secundum suam formam, as things that move upward and downward according to their form; so the new nature carrieth men out to their own natural motion and tendency. Walking as men, 1 Cor. iii. 3, and walking as Christians, are two distinct things. The natural and human life is nothing else but the orderly use of sense and reason; but the divine and spiritual life is the acting of grace in order to communion with God, as if another soul dwelt in the same body: Ego non sum ego. Old lusts, old acquaintance, old temptations, knock at the same door, but there is another inhabitant. Thirdly, Distinct in supports. Hidden manna, meat indeed, drink indeed, John vi. 55. There is an outward man and an inward man; the inward man hath its life as well as the outward. And as life, so taste: Omnis vita gustu ducitur. The hidden man must be fed with hidden manna, meat and drink that the world knows not of; its comforts are never higher than in decays of the body, 2 Cor. iv. 16. A man is as his delight and pleasure is; it must have something agreeable. Fourthly, Distinct in ends. The aim and tendency of the new nature is to God; it is from God, and therefore to him, Gal. ii. 19. It is a life whereby a man is enabled to move and act towards God as his utmost end, to glorify him, or to enjoy him. A carnal man’s personal contentment is his highest aim: water riseth not beyond its fountain. But a gracious man doth all to please God, Col. i. 11, to glorify God, 1 Cor. x. 31; and this not only from his obligations, Rom. xiv. 7, 8, but from his being, that principle of life that is within him, Eph. i. 12. A man that hath a new principle cannot live without God; his great purpose and desire is to enjoy more of him.
3. The excellency of the one above the other. There is life carnal, life natural, and life spiritual. Life carnal, as much as it glittereth and maketh a noise in the world, it is but a death in comparison of the life of grace: 1 Tim. v. 6, ‘She that liveth in pleasure is dead whilst she liveth;’ and ‘Let the dead bury their dead,’ Luke ix. 60; and dead in trespasses and sins. None seem to make so much of their lives as they, yet dead as to any true life and sincere comfort. So life natural, it is but a vapour, a wind, and a little puff of wind, that is soon gone. Take it in the best, nature is but a continued sickness, our food is a constant medicine to remedy the decays of nature: most men use it so, alimenta sunt medicamenta. But more particularly—(1.) Life natural is a common thing to devils, reprobates, beasts, worms, trees, and plants; but this is the peculiar privilege of the children of God, 1 John iv. 13. Therefore God’s children think they have no life unless they have this life. If we think we have a life because we see and hear, so do the worms and smallest flies. If we think we are alive because we eat, drink, and sleep, so do the beasts and cattle. If we think we live because we reason and confer, so do the heathens and men that shall never see God. If we think we have life because we grow well and wax strong, proceeding to old age, so do the plants and trees of the field. Nay, we have not only this in common with them, but in this kind of life other creatures excel man. The trees excel us for growth in bulk and stature, who from little plants grow up into most excellent cedars. In hearing, smelling, seeing, many of the beasts go before us; eagles in sight, dogs in scent, &c. Sense is their perfection. Some see better, others hear better, others smell better; all have a better appetite to their meat, and more strong to digest it. For life rational, endowed with reason, many philosophers and ethnics excel Christians in the use of reason. Our excellency then lieth not in the vegetative life, wherein plants excel thee; nor in sensitive, which beasts have better than thou; nor in the reasonable, which many reprobates have, which shall never see the face of God; but in life spiritual, to have the soul quickened by the spirit of grace. (2.) Life natural is short and uncertain, but this eternal grace is an immortal flame, a spark that cannot be quenched. All our labour and toil is to maintain a lamp that soon goeth out, or to prop up a tabernacle that is always falling; when we have made provision for it, taken away this night, &c.; it is in the power of every ruffian and assassin: but this is a life that beginneth in grace and endeth in glory. (3.) The outward life is short, but yet we soon grow weary of it; but this is a life that we shall never be weary of. 1 Kings xix. 4, Elijah requested for himself that he might die. The shortest life is long enough to be encumbered with a thousand miseries. If you live to old age, age is a burthen to itself: ‘Days come in which there is no pleasure,’ Eccles. xii. 1; but you will never wish for an end of this life. (4.) In the preparations and costs which God hath been at to bring about this life at first. Without any difficulty God breathed into man the breath of life, Gen. ii. 7; but to procure this life of grace, God must become man, and set up a new fountain of life in our natures, John x. 20. And not only so, but to die: John vi. 51, ‘My flesh which I give for the life of the world.’ Consider the price paid for it. God would not bestow it at a cheaper rate than the death of his only Son. (5.) In the provisions of it: Isa. lvii. 10, ‘the life of thy hands.’ With a great deal of toil and labour we get a few supports for it; but this is fed with the blood of Christ, influences of grace, and comforts from the Spirit; not with gross things, but sublime, high, noble. (6.) In the use for which it serveth. It fitteth us for communion with God, as the other fits us for communion with men. Things can have no communion with one another that do not live the life of one another. We dwell in God, and God dwelleth in us. (7.) Its necessities are greater, which show the value of the life. The higher the life, the more dependence. Things inanimate, as stones, need not such supplies as things that have life. Where plants will not grow, they must have a kindly soil. Among plants the vine needs more dressing and care than the bramble; beasts more than plants; their food appointed God hath most left to man’s care, as the instrument of his providence; man more than beasts, saints more than men, much waiting upon God. No creature so dependent, in need of such daily supplies, as the inward man. (8.) Its sense is greater. There is a greater sensibleness in this life than in any other life. All life hath a sweetness in it. As any life exceedeth another, so more sensibleness; a beast is more sensible of wrong and hurt than a plant. As the life of a man exceedeth the life of a beast, so more capable of joy and grief. As the life of grace exceedeth the life of a man, so its joy is greater, its grief is greater, trouble of conscience, a wounded spirit. So the joy of saints is unspeakable and glorious, peace that passeth all understanding.
4. When is this life in good plight? It showeth itself in these two effects—(1.) A comfortable sense of God’s love. (2.) A holy disposition to serve and please God. The vitality of it lieth in these two graces—faith and love; when they are kept up in their height and vigour, then it is a life begun. It lieth in the height of faith, apprehending and applying God s love to the soul: I live by faith; and the height of love swaying and inclining the heart to obedience, 2 Cor. v. 14. Therefore they desire God to uphold them, that they might be kept in heart and comfort, and in a free inclination to serve him. Now when they find any abatement of faith, so that they cannot rejoice in the promises as they were wont to do, they count themselves dead; or when their inward man doth not delight itself in the law of God, but they are dull and slow to good things, they look upon themselves as dead. But on the other side, when they find the vigour of this life in them, they are merry and glad; when they feel their wonted delight in prayer and holy exercises, this is that they mainly prize. That which is not seen and felt is as if it were not to their comfort, not to their safety.
Use. To exhort us all to look after this life, and when you have got it, to be very chary of it. First, look after this life. You that are alienated from the life of God through ignorance and hardness of heart, be invited to come to him; it is for life: Job ii. 4, ‘Skin for skin, and all a man hath, will he give for his life.’ We all desire life; vile things that live excel more precious that are dead: ‘A living dog is better than a dead lion,’ Eccles. ix. 4. A dog was an unclean beast, and of all creatures a lion is the most noble and generous. A worm is more capable of life than the sun. Now, if life natural be so sweet, what is life spiritual? No such life as this; it fits us for communion with God and blessed spirits. Christ chideth them, ‘You will not come to me that you might have life.’ Better you had never lived, if you live not this life of grace. When beasts die their misery dieth with them, but yours beginneth. Secondly, If you have this life begun, be chary of it. If the bodily life be but a little annoyed we complain presently; but why are you so stupid and careless, and do not look after this, to keep the spiritual life in good plight? Let your prayers and desires be to have this life strengthened; make this your prayer, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man. A Christian maketh this to be his main comfort and his main care. Oh! how busy are we to provide for the outward man, that we may be well fed, well clothed! Most men’s care is for back and belly. Oh! be more careful for the inner man; let that be refreshed with the blood of Christ and the comforts of the Spirit. Be careful for the soul, that you may keep up a lively faith, and a constant sense of blessedness to come, and so rejoice in God. Oh! how much time and pains do men waste in decking and trimming the body, when in the meantime they neglect their souls! We may all fall a-weeping when we consider how little we look after this inner life, to keep that in heart and vigour.
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