I have sworn, and I will perform it, that I will keep thy righteous judgments. I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the LORD; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Selah. For I will declare mine iniquity; I will be sorry for my sin. He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.
~ Psalm 119:106, Psalm 32:5, Psalm 38:18, Proverbs 28:13
Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths. Teach me thy way, O LORD, and lead me in a plain path, because of mine enemies. Teach me thy way, O LORD; I will walk in thy truth: unite my heart to fear thy name.
~ Psalm 25:4, Psalm 27:11, Psalm 86:11
Then hear thou in heaven, and forgive the sin of thy servants, and of thy people Israel, that thou teach them the good way wherein they should walk, and give rain upon thy land, which thou hast given to thy people for an inheritance.
~ 1 Kings 8:36
A Sermon on Psalm 119:26, by Thomas Manton. Sermon XXVII.
I have declared my ways, and thou heardest me; teach me thy statutes.—Psalm 119, Ver. 26.
In this verse you have three things:—
1. David’s open and free dealing with God, I have declared my ways.
2. God’s gracious dealing with David, and thou heardest me.
3. A petition for continuance of the like favour teach me thy statutes.
First, For the first, ‘I have declared my ways;’ that is, distinctly and without hypocrisy laid open the state of my heart and course of my affairs to thee, note—
Doct. They that would speed with God should learn this point of Christian ingenuity, unfeignedly to lay open their whole case to him; that is, to declare what they are about, the nature of their affairs, the state of their hearts, what of good or evil they find in themselves, their conflicts, supplies, distresses, hopes; that is declaring our ways; the good and evil we are conscious to. As a sick patient will tell the physician how it is with him, so should we deal with God if we would find mercy. This declaring his ways may be looked upon—
1. As an act of faith and dependence.
2. As an act of holy friendship.
3. As an act of spiritual contrition and brokenness of heart; for this declaring must be explained according to the sense of the object of what David means by this expression, ‘My ways.’
First, His businesses or undertakings; I have still made them known to thee, committing them to the direction of thy providence; and so it is an act of faith and dependence, consulting with God, and acquainting him with all our desires. This is necessary—
1. That we may acknowledge the sovereignty of his providence and dominion over all events: Prov. xvi. 9, ‘A man’s heart deviseth his way, but the Lord directeth his steps.’ Man proposeth, but God disposeth, and carrieth on the event either further than we intended, or else contrary to what we intended.
2. We must declare our ways to God that we may take God along with us in all our actions, that we may ask his leave, counsel, blessing: Prov. iii. 6, ‘In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.’ There is a twofold direction, one of God’s providence, the other of his counsel. The direction of his providence, that is understood: Prov. xvi. 9, ‘A man’s heart deviseth his way, but the Lord directeth his steps.’ But then there is the direction of his counsel, and the latter is promised here; if we acknowledge God and declare our ways to him, God will counsel us. And David did thus declare his way upon all occasions: 2 Sam. ii. 1, ‘David inquired of the Lord, saying, Shall I go up into any of the cities of Judah?’ It is a piece of religious manners to begin every business with God; to go to God, Lord, shall I do so, or shall I not? to desire him that is Lord of all to give us leave; who is the fountain of wisdom, to give us counsel; and the disposer of all events, to give us a blessing.
3. The declaring of our ways is necessary, that we may be sensible of God’s eye that is upon us, and so act the more sincerely. Certainly it is a great advantage to make God conscious to every business we have in hand, when we dare undertake nothing but what we would acquaint him withal. There are some to whom the prophet pronounceth a woe: Isa. xxix. 15, ‘Woe unto them that seek deep to hide their counsel from the Lord, and their works are in the dark, and they say, Who seeth us? and who knoweth us?’ For the opening of this place, surely none can seriously be so vain, and grow up to such sottish atheism, as to think to hide a thing from God; but they are loath solemnly to draw it forth in the view of conscience, to revive a sense of God’s omnisciency upon themselves. We are said to deny that which many times we forget and will not think of. So that those which hide their counsels from God are those that will not take God along with them. In short, this declaration is not necessary for God, who ‘knows our thoughts afar off,’ Ps. cxxxix. 2; not only our words and works, but purposes, before we begin to lift up a thought that way. But this declaration is necessary for us, to increase the awe of God upon our heart, and that we may undertake nothing but what we will solemnly acquaint the Lord with. Well, then, this declaring our ways is an act of dependence.
Secondly, By his ways may be meant all his straits, sorrows, and dangers; and so this declaring it is an act of holy friendship, when a man comes as one friend to another, and acquaints God with his whole state, lays his condition before the Lord, in hope of pity and relief. We have liberty to do so, to tell God all our mind: Heb. x. 19, ‘Let us come with boldness, by the blood of Jesus;’ and Heb. iv. 16. The word signifies, with liberty of speech, speaking all to God, your whole state and condition; if you have any sins to be pardoned, any miseries to be redressed; that where you are doubtful, you may be helped by God’s counsel, where you are weak, you may be confirmed by his strength, where you are sinful, you may be pitied by his mercy, where you are miserable, you may be delivered by his power. This is holy friendship, to acquaint God with our doubts, wants, griefs, and fears; and we may do it with more confidence, because we go to him in Christ’s name: John xvi. 23, ‘Whatsoever you shall ask the Father in my name, it shall be granted unto you.’ It is no fiction or strain, but a real truth. Will Christ deceive us when he saith, Verily? And then whatsoever you ask? You have liberty to go to God for the removal of any fear, the granting any regular desire, or for satisfying any doubt: ‘Whatsoever you ask the Father in my name.’ Our prayers by this means are Christ’s request as well as ours. For instance, if you send a child or servant to a friend for anything in your name, the request is yours, and he that denies a child or servant denies you; so saith Christ, Go to the Father in my name. God cannot deny a request in Christ’s name, no more than he can deny Christ himself; therefore you may use a holy boldness.
Thirdly, By ways is meant temptations and sins; and so this declaring is an act of spiritual contrition or brokenness of heart. Sins, they are properly our ways; as Ezek. xviii. 25, the Lord makes a distinction between my ways and your ways. God hath his ways, and we ours. Our ways are properly our sins. Now these, saith David, I will declare, that is, distinctly lay them open before God. This is a part of our duty, with brokenness of heart to declare our ways, to acquaint God fully how it is with us, without dissembling anything. It is a duty very unpleasing to flesh and blood; natural pride and self-love will not let us take shame upon ourselves; and out of carnal ease and laziness we are loath to submit to such a troublesome course, and thus openly to declare our ways. Guilt is shy of God’s presence, and sin works a strangeness. Adam hid himself when God came into the garden; and when he could shift no longer, he will not declare it, but transfers the fault upon Eve, and obliquely upon God himself; and ever since there are many tergiversations in man’s heart; and therefore it is said, Job xxxi. 33, ‘If I have covered my sin as did Adam.’ Junius renders it more hominum—after the manner of men; but Adam’s name is used because we show ourselves to be right Adam’s race, apt to cover our sins. The same expression we have Hosea vi. 7, ‘But they like men have transgressed the covenant.’ In the Hebrew it is, like Adam; so, if I covered my sin as did Adam, this is the fashion of men. Now, David brought his heart to this resolution with much struggling: Ps. xxxii. 5, ‘I said, I will confess my sins;’ he forced himself, and thrust his backward heart forward by a strong resolution; for we are loath to deal thus openly, plainly, and truly with God, being shy of his presence, and would fain keep the devil’s counsel, and come with our iniquity in our bosom. But though this is a troublesome displeasing exercise to flesh and blood, yet it is profitable and necessary for us thus to declare our ways.
1. Because it is made to be one of the conditions of pardon, and the act of repentance that is necessary to the pardon of sin: Prov. xxviii. 13, ‘He that hideth his sins shall not prosper; but he that confesseth and forsakes them, shall find mercy;’ so it runs. And 1 John i. 9, ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.’ God’s justice is satisfied by Christ, but it must be glorified and owned by us. So Jer. iii. 13, ‘I am merciful, saith the Lord: only acknowledge thine iniquity, that thou hast transgressed against the Lord thy God.’ God hath mercy enough to pardon all, only he will have it sued out his own way, he will have his mercy asked upon our knees; and have the creature stoop and submit. And David, Ps. li. 3, ‘I acknowledge my transgression.’
2. It is the only means to have our peace settled. If you would not have your trouble and anxious thoughts continued upon you, go open yourselves to God, declare your ways: Ps. xxxii. 5, ‘I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord, and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.’ As soon as David did but take up a resolution, presently he felt the comfort of it. If David had confessed sooner, he had come to his ease sooner. Distress of conscience is continued upon us until this be done; and especially is this found by experience, when great trouble comes upon us by reason of sin. There is some sin at the bottom God will bring out; and until they come to clearness and openness with God, the Lord still continues the trouble; they are kept roaring, and do not come to their peace, Job xxxiii. 26, 27. When a man is under trouble, and the sense of sin doth not fasten on the heart, he is not prepared for deliverance; but when it comes to this, ‘I have sinned, and it profits me not,’ then God sends ‘an interpreter, one among a thousand, to show unto man his uprightness.’
3. It prevents Satan’s accusations and God’s judgments. It is no profit to cover our sins, for either Satan will declare them, or God find us out, and enter into judgment with us. It prevents Satan as an accuser and God as a judge.
(1.) It prevents Satan as an accuser. Let us not tarry till our adversary accuse. There is one that will accuse you if you do not accuse yourselves. He that is a tempter is also an accuser of the brethren. Now confession puts Satan out of office. When we have sued out our pardon, Satan is not an accuser so much as a slanderer: Rom. viii. 33, ‘Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?’ The informer comes too late when the guilty person hath accused himself, and sued out his pardon. And—
(2.) It prevents God as a judge. It is all known to God: Ps. lxix. 5, ‘O God! thou knowest my foolishness, and my sins are not hid from thee.’ It is a folly to conceal that which cannot be hid. God knows them. How? God may be said to know things two ways—either simply with respect to the perfection of his nature, and so he knows all things; or by virtue of his office, and so God knows things judicially as judge of the world; he takes knowledge of it so as to punish it, unless you confess it. But in this kind of knowledge he loves to be prevented; he will not know it as a judge if we confess it, when there is process against sin in our own consciences: 1 Cor. xi. 31, ‘If we judge ourselves we shall not be judged.’ When we accuse and judge ourselves, then God’s work is prevented. God is contented if we will accuse, arraign, judge, and condemn ourselves; then he will not take knowledge of our sins as a judge. The end of God’s judging is execution and punishment, but the end of our judging is that we may obtain pardon. Now, consider whether you will stand at the bar of Christ, not as a Saviour, but as a judge; or will judge yourselves in your own heart? Better sit as judge upon your own heart than God should sit as judge upon you; therefore deal plainly and openly with him.
Thus I have explained what it is to declare our ways; it is an act of dependence to take God’s leave, blessing, counsel along with us; an act of friendship, as to lay open our case to God; and an act of brokenness of heart, as declaring our sins and temptations.
For the reasons why, if we would speed with God, we should unfeignedly lay open our case before him.
1. It argueth sincerity. A hypocrite will pray, but will not thus sincerely open his heart to God: Ps. xxxii. 1 ‘Blessed is he in whose spirit there is no guile.’ No guile; it hath a limited sense with respect to the matter of confession, that doth not deal deceitfully with God, but plainly and openly declares his case. Many ways men may be guilty of guile of spirit in confession of sin; either when they content themselves with general or slight acknowledgments; as thus, We are all sinners; but they do not declare their ways. Generals are but notions; and as particular persons are lost in a crowd, so sins lie hid in common acknowledgments. Or else men take up the empty forms of others. You shall see in Numbers xix. the waters of purification wherewith a man had been cleansed, if another touched them, he became unclean. Confessions are like those waters whereby one hath cleansed himself. Now to take up others’ confessions, and the forms of others, without the same affection, feeling, and brokenness of heart, doth but defile us the more, when the heart doth not prescribe to the tongue but the tongue to the heart. Or else men make some acknowledgments to God, but do not uncover their privy sore; they are loath to draw forth the state of their hearts into the notice and view of conscience. This guile of spirit may be sometimes in God’s children. Moses had a privy sore which he was loath to disclose; and therefore when God would have sent him into Egypt, he pleads other things, insufficiency, want of elocution, that he was a stammerer, that he had not utterance. Ay! but his carnal fear was the main; therefore see how God touches his privy sore: Exod. iv. 19, ‘Arise, Moses; go into Egypt: the men that sought thy life are dead.’ Why, Moses never pleaded that; he mentions other things that were true, that he was a man of slow speech, and his brother Aaron was fitter; but he never pleads carnal fear: but the Lord knew what was at the bottom. So it is with Christians; many times we will confess this and that which is a truth, and we may humble ourselves for it. Ay! but there is a privy sore yet kept secret. Therefore this open dealing with God is very necessary to lay open before God whatever we know of our state and way, for then God will be nigh to us. Out of self-love men spare themselves, and will not judge and condemn themselves; therefore they deny, excuse, extenuate, or hypocritically confess, Oh, I am a sinner! and the like, but do not come openly.
2. It argueth somewhat of the spirit of adoption to put in the bill of our complaint to our heavenly father, to draw up an indictment against ourselves. To judge, that is irksome; but to put in a bill of complaint to a friend, or father, that savours of more ingenuity. To tell God all our mind notes freedom and familiarity; not such as is bold, rude, nor a dress of words; but such as is grave, serious, proceeding from an inward sense of God, and hope of his mercy: 1 John iii. 21, ‘If our hearts condemn us not, then have we confidence towards God;’ then we can deal with him as one friend with another, and acquaint him with all our griefs and wants. A man had need walk exactly that would maintain his freedom with God. There is a freedom, as men may call it, such as is bold, rude, and reckless, in words only; but that which proceeds from confidence in God and his mercy, that is a fruit of close walking; we cannot have it in our hearts without it.
3. It is the way to make us serious and affected with our condition. When we open our whole heart to God, then we shall be more earnest for a remedy; we content ourselves with some transient glances, and imperfect knowledge of our estate, and so are not affected as we should; a particular view of things most works with us. Look, as Christ, the more particularly he is set forth, the more taking is the object; when the lump of sweetness is dissolved, then it is tasted. The more particularly we pry into our estate, the more we are affected, and the more we shall see of the deceitfulness of our own hearts: ‘When every one shall know his own sore and grief,’ 2 Chron. vi. 29.
4. It will be of great advantage in the spiritual life to declare often our whole estate to God; for the more men know themselves the more they mind God and their heavenly calling. Those men that make conscience of declaring themselves to God will ever find lusts to be mortified, doubts to be resolved, graces to be strengthened. A man that doth not look after his estate, it runs into decay insensibly before he is aware; so when men grow negligent of their hearts, and never think of giving an account to God, all runs to waste in the soul. Searching and self-examining Christians will be the most serious Christians; for as they have a more distinct affective sense of their condition, so they always find more work to do in the spiritual life. They come to know what are their sins, and assaults, and conflicts, and what further strength they may have in the way of holiness; and by this account they are engaged to walk more exactly, that they may not provide matter against themselves: 1 Peter iii. 7, ‘That their prayers be not hindered;’ that they may look God in the face with more confidence.
Use 1. Let us clearly and openly declare our condition to the Lord, our griefs and sorrows, and so our sins.
1. Our griefs and sorrows. Two things will quicken you to this:—The inconvenience of any other way. What will you do? If you swallow your griefs, that will oppress the heart. The more we unbosom ourselves to a friend, the more we find ease; vent and utterance doth lessen our passion. An oven stopped up is hotter within. So the more close we are, the more we keep our own counsel, the greater is our burden. Look, as wind when it is imprisoned in the caverns of the earth causeth violent convulsions and earthquakes, but if it find vent all is quiet, so it is with the heart; when troubles are kept close, then they become the greater burden, they make the heart stormy, full of discontent; but when we open ourselves, as Hannah did her case to God, 1 Sam. i. 8, we are no more sad; or if we go to anything on this side God, our troubles increase. When a man hath sorrow upon his heart, it is not the next ditch will yield him refreshing and comfort, but he must go to the fountain of living water. If we be afraid of an enemy without, our business is to strike in with God: Prov. xvi. 7, ‘When a man’s ways please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.’ God hath the command of all things; he is first to be treated with, then there is hope and relief in God. When we are humble and tractable in our affliction, when we come and represent our case to him, the very thing gives us some hope; for the Lord doth all out of mercy. Therefore the very representing our misery, as David: Ps. lxix. 29, ‘But I am poor and sorrowful;’ that we are in a miserable forlorn condition; if you have nothing else to plead, this is that which moves God, and works upon his bowels. Look, as beggars to move pity will uncover their sore, that as it were by a silent oratory they may extort and draw forth relief from you; so go to the Lord and acquaint him with your condition; some hope will arise hence. Lord, I am weak and poor, deliver me; that is all the argument.
2. As to sins, let me tell you, go to God with clearness and openness; reveal your whole state, tell him what are your temptations and conflicts, and how your heart works. Though he knows it already by his own omnisciency, yet let him know it by your own acknowledgments. Let him not know it as a judge, take notice of it so as to punish you; but go deal plainly, and confess your sins. To this end—
(1.) There will be need of light, that you may be able to judge of things: Heb. v. 14, ‘They have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.’ When a man hath not only a speculative knowledge, but hath his senses exercised, able to judge of the workings of his own heart, he can discern what is of flesh and what is of spirit, and so can give an account to God. When we have not only some naked theory, we shall be able to see what is a temptation, where our help, and where our weakness lies.
(2.) There needs observation of the workings of our own hearts. A man that would give an account to God need to observe himself narrowly, and keep his heart above all keepings. David, that saith here, I declared my ways, saith elsewhere, I considered my ways. It is but a formal account we can give without serious consideration; we must therefore ‘keep our hearts with all diligence,’ Prov. iv. 23.
(3.) There needs in many cases a serious search. For instance, in. deep desertion, when God withdraws the light of his countenance, and men have not those wonted influences of grace, those glimpses of favour, and quickenings of spirit, and enlargings of heart: Ps. lxxvii. 6, ‘I call to remembrance my song in the night: I commune with mine own heart, and my spirit made diligent search.’ When under any despair of soul, trace it to its original cause: Wherein have I grieved the Spirit of God? So Lam. iii. 40, ‘Let us search and try our ways.’ There needs a very distinct and serious inquiry into the state of our souls, that we may deal ingenuously with God, and lay open ourselves before him.
Secondly, The second clause, and the Lord heard me.
Doct. After an ingenuous and open declaration of ourselves to God, we find audience with him.
So did David, and so do all the saints. He was never yet wanting to his people that deals sincerely with him in prayer. How doth God manifest his audience? Either inwardly by the Spirit, or outwardly by providence.
First, Inwardly by his Spirit, when he begets a persuasion of their acceptance with God, leaves an impression of confidence upon their hearts, and a quietness in looking for the thing they had asked. Before they have an answer of providence, they have a persuasion of heart that their prayer hath been accepted. There is a great deal of difference between accepting a prayer and granting a prayer. God’s acceptance is as soon as we pray, but the thing we beg for is another thing and distinct: 1 John v. 14, 15, ‘This is the confidence that we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us; and if we know that he hear us whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.’ God’s hearing of us, his audience, is a distinct thing from the answer of his providence; and therefore when he begets a confidence that we are heard, and the soul begins to be quieted in God and look up for mercy, it is a sign of his accepting our prayer, though the benefit be not actually bestowed. David found a change in his heart many times, as if one had come and told him the posture of his affairs was altered. It is otherwise with you than it was when you began to pray; therefore you have him in the beginning of a psalm come in with bitter complaints and groaning; his eyes were ready to drop out with grief, and presently he breaks out with thanksgiving, as Ps. vi. 8, 9, ‘Mine eye is consumed because of grief; it waxeth old because of all mine enemies.’ Presently, ‘Depart from me all ye workers of iniquity, for the Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping.’ So Hannah, she had commended her request to God, and was no more sad, 1 Sam. i. 16. That is one way of answer; when we have declared ourselves to the Lord, the heart looks out to see what will come of its prayers; it begins to rest, and is quiet in God, and looks for some answer of the mercy.
The second consideration, that the outward mercy in his providence is either in kind or in value. God doth not always answer us in kind, by giving us the thing asked; but doth give us something that is as good or better, which contents the heart, by denying the thing desired, and giving something equivalent. Many times we ask temporal mercies, defence, victory, deliverance, and God gives spiritual; we ask deliverance and God gives patience, 2 Cor. xii. 8, 9. Paul asked thrice that the thorn in the flesh might depart from him; but God gives him sufficient grace. God doth not answer us always according to our will, but certainly according to our weal and profit. Many times he will give the blessing in kind, but at other times he gives the value of it, which is better. God may give temporal comfort in kind, in anger; but the value, the blessing, he never gives in anger, but always in love. When they asked meat for their lusts, God gave it in kind, in anger, Ps. lxxviii.: ‘And I gave them a king in my wrath,’ Hosea xiii. 11. When we are passionate and eager upon a temporal request, God doth answer in wrath; the mercy is more when he gives us that which is better.
Thirdly, God delays many times when he doth not deny, for our exercise.
1. To exercise our faith, to see if we can believe in him when we see nothing, have no sensible proof of his good-will to us. The woman of Canaan she comes to Christ, and first gets not a word from him—Christ ‘answered her nothing;’ afterwards Christ breaks off his silence, and begins to speak, and his speech was more discouraging than his silence. She meets with a rough answer: ‘It is not meet to give the children’s bread unto dogs.’ Then the woman turns this rebuke into an encouragement, ‘Lord, the dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.’ Then Christ could hold no longer: ‘O woman! great is thy faith; be it unto thee even as thou wilt,’ Mat. xv. So many times we come to God and meet with a silent oracle, cannot get an answer; but if we get an answer, it may be we begin to think God puts us off, as none of the sheep he is to look after. Oh! but when we wrestle through all these discouragements and temptations, then ‘great is thy faith.’ In short, we pray for a blessing; and sometimes, though God love the suppliant, yet he doth not seem to take notice of his desires, that he may humble him to the dust, and may have a sense of his unworthiness, and pick an answer out of God’s silence, and grant out of his denial, and faith out of these discouragements.
2. To exercise our patience: Heb. vi. 12, ‘Be followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.’ Our times are always present with us, but God’s time is not yet come. A hungry stomach would have meat before it is roasted or sod. Impatient longings must have green fruit, and will not stay till it be matured and ripened. Now God will work us out of this impatience. The troubles of the world are necessary for patience as well as faith.
3. To try our love. Though we be not feasted with felt comforts and present benefits, yet God will try the deportment of his children, if indeed he be the delight of their hearts: Isa. xxvi. 8, ‘Yea, in the way of thy judgments, O Lord, have we waited for thee.’ When we love God, not only when our affections are bribed by some sensible experience or comfort, but when we can love God in the way of his judgments. A child of God is a strange creature; he can love God for his judgments, and fear him for his mercies. When our heart is like lime, the more water you sprinkle upon it, the more it burns; our desires glow the more, the more disappointments we seem to meet with. We love his benefits more than we love God, when we delight in him only when he doth us good. But when we can delight in him even when our desires are delayed, and nothing appears but tokens of God’s displeasure, this is delight indeed.
4. To enlarge our desires, that we may have a greater income of his mercy, as a sack that is stretched out holds the more. God will have the soul more stretched out when he means to fill it up with grace. Delays increase importunities: ‘Ask, seek, knock,’ Mat. vii. If God will not come at the first asking, we must seek; if seeking will not bring him, we must knock, be importunate, have no Nay: Luke xi. 8, ‘For his importunity sake he will arise.’ The man is impudent; he stands knocking, and will not be gone.
Fourthly, God may seem sometimes to deny a request, yet the end of the request is accomplished. For instance, God’s children they have an end in their requests; we pray for the means with respect to an end. Now many times God gives the end when he will deny the means. Paul had grace sufficient, though the thorn in his flesh were not removed, 2 Cor. xii. 9. A Christian prays for the light of God’s countenance, for sensible feeling of God’s love. Why? To strengthen him in his way. Now God denies him comfort, because he will do it by the word of promise, it shall not be by sensible comfort. We pray for victory over such a lust, the mortification of such a sin. Why? That we may serve God more cheerfully. God denies such a degree of grace, because he will mortify a greater sin, which is pride in the heart. And thus we miss the particular that we desire, yet still we have the end of the request. We pray for giving success to such an enterprise. Why? That we may serve God safely. God will bring it about another way.
Fifthly, If God do not give us the blessings themselves we ask, yet he gives us many experiences by the by in the manner of asking; one way or other something comes into the soul by praying to God; as those in Ps. lxxxiv., their end was to go to Jerusalem, but in passing through the valley of Baca, they met with a well by the way. So we meet with something by the way, some light, or some sweet refreshing, some new consideration to set us a-work in the spiritual life. By praying to God, unawares, unthought of by you, there are many principles of faith drawn forth in the view of conscience not noted before, some truth or other presented to the heart, or some spiritual benefit that comes in with fresh light and power, that was never aimed at by us.
Use 1. If God be so ready to hear his people, let us not throw away our prayers as children shoot away their arrows; but let us observe God’s answer, what comes in upon every prayer. In every address you make to God, put the soul in a posture of expectation: Ps. v. 3, ‘I will pray and look up;’ and Ps. lxxxv. 8, ‘I will hear what God the Lord will speak; for he will speak peace unto his people.’ See what God speaks when you have been praying and calling upon him. It argues a slight formal spirit when you do not observe what comes in upon your addresses. To quicken you to this, know—
1. If you observe not his answer, God loseth a great deal of honour and praise; for it is said, Ps. l. 15, ‘Call upon me in time of trouble, and I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.’ Every answer of prayer makes for the glory of God; and Col. iv. 2, ‘Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving.’ You are not only to see how your hearts are carried out in prayer, but watch for God’s answer, that you may gather matter of praise. We should not be so barren in gratulation as usually we are, if we were as ready to observe our experiences as to lay forth our necessities.
2. You lose many an argument of trust and confidence. Answers of prayer are an argument against atheism, which is so natural to us, and inbred in our hearts; it persuades us that there is a gracious being: Ps. lxv. 2, ‘thou that hearest prayer, unto thee shall all flesh come.’ We have called upon him, and found that there is a God, and against the natural unbelief which doubts of his truth in his promises: Ps. xviii. 30, ‘The word of the Lord is a tried word; he is a buckler to all those that trust in him.’ Well, saith the soul, I will build upon it another time; there is more than letters and syllables in it; there is something that speaks God’s heart. So Ps. cxvi. 2, ‘The Lord hath heard my voice and my supplications: because he hath inclined his ear unto me, therefore will I call upon him as long as I live.’ Promises shall not lie by as a dead stock; I will be pleading them.
3. It increaseth our love to God. When we see how mindful he is of us, and kind to us in our necessities, it is a very taking thing. Visits maintain friendship; so when God is mindful of us, it maintains an intercourse between God and us: Ps. cxvi. 1, ‘I love the Lord, because he hath heard my supplications.’ Therefore observe what comes in upon your prayers, especially when your hearts are earnestly carried out by the impulses of his grace.
Use 2. To admire the goodness of God to poor creatures, that he should be at leisure to attend our requests: ‘I declared my ways, and he heard me.’ When a poor soul, that is of no regard among men, shall come with conflicts and temptations, and the Lord presently hear him, it renders his grace truly admirable: Ps. xxxiv. 6, ‘This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.’ He doth not say, this eminent prophet or this great king, but this poor man. Oh, that such contemptible persons as we should have such audience! For great ones here in the world to let a poor man tell his tale at large, that would be counted great patience, much more if he finds relief in the case. But beyond all this, observe the goodness of God. The more we declare our ways, the sooner doth he hear us; he doth not turn away from us when we tell him plainly we cannot believe in him, or trust in him. Come to a man and tell him, You have made me great promises, but I cannot believe you speak truth—this will provoke him; but when you come to the Lord and say, Lord, thou hast made a great many promises; though we cannot trust as we should, yet we have declared our sins, conflicts, temptations, yet, Lord, pity our weakness.
Thirdly, Here is his petition, ‘Teach me thy statutes.’
First, I observe, David having been once heard of God expects to be heard in the like manner again. Here, ‘Thou hast heard me;’ and then comes with a new request, ‘Teach me thy statutes.’
Doct. 1. Those that have sped with God in one address, they will be dealing with God for more mercy; for so doth David. The reason is—
1. Because God is where he was at first; he is not weary by giving, nor doth waste by giving; but what he hath done that he can do, and will do still. I AM is God’s name; not I was, or will be; for ever remaining in the same constant tenor of goodness and power. His providence is still new and fresh every morning. God is but one, always like himself. He hath not so spent himself but he can work again. Creatures have soon spent their allowance, but God cannot be exhausted. There is no decay of love or power in him, no wrinkle in the brow of eternity. There was, is, and will be a God.
2. Experience breeds confidence. The apostle teacheth us so, Rom. v. 4. When we have had former experience of God’s readiness to hear us, it is an argument that breeds confidence of the like audience for the future. ‘He that delivered me out of the mouth of the lion,’ &c. God, that hath been gracious, surely will be gracious still, for then promises are sensibly confirmed, and then former mercies are pledges of future. By giving, God becomes a debtor: Mat. vi. 25, ‘Is not life more than meat, and the body than raiment?’ Our Saviour’s argument was this, If God give life, he will give food; if a body, he will give raiment. If he hath given grace, the earnest of the Spirit, tie will give glory. If he hath given us Christ, he will give us other things together with him. If he hath begun with us, he will end with us, Phil. i. 6. One mercy is the pledge of another.
3. We are endeared to God not only by acts of duty, but by every act of mercy. What is the argument he urgeth for Sion: Zech. iii. 2, ‘Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire? The Lord rebuke thee, Satan.’ Have not I delivered Sion, and shall I suffer that to be destroyed which I have delivered? The Lord urgeth his own mercy and his former kindness.
Use. To quicken us not to grow weary of dealing with God. Let us go often to God. Men think it an uncivil importunity to be required to do more when they have done already; Solomon gives us that advice, Prov. xxv. 17, ‘Withdraw thy foot from thy neighbour’s house, lest he be weary of thee, and so hate thee.’ Men waste by giving, but God doth not; when you have been with him, and he hath done liberally for you, yet he upbraids you not. God, that hath vouchsafed grace, you may desire the continuance of his grace, and to crown his own grace.
Secondly, Observe, the mercy which he asks is God’s help in a course of holiness, namely, to walk worthy of the mercy.
Doct. 2. They that upon declaring their ways have found mercy with God, their care should be to walk worthy of the mercy.
The Lord hath heard me. What then? ‘Teach me thy statutes.’ So Ps. lxxxv. 8, ‘The Lord will speak peace to his people, but let them no more return unto folly.’ ‘Mark, when God hath spoken peace, when they have an answer of peace, after you have prayed to God, take heed of turning to folly; do not lose the favour you have got; walk more holily and more worthy of such a mercy: Mat. vi. 12, ‘Forgive us our sins.’ What then? ‘Lead us not into temptation.’ Upon supposition the Lord hath forgiven us our sins, oh! let us not sin again. Many would invite God to favour their ways when they have no respect to his ways, which is in effect to make God a servant to our lust; but if you would have mercy from the Lord, beg that you might walk worthy of the mercy. The children of God should do so upon a double ground—in point of prudence and thankfulness. la point of prudence, as they have smarted under their former folly; and in point of thankfulness, as they have tasted the Lord’s grace in his answer.
1. When you have declared your way with brokenness and bitterness of heart, you have experience of the evil of sin; and when you know how bitter it is by sound remorse, it is folly to return to it again: Josh. xxii. 17, mark the reason, ‘Is the iniquity of Peor too little for us, from which we are not cleansed unto this day?’ Our former sense of the evil of sin when declaring it should be a restraint to us, else your cure is in vain. A man that is recovered out of a deep disease is willing to escape the like again; or, as Christ said to the man that had an infirmity thirty-eight years, ‘Go thy way, sin no more, lest a worse thing happen unto thee.’ When a man hath had the bitter sense of the fruit of sin, this will make him more cautious for the future. They are foolish children that remember beating no longer than it smarts, when they are scarce yet whole of the old wound. Though God hath taken out the sting of the sin, and granted us comfort, yet remember your former smart, that you may not fall into it again.
2. Out of thankfulness for God’s gracious answer. Every answer of grace leaves an obligation upon the sinner that he may not offend God again. See what a holy argument is used, Ezra ix. 13, ‘Should we after such a deliverance as this break thy commandment?’ Will you again relapse? So Luke vii. 47, ‘For her sins are forgiven her, therefore she loved much.’ Grace melts the heart. When a man hath received much mercy from God, his heart is wrought out into thankfulness; and the more they have been in sin, the more will they be in godliness when once they have tasted the sweetness of pardon, and had an answer of grace from God.
Thirdly, Note, they that would steer their course according to God’s holy will had need of the conduct and assistance of his Holy Spirit; for he goes to God, ‘O Lord, teach me thy statutes,’ Ps. xxv. 4; 1 Show me thy ways, O Lord, teach me thy paths;’ and Ps. xxvii. 11, ‘Teach me thy way, O Lord, and lead me in a plain path, because of mine enemies;’ and Ps. lxxxvi. 11, ‘Teach me thy way, O Lord, I will walk in thy truth: unite my heart to fear thy name.’ These places show that he addressed himself to God that he might not follow any sinful course in the time of trouble and temptation, that he might not dishonour God.