I have waited for thy salvation, O LORD.
~ Genesis 49:18
And I will wait upon the LORD, that hideth his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him.
~ Isaiah 8:17
Yea, in the way of thy judgments, O LORD, have we waited for thee; the desire of our soul is to thy name, and to the remembrance of thee.
~ Isaiah 26:8
CAPH. My soul fainteth for thy salvation: but I hope in thy word.
~ Psalm 119:81
When I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches.
~ Psalm 63:6
A Song of degrees. Behold, bless ye the LORD, all ye servants of the LORD, which by night stand in the house of the LORD.
~ Psalm 134:1
I prevented the dawning of the morning, and cried: I hoped in thy word.
~ Psalm 119:147
And he cried, A lion: My lord, I stand continually upon the watchtower in the daytime, and I am set in my ward whole nights:
~ Isaiah 21:8
The Forgiveness of Sin: A Practical Exposition Upon Psalm 130, by John Owen. The following contains an excerpt from his work.
“Search the Scriptures.”—John 5:39
I wait for the LORD, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope. My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for the morning.
~ Psalm 130:5-6
Verses Fifth and Sixth
1. It is necessary. They that watch for the morning, to whose frame and actings the waiting of the soul for God is compared, give not over until the light doth appear; or if they do, if they are wearied and faint, and so cease watching, all their former pains will be lost, and they will lie down in disappointments. So will it be with the soul that deserts its watch, and faints in its waiting. If upon the eruption of new lusts or corruptions,—if upon the return of old temptations, or the assaults of new ones,—if upon a revived perplexing sense of guilt, or on the tediousness of working and labouring so much and so long in the dark,—the soul begin to say in itself, “I have looked for light and behold darkness, for peace and yet trouble cometh; the summer is past, the harvest is ended, and I am not relieved; such and such blessed means have been enjoyed, and yet I have not attained rest;” and so give over its waiting in the way and course before prescribed;—it will at length utterly fail, and come short of the grace aimed at. “Thou hast laboured, and hast not fainted,” brings in the reward, Rev. 2:3.
2. Perseverance in waiting is assuredly prevalent; and this renders it a necessary part of the duty itself. If we continue to wait for the vision of peace it will come, it will not tarry, but answer our expectation of it. Never soul miscarried that abode in this duty unto the end. The joys of heaven may sometimes prevent consolations in this life; God sometimes gives in the full harvest without sending of the first- fruits aforehand;—but spiritual or eternal peace and rest is the infallible end of permanent waiting for God.
This is the duty that the psalmist declares himself to be engaged in, upon the encouraging discovery which was made unto him of forgiveness in God: “There is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared. I wait for the LORD, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope.” And this is that which, in the like condition, is required of us. This is the great direction which was given us, in the example and practice of the psalmist, as to our duty and deportment in the condition described. This was the way whereby he rose out of his depths and escaped out of his entanglements. Is this, then, the state of any of us? Let such take directions from hence.
1. Encourage your souls unto waiting on God. Do new fears arise, do old disconsolations continue? Say unto your souls, “Yet wait on God. ‘Why are you cast down, O our souls? and why are you disquieted within us? hope in God; for we shall yet praise him, who is the health of our countenance, and our God;’ ” as the psalmist doth in the like case, Ps. 43:5. So he speaks elsewhere, “Wait on God,and be of good courage;”—”Shake off sloth, rouse up yourselves from under despondencies; let not fears prevail.” This is the only way for success, and it will assuredly be prevalent. Oppose this resolution to every discouragement, and it will give new life to faith and hope. Say, “My flesh and my heart faileth; but God is the rock of my heart, and my portion for ever;” as Ps. 73:26. Though thy perplexed thoughts have even wearied and worn out the outward man, as in many they do, so that flesh faileth,—and though thou hast no refreshing evidence from within, from thyself, or thy own experience, so that thy heart faileth,—yet resolve to look unto God; there is strength in him, and satisfaction in him, for the whole man; he is a rock, and a portion. This will strengthen things which otherwise will be ready to die. This will keep life in thy course, and stir thee up to plead it with God in an acceptable season, when he will be found. Job carried up his condition unto a supposition that God might slay him,—that is, add one stroke, one rebuke unto another, until he was consumed, and so take him out of the world in darkness and in sorrow,—yet he resolved to trust, to hope, to wait on him, as knowing that he should not utterly miscarry so doing. This frame the church expresseth so admirably that nothing can be added thereunto: Lam. 3:17–26, “Thou hast removed my soul far off from peace: I forgat prosperity. And I said, My strength and my hope is perished from the LORD: remembering mine affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall. My soul hath them still in remembrance, and is humbled in me. This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the LORD’S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. The LORD is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him. The LORD is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him. It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD.” We have here both the condition and the duty insisted on, with the method of the soul’s actings in reference unto the one and the other fully expressed. The condition is sad and bitter; the soul is in depths, far from peace and rest, verse 17. In this state it is ready utterly to faint, and to give up all for lost and gone, both strength for the present and hopes for the future, verse 18. This makes its condition full of sorrow and bitterness, and its own thoughts become unto it like “wormwood and gall,” verses 19, 20. But doth he lie down under the burden of all this trouble? doth he despond and give over? No; saith he, “I call to mind that ‘there is forgiveness with God;’ grace, mercy, goodness for the relief of distressed souls, such as are in my condition,” verses 21– 23. Thence the conclusion is, that as all help is to be looked for, all relief expected from him alone, so “it is good that a man should quietly wait and hope for the salvation of God,” verses 24–26. This he stirs up himself unto as the best, as the most blessed course for his deliverance.
2. Remember that diligent use of the means for the end aimed at is a necessary concomitant of, and ingredient unto, waiting on God. Take in the consideration of this direction also. Do not think to be freed from your entanglements by restless, heartless desiring that it were otherwise with you. Means are to be used that relief may be obtained. What those means are is known unto all. Mortification of sin, prayer, meditation, due attendance upon all gospel ordinances; conferring in general about spiritual things, advising in particular about our own state and condition, with such who, having received the tongue of the learned, are able to speak a word in season to them that are weary,—are required to this purpose. And in all these are diligence and perseverance to be exercised, or in vain shall men desire a delivery from their entanglements.
God the proper object of the soul’s waiting in its distresses and depths.
WE have seen what the duty is intended in the proposition. We are nextly to consider the reason also of it, why this is the great, first, and principal duty of souls who in their depths have it discovered unto them that there is forgiveness with God; and the reason hereof is that which is expressed in our second observation before mentioned, namely,—
That the proper object of a sin-distressed soul’s waiting and expectation is God himself as revealed in Christ. “I have,” saith the psalmist, “waited for Jehovah;”—”It is not this or that mercy or grace, this or that help or relief, but it is Jehovah himself that I wait for.”
Here, then, we must do two things,—first, Show in what sense God himself is the object of the waiting of the soul; secondly, How it appears from hence that waiting is so necessary a duty.
First, It is the Lord himself, Jehovah himself, that the soul waiteth for. It is not grace, mercy, or relief absolutely considered, but the God of all grace and help, that is the full adequate object of the soul’s waiting and expectation; only, herein he is not considered absolutely in his own nature, but as there is forgiveness with him. What is required hereunto hath been at large before declared. It is as he is revealed in and by Jesus Christ; as in him he hath found a ransom, and accepted the atonement for sinners in his blood;—as he is a God in covenant, so he is himself the object of our waiting.
And that, first, because all troubles, depths, entanglements arise from,—
1. The absence of God from the soul; and,
2. From his displeasure.
1. The absence of God from the soul, by his departure, withdrawing, or hiding himself from it, is that which principally casts the soul into its depths. “Woe unto them,” saith the Lord, “when I depart from them!” Hos. 9:12. And this woe, this sorrow, doth not attend only a universal, a total departure of God from any; but that also which is gradual or partial, in some things, in some seasons. When God withdraws his enlightening, his refreshing, his comforting presence, as to any ways or means whereby he hath formerly communicated himself unto the souls of any, then “woe unto them!” sorrows will befall them, and they will fall into depths and entanglements. Now, this condition calls for waiting. If God be withdrawn, if he hide himself, what hath the soul to do but to wait for his return? So saith the prophet Isaiah, chap. 8:17, “I will wait upon the LORD, that hideth his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him.” If God hide himself, this is the natural and proper duty of the soul, to wait and to look for him. Other course of relief it cannot apply itself unto. What that waiting is, and wherein it doth consist, hath been declared. Patient seeking of God in the ways of his appointment is comprised in it. This the prophet expresseth in that word, “I will look for him;” indeed, the same in the original with that in the psalm, ְו ִּק ֵּוּי ִּתי לוֹ ;—”And I will earnestly look out after him, with expectation of his return unto me.”
2. A sense of God’s displeasure is another cause of these depths and troubles, and of the continuance of the soul in them, notwithstanding it hath made a blessed discovery by faith that there is with him forgiveness. This hath been so fully manifested through the whole preceding discourse, that it need not again be insisted on. All hath respect unto sin; and the reason of the trouble that ariseth from sin is because of the displeasure of God against it. What, then, is the natural posture and frame of the soul towards God as displeased? Shall he contend with him? shall he harden himself against him? shall he despise his wrath and anger, and contemn his threatenings? or shall he hide himself from him, and so avoid the effects of his wrath? Who knows not how ruinous and pernicious to the soul such courses would be? and how many are ruined by them every day? Patient waiting is the soul’s only reserve on this account also. And,—
Secondly, This duty in the occasion mentioned is necessary upon the account of the greatness and sovereignty of him with whom we have to do: “My soul waiteth for Jehovah.” Indeed, waiting is a duty that depends on the distance that is between the persons concerned in it,—namely, he that waiteth, and he that is waited on; so the psalmist informs us, Ps. 123:2. It is an action like that of servants and handmaids towards their masters or rulers. And the greater this distance is, the more cogent are the reasons of this duty on all occasions. And because we are practically averse from the due performance of this duty, or at least quickly grow weary of it, notwithstanding our full conviction of its necessity, I shall a little insist on some such considerations of God and ourselves, as may not only evince thenecessity of this duty, but also satisfy us of its reasonableness; that by the first we may be engaged into it, and by the latter preserved in it.
Two things we may to this purpose consider in God, in Jehovah, whom we are to wait for:—First, His being, and the absolute and essential properties of his nature; secondly, Those attributes of his nature which respect his dealing with us;—both which are suited to beget in us affections and a frame of spirit compliant with the duty proposed.
Considerations of God, rendering our waiting on him reasonable and necessary—His glorious being.
First, let us consider the infinite glorious being of Jehovah, with his absolute, incommunicable, essential excellencies; and then try whether it doth not become us in every condition to wait for him, and especially in that under consideration. This course God himself took with Job to recover him from his discontents and complaints, to reduce him to quietness and waiting. He sets before him his own glorious greatness, as manifested in the works of his power, that thereby, being convinced of his own ignorance, weakness, and infinite distance in all things from him, he might humble his soul into the most submissive dependence on him and waiting for him. And this he doth accordingly, chap. 42:6: “I abhor myself,” saith he, “and repent in dust and ashes.” His soul now comes to be willing to be at God’s disposal; and therein he found present rest and a speedy healing of his condition. It is “the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy,” Isa. 57:15, with whom we have now to do: “He sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants of it are as grasshoppers before him; yea, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance; he taketh up the isles as a very little thing. All nations before him are as nothing; and they are counted unto him less than nothing, and vanity,” Isa. 40:15, 17, 22. To what end doth the Lord set forth and declare his glorious greatness and power? It is that all might be brought to trust in him and to wait for him, as at large is declared in the close of the chapter; for shall “grasshoppers,” a “drop of the bucket,” “dust of the balance,” things “less than nothing,” repine against, or wax weary of, the will of the immense, glorious, and lofty One? He that “taketh up the isles as a very little thing,” may surely, if he please, destroy, cast, and forsake one isle, one city in an isle, one person in a city; and we are before him but single persons. Serious thoughts of this infinite, all-glorious Being will either quiet our souls or overwhelm them. All our weariness of his dispensations towards us arises from secret imaginations that he is such a one as ourselves,—one that is to do nothing but what seems good in our eyes. But if we cannot comprehend his being, we cannot make rules to judge of his ways and proceedings. And how small a portion is it that we know of God! The nearest approaches of our reasons and imaginations leave us still at an infinite distance from him. And, indeed, what we speak of his greatness, we know not well what it signifies; we only declare our respect, unto that which we believe, admire, and adore, but are not able to comprehend. All our thoughts come as short of his excellent greatness as our natures do of his,—that is, infinitely. Behold the universe, the glorious fabric of heaven and earth; how little is it that we know of its beauty, order, and disposal!—yet was it all the product of the word of his mouth; and with the same facility can he, when he pleaseth, reduce it to its primitive nothing. And what are we, poor worms of the earth, an inconsiderable, unknown part of the lower series and order of the works of his hands, few in number, fading in condition, unregarded unto the residue of our fellow- creatures, that we should subduct ourselves from under any kind of his dealings with us, or be weary of waiting for his pleasure? This he presseth on us, Ps. 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God;”—”Let there be no more repinings, no more disputings; continue waiting in silence and patience. Consider who I am. ‘Be still, and know that I am God.’ ”
Farther to help us in this consideration, let us a little also fix our minds towards some of the glorious, essential, incommunicable properties of his nature distinctly; as,—
1. His eternity. This Moses proposeth, to bring the souls of believers to submission, trust, and waiting: Ps. 90:1, “From everlasting to everlasting thou art God;”—”One that hath his being and subsistence not in a duration of time, but in eternity itself.” So doth Habakkuk also, chap. 1:12, “Art thou not from everlasting, O LORD my God, mine Holy One?” and hence he draws his conclusion against making haste in any condition, and for tarrying and waiting for God. The like consideration is managed by David also, Ps. 102:27. How inconceivable is this glorious divine property unto the thoughts and minds of men! How weak are the ways and terms whereby they go about to express it! One says, it is a “nunc stans;” another, that it is a “perpetual duration.” He that says most, only signifies what he knows of what it is not. We are of yesterday, change every moment, and are leaving our station to-morrow. God is still the same, was so before the world was,—from eternity. And now I cannot think what I have said, but only have intimated what I adore. The whole duration of the world, from the beginning unto the end, takes up no space in this eternity of God: for how long soever it hath continued or may yet continue, it will all amount but to so many thousand years, so long a time; and time hath no place in eternity. And for us who have in this matter to do with God, what is our continuance unto that of the world? a moment, as it were, in comparison of the whole. When men’s lives were of old prolonged beyond the date and continuance of empires or kingdoms now, yet this was the winding up of all,— such a one lived so many years, “and he died,” Gen. 5. And what are we, poor worms, whose lives are measured by inches, in comparison of their span? what are we before the eternal God, God always immutably subsisting in his own infinite being? A real consideration hereof will subdue the soul into a condition of dependence on him and of waiting for him.
2. The immensity of his essence and his omnipresence is of the same consideration: “Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the LORD,” Jer. 23:24. “The heavens, even the heaven of heavens,” the supreme and most comprehensive created being, “cannot contain him,” saith Solomon. In his infinitely glorious being he is present with, and indistant from all places, things, times, all the works of his hands; and is no less gloriously subsisting where they are not. God is where heaven and earth are not, no less than where they are; and where they are not is himself. Where there is no place, no space, real or imaginary, God is; for place and imagination have nothing to do with immensity. And he is present everywhere in creation,—where I am writing, where you are reading; he is present with you, indistant from you. The thoughts of men’s hearts for the most part are, that God as to his essence is in heaven only; and it is well if some think he is there, seeing they live and act as if there were neither God nor devil but themselves. But on these apprehensions such thoughts are ready secretly to arise, and effectually to prevail, as are expressed Job 22:13, 14, “How doth God know? can he judge through the dark? Thick clouds are a covering unto him, that he seeth not; and he walketh in the circuit of heaven.” Apprehensions of God’s distance from men harden them in their ways. But it is utterly otherwise. God is everywhere, and a man may on all occasions say with Jacob, “God is in this place, and I knew it not.” Let the soul, then, who is thus called to wait on God, exercise itself with thoughts about this immensity of his nature and being. Comprehend it, fully understand it, we can never; but the consideration of it will give that awe of his greatness upon our hearts, as that we shall learn to tremble before him, and to be willing to wait for him in all things.
3. Thoughts of the holiness of God, or infinite self-purity of this eternal, immense Being, are singularly useful to the same purpose. This is that which Eliphaz affirms that he received by vision to reply to the complaint and impatience of Job, chap. 4:17–21. After he hath declared his vision, with the manner of it, this he affirms to be the revelation that by voice was made unto him: “Shall mortal man be more just than God? shall a man be more pure than his Maker? Behold, he put no trust in his servants; and his angels he charged with folly. How much less in them that dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust, who are crushed before the moth?” If the saints and angels in heaven do not answer this infinite holiness of God in their most perfect condition, is it meet for worms of the earth to suppose that any thing which proceeds from him is not absolutely holy and perfect, and so best for them? This is the fiery property of the nature of God, whence he is called a “consuming fire” and “everlasting burnings.” And the law, whereon he had impressed some representation of it, is called a “fiery law,” as that which will consume and burn up whatever is perverse and evil. Hence the prophet who had a representation of the glory of God in a vision, and heard the seraphim proclaiming his holiness, cried out, “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips,” Isa. 6:5. He thought it impossible that he should bear that near approach of the holiness of God. And with the remembrance hereof doth Joshua still the people,—with the terror of the Lord, chap. 14:19. Let such souls, then, as are under troubles and perplexities on any account, endeavour to exercise their thoughts about this infinite purity and fiery holiness of God. They will quickly find it their wisdom to become as weaned children before him, and content themselves with what he shall guide them unto; which is to wait for him. This fiery holiness streams from his throne, Dan. 7:10, and would quickly consume the whole creation, as now under the curse and sin, were it not for the interposing of Jesus Christ.
4. His glorious majesty as the Ruler of all the world. Majesty relates unto government, and it calls us to such an awe of him as doth render our waiting for him comely and necessary. God’s throne is said to be in heaven, and there principally do the glorious beams of his terrible majesty shine forth; but he hath also made some representation of it on the earth, that we might learn to fear before him. Such was the appearance that he gave of his glory in the giving of the law, whereby he will judge the world, and condemn the transgressors of it who obtain not an acquitment in the blood of Jesus Christ. See the description of it in Exod. 19:16–18. “So terrible was the sight” hereof, “that Moses” himself “said, I exceedingly fear and quake,” Heb. 12:21. And what effect it had upon all the people is declared, Exod. 20:18, 19. They were not able to bear it, although they had good assurance that it was for their benefit and advantage that he so drew nigh and manifested his glory unto them. Are we not satisfied with our condition? cannot we wait under his present dispensations? Let us think how we may approach unto his presence, or stand before his glorious majesty. Will not the dread of his excellency fall upon us? will not his terror make us afraid? shall we not think his way best, and his time best, and that our duty is to be silent before him? And the like manifestation hath he made of his glory, as the great Judge of all upon the throne, unto sundry of the prophets: as unto Isaiah, chap. 6:1–4; to Ezekiel, chap. 1.; to Daniel, chap. 7:9, 10; to John, Rev. 1. Read the places attentively, and learn to tremble before him. These are not things that are foreign unto us. This God is our God. The same throne of his greatness and majesty is still established in the heavens. Let us, then, in all our hastes and heats that our spirits in any condition are prone unto, present ourselves before this throne of God, and then consider what will be best for us to say or do; what frame of heart and spirit will become us, and be safest for us. All this glory doth encompass us every moment, although we perceive it not. And it will be but a few days before all the vails and shades that are about us shall be taken away and depart; and then shall all this glory appear unto us unto endless bliss or everlasting woe. Let us therefore know, that nothing, in our dealings with him, doth better become us than silently to wait for him, and what he will speak unto us in our depths and straits.
5. It is good to consider the instances that God hath given of this his infinite greatness, power, majesty, and glory. Such was his mighty work of creating all things out of nothing. We dwell on little mole-hills in the earth, and yet we know the least part of the excellency of that spot of ground which is given us for our habitation here below. But what is it unto the whole habitable world and the fulness thereof? And what an amazing thing is its greatness, with the wide and large sea, with all sorts of creatures therein! The least of these hath a beauty, a glory, an excellency, that the utmost of our inquiries end in admiration of. And all this is but the earth, the lower, depressed part of the world. What shall we say concerning the heavens over us, and all those creatures of light that have their habitations in them? Who can conceive the beauty, order, use, and course of them? The consideration hereof caused the psalmist to cry out, “LORD, our Lord, how excellent and glorious art thou!” Ps. 8:1. And what is the rise, spring, and cause of these things? are they not all the effect of the word of the power of this glorious God? And doth he not in them, and by them, speak us into a reverence of his greatness? The like, also, may be said concerning his mighty and strange works of providence in the rule of the world. Is not this he who brought the flood of old upon the world of ungodly men? Is it not he who consumed Sodom and Gomorrah with fire from heaven, setting them forth as examples unto them that should afterward live ungodly, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire? Is it not he who destroyed Egypt with his plagues, and drowned Pharaoh with his host in the Red Sea? Is it not he, one of whose servants slew a hundred and fourscore and five thousand in Sennacherib’s army in one night? that opened the earth to swallow up Dathan and Abiram? and sent out fire from the altar to devour Nadab and Abihu? And have not all ages been filled with such instances of his greatness and power?
The end why I have insisted on these things is, to show the reasonableness of the duty which we are pressing unto,—namely, to wait on God quietly and patiently in every condition of distress; for what else becomes us when we have to do with this great and holy One? And a due consideration of these things will exceedingly influence our minds thereunto.
Secondly, This waiting for God respecteth the whole of the condition expressed in the psalm; and this containeth not only spiritual depths about sin, which we have at large insisted on, but also providential depths, depths of trouble or affliction, that we may be exercised withal in the holy, wise providence of God. In reference also unto these, waiting in patience and silence is our duty. And there are two considerations that will assist us in this duty, with respect unto such depths,—that is, of trouble or affliction. And the first of these is the consideration of those properties of God which he exerciseth in an especial manner in all his dealings with us, and which in all our troubles we are principally to regard. The second is the consideration of ourselves, what we are, and what we have deserved.
Let us begin with the former. And there are four things in God’s dispensations towards us and dealing with us that in this matter we should consider, all suited to work in us the end aimed at:—
1. The first is his sovereignty. This he declares, this we are to acknowledge and submit unto, in all the great and dreadful dispensations of his providence, in all his dealings with our souls. May he not do what he will with his own? Who shall say unto him, What doest thou? or if they do so, what shall give them countenance in their so doing? He made all this world of nothing, and could have made another, more, or all things, quite otherwise than they are. It would not subsist one moment without his omnipotent supportment. Nothing would be continued in its place, course, use, without his effectual influence and countenance. If any thing can be, live, or act a moment without him, we may take free leave to dispute its disposal with him, and to haste unto the accomplishment of our desires. But from the angels in heaven to the worms of the earth and the grass of the field, all depend on him and his power continually. Why was this part of the creation an angel, that a worm; this a man, that a brute beast? Is it from their own choice, designing, or contrivance, or brought about by their own wisdom? or is it merely from the sovereign pleasure and will of God? And what a madness is it to repine against what he doth, seeing all things are as he makes them and disposeth them, nor can be otherwise! Even the repiner himself hath his being and subsistence upon his mere pleasure. This sovereignty of God Elihu pleads in his dealings with Job, chap. 33:8–13. He apprehended that Job had reasoned against God’s severe dispensations towards him, and that he did not humble himself under his mighty hand wherewith he was exercised, nor wait for him in a due manner; and, therefore, what doth he propose unto him to bring him unto this duty? what doth he reply unto his reasonings and complaints? “Behold,” says he, verse 12, “in this thou art not just: I will answer thee, that God is greater than man.” Verse 13, “Why dost thou strive against him? for he giveth not account of any of his matters;”—”Be it that in other things thou art just and innocent, that thou art free from the things wherewith thy friends have charged thee, yet in this matter thou art not just; it is neither just nor equal that any man should complain of or repine against any of God’s dispensations.” “Yea, but I suppose that these dealings of God are very grievous, very dreadful, such as he hath, it may be, scarce exercised towards any from the foundation, of the world; to be utterly destroyed and consumed in a day, in all relations and enjoyments, and that at a time and season when no such thing was looked for or provided against; to have a sense of sin revived on the conscience, after pardon obtained, as it is with me.” “All is one,” saith he; “if thou complainest thou art not just.” And what reason doth he give thereof? Why, ” ‘God is greater than man;’ infinitely so in power and sovereign glory. He is so absolutely therein that ‘he giveth not account of any of his matters;’ and what folly, what injustice is it, to complain of his proceedings! Consider his absolute dominion over the works of his hands, over thyself, and all that thou hast; his infinite distance from thee, and greatness above thee; and then see whether it be just or no to repine against what he doth.” And he pursues the same consideration, chap. 34:18, 19: “If when kings and princes rule in righteousness, it is a contempt of their authority to say unto them they are wicked and ungodly, then wilt thou speak against him, contend with him, ‘that accepteth not the persons of princes, nor regardeth the rich more than the poor? for they are all the work of his hands.’ ” And, verse 29, “When he giveth quietness, who then can make trouble? and when he hideth his face, who then can behold him? whether it be done against a nation, or against a man only.” All is one; whatever God doth, and towards whomsoever, be they many or few, a whole nation, or city, or one single person, be they high or low, rich or poor, good or bad, all are the works of his hands, and he may deal with them as seems good unto him. And this man alone, as God afterward declares, made use of the right and proper mediums to take off Job from complaining, and to compose his spirit to rest and peace, and to bring him to wait patiently for God. For whereas his other friends injuriously charged him with hypocrisy, and that he had in an especial manner, above other men, deserved those judgments of God which he was exercised withal; he, who was conscious unto his own integrity, was only provoked and exasperated by their arguings, and stirred up to plead his own innocency and uprightness. But this man, allowing him the plea of his integrity, calls him to the consideration of the greatness and sovereignty of God, against which there is no rising up; and this God himself afterward calls him unto.
Deep and serious thoughts of God’s sovereignty and absolute dominion or authority over all the works of his hands, are an effectual means to work the soul unto this duty; yea, this is that which we are to bring our souls to. Let us consider with whom we have to do. Are not we and all our concernments in his hands, as the clay in the hand of the potter? and may he not do what he will with his own? Shall we call him unto an account? is not what he doth good and holy because he doth it? Do any repining thoughts against the works of God arise in our hearts? are any complaints ready to break out of our mouths? let us lay our hands on our hearts, and our mouths in the dust, with thoughts of his greatness and absolute sovereignty, and it will work our whole souls into a better frame. And this extends itself unto the manners, times, and seasons of all things whatever. As in earthly things, if God will bring a dreadful judgment of fire upon a people, a nation; ah! why must it be London? if on London, why so terrible, raging, and unconquerable? why the city, not the suburbs? why my house, not my neighbour’s? why had such a one help, and I none? All these things are wholly to be referred to God’s sovereign pleasure. There alone can the soul of man find rest and peace. It is so in spiritual dispensations also.
Thus Aaron, upon the sudden death of his two eldest sons, being minded by Moses of God’s sovereignty and holiness, immediately “held his peace,” or quietly humbled himself under his mighty hand, Lev. 10:3. And David, when things were brought into extreme confusion by the rebellion of Absalom, followed by the ungodly multitude of the whole nation, relinquisheth all other arguments and pleas, and lets go complaints in a resignation of himself and all his concernments unto the absolute pleasure of God, 2 Sam. 15:25, 26. And this, in all our extremities, must we bring our souls unto before we can attain any rest or peace, or the least comfortable persuasion that we may not yet fall under greater severities, in the just indignation of God against us.
2. The wisdom of God is also to be considered and submitted unto: Job 9:4, “He is wise in heart: who hath hardened himself against him, and hath prospered?” This the prophet joins with his greatness and sovereignty, Isa. 40:12–14. “There is no searching of his understanding,” verse 28. And the apostle winds up all his considerations of the works of God in a holy admiration of his knowledge and wisdom, whence his “judgment becomes unsearchable, and his ways past finding out,” Rom. 11:33, 34. He seeth and knoweth all things, in all their causes, effects, consequences, and circumstances, in their utmost reach and tendency, in their correspondencies one unto another, and suitableness unto his own glory; and so alone judgeth aright of all things. The wisest of men, as David speaks, walk in a shade. We see little, we know little; and that but of a very few things, and in an imperfect manner; and that of their present appearances, abstracted from their issues, successes, ends, and relations unto other things. And if we would be farther wise in the works of God, we shall be found to be like the wild ass’s colt. What is good for us or the church of God, what is evil to it or us, we know not at all; but all things are open and naked unto God. The day will come, indeed, wherein we shall have such a prospect of the works of God, see one thing so set against another, as to find goodness, beauty, and order in them all,—that they were all done in number, weight, and measure,—that nothing could have been otherwise without an abridgment of his glory and disadvantage of them that believe in him; but for the present, all our wisdom consists in referring all unto him. He who doth these things is infinitely wise; he knows what he doth, and why, and what will be the end of all. We are apt, it may be, to think that at such seasons all things will go to wreck with ourselves, with the church, or with the whole world: “How can this breach be repaired, this loss made up, this ruin recovered? peace is gone, trade is gone, our substance is gone, the church is gone,—all is gone; confusion and utter desolation lie at the door.” But if a man who is unskilled and unexperienced should be at sea, it may be, every time the vessel wherein he is seems to decline on either side, he would be apt to conceive they should be all cast away; but yet, if he be not childishly timorous, when the master shall tell him that there is no danger, bid him trust to his skill and it shall be well with him, it will yield quietness and satisfaction. We are indeed in a storm,—the whole earth seems to reel and stagger like a drunken man; but yet our souls may rest in the infinite skill and wisdom of the great Pilot of the whole creation, who steers all things according to the counsel of his will. “His works are manifold: in wisdom hath he made them all,” Ps. 104:24. And in the same wisdom doth he dispose of them: “All these things come forth from the LORD of hosts, who is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working,” Isa. 28:29. What is good, meet, useful for us, for ours, for the churches, for the city, for the land of our nativity, he knows, and of creatures not one. This infinite wisdom of God, also, are we therefore to resign and submit ourselves unto. His hand in all his works is guided by infinite wisdom. In thoughts thereof, in humbling ourselves thereunto, shall we find rest and peace; and this in all our pressures will work us to a waiting for him.
3. The righteousness of God is also to be considered in this matter. That name in the Scripture is used to denote many excellencies of God, all which are reducible unto the infinite rectitude of his nature. I intend that at present which is called “justitia regiminis,” his righteousness in rule or government. This is remembered by Abraham: Gen. 18:25, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” And by the apostle: “Is God unjust who taketh vengeance? God forbid.” This our souls are to own in all the works of God. They are all righteous,—all his who “will do no iniquity, whose throne is established in judgment.” However they may be dreadful, grievous, and seem severe, yet they are all righteous. It is true he will sometimes “rise up and do strange works, strange acts,” Isa. 28:21, such as he will not do often nor ordinarily, such as shall fill the world with dread and amazement,—he will “answer his people in terrible things!” but yet all shall be in righteousness. And to complain of that which is righteous, to repine against it, is the highest unrighteousness that may be. Faith, then, fixing the soul on the righteousness of God, is an effectual means to humble it under his mighty hand. And to help us herein, we may consider,—
(1.) That “God judgeth not as man judgeth.” We judge by the “seeing of the eye, and hearing of the ear,”—according to outward appearances and evidences; “but God searcheth the heart.” We judge upon what is between man and man; God principally upon what is between himself and man. And what do we know or understand of these things? or what there is in the heart of man, what purposes, what contrivances, what designs, what corrupt affections, what sins; what transactions have been between God and them; what warnings he hath given them; what reproofs, what engagements they have made; what convictions they have had; what use they were putting their lives, their substance, their families unto? Alas! we know nothing of these things, and so are able to make no judgment of the proceedings of God upon them; but this we know, that he “is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works,” yea, the most terrible of them. And when the secrets of all hearts shall be revealed, ah! how glorious will be his drowning of the old world, firing of Sodom, swallowing up of Dathan and Abiram in the earth, the utter rejection of the Jews, with all other acts of his providence seeming to be accompanied with severity! And so will our own trials, inward or outward, appear to be.
(2.) God is judge of all the world, of all ages, times, places, persons; and disposeth of all so as they may tend unto the good of the whole and his own glory in the universe. Our thoughts are bounded, much more our observations and abilities, to measure things within a very small compass. Every thing stands alone unto us, whereby we see little of its beauty or order, nor do know how it ought justly to be disposed of. That particular may seem deformed unto us, which, when it is under His eye who sees all at once, past, present, and to come, with all those joints and bands of wisdom and order whereby things are related unto one another, is beautiful and glorious: for as nothing is of itself, nor by itself, nor to itself, so nothing stands alone; but there is a line of mutual respect that runs through the creation and every particular of it, and that in all its changes and alterations from the beginning to the end, which gives it its loveliness, life, and order. He that can at once see but one part of a goodly statue or colossus might think it a very deformed piece, when he that views it altogether is assured of its due proportion, symmetry, and loveliness. Now, all things, ages, and persons, all thus at once are objected unto the sight of God; and he disposeth them with respect unto the whole, that every one may fill up its own place, and sustain its part and share in the common tendency of all to the same end.
And hence it is that in public judgments and calamities, God oftentimes suffers the godly to be involved with the wicked, and that not on the account of their own persons, but as they are parts of that body which he will destroy. This Job expresseth somewhat harshly, but there is truth in his assertion: chap. 9:22, 23, “This is one thing, therefore I said it, He destroyeth the perfect and the wicked. If the scourge slay suddenly, he will laugh at the trial of the innocent.” God in public desolations oftentimes takes good and bad together; a sudden scourge involves them all. And this God doth for sundry reasons; as,—
(1.) That he may manifest his own holiness; which is such that he can, without the least injustice or oppression, even upon the account of their own provocations, take away the houses, possessions, estates, liberties, and lives of the best of his own saints: for how should a man, any man, the best of men, be just with God, if he would contend with him? No man can answer to him “one of a thousand,” Job 9:3:—This they will also own and acknowledge; upon the account of righteousness none can open his mouth about his judgments, without the highest impiety and wickedness.
(2.) He doth so that his own people may learn to know his terror, and to rejoice always before him with trembling. Therefore Job affirms, that “in the time of his prosperity he was not secure,” but still trembled in himself with thoughts of the judgments of God. Doubtless much wretched carnal security would be ready to invade and possess the hearts of believers, if God should always and constantly pass them by in the dispensations of his public judgments.
(3.) That it may be a stone of offence and a stumbling-block unto wicked men, who are to be hardened in their sins and prepared for ruin. When they see that all things fall alike unto all, and that those who have made the strictest profession of the name and fear of God fare no better than themselves, they are encouraged to despise the warnings of God and the strokes of his hand, and so to rush on unto the destruction whereunto they are prepared.
(4.) God doth it to proclaim unto all the world that what he doth here is no final judgment and ultimate determination concerning things and persons; for who can see the “wise man dying as a fool,” the righteous and holy perishing in their outward concernments as the ungodly and wicked, but must conclude that the righteous God, the judge of all, hath appointed another day, wherein all things must be called over again, and every one then receive his final reward, according as his works shall appear to have been? And thus are we to humble ourselves unto the righteousness wherewith the hand of God is always accompanied.
(5.) His goodness and grace is also to be considered in all the works of his mighty hands. As there is no unrighteousness in him, so also (there is) all that is good and gracious. And whatever there is in any trouble of allay from the utmost wrath, is of mere goodness and grace. Thy houses are burned, but perhaps thy goods are saved,—is there no grace, no goodness therein? Or perhaps thy substance also is consumed, but yet thy person is alive; and should a living man complain? But say what thou wilt, this stroke is not hell, which thou hast deserved long ago, yea, it may be a means of preventing thy going thither; so that it is accompanied with infinite goodness, patience, and mercy also. And if the considerations hereof will not quiet thy heart, take heed lest a worse thing befall thee. And these things amongst others are we to consider in God, to lead our hearts into an acquiescing in his will, a submission under his mighty hand, and a patient waiting for the issue.
Secondly, (As to ourselves, what we are, and what we have deserved):—
1. Consider our mean and abject condition, and that infinite distance wherein we stand from him with whom we have to do. When Abraham, the father of the faithful and friend of God, came to treat with him about his judgments, he doth it with this acknowledgment of his condition, that he was “mere dust and ashes,” Gen. 18:27,—a poor abject creature, that God at his pleasure had formed out of the dust of the earth, and which in a few days was to be reduced again into the ashes of it. We can forget nothing more perniciously than what we are. “Man is a worm,” saith Bildad, “and the son of man is but a worm,” Job 25:6. “And therefore,” says Job himself, “I have said to corruption, Thou art my father: and to the worm, Thou art my mother and my sister,” chap. 17:14. His affinity, his relation unto them, is the nearest imaginable, and he is no otherwise wise to be accounted of; and there is nothing that God abhors more than an elation of mind in the forgetfulness of our mean, frail condition. “Thou sayest,” said he to the proud prince of Tyrus, “that thou art a god; but,” saith he, “wilt thou yet say before him that slayeth thee, I am God?” Ezek. 28:2, 9. That severe conviction did God provide for his pride, “Thou shalt be a man, and no god, in the hand of him that slayeth thee.” And when Herod prided himself in the acclamations of the vain multitude, (“The voice of a god, and not of a man!”) the angel of the Lord filled that god immediately with worms, which slew him and devoured him, Acts 12:23. There is, indeed, nothing more effectual to abase the pride of the thoughts of men than a due remembrance that they are so. Hence the psalmist prays, Ps. 9:20, “Put them in fear, O LORD; that the nations may know themselves to be but men;” so, and no more: ֱאנוֹש ֵּה ָמה , “poor, miserable, frail, mortal man,” as the word signifies. “What is man? what is his life? what is his strength?” said one; “The dream of a shadow; a mere nothing.” Or as David, much better, “Every man living, in his best condition, is altogether vanity,” Ps. 39:5. And James, “Our life,” which is our best, our all, “is but a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away,” chap. 4:14. But enough hath been spoken by many on this subject. And we that have seen so many thousands each week, in one city, carried away to the grave, have been taught the truth of—our frailty, even as with thorns and briers. But I know not how it comes to pass, there is not any thing we are more apt to forget than what we ourselves are; and this puts men on innumerable miscarriages towards God and one another. Thou, therefore, that art exercised under the hand of God in any severe dispensation, and art ready on all occasions to fill thy mouth with complaints, sit down a little and take a right measure of thyself, and see whether this frame and posture becomes thee. It is the great God against whom thou repinest, and thou art a man, and that is a name of a worm, a poor, frail, dying worm; and it may be whilst thou art speaking, thou art no more. And wilt thou think it meet for such a one as thou art to magnify thyself against the great possessor of heaven and earth? Poor clay, poor dust and ashes, poor dying worm! know thy state and condition, and fall down quietly under the mighty hand of God. Though thou wranglest with men about thy concernments, let God alone. “The potsherds may contend with the potsherds of the earth, but woe unto him that striveth with his Maker!”2. Consider that in this frail condition we have all greatly sinned against God. So did Job, chap. 7:20, “I have sinned; what shall I do unto thee, O thou Preserver of men?” If this consideration will not satisfy thy mind, yet it will assuredly stop the mouths of all the sons of men. Though all the curses of the law should be executed upon us, yet “every mouth must be stopped;” because “all the world is become guilty before God,” Rom. 3:19. “Wherefore doth a living man complain?” saith the prophet, Lam. 3:39. Why, it may be, it is because that his trouble is great and inexpressible, and such as seldom or never befell any before him. But what then? Saith he, “Shall a man complain for the punishment of his sins?” If this living man be a sinful man, as there is none that liveth and sinneth not, whatever his state and condition be, he hath no ground of murmuring or complaint. For a sinful man to complain, especially whilst he is yet a living man, is most unreasonable; for,—
(1.) Whatever hath befallen us, it is just on the account that we are sinners before God; and to repine against the judgments of God, that are rendered evidently righteous upon the account of sin, is to anticipate the condition of the damned in hell, a great part of whose misery it is that they always repine against that sentence and punishment which they know to be most righteous and holy. If this were now a place, if that were now my design, to treat of the sins of all professors, how easy were it to stop the mouths of all men about their troubles! But that is not my present business. I speak unto particular persons, and that not with an especial design to convince them of their sins, but to humble their souls. Another season may be taken to press that consideration, directly and professedly also. At present let us only, when our souls are ready to be entangled with the thoughts of any severe dispensation of God, and our own particular pressures, troubles, miseries, occasioned thereby, turn into ourselves, and take a view every one of his own personal provocations; and when we have done so, see what we have to say to God, what we have to complain of. Let the man hold his tongue, and let the sinner speak. Is not God holy, righteous, wise, in what he hath done? and if he be, why do we not subscribe unto his ways, and submit quietly unto his will?
(2.) But this is not all. We are not only such sinners as to render these dispensations of God evidently holy, these judgments of his righteous; but also to manifest that they are accompanied with unspeakable patience, mercy, and grace. To instance in one particular:—Is it the burning of our houses, the spoiling of our goods, the ruin of our estates alone, that our sins have deserved? If God had made the temporary fire on earth to have been unto us a way of entrance into the eternal fire of hell, we had not had whereof righteously to complain. May we not, then, see a mixture of unspeakable patience, grace, and mercy, in every dispensation? and shall we, then, repine against it? Is it not better advice, “Go, and sin no more, lest a worse thing befall thee?” For a sinner out of hell not to rest in the will of God, not to humble himself under his mighty hand, is to make himself guilty of the especial sin of hell. Other sins deserve it, but repining against God is principally, yea, only committed in it. The church comes to a blessed quieting resolution in this case, Micah 7:9, “I will bear the indignation of the LORD, because I have sinned against him;” bear it quietly, patiently, and submit under his hand therein.
3. Consider that of ourselves we are not able to make a right judgment of what is good for us, what evil unto us, or what tends most directly unto our chiefest end. Ps. 39:6, “Surely man walketh in a vain shew,”—ְב ֶׂצ ֶׂלם , in an image full of false representations of things, in the midst of vain appearances, so that he knows not what to choose or do aright; and therefore spends the most of his time and strength about things that are of no use or purpose unto him: “Surely they are disquieted in vain.” And hereof he gives one especial instance: “He heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gather;” which is but one example of the manifold frustrations that men meet withal in the whole course of their lives, as not knowing what is good for them. We all profess to aim at one chief and principal end,—namely, the enjoyment of God in Christ as our eternal reward; and in order thereunto, to be carried on in the use of the means of faith and obedience, tending to that end. Now, if this be so, the suitableness or unsuitableness of all other things, being good or evil unto us, is to be measured by their tendency unto this end. And what know we hereof? As unto the things of this life, do we know whether it will be bestfor us to be rich or poor, to have houses or to be harbourless, to abound or to want, to leave wealth and inheritances unto our children, or to leave them naked unto the providence of God? Do we know what state, what condition will most further our obedience, best obviate our temptations, or call most on us to mortify our corruptions? And if we know nothing at all of these things, as indeed we do not, were it not best for us to leave them quietly unto God’s disposal? I doubt not but it will appear at the last day that a world of evil in the hearts of men was stifled by the destruction of their outward concernments, more by their inward troubles; that many were delivered from temptations by it, who otherwise would have been overtaken, to their ruin, and the scandal of the gospel; that many a secret imposthume hath been lanced and cured by a stroke: for God doth not send judgments on his own for judgments, sake, for punishment’s sake, but always to accomplish some blessed design of grace towards them. And there is no one soul in particular which shall rightly search itself, and consider its state and condition, but will be able to see wisdom, grace, and care towards itself in all the dispensations of God. And if I would here enter upon the benefits that, through the sanctifying hand of God, do redound unto believers by afflictions, calamities, troubles, distresses, temptations, and the like effects of God’s visitations, it would be of use unto the souls of men in this case. But this subject hath been so often and so well spoken unto that I shall not insist upon it. I desire only that we would seriously consider how utterly ignorant we are of what is good for us or useful unto us in these outward things, and so leave them quietly unto God’s disposal.
4. We may consider that all these things about which we are troubled fall directly within the compass of that good word of God’s grace, that he will make “all things work together for the good of them that love him,” Rom. 8:28. All things that we enjoy, all things that we are deprived of, all that we do, all that we suffer, our losses, troubles, miseries, distresses, in which the apostle instanceth in the following verses, they shall all “work together for good,”—together with one another, and all with and in subordination unto the power, grace, and wisdom of God. It may be, we see not how or by what means it may be effected; but he is infinitely wise and powerful who hath undertaken it, and we know little or nothing of his ways. There is nothing that we have, or enjoy, or desire, but it hath turned unto some unto their hurt. Riches have been kept for men unto their hurt. Wisdom and high places have been the ruin of many. Liberty and plenty are to most a snare. Prosperity slays the foolish. And we are not of ourselves in any measure able to secure ourselves from the hurt and poison that is in any of these things, but that they may be our ruin also, as they have already been, and every day are, unto multitudes of the children of men. It is enough to fill the soul of any man with horror and amazement, to consider the ways and ends of most of them that are intrusted with this world’s goods. Is it not evident that all their lives they seem industriously to take care that they may perish eternally? Luxury, riot, oppression, intemperance, and of late especially, blasphemy and atheism, they usually give up themselves unto. And this is the fruit of their abundance and security. What, now, if God should deprive us of all these things? Can any one certainly say that he is worsted thereby? Might they not have turned unto his everlasting perdition, as well as they do so of thousands as good by nature, and who have had advantages to be as wise as we? And shall we complain of God’s dispensations about them? And what shall we say when he himself hath undertaken to make all things that he guides us unto to work together for our good? Anxieties of mind and perplexities of heart about our losses is not that which we are called unto in our troubles. But this is that which is our duty,—let us consider whether we “love God” or no, whether “we are called according to his purpose.” If so, all things are well in his hand, who can order them for our good and advantage. I hope many a poor soul will from hence, under all their trouble, be able to say, with him that was banished from his country, and found better entertainment elsewhere, “My friends, I had perished, if I had not perished;—had I not been undone by fire, it may be I had been ruined in eternal fire. God hath made all to work for my good.”
The end of all these discourses is, to evince the reasonableness of the duty of waiting on God, which we are pressing from the psalmist. Ignorance of God and ourselves is the great principle and cause of all our disquietments; and this ariseth mostly, not from want of light and instruction, but for want of consideration and application. The notions insisted on concerning God are obvious and known unto all; so are these concerning ourselves: but by whom almost are they employed and improved as they ought? The frame of our spirits is as though we stood upon equal terms with God, and did think, with Jonah, that we might do well to be angry with what he doth. Did we rightly consider him, did we stand in awe of him as we ought, it had certainly been otherwise with us.
Influence of the promises into the soul’s waiting in time of trouble—The nature of them. Having, therefore, laid down these considerations from the second observation taken from the words,—namely, that Jehovah himself is the proper object of the soul’s waiting in the condition described,—I shall only add one direction, how we may be enabled to perform and discharge this duty aright, which we have manifested to have been so necessary, so reasonable, so prevalent for the obtaining of relief; and this ariseth from another of the propositions laid down for the opening of these verses, not as yet spoken unto,—namely, that the word of promise is the soul’s great supportment in waiting for God.
So saith the psalmist, “In his word do I hope;” that is, the word of promise. As the word in general is the adequate rule of all our obedience unto God and communion with him, so there are especial parts of it that are suited unto these especial actings of our souls towards him. Thus the word of promise, or the promise in the word, is that which our faith especially regards in our hope, trust, and waiting on God; and it is suited to answer unto the immediate actings of our souls therein. From this word of promise, therefore, that is, from these promises, doth the soul in its distress take encouragement to continue waiting on God; and that on these two accounts:—
First, Because they are declarative of God, his mind and his will; and, secondly, Because they are communicative of grace and strength to the soul;—of which latter we shall not here treat.
First, The end and use of the promise is, to declare, reveal, and make known God unto believers; and that, in an especial manner, in him and concerning him which may give them encouragement to wait for him:—
1. The promises are a declaration of the nature of God, especially of his goodness, grace, and love. God hath put an impression of all the glorious excellencies of his nature on his word, especially, as he is in Christ, on the word of the gospel. There, as in a glass, do we behold his glory in the face of Jesus Christ. As his commands express unto us his holiness, his threatenings, his righteousness, and severity; so do his promises, his goodness, grace, love, and bounty. And in these things do we learn all that we truly and solidly know of God; that is, we know him in and by his word. The soul, therefore, that in this condition is waiting on or for God, considers the representation which he makes of himself and of his own nature in and by the promises, and receives supportment and encouragement in his duty; for if God teach us by the promises what he is, and what he will be unto us, we have firm ground to expect from him all fruits of benignity, kindness, and love. Let the soul frame in itself that idea of God which is exhibited in the promises, and it will powerfully prevail with it to continue in an expectation of his gracious returns; they all expressing goodness, love, patience, forbearance, long-suffering, pardoning mercy, grace, bounty, with a full satisfactory reward. This is the beauty of the Lord mentioned with admiration by the prophet, “How great is his goodness! how great is his beauty!” Zech. 9:17; which is the great attractive of the soul to adhere constantly unto him. Whatever difficulties arise, whatever temptations interpose, or wearisomeness grows upon us, in our straits, troubles, trials, and desertions, let us not entertain such thoughts of God as our own perplexed imaginations may be apt to suggest unto us. This would quickly cast us into a thousand impatiences, misgivings, and miscarriages. But the remembrance of and meditation on God in his promises, as revealed by them, as expressed in them, is suited quite unto other ends and purposes. There appear, yea, gloriously shine forth, that love, that wisdom, that goodness, tenderness, and grace, as cannot but encourage a believing soul to abide in waiting for him.
2. The word of promise doth not only express God’s nature as that wherein he proposeth himself unto the contemplation of faith, but it also declares his will and purpose of acting towards the soul suitably unto his own goodness and grace: for promises are the declarations of God’s purpose and will to act towards believers in Christ Jesus according to the infinite goodness of his own nature; and this is done in great variety, according to the various conditions and wants of them that do believe. They all proceed from the same spring of infinite grace, but are branched into innumerable particular streams, according as our necessities do require. To these do waiting souls repair, for stay and encouragement. Their perplexities principally arise from their misapprehensions of what God is in himself, and of what he will be unto them; and whither should they repair to be undeceived but unto that faithful representation that he hath made of himself and his will in the word of his grace? for “No man hath seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him,” John 1:18. Now, the gospel is nothing but the word of promise explained, in all the springs, causes, and effects of it. Thither must we repair, to be instructed in this matter. The imaginations and reasonings of men’s hearts will but deceive them in these things. The informations or instructions of other men may do so; nor have they any truth in them farther than they may be resolved into the word of promise. Here alone they may find rest and refreshment. The soul of whom we speak is under troubles, perplexities, and distresses as to its outward condition,—pressed with many straits, it may be, on every hand; and as to its spiritual estate, under various apprehensions of the mind and will of God towards it; as hath before at large been explained. In this condition it is brought, in some measure, unto a holy submission unto God, and a patient waiting for the issue of its trials. In this estate it hath many temptations to, and much working of, unbelief. The whole of its opposition amounts to this, that it is neglected of God,—that its way is hid, and his judgment is passed over from him,—that it shall not be at present delivered, nor hereafter saved. What course can any one advise such a one unto for his relief, and to preserve his soul from fainting or deserting the duty of waiting on God wherein he is engaged, but only this, to search and inquire what revelation God hath made of himself and his will concerning him in his word? And this the promise declares. Here he shall find hope, patience, faith, expectation, to be all increased, comforted, encouraged. Herein lies the duty and safety of any in this condition. Men may bear the first impression of any trouble with the strength, courage, and resolution of their natural spirits. Under some continuance of them they may support themselves with former experiences, and other usual springs and means of consolation. But if their wounds prove difficult to be cured, if they despise ordinary remedies, if their diseases are of long continuance, this is that which they must betake themselves unto:—They must search into the word of promise, and learn to measure things, not according to the present state and apprehensions of their mind, but according unto what God hath declared concerning them. And there are sundry excellencies in the promises, when hoped in or trusted in, that tend unto the establishment of the soul in this great duty of waiting; as,—
(1.) That grace in them,—that is, the good-will of God in Christ for help, relief, satisfaction, pardon, and salvation,—is suited unto all particular conditions and wants of the soul. As light ariseth from the sun, and is diffused in the beams thereof to the especial use of all creatures enabled by a visive faculty to make use of it; so cometh grace forth from the eternal good-will of God in Christ, and is diffused by the promises, with a blessed contemporation unto the conditions and wants of all believers. There can nothing fall out between God and any soul but there is grace suited unto it, in one promise or another, as clearly and evidently as if it were given unto him particularly and immediately. And this they find by experience who at any time are enabled to mix effectually a promise with faith.
(2.) The word of promise hath a wonderful, mysterious, especial impression of God upon it. He doth by it secretly and ineffably communicate himself unto believers. When God appeared in a dream unto Jacob, he awaked and said, “God is in this place, and I knew it not.” He knew God was everywhere, but an intimation of his especial presence surprised him. So is a soul surprised, when God opens himself and his grace in a promise unto him. It cries out, “God is here, and I knew it not.” Such a near approach of God in his grace it finds, as is accompanied with a refreshing surprisal.
(3.) There is an especial engagement of the veracity and truth of God in every promise. Grace and truth are the two ingredients of an evangelical promise,—the matter and form whereof they do consist. I cannot now stay to show wherein this especial engagement of truth in the promise doth consist; besides, it is a thing known and confessed. But it hath an especial influence to support the soul, when hoped in, in its duty of waiting; for that hope can never make ashamed or leave the soul unto disappointments which stays itself on divine veracity under a special engagement.
And this is that duty which the psalmist engageth himself in and unto the performance of, as the only way to obtain a comfortable interest in that forgiveness which is with God, and all the gracious effects thereof. And in the handling hereof, as we have declared its nature and necessity, so we have the psalmist’s directions for its practice, unto persons in the like condition with him, for the attaining of the end by him aimed at; so that it needs no farther application.