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have received mercy, let us devoutly glorify our God for it as a benefit which no words can ever adequately express.] 2. A manifestation of that pardon to his soul
[David had prayed earnestly to God, and had obtained an answer to his prayer. How this answer was conveyed to his mind, we are not informed: but he had no doubt in his own soul respecting it: he could say, “Verily God hath heard me; he hath attended to the voice of my prayer 8.
O! who can estimate aright this mercy ? See how the prophet Jeremiah speaks of it: “ I called upon thy name, O Lord, out of the low dungeon. Thou hast heard my voice: hide not thine ear at my breathing, at my cry. Thou drewest near in the day that I called upon thee; thou saidst, Fear not h.” How tender! how pathetic ! how encouraging this acknowledgment! Such was David's also, on another occasion: “I sought the Lord, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears. This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles i.” Truly this is a great and blessed work which “ the Lord does for the souls" of men : and it was with good reason that David said, “Come and hear, all ye that fear God; and I will declare what he hath done for my soul."]
] But it will be proper to state more particularly, II. Why he was so ready to speak of it
It was not from ostentation or vanity that he thus called the attention of others to his own concerns, but, 1. From a sense of gratitude to God
[Such mercies call for the liveliest gratitude, and demand a tribute of praise from the whole world. Hence the soul that feels its obligations for them, would be glad to interest the whole creation in the blessed work of praise and thanksgiving. This David attempts in many of his psalms: “I will bless the Lord at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth, My soul shall make her boast in the Lord : the humble shall hear thereof, and be glad. O magnify the Lord with me; and let us exalt his name together k!
Had any reflection been cast on him for these devout acknowledgments, he would have replied, as on another occasion, “Is there not a cause l?" or rather, would have welcomed the disgrace, and said, “I will yet be more vile than thus m."]
2. From a sense of love to his fellow-creatures
& ver. 19. h Lam. iii. 55–57.
i Ps. xxxiv. 4, 6.
[Nothing is more gratifying to the saints than to see or hear what God has done for others. To them therefore David addresses himself. He speaks not to the ungodly; for that would be to “cast pearls before swine:” but to the godly he knew that the recital of his experience would be a rich source of comfort and encouragement. In another place he explicitly avows this very intention; and, for the promotion of that end, he gives a summary of the Lord's dealings with him during his long impenitence, and on the very first symptoms of penitence and contrition ". It is with a similar view that Paul also records his own wickedness in persecuting the Church of Christ; and displays the enormous unparalleled exercise of God's mercy towards him “ the chief of sinners : ” he declares, that this whole dispensation towards him was designed by God himself as a pattern for the encouragement of all penitents to the end of time. We then, if fear God,” are the persons invited to come and listen to the voice of David. In all that he has spoken on this subject, he has sought our good : for it was not to him as a prophet that this mercy was vouchsafed, but as a saint, who feared God and wrought righteousness: and every one who in this respect resembles him, may hope to participate with him in his exalted privileges P.]
As saints indeed we profess to have already enjoyed them in some measure: and therefore we are concerned to inquire, III. How we may know whether our souls be par
takers of the same benefitIt is the privilege of all to have access to God, and to have their prayers answered by him : yea, and to know also that they have been answered. Of this we are assured on the authority of God himself- But here the question arises, How shall these answers be clearly known to have come from God? Formerly God was pleased to make known to his people their interest in his favour by means which we are no longer to expect. He may indeed, if he see fit, still reveal his will to men by dreams and visions, by voices and signs; but we have no reason to think he either does, or will do so; and therefore we can place no confidence in any mani
n Ps. xxxii. 3—6.
o 1 Tim. i. 13-16. p Compare Ps. Ixv. 2. and Isai. Ixv. 24. and John xiv. 13, 14, with 1 John v, 13-15.
festations which are professedly derived from such sources. We
We may also say, that nothing certain can be known from any direct impressions of the Spirit of God upon the mind. We are far from affirming that no such impressions are ever made: for there can be no doubt but that God “ sheds abroad his love in the hearts of his people,” and gives them “a spirit of adoption, whereby they cry, Abba, Father,” and “ by his Spirit witnesses with their spirits that they are the children of God," and even “ seals them by the Holy Spirit of promise unto the day of redemption.” But still, great and glorious as these operations of the Spirit are, they are not sufficient of themselves to prove that God has shewn mercy to our souls : they must have the concurring evidence of good works resulting from them: the feelings themselves may be so closely imitated by Satan, that it shall be impossible for man certainly to distinguish between them: a person of a warm imagination and a confident mind may easily be wrought upon by that subtle spirit, so that he shall appear both to himself and others to be eminently distinguished by manifestations from God, whilst yet he is only under the influence of a Satanic delusion. The evidences whereby alone the work of God upon
the soul can be satisfactorily ascertained are, 1. The exercise of gracious affections
[Love, joy, peace, with all the train of Christian virtues, are the fruits of God's Spirit alone. They cannot for any length of time be counterfeited: not even Satan himself can produce them. Hence we are told, by our blessed Lord, to look to them as the only certain marks and evidences whereby his people can be distinguished: “By their fruits ye shall know them.” Would you then know for certain whether God has had mercy on your souls, and whether the supposed manifestations of God's love to your souls are genuine, see how the dispensation operates on your hearts and lives. If it lead you to a sense of lively gratitude to God, if it fill you with a determination to serve and glorify him with all your powers, if it encourage you to commit your every concern to his all-wise disposal, and if it stimulate you to seek by all possible means the welfare of your fellow-creatures, you may confidently say, “ He that hath wrought us to the selfsame thing is God."]
2. The mortification of all sin
[David says, " If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me?." To fancy therefore that we have received answers to prayer, whilst there is any sinful temper or disposition harboured in the heart, is a fatal delusion. . Even the ungodly Jews, who set themselves in opposition to Christ, were fully convinced of this truth: for, imagining him to be a sinner, and taking occasion from thence to deny the miracle he had wrought, they said, “ Now we know that God heareth not sinners; but if any man be a worshipper of God and do his will, him he heareth"." This then must be a point of diligent inquiry; • Is sin in general dispossessed of its power over me? is my besetting sin in particular subdued and mortified ? is my hatred to sin inveterate, uniform, unreserved ?' Unless this be our state, it is in vain that we pretend to communion with the Deity, and boast of our assured acceptance with him: if we are under the habitual influence of any one reigning lust, of whatever kind it be, we may make a great profession of religion, but we are hypoerites; we may make a noise about it, but are as sounding brass, and as tinkling cymbals."] In reference to this subject, we beg leave to offer
some ADVICE1. Be careful to notice the dealings of God with your souls
[Many set themselves against all kinds of Christian experience, and make even the very word, experience, a subject of continual ridicule and invective. That injudicious persons have given but too just ground of offence by their statements of their own feelings, must be confessed: but we must not therefore suppose that religion has nothing to do with the feelings, and that it is a matter purely intellectual. Why should that alone have no influence on the heart, when it is calculated more than any thing else to call into activity all the powers of our souls? or why should that be enthusiasm in religion, which is deemed reasonable in all the common affairs of life? Let a man be embarked in any thing that greatly involves his honour and interest throughout his life; a merchant in trade; a commander in war; a student in academic contests: will he feel no anxieties? will he have no fluctuations of mind, no alternations of hope and fear, of joy and sorrow, according as his prospects brighten or are obscured? will the issue of his labours be to him such a matter of indifference, that he shall contemplate the probabilities of success or failure without any emotion? And if these diversified feelings are so called forth by things which pertain to this life, shall they have no scope for exercise in the things which relate to eternity? Call them by the name of Christian experience, or by any other name, they must have place in our souls; and if they have not, we are altogether dead in trespasses and sins. Let every one then take notice how he is affected with his everlasting concerns: for he can never have obtained mercy, who has not sought for mercy; nor he have received an answer to prayer, who never cried from his inmost soul to God. I must even go farther, and say, he has no hope, who never had a fear; nor shall he ever taste of joy, who has never been bowed down with penitential sorrow. As we deal with God, he will deal with us: “If we seek him, he will be found of us; but if we forsake him, he will forsake us."] 2. Learn to estimate them by a right standard
9 ver. 18.
r John ix. 31.
[If we judge of our emotions by their intenseness, or by the degree of elevation or depression produced by them, we shall deceive our own souls. The votaries of false religions are sometimes transported beyond the bounds of reason, and are agitated even to madness. A mistaken course of religion too, will often operate very strongly on the mind, and leave us, after all, in a state of spiritual death. True religion is sober, discreet, practical: it consists in, or rather is inseparably connected with, " a spirit of love, and of power, and of a sound mind." It directs to heaven; but does not lead us to neglect our earthly duties. It must be judged of by its practical effects. The grace that leaves us under the defilement of any " spiritual or fleshly filthiness,” is no grace. That alone comes from God, which leads to God; and that alone will have any saving efficacy, which assimilates us to “ the Divine image in righteousness and true holiness."]
3. Endeavour to improve them for the good of others
[We are not proprietors of our talents, but stewards, to whom they are entrusted for the good of others. We must indeed be much on our guard against conceit, and talkativeness, and a readiness to draw attention to ourselves, and to make self the topic of our conversation. A person of this complexion is a very hateful and disgusting character: and too many such, it must be confessed, there are in the religious world. But whilst we avoid such a spirit as this, we must delight to communicate to others the blessings we have received, and to encourage from our own experience a diligent and patient waiting upon God. It is obvious, that if we can say, "What my eyes have seen, my ears have heard, and my hands have handled of the word of life, that same declare I unto you," our words will come with tenfold weight. We repeat however, that a general communicating of our experiences in large companies is in our judgment