by Augustus Toplady
He will ever be mindful of his Covenant Ps 111:5.
The Lord hath keen mindful of us; he will bless us. Ps 115:12.
What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? Ps 8:4
David is supposed by some, to have written this Psalm, long before his elevation to the Jewish throne; while he was yet a youth, busied in tending his father's cattle on the plains of Bethlehem. And we shall presently see, that there are passages in the Psalm itself, which seem to justify this conjecture. It is not only an hymn of praise, addressed to the Messiah; but likewise, one of the finest pastorals, any where extant.
David appears to have had, almost from his very childhood, the sublimest talents for poetry, and an exquisite taste in music. His harp, therefore, was probably his frequent companion in the fields, when he exercised the occupation of a shepherd. And having experienced the inestimable blessing of early conversion, he did not debase his poetic genius, nor prostitute his skill in the harmony of sounds, by devoting either of them to the contemptible purposes of versified nonsense and unmanly dissipation; but his heart being as rightly tuned as his harp, his happiness and highest recreation were, to sing the praises of the God he loved, and to anticipate something of that sublime employ on earth, which will, in heaven, be for ever the business and the bliss of those who are redeemed from among men.
It is worthy of remark, that this was the time (namely, while David was herdsman to his father Jesse, and filled up the intervals of his employment with holy meditation, prayer, and thanksgiving), when God himself vouchsafed to mention him under the most glorious appellation that, perhaps, was ever conferred on a created being; a man after my own heart (k). A title which does not appear to have been given him so much as once, after his advancement to royalty. For though neither height of magnificence, nor depth of abasement, can separate a saint from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus (l); yet, even after a work of grace has passed upon the heart in regeneration, such is the power of surviving depravity, that not one perhaps in twenty, of God's people, can, humanly speaking, be trusted with prosperity. Let every afflicted believer, therefore, rejoice in that he is made low. God deals out our comforts and our sorrows, with exact, unerring hand, in number, weight, and measure. Hence, we have not, either of joy or adversity, a grain too little or too much. If less tribulation would suffice, less would be given. We are bad enough, with all our troubles: what then should we be, if we were exercised with none?
(k) 1Sa 13:14. with Ac 13:22 - This celebrated periphrasis has occasioned no little disquisition. The learned Grotius, with his usual dryness, thinks it to be synonymous with electum de populo, or chosen out from among the people: i. e. God calls David a man. after his own heart, because, he had made choice of him to be king of Israel. - Vatablus renders the phrase by qui mihi cordi est, a man whose interest God had at heart. - But, surely, the lowest sense which can be justly assigned to this exalted title, is, that David should (as the apostle adds, in the above passage) fulfil panta ta qelhmata, all the wills, purposes and designs of God, respecting the government of Israel: viz. by supplanting the family of Saul; extending the Jewish territory; maintaining the religion of the true God; and laying the foundation of a more splendid worship, by preparing materials for the erection of the temple. - For my own part, however, I think that the words include something more and higher: namely, that David was an object of God's eminent and peculiar favour; destined to be a signal instance of the sovereignty of Divine Providence, and, in much of his conduct, a shining pattern of grace. A man, in short, whom the Deity loved, and was determined to honour.
(l) Ro 8:39.
In order to our entering into the true spirit and propriety of the Psalm before us; we must form to ourselves an idea of David the stripling, and think we see him watching his flocks, in a summer's night, under the expanded canopy of the skies. - The air is still. The heavens are serene. The moon, arrived at the full, is pursuing her majestic, silent course. The stars (like peeresses on a coronation solemnity) assume their brightest robes, to attend the beauteous sovereign of the night, while both moon and stars concur to shed a soft undazzling lustre on all the subjacent landscape. David, at this happy period, a blameless youth; unpoisoned with ambition, and unfascinated by the witchcraft of court corruption; his heart unpolluted with lust, and his hands undipped in blood; is seated on a rising hillock, or on the protuberant root of some stately tree. - All is hushed. Not a bough rustles. Not a leaf "trembles to the breeze." The silent flocks are either carelessly grazing by his side, or slumbering securely at his feet. The birds have suspended their songs, until waked by superior sweetness of his voice, and the music of his hand. For, charmed with the loveliness of the scene, and wrapt by the holy Spirit into a seraphic flame of exalted devotion, he has lain aside his crook - he has taken up his harp - and is transmitting to the throne of God, these grateful, these inexpressibly beautiful strains of admiring thankfulness: When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers; the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; what is man that thou art mindful of him, or the son of man, that thou visitest him? - Then taking a survey of the pleasing objects that surrounded him, he thus goes on to sing: Thou hast made man a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet; all sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; the fowls of the air, and the fishes of the sea, and whatsoever walketh through the paths of the seas. O Lord our governor, how excellent is thy name in all the world!
So warbled the sweet singer of Israel, and thus he addressed God the Son, almost eleven hundred years prior to his Incarnation. For, that the Psalm, in its highest import, refers to Christ, is evident from Mt 21:16. and, especially, from Heb 2, where a considerable part of the Psalm is cited by the apostle, and expressly applied to the adorable Mediator between God and men.
Jesus, considered as a divine person, is Jehovah our governor, whose name, i. e. whose manifestations of infinite wisdom, beneficence and power, in a way both of creation and providence, are excellent throughout all the earth. - He set his glory above the heavens, or rendered the riches of his love more signally and illustriously noble than the brightest and noblest of his material works, when he entered into covenant with the Father and the Spirit, and graciously stipulated to wear our nature and to bear away our sins. In the fulness of time, after he had actually accomplished his double warfare of obedience and sufferings, he, literally, set his glory above the heavens, when he ascended up on high, and his glorified humanity took possession of its throne, angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him.
He it is, who displays the efficacy, the sovereignty, and the independency of his almighty operation, in bringing to pass the greatest ends, by seemingly, the feeblest and most inadequate means: or (as David, evidently alluding to his own tender age, speaks at the 2d verse), who has ordained strength out of the mouths even of babes and sucklings. Armed with the power that cometh from above, the unaccoutred youth had slain a lion and a bear (m). Inspired with supernatural prowess, the same ruddy stripling, afterwards, overcame the proud, gigantic champion of Philistia. These providential events were, indeed, strange and astonishing. But the religious part of David's character was truly miraculous. A beardless lad, not very superior in years to a babe and suckling, is exalted by the holy Spirit, into a prophet of the Lord. He testifies of the Saviour, many hundred years before the Saviour appeared: and is not only a true believer in, but, a distinguished herald of, that adorable person, in whom the elect of all nations are blessed.
(m) 1Sa 17:36.
By the righteousness of his meritorious life, and by the atonement of his infinitely precious death, Jesus "bruised the serpent's head," or inverted the subtilty, baffled the power, and defeated the wish of that apostate spirit, who seeks the destruction of man: thus silencing the enemy and the avenger. - Seek you farther proofs of the Saviour's dignity and divinity? not only the earth, but the heavens also are the work of his fingers, the monument of his creating power. The moon and the stars are of his ordaining: and, without him, was not any thing made that was made. In a word, he was the builder of the universe; and he rules the universe he built. Well, therefore, may we bend the knee of our souls before him, or rather, fall prostrate in the dust at his footstool, and ask, What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that thou visitest him? If Elizabeth, the parent of John the Baptist, could say, to the Virgin Mary, Who am I, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? much more may God's elect stand astonished at his love, and ask, "What are we, that the Lord God of Israel should, in person, visit his people, and redeem them to the Father by his blood (Lu 1:68).
In the text, two acts of God are distinctly pointed out; namely, his mindfulness of us, and his visiting us; which gracious acts I shall consider, not only as proofs of the Messiah's love to his people; but, indiscriminately, as evidences of the love mutually shown to sinners, by all the persons in the Trinity, Father, and Son, and Spirit, the co-equal Three that bear record in heaven, are one, not only in nature and essence, but in the good-will they bear to man: and their undivided love calls for our undivided praise.
I. God's mindfulness of his people is not a thing of yesterday. There never was a period, when he had not our interests at heart. The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him (Ps 103:17). It is, like himself, without beginning of days or end of years. We could not fear him from everlasting; because we did not exist until very lately; but his mercy towards us was co-eternal with himself. In consequence of this, we are made to fear him in time. Filial fear is a covenant-blessing, given only to the sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty; who says, I will put my fear into their hearts (Jer 32:40). Hence, they shall not depart from him after conversion. And thus his mercy, as it was from everlasting, is to everlasting upon them that fear him. It neither began with to-day, nor shall end with to-morrow. But he, who laid the foundation of their happiness, in his own eternal purpose, shall lay on the top-stone with joy, crying, Grace, grace unto it (Zec 4:7). - That God was mindful of us for good, appears,
(1.) From the decree of election, whereby we were chosen in Christ, to grace and glory, before the world began. This act of sovereign love is the very source and fountain head of all the other blessings that are conferred on the heirs of salvation. Redemption, justification, effectual calling, holiness, continuance in good works to the end, and everlasting happiness in heaven; all flow from this leading capital, fundamental privilege. Election is the tree of life, whose leaves and fruit are for the healing of the nations: for, whom God did predestinate, them [towtowh, those very persons] he also called; and whom he called, them [towtowh, those very persons] he also justified; and whom he justified, them [towtowh these very persons] he also glorified (Ro 8:30).
There are some who talk much concerning the dignity of human nature. Upon Christian principles, the dignity of man is great indeed: a dignity however, not natural, but derived from the condescending lover and restorer of lost sinners. That God should be mindful of men, prior to their being; that God should settle the inheritance of heaven on his children, ere suns gave light, or planets moved; that God should write the name of the meanest saint, in the book of life, with the pen of everlasting love; that he should appoint them, not to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ; is a consideration that inspires the believing soul with the most sublime and astonishing views of that goodness, which not only gave apostate men the preference to apostate angels, but exalted the church of God to a state of dignity and glory unexperienced even by the angels that never fell. - May we, by the holiness of our lives, be enabled to give substantial proof of our interest in his electing favour; and be living exemplars of that inestimable declaration and promise, This people have I formed for myself; they shall show forth my praise (Isa 43:21).
(2.) God showed his mindfulness of us, in the covenant of redemption, made with his Son and Spirit, before all worlds, for the recovery of his church and people, who it was known, would fall by iniquity. For it would infinitely detract from the dignity of Christianity, to imagine, that the plan of redemption was a temporary expedient, hurried up on a sudden, and fetched in, ex improviso, to remedy an unforeseen disaster: as if the Deity, upon a disappointment of his views, and an unlucky disconcertment of his measures, had recourse, pro re nata, to the best salvo that the exigence of affairs suggested. Such an idea of God and religion can never, I should imagine, be coolly admitted by any thinking person. And yet this view of things must be admitted, if we reject the scripture account of the eternal covenant of grace and redemption.
There can be no succession, in the knowledge of God. He whose understanding is infinite, cannot know that now, which he did not always know. - Men, indeed, grow wise by observation and experience. But eternity itself can add no improvement to the knowledge of that all-wise, all-comprehending mind, to whom all futurity is open, "from whom no secrets are hid," and who holds, in his own hand, the entire chain of second causes. These are first principles, equally inculcated by reason, the religion of nature; and by Christianity, the religion of the Bible. It would lead me too far, should I at present, pursue the argument in its amplitude and extent. Enough, I apprehend, has been observed, to justify my laying down this, for an undoubted axiom, that Adam's apostasy, and all the consequence of it, were, from everlasting, foreseen and foreknown of God; who, for reasons we cannot see, decreed to permit it. And I defy the ablest advocates of revelation, to defend the Christian religion, clearly and solidly, upon any other principle. God's decreeing, or resolving, to permit the fall, did not, however, make him the author of it; for he can neither tempt nor be tempted to sin. But, had he not determined to permit the lapse of our first parents, he could not have foreknown it (for, without such a permissive determination, the event had been uncertain; and uncertainty of event can be no basis for certain prescience): and, had he not foreknown it, he could not have made provision, beforehand, in the covenant of grace, for the restoration of sinners: - not to ask, where would have been his omniscience?
I conclude then with the scriptures, that, upon a certain foresight of the fall, grace was given us in Christ before the world began (2Ti 1:9): which could only be given us so very early, in virtue of a covenant made with Christ as the federal head, trustee, and representative of his people. To Abraham and to his seed, i. e. to all who should be endued with that faith which is the gift and operation of God, were the promises made: he saith not, unto seeds, as of many; as if the promises of grace and salvation had been made to the elect, in their own proper persons (for that would have been impossible, seeing they had then no personal existence); but as of one, and to thy seed, which is Christ (Ga 3:16). To Christ, therefore, were the promises of the Father made, in behalf of all his believing people. And this could only be done in that covenant of peace, which was between them both. - Nor,
(3.) Did God intermit his gracious mindfulness of man, when (as observed above), for reasons unknown to us, it was his mysterious pleasure actually to permit the fall of Adam. We have a saying in common life, that prevention is better than recovery. But, in the present question, the proverb fails. Satan neither stole nor forced his way into paradise. He neither escaped the notice, nor mastered the power of him whose presence filleth heaven and earth. Omniscience cannot be deceived. Omnipresence cannot be eluded. Omnipotence cannot be overpowered. With regard, therefore, to the first entrance of moral and of natural evil; both one and the other would most certainly have been totally precluded, by a Deity possessed of infinite wisdom and power, had not recovery (though we cannot yet discern how) been better than prevention. - The keeper of Israel, who neither slumbereth nor sleepeth, was invariably mindful of his people, even when he suffered human nature to be shipwrecked in Adam. Nay, presently after that mysterious event, Jehovah the Son showed his mindfulness of his covenant and of us, by condescending to be himself, the first preacher of the everlasting gospel; for he did not dismiss our first parents from paradise, until he had solemnly and graciously assured them, that the seed of the woman, the Messiah, born of a virgin mother, should, at the appointed time, destroy the works of the devil, and restore the objects of divine love to more than the glory they had lost.
(4.) God moreover, testifies his mindfulness of his fallen people, by his patience with them, and his providential care of them, during their whole state of unregeneracy. A late eminent person used frequently to say, that "Every faithful minister is immortal, until his work is done:" and it may as truly be asserted of every elect sinner, that he is immortal, until he is born again. It is impossible that any of God's people should die in their sins: for whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and Christ's sheep must be brought home to him in regeneration. (Ro 8:30) Hence the apostle Jude, writing to believers in general, assures them that they had been sanctified, or set apart, by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called (Jude 1:1): or, as it may be rendered, preserved for Jesus Christ; preserved, by providence, in order to be effectually called and converted by grace; of which we have a striking instance in the jailor at Philippi, Ac 16:27-31. If we choose more modern proof of this important truth, some very remarkable passages in the life of Colonel Gardiner, prior to his conversion, may tend to convince us of it. Nay, there is, perhaps, hardly a single believer on earth, who, if he looks back on the days that are past, cannot recollect some signal and eminent deliverances from peril and death, which he experienced in the course of providence, long enough before he was savingly turned to God. How often, when either sickness has levelled the dart; or when sudden and unlooked for danger stood with the lifted weapon, ready, in appearance, to hew us down; has an hand, unseen, turned aside the stroke, and a voice, unheard, pronounced us reprieved from death! So careful is the Lord of the harvest, not to reap his people, until he has ripened them!
(5.) After God has brought his children to the saving knowledge of himself, by the effectual call of his holy Spirit, his mindfulness of them appears, farther, in his maintaining the work of grace he has begun, and carrying them on, inamissibly and invincibly, until they receive the end of their faith, even the full and final salvation of their souls. Our faithfulness to God proceeds from God's mindfulness of us. He it is, that preserves us safe amidst the corruption of our own hearts, the temptations of Satan, and the afflictions and allurements of the world. Grace in the soul resembles a glimmering taper, exposed to all the storms that blow, yet unextinguished, and inextinguishable. Wherefore may it defy the force of descending rains, and the fury of conflicting winds? because it is fed and guarded by the unseen hand of him, who is ever mindful of his covenant, and of his covenant people. Nor until he fails, can they. Because I live, says he, ye shall live also. Surely then, we have the highest reason to breathe, from the inmost of your hearts, that self-abasing, that grace-admiring question, What is man, that thou art mindful of him? To which we may add,
II. Or the son of man, that thou visitest him? for not only his mindfulness, but his gracious visitations, in consequence of that mindfulness, challenge our deepest wonder, and our warmest praise.
In a very particular manner might God be said to visit us, when Jehovah the son was manifested in the flesh. - Will God indeed dwell with men? said Solomon, at his dedication of the temple. Yes, may we reply, on the present festival: God did indeed dwell with men, that men might for ever dwell with God. The brightness of his Father's glory, and the express (z) image of his person; he who made and upholds all things by the word of his power, condescended in his great humility to visit earth; that sinners might be, not transitory visitants, but everlasting inhabitants of the highest heavens. And though he is now entered on his glorified state above, he still vouchsafes, invisibly and spiritually to visit his people below.
(z) Express image, Heb 1:3. - I should not scruple to render the word xarakthr by exact counterpart: as wax (whence the metaphor seems to be taken) bears the very figure, and is therefore the exact counterpart of the seal or stamp by which it is impressed.
He visits them in conversion, as he once literally visited the tomb of Lazarus; and, by the effectual agency of his Spirit, calls to himself whom he will (Mr 3:13), and quickens those who are dead in trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1). For this unspeakable blessing, man is singly and solely indebted to efficacious grace. It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth; it is not owing to human pliableness, nor human works, but it is only of God that showeth mercy (Ro 9:16). After I was turned, I repented, is the language of God's book (Jer 31:19), and the experience of God's people. We are first turned by him; and then we repent unto life. As Christ was born into the world, for us; so the visitation of his grace gives us to experience, what our church justly styles, that "new birth unto righteousness," which makes us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.
Providential dispensations are also to be considered as visits from God. Is affliction the Christian's lot? It is a visit from heaven. Thou hast visited, thou hast tried me, says David. God never uses, the flail, but when his corn wants threshing.
"Our hearts are fastened to the world
“By strong and various ties;
“But every sorrow cuts a string,
“And urges us to rise."
Afflictions are as nails, driven by the hand of grace, which crucify us to the world. The husbandman ploughs his lands, and the gardener prunes his trees, to make them fruitful. The jeweller cuts and polishes his diamonds, to make them shine the brighter. The refiner flings his gold into the furnace, that it may come out the purer. And God afflicts his people, to make them better. "To thank God for mercies," said a pious divine of the last century, "is the way to increase them: to thank him for miseries, is the way to remove them. - Afflictions are then blessings to us, when we can bless God for afflictions: whose single view, in causing us to pass through the fire, is only to separate the sin he hates from the soul he loves." And, in all his dealings with them, let them remember, that, though he cause grief, yet he will have compassion: at the worst of times, he will either suit his dispensations to their strength, or accommodate their strength to his dispensations. And when the faith of an afflicted saint is in exercise, his graces, as a good man expresses it, "resemble a garden of roses, or a well of rose-water; which, the more they are stirred and agitated by the storm, the sweeter is the fragrance they exhale."
I have already touched on deliverances eminently providential. May not even common preservation and support, from moment to moment, be likewise numbered among the instances of God's never ceasing mindfulness and continual visitation? By him, says the apostle, all things consist. His hand directs, his eye conducts, and his will sustains, the whole universe of spirits, men, and things. With regard to ourselves in particular, have we not each, abundant cause to admire the unintermitted influence and superintendency (f) of him who is our life and the length of our days? (De 30:20.) Thou hast granted me life and favour, and thy visitation hath preserved my spirit (Job 10:12).
(f) "God can arm all his creatures against sinful man. The least, and the meanest of them, even a fly, is able to make an end of us, if God give commission." Mr. Parr, on Romans, p. 115.
Sanctification, or the soul's recovery of God's spiritual and moral image, is a fruit of the same condescending goodness. As redemption from the guilt of sin is owing to the past visitation of God the Son; so, exemption from the dominion of sin results from the continued visitation of God the Holy Ghost (i). His transforming influence resembles the agency of some consummate painter, who does not complete his pictures at a single sitting, but gives them the gradual improvements of his pencil, till he has touched each of his elegant performances into a master-piece of propriety and beauty. Philip, king of Macedon, is said to have rejoiced, not so much at his having a son (Alexander), as at his son's having Aristotle for a tutor. A Christian is not so thankful to God, for the gift of an immortal soul, as for the still superior gift of the sacred Spirit, to renew, to comfort, and to sanctify that soul, and render its immortality a blessing.
(i) Is it not equally shocking and deplorable, that, to believe in the agency of the Holy Spirit, as a converter, sanctifier, and comforter, should be deemed, by very many reputed Christians, the certain mark of a weak, enthusiastic mind? Arminians did not always carry matters to this dreadful excess of palpable irreligion. The departure from the doctrines of the reformation was, for a time, tolerably gradual. The deviation which began toward the latter end of James the 1st's reign, was so gentle and progressive, that the church hardly perceived her descent. In the reign of his son Charles, archbishop Laud quickened her pace, and, with an high hand, drove her still farther from herself. - I do not, however, intend to mark at present, the several waxings and wanings of Arminianism, in our church and nation. The compass of the subject is too extended, and requires more latitude than a note will allow. I shall therefore, in this place only observe, that we seem now, to be almost got to the bottom of the hill. We have well nigh, entirely quitted Mount Sion, for the valley of Hinnom. We seem to be casting off all regard even to the modesty of appearances. No longer satisfied with deserting the bulwarks, nor with even silently sapping the foundations, multitudes among us are for openly storming the citadel: as if it were a point of settled emulation, who of us should, on one hand, run farthest from the doctrinal system of the church; and, on the other, contribute most vigorously to its demolition. As one melancholy proof of this, let us instance in the doctrine of the blessed Spirit's inhabitation. "By receiving the holy Spirit," some divines have told us, "is meant nothing more than the acquisition, the cultivation, and the practice of moral virtue." Is not this, sinking the religion of Christ ten degrees below heathenism? for even an heathen has taught us to distinguish between the sacred influence, which makes men good; and the goodness, which is the fruit of that influence. A distinction as obvious as that of cause and effect. The fruit of the Spirit, says old fashioned St. Paul, is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, &c. Ga 5:22. - "The Spirit of God and moral virtue are the same." I suppose, we shall be told next, that the atonement, propitiation, and sacrifice of Christ, are only other words for repentance. Let us, with the clue of the modern explication in our hand, make trial of its value; and see, whether it will not lead us into a labyrinth of nonsense and impiety, instead of extricating us from that of supposed enthusiasm. Jesus was led up of moral virtue into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, Mt 4:1. And he saw moral virtue descending like a dove, and lighting upon him, Mt 2:16. God is a moral virtue, Joh 4:24. They spake, as moral virtue gave them utterance, Ac 2:4. Then moral virtue said to Philip, go near, and join thyself to this chariot, Ac 8:29. Ye have received the moral virtue of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. Moral virtue itself beareth witness with our virtue, that we are the children of God, Ro 8:15-16. God hath revealed them to us by his moral virtue; for moral virtue searcheth all things, even the deep things of God, 1Co 2:10. God hath sent forth the moral virtue of his Son into your hearts, Ga 4:6. The communion of moral virtue be with you all, 2Co 13:14. - Applied to those parts of our church offices, likewise, wherein mention is made of the Holy Spirit, the clue will be equally serviceable to the argument of those rational expositors. - If we do, in true earnest, wish for the return of moral virtue, we ourselves must first return to the doctrines from whence we are fallen. We must believe them, as well as subscribe them; and preach them, as well as believe them; and practically adorn them, by our own lives, as well as preach them; or moral virtue, which already seems rising on the wing, will totally take her flight.
I will recompence the religious reader, for the horror which the interpretation just refuted, must have given him, by transcribing two passages from the learned Dr. Stanhope, dean of Canterbury. Every body, who knows any thing of this respectable writer, knows that he was, in the main, extremely remote from those of our established doctrines, which now go by the nick-name of Calvinism: a term, by the way, which, like raw-head and bloody-bones, seems merely calculated to frighten the children of Arminius from the Bible and the church. - In Dr. Stanhope's translation of bishop Andrews' Devotions, this eminent prelate, and his worthy translator, thus express themselves: "I do also believe, that, by the illumination and powerful operation of the Holy Ghost, a peculiar people has been called from all quarters of the world, to be knit into one society, united and distinguished by belief of the truth and holiness of life. Transl. p. 20. "In the Holy Ghost, I believe a power from on high, by operations, supernatural and invisible, but yet with efficacy undeniable, transforming and renewing the soul to holiness." Ibid. p. 60.
May my hearers, my readers, and myself, experience the reality of these blessed truths, more and more, to the perfect day!
In the means of grace, also, are the saints visited of God. The ordinances of the gospel (such as public and private prayer, attendance on the Lord's table, reading the word, and hearing it preached) are a kind of half-way house, where God meets and communes with his children on their road to heaven. These are the windows and the lattice (Song 2:9), through which the King of saints displays part of his beauty and glory to the eye of faith. When our king Edward IV. had an interview with Lewis VIII. of France, on Pequigny bridge, the two monarchs conversed through a grate-work of iron interposed between them. In a manner something similar, do believers on earth, carry on their intercourse with God. They see a little of his loveliness, and they hear a few comfortable whispers of his voice: but still there is a barrier between. Hence, they believe, they hope, they love, they rejoice, they obey imperfectly: they know but in part, and they are happy but in part. By and by, the interposing vail will be entirely done away: and from catching a few occasional drops of blessedness, at the channel of outward ordinances below, they shall derive for ever, the fulness of uninterrupted joy, from the fountain head above. - Sweet, indeed, and inestimably precious, are the minutest, the most glimmering, and most transient views of interest in the Father's electing grace, and in the unsearchable merits of Christ. For the Holy Spirit to visit us with the light of his countenance, and to bless us with the knowledge of salvation, by bearing witness with our spirits that we are the children of God; is at once, the certain earnest, and the richest foretaste of that consummate bliss, prepared for the vessels of mercy, before the foundation of the world. - But it may be that you walk in darkness; that your views, or even hopes, of interest in Christ are few in number, and of short continuance; so that you experience very little of the holy Spirit's visitation in a way of joy and comfort. This was often the case with David himself, the penman of this sweet Psalm: Even from my youth up, says he elsewhere, thy terrors have I suffered with a troubled mind. But let me ask, did you ever, at any time, or under any ordinance, so much as once, experience fellowship with God, or a moment's peace and joy in believing? If you have, be thankful for it. It was a token for good. It was a visit from above. God is thine, even though (which, however, is unlikely) you should walk in darkness to your dying day. He does not tantalize his people: but having given thee a taste of his love, he will in his own way, and in his own time, satisfy thee with the fulness of joy. When we part with an earthly friend, one of the most embittering considerations is, that we may, perhaps, see his face no more (Ac 20:38) below; enjoy no more of his company, and receive no more of his visits. But when the holy Spirit withdraws the comforts of his presence, and is as one that hides himself, or as one that is gone into a far country, we may be certain of his return. His consolations may stay long, but they will come back at last. You may depend on a fresh visit, in due season. They who have felt his gracious influence once, shall feel it again. - There is a true ground of joy, in reflecting even on past experience (see Ps 42:6.) Communion with God leaves a calm and a sweetness upon the soul, which are remembered after many days: as a vase of rich perfume, or of odoriferous unguent, scents the air with fragrance, even after the vessel that contained it, is stopped up and put by.
Once more. God may be said to visit his people, when he calls them away from earth to heaven. To them, who are in a state of grace, death is no more than a friendly visit from the God of love. "As a person" (to use the comparison of an excellent writer) "that takes a walk in his garden, if he spy a beauteous full-blown flower, gathers it, and gives it a place in his bosom; so the Lord takes as it were, his walks in his gardens, the churches, and gathers his lilies, souls fully ripe for glory, and with delight takes them to himself." Not satisfied with only deputing his angels to escort believers to the sky, he comes himself, in the manifestations of his presence, and, as it were, takes them by the hand, and leads them safe to Zion his holy mountain. - What is this world, but a sort of an academy, wherein God's children are placed for education? And, when their education is finished, when they have taken their degree in holiness, and are properly qualified for heaven, the Father of mercy orders out the chariot of death, to convey his children home. From that hour, he no longer visits them, but they visit him; and are with him, for ever and ever.
O, what a burst of joy, what a scene of glory opens to the ravished view, and beams on the triumphant soul of a saint, in the moment of departure! The death-bed of a Christian is the anti-chamber of heaven, and the very suburbs of the New Jerusalem.
When the silver cords of life loosen apace, - when the last pins of the earthly tabernacle are taking out, - when the lips of the expiring saint turn pale, and the blush forsakes his cheek, and what little breath he draws returns cold, - when his limbs quiver, - when the pulse forgets to beat, - when the crimson current in his veins begins to stagnate, and the hovering soul is just on the wing for glory - fast as the world darkens upon his sight, fast as the To qnhton, the mortal part (2Co 5:4.) of his composition, subsides and falls off from the dis-imprisoned spirit; he brightens into the perfect image of God, and kindles into more than an angel of light. Jehovah visits him with smiles of everlasting love; Jesus beckons him to the regions of eternal day; the blessed Spirit of God wafts him, with a gentle gale, over the stream of death. The angelic potentates deem it an honour to usher the ransomed soul, and convoy the precious freight. Dis-embodied saints, who were landed long before, throng the blissful coast, to congratulate the newborn seraph on his safe arrival. - When Virgil entered the Roman theatre, the whole auditory testified their respect, by rising from their seats. When a believer lands in glory, the whole church triumphant may be supposed to welcome the new-admitted peer. He makes a public entry into the celestial city, the Jerusalem which is above. As joy is in heaven, when a sinner repents; so joy is in heaven, when a saint is taken home.
God will, indeed, pay his people one visit more, and but one. I mean, in the morning of the resurrection, when he shall re-build their bodies, into temples of perfection, immortality and glory. The souls of the regenerate, from the instant they take their flight, are admitted to the sight and fruition of his glorious godhead; and their bodies lie down in the grave, as a prince retires to his wardrobe, or as a bride withdraws to her closet, to come forth with additional beauty and lustre, by and by. Like a tender watchful parent, God is mindful of his elect, while they are fast asleep: and, at the destined season, he will bring them from the east, and gather them from the west; he will say, to the north, give up; and to the south, keep not back; bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the ends of the earth, Isa 43:5. Their dust shall praise him. All their bones shall say, Lord, who is like unto thee? when that which was sown in corruption, weakness, and dishonour, is raised in incorruption, power and glory. He, who raised up Jesus from the dead, will also quicken your mortal bodies, by his Spirit that dwelleth in you, Ro 8:11. That same divine Spirit, the third person in the Godhead, who, on earth, quickens and raises the souls of the elect from a death in sin to the life of righteousness, will be immediately concerned in re-quickening their bodies, the temples in which he dwells, and to which he is incomprehensibly united even while they lie mouldering in the grave. In his book are all their members written. Every essential atom of their dust stands registered in the volume of omniscience. Every atom is numbered. Every atom is precious in his sight. Nor shall a single atom be lost. Whatever changes their bodies may undergo, by a resolution into their first principles, or even by incorporation with other beings; the constituent particles requisite to identity, shall, when the trumpet sounds, be collected from every quarter of the globe, whither they have been scattered; or, more justly speaking, treasured up: for the world is but a vast store-house, wherein the dust of the saints is reposited. What though, for a few days and nights, we lend our bodies to the tomb,
Join the dull mass, increase the trodden soil,
And sleep 'till earth herself shall be no more?
the grave is but a steward, entrusted with our ashes, and responsible for the charge. Soon will the several elements resign their deposit, and give back the loan; the hallowed dust of God's elect; O death! no longer thine. While their souls are happy in the converse of Christ and angels, their bodies lie refining in the tomb, until the latter have slept away their dross, that both may be glorified together. - I shall only observe further,
1. That God is mindful of his saints, and visits them in all these respects, not for any merit of theirs, but freely, and for his own name's sake. He first gives them grace, and then glory. He makes them saints, and crowns them angels. "We love persons and things," says the excellent Dr. Arrowsmith, "because they are lovely: but God loves his people first, and makes them lovely afterwards. Our cause of love is in the objects loved; but the cause of God's love is entirely in himself. We were predestinated after the counsel of his own will; Eph 1:11. not after the prior good inclinations of ours." - And, indeed, the text plainly teaches this most important truth: for, if the righteous were beforehand with God, i. e. if there were any goodness in the human will, of which God himself was not the absolute author and efficient, David must have asked a very absurd and a very heterodox question, in saying, What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that thou visitest him?
2. If Jehovah in all his persons, if Father, Son, and Spirit, are thus mindful of men; O let men in return, be mindful of God! mindful of his truths, mindful of his ordinances, mindful of his love, mindful of his word, mindful of his providence, mindful of his commandments! I wish every one of you what I wish for myself; a clear head, a warm heart, and an holy life: a mind enlightened into a judicious knowledge and perception of the gospel doctrines, in all their purity, harmony, and extent; an heart warmed with the vital experience of grace, with the love of Christ, and the consolations of his Spirit; from whence will infallibly proceed a life practically devoted to God, and a conversation adorned with every Christian and moral virtue. To this end, let the Psalmist's prayer be yours. Be mindful of me, O Lord, with the favour that thou bearest unto thy people; O visit me with thy salvation! that I may, for myself in particular, see the felicity of thy chosen, and rejoice with the gladness of thy nation, and glory with thine inheritance, Ps 106:4.