by John Howe
A Study of Psalm 37:4
IT is likely that the title of the following treatise will put many of you, my dearly esteemed friends, in mind, that sundry sermons were preached twenty years ago among you upon this subject. I had it indeed in design to have given you some abstract of those sermons; but searching among my papers, could find none but so imperfect and broken memorials as would be of little use for that purpose. And yet being desirous to present you with somewhat that might both be a testimony of my affection, and an advantage to you; and knowing this subject was grateful to many, and affords what may be useful to all of you; I have for your sakes applied myself to a reconsideration of it. The first part is even altogether new, except the introductive suppositions in the beginning. Nor do I remember I then had more than one discourse to you on that subject, before the practical application of it. The other part contains many things formerly delivered to you, though perhaps not in the same order, much less in the same words, whereto the short notes in my hands could no way enable me.
The matter here treated of is the very substance of religion; the first and the last; the root and the flower; both the basis and foundation, and the top and perfection of practical godliness; and which runs through the whole of it. Nor knew I therefore what to present you with, that could have in it a fitter mixture and temperament of what might be both useful and pleasant to you. As there is therefore no need, so nor do I desire you should receive the matter here discoursed of, merely for my sake; there being so great reason it should be chiefly acceptable on higher accounts. I do very well understand your affection to me; and could easily be copious in the expression of mine to you, if I would open that sluice: but I do herein resolvedly, and upon consideration, restrain myself; apprehending that in some cases (and I may suppose it possible that in our case) a gradual mortification ought to be endeavoured of such affection as is often between those so related as you and I have been: which is no harder supposition, than that such affection may be excessive and swell beyond due bounds. So it would, if it should be accompanied with impatient resentments towards any providence or instrument, whereby it finds itself crossed, or from whence it meets with what is ungrateful to it; if it prove turbulent and disquieting to them in whom it is, or any others; or if it occasion a looking back with distempered lingerings after such former things as could be but means to our great end, with the neglect of looking forward to that end itself still before us. Far be it from me to aim at the keeping anything alive that ought to die; that is, in that degree wherein it ought so to do. But our mutual affection will be both innocent and useful, if it be suitable to mortal objects, and to persons not expecting the converse we have had together any more in this world; if also in the meantime it preserve to us a mutual interest in each others' prayers; if it dispose us to such acts and apprehensions of kindness as our present circumstances can admit; and if, particularly, as it hath moved me to undertake, it may contribute anything to your acceptance of, this small labour, which is now designed for you. The subject and substance whereof, as they are none of mine, so they ought to be welcome to you for their own sake, and His who is the prime author, though they were recommended to you by the hand of a stranger, or one whose face you never saw. They aim at the promoting of the same end which the course of my poor labours among you did (as He that knoweth all things knoweth) the serious practice of the great things of religion, which are known and least liable to question; without designing to engage you to or against any party of them that differ about circumstantial matters. They tend to let you see that formality in any way of religion, unaccompanied with life, will not serve your turn, (as it will no man's,) than which, there is nothing more empty, sapless, and void both of profit and delight.
I have reflected and considered with some satisfaction that this hath been my way and the temper of my mind among you. Great reason I have to repent, that I have not with greater earnestness pressed upon you the known and important things wherein serious Christians do generally agree: but I repent not I have been so little engaged in the hot contests of our age about the things wherein they differ. For, as I pretend to little light in these things (whence I could not have much confidence to fortify me unto such an undertaking); so I must profess to have little inclination to contend about matters of that kind.
Nor yet am I indifferent as to those smaller things, that I cannot discern to be in their own nature so. But though I cannot avoid to think that course right which I have deliberately chosen therein, I do yet esteem that but a small thing upon which to ground an opinion of my excelling them that think otherwise, as if I knew more than they. For I have often recounted thus seriously with myself, that of every differing party, in those circumstantial matters, I do particularly know some persons by whom I find myself much excelled in far greater things than is the matter of that difference. I cannot, it is true, thereupon say and think everything that they do; which is impossible, since they differ from one another as well as me: and I understand well, there are other measures of truth than this or that excellent person's opinion. But I thereupon reckon I have little reason to be conceited of any advantage I have of such in point of knowledge, (even as little as he should have, that can sing, or play well on a lute, of him that knows how to command armies, or govern a kingdom,) and can with the less confidence differ from them, or contend with them; being thereby, though I cannot find that I err in these matters, constrained to have some suspicion lest I do, and to admit it possible enough, that some of them who differ from me, having much more light in greater matters, may have so in these also. Besides, that I most seriously think, humility, charity, and patience, would more contribute to the composing of these lesser differences, or to the good estate of the Christian interest under them, than the most fervent disputes and contestations. I have upon such considerations little concerned myself in contending for one way or another while I was among you; or in censuring such as have differed from me in such notions and practices as might consist with our common great end, or as imported not manifest hostility thereto: contenting myself to follow the course that to my preponderating judgment seemed best, without stepping out of my way to justle others.
But I cannot be so patient of their practical disagreement, (not only with all serious Christians, but even their own judgments and consciences also,) who have no delight in God, and who take no pleasure in the very substance of religion. I have been grieved to observe, that the case hath too apparently seemed so with some among you; some who have been openly profane and dissolute, and expressed more contempt of God (which you know was often insisted on the one part of the day,* when I had this subject in hand the other) than delight in him. I know not how the case may be altered with such since I left you; or what blessing may have followed the endeavours of any other hand. Death I am sure will be making alterations, as I have heard it hath. If these lines may be beforehand with it, may they be effectually monitory to any such that yet survive, that however this or that external form of godliness may consist with your everlasting well-being, real ungodliness and the denial of the power never can; which power stands in nothing more than in love to God, or delight in him. Therefore seriously bethink yourselves, Do you delight in God or no? If you do, methinks you should have some perception of it. Surely if you delight in a friend, or some other outward comfort, you can perceive it. But if you do not, what do you think alienation from the life of God will come to at last? It is time for you to pray, and cry, and strive earnestly for a renewed heart. And if any of you do in some degree find this, yet many degrees are still lacking. You cannot delight in God but upon that apprehension as will give you to see you do it not enough: therefore reach forth to what is still before. I bow my knees for you all, that a living, delightful religion may flourish in your hearts and families, in the stead of those dry, withered things, worldliness, formality and strife about trifles: which will make Torrington a Heph-zibah, a place to be delighted in; your country a pleasant region: and (if he may but hear of it) add not a little to the satisfaction and delight of
Your affectionate servant in Christ,
Who most seriously desires your true prosperity,
Antrim, Sept. 1, 1674.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
On Delighting in God—Part I
On Delighting in God—Part II