God the Highest Lord - Denying Self-will
I now come to speak to that branch of denying, self-will.
As God is the supreme lord and law-giver, so we are to deny our self-will. Now our submission to God is double, to his laws, and to his providence; we submit to his laws by holiness or obedience; we submit to his providence by patience.
First, We submit to his laws by obedience. Our will is to give place to the will of God: Col. 4.12, 'That you may be perfect and complete in all the will of God.' This was the prayer of Epaphras, and this should be the aim of every christian, to bring his will to a perfect conformity to the will of God.
1. I shall show the difficulty of this part of self-denial.
2. Give some motives to enforce it.
3. Give some rules, which may serve both for direction and trial.
First, For the difficulty of this part of self-denial; that will appear if we do but consider -
1. That man's will is the proudest enemy that Christ hath on this side hell, it resisteth Christ in all his offices. In his kingly office and reign: Luke 19.14, 'We will not have this man to reign over us.' God hath set up Christ as king, and the world votes it in the negative - ' We will not have this man.' The great contest between us and God is, whose will shall stand, God's or ours. The soul cannot endure to hear of another king and another sovereign, because it affects a supremacy, and it cannot endure that any should lord it over us: Ps. 12. 4, 'Our tongues are our own; who is lord over us?' Man would have the command of his own actions. A proud creature cannot endure to hear of fetters and restraints. The rebellion of the world against Christ was 'to cast away his bands and cords,' Ps. 2; so Jer.2.31, 'We are lords, we will not come at thee.' They would be absolute, and without God. This is so rooted in our nature that Satan, when he sets heretics at work, he puts them upon holding out this bait of worldly liberty and freedom from the reign and sovereignty of God: 2 Peter 2. 18, 'They promise liberty, but are themselves servants of corruption.' The great rage and tumult of the world is to break the bands and cords, and to loosen us from our obedience to God. The proud will of man cannot endure to hear of an higher lord; this hindereth his reign in the heart, and slighteth the offers of his grace: John 5.40, 'You will not come to me, that you might have life.' Christ comes with riches of grace, and desires entertainment, and we neglect him, and are taken with the basest creatures. If a king should come to a subject's house and desire entertainment, and he should neglect him, and talk with base fellows, this were a mighty affront put upon him. Yet this is our disposition towards Christ; he comes to dispense comforts and graces, and we will not entertain him, but are taken up with the creature. All that Christ hath done is, to us, lost for want of our consent. All things are ready prepared, decreed in heaven, only the guests are not ready, they will not come, will not consent, and ratify the decrees of heaven, in short, this is the cause of all sin, and of all the disorder of the creature: James 1.14, 'Every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lusts, and enticed.' Man taketh himself to be lord over his own actions, and enacts contrary laws to God, in the court of his own heart, and is so wedded to his own affections, that he accounts his lusts himself, and can as well endure to have his sin reproved as a member of his body to be cut off.
2. The difficulty of it will appear again if we consider, the will is far more corrupted than any other faculty of the soul. The understanding is much blinded, but the will is more depraved and averse from God. The mind of a carnal man hath a little light, which is apt to suggest some good motion. As Job's messenger said, 'I alone am escaped to tell thee;' so may conscience say, I alone am escaped out of the ruins of the fall to suggest some good motion to thee. But now the will doth more abhor and refuse good than the understanding is ignorant of it; there is some light in the understanding, but there is nothing but sin in the will. Many a man is often convinced, his understanding is gained before he is converted; they see better things, see what is good, before they choose them. The last fort Christ gains in the heart is the will of man.
3. Consider, the will is not subdued by all the methods and external arts of grace which God useth to gain the soul. The Lord makes a challenge in Isa. 5. 3, 4, 'Judge between me and my people, what could be done more for my vineyard than I have done?' What could God do more than to provide a Christ, a gospel, a gracious covenant? and yet all this doth not gain with man. There we have the highest motives to allure us, the strongest arguments to persuade us, the greatest terrors to affright us, yet the soul will not yield. Oh, what sweet motives have we to come in to God: the offer of Christ; the promise of heaven and glory! God outbids all the world. What will you have more? You have my Son to die for you, my grace to help you, heaven to reward you. God hath contrived a sweet plot of grace, but the will of man slights all. The devil, he cannot bid so fair for your heart, yet men give up their souls to him. He cannot promise you everlasting glory. Can Satan give you such recompenses as God? The world cannot assure you of everlasting happiness. You may die, or these things may fly away from you. The devil was never buffeted for you; he endured no agonies, shed no blood for you; he seeks to undo you all he can, therefore 'Come to me,' says Christ. But the sum of all is in Mat.23.37, 'I would, but you would not.' When God comes with external offers, with fit accommodation of means, with all necessary circumstances and methods of grace, yet the sinner turns back. Christ renews messengers, yet the proud will of man saith, 'I will not: Ps. 58.5, 'They will not hearken to the voice of the charmer, charm he never so wisely.' All the charms of grace will not prevail, they stop their ears; Christ's blood may stand as cheap as common blood for all this, if God did not come in with an act of power. Nay, further, if he should threaten and inflict judgment, yet all will not work to soften the heart and subdue the will of man, without an almighty efficacy and influence. The greatest terrors are of no force. Judgment may break the back, but not the heart. Pharaoh was crossed again and again, God multiplies plague upon plague, yet his will stood out - 'I will not let the people go.' When God knocks upon us by the hammer of judgment, yet it will not break the flint and the rock and adamant that is in our will. The bad thief had one foot in hell, yet he blasphemes still. Not only the standers-by, but one of the thieves derideth Christ on the cross.
4. When the will is in part renewed and cured, yet still it is apt to recoil and return back again to its old bondage. How often do the children of God complain of weariness, deadness, and straits, continual reluctation of the flesh: Gal. 5.17, 'The flesh lusteth against the spirit, so that you cannot do what you would.' A child of God cannot do what he would ; when his will begins to be set towards heaven, it is very much broken and distracted: Rom. 7.18, 'To will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good, I find not.' When we are gone out of Sodom, we are apt to look back again. And this will be our condition till we come to heaven: the flesh will rise up in arms against every holy motion, and our fetters hang upon us, till we come into Christ's arms. We are not only at first conversion like a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke; but afterward still we find there is an unruly will, not fixed with obedience to the will of God.
Secondly, To give you motives and arguments to enforce this kind of self-denial.
1. The soul is never renewed till the will be tamed and subdued to God. The soul can never be said to be regenerated till the will be renewed. The new creature begins in the mind, but is never perfected till it come to the heart, till we 'put off the old man with his lusts,' Eph. 4.22,23. Till our natural inclinations be altered - till grace be placed in the centre of the heart, corruptions will recoil. When the bird's wings are broken, then it can fly no longer; so when once the will is broken, then the sinner is subdued, and taken captive by grace. The mind is only the counsellor, the will is the monarch ; till this be done, you cannot look upon yourselves as new creatures.
2. Because no creature can be sui juris at his own dispose, and to live according to its own pleasure. If any might plead exemption, then certainly Christ, as man, might, because of the glorious fellowship that was between the human and divine nature. But see, when Christ took human nature, he was bound to submit his human will to the Godhead; when he took our nature, he took our obligation upon himself, and therefore he saith, Heb. 10.9, 'Lo, I come to do thy will, O God.' When Christ came into the world, this was his work, to do his Father's will. He brought himself into the condition of a creature, and then, having taken our nature, he was to take our obligation upon himself, which Christ performed. Christ and his Father had but one will between them both : John 5.30, ' I seek not my own will, but the will of my Father that sent me;' there was a perfect resignation. Christ did so obey as if he had no private human will of his own, but only the will of his Father. Christ did not look to his own ends, to the safety and conveniency of his human nature, but to what was his Father's will. And wilt thou stand upon terms with God? And dost thou think thou art too great to submit and stoop to God? Nay, consider the holy angels, that have many privileges above man, yet they have no exemption front duty and homage; they have many privileges, freedom from troubles, sicknesses, diseases, and from all the infirmities and clogs of the flesh, but they are not freed from obedience - 'They obey his commandments, hearkening to the voice of his word,' Ps. 103.23. - The Psalmist speaks of the angels there, they still owe homage to their creator. Those courtiers of heaven are servants of God, and followers with us in the same obedience. Now Christ in his prayer, Mat. 6., hath referred us to the example of his angels - 'Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.' You upon earth are not held to a harder law than they are in heaven; they obey his will, and so must you. Certainly, no men are too good nor too great to obey God. If the example of the angels be too high, then look to all the creatures, they obey God, and sometimes contrary to their natural tendency and motion, as the sun stood still; and it is said in the Gospel, Mat. 8. that 'the winds and seas obeyed him.' Man only is eccentric and exorbitant in his motions; they glorify God in their way. The sun shall rise up in judgment against many a carnal wretch. God hath set to them a decree, beyond which they shall not pass; and they obey the laws of their creation, but we are disobedient, and break through all restraints.
3. Consider the right God hath to us, as we are his creatures, and as we are new creatures; as we are bare creatures, we hold our being and all that we have continually from God. Now you know, the more a man holds of a lord, the more homage he is bound to perform. Thou holdest thy life and all thy comforts by his allowance; the more thou hast, the more is due, though usually it be quite contrary: the more we have from God, the more we slight him. Qui majores terras possident, minores census solvunt - Many times, they that hold the greatest lands pay the least rent; so the more we hold from God, the less careful we are to give in returns of obedience to him: Jer. 5.5, 'I went to the great men, but they have altogether broken the yoke.' Those that have more means of instruction, that have higher breeding, have greater obligations upon them; but these usually are the worst. A horse that is kept low is easily ruled by his rider; but when he grows lusty and fat, he lifts up the heel against him, and will not suffer the bit; so when men grow great and prosperous, when God hath fenced them with prosperity, then they wax wanton and disobedient. And as we are new creatures: 1 Peter 4.2, ' That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh, to the lusts of men, but to the will of God.' The great aim of grace is to cure the disorders of the will, and to bring us into a stricter bond of service to the Lord; therefore usually at conversion this is made explicit by our own solemn vow. A good heart is contracted to Christ, as an evil heart is to the world: Cant. 2.16, 'My beloved is mine.' All that is thine is God's; you have no will of your own, you have given up yourselves to another; take heed of retracting the vows of your solemn covenant and fealty that you have sworn to God.
4. There is a great deal of reason our wills should be given up to the will of God, because we are not able to manage them ourselves. By the laws and customs of all nations fools and madmen are to be ruled by their kindred, not to be left to their own wills, but to the will of another; now naturally we are mad fools, as Titus 3.3, ' Foolish and disobedient,' and have not the guidance of our own will ; therefore it is not fit that it should be left in our power, but given up to God. If we be our own pilots, we shall soon shipwreck ourselves. When God requires the resignation of our will, it is but the taking a sword out of a madman's hands. A man's own will, it is the cause of all the mischief that comes to him, and, at last, of his ruin. Tolle voluntatem, tolle infernum, saith Bernard - There would be no hell were it not for the perverseness of a man's will. It is Chrysostom's position, - Man could never be hurt were it not for himself and his own will; others may trouble us, but cannot hurt us; the devil may tempt us, but not hurt us till we consent; the world may frown upon us, but it cannot harm us; so the apostle intimates, 1 Peter 3.13, 'Who can harm you if you be followers of that which is good?' It is presently added in the next verse, 'But and if ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye, and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled.' Men may trouble you and molest you, but cannot harm you without your own consent. Now since none can harm us but our own will, and since we are unfit guides, it is fit we should have a guardian, and who is wiser than God? The merchant, though he hath stored the ship with goods, yet because he hath no skill in the art of navigation, therefore suffers the pilot to steer it; so though the will be ours, let us give it to God, to manage it according to his good pleasure.
5. It is a very great condescension and blessing that God will take the charge of our will. The strictest rules of religion are to be reckoned among our privileges. It is the greatest judgment that God can lay upon any creature to give him up to his own will, and to the sway of his own heart; the Lord threatens it when other means are ineffectual: Ps. 81.12, he saith, 'So I gave them up to their own counsel, and to their own heart's lust;' that is a dreadful punishment. So Rom. 1.24, it is said,'The Lord gave them up to uncleanness;' and ver. 26, 'Their own vile affections.' It is worse to be given up to a man's own heart than to be given up to Satan; for a man that is so given up may be recovered again: 1 Cor. 5.5, 'Deliver such a one to Satan, for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord' this may be for his exercise and trial; but when once a man is given up to himself, to the sway of his own heart, there cannot be a greater judgment. When the sentence of obduration is passed upon us, it is as much as to say, Give him up to hell and utter judgment, as an irrecoverable sinner.
6. It will be great pleasure to us in the issue when once we can get the victory over our own will. There is none have more joy and greater happiness than the angels and spirits of just men made perfect, and yet none have less of their own wills. The angels and blessed spirits perfectly accomplish the will of God, therefore are completely happy. Why should we account that a sad work which is a part of our happiness in heaven? The saints and angels complain not of any burden; yet they have no velle and nolle of their own, they will and nill as God doth. We think it is a happy thing to have our carnal desires accomplished, and wonder how any can be contented without them; they fancy such great felicity in their way; therefore the world wondereth at the children of God: 1 Peter 1.4, 'They think it strange that you do not run with them into the same excess of riot.' It is pleasant to a woman with child to have what she longs for, but it is much more pleasant to be without the trouble of such longings; so the world thinks it pleasant to have their carnal desires satisfied, but it is a great deal more pleasant to have those desires mortified. Drink is very pleasant to a man in a fever; but who would put himself into a fever to taste the pleasure of drink? Certainly, if a man would be completely happy, he must renounce his own carnal desires. If you would but trust Christ upon his word, you would find it is not so burdensome and grievous as you imagine; you would find 'his yoke to be an easy yoke,' Mat. 11.28, not only as you have help from God, but the very delight and contentment we enjoy would make it easy. Certainly it will be far better to give up our wills to God, than to the devil. How hard is his yoke, and how small are his wages? A little pleasure here, and eternal pains hereafter.
Thirdly, In the next place, I shall give you some rules which will serve both for direction and trial; it is very needful, for men are apt to flatter themselves with a pretence of obedience; they cry, Lord, Lord! but do not do his commandments. Many will give good words, and because they do not break out into such an actual contest with God, as those rebellious and obstinate wretches, Jer.18.12, ' And they said, There is no hope, but we will walk after our own devices, and we will every one do the imagination of his evil heart;' or as those, Jer. 44.16,17, 'As for the word thou hast spoken unto its in the name of the Lord, we will not hearken unto thee, but will certainly do whatsoever thing goeth forth out of our own mouth,' etc., - if they do not break out into such an obstinate and gross contest with God, they think they are safe; but you know, Matt. 21.28, Christ spoke a parable for the discovering of such a hypocritical profession of the two sons; the one said, 'I go sir, and went not;' the other, 'I will not; but afterward he repented and went.' Our Saviour puts the question, 'Whether of the twain did the will of his father?' He that said, I will, but did not, was the worst, because the understanding is somewhat better than the will; therefore men will give God good words. This rebellion is disguised with a promise and pretence of obedience; therefore I shall give some rules which you must observe in denying your own will, and by which you may try your estate.
1. If you will obey God there must be some solemn time when you make this resignation to him. Naturally we are averse, and therefore whosoever is bought in to God, he comes humbly, and like a pardoned rebel, and lays down the weapons of defiance. God, as creator, hath a right to your wills, to your obedience; but he will have his right confirmed by your grant and consent: Rom. 12.1, 'I beseech you, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.' There can be no more acceptable sacrifice to God than the entire resignation of our wills to him. So Acts 9.6, Paul comes and lays down the buckler, and gives God the key of his own heart - 'Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?' Grace had so melted him that he that had done nothing before but breathe out threatening, now comes humbly, crying out, 'Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?' This is that our Saviour intends in that expression, Mat. 11.28, 'Take my yoke upon you.' Jesus Christ will force it upon none, he requires the consent of your own will. In matrimonial contract consent is not to be forced; so Christ doth not force his spouse against her own consent, but she is to make an actual resignation of her own self to God. You must desire God to come and take possession of your hearts.
2. When you give up yourselves to God, it must be without bounds and reservations: Col. 4.12, ' I pray that you may be perfect and complete in the whole will of God;' you must not pick and choose, but take all the will of God as your rule to walk by. So Acts 13.22, 'My servant David, he shall fulfil all my will.' Whatever God will signify to be his pleasure, that will David fulfil. We should so perfectly obey as if we had no will of our own, not reserving a propriety in the least motion or faculty of ours. The least sin, when it is allowed, is a pledge of the devil's interest and right to us. If a man hath bid a thousand pounds for an excellent jewel, will he stand for a penny more? And as we thus entirely resign ourselves at first, so afterwards we must make good our vows; we must remember every action of ours, it is given up to God; every motion, every glance, it is under a rule; and in every lesser action we should say, will God have this to be done or no, and in this manner? and if not, let us not do it for a thousand worlds. Especially in praying - Do I pray as the Lord would have me? Is it with such reverence, with such submission, such affection? I gave up myself to do his whole will, to do the duty, and in that manner which God requires. So in eating and drinking, in all actions you should do all in obedience, in that manner, and to that end that God requires. Every glance of the eye is under a rule: Mat. 5.28, 'Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.' We must use our sight in obedience to God, and so also our hearing.
3. There are some special things which God hath willed, and our master hath given us a special charge about; those things must be done, how distasteful soever to flesh and blood, or prejudicial to our interests. There are three things that have his stamp and seal upon them - 'This is Gods will.' So it is said of holiness and sanctification: 1 Thes. 4.3, 'This is the will of God, even your sanctification;' so of duties of relation, obedience to magistrates, parents and masters: 1 Peter 2.15, 'Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man, . . . for so is the will of God, that with well-doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.' So of the duty of thanksgiving - 'In everything give thanks to God, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you;' concerning these things we have the express pleasure of God. Now it is great rebellion and disobedience not to obey God's solemn charges. Holiness, it is irksome to nature, and we are apt to forget thankfulness, and we are sensibly tried in duties of relations. God hath expressed his will concerning all these.
4. In all these things we must not only do what God wills, but we must do it, because he wills it; this is pure obedience. The bare signification of God's will and pleasure, it should be reason and motive strong enough. You read, Lev. 19, where God enacteth sundry laws; this is the reason for obedience - ' I am the Lord.' The Lord wills, that is enough to engage the obedience of the creature. So in these places before mentioned, wherein holiness and thanksgiving, and duties of relation are enjoined, this is the reason alleged - ' for this is the will of God.' The angels have no other motive: Ps. 103.22, 'They do his will, hearkening to the voice of his word.' This is that which is motive enough to the angels, God hath signified his will; and we should captivate all our thoughts, and not allow of disputes - 'Have not I commanded thee?' saith God to Joshua. So we should plead with ourselves: when we are slack and sluggish to any duty, say, Hath not the Lord commanded thee? What needeth any farther argument?
5. We must not only do what we know, but we must search that we may know more. This is a great sign of an obedient heart, when we are willing to inquire what duty further God requires: Rom. 12.2, 'That ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.' A man that hath given up himself to God must make it his constant practice; we shall be accountable for ignorance as well as neglect. Many times there may be somewhat of will in ignorance. When men have no mind to practise, certainly they have no heart to know and search: Eph.5.17, 'Be not unwise, but understanding what is the will of God.' Men are loath to sift out truth to the bottom, lest it should prove to their disadvantage; when they do not understand, or have a confused notion that what God commands is contrary to their lusts, they will not know it distinctly; these do not err in their minds so much as in their hearts. Some err in their mind, out of simple ignorance; others in their heart, they have no mind to know; in such their negligence there is deceit. Therefore search and find out what is the acceptable will of God, that you may have a clearer light and ground for practice. The angels are always hearkening for a new command, Ps. 103.22, so should we be hearkening still. As the beasts, in the Revelation, that stood before the throne: Rev. 4.6, 'They had eyes on either side,' that they might see what God would have them to do; so we should be always searching that we may be perfectly instructed in the will of God.
6. Our obedience is chiefly to be tried by keeping ourselves from our sin, i.e., that sin, which our corrupt will had wedded and espoused. So David: Ps. 18.23, '1 was upright before thee, and I kept myself from mine iniquity.' Herein is our subjection to the will of God chiefly tried, in keeping ourselves from our own sin, which is most vehement and passionate; thy worldliness, thy sensuality, thy pride, according as the corruption runs out, for we are apt to deceive ourselves in generals. God hath left some particular lust for trial; we are to 'deny all ungodliness,' but chiefly this bosom sin. If men were acquainted with their own hearts they would find there is some sin for which conscience smiteth most; a sin, to which temptations are most frequent, of most usual residence and recourse, that is proper to their constitution and course of life. Certainly he is not acquainted with his own heart that doth not know this sin; and he is not acquainted with the work of grace that doth not resist and mortify it. Therefore, though it be never so dear and pleasant, yet herein God will try thy obedience, Mat. 5.29,30. Our Saviour expresseth it 'by cutting off the right hand, and plucking out the right eye.' Though it be as dear and precious to us as a member of the body, as useful as a right hand, or as pleasant as a right eye, yet it must be plucked out; as men to preserve life will cut off a gangrened joint, though it be a right hand; so must our bosom lust be mortified.
7. Because there cannot be an exact conformity to the will of God, our obedience will be discovered by the general bent and course of our lives. A godly man hath set his face towards heaven; it is true, sometimes he may be turned out of the way, but the course of his life, the bent and care of his soul, is to bring up his heart to a conformity to the will of God. A ship that sails to the east or to the west, may be driven back by a storm, but it makes way again towards the haven; so a man may be overborne by the violence of a temptation, but makes way again, seeks to recover the harbour to which he aims. A godly man is troubled for the breach of God's will above all things; sin is most contrary to the divine will; therefore our obedience will be best known by our care to avoid all sin, and by our grief for committing it.
Secondly, I come now to speak to the second branch, submitting to the providence of God.
As God is the supreme lord and law-giver, so we are to deny our self-will by a subjection to his laws, which is holiness, and by a submission to his providence, which is patience. In renouncing the dominion of the will, it is not enough to do what God commandeth, but to suffer what he inflicteth. his will is declared in his providence as well as in his law. Now, murmuring is an anti-providence, a renouncing of God's sovereignty, as well as open sins and rebellion against his laws; therefore when God's will is declared, though against our dearest comforts and nearest relations, this should be enough. In stating this submission I shall show -
1. How far we are to submit to the will of God in providence.
2. What are the grounds of this submission.
3. The helps to it.
First, How far we are to submit to the will of God in providence. That will be discovered in several propositions.
1. The lowest degree is, we must be quiet and silent. When a vessel is much shaken, it is apt to plash over; and so usually we give vent to strong passions and to the grievances of the mind, by murmuring and complaint. There is a quick intercourse between the tongue and the heart; and therefore when the heart is burdened and overcharged, it seeks ease and vent by the tongue. The first degree then of the patience of the children of God is to keep silence Ps. 39.10, saith David, 'I was dumb, and opened not my mouth, because thou didst it;' it is God, and therefore the least repining thought must not be allowed; when he saw God in the providence, he durst not speak one word that might savour of discontent. So Lev.10.3, when Aaron had two children taken away by a judgment, and a strange stroke of God's providence, it is said Aaron held his peace. Now this quietness and silence must be, not only in suppressing words of pet and passion, but in calming the affections. When an oven is stopt up, it is more hot within. When David kept his tongue as with a bridle, yet musing made the fire burn and his heart boil against God, Ps. 39.3. And therefore there must be a quiet contentation of the mind and submission of the heart, how grievous soever the affliction be. A stormy mind is as bad, though not as scandalous, as a virulent tongue. You must be contented in your very souls, you should not dare to quarrel with God, nor enter a plea against providence. Thoughts are as words with God; therefore take heed of private disputings. We must obey God with silence and quietness. Believing will give us ease, when disputing cannot..
2. We must not only quietly submit to God, but willingly, and approve and accept the providence. Patience perforce is no grace. God is not glorified, till there be a subscription of the judgment and a consent of the will. A subscription of the judgment, that the providence is good, because God wills it; as Hezekiah said, Isa. 39.8, 'Good is the word of the Lord which thou hast spoken.' Look into the context, and you will find it was a heavy sentence that intimated the transportation of his issue and posterity into Babylon; yet his sanctified judgment calls it good - good, because God would have it so. That is best which God wills. We murmur, we set up an anti-providence, and censure the acts and dispensations of God, as if we could correct them, and do better and fitter for the government of the world. A heathen could say, If this be pleasing to God, let it be, that is best which pleaseth him. And so there must be a consent of the will: Lev. 26.41, 'If then their uncircumcised hearts be humbled, and they then accept of the punishment of their iniquity.' Mark that place: it is not said, if they shall bear the punishment, but 'accept the punishment of their iniquity;' kiss the rod, and welcome the providence. There must be a perfect correspondence between our wills and the dispensations of God. Look, as the patient doth willingly take bitter pills that make for his health; so should we swallow with willingness and contentment the hardest accidents. We should not take the providence of God as a drench, but as a potion; not as a thing that is enforced upon us, but that to which our sanctified judgment consents. Heathens, if their lives were as good as their works, may shame many christians; they would always be of the same mind with God. Seneca saith, I yield to providence, not out of necessity, but choice. It is best, saith he, because God wills it; if he bless, it is good; if he afflict, it is good; his will is the highest wisdom and reason; therefore faith welcometh all providences, as well as submitteth to them. Rabbi Gamzeth said, This dispensation is good, and this too, because it comes from God. God hath a supreme right to dispose of us according to his own pleasure: Job 9.22, 'Behold, he taketh away, who can hinder him? and who can say, What dost thou?' Will you resist him in the disposal of what is his own? Which is more equal, that your will should stoop to God's, or God's will be brought down to yours? How little good will it do us to murmur! it is better to submit.
3. We are not only to submit to God, but to love him when he seems to deal most hardly with us. You know in the gospel we are bidden to love our enemies, though they be really so, though they be our fellow-creatures, and we do not depend upon them as we do upon God; therefore much more are we to love God when he only appeareth as an enemy. The Lord Jesus in the height of his sufferings loved his Father, yea, he loved the cross for his Father's sake: John 18.11,' The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink of it?' Christ loved the elect when he suffered most for them, and loved his Father when he suffered most from him - It is a bitter cup, but it is of my Father's sending. Our love should glow most to God in our affliction, so the church professeth, Isa 26.8, 'In the way of thy judgments, O Lord, have we waited for thee; the desire of our souls is to thy name;' then did their desires burn and glow towards God. Many pretend to love God when he blesseth them, when they abound in ease and all kind of comfort, but storm as soon as they are touched in the skin. Look, as the heliotrope turns after the sun, not only in a shining but in a cloudy day; so in most gloomy days the bent of our hearts and desires should be after God. So also among the creatures; the dog loves his master that beats him, and many times when he is half dead he will run after his master. Look, as God sends Israel to the ox, because they did not love him for his kindness - ' The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib; but Israel doth not know; my people doth not consider,' Isa. 1.3; so we may send you to the dogs for not loving of God when he beats you; we should the rather love him then, because God loves us when he doth correct us - ' He loves whom he chastens.' A man may give entertainment to strangers, but he gives chastisement only to those of his own family. We are of God's household, a part of the charge of God, and therefore are under the discipline of his house. And that is some argument of God's love, that he doth not let us alone. You are put to your trial before men and angels, whether you can love him, when he exerciseth you with sharp afflictions.
4. We must not only love God for the dispensation, but entertain it with cheerfulness and thanksgiving. This should be enough to the creature, that God's will may be fulfilled, though with their loss and smart: Job 1.22,' The Lord hath given, The Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.' A child of God is of a different temper from other men: he can fear God for his mercies, and praise him for his justice. We are bound to bless him for taking as well as giving. All God's corrections to his children are administrations belonging to the covenant of grace, evidences of God's faithfulness and means of good to the saints, and therefore deserve to be reckoned in the roll of mercies. Oh, what a good God do we serve, when we can even bless him for afflictions! A christian can sing in winter as well as in the spring. In outward things we can thank a physician for a bitter potion. We can pay a surgeon for emitting off an arm or a leg in a gangrene, and therefore much more have we cause to bless God for his faithfulness to us, for taking as well as giving; but if there were no advantage, it is enough that God's will is accomplished, this is matter of praise. See the instance of David, 2 Sam. 12.20, when he understood that the child was dead, ' He arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his apparel, and came into the house of God, and worshipped. Then he came into his own house; and they set bread before him, and he did eat.' Before, he would not rise from the earth nor eat bread, but sat mourning; but when God's pleasure was declared, he goes with praise into God's house, and with cheerfulness to his own, because he would not seem to oppose or cross God's will, but would bear it with cheerfulness and patience. It is more than enough to thee that it pleaseth God, whose pleasure thou art bound to fulfil, how dear soever it should cost thee.
5. This submission must be manifested, whatever the cross be. As in obedience there must be no reservation, they were not to leave a hoof in Egypt; so in the cross we must make no exceptions, but give God a blank paper, and let him write what he will. I know there is a gradation in our miseries, some are greater and some are less, though every one thinks his own to be most burdensome, because he is under sense and feeling - 'No sorrow like my sorrow.' There is a great deal of difference between afflictions. Those miseries that light upon the outward estate, they do not sit so close as those that light upon the body; and those that light upon the body are nothing so terrible as those that light upon the soul - 'The spirit of a man can bear his infirmities, but a wounded spirit, who can bear?' Common generousness will bear up under an outward cross; yet all must be borne with patience and submission. The apostle enumerates sundry sorts of afflictions 2 Cor. 12.10, 'Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecution, in distresses, for Christ's sake;' if it be racking pains of the body, or if it be reproaches that enter into the very soul; if it be want, calamity, infamy, loss of goods, loss of children or husband, of all dear relations, we must not be our own carvers, but we must take up our cross, as Christ saith. God himself will choose the rod; we are not bound to seek, or choose, or make the cross, but to bear, and take it up, when it is laid upon us. We are not to fill the cup ourselves, but drink that which God tempers in the cup with his own hand. It is not a cup of our own brewing; it is a deceit to say I could bear such and such an affliction with cheerfulness, and patiently, if it were not the loss of dearest and nearest relations. But God knows how to strike in the right vein. The world would soon become an emptiness and solitude if every ignorant creature might be his own physician, and prescribe his own potion. Those that would have a cross of their own carving do not submit to God, but to their own wills. Pride of will shows itself in providence as well as worship, when men cannot bear the cross that God hath laid upon them. Impatience is as great a sin as superstition. Look, as it is superstitious to carve to ourselves such worship as pleaseth us, so it is a breach of God's law, an entrenchment upon the sovereignty and wisdom of providence, when we would carve out our own cross. How grievous soever the affliction be, we must submit. Suppose it be a submission to death itself, it is not by chance, but by God's disposing hand; God doth but call us back to our old dust, and by the same sovereignty bring us to the grave by which he brought us out of the womb: Ps 90.3, 'Thou turnest men to destruction, and sayest, Return, ye children of men.'
6. This submission must be manifested by preparing ourselves to suffer yet more than we feel for the present in vow and purpose. A christian resigns up himself to the will of God, he hath no will of his own, Lord, turn me into what condition thou pleasest, as David, 2 Sam. 15.26, 'Here I am, do to me as seems good in thine own eyes.' A believer sets his name to a blank, that God may write what he pleaseth; this is to reserve no will of our own. Patience is a very high grace; it doth not only consent to known articles, but refers itself for the future to God. It is a question which is most worthy, obedience or patience; obedience hath a stated rule, all the articles of the covenant are absolutely set down, what God hath required; but patience referreth itself for the future to God, let God write what he will; I am thy creature, it submits to whatever future trial God will appoint. So Acts 21.13, the apostle Paul speaks of greater sufferings - ' I am ready, not only to be bound, but to die for the Lord Jesus.' If it were a heavier burden, even death itself, I am ready to bear it, I have given up my will to God. So Heb. 12.4, 'You have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin;' intimating they should prepare themselves for greater sufferings. The persecution already borne was as nothing; this makes the lesser suffering to be more tolerable. Resolution for the worst that can come, it is a great degree of submission, and will be a very great help, when you are resolved to bear whatever God will inflict; alas! otherwise we shall soon faint and murmur.
7. It is a very high degree of submission to submit to God's dispensation in spiritual wants and troubles. We should not be troubled at whatever we may want without sin, and therefore you should bear spiritual evil with a sweet submission to and acquiescency in the will of God. I shall instance but in three things to be borne, the want of sensible consolation, spiritual desertion, and many times God's not hearing of our prayers.
[1.] Want of suavities in religion, or of sensible consolation. These are a mere preferment in grace, and we must tarry till the Master of the feast hath bid us sit higher. All the sin is if the comforts of the Holy Ghost be despised, not if they be not enjoyed, when we have low and cheap thoughts of them; it is not the want, but the contempt. Such things as are mere dispensations, and proposed as rewards are different from duties. To want grace, though it be God's gift, that is a sin, because the creature is under a moral obligation; but not to want sensible comfort, because that is merely given, but not required; and therefore when we want these things, we are to be patient. Remember, Christ himself parted with these for a while: when he was in the midst of his agonies, he said, 'Not my will, but thine be done;' it hath relation to the sensible consolations of the Godhead, which Christ felt by virtue of the glorious fellowship - 'Not my will, but thine be done;' this may be God's will to keep us from pride. Therefore when christians would have those redundancies and overflowings of Christ's love at the beck of their own desires, it is a sign they have not learned to submit to God; it argues impatiency, or conceit of merit. Remember, in these sensible consolations there may be more of self-love, and of indulgence to our own appetite, than of obedience. We praise God best when we are contented with what he gives, and contented with what he doth, though it be with our loss. But when men cannot love God nor serve God, unless they be feasted with love and fed with these sensible consolations, it is like peevish children, that will not be quiet till pleased with some bait and sweetness; it is not the Father's will that quiets them, but the apple, or some such external satisfaction. It is an act of obedience to submit to God's mere will.
[2.] In matter of desertion it is good to be sensible of God's withdrawments. But we should be rather troubled about the fault than the punishment, that which causeth God to withdraw the comfort of his presence, for herein God will have his sovereignty and pleasure acknowledged: Phil. 2.13, it is said, 'He giveth both to will and to do, according to his own pleasure.' I confess this is a bitter cup; but remember, Jesus Christ himself hath been our taster. He complains of desertion: Mat. 27.46, 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' and we do not deserve to be handled more softly than the Son of God. He complaineth of desertion, to manifest his sense of the evil; but still he saith, 'Not my will, but thine be done.' God may make use of this to humble us for our self-conceits, and for our pride and thoughts of merit, or having an obligation upon God. It is good sometimes to be left to ourselves, and stand upon our own legs, that so we may know ourselves; as God left Hezekiah, that he might show him the pride of his heart. That we might be kept low and empty, and that grace may be exalted, these dispensations are very necessary.
[3.] When God doth not always sensibly bear our prayers. Thought this is a very sad case, to go away from God without a token for good, without any sensible effect of his love, yet God will show us that prayer deserves nothing; therefore when we have wrestled mightily at the throne of grace, yet we may miss. Why? that we may know, though Christ be full and God willing, yet we must have 'grace for grace,' John 1.16; that is, grace for grace's sake, freely. God will make us see we are but unprofitable servants, and he will not give blessings to us but in and through Christ, when we rely upon him. Or else we may ask too coldly, or without esteem of those spiritual blessings, or else thou hast been too earnest for temporal blessings, and God will not give thee poisoned weapons to offend thyself. God knows what is best, and his will must be submitted to.
Secondly, For the grounds upon which we are to renounce our own will.
1. The absolute sovereignty of God, and his supreme right and dominion over the creatures, to dispose of them according to his own pleasure. He can destroy and annihilate, and no man can call him to account: Job 9.12, 'Behold he taketh away and who can hinder him? and who can say, What dost thou?' Before what tribunal will you cite God? And where shall he give an account of his dispensations? When he takes away, who can say, Lord, what dost thou do? Every man may do with his own what he pleaseth, why not God? thou art as 'clay in the hand of the potter:' Rom. 9.20, 'Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?' Why should we deny God the common privilege of all proprietors? If God use us according to his own pleasure, he doth but use that which is his own. A man may cut out his own cloth as he pleaseth. Why should we confine the right of God to narrow limits? If he make us sick, pained, infamous, if he humble us with want, if he should take away our relations, where will you cite God to give an account of this matter? It is injurious to resist a man in the disposal of his own goods; why should we resist God, that hath such a supreme and absolute right over the creature? 1 Sam. 3.18, saith Eli, 'It is the Lord,' - it is he that is the supreme and absolute lord, - 'Let him do whatsoever he pleaseth.' It is good to be satisfied with the will of God, and sit down and say no more; it is the Lord, and he may do with his own as he pleaseth.
2. God can take away nothing from us but what he gave us at the first; we do but return him his own, and we should do it with thanks. When he taketh anything from us, he doth but demand his own goods. Job, chap. 1.22, saith, 'the Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away, blessed be his name.' He that hath taken, gave first. And Seneca hath just such another passage, abstulit, sed et dedit - God hath taken; ay! but he gave first, it was his own. So Job 2.12,' Shall we receive good at the hands of God, and not evil?' If God hath left blessings and comforts with us, shall we be grudging when he comes and demands them again, when he did but lend them to us for awhile? Remember, God takes but a part that gave all, and it is his mercy that he hath left thee anything.
3. The excellency of God's will. God is infinitely good, wise, and powerful; he knows what is better for us than we do for ourselves. Unless we will blaspheme God, and count him evil, or ignorant, or impotent and weak, why should we murmur? Alas! we are poor, short-sighted, narrow-witted creatures; it is best to leave our condition to the wisdom of providence. Say, when thou goest to murmur and repine against God, when God takes away thy comforts, estates, relations, Who am I, that I should prefer my will and my judgment before God's? We pray daily 'Thy will be done,' and shall we confute our own prayers? consider, which is more equal, that thy will should be conformed to God's or God's stoop down to thine? It is the child's happiness that the father's will is his rule, not his own. God's will is more safe. We usually make our reason the highest court, and enact laws, and then would have God bound by them. Should the sheep choose their pasture, or the shepherd? God shapeth your condition, and cutteth out your allowance.
4. Ground : the honour the Lord doth us, that he should take us in hand, though it be to correct us; Job speaks of it with admiration, Job 7.17,18, 'Lord, what is man, that thou shouldest magnify him, and that thou shouldest visit him every morning, and try him every moment?' It is meant of corrective dispensations, that God should spend his thoughts upon such an unworthy creature, that God should try him in a way of affliction; how grievous soever the chastisement be, yet that God should look after him is wonderful. If a king should undertake to form the manners of a mean subject, it is a great abasement; so that God should look down upon us from the height of his imperial glory: Job 14.2,3, 'Man cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down; he fleeth also as a shadow, and continueth not; and dost thou open thy eyes upon such a one, and bringest me into judgment with thee?' 'What is man?' saith he. Man is but a vapour, and 'dost thou open thine eyes upon such an one?' Wilt thou look upon such a shadow of clay? upon such an unclean sinful creature? We are unworthy of the very anger of God, as a beggar is unworthy the anger of a prince, or a worm of the indignation of an angel.
5. Whatever God doth to his children, it is with aims of good; he is goodness itself, more apt to do us good than the fire to burn or the sun to shine. Consider, God's nature is most alien from other courses, he doth not 'willingly afflict or grieve the children of men.' It is for our sakes that he puts on this rigour; the scripture speaks of it as a forced dispensation. If a friend should undertake a business that is contrary to his nature and disposition to pleasure us, we are the more obliged to him: so it is God's great condescension that he should take the rod in his hand, and that he should use it to our profit, we are bound to acknowledge it. If God doth punish, it is not that he delighteth in punishment; but he doth punish us here that he may not punish us for ever. Who would not rejoice, that, if when he owed a debt of a thousand pound, the creditor should require but twenty shillings? It is God's mercy that we shall suffer in this world, that we may not suffer in the world to come: 1 Cor. 11.32, 'When we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.' There is often a great deal of mercy in affliction. After the sin of Adam, there could not be a more gracious nor more wise invention than affliction to wean our affections from the delight of the senses, and to meeken the spirit. And if God should not deal thus with us, we had cause to complain, as if he were too gentle; as we have cause to complain of that physician that lets his patient die, because he will not put him to the trouble of physic; or as Eli's children had cause to complain of their father, because he was so indulgent; and Amnon of David. It is a great judgment to be let alone. When God was angry with Ephraim, what is his sentence? Hosea 4.17, 'Ephraim is joined to idols, let him alone.' It is an honour that God is mindful of us, that he will give us suitable corrections. If a man see a serpent creeping upon another while he is asleep, though he give him a great blow, yet it is a courtesy to him to kill that serpent that would destroy him; so God doth but kill that serpent that would kill us. We are chastised, but it is only to destroy and kill sin. But suppose we could see no good in the affliction, yet we are bound to believe there is good in it, and not to have hard thoughts of God. Alexander, when his physician was accused that he would poison him in such a potion, takes the letter in one hand, and shows it his physician, and drinks off the potion in confidence of his trust and fidelity. Distrust will make lies of God, as if he meant to hurt and wrong us; but we should say as Christ did, 'The cup that my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?' We should trust God's potion. We are dearer to God than we can be to ourselves; he is more solicitous for our good, than we are for our own. God loves the lowest saint infinitely more than the highest angels love God.
6. Impatience doth not lessen the evil, but double and increase it: takes not away the bitterness of the affliction, but makes it bitterer, and is the wormwood and gall of it. All the evils in the world consist in the disorder of the will, in the disagreement that is between the object and the appetite. Man's will is the cause of all his misery; we are troubled because it falls out otherwise than we would have it. He that wills what God wills may have somewhat to exercise him, but hath nothing to trouble him. All the evils that we meet with in the world come merely from our own will.
Thirdly, for the helps by which we might bring our hearts to yield to the will of God.
1. See God in all things. This is the first principle of submission: Ps. 39.10, 'I was dumb, and opened not my mouth, because thou didst it;' that made David quiet and altogether silent. So Hezekiah speaks of his patient submission to his disease and the sentence of death: Isa. 38.15, 'What shall I say? he hath both spoken unto me, and himself hath done it.' That passage, though it be in the song of thanksgiving, relates not to the deliverance, but to the affliction. As soon as we see God in the providence, it is the duty of a christian to cease and say no more; as he answered the king, I have learned not to dispute with him that can command legions. Why should we contend with the Lord of hosts, unless we can make good our quarrel? Every wheel works according to the motion of the first mover. Creatures are but subordinate instruments of providence. We break our teeth in biting at the nearest link of the chain. Oh! look to the supreme mover, it is God that hath fastened all the links. David was so far from opposing God that he bears the very contumacy of the instrument: 2 Sam. 16.11, 'Let him alone, and let him curse: for the Lord hath bidden him.' This was spoken when Shimei cursed him, and one of the captains would have taken off his head; that was a time rather for humiliation than revenge. As a magistrate, he might have punished him; but 'Let him alone' saith he, I see God in it. Consider, it is God that chooseth men to be instruments of his justice, that by them he may admonish us of our duty. To resist a lower officer of state is to contemn that authority with which he us armed. Consider, instruments are set a-work by God; they could not wag their tongue without God. It is good to see God at the end of causes. Do not think God sits idle in the heavens; providence has no vacancy. Christ saith, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.' God is always working, in and by the operation of the creature. We look no higher than the creature, and so are apt to murmur.
2. Wait for changes. Evils foreseen are the better digested and borne; it is like the fitting of the burden before we put it upon our backs. Hereby the cross is made more portable - 'The evil I feared,' saith Job, 'is come upon me.' It is good to look for changes; it is good to look for the affliction before it finds us out, and to keep our mind and heart loose from all comforts. We have great reason to think of changes: we cannot clude the course which God hath set; the cause of suffering is born and hired up with us. We were born in sin, and sin grows as we grow, and therefore the cross, which is the consequent of sin, shall not be taken away till we are taken out of the place of sinning. God might have translated us to heaven presently, without trouble, butt there is a method in all his works. He might have caused the earth to bring forth bread as well as an ear of corn but he would have it first to grow, them to lie threshed, then ground, then baked, and so fitted for man's use; so there are many preparative changes to fit us for heaven, as the stones were squared before they were set in the temple. He were a madman that should expect his bread to grow out of the ground before the corn were cleansed by the flail, or bruised by the mill-stone, or baked in an oven; or should expect the stones of a building to come together by chance; so it is a great madness to think to go to heaven without changes and afflictions. We must expect to 'enter into the kingdom of God by much tribulation.'
3. Moderate and lessen your carnal desires. Our afflictions are very much heightened by our affections. We set up a court of providence in our own hearts, enact laws there, and speak of what we would do and do not reserve the exceptions of God's providence. Oh! it is very hard to repeal the decrees and sentence of our own will when once it is set and determined; when we have decreed that thus we will do, this we will have, then we are vexed if God will not let it stand; this causeth storms and murmurs against the will of God: Jer. 45.5, 'And seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them not.' When men's desires are for great things, especially in uncertain times, they do but it dress up a trouble and sorrow for themselves. Self-love and self-seeking always make way for self-trouble; and therefore keep your desires low. It is far easier to add than to subtract; and it is far better to rise with providence, when the master of the feast 'bids us sit higher,' than to be compelled to descend and lie in the dust. Therefore till God's will be declared it is good to keep the heart in an equal poise for all providences, and not let our will outstart God's: as David said, 2 Sam. 15.26, 'If the Lord hath any pleasure in me, he will bring me back again; if not, here I am, let him do with me what pleaseth him.' He did not dare to pass his vote first, but gives providence the precedency; so should we.
4. Consider, what little cause you have to indulge your own murmuring; guilt is enough to silence any creature. Thou art a creature, and a guilty creature, and God is the sovereign Lord of heaven and earth; let this stop thy mouth. There is always cause from God, and we may still say, as in Ezra 9.13, 'Thou hast punished us less than our iniquities have deserved.' We are now in Babylon, and we might have been in hell. Consider, God is too just to do us wrong. Certainly there is a cause; if he will exchange hell for Babylon; there is much of mercy, but nothing of injustice. But suppose there were no cause visible, God may resolve the reason of his actions into his own will. God is under no law, and thou hast no tie and engagement on him; why should he give an account of his matters? If affliction is not deserved from men, it is to be borne more cheerfully. Whose cross would we bear, the cross of Christ or the thieves? When we suffer as malefactors, we bear the thieves' cross. There is no cause why we should allow our murmuring. Consider the evil of murmuring, search it to the head, and you will find it always comes from pride. The devil is the proudest creature, and the most discontented with his condition. Murmuring is always a fruit of supposed merit, we think we have deserved better. Alas! we are worthy of nothing, and if we have ever so little, we have cause enough to be content. Though you cannot fare as others - though you have not such good trading - though you have not houses so well furnished, yet what have you deserved?
5. Do but interpret your murmuring, what is it? It is but a taxing of God, and it is an high presumption for creatures to tax their creator, as if they were wiser than he; it is, in effect, to say, this is not well done; there is an error in providence, which we would fain correct. If it be good, and best, why should we repine?
6. Consider, what little good will murmuring do us? We should never argue against providence, because we cannot counterwork it. It is best to do that voluntarily which we must otherwise do by force. Submit to God; God will have the better in all contests with the creature: Job 9.22, 'Who can hinder him?' Your comforts, and children, and estates, are in his hands; if he will take them away, who can hinder him? Therefore why should we murmur against him.