PREACHED UPON THE PENITENTIAL PSALMS.
Psalm vi. 4, 5.
Return, O Lord; deliver my soul; O Lord save me, for thy merey's sake. For in death there is uo remembrance of thee; and in the grave, who shall give thee thanks ?
We come now to the reasons of these petitions, in David's prayer; for, as every prayer must bo made with faith, (I must believe that God will grant my prayer, if it conduce to his glory, and my good to do so, that is the limit of my faith) so I must have reason to
ground a likelihood, and a fair probability that that particular which I pray for, doth conduce to his glory and my good, and that therefore God is likely to grant it. David's first reason here is grounded on God himself, Propter misericordiam, Do it for thy mercy's sake; and in his second reason, though David himself, and all men with him, seem to have a part, yet at last we shall see, the reason itself to determine wholly and entirely in God too, and in his glory, Quoniam non in morte, Do it O Lord, For in death there is no remembrance oft/iee, &c.
In some other places, David comes to God with two reasons, and both grounded merely in God; Misericordia, et veritas, Let thy mercy and thy truth always preserve me1. In this place he puts himself wholly upon his mercy, for mercy is all, or at least, the foundation that sustains all, or the wall that embraces all. That mercy, which the word of this text, casad, imports, is Benignitas in non promeritum; Mercy is a good disposition towards him, who hath deserved nothing of himself; for, where there is merit, there is no mercy. Nay, it imports more than so, for mercy, as mercy, presumes not only no merit in man, but it takes knowledge of no promise in God, properly; for that is the difference between mercy and truth, that by mercy at first, God would make promises to man, in general; and then by truth, he would perform those promises : but mercy goeth first; and there David begins and grounds his prayer, at mercy; mercy that can have no pre-mover, no pre-relation, but begins in itself. For if we consider the mercy of God to mankind subsequently, I mean, after the death of Christ, so it cannot be properly called mercy. Mercy thus considered, hath a ground; and God thus considered, hath received a plentiful, and an abundant satisfaction in the merits of Christ Jesus ; and that which hath a ground in man, that which hath a satisfaction from man, (Christ was truly man) falls not properly, precisely, rigidly, under the name of mercy. But consider God in his first disposition to man, after his fall, that he would vouchsafe to study our recovery, and that he would turn upon no other way, but the shedding of the blood of his own and innocent, and glorious Son, Quid est homo, aut filius hominis?
1 Psal. Xl. n.
What was man, or all mankind, that God should be mindful of him so, or so merciful to him ? When God promises that he will be merciful and gracious to me, if I do his will, when in some measure I do that will of his, God begins not then to be merciful; but his mercy was awake and at work before, when he excited me, by that promise, to do his will. And after, in my performance of those duties, his spirit seals to me a declaration, that his truth is exercised upon me now, as his mercy was before. Still, his truth is in the effect, in the fruit, in the execution, but the decree, and the root is only mercy.
God is pleased also when we come to him with other reasons; when we remember him of his covenant; when we remember him of his holy servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob ; yea when we remember him of our own innocency, in that particular, for which we may be then unjustly pursued; God was glad to hear of a righteousness, and of an innocency, and of clean and pure hands in David, when he was unjustly pursued by Saul. But the root of all is in t\\\s,Propter misericordiam, Do it for thy mercy's sake. For when we speak of God's covenant, it may be mistaken, who is, and who is not within that covenant; what know I? Of nations, and of churches, which have received the outward profession of Christ, we may be able to say, They are within the covenant, generally taken; but when we come to particular men in the congregation, there I may call a hypocrite, a saint, and think an excommunicate soul, to be within the covenant; I may mistake the covenant, and I may mistake God's servants, who did, and who did not die in his favour, What know 11 We see at executions, when men pretend to die cheerfully for the glory of God, half the company will call them traitors, and half martyrs. So if we speak of our own innocency, we may have a pride in that, or some other vicious and defective respect (as uncharitableness towards our malicious persecutors, or laying seditious aspersions upon the justice of the state) that may make us guilty towards God, though we be truly innocent to the world, in that particular. But let me make my recourse to the mercy of God, and there can be no error, no mistaking.
And therefore if that, and nothing but that be my ground, God will return to me, God will deliver my soul, God will save mo, for his mercy~ t sake; that is, because his mercy is engaged in it. And if God were to sell me this returning, this delivering, this saving, and all that I pray for; what could I offer God for that, so great as his own mercy, in which I offer him the innocency, the obedience, the blood of his only Son. If I buy of the king's land, I must pay for it in the king's money ; I have no mine, nor mint of mine own ; if I would have anything from God, I must give him that which is his own for it, that is, his mercy; and this to give God his mercy, to give God thanks for his mercy, to give to all his mercy, and to acknowledge, that if my works be acceptable to him, nay if my very faith be acceptable to him, it is not because my works, no nor my faith hath any proportion of equivalency in it, or is worth the least flash of joy, or the last spangle of glory in heaven, in itself, but because God in his mercy, only of his mercy, merely for the glory of his mercy, hath past such a covenant, Crede, etfac hoc, Believe this, and do this, and thou shalt live, not for thy deed's sake, not nor for thy faith's sake, but for my mercy's sake. And farther we carry not this first reason of the prayer, arising only from God.
There remains in these words another reason, in which David himself, and all men seem to have part, Quia non in morte, For in death there is no remembrance of thee, &c., upon occasion of which words, because they seem to imply a loathness in David to die, it may well be inquired, why death seemed so terribly to the good and godly men of those times, as that evermore we see them complain of shortness of life, and of the nearness of death. Certainly the rule is true, in natural, and in civil, and in divine things, as long as we are in this world, Nolle meliorem, est corruptio primce habitudinis*, That man is not well, who desires not to be better; it is but our corruption here, that makes us loath to hasten to our incorruption there. And besides, many of the ancients, and all the later casuists of the other side, and amongst our own men, Peter Martyr, and Calvin, assign certain cases, in which it hath rationem boni, the nature of good, and therefore is to be embraced, to wish our dissolution and departure out of this
* Picus. Heptapl. 1. 7. proem.
world; and yet, many good and godly men have declared this loathness to die. Beloved, weigh life and death one against another, and the balance will be even; throw the glory of God into either balance, and that turns the scale. St. Paul could not tell which to wish, life, or death ; there the balance was even ; then comes in the glory of God, the addition of his soul to that choir, that spend all their time, eternity itself, only in glorifying God, and that turns the scale, and then, ho comes to his Cuplo dissolvi, To desire to be dissolved, and to be with Christ. But then, he puts in more of the same weight in the other scale, ho sees that it advances God's glory more, for him to stay, and labour in the building of God's kingdom here, and so add moro souls than his own to that state, than only to enjoy that kingdom in himself, ami that turns the scale again, and so he is content to live.
These saints of God then when they deprecate death, and complain of the approaches of death, they are, at that time, in a charitable ecstasy, abstracted and withdrawn from the consideration of that particular happiness, which they, in themselves, might have in heaven; and they are transported and swallowed up with this sorrow, that the church here, and God's kingdom upon earth, should lack those means of advancement, or assistance, which God, by their service, was pleased to afford to his church. Whether they were good kings, good priests, or good prophets, the church lost by their death; and therefore they deprecated that death, and desired to live. The grave cannot praise thee, death cannot celebrate thee; but the living, the living, he shall praise thee, as I do this day*, says Hczekiah ; he was affected with an apprehension of a future barrenness after his death, and a want of propagation of God's truth ; / shall not see the Lord, even the Lord, says he. He had assurance, that he should see the Lord in heaven, when by death he was come thither ; but, says he, / shall not see him in the land of the living; well, even in the land of the living, even in the land of life itself, he was to see him, if by death he were to sec him in heaven ; but this is the loss that he laments, this is the misery that he deplores with so much holy passion, / shall behold man no more, with the inhabitants of the world; howsoever, I shall enjoy God myself, yet I shall be no
* Isaiah xxxviii. 18.
longer a means, an instrument of the propagation of God's truth amongst others ; and, till we come to that joy, which the heart cannot conceive, it is, I think, the greatest joy that the soul of man is capable of in this life, (especially where a man hath been any occasion of sin to others) to assist the salvation of others. And even that consideration, That he shall be able to do God's cause no more good here, may make a good man loath to die. Quid facies magno nomini tuo4? says Joshua in his prayer to God; if the Canaanites come in, and destroy us, and blaspheme thee, What wilt t/tou do unto thy mighty name? What wilt thou do unto thy glorious church, said the saints of God in those deprecations, if thou take those men out of the world, whom thou hadst chosen, enabled, qualified for the edification, sustentation, propagation of that church. In a word, David considers not here, what men do, or do not in the next world; but he considers only, that in this world he was bound to propagate God's truth, and that that he could not do, if God took him away by death.
Consider then this horror, and detestation, and deprecation of death, in those saints of the Old Testament, with relation to their particular, and then it must be, quiapr&missiones obscuree, because Moses had conveyed to those men, all God's future blessings, all the joy and glory of heaven, only in the types of earthly things, and said little of the state of the soul after this life. And therefore the promises belonging to the godly after this life, were not so clear then, not so well manifested to them, not so well fixed in them, as that they could, in contemplation of them, step easily, or deliver themselves confidently into the jaws of death; he that is not fully satisfied of the next world, makes shift to be content with this ; and he that cannot reach, or does not feel that, will be glad to keep his hold upon this. Consider their horror, and detestation, and deprecation of death, not with relation to themselves, but to God's church, and then it will be, quia operarii pauci, because God had a great harvest in hand, and few labourers in it, they were loath to be taken from the work.
And these reasons might, at least, by way of excuse and extenuation, in those times of darkness, prevail somewhat in their behalf; they saw not whither they went, and therefore were
* Josh. vii. 9.
loath to go; and they were loath to go, because they saw not how God's church would subsist, when they were gone. But in these times of ours, when Almighty God hath given an abundant remedy to both these, their excuses will not be appliablc to us. We have a full clearness of the state of the soul after this life, not only above those of the old law, but above those of the primitive Christian church, which, in some hundreds of years, came not to a clear understanding in that point, whether the soul were immortal by nature, or but by preservation, whether the soul could not die, or only should not die. Or (because that perchance may be without any constant clearness yet) that was not clear to them, (which concerns our case nearer) whether the soul came to a present fruition of the sight of God after death or no. But God having afforded us clearness in that, and then blest our times with an established church, and plenty of able workmen for the present, and plenty of schools, and competency of endowments in universities, for the establishing of our hopes, and assurances for the future, since we have both the promise of heaven after, and the promise that the gates of hell shall not prevail against the church here; since we can neither say, Promissiones obscura', That heaven hangs in a cloud, nor say, Operarii pauci, That dangers hang over the church, it is much more inexcusable in us now, than it was in any of them then, to be loath to die, or to be too passionate in that reason of the deprecation, Quia non in morte, because in death there is no remembrance of thee, &c.
Which words, being taken literally, may fill our meditation, and exalt our devotion thus; if in death there be no remembrance of God, if this remembrance perish in death, certainly it decays in the nearness to death ; if there be a possession in death, there is an approach in age; and therefore, Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth*. There are spiritual lethargies, that make a man forget his name ; forget that he was a Christian, and what belongs to that duty. God knows what forgetfulness may possess thee upon thy deathbed, and freeze thee there; God knows what rage, what distemper, what madness may scatter thee then; and though in such cases. God reckon with his ser
s Eccles. xii. 1.
rants, according to that disposition which they use to have towards him before, and not according to those declinations from him, which they show in such distempered sicknesses, yet God's mercy towards them can work but so, that he returns to those times, when those men did remember him before. But if God can find no such time, that they never remembered him, then he seals thoir former negligence with a present lethargy; they neglected God all their lives, and now in death there is no remembrance of him, nor there is no remembrance in him ; God shall forget him eternally; and when he thinks he is come to his consummatum est, the bell tolls, and will ring out, and there is an end of all in death, by death he comes but to his secula seculorum, to the beginning of that miser}', which shall never end.
This then which we have spoken, arises out of that sense of these words, which seems the most literal; that is, of a natural death. But as it is well noted by divers expositors upon this Psalm, this whole Psalm is intended of a spiritual agony, and combat of David, wrestling with the apprehension of hell, and of the indignation of God, even in this world, whilst he was alive here. And therefore St. Augustine upon the last words of this verse, in that translation which he followed, In inferno quis confitebitur tibl? Not, In the grave, but in hell, who shall confess unto thee? Puts himself upon this, In inferno Divee confessus Domino, et oravit pro fratribus, In hell Dives did confess the name of the Lord, and prayed there for his brethren in the world. And therefore he understands not these words of a literal, and natural, a bodily death, a departing out of this world; but he callspeccatum mortem, and then, ccecitatem animce infernum; he makes the easiness of sinning to be death, and then, blindness, and obduration, and remorselessness, and impenitence, to be this hell. And so also doth St. Jerome understand all that passionate deploring of Hezekiah, (which seems literally to be spoken of natural death) of this spiritual death, of the habit of sin, and that he considered, and lamented especially his danger of that death, of a departing from God in this world, rather than of a departing out of this world. And truly many pieces and passages of Hezekiah's lamentation there, will fall naturally enough into that spiritual interpretation ; though perchance all will not,
though St. Jerome with a holy purpose drive them, and draw them that way. But whether that of Hezekiah be of natural, or of a spiritual death, we have another author ancienter than St. Augustine, and St. Jerome, and so much esteemed by St. Jerome, as that he translated some of his works, which is Didyinus of Alexandria, who says, it is Impia opinio, not an inconvenient, or unnatural, but an impious and irreligious opinion, to understand this verse of natural death; because, says he, the dead do much more remember God than the living do. And ho makes use of that place, Deusnon confunditur, God is not ashamed to be called the God.of the dead, for he hath prepared them a city*. And therefore reading these words of our text, according to that translation which prevailed in the Eastern church, which was the Septuagint, he argues thus, he collects thus, that all that David Bays here, is only this, Non est in morte qui memor est Dei, Not that he that is dead remembers not God, but that he remembers God, is not dead; not in an irreparable, and irrecoverable state of death; not under such a burden of sin as devastates and exterminates the conscience, and evacuates tho whole power and work of grace, but that if he can remember God, confess God, though ho be fallen under the hand of a spiritual death, by some sin, yet he shall have his resurrection in this life; for, Non est in morte, says Didymus, He that remembers God, is not dead, in a perpetual death.
And then this reason of Davids' prayer here, (do this and this, for in death there is no remembrance of thee) will have this force, that God would return to him in his effectual grace, that God would deliver his soul in dangerous temptations, that God would save him in applying to him, and imprinting in him a sober, but yet confident assurance that the salvation of Christ Jesus belongs to him; because if God did not return to him, but suffer him to wither in a long absence, if God did not deliver him, by taking hold of him when he was ready to fall into such sins as his sociableness, his confidence, his inconsideration, his infirmity, his curiosity brought him to the brink of, if God did not save him, by a faithful assurance of salvation after a sin committed and resented, this absence, this slipperiness, this pretermittiug, might bring him to such a deadly, and such a hellish state in this world, as that in death, that is, in that death, he should have no remembrance of God, in liell, in the grave, that is, in that hell, in that grave, he should not confess, nor praise God at all. There was his danger, he should forget God utterly, and God forget him eternally, if God suffered him to proceed so far in sin, that is, death, and so far in an obduration and remorselessness, in sin, that is, lull, the death and the hell of this world, to which those fathers refer this text.
6 Heb. xi. 16.
In this lamentable state, we will only note the force, and the emphasis of this tui, and tibi, in this verse; no remembrance of thee, no praise to thee; for this is not .spoken of God in general, but of that God, to which David directs the last and principal part of his prayer, which is, to save him; it is to God, as God is Jesus, a Saviour; and the wretchedness of this state is, that God shall not be remembered in that notion, as he is Jesus, a Saviour. No man is so swallowed up in the death of sin, nor in the grave of impenitence, no man so dead, and buried in the custom or senselessness of sin, but that he remembers a God, he confesses a God; if an atheist swear the contrary, believe him not; his inward terrors, his midnight startlings remember him of that, and bring him to confessions of that. But here is the depth, and desperateness of this death, and this grave, habitual sin, and impenitence in sin, that he cannot remember, he cannot confess that God which should save him, Christ Jesus his Redeemer; he shall come, he shall not choose but come to remember a God that shall damn him, but not a saving God, a Jesus.
Beloved in the bowels of that Jesus, not only the riches, and honours, and pleasures of this world, and the favour of princes, are, as Job speaks, Onerosi consolatores, Miserable comforters are they all, all this world, but even of God himself (be it spoken with piety and reverence, and far from misconstruction) we may say, Onerosa consolatio, It is but a miserable comfort which we can have in God himself, it is but a faint remembrance which we retain of God himself, it is but a lame confession which we make to God himself, Si non tui, si non tibi, If we remember not thee, If we confess not thee, our only Lord and Saviour Christ Jesus. It is not half our work to be godly men, to confess a God in
general; we must be Christians too; to confess God so, as God hath manifested himself to us. I, to whom God hath manifested himself in the Christian church, am as much an atheist, if I deny Christ, as if I deny God; and I deny Christ, as much, if I deny him in the truth of his worship, in my religion, as if I denied him in his person. And therefore, Si non tut, Si non tibi, If I do not remember thee, If I do not profess thee in thy truth, I am fallen into this death, and buried in this grave which David deprecates in this text, For in death there is no remembrance of thee, &c.