THE MILITANT’S SONG; OR, THE BELIEVER’S EXERCISE
WHILE HERE BELOW,
This Sermon was preached at Carnock, on Monday, July —, 1723, being a thanksgiving day, immediately after the celebration of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper there.
“I will sing of mercy and judgment; unto thee, O Lord, will I sing.” Psalm 101:1
I hope the subject I am here in providence directed to will natively lead us, if the Lord bless it, to a suitable exercise upon a thanksgiving day after a communion; even with gratitude of soul to sing the praises of a God in Christ, and that whether we have met with a smile or a frown from heaven, or both, at this occasion. If any here have got a smile, or found him to be a smiling and a present God, they may sing of mercy; if any here have got a frown, or found him to be a hiding God, they may sing of judgment; or, if any here have got both a smile and a frown, they may sing of both, and say, “I will sing of mercy and judgment: unto thee, O Lord, will I sing.”
The words contain the Psalmist’s holy resolution to praise and glorify God for all his dispensations towards him, now that he was advanced to the kingdom of Israel; and in them you may shortly notice, 1. The sweet work that is resolved upon, namely, To sing. 2. The sweet singer that thus resolves, namely, David; “I will sing.” 3. The sweet subject of the song, namely, mercy and judgment. 4. The sweet object of this praise, and the manner in which he would sing it; “Unto thee, O Lord, will I sing.”
1. The sweet work that is resolved upon, namely, to sing. It is the work of heaven, and a very fit work after a communion, to sing a song of praise to God, in the manner which we may afterwards explain.
2. The sweet singer; “I will sing.” The title of the psalm shows it was David’s, the man after God’s own heart; the man anointed by the God of Jacob, and the sweet psalmist of Israel; for so he is called, (2 Sam. 23:1).
3. The sweet subject of the song, or the matter of it, namely, mercy and judgment. God’s work towards his people is checkered work; a mixture of mercy and judgment: and, when he exercises us with both, it is our duty to sing of both, and to be suitably affected with both; whether our circumstances be joyful or sorrowful, still we must give glory to God; and in everything give thanks: neither the laughter of a prosperous condition, nor the tears of an afflicted condition must put us out of tune for the sacred songs of praise.
4. The sweet object of this praise, and the manner in which he resolves to sing it, “Unto thee, O Lord, Will I sing.” It is in the most solemn manner that he addresses the Lord Jehovah, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and dedicates his song to the praise of a God in Christ; “Unto thee, O Lord, Will I sing.” But I refer the further explication to the prosecution of a doctrine from the words.
Observation: That, as the people of God hath both mercy and judgment in their lot in this world; so, from both they may have matter of a song of praise unto God.
They have occasion in this world to sing both of mercy and judgment. We find the psalmist frequently singing both of mercy and judgment; (as Psalm 30:6‑9; 42:7,11). You have an elegant description of the lot of God’s people, while here, as consisting both of mercy and judgment, and so affording occasion to sing of both, (2 Cor. 6:8, 9,10); where you will see the blink and the shower; the mercies and judgments that are in their lot; how God hath set the one over against the other; by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report, &c. Thus they have occasion to sing both of mercies and crosses, while they find the Lord supporting them under trials, and remembering mercy in the midst of wrath, and making all things work together for good to them; “I will sing of mercy and judgment; unto thee, O Lord, will I sing.” The Chaldee paraphrase of this text is remarkable, and suitable to the doctrine I have raised from it, namely, it is as if the psalmist had said, “If thou bestowest mercies upon me; or if thou bringest any judgment upon me; before thee, O Lord, will I sing my hymn for all.”
The method I propose for prosecuting this doctrine, through divine aid, is the following.
I. I would speak a little of the mercies that the people of God meet with; and what it is in these that affords them matter of a song of praise.
II. I would speak a little of the judgments they are trusted with; and what it is in judgment that may be matter of a song of praise to God.
III. What this singing imports; and how we are to sing of mercy and judgment: where we may notice what is imported in the psalmist’s resolutions, and the manner of expressing it: “I will sing of mercy and judgment; unto thee, O Lord, will I sing.”
IV. Why it is so ordered of the Lord that his people are made to sing both of mercy and of judgment.
V. Draw some inferences for the application.
I. I am first to speak a little of mercy, of which they ought to sing; and here I would shew, 1. What this mercy is; and, 2. What it is in mercy that may be matter of a song, or afford ground of singing.
1st, What this mercy is. Mercy, in God, signifies a propensity or readiness of mind to help and succor such as are in misery: and it carries in it an inward commotion, and moving of bowels, as God says of Ephraim, “My bowels are troubled for him; I will surely have mercy upon him,” (Jer. 31:20). God, to accommodate himself to our capacity, speaks after the manner of man, ascribing human affections to himself. I might here speak of the general mercy of God towards all, both just and unjust: for “He is good to all, and his tender mercies are over all his works,” (Ps. 145:9). He makes his sun to shine, and his rain to fall upon good and bad: and all should sing of his mercy, if it were no more but for life, and health, and strength from him. There are some common gifts that all men have from him, and some common graces that some have more than others; but I speak especially of special mercies; and, indeed, there are of these that the visible church hath, besides the rest of the world, even the wicked among them; and, if they could, they should sing of these mercies; such as their hearing the gospel and the joyful sound; their getting the offer of Christ, and salvation through him: but I speak mainly of the special mercies, that bear the stamp of his everlasting love towards his chosen and hidden ones: mercy bred in God’s breast from all eternity, whereby he made choice of some of the fallen mass of mankind in Christ, who is the channel wherein this mercy doth flow in various streams: and I shall mention a few of these, for there would be no end of speaking, to mention on all that might be said, or yet to enlarge all that may be mentioned.
1. There is the mercy of God in sending Christ to be the Saviour. We find the angels singing of this mercy, saying, “To you is born, in the city of David, a Saviour: Glory to God in the highest; on earth peace, and good‑will towards men,” (Luke 2:11,14). Good‑will and mercy towards man, because there is peace on earth, and reconciliation through Christ, who brings in glory to God in the highest; “God so loved the word, that he gave his only‑begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life,” (John 3:16). It is indeed a so without a such; a love without a parallel: here mercy shines.
2: There is mercy in the death of Christ; see how the four and twenty elders sing of this mercy: “Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and hast made us to our God kings and priests:” and the angels join issue with them, to the number of ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying, with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing,” (Rev. 5:9‑12).
3. There is mercy that he shows in raising Christ from death, and in raising and quickening us together with him. We find the apostle singing of this mercy; “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he hath loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus,” (Eph. 3:4,5). If Christ must die he must conquer death, that his people may be more than conquerors in him over death: both spiritual death, whereby we were under the guilt of sin; and legal death, whereby we were under the guilt of sin, and sentence of the law. In opposition to both these, the life of regeneration, and the life of justification is connected with this merciful quickening together with Christ; as you see, “You, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him: having forgiven you all trespasses,” (Col. 2:13). O how does the psalmist sing of this mercy! “Bless the Lord, O my soul, who forgiveth all thy sins, and healeth all thy diseases,” (Ps. 103:2,3).
4. There is mercy that he shows in cleansing the soul from the filth of sin, as well as the guilt thereof, till it be washed and made quite clean at last. See how the saints do sweetly sing of this mercy, where, I think, they sing both of pardoning and purifying mercy; “To him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever, Amen, (Rev. 1:5,6).
5. There is mercy that he shows in adopting such heirs of hell by nature, to be the children of God by grace: and you may see how believers sing of this mercy; “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God!” (1 John 3:1). He makes them his children, and gives them the Spirit of adoption; “Because ye are sons he hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, abba, Father.” He gives them the mark and seal of his children, even the Spirit as a Spirit of prayer, and as a Spirit of faith, and a Spirit of love, working the love of God in our hearts, who are by nature enemies: and, O what mercy is here!
6. There is mercy that he shows in conferring the high dignity of priesthood and royalty upon them; see how they sing of this mercy; “To him that loved us, and hath made us kings and priests unto God, and his Father [or, to God, even his Father]: to him be glory,” (Rev. 1:5,6). “Kings unto God,” how? Even to fight for him against sin, Satan, and the world, and conquer all our enemies in his name. “Priests unto God,” how? Even to offer spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ; to offer our prayers and praises, souls and bodies to him, on our altar, Jesus Christ. Thus they are made kings and priests: and therefore called a royal priesthood: a priesthood of kings, or a kingdom of priests.
7. There is mercy that he shows his people, in abiding and standing by them in all difficulties, so as nothing shall ever be able to separate them from the favor of their God. See how sweetly the apostle Paul sings of this mercy; “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distresses, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?—Nay, I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord,” (Rom. 8:35,39). But though neither death, nor life, nor angels do it, yet may not sin separate me from the mercy and love of God? Indeed it may separate, so as to make a fearful desertion, but never so as to make a final separation; for, “His mercy endures for ever:” and he hath said, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. He will visit their iniquity with the rod, but his loving kindness will he not take away. My mercy will I keep with him for evermore, and my covenant shall stand fast with him,” (Ps.89:28,32,33).
8. There is mercy that he shows, in giving many merciful experiences of his goodness and mercy following them all the days of their life; such as the psalmist sings of, (Ps. 23:6). It is true the leading mercy of all is God himself, Christ himself, the Spirit himself; one God in three Persons, is their God; made over to them in that word, “I will be your God.” Here is the fountain‑mercy of all mercies, of which they may sing, saying, “This God is our God for ever and ever, and will be our guide even unto death.” And indeed to sing of mercy, is to sing of a merciful God: but as we know the nature of the fountain by the sweetness of the streams, so we may take a view of some more of these streams, under the notion of merciful experiences; and I name these following, by which a song of mercy may be excited.
(1.) There are merciful intimations and communications that they sometimes get, to make them sing of mercy. Sometimes he intimates his love, saying, “I have loved thee with an everlasting love:” Sometimes he intimates pardon, saying, “I, even I, am he, that blotted out thy transgressions, and will remember thy sins no more:” Sometimes he intimates acceptance, saying, “O man, greatly beloved;” and the intimation sets them a wondering and praising: Sometimes he communicates his mind and his secrets to them, “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him, and he will shew unto them his covenant:” Sometimes the secrets of his providence; he will tell them what he hath a mind to do with themselves, and what he hath a mind to do with such a friend, and such a child, and such a land or church; “Shall I hide from Abraham that which I do?” Sometimes he communicates himself to them, saying, “I am thy God, I am thy shield; fear not, for I am with thee:” Sometimes such intimations and communications are given, as make all their bones to say, “Who is like unto thee!”
(2.) There are merciful visits after desertion, and after backsliding, that they sometimes get to make them sing of mercy, when they have been heaping up mountains of sin and provocation betwixt him and them; yet, after all, he hath come and given them occasion to say, “The voice of my Beloved, behold he cometh skipping upon the mountains, and leaping upon the hills, The voice of my Beloved!” (Cant. 2:8,11). O an exceeding sweet and powerful voice! It hath a sound of heaven; I thought the mountains would have kept him away, but I heard the sound of his feet upon the mountains, that made my heart warm toward him again; I had departed from him by an evil heart of unbelief, and I thought he would never return; but, O he restored my soul, and helped me anew to wrestle with him: “We found him in Bethel, and there he spake with us.”
(3.) There are merciful accomplishments of promises, that they sometimes get, to make them sing of mercy. The Lord sometimes lets in a promise with life and power, and gives them a word on which he causes them to hope. It may be, he will give them a promise for themselves, and it may be a promise for their children! such as that, “I will be thy God, and the God of thy seed;” and sometimes a promise for the church; such as that “Upon all the glory there shall be a defense:” and sometimes he gives a wonderful accomplishment of promises, like that of Hezekiah; “What shall I say? he hath both spoken, and himself hath done it:” He hath come to my soul, and made me see that he is as good as his word; and that faithfulness is the girdle of his loins.
(4.) There is a merciful grant of all their desires, that they sometimes get, to make them sing of mercy. As the desire of their soul is towards him, and the remembrance of his name; so he satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry with good things; and gives them sometimes a Christ in their arms, who is all their salvation, and all their desire: “Delight thyself in the Lord, and he will give thee the desire of thy heart. Some have got their desires satisfied abundantly, now and then; they have got all that they could desire with respect to temporal mercies; all that they could desire with respect to spiritual mercies; yea, all that they could desire within time, till they get an armful of him before the throne.
(5.) There is merciful instruction and illumination, that they sometimes get, to make them sing of mercy; “The path of the just is as the shining light, shining more and more unto the perfect day.” And therefore he gives them to learn some lesson more and more; some gospel‑lesson, and gospel‑mystery, that they were in the dark about: and one great lesson that he teaches them is, even the difference betwixt the law and the gospel; he teaches them, that the law is holy, just, and good; and how the gospel crowns the law in all these respects: he teaches, that the law is holy in its commands, commanding perfect holiness, perfect obedience; and how the gospel shows where this perfect obedience is to be had, even in Christ, in whom they have not only strength to answer it as a rule of duty in part, but perfect righteousness to answer it as a covenant of works completely: he teaches them, that the law is just in its threatening, the threatening of eternal death; and how the gospel shows where this threatening hath vented itself, even in demanding and getting complete satisfaction from Christ the Surety; and therefore may the soul say, Well is me, for the shower of wrath is over my head, and hath lighted upon the head of my Cautioner! He teaches them, that the law is good in its promises, namely, its promise of eternal life to perfect personal obedience: but withal he teaches them by the gospel, how they hold their title to life, only in Christ, to whose perfect obedience now all the promises are made, and in whom all the promises are Yea, and Amen. O what a mercy is it to learn these lessons in a saving way; “To you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God. He hath hid these things from the wise and prudent, and revealed them to babes; even so, Father, for it seemed good in thy sight.”
(6.) There are merciful sensible enjoyments, which they sometimes get, to make them sing of mercy: sometimes they get sensible sights of his glory, and that in a way of believing; “Said I not unto thee, If thou wouldst believe, thou shouldst see the glory of God?” O, says the man, I found faith to be the hardest thing in the world, and yet he made me find it to be the easiest thing in the world, when he carried me on the wings of the spirit of faith; and by faith I saw his glory, and the glory of God in the face of Jesus. When I speak of sensible sight, do not mistake me; for I know that faith and sight, or faith and sense, differ in several respects, which I am not now to open; and yet faith brings in a kind of sense, it being the evidence of things not seen, and the substance of things hoped for; and therefore, by a sensible sight, I mean, the spiritual sense of seeing by faith, and seeing clearly; for sometimes the man gets a sight of Christ, as clearly as if he saw him with his bodily eyes: O, says the man, I have seen his fulness and sufficiency; I see his fitness and suitableness for me; I see his worthiness and excellency in himself. O none but Christ, none but Christ; as once a martyr, standing at a post, and having matches kindled upon him, and the flames about his finger‑ends, he clapped his hands together, and cried, “None but Christ, none but Christ.”
Some men they get sensible tastes of his goodness: “I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.” O how sweetly did I feed upon the apple‑tree, and plucked off the apples that grew upon this tree; the apple of imputed righteousness; the apple of imparted grace, the apple of peace, the apple of pardon, the apple of assurance, the apple. of joy, the apple of contentment, the apple of love, the apple of liberty! O the sweet fruit, the sweet apples that grow upon this tree of life! “I sat under his shadow with great delight,” &c.
Sometimes they get a sensible hearing of his voice; like that in the Song, “It is the voice of my Beloved that knocketh,” (Song 5:2). He knocked by his voice, saying, “Open to me, my sister, my spouse.” O sweet was his voice, when he said to me, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee!” How sweet was his voice, when he said, “Be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven thee!” When he said a word like that of the angel, “Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found favor with God! Did not my heart burn within me, when he talked with me by the way?” In such a word, and at such a sacrament, and such an ordinance, and such a duty? “Never man spake like this Man.” It was the voice of a God that I heard; for it was with such a glance of glory, as set my heart all in a flame of fire.
Sometimes they get a sensible smell of his ointments. O! his Name had a smell of heaven; for, “Because of the savour of his good ointment, his name was as ointment poured forth.” O! his garments had a smell of heaven; “All his garments smell of aloes, myrrh, and cassia, out of the ivory palaces.” The garment of his righteousness had a smell; it is a sacrifice of a sweet smelling savor; and the perfume thereof puts away the stinking smell of sin: the garment of his graces had smell, when the Spirit breathed upon them, and the north and south wind awakened, the spices sent forth a pleasant smell; when the Spirit warmed my cold heart in duties, and the fire from heaven kindled the sacrifice, then it mounted up to heaven, like a pillar of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, and all the powders of the merchant.
Sometimes they get a sensible feeling of his power; they have felt a sweet power coming along with the word, the sacrament, the prayer, the duty, that hath set a lawful captive at liberty, and loosed their bands; “Truly I am thy servant, thou hast loosed my bands,” (Ps. 116:16). O, says the man, at such a time, I am quit of the band of fear, I am quit of the band of unbelief, I am quit of the band of doubts, I am quit of the band of corruption: a power hath come, and knocked off my fetters: I felt his hand passing through the hole of the door of my heart, and my bowels were moved for him; he said to me, as it were to unbelieving Thomas, “Reach hither thine hand, and put it into the hole of my side,” and let my wounds silence all your faithless fears, discouragements, and jealousies; and I was obliged to cry out, “My Lord, and my God.” I thought he took me, as it were, by the hand, as he did Peter upon the water, ready to sink, saying, O why didst thou doubt? he shed abroad his love upon my heart so sweetly, that I could doubt no more. I could have been content that the valley of vision had been my burial‑place, and that I had never gone back to the world again; for his love ravished my heart, and struck the bottom out of all my doubts and fears: I got all my backslidings healed; I got all my prayers answered; I got my burdens eased; I got grace to pour out my soul into his bosom; I got grace to bring all my corruptions to him, to be dashed to pieces; I got grace to creep into his heart, and hide myself in his wounds; I got grace to cast all my burdens over upon him, and my heart was lightened: and my soul was more eased and pleased, than if I had been a crowned emperor of all the kingdoms of the world.—These are some of the most merciful experiences that sometimes they will get, to make them sing of mercy. I might have mentioned many more to this purpose, both of ordinary and extraordinary mercies; but I go on,
2dly, To the second question here proposed, What is in mercy that affords ground of singing?
1. The freeness and undeservedness of the mercy, makes them sing of mercy: when the man deserves hell, and the just sentence of the law to be past against him, mercy comes and takes hold of him. What is the cause of mercy? There is nothing in man to merit it but misery; which is indeed the occasion that God takes, to manifest his mercy through Christ; but yet misery cannot be the cause of mercy; for neither merit nor misery can be considered here to have any casual influence, it is just absolute sovereignty; “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.” Sovereign mercy is a thing that can neither be obtained by any good, nor hindered by any evil about us; he gives no account of his dealings: “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.” He loves, and we shall be loved; let all our high imaginations and proud reasonings strike sail to the sovereignty of free grace. O shall I not sing of mercy, that when I deserved a hell, I got a heaven! I deserved eternal death, and I got a sweet view of eternal life. This accents the praises. “O! what am I, that thou hast brought me hitherto?”
2. The unexpectedness of the mercy makes them sing of mercy. O! when I was expecting a frown I got a smile; when I was expecting nothing but wrath, I got a glance of love; instead of a stroke of vengeance, I got a view of glory. Hezekiah got a message of death, and was looking for it, when he got the news of life, and it made him sing of mercy, (Isa. 38:15). The mercy of God is surprising mercy; some have gone disconsolate and cast down to an ordinance, and, ere ever they were aware, their souls have got something which hath caused them to cry, “O! is this the manner of man, O Lord?” Some have gone to a closet, or a field, or a barn, or perhaps to a dyke‑side, with little or no expectation; but behold they have been surprised with an armful of heaven; perhaps at such a sermon they have been surprised with a word of love on the back of deep humiliation or desertion: a word, like a live coal, hath been cast in, and set their breast on fire, and their heart on a flame.
3. The seasonableness of the mercy makes them sing of mercy, for be comes with grace to help them in time of need: “I was brought low, and he helped me;” I was brought to the brink of ruin, and the border of despair, when mercy stepped in for my relief and comfort: when I was at the lowest extremity, he stepped in and made it the sweetest thing that ever I saw; “He brought me out of the horrible pit, and set my feet upon a rock, and put a new song in my mouth, even praises unto our God. He pitied us in our low estate, for his mercy endureth for ever.”
4. The greatness and riches of the mercy makes them sing, saying, “O how great is thy goodness, which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee, which thou hast wrought for them that trust in thee, before the sons of men!” (Ps. 31:19). We read of the riches of his mercy; the exceeding riches of his grace; his people sometimes meet with exceeding rich favor; such as not only exceeds their worth infinitely, but even exceeds their sense, exceeds their thoughts, exceeds their words, exceeds their desires, exceeds their prayers, exceeds their praises, exceeds all they can ask or think; and this makes them sing. We read of his abundant mercy; it is abundant in respect of its fountain; for his mercy is his nature, and must be infinite: it is abundant in respect of its streams, as it is let out abundantly towards the object thereof: it is abundantly, great in respect of its various kinds, temporal mercy, spiritual mercy, eternal mercy; temporal mercy makes them sing, and say, “I am less then the least of all thy mercies:” spiritual mercy makes them sing, and say, “He hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:” eternal mercy makes them sing and rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. O how abundant are they in their kinds, outward and inward mercies! Outward mercies are abundant: O the mercy that attended my birth, my education, the place of my situation in the world, so as to be brought under the drop of the gospel; my preservation from innumerable dangers; my protection, my provision; he hath fed me all my life long. Inward mercies are abundant: the mercy that appeared in my being awakened, convinced, humbled, converted, confirmed, comforted, called, justified, adopted, sanctified. O what ground of singing of mercy! It is great and abundant in respect of the qualities of it: O what matter of singing might be gathered out of the views of mercy, as it is preventing‑mercy, sparing‑mercy, condescending‑mercy, covering‑mercy, tender‑mercy, waiting‑mercy, constraining‑mercy, restraining‑mercy, restoring‑mercy, following-mercy! Even when I fled away from mercy, mercy and goodness followed me. But the bare mentioning of all would be impracticable: O the greatness of the mercy of which they may sing! O the greatness of the Author of it, a great God! If we be saved, what does he get? If we be damned, what does he lose? Yet he shows mercy. O the greatness of the object of it! it is extended towards the chief of sinners. O the greatness of the effects of it! Hereby great sins are pardoned, great blessings are conferred; great wrath is averted, and great salvation is obtained: O how can they but sing of mercy! O the greatness of the attendants and companions of it! It makes them sing, not only when they notice the mercy, but the contents, concomitants of it, and what comes along with it; how sweetly will the soul sing when it can say, I not only got such a mercy, but I saw God in it, and Christ in it, and the Spirit in it, and heaven in it, and glory in it! O, how sweet, when they consider this favor hath a necessary connection with heaven! It is a foretaste of what I shall enjoy forever: it is connected with God’s everlasting love. And hence,
5. Not only the greatness, but the sweetness of the mercy makes them sing. And there are two things, among many others, that make it sweet to them, namely, the excellency of the mercy itself, and then their relation to it. On the one hand, the excellency of the mercy; “How excellent is thy loving‑kindness, O Lord! Thy favor is better than life. His Mouth is most sweet,” says the Church: “The words of his mouth are sweeter than honey, or the honey‑comb.” On the other hand, their relation to the mercy, contributes to the sweetness of it; the more of faith’s application, the more sweet. O, says faith, there is a promise, and it is mine; there is a pardon, and it is mine; there is a robe of righteousness, and it is mine; there is a crown of glory, and it is mine; there is a God, and he is mine: all is mine, because Christ is mine. O then he sings of mercy. But,
6. To name no more, The sureness and firmness of the mercy makes them sing: they are called, “The sure mercies of David,” (Isa. 4:3). The Septuagint renders it as the apostle does, “The holy, just, and faithful things of David,” (Acts 13:34). The mercies of God in Christ, our mystical David, are his holy, just, and faithful things: his holiness, justice, and faithfulness are concerned to make good and secure his mercy to them that believe. Hence it is said of believing penitents, that God is faithful and just to forgive them their sins, (1 John 1:9). Faithfulness hath a respect to God’s promise, and justice a respect to the price and ransom paid by Christ: and God hath bound himself; he is bound by his own faithfulness on the one hand, he will be faithful to his word of promise; and he is bound by his own justice on the other hand, which is fully satisfied in Christ: he is thus obliged to give out mercy, and secure it for the believer: this makes it indeed the sure mercies of David; and so they are eternally secured, and therefore everlasting mercies. In a word, the thing that makes them sing of mercy is, When they see the mercy to bear in it the tokens of God’s love: when they find such a mercy is not only the answer of prayer, but the fruit of God’s electing grace; when they see God’s everlasting love to be the fountain from whence it flows, Christ’s everlasting righteousness the channel in which it runs, and the powerful operation of the Spirit making the effectual conveyance and application of all.—Now, these are some of the mercies, and the things in these mercies, both more ordinary and extraordinary, that are grounds of singing: “I will sing of mercy.” But to the other part of the song.
II. The second thing was, to speak of the judgments that the Lord’s people meet with; and what it is in judgment that may be matter of a song of praise unto God. To sing of mercy is what I understand, may you say; but how to sing of judgment, I want to know. Here then I would follow the same method as in the former head, namely, 1. To speak of some of these judgments they may meet with. 2. What it is in judgment, that may be matter of a song of praise to God.
1st. Now as to the first of these, viz., The judgments of which they are to sing: in order to clear this, you would know, that the word Judgment hath various significations in Scripture; I shall name some of these.
1. Judgment sometimes signifies, when spoken with relation to man, Understanding and Equity: sometimes it signifies Understanding, and a faculty of discerning, in opposition to ignorance; “I pray that your love may abound yet more in more, in knowledge, and in all judgment,” (Phil. 1:9). Sometimes it signifies Equity, in opposition to Injustice: “I know Abraham, that he will command his children and his household after him, that they keep the ways of the Lord, and do justice and judgment,” (Gen. 18:19). Now, though the doing judgment thus, and that with an understanding heart, be one of the ways by which we are to sing the praises of God, and glorify him, of which more afterwards; yet other things are here intended. Therefore,
2. Judgment, when spoken of with relation to God, signifies several other things; as,
(1.) It sometimes signifies God’s just and righteous government of the world, particularly by Christ Jesus; “The Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment to the Son,” (John 5:22). Righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne: and that both in the iron rod, by which he takes vengeance on his enemies; and in the golden sceptre, by which he rules his own people. And indeed, whatever be intended in the text, this government of Christ is matter of a song of praise; “The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice; the Lord reigns, let the earth be glad.” But,
(2.) Judgment sometimes signifies the rectitude of Christ’s administration, in his forming the world, and bringing things in order, which sin and Satan had put into confusion; so may that word be understood, “For judgment am I come into this world; And again, “Now is the judgment of this world; now shall the prince of this world be cast out,” (John 9:34). Of this judgment also will the believer sing, when the Spirit is come to convince, as of sin and righteousness, so also of judgment; “Because the prince of this world is judged.” But,
(3.) Judgment sometimes signifies the precepts of the law; as ye know they are frequently called, God’s testimonies and judgments, especially, Psalm. 119. And when a man learns these in a gospel‑way, they are matter of a song of praise also, “I will praise thee with uprightness of heart, when I have learned thy righteous judgments,” (Ps. 119:7). Yea, they delight therein, and sing of these judgments; “Thy statutes have been my song in the house of my pilgrimage,” (Ps. 119:54).
(4.) Judgment sometimes signifies the doctrine of the gospel: “I will put my Spirit unto him, and he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles,” (Matt. 12:18). It is cited out of Isaiah 42:1. “He shall shew judgment to the Gentiles:” That is, He will publish the gospel; the way and method of salvation, which he came, as a Prophet, to teach and proclaim; as a Priest, to work out; and as a King, to apply; and if you should take judgment in this sense, surely all believers sing of judgment, whenever faith is in exercise; for the gospel is the song of the saints; it is the joyful sound, while with joy they draw water out of this well of salvation, (Ps. 89:15; Isa. 12:3).
(5.) It sometimes signifies the punishment inflicted upon Christ, when he substituted himself in our room; “He was taken from prison and from judgment:” or, as it may be rendered, and as you will see in the margin of some of your Bibles, “He was taken away by distress and judgment;—while it pleased the Lord to bruise him,” (Isa. 53:8,10). O but this infinitely severe act of justice and judgment against Christ was an infinite act of mercy towards us! And, as we had perished eternally, if we had not been thus judged and condemned in a Surety, so this judgment executed upon him, is noble matter of a song. To sing of judgment, in this sense, is one of the sweetest hymns to the praise of God.
(6.) Judgment sometimes signifies the solemnity of the last day: “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousand of his saints, to execute judgment upon all,” (Jude 14,15). And though it will be a day of terrible vengeance to the wicked, Christless world, yet the saints may sing of joy; for, the day of their redemption draws near: “When Christ, who is their life shall appear, they shall appear with him in glory. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust.”
(7.) Judgment sometimes signifies the punishment of the wicked in a wrathful manner; and the heavy plagues which he pours out upon any person or people, whether it be sword, famine, pestilence, or any other stroke: “I will redeem you from Egypt (says the God of Israel) with a stretched out hand, and with great judgments,” (Ex. 6:6): that is, with great plagues and punishments upon the Egyptians. “The Lord is known by the judgments which he executeth.” And sometimes the Lord gives his church and people occasion to sing of judgment in this sense, as Israel did at the Red sea, after God had poured out all his plagues upon Pharaoh and upon his proud host; on which occasion you have the song of Moses, (Ex. 15). In this sense it is said, “The righteous shall rejoice when he sees thy vengeance.” Not that he will love to feed his eyes upon the blood and ruin of his fellow creatures, but rejoice in that God is glorified in the destruction of his enemies, and the salvation of his church and people.
(8.) Judgment sometimes signifies the chastisement of the godly: for, as there is a wrathful judgment, which God exercises towards his enemies; so there is a fatherly judgment, which he exercises towards his friends. In this sense we may understand that word in the institution of the sacrament, even as it concerns the godly themselves, “he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation [or, judgment] to himself,” as the word may be rendered, (1 Cor. 11:29). And indeed, as a believer may communicate unworthily, so his unworthy communicating may bring on him heavy judgments or chastisements from the Lord;” “For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep,” (v. 30). Judgment, I say, signifies sometimes fatherly judgments or chastisements: and thus it is to be understood, (1 Pet. 4:17). “The time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God.” And in this sense especially I conceive Judgment to be meant in the text, “I will sing of mercy and of judgment.” So that by Judgment here we are to understand all the hardships and sorrows of a believer’s lot, whether punitive or probative; that is, whether for the punishment of his sins, or the probation of his graces: all penal dispensations for his correction, or whatever dispensations make for his trial: all adversity, sufferings, and distresses, of whatsoever kind.
Now, if you ask more particularly what these judgments are? I think they may be all reduced to these four ordinary words, 1. The judgment of affliction. 2. The judgment of temptation. 3. The judgment of desertion. 4. The judgment of sin itself, which may be so called, when a man is left to fall into it for the punishment of other sins. I am not yet come to show how these, or any of these, may afford matter of a song; I am as yet telling you what are the judgments they may meet withal. And,
1. The judgment of affliction. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, even their outward afflictions: sometimes they are afflicted in their bodies, with sickness; sometimes in their estate, with poverty; sometimes in their name, with reproach; sometimes in their relations, either by the gracelessness of their relations, or by their death; if they were gracious, then they are afflicted with grief that they have lost them; if they were graceless, then they are afflicted with fear lest they be gone to hell; if they know not whether they died in Christ or not, they are afflicted with perplexity, because they know not what is become of them; sometimes they are afflicted in their families, with this and the other cross, and disorder, and confusion; sometimes in their neighbors and brethren, whether wicked or godly, from whom they may have trials of many sorts; sometimes in their cause they maintain, and for conscience sake, they may be persecuted and harassed; “If any man will live godly in this world, he must suffer persecution:—through much tribulation we must enter into the kingdom of God.” There is a necessity for it; for the believer here is like the tribe of Manasseh, half on this side Jordan, in the land of the Amorites; and half on the other side, in the Holy Land: I mean, he hath both corruption and grace, and hence a necessity of affliction and suffering: for if he hath any good in him, the devil will surely gnash at him, and endeavor, if he can, to devour him; and if he hath evil in him, he must look that God will afflict him. But,
2. There is the judgment of temptation, that the children of God sometimes meet with, even the fiery darts of the devil: for the Lord sees fit sometimes to let Satan loose on his people; who will not be wanting to improve any liberty granted to him, with his uttermost power and policy, as we see in the case of Job. It is strange to read how Christ was tempted of the devil, (Matt. 4:3‑10). And after that, let none think strange, that the followers of Christ may be tempted to deny their sonship; tempted to doubt of God’s care; tempted to destroy themselves; yea, tempted to worship the devil: for, “In all these things he was tempted like as we are, yet without sin; and in that he himself, though he sinned not, yet suffered, being tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted.” The children of grace may be tempted to Atheism, and to doubt of the being of a God; tempted to blasphemy and horrible things, that they dare not tell for a world. It is said by the Spouse, “He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love,” (Song 2:4). Why, what is the meaning of a banner in a banqueting house? A banner is rather for a battle: But indeed, sirs, here the banquet and the banner go together: for the battle many times follows the banquet. It may be, Satan and corruption are sleeping, as it were now: but I assure you, they are not dead: while ye have sin, ye shall have temptations to sin: so long as there is a finger of the believer out of heaven, the devil will be striking at it. If temptations have not assaulted you already since the sacrament, as I fear they have, yet be sure the Philistines will be upon you.
3. There is the judgment of desertion, which is yet sorer than any of the former; “Thou didst hide thy face, and I was troubled.” Sometimes the believer comes under the sad loss of the light of God’s countenance, and the sense of his love; and may lose his gracious comfortable presence very suddenly, even when he is just opening the door of his heart, as it were, to let him in; “I opened to my Beloved, but my Beloved had withdrawn himself, and was gone,” (Cant. 5:6). Sometimes he loses that comfortable presence very unworthily, even in a fit of drowsiness and spiritual security, as in that same fifth of the Song, (v. 3). Sometimes he loses it very long: “I sought him, but I found him not; I called on him, but he gave me no answer.” I went from duty to duty, from ordinance to ordinance, and yet not so much as a word or a look from him. In this case it cannot but be a very melancholy time with the believer, when he goes mourning without the sun, saying, “O that I knew where I might find him! O that it were with me as in months past!” Especially if he knows that he hath not lost that presence by sovereignty on the Lord’s part, but sinfully on his part: and that he hath sinned him away. How ill went it with Asaph, when he was forced to say, “I remembered God, and was troubled,” (Ps. 77:3). Why? he remembered his own unkindness and ingratitude, that provoked the Lord to be gone. O! it is not easy to comfort the soul in this case. This soul‑desertion is ordinarily attended with the want of life for the performance of duty: “Mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up,” (Ps. 40:12). His spiritual strength was so worn away, that he was neither able to pray nor praise; nor do any duty with liveliness or activity. In this case, the soul cannot pray with life or power: it cannot hear with joy or profit; it cannot meditate with any delight or spirituality: it cannot act with any freedom or liberty: it cannot suffer for God with any zeal, patience, boldness, or resolution. O what a judgment is desertion! In this case, the soul is filled sometimes with fearful apprehensions of the wrath or God, and everlasting vengeance i though believers be secured against this by the oath of God, the blood of Christ, and the seal of the Spirit; yet, under unbelief,’ temptation, and desertion, they may have fearful apprehensions of it, and that for their correction for their sins; for, though he pardon their iniquity, he will take vengeance on their inventions. Here the believer may be afraid of terrible judgments; “My flesh trembleth for fear of thee, and I am afraid of thy judgments,” (Ps. 119:120). He may sometimes be afraid, lest God lay open the filthiness and wickedness of his heart to the world; and make him a reproach and a scandal to the godly and the wicked; this made the Psalmist pray, “O make me not the reproach of the foolish: let none that fear thy name be ashamed for my sake.” Sometimes he may be afraid lest God strike him suddenly with a visible and signal judgment, and take him off the stage in a terrible manner; hence says David, “Take me not away in thy wrath.” Sometimes he may be afraid lest he be the Jonas that hath raised, or may raise the storm of God’s wrath against the family, the congregation, the church, the land where he lives: the apprehensions of this nature may be grievous, perplexing, and create a multitude of thoughts within him; yea, in this deserted case, he may be filled with the terrors of God, and the arrows of the Almighty drinketh up his spirit, (Job 6:4). They may be brought to that pass, that the sorrows of hell compass them about, so as they choose strangling and death rather than life; and yet all this may be in a way of fatherly judgment, for the punishment of their sins; as David’s bones were broken for his murder and adultery: though sometimes he hath done it in sovereignty; yet the terrors of the Lord may bring them the length of distraction; “While I suffer thy terrors, I am distracted,” (Ps.88:15). O what a storm is this! Desertion may come to a great height, and bring along with it dreadful storms of fear, terror, and distraction. It may be, your mountain is standing strong, believer: but look to yourself, and beware of God‑provoking sins, for he, may hide his face, and then be sure ye shall be troubled. Many, under sensible enjoyments, are like a man in a meadow with the sun shining upon him, and, or ever he is aware, the mist comes about him, and he knows not where he is. There may come a mist about your soul, that you will hardly know where you are, or where you have been, or whether your former experiences have been anything but a dream.
However, this is one of the judgments the people of God may meet with.
3. There is the judgment of sin, which is worst of all, and hath the nature of a judgment; when God lets the man fall into one sin, for the punishment of another, as he may, do even with his own; when his fatherly anger burns hotly against them; this is the saddest judgment and severest chastisement that, I think, a child of God can meet with: and it would seem that David’s adultery was thus, in part, chastised, by letting him fall into murder; and Peter’s pride and self‑confidence, by letting him fall into a threefold denial of his Lord and Master; and thus he may do till the time of restoring their soul, which he hath determined, shall come. O how ill, how dreadfully ill does it go with the children of God, when they are brought to that pitiful complaint, “O Lord, why hast thou made us to err from thy ways, and hardened our hearts from thy fear!” (Isa. 63:17). And when led captive by sin, Satan, and an evil heart; by the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life.—Thus I have told you some of these judgments that the people of God may meet with.
2dly, Now, the second question upon this head was, What it is in or about judgment that may afford matter of singing, or of a song of praise? And now, some may be thinking, O, Sir, these judgments you have been speaking of are just the things that mar all my singing, and it will be strange, if there be any matter of singing, notwithstanding of these; for, if these be the judgments, what can be the song or ground of singing, when they afford such ground of sighing and lamentation? I shall endeavor to show you upon what grounds the sovereign Lord may even make these things matter of a song of praise. And,
1. Say you, What ground to sing of judgment may a child of God have, when affliction is the judgment? Indeed, no affliction of itself is joyous, but grievous; but the Lord can bring meat out of the eater, and sweet out of the strong; and a sweet song out of a sad stroke and affliction: Hence David sings of affliction, and says, “It was good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn thy statutes,” (Ps. 119:71). Now, there is ground to sing of judgment, when affliction is not in wrath, but in love; when it comes not from a wrathful, but a fatherly judge; when it is not satisfactory, but castigatory; when it is not to satisfy divine justice, but to correct vicious habits; when it is not expiatory, but exprobatory; when it is not to expiate sin, but to prove grace: “That the trial of your faith being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise, and honour, and glory, at the appearing of Jesus Christ,” (1 Pet. 1:7). That Christ drank out all the wrath out of the cup of affliction, and left nothing behind but love for his people to drink, O what matter of song is here! For, “Being justified by his blood, we are saved from wrath through him,” (Rom. 5:9). —There is ground to sing of judgment, when affliction is attended with instruction, even saving instruction; to this purpose the Psalmist sings, “Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, and teachest out of the law.”—When, by affliction, a man comes to learn the sinfulness of sin, and the evil of it; the emptiness of the creature, and the vanity of it: and the fulness of Christ, and his all‑sufficiency. O when the God of heaven does famish all our gods on earth, and starve us as to creature comforts, to make us hunger after the fulness and sweetness of Christ, what matter of singing is this! There is ground to sing of judgment, when afflictions make us conform to the Lord Jesus Christ, who, as he suffered for us, so he left us an example that we should follow his steps: surely, to be herein conform to the Son of God, who endured the contradiction of sinners against himself, is ground of singing.—Again, there is ground to sing of judgment, when affliction tends to the destruction of sin; “For by this shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged, and this is all the fruit to take away his sin.”—When it tends to gain the heart more to God, and wean the heart from the world, and all the things of the world, and lusts of the world; and is a fire to remove the dross, and a file to remove the dust.—Again, there is ground to sing of judgment, when afflictions are badges of honour; when they are signs of love: “For whom the Lord loves he chastens.” When they are marks of sonship; for, “He scourges every son whom he receives:” And, “if you be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then ye are bastards, and not sons,” (Heb. 2:8). Yea, what a badge of honor is it, when a man is helped to a patient submission to his heavenly Father? What an honor did God put upon Job, in that signal sentence, “Ye have heard of the patience of Job!” Alexander the conqueror is not so renowned as Job the sufferer.—Again, there is ground to sing of judgment, in that affliction tends to make you happy and holy: “We are afflicted for our profit, that we may be partakers of his holiness. For though the affliction be grievous for the time, yet afterwards it yields the peaceable fruits of righteousness to them that are exercised thereby,” (Heb. 12:10,11). When the deluge of affliction makes us fly as a dove to the window of the ark, and when by faith we make use of the water of affliction to make us swim the faster to Christ: then it is ground and matter of a song.—In a word, there is ground here to sing of judgments, in that they make preparation for glory; “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” And so the worst that God does with his children by affliction, is but to whip them home to heaven.—Thus you see what ground there is to sing of judgment, when affliction is the judgment.
2. What ground to sing of judgment, may a child of God have, when temptation is the judgment? Indeed, under temptation he is ready to say, “All these things are against me,” and yet they may all be working together for his good: and therefore, if a child of God be tempted, in a manner that I spoke of before, there is here ground to sing of judgment, in that temptation forces him to his knees; the more furiously Satan tempts, the more seriously the believer cries and prays; “A messenger of Satan was sent to buffet me, but for this I besought the Lord thrice,” (2 Cor. 12:7,8). There is here ground to sing of judgment, in that temptation abates the man’s pride, “Lest I should be exalted above measure,” (v. 7), this messenger of Satan was sent: the temptation that humbles the soul, and makes it lie low in the dust, is a matter of praise.—There is here ground to sing of judgment, in that temptation is sometimes the opportunity of the communication of grace; “I besought the Lord, and he said to me, My grace is sufficient for thee, and my strength is made perfect in thy weakness.” Hereupon the man falls a‑singing, “Most gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me: for when I am weak, then am I strong,”(vv. 8-10). There is ground to sing of judgment here, in that many times temptation to sin, keeps from committing a sin: the more Satan tempts to blasphemy, the more the believer trembles at it, and is afraid of himself, while he does not see the tempter.—There is ground to sing of judgment, in that the temptation hath mercy in it; mercy to others, while we are the more fitted to comfort them when they are under temptation,( 2 Cor. 1:4); mercy to ourselves, in that we become the objects of the Mediator’s sympathy; “For we have not an High‑priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but was in all things tempted like as we are, yet without sin;” therefore will succor them that are tempted.—There is here ground to sing of judgment, in that as it is no sin to be tempted; so the temptation can do no harm, when there is no yielding: I said, that it is no sin to be tempted, and I say it again; though to yield to the least temptation is a sin, yet it is no sin to be tempted to the greatest sin: for Christ, who could not sin, was tempted to sin: there is no sin in it, where there is no yielding to it: in that case it is the sin of the tempter, but not the sin of the tempted.—But say you, O the temptation conquers me, and therefore how can I sing of judgment in this respect? Why, the prevailing of a temptation is a sad thing indeed; but yet there may be ground to sing of judgment, if the prevailing of the temptation tend to increase the grace and godly sorrow, as Peter’s fall cost him many a salt tear; and if the prevailing of the temptation tend to the increase of watchfulness, and make him more afraid to commit sin, and more afraid to neglect duty, and more careful to improve Christ; in this case there is ground to sing of judgment.—Why, say you, if the prevailing of a temptation will issue in a song of praise, may not that make us careless whether we yield or not. Answer, the prevailing of a temptation is one thing, and the yielding to a temptation is another thing; the prevailing of it may issue in joy, as I have told you, but the yielding to it may issue in sorrow; and if that sorrow be turned into joy, it will be a wonder of grace: O! “Shall we thus sin, that grace may abound? God forbid.” The wind of temptation is cross to the wind of the Spirit; and if we flee before the wind of temptation, we flee away from God and heaven; and therefore, if we sing of judgment sweetly and safely, it will be by reason of the wisdom of God making use of cross winds to blow us to heaven, and not of our fleeing before these. Thus you see what ground there is to sing of judgment, when, and even though temptation is the judgment.
3. What ground to sing of judgment may a child of God have, when desertion is the judgment? Desertion and divine withdrawing is a very heavy case, whether it be a withdrawing in respect of grace, the withholding the influences of the Spirit, the quickening, grace‑exciting influences thereof; or in respect of comfort, the withholding the light of his countenance, and leaving the soul in the dark: when light is away, there is nothing but darkness in the air; when the Lord is away, nothing but darkness, disorder, and confusion in the soul. Now, “How can I sing one of the songs of Zion in such a dark land?” Nay rather, “Mine eye, mine eye weeps, because the Comforter that should relieve my soul, is far removed:” Instead of singing, “I must hang my harp upon the willows.” Is there any ground to sing of judgment, when desertion is the judgment, unless it be a heavy song, while I cannot but mourn as a dove, and chatter as a crane? Why, even in desertion, the child of God (and indeed none but a child of heaven is capable of desertion) he may sing of judgment; in regard, that as the seed of grace may be where there is not the flower of joy; so, though weeping may endure for a night, yet joy comes in the morning; and they that sow in tears, shall reap in joy; and the reaping time is hastening on, for desertion is but for a short time, (Isa. 54:8). There the Lord gives this to be the ground of singing, even in such a case; “For a small moment have I forsaken thee, but with everlasting mercy will I gather thee; in a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment, but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee.”—There is ground to sing of judgment, when desertion tends to awaken the soul out of its drowsy distemper; “I sleep,” says the spouse, (Song 5:2), and presently Christ withdraws; “My Beloved had withdrawn himself, and was gone.” Why, then she fell a seeking him whom her soul loved. It is true, it is one of the sad effects of desertion many times, that the soul grows careless, and cannot seek with any life; but yet, if a godly soul become sensible of the Lord’s departing (for some time, the Lord may be away, and they do not know or consider, as it is said of Samson, “He wist not that the Lord was departed from him:” but I say, when a godly soul becomes sensible of it) and sees him going off, or hears him saying, Farewell: O then, like friends at parting, he follows him, and cannot part with him.—There is ground to sing of judgment here, when desertion tends to alienate the heart from the world; when the soul refuses to take comfort from anything in time, because the absence of Christ darkens all, or makes all things bitter to you, because his sweet presence is away, it is [a] matter of praise.—There is here ground to sing of judgment, in that desertion makes you prize the light of his countenance the more, saying, “O to see thy power and glory, as I have seen it in the sanctuary!” When the night of desertion makes you welcome the rising of the Sun of righteousness, it is a happy parting; that contributes to make a joyful meeting.—There is here ground to sing of judgment, in that desertion makes you hate sin that caused the same, as a stone in the pipe, hinders the current of the water: that desertion is matter of praise, that makes sin odious to you, as that which robs you of your best jewels, and that makes you lament his absence, and the cause of it. It is indeed matter of sighing, to want his presence; but it is matter of sighing to lament his absence. It is ground of sorrow, to be without him at anytime; but it is ground of praise, that you cannot live contentedly without him: I mean not a sinful discontent, that frets at his absence; but a holy discontent, that longs for his presence, and laments his absence; this I call matter of praise.—There is ground to sing of judgment, in that Christ drank out all the wrath of God out of the cup of desertion, when he suffered that heavy desertion himself, that made him cry, “Eli, Eli, lamasabachtani; My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”—Further, there is ground to sing of judgment here, in that this desertion makes the expectation of heaven sweet here, and the possession of it sweet hereafter; when the believer longs for heaven the more now, and loves it the better, then is it not matter of praise? O there is no hiding, no desertion, no cloud there, but a constant vision of glory; “We shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”—In a word, there is ground to sing of judgment, in that desertion makes room for faith and hope, till vision and fruition come. It is matter of sorrow indeed, when there is occasion to say, “Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel, the Saviour;” but it is matter of praise, when the soul is brought to say, “I will wait on the Lord, that hideth his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him,” (Isa. 8:17). It may be, ye get a breathing now and then in the air of sensible manifestations, but ye must [look] up to faith and hope again; and through the cloud ye must look for him, and bless him when he helps you to do so; for, though it were a killing desertion, or a slaying‑like dispensation, yet there is reason to sing, when he helps you to say, “Though he slay me yet will I trust in him.”—Thus you see what ground there is to sing of judgment, even when desertion is the judgment.
4. What ground to sing of judgment may a child of God have, when sin is a part of the judgment; when either the sins of others are the affliction, or his own sins are the affliction? When the sins of others are the affliction, can there be any ground to sing of judgment! When I see the generation laden with sins and abominations, grievously departing from the Lord, surely it is ground of sighing and lamentation; and it is duty to sigh and cry for all the abominations that are done in the midst of Jerusalem, (Ezek. 9:4). It is true and yet the song of praise must not go down among the children of God; for there is ground to sing in this case, when ye can say, “I beheld transgressors, and was grieved.” For, as it is child-like to be grieved for the injuries done to your Father; so it is Christ‑like, for he was grieved for the hardness of their hearts: Yet it is matter of singing, as it is a mark of love to God: for one may weep for his own sins from fear of hell, but he weeps for the sins of others from love to God.—It is matter of singing, when the more sin you see in others, it makes you hate sin the more, and swim against the stream when the faster they run to hell, it makes you run the faster to heaven, and sets you a‑praying; that when they are hastening to the prison, ye may hasten to a palace.—It is matter of singing, when the sins of others are the glass wherein you see your own hearts, and see the roots of all that wickedness to be within you; and therefore are made the more thankful, that God restrains you by his power from doing the same; and constrains you by his grace to do otherwise. When ye are helped to say thankfully, what the Pharisee said boastingly, The Lord be thanked that I am not as other men: and that I have not so learned Christ.—It is [a] matter of singing also, when their sins make you more holy: and when their unsavoriness makes your graces to send forth a fragrant smell: and when thereby the Lord gives you an occasion to convince and convert them; and to be the instruments of doing good to their souls.—Well, say ye, but the great question is, when my own sins are the affliction, can there be any ground to sing of judgment? Indeed sinning can be no ground of singing; for sin is in itself a damnable thing, worse than hell: and, in God’s name, I will say, Whatever tends to discourage holiness, and encourage sin, let it be Anathema: and cursed be the preaching that tends to encouragement of sin; yea, cursed be the thought, in the preacher or hearer, that makes the doctrine of grace an encouragement thereto. Many such thoughts may enter into us all; but may vengeance from heaven come down upon them, and destroy them in us, that we may not blaspheme a holy, sinless Jesus, to make him a minister of sin. However, sin being the worst of all affliction and judgment, it would be an everlasting damp to the song of mercy and judgment, if a sovereign God could not, in his infinite wisdom, bring a song of praise out of the evil of sin. Why then, there is ground to sing, notwithstanding of sin, when God makes your sin a burden to you, and you to look upon yourselves as wretched because of it, saying, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this sin and death? When the burden of sin makes you weary of this life; saying with Rebecca, “I am weary of my life because of the daughters of Heth.”—There is ground to sing notwithstanding of sin, when God makes the prevalency of sin the mean of drawing you to a Saviour, and the blood of Christ that cleanses from all sin; when daily sin makes daily application to the fountain open for sin and uncleanness; when the bitterness of sin makes Christ sweet and precious to you, and the sting of sin draws out your eye to look to the brazen serpent; and so the man sees God get more glory, and Christ more honour, and his righteousness more renown, then he sings and glories in his infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon him.—There is ground to sing, notwithstanding of sin; when the sense of sin makes a man to judge himself, and condemn himself, that he may not be judged and condemned of the Lord; when it makes him examine himself more strictly, saying, “Search me, O God, and try if there be any wicket way in me:” and observe himself more closely, so as to watch over his heart and way, so as to find out sin, and expel it, through grace, and live more circumspectly for the future.—There is ground to sing notwithstanding of sin; when sin makes a man to abhor himself, and to repent in dust and ashes: when it makes him, with David, to water his couch with his tears; and with Peter, to go out and weep bitterly, and lays him low in the dust before the Lord: “Therefore, as one says, Better is the sin that makes us humble, than the duty that makes us proud.” The hypocrite’s rising is the mean of his fall; but the believer’s fall, is the mean of his rising. While the sense of his sin makes him holy, and sense of his pride makes him humble, his hypocrisy sincere, his hardness makes him soft, his carnality makes him spiritual; happy that victory of sin over a man, that issues in a bloody war against it: yet no thanks to sin, but to a sovereign wise God, that turns the malady into a medicine.—If any should hereupon take encouragement to sin, let them consider, if they, do so, whether their spot can be the spot of God’s children; for, to sin, that grace may abound, is a presumptuous sin of the highest degree; and true grace dare not draw such a bitter conclusion for such sweet promises; or, if a child of God should do so, and make bold with sin, let him consider, if this be all his kindness to his friend? Though God does not damn you, he may send you to a hell in this life, and fill you with horrors, terrors, and agonies of soul, such as I spake of before: let this therefore be a rail to keep you back from the burning mountain. To sing of judgment in respect of sin, is not to sing of our folly in committing it, but to sing of God’s wisdom in destroying it: you have no cause to sing of sin, which of itself brings death ruin, and damnation; but still cause to sing of judgment concerning sin, or of the Lord’s executing judgment upon it.—But what if hell be the judgment at last, would you have me to sing in that case? I fear I go to hell when all is done; I fear I never get to heaven; and how should I sing? I answer, Have you not cause to sing, that ye are out of hell, and that it is not as yet your lot? But I will tell you, if you were beginning to sing, it would be the beginning of heaven: “Blessed are they that dwell in thy house: they will be still praising thee.” Will you say, as an honest exercised Christian once said, when tempted to fear hell, and thereupon to give over the duties of religion, “Why, says he, if I shall never praise him in heaven, I shall endeavor to praise him all that I can on earth.” This would be a sweet token that you shall sing in heaven forever, among the redeemed. And thus you see, whether we view judgment with respect to affliction, temptation, desertion, or sin, in what respects it is that we are to sing of judgment; it is even to sing of the mercy that God exercises in these judgments: and so, “I will sing of mercy and of judgment.” It comes all to this, as if the Psalmist should say, “I will sing of merciful judgments;” for judgment is mercy, as it is the matter of the song: or, to take them separately, “I will sing of mercy in mercies,” and “I will sing of mercy in judgment;” and so I will sing of my blinks and of my showers; I will sing both of my cloudy and my clear day; both of my ups and downs; both of smiles and frowns; I will sing both of frowning and favorable‑like dispensations: “I will sing of mercy and judgment; to thee, O Lord, will I sing.”—So much for the second head.
III. The Third general head proposed was, What this singing imports; and how we are to sing of mercy and judgment to the praise of God. I shall speak a little to the quality and import of this song.
1st, The import of this singing: “I will sing to the Lord:” that is, I will praise the Lord; and it does not lie in the simple sound of a voice, but imports the glorifying of God with our hearts and lips, in our lives, and in our death or suffering.
1. To sing to the Lord is to glorify him with our hearts; to give him the love and adoration of our hearts. In this singing there is the inward act of the soul; “Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that, is within me, bless his holy name,” (Ps. 103:1). It imports a deep impression of God upon the soul, and a lively sense of his mercy in Christ, and of our unworthiness of it: and here the soul, and all that is within it, is acting and moving: the judgment moves with admiration and wonder at God for his glorious grace; the memory moves with a thankful recording of his favors, “Forget not all his benefits:” the affections move with joy and delight in God, and love to him for the riches of his grace in Christ. O shall I not love the greatest and best of Beings, for the greatest and best of benefits! The heart is here employed: neither prayer nor praises, without the heart, are of any worth: many sing with their voice when their hearts are a hundred miles off, gadding here and there: but a fixed heart is a singing heart; “My heart is fixed, O Lord; my heart is fixed, I will sing and give praise.” We are called to sing with grace in our hearts, (Col. 3:16): we are to sing with faith in our heart: he that is strong in the faith glorifies God. We are to sing with love in our hearts, with fear in our hearts, and with joy in our hearts.
2. To sing to the Lord is with our lips to glorify him: we are to give him the calves of our lips. When the heart is full of love, the tongue will be full of praise. Our tongues should be as well tuned organs, to sound forth the high praises of God, pleading his cause, defending his truths, avouching his name, and confessing him before the world: “Thy loving‑kindness is better than life, therefore my lips shall praise thee,” (Ps. 63:3). When our hearts are indicting a good matter, our tongues will be as the pen of a ready writer, to speak of the things that, concern the king, (Ps. 45:1), when our hearts are glad, then our glory [i.e., our tongue] will rejoice, (Ps. 16:9; 30:12). O! the little heavenly discourse argues a very sad degeneracy.
3. To sing to the Lord is with our life to glorify him; when the love of our hearts, the calves of our lips, and the service of our lives are presented unto God together, they make a harmonious song: the praise of the life is the life of praise: “Whoso offereth praise, glorifieth me,” (Ps. 50:23). When we devote all the actions of our life to his disposing will, then we sing a song of praise unto God. When we live by faith on the Son of God, for no less is worth the name of life, but what is derived from him, and devoted to him, then we may be said to glorify him in our lives. It is a practical way of singing the praise of God, that is here intended by the Psalmist, as appears from the rest of the psalm.
4. To sing to the Lord is, with our death and sufferings, to glorify him, as well as with our life and actions; thus we are called to glorify the Lord in the fires, (Isa. 24:15). Does God call you to suffer affliction in person, name, estate, family, or concerns; to suffer want of husband, wife, brother, sister, children, or other outward comforts? Why, then, you sing of mercy and judgment by suffering patiently and submissively; and God is as much glorified by your passive obedience as by your active. Whenever you are afflicted any way, believer, know that then God hath some employment for your graces, and expects praise thereby; yea, if he should call you to suffer death and martyrdom for his name, you are to sing his praise, by dying in and for the faith, as well as living by faith. O man, woman! could you die for him that died for you? That is a great matter.” O, it is a small matter to die once for Christ,” said a martyr: “if it might possibly be, I could wish that I might die a thousand deaths for him!”—Thus you see the import of singing to the Lord.
2dly, As to the qualities of this song; or how we are to sing of mercy and judgment. And,
1. We are to sing of mercy and judgment cheerfully. Singing is a cheerful work; we are to sing with melody in our hearts to the Lord, and to make a joyful noise unto God. It is an antedating of the joy of heaven; though you be in a hell of troubles and trials, yet you have reason to praise him that you are not in a hell of fire and brimstone: though you had one hell on your back, and another in your bosom, you have reason to praise him that you are not in the midst of hell, among devils.
2. We are to sing of mercy and judgment highly and loftily, saying, with the angels, “Glory to God in the highest.” We are to praise him with the highest estimation, with the highest adoration, with the highest admiration, with the highest delight, the highest ravishment, the highest wonder: for, as he is highly exalted above all things and beings, and above all blessings and praises; so his mercies are the highest mercies, and his judgments the greatest deep; and, therefore, as we ought to sing loud and high, so ought we to sing low. Therefore,
3. We are to sing of mercy and judgment humbly and lowly. Pride and praise are inconsistent; and therefore we should join trembling with our praise and singing; having awful impressions of God upon our souls, and knowing the infinite distance betwixt, him and us. When the twenty‑four elders sing, they come down from their thrones, and cast down their crowns and their palms, (Rev. 4:10), as if they would say, we are not worthy to sit upon a throne, or to wear a crown in his presence: they make their crowns and their thrones a footstool unto him. When we sing of mercy and judgment, we are to mind, his judgments are a great deep, and we ought to be deeply humbled before him, saying, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!” (Rom. 11:33).
4. We are to sing of mercy and judgment constantly and unweariedly. Every new mercy and judgment should be matter of a new song: and O, his mercies are new every morning, new every moment; and therefore we should still be singing and saying, “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall be continually in my mouth,” (Ps. 34:1). “Let such as love thy salvation, say continually, The Lord be magnified,” (Ps. 11:16). It is true, the saints will never sing without intermission, till they reach above these clouds: It is true also, when they see mercy, they are ready to sing; but when they cannot see the sun of mercy, through the cloud of judgment, they are ready to sigh and hang their harps upon the willows: yet nevertheless, as the obligation to sing does always take place; so they have always [a] matter of praise, and ground to sing of mercy and judgment.
5. We are to sing of mercy and judgment both conjunctly and severally; when you meet with a mercy, sing of mercy; when you meet with a judgment, sing of judgment; when you meet with mercy and judgment both, then sing of mercy and judgment both; and improve both for matter of a song of praise, so as God may be glorified, both in his mercy and judgment.
6. We are to sing of mercy and judgment devoutly and obediently, as knowing it to be a commanded duty. It would take many an hour to tell over all the scriptures, whereby we are called to praise the Lord: it is a good, pleasant, and comely duty; “Praise ye the Lord: for it is good to sing praises unto our God; for it is pleasant, and praise is comely,” (Ps. 147:1). There you see three epithets given to this duty, to move us thereto.
(1.) It is a soul‑enriching duty; it is a good way to make a sad case grow better: the spouse, under desertion, fell a singing and saying, “My Beloved is white and ruddy, the chief among ten thousands:” and never was she in a better case than when in this praising tune. It is good to cry down our complaints with praises; it is good, in that it is all the tribute that the King of heaven can have from us; and to deny him this, is the height of treason, for it is rent due to him; “Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name.” It is good by way of eminency; for it is a greater mark of love than other duties: self‑love may influence a man to prayer; but love to God makes him praise. If you can draw out a long libel of complaints before God, and yet have never a word of praise for the mercies you enjoy, it is to be feared that self-love hath the penning of your prayers. It is a token of enmity with your neighbor, when you receive many favors from him, and never so much as give him thanks; so it is a token of enmity against God, when notwithstanding of his mercies, yet you do not sing his praise. It is every way good.
(2.) It is a pleasant duty: no music does God delight so much in, as singing his praises. It is the pleasant. work of heaven, where new scenes of glory will open; and open, and open to all eternity, and new songs of praise will still be sung forever and ever. It may be you think, when once you come to heaven, you will praise your fill; but now, when so many dead weights are upon you, you cannot, and should not sing and praise; well, no thanks to you to praise him when you are once in heaven; but, if you glorify him now in the fires, and praise him now, in spite of devils and opposition in your way, you do more honor to him than to praise him in heaven, where there is no trouble, no temptation, no sin or sorrow to interrupt your song. To sing like Paul and Silas in the stocks, is more than to sing in heaven; though not more pleasant, yet in some respect it is more honorable, noble, and glorious.—And so,
(3.) It is a comely duty; the garment of praise is a very graceful ornament. An ungrateful and unthankful man is an ugly ill‑favored man; nothing more uncomely in the eyes of God and man. We are to praise him then devoutly, under a sense of duty.
7. In the Last place, we are to sing resolutely, or with holy purpose and resolution; saying, with the Psalmist here, “Unto thee, O Lord, will I sing.” And, because this is a part of the text, I shall show what is imported in the Psalmist’s resolution and the manner of expressing it: “I will sing of mercy and judgment; unto thee, O Lord, will I sing.”
(1.) I think it imports a grounded resolution, that he had got a discovery of the glory of God’s mercy and justice in the face of Jesus Christ; and a discovery of the glory of God in all his merciful and afflictive dispensations. He had a sense and impression of the goodness of God, in all the favors that he met with; and he had a sense and impression of the wisdom of God, in ordering all afflictive providences to his soul’s advantage. “I will sing of mercy and judgment.”
(2.) It imports a grateful resolution, that the spirit of gratitude filled his soul; so much does his resolution to sing import; for it says, that his spirit was sweetened with a sense he had of the kindness of God; his meditation of him was sweet, and that makes him resolve upon such a sweet exercise: he saw what strong and manifold obligations he was under to praise and magnify the name of the Lord.
(3.) I think, the manner of expression imports a cordial resolution: heart and will are engaged in it: there is twice I will in the text; “I will sing of mercy and judgment; unto thee, O Lord, I will sing.” He had a good will to the work: where the understanding is enlightened in the knowledge of God, in his mercy and judgment, there the will is subdued and made willing; willing to praise, willing to glorify God by the obedience of faith and love through grace.
(4.) The manner of expression imports a fervent resolution; so much I think lies in that word, “O Lord, I will do it; to thee, O Lord, I will sing.” To be fervent in prayer, is a notable exercise; but to be fervent in praise, is yet more notable: fervency in seeking is good; but fervency in singing is yet better; “To Thee, O Lord, will I sing.” Perhaps this “O” imports also a wonder; O, I will sing; for thy mercies and judgments are so wonderfully great! O, I will sing with wonder and admiration!
(5.) The manner of expression imports a humble resolution: I cannot sing of merit; but I will sing of mercy, and through mercy I will sing of mercy. To sing of mercy must be a humble song; for mercy towards a miserable sinner is a melting word; and to sing of judgment must be a humble song; for judgment in every sense is an awful word; and the Psalmist breathes out his resolution in a most humble manner, “O Lord, I will sing of mercy and judgment.”
(6.) The manner of expression imports a solemn resolution made in the presence of the great Jehovah; “To thee, O LORD, will I sing: It is not only resolved in his own mind, that he will sing to the Lord, but by way of solemn address to the God of heaven, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; “To thee, O Lord, will I sing: to thee will I give the glory of thy mercy and judgment: behold, I resolve upon it before thee, O Lord.
(7.) The manner of the expression imports a skilful harper, a dexterous musician, even in a spiritual sense; he knew what should be the subject of the song, and therefore says, “I will sing of mercy and judgment:” and he knew what should be the object of the, song, or to whom it should be sung, and therefore says, “To thee, O Lord, I will sing:” he knew who should be the Singer: and therefore says, I will do it: he knew what should be the manner: and therefore says, “I will sing of mercy and judgment; to thee, O Lord, will I sing.” It is before the Lord he resolves to sing, as he did before the ark, which was a type of Christ; and so it is a song to the praise of God in Christ.
(8.) The manner of the expression imports a firm, fixed, and constant resolution; so the redoubling of it seems to import; “I will sing, I will sing.” He had a mind this exercise of singing should not go down, but be his continual trade; “I will sing, I will sing;” I will sing on earth, and I will sing in heaven: I will sing in time, and I will sing through eternity. And indeed, all on whom the Spirit of praise and gratitude is poured out they resolve never to give over singing. And because they know it will not last always in time, nor their harp be still in tune; therefore they resolve, as it were, to make it their great errand to heaven, to sing, to sing there forever; “I will sing, I will sing.” David had heard once, yea twice, that mercy as well as power belongs to the Lord; and therefore, not only once, but twice in a breath, he resolves to sing unto the Lord. The word hath a great deal of elegancy and emphasis in it; I will sing of mercy, I will sing of judgment: O, I will sing; O Lord, I will sing; and I will sing unto thee.”
In a word, it imports, that a God in Christ was the all of the song; even the Alpha and Omega of it, the beginning and the end of it; it was of him, as the Alpha; for the discovery of the mercy of God in Christ brought him to it; “I will sing of mercy and judgment;” and it was to him, as the Omega; for the song is dedicated to the Lord: “To thee, O Lord, will I sing.”—These things, I think, are imported in the manner of the expression, and they may help to regulate our resolutions in singing.
IV. The Fourth head proposed was, Why it is so ordered of the Lord that his people should have ground to sing of mercy and judgment both? why there is both mercy and judgment in their lot, to be the matter of song while in this world?
1. The first reason is, To put a difference betwixt heaven and earth; for in heaven there will be no judgment, no affliction, no desertion, no sin, no song of judgment present, but of judgment past: the song of heaven will be of mercy present, and judgment past, among the triumphant company; but the song of the militant church is of mercy and judgment, both present. Now, we see through a glass darkly, and therefore sing confusedly; but then we shall see face to face, and therefore shall sing distinctly: now we know in part, and sing in part; but then the perfect knowledge will make a perfect song: now we are very unlike to Christ, because we see but little of him, and so the song is but heavy, dull, and flat; but then shall we be like him, for we shall see him as he is, and so the song will be cheerful and ravishing: now, when a mercy raises the song, a judgment bears it down, some cloud or other interrupts the singing; but then there shall be no present judgment, no cloud, no night, no complaint to mar the song, for there the mercy is not mixed with any judgment, nor the joy mixed with any sorrow.
2. The second reason is, That they may put honour upon the divine wisdom, that does so wonderfully reconcile these opposites, such as mercy and judgment are. O the infinite wisdom of God, that can make antipodes meet in a song of praise, and contraries in a hymn of glory to him. O the wisdom that makes mercy and judgment meet together, and kiss one another! O the wisdom that brings the greatest good out of the greatest evil, and the best blessings out of the worst of evils; as out of the first Adam’s sin and fall, brings the second Adam’s glory and honour, and the greatest happiness of his seed! O the wisdom that brings life out of death, light out of darkness, liberty out of bondage, love out of enmity, happiness out of misery, holiness out of sin, joy out of sorrow, mercy out of judgment! O, can we look down to this great depth, without crying with the apostle, “O the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God; how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out?” (Rom. 11:33).
3. The third reason is, That they may be trained up gradually for singing hallelujahs in heaven. They are not yet fit and qualified for singing of mercy without judgment; and though judgment is turned into mercy to the people of God, and so is matter of a song: yet the present sense and feeling that they have of judgment makes the manner of their singing suitable to their imperfect condition, wherein they are not capable to sing of mercy without a mixture of judgment. They are but learning to sing; and by judgment they are disciplined to sing gradually better and better: when mercy does not prevail to make them sing aright, he sends a judgment to make them sing better. They are learning the language of heaven before they go there; but, at their first learning they are but scholars; and need the correction of judgment. If they abuse mercy, and do not sing aright of it there comes a heavy judgment to make them take heed how they sing, and then they learn to sing the seventy‑first verse of the hundred and nineteenth Psalm, saying,
It hath been very good for me,
That I afflicted was,
That I might well‑instructed be,
And learn thy holy laws:
And then they learn to sing the seventy‑fifth verse
That very right thy judgments are,
I know and do confess;
And that thou hast afflicted me,
In truth and faithfulness:
4. The fourth reason is, that the burden of the song may be proportioned to their back. They cannot bear to have all mercy, and no judgment; for then they would swell in pride, and be exalted above measure; they cannot bear to have all judgment, and no mercy; for then they would sink into despair, and be pressed above measure. On the one hand, to sing of nothing but mercy, would be a burden too great and heavy; they find, when their hearts at sometimes are lifted up to a high note, they cannot get praised; they are ready to invite angels, saints, sun, moon, and stars, to help them to praise, for it is too great work for them alone; they cannot get their notes raised high enough; but when the praising frame is over, if nothing but a sense of mercy remain, then having a body of sin that abuses all mercies, some proud thought and self‑exalting imagination, rises in their breasts, and would rise above measure, if it were not kept down with judgment.—On the other hand, to sing of nothing but judgment, would be a damp instead of a song, a melancholy sighing instead of singing: and therefore they are well mixed together in infinite wisdom.
5. The fifth reason is, That their song may be the more melodious. As in natural, or artificial music, there is no melody where there is but one note: there must be different sounds to make the music melodious. I think the apostle speaks after this manner, (1 Cor. 14:7). “Even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sound, how shall it be known what is piped or harped!” So it is here in the spiritual music, whether you look to the consummate song of the redeemed above, or the initial song of the redeemed below, the song of mercy present, and judgment past, makes the sweetest melody in heaven; and the song of mercy and judgment, both present, makes the sweetest melody that can be attained on earth. Mercy and judgment like bass and treble, make holy melody in the spiritual song: here are the different notes of music; mercy makes a high and lofty note, and judgment makes a humble and low note, and both make the song melodious. When a man not only sees mercy, but mercy and judgment, mercy before judgment, and mercy after judgment, and mercy in judgment, and mercy with judgment, and mercy out of judgment, and mercy backing judgment; and mercy blessing judgment, and mercy ordering and disposing judgment, mercy qualifying judgment, and mercy moderating judgment, and mercy sweetening judgment, and mercy rejoicing over judgment, and mercy running through judgment, and mercy at the root of judgment, and mercy at the top of judgment, mercy on this side of judgment, and mercy on that side of judgment, mercy round about judgment, and mercy turning judgment into mercy. O then, how does he sing with melody in his heart to the Lord!—It is to make the song melodious.
6. The sixth reason is, That they may prize both their mercies and their judgments; both their crosses and their comforts, both their rods and reliefs, as both affording matter of a song; and that they may neither on the one hand sport at his mercy, nor on the other hand spurn at his judgments; and that they may neither abuse enlargements, nor despise chastisements, but that they may give both their proper place and room in their hearts and esteem, that they may sing of both, and love the Lord their God in both, and so may love a frowning as well as a smiling God, an absent as well as a present God, a hiding as well as a shinning God, a correcting as well as a comforting God: and that both out of their clear and cloudy days they may pen a song to the praise of his name.—In a word, the Lord orders it so, that their song should be both of mercy and judgment, and puts both in their lot; that, in the view of mercy they may not despair; and, in the view of judgment, they may not presume: that they may sing hopefully, because of mercy, and humbly because of judgment: and that their song may be full, and take in all his dispensations, like the song of Moses and the Lamb: “Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints,” (Rev. 15:3). So much for this head.
V. The Fifth head was the application, in the following inferences. Hence see,
1. That there is an overruling and wise, providence, making all things, whether comforts, or crosses, sweet things or sad things, contribute and cooperate for the good and advantage of the hidden remnant; “We know that all things work together for good, to them that love God, and are the called according to his purpose,” (Rom. 8:28). Mercy and judgment, and all adverse and prosperous things, work together to be the matter of a song: surely there is a wheel within a wheel; there is a secret hand that draws up and tunes all the strings of the harp of providence, to make a sweet song of praise unto God: there is an infinitely wise hand, like that of a cunning player upon his harp, that makes all the most jarring notes to contribute to melody, even as he made the malice of the Jews, the treason of Judas, and the rage of devils, to work for the salvation of an elect world.
2. See the sweetness of true religion, and that wisdom’s ways are pleasantness: a religious life is a singing life, whether providence smile or frown. If a believer sigh and mourn at any time, and be not singing at the same time, it is when religion is at a low ebb with him. You may think religion is a melancholy life, man, because many are the afflictions of the righteous, and judgment may begin at the house of God; but you do not consider, that true religion makes a man to sing of judgment, as well as mercy. Out of all the ups and downs, the vicissitudes and changes, smiles and frowns, of the believer’s lot, the Lord brings a song of praise. Truly, God is good to Israel, whether Israel think it or not; for even judgment will be matter of a song. It is the language of unbelief, when they say of judgment, as Jacob did of his afflictions, “All these things are against me;” but when once the gallant grace of faith takes the field again, it will say, All these are for me, and I will sing of all.
3. See hence the difference betwixt carnal and spiritual mirth, carnal and spiritual singing; betwixt the joy of the world and the joy of the saints. The world may rejoice, if they have, and while they have some outward mercy; but to sing of judgment, when these mercies are withdrawn, is what they know nothing of; nay, take away the world, and then they will say with Micah, “They have taken away my gods, and what have I more?” But spiritual joy can sing in the midst of sorrow, and say, “Though the fig‑tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines, the labor of the olives shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat, the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation,” (Hab. 3:17,18). O sirs, down, down, down with all carnal mirth and worldly joy, in comparison of this; down with singing, piping, and dancing; these things are but folly and madness.
4. Hence see, that the godly need not take any sinful shift, to shun suffering, or any sinful course to shun the cross! for, come the cross when it will, they may even sing with the cross on their back, as Paul and Silas in the stocks, (Acts 16:24,25). Is the godly tempted to make any sinful compliance with the courses of the times? What need he be annoyed, as if his life of outward comforts in a world would be at an end, as if bonds or imprisonments, the loss of worldly goods and enjoyments were abiding him, if he makes not this and the other compliance? What need any annoyment? For his suffering time may be his singing time: “I will sing of mercy and of judgment.” Besides, all his light afflictions here, which last but for a moment, work for him afar more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.
5. Hence see, what a sweet place heaven must be, and what singing must be there: If a song of mercy mixed with judgment here is sweet, and sometimes even ravishing, O what a sweet song is that of the redeemed about the throne, where there is no more judgment, no more sorrow or sin! And little wonder that the believer longs for heaven, seeing his sweetest songs are mixed with sighs, and his mercies with judgments; his sweetest songs here have still this heavy sigh in them, Ah, and Woe is me, that wherever I go in this world, I am always drawing a body of death along with me. O what a happy time is the day of death to a believer, when he shall take an everlasting farewell of all his lusts and idols! O believer, what would you think to be saying, farewell darkness, and welcome everlasting light; farewell enmity, and welcome everlasting love: farewell sorrow, and welcome everlasting joy; farewell all my sins, and heart‑plagues, and strong corruptions, and welcome eternal happiness, and uninterrupted felicity? O would you not say farewell, farewell, with a thousand good‑wills, to all these evil things, and triumphantly say, Glory to God that we shall never meet again? Hence see then, I say, what a sweet place heaven must be, if even judgments, sufferings and temptations to sin here be made matter of joy and singing sometimes to the believer, what shall glory be? If the worst things on earth may contribute to a song, what will the best things in heaven do? If the cross be sometimes so sweet, what will the crown be? If the waters of Marah be made so sweet, what will the wine of paradise be? If God’s rod hath honey at the end of it, what will his golden sceptre have? O! how happy are they who have got the start of us, and are exalted above these visible heavens already, and past all their fears and doubts, and are singing praises without wearying.
6. Hence see, what a black and white garment the believer wears. The garment of praise is a garment of diverse colors; dyed white and black with mercy and judgment: “I am black, but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar, and yet as the curtains of Solomon,” (Cant. 1:5). Not only black in themselves and comely in Christ: black as sinners, and comely as saints; black with sin, and comely with grace: but sometimes black with persecution, and comely with consolation; black with affliction, distress, and judgment, but comely with the mixture of mercy in their cup of adversity, while they get the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. Hence with what heaviness have you gone to prayer! sometime under the sense of inward trouble from your lusts, or some outward trouble from the world; some particular affair about your husband, your wife, your children, your family, that hath been distressing to you: You have in heaviness gone away to God in prayer, and some away with your soul leaping as a hart within you. O believer, you need not shudder or be grieved at the cup of affliction, which your Father gives you to drink; for, though it be bitter at the top, yet the sugar is at the bottom of the cup: “What I do, thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter.”
7. Hence we may see the happiness of the saints, and of all believers in Christ: They may in every thing give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ concerning them; be it prosperity or adversity, mercy or judgment, in life or death; he may sing, that nothing in a world can make him miserable, no losses, crosses, bonds, persecutions, famine, or pestilence. If he may sing of judgment, surely the judgments are not vindictive judgments, but fatherly chastisements; for God deals not with him according to the tenor of the law, as a covenant of works; nay, he is not under the law, nor liable to the penal sanction of it; they are judgments of a fatherly judge, not of a wrathful judge, otherwise he could not sing of judgment. How little cause hath the believer to be discontent at outward trials? What! are you discontent at that, out of which God is bringing a song of praise in time, and a weight of glory through eternity
8. Hence see the misery of the wicked. Whatever matter of singing the children of God have, yet ye have matter of sighing, howling, and lamentation; for ye are under the curse of God, under the curse of his law, and so continue in a dreadful, damnable state: while ye are out of Christ, all the mercies that ye meet with are curses to you, and all the judgments you meet with, are drops of divine indignation, and pieces of hell. Your temporal mercies are curses; “The prosperity of fools destroys them:” and so your table is your snare: spiritual mercies are curses to you; from all the flowers of heavenly blessings you suck poison; the word is the savor of death to you; the gospel is a stumbling‑block to you, over which ye fall into perdition; and as the same wind that blows one ship to an haven, blows another on the rock, so the same breath of the minister, that blows some to heaven, blows you to hell: the sacrament is a curse to you, for ye eat and drink your own damnation; the Bible is a curse to you, for the word of the Lord is against you, and ye are against it. What shall I say to you, graceless, Christless, desperate sinner? O will you tremble and quake, lest Christ himself, the blessing of all blessings, and mercy of all mercies, be a curse to you, and a stone of stumbling, over which you will break your neck! for, he is set up for the falling, as well as the rising of many in Israel. O that this thunder would awaken souls that are sleeping securely in a course of sin? As all mercies are curses to a reprobate world, so judgments are judgments indeed to you that live all your days without Christ; for judgment without mercy is the portion of your cup: every affliction is a judgment of wrathful and vindictive nature unto you. You will say, O for patience under such a trouble and sickness! Poor graceless soul, speaking of patience under trouble: you are thus contending with God, and struggling like a fly under a mountain, and striving to be quiet under that which God hath sent to disturb you. God does not afflict men that are out of Christ to exercise their patience, but to disturb their false peace and security. O that God would awaken you! If God call for famine on the land, and make you feel the effects of this terrible drought,1 it is a judgment indeed, and a pledge of hell unto you; if God lay you on a sick‑bed, and afflict you in your name, estate, persons, friends, all is a piece of hell to you: judgments to you are drops of vengeance. Again,
9. See how reproveable they are, from this doctrine, who never sing of mercy and judgment. Some never sing at all the praises of God; there is a gentle or rather deistical fashion among some in our day, in public ordinances they do not open their mouth to sing with the congregation. O! will they ever sing in heaven, that scorn to sing on earth? Many indeed sing with their mouth, that know not what it is to sing with their heart, nor sing with their life to glorify God. Many never sing of mercy, notwithstanding of their receiving many mercies; they pray for what they want, but never praise for what they have: and there is much of this ingratitude among believers themselves. Many again instead of singing of mercy, they slight their own mercies, and fight against God with his own favors; they abuse their peace to security, their drink to drunkenness, their meat to gluttony, and their mercies to presumption. “Do ye thus requite the Lord, O foolish people and unwise?” Many, if they sing of mercy, they know not what it is to sing of judgment; “When God’s judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world should learn righteousness.” What are ye learning out of this great drought, whereby God is threatening to send a famine on the land, and break the staff of bread? To sing of judgment, is to hear the rod, and who hath appointed it; to sing of judgment, is to see the hand of God in the affliction, to kiss the hand that smites; to glorify God in the fires; to bless him that remembers mercy in the midst of wrath; and to answer the call of God by such and such a dispensation. Many, instead of singing of mercy and judgment, they slight both mercy and judgment; mercy does not melt them, and judgment does not move them: O take with the reproof.
10. See how comfortable this doctrine may be to all believers and lovers of our Lord Jesus Christ; ye have ground to sing, not only of mercy, but of judgment: I know no case you can be in, believer, but there is room for singing: the saint may sing of mercy in the midst of judgment. O how can I sing, when I missed my errand at this occasion? says one: let them give the praise that have got the profit; but for me, I am left under heavy judgment, under affliction, temptation, desertion; yea, and the prevalency and power of sin and corruption; and therefore there is no room for my singing, but rather for my sighing, mourning, and lamenting before the Lord, and to be humbled to the dust. Why, man, indeed it is not humility, but pride, that makes you refuse to praise: you undervalue the day of small things, and any little measure of grace and mercy you enjoy, because, forsooth, you have not all you would be at; and, it may be, God is saying, I will send trouble after trouble upon you, till you be so humbled as to be thankful for the least mercy, till you be thankful that you are out of hell, and thankful that you was not born in America, where people are worshiping the devil. O how many millions of mercies have you to bless God for! And will you take offence at, or differ with your God, and deny him his due, because you get not all your will? You have ground of singing, believer, notwithstanding all that you have said.—O! but how can I sing, when I find sin, by which God is dishonored, raging in my heart; and corruptions, like so many devils, roaring and domineering? If corruption were slain, I think I would sing, but no otherwise. Why, poor soul, I tell you, that you must even in that case sing of mercy and judgment, and sing because he hath said, “Slay them not, lest thy, people forget,” (Ps. 69:11). If your corruptions were slain, as you would have them, you would, perhaps, forget your own weakness; forget your deliverer; forget your dependence on him; forget prayer; forget pity towards these that are afflicted and tossed as you are: it may be you would forget the fountain open; forget to make daily use of Christ; forget to sympathize and bear with others, when they fall or are overtaken in a fault; forget to walk humbly; forget the sweet experiences of his pardoning and purging grace; and forget to call yourself a dog, when you go before him, saying, Truth, Lord, I am a dog, I am a devil, I am a lump of hell: And therefore, though you may think it strange to hear of blessing the Lord that corruptions are not slain outright, yet, since infinite wisdom sees that nothing less will cure your forgetfulness while here? even bless him, who hath said “Slay them not lest my people forget.” Bless him that he hath not only said, of affliction, temptation, desertion, “Let not my people want them, lest they forget;” but even of sins, corruption and spiritual enemies, “Slay them not, lest my people forget;” better they be not slain, than that, you forget to give Christ the glory of his saving offices, by employing him daily to heal all your diseases, and fight all your battles.
11. Hence see the mark of a true believer, and try yourselves by this doctrine. Do you sing of mercy and judgment? I might tell you for marks, that if you have learned this song of mercy and judgment, as the song hath been introduced with sorrowing, I mean with legal conviction and humiliation: so you will find it interrupted with sighing, because all the powers of hell and corruption will oppose this sweet exercise: you will find your harp must perpetually be tuned by the hand of the Spirit, and that you are incapable to sing, till he pen the song; for it is with the believer as with the marigold, it opens and shuts as the sun rises and sets; and yet even when the sun is set as it were, that you cannot open and praise, you will find praise waiting for the Lord in Zion, (Ps. 65:1); or as it may be rendered, “Praise is silent for thee in Zion:” Why? the Spirit of praise is sometimes silent, but yet it is a waiting silence; you will be waiting for the Spirit of praise to be poured out, and in the mean time acknowledging your debt of praise; and so, while it is not sensibly running out, it is gathering a dam, as it were, till the Spirit be poured out from on high, and then it will flow amain [at full speed].—But, instead of all other marks that might be mentioned, I offer this: If you be one that hath learned to sing of mercy and judgment, then you have got a discovery of the glory of God’s mercy and judgment, as reconciled together, and mutually embracing one another in Christ Jesus. There are two letters of God’s name (Ex. 34:6,7), the one is mercy and grace; “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious;” the other is justice and judgment; “The Lord that will by no means clear the guilty:” these are the two strings of the harp on which the believer sings. Now, have you been taught of God to reconcile these two letters of God’s name, and so to play upon these two strings, by admiring the infinite wisdom that hath made them meet together, and kiss one another in Christ? (Ps. 85:10). Have you seen salvation springing out of both these, and glory arising to both these attributes of God, from Christ’s obedience to the death, whom God had set forth to be a propitiation! Have you seen mercy running in the channel of a complete satisfaction to justice, and so God by no means clearing the guilty, without a sacrifice and atonement? Many pretend to sing of mercy, and say, I hope in God’s mercy; but they know not what it is to sing of mercy, to the highest praise of mercy, in finding out a ransom, whereby mercy is magnified, not to the, disparagement, but to the highest praise of infinite justice; because judgment was executed upon the Surety to the uttermost, that the curse of the law, and the vengeance of heaven against sin could demand. If ever you sang to purpose of mercy and judgment, you have seen and admired the glory that shines in this mutual embracing betwixt mercy and judgment.
12. The last inference I offer is this. Hence we may see the duty of all the people of God, namely, to sing of mercy and judgment: As it is the duty of all hearing me to seek and pray while they are out of heaven, so to sing and praise while they are out of hell. But whatever others do, believer, you in particular are to sing of mercy and judgment: he hath done much for others, but he hath done more for you; he hath given you himself to be your God, his Son to be your shield, his Spirit to be your guide, his covenant to be your charter, and his heaven to be your inheritance: he hath given you his word and oath, that though he will visit your iniquity with the rod, and your transgression with stripes, and execute judgment on your lusts, and take vengeance on your inventions, yet his lovingkindness will he not take away, nor alter the word that hath gone out of his mouth. “Once hath he sworn by his holiness that he will not lie unto David;” and therefore you may sing of mercy and judgment: and even at your lowest, when you are crying out, “Behold I am vile! O, I am black, I am black, I am black;” yet even then he is looking upon you in Christ, and saying, “Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair,” not only by imputed righteousness, but even by implanted grace, which makes you look upon sin as the greatest burden: even at your lowest, there is something about the bottom of your hearts, that says, O! I could be content to live in a coal-pit with Christ, rather than in a palace without him; “A day in his courts is better than a thousand; I had rather be a door‑keeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.” O to see his name glorified in the world, and his kingdom coming in me, and in thousands about me! O sing, sing, sing of mercy and judgment! you have both to sing of.
Question: How shall I sing one of the songs of Zion in a strange land? I offer some general directions, and then I close.
1. See that your song be sung upon a new harp; I mean with a new heart and a new spirit. Ye that are graceless will never sing till ye get a new heart: O go to God, and cry for it: ye that are gracious will never sing aright, unless the new harp get a new set, and the strings be drawn up, and the heart tuned by the hand of the Spirit; and therefore seek the new influence for every song, and the Spirit to dictate the song, and to raise the notes. As the dial in the daylight will not shew the hour without the sun, so your harp of graces will not afford melody without the Spirit; therefore seek the Spirit to help you, when you cannot utter his praise: and when you find your hearts in a praising frame, O continue at the exercise, saying, as David, “My heart is fixed, my heart is fixed, I will sing and give praise.”
2. If you would sing aright of mercy and judgment, then you may sing in your best robes; I mean, putting on Christ Jesus, and his righteousness, for your garment; this is the garment of praise; and this garment smells of aloes, myrrh, and cassia, and is the only thing that can perfume the praises of the saints. If you have Esau’s garments, what though you have Jacob’s voice; so as you want a tongue, and a heart, and a voice, to praise him as you ought; yet, with your elder Brother’s garment, you may get the blessing. Come to God under a sense of your own unworthiness, and want of righteousness, and yet saying, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain.” O pray and praise both under the covert of blood.
3. Put a mark upon mercy. If you would sing of mercy, though it were never so little, it is more than you deserve. I heard of a Jewish doctor, that was called Rabbi this too, because he used to say, whatever befell him, This is good too, and this too, and this too; you may well say, how little soever you have, This is more than I am worthy of, and this too, and this too. He that sees that nothing is his but sin, cannot but wonder that anything is his but hell: put a mark upon mercy, saying, “O my soul, forget not all his benefits,” (Ps. 103:2‑5). Mind the visit he gave you at such and such a place, in such and such an ordinance; mind his words of grace, and emanations of love: put up some of the manna in the golden pot.
4. Put a mark upon judgments. If you would sing of judgment, as well as mercy, and lay your account with judgment, let not national judgments pass without remark, that God may get the glory of his holy and just administrations: many judgments are come upon us, and many sad tokens of judgment a‑coming, because of our national apostasy from the work of reformation, our covenant breaking, our perjury, and, O the other rampart abominations of our day. Learn the language of judgment, “Hear the rod,” (See Isa. 24:14). It is matter of singing, that Christ hath a greater concern for his Church than you have; for, The government is upon his shoulders: God will take care of his own church; and Christ hath more care of it than you can have; and, upon all the glory there shall be a defense: but no thanks to a corrupt party, that would set doctrine, discipline, worship, and government, and all, before the wind. God usually brings about church reformation with a judgment, and then will the remnant sing of judgment, when God scums the pot and casts the scum into the fire; as you have it, “She hath wearied herself with lies,” (Ezek. 24:12). O but Scotland hath wearied herself with lies of carnal‑policy, with the lies of court-flattery; and there is a great scum that covers and clouds all our reformation‑light, a great scum of self‑justifying pride, that will rather sacrifice truth, than take with a fault, and rather let truth suffer than her credit: and yet her credit is cracked, ever since her covenant with God was broken, and burnt, and never a hand put forth to take it out of the fire, and renew it, since that time; but yet the covenant shall be on the field, when the scum shall be in the fire. But, what shall we say? there seems to be nothing but scum among us, nothing but filth and baggage: must all go to the fire together? Yea, though it be so, yet a remnant shall sing in the fires, when the scum will be consumed therein, as you see, (Isa. 24:13,14,15). If this shall be done in the isles of the sea, surely the isles of Britain and Ireland are not excluded.—Let not personal judgments and strokes pass without a remark, but let God get the glory of his frowning, as well as of his smiling dispensations; and lay your account with judgments, that you may sing of judgment when it comes. Be not surprised though affliction, temptation, and desertion come upon you, on the back of a communion; God uses to feast his people, to fit them for a trial: days of sweet enlargement are usually like sun-blinks before a shower; as Peter and John were witnesses of Christ’s transfiguration on the mount, that they might next be witnesses of his agony in the garden. Lay your account with trials from heaven, earth, and hell, that having laid your account with them beforehand, you may never forget to sing; yea, lay your account that the Philistines will be upon you Samson: all your lusts and corruptions will be upon you: therefore, “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation;” and that your iniquity get not such hold upon you, that you shall not be able to sing. And therefore,
5. If you would sing aright of mercy and judgment, let your song be a practical song. Here I must tell you that the words, for David’s mercy and judgment that he was resolved to exercise in his government, namely, to be merciful and just: the mercy of God shall teach me to be merciful, and his justice and judgment shall teach me to be just: I will praise thee, by exercising mercy and justice in my station, as a king, and a magistrate. His resolution here is, that the mercy and justice of God should be extolled in his thoughts, expressed in his words, and exemplified in his actions, according to that command, “Keep mercy and judgment, and wait on thy God continually,” (Hosea 12:6). If you would sing of mercy and judgment, then keep mercy and judgment; have you shared of the of God, and mercy will you not be merciful, as your heavenly Father is? Do you know the judgment of God, and will you not be just and righteous, and equal in all your dealings with men, and conversation in the world? David’s song here is a practical song; and you may see, at your leisure, the several notes of this practical song in the following part of the psalm: and do you the same according to your station. One note of his song is, verse 2, “I will behave myself wisely in a perfect way,” &c., i.e., that, through grace, he will act conscientiously and considerately; and in the mean time praying that the Lord would come and dwell with him in his house, “O when wilt thou come to me?” Another note of his song is, verse 3, where he resolves to practice no evil himself, but shuts his eyes from seeing evil. Another note of his song, verses 4 and 5, he will not keep bad servants, nor employ these about him that were vicious; that he would have nothing to do with malicious people, these that were slanderers of their neighbors nor these that are proud and haughty, nor these that were deceitful, and made no conscience of lying and deceit. Another note of his song, verse 6. That he would keep company with them that fear God; that he would keep good company, and honest servants: Yet do not practically sing to the praise of God, if you do otherwise. Another note of his song, verse 8. That he will extend his zeal to the reforming of city and country: we are to study the reformation of manners, and the suppression of vice, in our several stations; being filled with a zeal for the glory of God, the interest of Christ and his truth.—The gospel‑church is the city of the Lord: we are to seek the honour of God in the purity of his church.
6. And lastly, In order to your singing aright this practical song, lay the burden of the song upon the back of the chief musician. Who is the chief Singer? Even Jesus Christ, in whose obedience to the death was raised a song of praise and glory to God in the highest; and by the breathing of whose Spirit alone you can sing and serve the Lord acceptably. He hath said, “Without me ye can do nothing;” and surely without him you cannot sing; therefore depend upon him, who only can make the tongue of the dumb to sing. If there were more dependence on him, the tongue as well as the life of professors would be more employed in singing his praises, and talking of his name, and speaking of his glory. What a sad matter is it, that a dumb devil hath possessed the generality of professors as to spiritual converse? O the idle worldly talk upon Sabbath days: yea, on communion days! Some will go away even from this communion, talking more of the corn and weather, or anything else, than upon the word they have heard, or any soul‑edifying discourse suitable to the occasion.—What said Christ of the possessed man in the gospel? “Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee to come out of him.” O look to him, that he would charge the dumb devil to come out of you, that your tongues may sing his praises, and speak of his glory. How hardening is it to a wicked world, to see professors as carnal and worldly as themselves! O then employ the chief Singer to help you to sing, and plead his promise for this end, “They shall sing in the ways of the Lord, for great is the glory of the Lord,” (Ps. 138:5), yea, he hath promised to give songs in the night of adversity; that is, a song of mercy in the midst of judgment and affliction: “I will give her the valley of Achor for a door of hope, and she shall sing there,” (Hosea 2:15). O believer, whatever be your discouragement and complaint, while surrounded with judgments and trials, let not the world see you damped and discouraged, lest they say, You serve a bad master, that does not allow you to sing. Whatever dead weights you have upon your spirit, which God and you know, ye may tell him of it, and tell some godly person that will sympathize with you in it; but let not the world hear your complaints and discouragements, let them know you serve a good master; and remember how he encourages you to this, saying, “How great is thy loving‑kindness thou hast laid up for them that trust in thee, before the sons of men!” or, as it may be explained, who carry boldly and courageously, under whatever difficulties and dangers, before the sons of men, and glorify God before the world: and therefore, though you may weep in secret places before the Lord, and get to a little more than a sigh or a sob, yet endeavor to sing before the world at least, that they may bring up a good report of religion, and that the world may know you believe what you profess; that yet a little while and you shall return to Zion with songs, and everlasting joy upon your heads, and sighing and sorrowing shall for ever fly away; and that though your body will be laid in the dust within a little time, yet a little while, and the happy and joyful morning of a glorious resurrection is hastening on, when the voice will be heard, “Awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust,” (Isa. 26:19). O sing, sing, amidst all your sorrows and sighing; sing of mercy and judgment, in hope of singing there, where sorrowing and sighing shall fly away. O go away singing, in spite of the devil and corruption; and take Christ the chief Singer along with you, to tune your harp, whensoever the devil puts it out of tune; Go up from the wilderness, leaning upon him, who hath engaged to work in you both to will and to do.
And now, when we are parting, alas! is it not a sore matter that there are many here that will never learn to sing on earth, nor ever be admitted to the very first note of the spiritual song, which is to believe on the Son of God; for, “Without faith it is impossible to please God,” or praise him; and, as they never get to this, so it never cost them an hour’s care, or made them lose an hour’s sleep, that they could not believe on Christ. O wretched man! are you careless and indifferent, whether you sing in heaven among angels, or roar in hell among devils, to all eternity? Yea, there are some here that do not believe there is such a person as Christ in heaven; they have had a fancy about him, by their hearing of him in the gospel, but never had the Son of God, by the Spirit’s revealing him in the heart: and yet you are living careless and secure, in the pursuit of your sins and idols: you are going straight to hell, with a cartload of sermons on your back, and making poor ministers spend their breath and labor in vain, and preaching you to the devil, when they would gladly preach you to Christ. O! shall we part, and not a soul of you be touched and turned to the Lord, or brought to learn any other song, but to sing yourselves asleep in the arms of the devil and your lusts? Some are sleeping in the arms of a black devil, in the pursuit of gross and abominable lusts, of drunkenness, whoredom, Sabbath‑breaking, &c. Others are sleeping in the arms of a white devil, going about to establish a righteousness of his own, resting on their legal duties and prayers: having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof; expecting God will have mercy on them, because they observe several duties of the law, which others neglect; and so singing a false song of mercy, or hope of mercy, while they never knew the judgment of God, nor saw the wonders of God’s executing all the judgments threatened in the law upon the glorious Surety Christ Jesus, nor ever came under that covert to escape the judgment of God: but, while you are strangers to Christ, all your worship is but hypocrisy, your zeal but madness, your faith but fancy, and your work abominable to God. O! will none of you be prevailed with to cry with your heart to the Lord, saying, Lord, pluck me out of the arms of the devil, and as a brand out of the burning? As you would not despise the riches of his mercy, and incur the fury of his judgment, go to a corner, and cry to him, that he would teach you how to sing of mercy and judgment. It may be, the Lord will pity you for his name’s sake. O may the Lord himself chew his glory to you, and make you see mercy and judgment meeting and embracing each other, and with joint harmony carrying on your salvation work, in spite of all the opposing legions of hell; and bring you to put in practice the psalmist’s sweet resolution here, “I will sing of mercy and judgment; unto thee, O Lord, will I sing.”
1 The summer in which this sermon was preached (viz. 1723,) was a very remarkable season for drought, there being scarce one drop of rain during the summer months; on which account many were afraid that the staff of bread would have been cut off from them; though providence interposed, that, by frequent and heavy dews, there was, in the issue, abundance of corn for man, but little provender for the cattle.