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things of this life. But a more enlarged acquaintance with God and his ways will silence every cavil, and oblige us to confess, that however “ clouds and darkness may be round about him, righteousness and judgment are the basis of his throne.” The Psalmist himself for a season was unable to account for the prosperous state of the ungodly, while the righteous were regarded by them as objects of contempt and abhorrence. His reasonings upon the subject could not satisfy his mind: but at last he “ went into the sanctuary of God,” and there learned to estimate the ways of God by a very different standard, and to think those the most happy who were happy for eternity. In the review of this experience, he was led to acknowledge the more than brutish stupidity of his soul, and the benefit which he had received from drawing near to God: “ It is good for me,” says he,” “ to draw near to God.”
In discoursing on these words, we shall shew, I. What is meant by drawing near to God-
We must not suppose that any bodily motion is necessary in order to the drawing nigh to God; since he filleth all space, and is “ never far from any one of us b.” The expression in the text imports a drawing nigh to him, 1. With the mind
[Though “God is a Spirit," and therefore not to be apprehended with bodily eyes, yet man is able, by the exercise of faith, to place him as it were before the eyes of his mind, and thereby to "see Him that is invisible." Nothing can be more absurd or delusive, than to draw a picture of him, as it were, in our imagination, and to present him before us in a way of vision. Whatever yisions were granted to men in former times, it is rather a sense and consciousness of his presence, than a sight of him as present, which we are to expect. We must not look for such a luminous appearance as Moses saw; but it is our privilege to say with David, “I have set the Lord always before med.” When we set God before us, we also set ourselves before him: we summon ourselves into his presence; and endeavour to impress our minds with the conviction that he discerns our inmost thoughts. In this way we may properly be said to draw near to him ; because, though in fact we are no nearer to him than before, yet we are much nearer in our own apprehension ; and the effect upon our own minds is precisely the same as if the approximation were real.] 2. With the heart
a ver. 22. b Acts xvii. 27. c Heb. xi. 27. d Ps. xvi. 8.
[The drawing nigh to God is not a work of the understanding only, but also of the heart e: and the exercises of the one are as necessary as those of the other. Indeed the idea of approaching God without suitable affections, is vain ; since man cannot remain unaffected in the Divine presence; nor would he be approved of God if he did. It is obvious therefore that an acceptable approach to God must be attended with such emotions, as become a sinner in the presence of his Judge, and a redeemed sinner in the presence of his Lord and Saviour. It must be accompanied with a fear of God's majesty, an admiration of his goodnesss, an affiance in his mercy, a love to his name, a submission to his will, a zeal for his glory. These various, feelings must be expressed in such petitions and acknowledgments as the occasion requires. In short, our drawing nigh to God must somewhat resemble Esther's approach to Ahasuerus. She knew that none but the king could help her; and that she must perish if she did not obtain favour in his sight: and therefore, with much preparation of mind, she humbly presented herself before him, and then offered her petition in the manner she thought most likely to prevail.]
Having ascertained the import of drawing nigh to God, we proceed to shewII. The benefit arising from it
There is no other thing under heaven so good for” the soul, as this: 1. There is nothing so pleasant
[We will grant, for argument sake, that the things which this world afford are capable of imparting as much happiness as the votaries of pleasure expect: still the happiness of drawing near to God is incomparably greater. We appear indeed to " speak parables h” when we descant on such a subject as this, because the things we affirm can be known only from
e 1 Cor. xiv. 15.
f Esth. v. 1—4. This whole head might be changed ; and, instead of it, one might shew, How we are to draw nigh to God. This would be more in the common-place way; but it would be easier, and perhaps more profitable to the lower class of hearers.
6 Lam. iii. 25. h Ezek. xx. 49.
Scripture and experience: and people have an easy way of setting both these aside. The words of Scripture are represented as high eastern metaphors: and the experience of the primitive saints is supposed to be confined to the earlier
ages of the Church. And with respect to the experience of living saints, that is derided as enthusiasm. But there is a blessedness in communion with God, whether man will admit it or not. To the ungodly it is an irksome task to approach God; but to the godly it is their chief joy. The Psalmist justly says, “ Blessed is the man, O Lord, whom thou choosest, and causest to approach unto thee i.” But how shall we describe this blessedness? How shall we paint the lowly self-abasing thoughts which lead a man to prostrate himself in the very dust before God? How shall we express the wonder and admiration with which he is filled, when he contemplates the goodness of God towards him? How shall we declare the ardour of his feelings when he is adoring that Saviour who bought him with his blood? We do not say, that any man feels at all times the same rapturous and exalted joys; but we do
say, that the joys of those who live nigh to God are at some seasons “ unspeakable and full of glory k," an earnest and foretaste of heaven itself.] 2. There is nothing so profitable
[Not to mention the pardon and acceptance which flow from communion with God, it is certain that it will restrain from sin. The presence of a fellow-creature, yea, even of a child, will restrain men from the commission of crimes, which in secret they would perpetrate without remorse. How much more then would a consciousness of God's presence awe us, if we felt it as we ought!! The falls and apostasies of those who profess religion always originate from, or are preceded by, a secret departure of the heart from God.
It will also console us in trouble. David, both on this and many other occasions, found prayer the best means of composing his spirit when it was harassed by temptations or persecutions m And did any one ever apply this remedy in vain ? When we have complained to man only, we have felt the pressure of our burthens still, and groaned under them as much as ever : but when we have carried our complaints to God, we have almost invariably had our murmurs silenced, our agitations tranquillized, our spirits comforted. God has fulfilled to us his promise, “ Call upon me in the time of trouble, and I will hear thee, and thou shalt glorify men."
i Ps. Ixiv. 5. k 1 Pet. i. 5.
1 Ps. iv. 4. m ver. 3, 13, 17. See also Ps. lxix. 17, 18. and cxvi. 3—5. - Ps. 1. 15.
It will moreover strengthen us for duty. We should not so often faint in the way of duty, if we waited more constantly upon our God. He" would renew our strength as the eagle's?" he would "give us more grace P,” even
grace sufficient for us.” However weak we are in ourselves, we should be able to do all things through the strength which he would impart unto us." By drawing nigh to God, our humility is increased, our faith invigorated, our hope quickened, our love inflamed, and the whole work of grace advanced in our souls.
Lastly, it will prepare us for glory. Nothing transforms us into the Divine image so much as communion with God. When Moses continued with God for a season upon the holy mount, his face contracted a radiance which was visible to all who beheld him. And, though no bright effulgence will now adorn the countenances of those who live nigh to God, yet a glory will shine around their paths, a lustre which will compel others to “ take notice of them, that they have been with Jesus
By “ beholding his glory they will be changed into the same images,” and be progressively fitted to "see him as he ist,"] ADDRESS1. Those who never draw near to God at all
[How many are there of this description! You rather say to him in your hearts, “ Depart from usu :" and, in so doing, you pass sentence upon yourselves: you even inflict on yourselves, by anticipation, the punishment prepared for you? God assures you, that “ all who are far from him shall perishy. O that you might tremble at the denunciations of his wrath, and not bring upon yourselves the bitter experience of it in the eternal world!]
2. Those who draw nigh to him, but only in a formal manner
[Your state is as dangerous and deplorable as if you lived ever so far from God: for it is to no purpose to “ draw nigh to him with your lips, while your hearts are far from him?.” “ Bodily exercise profiteth nothing a :" you must have " the power of godliness as well as the form.
“ God is a Spirit : and, if you do not worship him in spirit and in truth°," your service is a mockery, and your hope a delusion. Be in earnest therefore in your walk with God: for as your formal duties, whether in the Church or closet, bring with them neither pleasure nor profit, so will they ultimately deceive you to your ruin. On the contrary, if you really draw nigh to God, and “stir up yourselves to lay hold of him," he will draw nigh to you, and load you with his richest benefits d.”]
o Isai. xl. 31.
9. c John iv. 24.
P Jam. iv. 6.
a Phil. iv. 13.
3. Those who find their happiness in communion with God
[This is the character of all the saints: "they are a people nigh unto Gode:” “truly their fellowship is with God, and with his Son Jesus Christ?.” It is true, that there is no merit in this; and it arises only from the grace of God, which effectually worketh in them: nevertheless God admires and applauds their conduct: viewing them with a kind of rapture and surprise, he says, “ Who is this that hath engaged his heart to approach unto me?" Happy, happy are the people who can say, “Lord, it is I,” “ Lord, it is I.” Continue then and increase your diligence in walking with God. Then you shall not only say now, “It is good for me to draw nigh to God;" but you shall one day add with ten-fold emphasis, “ It is good for me to have drawn nigh to God:” yes; if now you can look back upon your seasons of communion with God as the best and happiest hours of your life, much more shall you, when your intercourse with him shall be more immediate, and you are dwelling in the very bosom of your God.) d Jam. iv. 8.
e Ps. cxlviii. 14. f 1 John i. 3.
& Jer. xxx. 21.
DCXXVIII. GOD'S INTEREST IN HIS PEOPLE. Ps. lxxiv. 22. Arise, O God! plead thine own cause. NO one can have ever heard or read the account given us of Abraham's intercession for Sodom, without being struck with the condescension of God in suffering a poor sinful worm so to urge his requests as to make every fresh concession an occasion of still larger demands. Yet, methinks, the petition offered in my text is incomparably more bold than perhaps any other that was ever offered by fallen man.
In unfolding this petition, I will shew you, I. That there is an identity of interests between God
and his people, This the psalm before us clearly proves—