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"For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven."
- Psalm 119:89.
HIS will bear two senses:1.
Relating to God's decree, made in Heaven.
That of an emblem of its constancy, is in Heaven.
It may be referred to God's decree, "Thy word is settled in Heaven," in thy mind and will.
The words of temporal kings are on earth; and therefore their laws and
edicts are subject to many changes, and are often revoked and altered,
either by themselves or by their successors; but the word of God is
above all changes and alterations, as being decreed in Heaven. It is
preached on earth, believed on earth, fulfilled on earth; but decreed
in Heaven, fixed and settled there by God's unalterable purpose and
That in Heaven there is an emblem of it.
It is usual in Scripture to set forth the stability and constancy of
God's word by this similitude: as, "Mercy shall be built up for ever;
thy faithfulness shalt thou establish in the very heavens" (Psa. 89:2).
So, when it is compared with the covenant of the day and night: "Thus
saith the Lord, If ye can break my covenant of the day, and my covenant
of the night, and that there should not be day and night in their
seasons; then may also my covenant be broken with David my servant"
(Jer. 33:20 , 21). So Jer. 31:35-37. This sense I incline to, because,
in the next verse, it is compared with the stability of the earth. Well
then, his word is settled in Heaven; partly, because the heavens stand
fast by the same word by which they were first made: "And God said, let
there be light, and there was light" (Gen. 1:3); "Let there be a
firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from
the waters" (verse 6). And partly, because the being and order of
Heaven showeth the settledness of God's word, as the heavens were
created, and settled in a course which they constantly observe in their
motions; and this duration and equability in the motion is so exact,
that men can foresee eclipses long before they happen; therefore the
Psalmist saith, "The sun knoweth his going down" (Psalm 104:19); that
is, keepeth so to the just points of his compass, as if he were an
intelligent agent, and knew the exact time when to set and rise. Now,
when we lift up our eyes to Heaven, and see how punctually and exactly
the order is observed, which is once settled by God's will, even from
the beginning of the world to this day no remarkable change hath been
observed, the heavenly bodies keep their tenor and course, and by their
constant motions distribute their light and influence to the world, and
this from their first creation, and all because he hath said, 'It shall
be so;' in the strength of his word, they abide: this continuance of
the heavens, showeth the permanency of his
- That God's word is of an eternal truth and immutable constancy.
By his word is principally meant the Gospel covenant. It is said by the
Prophet Isaiah, "The grass withereth, and the flower fadeth; but the
word of our God shall stand for ever" (40:8); and the Apostle Peter,
quoting and improving the same place, saith, "The word which by the
Gospel is preached unto you" (1 Peter 1:25). And more especially the
promise of eternal life; for that is opposite to the fading glory of
the present life, and is the eternal effect of the word of God abiding
in our hearts; when all other things fade and decay, this blessed
estate, offered in, and conveyed by, the Gospel, will not fail us.
I shall give you the reasons.
The emblem and representation.
The profit and usefulness of this meditation.
In every promise, that it be certain and firm, three things are required.
1st, That it may be made seriously and heartily, with a purpose to perform it.
2ndly, That he that hath promised, continue in his purpose without change of mind.
3rdly, That it be in the power of him that promiseth, to perform what he hath so promised.
Now, of all these things there can be no doubt.
Certainly God meaneth as he speaketh, when he promiseth to give eternal
life to those that believe and obey the Gospel. There is no question
but he is so minded, when he hath written a book to assure the world of
it; for what need God to court the creature with an imaginary
happiness, or to tell them of a glorious estate which he never meant to
bestow upon them? Yea, why should "Amen," the "faithful witness," come
from Heaven, further to assure us of it by his doctrine, die the death
to purchase it for us, and afterward rise again, and enter into that
happiness which he spake of, that our "faith and hope may be in God?"
(1 Peter 1:21). Why should he, as soon as he was ascended, give gifts
unto men, send forth messengers into the world to preach this doctrine,
and give notice of this blessed estate to be had upon these terms, and
attest it by divers signs and wonders, partly to alarm the drowsy world
to regard it, and assure the incredulous world of the truth of this
salvation? (Heb. 2:3,4). Not to believe that God is serious in all
this, is to make him a liar indeed; yea, to establish a lie and
falsehood with great solemnity.
That God doth continue his purpose, there is no doubt, if we consider
his eternal and unchangeable nature: "For I am the Lord, I change not:
therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed" (Mal. 3:6); and, "With
whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning" (James 1:17). And
what should alter his purpose? Doth he meet with anything that he
foresaw not, and knew not before? God doth never repent and call back
his grant, that he hath by this act of grace ensured eternal happiness
to the saints on such terms: "The strength of Israel will not lie nor
repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent" (1 Sam. 15:29);
"The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever
after the order of Melchisedeck" (Psalm 110:4). Christ is instated in
full power of entertaining and blessing his faithful servants, which
shall never be retracted. To take off all doubt, he hath given us
double assurance, his word and his oath: "God, willing more abundantly
to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel,
confirmed it by an oath; that, by two immutable things, in which it was
impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have
fled for refuge," etc. (Heb. 6:17,18). God hath ever been tender of his
word; above all that is famed, or believed of God, this is most
conspicuous: "Thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name" (Psalm
138:2). Now, this needed not; for an oath is interposed in a doubtful
matter; but it showeth God's extraordinary care for our satisfaction;
his good will is seen in the promise, his solicitude in the oath. In
short, God would never be so fast bound, but that he doth continue his
That he is able to perform it: "With God all things are possible"
(Matt. 19:26); "Being fully persuaded that what he had promised, he was
able to perform" (Rom. 4:21); "According to the working whereby he is
able even to subdue all things to himself" (Phil. 3:21). He is able to
find out a way whereby sinners may be reconciled, sanctified, subdued
by his Spirit; whereby his interests may be preserved in them, against
the assaults of the Devil, the world, and the flesh; finally, able to
raise our bodies after eaten out by worms, and turned into dust.
Matters of faith being chiefly or mainly future and to come, and
difficult to be performed, therefore an express belief of God's power
is necessary. To convert such an obstinate, and to sanctify such a
sinful creature, and to raise the dead, are no slight things.
The emblem of this immutable constancy: it is settled in the heavens
; it is not measured by the floating estate of things here upon earth,
but by the perfection of the heavens, which are free from all changes
They are fit emblems of the stability of the word; for they continue to
be what his word once made them to be: there is no justling among the
stars, but all obey God's word and law: "Praise him, ye heavens of
heavens, and ye waters that be above the heavens. Let them praise the
name of the Lord; for he commanded, and they were created, he hath also
stablished them for ever and ever: he hath made a decree which shall
not pass" (Psalm 148:4-6). So that, when a believer looketh up to
Heaven, there he seeth the book of the creatures opened, wherein he
beholdeth God's constancy and certainty written in indelible
characters. God's powerful voice did first separate the waters from the
waters; and those celestial bodies move in that order wherein God hath
set them. Now, is not this a help to us, when we open the book of
Scriptures, and compare the one with the other, how the stated course
of nature and the stated course of grace agree with his power? For, as
long as you trust in God's word, you can never fail; for both Heaven
and earth are sustained by it: "Upholding all things by the word of his
power" (Heb. 1:3). All is easy to God; for he preserveth the heavens in
that estate wherein they are governed, and can preserve his people in
the most difficult cases.
God's constancy and truth doth appear in the heavens also; there is a
witness there of his eternal truth; for, when he had once said, "Let
there be heavens," etc., they presently were, and ever since have kept
one constant tenor and course; yea, Heaven shall sooner fail than God's
word fail: he will not retract what he hath once said; and therefore
his word is more firm and stable than the frame of Heaven and earth:
"Till Heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise
pass from the law, till all be fulfilled" (Matt. 5:18); "Heaven and
earth shall pass away; but my words shall not pass away" (Matt. 24:35).
So that God's word is more stable than Heaven and earth.
The profit of this meditation.
That we may set the sureness of this word against the diffidence and
distrustfulness of our own hearts: "Slow of heart to believe" (Luke
24:25). Though God hath so firmly bound himself to the creature by his
own word, yet the promise to us seemeth doubtful and uncertain,
especially when men are clouded with troubles and temptations; for we
look only to present sense, and would not be put on any trial. Now, it
is comfortable to remember, that the order and course of nature is not
so settled as the grace of the covenant is: let it have its course,
resolved and patient obedience will at length end in eternal happiness;
and therefore we should build surely, upon a firm foundation, that we
may not stagger through unbelief, but give glory to God (Rom. 4:20).
To comfort us when our hopes are delayed. In due time the promise
cannot want the effect (Heb. 6:12). There will be day and night, summer
and winter, in their season; therefore, as in the night we wait for
day, and in the winter for summer, so must we wait for our eternal
To support us against the various changes in the state of worldly
things. Many things fall out in this world that breed trouble in us:
therefore, if we should only look to the present state of things, our
hearts would float up and down; but we must look to the immutable
constancy of God's word, that is a sure rock for the anchor of hope to
take hold on. There is a sure rule to walk by, sure promises to build
on, if we would be everlastingly happy. There are "the sure mercies of
David" (Isa. 55:3). The changes of this world perplex our faith;
therefore, we should not look to the instability of things below,
wherein there are continual vicissitudes, but to the sure covenant.
Not only when our hopes are delayed and obscured by the changes and
chances of this world, but contradicted by contrary appearances; God
seemeth to cast us off, to have no pleasure in us. Now, to bear up our
faith in the hardest condition, that we may say, "Though he slay me,
yet will I trust him" (Job 13:15), and believe in hope against hope, we
should remember the settledness and constancy of his word. The promises
stand firm in Heaven, when they seem to fail on earth. God may cover
himself with frowns, and his dispensations may seem contrary to his
intention; as Joseph spake roughly to his brethren, when he meant to
discover himself to them, or as Christ dealt with the woman of Canaan
(Matt. 15). But when there seemeth to be such a contradiction between
the word and works of God; when his voice is sweet like Jacob's, and
his hand rough like Esau's, we must remember that the smart rod is
consistent with covenant love (Psa. 89:32). And we must not interpret
the promise of God by his providential dealing with us, but rather his
dealing by his promises; his promise being as the light part of the
cloud, and his dealing and sharp afflictions belong to his faithfulness
(Psa. 119:75). Many times that is best for us, not what we think best,
but what God thinks best. The buffetings of Satan and oppositions of
the world may be most wholesome to us, though not most pleasing to the
To wean us from the fading vanities of the world (Isa. 40:8, & 1
Pet. 1:24). There is nothing firm and lasting in this world, till we
lift up our eyes to Heaven, and seek a happiness in the promises (1
John 2:17). Our happiness lieth not in the present life, but in the
everlasting enjoyment of God: in the covenant, all is settled and sure,
but, in the world, all is unstable and uncertain. God's covenant
provideth for us eternal joy and bliss.
To show what contrary and different conclusions the carnal and
spiritual will draw from the same principles. The scoffers said, "Where
is the promise of his coming? for, since the fathers fell asleep, all
things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation" (2
Pet. 3:4). Because the whole frame of nature had kept one constant
tenor and course, they plead for the eternity of the world and the
falsehood of the promises. Now, David reasoneth quite the contrary way.
They see the mercy of God, that the things of nature keep ordinarily
one constant course, and are not terrified with the frequent change
thereof; yea, they are thereby confirmed in the belief of the Lord's
constancy and faithfulness. But men in love with their lusts, make a
woeful use of this consideration, hardening themselves in their conceit
that there shall never be a change, and so sin more securely. See the
like in other things: 1 Cor. 7:29; 15:32; Jude 24; Rom. 6:2; 2 Sam.
7:2, with Hag. 1:2; 1 Sam. 3:18; etc.
Whenever you look to Heaven, remember that within you have a God, who
hath fixed his residence and shown his glory there, and made it the
seat both of his mercy and justice. You have also there a Saviour, who,
after he had died for our sins, sat down at the right hand of Majesty,
to see his promises accomplished, and by his word to subdue the whole
world. There are angels that "do his commandments, hearkening to the
voice of his word" (Psa. 103:20). There are glorified saints, who see
God face to face, and dwell with him for evermore, and came thither by
the same covenant which is propounded to us, as the charter of our
peace and hope. Without, we see the sun and moon, and all the heavenly
bodies, move in that fixed course and order wherein God hath set them;
and will God show his constancy in the course of nature, and be fickle
and changeable in the covenant of grace, wherein he hath disposed the
order and method of his mercies?
To cure our unbelief, by considering how God's grace is settled in the
covenant, so as to leave no cause or occasion of doubting or suspecting
the truth and certainty of those blessings which he hath promised us.
And shall we live in jealousy, as if we were not upon such sure terms
with God? If we transact with another about certain benefits, the
transaction may prove to no purpose, if the matter about which we
contract with them hath no being, or the terms be impossible, or the
conveyance be not firm and strong, so as to hold good in law. Now, none
of these can be imagined in our entering into covenant with God. For,-
Eternal life is not a chimera, or a thing that hath no being; you might
run uncertainly (1 Cor. 9:26), if it were a dream or a well-devised
fable. No; it is the greatest reality in the world (Heb. 4:9): we
cannot be mistaken, we see it before us in the promises so confirmed.
It is not upon impossible terms, but such as are performable by the
grace of God: "By grace are ye saved, through faith; and that not of
yourselves, it is the gift of God" (Eph. 2:8). And the Apostle telleth
us, it is of grace, that it may be sure to all the seed (Rom. 4:16). It
is grace maketh it sure; God giveth what he requireth. There are
conditions that concern making covenant and keeping covenant. First,
conditions for making covenant: "I will give them a heart to know me
that I am the Lord" (Jer. 24:7); "A new heart also will I give you, and
a new spirit will I put within you" (Ezek. 36:26). After this, for
keeping covenant. This is a covenant that keepeth us as well as we keep
it: "I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart
from me" (Jer. 32:40): so, there is a promise of influence: "I will put
my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye
shall keep my judgments and do them" (Ezek. 36:27). This to prevent the
danger of discovenanting.
Or, that the conveyance be not strong and firm, so as to make a plea in
law; for it is as strongly confirmed as anything can be by God's word
and oath, as before it is upon record in Heaven among the ancient
decrees of God. It is written in the word for our comfort; yea, upon
our hearts. It is sealed by the blood of Christ (Heb. 9:16,17), sealed
by the Spirit (Eph. 1:13). And therefore the conveyance will bear a
plea both now in prayer, and hereafter before the tribunal of God; we
may show him his promises, plead the satisfaction of Christ, as he
pleadeth it in Heaven (Heb. 9:24). But where is there room for any
doubt? If any, it must be of your qualification; for on God's part all
is ordered and sure; and there two things. First, that all the
qualifications of the Gospel must be evangelically interpreted, not
legally; not in absolute perfection, but pre-valent degree (Mark 9:29,
& Song 5:2). Secondly, your only way to obtain comfort, is to make
the qualification more explicit: "Whoso keepeth his word, in him verily
is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him" (1
John 2:5); and, "Hereby we know that we are of the truth" (1 John
Let nothing that is uncertain keep you from this blessed and sure
covenant. All things without it are uncertain. Riches are uncertain (1
Tim. 6:17). The like may be said of honours, they are slippery places;
of friends, health, life itself. Now, do not forsake your own mercies,
for lying vanities. Some vain thing or other taketh us off from God,
and seeking his favour,which will certainly prove a lie to you;
therefore employ your time, care, and thoughts, about these things.
If the covenant be settled, never expect to alter it, or modify it, and
bring it down to your fancies and humours. It is God only that can
prescribe conditions and laws of commerce between us and him: man is
not allowed to prescribe the conditions, or treat about the making of
them, but is only bound to submit to what God was pleased to prescribe,
and to fulfil the conditions without disputing. They are not left free
and indifferent for us to debate them, and modify, and mitigate, and
bring them down to our own liking and humour. We are to take hold, not
to appoint (Isa. 56:4, & Rom. 10:3); so that it bindeth our duty,
as well as assureth our comfort. Our vote cometh too late to retract
and alter God's eternal decrees. What would you have to be done for
your freedom from Hell and the wrath of God?
Oh! that God would alter those severe constitutions which he hath made,
and not insist so strictly on the self-denying duties required in the
Gospel covenant, for the salvation of sinners! You may as well ask that
God should repeal the ordinances of nature, turn night into day, and
day into night, for your sakes.
But, if the Gospel covenant were repealed, that you may be more secure,
what then? In what a case are you then? What will you hold by then? You
have no hope, if the Gospel stand in force; but what hope would you
have, if the Gospel were abolished? Must the whole world be ruined to
establish your security and indulgence to sin? Oh! surely this Gospel,
thus stated, hath more stability than the foundations of Heaven and
Therefore, expect nothing to be altered for thy sake: the Gospel
constitution, it was settled long before thou wert born; and it is an
unalterable decree, which cannot be reversed.
All this is spoken, to confute them that look upon the Gospel as true,
and to be believed, till they meet with something which crosses them;
and then they hope it is not so.
In short, God is true when he promises, true when he threatens, true when he commandeth.
Or thus, if the Gospel covenant be false, thou hast no ground of hope; if true, it doometh licentious sinners to eternal destruction.