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Settled in Heaven

by Thomas Manton

It is of the utmost importance for the reliability and stability of the Christian's hope that he has a firm ground for his confidence. The one hundred and nineteenth psalm directs us to the source of our hope - the unchanging, preserved Word of God.

In his classic work on this psalm Thomas Manton has much wisdom to impart. We give here in the first of two instalments his sermon on the words in verse 89: "Thy word is settled in heaven." In the previous sermon he has stated of the first branch of the text "Forever, O LORD ") that it asserts "the eternity of God" and of this second branch that it asserts "the constancy and permanency of his word."

This article was published in thePresbyterian Standard in two parts: Issue No.11, July-September 1998 and Issue No. 12, October-December 1998.

"For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven."
- Psalm 119:89.

T HIS will bear two senses:1. Relating to God's decree, made in Heaven. 2. That of an emblem of its constancy, is in Heaven.

1. 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 will.

2. 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

DOCTRINE. - 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.

1. I shall give you the reasons.

2. The emblem and representation.

3. The profit and usefulness of this meditation.

First, The reasons. 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.

1. 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.

2. 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 purpose.

3. 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.

Secondly, 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 and chances.

1st, 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.

2ndly, 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.

Thirdly, The profit of this meditation.

1st, 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).

2ndly, 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 consolation.

3rdly, 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.

4thly, 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 flesh.

5thly, 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.

USE I. - 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.

USE II.- 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?

USE III.- 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,-

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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 3:19).

4. 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.

5. 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 earth.

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.