by Thomas Manton
Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not to covetousness—Psalm 119:36.
IN the former verses David had asked understanding and direction to know the Lord's will; now he asketh an inclination of heart to do the Lord's will,
The understanding needs not only to be enlightened, but the will to be moved and changed.
Man's heart is of its own accord averse from God and holiness, even then when the wit is most refined, and the understanding is stocked and stored with high notions about it; therefore, David doth not only say, 'Give me understanding,' but 'Incline my heart.' We can be worldly of ourselves, but we cannot be holy and heavenly of ourselves; that must be asked of him who is 'the father of lights, from whom cometh down every good and perfect gift.' They that plead for the power of nature shut out the use of prayer; for if by nature we could determine ourselves to that which is good, there would be no need of grace; and if there be no need of grace, there is no use of prayer. But Austin hath said well, Natura vera confessione, non falsa defensione, opus habet—we need rather to confess our weakness than defend our strength. Thus doth David, and so will every broken-hearted Christian that hath had an experience of the inclinations of his own soul; he will come to God and say, 'Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not to covetousness.'
In which words there is something implied and something expressed. That which is implied is a confession; that which is expressed is a supplication. That which he confesseth is the natural inclination of his heart to worldly things, and by consequence to all evil; for every sin receiveth life and strength from worldly inclinations. That which he begs is, that the full bent and consent of his heart may carry him out to God's testimonies. Or, briefly, here is—
1. The thing asked, incline my heart.
2. The object of this inclination, expressed positively, unto thy testimonies; negatively, and not unto covetousness.
Here is the object to which, and the object from which. To which, 'Incline me to thy testimonies,' and suffer me not to decline to worldly objects, expressed here by the lust which is most conversant about them, 'covetousness.'
Let me explain them more fully. 'Incline my heart;' the word implies—
1. Our natural obstinacy and disobedience to God's law; for if the heart of man were naturally prone, and of its own accord ready to obedience, it were in vain said to God, 'Incline my heart.' Ay! but till God bend us the other way we lie averse and awkward from his commandments. As God is said here to incline us, so, John 6:44, he is said to draw us. There is a corrupt will which hangs back, and desires anything rather than that which is right. We need to be drawn and bent again like a crooked stick the other way.
2. It implies God's gracious and powerful act upon the soul, whereby the heart is fixed and set to that which is good, when there is a proneness another way; this is the fruit of effectual grace.
Now let us see when the heart is inclined, and how this is brought to pass.
1. When is the heart said to be inclined? I answer—When the habitual bent of our affections is more to holiness than to worldly things; for the power of sin stands in the love of it, and so doth our aptness for grace in the love of it, or in the bent of the will, the strength of desire and affections by which we are carried out after it. Amor meus est pondus meum, eo feror quocunque feror—our love is the weight that is upon our souls. Nothing can be done well that is not done sweetly. Then are we inclined, when our affections have a proneness and propension to that which is good. Now these affections must be more to holiness than to worldly things; for by the prevalency is grace determined, if the preponderating part of the soul be for God. It is not an equal poise; we are always standing between two parties. There is God and the world; a sensitive good drawing one way, and there is a spiritual good draws us another way. Now grace prevails when the scales are cast on grace's side. I say it is the habitual bent, not for a pang; the heart must be set to seek the Lord: 1 Chron. 22:19, 'Now set your heart and your soul to seek the Lord your God;' and the course of our endeavours, the strength and stream of our souls runs out this way; then is the heart said to be inclined to God's testimonies.
2. How is it brought to pass? or how doth God thus reduce and frame our hearts to the obedience of his will? There are two ways which God useth—by the word and by his Spirit, by persuasion and by power; they shall be 'taught of God,' and they are 'drawn of God:' John 6:44, 'The Lord will allure Japheth;' so he works by persuasion, Gen. 9:27; and then by power, Ezek. 36:26, 27, 'I will cause you to walk in my ways,' &c. God tempers an irresistible strength and sweetness together, fortiter pro te, Domine, suaviter pro me. He worketh as God, therefore he works strongly and invincibly; but he persuades men as men, therefore he propounds reasons and arguments, goes to work by way of persuasion; strongly according to his own nature, sweetly according to man's, by persuasions accompanied by the secret efficacy of his own grace. First he gives weighty reasons, he casts in weight after weight till the scales be turned; then he makes all effectual by his Spirit. Morally he works, because God will preserve man's nature and the principles thereof; therefore he doth not work by violence, but by a sweet inclination, alluring and speaking comfortably unto us: Hosea 11:4, 'I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love.' God knows all the wards of man's heart, and what kind of keys will fit the lock; therefore he suits such arguments as may work upon us, and take us in our month, and then really and prevailingly, so as the effect may follow. Surely God hath more hand in good than Satan hath in evil; otherwise man were as praise worthy for doing good as reprovable for doing evil. God inclines the heart to that which is good, and persuades it by his grace. God knows how to alter the course of our affections by his secret power, therefore doth not only lead, but draw, works intimately upon the heart.
Unto thy testimonies, so the word of God is called, for it testifieth of his will. There we have a clear proof and testimony how God stands affected to every man, what kind of affection God hath to him.
And not to covetousness. Mark the phrase 'incline,' &c. Doth God incline us to covetousness? No; but he permits us to the inclinations of our own hearts, justly denying his grace to those that do offend him, and upon the suspension of his grace nature is left to her own sway: the presence of the master or pilot saves the ship, his absence is the cause of the shipwreck. And so the schools say, God inclines to good efficienter, working it in us; and to evil deficienter, withdrawing his grace from us. A like expression you have Ps. 141:4, 'Incline not my heart to any evil thing.' God may as a lord do what he pleaseth with his own; and as a just judge may give over our hearts to their own natural wicked inclination; therefore David deprecates it as a judicial act.
'Not to covetousness.' This is mentioned because our too much love to worldly things is the special hindrance of obedience; it takes off our hearts from the love and care of it. And then, when he saith 'Not to covetousness,' he herein implies his own esteem and choice, as preferring God's testimonies above all riches; and possibly intimates the sincerity of his aims, that he would not serve God for temporal advantages and worldly respects. Satan accuseth Job for such a perverse respect: Job 1:9, 'Doth Job serve God for nought?' David, to prevent such a surmise, that he was not led by any thought of gain to desire godliness, saith, 'To thy testimonies, and not to covetousness.'
Two points offer themselves from these words:—
1. That it is God alone that sets our hearts right, or inclines them from their carnal bent to his own testimonies.
2. That covetousness, or the flagrant desire of worldly things, is a great let or hindrance from complying with God's testimonies.
Doct. 1. That it is God alone that sets our hearts right, or inclines them from their carnal bent to his own testimonies.
That I shall illustrate by these considerations:—
First, The heart of man must have an object unto which it is inclined or whereunto it doth cleave; for it is like a sponge, that being thirsty in itself, sucks in moisture from other things; it is a chaos of desires, seeking to be filled with something from without. We were made for another, to be happy in the enjoyment of a being without us; therefore man must have something to love; for the affections of the soul cannot lie idle and without an object: Ps. 4:6, 'The many will say, who will show us any good?' We all hunt about for a match for our affections, for some good to satisfy us.
Secondly, The heart being destitute of grace, is wholly carried out to temporal things. Why? Because they are next at hand, and suit best with our fleshly natures. I say, out of a despair of meeting with better, we take up with those objects that we are most conversant about, which are carnal contentments, the good of which we can apprehend and relish with our natural faculties. There are two reasons of the addictedness that is in man's heart to temporal things—(1.) Natural inclination; and (2.) Inveterate custom.
1. Natural inclination. That there is a greater proneness in us to evil than good is clear, not only by scripture but by plain experience. Now whence is it that we are thus viciously disposed? The soul being created by God, he infuseth no evil into it, for that would not stand with the holiness of his nature. I answer—Though the soul be created by God, yet it is created destitute of grace or original righteousness; and being destitute of the image of God, or original righteousness, can only close with things present and known, having no other light and principle to guide it. Now things known and things present, they are the pleasures of the body, as meats, drinks, natural generation, wealth, and honour. Now, these being wholly minded, avert us from the love and study of supernatural things. It is true these things are good in themselves, and that self-love which carrieth us out to them is naturally good; but though it be naturally good, it proves morally evil when the love of these things destroys the love of God, which must needs be if we be destitute of grace. The love of ourselves and outward things necessarily grows inordinate, not being guided and directed by grace. It is a rule among divines, Si non inest quod inesse deberet, necessario inerit quod non inesse deberet—a privation falling upon an active subject (such as the soul of man is) doth necessarily infer disorder and irregularity in its operations. Take away light from the air, it must be dark, and when the sun is down it must be night. So it is if grace be taken away. The great work of grace is to make God our last end and our chiefest good. Now, this last end being changed, all things must needs run into disorder with man. Why? For the last end is principium universalissimum, the most universal principle upon which all moral perfections depend. Look, as Adam and Eve, after they had eaten the forbidden fruit, forfeited the image of God, and were polluted, so we. Why? Did God infuse pollution and filthiness in them? or had the fruit any such poisonous quality? No; their last end was changed, which is the great principle that runs through all our actions; and when our end is changed, then all runs to disorder. They fell from God, whom before they made their chiefest good, and their last end. I say, they fell from God as envious, false, and wishing ill to them; and by the devil's instigation turned to the creature to find happiness in them, against the express will and command of God. As the first man was infected, so are all men wholly perverted, for sin still consists in a conversion from God to the creature, Jer. 2:13; 2 Tim. 3:4. By the change of our end all moral goodness is lost, for all means are subordinate to the last end, and are determined by it. Now necessarily thus it will be without grace; there will be a conversion of a man to the creature and the body, with the conveniences and comforts thereof; the interest and concernments of the body are set up instead of God. For though the soul cometh down from the superior world, yet it soon forgets its divine original, and being put into the body, it conforms itself to the body, and only adheres to objects visible and corporeal. As water, being put into a square vessel, hath a square form, into a round vessel, hath a round form, so the soul, being infused into the body, is led by it, and accommodates all its faculties and operations to the welfare of the body. And thence comes our ignorance, averseness of soul from holiness, unruliness of appetite, and inclination to sensual things. In short, without grace, a man's mind is carried headlong after worldly vanities. As water runs where it finds a passage, so the soul of man, being destitute of the image of God, finds a passage towards temporal things, and so runs out that way.
2. As man is thus corrupted and prone to worldly objects by natural inclination, so by inveterate custom. As soon as we are born we follow our sensual appetite, and the first years of man's life are merely governed by sense; and the pleasures thereof are born and bred up with us, and deeply engraven in our natures; and by constant living in the world, conversing with corporeal objects, the taint increaseth upon us, and so we are more deeply dyed and settled in a worldly frame, and we live in the pursuit of honour, gain, and pleasure, according as the particular temper of our bodies and course of our interest do determine us: Jer. 13:23, 'Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good that are accustomed to do evil.' Custom is as another nature, and hardly left. We find by experience, the more we are accustomed to any course of life, the more we delight in it, and are weaned from it with a very great difficulty. Every act disposeth the soul to the habit, and after the habit or custom is produced, then every new deliberate act adds a stiffness of bent or sway unto the faculty into which the custom is seated; and the longer this evil custom is continued the more easily are we carried away with temptations that suit it, and more hardly swayed to the contrary. Now this stiffness of will in a carnal course is that which the scripture calls hardness of heart and a heart of stone, for a man is ensnared by these customs; and of all customs, covetousness or worldliness is the most dangerous. Why? Because this is a sin of more credit and less infamy in the world, and this will multiply its acts in the soul most, and works incessantly: 'Having hearts exercised with covetous practices,' 2 Peter 2:14.
Well, then, these lusts being born and bred up with us from our infancy, they plead prescription. Religion, that comes afterward, and finds us biassed and prepossessed with other inclinations, which by reason of long use is not easily broken and shaken off; as upon trial, whenever we are called upon, or begin to apply ourselves to the ways of life, we shall be easily sensible of this stiffness of heart and obstinacy that bends us another way.
Thirdly, The heart being thus deeply engaged to temporal things, or things base and earthly, it cannot be set upon that which is spiritual and heavenly; for David propounds these things here as inconsistent, 'To thy testimonies Lord, and not to covetousness.' If the heart be addicted to worldly things, it is necessarily averse from God and his testimonies; for the habitual bent of the heart to any one sin is inconsistent with grace or a thorough obedience to God's will. That which the heart is inclined to hath the throne. Now, when we inquire after grace, Have I grace or no? have I the work of God upon my heart? the question is not what there is of God in the heart, but whether that of God hath the throne. Something of God is in the heart of the wickedest man that is, and something of sin in the best heart that is; therefore which way is the sway, the bent, the habitual and prevailing inclination of the soul? what hath the dominion? 'Sin hath not the dominion, for ye are not under the law, but under grace,' Rom. 6:14. What hath the prevalency of the heart? Though the conscience takes part with God, as it may strongly in a wicked man, yet which way is the bent of our souls? And as all sin in its reign is inconsistent with grace, so much more worldly affections: Mat. 6:24, 'No man can serve two masters,' &c. It is as inconsistent as for a man to look two ways at once. And the Chaldee on this very text, 'Incline my heart to thy testimonies,' reads it, 'and not unto mammon.' You cannot be inclined to God and mammon: 1 John 2:15, 'If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.' The world draws men from the love of God and from his service, and labour after temporal things deadens and hindereth us from looking after things which are eternal, and we lose the relish of things to come and things spiritual, the more the love of worldly things doth increase upon us. The schoolmen say of worldliness, it is that which most of all draws us off from God as our last end and chief good, and makes us cleave to the creature; therefore it is called 'adultery' and 'idolatry:' adultery, James 4:4, as it draws away our love, delight, and complacency from God; and idolatry, Col. 3:5, as it diverts our trust, and placeth it in wealth and sublunary things. The glutton or sensualist's love is withdrawn from God, and therefore his belly is said to be his god, Phil. 3:19. Interpretatively that is a man's God which is the last end of his actions, and upon which all his thoughts, affections, and endeavours run most. But now covetousness is not only a spiritual fornication, and adultery which draws off our affections from God, but idolatry. Considering our relation in the covenant, it is spiritual adultery; and above this, it is idolatry, because men think they can never be happy, nor have any comfortable being, unless they have a great portion of these outward things.
Fourthly, This frame of heart cannot be altered until we be changed by God's grace. Why? For there is no principle remaining in us that can alter this frame, or make us so far unsatisfied with our present state as to look after other things, that can break the force of our natural and customary inclinations. There are three things which lie against the change of the heart towards God.
1. There is nature, which wholly carrieth us to please the flesh, and inordinately to seek the good of the body. Now nature cannot rise higher than itself, and determine itself to things above its sphere and compass; as the philosopher saith of water, it cannot be forced to rise higher than its fountain. Our actions cannot exceed their principle, which is self-love. But besides this—
2. There is custom added to nature, which makes it more stiff and obstinate; so that if it may be supposed that conscience is sensible of our mistake and ill choice, and some weighty considerations should be propounded to us, as it is easy to show that eternal things are far better than temporal, and spiritual things than carnal;—if conscience, I say, should come in, and represent the ill state wherein we are, yet because the poise of our hearts doth customarily carry us another way, we are not inclined to God, or to the concernments of eternal life; for it is not argument merely will do it. In a pair of scales, though the weights be equal, yet if the scales be not equal there may be wrong done; so though the argument be never so powerful, yet if the heart that weighs them be customarily engaged and carried away with the momentary and cursory delights of the flesh, alas! these will sway us, and affect us more than all those pure, everlasting delights we may enjoy by communion with God. In all reason a lesser good should not be preferred before a greater; and worldly delights, which are not only base and dreggy, but also short and vanishing, and the occasion of much evil to us, these should not be preferred before eternal happiness. But here lies our misery, though the pleasures which affect us be less in themselves, yet our habitual propension and customary inclination to them is greater. Look, as in a pair of balances, though the weight of the one side be less, yet if the scales be not even and equally pendant, if the beam be longer on the side than the other, the lesser weight on the longer side of the beam will overpoise the greater weight on the shorter side; so while the soul is perverted by evil customs, and the heart doth hang more to temporal things than to spiritual and eternal, certainly there must be something from above that must determine us. Man's heart can never be swayed until the Lord joins the assistance of his grace.
3. There is God's curse, or penal hardness. For as nature groweth into custom, so by our sinful customs God is provoked, and doth withdraw those common influences of grace by which our condition might be bettered, and in justice he gives up our hearts to their own sway: Hosea 4:17, 'Ephraim is joined to his idols, let him alone;' Ps. 81:12, 'So I gave them up unto their own heart's lusts, and they walked in their own counsels.' so that we have not those frequent checks and gripes of conscience, those warnings and good thoughts as before. 'Let him alone;' providence, let him alone; conscience, let him alone; and the sinner is left to his own will. Therefore, out of all the work remaineth to be God's alone, who only hath authority to pardon, and power to cure the distempers of our hearts; he hath authority to take off that judicial hardness which he as a judge may continue upon us, and which the saints deprecate in these forms of speech, 'Incline my heart to thy testimonies,' &c. And so he hath power to take off the natural and customary hardness which is in us, 'For the heart of man is in his hand as the rivers of water,' Prov. 21:1, and can as easily draw us out to good as water followeth when the trench is cut. But what needeth more arguing in the case? David saith here, 'Lord, incline mine heart; and 1 Kings 8:58, 'The Lord be with us, that he may incline our hearts unto him, to walk in all his ways, and keep his commandment.' It is God's work alone to bend the crooked stick the other way. But you will say, this work sometimes is ascribed to man; for instance, ver. 112 of this psalm, 'I have inclined my heart to perform thy statutes alway, even unto the end;' and Josh. 24:23, 'Incline your heart unto the Lord God of Israel.'
I answer—These places do only note our subordinate operation, or the voluntary motion and resolution on our part. When God hath bent us and inclined us to do his will, when God hath made our love to act, and poised us to that which is spiritual and good, then we do incline, we bend our hearts this way. So that all these expressions Do not imply a co-ordinate but subordinate operation on man's part.
Fifthly, In this change there is a weakening of the old inclination to carnal vanities, and there is a new bent and frame of heart bestowed upon us. The heart is taken off from the love of base objects, and then fixed upon that which is good: Deut. 30:6, 'The Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart,' &c. First, there is a circumcising, a paring away of the fleshliness of the heart; then an unfeigned love to God. So Ezek. 36:26, 27, 'I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes.' First the untowardness of the will and affections is removed, and then a heart is given to us, which is tractable and pliable for gracious purposes. First the weeds are plucked up, then we are planted wholly with a right seed. Or first we 'cast off the old man,' then 'put on the new,' Eph. 4:22, 23. The natural inbred corruption, which daily grows worse and worse, is more and more done away, as we cast off the old rotten garment when we put on the new.
Sixthly, When our hearts are thus changed, they are ever and anon apt to return to the old bent and bias again. For David, a renewed man, he doth thus speak to God, 'O Lord, incline my heart to thy testimonies, and not unto covetousness.' He found his heart bowing and warping back again, and being sensible of the distemper, complains of it to God. The inclination that is in them to evil is not so lost to the best of God's children, but it will return unless God still draw us after him. The spouse saith, Cant. 1:4, 'Draw me, and we will run after thee.' The spouse of Christ, those that were already taken into communion with him, they say, 'Draw me.' This is not a work to be done once and no more, but often to be renewed and repeated in the soul; for there are some relics of our natural averseness from God, and enmity to the yoke of his word, yet left in the heart: Gal. 5:17, 'The flesh lusteth against the spirit.' There are two active principles within us, and they are always warring one upon another. Therefore there is need not only to be inclined at first, and drawn towards God, but we must go to him again and again, and pray to him daily that he would continue the bent of our hearts right, and weaken carnal affections, that we may mind better things.
Use 1. The use is to set you right in point of doctrine as to the necessity of grace, to bring us into a state of doing God's will; because some do grant the necessity of grace in words, but in deed they make it void.
Pelagius at first gave all to nature, acknowledged no necessity of divine grace; but when this proud doctrine found little countenance, he called nature by the name of grace; and when that deceit was discovered, he acknowledged no other grace but outward instruction, or the benefit of external revelation, that a man might by the word of God know and be put in mind of his duty. Being yet driven further, he acknowledged the grace of pardon, and before a man could do anything acceptably there was a necessity of the remission of sin, and then he might obey God perfectly. But that not sufficing, he acknowledged another grace, the example of Christ, which doth both secure our rule and encourage our practice; and so made the grace of Christ consist, not in the secret efficacy of his Spirit, but only in the example of Christ. But being driven further to acknowledge the same internal grace (I mean, his followers), they made it to consist in some illumination of the understanding, or some moral persuasion, by probable argument to excite the will; and this not absolutely necessary, but only for facilitation, as a horse to a journey, which otherwise a man might go on foot. Ay! but 'the law was impossible through our flesh,' Rom. 8:3. But all this is short of that divine grace that is necessary.
Now, there are others grant the secret influences of God's grace, but make the will of man be to a co-ordinate cause with God; namely, that God doth propound the object, hold forth inducing considerations, give some remote power and assistance; but still there is an indifferency in the will of man to accept and refuse as liketh him best. Besides all this, there is a prevailing efficacy, or a real influence from the Spirit of God on the will, whereby it is moved infallibly and certainly to close with those things which God propounds unto him. God worketh efficaciously and determinately, not leaving it to the liberty of man's will to choose or refuse it, but man is determined, inclined, and actually poised by the grace of God to that which is good.
Use 2. To press you to lay to heart these things.—(1.) Be sensible of the strength and sway of thy affections to temporal objects; there the work begins. And till we have a sight of the disease, we are not careful after a remedy. David, though regenerate, took notice of some worldly tendencies in his heart; and if we observe our hearts, we shall find so. Paul groaned under the relics of the flesh, and so should we under our bondage by sin. (2.) And then bewail it to the Lord, 'I am as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke.' Jer. 31:18, to bewail this stiffness of heart, and the treachery of sin, whereby we are enchanted, wholly bent to that which is evil. (3.) And observe the abating of this strength of affection, and weaning of thy soul from such desires; for then the work of grace goes on when we begin to savour other things, and have inclinations of soul towards that which is heavenly and spiritual: 'They that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh, and they that are after the spirit the things of the spirit.' (4.) And then to press you to perpetual watchfulness over your own hearts, that you do not return to your old bent and bias again; for certainly thus they will do if we do not keep a severe hand over them, and be lifting up our affections to things that are above, where God is, and Christ at the right hand of God.
Source: An Exposition of Psalm 119 (eBook) by Thomas Manton