Why the gracious heart is still with God

Taken and adapted from, The Saint’s Spiritual Delight, and a Christian on the Mount
Written by Thomas Watson, (1620 – 1686).

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There are five reasons why a gracious heart is still with God:

1.     From the nature of grace. Grace carries the soul up towards God. Grace is like fire; it is the nature of fire to ascend. You that lie groveling on the earth, feeding like the serpent on dust, or like eels wrapping yourselves in the mud and slime of the world, if you had that new and holy principle of grace infused, your souls would spark upwards, you would “mount up to heaven like eagles,” Isaiah 40:31. If you had the sharp eye of faith to see Christ, you would soon have the swift wing of desire to fly to him.

2.     From the magnetic power of God’s Spirit. The Spirit has not only a soul-purifying, but a soul-elevating power. As the sun exhales and draws the vapors up from the earth, so the Spirit draws the heart up to God; “The Spirit lifted me up,” Ezekiel 3:14. Though there is grace in the heart which would still be mounting upward, yet there is much corruption to pull us down. A Christian in this life is both checked and spurred; grace spurs him forward in his way to heaven, and then corruption checks him. Now, here the Spirit comes in and draws the heart up to God — which is as mighty a power as if you saw a millstone drawn up into the sun

3.     Because God is the center of the soul; and where should the heart ever be but at its center? While the heart is on the earth it shakes and trembles — like the needle in a compass — till it turns to God. God is the proper orb where the soul fixes. A Christian rests in God as the bee rests in the hive, and the bird rests in the nest. “Return to your rest, O my soul,” Psalm 116:7. Noah’s dove was never well till it was in the ark. The ark was a type of Christ.

4.     Because of those dear relations the soul has to God. There are all the terms of consanguinity. God is our Father, John 20:17, and where should the child be but with its father? He is our husband, Isaiah 54:5, and where should the wife be but with her husband? He is our friend, John 15:15; now friends desire to be still together. God is our rock, 2Sam: 22.2; where should Christ’s doves be but in the clefts of this blessed rock? God is the saint’s treasure, and “where their treasure is, there will their hearts be also.” Mat 6:21

5.     Because of those rare excellencies which are in God.

(1.) FULLNESS. Everyone desires to be at a full fountain. “For it pleased the Father that in him all fullness should dwell,” Col. 1:19.

Observe, Christ is not only said to be fullness in the concrete, but fullness in the abstract; indeed, in him is all fullness. A vessel may be full of water, but that is not all fullness: it is not full of wine; a chest may be full of silver, but that is not all fullness: it is not full of pearl: but in Christ is all fullness. He is bread to strengthen, John 6:48, wine to comfort, John 15:1, and gold to enrich, Rev. 3:18. He is all, and in all, Col. 3:11.

Thus there is a variety of fullness in the Lord Jesus. O Christian, what is it you need? Do you want quickening grace? Christ is the prince of life, Acts 3:15. Do you want healing grace? Christ has made a medicine of his own body to cure you, Isaiah 53:5. Do you want cleansing grace? There is the bath of his blood to wash you: “The blood of Jesus cleanses us from all our sin,” 1John 1:7. Do not have the poets tell us of their Aonia and Kastalia, fountains in which they supposed their nymphs had washed; for these waters distilled out of Christ’s side are infinitely more pure. Pliny says that the watercourses of Rome are the world’s wonder. Oh, if he had known these sacred water-courses in Christ’s blood, how he would have been stricken with admiration! And do you wonder that the soul is still with Christ, when there is all fullness in him?

No, but that all is not all. The apostle goes further. It pleased the Father that in him all fullness should dwell. To note the duration of this fullness; it is not transient, but immanent. This fullness is not in Christ like water in the pipe or spout: the spout may be full of water, but it does not continue there; water does not dwell in the spout. But this fullness is in Christ, as light is in the sun; it dwells there. Christ’s fullness is a never-failing fullness: what more can be said? Indeed, but the apostle carries it yet higher. In him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead; if Christ had all the fullness of the creation, the treasures of the earth, the holiness of the angels, this still could not satisfy the soul. In him there is the fullness of the Godhead: the riches of the Deity are in him. And the communication of this blessed fullness, Eph. 3:19, so far as there is a capacity to receive it, is what satisfies the soul and fills it brim-full. If there is such a plenitude and fullness in God, then no wonder a gracious heart desires to be still with God.

(2.) SWEETNESS. God is love, 1John 4:8. Everyone desires to be with those from whom they receive the most love. The Lord often makes himself known to the soul in an ordinance, as he did to the disciples in the breaking of bread [on the road to Emmaus], Luke 24:35. He manifests himself in the comforts of his Spirit, which are so sweet and ravishing, that they surpass all understanding, Gal. 5:22.  And do you wonder that the soul is so strongly carried after God? Truly if the soul is still with God, to speak with reverence, it is owing to God. He gives those jewels and bracelets, those love-tokens, so that the soul cannot help but desire to be still with God.

Use 1. To show us an art of how to be in heaven before our time; namely, by being still with God. A good Christian begins his heaven here; grace translates him into the paradise of God. Elijah left his mantle behind, but he was taken up in a fiery chariot; so it is with a saint: the mantle of the flesh is left behind, but his soul is carried up in a fiery chariot of love.

Use 2. For reproof; and this consists of two branches.  It reproves those who are never with God; they live without God in the world, Eph. 2:12. It is the characteristic mark of a wicked man that God is not in all his thoughts, Psalm 10:4.

He never thinks of God, unless it is with horror and amazement, as the prisoner thinks of the judge and the courts; and here two sorts of sinners are indicted:

(1.) Those who are still with their sins. A child of God, though sin is with him, yet he is not with sin; his will is against sin; “That which I do, I do not allow,” Rom. 7:15. He would gladly shake this viper into the fire. He forsakes sin, but sin will not forsake him; so that although sin is with him, yet he is not with sin. But a wicked man and sin are together, like two lovers mutually solacing and embracing. A wicked man is “a worker of iniquity,” Luke 13:27, like a workman that follows his trade in his shop.

(2.) Those who are still with the world. It is considered almost a miracle to find a diamond in a vein of gold; and it is just as great a miracle to find Christ, that precious stone, in an earthly heart. The world is men’s Diana: “they mind earthly things,” Phil. 3:19. Like the ostrich, which cannot fly high (though she has wings) because her body is so heavy, most men are so weighed down with thick clay (Hab. 2:6) that they cannot soar aloft; they are like Saul, hidden among the stuff, 1Sam. 10:22; or like Sisera, who had his head nailed to the earth, Judges 4:21 — so their hearts are nailed to the earth. Absalom’s beauty stole away the hearts of Israel from their king, 2Sam. 15:6; and the world’s bewitching beauty steals men’s hearts away from God. It is sad when the husband sends his wife a jewel, and she falls so in love with the jewel that she forgets her husband. An estate should be a load-stone to draw men nearer to God; but it is often a mill-stone to sink them to hell.

There can be a moderate use of these things, but there is danger in excess use. The bee may suck a little honey from the leaf, but put it in a barrel of honey, and it dies. Christians must stave off the world, so that it does not get into their hearts, Psalm 62:10. Water is useful to the ship, and helps it sail better to the haven. But if water gets into the ship, if it is not pumped out at the leak, it drowns the ship. So too, riches are useful and convenient for our passage; we sail more comfortably with them through the troubles of this world. But if water gets into the ship — if the love of riches gets into the heart — then we are drowned by them, 1Tim. 6:9.

(3) It reproves those who are seldom with God. They are sometimes with God, but not still with God. The shell-fish, as naturalists observe, has so little life in it, and moves so slowly, that it is hard to determine if it lives a vegetative or a sensitive life. The same may be said of many Christians: their motion heaven-ward is so slow and inconstant, that we can hardly know if the life of grace is in them or not; they are seldom with God. “You have left your first love, Rev. 2:4. Many professors have almost lost their acquaintance with God. There was a time when they could weep at a sermon; but now these wells are stopped up. There was a time when they were tender about sin — the least hair of it would make their eye weep; the least sin would afflict their conscience — now they can digest this poison. There was a time when they trembled at the threatenings of the word; now, with the leviathan, they can “laugh at the shaking of a spear,” Job 41:29. There was a time when they “called the Sabbath a delight,” Isaiah 58:13, the queen of days. How they waited with joy for the rising of the Sun of Righteousness on that day! What pantings of their soul after God! What a mounting up of affections! But now the case is altered.

“What a weariness it is to serve the Lord!” Mal. 1:13. There was a time when they delighted in the word (indeed it is a mirror that mends the eyes of those who look into it); now they have laid it aside; they seldom look in this mirror. There was a time when they could offer up strong cries in prayer, Heb. 5:7. But now the wings of prayer are dipped; they come like cold suitors to God, with their petitions cooling between their lips, as if they would teach God to deny. Oh why have you quit your communion with God?! “What iniquity have your fathers found in me, that they have gone far from me?” Jer. 2:5. Let Christians lay this sadly to heart: “Remember from where you have fallen, and repent, and do your first works,” Rev. 2:5. You are in a spiritual lethargy: O never leave till your hearts are wound up to such a heavenly frame as David had here: “When I awake, I am still with You.” And that brings me to the next.

Use 3. The third use is exhortation. To persuade all those who profess they are Christians, to imitate this blessed pattern in the text: “be still with God.” You will never go to heaven when you die, unless you begin heaven here. The church in the Revelation has a crown of stars on her head, and the moon under her feet, Rev. 12:1. Christ is not to be found in the furrows, but on the pinnacle. Now, so that you may get your hearts loosened from these things below, and be still with God, I will propound only two arguments.

The first argument is to consider how unworthy it is for a Christian to have his heart set upon the world.

(1.) It is unworthy of his SOUL. The soul is dignified with honor. It is a noble coin that has a divine impress stamped on it; it is capable of communion with God and angels.

Now, it is too far below a man to spend the affections and operations of this heaven-born soul on worthless things. It is as if one were to embroider sackcloth with gold, or set a diamond in clay.

(2.) It is unworthy of his PROFESSION. “Do you seek great things for yourself?” Jer. 45:5. What! Baruch! You who are a godly man! A Levite! Oh how sordid is it for someone who has his hope in heaven, to have his heart set upon the earth! It is as if a king were to leave his throne to follow the plough; or as if a man were to leave a gold-mine to dig in a gravel-pit. The lapwing has a crown on her head, and yet it feeds on dung. This is a fit emblem for those who have a crown of profession shining on their head, and yet feed with eagerness on these things below. Christians should deny themselves, but not undervalue themselves; they should be humble, but not base. If Alexander would not exercise at the Olympics because it was too far below him (kings do not usually run races), shall those then who are the holy seed, the heirs of glory, disparage themselves by too eager a pursuit after these contemptible things?

The second argument to persuade us to be still with God, is to consider what a rare and excellent life this is; which will appear in four particulars.

(1.) To be still with God is the most NOBLE life. It is as much above the life of reason, as reason is above the life of a plant. The true Christian is like a star in the highest orb: he looks no lower than a crown; grace puts high thoughts, princely affections, and a kind of heavenly ambition into the soul. Grace raises a Christian above himself; it makes him like Caleb, a man of another spirit, Numbers 14:24. He lives in the altitudes; his thoughts are lodged among angels and the “spirits of just men made perfect.” Hebrews 12:23 And so, is this not the most noble life — to be still with God? The academics compare the soul of man to a fowl mounting up with her wings in the air: thus with the wings of grace, the soul flies aloft, and takes a prospect of heaven.

(2.) To be still with God is the most SATISFYING life; nothing else will be so. “All the rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not full,” Ecclesiastes 1:7. Let all the golden streams of worldly delights run into the heart of man, yet the heart is not full. Strain out the quintessence of the creature, and it turns to froth, “Vanity of vanities,” Ecclesiastes 1:2. But in God there is sweet satisfaction and contentment. My soul will be satisfied as with marrow and fatness, Psalm 63:5. Here is a hive of sweetness, a mirror of beauty, a magazine of riches; here is the river of pleasure where the soul bathes with infinite delight, Psalm 36:8. And this river has a fountain at the bottom, “For with you is the fountain of life,” ver. 9. And is this not most satisfactory? It is a wise observation of Picus Mirandula, that in the creation of the world, God gave the water to the fish, the earth to the beasts, the air to the fowls. Afterward, He made man in his own image, so that man might say, “Lord, there is nothing on earth to be desired besides You;” what can satisfy my soul, but to be still with You?

(3.) To be still with God is the most COMFORTABLE life. What sweet harmony and music is in such a soul! The bird, the higher it takes flight, the sweeter it sings: so the higher the soul is raised above the world, the sweeter joy it has. How the heart is inflamed in prayer! How is it ravished in holy meditation! What joy and peace there are in believing! Rom. 15:13. And these joys are those honey-streams which flow out of the rock Christ.

Tell me, is it not comfortable to be in heaven? The one who is still with God, carries heaven about him: he has those prelibations and tastes of God’s love, which are the beginnings of heaven, Rom. 8:23.  So sweet is this kind of life, that it can drip sweetness into the troubles and disquiets of the world, such that we are scarcely sensible of them. It can turn the prison into a paradise; the furnace into a festival; it can sweeten death. A soul elevated by grace can rejoice to think of dying: death will but cut the string, and the soul — that bird of paradise — will fly away and be at rest.

(4.) To be still with God is the most DURABLE life. The life of sense will fail; we must shortly bid farewell to all our outward comforts; these blossoms will drop off. We read of a “sea of glass mingled with fire,” Rev. 15:2. Bullinger, and other learned expositors, understand “sea of glass” to mean the world. Indeed it is a fit emblem for it. The world is a sea, and it is seldom calm; and it is a sea of glass, slippery; and this glass is mingled with fire, to show that it is of a perishable and consuming nature. Riches take wings, and relations take wings; but for you — who by the wings of grace are still soaring aloft — this life shall never have an end; it is the beginning of an eternal life; happiness is but the cream of holiness. You that are still with God, shall ever be with the Lord, 1Thess. 4:17. You shall see God in all His embroidered robes of majesty. “We shall see him as he is,” 1John 3:2. And this sight will be ravishing, and full of glory. O then, is this not the best kind of life? He who is still with God when he awakes, shall ever be with the Lord when he goes to sleep at death.

Question: But how shall I arrive at this blessed frame of heart, to be still with God?

Answer 1. Get a right judgment. It is a great matter to have the judgment set right.

Get a right judgment of sin, and you will never be with sin; get a right judgment of God, and you will be still with him. In God are combined all excellences. How sweet is his love! How satisfying is his presence! But as the painter drew a veil over Agamemnon’s face, because the greatness of his grief for his daughter Iphigenia could not be expressed, so when I speak of the glorious perfections in God, I must draw a veil; neither pen nor pencil can set them forth in their orient luster; the angels here must be silent.

Answer 2. If you would be still with God, then watch over your hearts every day; lock up your hearts with God every morning, and give him the key. Otherwise the heart will be stealing out to vanity. Lord, says Bernard, there is nothing more flitting than my heart. Keep watch and ward there. Christians, look to your hearts especially after an ordinance — when you have been with God in duty, then expect a temptation. Physicians say that the body must be more carefully looked after when it comes out of a hot bath, for the pores being open, it is in more danger of catching cold: after your spiritual bathing in an ordinance, when you have been at a sermon or a sacrament, then take heed that you do not catch cold.

Answer 3. Beware of being remiss in duty. When you begin to slacken the reins, and abate your former heat and vigor in religion, a deadness steals insensibly upon the heart, and by degrees a sad estrangement between God and the soul arises. And, brethren, how hard a work you will find it to get your hearts up again, once they are down! A weighty stone that has been rolled up to the top of a steep hill, and then falls down to the bottom — how hard it is to get it up again!

O take heed of a dull, lazy temper in God’s service: we are bid to be “fervent in spirit,” Rom. 12:11. The Athenians inquiring at the oracle of Apollo, why their plagues continued so long, the oracle answered them, they must double their sacrifices: those who would hold constant communion with God, must double their devotion; they must be much in prayer, and mighty in prayer. We read that the coals were to be put to the incense, Lev. 16:13. Incense was a type of prayer, and putting the coals to the incense was to show that the heart of a Christian ought to be inflamed in holy services. Nothing is more dangerous than a plodding formality.

Answer 4. If you would be still with God, then be much in the communion of saints. Many Christians live as if this article were blotted out of their creed. How one saint whets and sharpens another! Just as vain company cools good affections, so by being in the communion of saints, we are warmed and quickened. Be often among the spices, and you will smell of them. These directions being observed, we shall be able to keep our acquaintance with God, and may arrive at this blessed frame, as here David had: “When I awake, I am still with You.”