John Howe preached two sermons on Romans 6:13, “Yield yourselves to God”. From this he derives two basic questions: 1. How or under what notions we are to consider God and ourselves in this matter:2. What our yielding ourselves to him, so considered, must include.
This is a great secret to good exposition: pay attention to the parts of a text and ask the question: What does this mean? When presented with a word like “truth” or “love” or “God” or “yield” we think assume we know what is meant. But it is precisely that assumption which is troublesome.
It is precisely at this point that Howe begins. He points out that we fail to properly understand … God.
But do you now know with whom you have to do? Too many have the name of GOD, that great and awful name, in their mouth or ear, and have no correspondent thought in their mind; it passes with them as a transient sound, as soon over as another common word of no greater length, and leaves no impression. Perhaps there is less in their minds to answer it, than most other words which men use in common discourse.
For they have usually distinct thoughts of the things they speak of; otherwise they would neither understand one another nor themselves, but might speak of a horse, and mean a sheep; or be thought to mean so. And it would no more move a man, or impress his mind, to hear or mention a jest, than a matter of life and death.
But the holy and reverend name of GOD is often so slightly mentioned, as in common oaths, or in idle talk is so merely taken in vain, that if they were on the sudden stopped, and asked what they thought on, or had in their mind, when they mentioned that word, and were to make a true answer, they cannot say they thought of any thing: as if the name of GOD, the All! were the name of nothing! Otherwise, had they thought what that great name signifies, either they had not mentioned it, or the mention of it had struck their hearts, and even overwhelmed their very souls!
I could tell you what awe and observance hath been wont to be expressed in reference to that sacred name, among a people that were called by it; and surely the very sound of that name, ought ever to shake all the powers of our souls, and presently form them to reverence and adoration. Shall we think it fit to play or trifle with it, as is the common wont?
My friends, shall we now do so, when we are called upon to yield ourselves to God? Labour to hear and think, and act intelligently, and as those that have the understandings of men. And now especially in this solemn transaction, endeavour to render GOD great to yourselves: enlarge your minds, that as far as possible and needful, they may take in the entire notion of him.
John Howe, The Works of the Reverend John Howe, vol. 1 (London: William Tegg and Co., 1848), 382.