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Give me understanding and I shall keep thy law; yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart.—Ver. 34.
IN these words you have—(1.) A prayer, give me understanding. (2.) A promise, and I shall keep thy law. (3.) The promise amplified, by expressing the exactness and sincerity of that obedience, yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart. The first point is—
That there needeth a great deal of understanding to keep God’s law.
1. That he may know his way, and understand what God commandeth and forbiddeth; for it is the wisdom of a man to understand his way, and to know the laws according to which he liveth: Col. i. 9, 10, ‘Filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, that ye may walk worthy of God unto all well-pleasing.’ We have such great obligations to God, both in point of hope and gratitude, that we have reason to study our duty exactly, that we may not displease him and cross his will in anything. We take it for granted that a man should comply with the will of him upon whom he dependeth. We have all and look for all from him; therefore we should walk worthy of God unto all well-pleasing, which we can never do without much knowledge and understanding; therefore we should search out the mind of God in everything.
2. To avoid the snares that are laid for us in the course of our duty to God. There is a crafty devil and a deceitful heart; so that a man that would walk with God had need have his eyes about him. For the wiles of Satan: Eph. vi. 11, ‘Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.’ His enterprises or devices: 2 Cor. ii. 11, ‘Lest Satan should get an advantage of us, for we are not ignorant of his devices.’ He is ready to entrap us and ensnare us by plausible temptations; he suiteth the bait to every appetite. Then our own hearts: Jer. xvii. 9, ‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, who can, know it?’ There is a deceiver in our own bosoms, that will represent good under the notion of evil, and evil under the notion of good; that will cheat us of present duties by future promises. And therefore Ingeniosa res est esse Christianum. He that would keep God’s law had need be a very understanding man, that Satan entrap him not, and his own heart deceive him not, and so he smart for his folly: 349‘Walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil,’ Eph. v. 15.
3. That he may respect things according to their order and places, and give them precedency in his care and practice as their worth deserveth, which certainly belongeth to understanding or wisdom to do. As (1.) That God should be owned before man, and served and respected before our neighbour or ourselves; for God hath a right in us antecedent to that of the creature: Acts v. 29, ‘We ought to obey God rather than men.’ Many times God’s children are put to it, divided between duty and duty; duty to their parents, duty to their magistrates, and duty to God. Now it requireth understanding how to sort both duties. When the inferior power crosseth the will of the superior, the higher duty must take place, and we must dispense with our duty to men, that we may be faithful to God. Alas! the corruption of nature would teach us to do otherwise; we love ourselves more than our neighbour, and our neighbour more than God. Out of self-interest we comply with the lusts of men, and in complying with the lusts of men make bold with God. This wisdom every one that would keep God’s law must learn, that we are bound to none so much as to God, from whom we have life, and breath, and all things; that none can reward our obedience so surely, so largely, as God, who can bear us out when men fail; that none can punish our disobedience so much as God. If these considerations were more in our hearts, we would not sin so boldly, nor serve God so fearfully and cowardly as usually we do, nor comply with men to the wrong of our souls. We may refuse obedience in a particular instance where we do not refuse subjection. (2.) That heaven is to be preferred before earth, and the salvation of our souls before the interests and concernments of our bodies: Mat. vi. 33, ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.’ And whosoever fail in this point of wisdom are very fools: Luke xii. 20, ‘But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night shall thy soul be required of thee; then whose shall those things be which thou hast provided?’ There should be no delays in heavenly matters. We busy ourselves about other things, and defer our care for eternity from day to day; but this should be sought before every other thing. (3.) That present affliction is to be chosen rather than future, and temporal rather than eternal. A wise man would have the best at last, for to fall from happiness is the utmost degree of misery—Miserum est fuisse beatum. And therefore better suffer now, with hopes of reward in another world, than take pleasure now, to endure pains to come: 2 Tim. ii. 3, ‘Thou therefore endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.’ It is better to do so than to have all our hopes spent: ‘Son, in thy lifetime thou receivedst thy good things,’ Luke xvi. 25. That which is present is temporal, that which is to come is eternal: 2 Cor. iv. 18, ‘While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. ‘The good and evil of the present state is soon over. Now we stand not upon a short evil, so we may compass a great good. (4.) That things of profit and pleasure must give place to things that belong to godliness, virtue, and honesty; for the bastard 350 good must give place to the true, real good. Profit and pleasure are but bastard goods. They are counted understanding men in the world that make pleasure give way to profit; therefore Solomon saith, ‘Where there are no oxen the crib is clean, yet there is much gain by the labour of the ox.’ I am sure he is an understanding man before God that maketh both give way to honesty and godliness; for the same reason that will sway us to make pleasure give way to profit will also teach us to make profit give way to the interest of grace. As for instance, that pleasure is a base thing as being the happiness of beasts; so is profit, as being the happiness of the children of this world, in contradistinction to holiness, the perfection of the next. The pleasure of sense is only in this life, so is worldly gain only serviceable in our pilgrimage; pleasure in excess destroyeth profit; so doth profit destroy grace. As the world scorneth a man that hath wasted an estate upon his pleasures, so do God and angels him that, from the abundance of his wealth, maketh havoc of a good conscience, and neglecteth things to come: ‘Godliness is the great gain,’ 1 Tim. vi. 6. (5.) That the greatest suffering is to be chosen before the least sin. In sufferings, the offence is done to us; in sin, the offence is done to God. The evil of suffering is but for a moment, the evil of sin for ever; in suffering we lose the favour of men, in sin we lose the favour of God; suffering bringeth inconvenience upon the body, sin upon the soul; suffering is only evil in our sense, sin whether we feel it, yea or nay. It requireth spiritual wisdom and understanding to choose of evils the least, as well as of goods the best: Moses, Heb. xi. 25, ‘choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.’ (6.) That a general good is to be chosen before a particular, and that which yieldeth all things rather than that which will yield a limited and particular comfort. Riches will avail against poverty, and honour against disgrace; but ‘godliness is profitable for all things,’ 1 Tim. iv. 8; it will yield righteousness, comfort, and peace eternal, and food, and raiment, maintenance, and eternal life. Now these and many such principles must be engrafted in the heart if we would keep God’s laws. The reasonableness of such propositions in the theory may easily appear; but as to practice, we are governed by sense and human passion, which judgeth the quite contrary of all this, and causeth us to make bold with God because afraid of men, to follow earthly things with the greatest delight and earnestness, and spiritual things in a formal and careless manner, to be all for the present and nothing for things to come, and to sell the birthright for a mess of pottage, to make a wound in our souls to avoid a scratch in our bodies, and for a little particular contentment to neglect the things of God.
4. Understanding is necessary, that we may judge aright of time and place and manner of doing, that we may do not only things good but well, where to go, where to stand still; as it is said, they sought of God a right way, Isa. viii. 21,1212 Qu. Jer. vi. 16?—ED. and David behaved himself wisely in. all that he did, 1 Sam. xviii. 5. It is for the glory of God, and the credit of religion, and the peace of our own souls, that we should regard circumstances as well as actions, and discern time and judgment, that 351we do not destroy what we would build up. Therefore understanding is necessary. See further ver. 98 of this psalm.
5. Because our affections answer our understanding. If we understand not, how can we believe? If we believe not, how can we love? If we love not, how can we do? Knowledge, persuasion, affection, practice, these follow one another, where the faculties of the soul are rightly governed, and kept in a due subordination. Indeed, by the fall the order is subverted: Titus iii. 3, ‘Serving divers lusts and pleasures.’ Objects strike upon the senses, sense moveth the fancy, fancy moveth the bodily spirits, the bodily spirits move the affections, and these blind the mind and lead the will captive. But a true understanding makes us more steadfast.
Now all these considerations do show us our need of understanding, and that a Christian should be prudent, not headstrong and precipitant, ‘Like horse or mule, that have no understanding,’ Ps. xxxii. 9, but wise and knowing in all principles, actions, and circumstances that belong to his duty, if he would honour his profession, and not follow the brutish motions of his own heart, but God’s direction. Now, if we would have understanding, we must—
1. Attend upon the word; that will make us ‘wise to salvation,’ ‘wiser than our enemies,’ ‘than our teachers,’ ‘than the ancients.’ Than enemies: A man that consulteth not with flesh and blood, but the word and rule of his duty, will find plain honesty at length to be the best policy. Than teachers: Because he contented not himself with the naked rules delivered by them, but laboured with his conscience to make them profitable to himself. Than ancients, or men of long study and experience. That is a costly wisdom; when men have smarted often, they learn by their own harms to be circumspect. If there were no other way to be wise than by experience, miserable were man for a long time, and would be exposed to hazards and foul dangers before he could get it. But now scripture, which is not the result of men’s experience, but God’s wisdom, is not such a long and expensive way.
2. Use much meditation in debating matters between God and your souls: Ps. cxix. 99, ‘I have more understanding than all my teachers, for thy testimonies are my meditation;’ and 2 Tim. ii. 7, ‘Consider what I say, and the Lord give thee understanding in all things.’
3. Prayer, as David doth here ask it of God. Desire him to remove that darkness of spirit which sin hath brought upon you, that you may not govern your life by sense and passion, but by his direction: Job xxxii. 8, ‘There is a spirit in man, but the inspiration of the Almighty giveth understanding.’ Man hath reason, but to guide it to a spiritual use, that is above his power. The Psalmist complaineth of all natural men: ‘There is none that understandeth, none that doeth good to no one,’ Ps. xiv. 2; and Rom. iii. 11, ‘There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.’ Therefore it is God must give understanding at first conversion: Acts xvi. 14, ‘God opened the heart of Lydia;’ and Acts xxvi. 18, ‘To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins,’ &c. By a fuller illumination: Eph. i. 17, 18, ‘That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, that 352father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened,’ &c.; otherwise we have not a heart to perceive, nor eyes to see, nor ears to hear: Deut. xxix. 4, ‘Yet the Lord hath not^given you a heart to perceive, nor eyes to see, nor ears to hear unto this day.’
Secondly, The next thing that I shall observe is this—
That upon the supposition of this benefit he promiseth obedience, I shall keep thy law.
Doct. They that have understanding given by God will keep his law.
1. That it is their duty, and they ought so to do, there is no question; for all knowledge is given us in order to practice, not to satisfy curiosity or feed pride, or to get a fame and reputation with men of knowledge and understanding persons, but to order our walk: Col. i. 9, 10, ‘For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, cease not to pray for you, and to desire that you might be filled with the knowledge of his will, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that ye might walk worthy of the Lord, unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God.’
2. That they will do so is also clear upon a twofold account:—
[1.] Because answerable to the discovery of good or evil in the
understanding. There is a prosecution and an aversation in the will; for the will doth necessarily follow practicum dictamen, the ultimate resolution of the judgment; for it is ὄρεξις μετὰ λόγου, not a brutish inclination, but a rational appetite. God hath appointed this course to nature; therefore when the judgment cometh to such a conclusion as is set down in the 73d Psalm, ver. 28, ‘But it is good for me to draw near to God’—not only it is good, but it is good for me—the will yieldeth; for conviction of the judgment is the ground of practice. I know conviction and conversion differ, and the one may be where the other is not. But then it is taken for a partial conviction; the mind is not savingly enlightened and thoroughly possessed with the truth and worth of heavenly things; the most and greatest sort of men have but notions, a weak and literal knowledge about spiritual things, and that produceth nothing; they do not live up to the truth which they know. Others have besides the notion a naked approbation of things that are good. Video meliora proboque, deteriora sequor—they see better things and approve them in the abstract; but this doth not come to a practicum dictamen; it is good, and good for me, all circumstances considered, thus to do. This is the fruit of spiritual evidence and demonstration, which always is accompanied with power, 1 Cor. ii. 4. Carnal men think it is better for them to keep as they are, being blinded with their passions and lusts, though they could wish things were otherwise with them. But a godly man’s judgment being savingly enlightened, determineth it is good, it is better, it is best for me; it is better to please God than men, to look after heaven than the world, &c. There is a simple approbation of good things, and a comparative approbation of them. Simple approbation is when in the abstract notion we apprehend Christ and pardon of sins and heaven good; but when compared with other things, and considered 353in the frame of Christian doctrine, or according to the terms upon which they may be had, they are rejected. Many approve things simply, and in the first act of judgment, but disallow them in the second, when they consider them as invested with some difficult and unpleasing terms, or compare them with pleasure and profit which they must forsake if they would obtain them; as the young man in the Gospel esteemeth salvation as a thing worthy to be inquired into, but is loath to let go his earthly possessions, Mat. xix. 21, 22. He would have these good things at an easy rate, without mortifying the flesh or renouncing the world. But a godly man, that sits down and counteth the charges, all circumstances considered, resolves, It is good for me; as Boaz, liking the woman as well as her inheritance, took them both, which his kinsman refused, Ruth iv. 9, 10; he would have the inheritance without the woman. They like Christ and his laws, as well as the benefits that he bringeth with him. He doth approve things upon good knowledge, and cometh to a well-settled resolution. Another defect in wicked men is because the judgment is superficial, and so comes to nothing. It is not full, clear, and ponderous; it is not a dictamen, a resolute decree, not ultimum dictamen, the last decree, all things considered and well weighed.
[2.] God’s grace. God doth never fully and spiritually convince the judgment, but he doth also work upon the will to accept, embrace, and prosecute those good things of which it is convinced. He teacheth and draweth; they are distinct works, but they go together; therefore the one is inferred out of the other. Drawn and taught of God, both are necessary; for as there is blindness and inadvertency in the mind, so obstinacy in the will, which is not to be cured by mere persuasion, but by a gracious quality infused, inclining the heart, which by the way freeth this doctrine from exception, as if all God’s works were mere moral suasion. The will is renewed and changed, but so as God doth it, by working according to the order of nature.
Use. By all means look after this divine illumination, whereby your judgment may be convinced of the truth and worth of spiritual things. It is not enough to have some general and floating notions about them, or slightly to hear of them, or talk of them; but they must be spiritually discerned and judged of; for if our judgments were thoroughly convinced, our pursuit of true happiness would be more earnest; you would see sin to be the greatest mischief, and grace the chiefest treasure, and accordingly act.
God enlightening the soul doth—
1. Take away carnal principles. Many men can talk well, but they are leavened with carnal principles; as (1.) That he may do as most do and yet be safe: Mat. vii. 23, ‘Many will say in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name?’ &c.; ‘And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity;’ Prov. xi. 31, ‘Behold the righteous shall be recompensed upon the earth, much more the wicked and the sinner;’ Exod. xxxii. &c. (2.) That he may go on in ungodliness, injustice, intemperance, because grace hath abounded in the gospel: Titus ii. 11, 12, ‘For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live 354soberly, righteously, and godlily in this present world;’ and Luke i. 75, ‘That we, being delivered out of the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our life,’ (3.) That he may spend his youth in pleasure, and safely put off repentance till age. But Eccles. xii. 1, we are bid to ‘Remember our Creator in the days of our youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them;’ and Luke xii. 20, when the rich man said to his soul, ‘Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry;’ God said unto him, ‘Thou fool, this night shall thy soul be required of thee, then whose shall those things be which thou hast provided?’ Heb. iii. 7, ‘Wherefore, as the Holy Ghost saith, To-day, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts,’ &c. Men think it is a folly to be singular and precise; that it was better when there was less preaching and less knowledge; that small sins are not to be stood upon. But God, enlightening the soul, maketh us to see the vanity and sinfulness of such thoughts.
2. There is a bringing the understanding to attend and consider. There is much lieth upon it: Acts xvi. 14, ‘The Lord opened the heart of Lydia, so that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul;’ that is, weighed them in her heart.
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