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Teach me, O Lord, the way of thy statutes, and I shall keep it unto the end.—Ver. 33.
THE man of God had promised to run the way of God’s commandments; but being conscious of many swervings, beggeth God further to teach him.
In the words two things are observable:—
1. A prayer for grace.
2. A promise made upon supposition of obtaining the grace asked. He promiseth—
[1.] Diligence and accuracy of practice, I will keep it.
[2.] Perseverance, unto the end.
First, In the prayer for grace observe—
1. The person to whom he prays, O Lord.
2. The person for whom, teach me.
3. The grace for which he prayeth, to be taught.
4. The object of this teaching, the way of God’s statutes.
The teaching which he beggeth is not speculative, but practical; to learn how to walk in the way of God.
1. David, a man after God’s own heart, maketh this prayer. The more love any have to God, the more they desire to know his ways. Carnal men are of another spirit; they say, Job xxi. 14, ‘Depart from us; we desire not the knowledge of thy ways.’ The more ignorant the more quiet. They that love their lusts cannot heartily desire the knowledge of those truths which will trouble them in the following of their lusts. We often consult with our affections about our opinions; 340and where we have a mind to hate, we have no desire to know, Ordinary professors, a little knowledge serveth their turn, some few obvious truths, but others, such as David, follow on to know the Lord. David, that had a singular measure of knowledge already, yet there is no end of his desire in this psalm; and shall we be contented as if we needed no more?
2. Consider David, a prophet, a teacher, a penman of scripture. There was some knowledge which the prophets got by ordinary means, and some by immediate revelation; as Daniel by vision, and Daniel by reading of books, Dan. vii. 2, ix. 2; either by a new revelation, or by the study of what was already revealed. And if extraordinary men were bound to the ordinary duties of God’s service as the means of their improvement and growth in grace, such as reading, prayer, hearing, meditation, use of seals, &c., surely none can plead exemption or conceit themselves to be above duties. Now, that they were thus bound we find by David’s prayer for knowledge, Daniel’s reading of books, namely that of Jeremiah, and all of them meditating or inquiring diligently what manner of salvation should ensue: 1 Peter i. 10, 11, ‘Of which salvation the prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you; searching what or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow;’ meditating and prying into the meaning of that salvation which by the motion of the Spirit they held forth to others, labouring to make these truths their own, and to get their hearts affected therewith. In their prophetic revelations they were φερόμενοι, 2 Peter i. 21, forcibly moved by the Spirit, and carried beyond their intention, and the line of their natural strength, but in other things they got knowledge by the same means that we do, and as believers were to stir up the gifts and graces which they had in the ordinary way of duty, waiting and crying for the influences of the Lord’s grace. You must distinguish, then, of what they did when they acted as prophets and when they acted as believers.
3. David, that had means external sufficient to direct him in the way of God, as the scriptures then written, the ordinances of the law, and the expositions of the scribes, yet beggeth God to teach him. So must we beg God to teach us, whatever means we have. It is true we have an advantage above the Old Testament church, as we have their helps and more, and the doctrine of salvation is now clearer, and the gifts and graces of the Spirit more plentifully dispensed since the price of redemption is actually paid, than before, when God gave out grace and glory only upon trust; yet still we are to go to God for his teaching, because the means are not successful unless he join his influence; especially to give us this practical knowledge, teaching in order to keeping the way of God’s statutes. I say, though we have the word, and many pastors and teachers better gifted than in the Old Testament, Eph. iv. 11, yet God must be our teacher still, if we mean to profit; for ‘Paul may plant, and Apollos may water, but God giveth the increase,’ 1 Cor. iii. 6. To seek knowledge in the means with the neglect of God well never succeed well with you; as we ministers must not rest upon our work, but pray much for success 341(bene orasse est bene studuisse—Luther), so you hearers must not rest in the fruit of our studies, but still beg God to teach you every truth.
But all this will be more evidently made out in the following points.
Doct. 1. Divine teaching is necessary for all those that would walk in the way of God’s statutes.
1. We have lost our way to true happiness. Adam lost it, and all mankind in him; ever since we have been wandering up and down: Ps. xiv. 3, ‘They are all gone aside,’ i.e., gone out of the way of holiness as it leadeth to true happiness: Eccles. vii. 29, ‘God hath made man upright, but they have sought out many inventions;’ wander in a maze. Man at first, that had perfect wisdom to discern the way to true happiness, and ability to pursue it, now is full of crooked counsels, being darkened with ignorance in his mind, and abominable errors and mistakes, and seconded with lusts and passions.
2. We can never find it of ourselves till God reveal it to us: ‘He hath showed thee, man, what is good,’ Micah vi. 8. It is well for man that he hath God for his teacher, who hath given him a stated rule by which good and evil may be determined.
[1.] Because there are many things which nature would never reveal to him; as the whole doctrine of redemption by Christ. The book of the creatures discovereth the mercy of God, but giveth not the least hint of the way how that mercy should come unto us, speaketh nothing of God incarnate, two natures in Christ’s person, the two covenants, the way of salvation by Christ’s death, &c. These could never be known by natural reason, for all these things proceed from the mere motion of God’s will, without any other cause moving there unto than his own love and compassion: John iii. 16, ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’ And how could any man divine what God purposed in his heart, unless he himself revealed it?
[2.] Because those things that nature teacheth it teacheth but darkly, and with little satisfaction, without the help of scriptures; as that there is one God, the first cause of all, omnipotent, wise, righteous, good, and that it is reasonable he should be served; that reasonable creatures have immortal souls, and so die not as the beasts; that there is no true happiness in these things wherein men ordinarily seek it; that since virtue and vice receive not suitable recompenses here, there must be punishment and reward after this life; that men live justly, do as they would be done to, be sober and temperate; that reason be not enslaved to sensual appetite; all which nature revealeth but darkly: so that the wisest men that have lived according to this light in one thing or other have been found fools: Rom. i. 22, ‘Professing themselves wise, they became fools.’ But all these things are clearly revealed in scripture, which discovers the nature and way of worshipping the true God, what that reward and punishment after this life is, and the right way of obtaining the one and eschewing the other, with weighty arguments to enforce these things.
[3.] That we may have assurance that the worship which we give to God is pleasing to him, there must be a revelation of his 342will; otherwise, when we have tired ourselves in an endless maze of superstitions, he might turn us off with ‘Who hath required these things at your hands?’ Isa. i. 12. Therefore, for our security and assurance it concerneth us to have a stated rule under God’s own hand, and God must be both author and object of worship.
3. Besides the external revelation there must be an inward teaching: ‘They shall all be taught of God,’ John vi. 45; not all the prophets that wrote scripture, but all that come to Christ for salvation. And this is prophesied of that time when the canon and rule of faith should be most complete; then there will be still a need that they should be taught of God before their hearts be drawn into Christ. As the book of the scriptures is necessary to expound the book of the creatures, so and much more is the light of the Spirit to expound the book of the scriptures. Others teach the ear, but God openeth the heart. The rule is one thing, and the guide is another. The means were never intended to take off our dependence upon God, but to engage it rather, that we may look up for his blessing: 1 Cor. iii. 6, ‘I have planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase;’ 2 Cor. iv. 6, ‘God, that commanded (ὁ εἰπών) light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.’ Though the gospel hath enough in it to evidence itself to the consciences of men, yet God must make use of his creating power before this light can break in upon our hearts with any efficacy and influence: ‘The law is light,’ Prov. vi. 23. Yet not comprehended by darkness: John i. 5, ‘The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not,’ which rests in the hearts of all men that remain in their natural condition. It is not enough to see any object to have the light of the sun, unless we have the light of the eye. The scripture is our external light, as the sun is to the world; the understanding is our internal light. Now this eye is become blind in all natural men, and in the best it is most imperfect; therefore the eyes of the understanding must be opened by the spirit of wisdom and revelation, Eph. i. 17, 18. Though truths be plainly revealed by the Spirit of God in scripture, yet there must be a removal of that natural darkness and blindness that is upon our understandings. Outward light doth not make the object conspicuous without a faculty of seeing in the eye; a blind man cannot see at noonday, nor the sharpest sight at midnight. The work of the Spirit is to take off the scales from our eyes, that we may see clearly what the scripture speaketh clearly. Now scripture is perfected, that is the great work, to strengthen the faculty.
4. This inward teaching must be renewed and continued from day to day, or else we shall soon miscarry by our mistakes and prejudices. David is often pressing God with this request, ‘Lord, teach me;’ which plainly showeth that not only novices, but men of great holiness and experience, need new direction every day. The shameful miscarriages of God’s wisest people are enough to show the necessity of this, and the many cautions in the word of God do abundantly confirm it: Prov. iii. 5, 6, ‘Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not to thine own understanding; in all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.’ There is nothing that keepeth up 343our dependence upon God, and should quicken us in our daily prayers, as the sense of this. Many times we come to God in the morning, and pray coldly and drowsily, because we go forth to the occasions of the day in the presumption of our wit; but it is a thousand to one but we smart for our folly before the evening come. Alas! such is the in constancy and uncertainty of man’s understanding, that unless we have continual light and direction from God, and he lead us by the hand through all our affairs, passion or unbelief, or some carnal affection, will make us stumble and dash against one divine precept or another. This concerneth all Christians, much more those in public station, whose good or evil is of a more universal influence. Such was David. Men of place and power and interest had need have this often in their mouths and hearts, ‘Lord, teach me the way of thy statutes.’ Homer has a notable saying in his Odyssey—
“Τοῖος γὰρ νόος ἐστιν ἐπιχθονιῶν ἀνθρώπων,
Ὅιον ἐπ᾽ ἦμαρ ἄγησι πατὴρ ἀνδρῶντε θεῶντε.”
See Casaubon, Ep. 702,—a most divine sentence from a heathen poet, that mortal man should not be proud of his wit, for he hath no more understanding of his affairs than God giveth him from day to day. A sentence so admired by the heathens, that many of them transcribed it in their writings with admiration; as Clemens Alexandrinus speaketh of Archilochus, who, as he took other things from Homer, so his putting it into his verse thus—
“Τοῖος γὰρ ἀνθρώποισι θυμὸς, Γλαῦκε, Λεπτίνες παι,
Θνητοῖς ὁποίον Ζευς ἐφ᾽ ἡμὲρην ἄγοι.”
Augustine De Civitate Dei, telleth us, lib. v. cap. 8. Cicero rendered it into Latin verse thus, though with some loss of the sense—
“Tales sunt hominum mentes quales pater ipse,
Jupiter auctiferas lustravit lumine terras.”
I quote all this to show you how precious such a hint was to heathens, as expressing a great deal of reason; and shall not we Christians wait upon God for the continual direction of his Spirit?
Now there is a twofold reason for this:—
1. Because this actuateth our knowledge, which would otherwise lie asleep in the habit; and then, though we are wise in generals, we should be to seek for direction in particular cases, or at least not have such a lively sense of God’s will as to check the present temptations we meet with in the course of our affairs, and do too often induce us to miscarry. The temptation being dexterously managed by Satan, and entertained by our present thoughts, will easily overbear a latent principle long ago received, unless it be afresh revived and set a-work by God’s Spirit; therefore we need that the Spirit should be our monitor, and cause truths formerly delivered to return with fresh force upon the heart. And indeed it is his main work to ‘bring things to our remembrance,’ John xiv. 26, and to blow up our light and knowledge into an actual resistance of whatever is contrary to the will of God, or to furnish us with seasonable thoughts in every business and temptation.
2. We have but a glimmering light when we are blinded with passions, and are in some sort ignorant of what we know, cannot deduce those conclusions which are evidently contained in known and avowed 344principles. Hagar could not see the well before her eyes, by reason of her passion and grief, till God opened her eyes: Gen. xxi. 19, ‘And God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water.’ The ground was not opened to cause the fountain to bubble up, but her eyes were opened to see it. And Calvin giveth the reason why she saw it not, because dolore attonita, quod expositum erat oculis non cernebat—things at hand cannot be seen when the mind is diverted by the impression of some strong passion; and it is true of the eyes of the mind; we do not see what we see, being overcome by love, or fear, or hope, or anger, or some cloud that interposeth from the passions. As David, when he fumbled about God’s providence, being blinded by the prospering of the wicked, calleth himself beast for not discerning his duty in so plain a case: Ps. lxxiii. 22, ‘So foolish was I, and ignorant, and as a beast before thee.’ In the perplexities of his mind he could not see clear principles of faith which before he had sufficiently learned, but could not then make use of for the settling and composing his heart.
Use 1 is for information.
1. The difference between the way of God and the way of sin. We have need of none to teach us to do evil—Vitia etiam sine magistro discuntur; we have that from nature; but in the way of God we must be taught and taught again; God must be our teacher and daily monitor.
2. It informs us that as to knowledge and direction there must be much done. Poor man, lying in the darkness and shadow of death, it was necessary for him—
[1.] That some doctrine should be revealed by God, by which he might understand how God stood affected towards him, and he ought to be affected towards God.
[2.] That this doctrine being revealed by God, it should be kept safe and sound, free from oblivion and corruption, in some public and authentic record, especially in these last times, when not only the canon is enlarged, but the church propagated far and near, and ob noxious to so many calamities, and men are short-lived, and there are not such authentic witnesses to preserve the credit of a divine revelation.
[3.] That this writing and record be known to come from God’s own hand by some infallible proof, to the end that it may be entertained with the more reverence.
[4.] To own this authority, and discern God’s mind, we need a suit able faculty, or a heart disposed by the Holy Ghost to receive the proof which God offereth, namely, that we should be renewed in the spirit of our minds, and open our eyes.
[5.] It is not enough to own our rule, but we must be continually excited to study it, that we may come to a saving measure of the knowledge of God’s mind in the word.
[6.] After some knowledge our ignorance is apt to return upon us, unless the Holy Ghost do still enlighten us and warn us of our duty upon all occasions.
Use 2. In the sincerity of your hearts go to God for his teaching. God is pleased with the request: 1 Kings iii. 9, 10, ‘Give therefore 345thy servant an understanding heart, to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad; for who is able to judge this thy so great a people? And the speech pleased the Lord, that Solomon had asked this thing.’ Oh! beg it of God.
1. The way of God’s statutes is worthy to be found by all.
2. So hard to be found and kept by any.
3. It is so dangerous to miss it, that this should quicken us to be earnest with God.
1. It is so worthy to be found; it is the way to eternal life and to escape eternal death; and in matters of such a concernment no diligence can be too much: Prov. xv. 24, ‘The way of life is above to the wise, to depart from hell beneath.’ It is the way that leadeth to life and true happiness.
2. It is so hard to find and keep; it is a narrow way: Mat. vii. 13, 14, ‘Enter ye in at the strait gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be that go in thereat; because strait is the gate and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.’ There is defect, here excess. A gracious spirit, that would keep with God in all things, is sensible of the difficulty; there are many ways that lead to hell, but one way to heaven.
3. It is so dangerous to miss it in whole or in part; in whole, you are undone for ever; in part, in every false religion such disadvantages, so little of God’s presence and the comforts of his Spirit: 1 Cor. iii. 15, ‘If any man’s work shall be burnt, he shall suffer loss, but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire.’ A man should look after the most clear and safe way to heaven.
Doct. 2. That divine teaching is earnestly desired by God’s children.
How often doth David repeat this request! These expressions are strange to us, who, as soon as we have gotten a little knowledge, think we know as much as we need to know, and are wise enough to guide our way without further direction; but they are not so to the people of God.
Reas. 1. It is a hard matter to understand a thing spiritually and as it ought to be understood. There is an understanding of things literally, and a spiritual discerning: 1 Cor. ii. 14, ‘A natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.’ There is a knowing things at random and by a general knowledge, and a knowing things as we ought to know: 1 Cor. viii. 2, ‘If any man think that he knoweth anything, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.’ There is a knowing the truth as it is in Jesus: Eph. iv. 21, ‘If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus.’ It is not every sort of know ledge that is saving; a man may go to hell with speculative light; that never reacheth the heart: such as is practical and operative, the scripture presseth knowledge, and the modus of it.
2. God’s children are sensible of their own insufficiency, and so of the need of a constant dependence upon God; sound and saving know ledge is ever humble. They have clearer light than others, and so best 346see their own defects: Prov. xxx. 2, ‘Surely I am more brutish than any man, and have not the understanding of a man;’ and are, too, most sensible of corruptions, and see most of the excellency of the object: 1 Cor. viii. 2, ‘If any man think that he knoweth anything, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.’ They study their own hearts, and so are conscious to many weaknesses; they know how easily they are misled by the wiles of Satan and the darkness of their own hearts; whereas a presumptuous formalist goeth on boldly, and in the confidence of his own wit runneth headlong into temptation.
3. Their strong affection to knowledge; they desire to know more, for there is more still to be learned in the word of God. Though taught in part, they see what a small measure of knowledge they have attained unto; till they attain the beatifical vision they are never satisfied: Hosea vi. 3, ‘Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord;’ still increasing and bettering their notions concerning the things of God.
4. Their great care that they may not go astray, nor offend in mat ter, or manner, or principle, and end. They whose hearts are set upon exact walking would fain know what God would have them to do in every action and in every circumstance: Lord, teach me; let thy Holy
Spirit guide me, and direct me in performing acceptable obedience to thee. It was David’s resolution, ver. 32, ‘I will run the way of thy commandments, when thou shalt enlarge my heart.’ Now we have his prayer for direction in this verse, ‘Teach me, O Lord, the way of thy statutes;’ I would know it that I may keep it. It is a very trouble some condition to a child of God when he is in the dark, and knoweth not what to do, and is forced to walk every step by guess, and cannot find the ground sure under him. The conflict between duty and danger doth not trouble so much as between duty and duty: John xii. 35, ‘He that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth.’ Oh! it is a sad judgment to wander in a maze of confusions, and to be like those that thought to go to Dothan, and found themselves in Samaria, 2 Kings vi. 20.
Well, then, the use is, Have we this temper of God’s people? Do we look after spiritual knowledge, such as will not only store the head with notions, but enter upon the heart? Are we sensible of our weakness and Satan’s wiles, and that God, that hath begun the work, must perfect it? Do we make it our happiness to grow rich in know ledge, and better our apprehensions concerning God and the things of God? Would we understand every point of duty that we may fulfil it? As face answereth to face in water, so should heart to heart, the heart of one child of God to another.
Doct. 3. All that teaching that we expect or get from God must still be directed to practice: ‘Teach me, O Lord, the way of thy statutes, and I shall keep it unto the end.’
1. This is God’s intention in teaching, therefore should be our end in learning. The end of sound knowledge is obedience: Deut. iv. 5, 6, ‘Behold I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the Lord my God commanded me, that ye should do so in the land whither ye go to possess it: keep therefore and do them, for this is thy wisdom.’ Others do little more than learn them by rote, when they know 347them only to talk of them, or fashion their notions and plausible opinions that they may hang together.
2. It is not the knowing, but obeying, will make us happy. We desire to know the way that we may come to the end of the journey; to inquire the way and sit still will not further us: ‘Blessed are they that hear the word and keep it,’ Luke xi. 28;’ He is in the way of life that keepeth instruction,’ Prov. x. 17. None but desire to be happy; walk in God’s way; he goeth on right that submitteth to the directions of the word.
3. All the comfort and sweetness is in keeping: Ps. xix. 11, ‘In keeping thy commandments there is a great reward;’ many sweet experiences. Notions breed a delectation when they are right, but nothing comparable to practice.
4. He that will do shall know: John vii. 17, ‘If any man will do his will, he shall know the doctrine whether it be of God.’ Such as truly fear God, and make conscience of every known duty in their practice, have God’s promise that they shall be able to discern and distinguish between doctrine and doctrine; others provoke God to withhold light from them. Not that the godly are infallible. Alas! the best men’s humours and fleshly passions do often mislead them, but this is the fruit of their careless walking.
Use 1. Is to reprove them that desire knowledge, but only to inform their judgments or satisfy their curiosity, not to govern their hearts in the fear of God, or to reform their practices. Such are foolish builders: Mat. vii. 26, 27, ‘Every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man that built his house upon the sand; and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.’ These do but increase their own condemnation: Luke xii. 47, ‘That servant which knew his lord’s will and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.’ Like many that study maps, not to travel, but only to talk and understand how countries are situated.
Use 2. It directeth us in our desires of knowledge, what should be our scope. Come with a fixed resolution to obey, and refer all to practice. Knowledge is the means, doing is the end: Deut. v. 31, ‘I will speak unto thee all the commandments, and the statutes, and the judgments which thou shalt teach them, that they may do them in the land which I give them to possess it.’ Media accipiunt amabilitatem, ordinem et mensuram a fine—the desire, measure, order of the means are to be esteemed as regulated by the end; therefore still prize this knowledge, so far forth as it directs to practice.
Doct. 4. In this practice we must be sincere and constant. ‘I will keep it’—
1. Having such a help as this continual direction.
2. Such an engagement as this condescension to direct and warn a poor creature. And ‘to the end,’ that is to the end of my life; there is no other period to our obedience but death. The Greek hath it, διὰ παντὸς, ‘continually.’ The word doth properly signify the heel or sole of the foot; by traduction thence, the end of a thing, and some times a reward and recompense.348
[1.] It is not enough to begin a good course, but we must go on in it, if we mean to reach the goal, else all our labour is lost; the end crowneth the work.
[2.] God, that made us begin, doth also make us to continue to the end. Is the beginning from God, the end and perfection from us? This is to ascribe that which is less perfect to God, and that which is more perfect to us.
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