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Teach me thy statutes.—Ver. 68.
SECONDLY, we come to David’s petition, ‘Teach me thy statutes;’ which I shall be brief in, because it doth often occur in the verses of this psalm. David’s petition is to understand the word that he might keep it. Teaching bringeth us under the power of what is taught, and increaseth sanctification both in heart and life, as well as illumination or information.
Doct. One chief thing which they that believe and have a sufficient apprehension of God’s goodness should seek of him in this world, is understanding the way of salvation.
This request is enforced out of the former title and compellation.
1. Because the saving knowledge of his will is one principal effect of his bounty and beneficence. As he showeth love to man above other creatures, in that he gave him such a life as was light, John i. 4—that is, had reason and understanding joined with it—so to his people above other men, that he hath given them a saving knowledge of the way of salvation since sin: Ps. xxv. 8, ‘Good and upright is the Lord; he will teach sinners the way.’ It is a great discovery of God’s goodness that he will teach sinners, a favour not vouchsafed to the fallen angels: it is more than if he gave us the wealth of the whole world; that will not conduce to such a high use and purpose as this. More of his good will and special love is seen in this, to teach us the way how to enjoy him. Eternal life is begun by this saving knowledge: John xvii. 3, ‘And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.’
2. This is one principal way whereby we show our sense of God’s goodness. That is a true apprehension of God’s goodness which giveth us confidence and hope of the saving fruits of it, when, the oftener we think of it, the more of sanctification we seek to draw from this fountain of goodness. That is an idle speculation that doth not beget trust, an empty praise, a mere compliment that doth not produce a real confidence in God, that he will give us spiritual blessings when we heartily desire them. True knowledge of God’s name breedeth trust: Ps. ix. 10, ‘They that know thy name will put their trust in thee:’ and more particularly for this kind of benefit. It is a general encouragement: Mat. vii. 11, ‘If ye, then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?’ But it is limited to the Spirit: Luke xi. 13, ‘If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Spirit to them that ask it?’ Without this faith there is no commerce with God.
3. It is an argument of the good temper of our souls not to serve our carnal turns, but promote the welfare of our souls, when we would enjoy and improve the goodness of God to get this benefit.
[1.] They are affected according to the value of the thing. Of all the fruits of God’s goodness which a holy man would crave for himself 247and challenge for his portion, this he thinketh fittest to be sought—sanctifying grace to understand and keep the law. If this be not the only, yet it is the chiefest benefit which they desire in the world. For other things, let God deal with them as he will; but they value this among the greatest things which God bestoweth on mankind. Observe here how much the spirit of God’s children differeth from the spirit of the world; they account God hath dealt well with them when he bestoweth upon them wealth and honour: Ps. iv. 6, ‘Who will show us any good?’ but the other desire grace to know God’s will, and to serve and please him: there is the thing they desire and seek after, as suiting their temper and constitution of soul. A man is known by his desires, as the temper of his body by his pulse.
[2.] They would not willingly sin against God, either out of ignorance or perverse affections; therefore, if God will direct them and assist them in the work of obedience, their great care and trouble is over. It is a good sign that a man hath a simple, honest spirit, when there is rooted in his heart a fear to offend God, and a care to please him. He may err in many things, but God accepts him as long as seeking knowledge in order to obedience, Eph. v. 15-17. All that God requireth, both for matter and manner, is, that we would not comply with sin; seeing the time is evil and full of snares, we should not be unwise in point of duty.
[3.] They have a holy jealousy of themselves. David desired to use every condition well, whether he were in prosperity or trouble. The context speaketh of afflictions that were sanctified; but a new condition might bring on a new alteration in the soul. Prosperity would make him forget God, and trouble overwhelm him, if God did not teach him. In what state soever we be, we must desire to be taught of God, otherwise we shall fail: Phil. iv. 11, 12, ‘For I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content: I know how to be abased, and how to abound; everywhere and in all things I am instructed.’ Unless the Lord guide us, we shall be as Ephraim was, ‘a cake not turned,’ Hosea vii. 8, baked but on one side, quite dough and raw on the other side; fail in the next condition, though passed over one well.
[4.] A sense of the creature’s mutability. Comparing it with the former verse, I observe, that though he kept God’s commandments, yet he craveth further grace, and desireth that he may be still taught, because he knew not all that he might know, and was ready to err both in practice and judgment: and this must teach us to desire God’s guidance and direction, not only when we have erred, but when we do well. Many, when they have smarted for their errors, will desire God to teach them; but David kept this continual dependence upon God for daily grace, both for turning away of evil, and also for doing good: Prov. iii. 5, 6, ‘Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not upon thine own understanding: in all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths:’ which we are to follow in our places and callings. We are apt to ascribe too much to our present frame and resolutions. God must still be called to for his counsel and blessing in every business.
[5.] An evangelical frame. He pleadeth not merit, appealeth not 248to justice, but to God’s grace and goodness. This should be the special groundwork of our prayers. The Lord doth all ‘to the praise of his glorious grace,’ Eph. i. 7; and he will not have that glory in fringed, either in part or in whole. The Spirit of God is very tender of it in scripture, and we should be very tender of it in our addresses to God, that all conceits of our own worth be laid aside, and that we wholly fly to God’s goodness and mercy. The whole work of sanctification, from its first step to its last period, is all of grace, all must be ascribed to God’s free goodness.
[6.] The will of God revealed in scripture is a subject that is never perfectly known. While we are in the way to glory there is always some new thing to be learned of it and from it, even by those that are the greatest proficients in the knowledge of it; and therefore we must be still scholars in this school, and when we have learned never so much we must still be learning more. This is continued, lasting work, for David is ever and anon at his old request, ‘Lord, teach me thy statutes;’ and not without reason, since it is not sufficient to know God’s will in some few great and weighty actions of our lives, but in all, whether of greater or lesser concernments. And when we know generals, yet we are so apt to err in particular cases, and since the commandment of God is so exceeding broad, Ps. cxix. 96. Every day we may see more into it, and may be more fully informed of the mind of God. We every day see more in a promise than we did before, in a precept than we did before; therefore the apostle saith, 1 Cor. viii. 2, ‘And if any man think that he knoweth anything, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.’
Use. Here is a pattern and precedent for us; especially now w& have engaged our souls to God, let us seek this directive grace. It implieth pardon, and that maketh way for joy and comfort; for God teacheth pardoned sinners. A sure light and direction prevents many troubles of spirit and anxious doubts. It is a pledge and assurance of our getting home to God; those whom God guideth are sure to be safe in the issue.
1. It showeth what should be the matter of our prayers. David beggeth not to increase him in riches and honours, nor to flow in temporal delights. No; if God would show himself a good God to him, he desireth it may be in giving him the spirit of understanding, and some increase of holiness; this he would take as the principal sign of God’s favour and grace to him. The world generally imploreth God’s goodness to another end; they think they are dealt liberally with when every man hath his lust satisfied: they pray from the intemperateness of the flesh; but David professeth it was enough to him if he might find God answering him in that one thing which most others neglect and pass by in their prayers, or, if they mention it, it is for fashion’s sake, and to comport with the usual way of praying. But because ‘there is great deceit, and we often pray for what we have no mind to have granted, let us see if this be our temper.
[1.] We must discover it in our thanksgiving and blessing God for this gift, though he denieth us other which make a fair show in the world: Mat. xi. 25-27, ‘At that time Jesus answered and said,’ I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast 249hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to babes: even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight. All things are delivered to me of my Father; and no man knoweth the Son but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him.’ Christ showeth that the mystery of grace is at God’s disposing, who manifests it as he seeth good; that if he hath cut us short in other things, and been liberal to us in this, we should not only be contented, but highly thankful; and how contemptible soever we be in the world, yet it is matter of praise and thanksgiving in that God hath bestowed his grace and love to us according to his will and pleasure.
[2.] By our patience and contentedness in the want and loss of other things for this thing’s sake; want, if God’s providence be so; loss, if occasioned by our adherence to truth. Want: we have no reason to envy carnal men: Ps. xvii. 14, 15, ‘From men which are thy hand, O Lord, from men of the world, which have their portion in this life, and whose belly thou fillest with thy hid treasure: they are full of children, and leave the rest of their substance to their babes. But as for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake with thy likeness.’ We have no reason to repine; our present condition of entertaining communion with God in a practice of holiness countervaileth all their happiness, especially our future hopes to increase in knowledge and abound in the work of the Lord; and to own and stand up for a hated and despised truth will bring more comfort to our souls than all the pleasure the wicked have in their sensual delights. Are they the happy men that go on in opposition against the ways of God? Prov. iii. 31-33, ‘Envy thou not the oppressor, and choose none of his ways: for the froward is an abomination to the Lord, but his secret is with the righteous. The curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked, but he blesseth the habitation of the just.’ They are not happier than the godly; it is a greater happiness to know more of God’s mind than anything they enjoy: John xv. 15, ‘Henceforth I call you not servants, for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I call you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father, I have made known unto you.’
[3.] By our constancy in prayer, and earnest supplication to know more of the mind of God. They will not be put off with other things. God gave the Spirit to the rest of the apostles, but he gave the purse to the son of perdition. Men may have a fit of devotion in their prayers, but their general course is not answerable: Mat. vi. 33, ‘First seek the kingdom of God.’ If we seek it in good earnest we shall show it in our conversation and demeanour: Prov. iv. 7, ‘Wisdom is the principal thing, therefore get wisdom; and with all thy getting get understanding.’ This must be the chiefest thing that beareth sway in our endeavours, that we may know more of God’s mind in following our suits incessantly, we must not be put off; though God giveth other things, you must not cease your importunity. Lord, I expect something else from thy goodness; see Ps. cxix. 132, 133, ‘Look upon me, and be merciful unto me, as thou usest to do to them that fear thy name. Order my steps in thy word, and let no iniquity 250have dominion over me;’ and Ps. xxvii. 7, ‘Hear me, God. when I cry with my voice; have mercy upon me, and answer me;’ if we do not suffer this desire to languish and die, but still it he recommended to God daily. My business is rightly to understand and perfectly to do thy will; this is my one and great request, which I will ever and ever urge. I cannot give over this prayer till thou beest all in all, and showest me the utmost of thy bounty. We desire many things, but we are soon put out of the humour; as children, that seem passionately and pettishly to desire a thing, but by presenting other things to them they are diverted and stilled; but it is not so with God’s people. As Naomi said of Boaz, Ruth iii. 18, ‘For the man will not be in rest until he have finished the thing this day;’ so a child of God will not be satisfied till his desire be in some measure accomplished.
2. In what manner we should pray.
[1.] With earnestness. Slight prayers bespeak their own denial: Prov. ii. 1-5, ‘My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee; so that thou incline thine ear to wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding; yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; if thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.’
[2.] With confidence: he is wont to do it for you. Ask nothing contrary to his nature. We should come with a confidence of speeding; there is in him a propensity and inclination to help us. What would ye do to a hunger-bitten child if he cometh to you for a knife or an apple? You would deny him them, but not meat to satisfy his hunger. If for bread to play with, or meat when he hath enough, you would deny him, not gratify his fancy: if he come to be taught his book, you would readily hear him. So when we come not for temporal things, but spiritual comforts, when spiritual comforts are not asked out of course, and for form’s sake, yea, not only for comforts, but necessary grace to do his will, surely it cannot be that he should cast off them that love him, and would fain be conformed to his will, that come humbly, and long, and pray, and seek for his grace.
[3.] That this confidence must be evangelical. He sets before his eyes God’s goodness, or readiness to be gracious to all that call upon him; so that all the hope we have to prevail should not be taken from anything in us, but something in God himself. We must expect and ask blessings from God, for God, and because of God’s sake. It is not for any good we deserve, or have done, or can do, that God taketh care of his weak foolish children, but for the glory of his name, his grace and constant goodness. God is our fountain, our reasons are his goodness, our end his glory. This is the true way of addressing ourselves to God, deprecating sins for which he may harden us, and remembering his mercies on which we ground our hope. So doth David: Ps. xxv. 5, 6, ‘Lead me in thy truth, teach me; for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day. Remember, O Lord, thy loving-kindnesses and thy mercies; for they have been ever of old.’ His eternal love is assigned as the cause of all: Ps. xxiii. 3, ‘He leadeth us in paths of righteousness, for his name’s sake.251
3. What should be the grounds and impelling principle of prayer.
[1.] A strong bent to please God, and that all your affections and actions may be ordered so as to be acceptable in his sight. Those that stand in awe of God are loath to offend him; they may expect direction and light in all difficult cases: Ps. xxv. 12, ‘What man is he that feareth the Lord? him shall he teach in the way that he shall choose;’ ver. 14, ‘The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him, and he will show them his covenant.’
[2.] A desire to enjoy him; for these things are valuable as they lead us to God. Our solid joy lieth not in outward things, but in our communion with God: Ps. cxxxix. 24, ‘Lead me in the way everlasting;’ and Ps. lxxiii. 24, ‘Thou shalt guide me by thy counsel, and afterward receive me to thy glory.’ Their business is to be happy hereafter, and well guided here, that they may attain that happiness. Now there is an inseparable connection between our walking in the time of this life, and receiving into heaven after this life; and he that is resolved to walk by the rule of God’s direction, may promise himself to be received into glory after his journey is ended. So Ps. xliii. 3, ‘Send out thy light and thy truth to lead me to thy holy hill.’ They would fain take the nearest way to heaven, and follow God’s counsel in all things. We have his word continually to guide us in this way, but we need also the assistance of his Spirit. The promised rest is much in their eye, and doth mightily prevail with him: they would have God to be their guide here, that he may be their rest hereafter.
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