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we read and hear, how it may be for use and practice, and of what moment it is for our eternal weal or wo. The Scripture calls it consideration : “ Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things" (2 Tim. ii. 7); “ Consider this, ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver” (Psalm 1. 22). The more men consider things with application to their own soul, the more wise will they grow, and the more understanding in the things of God, and able to apply all for their own direction : he will see more than the teacher ever could express, when he gives forth the general doctrine of faith and man. ners. But let any meditate vipon it, and urge his own heart, and he shall find something the teacher though not of; and this principally is the sense spoken of in this place. A man that urgeth his own heart with what is taught, when he hath a general doctrine applies it to his own soul, and reflects the light of it upon his own heart, meditates upon it by serious and inculcative thoughts, will ever find something either the teacher saw not, or seeing expressed not, see further into this truth than the teacher was aware of. The life and success of all means doth lie in this meditation.
4thly, “I have more understanding than all my teachers.” We learn this, that private means is a duty, and must be joined with public meditation, with hearing. Many content themselves with public ordinances, but make not conscience of private means, as secret prayer, and debating with themselves by serious, inculcative thoughts returning upon their own heart. Oh! make conscience of this private duty; you may prosper and thrive more in a way of grace. When the Apostle laid down the privileges of a justified estate, he concludes, “What shall we then say to these things ?” (Rom. viii. 31 ;) implying, we should urge our own heart upon every general doctrine, or rouse up ourselves with such a smart question, “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation ?” (Heb. ii. 3.)
5thly, We learn again, that it is good to submit to God's institutions. Though the persons employed in them be never so mean; yet, if they be clothed with lawful authority, by a conscientious attending upon God's ordinance, we may get a great deal of wisdom more than the teacher ever had, as they set your thoughts awork. Surely, if a teacher be corrupt, as they sit in Moses's chair, though they are corrupt, yet as far as they do God's message they are to be regarded; certainly, we are not to turn back upon one meaner gifted, if godly; or be a discouragement to those that are weak, though they are not so able, and have not so strong a gift ; God may make a mean teacher a means for the increasing of knowledge.
6thly, We learn the glory of all profiting, it must not be given to the instruments, but to God; for the scholar may become wiser than the teacher ; that is, God may give more grace by an instrument, than the instrument hath in himself; to show that all is of him, that it doth not lie in the teacher's gift. All profiting must be ascribed to God; therefore the glory of all must redound to him, to his grace: “By the grace of God I am what I am; and his grace which was bestowed upon me, was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all; yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” (1 Cor. xv. 10). If never so able, it is still from God.
Secondly, The reason: “I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation.”
DOCTRINE.—That meditation is a great help towards gracious improvement. David grew in such a manner, as that he did excel all his teachers, and he giveth this reason of it: “For thy testimonies are my meditation." The Scripture calleth for this : “ Meditate upon these things, give thyself wholly to them, that thy profiting may appear to all” (1 Tim. iv. 15). So, “Consider what I say, and the Lord give thee understanding in all things” (2 Tim. ii. 7); and,“ Consider this, ye that forget God ; lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver” (Psalm lix. 22); and, “Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart” (Luke ü. 19). Here I might show, 1. What this is. 2. What a notable means this is for spiritual improvement and growth in knowledge; to debate things with himself, who made him, and for what end he was made; but of this you may see at large, verse 15.
SERMON CVI. VERSE 100.-I understand more than the ancients, because I keep thy
precepts. Man is a rational being, and should close with things, more or less, as they do perfect and polish his understanding. Now, among all the inventions of inankind to remedy the defects of nature, not one of them can compare with the means which God offers for curing the blindness and darkness of the mind, which is introduced by the fall. Man hath found out grammar to rectify his speech; rhetoric, to adorn it, and make it more cogent and powerful in persuasion ; logic, to revive reason; medicine, or physic, to preserve the health of the body; politics, for government of human societies, and for ordering our converse with others in the world; economics, for prudent ordering of families; ethics, for the tempering of each man's spirit, that he may live under the dominion of natural reason. But mark, for commerce and communion with God (wherein our happiness lies), there all the inventions of man are very short, and only the word of God can guide us, and furnish us with this wisdom; and because of this is the word so desirable and precious to the saints. Oh! how they love the law of God! for it is their wisdom. Well, David having showed how it prevailed with his own heart, “Oh! how love I thy law !" for thereby I get spiritual wisdom and understanding; to draw in other men to love and study the word, and to make this motive strong and pressing upon them, he doth compare the wisdom that men may get by the word, with other things that look like wisdom; he compares it with the sagacity of enemies, the speculation and knowledge of the teacher, and the prudence we get by age and experience.
1. With the sagacity of enemies, whose wit was sharpened with their own malice. There he shows that a man that taketh counsel of the word, to secure his great interest, by getting into the favour of God, and walketh by the plain rule of the word, without consulting with flesh and blood, hath the advantage of all other men, and will be found to be the wisest man at length.
2. He compares this wisdom he got by the word, with the speculations and knowledge of teachers. He that doth not content himself with the naked rules delivered by them, but labours with his own conscience to make them profitable to his own soul, he will see more by his own eyes, as to the particular duties and concernments of the spiritual life, than his teachers could ever direct him unto.
3. He compares it here in the text with the wisdom of the ancients, or men of long experience. By the elders, or ancients, may be meant, either men of former times, or aged men of the same time.
(1.) Men of former times: “By it the sancients or elders obtained a good report” (Heb. xi. 2); that is, the holy patriarchs of their time. If this be meant of men in former times, then thou hast made me wiser than the ancients' recommends this observation to us; viz., the church of God is growing always, and one age sees more than another. A dwarf upon a giant's shoulders, may see farther than he. The ancients had their measures of light, so hath the present age. In the latter days (meaning the times of the Gospel; all that efflux of time which was between Christ's ascension and his second coming, is called the latter days); “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions,” &c. (Joel ii. 28–30.) The knowledge which younger ones shall get under the New Testament, is expressed by visions, dreams, prophecy; these three were the ways of God's revealing himself to the old prophets; therefore it implies, that those very truths which the prophets and holy men of God had by visions, dreams, and prophecies, by such extraordinary ways of revelation, will then be commonly known, by preaching and catechising, and other means of instruction, in the church of God; and thus, “I understand more than the ancients." Succeeding ages may see more into the mind of God, therefore antiquity should not sway against the truth, and former ages should not prescribe to succeeding, which grow up to a further latitude and increase in knowledge.
(2.) Rather let us take it, “I have more understanding than the ancients;' that is, than many old men of the same age. They that are slow and dull of conceit, yet by long use they grow wise ; and, having smarted often, they learn by their own harms to become circumspect. But here is the excellency of the word, that it made a young man wiser than those that are men of age and experience. Youths well studied in God's law, may exceed men of great experience and knowledge in arts and sciences. True zeal and piety, and the defects of his age, and want of experiences, are recompensed by the exactness of his rule that he takes to guide him : if he will but wholly subject and give up himself to the directions of this rule, he will not need much experience, he hath enough to guide him : “ I understand more than the ancients: because I keep thy precepts.” In which words you have,
1. The benefit that we get by God's precepts; that is, understanding.
2. This benefit is amplified, by comparing it with the understanding that is gotten by age and experience, “I understand more than the ancients.”
3. The manner of obtaining this more excellent benefit, by a diligent heed and practice, “I understand more than the ancients ;" why? “Because I keep thy precepts.” So that from hence three points are to be observed.
I. That understanding gotten by the precepts of the word, is better than understanding gotten by long experience. I observe this, because David doth not speak this so much to commend his own proficiency, as to set forth the exactness of our rule, and goodness of the word of God; therefore this point lies couched here.
II. That young ones may sometimes have more of spiritual wisdom
than those that are ancient. I observe that, because David instanceth in his own person, though young, that he exceeded many, not only of his equals, but of his seniors.
III. The way to increase in spiritual understanding, is to be studious in practical holiness. I observe this, because the reason rendered, was his own diligent practice: “I understand more than the ancients;" why? “ Because I keep thy precepts."
DOCTRINE 1.-That understanding gotten by the precepts of the word. is better than understanding gotten by long experience. It is better in four regards.
First, It is more exact. Our experience reacheth but to a few things ; but the word of God reacheth to all cases that concern true happiness. The word, it is the result of God's wisdom, who is the Ancient of days ; therefore exceeds the wisdom of the ancients, or experience of any men, or all men. God is more ancient than they, sees all things that have been, are, and shall be, at one view and sight; and therefore, if he will give us a rule, certainly that is more than all our experience. Experience will show us the evils of this world, and give us some rules to escape it; but the word of God tells us of evils in the next, and that with more persua. siveness and evidence than if one came from the dead, and had been wallowing in those devouring flames that had been kindled in the other world (Luke xvi. 30, 31). There is more exactness and completeness in this rule, than possibly can be in experience: the word is “ profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. ii. 17). By “the man of God,” is meant the teacher; the prophets are called men of God, and the public teacher is the man of God." If there be enough to furnish the teacher to every good work, surely there is enough to furnish the practiser. There is enough to furnish “the man of God," who is to consult not only for his own private necessity, but the necessities of others.
Secondly, As it is a more exact, so a more sure way of learning wisdom, whereas experience is more uncertain. Many have much experience, yet have not a heart to see and to gather wisdom from what they feel: “ Ye have seen all that the Lord did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, &c.; yet the Lord hath not given you a heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day" (Deut. xxix. 2–4): they saw it ; that is, had experience of it, yet not a heart to improve it : “ This their way is their folly, yet their posterity approve their sayings” (Psalm xlix. 13). The father he gets an estate; when gotten it, he thinks to enjoy it; God takes him off'; their posterity live by their carnal maxims, and do not profit by their experience. Though they stand upon the graves of many that made a great bustle in the world to compass their worldly ends, yet they are never the wiser for all this; therefore it is a great advantage to have a stated, fixed rule to our hands, to have a rule of wisdom and principles given us by God himself, wherewith to steer and guide our course.
Thirdly, It is a safer and cheap way of learning, to learn by rule, than to come home by weeping cross, and to learn wisdom by our own smart. Experience is too expensive a way; and, if we had nothing else to guide us, into how many thousand miseries should we run! How would a man's life be exposed to inevitable hazards and soul-dangers! And, if by chance he should get out of the snare (which is uncertain), yet the taint of former
practices will remain in him a long time; therefore it is God's mercy he will teach us by precepts rather than by experience; that he doth not teach us, as Gideon taught the men of Succoth, by briars and thorns, but that we may learn wisdom at a cheaper rate. If we were only to know (as God saith of his people, Jer. ü. 19, “ Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee,”) when we had smarted for it, this were an expensive, costly way; but, if we will hearken to God's precepts, all this smart, and trouble, and bitterness of affliction, may be saved; there. fore the precepts of God are better.
Fourthly, The way by age and experience is a long way; and so, for a long time, all a man's younger age must needs be miserable and foolish. Now, here you may come betimes to be wise, by studying the word of God : “ How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity, &c., and fools hate knowledge?" (Prov. i. 22.) It concerns a man, not only to be wise at length, but to be wise betimes. The foolish virgins were wise too late, but never any were wise too soon; therefore surely that is better which will make us wise betimes, as soon as we come to be exposed to dangers. In these respects, he that applies himself to God's precepts, will get more wisdom than he that gets wisdom by age and experience; he hath it in a shorter way, a safer way, a less expensive way, and a more certain and exacter way.
USE I.-To reprove the folly of men that will not take God's directions, but will be trying experiments at their own cost; as Solomon gave out his heart to a critical search, he would find where happiness and comfort was, and at length was forced to come home by weeping cross, to the fear of God and keeping of his commandments: “ This is the whole duty of man:” he had tried pleasure, profit, and all things. The prodigal would be running out of his father's house; and we all would be trying, because we will not take God's word. God hath given his word here to man, we need not search elsewhere; and it is a thousand to one that when you are trying, you ever recover yourselves out of the snare. Here or there a man returns: I found them,' saith Solomon, but there are very few ;' and therefore, as the Prophet saith, “How long wilt thou go about, O thou backsliding daughter?" (Jer. xxxi. 22.) Why do you compass about there is a shorter way to true happiness, if we had a heart to take it. Oh! but we must have our swing and our scope; and then come home by shame and sorrow. “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden” (Matt. xi. 28). Mark, they that come to Christ not only laden with their sins, but weary with vain pursuits. But this is the fashion of man, to be running about, to be wearying himself, and contract weariness and thirst, as the Prophet speaks (Jer. ii. 13).
USE II.—To recommend the study of the word. O Christians! God hath provided for us better than the Heathens, who were forced to hunt up and down to find a spark of wisdom here and there. It is all brought home, and suited to your hands, in the word of God: there is more wisdom to be gotten there for the guiding of your affairs and course of life in order to true happiness, than by age and long experience you can possibly reach. Two ways doth this appear :
1. Because the word doth sufficiently instruct us in our duty: “ Then shalt thou understand righteousness, and judgment, and equity; yea, every good path” (Prov. ii. 9). Then! when ? When you give up yourselves to God's direction, and take the law from his mouth, and walk in the way