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exercise myself,” It should be his delight to think and speak of the admirable goodness of God, and the divine excellencies of his word, and the pleasures that result from the practice of it. (3.) He intimateth the sincerity of his desire, propounding this as his end, “that I may talk ;" that I may be useful and edifying in my converse with others.
I. The first thing that I shall observe, is, that David doth so often beg again and again for understanding.
DOCTRINE.—That a sound and saving knowledge of the truths of the Gospel, is such a blessing as the children and people of God think they can never enough ask of him.
We have abundant proof of it in so much of this Psalm as we have already gone over.
1. What is a sound, saving knowledge ? (1.) Such as doth establish the heart against all delusions, and keepeth us on truth's side. Many have some scraps of knowledge, loose and uncertain notions, but they are not settled and grounded in the truth, and therefore the unlearned and unstable are joined together: “Which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Peter iii. 16). Unskilful and unsettled Christians lie open to every fancy, they bare not such a stock of truth as may keep them savoury and sound in the faith. To be able to prattle a little in religion, is not sound knowledge, but we must “ be grounded and settled in the faith" (Col. i. 23). That is, have not only some floating opinion, but well grounded persuasion of the truth, so as we know we are upon firm ground, and dare venture our souls upon it, and may build surely and safely upon such principles. He calleth it elsewhere, “the riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ" (Col. ii. 2). When men rest contented with obvious truths, or a slight knowledge of the common and easy principles of Christianity, there is not such an awe upon their practice, nor any establishment of their judgments, but like light chaff they are soon carried with the blasts of temptation, and the winds of error. And, therefore, we need to ask again and again, “ Give me an understanding of the way of thy precepts.”
(2.) A sound, saving knowledge is such as causeth the soul to lie under the dominion, life, and power of the truth, and aweth and commandeth the heart into obedience : “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John viii. 32); when our knowledge freeth us from the slavery of sin. In others that content themselves with a naked knowledge, truth is held captive, and cannot break out with any sovereignty in their conversations : “ Holding the truth in unrighteousness' (Rom. i. 18). Lust beareth sway, but truth lieth under fetters and restraint; it may talk its fill, like a man in bonds, but it can do nothing.
(3.) When it giveth us prudence how to practise. This is that which David beggeth of God, “ to understand the way of his precepts ;" that is, to be talight how to walk in each duty and point of conversation, after what sort he may live and direct his life. It is not sufficient to know the meaning of the word in general, to have a notional understanding of it; but to reduce it to practice, where, and when, and how we ought to perform each action. Some have a naked module of truth, are wise in generals, but fail in the application of the rule, and are to seek in the ordering of their steps, and all particular cases: “Husbands, dwell with your wives as men of knowledge” (1 Peter iii. 7). Then is a man a man of knowledge, when he knoweth how to order the passages of his life in every relation according to the will of God. The narrow way of obedience is hardly found, hardly kept, and easily mistaken, especially where prejudices, lusts, and interests, are apt to pervert us. Therefore prudence to apply the rule is necessary : “ Teach me, O Lord, the way of thy statutes, that I may keep it to the end” (Psalm cxix. 33). Not only in the general points of faith and godliness, but that it may season all our actions, that we may be made partakers of the sweet refreshments that flow from it; such a knowledge as ended in a taste : “ As new born babes desire the sincere milk of the word that ye may grow thereby, if so be ye have tasted," &c. (1 Peter ii. 2, 3). So, “ The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart” (Psalm xix. 8): when we do so approve and follow the Lord's directions, that we experiment the sweetness, and are acquainted with the peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. Such an understanding as begets judgment and feeling, or maketh us to find power and comfort in the word.
2. The children of God think this can never be enough asked of God. Why?
(1.) Because of the excellency of knowledge. Light is comfortable, and “it is a pleasant thing to behold the sun," much more the light of the Gospel shining in upon our minds; Oh, what a pleasant thing is that, when all clouds vanish, and the truths of God are fully cleared up to the soul ! None knoweth the sweetness of it but he that hath experimented it: “My son eat thou honey because it is good, and the honey-comb which is sweet to thy taste; so shall the knowledge of wisdom be unto thy soul, when thou hast found it” (Prov. xxiv. 13, 14). The more perfect the operation of any faculty of the soul is, the greater contentment: the conscience in the feeling of God's love, the heart when it findeth liberty in the ways of God, and the understanding upon the sight of the truth, cause all doubts and scruples to vanish. Therefore certainly they that know anything of God, will be pressing to know more of his nature and will; one degree draweth on another. Moses desireth God, “ Tell me thy name” (Exod. iii, 13, 14); then show me thy glory: “And he said, I beseech thee show me thy glory" (Exod. xxxiii. 18). And, “ Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord” (Hosea vi. 3). They are not cloyed, but desire more. The more men know the things of God, the more they admire them; the more they admire them, the more they love them; and the more they love them, the more they desire to know of them. And therefore do they insist so much upon this request, “Make me to understand the way of thy precepts."
(2.) Because of the vastness and latitude of it. Knowledge is a growing thing, religion cannot be taken up all at once; we receive a little now, and a little anon; as narrow-mouthed vessels take in things drop by drop. We read of Jesus Christ, that he grew in knowledge. We do not read that he grew in grace : “He increased in wisdom and stature” (Luke ii. 52); as his body increased in stature, so his soul in wisdom. And still Christians are growing in knowledge, and understand more of the mysteries of the Gospel. Though speculative knowledge may be at a stand, and a man may see round about the compass of revealed truths, yet practical knowledge is never at a stand. Directive, affective, operative knowledge is never at a stand, but increaseth daily. And therefore the Apostle saith, “If any man think that he knoweth anything, he knoweth nothing yet as
he ought to know.” Many think they know as much as can be taught them ; surely they have no experience.
(3.) Natural blindness is an obstinate disease, and hardly cured : therefore again and again we had need to pray, “Open mine eyes ;' “ Teach me thy statutes ;" “ Make me to understand the way of thy precepts.” Our ignorance is great when it is cured in part. The clouds of temptation and carnal affection cause it to return upon us, so that we know not what we know. Therefore, “ open my eyes, cause me to understand.” Yea, the more we know, the more is our ignorance discovered to us : “Surely I am more brutish than any man, and have not the understanding of a man. I neither learned wisdom, nor have the knowledge of the Holy" (Prov. xxx. 2, 3). “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth thee” (Job xlii. 5). Alas, a poor, little, hearsay knowledge availeth not; they abhor themselves when they have more intimate acquaintance, none so confident as a young professor that knoweth a few truths, but in a weak and imperfect manner : the more we know indeed, the more sensi. ble we are of our ignorance, how liable to this mistake and that, that we dare not trust ourselves for an hour.
(4.) Because of the profit that cometh by knowledge. All grace, from first to last, cometh in by the understanding. God, in the work of grace, followeth the order which he hath established in nature. Reason and judgment are to go before the will; and therefore when the work of grace is first begun in us, it beginneth in the understanding: “Renewed in knowledge” (Col. iii. 10). So the increase of grace : “Grace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus Christ our Lord" (2 Pet. i. 2). As the beginning is by light, so is all the gradual progress of the spiritual life; strength to bear afflictions, strength in conflicts, is by powerful reasons ; yea, the perfect change that is made in us in glory, is by the vision of God: “We shall see him as he is, and shall be like him." If we had more knowledge of God and his ways, we should trust him more, fear him more, love him more. Trust him: “And they that know thy name, will put their trust in thee: for thou, Lord, hast not forsaken them that seek thee” (Psalm ix. 10). If God were more known, he would be better trusted: “I know whom I have believed” (2 Tim. i. 12). I dare trust him with my soul. , More feared: “ Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God, but he that doeth evil hath not seen God" (3 John 11). Right thoughts of God would not let us sin so freely; one truth or other would fall upon us, and give check to the temptation; as feared, so loved more. The more explicit thoughts we have of his excellency, the more are our hearts drawn out to him: “ If thou knewest the gift,” &c. (John iv. 10). Christ would not lie by as a neglected thing if he were more known in all his worth and excellency.
Use I. –The first use is to press you to get knowledge, and look upon it as a singular grace, if the Lord will give you to understand and apply the comfort and direction of his Holy word : “Henceforth I call you not servants, for the servant knoweth not what his Lord doeth ; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you” (John xv. 15). To be taught the mind of God is a greater act of friendship than if God should give a man all the treasures of the world. To make himself known so as you may love him, fear him, trust him. When we can apply this for our comfort, O then, cry for knowledge, lift up thy voice for understanding; seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures (Prov. ii. 3, 4). Go to God, and be earnest with him: “Lord, make me to understand the way of thy precepts." We can walk in the ways of sin without a teacher ; but we cannot walk in the ways of God. “And cry, lift up thy voice.' We are earnest for quickening and enlargement; but be earnest also for understanding. Now, a large prayer without endeavours, is nothing worth. Dig in the mines of knowledge, search into the Scripture, do not gather up a few scattered notions, but look into the bowels. Silver doth not lie on the surface of the earth, but deep in the bottom of it, and will cost much labour and digging to come at it. If we would have any good stock of knowledge, which will prevent vain thoughts, carnal discourse, abundance of heart-perplexing scruples and doubts, and much darkness and uncomfortableness of spirit; it will cost us some labour and pains. The more knowledge we have, the more are we established against error: “ Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware, lest ye also being led away with the error of the wicked, from your own steadfastness” (2 Pet. iï. 17). The more you have of this divine, saving knowledge the greater check upon sin : “ I have hid thy word in my heart, that I might not sin against thee” (Psalm cxix. 11). One truth or another will rise up in defiance of the temptation. The greater impulsion to duty, the more of the law of God, the more it urgeth the conscience (Prov. vi. 22). It maketh us more useful in all our relations : Husbands : “dwell with them according to knowledge,” &c. (1 Pet. ïïi. 7). Parents : “Fathers, provoke not your children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. vi. 4). Friends : “ And I myself also am persuaded of you my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another” (Rom. xv. 14). Magistrates, that they may discern Christ's interest: “Be wise now therefore, O ye Kings, be instructed ye judges of the earth” (Psalm ii. 10). When Solomon asked wisdom, the thing pleased the Lord. And lastly, more comfortable in ourselves; that they may comfort and build up one another whenever they meet together.
USE II.-—To press you to grow in knowledge. None have such confi. dence and rejoicing in God, as those that have a clear sight and understand. ing of his will revealed in his word. Let your knowledge, (1.). Be more comprehensive. At first, our thoughts run in a narrow channel. There are certain general truths absolutely necessary to salvation, as concerning our misery by sin, and the sufficiency of Christ to help us; but if we might rest in these, why hath God given us so copious a rule? The general sort of Christians content themselves to see with others' eyes, get the knowledge of a few truths, and look no further; why, then, hath God given so large a rule? Fundamentals are few; believe them, live well, and you shall be saved. This is the religion of most. This is, as if a man in building should only be careful to lay a good foundation, no matter for roof, windows, walls. If a man should untile your house, and tell you the foundation standeth, the main buttresses are safe, you would not like it. A man is bound, according to his capacity and opportunity, to know all Scripture, the consequences of every truth. God may and doth accept of our imperfect knowledge, but not when men are negligent, and do not use the means. To be willingly ignorant of the lesser ways of God, is a sin.
We should labour to know all that God hath revealed. (2.) More distinct: why? Truths are best known in their frame and dependence; as God's works of creation, when viewed singly and apart, every day's work was good; but when viewed altogether in their correspondence and mutual proportion to each other, were “ very good" (Gen. i. 31). So all truths of God, take them singly, are good; but when you have them in their frame, and see how one suits with the other, and what a sweet harmony there is between all the parts of religion, then they are very good. (3.) More experimental, that you may taste the sweetness and power of the truths that you know : “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death" (Phil. iii. 10). When we feel what we know, that is a mighty confirmation. The senses give the best demonstration. It is a disparagement to know Christ and be never the better for him; to have a knowledge of all the excellency of Christ, and how suitable he is to the soul ; yet to feel nothing of comfort and quickening in our consciences. (4.) More practical : “ And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments : he that saith I know him, and keepeth not his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John ii. 3, 4). Otherwise it is but a talking by rote, a man savingly knoweth no more than he practiseth. He that doth but speak after others, it is a rehearsal rather than a knowledge. What is practical light? It is directive and persuasive. First, It is directive. A man grows more prudent, and more able to guide bis course according to the rules of religion ; faith is opposed not only to ignorance but to folly : “ O ye fools and slow of heart to believe." A man may be a knowing man, yet a very fool in spirituals, if he hath not a knowledge how to guide him to trust in God, fear God, love God, and serve God : (Hosea xiv. 7). Secondly, That is practical knowledge when it is persuasive, when it hath a lively force and efficacy upon the heart.
Doctrine II.—Those whom God maketh to understand the way of his precepts, see wondrous things therein.
“Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law” (Psalm cxix. 18). Wonders are such things as do transcend our capacity : so all things about God are above the sphere of men, as the things of men are above the capacity of beasts. Now the more under. standing and insight we have in these things, the more we wonder. Wonder usually is the fruit of ignorance; how then can knowledge breed wonder. The word discovers the ori, that it is so; but the manner how it is, and the wisdom of the contrivance, is that which begets reverence and admiration in a gracious soul, as Nazianzen saith of the eternal generation of Christ, “Let the eternal generation of God be adored in silence. It is a marvellous thing to know that there are Three in One, the Son from eternity, begotten before all the world," &c. So, when we look into these things, our knowledge doth only show that they are ; but what they are, and how great they are, that exceeds our capacity, and therefore we wonder.
1. The doctrines of the Scripture are wonderful concerning God and his works. The nature of God is a depth which we cannot fathom, no more than a nutshell can empty the ocean: “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me: it is high, I cannot attain unto it” (Psalm cxxxix. 6). It is above our capacity; for a finite thing cannot comprehend an infinite.
The creation of all things out of nothing, we believe it upon the testimony of the word, but it is too wonderful for us to search it to the bottom: