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tween duty and duty: “He that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth" (John xii. 35). 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 into 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 knowledge, 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.
DOCTRINE III.- 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: “ 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 your wisdoni” (Deut. iv. 5, 6). Others do little more than learn them by rote, when they know them 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 : “In keeping thy commandments there is a great reward” (Psalm xix. 11), many sweet experiences. Notions breed a delectation when they are right, but nothing comparable to practice.
4. He that will do shall know: “If any man will do his will, he shall know the doctrine whether it be of God” (John vii, 17). 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 I—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 : “Every one that heareth these sayings of mine and doeth them not, shall he likened unto a foolish man, which 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" (Mat. vii. 26, 27). These do but increase their own condemnation : “ That servant which knew his Lord's will and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes” (Luke xii. 47). Like
many that study maps not to travel, but only to talk and understand how countries are situated.
II.-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: “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" (Deut. v. 31). 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.
DOCTRINE IV. In this practice we must be sincere and constant, “I will keep it."
1. Having such a help as this continued 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 has it, Aid havròs, “continually.” The word doth properly signify the heel or soul of the foot; by traduction thence, the end of a thing, and sometimes a reward and recompense.
(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.
SERMON XXXVII. VERSE 34.–Give me understanding and I shall keep thy law ; yea,
I shall observe it with my whole heari. In these words you have, Ist, A prayer, “Give me understanding." 2ndly, A promise, “ And I shall keep thy law." 3rdly, The promise amplified, by expressing the exactness and sincerity of that obedience, “ Yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart." The 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 : “ filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, that ye may walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing" (Col. i. 9, 10). 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:“ Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the Devil” (Eph. vi. 11). His enterprises or devices : “Lest Satan should get an advantage of us, for we are not ignorant of his devices” (2 Cor. ii. 11); he is ready to entrap us and ensnare us by plausible temptations, he suiteth the bait to every appetite. Then our own hearts : “ The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, who can know it?” (Jer. xvii. 9.) 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 laws, 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. “ Walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Eph. v. 15, 16).
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 : “ We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts v. 29). 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 : “ Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. vi. 33). And whosoever fail in this point of wisdom are very fools : “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 ?” (Luke xii. 20.) 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 : “Thou therefore endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ" (2 Tim. ii. 3). It is better do so than to have all our hopes spent: “Son, in thy life-time thou receivedst thy good things" (Luke xvi. 25). That which is present is temporal, that which is to come is eternal : “ While we look not at the things which are seen, but the things which are not seen : for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor. iv. 18). The good and evil of the preserit 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 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 plasure give way to protit: therefore Solomon saith, “ Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is by the strength of the ox” (Prov. xiv. 4). 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 the 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, that for the abundance of his wealth maketh havock of a good conscience, and neglecteth things to come. Godliness is the great gain (1 Tim. vi. 5). (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 “choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season” (Heb. xi. 25). (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 honours against disgrace,“ but godliness is profitable unto 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 causes 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. 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 we do not destroy what we would build up. Therefore understanding is necessary. See further, verse the 98th of this Psalm.
5. Because our afflictions answer our understanding. If we understand not, how can we believe? it' 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 : “serving divers lusts and pleasures” (Titus ii. 3). 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 : “not as the horse or as the mule that have no understanding” (Psalm xxxii. 9); but wise and knowing in all principles, actions, and circumstances that belong to his duty, if he would honour bis 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 unto 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 : “ I have more understanding than all my teachers, for thy testimonies are my meditation” (Psalm cxix. 99). And, “Consider what I say, and the Lord give thee understanding in all things” (2 Tim. ii. 7).
(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 : “ There is a spirit in man, but the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding” (Job xxxii. 8). 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 doeth good, no not one" (Psalm xiv. 3): and, “ There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God" (Rom. iii. 11). Therefore, it is God must give understanding, at first conversion ; God opened the heart of Lydia (Acts xvi. 14); and, “To