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I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation.—Ver. 99.
DAVID had spoken of his affection to the word of God, and then mentioned one special ground thereof, which was the wisdom that he got thereby; now this wisdom is amplified, by comparing it with the wisdom of others. Three sorts of men he mentioneth—enemies, teachers, ancients. The enemies excel in policy, teachers in doctrine, and ancients in counsel; and yet by the word was David made wiser than all these. Malice sharpens the wit of enemies, and teacheth them the arts of opposition; teachers are furnished with learning; but ancients, they grow wise by experience: yet David, by the study of the word, excelled all these. In the text we may observe two things:—
1. David’s assertion concerning his profiting by the word of God, I have more understanding than all my teachers.
2. The reason, taken from his diligent use of the means, for thy testimonies are my meditation.
For the first of these, ‘I have more understanding than all my teachers,’ to clear the words:—
1. It is certain that he speaks not this of his extraordinary revelations as a prophet, but of that wisdom which he got by ordinary means. The holy men of God in the Old Testament, considered as prophets, so they had extraordinary visions and revelations. Now David speaks of that kind of knowledge got by the ordinary means, not those special revelations made to the prophets; for he renders the reason of it, ‘Thy testimonies are my meditation.’
2. It is certain he speaks not this by way of boasting; for this is a psalm of instruction, not a history or narrative. Now the children of God would not commend their failings to the imitation of others, and this which David speaks is rendered as a reason of his respect; by the word he got wisdom above his teachers, enemies, and ancients.
Briefly, the intent and use of this assertion will be known by considering the quality of these teachers here mentioned. You may look upon them either—(1.) As faulty or defective in their duty; (2.) As performing their duty. In both these notions David was wiser than they, or a man of a better understanding.
1. If you look upon them under a diminishing notion; so some would understand it thus, that those which instructed him in human learning and civil discipline had not understanding as he that meditated in God’s testimonies. If this were the sense, there is no boasting, but only comparing knowledge with knowledge, the knowledge of the word with the knowledge of ordinary sciences; and it gives us this lesson, that the great sages of the world that do excel in secular wisdom are but fools to a child of God; they know the secrets of nature, and he knows the God of nature; they dispute about the chiefest good, and he enjoys it; they know the use of natural things, and he knoweth the use of spiritual. This wisdom and skill in outward things, compared with the fear of God, is but vanity; and the wisest man must ‘become a fool that he may be wise’ with this kind of wisdom, 1 Cor. iii. 18.
2. You may look upon them as corrupt and sinful. In those days of Saul, the teachers might be corrupt as well as other ranks and orders of men; and then it only implies this, that God gives greater understanding to his people than to their corrupt guides: Luke xi. 52, ‘Woe unto you lawyers; for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered.’ The expounders of the law were corrupt, and hindered others from entering into the kingdom of God. It is a great evil when the church of God is given up to such kind of guides. But now, in such a case, they that make conscience of God’s ordinances, use private means with diligence, have more understanding than their teachers: Mat. xxiii. 2, 3, ‘The scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works; for they say, and do not.’ Though they were naught and corrupt themselves, yet if they bring God’s message, it should not be slighted, because of the office and lawful authority with which they are invested, though not every way qualified for their station; and in this sense a child of God may be wiser than his teachers.
3. We may look upon them as contenting themselves with the naked theory of God’s law, without making conscience of practice; that they were such kind of guides that never tasted themselves what they commended to others, or practised what they taught; then ‘I have more understanding than my teachers.’ He that excels in practice hath the best understanding. Practical knowledge is to be preferred before speculative, as much as the end is to be preferred before the means; the end is more noble than the means. Now speculative knowledge is the means to the end: Ps. cxi. 10, ‘A good understanding have all they that do his commandments.’ Not only know what is to be done, but do what is to be known. As for others, whatever light they seem to have, they have not wisdom and understanding: Jer. viii. 9, ‘Lo, they have rejected the word of the Lord, and what wisdom is in them?’ They were boasting of the knowledge of the law, yet there was no wisdom in them. A mean Christian, that fears God, is a man of more understanding than he that hath a great deal of head-light and in this sense may it be well said, the children of God are wiser than their teachers. Many times those that are unlearned rise up and take heaven by violence, when others, by all their literal and speculative knowledge, are thrust down to hell.
Suppose it spoken no way in diminution to these teachers, but that they did their duty.
4. Some comment thus; that David had more understanding than all his teachers who taught him the first rudiments of religion, that he transcended them by far, by God’s blessing, in making further progress in this kind of knowledge. If this were the sense, it would teach us not always to keep to our milk and to the first principles of religion, but to wade further and further into these mysteries, Heb. v. 12, 13. We should go on still, and grow up to a greater fulness in knowledge according as we have more means and advantages. But this is not the sense, for he saith, ‘than all my teachers.’ Why then, secondly, take it for his godly teachers that were every way qualified; and it is no new thing for a scholar to exceed his master, and Christians of a private station many times to excel those that are in office. Look, as in secular things among the heathens, Aristotle was wiser than Plato his master, and opposed him in many things, and therefore is called an ass’s colt, that as soon as he was full with the dam’s milk, he kicks her; he forgot that he was his father. We should, if we can, exceed our teachers, but not despise them; and Daniel, chap. i. 20, was wiser in civil arts than all his teachers, so also it is true as to holy things. Jesus Christ at twelve years of age puzzled the doctors. Eli brought up Samuel in the fear of God, but he proved wiser than Eli; Paul, brought up at the feet of Gamaliel, Acts xxii. 3, proved a more notable instrument of God’s glory; and Austin was taught by Ambrose, but grew afterwards more eminent than he. Thus David was wiser than his teachers, and yet they might be faithful and holy. Now he mentions this partly to commend the Lord’s grace, ‘Thou hast made me wiser than my teachers;’ and partly to commend meditation in the word, the means by which he got it; not to boast of his own attainments, but to commend grace, and commend the means of grace to others.
What may we observe from this assertion of David, ‘I am wiser than my teachers’?
Obs. 1. The freeness of God’s grace in making a difference between men and men as to measures and degrees of knowledge: 1 Cor. iv. 7, ‘Who made thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou hast not received?’ Some have more and some less understanding, and all is as God gives out. There is not only a difference between men and men as to their great distinction of election and reprobation, but within the sphere of election as to measures of grace. God manifests himself to some more than to others; they are admitted to this favour, to see more than others into the mind of God, though they have the same teacher, God’s Spirit; the same rule and direction, God’s word; the same principles of grace; yet they have greater measures of knowledge: the reasons lie in God’s bosom and grace. Now this should be noted, that those which excel should be kept humble, as being more indebted to grace than others are. and surely none should be proud because more in debt; and that those who are excelled might submit, and be contented to be outshined: John iii. 30, ‘He must increase, but I must decrease.’ It should be a rejoicing to them that God is likely to be glorified more by others; especially teachers should rejoice that God should give such a blessing to the ministry, that they which seem to be under them should see more than they. When those two quarrelling pronouns, meum et tuum, mine and thine, have no more use, as in heaven, then we shall fully rejoice in one anothers’ gifts and graces, and what they enjoy it will be our comfort: as, in a choir of voices, one sings the treble, another the bass; they are refreshed, and every one delights not only in his own part and performance, but in the part of each other; all concurs to the harmony; so one hath this measure of grace, another another, and all concur to the glory of God.
Obs. 2. Not only the freeness of God’s grace in giving wisdom to one more than to another, but observe also the sovereignty of God’s distribution. The treasures of grace are at his free disposing, and he will not be tied to any order; he gives to every one that measure of understanding which he sees fit. Indeed his ordinary course is to bless the teachers of his people with an increase of knowledge, for he hath promised a more especial presence with the public gift than with private: Mat. xxviii. 20, ‘I am with you to the end of the world.’ Yet many times private believers excel their godly teachers in wisdom and piety. Wisdom is not so tied to the teachers but that God is free to the giving as much, nay, more, to those that are taught. Though the general course is, in the ordinary way, that teachers should know more than the taught, yet God sometimes doth work extraordinarily, to show his prerogative, and absolute sovereignty; and things revealed to babes may be hid from the wise and prudent, to show that it is at his disposing, to hide and manifest as he pleaseth.
Obs. 3. The equity and proportion that he observes in the dispensation of his sovereignty, for David ascribes it to God, but observes that this came to him as a blessing upon the use of means, ‘For thy testimonies are my meditation.’ God gives knowledge to whom he pleas eth, but those that meditate most thrive most.
There are three sorts of meditation—(1.) Of observation; (2.) Of study and search; (3.) Of consideration or inculcative application; and all these conduce to make us wise.
1. There is a meditation of observation, when a man compares the word and providence, and is still taking notice how such a promise is accomplished, such a threatening made good; this man will grow more wise and more understanding than others: Ps. cvii. 43, ‘Whoso is wise, and will observe those things, even they shall understand the loving-kindness of the Lord.’ That is, he that is comparing the prediction and event, God’s proceedings either in justice or mercy according to his word, how he doth punish and reward his people, and what visible comments his works are upon his word, he hath a clearer discerning than others, and they will see more cause to adhere to God, and yield him more faithful obedience than others.
2. There is the meditation of study and search, they that are inquiring into the word of God to find out his mind: Eph. v. 17, ‘Be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.’ They that exercise themselves in the word to find out his mind shall have more of his blessing than those that rest in hearing and reading: ‘For with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you; and unto you that hear, shall more be given,’ Mark iv. 24. It is spoken of measuring to God in ordinances; as we measure to God in the use of means, so the Lord will measure out to us in his blessing and the influences of his grace.
3. There is a meditation of consideration, when we consider that which we read and hear, how it may be for use and practice, and of what moment it is for our eternal weal or woe. The scripture calls it consideration: 2 Tim. ii. 7, ‘Consider what I say, and the Lord give thee understanding in all things;’ Ps. l. 22, ‘Consider this, ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver.’ 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 manners. But let any meditate upon it, and urge his own heart, and he shall find something the teacher thought 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.
Obs. 4. ‘I have more understanding than my teachers.’ We learn this, that private means is a duty, and meditation must be joined with public hearing. Many content themselves with public ordinances, but make no 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, Rom. viii. 31, he concludes, ‘Now what shall we say to these things?’ implying we should urge our own heart upon every general doctrine, or rouse up ourselves with such a smart question, Heb. ii. 3, ‘How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?’
Obs. 5. 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 teachers be corrupt, as they sit in Moses’ 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.
Obs. 6. 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: 1 Cor. xv. 10, ‘By the grace of God I am what I am; and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain: I laboured more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.’ 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.’
Point. 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: 1 Tim. iv. 15, ‘Meditate upon these things, give thyself wholly to them, that thy profiting may appear to all. So consider what I say, and the Lord give thee understanding in all things;’ and Ps. l. 22, ‘Consider this, ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver;’ and Luke ii. 19, ‘Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.’ 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, ver. 15.
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