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I am thy servant; give me understanding, that I may know thy testimonies.—Ver. 125.
IN this verse he repeateth his plea and request also. In the former verse he mentioneth the relation of a servant, and prayeth, ‘Teach me thy statutes.’ And here again—(1.) Asserteth his relation to God, ‘I am thy servant.’ (2.) Reneweth his request, ‘Give me understanding.’ (3.) The fruit and effect of the grant, ‘That I may know thy testimonies;’ or, Then I shall know.
First, This repetition hath its use. This repeating his relation to God showeth that where the conscience of our dedication to God, and our endeavours to serve him, is clear and sincere, we should not easily quit our claim. Deal with thy servant in mercy; yea, Lord, I am thy servant: I have my failings; but, Lord, it is in my. heart to serve thee; I can and will avow it as long as I live. Our defects and disallowed failings do not deprive us of the title of being God’s servants; we may take comfort in it, and assert our interest in the promises as long as we delight to do his will. And though unbelief opposeth our claim, we must remove it in the face of all objections. Christ puts Peter to a threefold assertion of his love to him, John xxi. It is supposed we do not lie, in these redoubled professions of our respect and service to God.
Secondly, This renewing his request showeth his earnestness to increase in spiritual understanding. Savoury and powerful knowledge of divine things is in itself so excellent a benefit, and our necessity of it is so great, that we cannot enough pray for it. Only observe, that in the former verse, the notion was statutes, here testimonies. Statutes are that part of God’s word which we should obey; testimonies that part which we should believe, viz., the promises. But this may be too critical, the words being taken in this psalm in a greater latitude.
Doct. That it is a good plea, when we want any mercy, spiritual or temporal, to be able to plead that we are God’s servants.
1. That there are a sort of people, that in a peculiar manner are God’s servants.
2. These may plead it when they want any mercy, spiritual or temporal.
First, That some are in a peculiar manner God’s servants. The saints of God are so called; it was Moses’ honour: ‘They sung the song of Moses, the servant of the Lord.’ So Josh. i. 1, ‘Now after the death of Moses, the servant of the Lord.’ So Paul asserts it of him self: Acts xxvii. 23, ‘The God, whose I am, and whom I serve.’ Here is a true description of a Christian man; he is God’s, and serveth God; he is God’s by special appropriation and communion with God. He serveth God, that is, walketh answerable to his relation, and is ever about God’s work. Elsewhere he describeth himself by his service: Rom. i. 9, ‘My God, whom I serve in my spirit;’ 1 Tim. i. 3, ‘God, whom I serve with a pure conscience.’ But to know who in a peculiar manner are God’s servants, we must distinguish—
1. God is served actively and passively—by necessity of nature, or voluntary choice. Passively, by necessity of nature, all creatures, even the inanimate, are his servants: Ps. cxix. 91, ‘They continue this day according to thine ordinances, for all are thy servants.’ But actively, to serve him out of duty and choice; so do only men and angels, who were made immediately for his service; the brute and inanimate creatures only ultimately and terminatively. They have a principle in their nature to incline them to it, are not only overruled so to do by the conduct of general providence. The water that driveth a mill serveth my purpose, but otherwise than the miller or overseer of the work. Fire and water is my servant, much more he.
2. We must distinguish between those who are God’s servants de jure, of right, and those who are so de facto, in deed—servants of right, and actually his servants. De jure all men are God’s servants; God made them for himself, Prov. xvi. 4, and Christ bought them for himself: Rom. xiv. 9, ‘For to this end Christ both died and rose again, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.’ He is δεσπότης, a Lord and master, where he is not κύριος, a covenant redeemer and Saviour: 2 Peter ii. 1, ‘They deny the Lord that bought them,’ ἀγοράσαντα, a master that bought them for service, and may challenge a right and interest in them, having shed his blood for mankind. But de facto those are God’s servants who yield themselves up to God’s dominion, to serve and please him in all things with cheerfulness and consent. The covenant is represented under divers notions; as a covenant of friendship: James ii. 23, ‘Abraham was called the friend of God;’ as a conjugal covenant: Hosea ii. 19, 20, ‘I will betroth thee to me;’ as a covenant between king and subjects: Isa. xxxiii. 22; as a covenant between master and servants, Isa. lvi. 6, that take hold of his covenant, and join themselves to the Lord to be his servants. The two former notions imply the sociableness and intimacy we have with God in the covenant; the two latter our inferiority and subjection. Both must be minded, that as on the one side we be not slavish and under bond age, so, on the other, we may not behave ourselves too fellow-like with God. We are such servants as are also friends, yea, as sons; yea, his spouse. The end of joining ourselves to the Lord is not to be partners with him, but servants to him.
3. Some are servants by visible profession and baptismal engagement; others really and indeed, by conversion to God, or an actual ‘giving up of themselves to his use and service. By baptism we are professed servants and subjects to the God of heaven, bound to be so; for it is the seal of that covenant of service I spake of before, and so bindeth our service in it. We renounce the devil, the world, and the flesh, and dedicate ourselves to the Lord. Justin Martyr saith, They did ἀναθεματίζειν ἑαυτοὺς τῷ θεῷ; and Ezek. xvi. 8, ‘And entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord God, and thou becamest mine;’ 1 Peter iii. 21, ‘The like figure whereunto even baptism doth now save us, not the putting away the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience towards God.’ By profession, all baptized persons are God’s servants; but in reality all converted persons are so, that are turned from idols to serve the living God, 1 Thes. i. 9. Without this, Christ will riot be contented with an outside acquaintance and the flattery of empty titles, but will the more challenge us by virtue of our profession: Mal. i. 6, ‘If I be a father, where is mine honour? if I be a master, where is my fear?’ Cui res subjecta nomini negatur, is nomine illuditur. It was no honour to Christ, but a mere mockery, to be called King of the Jews, whilst they buffeted Christ and spat upon him. If God be a master, he will have the honour, fear, and obedience that belongeth to a master, that we should be afraid to offend him.
4. There are some that are servants by general relation, to distinguish persons, and some by way of special attendance. A servant in general relation is every Christian; servants by special attendance are either angels, and they are called his ministers, Ps. ciii. 21, as being in near and special attendance about their master’s person, courtiers of heaven, most in grace and favour with God. A man may have one to do his business, that yet hath not one to attend his person. Among men, the magistrate is the minister of God for good, Rom. xiii. 4. Ministers are servants in special attendance, therefore Paul so often calleth himself the servant of Jesus Christ: Rom. i. 9, ‘Whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son;’ ministers of God, not of the people, but for the people, because of their near service about and under God. David was both a holy man. and a king, and a prophet. David as a king might use this petition: it highly concerneth one in public rank and office to say to God, I am thy servant; yea, as private believers. I observe it not only to distinguish persons, but to distinguish the work of the same person. Christians have, besides their general calling, a particular calling wherein to serve God. God hath given us all talents to trade withal: Mat. xxv. 14, ‘Who called his servants, and delivered unto them his goods;! Luke xxiii. 13, ‘Occupy till I come.’ Dona talenta. Every one of us, as instruments of providence, are to serve God in our generations, Acts xiii. 36, and so not only to mind the work of our general calling, but that particular work which he hath given us to do in our way and place. The general and particular calling do not cross, but help one another. In your particular calling, as instruments of God’s providence, you provide for jour support during your service, and the relief of others: so that, as God’s servants, you are not to be idle, but to have a lawful employment and calling, that you may not cast yourselves upon temptations of using sinful shifts for your support and living. It is also a remedy against the evils that flow from idleness and too much ease, and that he may promote the good of church, family, and kingdom. And then the general calling helpeth the particular, by limiting it, and our endeavours therein, that so we may have time to save our souls; and directing us, that we do all things holily and justly, as become the servants of the Lord.
Secondly, These may plead it when they want any mercy spiritual or temporal.
1. It is not a plea contrary to grace. Indeed, no such plea can be allowed in the new covenant; partly because it is the mere mercy of God to advance us to this honour, to make us his servants, and the fruit of his goodness, rather than our choice: Rom. ix. 16, ‘It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth; but of God that showeth mercy.’ Willing and running and working and serving are necessary afterwards, 1 Cor. ix. 24, as our way and qualification. Again, our service is mixed with many weaknesses. Mercy there needeth to interpret our best actions, Gal. vi. 16. Peace and mercy, when we have done most exactly; yea, the very plea of servant excludeth all thought of merit; for a servant ipso jure ministerium domino debet: Luke xvii. 9, ‘Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded? I trow not.’
2. It is not contrary to humility. It is not, We are thy children, wo are thy saints; but, We are thy servants. It is the meanest of relations; it speaketh duty rather than perfection, and pleads not property of the house, but propriety and interest in God. The best of us are but servants to the high God, and therefore should not carry it proudly either to our master or to our fellow-servants. It is a humble claim.
3. It speaketh comfort; for God will provide for his family, and will give maintenance, protection, direction, help, and finally wages, where he requireth and expecteth service: for the present, necessaries by the way; for the future, a blessed reward. For the present, we may depend on him as servants on their lord: Ps. cxxiii. 2, ‘Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hands of their masters, and the eyes of maidens to the hand of their mistress,’ &c. Servants had their dole and portion from their masters—the males from the master, the females from the mistress; therefore is the expression of looking here used. (1.) God will give direction. In the text, David, upon the account of being God’s servant, beggeth to know his will, as all good servants study what will please their masters; and will God appoint us work, and not tell us what it is? Ps. cxliii. 10. ‘Teach me to do thy will, for thou art my God: thy spirit is good, lead me into the land of uprightness.’ God doth not only show us what is good in his word, but teacheth us also by his Spirit, and directs us in every turn and motion of our lives; and we ask it of him as he is our God and Lord. (2.) Help and assistance. God is no Pharaoh, to require brick and give no straw; his grace is ready to help the endeavouring soul: Gal. ii. 12, 13, ‘Work out your salvation; for God worketh in you both to will and to do.’ He exciteth the first motions, and still carrieth them on to perfection. (3.) Protection while he hath a mind to use us; ver. 122. of this psalm, ‘Be surety for thy servant for good: let not the proud oppress me.’ Under the law, if a servant was hurt, the master was to take an account, and satisfaction to be made to him for his servant. Deut. xxi. 32; so God taketh an account of the wrongs of his servants, and will demand satisfaction. (4.) Maintenance, 1 Tim. v. 8. Every man hath a care devolved upon him, to take care of his family, and provide for them, as instruments of God’s providence; and will not God provide for his own? And then for time to come; God’s servants have good wages: Heb. xi. 6. ‘He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.’ We need not seek another paymaster; there is a sure reward. Prov. xi. 18, ‘But to him that soweth righteousness shall be a sure reward;’ and a great reward, Ps. xix. 11, ‘And in the keeping of them is a great reward;’ and a full reward, 2 John 8, ‘But that we receive a full reward.’ No desire remaineth unsatisfied.
Use. To persuade us to become the servants of the Lord.
1. I will plead with you upon the account of right.
[1.] You ought to be so jure creationis; you were created by him. As a man expecteth fruit from the vine which he hath planted, so may God expect from the creature which he hath made; yea, you were made for this end. If God had made us for another purpose, our living to that end and purpose had been regular. But this was his end, that he might be served by us. Let us lay these things together; consider what an absolute power God hath by creation; no lord hath such a right over his slave or servant as God over us. The slave or servant is either taken in battle, or bought and hired with our money; but God made us out of nothing: he that made a thing at his own pleasure hath a greater right than another can have by purchase, yea, greater right than a master over his beast. A master hath a greater right over his beast than over his servant: the dominion over the beast is more natural to us than over a servant; the servant and master have the same common nature. When he gave us dominion over the beasts of the field, the one is founded in God’s original grant, the other is but a civil right founded in temporal accidents. Something is due even to a slave, as our own flesh. Yet a man cannot absolutely do with his beast as he will; the law of God interposeth: a good man is merciful to his beast. God will not allow a cruel disposition, nor give us the absolute disposal over the creatures which we made not; nay, more than a potter over the vessels which he hath framed, or a work man over his work; he only giveth external shape or figure by art, out of matter already prepared. But God giveth the whole being out of nothing; nothing but what is his. A potter hath power over his work to dispose of it as he pleaseth; here the law interposeth not. Surely, if a potter hath power to dispose of his vessels, God hath an absolute power to smite or heal, lift up or cast down, save or condemn; none can say, ‘What doest thou?’ He doth not fashion us out of matter prepared, but out of mere nothing. But this was his end, that we should love and fear and serve and glorify him. Our business was not to eat and drink, and please ourselves and others, and live a merry life. All things act to the end for which they were created, the sun to shine by day and enlighten the world, the moon and stars by night; and they answer their end. Their ultimate end is to serve God, their next end is to serve man. All things in the world are either subjected to our dominion or created for our use. The heavens, though not under our dominion, as beasts, yet are for our use; the lower heaven to give us breath, the middle heaven to give us light and heat, the highest heaven for our dwelling-place. The sun runneth and hasteneth to give us light. The sun shineth for us, the wind bloweth, and the water floweth for our use. The earth and air are for our use, the earth to tread on, the air to breathe in. And shall not we serve him that made the whole course to serve us? All the creatures are at work for us day and night, for a poor worm of six foot long! Yea, the creator is at work for us: ‘My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.’ We complain if the creatures do not serve us, and shall not we serve God who gave us those servants?
[2.] A right of preservation. He is Lord alone, because he preserveth all things: Neh. ix. 6, ‘Thou, even thou, O Lord, alone; thou hast made heaven, and the heaven of heavens with all their host, the earth and all things that are therein, the sea and all that is therein; and thou preservest them all.’ At whose table are we fed? at whose cost and expense are we maintained? upon whom do we depend every moment for being and operation? Acts xvii. 28, ‘In him we live and move, and have our being;’ Heb. i. 3, ‘He upholdeth all things by the word of his power;’ he doth every moment continue what he gave at first. Things were not made that they should act and subsist of themselves, as the house abideth when the inhabitant is dead and gone. A daily influence is necessary. As the beams depend on the sun, so do we every moment upon God; every day we are bound to serve him. If God should turn us off for preservation to ourselves, how soon should we return to our original nothing! God is disengaged if we serve him not. If, out of indulgence, he continues our beings, what vile ingratitude is it not to serve him! Isa. i. 3, ‘The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his masters crib; but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.’ Would you maintain a servant to do his own work? Since we live upon God, we should live to him.
[3.] A right by redemption: 1 Cor. vi. 19, 20, ‘And ye are not your own, for ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which is God’s.’ If a man had bought another out of slavery, all his time and strength and service belonged to the buyer. Christ hath bought us from the worst slavery with the greatest price, and shall we rob him of his purchase? This was his end; he did not redeem us to ourselves, but to God; not to live as we list, to exempt us from his dominion; that is impossible. Saul promised to make him free in Israel that would destroy Goliath, 1 Sam. xvi. 25. But to be free from God’s dominion cannot be; that was not Christ’s end in redeeming us, but that we might be put into a capacity to serve God. Well, then, when God hath such a right in us, we ought to obey him.
2. Consider what an honour it is to be God’s servants. Servire Deo regnare est. The meanest offices about a prince are honourable. No such honourable employment as God’s service, both in respect of the person whom we serve, the great God, and the service itself; it is a service of righteousness and holiness, Luke i. 74. This is no drudgery; our natures are ennobled; the liberty and perfection of human nature is preserved by this service. And then for the quality of our reward, there is no such wages, no such reward in any service: John xii. 26, ‘And where I am, there shall my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour.’ Here is true honour, fitted for great spirits that will not stoop to trifles; and indeed God’s servant is the only great spirit. The most eminent servants in the court of kings have but a splendid and more gaudy slavery in comparison of God.
3. What a happiness, as well as honour, both in respect of our present communion with him, and future fruition of him! The Queen of Sheba said of Solomon’s servants, 1 Kings x. 8, ‘Happy are the men, and happy are these thy servants, which stand continually before thee, and that hear thy wisdom.’ Happy those indeed that serve God; they are friend-servants: John xv. 15, ‘Henceforth I call you not servants, for the servant knoweth not what his Lord doth; but I call you friends, for all things that I have heard of my Father, I have made known unto you.’ In regard of intimate communion, they are treated as sons, though they be servants. Now it is very comfortable to be taken into God’s bosom, and to have access to him upon all occasions. Besides the reward and wages in the life to come, God’s servants have great vails. Our earnest is better than the world’s wages.
4. Consider what a hard master we were under before: Rom. vi. 17, ‘But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin.’ You have obeyed many masters: Titus iii. 3, ‘Ye were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures.’ You that were at the beck of every brutish lust, and were carried to and fro with so many contrary passions and affections, that have left so many wounds in your consciences, alarmed by terrors every day, when you denied yourselves nothing, thought nothing too much or too dear to spend or part with in a sinful course.
5. If once we come to choose his service, we shall find a difference between the Lord and other masters: 2 Chron. xii. 8, ‘Nevertheless they shall be his servants, that they may know my service, and the service of the kingdoms of the countries.’ The sorrow of the one, the sweetness of the other; the misery of the one, the blessedness of the other; the bondage of the one, the liberty of the other: they that forsake or refuse God’s service shall soon find worse masters. God hath ways enough to punish our straggling from duty and slighting his service; either by putting us under hard taskmasters, some that shall turn the edge of authority against us, push with the horns of a lamb, a barbarous enemy, making us to be mutual oppressors of each other; or by giving us over to Satan’s power, or our own hearts’ lusts.
6. Christ’s service is not hard nor heavy: Mat. xi. 30, ‘My yoke is easy and my burthen light,’ notwithstanding all your prejudices against it. These men live as they list; they think this a sweet liberty to be guided by their own wisdom, and live according to their own wills, according to their own ends, and that it is better than to be curbed, Ps. ii. 3. But after a little while they have other thoughts, they will find the bitterness of such a course. On the contrary, the more we try the service of God, the sweeter we shall find it to be: 1 John v. 3, ‘And his commandments are not grievous:’ and Prov. iii. 17, ‘Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.’ Our work is wages, and our very work carrieth a reward in the bosom of it. So sweet and comfortable it is. Now for directions.
[1.] If we would be God’s servants, we must sincerely, wholly, and absolutely give up ourselves to do his will; and never more to look upon ourselves as our own masters, to do what we please, but wholly to study what will please God. Isa. lvi. 6, they ‘joined themselves to the Lord to serve him, to love the name of the Lord, and be his servants;’ Rom. vi. 16, ‘Know ye not that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey?’ There is a solemn dedication made, we take up his service seriously, not upon example barely, or tradition, or fear, or constraint, or some base respects or sinister ends, or some sudden pang or motion; but after serious and due deliberation, out of judgment rightly informed, and affection thereon grounded, do engage themselves to perform humble service to God, without limiting or power of revocation, give up themselves wholly to follow his directions.
[2.] God’s servants have work to do; none of them must be idle: Mat. xx. 6, ‘Why stand ye here all the day idle?’ Luke i. 74, 75, ‘That we may serve him in holiness and righteousness all our days;’ Phil. ii. 12, ‘Work out your salvation with fear and trembling;’ Acts xxiv. 16, ‘Herein do I exercise myself, to keep a good conscience, void of offence.’ We must not put hands in bosom, having so much work to do. Many presume of being God’s servants; but it is only in the notion; they do nothing for him.
[3.] This service must not be done grudgingly, but heartily: Isa. lvi. 6, ‘And the sons of the stranger that join themselves to the Lord, to serve him, to love the name of the Lord, and be his servants;’ Deut. x. 12, ‘To love the Lord thy God, and serve him.’ God will not be served but out of love, not by necessity and constraint. We must yield obedientiam servi, but not servilem: we are delivered from a slavish spirit: Rom. viii. 15, ‘We have not received the spirit of bond age again to fear.’ God’s service must be gone about with ready affection and good-will. The respect which we show to God is called service in regard of our strict obligation to it, but obedience in regard of our readiness of mind to perform it. Secondly, Not slightly, but with reverence and zeal: Mal. i. 6, ‘If I be a master, where is my fear?’ Ps. ii. 11, ‘Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling;’ Phil. ii. 12, ‘Work out your salvation with fear and trembling;’ and Rom. xii. 1, ‘I beseech you by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.’ God will not be put off with anything by the by, it is a lessening of his majesty: ‘I am a great king.’ Thirdly, It must be done constantly, not by fits. He that is God’s servant never ceaseth from his work; their feasting, walking, sitting, sleeping, waking, hungry, thirsty, hearing, or praying, it is all for God. He that doth any of these things merely for himself, to gratify the flesh, doth not act as God’s servant: Acts xxvi. 16, ‘Serve God instantly day and night.’ Fourthly, Orderly. All things in God’s service must be regarded according to their weight: Rom. xiv. 18, ‘For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God and approved of men;’ that is the main things, not in contests about ceremonies: if others carry these matters beyond their weight, let not us; it is not a pin to choose what party a man is of, if he doth not mind righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost: as if a servant should provide sauce for his master, and neglect to provide meat.
[4.] Our great end and scope must be to please God. They arc true servants that make it their business to please their master: Isa. lvi. 6, ‘They choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant;’ John viii. 29, ‘The Father hath not left me alone, for I do always the things that please him;’ 1 Thes. iv. 1, ‘I exhort you all by the Lord Jesus Christ, that as you have received of us how to walk and please God, so ye would abound more and more;’ and 1 John iii. 22. ‘And whatsoever we ask we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do the things which please him.’ So Heb. xi. 5, ‘Enoch had this testimony, that he pleased God.’ The property of a servant is not to please himself. They that set themselves to please God observe his will in all things. There is a great pleasing in the world, but few make it their business to please God. All inferiors please their superiors on whom they depend; and shall not we please God, who is infinitely greater than man, and on whom we depend every moment for all that we enjoy?
Use. Are we God’s servants? We all say so; but we speak out of conviction of conscience rather than out of inclination of heart; not what de facto is, but what de jure should be; and it is well that we come so far as to own God’s right. Professio ipsa, saith Hilary, habet conscientiae necessitatem, non habet confessionis veritatem.
1. If it be so, then God is our chiefest good and highest lord, whom we study to please and gratify. It is certain that is our master which hath the greatest part in us, and power and influence over us: Mat. vi. 24, ‘No man can serve two masters: ye cannot serve God and mammon;’ Rom. xvi. 18, ‘They serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly;’ Phil. iii. 19, ‘Whose god is their belly.’ It was a speech of Luther, Venter in omni religione est potentissimum idolum. It doth all with men. Where the belly is served, Christ is neglected. So far as his service will comply with the interest of the belly, or a quiet, pleasureful life, so far they can be zealous: their religion must feed them and maintain them, or else they care not for it—John vi. 26, they followed Christ for the loaves—mind religion for outward advantages. When our interest and Christ’s service go contrary ways, we can dispense with our duty to God for the sake of this. It is clear, to be servants is to want a power and right to dispose of ourselves, our actions, and employments. While any other thing hath an interest in us to dispose of us, we are not God’s servants; but that thing that hath such a power with us is our master.
2. A servant is chiefly known by obedience: Rom. vi. 16, ‘To whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey;’ Luke xii. 47, 48, ‘And that servant which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will,’ &c. Men may talk high for God, know much; but whom do we ordinarily obey? When the flesh bids us go, we go; come, we come. If pride bids us display the pomp of wit in our duties, or to hang out the ensigns of our vanity, we yield straight. If lust bid us pamper the flesh; we presently obey; if coveteousness bid take the wedge of gold, we do it. But when a man knoweth anything to be the mind of God, and prepareth his heart to do it, he is one of God’s servants.
3. A servant of God is one that the sight of God’s will is reason enough to him: 1 Thes. v. 18, ‘This is the will of God.’ The will of God must be the prime and prevalent motive with a Christian; they are servants, not to do their own will, but his whose servants they are; they do nothing but what their master commandeth, and what he commandeth they see reason to obey.
Second branch, ‘Give me understanding, that I may know thy testimonies.’ This is subjoined to the former plea.—(1.) Because David would not be a servant in name and title only, but in deed and in truth; and therefore would fain know his duty. (2.) To show the difference between God’s servants and the servants of other lords who command us: Prov. xiv. 25, ‘The king’s favour is towards a wise servant;’ they see them wise, find them wise, and then love them: but God must begin with us; his favour maketh us wise.
Doct. God’s best servants think they can never enough beg divine illumination.
David doth often enforce this request.
Reason 1. Our blindness in the matters of God is a great part of our spiritual misery: Eph. v. 8, ‘Ye were sometimes in darkness.’ There is a veil lying upon our hearts, not easily removed and taken away. All the mischief introduced by the fall is not cured at once, but by degrees; as spiritual strength increaseth we grow up into it; so spiritual light. The maim of the understanding, as well as the will, is not wholly cured till we come to heaven, for here we know but in part; till God give us understanding, we are utterly blind; the best of God’s servants have cause to acknowledge it in themselves, the remnants of ignorance and incredulity. The apostle biddeth them to add to faith virtue, to virtue knowledge; that is, skill to manage the work of our heavenly calling.
Reason 2. None are so sensible of this blindness as they. It is some proficiency in knowledge to understand our ignorance: Prov. xxx. 2, 3, ‘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.’ The most knowing see they need more enlightening. The best of our knowledge is to know our imperfections, 1 Cor. viii. 2. He that thinketh he knoweth anything, knoweth nothing as he ought to know.
Reason 3. There is room for increase; for in the best we never know so much of God’s ways but we may know more: Hosea vi. 3, ‘Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord;’ Prov. iv. 18, ‘But the path of the just is as a shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.’ True sanctified knowledge is always growing. If we sit down with measures received, it is a sign we do not know things as we should know them. Christ grew in knowledge, not in grace, for the fulness of the Godhead dwelt in him bodily. Practical knowledge is never at a stand; though a man may see round the compass and light of saving truth, yet he may know them more spiritually and more feelingly.
Reason 4. The profit of divine revelation as to these three things:—
1. A clear discerning of the things of God, not a confused notion; as the blind man in the Gospel saw men as trees walking. So 2 Cor. iv. 6, ‘For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ;’ and 1 John v. 20, ‘And hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true.’ Every degree of knowledge is God’s gift. What other men see confusedly, we see more distinctly in this light.
2. Firm assent. Then ‘shall I know thy testimonies;’ know them from others that have not divine authority. It is the spirit of wisdom and revelation that openeth our eyes to see the truth and worth of heavenly things contained in the promise: Eph. i. 17, 18, ‘The father of glory may give you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him, the eyes of your understandings being enlightened, that ye may know the hope of his calling, and the riches of the glory of the inheritance of the saints in light;’ and Mat. xvi. 17, ‘Flesh and blood hath not revealed these things unto thee.’ Human credulity we may have upon the report of others, the evidence of the truths themselves; but this firm assent is the fruit of divine illumination.
3. Hearty practice. Let thy testimonies not only strike my ear, but affect my heart, command my hand, let me know them so as to do them, for otherwise our knowledge is little worth. God doth so direct, that he doth also enable us to approve our obedience to him sincerely and faithfully. There is a knowledge that puffeth us up, 1 Cor. viii. 1, which yet is a gift, and floweth from the common influence of the Spirit: Jer. xxii. 16, ‘Was not this to know me? saith the Lord.’ But there is a greater efficacy in practical knowledge, such as warmeth the heart with love to the truths known, John iv. 10, ‘If thou knewest the gift,’ &c. Such a light as proceedeth from the gracious influence of the Spirit.
Use 1. Let us be often dealing with God in prayer, that our judgments may be enlightened with the understanding of the word, and our affections renewed and strengthened unto the true obedience of it; beg for that lively light of the Spirit.
1. We need it. In how many things do we err in the things which we know! how weak are we both as to sound judgment and practice! The apostle saith, ‘We know but in part,’ 1 Cor. xiii. 9; ‘We are but of yesterday, and we know nothing,’ Job viii. 9. Therefore we have need to go to the Ancient of days, that he may teach us knowledge, and kindle our lamps anew at the fountain of light. Alas! we take it in by drops, or by degrees, as a tender and sore eye must be used to the light. We have but little time to get knowledge in, and do not improve that little time we have.
2. We have leave to ask it: James i. 5, ‘If any man lack wisdom, let him ask it of God;’ and why do we not, seeing we have a liberty to ask it?
3. God hath promised to bestow it; he will give his Spirit to them that ask it, Luke xi. 13. And to beget faith in us: ‘If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?’ Here is a notable argument; he reasoneth and promiseth. And Prov. ii. 3, we must cry for knowledge. Well, then, let us be earnest, that we may not miss that which is to be had for asking; beg for a heart to know, Jer. xxiv. 7, ‘I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord.’
Use 2. It informeth us that there is somewhat more than the word necessary to give us knowledge. God must not only reveal the object, but prepare the subject. David having a law, beggeth understanding that he might know God’s testimonies. The literal sense and meaning of the words may be understood by common gifts and ordinary industry, unless men be exceedingly blinded and hardened by their own prejudices. But to have a spiritual understanding of them, so as to profit and increase in sanctification, that is from the Lord. These things may be drawn into a system, wherein there will be nothing that exceedeth the understanding of a man. But to understand it so as to be affected with and changed by it, that is from the Spirit: 1 John v. 20, ‘And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true;’ and Eph. v. 8, ‘Ye were darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord.’ He is the purchaser and author of that light.
Use 3. Is reproof to those that presume on their own wit to under stand divine mysteries. Many think they have eyes in their head, and can see into matter as far as other men, and conceive and judge of a thing as soon and as well as others can do; and so will not acknowledge their dulness and blindness in heavenly things, take it ill to be told of it: John ix. 4, ‘Are we blind also?’ In a rage scoff at those that talk of the enlightening of the Spirit, and being taught of God. Alas! you must be blind and be fools before you be wise, 1 Cor iii. 18, in your own conviction and feeling.
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