The Precepts and Understanding
"A man of understanding will obtain guidance" Proverbs 1:5
"Understanding shall guard you" Proverbs 2:11
"How much better to get wisdom than gold, to choose understanding rather than silver!" Proverbs 16:16
"Understanding is a fountain of life to those who have it, but folly brings punishment to fools." Proverbs 16:22
"He who cherishes understanding prospers" Proverbs 19:8
Do we really believe those statements? Re-read them slowly, and then answer our question. If we did, would we not more earnestly and diligently seek to respond to that injunction, "Though it cost all you have—get understanding!" (Proverbs 4:7)? But what is meant by "understanding" in these passages? Not book learning or intellectual instruction, for there are many educated fools. Rather, holy prudence, spiritual knowledge, pious discernment and intuition, godly wisdom. "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding" (Proverbs 9:10). "He who chases fantasies is void of understanding" (Proverbs 12:11). "He who hears reproof gets understanding" (Proverbs 15:32). "Those who seek the Lord understand all things" (Proverbs 28:5).
How many of the Lord's people there are, who feel that to a large extent, they are lacking such understanding.
How often are they conscious of being lacking in spiritual discernment, that the eyes of their hearts are defective in vision. They deplore the foolish mistakes which they so frequently make and wish they had "good judgment." Now the Word of God makes known how that lack may be supplied and that defect remedied—and in language so plain and simple that the unlettered can grasp it—and points to an antidote which is not beyond the reach of the poor and untalented.
"The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes" (Psalm 19:8). "For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light" (Proverbs 6:23). "A good understanding have all those who do his commandments" (Psalm 111:10). "Through your precepts I get understanding" (Psalm 119:104).
And again we ask, do we really believe those statements? It is by making the Divine precepts the regulators of our character and conduct—that clear vision, holy wisdom, and a good judgment become our portion.
By nature, our understanding is darkened (Ephesians 4:18), and just so far as the Christian is regulated by his fleshly inclinations, is his judgment clouded. Sin blinds and deceives, and we are only delivered from its obscuring and deluding effects—to the extent that we are governed by God's precepts. It is not only wise to obey them—but we become wiser in so doing. It is only as we are in practical subjection to the Divine Law that the clouds produced by our lusts and passions are dispelled, and we are able to see clearly. "By the law is the knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:20); and therefore, it is by its precepts we are prepared to understand and appreciate the Gospel, as it is by the precepts of the Gospel, that we learn our need of drawing upon the fullness there is in Christ for His people. There is not only pleasure for the soul to be found in walking in the Law of the Lord—but profit as well. Obedience to the Divine will begets wisdom of heart. The way to increase in spiritual understanding is to be studious of practical holiness, thereby we learn to distinguish between truth and falsehood, good and evil.
"Through your precepts I get understanding" (Psalm 119:104).
1. Understanding of the Divine character. Those precepts are not only expressions of God's will—but also of His wisdom. They are not only mandates of His authority—but manifestations of His moral perfections too. As we ponder the substance and nature of those precepts—we the better perceive the spirituality, the goodness, the righteousness, the holiness of their Author.
The perfections of God shine forth through His precepts. They reveal His benevolence and benignity, His solicitude for the welfare of His people—for the keeping of those precepts is not only for His glory—but our good. We do but forsake our own mercies—when we ignore them. "The law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good" (Romans 7:12); and the more we meditate upon it and submit to its requirements, the more do we apprehend the excellency of Him who gave it to us.
2. Understanding of the Divine will. It is to our shame if we find ourselves in darkness, for God has graciously provided a Lamp unto our feet and a Light unto our path (Psalm 119:105). We should therefore reproach ourselves unsparingly if we are in doubt as to what God would have us do in any given situation. Professing Christians speak of being uncertain as to what is God's "will" or "mind" for them, and ask how they may know when they are being "Divinely guided"? Why, He has already furnished us in His blessed Word with all the guidance we can ever need. His precepts are for the directing of our ways, and ordering of all our actions. Those precepts are most comprehensive in their scope and cover every aspect of our varied life. Just so far as we "follow His precepts" shall we have "good understanding" (Psalm 111:10) and sound judgment for dealing with every problem and decision confronting us.
3. Understanding of myself. It is only as the Christian begins to apprehend the spirituality and strictness of the precepts, and resolutely endeavors to be inwardly and outwardly conformed to their holy requirements, that he discovers how thoroughly depraved he is. As the performing of some laborious work—reveals the unfitness for it of one not accustomed to use his muscles; so an honest attempt to please God in all things—will show how much disinclination there is in one who has lived only to gratify lust. This will cause him to cry, "Teach me your statutes" (Psalm 119:12), in their application to all the details of my life, and how to render full and joyous obedience to them.
4. Understanding of Satan's devices. (2 Corinthians 2:11). The more sincerely and closely we seek to walk with God—the more will our Enemy oppose and endeavor to hinder us—but with evil suggestions within and subtle temptations from without. Nor should we be surprised at this, for it is by treading the path of obedience that we avoid those snares which he has set for our souls. Hence, it is that he puts forth every effort to deter us from treading that path and tries his utmost to sidetrack us. The one who constantly and conscientiously seeks to keep God's precepts will learn more of Satan's devices in a practical and experimental way—than he can from reading a dozen books on the subject—for he will now have a first-hand acquaintance with them.
5. Understanding of what to pray for. The one who is determined at all costs to order his life by the Divine precepts, will need no manual on devotion or prayers made by men to help him—for his own felt needs will prompt his petitions. The difficulties he encounters both from within and without will drive him frequently to the Throne of Grace—that there he may obtain mercy for past failures and grace to help for present emergencies. Nor will he make the long-winded prayers so often heard in public; rather, will he find the breathings of this very Psalm exactly suited to his case and cry, "Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight. Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain. Teach me good judgment and discernment, for I rely on Your commands. Quicken me through Your Word. Direct my footsteps according to your Word; let no sin rule over me." (Psalm 119:35, 36, 66, 107, 133).
6. Understanding of our fellows. If we are strict ourselves, we shall soon discover those who are lax. If we follow on to know the Lord, we shall quickly learn who are the ones that help and encourage us to walk in the way of holiness; and who are the ones that, by their vain conversation and conformity to this world—would hinder us. By the application of this one test, empty professors will stand exposed before our eyes, for by their fruits, we shall know them. In God's light, we see light: we discern not only what we are—but what others are. If by grace we press forward along the Narrow Way—it will not be long before we perceive that there are but "few" who have really found it (Matthew 7:14).
7. Understanding of the true secret of happiness. Though it may occasion real grief to break away from old acquaintances and "turn away" from empty professors (2 Timothy 3:5), we shall find right compensation in delighting ourselves in the Lord. In keeping God's precepts, "there is great reward" (Psalm 19:11); a peace the world cannot give—and a joy it cannot take away; a tranquil mind; a conscience which torments us not; the smile of God upon us; and His ear open to our petitions. Then it is that we prove for ourselves that Wisdom's ways "are ways of pleasantness, all her paths are peace" (Proverbs 3:17), and that "the joy of the Lord is your strength" (Neh 8:10).
Sin and wretchedness are inseparable, for God will not allow any who revolt against Him to have anything but misery for their portion. Contrariwise, obedience and happiness go together, for we are ever the gainers by submitting our wills to God.
From what has been set forth above, it should appear how greatly they are the losers, who blindly follow a one-sided preaching which confines itself to either doctrinal discourses—or to what are termed "experimental" sermons—to the utter neglect of the practical side of the Truth. We beg those who have made far more of the Divine promises than they have of God's precepts—to thoughtfully re-read this article and turn it into prayer.
"Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, and who seek him with the whole heart" (Psalm 119:2).