“And now, O Lord my God, thou hast made thy servant king instead of David my father; and I am but a little child: I know not how to go out or to come in. “And thy servant is in the midst of thy people whom thou hast chosen, a great people, that cannot be numbered nor counted for multitude.”Give, therefore, thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people?”. I KINGS iii. 7-9.
HUMILITY is the true basis of every blessing. We are as nothing before the grandeur and perfection of the Lord, and ought ever to feel as expressed by Solomon, that we are but as little children, and of ourselves know neither how to go out nor to come in. Hence the importance of praying to the Lord to give us His wisdom to guide us, that we may be able to discern between good and evil. Who of himself can judge wisely in all the devious ways of practical and intellectual life? Yet it is of the utmost importance that we exercise judgment, Liberty and rationality are the truly human attributes which distinguish men from inferior beings, and from the image of God in us. By exercising these wisely, we become truly human. By exercising these wisely, we perform faithfully the part assigned to us in the household of our Heavenly Father; and our part, however small, if done well, will affect the whole for good. Considerations like these opened themselves manifestly to the mind of Solomon, when he succeeded to the kingdom of Israel and the throne of his father. He felt his important position in the midst of a people formed into a nation, with interests varied, complicated, and numerous; weighty for good if rightly-directed, powerful for mischief if deficient in true wisdom. He prayed, therefore, for this all-important guidance. “Give, therefore, Thy servant an understanding heart to judge Thy people, that I may discern between good and bad.” We are not all placed by Divine Providence in positions so illustrious as that of Solomon, but the essential relations of life are nearly alike for all. We have all needs which in their broad features have many similarities; and we all require similar mercies and virtues from the Most High, rightly to perform the duties of our life and station. If we are not in the midst of a great people, whose welfare largely depends upon us, we are in the midst of relations and connections far-reaching in their consequences and results; and for everyone of us the prayer of Solomon is the right petition: Give me an understanding, or, as it might be more closely rendered, a listening or hearkening heart.
It may be properly remarked, that the intellect rather than the heart is the seat of understanding; and we have observed that a listening or hearkening heart would be a more correct rendering of the original words; yet the heart has a great deal to do even with our intellectual views. The eyes will never see very clearly, if the heart will not permit them to look.
A hearkening heart means an obedient will: the heart corresponds everywhere in the Divine Word to the will. What the heart is to the body, that the will is to the soul. The heart is the centre of the circulation, which sends life and force throughout the body, and really builds up the ten thousand organs and tissues of the human frame. The heart is the inner man of the body-the central palace where the blood is wondrously elaborated and prepared. The heart uses the lungs to purify the vital stream, and remove what has become worn out and injurious; and when the blood returns refreshed and invigorated, it sends it forth with all its flood of forces to give energy to the brain, sight to the eye, power to the hand, and vitality everywhere. What the heart is, that the body is. If the heart be feeble, irregular in its action, or stiff and bone-like, the lungs soon suffer, the blood becomes impure, the body by many sufferings indicates disorder at the centre, and decay and death ensue. If the heart be vigorous, firm, and healthy, the whole wondrous structure feels its grand pulsations, and thrills with energy and health.
The will is the heart of the soul. When the WILL is vigorous, the whole soul is warm. The loves, friendships, aims, hopes, ends, and affections of the will give tone and character to the whole mind. Where there is a will, there’s a way. Convince a man against his will, he’s of the same opinion still. These proverbs, and many others which utter the experience of mankind, teach the great truth that the will is the man ; and such as is the real character of the will, such is the real character of the intellect, of the works, and of the whole man.
The will, then, is to the soul what the heart is to the body the centre of its energies, and that which gives a character to every other faculty and every other principle, indeed to the whole man. Hence the will is called the heart, because it corresponds to it in all respects; and we have throughout the Divine Word such declarations as, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart;” “I will praise the Lord with all my heart” (Ps, lxxxvi. 12); “I will walk within my house with a perfect heart” (Ps, ci, 2); “I will give them one heart, and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh” (Ezek. xi. 19); “Bessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. v. 8): “Those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart” (Matt. xv. 18); “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts” (Mark vii. 2I). And in the Book of Proverbs there is a passage whose weight and importance have been often dwelt upon: “Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life” (Prov. iv. 23). And the, apostle said, “With the heart a man believeth unto righteousness” (Rom. x. 10).
All these passages prove and illustrate these two facts: that the heart in Scripture corresponds to the will; that the will is the grand faculty in the soul, and that its functions to man’s spiritual nature are equal in importance to those which the heart exercises in ‘his natural body. These facts are perceived by the common sense of mankind, as is evident from the phrases of ordinary speech. When a person intends to say he will perform some work with his whole will, he says he will do it with all his heart. Of something which is not in harmony with a man’s will, he is said to have no heart in it. A bad will is called a bad heart; a good disposition is designated a good heart.
So, in the prayer before us, the petition of Solomon is, “Give me a hearing heart;” that is, manifestly, “Give me a will to attend to and obey that which Divine Wisdom may utter. When God speaks, give me the grace to listen.”
There is a wide-spread idea, which has been inculcated in the name of philosophy, that belief is the simple result of evidence. Faith is said to be the inevitable consequence of proof sufficient. So that if a man believes, it is simply because good evidence has induced conviction, and he could not withhold his assent; and if another man is not convinced, it is simply that proofs enough have not been supplied; and there is in neither case any room for praise or blame, merit or dernerit : there is no exercise of will in obtaining faith.
The will is said to follow conviction necessarily. So that if you give a man proper evidences, he must be convinced; if convinced, he must will in harmony with his convictions: and so man is a creature of circumstances.
But experience and the Divine Word both teach a very different lesson. It is not enough to have great truths and good evidence brought before a person. He must will to believe what is true, or no impression will be made upon his mind. If a man does not desire the truth, he can listen or not listen: he can pervert what he hears, he can give prominence to some portions of what he hears, and depress and place in the background portions not in agreement with his wishes; and the result will be darkness to one who loves darkness, and light only to one who loves light. “Unto the upright there arises a light in the darkness” (Ps. cxii. 4). And with the wicked, “They love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil ” (John iii. 19). Hence the unspeakable value of a heart that yearns for truth, that seeks for it, that listens for it.
Truth and love flowed from the Lord in one grand stream, and continue to do so; but when they arrive at human minds they separate—the soul is now in disorder, and will not receive them both, at once—but, like brother and sister, they long for each other s company again. Good loves truth and listens for it. Truth loves good, and points to it. Love when it enters the heart in the form of goodness, makes it a listen in a heart listening for the truth. This attracts the truth as the magnet attracts iron. It embraces and embosoms truth, as the good ground receives the seed, Mercy and truth are met together, righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth shall spring out of the earth, and righteousness shall look down from heaven.
Thus we may see why, when the truth is addressed to a general audience, one person will receive it gladly, another will reject, a third will be indifferent.
The love of truth must be active in the soul or there will be no reception of truth, no hearkening heart, no inward assent, no real faith. Without the love of truth, faith cannot enter the soul, salvation cannot enter. Unless truth is believed, there is no power against evil and false principles, no victory in temptation, no growth in love to the Lord or in charity to our neighbour; no attainment of spiritual beauty of order, or of heaven within.
“Give me then a hearkening heart” should be the universal prayer, the prayer of everyone, as it was the prayer of Solomon. Solomon was prepared for this petition by the perception previously of his need and his littleness. He said, “I am but a little child: I know not how to go out or to come in.”
The spirit of humility is always the true preparation for the reception of heavenly graces. ” Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
If we think we are very wise already, we shall not seek with great earnestness for other wisdom. If we esteem ourselves very correct and good already, we shall not hunger after the righteousness of the Lord. If we deem our own lives to be faultless, we shall not seek very assiduously to become better. The very essence of heaven is that lowly spirit which feels that there is neither merit, goodness, nor wisdom in ourselves. Of ourselves, we know not how to go out or to come in. We are poor and needy, but “The Lord thinketh upon us” is the true feeling of the Christian. Humility leads to peace and to progress. “Learn of me,” the Lord said; “for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” Those angels whose graces are the highest bend the lowest before the throne of the Eternal. The living ones who are in the midst of the heavenly throne are ever saying, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who is, and who was, and who art to come.”
The lark, high as it soars and sings, has a lowly nest. The violet, whose fragrance perfumes a hedgerow, is often hidden from sight. The heart will not be haughty, nor the eyes lofty, when self is abhorred ‘and rejected to the depths of the sea of the soul. They who are averse to all that is evil and false because it is from themselves, and are in the affection of all that is good and true because it is from the Lord, are in humiliation, and in a state to receive goodness and truth from the Lord. Unless a man humbles himself by acknowledging that he is nothing but evil, he is in merit and self-righteousness; and as good cannot flow in, he cannot be withheld from the evils of his selfhood.
“The saint that wears heaven’s brightest crown
In deepest adoration bends:
The weight of glory bows him down
Then most, when most the soul ascends:
Nearest the throne itself must be
The footstool of humility,”
Humiliation bends the knee, and, when it is fullest, prostrates the whole, body, before the Majesty Divine, the unutterable perfection of Infinite Mercy, Purity, and Love, It feels the truth ever to be as expressed by Solomon: “I run but a little child: I know not how to go out or to come in.” Solomon was, moreover, not only the type of the Christian, but of the Lord Jesus in His glorified humanity, He was pre-eminently the Prince of Peace-the Divine Solomon. He was conscious, in His humanity, that all its powers and capabilities were from the Father. The Son was formed from the Father, lived from the Father, thought from the Father, felt and loved from the Father, yet AS OF Himself. He had a consciousness in Himself, as being a Divine Man; yet He ever felt that the Father, the Divine Love within Him, was the Fountain whence every power of the Humanity was derived. Just as the body of a man lives from the soul, speaks and acts fro in the soul, yet feels distinct and has a consciousness as if life were its own and in itself; so, in the Lord’s human nature, He felt His thoughts, perceptions, and powers as if they were self-existent: yet He knew constantly, and constantly taught, that the Son could do nothing of Himself He said: “‘The Son can do nothing of Himself but what He seeth the Father do; for what things soever He doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise” (John v. 19). To us the Son is everything, yet everything from the Father within. “For as the Father hath life in Himself, so hath He given the Son to have life in Himself” (ver. 26). The Son was to reveal the Father, to raise a dead world to life, to give light, to impart salvation, to convey power to men that they might conquer their evils and follies, and rise to become images and likenesses of the Lord Himself Power over all flesh was given unto Him–all power in heaven and on earth; yet all was from the Father. To us He is Wonderful, Counsellor, the government upon His shoulder; He is all and in all, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace. Yet He was infinitely meek; and in comparison with the Divine Love within, He could say: My Father is greater than I. “All things are delivered to me,” He declared, “of lny Father; and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father.” How wonderful, how mysterious, how glorious this revelation of the Father in the Son-of the Divine in the Human! The Human is a Divine Human, and to us the Mercy-seat, the Temple of the Godhead, the Sun of Righteousness; yet all from the invisible Father, the otherwise unapproachable. The Son must reveal the Father to us. “No man knoweth the Father save the Son, and he to whom THE SON WILL REVEAL HIM.” Just as the body reveals the soul-in its looks, in its gestures, in its touch, in every movement—so the Son reveals the Father, not as another, but as His own inner nature. Though all the grandeurs of Deity are revealed in the Saviour and he is King of kings and Lord of lords; yet there is this constant humility in Him, which says, in relation to the boundless infinitude of the Father within: I am but a little child, I know not of myself how to go out or to come in; but all things that the Father hath are mine, All Thine are mine, and mine are Thine; and I am glorified in them (John xvii, 10). Yet am I a little child, nothing of myself”; all is from Thee. O Father, Thou only art underivedly Holy, Wise, Omnipotent, and I from Thee. I in them, and Thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one.
This perfect subserviency and response of the Humanity in the Lord Jesus, His having a hearing heart to the Divine Love in the most absolute perfection, gives a grandeur to the words of Solomon in their application to Him of the most wonderful kind. “Thy servant is in the midst of Thy people, whom Thou hast chosen, a great people, that cannot be numbered nor counted for multitude, Give, therefore, Thy servant a hearing heart to judge Thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this Thy so great a people?” Let us raise our view from Solomon and his nation–so great to him, though otherwise comparatively small—to the Saviour ascended high above all heavens, that He might fill all things (Eph. IV. 10), ruling and blessing the heavenly in all worlds and through all ages; and we shall then obtain a glimpse of the inner glory of the Word, and perceive how far the spirit and life exceed the outward form. To the Lord Jesus the words are applicable as they are to no other. “Lo, I have given thee a wise and a hearing heart; so that there was none like thee before thee, neither after thee shall any arise like unto thee. And I have also given thee that which thou hast not asked, hath riches and honour; so that there shall not be any among the kings like unto thee all thy days.” Let us, however, turn from this wondrous and attractive theme, to the humbler lesson which the Divine Word contains in the blessing pronounced upon Solomon, because in his prayer he had asked only for spiritual graces, leaving all outward things contentedly to the Divine Providence. He had asked for a hearing heart, to give him perception to discern between the good and the bad. This perception is higher than knowledge, higher than reason: it is an inner sight, which comes from the union of love and truth in the interiors of the heart, making a good and supremely tender conscience.
This is indeed an invaluable gift from our Heavenly Father, an inmost blessing, Outer gifts–long life, riches power victories over others-may be blessings, or they may be curses. They are blessings to those who use them conscientiously; they are to others snares and curses. We do not know whether they will do good or evil to ourselves or to others; and therefore they are not proper subjects for prayer. But to pray for humility, obedience, wisdom, love, patience, and all heavenly graces, this will secure all that ‘is needful. ” Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. vi. 33).
What we shall eat, what we shall drink, what we shall wear riches, power, prosperity,-these are not the subjects for prayer: but for Providence, The Lord will provide in these respects what is good for us; and while we diligently cultivate our powers, and do our duty, we should pray for content, gratitude, and peace. The one thing needful is to become heavenly and live the life of heavenly usefulness on earth.
No wealth, no possessions, no gifts, no talents, no adornments, however rare or costly, no opportunities for distinction, no applause, no fame, can impart what the yearning heart wants, unless the Lord and His kingdom are there. Let us then pray, with Solomon, for the hearing heart, that ever listens to the voice of the Saviour in the conscience, and follows Him. Then from day to day the Lord will lead us: to trial, when trial is good; to inward peace during the struggle, and full content and prosperity when the trial is over. Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning. And, both night and morning, though the Lord give us the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet shall not our teachers be removed into a corner any more; but our eyes shall see our teachers, and our ears shall hear a word behind us saying, This is the way, walk ye in it.
Because we ask for a hearing heart and a wise understanding, the Lord will give them. And He will give those things for which we have not asked, but which would conduce to our comfort and usefulnless in this life also, when He sees they would be real blessings; not temporal only, but extending our progress and, happiness through ages which will never end.
Author: Jonathan Bayley— The Divine Wisdom of the Word of God (1892)