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1. Date and authorship. Some ascribe the authorship to “David, before his accession to the kingdom, in exile and peril (Psalms 119:9; Psalms 119:23; Psalms 119:46; Psalms 119:141; Psalms 119:161). Others (of chief authority), from the language and contents, imagine it to be of much later date. Jebb thinks, Daniel; others, Ezra; Dean Stanley says that the rhythm seems to mark the age of Jeremiah; Kay supposes it to depict the mental state of those who have passed through the discipline of the captivity; Hitzig, as usual, refers it to the days of the Maccabees (see Macc. 12:48).”—Speaker’s Com.
2. Character. There are twenty-two sections in this Psalm, arranged according to the Hebrew alphabet, each consist of eight verses, and every eight begins with the same letter. Thus, there are eight initial Alephs, eight initial Beths, &c. In nearly every verse the divine law is mentioned, and the sacred name of Jehovah is brought in twenty-two times once for each letter. “It contains many repetitions and imitations of earlier Psalms.… No part of Scripture is more suggestive of edifying trains of thought, or more saturated with a spirit all but Christian, of humility, trust, devoted love to God, and realisation of His near presence.… It is an epitome of all true religion, and must be studied by any one who wishes to fathom the meaning of the law, and the elevation, hope, joy, confidence, felt in presence of kings and princes by pious Jews.”—Speaker’s Com.
3. Contents. “There is no grouping or arrangement of the subjects of this Psalm, and little or no connection between the sentiment of its verses. Much in it is proverbial or aphoristic.… It might be possible to make an arrangement under particular heads—such as the following—under the general title of the Word of God:—
1. In youth.
2. In trial.
3. In duty.
4. In meditation.
5. At night.
6. In public.
7. In private.
8. In prosperity.
9. In adversity, &c.”—Barnes.
THE BLESSED LIFE
I. That all men are not happy. Our text specifies those who are, and implies that all else are unhappy.
1. All men desire happiness. The heathens were ever in quest of the chief good. Bad men and worldly men are ever pursuing their vices and follies to this end.
2. This happiness is not attained—
(1) Because the end aimed at is only mistaken for happiness. Riches, honour, pleasures, &c., when secured are frequently found to be misery rather than bliss (Luke 16:25). That which makes a man happy must exactly answer all the cravings of his soul and secure the equilibrium of his being, so that intellect, conscience, will, &c., shall cry in harmony, “It is enough.” Again, that which makes a man happy must be enduring, but the things of the world perish in the using (1 Corinthians 7:30-31), and the pleasures of sin are only “for a season.”
(2) Because the means employed are not adequate. Some are ignorant of the true means, and some dislike them (John 6:34., cf. John 6:66);
(3) and if adequate means are not employed, and the right end not secured, all becomes “vanity and vexation of spirit.”
II. That all men can secure happiness only by a right state of the heart. “That seek Him with their whole heart.”
1. A right state of the heart contemplates the true end of happiness. “Him.” God alone is the soul’s satisfying portion. The completest worldly abundance leaves some craving unsatisfied. When the soul is “filled with all the fulness of God,” it can ask no more.
2. A right state of the heart seeks happiness in the right way. “With the whole heart.” The sensualist seeks physical gratification; the intellectualist, mental; the moralist, ethical. A right state of the heart seeks complete happiness, the satisfaction of all its higher cravings, so as to leave none unblessed.
III. That all men can maintain happiness only by a right state of the life. The blessed are those who
1. “Are the undefiled in the way.” (Marg. Sincere; not absolutely perfect men, but men with a clear conscience and an upright intention.)
2. “Walk in the law of the Lord.” The inconsistent, the lawless, are unhappy. The law of God is so exactly suited to all our faculties, that only by keeping it can their well-being be secured.
3. “Do no iniquity.” “The way of transgressors is hard.”
IV. That provision is made for man’s happiness in the Word of God.
1. That word indicates what true happiness is. It tells us that man was originally happy; that angels and the spirits of just men made perfect are happy; that God only can make men happy, and that He does so by the gift of Himself and the “unsearchable riches of Christ.”
2. That word is an infallible guide to true happiness. There can be no happiness where there is uncertainty as to means or ends. Man left to this world’s fluctuating rules of good intention, custom, desire, &c., adopts measures which land him in disappointment. The Bible is the perfect and authoritative counsel of God. Guided by that we shall be received into glory.
3. That word affords us a powerful help towards true happiness. It is God’s “testimony.” It testifies to the facts of God’s fatherhood, goodness, and power; to Christ’s atonement and intercession; to the Holy Spirit’s regenerating, consoling, and sanctifying influences; and to heaven.
LAW, PRAYER, DUTY
I. Law. “Thou hast commanded us,” &c.
1. The Bible is based upon the personal authority of God.” “Thou.
(1.) Not man’s. The obligation to attend to its precepts does not rest upon the fact that great and good men wrote it, acknowledged it, and kept it.
(2.) Not its own. The inherent excellence of its doctrines and morals would be enough if only intellectual or moral assent and admiration were demanded. But
(3.) God’s. This accounts for its moral excellence and commanding influence. But let it be emphasised that primarily it rests upon His sovereign will. There are many things that transcend reason and run counter to merely human interests; but we believe and obey them, because “God spake all these words.”
2. The Bible comes to us on the personal authority of God. “Thou hast commanded.”
(1.) The Bible is not a recommendation from God, which man may or may not accept either as a whole, or on a principle of eclecticism in its parts. The Bible as a whole and in its parts being the charge of sovereign will and the revelation of the only remedy for human sin, therefore man must keep it as a whole.
(2.) The Bible is not the product of man’s intellect in a high spiritual mood. Its philosophy and virtue were not the discovery of good men studying and sympathising with the need of their fellow-men. But
(3.) the Bible is the collection of certain “precepts,” exhibited in the form of doctrine, history, example, &c., binding on the heart and conscience of men, direct from the counsels of the Most High.
3. The Bible must be diligently kept.
(1.) It must be kept. In the mind. It is necessary first to have it, so “he that receiveth the word into good ground is he that heareth the word and understandeth it.” By the will, in assenting to it. By the heart, in loving it. By the life, in practising it. “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.”
(2.) Comprehensively; Heb.: very much, all of them. In small duties, as well as great, must we exercise ourselves to have a conscience void of offence, &c. At all times. “Blessed is he that doeth righteousness at all times.” “Blessed are they that sow beside all waters.” With all our powers.
II. Prayer. The Psalmist contemplating the exceeding breadth of God’s commandments, and his own weakness, implores divine help (Psalms 119:5). This shows us—
1. The necessity of prayer. The Heb. particle, “O that!” is an intense sigh, indicative of earnest desire. This necessity is based upon
(1) Our ignorance. We know not what to do till we are told. Religion does not come to us by instinct.
(2) Our forgetfulness. Anxiety and self-conceit often drive the most necessary things out of our mind, we therefore need and must pray for what is promised (Isaiah 30:21).
(3). Our moral weakness and indisposition. Our hearts are naturally averse and our feet prone to wander from God’s statutes. “These people do err in their hearts,” &c.
2. The substance of prayer. “Were directed.”
(1.) Generally by the Bible, the course of providence, and the example of good men.
(2.) Specifically by the Spirit, in the various ways which we from time to time have to tread. “The Lord directed his steps.” “O Lord, I know that the way of a man is not in himself; it is not in man to direct his steps.”
(3.) Literally, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light to my path.” “In all thy ways acknowledge Him,” &c.
(4.) Effectually by the Holy Ghost applying to the heart and disposing it. “The Lord direct your hearts into the love of God,” &c.
3. The end of prayer. “To keep Thy statutes.”
(1.) It is to be remarked that, of all the ends desired in this long Psalm, the first is holiness.
(2.) That end is practical holiness, not contemplative or ascetic “ways,” “statutes.”
(3.) That is the best and most desirable end. “Seek ye first,” &c.
III. Duty. The Psalmist looks forward to the result of answered prayer, and feels that under divine guidance he will not be ashamed when he has respect unto God’s commandments.
1. Duty contemplates a regard for God’s law; implying
(1) moral susceptibility. The wicked are callous, their hearts being hardened, and their wills set.
(2) Mental respect. Unless we respect God’s law, we can never acknowledge it.
(3) Practical observance.
2. Duty consists in an universal obedience to God’s law. “Unto all Thy commandments,” whether
(1) its precious promises,
(2) its elevating precepts, or
(3) its stern obligations.
3. Duty is rewarded by the approbation of God’s law. “Shall not be ashamed,” i.e., shall have no reason to be ashamed.
(1.) God’s law will approve a clear conscience (Romans 8:1).
(2.) God’s law will approve us so that we may dispense with the judgment of man. “With me it is a very small thing to be judged with man’s judgment,” for “God will bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noon-day.”
(3.) God’s law will approve us at the great day. “And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He shall appear we may have confidence and not be ashamed at His coming.”
IN CONCLUSION.—(i.) God’s commandments are commandments with promise; if we keep them we shall not be ashamed. (ii.) We are unable to keep them without divine help; let us pray for that help. (iii.) When that help is vouchsafed let us use it diligently, comprehensively, and perpetually.
Our text shows—
I. That good resolutions depend on the presence of God for their fulfilment. “O forsake me not utterly.” Therefore—
1. God’s presence should be earnestly supplicated.
(1.) Because of our impotence. “Without Me, ye can do nothing.”
(2.) Because of our instability. Nothing is more fluctuating than mere resolutions. Peter said, “Though all should forsake Thee,” &c.
(3.) Because it is of God to give grace to help,” &c. (Ephesians 6:10).
2. God’s presence will be vouchsafed. Not always sensibly, but always effectually. “Lo, I am with you alway.” Therefore
(1) Be not discouraged when God seems to be away. When the bird is away from her young, she is in search of food. When pioneers are away from the army, they are preparing the way for it. So God sometimes fulfils the promise, “I will go before thee, to make crooked places straight.”
(2) Be not discouraged when God withdraws His comforts. We may sometimes lose our sense of God’s love, as Asaph did. But is God necessarily away? No (Psalms 83:18). But
(3) Be encouraged to resolve under the inspiration of the promise, “Certainly, I will be with thee.”
3. God’s presence may be withdrawn. “My Spirit shall not always strive with man.” And nothing will drive Him away more than selfish, conceited, or hypocritical resolutions.
II. That good resolutions have respect to divine law. “I will keep Thy statutes.” All other resolutions are vain which omit this as their great and commanding aim.
1. God demands it.
2. Our new nature demands it.
3. Our desire for blessedness demands it.
III. That the fulfilment of good resolutions depends on the right state of the heart and life. “With uprightness of heart, when I shall have learned Thy righteous statutes.” Good resolutions are easily formed; their fulfilment is a very different matter. God’s presence is easily supplicated; but God’s power is exerted in the employment of adequate means. There must be—
1. A right state of the heart. Before God’s statutes can be kept, the heart must be disposed to keep them. The heart naturally inclined from the law of God, must be re-bent and inclined towards it.
2. A learning of “the judgments of righteousness” concerning our state, Matthew 16:6; thoughts, Hebrews 4:12; actions, Ecclesiastes 12:14; the way of justification, Romans 3:22. We must ascertain the things we ought to resolve, and then trust to God’s Spirit to enable us to carry them out.
IV. That the fulfilment of good resolutions should be followed by gratitude. “I will praise Thee.”
1. Duty binds us to it. The fulfilment of resolutions that are really good has been by the help of God, and has secured our highest good.
2. The permanent result depends upon it.
3. Fresh resolutions are strengthened by it.
IN CONCLUSION.—(i.) Let your life be characterised by strong and noble resolutions. Don’t be discouraged if you fail at first. Resolve, by the grace of God, not rashly, but firmly. (ii.) Compare your resolutions with the Word of God. (iii) Carry them out at all costs (Matthew 16:24). (iv.) Crown and glorify them all by profound gratitude.
A SERIOUS WORD FOR YOUNG MEN
“The case supposed is that of a young man pondering the question how he may be saved from the corruptions of his own heart, and escape the temptations to which he is exposed in early years, and lead a pure and upright life. There can be no more important inquiry for one just entering on the journey of life; there can be found nowhere a more just and comprehensive answer. All the precepts of ancient and modern wisdom, and all the results of the experience of mankind, could furnish nothing in addition to what is here suggested.”—Barnes.
I. A serious question asked.
1. The importance of a way. “A way has a direction, and leads some whither. A way is continuous, and if we are in it we are advancing in it. A way differs in its direction from other ways, and diverges more and more from them the farther one travels upon it. There are in our lives no isolated acts, but only ways. Every present has its closely affiliated future. We are moving on in character as in years. The wrong of which you say, ‘Only this once,’ provokes its own repetition and starts you in its own direction. The violation of truth, &c., involves you in a labyrinth of mole paths. You meant an act, you have found it a way; a precipitous way, too, in which you gain momentum at every step.”—Dr. Peabody.
2. The danger of having an impure way. Our text “is a metaphor which appeals to our experience. What is more disheartening than the necessity of treading muddy streets. There is a consciousness of unfitness for society. There are miry soul paths, miry they are to every eye in their more advanced stages; for there is no evil course that does not tend by sure and generally rapid steps to open shame, squalor, and misery.”—Ibid.
3. The special appropriateness of this question. אָרח, “a track, a rut, such as are made by wheels, &c. A young sinner has no broad beaten path; he has his private ways of offence, his secret pollutions; and how shall he be cleansed from these? how can he be saved from what will destroy body and mind and soul?”—Dr. A. Clarke. The future, too, depends on the young; upon the pure or impure paths they follow depends the intellectual, social, and political life of the future.
II. A satisfactory answer given. “By taking heed thereto according to Thy Word.”
1. God’s Word is the only rule of righteousness. All other rules must, in the long run, lead astray. Conscience will never give a wrong direction, but it sometimes fails to give a right. You can’t bribe it into falsehood, but you can drug it into silence. When on the judgment seat you can depend on its decisions; but it is not always there. So with sentiments of honour, self-respect, self-interest, &c.; there is no security in any of them. Only the Word of God is pure. It alone exhibits the sum of all perfection in the holiness of God and the character of Christ. “I have given you an Example.” “Be ye holy, as He who has called you is holy.”
2. The Word of God is the only means by which we can be cleansed. “Sanctify them by Thy truth,” &c.
(1.) It is the only clear revealer of the character of sin.
(2.) It alone urges upon us the necessity of holiness.
(3.) It alone encourages us to seek holiness by its exceeding great and precious promises (2 Corinthians 7:1, 2 Peter 1:4).
(4.) It alone reveals the all-sufficient remedy for sin.
3. The Word of God must be studied and applied. “By taking heed.”
(1.) A careful study of its principles.
(2.) A careful reference of its precepts to our special requirements.
(3.) A careful walking according to its rule.
III. Sufficient reasons suggested.
1. Because God demands it.
(1.) God should not be long kept out of His rights. “Remember now thy Creator.” The vessel should as soon as possible be made meet for the master’s use. God has made everything ready, so there need be no delay.
(2.) God should have our best at its best. All we enjoy we owe to Him. The Mosaic law recognised this (Leviticus 2:4). Youth is the best time. Health and vigour belong to it. Shall the best be devoted to the devil, and when you are no longer of use to him will you offer God the dregs? (Romans 12:1.)
2. Because reason demands it.
(1.) Youth is the time of special temptations (2 Timothy 2:22.) Children are of no use to the devil. The aged he has done with. But he loves to get hold of young men (1 Timothy 3:6.)
(2.) Evil habits grow and strengthen by every indulgence. A twig may be easily bent, but the branch is fixed; a sapling may be transplanted, an oak never.
(3.) The longer you delay the more useless you are for God and good.
3. Because self-interest demands it
(1.) Life is uncertain. Such a momentous question must not be trifled with. Warning is not always given. Nadab and Abihu were young men. There is but a step between us and death.
(2.) God is provoked to anger by delay, and retribution accumulates both in this life and the next (Job 13:26).
(3.) Divine blessings are delayed. It is good for a man to bear this yoke in his youth.
IN CONCLUSION.—You are beginning life, begin it with God. You have great temptations, but you have great help (Job 2:9-10) and bright prospects (Mark 10:14). There are only two ways, the way of life and the way of death—where are you?
ARGUMENT WITH GOD
God offers to reason with man. He offers to reason with the sinner, permits him to state his own case and to “bring forth his strong reasons” in support of it. He offers to reason with the saints; and the saint here takes up the challenge. The Psalmist presents before God’s notice a fact. He then bases an argument upon this fact, and then turns the fact and argument into a prayer.
I. The fact, “With my whole heart have I sought Thee.”
1. What is it to seek God? (Psalms 24:6). It is an earnest and diligent endeavour to find God in certain definite characters for certain definite purposes.
(1) As our God, Sovereign, Father, Friend;
(2) as our Guide by His Word and Spirit;
(3) as our exceeding great reward.
2. Where should we seek God?
(1.) In sinfulness, notwithstanding Adam’s flight from Him and Peter’s desire that He should depart. That is the one reason why we should desire God’s presence to pardon it, and help us out of it.
(2.) In difficulties. In doubt for His direction; in weakness for His strength; in sickness for His health; in trouble for His consolation; as Paul (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).
(3.) In our daily life. The heathen consulted their penates; Laban, his teraphim; Balak, Balaam. Shall God’s people be behind these? Seek God’s permission, counsel, blessing.
(4.) In personal communion, not when we are obliged to go, and simply because we are obliged to go, but because we love to go (Psalms 22:26).
3. How should we seek God. “With the whole heart”—
(1.) Personally. “Thee with my.” Men sometimes profess to seek God, when they are but seeking their own interests (John 6:26). When we seek from God other than Himself, or send others with our requests, we fail. We cannot find God by proxy.
(2.) Comprehensively. “Whole.” The combined faculties of the soul. Intelligently by the study of His Word and works; morally, by faith and love.
(3.) Earnestly and uniformly, not by fits and starts. Such, then, is the fact that the Psalmist lays before God, and which forms the premises of his argument.
II. The Argumentative value of the fact.
1. The Psalmist does not offer it
(1) Boastfully—the plea goes side by side with confessions of unworthiness—or
(2) Meritoriously. No one can argue with God on that basis. “What hast thou that thou didst not receive?” We can only glory that we are in debt to God (1 Corinthians 1:31).
2. The Psalmist does offer it as a reason why God should help him.
(1.) He wants to find God. He is using the means. God is implored to bless those means.
(2.) He wants further blessing. God has already commanded and wrought in him the desire to seek. He now asks that he may find.
III. The prayer founded on the argument and fact. This is worthy of special note. He does not ask for temporal advantages, but for steadfastness in God’s ways. Notice—
1. Man’s proneness to wander (Jeremiah 14:10; Isaiah 53:0; Luke 15:0.).
2. The saint’s sensibility of this proneness to wander. The more we desire to seek God, and are on the way to find Him, the keener will be our sensibility of error.
3. The saint’s conviction of God’s ability to keep him from wandering.
FINALLY.—Those who seek God shall find Him. Those who have arguments to plead will find those arguments valued. Those who pray shall have their prayers answered.
THE WORD OF GOD, ITS SPHERE AND ITS SERVICE
The Word of God is the revelation of His person and will. It is the duty of man to treasure it up where it can be preserved most safely. If it is only on our shelves or in our heads, it may be stolen or forgotten; but if it is in our hearts, cherished by our affections and guarded by our will, and embodied in our spiritual life, it is safe from loss or decay. But once in the heart it is not only kept by the heart, but keeps the heart. “Thou bearest Cæsar and his fortunes.” The fortress keeps the granary, but the granary keeps those who man the ramparts.
I. What is done? “Thy Word have I hid in my heart,” which implies—
1. Understanding it. Thoughts must pass into the heart through the mind (Proverbs 2:10). Not that it is necessary that it should be fully comprehended. Water does not always fill the channel through which it flows. It is enough if it fills the vessel into which it flows. Many mysteries baffle the intellect, but the heart is the proper organ for their comprehension.
2. Believing it. Until unbelief is broken down, the Word appeals for entrance in vain. When, however, it is welcomed by the hand of faith, it enters in and dwells there. It did not profit the ancient Jews, because it was not mixed with faith.
3. Loving it. The heart is the seat of the affections, and where there is no love the Word cannot enter. “If ye love Me, keep My commandments.”
4. Appropriating it. There may be understanding faith and even love, and yet no hiding of the Word. These are but means to an end; its reception into our very heart’s life, so that we may become a law unto ourselves, walking Bibles, living epistles.
II. How it is done.
1. By reading it continuously, constantly, and systematically.
2. By searching it: as the miner does for hid treasures, as the workman does for the best materials and the best tools. Superficial work will produce only superficial results.
3. By meditating upon it. If we simply read it, we shall forget it. If we merely search, we may treat what we find as subjects of interest or curiosity. But if we meditate, what we have found in our search will become seed-corn in our hearts, to bring forth fruit to the glory of God.
III. The advantages of doing it. In the heart the Word of God is—
(1) from the fluctuations of memory; it has become part of ourselves, and is as unchangeable as our identity.
(2) From the assaults of unbelief. It has passed out of the region of speculative belief and tentative hypothesis into the region of facts.
(3) From the deprivations of affliction. We may be unable to hear the Word of God or even to read it, but if it is stored up in the heart we can dispense, if necessity demand it, with external means.
(4) From the hand of the persecutor. Said that lad of whom Foxe speaks, when the Marian persecutors took his Bible from him, “Thank God, you cannot take away those chapters He has written on my heart.”
2. Ready for every emergency. The most powerful remedy and the most valuable blessings are nothing worth if not close at hand when required. “Every scribe that is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven bringeth forth out of his treasures things new and old.” It is ready
(1.) To comfort in distress.
(2.) To provide arguments against unbelief.
(3.) To furnish us with pleas in prayer. Our prayers are effectual in proportion as the word of Christ dwells in us richly
(4.) To make spiritual intercourse more sweet and edifying, Colossians 3:6.
(5.) To afford instruction, stimulous, sanctity, and diligence in the concerns of daily life.
IV. The grand purpose of doing it. “That I might not sin against Thee.” The Word of God hid in the heart safe from attack, but ready to attack will:—
1. Expel sin. The heart “abhors a vacuum.” It will be filled with something. If not with the Word of God, with sin. But both will not dwell together there. Divine principles, however, will extirpate sin.
2. Preserve from falling into sin. “The law of the Lord is in his heart, none of his steps shall slide.”
3. Enable us to overcome sin. In this great warfare all other weapons but the sword of the Spirit will fail (1 John 1:8).
THE SOURCE AND MEANS OF BLESSEDNESS
I. God is the source and fountain of all blessedness. “Blessed art Thou, O God.”
1. God is absolutely blessed in Himself. He is “the blessed God,” “the blessed and only potentate.” “Over all, God blessed for ever;” free from all misery, enjoying all good, all-sufficient in Himself, contented with Himself, delighted with Himself, neither needing any good or fearing any evil from the work of His hands (Psalms 16:2).
2. God communicates all blessings from Himself (P. Psalms 145:16; Ephesians 1:3). He is the most conspicuous illustration of His own saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (John 1:16).
3. God appropriates all blessings to Himself (Psalms 145:10; Revelation 5:13).
II. Man’s blessedness consists in the enjoyment of God. “Happy is the people whose God is the Lord.” God, being absolutely blessed, has enough for Himself, and therefore enough for us. He is “God all-sufficient.”
1. Man misses happiness if he seeks it from any source short of God. Everything else is
(1) imperfect. Let the world’s contributions be ever so copious they leave some void. Solomon, Ahab, Naboth, &c.
(2) Illusive. The happiness they bring is only apparent. They cannot quell one unquiet passion, or still or satisfy conscience (Proverbs 14:3).
(3) Transient. An immortal soul can only be satisfied with “pleasures for evermore.”
2. Man gains happiness when he seeks it in God.
(1.) God is “able to supply all our need.” “In His presence is fulness of joy.”
(2.) God’s blessings are real. Sin is cleansed, passions subdued, conscience satisfied, soul fed, and the whole man kept in perfect peace.
(3.) God’s satisfactions are charged with His own immortality.
III. Man’s blessedness is secured through instruction in God’s statutes.
1. They teach us the way to God.
2. They teach us how to partake of the blessed nature of God (2 Peter 1:4).
3. How we may live the life of God and engage in His blessed work.
IN CONCLUSION.—Proverbs 8:34-35.
This verse is closely connected with the two preceding. In Psalms 119:11 the Word is hid in the heart, now it finds expression on the lips. To express what we do not feel is hypocrisy; and what is really in the heart will find an outflow. In Psalms 119:12 God is asked to teach His statutes: the prayer is now answered, and, mentally and morally qualified, the Psalmist teaches others.
I. The subject of this testimony. “All the judgments of Thy mouth.”
1. God’s judgments are divinely revealed. Not human discoveries or speculations.
2. God’s judgments are the divine criteria whereby to decide in all matters affecting truth, duty, and destiny (Isaiah 8:20). Not reason, interest: what man thinks or feels; but God’s infallible judgment.
3. God’s judgments are the rule by which He judges the world. Now (John 5:45-46). They are not arbitrary and capricious, but fixed, written down. By them He will adjudicate at the last day. (John 12:48). Notice, then, that what God has said, and said in His sovereign and official character, is the subject of our testimony.
II. The manner of this testimony.
1. Clearly. “Declared.”
2. Fully. “All the judgments” (Acts 20:27).
3. Faithfully. “All the judgments of Thy mouth.” Not our own opinions, speculations, or doubts (1 Peter 2:2). ἄδολον γάλα, unmixed milk. “To mix it with sugar and the luscious strains of human evil disguises it and hides it from a spiritual taste. To mix it with lime (as Jerome says of heretics) makes it baneful and noxious.”—M. Henry.
III. The reason for this testimony.
1. It is a duty we owe to God. He gave us the organs of speech (Psalms 12:4). When we give our bodies a living sacrifice we must not reserve our tongue (James 3:9).
2. Because the lips should be in harmony with the character. “The tongue of the just is as choice silver.” The sensualist will talk of his pleasures, the man of business of his trade, the student of his books, and shall the righteous restrain their testimony? (Matthew 12:35.)
2. Because the tongue is the most important member in the propagation of divine truth. Perhaps example is overvalued. True Christianity is not profession, but life. But how can example influence without a declaration of those judgments upon which it is based? The preference of life over testimony may perhaps spring from a shrinking from an arduous duty.
IN CONCLUSION.—Let the example of the Psalmist stimulate us to a more perfect fulfilment of this much-neglected or badly-discharged obligation. How much there is of mere speculation and laboured rhetoric in preaching! How much of foolish talking and jesting, to say no more, in the family and social circle! Let the preacher prepare himself by the more diligent study of the judgments of God, and let private Christians remember Coloss. Psalms 4:6, and let the Church in its private gatherings remember Hebrews 3:13, and Psalms 37:30.
GOD’S TESTIMONIES A GROUND OF JOY
I. What the Psalmist did. “I have rejoiced in the way of Thy testimonies as much as in all riches.” The testimonies themselves are a “way.” God’s Word is a progressive revelation. And the life to which it bears testimony and for which it is a guide is the “way of holiness.” Thus the Psalmist rejoiced in the study and practice of the Word of God. Looking around him he observed that riches were the main elements in human joy, and that men considered themselves happy in proportion to their wealth. But his conclusion is, that all riches could afford him no greater joy than that which he had in the Word of God. He rejoiced in the way of God’s testimonies.
1. As truth, which was good for his understanding (Proverbs 24:13-14). When any capacity is filled with that which is suitable to it, joy and satisfaction will naturally arise. The mind is disordered by perplexities and errors, but is satisfied with truth.
2. As the highest and most absolute truth (Deuteronomy 4:6-7). What man calls truth is not always certain truth. The so-called truths of philosophy and science to one generation are often errors to another, and the mind is often bewildered by the dogmatism of its teachers. What men have taught most certainly has frequently been exploded or revised. Only the truth of God is immutable, and subject to no revision. The mind can, therefore, rest upon it without fear.
3. As truth which could satisfy the higher cravings of his soul. All truth is more or less satisfying. More or less, because there are degrees of value even in truth. A truth which shall guide a man to a right destination is of more value to him than a scientific curiosity. Truth which makes a man better and nobler, is of more value than that which tells the number of the stars. God’s truth is of the supremest value, because it guides the soul to God and immortality, and “converts the soul.”
II. Why he did it. The Psalmist rejoiced in God’s testimonies as much as in all riches, because—
1. Of their exact suitability to his need. Joy is that which inevitably results from the reception of a suitable blessing. Food rejoices the hungry soul, not the full one. The parched ground rejoices after a shower, not the saturated morass. So riches are good in their way, they bring bread to the starving, clothes to the naked, &c. In that way do the testimonies of God “rejoice the soul.” There is a class of need which they alone satisfy. They are God’s great spiritual treasure-house of food, raiment, &c., which fully meet all the requirements of our nature.
2. Because the greater covered the less. Profit and pleasure, the sum of the worldling’s store, and the result of his expenditure of his wealth, are these his alone? Nay, verily. God’s people have these and a hundredfold beside if they fulfil the conditions (Psalms 19:10-11). The distinction between God’s people and others is that the former seeks true riches and true happiness and gets them, the others false riches and false happiness and do not always get them.
(1.) They get the true profit. True wealth makes not the surroundings but the man more valuable. The value of a picture does not consist in its frame, neither does that of a man in the abundance of the things which he possesses. True wealth relieves in the greatest extremities. Money is of no use in the day of sickness and the hour of death. True wealth purchases things of the highest value. True wealth is that which is so estimated by those who are best capable of judging. The savage may think himself wealthy, and be thought wealthy by his fellow-savages, by his accumulation of shells and beads, but what does civilised man think of him? So true wealth is that which is pronounced so by God (Luke 12:20-21). Knowledge (Colossians 2:2; Colossians 3:16). Faith (James 2:5). Good works (1 Timothy 6:17-18). The favour of God (Romans 10:12).
(2.) True pleasures. The pleasures purchased by wealth are transient; those that lie on the path of God’s testimonies are “for evermore.” The one by over-indulgence leads to sin and death (Luke 12:19); the other to joy unspeakable and fulness of glory.
IN CONCLUSION.—Seek the way of God’s testimonies. Riches and joy are there. It is a calumny to speak of religion as an unprofitable or gloomy thing. Riches even of the baser sort are sanctified, and pleasures so far from being abrogated are perfected. The way of God’s testimonies is our way home. Does not that thought generate strength, lighten labour, and ease pain?
A FOURFOLD DETERMINATION
The Psalmist has been mainly speaking of the past; upon that he builds the future. He had sought, hid, declared, rejoiced; now he will meditate, observe, delight, remember. These different determinations suggest to us the refreshing changes of spiritual life.
Rest consists more in the variation than in the cessation of employment. So the Psalmist, while his love for all the departments of his work is the same, yet changes his exercise. Now it is meditation, now observance, now recreation, now the exercise of memory. Observe the twofold order in these verses. The precepts point to the ways, the ways are regulated by the statutes, and the Word covers the whole. Again, meditation on God’s precepts results in respect unto God’s ways. To have respect unto God’s ways is to see the pleasure and profit of God’s statutes; and, finally, rejoicing in God’s statutes is the best protection against forgetfulness of God’s Word.
I. “I will meditate in Thy precepts.” Meditation is the contemplation, digestion, and spiritualisation of truth. The heart sanctified by the grace of God is an alembic in which those noble and profitable thoughts are distilled which are necessary to the spiritual life. God has enforced upon us this duty (Joshua 1:8), and promises His approbation and blessing upon it (Psalms 1:2). If we would maintain our spiritual health we must meditate. Without it faith, the evidence of things not seen, becomes weak; things hoped for vanish away; love, forgetful of its true object, consumes itself in its own fires; and prayer, lacking both thought and verbiage, droops and dies.
II. Those that meditate in God’s precepts will have respect to God’s ways. Meditation will show that God’s ways are right ways; that God’s ways are the only profitable and useful ways. Meditation will open up the whole way. It will therefore lead to—
1. Deliberate choice of God’s ways. He who meditates will not decide to serve God simply because his fathers did so, or because it is the fashion to do so, or for fear of hell, &c., but from intelligent and conscientious conviction.
2. Avoidance of every other way. Meditation will show a man the impossibility of walking in God’s path and the devil’s at one and the same time. He will be able to resist the fascinations of those ways which diverge on both sides from the way of God, and will elect to keep in that way alone.
3. Firm, steady, and persevering progress in that way. Meditating on his chart, and communing with his divine companion, he will not pursue his journey by fits and starts, with sudden progresses and equally sudden declensions, but will run with patience and walk without faintness.
III. Respect for God’s ways will beget delight in God’s statutes. By keeping to those ways alone and by continuous progress in those ways it will be seen—
1. That God’s statutes deserve delight
(1.) Because of Him who is their Author, and the substance of what they teach about Him. The further we go the more we shall see of His tender fatherhood, His mighty helpfulness, His beneficence and grace, what He is to us, what He does for us, what He will make of us.
(2.) Because of their own intrinsic excellence. The further we travel the more we shall know of their elevating doctrines, their interesting history, their precious promises, and their mighty hopes.
2. That God’s statutes must be our delight.
(1.) They are our charter (Hebrews 6:18).
(2.) Our infallible directory on the way (Psalms 119:105).
(3.) Our encouragement and support (Psalms 119:54). They are God’s storehouse of riches for our poverty, comfort for our afflictions, life for our death.
IV. Delight in God’s statutes will be helpful to the memory of His Word. The mind most easily fastens on and treasures up that in which it is most delighted. “Where the treasure is,” &c. That which is displeasing is gladly forgotten, but it is an increased and increasing delight to be able to remember the delightful. If a student has no delight in his book he will soon forget it; but, taking pleasure in it, his comfort will be promoted by his recollection. There are two ways of forgetting God’s Word—
(1.) Forgetfulness of its literal precepts.
(2.) Forgetfulness to obey those precepts. Delight in God’s statutes is the sure corrective of both.
LIFE: ITS SUSTENANCE AND AIM
Everything depends upon true and adequate views of life. It is perilous to entertain false or one-sided views. The worldling views life as a field for pleasure, the soldier for military prowess, the student for learning, the merchant for wealth, the statesman for politics, the Psalmist as a sphere for divine service.
I. Life. The Psalmist’s idea of life was servitude. He was God’s servant. This conception runs through the Bible. The proud distinction of Patriarchs, Psalmists, Prophets, and Apostles was that they were servants of the King of kings. This view implies honourable acceptance, dignified privilege, and exceeding great reward.
II. The sustenance of life. God’s bounty. Notice that this bounty is—
1. Unmerited. We can lay no natural claim to it.
2. Adequate. By it God is able to supply all our need.
III. The aim of life. The Psalmist prays that life thus sustained may keep God’s word. This aim is—
1. The divinely-ordained aim. God has made man for Himself. It is His will, therefore, man should keep that which shall enable him to fulfil that design.
2. The highest, noblest, and truest aim. It is that which angels consciously reach, and God’s inanimate universe unconsciously.
3. The soul-satisfying aim. The Word of God is the law of our being, and in the keeping of that there is great reward. Learn—
(i.) That the life spiritual is of more value than the life natural. (ii.) That if the latter is of God’s bounty, so is the former. (iii.) That the sustenance of both should be supplicated, that the true aim of both may be reached.
WONDROUS THINGS, AND HOW TO SEE THEM
The law was a very small portion of what is now the Word of God. Yet the Psalmist saw and hoped still to see in that narrow compass vastly more than we do in the large and complete revelation of God’s will. This is accounted for from the fact that he made the very best use of what he had, and that God, in answer to his prayer, had enabled him to do so. Notice—
I. That man by himself cannot see wondrous things. The Hebrew phrase is, “Unveil mine eyes;” implying—
1. That man is spiritually blind (Revelation 3:17; Job 11:12).
(1.) By sin (Ephesians 4:18).
(2.) By reason of ignorance.
(3.) By reason of self-conceit (1 Corinthians 8:1-2).
(4.) By reason of prejudice and disaffection (Luke 16:14; 2 Corinthians 4:4).
2. That man is not only thus naturally blind, but lacks that divine light which can alone reveal and illuminate the sacred mysteries. Man is both blind and in the dark. His therefore is “gross darkness.”
3. That this blindness and darkness are universal. The Psalmist’s case before his prayer was not the exception, but the rule.
II. That there is a process by means of which man may not only see, but see wondrous things. The Psalmist did not complain of the inherent obscurity of the law, but of the darkness which rested both on him and it. So he does not ask for another law, nor for a new faculty, just as a blind man would not wish for a new sun, or for new or gans. All he asks is that that which was hidden might be brought to the light, and that in that light he might see light This process is—
1. The unveiling of man’s eyes (2 Corinthians 3:14-15; Luke 24:45).
2. The diffusion of spiritual light.
3. The employment of the faculty which has been unveiled in the contemplation of that upon which supernatural light has been thrown. By this means a clear and experimental knowledge of the word of God will be obtained (Hebrews 8:10).
III. When this process is complete, wondrous things are seen in God’s law.
1. “Wondrous things.” The Bible is a register of facts. Myths are wonderful. Prodigies are wonderful. But the plain truths of the Word of God are more wonderful than the strangest fiction.
2. “Wondrous things.” The things of God’s law are
(1) Wondrously beautiful. No poets have ever had so exquisite a sense of the beauties of nature. No histories are so charming, no examples so sublime, no eloquence so grand.
(2) Wondrously surprising. The Bible is full of surprises. This is so if we consider the way and the form in which the Bible has at length reached us. Every successive step in its development opens up new wonders, and every book has something fresh to say about the wonderful works of God. Then what a history it has had! What escapes, what triumphs!
(3) “Wonderfully mysterious. Its aim is, all through, to lead us to such subjects as the soul and God, and the eternal world, and sin—the great mystery and root of mysteries—and the marvellous remedy which has been provided for it in the descent of the Divine nature into the human, that great mystery of godliness—“God manifest in the flesh.” … If the “powers of the world to come” have anything in them to excite wonder and awe, the Bible, beyond all other books, holds them in his hand.”—Ker.
(4) Wondrously perfect in its wisdom (Deuteronomy 4:6), purity (Psalms 119:49), equity (Romans 7:12), power (Romans 1:16), unity.
STRANGERS AND PILGRIMS
“When a child is born into the world it is spoken of as a ‘little stranger.’ Strangers indeed come from far, out of immensities from the presence and touch and being of God, and go into the immensities again, into and through all the unreckonable ages of duration. But the little stranger takes vigorous root … and life goes on deepening and broadening in its flow, … and then after elaborate preparations, opening into a great, restful, sunny plain, lo! the shadows begin to fall … and a voice speaks and calls for the ‘little stranger’ to go through that door men call death; and the stranger is not ready, the pilgrim’s staff is not in hand, and his eye, familiar enough with surrounding things, is not accustomed to the onward and ascending way.… Alas! he has made one grand mistake. He has been looking at the things which are seen and temporal, and not at the things which are not seen and eternal; and so there is hurry and confusion and distress in the going away, all which may be helped and throughly hindered if a man will but say, ‘I am a stranger in the earth.’ ”—Dr. Raleigh.
I. The stranger. “A stranger is very well known, not perhaps in the great city where there are always thousands of such, but in a country town or on a country road. See him as he enters the village at nightfall: yon can see at once he is not of the place. The dust is on his raiment; he is footsore and weary; yet he has no mind to stay—he will be away again before the inhabitants are up. His language is different; his questions are those of one who has but a superficial and momentary interest in the answer that may be given; his very look is the life spelling of the word ‘onward;’ his home, wherever it may be, is not here.”—Dr. Raleigh.
1. All men are strangers. Good or bad alike, whether they will or not, are fast travelling to “that undiscovered country,” &c. “One generation passeth away and another generation cometh, but the earth abideth ever.” “The pavement we walk upon, the coals in our grates—how many millenniums old are they? The pebble you kick with your foot—how many millenniums will it outlast? Go into a museum and you will see hanging there, little the worse for centuries, notched swords and gaping helmets—ay, but what has become of the bright eyes that once flashed the light of battle through the bars? what has become of the strong hands that once gripped the hilts?… The money in your purses now will some of it bear the head of a king that died half a century ago? It is bright and useful—where are all the people that in turn said they ‘owned’ it? Other men will live in our houses and preach from this pulpit when you and I are far away.”—Maclaren.
2. Specially are the children of God strangers. Those who are not the children of God would be at home here if they could; but God’s children are conscious of being and willing to be strangers, because
(1) Their native country is elsewhere. Everything tends towards the place of its origin. All men love their native soil. Christians are “born from above.” “Jerusalem which is from above is the mother of us all,” and therefore we “seek those things which are above.”
(2) Their inheritance is elsewhere (Ephesians 1:3).
(3) Their kindred are elsewhere. Father, elder brother, &c. (Matthew 8:11; Hebrews 11:0).
(4) All the endowments of their nature point to a fuller and unrestricted exercise elsewhere.
II. The stranger’s prayer. “Hide not Thy commandments from me.”
1. God’s commandments are man’s chart and directory on his way to heaven.
2. Those commandments are hidden from the natural man; their dialect is altogether foreign to him.
3. Prayer should be offered that these commandments may be made intelligible.
4. When made known, they should become a “lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path” till our pilgrimage is o’er.
III. The stranger’s longing. “My heart breaketh for the longing that it hath unto Thy judgments at all times.”
1. The more cur hearts are bent on the end of our journey, the more shall we desire fully and accurately to know the way.
2. The more we know of the way, the more ardent will be our desire to know all about it at all times.
3. The more we desire to know of the way, the more diligent and practical will be our study of that which can alone guide us to our destination.
(i.) What provision are you making for your journey?
(ii.) Are you astray on your pilgrimage?
PROVIDENTIAL INEQUALITIES READJUSTED
The Psalmist here and elsewhere states the standing problem of the apparent prosperity of evil and adversity of good, and solves it. He was seemingly in great misery, while his enemies flourished; but it was not really so. The Psalmist had privileges to which his oppressors had no title. He had God’s testimonies as his delights and counsellors; while those who oppressed him were of a debased moral character, and were under the condemnation of God. This solution satisfied him; may it satisfy us.
I. The problem stated.
1. The prosperity of the wicked.
(1.) “Princes.” The wicked are often in the ascendant as regards power, wealth, position, popular esteem, &c.
(2.) “Proud.” The wicked are always, when they can be, arrogant and self-sufficient.
2. The adversity of the righteous.
(1.) They are “reproached” for their conscientious scruples, integrity, endeavours, and aims.
(2.) They are treated with ridicule and “contempt,” because of those things that they hold most dear: God’s Word, Christian character, hope of heaven.
(3.) They are unjustly judged (Psalms 119:23), because man cannot estimate the worth of godliness.
II. The problem solved.
1. The adversity of the wicked. Our real state is what we are in the sight of God.
(1.) They stand rebuked of God, and are therefore cursed.
(2.) They err from God’s commandments, and thus miss the true end of their being and the full glory and perfection of their life. Can heirs therefore, be true prosperity?
2. The prosperity of the righteous.
(1.) Their reproach and contempt is that of man, and therefore removable, and will be removed by the justice and compassion of God.
(2.) They have a certain and infallible guide. God’s testimonies tell them of God’s will and how to submit to it with resignation and patience.
(3.) They have perennial sources of delight. God’s Word testifies of God’s presence, God’s comfort, God’s heaven. Can there be any real adversity with all this?
“TENEO ET TENEOR”
(Psalms 119:22, clause 2, and Psalms 119:24)
Those who keep God’s testimonies shall be kept by them.
I. How do we keep God’s testimonies?
1. By remembering them. To forget is to lose. To have them kept in the memory is to have them ready for every time of need.
2. By obeying them. Every act of obedience is an additional stone in the fortress, in which they are kept. Every duty formed strengthens habit and confirms steadfastness.
3. By propagating them. Giving is the condition of keeping all through life. The vitality of a tree is conditional upon its yielding fruit and leaves. Material wealth depends on the outlay of money. So unless we give in proportion as it is given unto us of the word of life, even that which we have will be taken away.
II. How do God’s testimonies keep us?
1. By ministering to our delight.
God’s Word brings that light and gladness which saves the world from suicide. It testifies of God, who is the health of our countenance; of Christ, who cleanses us from the source of all misery; of the Holy Ghost, who comforts us in the day of trial; of the precious promises which buoy us up with hopes of better things to come; of heaven, where all tears are wiped away.
2. By guiding us with their infallible counsel. They keep us in the path of truth, guide us in the way of holiness, direct us in the road to heaven, and as we go shield us from all harm.
IN CONCLUSION.—The principle of our text holds good everywhere. Those who hold good or bad principles are kept or lost by them and with them. The man who knows how to keep his temper, his money, &c., will find that they will keep him. Hold, then, the best things, the firmest things, and you will be ever safe.
THE BENEFIT OF GOD’S TESTIMONIES
The Psalmist in his trouble and distress, under the contempt and reproach of the proud, and under the oppression of princes, turns to God’s Word, and there finds direction and joy.
I. “Thy testimonies are my delights.” Notice—
1. That there are joys AND joys. Worldlings have their joys, but they are unsubstantial and evanescent. The delight engendered by God’s testimonies is
(1) Divine and powerful. It is the “joy of the Lord,” and is God’s people’s strength.
(2) Real (2 Corinthians 6:10).
(3) Great (1 Peter 1:8).
(4) Endless. “Everlasting joy.”
2. That God’s people are commanded to rejoice—
(1) Not merely permitted;
(2) Not merely suggested on reasonable grounds;
(3) But enjoined as a necessary duty. It is not a matter of indifference or choice. We must rejoice (Philippians 4:4; Matthew 5:12; James 1:2).
3. That this rejoicing is founded on and derived through the Word of God (Romans 15:4; Hebrews 12:5). Joy is particularly needful in affliction, as in the Psalmist’s ease. God’s testimonies tell us
(1) Who permits it (John 18:11);
(2) The benefit of it (Isaiah 26:19; Hebrews 12:10);
(3) The brevity of it (Isaiah 54:7-8);
(4) Helps in it. Consoling help (Romans 5:3), Effectual help (Psalms 138:3; Hebrews 13:5);
(5) Its end (2 Corinthians 4:17).
II. “Thy testimonies are my counsellors.” As a divine rule in all matters of faith and practice it is sufficient. Man cannot improve upon it, let him not tinker with it. It is an unerring guide in all perplexities. It will help us to a right decision in all matters of right and wrong. Its counsel is safe for good thinking, good speaking, for the prudent management of our affairs to successful issues (James 1:6), and supporting in all painful or difficult duties (Proverbs 16:3; Psalms 37:5).
AFFLICTION AND ITS REMEDY
Our text teaches us—
I. That God’s children are afflicted. This affliction may be a sorrowful inward experience (Psalms 88:3-7; Psalms 76:1), or an extreme outward pressure (2 Samuel 12:16-17; 2 Samuel 15:30). We know that “God does not willingly afflict.” Why then do His people’s souls sometimes cleave to the dust?
(1.) To humble them (2 Corinthians 1:7-9).
(2.) To correct for past transgressions. The righteous have their evil things in this life. God punishes them now that it may not be necessary to do so by and by.
(3.) To test the strength of their character, their faith in the promises, their hope in His mercy, the depth and sincerity of His love.
(4.) To awaken the spirit of prayer (Psalms 130:1). To show more of the riches of His grace in their recovery (Psalms 71:20-21).
II. That affliction should drive us to God for help. Notice—
1. The unwisdom of any other course.
Man cannot help us.
2. The disastrousness of any other course (Daniel 9:13). To choke sorrow is to be choked by it, whereas if we go to God the burden can be thrown off. To depend upon the charlatan or to neglect proper means is suicide.
3. The wisdom and blessedness of this course. God sends the tempest of affliction after His Jonahs, that out of the depths they may cry to Him to be delivered. Because God is powerful, able, and willing to help. Let us (Hebrews 4:16).
III. That God undertakes to apply the remedy for affliction, not according to our merits, or merely according to His compassion, but according to His pledged and covenant “word.” The remedy must therefore be adequate, firm, and everlasting.
I. The Psalmist presents himself for examination. He puts his whole case, his qualifications and disqualifications, before God, and God hears him.
II. The result of this examination is a consciousness and confession of ignorance and error. His prayer to be taught God’s statutes, to understand the way of God’s precepts, implies ignorance of the one and departure from the other. And he who comes away from the throne of grace with any other consciousness has been there in vain.
III. His ignorance and error leads him to cry to the great Teacher for instruction. This instruction was twofold. Intellectual, “Teach me Thy statutes;” and practical, “Make me to understand the way of Thy precepts.” First the information, then its correct and proper application. Remember that the instructor is God, not man; and the instruction is not in human guesses and speculations, but in divine truth and holiness.
IV. Upon this instruction being vouchsafed and his education complete, he feels that he will then be in a position to instruct others, “So shall I talk of Thy wondrous works.”
1. God’s works, not his own or man’s.
2. God’s wondrous works, in revelation, providence, redemption. This in our case is due to God, due to ourselves, due to man.
STRENGTH IN WEAKNESS
I. The Psalmist’s case. It was one of extreme trouble. His very soul “dropped away.” Why so extreme? Just as the sorrows of a man are greater than the sorrows of a beast, from his superior knowledge and keener susceptibility. So the knowledge of the spiritual man is clearer and more accurate, and his susceptibilities keener, than those of the natural man. He knows the character of sin and the claims of God, and his conscience responds to the slightest touch of evil.
II. The Psalmist’s prayer. Not for the removal of his affliction, but for the strength of grace to bear it. “Strengthen me.” This implies a recognition of the need and benefit of this disciplinary and sanctifying affliction, and a desire to be sustained until it should have accomplished its perfect work. We would do foolishly with our afflictions what a child would do with its restraints and the discipline of school or home. Better far to be able to say, “Thy grace is sufficient for me.”
III. The Psalmist’s plea. “According to Thy word.” Prayer avails in proportion to the power and prevalence of its pleas. No plea is like that of God’s own pledged word. And what does God promise? Not to deliver us as we wish, but always either to deliver or to give us that grace and strength which renders deliverance a matter of comparative indifference. What God then has promised let man plead, and if prayer is not answered it is not from indifference or unwillingness on the part of God.
THE TWO WAYS
Our text teaches us—
I. That there are two ways, and two ways only, which determine the character and decide the destiny of mankind. The way of lying and the way of truth. The false and the true. There is no third way, and there are no characteristics common to both. A man must either walk in the way of truth or the way of error.
II. That these two ways are open to man’s deliberate preference and choice. God does not urge us towards the one or the other by the force of a predestined and inexorable necessity. Neither is the force of any circumstance such as to leave man no option but to be untrue to himself and to his God. The practical common sense and experience of man laugh at all metaphysical endeavours to deprive him of the freedom of his will.
III. That the false way is most natural to man. The Psalmist felt so, or why his urgent request that it might be removed? All Scripture is emphatic on this point. “They go astray from the womb, speaking lies.” This way is very broad, and many elements enter into its composition. Hypocrisy, insincerity, error, false religions, false maxims, false customs, as well as deliberate lying. Experience is as emphatic as Scripture. No evil habit is so strong, so general, so growing, as the habit of untruthfulness. It is the one habit more than another that grows upon the young.
IV. That in order to walk firmly in the true way divine assistance is indispensable.
1. God must “remove the way of lying.” He alone can break the force of evil habits and check the evil tendency.
2. God must vouchsafe the chart by whose guidance alone we can walk in the way of truth. “Grant me Thy law graciously.” This God has answered in the case of every man. The heathen have the law written on their heart, and their conscience accuses them when they do wrong, and excuses them when they do right. For Christians there is the written law and the living law of the life of Christ in addition, and guided by this threefold law the wayfaring man though a fool shall not err therein.
V. That continuance in the way of truth is conditional on the use of divinely-appointed means. “Thy judgments have I laid before me.” Only by a diligent, careful, and accurate study of the judgments of God can our feet be kept in the way of truth. “As he who learns to write lays his copy before him, that he may write according to it; as the workman lays his model and platform before him, that he may do his work exactly; as we must have the word in our heart by an habitual conformity to it; so we must have it in our eye by an actual regard to it upon all occasions, that we may walk accurately and by rule.”—M. Henry.
Having chosen the way of truth, the Psalmist does not regret his choice, but adheres steadfastly to it, and makes steady but rapid progress in it. This was perseverance.
I. Steady. “I have stuck.” It was not a restless and fitful movement, but a firm and consistent adhesion to fixed principles. The race is not to the swift, but to the steady. The battle is not to the strong, but to the steadfast. “It is hard pounding, gentlemen,” said Wellington at Waterloo, “but we shall see who will pound the longest.” The man who runs, till he is out of breath, for one hour, and is obliged, panting, to rest for the next, will not win the prize. And so the Christian who is very earnest on set occasions and makes great efforts at certain times, but who tires of service, and is forgetful of his principles on ordinary occasions, is not the man who will take the crown of life. “Run with patience.”
II. Rapid. “I will run.” Steady perseverance is not necessarily slow. It certainly is not slow in the long run. The man who steadfastly runs by rule and with self-restraint, although he may be distanced by him who is careless of rule and impulsive for the moment; time will show who has made the greatest progress. But the perseverance of the Christian life is rapid in its attainment of results, and ought to be. Consider how soon the course is traversed, the number of obstacles overcome, the character of the help vouchsafed, the nature of the incentives offered, and how quickly, comparatively speaking, habits are formed and graces developed and strengthened! In view of all this, it is appropriately likened to the swift flight of the eagle, and to the short, eager race for the incorruptible crown.
III. Shameless. “O Lord, put me not to shame.” There is a perseverance which can only bring shame. Perseverance in an inconsistent, insincere, lying course can only bring contempt on those who run there. The path of truth is the only one in which it is possible to ran secure from shame. Circumstances may arise which may prevent us in other paths from so persevering as to win that towards which we reach forth the hand, and thus, for want of success, others are ashamed of us and we are ashamed of ourselves. Here, however, if we are faithful we shall win, and thus be secure from shame.
IV. Divinely assisted. “Lit., ‘For Thou wilt enlarge my heart.’ Expressing confidence that God would do this, so that he would be thus inclined and enabled to keep His commandments. It is an acknowledgment of dependence and confidence. The phrase means, to make the heart free from all hindrances to what is right; to fill it with noble and holy purposes; to stimulate and animate it. The heart is contracted by selfishness, pride, vanity, ambition, covetousness; it is made large by charity, love, hope, &c. Sin narrows the soul; religion enlarges it.”—Barnes.
Our text suggests—
I. That the way of Christian progress is divinely revealed. “Teach me, O Lord, the way of Thy statutes.” The way of life is not a path discovered by study, intuition, or speculation. Nor is it a path upon which it is possible to light by happy accident. As it is not human learning, scientific knowledge, or even ethical development, but the knowledge and practise of God’s statutes, God must make those statutes known.
II. That Christian progress is possible only under certain definite conditions. The racer in the old Greek games was not crowned except he had striven according to fixed and stringent rules. So with this and every other path in life worth traversing, the conditions are twofold—
1. Knowledge of the way. “Give me understanding.” This is the prime condition. Ignorance is the fruitful source of failure everywhere. No man can make progress in business, unless he knows his business; in scholarship, unless he is acquainted with his books; in politics, unless he is conversant with affairs of State. So Christians can make no progress without understanding God’s law. Notice—
(1) God gives this understanding. God reveals not only the entrance of the way, or the panorama of the way as a whole, but the details of the way, its dangers, duties, difficulties, blessings, losses, and rewards. And not only so, but also that spiritual enlightenment without which progress is impossible. With this we “shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” But
(2) Man must use the understanding that God gives. Scholarship is of no value unless turned to practical account. Letters are useless unless employed in the formation of words; words are of no service except they convey thought; thoughts are of no use unless adequately expressed. And so all theoretic knowledge in the way of Christian progress is of no effect unless applied “with the whole heart.” Alas! many men know every step of the way to heaven who, from the want of this, fail to get there.
2. Earnestness in the way. “I shall observe it with my whole heart.” Another universe condition. Unless men give “earnest heed” to the securing of a given object, they “let it slip.” This earnestness implies
(1) Love. The “heart” is the seat of the affections. Unless a man loves his career, he will not be successful in it. So our love must be fixed on ours. There is everything in it to excite affection. Christ is at once the entrance and the goal. To “me to live is Christ,” being “built up into Him our living Head, in all things,” who is “the fairest among ten thousand, and altogether lovely,” is the inspired description of the Christian way. Love to Christ, again, is the motive force of Christian progress.
(2) United effort. The earnest man is he who gives his “whole heart” to his work. His motto is, “This one thing I do.” We say a man is not in earnest when his efforts are desultory or divided; and such men never succeed. Alas! there are many Christian men who, for the same reason, come short of the prize.
3. Absorbing interest in the way. “Therein do I delight.” Again, no man will succeed who does not delight in his work. If he entertains ignoble views about it, or depreciates it, or shows he can afford to treat it with carelessness, he will never make himself proficient. Those men who have succeeded in politics, learning, &c., have been the men who have counted their callings most worthy of their supreme interest. And shall we depreciate or be careless about “the high calling of God in Christ Jesus,” so grand and delightful, and leading to such issues? No, the Christian man, of all men, should take pride in his career; for is it not “ways of pleasantness and paths of peace?”
4. Constancy in the way. “I shall keep it unto the end.” Most failures are due to the want of this. If a man lacks this one thing needful, in spite of genius and practical ability, he will run in vain and labour in vain. And many well-meaning Christians fail because they make no sustained effort. “He that endures to the end shall be saved.” “Wherefore” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
III. That Christian progress is impossible without divine assistance. “Make me to go.”
1. God must supply the stimulus. “Make me to go.” A stimulus is needful, for Christianity is not natural to man. No effort can be made without a force behind and an attraction in front. Thank God, these are not wanting. The promises and comforts of God’s Spirit are ever near us lest we should be weary and faint in our souls. Heaven is set before us to gain; hell for us to shun. Yea, “The young men shall faint, and be weary,” &c. (Isaiah 40:31).
2. God must supply the qualifications. “Make me.” Not certainly in the sense of compulsion, but in the endowment of the requisite ability. As He gives us the knowledge of the way, so He will supply all its requirements. He will give us the elements of moral earnestness, shed abroad His love in our hearts, supply the principle of cohesion which will enable us to serve Him with our whole heart; make us interested in our work, and enable us to continue steadfast unto the end.
3. God must supply the fact. “To go.” He must make us Christians, and thus empower us to begin our progress. He must sow the seed of grace before we can grow in it. It is only by “looking unto Jesus” that we can lay aside every weight, &c. At every stage He must guide us by His counsel, go before us, making “crooked places straight,” &c., and afford us the support and discipline of His rod and staff in every dark ravine. Man cannot go without this great Leader. But our comfort is that we are continually with Him, &c. (Psalms 73:23).
Men and brethren, we are all going. Whether we like it or not, we must all go.
(1.) How are we going; with God, or without Him?
(2.) Where are we going; to heaven, or to hell?
THE SERVANT OF GOD
I. That God qualifies His servants by a special fitness. “Incline my heart;” which suggests—
1. That man is naturally disqualified for divine service. His heart is inclined in the opposite direction. It is warped and twisted from the straight line of God’s law. Consequently there is a preference for that which is averse from God.
2. That man, if qualified at all, must be qualified by God. No force within a man is capable of doing this, nor any force without, either of example, instruction, or compulsion. But God does so incline the hearts of those who are willing, that, like the great servant of the Lord, they can say, “I delight to do Thy will.” God does not break the will; He softens it, and then stretches it back again. He never compels, but draws by the persuasion of His entreaties, the allurement of His promises, by reason and affection; and then when the heart is prepared He moves it back again by His Spirit into conformity with His will and way. And when man’s heart is inclined to do the will of God, not for what can be got, but because it is felt to be right and joyous, then is man qualified for divine service.
II. That those whom God qualifies for, He consecrates to His service. These two ideas overlap, as indeed do all the Christian doctrines and privileges. Consecration not only implies fitness, but supplies it. It separates from sin, and imparts the power of divine life.
1. God’s servants, by virtue of their consecration, are separate from sin.
(1.) The eyes are turned away “from beholding vanity.” Sin loses its attractiveness, and becomes an object of abhorrence.
(2.) The eye turned away, the whole man is turned away. Men walk in that direction on which their eyes are set.
(3.) The eyes and the whole man turned away from the vanities of sin are glad to look on the realities of God.
2. God’s servants, by virtue of their consecration, are made instinct with divine life. “Quicken Thou me in Thy way.” This life of consecration is
(1) divine. God’s servants are born of His Spirit, born into His house, born from above. They are not slaves or hirelings, but sons; and their duties those of filial affection.
(2) A special gift for a special service: “In Thy way.” Not for our spiritual gratification, or for our safety and blessedness merely, but in and for His way.
(3) Progressive. “In” all departments and stages of “Thy way.” We need moment by moment the divine quickening, and that constant quickening continually enlarges, develops, and intensifies all the powers and faculties of our being.
III. Those whom God consecrates He supports by special encouragements. “Stablish Thy word unto Thy servant.”
1. God’s servants are the subjects of special promises. God undertakes to preserve them from evil in the prosecution of their tasks, and empower them to overcome all their difficulties.
2. God establishes those promises. He fulfils His undertakings. No servant of His, while trusting in His Master’s strength and doing His Master’s work, has ever suffered harm or lacked any good thing.
3. God’s promises established afford a basis for future hopefulness. Since no word of God has failed, man has solid ground to rest upon. Were His word untrustworthy, or His promises broken, nothing but disappointment could result.
IV. Those whom God qualifies, consecrates, and encourages, are expected to exhibit certain traits.
1. Negatively: “Not to covetousness.” That the servant of God should not be inclined to covetousness is seen from the fact that covetousness
(1) Disposes the soul to occupations that are averse from the service of God. It is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10); leads to violent theft and oppression (Micah 2:2); to treason, as in the case of Judas; dishonour of God, in the case of Gehazi; dishonesty, in that of Achan; murder, in Ahab; apostasy, in Ananias and Sapphira.
(2) It utterly incapacitates for the service of God. It destroys the principle of obedience, which is love of God (1 John 2:5), is contrary to all the commands of God (Matthew 6:14), and it slights all the encouragements of God’s grace by seeking other rewards.
2. Positively. Devotion to God’s fear.
(1.) To fear God is to revere Him and adopt that posture which befits His service.
(2.) Devotion to that fear saves us from sinning against God, and stimulates us to His service.
FEAR AND ITS REMEDY
God’s people are the subjects of a twofold fear: the fear of God and the fear of sin. The former fear is dealt with in the previous verse, the latter in this. “Guard me from the reproach which (alone) I fear of sinning against Thee; for Thy judgments, i.e., revealed laws, are good, and happy is he that keeps them.”—Speaker’s Com. Observe—
I. That the Christian has nothing to fear but sin, and the only reproach he need deprecate is that of having sinned.
1. Because sin is the only evil. Nothing is evil except from its alliance with sin. Trial, persecution, sickness, poverty, pain may be good, and under certain circumstances are to be desired rather than deprecated. But sin can only work harm. It saps the foundation of spiritual life, deteriorates the quality and diminishes the volume of true manhood, blinds the intellect, befouls the heart, destroys hope, kills usefulness, and blasts the soul.
2. Because sin has terrible and eternal consequences. Sin deliberately rejects the sources of the soul’s life and blessedness, and therefore fixes its own destiny, which is the death and misery of hell. Sin, too, entails a terrible “reproach” which man may well fear.
(1.) The reproach of the good.
(2.) Self-reproach. An active conscience will not let the sinner rest, for persisting in his own destruction and wronging his Master and his Friend.
(3.) The reproach of God. God reproaches in love now. “What iniquity have you or your fathers found in Me?” “Why will ye die?” But, by and by, in anger and judicially will He utter that reproach which shall never be wiped away, and dismiss the sinner to “shame and everlasting contempt.”
II. That the only safety from sin and its reproach is the life of righteousness.
1. There is no other safety. Watchfulness and resolution may save us from gross and palpable sins; pardon may remove its guilt, but only a quickening in the divine righteousness can save us permanently from its power.
2. With this we are secure. God does not simply cease to impute sin, He regenerates. So quickens, that sin has no more dominion over us,—quickens us in a new mould, so that we “live unto righteousness.” Thus the cause and the reproach are both rolled away, and God’s approbation secured.
III. That the danger and the safety are revealed by the Word of God. “Thy judgments are good.” Sin is a vague consciousness, and its consequences a vague dread without the judgments of God; and nowhere but there do we read, “Repent ye, and believe the Gospel.”
IV. That the danger is to be deprecated, and the safety sought by prayer. “I have longed after.”
The primary object of this prayer was doubtless providential deliverance. The Psalmist was afflicted, God had promised deliverance. He trusted in that promise, yet salvation stayed. Now the enemy began to reproach, “Where is now thy God?” This led to the passionate entreaty of our text. He prayed for salvation that he might give the enemy to see the stability of “the confidence wherein he trusted.” Learn that salvation is—
I. The outcome of the divine mercies. “Let Thy mercies … even Thy salvation.” Man is lost and ruined—has lost and ruined himself—not by chance, but deliberately. To salvation, therefore, he can lay no moral claim. By disobedience and rebellion he has lost all title to the divine regard. He can, therefore, be saved only by an act of mercy. But his sins are so many, and his depravity so deep, that multiplied mercies can alone meet his case. So thought the Psalmist when he said, “Let Thy mercies,” &c. So thought God when He offered to “multiply to pardon.” So we must think when we consider the wealth and variety of divine grace: the Mosaic and prophetic dispensations, the work of Christ, the operation of the Spirit, the Gospel ministry, and the means of grace. So in every individual case, forbearing, prevenient, saving, sanctifying grace. “Not according to our works, but according to His own mercy.”
II. Not a human effort, but a divine visitation. “Let Thy mercies come unto me.” Salvation is not the effort by which the sinner lifts himself out of one moral atmosphere into another, and loosens his hold of vice, and educates himself into virtue. It is altogether an act of God upon the sinner, and an act which, being essentially supernatural, does not admit of the co-operation of natural agencies. True, these are conditions, but repentance and faith merely put man into a salvable condition. “Mine own arm brought salvation.”
III. The subject of divine promise. “According to Thy Word.” The promises of salvation in God’s word are the most numerous and the most emphatic. It is the subject of the first promise and of the last.
IV. A witness to the steadfastness of the divine word. Professor Tyndall’s proposed experiment was manifestly unfair. There may be reasons, however inscrutable, whereby the sovereign of the universe may see fit not to relieve physical affliction, or save from physical death. Great moral purposes may be in the process of evolution, and for their accomplishment individuals may have to be removed to another sphere. But here the challenge may be taken up. God has promised to save on the condition of believing prayer. Let the vicious try it, pleading God’s promises, and if reformation does not follow the experiment has failed. But it has been tried, and again and again men have had “wherewith to answer” them that reproached them. Learn—
(i.) The value of salvation. The mighty and merciful visitation of God. (ii) The necessity of trusting in God’s Word for salvation. (iii.) The duty of the public exhibition of that salvation for the glory of God, and the refutation of unbelief.
PREACHING AND PRACTICE
I. The Psalmist’s prayer. “Take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth.” He regards it both as a duty and a privilege to declare God’s truth. How many, alas, forget this obligation! They have been saved themselves through hearing and obeying this declaration, and that is their only concern. There are others who look upon it merely as a burden to be borne with resignation. God, however, would have us regard the command to testify of His grace as a commandment with promise. We must preach if we would be true to our convictions, and fulfil the divine plan for the conversion of the world. But consider the honour of being ambassadors from God, the blessedness of conveying the tidings of God’s love to sinful and sorrowing men, the glory of the reward. Let this therefore be every Christian’s prayer. If he does not feel called, let him pray God to call him. If circumstances render the practice of this duty and the enjoyment of this privilege difficult, let him ask that the word of truth may not be taken utterly out of his mouth.
II. The Psalmist’s purpose. The Psalmist felt that lip service alone was a mockery. No one would listen to a man whose practice gave the lie to his preaching. Ornate eloquence, profound learning, or subtle logic are useless gifts if the life be wrong. But he felt, too, that living without preaching was but mutilated service; so he wishes to combine the two, and determines to make his preaching not merely subordinate to his practice, but helpful to it. “So shall I keep Thy law.” What he preaches to others he will preach to himself. He will water others and himself at the same time. Preaching shall strengthen his own convictions and promote his own growth in grace. This shall be not occasional, but continual and “for ever and ever.”
III. The Psalmist’s consolation. “I have hoped in Thy judgments.”
1. In the strength of this consolation he goes to God in prayer. He felt that God’s judgments were his only hope. He prayed that he might preach them and keep them lest that hope should die.
2. This consolation is the strength of all powerful preaching. A man who is not hopeful cannot preach at all. But if a man has a well-founded hope on the power of God’s Word, and in the effects of its proclamation, he must preach, and his preaching will be intense and successful.
3. This consolation is the power of holy living. Unless a man has a strong hope that the basis on which he stands is strong and enduring, and that the end at which he is aiming is attainable, he will all his lifetime be the subject of anxious fears. But if he hopes in God’s judgments he will be sure that he is on a rock, and that success will attend all his efforts.
Nothing is more precious or desirable than liberty. Yet there is nothing about which men make more mistakes, or enjoy so little. What passes for liberty is frequently the basest servitude. And what men call thraldom is often the finest liberty. Notice—
I. That man’s natural condition is one of bondage. He has deliberately resigned and rejected his title to liberty by transgressing the terms on which it is based. Scripture everywhere represents the unredeemed man as sold under sin, led captive by the devil, desiring good but unable to reach it. This bondage is painful and degrading in its nature, and terrible in its consequences.
II. That man walks at liberty when he seeks and finds God’s precepts. God’s Word is the charter of man’s freedom.
1. It defines true liberty. The subordination of the soul to God (James 1:25). The soul is free only when it moves unhampered in that sphere where its true interests lie. Restraints are not laid on the soul, but on those passions and preferences which hinder its full activity. When a command is imposed upon it, it is implied that its breach or negligence would militate against our freedom.
2. It confers true liberty. It is the only revelation of the great redemption, and alone shows how through the death of Christ and the work of the Spirit we may enjoy the liberty of the children of God.
III. That man walks permanently and securely at liberty only as long as he seeks and finds God’s precepts.
1. They must be sought and found by God’s help, for they are God’s precepts.
2. They must be applied by God’s grace.
3. Their requirements must be rigidly kept.
IN CONCLUSION.—(i.) The exchange of servitude for freedom is an exchange of masters and an exchange of services. (ii.) Serve the new Master who has emancipated you from a terrible tyranny with the same diligence as you did your old.
I. To seek for it. If we seek for the word of God literally, or for that word which has special reference to us in given circumstances, we shall find it.
II. To meditate upon it. Finding it, our first duty is to see what it is, what it means, what it is for, and to make it subserve those circumstances which led to our search for it. Meditation does all these.
III. To love it. Meditation will show its infinite beneficence and beauty, its exact suitability to the needs and aspirations of the soul, instruction for the mind, direction for the will, cleansing for the heart, guidance for the life, comfort for affliction, strength for duty, peace for distraction, hope for death, and will beget as it must, love.
IV. To delight in it. The heart that loves the Word will delight in it (Psalms 1:2; Psalms 111:1; Romans 7:22). Thus the study and practice of God’s Word is not a matter of dry duty, but of joy. Who can help rejoicing in that which is the revelation of God’s character, will, helpfulness, redemption, heaven? Let the soul love these revelations and it will delight in them.
V. Not to be ashamed of it. Suspicion and dislike are at the root of shame. Those who suspect the authority or dislike the teaching of the Word of God are ashamed of it. But those who delight in it say, “God forbid that I should glory,” &c. What are the promises or laws or dignities of earthly monarchs in comparison with it? Even the reproach of Christ is greater riches than the treasures of Egypt. We who delight in God’s commandment are not ashamed to stand with Moses before Pharaoh, Daniel in Babylon, Peter and John in the presence of the Sanhedrin, and Paul at Cæsar’s bar.
VI. To earnestly practise it. What we are not ashamed of we should “lift up our hands to.” It is not enough to seek, find, meditate, love, delight, and glory in God’s Word. The servant who knew his lord’s will but did it not was beaten with many stripes. “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them” (1 John 2:4; James 1:22). Everything depends upon this. If we do not practise God’s commandment with both hands earnestly, our ardour will cool, our love diminish, our meditation cease, and our Bible be withdrawn. But if we practise it, our weakness and ignorance will drive us to its wisdom and strength, finding which our affections will be stirred and our delight and boasting stimulated.
IN CONCLUSION.—Seek God’s Word diligently. While you are musing on it, let the fire burn. That fire will kindle joy. That joy will give us holy boldness before princes and governors, and help us in the prosaic application and practice of it in our daily life.
AFFLICTION: ITS COMFORTS, DUTIES, AND DANGERS
I. That God’s servants are permitted to suffer affliction. This Psalm, the whole Bible, and all experience testifies to this. “They that are godly in the world shall suffer persecution.” The glorified “have come out of great tribulation.” “Ye shall have tribulation.”
1. These afflictions are aggravated by, or in some cases mainly consist in, the derision of ungodly men (Psalms 119:51). “They ridiculed him, bantered him, did all they could to expose him to contempt; they laughed at him for praying and called it cant, for his seriousness and called it mopishness, for his strictness and called it needless preciseness. They were the proud who sat in the scorners’ seat and valued themselves in so doing.—M. Henry.
2. Whether despised or not, the godly man is always afflicted by the prevalence of sin (Psalms 119:53). “The LXX render the word ἀθυμια, by “depression;” Arab. and Syr., “sadness;” Jerome, “horror;” Calvin, “terror.” (See Psalms 11:6.) “Probably a burning wind or simoom is meant, which scorches up and destroys vegetation in a moment; and, metoph., a sharp penetrating pain or horror.”—Speaker’s Com. Other aspects of affliction are as nothing when compared with man’s treatment of God and His Word. A sure mark of grace is extreme sensitiveness to the exceeding sinfulness of sin.
II. That God has special comforts for His afflicted servants.
1. His word is the repertory of exceeding great and precious promises for those who are in affliction. All our vicissitudes are divinely provided for. “I remember Thy judgments of old.” God does not wait for His servants’ extremities. The provision for them is antedated by eternity. When the believer goes to the Word of God he finds waiting for him all he wants.
2. His Word quickens (Psalms 119:50). The worst feature of affliction is the exhaustion it engenders, and that is intensified sometimes by the thought that it is hopeless. But God tells us that our sickness is not unto death, and thus immortal hope and new life are kindled in the breast.
III. That affliction should lead us to call upon God to fulfil His promises
1. We should plead the promise itself. This is an appeal to God’s faithfulness. We must go to God’s Word to find what promise meets our case and then plead it. Is our case that of sinners: God’s promise is to abundantly pardon. Distress: God has promised peace. Darkness: light. Pain: sufficient grace.
2. We should plead the hope that the promise has excited. This is an appeal to the divine justice and goodness. If God could give rise to groundless expectations, all faith in Him would fail. This we know to be impossible.
3. We should plead God’s fulfilled promises and man’s answered hopes. “The Psalmist remembered that the principles of the divine administration were always the same.” In the trials of life, &c., it is well for us to think of the unchanging principles which mark the divine dealings. Under such an administration those who trust in God must be safe.
IV. That affliction should not lead us to decline from God’s law (Psalms 119:51).
1. Pain should not lead us to doubt God’s goodness. Pain is not an evil in itself. The physician and parent have often to inflict pain.
2. Adversity should not lead us to swerve from our principles. Remember the compensations. It is something to suffer for the right. God is always on the side of the right. God will always reward the right
3. Derision should not lead us from an open avowal of our piety (Psalms 44:12-22). This is a temptation to which the young are most susceptible. Many a man can face death who quails before sarcasm. Peter. Happy the man in the scoffing world who can say, “I have not declined from Thy law.”
IN CONCLUSION.—(James 1:2-5; 1 Peter 1:6-7; Romans 5:3, etc.).
THE EARTHLY PILGRIMAGE AND THE HEAVENLY SONGS
“When the Eastern traveller takes shelter from the scorching heat or halts for the night at some caravansary which is for the time the house of his pilgrimage, he soothes his rest with a song—a song it may be of war, romance, or love. But the poet of Israel finds his theme in the statutes of Jehovah. These have been my pastime, with these I have refreshed myself onward through the wearisome journey, and across the scorching deserts of life. Not songs of old tradition, &c., have supported me, but these have been the solace of my weary hours and the comfort of my rest.”—Bushnell.
I. God’s people are on a pilgrimage.
1. They have here no continuing city (Hebrews 13:14). This life is but the passage of the soul to its eternal inheritance. All things here are fleeting, are partaken of in haste, while the traveller is moving onward. All things change, avocations, pleasures, friends, &c., but this, that we are journeying to the grave.
2. They have here no home. They sojourn here for a time. Soon they strike their tents for the last time and enter into their rest. All the journey is characterised by the discomfort incident to homelessness. There is nothing to give harmony, satisfaction, or repose.
3. They are ever seeking their country and their home. This implies patient employment of the means at their disposal; the temporary rests and refreshments of the way; the supports and charts of the way; and the companions of the way.
4. This being the case they are not ashamed of the character of strangers and pilgrims, but glory in it. There is nothing here worthy of their inheritance (John 15:19; 1 Peter 4:4).
II. Delightful provisions are made for God’s people on their pilgrimage. “Thy statutes have been my songs.” “Multitudes of men have a very different conception of this matter. Divine law, divine obligation, responsibility in any form, authority under any conditions, they feel to be a real annoyance.”—Bushnell. God’s statutes are delightful nevertheless, because—
1. They clearly reveal the end of our journey. While other books give only dim hopes or shrewd guesses, God’s Word is most explicit. It is full of assurances of our future home. It tells us of its many mansions, its splendid cities, its wide domain, its freedom from sin, pain, and death; its Fatherly Sovereign; and of the joys which are at His right hand for evermore.
2. They contain directions how we may reach our journey’s end. It is no small joy amidst the questionable maxims and the halting speculations of the world to have a light shining in a dark place, a chart which maps out every day’s march, and indicates every danger, and following which it is impossible to go astray.
3. They contain the history of our ancestors and fellow-countrymen who have gone the way before us and have entered into rest, and encourage us to emulate their patience and heroism. (Hebrews 6:12; Hebrews 12:1).
4. They contain the precious promises; assure of the leadership and companionship of God; provide comfort for the anxiety, and solace for the pain, we meet with by the way.
THE NIGHTLY OCCUPATIONS OF THE GODLY
(Psalms 119:55; Psalms 119:62; Psalms 119:148)
That God has given the light is a reason why we should dedicate the day to Him and make Him the end of all our active services. But God has also given the night, and that blessing of blessings, sleep. Should not that be recognised, and at its appropriate season? The Psalmist thought so and then meditated on God’s Word, remembered God’s name, and rose to give thanks to Him.
I. The duties of the night.
1. Meditation on God’s Word. Measuring by that the actions of the day, and composing our thoughts for the night.
2. Remembrance of God’s name; who has preserved us during the day, and under whose protection we hope to be preserved during the darkness and solitude of the night.
3. Celebration of God’s praise. Thankfulness for the blessings of both seasons.
II. How these duties are to be performed.
1. With alacrity (Psalms 119:148).
2. With self-forgetfulness. At mid-night. Remembering only the gratitude we owe to God.
3. With joy (Psalms 119:62).
III. Why these duties are to be performed.
1. Night is most suitable for profitable meditation on the Word of God. Amidst the distraction of worldly cares the mind is unfitted for the sustained effort that is required.
2. Night is most suitable for remembering God’s name. The mind is then unoccupied. The bustle of life often drives away thoughts of God.
3. Night is most suitable for thanksgiving. The time most suitable to thought is most suitable for gratitude.
IV. These nightly occupations will prepare us for the exercise of daily duties.
1. Nightly meditation will prepare us for daily obedience. The task learned overnight will be easily repeated on the following day.
2. Nightly remembrance of God will stimulate daily thoughts about Him.
3. Nightly thanksgiving will be a healthy preparation for the recognition of daily mercies.
THE BLESSINGS OF OBEDIENCE
Some expositors refer the “this” literally to the blessings enumerated in the preceding verses. It is better, perhaps, to view the expression indefinitely. Taking a review of his whole experience, the Psalmist bursts out in the joyful exclamation, “All is mine, because I kept Thy precepts.” The evangelical results of obedience are—
I. Protection in the further course of obedience (Psalms 31:19-20; Job 1:10; Zechariah 2:5).
II. As much of success in life as God may see good for us (Matthew 6:33; Psalms 84:11).
III. Gracious manifestations of God’s presence and favour (Psalms 17:15; John 14:21).
IV. Growth in grace (Psalms 84:7; Proverbs 4:18; Romans 6:19).
V. Peace. Psalms 119:165. (Isaiah 32:17; Galatians 6:16; Philippians 4:8.)
VI. Joy. Psalms 119:14. (Romans 5:2; Romans 14:17.)
VII. Heaven (Revelation 3:0)
THE SOUL’S PORTION
I. What the soul’s portion is.
“Thou art my portion, O Lord.” Not His ordinances, or Word, or Church, or anything about Him, or from Him, but Himself. Heb., “Jehovah (is) my portion, i.e., mine inheritance more precious than any other.” (See Psalms 16:5; Psalms 113:5; Joshua 17:14; Joshua 18:10.) The soul’s portion is—
1. Accessible with them who are of a contrite heart.
2. Ever present. “Lo, I am with you alway.”
3. Unchanging. “The same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.”
4. Soul-satisfying. “In Thy presence is fulness of joy.”
5. Eternal (Psalms 73:26).
II. How the soul’s portion is attained. “I entreated Thy face (Heb) with my whole heart.”
1. Not by bribes of benevolence. But
2. By earnest supplication.
3. By the undivided aspirations of our whole nature.
4. By the effective pleading of the divine promise, “According to Thy word.”
III. On what grounds the soul’s portion is given. “Be merciful,” &c.
1. Not on the ground of merit. But
2. On the ground of the divine mercy.
3. On the ground of the divine promise.
IV. For what purpose the soul’s portion is vouchsafed (Psalms 119:57).
1. Consecration, “I have said.”
2. Obedience, “I will keep Thy words.”
THE HEAVENLY ROAD
The author of this Psalm reviews the way in which God had been leading him. He looks back on the time when he was on another road, and contemplates with gratitude the thought which induced him to change his destiny. Having changed the tenor of his ways, he sped with joyful haste along the path of God’s commandments and was not driven therefrom by the malice of his foes. These words suggest—
I. That man is naturally in the wrong way. “I thought on my ways.”
1. The wrong way is a hard way. “The way of transgressors is hard.” Christian men are too prone to complain of the difficulties of God’s way. Let them think of the perils they have escaped.
2. The wrong way is an unsatisfying way. No sinner can give a reasonable account of himself. To speak of its pleasures or profits is but irony. They are husks which the swine do eat.
3. It is a ruinous way. It wears out the spiritual energies, and leads to everlasting destruction.
4. It is a selfish way.
5. It is a way peculiar, to the individual transgressor. “We have turned every one to his own way.”
II. That reflection will lead men into the right way. “I thought,” Sin is a reckless absence of thought. In order to sin, a man cannot, must not, think. The sinner is beside himself, and, as in the case of the Prodigal, when he comes to himself and contemplates his own misery and degradation, and the comfort and honours of his father’s house, he turns his feet in a homeward direction.
III. That the choice of the right way must be followed by a deliberate change of habit. “And turned my feet.” “He does not say that he waited for God to turn him, or that he could not turn of himself. Man is always active in conversion. He changes, repents, believes, turns, not God. It is indeed by the grace and help of God,—but the effect of that grace is not to make him idly wait; it is to rouse him to act.”—Barnes.
IV. That the right way is to be pursued with alacrity. “I made haste.”
1. Much time has been lost.
2. Many dangers are pursuing.
3. Much has to be done ere we reach the end, and the day is far spent.
V. That this alacrity is not to be lessened by the dangers and privations of the road (Psalms 119:61). The surrounding perils, so far from discouraging us, should hasten us. Does the dispoiled traveller sit down and bemoan his losses when he knows his home is in sight? No, he hastens on, lest worse accidents should happen him. So let our losses and dangers drive us nearer to God, and quicken our pace towards that heavenly country “where thieves do not break through nor steal.”
THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS
Man is a social creature. God has said, “It is not good for men to be alone” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12). For the purposes of mutual help God has set the solitary in families. This being the case for the promotion of spiritual life man should not rush into monasticism, but should seek fellowship with those with whom he has moral affinity (Romans 1:11-12). This can be safely neglected by none. Our text suggests—
I. That religious communion must have a religious basis. The fear of God and the keeping of His precepts.
1. The Bible knows of no basis that is not in some sense theological. The fear of God implies a belief in the person to be feared. We cannot fear an abstraction, or a “stream or tendency which works for righteousness,” nor love it, which indeed is included in that fear. To keep God’s precepts is to believe in their divine inspiration and authority, or we shall deem keeping them optional. To fear God necessitates fearing Him through the divinely-appointed means, through the grace of Christ and in the power of the Holy Ghost. If we keep God’s precepts we must not omit those which demand a full intellectual assent to certain doctrines. It is impossible for the man who believes that the only way to the Father is through Christ, to worship with the Unitarian or the Deist. It is impossible for the man who when he prays believes it is with the help of the Spirit, to pray with the man who believes in no such Spirit. To do so argues either hypocrisy on the one hand, or the suppression of cherished convictions on the other. “What part hath he that believeth with the infidel?”
2. The Bible knows of no basis that is not practically religious. Profession without practice is everywhere sternly condemned. There are no words in the whole Bible stronger than those used by St. Paul to the Corinthian Church for its admission of a known profligate to its communion. The original covenant with the Jews was on the condition of their “circumspection” and their separation from the people and customs among whom they lived. Creed and conduct, therefore, is the broad basis for the communion of saints.
II. That religious communion is the spiritual intercourse between spiritual men, and between spiritual men and God, through the divinely-appointed means. It involves—
1. The common profession of a common faith and obedience. Christian faith, salvation, love and service, are common to all believers, and form the bonds by which Christendom holds together.
2. Common communion with a common God, through a common Saviour, by means of the help of a common Spirit.
3. Participation in a common lot (Revelation 1:9). In its fullest extent it involves a communion of suffering as well as of fellowship (Romans 12:15; Hebrews 10:33; Hebrews 11:25).
4. The exercise of a common spiritual help (Psalms 15:4; Psalms 16:2; Romans 1:12).
III. That religious communion is reasonable and natural, when on this basis, e.g.,
1. Religious men are members of the family of God. They are begotten by the same Father, regenerated by the same Spirit, share the same life, are washed in the same blood, and are travelling to the same heaven.
2. The inclinations of the members of this family all flow in this direction (1 Thessalonians 4:9; 1 John 5:1)
IN CONCLUSION.—(i.) Religious communion is necessary to maintain the faith once delivered to the saints. (ii.) Religious communion is profitable, as promoting the interests of charity and growth in grace.
GOD’S GOODNESS: ITS NATURE AND ITS RELATION TO PRAYER AND LIFE
(Psalms 119:64; Psalms 119:66; Psalms 119:68)
I. The nature of the divine goodness.
1. It is divine. “Thou art good.” God is good in Himself. All the attributes of love, truth, and justice, which go to make up perfect goodness, inhere in Him.
2. It is operative. “Thou doest good.” It is not a negative or passive goodness; it is positive and active. God is good in
(1) Creation. The earth is full of Thy mercy.” No perfection is more resplendently exhibited in the universe than this, and the universe teems with its manifestation. The cheering sun, the shining stars, the singing birds, the waving corn all proclaim that the earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.
(2) In human experience. The course of individual history tells the same tale. His wings have overshadowed us, His arm has upheld us, and into our hearts He has caused to flow the ceaseless benedictions of His grace. Well may we say with the Psalmist, “Thou hast dealt well with Thy servant.”
(3) In the Word. This is the one theme of all the precepts and all the promises. All our wants are there anticipated and fully met. There is light for our understanding, government for our will, cleansing for our conscience, guidance for our life, help for our weakness, comfort for our trouble, God for our portion, and heaven for our home.
II. These views of the divine goodness encourage us to pray.
1. Without them prayer would be impossible. To be uncertain about God, or to know Him only as indifferent or implacable, would stifle prayer. Prayer implies confidence, freedom of access, expectation of answer. But we should not be so foolish as to approach one whom we were sure could not or would not hear us, or so courageous if we knew He would frown upon us or spurn us.
2. But with this assurance we have a sure ground for confidence and expectation, and a mighty plea. God is good, and does good to the fowls of the air, the grass of the field; shall He not much more be good to us? Plead His goodness, His promise to do good, and you will not plead in vain.
III. Our prayer, based upon such sure warrant and such glad encouragement, should be of the largest kind and for the best things. We cannot ask too much, for our text tells us that God is willing as well as able to supply all our need. “Teach me Thy statutes … good judgment and knowledge.” The Psalmist felt that instruction was the best thing to be desired, and he prayed to be instructed in the best things.
1. God’s statutes. The Bible is the best book, because “given by inspiration of God, and profitable,” &c. Some books are good, others bad, others in different. He prays therefore that the contents of this best book may be expounded to him by their true interpreter.
2. Good judgment. This is another of the best things to which all should aspire. To bad judgment may be traced all the evils that are in the world, and to good judgment all that is good. A good judgment will
(1) Accurately distinguish between truth and error, good and evil (1 Corinthians 2:15; 1 Corinthians 10:15; Hebrews 5:14).
(2) Determine and decide (Psalms 39:1; Acts 11:3; 2 Timothy 3:10).
(3) Guide in the right direction, which is indeed its main end and use (Psalms 50:23)
3. Knowledge. God’s statutes are the sources of true and saving knowledge. Good judgment will guide us to them, and apply them, digest them, and use them. Upon these three things thus hang all spiritual good. Having these all the rest will follow.
IN CONCLUSION.—(i.) Entertain large views of God’s goodness. (ii.) Come for the provisions of that goodness with large petitions.
THE PURPOSE AND BENEFIT OF AFFLICTION
(Psalms 119:67; Psalms 119:71)
At first sight we are startled by the apparent contradiction, good to be afflicted. Good to be afflicted because driven to the painstaking study of a book whose revelations humble us and imposes further hardships? Good because driven from having our own way to walking in God’s? Even so a storm drives a vessel into harbour when she should be nearing her destination, and the sailors deem that storm a calamity. Not so; they find while in the harbour a leak that would have given them a watery grave, and there they repair the leak, and then proceed on their way. It was good for them to be afflicted. So God tosses us in a sea of trouble to drive us to the harbour of His Word, where our defects may be ascertained and remedied. A traveller bent upon a given destination, through forgetfulness, or self-conceit, or indolence, neglects to consult either way-farers or charts. He resumes his way, but still blindly pushes on. He meets with an accident, and can go no further for the time. Was that a calamity? No. It brought him to his senses. Now he examines his chart, makes inquiries, and finds that he is on the wrong road, and can never that way reach his journey’s end. It was good for him to be afflicted. So a man errs from the way of happiness, the way of truth, the way of his true destiny, the way of God. The Bible is too dry for him, how can he with his sublime genius condescend to examine its tedious details? Ah! that book is the only itinerary to heaven. He goes madly on till he comes to disaster and to ruin. Then he is glad to consult that book, and then he finds how far he has gone wrong and how he may get right. Truly may such use these words, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted. Before that I went astray: but now have I kept Thy word.”
CONTRASTS AND COMPENSATIONS
The lesson to be learned here is the old one, “Things are not what they seem.” There was a great contrast between the Psalmist and his persecutors, to all appearances in favour of the latter. They were in a position which lifted them up with pride; he in a position which cast him down in sorrow. But below the surface the contrast is reversed. Their heart was as fat as grease, unsusceptible to spiritual impressions, and incapable of spiritual enjoyment. He had both the appetite and the privileges, for he delighted in God’s law. Again, he had that which enabled him to triumph over their slanderous accusations, the answer of a good conscience towards God.
I. The contrast.
1. Apparent. Pride and affliction. To his enemies, to the world generally, evil prospered, and goodness played a losing game. So it appears to many now (Psalms 73:4-12).
2. Real. Down below the surface, and in the sight of God, there is a contrast which tells altogether the other way. Hearts as fat as grease—delight in God’s law. “Their heart is dull and brutal (Isaiah 6:10; Psalms 17:10; Psalms 83:7), so that they understand not Thy statutes, in which I delight; yea, I love them with my whole heart, and above all price.”—Speaker’s Com. “Senseless, secure, and stupid, sensual and voluptuous; they roll themselves in the pleasures of sense and take up with them as their chief good; and much good may it do them. I would not change conditions with them.”—M. Henry.
II. The compensation.
1. “The wicked have forged a lie against me.” Heb., To patch together. “It is applied to accusations made up of shreds and patches,—units, small matters, things having no necessary connection, words dropped here and there which, being artfully woven together, seem to make out a case against a man. Most slanders are formed in this way.”—Barnes. “All the falsehoods which men smeared, or smeared all at once over him, making the true nature of things undiscernible by daubing them over with false colours, or pasting on deceit.”—Moll.
2. The compensation consisted in the fact that they were lies, and that the Psalmist had and would keep God’s precepts with his whole heart. This, with the consequent sense of God’s approbation, supported and cheered him. Learn—
(i.) To judge accurately and not by appearances. (ii.) The needful thing is not to be rich and prosperous, but to be right and good. (iii.) Those who are right and good will have abundant consolation in the midst of trial.
THE BIBLE BETTER THAN RICHES
This, like all great truths, is a most difficult thing to believe. The real value of wealth has been estimated over and over again, yet men cling to it as the best possible if not the best conceivable thing. But the testimony of those who could best judge the relative value of both, pronounces God’s Word to be the best conceivable and the best possible thing in the world, e.g., David (Psalms 19:10), Solomon (Proverbs 3:14; Proverbs 8:11).
I. What wealth can do the Bible can do better.
1. Wealth brings honour. Mammon has never wanted worshippers. No title is refused, and no door closed, to the millionaire. The magisterial bench is reached by golden stairs, fashion wields a gilded sceptre, and coronets adorn the brow of gold. But the Bible confers higher dignities than these. By it man obtains the peerage of heaven, enjoys the companionship of God, and obtains a crown of glory that shall never fade away.
2. Wealth can purchase what is supposed to constitute happiness. It lifts a man above the privations of poverty; may give magnificent mansions, costly furniture, gorgeous attire, and luxurious diet. All the arts and adornments of life are open to those who can purchase them. But what are these in comparison with what the true riches of the Bible can purchase; the house not made with hands, the robe of righteousness, the wine of the kingdom, the heavenly manna, fulness of joy, and pleasures for evermore?
3. Wealth may purchase learning, buy books, found libraries, pay school fees, and open the doors of colleges. But no money can purchase what the Bible offers freely. True wisdom, the saving knowledge of God in Christ, understanding of the will of God, and immortality. Granted, then, that riches can do much, the Bible can do more, and do it without money and without price.
II. What wealth cannot do the Bible can.
1. Money cannot purchase pardon for sin. If it could, many would part with their all for it. It has been tried. Under a debasing superstition it is tried to-day. But no priestly fees, no costly masses, have or can ease the burdened conscience or cleanse its guilty stains—
“Vainly we offer each ample oblation;
Vainly with gifts would His blessing implore.”
But the Bible leads us to Him “who is faithful and just to forgive us our sins,” &c.
2. Money cannot purchase a clear and safe guide in the practical paths of life. It can lead astray, but it cannot lead back again, and cannot train man in the way he should go. Much has been spent in the supposition that it can; but it has been spent on blind guides. The Bible, on the contrary, is “a lamp unto our feet,” &c.
3. Money cannot purchase dignities of character. It has purchased the opposite. Many a man has been weighted down by it into the lowest abysses of moral degradation. The best it can do is to gild the exterior. But the Bible ennobles man. It endows him with the Spirit of God. It enables him to live the life of Christ. It has trained statesmen, heroes, and philanthropists. It has given scholars their wisdom, martyrs to progress their fortitude, and saints their sanctity.
4. Money cannot purchase the needful blessing in time of trial. It straightens no crooked path. It may intensify trouble, but can never remove it; it can wipe no tear from the eye; and in the hour of death man turns to his gilded idol in vain. It can destroy, but it cannot save. And in that land where gold is not the currency the miser has no place. But the Bible gives to the afflicted, the promises; to the poor, the unsearchable riches of Christ; to the dying, the hope and consciousness of heaven. Therefore, “The law of Thy mouth is better,” &c.
III. What wealth will do the Bible wont. Wealth must bring anxieties and cares. Every penny brings its additional solicitude. With increased riches comes the disquieting question, What is to be done with them? Increased possessions mean increased oversight and responsibility. With fresh social honours comes fresh and inexorable demands. And all this means gray hairs, brain exhaustion, heart straining, with no adequate return. But the Bible will not fret the heart; it will comfort it. It will not wear the brain; it will soothe it. It will not injure the nerves; it will brace them. It will not impair the moral sense; it will sanctify and invigorate it. Therefore, because what wealth will do the Bible will not, is “the law of God’s mouth better,” &c.
CREATION A PLEA IN PRAYER
This Psalm is remarkable for its spiritual aspirations, and the pleas by which their fulfilment is urged. The Psalmist is here seeking the highest moral good. He seeks it in the best and shortest way, by praying for understanding that he may learn God’s commandments. The argument he employs why his prayer should be answered is simple, practical, powerful—viz., that God had created him, and created him that he might seek and gain the end he now desires to reach. Note then—
I. That man is the creation of God. “Thou hast made me.” Either the original creation (Genesis 1:26; Genesis 2:7), or the creation of the individual himself (Psalms 139:0), or both.
II. That man was created for divine service (Proverbs 16:4; Isaiah 49:5; Romans 11:36). God has “fashioned” man for that purpose. With mind, that man may apprehend and remember Him; with hearing, that he may listen to Him; with speech, that he may testify of Him; with hands and feet, that he may do His will; with a heart, that he may love Him; and a spirit, that he may enjoy Him. Man is full of marks of design. What is that design? That he may eat, and drink, and sleep? Nay, the animals do that; but that he may know God and enjoy Him for ever.
III. That man is not now as he was when he was created. He not only does not fulfil his Maker’s design, but is incapable of doing so (Ecclesiastes 7:29; Romans 3:23). By some great injury and loss, and by the infusion of some new principles, he falls short of the divine glory, and is bent on fulfilling precisely opposite ends. All his faculties so exquisitely adapted for divine purposes are prostituted to base and injurious works. His understanding, will, affections, &c., are engaged in warfare against God, the devil’s service, and self-destruction.
IV. Hence the necessity of a new creation. A new heart, a new understanding that can grasp the wisdom, duty, and necessity of God’s commandments, and a new nature that will render the learning and practice of those commandments easy and possible (Deuteronomy 5:29; John 6:5-6; Romans 8:10-11; Colossians 3:9-10).
V. Desiring this new nature, so that we may answer the divine purposes, no plea is more appropriate and powerful than the fact that we are God’s creation.
1. It is natural that God should take an interest in His own work; and if it come to grief, that He should desire to repair and perfect it (Job 10:3; Job 14:15; Isaiah 64:8-9).
2. The divinely-ordained order is that we should ask God to multiply His blessings (Psalms 116:12-13; Matthew 6:25; Romans 8:32). The more God gives, the more He delights to give.
3. The fact that God has created us is strong ground for the belief that He will not forsake us. We may reasonably suppose that the same hand which imposes the obligation will help us when we endeavour to discharge it.
4. This prayer implies a state of the heart which God will own and bless. It is the expression of a strong and ardent desire to fulfil a divine obligation.
IN CONCLUSION.—Come as creatures to the great and beneficent Creator, and ask Him, your Father, to help you His offspring. (i.) Let the unconverted come. Although you cannot call God Father by the spirit of adoption, yet He has created you. Make this your plea, that yon should receive that filial spirit which will enable you to learn and obey your Father’s will. (ii.) Let believers under trial come for both reasons. Plead creation old and new, and you will not plead in vain.
(Psalms 119:74; Psalms 119:79)
I. Is possible only to religious persons. Fellowship implies a common experience, bond, and purpose. There is family fellowship, social fellowship, fellowship between those engaged in trade, science, or art, requiring similarity of nature, taste, and aim. “How can two walk together except they are agreed?” So there can be no religious fellowship except between those who fear God and have known His testimonies. That is, the qualities of sainthood are essential to the communion of saints.
II. Is to be desired by religious persons. “Let those that fear thee turn to Me.” Man feels as God felt for Him, that it is not good for him to be alone. He is a social being and longs for society. So God has “set the solitary in families.” This feeling is developed in fraternities, guilds, trades’ unions, &c. So the spiritual man yearns for communion with those who have been baptized into the same spirit. But it is noteworthy how the Psalmist desires this fellowship to be brought about, not by “the selective action of spiritual affinities,” but by the providence and grace of God. Psalms 119:79 is not merely the expression of a want, it is a prayer (Jeremiah 15:19). This is just the New Testament idea of the Church. It is not merely a congregation of people who for mutual profit, spiritual or otherwise, have left other things for it. It is a company, every member of which God “has called out of darkness into His marvellous light.” Christians do not simply gravitate to each other, God calls them to Himself, and then the Church finds its true unity. A shade of thought worthy of note is found in the expression, “Let them that fear thee turn to Me,” and shadows forth the principle of Christian evangelisation. “Here am I, yearning for fellowship. Let Thy people in their search for lost members of their fold find me.” What a striking condemnation does the example of this old Jew afford those who shrink from and must be urged to membership in Christ’s Church! The Psalmist’s absorbing desire and prayer is, that the faithful may find him and take him into fellowship.
III. Is profitable to religious persons. “They that fear Thee will be glad when I,” &c. We are glad when we find a fellow-countryman on a foreign shore. The scholar is glad of the company of his fellow-scholar, &c. Converse over identical callings is healthful and stimulating.
1. The Church is glad when it finds one lost member of its body and can bring it back again into union with itself. There is joy not only in heaven but on earth. The members of the Church have been increased, its territory and spiritual life and power augmented, one more jewel is added to its Redeemer’s crown.
2. The Church is glad when one of its members can testify to God’s special grace. The Psalmist had been afflicted, but God had sanctified his affliction and had delivered him. He felt that those who feared God would be glad when they knew that, particularly the sorrowful, whom it would lead to resignation and hope.
3. The Church is glad when one of its members contributes to the common stock of knowledge. The Psalmist had prayed for understanding and had been answered. We can imagine the gladness of the God-fearing company as he would open up the new and enlarged views of truth which had been vouchsafed him.
4. The Church is glad when one of its members can strengthen the common confidences. “They … will be glad because I have hoped in Thy Word.” Nothing is more depressing to a society than for one of its members to lose his hope.
IN CONCLUSION.—Why do some religious men shrink from religious fellowship? This question is of vast importance when we consider that the members of our congregations vastly outnumber the members of our churches. There is something wrong, we may depend upon it, when members of a family or class are out of fellowship with each other. If it is natural and healthy for men in their social or professional capacity to meet together, and if they have no hesitation in speaking to one another about matters which affect their common interest, much more so should the travellers of Zion meet together and comfort and edify one another by the way. Religious fellowship, it is true, may degenerate into sentimentality and unreal sameness, but a thing is not to be neglected because it is abused. The great want of the world is men and women of the type before us. Pentecost, the Reformation, Puritanism, and Methodism resulted from such.
RESIGNATION: ITS DUTIES AND USEFULNESS
(Psalms 119:75; Psalms 119:79)
I. The Psalmist expresses his resignation to the divine will. This is based on two grounds—
1. God’s judgments are right. God is holy in His nature, and wise and just in all the acts of His government, and therefore His judgments are right in general, though there may be in some particular instances difficulties which we cannot easily resolve.”—M. Henry.
2. God’s judgments are the expression of the divine faithfulness. They are not arbitrary or cruel, but they are necessary, that the divine and beneficent schemes which God has in hand may be worked out.
II. Resignation does not preclude, but rather presupposes and includes prayer for comfort and support. It is impossible without special grace to see and acknowledge the righteousness and faithfulness of God’s dispensations. The heart is naturally prone to resist and rebel against all discipline. We must therefore cry for help in our time of need. This is based on three things.
1. The divine mercy. “Thy merciful kindness.” We may plead that God is too kind to withdraw or not to bestow His help, the thought of which will encourage us under the heaviest trials.
2. The divine promise. “According to Thy word.” God is not only disposed but bound by covenant promise to help. Plead that promise that seems most to suit your case.
3. The divine ownership. “Thy servant.” Despondency, &c., will unfit us for our duties, and we may therefore ask for help because we want to work.
III. Prayer for life is not only not incompatible but consistent with resignation. “That I may live.” Let it be remembered that the Psalmist does not express that desire for life that is common to all men for its own sake. Life may be a blessing or a curse as it gains or fails in gaining the end for which it was given. The prayer here is for a life of holy joy and holy usefulness. “For Thy law is my delight.” Yet he would not wish for it except as the expression of the mercy, and therefore by the will, of God.
IV. Prolonged life is to be desired for the twofold influence that it may wield.
1. The conviction of gainsayers. Life is desired
(1) That imputations of the ungodly may be repelled (Psalms 119:69; Psalms 119:78);
(2) That their atheistical arguments may be confuted (Psalms 115:2), and
(3) Themselves put to shame (Psalms 119:72).
2. The comfort and confirmation of God’s people (Psalms 119:29). It will stimulate to
(1) stronger confidence in God,
(3) hope. What God can do in one case He can do in all.
I. Orthodoxy implies a correct apprehension of the meaning, purpose, and authority of God’s statutes. How can the heart be sound in that about which the mind is ignorant, uncertain, or hesitating? A law must be known before it can be obeyed. So with God’s statutes. I must know what they are, and assent to their necessity and utility, before they can become governing forces in my life. These statutes “are exceeding broad,” and cover the whole field of doctrine and morals. God’s statutes are, e.g., the Ten Commandments; but they are more. We read, “Believe also in Me,” “Receive ye the Holy Ghost,” “Repent ye and believe the Gospel,” &c., and these are as much statutes as, “Thou shalt not steal.” Why then should orthodoxy in the former be of less moment than orthodoxy in the latter? The only difference is that heterodoxy in the latter is an offence against man, and in the former is a dishonour put upon God, which man naturally prefers. True enough orthodoxy by itself is of little value, just as true ideas of health avail nothing except they are practically applied. But we never hear of objections to orthodoxy in science, &c., objected to on these grounds.
II. Orthodoxy consists in soundness of heart in God’s statutes—i.e., experimental piety. As it is not merely correctness of intellectual belief on the one hand, neither is it simply correctness of life on the other. A man may have all the elements of the form of godliness, his morality may be very exact, his duties may be performed with the most scrupulous punctuality, and yet he may be like a whited sepulchre or an apple of Sodom, full of rottenness for the want of spiritual life and power,—e.g., the Pharisees. But for a man to be sound at heart, God’s statutes must dwell in him (Hebrews 8:10); they must be at the root of the governing forces of his life, transforming him into the image of God, moulding and assimilating him in the form which God would have him take, expelling sin, testifying of the divine favour, and subjecting his whole nature to the will of God. Then is a man orthodox—a living practical rule of faith and practice. If the tree is good the fruit will be good, and if a man is sound at heart he will be sound in his life, and pure and undivided in his allegiance to God and man.
III. The result of orthodoxy is that a man whose heart is sound in God’s statutes will not be ashamed. Unsoundness is the source of shame everywhere, except in those whose faces are steeled against shame. It is very sad when men glory in their shame, and make a boast of their heterodoxy in life, heart, or creed. But those who are sound have—
1. No occasion of shame before God. Soundness of heart will give us confidence in His presence (1 John 3:21) and boldness of approach to the throne of grace (Hebrews 13:18, Romans 8:1), and before the throne of judgment by and by. It is quite otherwise when the heart is unsound.
2. No occasion of shame before ourselves. An unsound heart rouses the indignation of conscience (Romans 6:21). As soon as Adam sinned he was ashamed of himself. But the righteous man can approach the tribunal of conscience without fear of shame (2 Corinthians 1:2).
3. No occasion of shame before our fellows. We shall neither be stumbling-blocks to them, nor be exposed to the contempt of those whose opinion we value.
IN CONCLUSION.—Let those who would be orthodox, in its fullest sense, learn—(i.) That God alone can make them so (Isaiah 51:10; Ephesians 4:24). (ii.) That it should be sought with prayer and earnest purpose, and will be vouchsafed (Ezra 8:10; Psalms 139:23-24). Let not the man of sceptical opinions nurse them under the impression that they evidence soundness of intellect, and are therefore desirable, or the man of unsound life under the impression that it is manly. (iii.) That a constant sense of God’s presence and a careful watchfulness of our ways is necessary to the maintenance of a sound creed, a sound heart, and a sound life (Psalms 119:168, Jeremiah 17:9; Hebrews 12:13).
MAN’S ADVERSITY AND GOD’S SALVATION
Our text teaches us—
I. That man’s adversity is often extreme.
1. In its intensity. “My soul fainteth,” “Mine eyes fail,” “When wilt Thou comfort me?” No figures could convey more powerfully than these the Psalmist’s extremity. When man’s comfort is gone and dimness covers his sight, and when his heart sinks within him, his case is extreme indeed.
2. In its duration. “I am like a bottle in the smoke.” “As wineskin in the smoke, my heart is sere and dried.”—Keble. So long have I been afflicted that I have become dried and wrinkled. God allows many a saint to cry out in his trouble, “When wilt Thou comfort me?”
3. In its danger. “The proud have digged pits for me.” “They had almost consumed me.” They were not successful in their snares and temptations, so they turn to active persecution and almost consume him. This is most frequently the order in which tribulations come. If the wicked are successful in their machinations, they are satisfied; if resisted, all their active malice is aroused.
II. That God’s salvation is the remedy for man’s adversity. This salvation is presented under four aspects—
1. “Comfort” is sometimes salvation. Paul, the martyrs, all reformers are saved in this way. It is not always necessary to be actually delivered. Timely comfort is timely succour.
2. The execution of judgment on oppressors (Psalms 119:84). This is sometimes God’s way, but not often. Sufficiently often, however, and conspicuous to strike terror in the heart of tyrants, Satan, Pharaoh, the Philistines, Herod, &c.; but not often and conspicuously enough to lead His people to look too much for sanguinary vengeance on their foes.
3. Personal rescue. “Help Thou me.” Sometimes immediate. By the direct exercise of His omnipotence, God effects a complete deliverance for His people. It was so with Israel’s redemption from Egypt. It is so in some of those mysterious cases when long sources of trouble are suddenly dried up, and paths of prosperity suddenly opened. Sometimes with the use of means. By medicine in diseases, by industrious exertion in poverty. Sometimes God saves conspicuously by the unbaring of His arm; sometimes invisibly in the course of His providence.
4. Divine quickening (Psalms 119:88). The infusion of the divine life of His Spirit, by means of which man is continually renewed and strengthened either to bear his afflictions or to overcome them.
III. That man’s adversity should lead him to cry mightily for God’s salvation. Powerful pleas are here presented and urged why God should save. The Psalmist here—
1. Expresses his hope in the divine promises. “I hope on Thy word.” This is presented as a reason why God should not disappoint him.
2. Confesses that God is his only comfort. “When wilt Thou comfort me?” God sometimes waits till we have exhausted every other resource. But when man is led to cry to his soul, “Hope thou in God,” that cry will not be in vain.
3. Urges the brevity of his life (Psalms 119:84). “Are my days so many as to admit of delay in the manifestations of Thy righteous judgments?”—Speaker. “This is not a desire to be told how long he was to live, as if it were an object of desire to know this, but it is a method of saying that He could not live long under these circumstances, and therefore asked that God would save him soon.”—Barnes.
4. Mentions the divine faithfulness and loving-kindness (Psalms 119:86, marg., and 88).
5. Reminds God of His own steadfastness (Psalms 119:83; Psalms 119:86-87). Happy the man whose adversity has not impaired his memory or loosened his hold of God’s law!
IV. That this remedy should be sought for holy ends. The Psalmist did not pray for salvation that he might be happy, but that he might be holy (Psalms 119:88).
GOD’S WORKS AND GOD’S WORDS
To the devout and intelligent student there is a very close relationship and analogy between God’s Word and God’s works. Both proceed from the same Author, both teach truth, both answer moral ends, both appeal to man’s faith, hope, and love. The Psalmist traces some features of this analogy.
I. The heavens and the earth rest upon immovable foundations: so do the promises of God. All have a common basis in the divine faithfulness. If the universe came into existence by chance, or continued to exist by chance, it might cease by chance, and thus our confidence in its stability would end, and the gravest apprehensions would arise. So, if the promises rested on any other basis but God’s fidelity and truth; if they were merely imaginations or guesses, or the result of a devout and elevated enthusiasm; our spiritual foundations, all the bases of moral hope and life would be shaken or removed, and what then would the righteous do? But, thank God—
“His every word of grace is strong
As that which built the skies,
The voice that rolls the stars along
Speaks all the promises.”
II. The heavens and the earth continue: so do the promises of God, because held together by the divine faithfulness. Many changes have taken place since matter was first consolidated into worlds, but all these changes have been superintended and controlled by the gracious hand of Him “who upholds all things by the word of His power;” and notwithstanding all those changes it is the same universe. So with the promises. Some have been made to one generation, and some to another; some are of one quality and some of another; but they remain the same in power and beneficence to-day. The Psalmist trod the same soil under the same heavens as we do, and the same kind words which supported him are for our service, because maintained by the faithfulness of God.
III. The heavens and the earth are servants of the divine faithfulness: so are the promises. They all acknowledge one common Lord, and God employs them all for His children’s benefit. The heavens give cheering light, and send down refreshing showers. By the moon our tides are regulated, by the planets our time. The earth yields her increase for the children of men, and all the elements are ministers of the divine pleasure, and hearken unto the voice of His word. Much more so the promises. God has given man a spiritual nature, which requires food, support, and encouragement, and to this end in faithfulness as well as mercy are the divine promises sent on their errands.
IV. The heavens and the earth now so stable, according to the divine faithfulness will some day cease to be; not so the promises, which by virtue of the same faithfulness “for ever are settled” and are made to “all generations.” The universe was made to accomplish a divine but temporary purpose. “Towards that grand far-off divine event the whole creation moves.” Having reached it they will have accomplished their mission, and will pass away to make room for that “new heaven and new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness.” “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My word shall never pass away.” The words of man, like him who makes them, and his works are subject to revision; but God’s word is above all change, being the unalterable decree of the ever-faithful Jehovah. Learn—
(i.) To trust in God when the fulfilment of His promises is delayed (Hebrews 6:12). (ii.) To trust in God as the sure anchorage of the soul amidst the mutations of earthly things and when its vanities would entice us away. (iii.) To trust in the Lord as here revealed so faithful and true, and not lean to the intuitions of our own fickle and faithless hearts (Luke 24:25; Romans 4:20).
THE BENEFIT AND OBLIGATION OF THE WORD OF GOD
I. That in the order of divine providence God’s people are afflicted.
This is the teaching of all the Bible and all experience.
II. That affliction unsanctified will damage and destroy the spiritual life. God sends it for beneficent purposes, but man may misapply the means and thus defeat the end. The Psalmist was perilously near doing this, and was thus (Psalms 119:92).
III. That God’s law delighted in is the means of sanctifying affliction and saving the soul from death.
1. It shows the reason for and the beneficence of affliction.
2. It affords comfort and support in affliction.
3. It reveals and leads us to that life which saves from destruction, and quickens us with its own vitality.
IV. That these benefits involve duties and responsibilities (Psalms 119:93). Many a man who has made the Word his constant study in affliction, forgets it altogether in his prosperity.
1. Don’t forget to read it.
2. Don’t forget what it says either by command or promise.
3. Don’t forget to be grateful for what it has done.
4. Don’t forget to practise what it enjoins.
Remember what help it afforded you and the vows you made respecting it during your affliction, now you are well.
IN CONCLUSION.—(i.) If our delights are in God’s Word while we are ill, much more should they be when we are well. (ii.) If it can quicken us in affliction, it can maintain us in our health and qualify us with living power for service day by day.
AN ALL-PREVAILING PLEA
I. The plea. “I am Thine.” No plea is so universally prevalent as this. It is the plea of all properties, the plea of all relationships. The reason why things are saved from destruction is because they say to their owner, “We are thine.” The reason why a father is solicitous about his offspring is because they cry, “We are thine.” And the plea most powerful with man is most powerful with God, and can never be urged in vain. How can we urge this plea? We are God’s—
1. By creation (1 Chronicles 29:11).
2. By redemption, “Ye are not your own.”
3. By covenant (Hosea 2:23).
4. By re-creation (Ephesians 2:10), and adoption (Romans 8:0.).
5. By conquest.
6. By self-dedication to His service.
7. By assimilation to His likeness.
II. The prayer based upon this plea. “Save me.” Having this plea use it, urge it as a reason why God should save from
III. The sources of the Psalmist’s information both as to plea and prayer. “For I have sought Thy precepts.” From no other source could he have known that he was God’s, and that God was willing to save.
IN CONCLUSION.—(i.) Can we all say when asked, “To whom belongest thou and whence art thou?” “I am thine.”
(1.) When did you take the oath of allegiance? (Deuteronomy 26:17-18.)
(2.) Have you the seals and signs of the divine possession? (ii.) Acknowledge God’s full authority. God gave Himself for you, and the least you owe Him is yourselves, and by giving Him yourselves you lose nothing but gain everything. (iii.) Seek upon this basis God’s full salvation.
THE ATTITUDE OF THE WICKED TOWARDS THE RIGHTEOUS, AND THE CONDITION OF THE RIGHTEOUS UNDER OPPRESSION
(Psalms 119:95; Psalms 119:110; Psalms 119:121-122; Psalms 119:134; Psalms 119:157; Psalms 119:161)
This Psalm is of peculiar value as exhibiting the characteristic features of wickedness in all ages, and the attitude which evil men will everywhere assume in their opposition to the good. It will be profitable to view all the references to this subject at one glance, and then in their relation to each other. By that means we shall catch many shades of thought we should otherwise miss. In these verses the Christian is informed all that he may expect from the enemies of God and man, and instructed how he should comport himself under this special form of trial.
I. The wicked are here described.
1. Who they are.
(1.) The wicked, a general term covering all the rest. Godless, transgressors of God’s law and therefore transgressors of man’s.
(2.) The oppressors. Those who put burdens on the helpless, and take advantage of, and crush the little strength of the weak.
(3.) Enemies of the righteous, necessarily and perpetually.
2. What they are.
(1.) “Many” in number.
(2.) Powerful in influence, “princes.”
(3.) Malicious in designs.
(4.) Subtle in methods of operation.
3. What they do.
(1.) They wait for the righteous for their destruction.
(2.) They lay snares for their ruin.
(3.) They oppress.
(4.) They persecute.
II. The righteous are here by the example of the Psalmist counselled—
1. To pray.
(1.) For protection (Psalms 119:121-122).
(2.) For deliverance (Psalms 119:134).
2. To consider God’s testimonies,
(1) of His goodness, faithfulness, and power,
(2) against their enemies.
3. Not to err from God’s statutes by falling into the snare of the wicked. Hence watchfulness.
4. To keep God’s statutes in spite of oppression.
5. Not to decline from God’s testimonies.
6. To stand in awe of God’s word.
THE FINITE AND THE INFINITE
The Psalmist relates what was a matter of experience to him. He had seen the end of all “perfection,” so may we. All finite things are perishable and perish before our eyes—empires, majesty, learning, art, pleasure, life. The first man and the last, and all those and their belongings who have come between, are of the earth earthy, and fade away. But in the midst of all these mutations the word of God lives on. “All flesh is grass,” &c. It has seen the rise and fall of many idolatries, superstitions, infidelities, and persecutions, but it stands to-day unmoved and unshakable. The truth of our text holds good with regard to
I. Earthly life. There is a limit to its perfection. “The days of our years are threescore years and ten,” &c. Beyond that it cannot pass. It is bounded by the bourne of an undiscovered country, which it cannot pass. But God’s commandment is exceeding broad. It covers not only time, but the eternity which bounds it on both sides. It was in God’s mind innumerable ages before man breathed the breath of life, and will survive the wreck of matter and the crush of worlds.
II. Earthly greatness and grandeur. The limitations to that we see day after day. The popular favour which has built it up may be withdrawn, the friends who contributed it may fall away or die, the enemies who are waiting their opportunity to undermine it may succeed, health may fail, and life. But God’s commandment is exceeding broad. It can confer honours which are supernatural and immortal, “crowns of glory which can never fade away.”
III. The development of human character. There is a point to which a man’s character without God may reach, beyond which it is impossible to go. And how often do men reach that point and then utterly break down in the line of wisdom, goodness, or charity! But God’s commandment is exceeding broad. There is no “hitherto shalt thou go and no farther” to those whose character is based upon that. By following the lines indicated there, and securing the power offered there, a man who has scaled the loftiest height of saintliness there known could still say, “I count not myself to have attained it.”
IV. The acquisition of human knowledge. The mind has limitations beyond which, “madness lies.” It can be stretched to a certain tension, but if stretched further it breaks. But God’s commandment is exceeding broad. It provides for the indefinite expansion of the mind it has sanctified, and offers subjects which shall occupy without wearying it to all eternity. The subjects of human knowledge are bounded, and it is not impossible when scientific instruments reach the perfection that they promise, to imagine the time when the circle of human information will be complete; when our telescopes shall have swept every star, and our microscopes revealed every molecule, and our natural philosophy the details of every element. But God’s commandment contains things into which we shall desire to look for ever. The records of human knowledge perish; inscriptions become illegible; books and parchments wear out; but God’s commandment will endure for ever.
V. Human pleasures and satisfactions. Sensual gratifications soon pall upon the taste. Sinful appetites are soon jaded. The worldling sooner or later comes to the old conclusion, “All is vanity and vexation of spirit.” The “pleasures of sin are for a season.” Even innocent enjoyments lose their recreative power. They must be changed again and again, for without variety they cease to satisfy at all. When over indulged, or sought as an end and not a means to an end, they lose their pleasurableness altogether. But God’s commandment is exceeding broad. It contains and leads us to fulness of joy and pleasures for evermore.
VI. Human institutions. These are mostly local. As a rule the institutions of a country are confined to that country. The manners and customs of a race or clime usually belong only to that race or clime. But God’s commandment is exceeding broad. Its institutions and principles are adapted to the whole world. Human institutions are all temporary. They are founded to answer passing needs. The institution of God’s word will last through the eternity of man’s spiritual want. They are the bread and water of his life by which he shall be satisfied for evermore.
IN CONCLUSION.—Why? Because all things merely human are confined to time. God’s commandment, covers time and eternity. Things human cannot touch the immortal life and satisfy it, cannot cleanse the sinful conscience, soothe the troubled heart, or give peace to the agitated soul. They cannot aid us in our great concerns, cannot tell us about God, duty, acceptance with heaven, death, preparation for a life to come. God’s commandment can and does all this, and therefore is it “exceeding broad.” Therefore our text is a solemn word for everybody. It is an encouragement to the weak, a warning to the great, a comfort for the old, an exhortation to the young. All perfection has an end, but God’s commandment is exceeding broad.
THE SAINT’S ENJOYMENT OF THE LAW OF GOD
(Psalms 119:97; Psalms 119:103)
I. The law of God is lovable. It is worthy of notice, that the Psalmist’s appreciation was not only of its promises (Psalms 119:103), but of its injunctions (Psalms 119:97).
1. Because of its author. It is our Father’s legacy. The commandment and promises of Him who sticketh closer than a brother. It is the counsel and loving assurance of our best and truest Friend.
2. Because of its subject-matter.
(1.) It is truth divine and infallible. “Thy word is truth” (Psalms 19:9; Ephesians 1:13). It is necessary truth that would never have been discovered by the unaided use of our understandings. All truth should excite affection, because of its suitability to the mind and its power to satisfy it.
(2.) It is the revelation of perfect love and goodness. Tells us of our Father’s character and the beneficence of His intentions, how sin may be pardoned, the soul sanctified, the whole nature blessed, and heaven gained.
3. Because of the benefit it confers. It convinces the sinner of the error of his ways (Jeremiah 23:0), Paul before Felix. It converts the soul from sin (Psalms 19:7). It promises comfort in all times of distress. It is a safe guide in the affairs of life. It initiates and increases in the knowledge of God, and is able to make us perfect in every good word and work (2 Timothy 3:7, 2 Peter 1:19).
II. God’s saints possess a spiritual taste which enables them to appreciate the law of God. The soul has faculties which perform the same functions for it as the senses do for the body (Hebrews 5:14). Thus it is said to hear, see, handle, feel, speak; and as here and in Psalms 34:8, taste. These are the most acute of all senses. The higher the life, the keener the sense. Animals feel more than plants; men more than animals; spiritual men more than carnal men.
1. What this taste presupposes. Soul hunger. A jaded or satisfied appetite more or less impairs the sense of taste. Taste, too, has frequently to be created Things which before were noxious then become enjoyable. And to the hungry soul, whose taste has been quickened by God, is God’s law sweet (Proverbs 27:0; Romans 8:5).
2. What this taste involves, a relish for the word of God (Jeremiah 15:16; Ezekiel 3:3; Revelation 10:10). No man who does not relish God’s words can use the language of our text.
III. God’s saints exercise that taste continually. “It is my meditation all the day.” This is but natural. What we love most, we most desire. What we most delight in, we seek most familiarity with. This holds good all the world over. Fame, pleasure, business, war, &c., so here the saint loves God’s Word, delights in it, and hence “meditates upon it all the day.”
(Psalms 119:98-102; Psalms 119:104)
I. What in? Pre-eminently in holiness. “I have refrained my feet from every evil way;” “I have not departed from Thy judgments.” The Psalmist does not mean simply in intellectual matters, although that may hold good. The man who prays is most likely to keep his intellect clear. He who recognises his mental faculties as a solemn and responsible gift of God is most likely to be industrious in their employment. He who devoutly seeks for divine assistance is most likely to gain it, and thus distance his compeers. But the Psalmist seems to contemplate both superiority of subject, and superiority of attainment in that subject.
II. Over whom?
1. “Mine enemies.” That is most likely from their qualities as mentioned in this Psalm. A man who entertains enmity in his heart is not likely to be an adept in the knowledge of God.
2. “My teachers.” Because of his more diligent use of means. It is not seldom that scholars outstrip their teachers by this method. The Psalmist’s teachers may have been mere surface or fanciful expositors of the Word of God, or mere sinecurists or ceremonialists.
3. “The ancients.” Those older than himself (Job 32:7-8), because he meditated where they only skimmed, and practised where they only theorised. Or his predecessors, because he possessed more of the word of inspiration than they. Can we with “all Scripture” use the words of the text?
III. Through what power? “Thou hast made me wiser;” “Thou hast taught me.”
1. Not by the use of his unaided faculties, or any superiority of intellect, insight, or industry. The one thing which he and his brethren earnestly disclaim is originality. But—
2. By direct divine instruction. To attain this superiority now we must have it from the same source. All that the unaided understanding can do in this direction has been achieved, and that is nothing. No reflection, thought, or study even of the divine oracles can make us “wise unto salvation,” except through “the faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.” “They shall be all taught of God.”
IV. By what instrumentality. “Through Thy precepts.”
1. Continual meditation. “They are ever with me.” Knowledge, like life, must be continually fed.
2. Consistent practice. “I keep Thy precepts.” Theories can only keep their hold in so far as they are consistently reduced to practice.
3. Earnest continuance. “I have not departed,” &c.
V. With what results?
1. Distaste for falsehood (Psalms 119:104).
2. Unswerving integrity.
GOD’S WORD A LAMP AND A LIGHT
The Psalmist here employs two powerful and familiar figures to express the enlightening power of the Word of God. In the day it is a light showing us the direction, course, peculiarities, and dangers of our path. At night, when the sun has set and the gloom has settled, and we have to pick our way, it shall be a candle, not perhaps illuminating the entire course, but sufficient to guide our footsteps clear of the stumbling-blocks and difficulties of the way. In the day its light is delightful, displaying all the beauties of the landscape and cheering our onward tread. In the night it is useful, showing us where we may err, where we should tread, and how it is possible to fall.
I. The Word of God is a light.
1. It claims to be a light (Proverbs 16:23, 2 Peter 1:19). Certain types powerfully shadow it forth as such (Exodus 13:21; Exodus 27:20; Exodus 21:0; Nehemiah 9:10).
2. Reason supports this claim. It is God’s Word (1 John 1:5). Holy men wrote it (2 Peter 1:21). Moral enlightenment and guidance is the design of it.
3. Experience warrants it. Bad men fear and hate it (John 3:20-21). Good men have loved and enjoyed it (Psalms 19:8). Those who have gone without it or rejected it have stumbled. Those who have accepted its guidance have had the light of life.
II. The Word of God is a clear light. It is not twilight, or starlight, or moonlight, but daylight.
1. It is a clear light in the right way (Psalms 43:3). The wisest men have wandered without it.
2. It is a clear light on the wrong way. It not only tells us what to do, but what not to do. Warns us against going astray. Informs us where sin and madness lie. Urges us to beware of and shun the magic music of the syren’s voice and the pleasant pastures of sin. And, thank God, it shines to lead us back again. It is a revelation of God’s way to bad and fallen men (1 Corinthians 14:24).
3. It is a clear light in the dark way. Clouds may settle on the path of God. The sun may hide itself. Our way may lie through dark ravines and the valley of the death-shadow. Trouble may overcast the soul and lead us to say, “Hath God forgotten to be gracious?” But even under circumstances such as these, light breaks forth from God’s holy word which makes it a lamp to our path (Isaiah 50:10).
III. The Word of God is a full and perennial light. It guides by day and it guides by night. It illumines our path, but it enables us to pick each individual step.
1. Generally it tells us the course of life we should pursue, the grand choice we ought to make, and the sublime destiny we ought to reach (Psalms 25:12).
2. In particular. Many men are wise in a general way, but sadly fail when they come to details. A man may be a very good mathematician, yet a very bad accountant. A great statesman may be utterly unable to grasp the minor and subordinate details of state policy. So many a man has taken the Bible as the guide for his general course of conduct, who for want of attention to its details has stumbled and fallen. The Bible not only unveils the whole way, but lights up every successive step of the way (1 Peter 1:15). No man need err respecting any duty, responsibility, or privilege in his path. This applies to men of all ages, and conditions everywhere. This being the case—
(i.) How thankful we ought to be for the Word of God!
(ii.) How diligently we ought to study and practise it!
Our text suggests—
I. That the profession of religion should be of the strongest and most binding character.
1. This has been the practice of the godly in all ages (Job 31:1; 2 Chronicles 15:12-14; 2 Chronicles 34:31).
2. The weakness of our own nature demands it. Our mere purposes and resolutions are like the morning cloud, &c., and require to be bound down under the most solemn obligations.
3. The character of the subject requires it. God has sworn with an oath to fulfil His engagements towards us (Hebrews 6:18), and requires a responsive oath from us (Exodus 24:3). The beneficence and necessity of the laws, in the keeping of which religion consists, demand it.
II. That the profession of religion should be the result of serious thought. The resolution to keep God’s righteous judgments implies a study of those judgments which has resulted in the conclusion that they are righteous. When a man determines to be a Christian, he should know what he is about. He is making a throw for time and for eternity. God Himself demands that the cost should be counted, so that there may be no afterthoughts, for He has no pleasure in the sacrifice of fools.
III. That the profession of religion should be made with a free but resolute will. The individual himself should of himself and for himself say, “I will.” Let parents beware how they compel their children to appear religious. Many a moral wreck has been stranded on the shores of eternity through this. Compulsion will breed distaste. Rather guide the judgment, reason, and affections. Show the duty, need, and lovableness of religion, and lead the child to say of himself, “I will keep Thy righteous judgments.” The will once bent, fix it. Let nothing alter your decision or make you swerve.
IV. That the profession of religion once made should be faithfully and consistently kept. “I will perform it.” The strength of the Psalmist’s accumulated expressions will be seen at once.
1. To break our oath is to aggravate our sin. Better not swear at all than swear and not perform (Ecclesiastes 5:5).
2. The same motives that urged us to take the vow hold good all the way through. After the most protracted test and trial of religion, the godly man sees no reason to repent his choice. God is the same, and His judgments lose none of their righteousness by lapse of years.
3. God is the severe and just avenger of broken fidelity. Young man! (i.) Resolve to be religious. It is the noblest, most reasonable, and safest thing to do. (ii.) Resolve and fulfil your resolutions, not in your own strength, but in the strength of God. (iii.) Resolve and expect God’s blessing and reward.
(Psalms 119:107; Psalms 119:109; Psalms 119:120; Psalms 119:124; Psalms 119:135; Psalms 119:143; Psalms 119:153-154; Psalms 119:156)
This Psalm is emphatically a psalm for the afflicted. Sorrow and trouble are here delineated in every form in which they may be expected to occur. But not only so: all the consolations and remedies that are at the disposal of the afflicted are here opened up, and also all the obligations which comfort or restoration imposes, and all the results which may be expected to follow. It will be profitable, therefore, to survey the whole field displayed in these verses as briefly as possible.
I. The characteristics of affliction.
1. It is sometimes extreme (Psalms 119:107; Psalms 119:143).
2. It is sometimes perilous (Psalms 119:109). “The image is taken from a traveller carrying precious jewels in his hand through dangerous paths, or from soldiers who carry their lives in their hands, in that their lives depend upon their valour in fight, or perhaps from a game of chance. “Though I play with my life and risk it always,” &c. Vaihnger interprets “my soul is in, or upon my hand, apt to fall off and perish, as anything in or upon the hand easily falls off.”—Speaker’s Com.
3. It is sometimes a judicial infliction (Psalms 119:120; Lamentations 3:39). (See also Job 4:15; Isaiah 2:10; Jeremiah 51:27; Exodus 34:7.)
II. The consolations of affliction.
1. That God permits it. This is the assumption of the whole Psalm, and what quiets and comforts the Psalmist’s soul. If God permits it, it must be for the bringing about of some beneficent end.
2. That it does not produce forgetfulness of God’s law (Psalms 119:109). When men do forget God’s law, let them not charge affliction with this terrible discomfort. In many cases it is sent to stimulate memory.
3. That it has opened to him the supports and pleasures of the Word of God (Psalms 119:143). Happy the man whose affliction has given him time for, and driven him to, the study of God’s law.
III. The remedy for affliction.
1. The divine favour (Psalms 119:124; Psalms 119:156).
2. The divine promise (Psalms 119:154).
3. The divine wisdom (Psalms 119:156).
4. The divine assistance (Psalms 35:1; Psalms 43:1; Psalms 74:22). “The expression belongs properly to judicial proceedings. The Psalmist is wrongfully accused, and prays to God to be his advocate; but inasmuch as the cause is carried on, not in a court of justice, but in the battlefield, the advocate must be also a champion.”—Speaker’s Com.
IV. The results of affliction.
1. Quickened vitality (Psalms 119:154; Psalms 119:156). Painful operations sometimes save life, and life is all the stronger for these operations. The cancer must be cut out, that the life that is being consumed may be spared and made more healthy.
2. Instruction in God’s statutes. Affliction is what we run into sometimes in our flight from the divine ways. It is beneficial for a child to feel the pain of fire that he may avoid it, and so God’s child is made to feel the bitterness of sin, that he may value and be faithful to his Father’s law.
3. The special favour of God (Psalms 119:135). A parent regards with peculiar complacency and love his child who has been rescued from peril and disease.
(i.) Let affliction drive us in prayer to God (Psalms 119:153).
(ii.) Let no affliction drive us to transgress God’s law (Psalms 119:109, &c).
(iii.) Let affliction stimulate us to expect quickened life, a more earnest fidelity, and double favour.
This verse appropriately follows the Psalmist’s contemplation of his affliction. God had afflicted him in mercy and with judgment. God had wonderfully delivered him. He feels as the Apostle felt centuries afterwards (Romans 12:1), that in recognition of the Divine beneficence it was incumbent upon him to offer spiritual sacrifices to God. Note comparisons and contrasts, and the word beseech in both. We have here—
I. A recognition of the spiritual priesthood of believers. The offering presupposes the priesthood. God’s people throughout the ages have been members of a royal priesthood. The Jewish nation was such (Exodus 19:5-6). The prophets contemplated the time when pious Gentiles would be such (Isaiah 61:6; Isaiah 66:21; Malachi 1:11). The New Testament recognises all Christians as such (1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6).
II. Spiritual priests must have a spiritual preparation. Under the law, the priests were to be separate from the commonalty. Under the Gospel, they are a holy nation and a peculiar people. Under the law they received a special anointing; under the Gospel they receive the unction of the Holy One (1 John 2:20). Under the law the priests were prepared for their office by a lustration; Christians are baptized with the Holy Ghost (Titus 3:6). All priestly orders, whether received from Greece or Rome, are invalid, except those conferred by Him who alone can “make” “kings and priests.”
III. Spiritual priests must offer and can only offer spiritual sacrifices. Not expiatory, but eucharistic; not sin offerings, but peace and thank offerings (Hebrews 7:27; Hebrews 10:14; Hebrews 13:15). As the priesthood is purely spiritual so must be the sacrifices (John 4:24; Psalms 50:13-15; Psalms 69:30-31). The particular offering here specified includes or presupposes all the rest. Prayer (Psalms 141:2). Praise (Psalms 54:6). Thanksgiving (Psalms 50:1; Psalms 50:4). The body (Romans 12:1). Body and spirit (1 Corinthians 6:20). Ourselves (2 Corinthians 8:5). Almsgiving (Philippians 4:18; Hebrews 13:16). Notice, further, that these are sacrifices because they are true to the laws which underlie the whole doctrine of sacrifice—viz., self-denial, recognition of what is due to God (Psalms 50:5), contrition for sin (Psalms 51:17), trust in the Redeemer’s sacrifice (Ephesians 5:2), acknowledgment of individual undeservedness of the divine favour.
IV. Spiritual offerings must be freewill offerings.
1. Because God deserves a service that is free.
2. Because the spiritual man is upheld by “a free spirit,” and has been made “willing in the day of God’s power.”
3. Because free-will offerings are those which are most likely to be permanent.
V. Free-will offerings are most acceptable to God. “God loveth the cheerful giver” (Isaiah 60:7; Malachi 3:4).
VI. God’s gracious acceptance of free-will offerings must be regarded as a great blessing, and as therefore incurring corresponding obligations. “Teach me Thy statutes” (Psalms 19:14).
(Psalms 119:109), see Psalms 119:107
(Psalms 119:110), see Psalms 119:95
GOD’S WORD THE HERITAGE OF HIS PEOPLE
I. That God’s Word is a heritage.
A heritage is that which has been specially bequeathed. Heritages are not purchased, but testated. So the Word of God has not been made or purchased by man, but has been freely given to us by our Father God.
II. That God’s Word is a valuable heritage. “They are the rejoicings of my heart.”
1. It is an undeserved heritage. We can lay no natural claim or title to it. When made out for us we were “alienated and enemies in our mind by wicked works.”
2. It is a full heritage. Nothing can be added to it. It contains all things necessary and profitable to life, godliness, and eternity. The ever-blessed Trinity, providence, grace, earth, heaven, all are there; and all are his to whom the testimonies of God belong (Psalms 16:5; 1 Corinthians 3:21; 2 Corinthians 6:10).
3. It is a sure heritage. There are no flaws in the title (Hebrews 6:17).
4. It is an abiding heritage. Estates are valuable in proportion to the time they last. God’s Word is not leasehold as are all His temporal gifts. They are the saints’ freehold (Psalms 73:26).
III. It is a responsible heritage.
1. It is offered to our choice. “I have taken.” It is not forced upon us. We may reject it. If other things are more rejoicing to the heart we are welcome to them—if we can get them—with the consequences.
2. That choice is the result of a preparation. “I have inclined.” A child’s faculties must be developed before he is fit to become the responsible owner of property. So man must incline himself by Divine grace for the duties and responsibilities which devolve upon him as the proprietor of the Word of God.
3. That choice involves the agent in grand and eternal responsibilities. “To perform Thy statutes alway even unto the end.” Free as is our heritage there is a tax upon it. The same tax that is upon all property—viz., right use. If this is not observed within certain limits in worldly estates, the right is lost. The profligate and sprendthrift neglecting to pay this tax squanders an ample portion and is reduced to beggary. The careless heir who neglects it, finds it squandered for him. He who uses it to violate the law of the land has it taken from him. So those who do not carefully and responsibly use this great heritage of God will lose it.
LOVE AND HATE
(Psalms 119:113; Psalms 119:128; Psalms 119:163)
These verses view the two great and influential affections in their relation to one another. Let us view them first together and then separately. Together observe—
I. Affection is set against affection; hatred against love. Love and hatred are good or evil according to their objects. Nothing is worse than love of the world, sin, and vanity, or hatred of God and holiness; but set upon proper objects, hatred upon evil, and love upon good (Amos 5:15), they exhibit the soul as divinely constituted at the first. For as has been well said, “Man fallen is but an anagram of man in innocency; we have the same affections, but they are misplaced. Love was made for God; hatred for sin. Hatred was put on us that we might fly from evil. Love was given us that we might attach ourselves to God and the things which glorify Him.”
II. Object is set against object. As love is opposed to hatred, so are vain thoughts and lying to God’s law, and every false way to God’s precepts. For as God’s Word is solemn, practical, and necessary truth, so it requires solemnity and truth in those who would observe it.
LOVE FOR GOD’S WORD
(Psalms 119:113; Psalms 119:127-128; Psalms 119:140; Psalms 119:159; Psalms 119:163; Psalms 119:165; Psalms 119:167)
We have already considered love in contrast with hate, and God’s Word in contrast with vain thoughts, lying and every false way. Let us now isolate those passages which regard the supreme affection of man’s heart as set upon God’s Word.
I. What is it to love God’s Word?
1. Negatively. Not
(1.) The bare acknowledgment of its divinity. This many do from the force of external evidence.
(2.) Nor a bare approval of its excellence. Many admire where they do not trust and follow.
(3.) A mere spasm of delight, as Herod rejoiced in John’s light for a season (Mark 6:20).
(1.) Such a love as is rooted in the heart (James 1:21), and stirs all the affections to their inmost depths.
(2.) Such a love as leads us to consult it on all occasions (Psalms 1:2; Psalms 19:10-11).
(3.) Such a love as lays its sweet constraint on our obedience (1 John 2:4; Romans 6:17).
II. What degree of love ought we to have for God’s Word?
1. Supreme, “above gold, yea even fine gold.” We ought to love God’s Word more than riches, because it is more valuable than riches. Wealth is not prized for its own sake, but only for what it represents and can do. The Word of God contains “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” This love, then, is such as will render us willing to sell all we have, so that we may obtain “the pearl of great price” (Psalms 119:72).
2. Intense and abundant. “Consider how I love Thy laws.” God only can measure the depth of it. “I love them exceedingly.” Not with the transcient affection of children for things which excite their passing inclinations, but with a love whose power cannot be broken, and whose ardour many waters cannot quench (Psalms 119:48; Psalms 119:97; 1 John 2:5).
III. Why should we love God’s Word?
1. Because its precepts concerning all things are right” (Psalms 119:128). All things, all persons, considered every way, universally, God’s Word is right.
2. Because it is “very pure” or “purifying.”
(1.) Pure in itself (Psalms 19:8). Refined from all dross, error, or falsehood.
(2.) Pure in the examples it presents (Hebrews 6:12; 1 John 3:3; 1 Peter 1:15).
(3.) Purifying in the influence it exerts (Psalms 119:9; John 15:3; John 17:17). Showing us our impurity (Matthew 16:19; Jeremiah 4:14). Exhorting us to be clean (Psalms 119:1; Isaiah 1:0; James 4:8). Revealing the cleansing fountain (Ephesians 5:26; Ezekiel 36:25-27). Encouraging to purity (Matthew 5:8; 2 Corinthians 7:1).
2. Because it is tranquillising (Psalms 119:165).
(1.) It reveals the “peace of God” which “keeps the heart and mind.”
(2.) Christ the Prince of Peace there confers it (John 14:27).
(3.) The Spirit of Peace through it breathes His own tranquillity (Romans 15:13; Galatians 5:22; Galatians 6:16).
IV. How should we show our love to God’s Word?
1. By hating “vain thoughts,” “false ways,” and “lying.”
2. By loving obedience (Psalms 119:167).
3. By prayer for more lively service (Psalms 119:159).
V. What results will follow our love of God’s Word?
1. It will afford a powerful plea in prayer (Psalms 119:159). This was the confident appeal of one who was conscious that he was truly attached to God (John 21:17).
2. It will stimulate to active service (Psalms 119:140).
3. It will afford a powerful protection (165, marg.). “No event of providence shall be an invincible temptation or powerful affliction, they shall hold fast their integrity and preserve their tranquillity. Nothing shall offend or hurt them, for everything shall work for their good. They will not perplex themselves with needless scruples, nor take offence at their brethren” (1 Corinthians 13:6-7).
(Psalms 119:113; Psalms 119:128; Psalms 119:163)
I. In its nature. Hate is that passion which is aroused by the presence and antagonism of that which is repugnant, and which is excited to injure or exterminate that to which it is irreconcilably opposed. This is strong language, but justifiable and appropriate when applied to the believer’s attitude against sin. Note a few of its attributes—
1. Implacability. It is not a passing spasm of indignation; it aims at nothing short of extermination. Those who hate sin pursue it with relentless vigour.
2. Universality. Anger is aroused against individuals; hatred against species. So the Christian hates all sin.
3. Growth. It is a principle which develops with our own spiritual strength (Acts 24:16; 1 John 3:9).
4. Intensity (Psalms 119:163). Mere detestation is not enough. Anything short of abhorrent hatred will not meet the necessities of the case. Resolution will not, nor fear, nor dislike.
II. In its causes.
1. Spiritual knowledge (Psalms 119:11; Psalms 119:104; Jeremiah 31:19).
2. The love of God (Psalms 97:10).
3. Filial fear of God (Proverbs 8:13).
4. A spiritual sense of self-preservation.
III. In its specific objects.
1. “Vain thoughts.” The original word with a different punctuation occurs in 1 Kings 18:21, “opinions.” LXX here have παρανόμους, “lawless men;” Syr., “Perversely-minded men;” Chal., “Thinkers of vain thoughts.” “The Psalmist describes mischievous speculations, subtle, useless, and perilous; heterodox pernicious teachings; opposed to truth revealed, and likely to interfere with its acceptance in its simplicity.”—Geier. “The word is probably concrete and not abstract, ‘doubters,’ ‘sceptics,’ ‘double-minded men’ (James 1:8), ἀνὴρ δίψυχος, a double-minded man divided between two opinions.—Speaker’s Com.
2. “False ways.” “Every course of life not based on truth or a right view of things.”—Barnes.
(1.) The speaking of that which is false with an intention to deceive.
(2.) The suppression of truth that should be told (John 12:42-43).
(4.) Disobedience to the law which we profess to believe and obey. Lies can be acted as well as told (Hosea 11:12; 1 John 1:6; 1 John 2:4).
IN CONCLUSION.—We should hate all sin, because it is what it is, and because of what it does. It is the contempt of God’s authority (Exodus 5:4). It is a breach of His righteous law (1 John 3:4). It separates from God (Isaiah 59:2). It defaces the divine image (Psalms 44:12). It is the abominable thing which God hates, and works ruin and damnation to the soul.
THE DIVINE PROTECTION
I. The divine protection.
1. A need implied. The soul is in continual danger (Ephesians 6:12). It is beset by enemies who excel in craft, malice, pertinacity, numbers, and power. Hence it needs a shield to protect it in active warfare and a hiding-place to render it secure when at rest.
2. Protection vouchsafed. God is a shield to keep us in danger, and a hiding-place to keep us out of it. This promise guarantees that danger shall be entirely warded off, or if not, it shall not overwhelm us, but shall the rather make us sensible of the divine defence.
(1.) “Thou art my hiding-place.” When sorely beset by danger, or unable to defend themselves, or wanting rest from conflict, men run to a hiding-place (1 Samuel 3:6; Psalms 32:7; Proverbs 22:3). A hiding-place must have capacity. God has room for us (Psalms 31:20; 2 Timothy 1:12). Secrecy (Psalms 27:5); God’s protection of His saints is a mystery, hidden from the eyes of men. “Your life is hid with Christ in God.” Comfort (Psalms 34:22; Psalms 91:1). Safety till trouble is over (Psalms 57:1; Isaiah 26:20).
(2.) “Thou art my shield” (Psalms 5:12; Psalms 28:7; Psalms 91:4). For a shield to afford safety it must have sufficient breadth (Psalms 5:12). Resistance, impenetrability, and power to repel the missiles that are hurled against it, back upon the foe (Psalms 59:11).
II. Where the divine protection is revealed. In God’s Word—
1. It sets God forth at His people’s sure defence (Psalms 84:11; Genesis 15:1).
2. It gives infallible assurance of the Divine protection. Proverbs 30:5; Psalms 18:30).
3. It invites and encourages us to avail ourselves of that protection.
4. It tells us what qualifications he must have who would avail himself of that protection. Faith (Proverbs 30:5; Psalms 18:30). Obedience (Psalms 84:11; Proverbs 2:7; Isaiah 33:15-16).
5. It tells us how to enjoy that protection (Zephaniah 2:3).
III. The comfort this revelation brings. “I hope in Thy word.”
1. It tranquillises the soul while it waits for God’s own time (Psalms 33:20; Isaiah 28:16).
2. It fortifies the heart in present difficulties, and when danger is, or promises to be extreme. Moses in the wilderness (Psalms 90:1), David in exile (Psalms 3:3).
3. It empowers us cheerfully to do what God would have us do, and go where God would have us go, fearlessly trusting in God’s goodness and power (Psalms 31:5).
(1.) A word of comfort. No hurt can happen to us without God’s leave. (ii.) A word of warning. There is no safety for us except behind God’s power. (iii.) A word of exhortation. Acknowledge God at all times as your protector, and seek Him in every time of need.
SEPARATION AND CONSISTENCY
These two ideas stand or fall with each other. It is impossible to be obedient to the law of God while associating with wicked men, and equally impossible to keep bad company while doing good works. Observe—
I. The necessity of separation from evil doers.
1. Its limitations.
(1.) Not in mere matters of business (1 Corinthians 5:5), nor while it is possible to do them good. Nor should we renounce Church fellowship because evil or inconsistent men are there—a most absurd, but, alas! frequent course. There are black or unsound sheep in every flock, tares in every harvest, chaff in every threshing-floor. “I fly from the chaff that I may not be it; but I fly not the floor lest I be nothing.”—Augustine. But
(2) We are required not to be unequally yoked with them in cordial friendship or matrimonial alliances (Exodus 34:15; 2 Corinthians 6:14), not to imitate their manners and customs, and not to partake of their sins (Ephesians 5:11). But by virtue of our new nature, our spiritual sonship, our moral inheritance, our communion with God, and our hope of heaven, we are enjoined to come out from among them and be the saintly and peculiar people of God.
2. Its reasons.
(1.) Our love of God should prevent us being on terms of amity and fellowship with those who are at enmity with Him. It would argue but poor patriotism for a soldier to be on terms of cordiality with a rebel or a foe (Psalms 139:21-22; 2 Peter 2:8).
(2.) Evil communications corrupt good manners (Psalms 1:1; Isaiah 6:5; Proverbs 1:10; Proverbs 1:15; 1 Corinthians 5:6.)
(3.) Our familiarity will harden them in their sins, while our separation from them may promote reflection (2 Thessalonians 3:6-14).
(4.) Friendship with them will bring a blemish on our fair fame. A man is known by the company he keeps (2 John 1:2; Hebrews 12:15; Psalms 50:18).
(5.) We stand in danger of sharing their ruin (Genesis 14:12; Proverbs 13:20; Revelation 18:4).
II. The duty of keeping God’s commandments.
1. We are under the most solemn obligations to do so. They are the commandments of our God. Ours by covenant engagement. He has promised to be ours only on the condition of the fulfilment of our duty (Deuteronomy 27:9-10).
2. We owe it as a debt of gratitude to God for revealing them. Since God has been at the trouble of revealing them, holy and just and good as they are, we ought to be at the trouble of keeping them.
3. Upon keeping God’s commandments our wellbeing absolutely depends. To transgress them is to transgress the fundamental laws of spiritual life.
4. Upon our constant obedience depends our hope of heaven. “Be thou faithful unto death,” &c.
III. The importance of prompt and decisive resolution. “Depart.” “I will.”
1. God has no pleasure in an unstable, double-minded man.
2. Without resolute determination all desires are vain.
3. Unless we are prompt and decisive, evildoers will take advantage of us and easily win us to their ways.
GOD’S ATTITUDE TOWARDS THE RIGHTEOUS AND THE WICKED
I. God’s attitude towards the righteous.
1. What that attitude is. Twofold. Something to hold. Some one who holds. Teneo et teneor.
(1.) God is something to hold. A prop, a rock, a sure foundation; something clinging to which we shall not be swept away by the surging billows.
(2.) God is someone who holds. The Psalmist thinks of the strong and tenacious grasp of God; “They shall never perish,” &c. This double idea is expressed in Psalms 73:23.
2. Upon what that attitude depends. Twofold again. The divine promise and cheerful obedience.
(1.) “According to Thy word.” The Bible is full of promises in this direction too numerous to quote.
(2.) “I love Thy testimonies.” “I will have respect unto Thy statutes continually.”
3. What this attitude implies.
(2.) Glorious hope.
II. God’s attitude towards the wicked.
1. What that attitude is.
(1.) Contempt. Sept. and Vulg., “Thou dost despise (Psalms 119:118).
(2.) Rejection (Psalms 119:119). “There is no true metal in them when they are tried by the refining fire, they are burnt up; they fly off in fumes. There is probably an allusion to the scum or scoriæ at the surface of melting metals, which is swept off previously to casting the metal into the mould.”—Clarke.
2. Why that attitude is assumed.
(1.) Because of their falsehood.
(2.) Because of their worthlessness: “dross.”
3. What that attitude implies. One word describes it all. “Everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.”
(Psalms 119:120), see Psalms 119:107
(Psalms 119:121), see Psalms 119:95
(Psalms 119:122), see Psalms 119:95
I. The objects of these aspirations.
(2.) The words of God’s righteousness. This may refer to some precious promise, some solemn injunction, or some righteous law.
(3.) Divine teaching. The Word of God is a sealed word without the illumination of the Divine Spirit.
II. The quality of these aspirations.
1. Intensity. “Mine eyes fail.” “The idea here is that of looking out for a thing—of ‘straining the eyes’ so that their power becomes exhausted.”
2. Resignation. “Deal with Thy servant according to Thy mercy.” What is best for me grant. If I ask amiss withhold.
THE LORD’S TIME AND OURS
The Hebrew literally rendered is, “Time to do for Jehovah,” and means either that it is time for the Lord to work, or time for us to work for the Lord. As expositors are divided, its vagueness warrants us to learn the blessed truths taught by both interpretations; for are not we “workers together with God”? Notice—
I. A time common to both to work. When man makes void the law of God. When is this time? Alas! when is it not? Men make void the law of God every day, every moment. The time, then, for God and man to work together is now. Not to-morrow, not on special days or special occasions, but “now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation.”
II. A work common for both to do. The work of salvation. Man saves instrumentally, by example, by exhortation, by influence, in leading men to a knowledge of their sins, to repentance, and to trust in Christ. God saves effectually by the restraining influences of His grace, by the convictions and regeneration of the Holy Ghost, by cleansing in the precious blood, by pardon.
III. A time for God alone to work. Where men have made void God’s law, without repentance or remedy. Such a time has often occurred in human history. The iniquities of men and nations have become full, and God has visited them with vengeance. This time occurred to Sodom, Assyria, Babylon, Israel, Rome, &c. Such a time will occur when human history has closed. Of this time and season it is not for man to know.
IV. A work for God alone to do. Vengeance and destruction. In this man can and must play no part except as the merest instrument in God’s hands. “Vengeance is Mine.”
A DANGER AND ITS REMEDY
The force of “therefore” in Psalms 119:127-128, may be taken in three different ways.
1. It may mean that as a consequence of the evil of the times, the superior value of God’s Word was shown by contrast, and that, therefore, the Psalmist loved it intensely.
2. That as the times were so evil, therefore he would do all that he could to counterbalance that evil by a superior religious excellence. But
3. There seems to underlie these latter verses the reason for the general ungodliness of the times as described in Psalms 119:126; and viewed in connection with the thought that runs through the whole Psalm, the danger of the Psalmist from the number of his powerful enemies, the therefore seems to point to love of God’s Word, &c., as a sure protection and remedy from the evil.
I. The danger. A time of great religious declension is a time of great danger, because of the difficulties and temptations that are in the way of religious consistency. The question of time now-a-days resolves itself into a question of space. Whenever men live in a neighbourhood of intense ungodliness, they are always in great danger. This danger consists in—
1. The lust of gain (Psalms 119:127). To this danger all business men are exposed. In the midst of a community to which “gold” is the one thing needful, there is great danger of succumbing to the prevalent fever, and pursuing the popular but godless course.
2. Infidelity (Psalms 119:128). To this danger all reading and thinking men are exposed. Just now the very atmosphere is charged with unbelief. Newspapers and periodicals are published, and societies are founded for the express purpose of trying to show God’s precept concerning all things to be wrong, and there is a great danger of even Christian men running with this giddy multitude.
3. Sin, alas! abounds everywhere. The false way in which men make void God’s law is a very broad way, and many men are in it. False sentiments, false judgments, false practices are extremely prevalent, and men are strongly tempted to live down to the times and avoid the singularity of walking in the true and narrow way.
This danger is a present danger, an increasing danger, and often a subtle danger.
II. The remedy is not at all times or usually flight from danger, but by the “expulsive force of a new affection” to make danger flee. “Therefore,” &c. The remedy—
1. For lust of gain, is to love God’s commandments above gold. Wealth will then sink into its proper and useful place. We have not to be taken out of the world, but to be kept from its evil, and this will do it. It is better to be good than to be rich; for by becoming good a man often makes the best of both worlds, and only the love of God’s commandments can make men good.
2. For infidelity, is to esteem all God’s precepts concerning all things to be right. Let a sincere and intelligent study of those precepts decide. Let history decide. Let the lives of those men who have been without, or who have rejected, God’s Word decide; and the lives of those men who have followed its counsels and commands.
3. For sin, is to hate every false way. That which we hate we endeavour to injure or destroy; and when this is impossible we avoid it.
III. The danger is avoided and the remedy applied by earnest prayer for God to work and by earnest cooperation with God in working (Psalms 119:126). See previous outline.
1. God only can work in us to will and to do, &c.
2. But we must work out what God has worked in, and
(1) apply ourselves to the earnest love of God’s commandments, &c.
(2) Apply ourselves to the work of grappling with selfishness, infidelity, and sin. The more we work with God for man’s salvation, the more we shall lessen our danger.
GOD’S WORD: DESIRED, INSTRUCTIVE, WONDERFUL, KEPT
I. Desired (Psalms 119:131). “When under an enforced absence from God’s ordinances he longed to be restored to them; when he enjoyed them he greedily sucked in the Word of God as new-born babes desire the milk.”—M. Henry. “A metaphor taken from an animal in the chase. He runs open-mouthed to take in the cooling air, the heart beating high and the muscular force nearly expended through fatigue. The Psalmist sought for ‘God’s commandment’ as he would run from a ferocious beast for life.”—A. Clarke.
II. Instructive (Psalms 119:130). “As a beam of light illumines a dark chamber. But פָּתַח lit opening, unfolding, or revelation, LXX. and Vulg. δήλωσις, declaratio, means not so much entrance of the word into the soul, but rather its being made open to us so that we may perceive its beauty, or may ourselves “enter” into its meaning, its mysteries, and its beauties. Simple, means those who are open to persuasion, or who are easily enticed or seduced. Then it refers to the credulous (Proverbs 14:15), and then to the inexperienced.”—Speaker’s Com. and Barnes.
III. Wonderful (Psalms 119:129).
1. In the character of its revelations. God, the soul, and the future state.
2. In its forbearance and benignity towards the lost and the erring.
3. In the self-consistency of its separate books, dispensations, &c.
4. In its sin-convincing and soul-converting power.
5. In its purity and sublimity.
6. In its supporting and comforting promises and helps and hopes.
IV. Kept (Psalms 119:129). “ ‘As a treasure of inestimable value that I cannot be without.’ We do not keep them to any purpose unless our souls keep them. They must be deposited, as the tables of testimony were in the ark; there they must have the innermost and uppermost place. Those that see God’s Word to be admirable, will prize it highly and preserve it carefully, as that which they promise themselves great things from.”—M. Henry.
I. The character of prayer. Personal intercourse with a personal God. “Look Thou upon me.” We cannot worship an abstraction at all. And we cannot worship the living and true God by proxy.
II. The matter of prayer.
1. Supplication of the divine mercy (Psalms 119:132).
(1.) A sense of personal unworthiness.
(2.) A recognition of the divine beneficence.
(3.) An ardent expectation of the divine salvation.
2. Petition for practical direction. “Order my steps in Thy word,” “Teach me Thy statutes.”
(1.) A confession of ignorance and departure.
(2.) A desire for restoration.
(3.) A high valuation of obedience.
3. Request for personal deliverance (Psalms 119:134).
4. Desire for divine favours (Psalms 119:135).
III. The manner of prayer.
1. Humble and reverent. “Look Thou upon me.” Permit me to pray.
2. Confident. These verses breathe an intense hopefulness.
3. Sincere. “So will I keep Thy precepts.”
IV. The plea to be used in prayer (Psalms 119:132). Marg., “According to the custom towards,” &c. Heb., “According to the judgment.” What is right, “what is due; or of what is usually determined; i.e., as God usually determines, judges, acts towards those who love Him. The idea is according to the rules which regulate the treatment of Thy people.”—Barnes.
V. The purpose which should sustain prayer (Psalms 119:133). Holiness. For Psalms 119:134 see also Psalms 119:95. For Psalms 119:135 see also Psalms 119:107.
THE PROPER ATTITUDE OF THE RIGHTEOUS TOWARDS THE UNGODLY
(Psalms 119:136; Psalms 119:139; Psalms 119:155; Psalms 119:158)
Whatever interpretation we attach to the “Imprecatory Psalms,” certainly the Psalmists do not indiscriminately curse all ungodly men. That David could be susceptible of such forbearance towards his great and influential enemies, and that this Psalmist could be instinct with such evangelical charity as to weep over sinners, and to be consumed with zeal for their reclamation, seems to point to a meaning in the above-named Psalms which perhaps does not lie upon the surface. At any rate the meaning of these verses is clear.
I. The ungodly are described as—
1. Malignant. “Mine enemies.” Opposers of righteous words and persecutors of godly people. They are known everywhere by their antagonism to God’s children. The carnal mind being at enmity against God is at enmity with the family of God. Let it not be overlooked that this is not a general classification here. The Psalmist had particular persons in his eye.
2. Wicked. From רָשַע. To make a wilful mistake. This fixes on the sinner conscious and deliberate guilt.
3. Transgressors. בָגוֹד. Faithless to God and man.
Let these powerful expressions be particularly noted as bringing out the Psalmist’s large-hearted charity.
II. The ungodly are the subjects of the tenderest compassion and the bitterest grief. “Mine eyes descend in rivers of waters because men despise Thee and destroy themselves. Most of the Easterns shed tears much more copiously than Europeans. I have myself seen Arabs shed tears like streams.”—Speaker’s Com.
1. This attitude has always characterised the righteous. Jeremiah (Jeremiah 9:18; Jeremiah 13:17; Jeremiah 14:17; Lamentations 1:16; Lamentations 2:18; Lamentations 3:48); Our Lord (Mark 5:0; Luke 19:41); Paul (Philippians 3:8, Romans 9:2-3).
2. This attitude is right. Nothing should stir our hearts so deeply as the ruin and degradation of our fellow-men. God’s Word singles it out as a conspicuous mark of grace (Ezekiel 9:4; 1 Corinthians 5:2). “There is nothing which more certainly indicates true piety, and which is certainly more connected with a work of grace or a revival of religion, than when such deep compassion for men as sinners pervades a church.”—Barnes.
3. This attitude is necessary.
(1.) How is it possible for us to contemplate with dry eyes and unmoved heart such sights as are every day seen! Drunkenness, swearing, dishonesty, &c. To see men bent on thwarting the divine providence and damning their own souls.
(2.) Because the prevalence of sin deprives God of glory, and spreads ruin and desolation over God’s fair world.
(3.) Because this is the first step in the direction of zeal for the sinner’s reclamation. “Then Christians will pray, labour to save sinners, feel their dependence on God, and then the Spirit will descend and bless the effort put forth.”—Barnes.
III. The ungodly are the subjects of zealous evangelisation.
1. All the compassion in the world by itself will not only do the sinner no good, but rather perhaps excite his contempt.
2. Compassion must receive a practical expression in intense and all-consuming zeal (Psalms 119:139). This word is elsewhere rendered consumed, cut off, vanished, destroyed. “He pined away; his strength was exhausted; he was sinking under the efforts he had put forth.”—Barnes. (Psalms 69:9; 1 Kings 19:10.)
IV. The ungodly are pitied and evangelised not for sentimental but for practical reasons. Note—“It was not because they were His foes,—not because He was endeavouring to destroy them, or take vengeance upon them. It is a great triumph when in looking at persecutors and slanderers,—we are more grieved because they violate the law of God, when our solicitude turns from ourselves to God.”
The reasons are because—
1. They have not kept God’s laws. Hence his tears.
2. They have forgotten God’s works and despised His salvation. Hence His zeal. Would to God, these considerations would produce the same effect in every Christian now.
THE DIVINE RIGHTEOUSNESS
(Psalms 119:137-138; Psalms 119:142; Psalms 119:144)
The Psalmist here deals with the righteousness of God from a fourfold point of view. First he declares God to be absolutely and inherently righteous; then the judgment of the righteous God to be righteous, i.e., God is actively righteous; then that God has revealed both His active and passive righteousness is His testimonies, i.e., God is declaratively righteous. This being the case, he points out that those testimonies are a faithful record of that righteousness, and therefore are to be depended upon by man.
I. God is absolutely righteous (Psalms 119:137). From the fundamental principles of His nature the conception is impossible that God in thought, word, or deed, should swerve from the lines of strict and immutable equity.
II. God is relatively and actively righteous. “Upright are Thy judgments.” This follows upon His absolute righteousness. He cannot do unjustly, but must award every man according to his work (Romans 2:5-9; 1 Peter 1:17), forgiving on confession of sin (1 John 1:9), approving obedience (Hebrews 6:10), rewarding (2 Timothy 4:8), punishing (Romans 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 1:8; 1 John 3:18-19). Hence His active righteousness is everlasting. “Human governments change. New laws are enacted under new administrations. Old dynasties pass away. Custom, opinion, the world, men, all change. But as God Himself never changes, so it is with His law. Founded on eternal truth it can never change.”—Barnes.
III. God is declaratively righteous through those testimonies which are (Marg.) righteousness. No truer or sublimer definition could be given of God’s Word. It is a perfect delineation of the righteousness of God’s character and ways, without admixture of error.
“Thy law is the truth.” It is founded not on mere arbitrary will, but on the reality of things, and can therefore never change.
IV. Therefore those testimonies which declare God’s righteousness are to be depended on by man. Thy testimonies are very faithfulness.
IN CONCLUSION (Psalms 119:144).—(i.) Those who would see and enjoy the divine righteousness must pray for understanding. (ii.) Those who have that understanding shall live. How? The just shall live by faith. Faith in what? Romans 3:24-26.
(Psalms 119:139), see Psalms 119:126
GOD’S WORD A TRIED WORD AND A LOVED WORD
The margin renders “tried.” P. B. version, “Tried to the uttermost.” These words describe the test to which the Word of God in every age has been subjected, and the result. It has come out of the fire as refined gold (Psalms 12:0). No error has been proved to be in it or cast from it. Therefore God’s people love it. In this age everything is put upon its trial. Modern criticism subjects every institution and relic of antiquity to the keenest tests. Our philosophers place everything in their crucibles, and subject everything to their dissecting knives. Every day we hear of history which has proved to be myth, and belief but exploded superstition. But into whatever alembic the Word of God has been plunged, it has come out without diminution and very pure.
I. The trial to which the Word of God has been subjected.
1. The conflict with sin.
2. The contradictions of unbelief.
3. The inconsistencies of its apparent friends.
4. The experience of saints and sinners.
II. The love with which it is received.
“I use the Scriptures not as an arsenal to be resorted to only for arms and weapons … but as a matchless temple, where I delight to contemplate the beauty, the symmetry, and the magnificence of the structure; and to increase my awe and excite my devotion to the Deity there preached and adored.… Whereas at my entrance I took even the choicest to be at best but like some Indian province, wherein though mines and gems were more abundant than in other countries, yet they were but sparingly to be met with, here and there; after a competent stay, my ensuing perusals presented it to me, if not as a royal jewel made of gold and precious stones, yet (which is more glorious) like Aaron’s breast-plate, a sacred jewel, the particular instructions for which were given by God Himself, and which besides the various number of flaming gems set in fine gold and placed in a mysterious order, was ennobled by that Urim-ve-Thummim wherein God vouchsafed to reveal Himself.… This experiment keeps me from wondering to find that the poet attributes blessedness to ‘delight in the law of the Lord.’ ”—The Hon. Robert Boyle.
I. That true greatness may be consistent with external humiliation. A man may be very poor and mean in the world’s estimation. He may be small because he does not aim at political and social greatness. He may be despised because all his principles are against that wholesale murder which men denominate valour. He may be afraid to do what is wrong and sin against God, and thus be open to the scoffs of the profligate and the sneers of the bravo. But if he does not forget God’s precepts he has the essentials of true greatness. True greatness does not consist in those external exhibitions which pass off as such. A man may be a great philosopher and yet be morally small as Bacon. A man may be great in war as Bonaparte and yet have a little soul. True greatness is greatness in the sight of God. And that greatness has he who does not forget God’s precepts. He will have power with God, and in the long run with man, as well.
II. That external humiliation should not be-little a man. This is a sad and prevalent tendency. When a man is esteemed small and despised, he aspires to what is termed greatness and honour by trying to forget God’s precepts. When a man is ashamed of his father’s Bible and his mother’s piety, he is on the true road to be-little himself in the sight of God, and in the long run, in the sight of man.
(Psalms 119:142), see Psalms 119:137
(Psalms 119:143), see Psalms 119:107
(Psalms 119:144), see Psalms 119:137
EFFECTUAL, FERVENT, AND BELIEVING PRAYER
I. Its Object. “O Lord,” “I cried unto Thee.” The Psalmist entertained no idea of intervening or interceding saints or angels. He had been taught and believed that worship must be directed to God alone. Therefore all his aspirations ascended to the personal God.
II. Its reasons.
1. Affliction. The whole of this clause breathes out a spirit that was in sore distress.
2. Personal and imminent danger (Psalms 119:150). This holds good with every Christian. Satan and all the forces of evil are ever near to work damage to the soul.
3. Inability to do the will of God. All Christians share this consciousness. God’s “statutes” cannot be kept without the help of God’s Spirit, whose presence must be supplicated in prayer.
III. Its petitions.
1. “Hear me.” This should be the primary petition. Without God’s condescending attention all supplication is vain.
2. “Save me.” Those whom God hears He saves. Unless God saves, all ground for hope and prayer is taken away. Salvation is the most urgent petition that man can offer.
3. “Quicken me.” Those whom God saves God quickens, and without this quickening, salvation is vain. Salvation is a rescue from danger; quickening is the invigoration of new life, and unless that takes place the end of prayer is unattained.
IV. Its characteristics.
1. Earnestness. “I cried.” Unless God sees our eagerness and our intense desire to prevail, He will not listen to our prayer.
2. Undividedness. “With my whole heart.” Unless our whole nature is bent upon securing the answer to our prayer God will not save. The worship of the lips is a mockery in the sight of God. Mind, emotions, will, tongues, must all be engaged in this service.
3. Importunity (Psalms 119:147-148). Sometimes God delays His quickening to test this importunity and to draw it forth (Luke 18:0). The ten days which preceded Pentecost: Morning, noon, and night must be spent directly or indirectly in this service.
4. Faith. “I hoped in Thy word.” Hope based on the promises and expectant of their realisation is the sublimest faith.
V. Its warrants.
1. The divine loving-kindness (Psalms 119:149). If God is not gracious and kind, we have no warrant to approach His august and terrible majesty.
2. The divine nearness (Psalms 119:151). If God is not near He cannot hear. The Psalmist held this to be one of the primary tenets of the faith (Psalms 139:0). So do Christians. “Lo, I am with you alway.”
3. The truth of the divine promise (Psalms 119:147; Psalms cf.151). Man may break his promise. There may be no sincerity in his promise. But when God says, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble,” &c., we know that He means what He says.
4. Past experience (Psalms 119:152). What God has done He can still do; and therefore the Psalmist argues what He did for me of old He will do for me again, and thus—
“Old experience doth attain
To somewhat of prophetic strain.”
VI. Its resolutions.
1. Obedience. “I will keep Thy statutes.”
2. Witness-bearing. “I will keep Thy testimonies.”
VII. Its basis (Psalms 119:148). By continual meditation on God’s Word he was instructed how to pray, what to pray for, and when to pray.
“I cried unto Thee early, i.e., before others, in the gloom, before the dawning of the morning: my fixed hope in Thy promise suffered me not to rest.”—Speaker’s Com.
I. The Bible speaks much of morning prayer (Exodus 32:4; Mark 1:35). “It is full of morning. ‘My voice shalt Thou hear in the morning, O Lord; and in the morning will I direct my prayer unto Thee, and will look up.’ ‘The Lord’s mercies are new every morning.’ Of old ‘the morning stars sang together.’ ‘I, Jesus, am the bright and morning Star.’ Truly the day declines; but at ‘eventide there is light,’ when in the morning there has been converse with God. The morning makes the day. A morning misspent is a day ruined; a morning saved is a day completed. Lord, awake me at sunrise, and by the beauty of the coming light give hope for the whole day.”—Dr. J. Parker.
II. Morning is the most favourable time for prayer. It is calm. The cares and anxieties of the day have not broken upon us. Our mind is then clearest; and away from our families and our businesses, we can be alone.
III. Morning is the time God demands for prayer. “The morning is the time fixed for my meeting with God. What meaning there is in time as well as place! In the morning—then God means me to be at my best in strength and hope. In the night I have buried yesterday’s fatigue, and in the morning I take a new lease of energy. Give God all thy strength. In the morning—then He may mean to keep me long that He may make me rich.”—Dr. J. Parker.
IV. Morning is the most appropriate time for prayer. The day is before us, and the day will be wasted if not sanctified by God.
THE CONSTITUENTS OF A COMPLETE AND HOLY DAY
I. The day begins with prayer. “The first thing he did in the morning, before he admitted any business, was to pray when his mind was most fresh and in the best frame. If our thoughts in the morning be of God, they will help to keep us in His fear all the day long.”—M. Henry. Observe that this morning prayer stimulated his hope in God’s promises, and thus braced and encouraged him for the exercises of the day.
II. The day continues with practical obedience. “I shall keep Thy statutes.”
Beginning well it continues well. Prayer secured the fulfilment of the divine promises in the divine guidance and the divine protection. Hence consistency and holiness.
III. The day closes with meditation on God’s Word. The crown and completion of a good day. All anxieties are over. The time due to our fellow-men has been spent, and well spent; and now the man of God recognises God’s claim upon his eventide.
See also for Psalms 119:148 on Psalms 119:55.
GOD’S NEARNESS AND MAN’S
1. Man is near to harass; God is near to help.
2. Man is near to hurt; God is near to protect.
3. Man is near to discourage; God is near to comfort.
4. Man is near to tempt to sin; God is near to save from sin.
5. Man is near to cast doubts; God is near to resolve doubts.
6. Man is near to drag down to the world, flesh, and devil; God is near to lift up to heavenly things, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God.
7. Man is near to kill; God is near to give life and immortality.
THE DIVINE CONSIDERATION
I. The Psalmist’s need of it.
1. Personal affliction.
2. Numerous persecutors.
II. The Psalmist’s estimate concerning it—
1. Contemplation of his case. “Take it into thy thoughts and all the circumstances of it, and sit not by as one unconcerned.”—M. Henry.
2. Pleading his cause (Psalms 119:154). “Be Thou my patron and advocate, and take me for Thy client.”
3. Deliverance from his affliction.
4. Quickened life.
III. The Psalmist’s pleas for it.
1. His remembrance of the divine law (Psalms 119:153).
2. His trust in the divine promises (Psalms 119:154).
3. The fact that salvation was for such as he (Psalms 119:155).
4. The manifold character of God’s tender mercies (Psalms 119:156).
5. His love for God’s precepts (Psalms 119:158).
6. The immutability of the divine word (Psalms 119:160).
See also for Psalms 119:153-154; Psalms 119:156, see Psalms 119:107; for Psalms 119:155; Psalms 119:158, see Psalms 119:136; for Psalms 119:157, see Psalms 119:95; for Psalms 119:159, see Psalms 119:113.
THE TRUTH AND ENDURANCE OF GOD’S WORD
“Literally, ‘The head of Thy Word is truth,’ ”probably meaning that its principles and basis were truth. It was not made truth by the mere will of God, but it was founded on essential truth.—Marg., The beginning of Thy Word is true.’ Its origin, foundation, and essential nature is truth.”—Barnes. “Does he refer to the first word in God’s Word, בראשת. ‘In the beginning, ראש is the root of that word. Every word that Thou hast spoken from the first in Bereshith to the end of the law, and all Thou wilt yet speak, as flowing from the fountain of truth, must be true, and all shall have in due time their fulfilment.”—A. Clarke.
I. God’s Word is based upon truth, and therefore endures. It does not rest on tentative hypotheses or speculations, but upon the infallible and immutable declarations of God. Every thing not built on this solid foundation will not bear the tear and wear and fret of time.
II. God’s Word had its beginning in truth, and therefore its righteous judgments endure for ever. As the spring so the stream. If the source is tainted so will be the river. But God’s Word sprang from Him who is “the Truth,” and therefore it continues true all along its course.
III. God’s Word is true all through, and therefore endures. Man’s building may be upon unstable foundations, may be of defective materials, and be erected on a false plan. Earthly rivers may be pure in their source, but may receive poisoned waters from tributary streams. But the Word of God is built on, composed of, and designed by truth, and with its waters errors will not mix. Delitzsch says that truth “is the total number of all the items in the reckoning. The Word of God is reckoned over in its parts and as a whole. Truth is the grand denominator, and truth the result.”
IN CONCLUSION.—God’s Word is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. (i.) Are you based upon it? (ii.) Are you drinking from it? (iii.) Are you moulded by it? (iv.) Will you continue with it?
(Psalms 119:161), see Psalms 119:95.
GOD’S WORD THE OBJECT OF REVERENCE AND JOY
(Psalms 119:161, last clause, and Psalms 119:162)
I. God’s Word the object of joy. The expression is as true as it is remarkable.
1. The joy of victory in conflict. To gain spoil, fighting is necessary, and success over the foe. So we do not find the unsearchable riches of Christ without contest. We must battle with doubts, drawbacks, disinclinations, &c. The mere obtaining a victory is a cause of joy even when no substantial result is achieved.
2. The joy of enrichment after victory.
(1.) Victory over unbelief gains stronger ground for faith.
(2.) Victory over disinclination is rewarded by some new truth.
(3.) Victory over darkness is the acquisition of light.
(4.) Victory over tribulation secures fresh comfort.
(5.) Victory over sin finds the great spoil of holiness.
II. God’s Word the object of reverence. The two clauses are to be united as in Psalms 112:1. Sometimes the gaining of spoil is worse for an army than defeat. Men are demoralised. Nations become arrogant. And lest man should be lifted up by pride with the knowledge he has of the Word of God, let it be remembered that it is the Word of God, and stand in awe of it.
(Psalms 119:163), see Psalms 119:113.
“Not only morning and evening, not thrice only (Psalms 55:17), but seven times, i.e., again and again, and many times (Psalms 12:6; Psalms 69:12; Leviticus 26:18; Leviticus 26:24; Genesis 4:15; Proverbs 24:16), each day, so as to hallow the day, the Psalmist thanks God for His word.”—Speaker’s Com. “Rabbi Solomon says this is to be understood literally, for they praised God twice in the morning before reading the decalogue, and once after; twice in evening before the same reading, and twice after; thus making seven times. The Roman Church has prescribed a similar service.”—A. Clarke.
I. Constant praise is demanded, because of the constancy of the divine judgments. They never fail. By them the universe is held together, society made possible, and human blessedness secured.
II. Constant praise is due to God for the beneficence of His judgments. They are given in mercy, not in wrath.
They are not impracticable, nor burdens too heavy to be borne. They are made for and given to man for his safety and peace.
III. Constant praise is due to God for the clearness of His divine judgments. They are not enveloped in a cloud of mystery, or hidden behind perplexing technicalities, or in such a way as to be out of the reach of the common people. “The way-faring man, though a fool, cannot err therein.”
VI. Constant praise is due to God for the help He vouchsafes to keep His righteous judgments. The Holy Spirit is given to help our infirmities. We are invited to approach the throne of grace, to obtain grace to help in time of need.
V. Constant praise is due to God for the forgiveness. He offers when we have broken His righteous judgments. “If we confess our sins,” &c. “If any man sin we have an Advocate,” &c.
Peace is man’s highest hope and best inheritance. All other blessings are valued only as they promote it, and the loftiest dignity and wealthiest affluence are worth nothing without it. Obstacles to peace abound, and the largest part of life is spent in overcoming them. Offences and stumblingblocks are the greatest obstacles. Genuine difficulty and hard work promote peace. Let a man know there is a difficulty in the way, or a work to be done, and he composes his mind to grapple with them. But when he meets with a stubborn obstacle, or stumbles over it, his mind is hurt and his peace is gone. So the believer may be unmoved amidst the greatest afflictions and trials, and yet through some unforeseen and insignificant impediment he may stumble and lose all his tranquillity. Notice—
I. A qualification. Love of God’s law. “To love a law may seem strange; but it is the only true divine life. To keep it because we are afraid of its penalties is only a form of fear or prudential consideration. To keep it to preserve a good name may be propriety and respectability. To keep it because it is best for society may be worldly self-interest. To keep it because of physical health may be the policy of epicurean philosophy. To keep it because we love it is to show that it is already part of us—has entered into the moral texture of our being. Sin then becomes distasteful, and temptations lose their power.”—Statham.
II. A process. “Nothing shall offend them,” i.e., nothing shall be a stumbling-block to them and so hurt them. Those whose hearts and minds are embued with and thus protected and directed by God’s law, although there must needs be stumblingblocks in their way, yet they shall not stumble over them nor be hurt by them.
1. They will not stumble over apparent discrepancies in God’s law. He who loves God’s law will not go to God’s Word to find or make them. When they come across his path, the Divine Interpreter explains them, and a sanctified insight and experience will discover their true harmony.
2. They will not stumble at temptations. Those who are protected by the law of God are safe. Temptations find nothing in common with them on which they can take hold. The world has no equivalent to offer for the pleasures and profit of the law of the Lord.
3. They will not stumble at circumstances. If adversity comes, those who love God’s law are prepared for that. They know it to be necessary for them or it would not come. If prosperity comes, that prosperity is sanctified by the sanctity of those in whom it meets. God’s law teaches that “all things work together for good,” &c.
4. They do not stumble at death. The law of God has robbed death of its terrors. That law shows that Christ has withdrawn death’s sting, that it is now not only harmless, but is pressed into the service of the people of God. “Death is yours.” Now your friend to conduct you to a place where its office is at an end. Those who love God’s law know that Christ has vanquished “him that had the power of death, and delivered them who through the fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”
III. The result. Having no fear of stumblingblocks, and not being hurt by them, the lovers of God’s law have great peace. Not mere peace, but great peace.
1. Great, because divine. It is the “peace of God.” “My peace.” “Not as the world giveth.”
2. Great, because powerful. It “keeps the heart and mind.” It eases tremendous anxieties, removes perturbing fears.
3. Great, because incomprehensible. “It passeth all understanding.” It cannot be defined. The Christian only knows he has it.
4. Great, because eternal. “Peace shall flow as a river,” unexhausted, always running, yet never running to waste or away.
The closing verses of this long Psalm are in harmony with all that has gone before. The themes are the same, the prayers are the same, the purposes are the same. The Psalmist’s one desire is to taste the fulness and sweetness of God’s salvation, to know more of His Word, and to praise His name. Taking as our leading thought God’s salvation we have—
I. The nature of that salvation (Psalms 119:166-174).
1. Personal rescue (Psalms 119:170).
2. Divine teaching. It is quite a mistake to suppose that salvation is exclusively a single act. It is a process as well. Man is delivered out of darkness into God’s marvellous light; and to be saved from lapsing into darkness again, he must have the Divine Teacher near him, showing him how to walk in the light (Psalms 119:171).
3. Divine help (Psalms 119:173). Teaching alone is insufficient. Countless multitudes of even Christian people know the way, who, from lack of the help they ought to have, do not walk with firmness and consistency. Vain is the attempt to work out our own salvation without divine help. Thank God, that help is abundantly vouchsafed.
4. Soul life (Psalms 119:175). This is the prime vital and all-essential characteristic of salvation. It is the synonym for it both in the Old Testament and the New. The unsaved soul is like the valley of dry bones, and dead in trespasses and sins. Salvation is not only deliverance from sin. It is the perpetual indwelling of the Divine and quickening Spirit.
II. The conditions upon which God saves.
1. Obedience to God’s commandments (Psalms 119:166). But this is mere legality? Is it? Who said, “Repent ye and believe the Gospel.” “Ye are My friends if ye do whatsoever I command you.
2. Keeping and loving God’s testimonies (Psalms 119:167-168). What do they testify? God’s love, God’s mercy, God’s willingness to save. How can God save? how can man be saved, unless it is the rejoicing of his heart to know and to keep the testimony that “God so loved the world,” &c., “that God willeth not the death of the sinner”?
3. Thankfulness for God’s promises (Psalms 119:172). Unless man has these promises, and is grateful for them, he is unwilling to be saved, and even God cannot save the thankless soul. “The goodness of God” should lead to repentance and trust (Romans 2:4-5).
4. Choice of the right way and love of it (Psalms 119:173-174). Our salvation largely depends on our own choice. God will not force it upon us. This choice must have respect to the ulterior duties of salvation. This choice must not be determined by fear, interest, but intelligent appreciation of what is best and love of it for its own sake.
III. The characteristics of the prayer for God to save. Those who desire salvation must pray, will pray. How?
1. Hopefully (Psalms 119:166). Faith enters largely into the composition of evangelical hope. They have the same attributes as well as the same objects. Hope longs (Psalms 119:174) with confident expectation.
2. Sincerely (Psalms 119:168). The prayer of the hypocrite is an abomination to God. The man who prays for salvation must be prepared to display all his ways before God. He must conceal nothing, omit nothing.
3. Intensely (Psalms 119:169-170). “Cry.” “Supplication.”
4. Availingly (Psalms 119:170). The divine promise was never pleaded in vain.
IV. The obligations of God’s salvation. The one word twice uttered by the Psalmist reveals them all, “Praise,” (Psalms 119:171; Psalms 119:175). It was not personal blessing so much as the Divine glory.
THE LOST SHEEP
“The Psalmist begins with, ‘Blessed are the undefiled in the way,’ &c. He concludes with, ‘I have gone astray,’ &c. And thus conscious of the blessedness of those who are in the way of righteousness, he desires to be brought into it, that he may walk in newness of life. Verse first. It is a good way, and they are blessed who walk in it. Verse the last, ‘Bring me into this way that I may be blessed.’ And thus the Psalm in sentiment returns into itself; and the latter verse is so connected with the former as to make the whole a perfect circle.”—Dr. A. Clarke.
The text may be applied with equal propriety to sinners and backsliders.
I. The wandering. Men, like sheep, have broken through the hedge of God’s law, have forsaken the Shepherd and Bishop of their souls, and have gone astray into the paths of error and sin. “Like a sheep,” i.e., like a beast, an animal; for sin appeals to the lower instincts of humanity, and develops them, and so man sinks to the level of a brute Mark, not like a lion or a horse, some noble or gifted creature, but like a poor, silly, unintelligent sheep. Why? Because sin is stupidity, and the sinner is no more a criminal than he is a fool.
1. The wandering sheep displays the greatest folly. Its safety, food, very existence, depends upon the shepherd’s presence.
2. The wandering sheep displays the deepest ingratitude. It owes everything to the vigilance, sympathy, and activity of the shepherd.
3. The wandering sheep displays but one symptom of intelligence, that of going astray. If there be but one gap in the hedge he will find it. If the chances are a thousand to one against his straying, he will avail himself of it.
4. The wandering sheep displays perseverance in straying. If found to-day it will lose itself again to-morrow if it can. And once out of the fold it wanders on and on and never dreams of returning till sought, found, and brought back.
Brethren, each one of us must say, “I have gone astray like a lost sheep.” We have all gone astray ungratefully and foolishly from Him who alone can, and who alone has, vouchsafed all the benefits that we want and enjoy. In departing from God we have displayed an ingenuity worthy of a better cause. We have wandered where it has been perilous to wander, and have gone farther and farther from God, and from worse to worse, till we have become lost. Straying, men lose their owner, lose their fellows, lose themselves.
II. The search. The sheep having gone astray, what more natural than that the shepherd should go in search of it? So God is in search of lost men. “Christ came to seek and to save that which was lost.”
1. This search was the prompting of love. The relation between the eastern shepherd and his sheep is very different from the western, and is fitly typical of God’s relation to man. God loves man with an everlasting love, and cannot afford to lose him, the latest born in His vast house-hold, and therefore preserves him with a love which many waters cannot quench.
2. This search was pursued by the most wonderful self-sacrifice. The shepherd seeking the sheep far from home, amidst winter snows, and among prowling beasts, and on dark and dismal nights, is very feeble as a symbol of God’s search for man. Christ came to “lay down His life for His sheep.” Such was His fixed intention, and such His accomplished purpose. “He loved me, and gave Himself for me.”
3. This search was rewarded by success. Such was the case with the Psalmist. Such is the case of all who will be found. Here man is unlike a sheep. Its will cannot resist the more powerful will of its owner. Alas! man can resist God.
III. The recollection. “In all my wandering, with my consciousness of error, with my sense of guilt, I still do feel that I love Thy laws. They are the joy of my heart, and I desire to be recalled from all my wanderings that I may find perfect happiness in Thee and in Thy service evermore. Such is the earnest wish of every regenerated heart. Far as such an one may have wandered from God, yet he is conscious of true attachment to Him and His service; he desires and earnestly prays that he may be ‘sought out’ and brought back and kept from wandering any more.”—Barnes.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 119". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent