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“This psalm instructs its readers in the glory and goodness of God; first, by directing their contemplation to the structure of the heavens, to the course of the sun, and to the kindly influences of its light and heat upon the earth; secondly, by inviting their attention to the revealed law, which is more especially adapted to impress them with a sense of God’s superintending care, and to increase their understanding and knowledge of the Divine power and will. The psalm, therefore, divides itself into two parts; the first, extending to the 8th verse; and the second, comprising the remainder.”—Phillips.
The Psalmist here represents the universe as a grand cathedral in which the sun is the great preacher, ever declaring the glory of the Creator.
I. The subject of the revelation. “The heavens declare the glory of God.” “The contemplation of the glory of nature must not lead to the deification of nature; it should lead up beyond the entire world, and beyond all the heavens, to the knowledge of the glory of God mirrored therein, and excite to the adoration of the Almighty Creator declaring Himself therein. The expanse of the heavens which cannot at all be surveyed by man, has yet received its limits from Him who is alone Infinite and Almighty. Even the sun, which is worshipped by so many nations as the king of heaven, receives the measure of its motion, and the revolution of its course from the same hand, whose government and work disclose themselves in all things as by the hand of a Master, whom all His works praise.”—Moll. We must not stop with nature, but see in her forces and glories the signs of a Divine existence and love. We must not survey the heavens, as some do, in a coarse utilitarian spirit. The heavens reflect the Divine glory in their own glory. The colours in the heavens bear no discoverable relation to the utilitarian ends of light, they are a testimony to God’s own love of beauty; incidental colours dashed into the creation without any direct bearing upon the known functions fulfilled by light; dashed in to tell us that God loves beauty, that He is full of it, and that these things are His own dim reflections. Nature declares the wisdom, power, love, and faithfulness of God. Some unbelieving men have dared to find fault with the works of God. One of these recently and blasphemously spoke of creation as a “blundering contrivance.” But how poor are the grandest works of man when compared with the works of God! When the disturbed fairies left the palace they were building incomplete, the legend tells us that no architects or painters could be found to complete the edifice, such was the wondrous beauty of spiritual workmanship; but if God had left any portion of the universe incomplete, which of our critics would have finished it? Ah! we cannot rival the magnificent proportions, the exquisite balancings, the splendid hues, the perennial freshness and glory of creation.
II. The characteristics of the revelation. Mark 1:0. Its fulness. “Uttereth speech.” “Pours forth speech.”—Kay. It streams forth as from an overflowing spring, is the sense of the original. There are abundant evidences of God’s power and glory.
2. Its constancy and perpetuity. The heavens are declaring—always declaring. “Day unto day,” &c. “The idea of perpetuity is here. The words of this discourse of praise are carried forward in an uninterrupted line of transmission.”—Delitzsch. 3. Its variety. Day and night, with their various phenomena.
4. Its silence. (Psalms 19:3.) Mark the unobtrusiveness of nature’s deeper teachings. “Their ‘voice is not heard,’ lit. ‘is inaudible.’ They have a language, but not one that can be classed with any of the dialects of earth. They have a voice, but one that speaks not to the ear, but to the devout and understanding heart.”—Perowne. “The sense of the whole passage is this: that although the heavens are not endued with the power of human speech, yet the instruction which they convey is not less definite; the lessons which they teach are not, on that account, less clear and distinct to the intelligent and pious student of nature. The number and stupendous magnitude of the heavenly bodies; the sun which governs the day; the moon and stars, which render to man such important service by night; the clouds gathering water, which descends and refreshes the earth; the thunder and lightning, and the elements; all these preach to us as intelligibly as if they addressed us in our own language; and not only to us, but to all nations; the greatness and wisdom, the mercy and loving-kindness of Jehovah.”—Phillips.
“The heavens articulately shine,
And speak their Architect Divine.”
If we will know God in nature, we must have a seeing eye, and a hearing ear. “Holy silence itself is a speech, provided there be the ear to hear it.”—Tholuck.
5. Its universality (Psalms 19:4-19.19.7). “Their line,” &c. Their measuring line extends to the confines of the earth. The glorious sun declares the glory of God all over the earth.
III. The importance of this revelation. Some Christians speak depreciatingly of nature, but it is a mistake. The Psalmist in this place declares the harmony of creation with the moral law. “The object of the psalm is not to contrast the moral and material revelations, but rather to identify their author and their subject. The doctrinal sum of the whole composition is, that the same God who reared the frame of nature is the giver of a law, and that this law is in all respects worthy of its author.”—Alexander. The first part of the psalm treats of God in visible nature, the second, of God in moral law; and these two great ideas are ever needed to balance each other. If we think of God in nature only, and forget God as revealed in moral law, we glide into pantheism. The most perfectly organised and commanding form of pantheism the world has ever seen (that of India), was growing up at the very moment David wrote, from this one-sidedness of view: the lights, the clouds, the winds of heaven, all manifestations of God, were being substituted for the moral essence of God itself, and becoming separate gods. On the other hand, contemplation of God as revealed in moral law, and forgetfulness of Him as revealed in nature, is apt to produce a narrow, cramped, and degenerate type of religion such as the Jews presented in their darkest and most exclusive moods. The two ideas will always be needed, the one to counterpoise the other; and David ever expresses the wisest and most far-reaching instincts of inspiration in putting them side by side.
IV. The limitation of this revelation.
As Lord Bacon says: “The heavens indeed tell of the glory of God, but not of His will, according to which the poet prays to be pardoned and sanctified.”—Delitzsch. Lord Bacon’s “Prayer:” “I have delighted in the brightness of Thy temple. Thy creatures have been my books; but Thy Scriptures much more. I have sought Thee in the courts, fields, and gardens; I have found thee in Thy temples.” Fallen man needs the truth of God bringing home to him, with a clearness that nature cannot accomplish. And we need many truths of which nature knows nothing. “There is this great difference between God’s book of nature and His book of grace. The one, splendid and glorious as its Almighty Maker, was formed for man in innocency, and is imperfectly adapted to a fallen state; the other is suited to a corrupt nature, and, telling of mercy, addresses itself to its wants, and speaks with a Divine power which refuses to be silenced or passed by.”—Ryland.
1. We need never fear that the true religion of nature will lead us away from God.
2. The believer in God alone apprehends the highest glory and significance of nature. “None save a believer can rightly meditate on the works of God. Worldly men may, and do, understand and admire the wonderful works of God; the lover of science can truly estimate the wisdom and the beauty which pervade all nature; who else, indeed, can so well do it? But unassisted, man rests there; his thoughts go no further. It is ‘by faith that we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear;’ and thus the mind is led from nature up to nature’s God.”—Ryland.
3. The believer finding deep joy in the workmanship of God, finds full satisfaction only in turning to that moral law which is the revelation of God’s nature.
THE SOUL-RESTORING POWER OF LAW
“The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul.” “The same Almighty Hand which had given the sun his light-giving, life-sustaining power in the physical world, had provided life and light also for the spiritual world.”—Kay.
I. The attribute of the law. It is “perfect.” The law of God, the moral law, as given in the whole of the Scriptures, is perfect, i.e., free from all defect or blemish. It is spotless.
1. It is the perfect transcript of the glory of God. It is the exact expression of God’s moral nature. The earth is a reflection of God’s metaphysical glory—it tells us of His eternal power and Godhead; but the revelation of God’s will in moral law is the revelation of His highest nature and glory. As such a revelation it is “perfect.” It is not mixed and marred like the words of men; it is a stainless mirror reflecting the sublime holiness of the deity. It is the picture of God drawn by His own hand. It is “light, and in it is no darkness at all.”
2. It is the perfect theory of the good of man. “The divine law is called ‘perfect,’ i.e., spotless and harmless, as being absolutely well-meaning, and altogether directed towards the wellbeing of man.”—Delitzsch.
Through the disorder of our nature we regard moral law as our great enemy, as that which stands in the way of our freedom and our joy, but really it presents us with the grand secret of living and immortal good.
II. The effect of the law. “Converting the soul.” Paul tells us in the Romans how the law condemns, how it threatens, how it kills. And this is the effect of the law as considered in itself. But we must remember that when the Psalmist is speaking here of the law, he comprehends in it the promises of God, and regards it in connection with the great system of sacrifices. The evangelical idea is included in the views of law which he gives us in this psalm. “If the law is separated from the hope of forgiveness and the Spirit of Christ, it is so far from the sweetness of honey, that it rather kills poor souls by its bitterness.”—Calvin. Thus understood, the law “revives the soul.”
1. It brings back the soul to God. “It calls it back from its wanderings by reminding it of its ingratitude, by setting before it its high destiny, by bringing it to its true Shepherd and Guardian.”—Perowne. Having restored the soul to God,
2. The law strengthens and perfects it. The law harmonises, vivifies, strengthens, rejoices, the whole moral man. “It gives the same support to the mind that food does to the body when exhausted (Lamentations 1:11. See also Psalms 23:3; Proverbs 25:13).”—French. “The word here translated ‘restoring’ is used of restoring from disorder and decay (Psalms 80:19), from sorrow and affliction (Ruth 4:15), from death (1 Kings 17:21-11.17.22).”—Kay. The perfect law makes those who receive it faultless.
THE LIGHT-GIVING POWER OF THE LAW
“The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.” Observe:
I. The infallibility of the law. “The testimony of the Lord is sure.” “Testimony, i.e. revealed will. Probably the two tables of the testimony, containing the decalogue, are here especially referred to.”—French. But we must understand the moral law as a whole. This law is sure, or, true. It is true, therefore, sure. “It is raised above all doubt in its declarations, and verifying itself in its threatenings and promises.”—Delitzsch. We want a doctrine that is infallible; speculative and unverified teaching we feel to be untrustworthy and powerless.
1. We cannot believe in the infallibility of the Church. One Pope contradicts another; the same Pope is inconsistent with himself. Neither,
2. In the infallibility of philosophers. The faith of one generation of thinkers is laughed at by the next. Neither,
3. In the infallibility of ourselves, of our personal opinions and convictions arrived at outside revelation. There is no infallible guide but the moral law declared on Sinai and developed in Holy Writ. We must not live according to the maxims of men, neither must we make intuitions and inward impressions our rule of action, but prayerfully seek light on the holy oracles, and God will not permit us to wander into false ways.
II. The subjects of its illumination. “Making wise the simple.” “The simple, lit. ‘the open,’ not here ‘the foolish’ as often in Proverbs, but he who is ready to become a fool, that he may be wise, who has the true childlike spirit (Matthew 11:25; 1 Corinthians 1:27), which best fits him to become a disciple in the school of God.”—Perowne.
1. We must feel our need of guidance.
2. We must be sincere and open in our search for instruction.
3. We must be fully prepared to obey the light as it is given.
THE JOY-GIVING POWER OF THE LAW
“The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart.”
If our moral life attain to completeness, we shall observe in it three stages in relation to the law of God.
I. The period of rebellion against the law.
In our original, natural state, we fret against God’s commandments. There is a twofold reason for this.
1. We rebel against the law because it denies us certain gratifications which we covet. Our irregular desires lead us to covet what the law denies. But,
2. We rebel against the law chiefly because it is the law. We dislike the law because it is the will of another asserting itself above our will. We resent the law not only because it sometimes comes between our passion and its gratification, but because of its dogmatism. Our will shall be supreme; we will be our own law. The “carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, neither, indeed, can be.”
This is life’s first stage. Law is a tyranny we resent. Next comes,
II. The period of submission to the law.
We come to the conviction that it is better to submit than to rebel; we cease to be God’s enemies, and become His servants. We painfully keep the law, but cannot be said to love it. There is a constant friction. Then comes,
III. The period of joy in the law.
In ancient times laws were put into verse, and there comes a period, if we live rightly, when God’s laws become poetry to us,—the statute becomes a song. Holiness becomes beauty to the eye, sweetness to the taste, music to the ear. God’s law, the grand expression of God’s nature, becomes the great object of our love and desire! “I delight to do Thy will, O God.” Philosophers rejoice in natural law,—they are never weary of celebrating the glorious reign of law, and to discover law and extol it, is considered the highest intellectual triumph. But to admire the moral law, the law which denies so much that we like, and enjoins so much that we do not like, this is, indeed, the triumph of life. If the statutes of the Lord are to rejoice our heart,
(1.) We must know them better. The more clearly we perceive the nature of the Divine law, the more we approve of it. “Open Thou mine eyes that I may see wonderful things out of Thy law.”
(2.) We must grow in love. A growing love turns law into music. What is painful to dry reason, the heart makes light.
(3.) We must be obedient. Every act of obedience makes the next act more easy, until at last what was forced and painful becomes instinctive and delightful.
1. In keeping the law of God, we find true delight. “The statutes of the Lord are right.” How fatal such a severe, inexorable, unyielding law to happiness! No; to keep the law of God, which is given in all its fulness in Jesus Christ, is the secret of sublime content. Let believers not rest until they realise this high condition. We praise God because He is good; but not enough because He is righteous. We obey the law because it is safe; but do not sufficiently find liberty and joy in it.
2. There is no real satisfaction except in keeping the statutes of God.
THE PURIFYING POWER OF THE LAW
“The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.” The idea here is that the spotless law imparts to us its Divine quality, and thus fills the soul with vision and joy. Inquire.
I. How the law makes us pure? It does this—
1. By setting before us a pure ideal. It brings all heaven before our eyes, and there is something impulsive in the very spectacle of perfection.
2. By awakening in our soul passionate desires for purity.
3. By strengthening us to reach the highest planes of life. Show,
II. How this purity is the source of spiritual strength, joy, and vision.
1. Strength. “There is an allusion here to the dimness of the eyes produced by extreme weakness and approaching death, recovery from which is figuratively” represented as an enlightening of the eyes.”—Alexander. Sin and corruption mean weakness, but the truth of God in Christ brings to the soul newness of life. Purity is another word for power.
2. Joy. Dimness of eyes means sorrow; enlightening the eyes means the return of gladness. Impurity means disorder and misery; purity means harmony and brightness.
3. Vision. Our bewilderments spring from our passions. Purity is vision. “The pure in heart shall see God.”
THE ABSOLUTE PERFECTION OF THE LAW
I. The incomparable excellence of the law as considered in itself (Psalms 19:9).
1. The purity of the law. “The fear of the Lord is clean.” The commandments which teach the fear of the Lord are without any admixture of error or unrighteousness. “The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”
(1.) The moral law as contained in the Scriptures contains no false principle of conduct or action.
(2.) The moral law as given in the Scriptures is no lower form of morality for an imperfect civilisation, but the absolute law for the highest creatures and the highest worlds.
(3.) The moral law is not merely correct in the main, but all and every of its special requirements are just and righteous.
2. The stability of the law. “Enduring for ever.” It is changeless and everlasting. The moral law continues. The ceremonial law was abrogated—it served its purpose, and ceased to be; civil law is susceptible to continual modifications; natural law will be changed, for the sun and sky and planets shall be dissolved in fire; but moral law abides firm as the throne of God. “Not one jot or tittle of it shall perish.”
II. The incomparable excellence of the law considered in its relation to those who keep it.
1. Intellectually considered it is of supreme excellence. “More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold.” This seems to point to the mental appreciation of the truth. More than gold, than fine gold, than much fine gold. They will do that for us which gold cannot do.
2. Emotionally it is. “Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.” Experimentally it is unutterably grateful, filling the soul with sweetness. Sweeter than honey and the droppings of the comb. More grateful than all the pleasures of sense. “What wonder is it that this converting, instructing, exhilarating, enlightening, eternal, true, and righteous Word should be declared preferable to the riches of eastern kings, and sweeter to the soul of the pious believer than the sweetest thing we know of is to the bodily taste! How ready we are to acknowledge all this! Yet the next hour, perhaps, we part with the true riches to obtain the earthly mammon, and barter away the joys of the spirit for the gratification of sense! Lord, give us affections towards Thy Word in some measure proportionate to its excellence; for we can never love too much what we can never admire enough.”—Horne. Dr. Duncan said a little before his death: “I wish I had a little more personal faith. I think with the Psalmist that these things are more precious than gold, yea, than much fine gold; but I cannot go so well with him in that, ‘they are sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.’ I stick at that; that has often been a plague with me; the precious things were more as casketed jewels than as meat and drink. They delight the intellect; but, oh! I wish I had a loving heart! I go mourning all the day for want of it.”
3. Practically it is (Psalms 19:11). The twofold province of revealed law. It is to preserve. It admonishes, points out peril, and saves. A miner’s safety-lamp was brought out some time ago, which, besides serving the purpose of an ordinary safety-lamp, sounds a note of warning to the workmen the moment the air around becomes so charged with fire-damp as to be dangerous or explosive. Thus the Word, which is a lamp unto our feet, gives a timely note of warning lest we fall into temptation and sin. And in the keeping of it there is great reward. It is true that in the end it will bring us great recompense. “The Hebrew word signifies the last, the end of a thing; and thence it may signify reward, as the consequence or result of an action.”—Phillips. But this is hardly the truth intended here. “In the act of keeping them—not merely as the consequence of doing so.”—Kay. “Not only for keeping, but in keeping of them. As every flower hath its sweet smell, so every good action hath its sweet reflection upon the soul.”—Trapp.
“The work of righteousness is peace:
The great reward’s already given;
And all Thy servants, Lord, confess
Obedient love is present heaven.”
Let us consider what these secret faults are, and our duty in the recollection of them:
I. The sins known to ourselves, but not known to the world. There is a certain portion of our life which is sheltered from the popular gaze. There is a certain privacy left us, so that God may put us to the test as to how far we are good because the world looks at us, and how far we are good because He looks at us. How have we acted here? How acted when free from the criticisms of society? Is it not true that we are often more pure before men than before God? We put the best side of everything to the world: but this is more true of our characters than it is of anything else. How carefully we veil our faults from our neighbour! our schemes of pride! our unspoken anger! our fits of envy! our greed of gold! our stained imaginations! And thus it comes to pass that good men think worse of themselves than society does. When, on a certain festive occasion, Pestalozzi, the German philanthropist, was presented with a wreath, he put it gently away, saying, “Crowns are not for me, but for the innocent.” The best of men have ever had the feeling that if the world knew them better it would praise them less.
II. The sins known to the world, but not to us. We see sins that the world cannot see; they see sins we do not see. How often men are egregiously mistaken concerning themselves and their doings! And this applies, perhaps, more to character than it does to anything else. Individuals move amongst us, in whose countenance, in whose eye, we behold the evidence of a fatal disease, and yet they see it not; and thus we often see in those with whom we have to do evidences of moral disorder and imperfection which they apprehend not, or apprehend very imperfectly. We may be very sure that our friends see similar faults in us. The portrait our friends paint of us is very different from that rose-coloured picture we draw of ourselves.
III. The sins neither known to us, nor to the world, but which are known to God. There are deeps of evil in us with which we have but the slightest acquaintance. As Alexander Smith says, “What strangers we are to ourselves. In every man’s nature there is an interior unexplored as that of Africa, and over that region what wild beasts may roam.” “The perfection and spirituality of God’s law render it almost impossible for a fallen son of Adam ever to know all the innumerable instances of his transgressing it. Add to which, that false principles and inveterate prejudices make us regard many things as innocent, and some things as laudable, which, in the eye of heaven, are far otherwise. Self-examination is a duty which few practise as they ought to do: and he who practises it best will always have reason to conclude his particular confessions with this genial petition, ‘Cleanse Thou me from secret faults.’ ”—Horne. To society we wear a mask, to ourselves a veil, but to God’s eye neither mask nor veil, for our iniquities are set before Him, our secret sins in the light of His countenance. “Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in His sight; but all things are naked and open unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” Learn,
1. To recognise the reality and guilt of our secret sinfulness. These secret sins are real sins. “These faults are of daily and hourly incursion, involuntary and unavoidable infirmities, yet are they sins properly so called; and we must be cleansed from them by the merit and Spirit of Christ.”—Trapp. “No one is to plead as an excuse, or to justify themselves by the secrecy and delicacy of many sins, the unfathomableness of the human heart, the impossibility of a complete knowledge of self and sin.”—Moll. Our secret faults make us weak. They rob our character of beauty, as a flower fades when a worm is at the root. They are likely to become manifest faults. As Bishop Hopkins says: “The least sin, if let alone in the heart, will, like a small speck in fruit, spread to a total rottenness.” Our secret faults will confront us at the bar of God. “He shall bring every thought into judgment, with every secret thing.”
2. To seek forgiveness and cleansing from this secret sinfulness. “Clear thou me from hidden faults.” “The word translated clear is borrowed from the law, and means not so much to cleanse by renovation of the heart, as to acquit by a judicial sentence. (See Exodus 34:7; Numbers 14:18.) Such an acquittal, in the case of sinners against God, involves the idea of a free forgiveness.”—Alexander. Let us seek this forgiveness, but let us seek also the cleansing grace. Psalms 19:14.
“But who can all his errors tell,
Or count the thoughts by which he fell?
Omniscient God, to Thee alone
My sin’s infinity is known!
Do Thou my secret faults efface,
And show forth all Thy cleansing grace.
Law goes further than our power of introspection, and the cleansing power must go deeper than our own insight.
Let us inquire:
I. What these sins are? Deliberate, wilful, and high-handed sins. “Wilful, insolent ones.”—Kay. “Divines have distinguished sin into three kinds; called sins of ignorance, sins of infirmity, and sins of presumption. The will is supposed to concur more or less in all, otherwise they could not be sins; but they have their names from what is most prevailing and predominant in each. If there be more of ignorance than wilfulness in it, it is a sin of ignorance; if there be more of infirmity than wilfulness in it, it is a sin of infirmity; but if there be more of wilfulness than of either, or both the former, it is then a wilful sin; and that is what the text calls presumptuous sin.”—Waterland. These are sins of scarlet dye—sins evidently against reason, conscience, society.
II. Out of what they arise? The order observed by the Psalmist is most instructive—first secret faults, then presumptuous sins. The latter arise out of the former. We ignore our secret sins, and they are uncared for, unrepented of, unstriven against, and they develop into bold and outrageous sin. Let us watch the first strayings of our heart from God and righteousness. Not all at once do men become open and high-handed sinners. We observe:
III. The dark tyranny they exercise. “Let them not have dominion over me.” Dr. Phillips translates this: “From the proud, i.e., from tyrannical or haughty governors. This is much better than to render it by presumptuous sins.” But this translation has not the sanction of the great commentators. Alexander says: “The Hebrew word properly denotes proud men, but seems to be here applied to sins by a strong personification.” “Keep thy servant from presumptuous, or wilful sin; literally, from proud, presumptuous, insolent ones, the tyrants of the soul (Numbers 15:17-4.15.31); let them not have dominion over me.”—Wordsworth. When sin comes to this pass it is hard to be repented of. It is hard to renounce. The soul is at the mercy of sin. Like tyrannical governors oppressing a captured city, so does sin triumph and grind down the soul. It is comparatively easy to shake off faults whilst yet incipient, private, and occasional; but they have become tyrants whose yoke it is well nigh impossible to shake off when they have developed into habitual, open, shameless sins. The sinner, then, is the slave of imperious lusts. Observe:
IV. The absolute sin in which they culminate. “Then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression.” “The great apostasy.” The idea is, that wilful sins extinguish God’s Spirit within us. The unpardonable sin. Secret sins lead to open sin; and open sin indulged in, persevered in, leads to the great transgression—the quenching of the Spirit, and final apostasy from God.
1. Let us beware of secret faults.
2. Let us beware of presumptuous sins. There are no sins so dark and awful but we are capable of them. Let us watch and tremble lest we should fall into those insolent, defiant sins which provoke the mighty and glorious Being who has set His glory above the heavens.
3. Let us live in dependence upon Divine aid. “Keep back thy servant.” Cry mightily to God for preventing grace.
4. Let us seek for entire sanctification of spirit (Psalms 19:14). It were vain, indeed, for a man to seek to purify his own heart, but David sees in God his Strength and Deliverer. Christ delivers from sin; His Spirit purifies the heart; and that Spirit preserves us with garments unspotted from the world.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 19". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent