free while helping to build churches and support pastors in Uganda.
Click here to learn more!
This is an "alphabetic psalm" of a more stringent character than any other. It consists of twenty-two stanzas, each of eight verses, every verse in each stanza beginning with its own proper letter—those of stanza 1 with aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet; those of stanza 2 with both, the second letter; and so on. The writer, having thus fettered himself, moves with some difficulty, but still has produced what has been justly called "a sweetly monotonous meditation" (Cheyne). He takes the Law for his one and only subject, and, further, seems to have bound himself, almost absolutely, to introduce the word "Law," or something which he regards as a synonym of "Law," into every verse. The synonyms are nine in number—
1. TORAH, "the Law" itself; but not merely the Law given on Mount Sinai; rather, God's law in the widest sense, all whereby he has intimated his will to man.
2. 'EDVOTH, or 'EDOTH, "testimonies." God's commands, considered as witnesses to his character, and as attesting his will.
3. MISHPATIM, "judgments." Judicial pronouncements by act or word against particular lines of conduct.
4. KHUQQIM, "statutes"—once translated "ordinances" (Psalms 119:91). Enactments of God as Legislator, but not confined to the written Law.
5. DABAR or DEBARIM, "God's Word" or "Words." His actual spoken or written utterances.
6. PIQQUDIM, "precepts." Instructions given to men to direct their conduct.
7. MITSROTH, "commandments." Only slightly differing from piqqudim—rather wider.
8. IMRAH, properly "promise," but used rather as a variant, instead of dabar, and extending to all God's utterances.
9. DAREK or DEEAKIM, "way" Or "ways." Prescribed lines of conduct (very seldom used).
The synonyms from 1 to 8 occur, each of them twenty times, or oftener, in the psalm. Darek (derakim) occurs only four times. Emunah, which has been called a synonym (Kay), scarcely deserves to be so considered. It is only wanted as a synonym once (Psalms 119:90). The excellence of "the Law" is considered in almost every possible aspect.
Blessed are the undefiled in the way; rather, the perfect, or those that are per feet (Revised Version). The "way" intended is, no doubt, "the way of righteousness" (Psalm 1:7; Psalms 23:3, etc.). Who walk in the Law of the Lord. Compare the introductory paragraph for the meaning of "Law" in this psalm. This clause is exegetical of the preceding.
Blessed are they that keep his testimonies. A variant expression for keeping the Law, rather than the specification of a particular part of it. And that seek him with the whole heart. This is the emphatic portion of the verse. An obedience "from the heart" is alone acceptable to God (see Psalms 36:10; Psalms 64:10; Psalms 119:34, Psalms 119:58, Psalms 119:69, Psalms 119:145).
They also do no iniquity: they walk in his ways. Positive righteousness includes negative. Those who walk always in God's Law (Psalms 119:1) will, a fortiori, keep clear of all iniquity.
Thou hast commanded us to keep thy precepts diligently; rather, thou hast ordained thy precepts for diligent observance, or for men to observe them diligently. Men sometimes give precepts which they do not care to have obeyed; but God's precepts are intended for careful, diligent, and continual observance. The "thou" at the beginning (attah) is emphatic.
Oh that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes! The first four verses of the stanza are concerned with the Law in itself; the last four treat of the writer's relation to it. He begins by expressing the wish that he, at any rate, may always observe it.
Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all thy commandments. In that case I shall not be ashamed, either before God or man. Shame follows transgression: I shall escape shame, if my obedience is perfect.
I will praise thee with uprightness of heart, when I shall have learned thy righteous judgments. But, before the Law can be observed, it must be known and understood. This, then, is the first thing. Then obedience and acceptable praise will follow.
I will keep thy statutes. This is my will and wish (see Psalms 119:5); but, that I may be able to carry it out, O forsake me not utterly. Without thee I have no strength to do aright.
Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? It does not follow from this inquiry that the writer is a "young man"—rather the reverse. He is anxious to give advice to young men, which is naturally the part of one somewhat advanced in life. By taking heed thereto, according to thy Word. This is the answer to the question raised in clause 1. By looking to God's Word, and guiding himself thereby, the young man may "cleanse his way"—not otherwise.
With my whole heart have I sought thee (comp. Psalms 119:2). O let me not wander from thy commandments; i.e. "let me not accidentally and through ignorance stray from the right path."
Thy Word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee; rather, thy promise (imrah). To have God's word of promise laid up in the heart is the only security against being surprised into sin.
Blessed art thou, O Lord: teach me thy statutes. God's statutes are really known to those only whom God teaches. By nature we have but a faint glimmer of their meaning. God must teach us by his Spirit ere we can apprehend them aright.
With my lips have I declared all the judgments of thy mouth. "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh." The "word" hid in the psalmist's heart (Psalms 119:11) could not but rise to his lips on fit occasion, and be set forth before the people for their edification—more especially as there was an express command binding upon all Israelites to teach the Law to their children and dependants (see particularly Deuteronomy 6:7).
I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies, as much as in all riches (comp. Psalms 119:72). God's Word is a treasure, beyond expression precious, calculated to rejoice the heart of all such as possess it.
I will meditate in thy precepts. The full force of the Divine precepts is not to be grasped except by prolonged meditation on them. God's commandments are "exceeding broad" (Psalms 119:96). And have respect unto thy ways; or, "consider them," "reflect upon them."
I will delight myself in thy statutes (comp. Psalms 119:24, Psalms 119:40, Psalms 119:47, Psalms 119:70, Psalms 119:77, etc.; and see also Psalms 1:2). I will not forget thy Word. That which is "laid up in the heart" (Psalms 119:11) can never be forgotten.
Deal bountifully with thy servant, that I may live, and keep thy Word; rather, grant unto thy servant that I may live. Give me the blessing of a long life, that so my keeping of thy Word may be long. The psalmist seems to be praying especially for himself; but the argument of his prayer will extend to all "servants of the Lord."
Open thou mine eyes. Since the Fall, men's eyes are naturally blinded, or, at any rate, have a veil over them, which God must remove before they can see clearly (compare the comment on Psalms 119:15). That I may behold wondrous things out of thy Law. Wonderful spiritual truths that lie hidden, even under the very simplest precepts of God's Law (comp. Matthew 5:21-37).
I am a stranger in the earth; or, "a sojourner" (Cheyne, Kay, Revised Version); comp. Psalms 39:12; Hebrews 11:13-16. Earth is not our true home. We all "seek a country." Hide not thy commandments from me. God "hides" things from the wise and prudent which he reveals to "babes." The psalmist prays that the true meaning of God's Word may not be kept back from him.
My soul breaketh for the longing that it hath unto thy judgments at all times. This is given as a reason for the prayer of Psalms 119:19.
Thou hast rebuked the proud. It is difficult to connect this with the preceding. But perhaps the link may be found in the double sense of mishpatim, "judgments," which includes verbal sentences against sinners delivered in the Law, and also actual sentences upon them in deed and fact. These last are in the writer's mind in the present verse—such judgments as those upon Pharaoh (Exodus 14:23-31), Zerah (2 Chronicles 14:9-15), and Sennacherib (2 Kings 19:32-37). That are cursed. This clause is questioned, as metrically redundant. But Hebrew metrology is scarcely as yet an exact science. And the clause finds its justification in Deuteronomy 27:26. Which do err from thy commandments. Such error brings under a curse those who commit it. If it be a blessed thing to walk in God's Law (Deuteronomy 27:1), it must be a cursed thing to transgress against it.
Remove from me reproach and contempt. God's servants almost necessarily incur the reproach and contempt of the worldly, to whom their conduct seems folly or madness. Christ himself was "despised;" (Isaiah 53:3) and reproached (Matthew 11:19). For I have kept thy testimonies (comp. Psalms 119:31, Psalms 119:51, Psalms 119:87, etc.).
Princes also did sit and speak against me. The great of the earth too often take part against the righteous, and join in persecuting them and calumniating them (comp. Psalms 119:161). But thy servant did meditate in thy statutes; i.e. I took no heed of their calumnies—they did not trouble me. I gave myself to meditation on thy commandments.
Thy testimonies also are my delight (comp. Psalms 119:16, Psalms 119:47, Psalms 119:70, Psalms 119:77, etc.,) and my counselors: i.e. my best advisers. I learn from them—better than in any other way—how I ought to act (comp. Psalms 119:105).
My soul cleaveth unto the dust. My soul is greatly depressed—lies, as it were, in the dust of death (comp. Psalms 44:25). Quicken thou me according to thy Word. Raise me up to life and health and vigor.
I have declared thy ways, and thou heardest me; i.e. "I have opened my griefs to thee, O God, and poured forth my heart before thee. I am confident that thou didst listen to me." Teach me thy statutes. That I may show my gratitude by keeping them (comp. Psalms 119:33).
Make me to understand the way of thy precepts. Exegetical of the last clause of Psalms 119:26. What the psalmist longs for is to have a perfect knowledge of God's Law in all its breadth (Psalms 119:96) and depth (Psalms 92:5) and fullness. So shall I talk of thy wondrous works; rather, so will I muse upon thy marvels (so Kay, Cheyne, and the Revised Version). The "marvels" spoken of are "the wondrous things of God's Law" (Psalms 119:18).
My soul melteth for heaviness (comp. Psalm evil. 26; and, for the sentiment, see Psalms 119:25). Strengthen thou me according unto thy Word; i.e. according to thy promise to help thy faithful ones (comp. Psalms 119:25, Psalms 119:41, Psalms 119:49, Psalms 119:58, Psalms 119:76, etc.).
Remove from me the way of lying; i.e. the way of apostasy, or irreligion, of departure from God. And grant me thy Law graciously. Make it known to me by a Divine illumination.
I have chosen the way of truth. The converse of "the way of lying" (Psalms 119:29), the path of true religion, of faithfulness and steadfastness to God. Thy judgments have I laid before me. Thy commandments have I set before my eyes as rules to be observed constantly.
I have stuck unto thy testimonies; or, "cleaved" (Psalms 119:25); i.e. kept firm and steadfast to them. The writer does not mean to assert sinlessness, but only sincerity of intention, and a general endeavor to do right. O Lord, put me not to shame. Suffer me not to fall from thee in such sort that I am put to an open shame.
I will run the way of thy commandments, when thou shalt enlarge my heart. The phrase used in the second clause is ambiguous. It may mean, "For thou hast enlarged my heart."
Teach me, O Lord, the way of thy statutes. This is the main prayer of the psalm—a prayer for spiritual enlightenment. It occurs eight times (Psalms 119:12, Psalms 119:26, Psalms 119:33, Psalms 119:64, Psalms 119:68, Psalms 119:108, Psalms 119:124, and Psalms 119:135). And I shall keep it unto the end. Either "to the end of my life," or (as Dr. Kay thinks) "to the uttermost."
Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy Law; i.e. make me fully to understand thy Law, and then I shall assuredly keep it. If I fail now, it is from lack of wisdom, not of will. Yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart (comp. Psalms 119:69).
Make me to go in the path of thy commandments. Keep me, i.e; from straying out of the right path, through ignorance or negligence. For therein do I delight (comp. Psalms 119:16, Psalms 119:24, Psalms 119:47, Psalms 119:70, Psalms 119:77, Psalms 119:111, Psalms 119:174).
Incline my heart unto thy testimonies. The writer recognizes that the right inclination of the heart, which he claims to have (Psalms 119:7, Psalms 119:10, Psalms 119:32, Psalms 119:34, etc.), is itself the gift of God. And not to covetousness; or, "to gain" (comp. Psalms 119:72).
Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity. Let me not be distracted from thy service by the "vanities" of the world—wealth, honor, power, glory, and the like; rather, quicken thou me in thy way. Give me increased life, strength, and vigor, to walk continually in the way of thy commandments.
Stablish thy Word unto thy servant; or, "make good thy promise unto thy servant"—thy promise of aid and support in all times of temptation and difficulty. Who is devoted to thy fear; rather, which belongeth unto thy fear. The antecedent to the relative is "word" or "promise," and not "servant;" and the prayer is that God will make good to his servant that promise, which lies at the root of all reverence and godly fear.
Turn away my reproach, which I fear; i.e. "turn away from me the only reproach of which I am afraid—the reproach of transgressing against thy Law" (comp. Psalms 119:31). For thy judgments are good. Right in themselves, and conducive to man's happiness.
Behold, I have longed after thy precepts (comp. Psalms 119:20 and Psalms 119:131). There are those—few, it may be, but truly blessed—who "hunger and thirst after righteousness" (Matthew 5:6). Quicken me in thy righteousness (comp. Psalms 119:37). Help my efforts to walk in thy righteous ways.
Let thy mercies come also unto me, O Lord; rather, and let thy mercies come unto me. Each verse of this stanza begins with the vav conjunctive. Even thy salvation, according to thy Word; or, "thy promise" (imrah). God's Word was pledged, that he would grant mercy and salvation to all his faithful servants (Deuteronomy 28:1-13).
So shall I have wherewith to answer him that reproacheth me (comp. Psalms 119:22). If God's favor were manifestly shown him, his enemies would be sufficiently answered. For I trust in thy Word. This is what he looks for, since he has a full trust in God's promises to his servants.
And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth. "The word of truth" here is the "well-grounded answer" that the psalmist looks to make to those who reproach him (Hengstenberg). (See the preceding verse.) If God does not grant him "mercy and salvation" (Psalms 119:41), this answer will be "taken out of his mouth." For I have hoped in thy judgments. I have trusted in thy vindication of my character, and in thy judgments upon my foes.
So shall I keep thy Law continually forever and ever. God's mercy will draw forth the psalmist's gratitude, and make his obedience perfect and perpetual.
And I will walk at liberty. Rekhabah is literally "the open square of a city," hence "a wide, open, free space." In obeying God's commandments the psalmist will not feel himself under constraint, but a wholly free agent. For I seek thy precepts. Inclination, not constraint, makes him obey God's precepts—he "seeks" them, "loves" them (Psalms 119:47), "delights in" them (Psalms 119:16, Psalms 119:24, Psalms 119:47).
I will speak of thy testimonies also before kings. If occasion offer, I will bear my witness to the excellence of thy Law, even before kings. And will not be ashamed; i.e. will not allow shame to stop my mouth. The writer is evidently not a king himself, probably not among the great ones of the earth (see Psalms 119:51, Psalms 119:69, Psalms 119:78, Psalms 119:85, etc.).
And I will delight myself in thy commandments (comp. Psalms 119:14, Psalms 119:16, Psalms 119:24, Psalms 119:35, Psalms 119:77, etc.). Which I have loved (see below, Psalms 119:48, Psalms 119:97, Psalms 119:113, Psalms 119:119, Psalms 119:127, Psalms 119:159, Psalms 119:163, Psalms 119:167).
My hands also will I lift up unto thy commandments, which I have loved. In a sort of qualified worship (comp. Genesis 14:22; Psalms 28:2; Psalms 134:2; Psalms 141:2; Lamentations 3:41). And I will meditate in thy statutes. Almost a repetition of Psalms 119:15.
Remember the word unto thy servant; i.e. "the word spoken to thy servant." Some special Divine communication made to the writer is perhaps meant. Upon which (rather, because) thou hast caused me to hope (comp. Psalms 119:74, Psalms 119:81, Psalms 119:147).
This is my comfort in my affliction. Nekhamah, "comfort," occurs only here and in Job 6:10; but the meaning is well ascertained. For thy Word hath quickened me; or, "thy promise." The "word," whatever it was, referred to in verse 49. This had given the psalmist new life.
The proud have had me greatly in derision; rather, proud men. There is no article. (For the "derision" to which the righteous are always exposed, see Job 30:1, Job 30:9; Psalms 35:16; Psalms 44:13, Psalms 44:14; Lamentations 3:14; Jeremiah 20:7, etc.) Yet have I not declined (or, swerved) from thy Law (see the comment on Psalms 119:31).
I remembered thy judgments of old, O Lord. Not merely thy sentences upon wicked men, but all the course of thy providential government of the world, including thy deliverances of thy servants. And have comforted myself. Have found comfort, i.e; in calling them to mind, and dwelling upon them.
Horror hath taken hold upon me because of the wicked that forsake thy Law. The Revised Version has "hot indignation" instead of "horror;" and so Rosenmüller, Hengstenberg, Cheyne, Professor Alexander, and others; but Dr. Kay well defends the Authorized Version. The feeling intended probably resembled that described by Ezra (Ezra 9:6). The ἀθυμία of the LXX. does not ill express it.
Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage; literally, songs have thy statutes been to me in the house of my sojournings. I have made thy statutes the theme of my songs, as they are of this present one. "The house of my sojournings" is either this present world, where all men are "strangers and pilgrims" (Hebrews 11:13), or perhaps some foreign land in which the writer had been a sojourner.
I have remembered thy Name, O Lord, in the night (comp. Psalms 63:6; Psalms 149:5; and Job 35:10). And have kept thy Law. The night is the time when wicked men do their most wicked deeds (Job 24:14-16). I keep thy Law both night and day.
This I had, because I kept thy precepts; rather, this I have, that I keep thy precepts; i.e. this one thing I have, and it is my best and dearest possession, that I keep thy commandments.
Thou art my Portion, O Lord (see Psalms 73:26; Psalms 142:5; and comp. Numbers 18:20; Joshua 13:33). I have said that I would keep thy words; or, "I have resolved" (Cheyne).
I entreated thy favor with my whole heart; literally, I have supplicated thy face (comp. Psalms 45:12). Be merciful unto me, according to thy Word. A repetition of the prayer of Psalms 119:41.
I thought on my ways; i.e. I examined my conduct in the past, considered it, and passed judgment upon it. And turned my feet unto thy testimonies. When I found my conduct amiss, I altered it, turning my feet into the way of thy commandments.
I made haste. Men are apt to put off their repentance—to delay it to a more "convenient season" (Acts 24:25). The psalmist was not so foolish—he "made haste," he says; and delayed not to keep God's commandments. This was wise, for "now is the accepted time" (2 Corinthians 6:2).
The bands of the wicked have robbed me; rather, the snares of wicked men entangled me (comp. Psalms 119:23, Psalms 119:157, Psalms 119:161). But I have not forgotten (or, I did not forget) thy Law.
At midnight I will rise to give thanks unto thee (comp. Psalms 119:55). Because of thy righteous judgments (see the comment on Psalms 119:7).
I am a companion of all them that fear thee; i.e. I do not consort with the ungodly or the careless, but only with those who love and reverence thee. It is well to live "separate from sinners" (comp. Psalms 1:1). And of them that keep thy precepts. Obedience necessarily follows on reverence and godly fear.
The earth, O Lord, is full of thy mercy (comp. Psalms 33:5). God's mercy is "over all his works" (Psalms 145:9). The whole world is full of it. Pessimistic views are opposed to the entire tenor of Scripture. Teach me thy statutes (comp. Psalms 119:12, Psalms 119:26, Psalms 119:33, Psalms 119:68, Psalms 119:108, Psalms 119:124, Psalms 119:135).
Thou hast dealt well with thy servant, O Lord. Notwithstanding all that he has suffered from the "persecution" of princes (Psalms 119:161) and the "contempt" (Psalms 119:22) and "derision" of the wicked generally (Psalms 119:51), the psalmist feels that God's dealings with him have, on the whole, been good and gracious. According unto thy Word. As thou hast promised in thy Word to deal with thy servants (comp. Psalms 119:41, Psalms 119:58, Psalms 119:170).
Teach me good judgment and knowledge; i.e. give me sound judgment and wisdom, to discern right from wrong. For I have believed thy commandments. I have looked to them, and trusted in them as my guides in the way of righteousness (comp. Psalms 119:105).
Before I was afflicted I went astray. "Sweet are the uses of adversity." The psalmist feels end confesses that the afflictions, which he has suffered (see comment on Psalms 119:65), have been good for him. They have made him less apt to "go astray" than he was (comp. Psalms 119:71). But now have I kept thy Word (comp. Psalms 119:51, Psalms 119:56, Psalms 119:87, etc.).
Thou art good, and doest good. Even chastening is a proof of thy goodness. By it thou "doest good" to thy servants (see Hebrews 12:10,Hebrews 12:11). Teach me thy statutes. Impress thy Law upon me, even though it be by chastening.
The proud have forged a lie against me; literally, patched up a lie against me (comp. Psalms 119:22, Psalms 119:23, Psalms 119:42, Psalms 119:78, etc.). But I will keep thy precepts with my whole heart (comp. Psalms 119:2, Psalms 119:10, Psalms 119:34, etc.). "The connection of the clauses is—that all the craft and malice of his enemies should only lead him to obey God with a more undivided heart than ever" (Professor Alexander).
Their heart is as fat as grease; i.e. dull, gross, insensible to spiritual things (see Psalms 17:10; Isaiah 6:10). But I delight in thy Law. My heart is unlike theirs. Thy Law is a "delight" to it (comp. yore. 16, 24, 35, etc.).
It is good for me that I have been afflicted (see the comment on Psalms 119:67). That I might learn thy statutes. The whole nation "learnt God's statutes" by the affliction of the Babylonish Captivity. Individuals "learnt" them equally by their special chastisements.
The Law of thy mouth is better unto me than thousands of gold and silver; i.e. I value it more than any amount of earthly riches.
Thy hands have made me and fashioned me (comp. Psalms 100:3; Psalms 138:8; Psalms 139:14). The "fundamental passage" is Deuteronomy 32:6; but the present psalmist seems to follow Job 10:8. Give me understanding, that I may learn thy commandments. If thou hast done so much for me, wilt thou not do more? Without "understanding" this body that thou hast given me is nothing worth (comp. verse 34).
They that fear thee will be glad when they see me; literally, will see me and be glad. I shall be a fresh proof to them that God does not forsake his servants. Because I have hoped in thy Word. I have not fallen from grace—I have continued to trust in thy promises.
I know, O Lord, that thy judgments are right; literally, are righteousness—have in them nothing that is not just and good. And that in faithfulness thou hast afflicted me. The Prayer-book Version brings out the full sense of the words, "And that thou in very faithfulness hast caused me to be troubled" (comp. Psalms 119:67, Psalms 119:68, Psalms 119:71, with the comment furnished by Hebrews 12:5-11).
Let, I pray thee, thy merciful kindness be for my comfort (comp. Psalms 119:41 and Psalms 90:15). After affliction man feels the need of "comfort," and longs for some manifestation of the Divine "kindness." According to thy Word unto thy servant. According to the general tenor of thy promises.
Let thy tender mercies come unto me, that I may live. The psalmist's afflictions have brought him near to the gates of death. God must visit him with his "tender mercies" for him once more to "live." For thy Law is my delight. His renewed life will be an exercising of himself in God's Law, since that Law is his "delight" (comp. Psalms 119:16, Psalms 119:24, Psalms 119:47, Psalms 119:111, Psalms 119:174).
Let the proud be ashamed; i.e. put them to shame (comp. Psalms 35:4, Psalms 35:26; Psalms 40:14; Psalms 70:2; Psalms 83:17, etc.). For they dealt perversely with me without a cause; rather, for with lies they subvert me (comp. Psalms 119:69). But I will meditate in thy precepts. Repeated from Psalms 119:15.
Let those that fear thee turn unto me; or, "return to me;" i.e. recover their confidence in me, when they see that I am not forsaken of thee (see Psalms 119:76, Psalms 119:77), but am the recipient of thy "tender mercies." And those that have known thy testimonies; or, according to another reading, "and let them know thy testimonies;" i.e. "let them learn from my experience to know thy precepts better."
Let my heart be sound in thy statutes; or, "perfect in thy statutes"—in the knowledge and in the practice of them. That I be not ashamed (see Psalms 119:31)
My soul fainteth for thy salvation (comp. Psalms 84:2). The phrase used expresses the most intense desire possible. But I hope in thy Word. (So also Psalms 119:74.) While almost fainting, the psalmist is sustained by his hope and trust in God's promises.
Mine eyes fail for thy Word. Yet even here his "eyes fail"—he has looked so long for the aid promised, and it has not come. Saying, When wilt thou comfort me? "Lord, how long?" is the constant cry of God's servants under affliction or persecution. When will relief come and the tyranny be overpast?
For I am become like a bottle in the smoke. Keble's paraphrase brings out the true sense—
"As wine-skin in the smoke,
My heart is sere and dried."
Wine-skins were smoked to toughen and harden them. Yet do I not forget thy statutes. The severity of the discipline does not alienate me from thee, or cause me to depart from thy Law (comp. Psalms 119:23, Psalms 119:51, Psalms 119:161).
How many are the days of thy servant? i.e. How little of my life is left! If thou delayest much longer, my days will all be gone. When writ thou execute judgment on them that persecute me? (see the comment on Psalms 119:82).
The proud have digged pits for me; i.e. "have set traps to catch me" (comp. Psalms 7:15; Psalms 9:15). Which are not after thy Law. God's Law is opposed to all underhand and treacherous dealing—therefore to all traps and snares.
All thy commandments are faithful; literally, are faithfulness. This is said in respect of the promises attached to them. They (i.e. my enemies) persecute me wrongfully; or, "with lies"—lyingly (comp. Psalms 119:69, Psalms 119:78). Help thou me; i.e. help me against them, so that their "lies" may do me no harm.
They had almost consumed me upon earth; or, "made an end of me," "destroyed me." But I forsook not thy precepts (comp. Psalms 119:69, Psalms 119:78, Psalms 119:83). Persecution made the psalmist cling the more to God's Law.
Quicken me after thy loving-kindness (comp. Psalms 119:25, Psalms 119:37, Psalms 119:44, Psalms 119:107, Psalms 119:149, Psalms 119:156, Psalms 119:159). So shall I keep the testimony of thy mouth (compare "the law of thy mouth," in Psalms 119:72). It is God's "quickening"—i.e. his life-giving grace—which alone enables his servants to observe and keep his commandments.
Forever, O Lord, thy Word is settled in heaven. God's Word, or Law, is eternal and unchanging—fixed and established forever in the heaven of heavens (comp. Psalms 89:2; James 1:17).
Thy faithfulness is unto all generations. God "keepeth his promise forever" (Psalms 146:6, Prayer-book Version). If his "Word" generally is unchanging, so especially must be his promises. Thou hast established the earth, and it abideth. Even God's physical laws have a character of perpetuity about them. "The constancy of God in his works is an argument for the faithfulness of God in his Word" (Chalmers).
They continue this day according to thine ordinances. Heaven and earth continue to observe the ordinances given them by God at the first (comp. Jeremiah 31:35, Jeremiah 31:36; Jeremiah 33:25). For all are thy servants; rather, all things, or all creatures.
Unless thy Law had been my delights, I should then have perished in mine affliction (comp. Psalms 119:16, Psalms 119:24, Psalms 119:35, Psalms 119:47, Psalms 119:70, Psalms 119:77). Only a real love of God's commandments can sustain men under severe affliction.
I will never forget thy precepts (comp. Psalms 119:16, Psalms 119:61, Psalms 119:83). For with them thou hast quickened me (comp. Psalms 119:50, "Thy Word hath quickened me").
I am thine, save me. "Save me," i.e. as being thine own—thy true servant and follower. For I have sought thy precepts. And thus shown my fidelity.
The wicked have waited for me to destroy me; or, "laid in wait for me" (comp. Psalms 56:6, where the same verb is used). But I will consider thy testimonies I will look to thy word of promise, and so sustain their assaults upon me.
I have seen an end of all perfection; i.e. to all other perfection I have seen, and see, a limit; but there is no limit to the perfection of thy Law. Thy commandment is exceeding broad. Unlimited—measureless in its range. It inculcates on man an absolute perfection.
O how love I Thy law! (comp. Psalms 119:47, Psalms 119:48, Psalms 119:113, Psalms 119:119, Psalms 119:127, etc.). As the psalmist goes on with his meditation he becomes more and more rated with a deep love of the Law of God, which is not to him a restraint or a burden, but a solace and a "delight." It is my meditation all the day (see Psalms 119:15, Psalms 119:23, Psalms 119:48, Psalms 119:78, etc.).
Thou through thy command-meets but made me wiser than mine enemies (comp. Deuteronomy 4:6, Deuteronomy 4:8). The knowledge of God's Law gives a wisdom and an understanding infinitely above the cunning and craft of worldly men. If to the knowledge is added a faithful and habitual obedience, a wisdom is attained which can be reached in no other way (see Psalms 119:100). For they are ever with me. Always present to my thoughts, as my rule of life.
I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation. Teachers of secular knowledge are intended, wise in their special branches of learning, but not "wise unto salvation." Such "teachers" have often no spiritual knowledge or discernment.
I understand more than the ancients; or, "the aged." Advanced age does not necessarily give wisdom (see Job 32:7-9). "Antiquity is no help against stupidity" (Luther). Because I keep thy precepts.
I have refrained my feet from every evil way. This had been the psalmist's intention and endeavor, but he had not always succeeded in carrying it out (see Psalms 119:67, Psalms 119:176). That I might keep thy Word. God's Word is not kept by such as allow themselves in any evil way.
I have not departed from thy judgments (comp. Psalms 119:30, Psalms 119:31, Psalms 119:51, Psalms 119:157, Psalms 119:168, etc.). For thou hast taught me. Thy teaching, thy guidance, thy help, have kept me straight.
How sweet are thy words unto my taste! (comp. Psalms 119:14, Psalms 119:16, Psalms 119:40, Psalms 119:47, etc.). The metaphor is new, but the sentiment one which pervades the psalm. Yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth. So David, in the nineteenth psalm, speaking of the judgments of God, says that they are "sweeter than honey and the honeycomb."
Through thy precepts I get understanding (see the comment on Psalms 119:98 and Psalms 119:100). Therefore I hate every false way. A "false way" is one that leads to error and sin (comp. Psalms 119:29 and Psalms 119:128).
Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. It shows me the way wherein I should go, both night and day (comp. Proverbs 6:23).
I have sworn, and I will perform it; rather, I have sworn and am steadfastly purposed (see the Prayer-book Version). That I will keep thy righteous judgments; literally, the judgments of thy righteousness; i.e. the judgments which thy righteousness has caused thee to put forth.
I am afflicted very much (comp. Psalms 119:23, Psalms 119:28, Psalms 119:50, Psalms 119:51, Psalms 119:61, Psalms 119:71, Psalms 119:78, etc.). Spoken against by princes, reproached by the proud, persecuted without a cause, the psalmist felt his "affliction" to be grievous, almost intolerable. Being brought near to death, he prays for a "little reviving." Quicken me, O Lord, according unto thy Word (comp. Psalms 119:25, Psalms 119:37, Psalms 119:40, Psalms 119:88, etc.).
Accept, I beseech thee, the freewill offerings of my mouth, O Lord; i.e. my prayers and praises. The lifting up of the hands to God is a kind of sacrifice (Psalms 141:2). And teach me thy judgments. And, in return, make me to understand thy statutes (comp. Psalms 119:12, Psalms 119:26, Psalms 119:33, etc.).
My soul is continually in my hand; i.e. my life is in constant jeopardy (comp. Judges 12:3; 1 Samuel 19:5; 1 Samuel 28:21). Yet do I not forget thy Law (comp. Psalms 119:16, Psalms 119:83, Psalms 119:93, etc.).
The wicked have laid a snare for me (comp. Psalms 119:85, Psalms 119:95). Yet I erred not from thy precepts. I have not allowed their machinations to interfere with my obedience.
Thy testimonies have I taken as an heritage forever. I regard thy Law as my best and most valuable inheritance—one with which I am resolved never to part. For they are the rejoicing of my heart. My chief joy and delight (comp. Psalms 119:16, Psalms 119:24, Psalms 119:35, Psalms 119:47, etc.).
I have inclined mine heart to perform thy statutes always (comp. Psalms 119:34, Psalms 119:44, etc.). Even unto the end. The end of life is probably meant, as in Psalms 119:33.
I hate vain thoughts; rather, unstable or double-minded men (Kay, Cheyne, Revised Version); i.e. "those who are undecided in religion" (Cheyne). But thy Law do I love (comp. Psalms 119:97, Psalms 119:119, Psalms 119:127, Psalms 119:159, Psalms 119:163). There is nothing "unstable" or "double-minded" in thy Law. It is clear direct, unmistakable.
Thou art my Hiding-place (comp. Psalms 27:5; Psalms 32:7; Psalms 91:1). And my Shield; i.e. my protection (see Psalms 3:3; Psalms 18:2, Psalms 18:30, etc.). I hope in thy Word. The promises contained in thy Word are my only sure hope (see Psalms 119:43).
Depart from me, ye evildoers. There is no fellowship between light and darkness, between righteousness and unrighteousness (2 Corinthians 10:16). Good men must separate themselves from those who are manifestly workers of iniquity (comp. Psalms 6:8). For I will keep the commandments of my God (see Psalms 119:106). Association with the wicked hinders men from keeping God's Law. Not only is there the danger of corruption (1 Corinthians 15:3;); but, at the best, attention is distracted, and energies weakened.
Uphold me according unto thy Word, that I may live; or, "according to thy promise." God's sustaining grace, always needed to "uphold" the righteous, is graciously "promised" them. Their "life" depends upon God's faithfulness to his promise. And let me not be ashamed of my hope. As he would be, if God's promise were not kept.
Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe; i.e. from falling away. And I will have respect unto thy commandments continually (comp. Psalms 119:112).
Thou hast trodden down all them that err from thy statutes; rather, thou despisest all them that go astray from thy statutes. Thou makest light of them. The LXX. have, ἐξουδένωσαςFor their deceit is falsehood. "Their subtle policy is but a lie" (Kay). It rests on lies, and ends in disappointment.
Thou puttest away all the wicked of the earth like dross. The wicked are ultimately separated from the righteous, and cast away "as dross," since they can serve no good end (comp. Matthew 13:30, Matthew 13:49, Matthew 13:50). Therefore I love thy testimonies. Not because the wicked suffer, but because they are prevented from injuring the righteous.
My flesh trembleth for fear of thee (comp. Isaiah 6:5; Jeremiah 23:9; Habakkuk 3:16), And I am afraid of thy judgments. Thy "judgments" upon the wicked cause me to shudder with fear.
I have done judgment and justice (comp. Psalms 119:30, Psalms 119:31, Psalms 119:55, Psalms 119:56, etc). Leave me not to mine oppressors; rather, thou wilt not leave me to mine oppressors. The nexus of the thought seems to be, "As I have not oppressed any, so wilt thou not suffer me to be crushed by oppression."
Be surety for thy servant for good (comp. Job 17:3; Isaiah 38:14). "For good" means "so that it may be well with him." Let not the proud oppress me (comp. Psalms 119:51, Psalms 119:69, Psalms 119:78, Psalms 119:85, etc.).
Mine eyes fail for thy salvation; i.e. through looking for it, and vainly expecting it (comp. Psalms 119:81, Psalms 119:82). And for the word of thy righteousness; i.e. and through looking for the fulfillment of thy righteous promises.
Deal with thy servant according unto thy mercy (comp. Psalms 119:41, Psalms 119:77). And teach me thy statutes. This phrase occurs so often that it becomes a sort of refrain (comp. Psalms 119:11, Psalms 119:26, Psalms 119:33, Psalms 119:64, Psalms 119:68, Psalms 119:108, Psalms 119:135).
I am thy servant; give me understanding, that I may know thy testimonies. As thy servant (see Psalms 119:17, Psalms 119:23, Psalms 119:38, Psalms 119:49, Psalms 119:65, etc.), I have a claim upon thee for thy help. What I ask is discernment—to understand the full meaning of thy Law
Therefore I esteem all thy precepts concerning all things to be right. I do not pick and choose among thy commandments which I will neglect and which I will obey, but esteem them all as perfect, and obey them all. "Eclecticism of every kind in reference to the Word of God is rejected" (Hengstenberg). And I hate every false way (comp. Psalms 119:104, Psalms 119:163). All ways are "false" except the way of God's commandments
Thy testimonies are wonderful; literally, wonders; i.e. prodigies of moral excellence. Therefore doth my soul keep them. I obey thy Law, not only because it is thy Law, but still more because it is intrinsically "holy, just, and good" (Romans 7:12).
The entrance of thy words giveth light; rather, the opening (or opening up) of thy words. Their full exposition and interpretation (comp. Psalms 119:98-100, Psalms 119:104, Psalms 119:105, etc.). It giveth understanding to the simple (comp. Psalms 19:7; Proverbs 1:4).
I opened my mouth, and panted (comp. Psalms 38:10). The idea intended to be expressed is that of earnest and eager desire. For I longed for thy commandments (see Psalms 119:20, Psalms 119:40).
Look thou upon me; rather, turn thee unto me, but in the sense of "turn round and look upon me." And be merciful unto me (comp. Psalms 119:41, Psalms 119:58, Psalms 119:76, Psalms 119:77, etc.). As thou usest to do unto those that love thy Name; literally, as thy rule is with those that love thy Name.
Order my steps in thy Word; perhaps rather, establish my steps by thy Word (comp. Psalms 40:2). And let not any iniquity (i.e. any wicked persons) have dominion over me. The prayer is not for deliverance from internal corruption, but from the external oppression of enemies (see the next verse).
Deliver me from the oppression of man: so will I keep thy precepts. Out of gratitude for thy interposition.
Make thy face to shine upon thy servant (comp. Psalms 4:6; Psalms 44:3, etc.). And teach me thy statutes (see the comment on Psalms 119:124).
Rivers of water s run down mine eyes; literally, mine eyes run down [with] rivers of water (comp. Lamentations 3:48; and see also Jeremiah 9:1; Jeremiah 14:17). Because they keep not thy Law (comp. Psalms 119:53).
Righteous art thou, O Lord (comp. Psalms 7:9; Psalms 11:7; Psalms 25:8; Psalms 116:5; Psalms 145:17). And upright are thy judgments (see Psalms 119:106, Psalms 119:160, Psalms 119:164).
Thy testimonies that thou hast commanded are righteous and very faithful; literally, righteousness and very faithfulness (see the Revised Version). "Harsh and severe as thy testimonies may seem, they are all thoroughly for man's highest good" (Kay).
My zeal hath consumed me (comp. Psalms 69:9). Because mine enemies have forgotten thy words (see above, Psalms 119:53, Psalms 119:136). The psalmist was at once grieved and angered by man's disobedience to God's commandments (comp. Psalms 139:21).
Thy Word is very pure; or, "is purged, assayed, tried in the fire." God's "promises" are especially meant, which the course of events tests. Therefore thy servant loveth it (comp. Psalms 119:97, Psalms 119:113, Psalms 119:119, Psalms 119:127, Psalms 119:159, Psalms 119:163).
I am small and despised (comp. Psalms 119:22, Psalms 119:51). Some translate, "I am young." But the writer can scarcely have been really a young man. His thoughts are the thoughts of one who has had much experience of life. Yet do not I forget thy precepts. As do those that persecute me (see Psalms 119:139).
Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness. With God there is "no variableness, neither shadow of turning" (James 1:27). His righteousness (צדקה) is pure abstract right (צדק), one and the same always—not shifting, like human ideas of justice. And thy Law is the truth. An embodiment of that immutable morality which rests upon a basis of absolute eternal truth.
Trouble and anguish have taken hold on me (comp. Psalms 119:22, Psalms 119:23, Psalms 119:28, Psalms 119:50, Psalms 119:51, Psalms 119:61, Psalms 119:67, Psalms 119:69, etc.). Yet thy commandments are my delight. I am happy in the midst of my troubles, for the joy that I have in thy Word (see Psalms 119:16, Psalms 119:35, Psalms 119:47, Psalms 119:77, Psalms 119:174).
The righteousness of thy testimonies is everlasting (comp. Psalms 119:138, Psalms 119:142, Psalms 119:152). Give me understanding, and I shall live; i.e. "give me full understanding of thy commandments, of their depth and breadth and exceeding excellence." Then shall I truly "live." My spirit will shake off its torpor, and be quickened into a "life" that will deserve the name.
I cried with my whole heart; hear me, O Lord. "Earnest and patient prayer for grace" (Kay) seems to be intended, not mere prayer for deliverance. I will keep thy statutes. If thou hearest and answerest my prayer, I shall have both the will and the power to keep thy commandments.
I cried unto thee; save me, and I shall keep thy testimonies. The thought of Psalms 119:145 is repeated in other words.
I prevented the dawning of the morning, and cried (comp. Psalms 119:62). Evening, morning, and noonday were the three usual times of prayer (Psalms 55:17). The writer could not wait for morning. Either he woke up to pray at midnight, or at any rate he anticipated the dawn, and began his morning prayer while it was still dark. I hoped in thy Word. Hope was so strong in him that it did not suffer him to rest.
Mine eyes prevent the night watches. As Psalms 119:146 is a repetition of Psalms 119:145, so this verse is very nearly a repetition of Psalms 119:147. The only change of idea is in the second clause—that I might meditate in thy Word; or, "on thy promise"—which makes meditation rather than prayer the psalmist's object in his early rising.
Hear my voice according unto thy loving-kindness; i.e. "hear me, and, according to thy mercy, grant my prayer." O Lord, quicken me according to thy judgment; or, "according to the rules that thou settest thyself" (comp. Psalms 119:132).
They draw nigh; i.e. come near me to threaten me. That follow after mischief; or, "after wickedness." They are far from thy Law (comp. Psalms 119:21, Psalms 119:53, Psalms 119:118, Psalms 119:126, Psalms 119:136, etc.).
Thou art near, O Lord. If "they draw nigh," still more near art thou, ready to succor and defend and save (comp. Psalms 145:18). And all thy commandments are truth (comp. Psalms 119:142, "Thy Law is the truth;" and see the comment on that passage).
Concerning thy testimonies, I have known of old that thou hast founded them forever; rather, from thy testimonies. The study of God's commandments has long ago convinced the psalmist that they are no passing or temporary enactments, but eternal laws, decreed and laid down forever. The "testimonies" spoken of are, of course, the moral precepts of the Law, not its economical or political enactments.
Consider mine affliction (see above, Psalms 119:50, Psalms 119:67, Psalms 119:71, Psalms 119:75, Psalms 119:92, etc.). And deliver me. The "affliction" intended is that which the psalmist suffers at the hands of his enemies, who "reproach" him (Psalms 119:22), "deride" him (Psalms 119:51), and otherwise "persecute" him (Psalms 119:161). For I do not forget thy Law (comp. Psalms 119:16, Psalms 119:83, Psalms 119:93, Psalms 119:109, Psalms 119:141, Psalms 119:176).
Plead my cause (comp. Psalms 35:1; Psalms 43:1; Micah 7:9). God "pleads the cause" of his servants when he takes up their quarrel, and avenges them upon their enemies. And deliver me; or, "rescue me" (Cheyne). Quicken me according to thy Word (comp. Psalms 119:25).
Salvation is far from the wicked: for they seek not thy statutes. "Salvation" is only attainable by man through obedience to the commandments of God. If men will not even "seek" to know and do his commandments, they put "salvation" from them.
Great are thy tender mercies, O Lord; rather, many (comp. Psalms 25:6, and note the antithesis between this verse and the next, "Many are thy mercies:" "Many are my persecutors"). Quicken me according to thy judgments (comp. Psalms 119:149).
Many are my persecutors and mine enemies. Hitherto this had been implied (Psalms 119:22, Psalms 119:23, Psalms 119:51, Psalms 119:61, etc.) rather than expressed. Now the thought of Psalms 25:18 comes over the writer, "Consider mine enemies, for they are many." Yet do I not decline from thy testimonies. Repeated from verse 51.
I beheld the transgressors, and was grieved; literally, the treacherous dealers—those who dealt treacherously against the Divine covenant. Because they kept not thy Word (comp. Psalms 119:136).
Consider how I love thy precepts (comp. Psalms 119:97, Psalms 119:113, Psalms 119:119, Psalms 119:127, Psalms 119:163). Quicken me, O Lord, according to thy loving-kindness. Slightly varied from Psalms 119:149.
Thy Word is true from the beginning; rather, the sum of thy Word is truth. (So Hengstenberg, Kay, Cheyne, and the Revised Version.) "After examining the Divine Word, and estimating the value of its several parts, the psalmist found that the final sum was 'truth'—pure, absolute truth" (Kay). And every one of thy righteous judgments endureth forever. An emphatic repetition of the statement made in Psalms 119:144.
Princes have persecuted me without a cause. The "princes" may be either foreign or native; but from Psalms 119:23 it would rather appear that native princes are intended. But my heart standeth in awe of thy Word. Yet I do not fear them, or heed what they say. Of nothing do I stand in awe, except "thy Word."
I rejoice at thy Word, as one that findeth great spoil. We must not limit this to the promises contained in God's Law. The psalmist views the precepts of the Law as a real treasure (Psalms 119:14, Psalms 119:72, Psalms 119:127), since they make him wise unto salvation.
I hate and abhor lying; or, "falsehood." False systems of religion are in the psalmist's thoughts; or, at any rate, false moral teaching, lie is not speaking of the habit of lying. But thy Law do I love (see the comment on Psalms 119:159).
Seven times a day do I praise thee; i.e. repeatedly, an indefinite number of times (comp. Psalms 12:6; Psalms 79:11; Proverbs 24:16). Because of thy righteous judgments (comp. Psalms 119:137, Psalms 119:160).
Great peace have they which love thy Law (comp. Proverbs 3:1, Proverbs 3:2; Isaiah 32:17; James 3:18). There is always disquietude where there is sin. A sense of perfect peace and rest belongs to those who love and keep God's Law. And nothing shall offend them; rather, and they shall have no stumbling-block. Nothing shall cause them to stumble, much less to fall away from grace.
Lord, I have hoped for thy salvation (comp. Psalms 119:81, Psalms 119:123). I have waited for thee, continually expecting thee to come to my aid, and save me from my enemies. And done thy commandments; kept them, i.e; as far as human frailty would allow.
My soul hath kept thy testimonies. In will and intention I have always been faithful unto thee; I have striven to keep all thy commandments. And I love them exceedingly (comp. Psalms 119:97, Psalms 119:127, Psalms 119:159, etc.).
I have kept thy precepts and thy testimonies (comp. Psalms 119:166,Psalms 119:167). The assertion is made more broadly than a Christian would make it. But there is no intention to claim absolute perfection (see Psalms 119:67, Psalms 119:71, Psalms 119:116, Psalms 119:117, Psalms 119:133, Psalms 119:176, etc.). For all my ways are before thee. Knowing that nothing which I do, or say, or think is hidden from thee, I have striven to keep thy Law in thought and word and deed.
Let my cry come near before thee, O Lord. The "cry" is probably for deliverance from his enemies (see Psalms 119:166); but this, he feels, depends upon his own faithfulness. Hence the prayer in the second clause, Give me understanding according to thy Word (comp. Psalms 119:144).
Let my supplication come before thee. A repetition of the "cry" in the preceding verse, which is distinctly shown by the next clause to be a cry for deliverance—Deliver me according to thy Word; or, "according to thy promise" (imrathka). God had "promised" to deliver all those who in the day of trouble should call upon him (Psalms 50:15; Psalms 91:15).
My lips shall utter praise, when thou hast taught me thy statutes; rather, let my lips pour forth praise, for thou teachest me thy statutes. The psalmist feels that his prayer for enlightenment (Psalms 119:169) is answered, or just about to be answered, and that therefore it behooves him to gush forth with praise like a fountain (comp. Psalms 119:7).
My tongue shall speak of thy Word; or, "let my tongue respond to thy promise "—return praise, i.e; for the fulfillment of thy promise. For all thy commandments are righteousness. And therefore are worthy objects of praise.
Let thine hand help me; literally, be to help me; i.e. be ever ready to help me. For I have chosen thy precepts. I have cast aside all other helpers, and have pinned my faith on thee and thy Word.
I have longed for thy salvation, O Lord (comp. Psalms 119:81, Psalms 119:166). And thy Law is my delight (see Psalms 119:16, Psalms 119:35, Psalms 119:47, Psalms 119:70, Psalms 119:77, Psalms 119:111).
Let my soul live, and it shall praise thee; i.e. "quicken me; give me true life in my soul and spirit—my real self—and then my praise shall be ever of thee." And let thy judgments help me. Let the course of thy providence be such as to help me to praise thee.
I have gone astray like a lost sheep (comp. Psalms 119:67). Some see in this verse nothing but a reference to the outward circumstances of the psalmist's life. But this is certainly not the idea generally attached in Scripture to the image of the "lost sheep" (see Isaiah 53:6; Jeremiah 1:6; Luke 15:4-7; 1 Peter 2:25). Dean Johnson's exposition is probably correct, "I have wandered far from thee and from home, as a sheep lost and ready to perish in the wilderness." Seek thy servant. "Seek him, lest he be not able of himself to seek thee; and bring him again to thy fold." For I do not forget thy commandments. In my worst wanderings I have not fallen away wholly from thee. Thy Law has been ever in my thoughts. I have not "forgotten" it, but meditated on it and longed for it (Psalms 119:15, Psalms 119:20, Psalms 119:40).
THE difficulty of treating this "alphabetical psalm" by any arrangement of its subject-matter must be apparent. An attempt has been made to gather its lessons around the more prominent doctrine in its successive sections, and to give a separate treatment of those subjects which cannot be so well included in this way.
The blessedness of obedience.
The first two verses of the psalm leave no mistake as to the nature of true obedience; it includes:
1. Integrity of heart. Sincerity, being "undefiled," seeking the favor and entering the service of God "with the whole heart" (Psalms 119:10), with a spirit in which "is no guile."
2. Consistency of conduct. "Walking in the Law," "keeping his commandments;" it is" he that doeth righteousness that is righteous" (John).
3. Patient continuance in well-doing. Making an earnest and sustained endeavor to do the will of God (Psalms 119:4). Such genuine obedience is attended with great blessedness.
I. IT INVOLVES PURITY OF HEART AND LIFE. "They do no iniquity: they walk in his ways" (Psalms 119:3). Obedience is its own reward, apart from any recompense it may secure. To be pure-hearted, to be true and faithful, to be unselfish and helpful, to be like our Lord in spirit and in character, to be living a life that is worthy and honorable in the sight of God,—is not this the truest and the largest blessing?
II. IT BRINGS SALVATION FROM EVIL.
1. From sin itself, whether in the heart or the life (Psalms 119:11).
2. From the shame to which sin constantly conducts (Psalms 119:6).
3. From Divine condemnation (Psalms 119:21).
4. From the rebuke which comes from the lips of the Lord himself.
III. IT IS THE SERVICE OF SACRED JOY. (Psalms 119:14, Psalms 119:16, Psalms 119:24; see also Psalms 119:35, Psalms 119:47, Psalms 119:54, Psalms 119:103, Psalms 119:111, Psalms 119:127, Psalms 119:162.) Sweeter than honey to the taste, more precious than gold in the heart's esteem, is the Word of God, "the mind of Christ." The sweet substance will soon pail, the spoil will soon he spent, the much-prized wealth may become a snare; but the study of God's will, meditation upon the truth and grace of Jesus Christ, the welcome given by the heart to the heavenly hopes and the Divine consolations with which the pages of Holy Writ are studded, sitting at the feet of the great Teacher and learning of him,—this is the source of pure, unfailing, ever-deepening joy. The acquisition of any kind of knowledge is pleasant to the mind, but the enrichment of the soul by the reception of Divine wisdom means deep "delight," an intense satisfaction to the spirit. If such is the blessedness of obedience, we learn:
1. The excellency of steadfastness (Psalms 119:5-10). How needful to have our feet "firmly fixed" in the way of life; to be saved from "wandering" first into byways and then into highways of evil! Hence:
2. The wisdom of keeping an open mind (Psalms 119:7), of realizing that there is something more to learn. Hence also:
3. The need for serious, strenuous effort (Psalms 119:4, Psalms 119:16), of being "diligent" in duty and of keeping the will of our Lord always before our mind, of continually refreshing our memory from his Word. Hence also:
4. The need for prayer (Psalms 119:10).
5. The duty of teaching as well as learning (Psalms 119:13). Such true and pure blessedness as we ourselves have gained, we should seek to pass on to other souls.
Throughout our whole life, as godly men, we have to recognize—
I. A DOWNWARD TENDENCY. "My soul cleaveth to the dust" (Psalms 119:25). Our eyes are inclined to "behold vanity" (Psalms 119:37). There is that within us and that around us which constitute a temptation to put our trust in man rather than in God, to seek our portion in worldly advantage rather than in the service and friendship of Christ, to allow ourselves to decline from a wise moderation to an unwise and even guilty indulgence, to set our hearts on the things which are below and to be too little affected by the inheritance beyond.
II. THE DIVINE POWER TO QUICKEN. "Quicken thou me" (Psalms 119:25-40). God can "enlarge our heart" (Psalms 119:32). By the incoming and indwelling of his Holy Spirit he can raise the thoughts and the hopes that are beginning to droop or to settle; he can so "enlarge" our sympathies and our affections that we love the best and take deep delight in the highest; he can so revive us that our spiritual languishing and despondency pass into full acquiescence and cheerful hope (Psalms 119:28), and we become strong for waiting and for action; he can so continuously affect us, and thus so establish us, that we shall abide in reverential service all our days (Psalms 119:38). By these holy influences instilled into our soul, acting quietly but effectually on the hidden springs of our nature, God "grants us his Law graciously" (Psalms 119:29). Left to ourselves, we sink and suffer; upheld, quickened by God's renewing power, we walk in wisdom and in piety, nay, we rise Christwards, heavenwards. This is—
III. THE SPIRITUAL ENLARGEMENT WHICH ENSUES. It is found in many forms; it is active in many spheres. It includes:
1. Salvation from the worst evils. "Salvation" generally (Psalms 119:41) from spiritual declension, which is an insidious and dangerous adversary; also from any sudden fall into sin and shame; and more particularly from "covetousness" (Psalms 119:36), that evil spirit of selfishness which craves what God has not given, and issues in the strivings of an injurious ambition or in the mutiny of a discontented heart.
2. Whole-heartedness in obedience (Psalms 119:34). All the powers and instincts of our nature leagued in a holy alliance of obedience to God.
3. Promptness and cheerfulness of obedience. We should not only walk, but run in the way of God's commandments (Psalms 119:32, Psalms 119:60). Readiness and quickness to obey, in the little child, is the acceptable thing to the human parent: is it not equally so to the Divine?
4. Steadfastness in holy service (Psalms 119:31, Psalms 119:33, Psalms 119:34).
5. Liberty (Psalms 119:45). Sin at its worst means utter slavery; godliness at its best means perfect freedom. When we so love God's Law, when we are so filled with the desire to do the will of Christ and to please him, that we find his Word no sort of restraint upon us, that we move happily along those lines in which we are free to go as far and as fast as we please, then we are "at liberty." Liberty is only found in its perfection when, as in God, inclination is perfectly parallel with duty. God's statutes are not our bonds; they are our songs (Psalms 119:54).
6. Utterance (Psalms 119:27, Psalms 119:43, Psalms 119:46). When the heart is enlarged the mouth is opened, and free, fearless speech comes forth. At first, indeed, there may be the hesitation of inexperience and self-distrust; but when this initial stage is past, there is fullness and fearlessness of utterance. We declare, with joyful lips, the grace and the truth which have enlightened and emancipated ourselves. But we must not overlook the fact that, while God's promises are great, there is—
IV. THE CONDITION TO BE FULFILLED—PRAYER. The psalmist frequently reminds us of our duty and privilege in this respect. In confession or supplication he calls our attention to it in Psalms 119:23, Psalms 119:25, Psalms 119:26, Psalms 119:37. We may not expect the spiritual enlargement which comes from God's visitation unless we are daily, earnestly, expectantly, asking God to come to us and dwell within us, in all his gracious, victorious power.
Comfort in affliction.
Those who construct a philosophy of human life, or who criticize any religious creed that claims their attention, are bound to recognize—
I. THE SERIOUS FACT OF AFFLICTION. For it is a very large element in our life, and powerfully affects our character. There is not one that has not occasion again and again to say, "in my affliction" (Psalms 119:50). Most of us have, at times, to go much beyond this, and speak of being "afflicted very much" (Psalms 119:107), or are even constrained to say, "Trouble and anguish have taken hold on me "(Psalms 119:43).
1. Sometimes, often indeed, it is due to the injustice, or the cruelty, or the inconsiderateness of men (Psalms 119:51, Psalms 119:61, Psalms 119:69, Psalms 119:78). The very worst suffering is the consequence of the betrayal and the hostility of those we once trusted and loved (Psalms 41:9).
2. Affliction may spring from our religious earnestness (Psalms 119:53, Psalms 119:136). The unbelief, indifference, impiety, immorality, and violence we see or read of constitute a heavy burden upon our soul.
3. God's apparent delay is another source of trial (Psalms 119:82). "How long, O Lord, how long?" has been the painful cry of all generations of the persecuted and troubled children of God. Beside these are the common, everyday afflictions of sickness, loss, straitness, disappointment, bereavement. Then comes—
II. THE APPEAL TO GOD. (Psalms 119:58, Psalms 119:107.) While prosperity abounds we may forget God, but as soon as adversity comes we remember him. And those who walk with God in health and joy instantly and naturally look to him when they enter the dark shadows. "Remember me, my God, for good!" "Deliver me!"—these are the instinctive cries of the burdened heart. We may, as the psalmist does here, plead our close, spiritual relationship to him as a ground of appeal (Psalms 119:153).
III. OUR REFUGE IN TIME OF TROUBLE.
1. We rest in God's promise—the "word on which he has caused us to hope" (Psalms 119:49; see Psalms 41:1; Psalms 46:1; Psalms 90:15; Isaiah 43:2; John 14:18; Hebrews 13:5, Hebrews 13:6, Hebrews 13:8).
2. We find, in God's goodness to us in the past, an assurance of his pity at the present time, and his blessing in the future (Psalms 119:65; Psalms 23:1-6.).
3. We find great comfort in the knowledge we have of God's character, assured that One so kind (Psalms 119:68) and so faithful (Psalms 119:75) must be leading us by the right and wise way, however strange the path may seem to us.
4. Whatever be taken from us, we always have left to us our God, our Savior himself; and he is our portion (Psalms 119:57); he himself is "our exceeding great reward." No loss, no discomfiture, no betrayal, can take away from us the inestimable treasure of the favor and the friendship of Jesus Christ.
IV. ITS ISSUE. (Psalms 119:67, Psalms 119:71.) There are some lessons which we cannot learn in the light, but can learn in the darkness. When all other means fail to affect us, the strong rod of affliction arouses us, and awakens us to the neglected truth. Then we see that to which we had been strangely blind; then we turn from the evil track and the fatal precipice, and enter once more the way of wisdom, the path of life. Instead of a dangerous indulgence is a wise self-restraint; instead of an increasing worldliness is a deepening joy in devotion; instead of questionable companionships is the society of the holy; instead of slackness in service is the steady flame of zeal; instead of half-heartedness is whole-heartedness in our Christian life.
Human need and the Divine sufficiency.
These verses bring out—
I. THE GREATNESS OF OUR HUMAN NEED. The psalmist lingers over:
1. The evils which we suffer from persecution. The proud "deal perversely with us" (Psalms 119:78); "they had almost consumed me" (Psalms 119:87); "they persecute me wrongly" (Psalms 119:86). The expressions cover all kinds of cruelty and injustice, as well as that which we understand by "persecutor," making us to suffer for our religious convictions. Man is the chief enemy of man, everywhere and always.
2. He indicates the extremity to which we may be reduced; his soul "faints for God's salvation" (Psalms 119:81); he wonders at the long delay (Psalms 119:82); his very life is endangered (Psalms 119:77); he is ready to perish (Psalms 119:92).
3. He is concerned lest he be put to shame, lest he fall into sin or into despair, and cause the enemy to triumph (Psalms 119:80).
4. He finds that even the best prove to be in some respects unworthy (Psalms 119:96). Our need is great, but we turn to—
II. THE SUFFICIENCY WHICH IS IN GOD.
1. His perfect knowledge of us, and his power over us. He who made us must know our nature and its needs, must be able to minister to us (Psalms 119:73; see Psalms 94:9, Psalms 94:10). He "knows what is in man."
2. His promised help (Psalms 119:76, Psalms 119:81; see preceding homily).
3. His succor granted through his people (Psalms 119:79). Let the troubled servants of God turn to one and another who are known to honor him, and they will not seek a brother's sympathy in vain. If man is our enemy, man also is our friend. "A man shall be a covert" (Isaiah 32:2).
(1) His faithfulness (Psalms 119:75, Psalms 119:86). God is not forgetful of us; he is not indifferent to our distress; he is not unmindful of our service (Psalms 119:94); he does not overlook the fact that we are his own children, closely related to him in his Son (Psalms 119:94); but he is seeking our highest good; he is caring for our spiritual advancement; he is purifying us from all dross; he is preparing us for higher service in a nobler sphere. He is redeeming his Word at the very time when, and by the very treatment in which, he seems to be breaking it (Psalms 119:128, Psalms 119:138).
4. The unchangeableness of his Word (Psalms 119:89-91). We may quote for our own and others' support any word of encouragement God has ever spoken at any time; for "the counsel of the Lord standeth forever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations" (Psalms 33:11). What be was to our fathers in distant days, and has been to all those who came before us, he will be to us (see Psalms 90:1; Hebrews 13:8; James 1:17).
5. The breadth of his Law (Psalms 119:96). While the fact that his Law covers the entire range of human thought and action thus brings us into condemnation, on the other hand, the fullness and amplitude of his promises cover all our possible errors and wrong-doings, and leave the gateway into the kingdom wide open to all who approach it in the spirit of penitence and faith.
Knowledge and action.
Of God's Law these verses treat, calling our attention to—
I. STUDY THAT LEADS TO LOVE. (Psalms 119:97-103.) A cursory view of God's Word may have no result; but a serious study of it, a continuous and prayerful meditation upon it, will end in a strong attachment to it. It will become the source of perennial enjoyment; it will be prized above all price (see Psalms 119:1-24). Indeed, so close will the heart cling to it that even the greatest danger will only suggest its truths (Psalms 119:109). Sickness will bring it near; death will turn towards it. As the value of other treasures lessens, its worth will be enhanced.
II. KNOWLEDGE. (Psalms 119:98, Psalms 119:99, Psalms 119:105.) The study of the Word of God, of the will of Christ, will make the disciple to understand
(1) what his enemies are ignorant of;
(2) what is of greater intrinsic value than any science, or art, or language;
(3) what transcends all traditionary lore, however venerable that may be (Psalms 119:98-100). But of more account than this mental superiority is—
III. PRACTICAL WISDOM.
1. This begins in hatred of evil (Psalms 119:104), having a sincere aversion to the various forms of iniquity.
2. It proceeds to perception of what is right and good (Psalms 119:105), understanding the true character of human life, and knowing what is the way in which to walk.
3. It continues in deliberate avoidance of evil (Psalms 119:101).
4. Then determined loyalty to the truth and will of God under all provocations to err (Psalms 119:102, Psalms 119:110-112). However strong the pressure or clever the intrigue, the man who loves God's Law is constant in obedience, and refuses to leave the King's highway; he goes straight to the goal.
5. This ends in immunity from the sad penalties of sin which the guilty have, sooner or later, to pay (Psalms 119:118-120).
6. And its issue is a blessed fulfillment of the good man's hope (Psalms 119:116). This practical wisdom rests upon—
IV. A REVERENT PURPOSE OF HEART. (Psalms 119:106-115.) Enlightened by the Divine teaching, understanding what is the wise and what the foolish course, perceiving who are his friends and who his enemies, the disciple of the great Teacher
(1) solemnly resolves that he will give himself, heart and life, to the pursuit and practice of righteousness;
(2) dismisses, without reserve, any evil companions he may have admitted to his friendship;
(3) makes a formal and solemn vow, before God and man, that he will walk in the way of life. Then come—
V. PRAYER AND PRAISE.
1. Daily supplication for the upholding hand of God, without which the fairest and strongest resolutions fail (Psalms 119:116, Psalms 119:117).
2. Daily thanksgiving—the sacrifice of grateful speech and sacred song (Psalms 119:108).
Looking to God.
A very large part of our Christian life is found in the uplifting of our heart to God in silent or vocal prayer. We look up for—
I. HIS MERCIFUL REGARD. (Psalms 119:124, Psalms 119:132, Psalms 119:135.) We ask God to regard us as those who have humbled themselves before him, who trust in his mercy, who are his children in Jesus Christ; and we know that we shall not appeal in vain. To all such he has promised his merciful regard, the light of his countenance, his abiding favor, his Divine friendship.
II. SPIRITUAL DISCERNMENT. It is the continually recurring note, "Teach me thy statutes." In the words of the awakened apostle, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" In our own ignorance, and in the confusion caused by so many contending voices, each purporting to be the truth, we may well cry, "Give me understanding," etc. (Psalms 119:125). We want to know with whom, in the Church and in the world, we should be associated; what is the true meaning and what the real message our Master delivered by his own lips or through the writings of his apostles; how we can best serve him in the field of active work, etc. We want to be able to distinguish between the plausible and the true, between the attractive and the wise, in all the counsels that are uttered in his Name. There is nothing we more need than spiritual discernment, when so many lights are shining of which we may be sure that some are not kindled at the altar of heavenly wisdom.
III. HIS PROTECTION. (Psalms 119:121, Psalms 119:134.) Oppression is not so rampant now as it has been, but it still exists in many places and in many forms. So that there is still need for the psalmist's prayer; and it may be that many a heart, in loneliness and suffering, finds relief in this appeal to God, "Leave me not to my oppressors." The psalmist goes further; he asks for—
IV. THE ASSURANCE Or HIS PROTECTION. (Psalms 119:122.) Such as God gave to Moses when he sent him to Pharaoh, and to David and Solomon when he gave them their thrones; such as Christ gave to Paul when he was in Corinth and was shrinking in spirit before his stupendous task (Acts 18:9, Acts 18:10). Our Lord gives us the assurance that no harm shall happen to us which he does not permit, which he will not control and overrule for good (Matthew 5:11, Matthew 5:12; Matthew 10:29-31).
V. THE PRESERVATION OF OUR SPIRITUAL INTEGRITY. (Psalms 119:133.) Our first and chief obligation is to continue in that path of holy service in which the grace of God has placed us, and to maintain our freedom from everything that degrades and enslaves us. But this is a great thing to do; many have set forth on their Christian course confident of success, and they have been defeated. They have wandered from the way of wisdom; they have become the victim of some degrading habit. They did not look up to God daily and earnestly, or they would have been upheld. If there be any signs, however slight, of moral entanglement, let "our eyes be ever unto the Lord, and he will pluck our feet out of the net" (Psalms 25:15).
VI. HIS INTERVENTION. (Psalms 119:126, Psalms 119:136.) Grieved at heart, perplexed in spirit, overwhelmed by the forces of evil and the temporary triumph of iniquity, what can we do? We may not cease to bear our testimony to the truth, but we may bring our burden to the Lord; we may plead that the cause of righteousness is not ours, but his, and pray, hopefully and even confidently, for the manifestation of his power. "It is time for thee, Lord, to work."
Much is said in this psalm about seeking and serving "with the whole heart." This is, indeed, the secret of real success, of ultimate victory. Many will fail to reach the goal and to wear the prize because they set out in a languid, half-hearted spirit, or because they started with nothing more than religious excitement. What is needed is genuine earnestness of soul. This—
I. INCLUDES A PROFOUND REGARD FOR THE WILL AND WORD OF GOD. To this the psalmist gives utterance here (Psalms 119:137, Psalms 119:138, Psalms 119:140, Psalms 119:142, Psalms 119:144, Psalms 119:151, Psalms 119:152, Psalms 119:159, Psalms 119:160).
1. It is the truth itself.
2. It makes perfectly just and righteous demands.
3. It offers only that which is certain to be granted, and requires only that which is truly necessary; it is "very faithful."
4. It is free from everything that would wound sensitiveness or hurt the conscience, and it makes for absolute goodness and virtue; it is very pure.
5. It blesses and sustains through all the changes of a human life, and it outlives the changes of the centuries. It is as needful now as it ever was, and it will be the stay and strength of human souls forever; it is "everlasting."
6. It is worthy of our deep and true affection; it is something we "love."
II. TRIUMPHS OVER OUR SENSE OF PERSONAL INSIGNIFICANCE. (Psalms 119:141.) Religious earnestness does not dwell upon, and is not arrested by, a sense of personal obscurity. Every human soul is great, because related intimately to God, and because bound to duty and capable of holy service. The most despised individual soul can hold in its mind the thoughts and illustrate in its life the truth and principles of God himself (see Psalms 40:17).
III. TRIUMPHS OVER THE DEPRESSION OF GREAT SORROWS. (Psalms 119:143.) Troubles may accumulate, heavy burdens may weigh down the soul, saddest losses may darken the way, but the earnest spirit that trusts in God and looks to him for help will not be overwhelmed.
IV. INVOLVES DEVOTEDNESS TO THE CAUSE OF GOD AND TRUTH. (Psalms 119:136, Psalms 119:139, Psalms 119:158.) The reverent study of God's Word will make us increasingly conformed to the likeness and deepeningly interested in the cause of God. Hence there will be growing in our hearts a profound grief as we witness the sins and the consequent sorrows and miseries of mankind. This will rest on our heart and sadden our life, even as it did with our Lord. The woe of the world will be our trouble; and the cause of Christ, so often defeated and so long arrested, will be the source of great and lifelong solicitude. Of ourselves, as of our Master, it will be relatively true that "our zeal has consumed us," has worn us out (Psalms 69:9; John 2:17).
V. SHOWS ITSELF IN A STRONG SENSE OF GOD'S NEAR PRESENCE AND GREAT GOODNESS. (Psalms 119:151, Psalms 119:156.)
VI. SHOWS ITSELF IN CONTINUAL DELIGHT IN DIVINE TRUTH. (Psalms 119:148.) Whether taken hyperbolically or literally, the text indicates a deep unbroken delight in meditating on the revealed truth of God; even weariness and sleep give way to the eagerness and interest which is taken in these high themes, in these precious promises,
VII. SHOWS ITSELF IN FERVENT PRAYER. (Psalms 119:145-147, Psalms 119:149, Psalms 119:154, Psalms 119:156, Psalms 119:159.) The psalmist tells us how much and how earnestly he cried and pleaded with God; he continually breaks into the strain of his song with the prayer, "Quicken thou me!" If we are in earnest in the service
1. Not the displeasure or the opposition of man; though this may be incurred without cause, and we may feel that the suspicion, or the ill feeling, or the attack is altogether wanton and unprovoked.
2. But the displeasure of God. Undisturbed by human ill will or intrigue, we "stand in awe" of Divine disapproval; we shrink from thinking the thought, cherishing the feeling, taking the course, which Christ would condemn; we are afraid of leaving undone or unattempted that to which he is calling us with his sovereign voice.
II. THE TRUE TREASURE. (Psalms 119:162.)
1. Not the "spoils" of wealth, or rank, or power, or learning, or a round of pleasurable excitements; these soon lose their relish, and they too often leave a bitter taste behind.
2. But the revelation of God's grace, of his mind, of his purpose and promise, as made known in his Word.
III. THE TRUE WORD. (Psalms 119:163.) Falsehood is utterly offensive to God, and it is most hurtful to ourselves; it spells spiritual ruin to him that indulges in it; it is an evil weed that grows with saddening rapidity. Truthfulness in utterance is a large and essential part of all spiritual worth.
IV. THE TRUE SPIRIT. That of thankfulness. (Psalms 119:164.) It is not, of course, the number of times we offer praise that is acceptable; for mere mechanical thanksgiving is worthless, though rendered a hundred times a day. It is the spirit of gratitude which is everything—the recognition by the mind that it is by God's grace we are what we are, and the feeling of thankfulness dwelling in the soul; it is the inner sense of God's goodness, carried with us everywhere, uttering itself simply and unaffectedly.
V. THE TRUE SECURITY. (Psalms 119:165.) In the ordering of our life, we want these two things among others—peace and integrity. The love and the practice of Divine truth will yield both of these.
1. It will save us from stumbling (nothing will "offend" us); we shall not fall into the vices or faults which lead down to shame and self-reproach; we shall not give way to the contentiousness which ends in feuds and separations.
2. Hence we shall have peace—the approval of our own conscience, the good will of men, the "well done" of God.
VI. THE TRUE HOPE. (Psalms 119:166.) The final "salvation" for which we hope (see Romans 13:11) is the true hope for man. The "peace of the grave" is not a true peace, but a false one. Mere unbroken unconsciousness is not a thing to be desired by us. But the hope of eternal life, based on the firm promises of God, and secured by "doing his commandments," by fidelity to the end (see Heb 4:1; 2 Peter 1:10, 2 Peter 1:11; Revelation 3:11), by being "faithful unto death."
VII. THE TRUE SOURCE OF SANCTITY. (Psalms 119:168.) If we would maintain our obedience everywhere and always, we must realize the truth that "all our ways are before God." We must "stand before God," must "walk with God," as the saints of olden time did. We must take with us everywhere the truth that we think our thoughts, speak our words, live our life, in the near presence and under the approving or disapproving eye of our Lord himself.
These verses may bring before us the successive stages of salvation.
I. SEEKING AFTER GOD. (Psalms 119:169, Psalms 119:170, Psalms 119:174.) The heart "longs for salvation;" it "cries for deliverance;" it looks to God under a deep and strong sense of danger and of need. Then comes—
II. OUR CHOICE. (Psalms 119:173.) The decisive hour comes when we have finally and fixedly to determine whether we will or will not accept Jesus Christ for our Divine Lord and Savior; whether or not we will spend our days and our powers in his service. The crisis of our cause is past when we can say, "I have chosen thy precepts;" I have chosen to do "the will of God in Christ Jesus."
III. A LIFE OF SUSTAINED DEVOTION. As the psalmist's prayer intersperses his other utterances, so should devotion blend with our outward life, sanctifying and ennobling it. Especially should we be constantly looking for Divine help (Psalms 119:173), that we may be enabled to do our duty faithfully, to bear our burden meekly, to resist temptation manfully and successfully, to use our opportunity wisely and devotedly.
IV. OUR CONFESSION OF PARTIAL FAILURE. (Psalms 119:176.) This wandering (of the text) is not the first departure of the soul from God, the going away into the "far country" of estrangement or rebellion; it is rather the deviation of the good man from the straight line of holy service, calling for recognition and return to the favor of God. "If we (Christian disciples) say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." If, when we thus err, when we "go astray," we "confess our sin, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sin, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." "For this shall every one that is godly pray unto thee" (Psalms 32:6). It is a very great point in Christian life to understand and to acknowledge our error, our partial failure, our need of the Divine hand to lead us back into the path of righteousness and wisdom.
V. OUR STUDY OF GOD'S WILL AS REVEALED IN HIS WORD. (Psalms 119:174, Psalms 119:175.)
VI. OUR SERVICE OF SPEECH AND SONG. (Psalms 119:171, Psalms 119:172, Psalms 119:175.)
1. Recognizing the supreme excellency of Divine truth, its intrinsic worth, and its power to save and heal, "our tongue will speak God's Word." From the sustained and prepared discourse to the humble dialogue and the parting word of warning or encouragement, true service may be rendered to our Lord.
2. Taught God's will by his Spirit as well as his Word, our soul as well as our body alive because quickened by Divine power, our heart and our mouth will be filled with praise. Prayer and praise will be the two accompaniments that will never fail, along all the path of life, until the witness is borne, and the work is done, and the reward is ready.
Psalms 119:15, Psalms 119:23, Psalms 119:30, Psalms 119:48, Psalms 119:59, Psalms 119:78, Psalms 119:97
Meditation: its place in Christian culture.
In these days and in this country we may speak of meditation as a lost art, if not, indeed, as a lost faculty. We have become incapable of sustained thought, of prolonged consideration of Divine truth. Even with the aid of a well-studied and well-spoken discourse, and the presence of sympathetic fellow-listeners, it is found difficult to maintain continuous attention for more than half an hour once or twice a week. The psalmist again and again recurs to this sacred duty; he speaks of it as a much-prized privilege. The best men of Old and New Testament times were men of meditation as well as of action—Enoch, Abraham, Moses, Samuel, David, Elijah, Nehemiah, John Baptist, St. Paul, John the apostle—all of these illustrate the truth. Our Lord himself sought the mountain fold for solitude and communion with his own heart and with his Father. The best men that have lived and wrought during this Christian era have been men that found time for contemplation, and for the devotion in which that reaches its highest point. In a time and a land where action is felt to be everything; where there is a multitude of distractions; where every hour may easily be occupied with some lawful or even laudable activity; where a positive effort has to be made to secure a quiet hour;—there is serious danger lest our Christian character suffer from want of earnest and devout meditation.
I. THE TWO THINGS ON WHICH TO DWELL. These are God's Word and our own "ways." We should meditate on God's statutes or precepts; we should "think on our ways." What a field for thought is here ] The nature and the character and the work of God as revealed in sacred history and in Jesus Christ; the truth spoken to us by our Lord, and written for our learning by inspired men; the ways in which Divine truth has been illustrated and enforced in human history; the path along which God has led us; the witness we have borne, and the work we have done; the failure to become and to effect what we might have been and have done; the lessening distance before us this side the grave; the immortal life beyond, etc.
II. THE STATE OR ACT IN WHICH IT CULMINATES. In prayer. Meditation is the best friend of devotion; it is its source and safeguard. There is much that passes for prayer which, in the absence of meditation, is only mechanical repetition; there is no real meditation which does not pass into genuine, acceptable, fruitful prayer.
III. ITS PRACTICAL ISSUE. "I turned my feet," etc. (verse 59). To be nothing at all but a thinker, or even a student, is a sad mistake. We must come forth from the chamber of communion to the field of conflict. But there is little danger now of too much seclusion. Much serious consideration, passing into prayer, is the best preparation for the "world's broad field of battle," for the dangers to be dared and the duties to be done.
Psalms 119:2, Psalms 119:4, Psalms 119:10, Psalms 119:34, Psalms 119:58
Success in every sphere of action is attained by thoroughness, by concentrating our forces, and working "with our whole heart." Many a man has allowed his life to be a failure because he has dissipated his strength. He "has done a great many things badly." But in no sphere of thought or action is thoroughness so much demanded as in that of religion. Surely we should offer the very best, our whole self, to our Creator, to our Savior. This applies to—
I. OUR APPROACH TO HIM AND PURSUIT OF HIS FAVOR. (Psalms 119:2, Psalms 119:10, Psalms 119:58.) To engage in the worship of God, or to read his Word, or to seek his friendship and forgiving love, in a formal and ceremonious fashion, with little seriousness and no earnestness of spirit, is to make a sad mistake; it is to lose the battle. Our relation to God is immeasurably higher than any other relation can be; his claims are absolutely supreme; our interest in his merciful regard is surpassingly great; and there cannot possibly be any engagement of the soul that demands such strenuousness, such concentration of powers, such fixedness and fullness of soul, as prayer, as devotion, as the seeking after God.
II. OUR LIFE-SERVICE. (Psalms 119:4, Psalms 119:34.) The languid and listless efforts which some "religious" men make in the service of God must be wholly unacceptable, as they are altogether unbecoming. "Worthy is the Lamb to receive riches"—the riches of our remembrance, our obedience, our submission, our service. To make a few feeble efforts to subdue our temper, to quell our repining, to preserve a sustained tranquility or cheerfulness of spirit, to show friendliness to Christian brethren, or to speak words of guidance or warning, but to give up the attempt because we do not immediately succeed,—this is not to keep God's precepts "diligently," to observe his will "with our whole heart." It is to relegate religion to the second or third place in our esteem. Christ claims the first. He tells us that if we love any one or anything more than him, we are not worthy of him. He promises us that if we subordinate all other things to him and to his service, we shall receive a large reward at his hands.
Psalms 119:6, Psalms 119:22, Psalms 119:31, Psalms 119:42, Psalms 119:80, Psalms 119:110
God's Word and shame.
I. THE THREE KINDS OF SHAME.
1. The shame of which we need not be ashamed; of which we may be proud—the "reproaches of Christ;" being disregarded and even despised because we are loyal to our Lord, and true to the convictions we have learnt of him; the reproach which purity sometimes suffers at the hands of laxity, and integrity from the lips of dishonesty, and devotion from the ribaldry of ungodliness. This is all to our credit, and does us honor. But then there is:
2. Self-reproach, the accusation of our own conscience. There is also:
3. The condemnation of the good; that strong and sometimes stern reprobation with which an instructed society visits the crime, the vice, the cruelty, the selfishness, the wrong-doing which comes before its tribunal, and calls for its verdict.
II. OUR TRUE SUPPORT IN HONORABLE SHAME. This is found in what God's Word tells us of:
1. Our Lord's esteem add strong approval (Matthew 5:10-12).
2. His own example. He "suffered the contradiction of sinners against himself," and stooped to the lowliest shame, "even to the death of the cross."
3. Our hope. "Unto the upright there ariseth light in the darkness."
III. THE TRUE PRESERVATIVE FROM THE SHAME WE SHOULD FEAR. This also God's Word affords us, for it supplies:
1. The constant, the eternal principles which save from sin and wrong—truth, probity, purity, temperance, faithfulness, etc.
2. The strongest inducements to integrity—that fear of God and love of Jesus Christ which will make us shrink sensitively from all that grieves his Spirit, and which will lead us to pursue that path which ends in his large reward.
Psalms 119:9, Psalms 119:63, Psalms 119:74,Psalms 119:113, Psalms 119:115
The way of life: the young.
Our attention is called to—
I. THE WAY OF LIFE; especially as it presents itself to the young. It is interesting to look forward to a long journey; to anticipate the scenes that will be witnessed, the companionships that will be formed, the memories that will be gathered for years to come, etc. But how much more interesting to look forward to the journey of life still in prospect; to anticipate its joys, it successes, its triumphs; to hope for its friendships and achievements; to guard against its dangers and its mistakes! The uncertainties of the future in the case of the young, the possibilities of failure or of victory, make the earlier years of life to be fraught with the deepest interest.
II. THE SECRET OF SUCCESS. This is twofold.
1. It is found in manly thoughtfulness. How shall a young man make his course sweet and clean and pure? "By taking heed thereto; ' by refusing to treat his life with levity, to let things take their own course, to make his "way" nothing but a "chapter of accidents;" by determining that it shall be a matter of intelligent, deliberate choice; by devoting to that most serious subject his most earnest consideration, and bridging to bear upon it the full faculties of his nature.
2. It is found in Divine guidance—"according to thy Word." And this "Word"
(1) counsels the application of holy principles—those of truthfulness, purity, temperance, honesty, generosity, etc.;
(2) lays great stress on right companionships. Here is:
(a) Rejection of some—the resolute refusal to admit to our confidence those who are unworthy of it. I hate "vain thoughts," or "doubters, skeptics, double-minded men" (Psalms 119:113); the peremptory dismissal from friendship of those who are unprincipled (Psalms 119:115).
(b) Admission of others. (Psalms 119:63, Psalms 119:74.) Very few things go so far to decide the way of life as the choice of companions. Associate with the frivolous or the skeptical, and the path of life leads downward to folly, unbelief, ruin; walk with the wise, the earnest, the godly, and that path leads upward to wisdom, virtue, usefulness, heaven.
Psalms 119:29, Psalms 119:30, Psalms 119:128, Psalms 119:163
The false way and the false word.
The love of Divine truth cannot coexist with the tolerance of any kind of falsity; they are mutually exclusive. We have—
I. THE FALSE WAY AND THE FALSE WORD.
1. The false way. This may be the way of
(1) religious error, involving the miserable falsities and the dark immoralities of heathenism;
(2) religious affectation, the making pretence of conviction which is not held, and of feelings which are not felt;
(3) vice, which cheats by promising continued pleasure and yielding dissatisfaction, pain, shame, and death;
(4) vanity, which also fails to keep its promise, holding out high hopes at the start, but ending in disenchantment, dreariness, and disgust;
(5) procrastination, which beguiles and betrays.
2. The false word. This may be either
(1) falsehood itself—the open, unblushing lie; or
(2) false suggestion—keeping to the truth in word, but conveying an essentially false idea; or
(3) exaggeration, which is one part truth and one part falsehood, the former being often just enough to float the latter without excusing or even extenuating the wrong.
II. THE HOLY AND WISE HATRED OF EVIL. "I hate;" "I hate and abhor." These strong words are not too strong. We are "to abhor that which is evil;" to turn towards it a spirit of uttermost aversion. This is:
1. Holy; for it is God-like. "Lying lips are an abomination" to him. It is Christ-like. We know what he thought of the pretentiousness of an unreal and worldly pietism (see Matthew 23:1-39.).
2. It is wise; for falsity of thought and speech undermines character, dissociates from the true and good, leads down to spiritual and eternal death.
III. THE RIGHT AFFECTION. It is well, indeed, for those who can say, "Now love I thy Law;" it is everything to delight in the loving, cleansing, upholding truth of God; and, more especially, to love and therefore follow him who himself is the Truth and the Wisdom of God (John 14:6; 1 Corinthians 1:24).
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
Introductory to whole psalm.
I. WHOM WAS IT WRITTEN BY?
1. Some assert that it is David's work. They profess to be able to find proofs of his style and manner, and there is no limit to the laudations they pass on this psalm; but extravagant rhetoric proves nothing.
2. But all the chief and most reliable of expositors refuse to admit the Davidic authorship. The style is far later than that of David. In the Lamentations of Jeremiah there is a similar alphabetical composition. It is altogether an artificial and didactic composition, widely different from that which we have most reason to assign to the age and pen of David. Moreover, so far as we know, that general reading of the Law, which this psalm presupposes, could not have been without the wide circulation of copies of the Law. But of such circulation we have no evidence until the time of Ezra. Moreover, the life of David, as it is portrayed in the Scriptures, seems quite out of keeping with the tone, spirit, and allusions of this psalm.
3. It is not possible to name any individual person as the author. But we gather from the psalm that it was written by a devoted servant of God, whoever be may have been; that he was probably a young man—one of those of whom St. John would say, "I have written unto you young men, because ye are strong, and have overcome the wicked one." Verses 9, 99, 100, warrant the supposition that he was young. But, nevertheless, deeply taught of God to love the Word of God, and to continually feed upon it. Very lowly minded and humble before God. See the general tone of the psalm, and especially the last eight verses. He seems to have been much tried (verses 21, 23, 36, 37). His one fear being lest he should prove unworthy, and be ashamed (verses 6, 7, 22, 31), If we were to look for one in whom the various conditions of authorship meet, we should turn to the Book of Daniel; either he himself, or one of those three noble Hebrew youths his book tells of, might well have been the writer of this psalm.
II. WHEREFORE IT WAS WRITTEN.
1. Perhaps as a memoir of the writer's own experience, and for his own help.
2. But yet more probably for the instruction of others. Hence the alphabetic, acrostic style, which was adopted as an aid to memory; just as preachers now divide their sermons into various heads.
3. And for the glory of God—that his grace might be praised.
4. For the commendation of the Word of God. The psalmist would bear his emphatic testimony to the preciousness of that Word.
5. And for the stirring up of those who should read the psalm to diligent search for the treasures of that Word. Personal testimony such as is so largely given in this psalm has ever great power over the minds of others.
III. ITS GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS.
1. It is from a believer to believers. The infidel and scoffer are not contemplated in the design of the psalm.
2. It is for the edification and growth in holiness of the people of God.
3. It is intensely spiritual. Rites and ceremonies and appeals to the mere reason are absent from it; it speaks to the soul.
4. It is universal in character. Limited to no one period, to no one land, to no one nation, but for all.
5. Its spiritual force and power are witnessed to by the God-fearing of all ages.—S.C.
Characteristics of the Word of God as declared by the various names given to it in this psalm.
There are eight such names.
I. IT IS CALLED THE "LAW." (Psalms 119:1,Psalms 119:18, Psalms 119:34, etc.) The word implies that which rules guides, directs, therefore a rule of conduct. And this was evidently the psalmist's meaning, God's Word was not something to be merely talked about, praised, or argued over, but it was to order a man's life, and be his constant guide.
II. "TESTIMONIES." The word signifies that which bears witness to. And the Word of God is this.
1. It bears witness to us of God, and of his will concerning us; and:
2. It bears witness to our hearts of the acceptableness or wrong of our lives and conduct in the sight of God. It will ever bear true testimony, which it is at our peril if we neglect. By it God's sentence upon us will be determined.
III. "PRECEPTS." This expression comes from a word which signifies "that which is entrusted to us." And so God's Word is the deposit of faith, which we are to keep and guard. St. Paul declared, at the end of his career, "I have kept the faith;" and he exhorted Timothy to "keep that which was committed unto" him. We shall be asked at the last what we have done with this precious entrustment. God's words to us are the talents which, whilst he is absent from our sight, we are to "occupy," that is, trade with, until the Lord comes.
IV. "STATUTES." The term is derived from a word which tells of that which is engraved, definitely and clearly drawn, as a chart, a map, and so prescribes the way that is to be taken. And is not this true of the Word of God? Is it not ever saying to us, "This is the way, walk ye in it "? How clear and plain is the course it marks out for us! And, perhaps, the psalmist thought also of the depth and clearness with which this word is written on the human heart, and especially on the believing heart. There God has engraved deeply and definitely his will for us. Christ, the Word, is the Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
V. "COMMANDMENTS." That which is ordained, as the commander of an army orders what is to be done. God's people are the army of the living God, and in this holy war success is only to be gained by strict and diligent obedience to his commands.
VI. "JUDGMENTS." This expression is used of the verdict in a court of law, that which has legal sanction, and which governs the sentence of the judge. And so the Word of God is the Divine sentence, and is in accordance with the law of nature, of reason, and of righteousness. Who are we to set up our flimsy ideas against the precedents, principles, and judgments of the righteous Judge?
VII. "WORD." (Psalms 119:9,Psalms 119:11,Psalms 119:17, etc.) This answers to that sacred name of Christ, who is the Word of God. It tells, not of a written letter, a series of documents drawn up by men; but it is that inner word of God which the spirit of man hears—it may be through the written or spoken Word, but it may be also independently of either. It is that Word which, if not heard, no preaching or teaching of man is of any avail. This is the Word we need to hear.
VIII. "WAY." The road, the course, the path, along which God himself walks, and that in which he would have us walk. And that the Word of God is. It is the way of holiness, the King's highway, and blessed are they that walk therein.—S.C.
Whole-hearted service of God.
I. THE DESCRIPTION GIVEN OF SUCH AS RENDER IT.
1. They are undefiled in the way. They are not merely in the way, but keep themselves undefiled. How difficult this!
2. They walk in the Law of the Lord. It is the habit of their lives, and its pleasure.
3. They keep his testimonies. Keep them in their memory, their affection, and their conduct.
4. They seek him with the whole heart. This sadly rare. The mass of Christians are of a divided heart; but whole-hearted service, how rare this is!
5. They do no iniquity. It is possible not to sin, and to keep a conscience void of offence both towards God and towards man.
II. THEY ARE DECLARED TO BE "BLESSED." And that they are so let all experience tell. Certainly half-hearted service can lay no claim to such blessedness. Such have just enough religion to spoil them for the world, but not near enough to give them the blessedness here spoken of. Theirs is a miserable round of sinning and repenting, falling down and rising up again, a life under the perpetual rebuke of conscience and the sense of God's displeasure. But the life told of here in this psalm is lived in the sunshine of the love of God, and in the possession of that loving-kindness which is better than life.
III. SUCH SERVICE IS THE ONLY ONE THAT ANSWERS TO GOD'S COMMAND. (Psalms 119:4.) It is that which he has specially enjoined. Anything less would be dishonoring to him and disastrous to us, whilst this glorifies him, and is for us most blessed.
IV. THE BELIEVER KNOWS THIS AND LONGS FOR IT. (Psalms 119:5.) The vision of the true life has been shown him, and he desires it with a great desire. He would be holy as God is holy. And he has good reasons; for:
1. This only will give him confidence before men, and, what is more important, before God. If he has it not, he must "be ashamed."
2. It will enable him to offer worthy praise—praise with uprightness of heart (Psalms 119:7). Insincerity, half-heartedness, vitiates and destroys all praise such as God can accept. He turns from it.
V. THEREFORE IN DEEP HUMILITY HE CONSECRATES HIMSELF TO GOD.
1. "I will keep thy statutes." It is a sacred vow. He knew that only in the path of obedience could he hope to realize what he so longed for.
2. But he says this in deep humility. "Oh forsake me not utterly!" He knows that God might justly do this, but he trembles lest he should.—S.C.
Longing after holiness.
I. THE PRAYER OF OUR TEXT RISES UP FROM MANY HEARTS.
1. From even the careless and the worldling. They, not seldom, have to eat of the fruit of their own ways, and it is nauseous to their taste. They often realize how wrong they are, and then there rises up from their hearts such prayer as this. Only, alas! these desires fade away so soon.
2. From the beginner in the Divine Life—the newly regenerate. This is the holy, healthy appetite of such a soul. Not alone desire for being saved from hell or admitted to heaven, but to be made like God, and so, well-pleasing to him.
3. The backslider. No more miserable soul can live on the earth than the backslider. Again and again is he made conscious of his wretched folly in leaving the ways of God, and he mourns and yearns for the better way. It is God who will not lightly let them go: it is his call; let such listen to it and obey, and that at once. Then this good desire may be as the slender thread which draws up the cord to the prisoner in the dungeon, and that the trusty rope whereby escape is gained. So this desire, if well used, may draw to you other gifts of God's grace, and they yet more, and so, blessed deliverance shall be yours.
4. The earnest believer. For he sees defects in himself where others do not, and is conscious of failure where others only praise his goodness. But he has an ideal, a vision of God, after which he is forever punting, and hence this prayer, "Oh that my ways were directed," etc.!
II. THE REASON OF THIS.
1. It is the way in which Christ walked. Every place where he has been is invested with a charm and delight to those who love him.
"Those holy fields,
Over whose acres walked those blessed feet."
How many love to walk there likewise! But it is not many who can do this literally; yet in the holy ways of love to God, and obedience and faith, in which he ever walked, we may walk if we will.
2. It is the way for which we were designed. Nothing works well in that for which it was not intended. The delicate instruments of the mathematician will not serve for the coarse work of the artisan. And so with man's nature—it is made for God, and in his obedience finds its real welfare.
3. It is the way of peace.
4. And of eternal life.
III. BUT FOR THIS WE NEED GOD'S DIRECTION.—S.C.
How to steer clear of shame.
I. WE ALL SHRINK FROM SHAME. Whether it be:
1. Before our own conscience. An inward blush, though unseen by any fellow-man, is to many, and to all who are capable of it, a source of pain, and to some of very real pain. To be ashamed of one's self is the reverse of pleasant.
2. Yet more, before our fellow-men. That has often driven men to self-destruction, so intolerable has it been. Or:
3. Before God. (See Psalms 40:12.) And who has not known, by reason of ingratitude and sin, what this shame is? And there is the last awful shame—that
4. Before the Lord at his coming. (1 John 2:28.) May he keep us from that!
II. THE SURE WAY OF AVOIDING IT. By having "respect unto all thy commandments."
1. But can any one have respect unto all God's commandments? Not so as to merit salvation thereby; for "by the works of the Law shall," etc. And even if we could for the future, what about the past? People often talk of turning over a new leaf, but what of the old ones? The new leaf will not blot out those old ones. If a man has broken the law of his country in the past, the plea that he will never do the like again will not avail for his pardon.
2. But in reference to God's commandments it is possible (Psalms 119:3) to "do no iniquity." Christ will keep the soul that daily, hourly, trusts in him. As the pebble that lies in the bed of the stream is ever kept bright and clean by the constantly flowing water that passes over it, so he who will "walk in the light," that is, honestly strive to live in such wise as that his whole conduct will bear God's light, and who will, so to speak, keep touch with Christ, continually looking to him for grace, he will find that the blood of Christ does, as a fact of experience, cleanse him, keep cleansing him, from all sin. There are thousands that can attest this. And:
3. This is what we should desire. Not out of dread of wrath, but out of love for God (Psalms 63:1-11.), has come to be our deep longing.
4. Such desire will lead to conduct very different from that of most. For most men do not have respect unto all God's commandments. They may be public duties, but not private ones. So the commands of the first table, but not those of the second, or it may be vice-versa. Or in great matters, but not in the little ones of daily life. The agreeable duties, but not the disagreeable.
III. BUT HE WHO WILL HAVE RESPECT UNTO ALL GOD'S COMMANDMENTS, SHALL NOT ONLY AVOID SHAME, BUT BE FILLED WITH THE LOVE OF GOD.—S.C.
Sanctified through the truth.
We have here—
I. A DIFFICULT QUESTION. "Wherewithal shall a young man," etc.? (Psalms 119:9).
1. The very word "wherewithal" implies this. It seems to suggest that all manner of means had been tried, but found inadequate.
2. It is also implied that the way is already defiled. And this most true, as most sad. The young man starts with an evil bias, and he has made this stronger than before by frequent compliance with it. So that it is not a clean way that has to be kept clean—that is difficult enough, but a defiled way that has to be made clean.
3. And youth is so open to temptation. The passions and appetites of the body clamoring like a set of foul harpies for indulgence. The mind, impatient of control, giving heed to all manner of unbelief and doubt and denial of the truth; the heart inexperienced and untaught, ready to be ensnared with the varied deceits of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Here is the fuel ready and the fire, and they come together in youth. What can prevent the conflagration?
II. BUT IT IS NOT A QUESTION THAT CANNOT BE ANSWERED. It has been again and again. See the history of Joseph; of Daniel and the noble Hebrew youths in exile with him; see the young men to whom St. John writes (1 John 2:13, 1 John 2:14). And there are many such today, glory be to God!
III. HERE WE ARE TOLD HOW THE QUESTION IS ANSWERED. "By taking heed. thereto," etc. (verse 9).
1. There must be taking heed to the way: thought and care given to it. It will not come right by chance, or when we are asleep, but it will need strenuous endeavors.
2. And this must be according to God's Word. For that Word supplies the pattern and model of such cleansed way; especially in Christ, "who did no sin," who was "holy, harmless, and undefiled." And it supplies the all-constraining motives—the love of God, the cross of Christ, the beauty of holiness, the eternal reward. And it gives the wisest counsel as to all holy living; there the right road is marked out for us. God's Word is a sure guide. And it points to the one source of help—the Holy Spirit of God, by whom God causes us to will and to do according to his good pleasure.
3. And all this he had done. See the following verses in this section. He tells how he had sought God with the whole heart, had hidden God's Word in his heart, etc; so that he had come to rejoice therein; and this, doubtless, because of their help.—S.C.
The soul's longing unto God's Word.
Such seems to be the theme of this third section of this psalm. This longing is shown—
I. IN HIS DESIRE FOR GOD'S CHIEF MERCIES ONLY THAT HE MAY KEEP GOD'S WORD. If most of us were called on to fill up this Psalms 119:17 after the word "and," what should we insert? Most desire to live and have God's bounty, that they may get rich and become prosperous or achieve some other earthly good. But the psalmist desires God's bounty and life only that, etc. What an estimate of that Word does such prayer show!
II. IN HIS PRAYER FOR OPEN VISION. (Psalms 119:18.) He desires this because he is certain that there are wondrous things in God's Word which as yet he has never seen, and which he never will see until God cloth open his eyes. And this is true of us all. To how many the Bible is all dark and dull, incomprehensible in many parts, and void of interest in others! It is because the films of sin and prejudice have rendered their eyesight dark and dull. Let their eyes be but opened, and they will behold, not, as now they do, mere words, but wondrous things out of God's Law.
III. IN HIS PITEOUS PLEA THAT GOD'S WORD MAY NOT BE HIDDEN FROM HIM. "I am a stranger in the earth." Hence homeless, friendless, helpless, with none to sympathize or succor, lonely, unused to the ways of those around him, desolate in heart, and often in all else. Therefore thou who hast commanded thy people to show kindness to strangers, will not thou do so for me? Hide not thy commandments from me, for they are to me as home and friends and all needful help. Illust.: Robinson Crusoe's joy on finding a copy of the Bible when on his desert island. The joy of the persecuted Malagasy in the Scriptures they had managed to preserve.
IV. BY HIS DEEP DISTRESS WHEN GOD'S WORD IS WITHHELD FROM HIM. (Psalms 119:20.) He may have had the letter of the Scriptures, but what he wanted was to find God in those Scriptures. Until this longing was satisfied, "all times" were alike sad to him. They who have known the joy of God's manifestations through his Word will know no joy until they are thus blessed again.
V. BY HIS DEPRECATION OF THE DOOM OF THOSE WHO DESPISE GOD'S WORD. (Psalms 119:21.) Misery, shame, and ruin are along the path they tread—a path which he would ever shun. It is well for us to look steadily on to the end of the sinner's path—the broad road—that we may the more steadily adhere to the ways of the Lord.
VI. BY HIS CONVICTION OF THE SURE DELIVERANCE THERE IS FOR HIM IN GOD'S WORD.
1. From reproach and contempt. (See homily on Psalms 119:6.) He had kept God's testimonies, and he knew that therefore reproach and contempt in all their power to distress or harm him would be taken away.
2. From all fear of man. (Psalms 119:23.) Princes may, and probably did, strive to browbeat and terrify him—as with Paul, Luther, and many such another; but the memory of God's Word mused and meditated upon made his soul strong. How true is the verse!—
"Fear him, ye saints; and you will then
Have nothing else to fear:
Make you his service your delight,
Your wants shall be his care."
VII. BY HIS CONFESSION OF THE GOOD HE HAD GOT OUT OF IT. (Psalms 119:24.)
1. God's testimonies had been his delight. See how our Savior delighted in God's Word.
2. His counselors. No one finds God's Word his delight unless he first makes it his counselor. But if we will, then, etc.—S.C.
Clinging to God.
Such seems to be the tone and spirit of this section. There has been the waking up to a great peril, and hence there has come the tightening of the grasp on God, the clinging to him with the greater tenacity because of the one peril seen and felt.
I. THE PENITENT CONFESSION AND PRAYER. (Psalms 119:1.) The psalmist owns that the world is getting too much and terrible power over him; that his soul, instead of mounting up to God in holy aspiration and endeavor, cleaves to the dust; and he dreads lest he should fall away altogether, and therefore prays, "Quicken thou me," etc.
II. HE ENCOURAGES HIMSELF BY RECALLING GOD'S ANSWERS TO HIS PRAYERS IN THE PAST. When before he had made like confession and supplication, it had not been in vain.
III. HE PRAYS DEFINITELY for what he feels will really help him.
1. That God should teach him his statutes. (Psalms 119:26.) That God should do this; he cannot teach himself, others cannot teach him, but God can. This is what we all want.
2. That God should make him understand his Word. He had heard it, read it, but he wanted that deep realization of it which only a true understanding of it could supply.
3. And he wanted this that he might bear effectual testimony. "So shall I talk," etc. (Psalms 119:27). Such testimony would not only bless others, but would react on himself, as it ever does, and would be one of the effectual ways in which God would quicken him.
IV. HE TELLS THE LORD HOW GREAT HIS TROUBLE IS, and prays and pleads for help.
1. His trouble was that he feared he was losing hold of God. He was breaking his heart over it, for, to a godly man, there is no greater trouble than to feel as if every good in him, all that God had given him of his grace, were falling away from him. That is trouble indeed.
2. He prays for help. "Strengthen thou me." As if he would say he could not hold on much longer; unless help came, he must give way.
3. He pleads the Word of God. "According to thy Word" (see homily on Psalms 119:25).
V. HE CONFESSES AND PRAYS AGAINST THE EVIL WAY INTO WHICH HE HAD FALLEN—"the way of lying." Not—so scholars say—the habit of falsehood and lies in common Speech, but rather of unfaithfulness, falseness to God. Uttering vows and never fulfilling them, making holy resolves and forgetting and breaking them. How many do this! How easy it is to fall into this way! We use strong impassioned expressions in hymns and prayers, and when we look for the corresponding acts they are not to be found. And this, like the veriest vice, does, as Burns says-
" … hardens all within,
And petrifies the feeling."
Well, therefore, may he pray, "Remove from me," etc. He asks for two things:
1. The taking away of the old evil. In all spiritual reformation this must come first. Repentance is just this. Then:
2. The imparting of God's Law. The forming and fashioning of the soul after that Law.
VI. HE MAKES PROTESTATION.
1. That his will is ever on God's side. (Psalms 119:30.) "I have chosen," etc. His deliberate choice and preference is, not the way of lying, but the way of truth, and hence he keeps ever before him God's judgments.
2. That he has acted according to his resolve. He has stuck unto God's testimonies. He had held on, clung tightly. He could appeal to the Lord's knowledge of this, and plead that he should not be put to shame.
3. That he will live the quickened life if God will enlarge his heart by shedding abroad therein his own love and the knowledge of his will.—S.C.
Quicken thou me.
I. THE DEPLORABLE CONDITION THAT CALLED FOR THE ANSWER TO THIS PRAYER. It was a very sad one; for consider:
1. What it was that the psalmist confesses that his soul cleaved to. "The dust." By this contemptuous phrase he means the things of this world generally. And he is right in thus speaking. Not that in themselves the things of this world are no better than dust. Health, wealth, success, reputation, power, pleasure—the things that men strive after—these have their value, and that is far higher than mere dust. But it is when these things are put in opposition to, and too often preferred before—as they are—things that are spiritual and eternal, and that have to do with the destiny and character of the soul, that then they are rightly called "dust." And they are like the dust, not only by their comparative worthlessness, but for other reasons—their power to defile the soul. Even the believer, though, by the blood of Christ, he is made clean, yet needs—so Christ tells us—that he wash his feet (John 13:10). Contact with the world's dust, inevitable though it be, involves the continual need of the washing of the feet, that is, that portion of our spiritual nature that is exposed to the world's defiling power. And how blinding is this dust! Men can see nothing as it really is, when thus blinded. And how suggestive as to the destiny of the soul that cleaveth to it—to be driven away "like the chaff which the wind driveth away"! Its proper place is under our feet; but how terrible that the soul should cleave to it!
2. And that the soul should do this. For think of what the soul of man is. Its nature—formed in the image of God. Its capacity—able to commune with God, to become like God. Its destiny—eternal blessedness or woe. The cost of its redemption—nothing less than the precious blood of Christ. The strife that is ever going on for its possession—between the gracious powers of heaven on the one side, and the awful powers of hell on the other. Can that be of small account concerning which all this can be said? And yet it is this soul which, too often, cleaves to the dust.
3. And that the soul should cleave to it. The attractions of this world we cannot but see, and their fascination we cannot but feel, and the devil is ever busy to make that attraction more fascinating still. But that we, the redeemed of the Lord, the temples of the Holy Ghost, should yield to this, and not only yield, but be so mastered as to cleave thereto, as the limpet cleaves to the rock, spite of all efforts to detach it,—how deplorably sad all this is! And yet our consciences must own how deplorably common a fact this is. Blessed be God, if we are led to see it, to mourn over it, to confess it, as here; and, best of all to turn to the sure remedy. For note—
II. THE HELP THAT IS CRAVED. "Quicken thou me."
1. The psalmist was wont to pray this prayer very often. Seven times over in this psalm does it occur (Psalms 119:25, Psalms 119:37, Psalms 119:40, Psalms 119:88, Psalms 119:149, Psalms 119:150, Psalms 119:159).
2. What does he mean by it? Not the bestowment of spiritual life—he had this already, or he would never have made this confession and prayer; but "more life and fuller," the enlivening and reinvigoration of the soul,—this is what he craved.
3. And he turns to God for this. It is God's work; he alone can answer this prayer. Man does not even know what life in its meanest forms is, much less is he able to create it. How, then, should he be competent when it is the highest form of life that is needed?
4. But this does not mean that we are to be absolutely passive in the matter. We are not. We can and we must pray for it, as does the psalmist here.
5. And never does God refuse such prayer when coming from a sincere heart. See the miracles of our Lord—how he quickened into life again the child-daughter of Jairus; the young man, the widow's son; and Lazarus, on whom corruption had already fastened. Nothing can bar his power.
III. THE PLEA THAT IS URGED. "According to thy Word." This answers to our "through Jesus Christ our Lord;" for he was the Word, the means by which we read the heart of God. He was the Word incarnate. But in the days before his advent, the Word which is here told of served the same end; not so much the written Word as that message of God to the soul which came through the written or spoken Word. Now, according to that, in harmony with the love, truth, wisdom, power, of that, so is it prayed, "Quicken thou me."
IV. LET US PRAY THIS PRAYER. Maybe we need it, though we do not think so. Dislike of prayer and holy service, fret and anxiety, worry and continual care about earthly things for ourselves or for our children,—such are some of the signs that we need thus to pray. And think of the harm that such cleaving to the dust must ever involve.—S.C.
I. WE HAVE HERE AN ILLUSTRATION OF IT. "I have stuck unto," etc. If, as we believe, this psalm is the production of one who in the days of Israel's exile was pressed upon by all manner of inducements to renounce his faith in God, but who, like Daniel and his companions, stuck unto God's testimonies, then his history would justify the assertion here made. And there have been many such.
II. TENACITY WILL ALWAYS BE TRIED.
1. It could not else be known. It might be professed, but could never be proved. Hence:
2. Our Lord was wont to test the sincerity of all who came to him. And he does so still. See the history of the Syro-phoenician woman. How terrible was the strain and test to which she was subjected, but which, as the Lord knew she would, she triumphantly endured!
III. IT Is A VERY BLESSED GIFT. For, as this verse suggests:
1. It delivers from shame. The shame of a rebuking conscience; of men's contempt; of God's being ashamed of us; and of our dishonoring God. The want of such tenacity involves all this shame; and a terrible thing it is.
2. It secures great blessing. Inward peace and confidence towards God; the respect and admiration of our fellow men; they cannot help themselves; they must admire such steadfastness; they ever have done so, and thus the blood of the martyrs has become the seed of the Church. It receives also God's great reward (Matthew 10:32), and brings glory to him now.
IV. IT IS ATTAINABLE BY ALL. This may seem an exaggerated, if not an untrue, statement, but it is neither. No doubt there are men, who by their temperament and physical constitution, their sound health and well-balanced and not too susceptible nervous organization, seem incapable of fear; but there are others, and these the majority, who seem constitutionally weak. But, nevertheless, this blessed endowment of strength all may have. See St. Peter giving way and cowardly denying his Lord at the challenge of a servant-girl; and that same man, when emptied of his self-confidence and baptized with the Holy Spirit, dauntless and firm as a rock. Out of weakness he, as myriads more, was made strong. God is able to strengthen us with all might by his Spirit in the inner man. Let self-trust go, his love come in, and the Spirit fill us, and so this great gift shall be ours.—S.C.
Running the way of God's commandments.
I. WHAT THIS IS.
1. It is not a common thing. In ordinary men you do not see it at all; they very often run, and at headlong speed, but it is the reverse of the way told of here. And even when we have become Christians, there is too often only a creeping along, a very slow walking, and that interrupted by many a halt, and sometimes by positive turning back; but how little of this running!
2. For running means increased energy in God's service. The very word implies that. It is the very opposite of listlessness, taking our ease, and of all indifference. Go along by the side of a country mill-stream in the hot summer months. As you come to the mill you hear no sound. The pleasant beat of the wheel, the murmur of the grinding, and the cool plash of the water on the far side of the stream, are all missing. You draw near, and you see the cause. The stream has well-nigh disappeared; the muddy banks are steaming in the heat; there is but a small dribble of water at the bottom; the mill-wheel is motionless and blistering in the sun. But come that way again after the spring or autumn rains, or during the wet winter months. How the water rushes along! How it whirls the mill-wheel round! how it compels the miller to find an overflow, lest its force do serious damage! Now, the contrast between the miserable, scant supply of water in the hot summer months, and that other full, rushing flow, is no greater than that between the common life of too many Christians and that running in the way of God's commandments of which the psalm here tells.
3. And careful laying aside of hindrances. Many of our hindrances allow of quiet walking, but not of running (cf. Hebrews 12:1).
4. More steadfast looking to the end of the way. "Looking unto Jesus." If we look aside, we linger, swerve, and slacken our pace.
5. Greater joy in God's service. Running is a symbol of joy (Acts 3:8).
II. IT IS VERY DESIRABLE.
1. For its effects on our own spiritual life.
2. For its influence on the world.
3. And on the Church.
4. And, above all, for the honor of Christ. Note—
III. ITS CONDITION. "When thou shalt enlarge my heart." That is:
1. The understanding; that we may see and know the truth.
2. The affections; that we may feel it.
3. The conscience; that we may be aroused.
4. The will; that we may resolve.—S.C.
Teach me, O Lord.
The verses of this section contain, apparently, an enumeration of various facts which rendered it essential that the Lord should teach him, if ever he were to learn. As it has been said, the man who wrote this psalm knew two things—first, that there was something he must and would learn, for all his well-being depended upon it; and this something was the Word of God, which he calls now by one name and now by another. But he knew a second thing, and that was—he could never teach himself; God must teach him. This is the burden of his prayer, not only in this section, but throughout the psalm. For the difficulties in the way of his acquiring this knowledge were many and great. He suggests some of them here.
I. LACK OF PERSEVERANCE. What knowledge he already had gained was sufficient to make him set out on the way; but soon he became ready to halt, and did halt. God must instruct him if he were ever to continue steadily on to the end. "Ye did run well; who did hinder you?" So said St. Paul to some of his converts: and how often the like has to be said still (cf. the seed on the stony ground, Matthew 13:1-58.)!
II. HALF-HEARTEDNESS. (Psalms 119:34.) Here was another difficulty, as it is to this day. People can be got to keep part of the Law of God, but not all of it—they will make some reserves. And if they are not conscious of this, they know that it is not with the "whole heart" that they serve God. The psalmist confesses his failure here, and prays that God would so give him understanding that he may observe God's Law with his whole heart.
III. INABILITY TO DO WHAT HE WOULD. He delighted in the path of God's commandments (Psalms 119:35), but yet was unable "to go" therein. No doubt he could talk about it, pray about it, feel warmly, speak fervently, and desire sincerely about it, but then came this miserable powerlessness which he asks God to overcome, and to make him "go in," etc. (Romans 7:14-19). Here is another reason for seeking the help of God, and it exists still.
IV. COVETOUSNESS. (Psalms 119:36.) If the Lord does teach the soul, then there will follow "understanding" (Psalms 119:34)—power of will (Psalms 119:35) and inclination of the heart to God's testimonies (Psalms 119:36), so that all these requests are but different forms of that with which the section begins, "Teach me, O Lord." And here in this thirty-sixth verse he names another hindrance—covetousness. St. Paul speaks of it as "the root of all evil," as indeed it is (cf. 1 Timothy 6:9, 1 Timothy 6:10; Colossians 3:5; Matthew 13:22). It so drags the heart away from God, that only he can turn it back again.
V. LOVE OF VANITY. (Psalms 119:37.) The runner in the race that does not keep his eye fixed steadily on the goal, but turns his eyes now to this side and now to that, whenever they are attracted by some vanity, will indeed need quickening in God's way. This wandering gaze of the soul, how many failures in the Christian race is it answerable for!
VI. INSTABILITY. Here it is again, as in Psalms 119:35 and Psalms 119:40—delighting in the path of God's commandments, yet needing power to go; so now here is the soul devoted to God's fear, but yet needing to be established. The Word of God is not insecure and unstable, but the soul is so m regard to it. As to its truth, as to its value, as to its power, Lord, make it sure to us!
VII. FEAR OF REPROACH. This does, indeed, bring a snare. How many know God's judgments are good, but yet fear "reproach"!
VIII. LACK OF SPIRITUAL ENERGY. (Psalms 119:40.) Longing, yet unable to attain. Longing without God's quickening will not avail.—S.C.
What God's salvation does for a man.
This section begins with fervent prayer for the coming of God's salvation unto the psalmist. He wants to have a personal realization of it. And he proceeds to tell wherefore he thus prays. His reasons may well be ours.
I. IT ENABLES HIM AND URGES HIM TO ANSWER HIM THAT REPROACHETH. (Psalms 119:42.) If a man knows that God's salvation has come to him, he has that in his conscious possession which will make him despise, as mere idle tales, all and every reproach of the scoffer and the unbeliever. They may as well deny or decry the light of the sun as to do the like for that salvation in which the soul rejoices. His only fear is lest he should not be able to give clear testimony—lest, whilst he feels it in his heart, he should be unable to declare it with his lips; hence he prays (Psalms 119:43), "Take not … out of my mouth." God will not take it out of his heart, but he may out of his mouth, by refusing him power or opportunity of utterance. He longs to bear bold testimony for God and his salvation.
II. ENDUES HIM WITH PERSEVERING GRACE. (Verse. 44.) He will never desire to forsake the Law of God, but will go on therein continually forever and ever. Its ways are ways of pleasantness (Proverbs 3:17).
III. CAUSES HIM TO WALK AT LIBERTY. (Galatians 5:1; John 8:36.) Christ's yoke will give rest; but then we must have it really on, not half on and half off, for then it frets and chafes and galls. How could it be otherwise? The liberty of the children of God is glorious.
IV. GIVES HIM FEARLESSNESS. (Psalms 119:46; cf. Matthew 10:18-20.)
V. AND PURE DELIGHT. (Psalms 119:47.) There is such delight as is here told of (Psalms 119:16, Psalms 119:35; Psalms 37:4). This delight was "the meat to eat which ye know not of," of which our Savior spoke (John 4:32-34). And what servant of God is there that has not known this delight? It is "the peace of God, which passeth all understanding" (Philippians 4:7).
VI. AND HOLY RESOLVE OF CONSECRATION TO GOD. (Psalms 119:48.) The lifting-up of the hands tells of solemn vows made to God (cf. Genesis 14:22). So here the psalmist takes his solemn oath—his sacramentum—that he will be true to God. How often, when the sense of the infinite love of God has come into the soul, has the like vow been made!
VII. MAKES HIM TO BE EVER MEDITATING UPON GOD. The run of his thoughts is ever after God and his ways.—S.C.
Songs in the night.
The comfort of God in time of trial is the theme of this section. As to these songs, we are told—
I. GOD GIVES THEM. (Psalms 119:49.) The Word which it is prayed the Lord would remember is God's own Word; and it is told what that Word has done—"caused me to hope." This God's Word ever does.
II. THEY ARE OUR COMFORT IN AFFLICTION. (Psalms 119:50.) And what a number of these precious words there are! There is no conceivable stress of soul which is not thought of and provided for by some fit and sure word of the comfort of God.
III. THEY HOLD US FAST IN THE RIGHT WAY. (Psalms 119:51.) To be held up to scorn and derision is more than most can bear; they give way, yield, and swerve beneath its pitiless power; but not so he to whom the comfort of God is known. The sense of his approval, the gleam of the crown of life, the anticipation of his "well done." and of the joy of the Lord, hold fast the heart, and steady the wavering will. It has ever been so, and will ever be so.
IV. THEY BRING TO MEMORY THE VERDICT OF GOD. (Psalms 119:52.) This:
1. When man's verdict has been clearly and cruelly given against us. (Psalms 119:51.) They deemed him a miserable fool
2. When thinking of how God will judge them who are now judging him. He can leave them to his tribunal, whence righteous judgment will go forth.
3. When contemplating the high-handed wickedness of those that forsake God's Law. (Psalms 119:58.) Burning indignation and horror take hold of him at the sight of them, but again the memory of God's judgments has been his comfort. The history of Israel had recorded many such judgments.
V. THEY HAD BRIGHTENED THE WEARY JOURNEY OF THE DAY AND THE DARK HOURS OF NIGHT. (Psalms 119:54, Psalms 119:55.)
"Such songs have power to quiet
The restless pulse of care,
And come like benediction
That follows after prayer.
"And the night shall be filled with music,
And the cares that infest the day
Shall fold their tents like the Arabs,
And as silently steal away."
(H. W. Longfellow.)
VI. BUT ONLY THE FAITHFUL CAN HAVE THESE SONGS. (Psalms 119:56.) How true this! The joy of the Lord comes not to the half-hearted and the compromiser and the unfaithful. But to him who keeps God's precepts they do come.—S.C.
God the Portion of his people.
This may be understood either way: as the portion which God gives his people—he bestows himself upon them; or the portion which they choose and claim. Probably the latter is the meaning here. They have turned their backs on the world as a portion, and have resolved that as for them they will be the Lord's, and he shall be theirs. Accordingly, we have given here sundry signs and effects of God being his people's Portion.
I. APPROPRIATION. The word "my" denotes that. Until our faith in God advances to this personal appropriation of him, it will not do much for us. We must believe in God, not only as a Portion for his people, but each one of us must be able to say, "He is my Portion" (cf. Psalms 91:2).
II. CONSECRATION AND CONFESSION. "I have said that I would," etc. (Psalms 119:57). Not only is there the inward resolve to live the life of obedience, but the open avowal thereof. Wonderful is the increased hold of God which confessing him gives to the soul.
III. SUPPLICATION. "More of God" is the soul's craving and cry; with the whole heart his favor is entreated (Psalms 119:58). The hunger after God grows by what it feeds on. God is the One only satisfying Portion of the soul (cf. Psalms 63:1, Psalms 63:2). His loving-kindness is deemed better than life.
IV. CONSIDERATION. There will be the thinking on our ways. We shall consider them, examine them, hold them up to the light, so as to see if they be what God would have them be. And such consideration will be followed by its proper consequence—it will not stop short with itself, but will go on, and that speedily (Psalms 119:60), to the practical result of turning "our feet unto," etc. (Psalms 119:59). There is much consideration which never advances so far as this, much thought which never bears this blessed fruit. Then there will be—
V. CONSOLATION. This ever follows, never precedes, such practical consideration as that just spoken of. But it does follow. There will be trials to be met, and burdens to be borne, and many temptations; but there will be support and consolation abundant (Psalms 119:61, Psalms 119:62).
VI. ASSOCIATION. The instinct of the regenerate soul is to find others like itself They will associate, let the cost be what it may.
VII. ASPIRATION. The soul recognizes how full the earth is of God's mercy. It would enjoy more for itself.—S.C.
The blessed effects of affliction.
I. THEY ARE CONFESSED. (Psalms 119:65.) Did not the following verses tell us, we should hesitate to say that the frank confession, "Thou hast dealt well with thy servant," referred to afflictions that he had suffered. But such is the reference. Many a child of God has made the confession here on earth; all will make it in heaven.
II. WE NEED THE TEACHING OF GOD ERE WE SEE THEM. (Psalms 119:66.) This is what is implied; it is as if he had said, "Unless thou dost teach me, I shall never be able to see that it is good for me that I have been afflicted." He would have the teaching, that he may yet more clearly see how well God hath dealt with him. But it is so; for—
III. AFFLICTION OFTEN RESTORES AND RESTRAINS THE SOUL. (Psalms 119:67, Psalms 119:71. See history of Manasseh, 2 Chronicles 33:1-25.) The burnt child dreads the fire. "Lord, with what care thou hast begirt us round!" If the way of transgressors was not hard, we should all go that way. The meaning and intent of affliction is to keep us near and to draw us nearer to God. Happy are they who, when the storm of life beats heavily, hide the more closely within the sure shelter of the love of God! And this is what God would have us do. And what a holy restraint the memory of past affliction exercises upon us! The sin which before was very attractive has now, because branded with the dread marks of God's displeasure, lost most, if not all, of its attraction. And this is another end God designs.
IV. RIGHTLY READ, IT PROVES THE GOODNESS OF GOD. (Psalms 119:68.) It is because it is so often wrongly read that unbelief, pessimism, and atheism so largely prevail. But submission, prayer, trust, will ever lead to the right reading.
V. THEY RENDER THE PRACTICES OF THE PROUD POWERLESS TO DO US HARM. (Psalms 119:69, Psalms 119:70.) They would shrink from no falsehood to injure the godly, but they cannot separate him from the God in whom he trusts and delights.
VI. THEY MAKE GOD AND HIS WORD VERY PRECIOUS. (Psalms 119:72.) We say, "A friend in need is a friend indeed." But if when in deep affliction God came to our help, and sustained us under it, and sanctified us through it, and comforted us continually, must not that God be precious to our soul? Assuredly yes!—S.C.
The sustaining power of the Word of God.
The psalmist has just come forth from some heavy affliction; but all through it God's Word has been his stay; and some of the results of such God-sustained affliction are shown in this section. They may be classed under the three heads of—
I. CONVICTION. This relates:
1. To the fact that his life has been ordered of God. (Psalms 119:73.) "Thy hands have," etc. He is speaking not merely of his body, that God created that, but rather he speaks of that as proof that all else concerning him had been made and fashioned of God—his life was according to the settled purpose and plan of God. "He knoweth the way that I take." Blessed is it when we come to recognize this truth; for then shall we know that we are not the sport of mere caprice or blind chance, but are under the control of God, who cannot err, and who, "like as a father, pitieth his children."
2. That in righteousness and faithfulness God had afflicted him. (Psalms 119:75.) Men find it very hard to say this now; they never do say it of themselves; but God's grace can enable a man to say it, as here and hereafter in heaven we shall say it. But it is good to be able to say it now.
II. ASSURANCE (Psalms 119:74) that his trust in God under his affliction would win for him the glad welcome of those who feared God. The warm welcome of the people of God is one of the many recompenses with which those who for Christ's sake suffer will be met (Matthew 19:29).
III. PRAYERFULNESS. Note his petitions:
1. For understanding, so that he might learn, etc. (Psalms 119:73.) This is a petition he is perpetually offering (see Psalms 119:34, Psalms 119:125, Psalms 119:144, Psalms 119:169, Psalms 119:27, Psalms 119:100, etc.). It implies that if men did but understand, their hearts would turn to God (Psalms 14:2; Psalms 82:5; Isaiah 6:10). And, undoubtedly, it would be so. The failure is not in the intellect, but in the heart.
2. For more knowledge of God's promised mercy (Psalms 119:76, Psalms 119:77); so that he may be comforted thereby, and that he might live (Psalms 119:77). Life without the realization of God's tender mercies would not be worth having.
3. For the bringing of the proud to shame, if so be God's will; if it were not, then he would not be without help, for he would meditate in, etc. (Psalms 119:78).
4. For the friendship of the good. How blessed to have this (Psalms 119:79)!
5. For soundness of heart in God's statutes. The heart is the all-important thing.—S.C.
Persecuted, but not forsaken.
I. PERSECUTED. That he was so is clear from the verses before us. For he says:
1. "Thy soul fainteth," etc. (Psalms 119:81.) He was heart-sick at the long delay of the hoped-for help. Year after year, generation after generation, it has been at times the lot of God's people to suffer persecution. And then the piteous confession of these verses is heard.
2. "Mine eyes fail," etc. (Psalms 119:82.) As one who steadily gazes out into the distance, looking for aid promised, expected, but does not come, at length his eyes become weary and dim, and his sorrow finds utterance in the plaintive words, "When wilt thou comfort me?" Hard, indeed, is the lot of such.
3. His very countenance and his body generally showed the marks of his distress. (Psalms 119:83.) Like as a wine skin-bottle hung up in the smoke of the fire would blacken and shrivel, become dry, parched, wrinkled, and useless, so the deep lines and the wasted look and the shrunken form told of the inward anguish of the soul.
4. It was near the close of his life, and his persecution, so wrong and unjust, still continued. (Psalms 119:84-86.) They sought to trap him as if he were a wild beast (Psalms 119:85). So did the ungodly deal with him. Persistent, cruel, cunning, unjust, ever seeking his life—how piteous such a condition!
5. He was "almost consumed." (Psalms 119:87.) As a brand blackened and charred, and all but burnt up and reduced to ashes. It is an emblem of uttermost distress. Yes; he was persecuted, and it was hard to bear.
II. BUT HE WAS NOT FORSAKEN.
1. For the promises of God were his stay. He hoped in them still (Psalms 119:81). Did not forget God's statutes. Forsook not his precepts (Psalms 119:83, Psalms 119:87).
2. He was sure that God would fulfill his Word. (Psalms 119:84.) It was only a question of "when?"
3. His soul still turned to God. Praying for help (Psalms 119:86). For quickening, so that he might keep hold of God's testimonies. Believing absolutely in the loving-kindness of God (Psalms 119:88). Now, a man who can do all this, persecuted he may be, as this man was, but forsaken he is not. Oh the blessedness of real faith in God! Life is often terribly stern. Gethsemane and Calvary are along the way God's people often have to take, though never can they be to us so awful as they were to our Lord. But as unto him, so to us, light ariseth out of darkness; for such is the blessedness of the people of God.—S.C.
A grateful confession of Divine aid.
How fitly this section follows on the foregoing one! There was darkness, indeed; but here is light. The psalmist celebrates—let us do so with him—the help of God.
I. IT IS SETTLED IN HEAVEN FOREVER THAT SUCH AID SHALL BE FORTHCOMING. (Psalms 119:89.) Therefore:
1. No power of man can hinder it. It is "settled."
2. Nor any lapse of time. Generations may come and go, but that matters not. God's promise abides, even as the earth which he has established.
3. Nor any events or changes whatsoever. (Psalms 119:91.) Divine decrees have ordained them, and all have to serve and minister thereto. Here is great consolation for the tried soul.
II. IT SUSTAINS THE SERVANT OF GOD IS UTTERMOST PERIL. (Psalms 119:92.) But for God's settled love, which was full of delight for his servant, he could not have lived. God has ways and means by his Holy Spirit to so write his Word on our hearts, that they shall be filled with delight, and all the power of hell cannot destroy us. So was it here; so will it be with all like-minded men.
III. THE EXPERIENCE OF ITS POWER MAKES IT IMPOSSIBLE FOR THE MEMORY TO LET IT GO. (Psalms 119:93.) If we have been "quickened" by it, as was the psalmist, memory and heart and will cleave to it with a tenacity which never relaxes, but ever tightens its hold. Nothing but the experience of religion in the heart will do this. Creeds and rituals and sacraments, religious profession and work, have all been proved frail and feeble in this respect; but he who knows by actual experience how God can quicken his soul will simply never leave him.
IV. AND LEADS TO ABSOLUTE SELF-SURRENDER AND CONFIDENT TRUST. (Psalms 119:94.) "I am thine." The man is no longer his own. "Save me"—I know thou wilt; such is the implied meaning.
V. IS AN ANTIDOTE TO ALL FEAR. (Psalms 119:95.) What matters it that the wicked wait, etc.? He will consider the testimonies of God, those borne to him by redeemed souls, those borne by them in the psalmist's own soul. Such considering banishes fear.
VI. THERE IS NOTHING LIKE IT. All human schemes and teachings are naught compared with thy commandment.—S.C.
O how love I thy Law!
Then follows a series of reasons why.
I. IT FURNISHES HIM WITH HAPPY THOUGHT ALL THE DAY LONG. (Psalms 119:97.) It is good to cultivate the habit of turning our thoughts to the things of God as they are told of in his Word. The habit is not natural to us, but God, by his Spirit, will help us to cultivate it. And how full of help and blessedness it is, none but those who have acquired it can declare; but such have declared this, as the psalmist here, again and again.
II. WITH PRACTICAL WISDOM, SO THAT HE CAN ORDER HIS WAY ARIGHT. This is what is meant here by "wisdom" and "understanding." By means of it he can:
1. Outwit his enemies (Psalms 119:98), no matter how crafty their policy.
2. Become wiser than his teachers. They may be full of sound doctrine, but the soul that is partaker of God's grace is wiser than they.
3. Understands more than the men of olden time. "Understanding gotten by the precepts of the Word is better than that gotten by long experience.
III. HOLDS HIM BACK FROM SIN. (Psalms 119:101.) He has come to love righteousness and hate iniquity; but he knows that if he is to keep in this mind he must refrain, etc. He that will go into sin grieves and banishes from his soul the Spirit of God. Many people desire to be holy, but they desire ever so many other things along with it—this, for example, that occasionally they may allow themselves in some evil way. And so they never attain to holiness; such double-hearted ones never can. God must teach us this (Psalms 119:102).
IV. BECOMES HIS DELIGHT. (Psalms 119:103.) This is the meaning of the metaphor of this verse. The soul has its relish as well as the palate. And it is a blessed thing when the soul has a real relish for the things of God. Christ said, "I delight to do thy will, O my God." So was it foretold of him (Psalms 40:1-17.). And he himself said, "My meat and my drink is to do the will of him that sent me." The religion of fear, of conscience, of sense, of duty, of hope, of reward, is feeble—must be so—but the religion that delights in God is strong for all things.
V. GIVES HOLY HATRED OF ALL SIN. (Psalms 119:104.) He whom God has taught so to understand will thus hate all sin. Blessed hatred is this.—S.C.
The illuminated path.
We have here—
I. A BLESSED FACT, WITNESSED TO BY THE EXPERIENCE OF MYRIADS OF GOD'S PEOPLE. (Psalms 119:105.) There has been no age of the world since God's revelation has been given, no period of life whether in youth or age, no rank of society from the lowest to the highest, no condition of life in which men have been placed, but what they have found this Word true. God's Word has counsel for every difficulty, comfort in every trouble, guidance in all perplexity. Men go wrong, not from want of knowledge of the right, but from unwillingness to follow the right.
II. NOTABLE RESULTS TEAT FOLLOW.
1. A steadfast resolve to keep to this path. (Psalms 119:106.) The soul has seen how well it is to abide in God's way, and here declares that what it has seen and resolved upon it will also do. And this is the secret of the perseverance of the saints. They have known by experience how blessed the ways of the Lord are that nothing will induce them to depart from them. Their one desire is to be found walking in the ways of God more steadfastly and more vigorously.
2. The soul will turn to it in trouble. (Psalms 119:107.) Even the ungodly, when they are afflicted very much, will send for the minister, take down the hitherto neglected Bible, and begin to read it, under the influence of a conviction they have never been able to shake off, that here, after all, are to be found the words of eternal life, which can alone help them. But the godly soul at once turns to them. They are his songs in the night, the joy of his heart.
3. Unbounded gratitude. (Psalms 119:108.) For what, when we look back on our way, can we find that more makes up our grateful acknowledgments than the fact that God has so illumined our faith by his Word that we have been kept in the right way, and have not fallen? Oh, the joys of this! May we all know it, as we may, if we will! Of course, it leads to the insatiable longing to know more of God's judgments.
4. Perpetual peril cannot drive him off from it. (Psalms 119:109.) Such condition—"my soul continually in my hand"—by its distracting, alarming, depressing influence, is apt to banish all holy thought and all recollection of God's Word. Men have been known to become very beasts under such circumstances—selfish, sensual, brutal; the sort of spirit which the sauve qui peut is ever seen to engender in the ordinary run of men. But how different what is said here!—the calm, holy, soul-sustaining remembrance of God's Word.
5. The traps and snares which the wicked plant for the soul utterly fail. (Psalms 119:110.) Keep in that illuminated path, and you may laugh at these snares. For they are never placed where the light shines on them, but where there is no light.
6. Desire that it may be the heritage of himself and his children after him. (Psalms 119:111.) He who knows the blessedness of what is here told of longs for it, not for himself alone, but for a heritage for those who shall come after him.
7. Steady guard upon the restless heart that would wander from this path. (Psalms 119:112.) Strenuous care must be taken—watchfulness and prayer-or else the deceitful heart will wander away. Who knows not this?
III. HOW THIS BLESSEDNESS MAY BE REALIZED. If the Word is to thus illumine our path, we must take the Word, keep it continually, and bring it to bear on the path we are to take. Many turn the light of the Word skywards, or backwards, or on the right hand or left. Hold it down on your path.—S.C.
Deceit denounced and detested.
The thoughts spoken of here are not mere idle thoughts, but deceitful and double-minded ones. We learn—
I. HOLY SOULS HATE THEM. (Psalms 119:113.) They constitute and create that lukewarmness which is so nauseous in the esteem of Christ (Revelation 3:16). He would prefer that men were cold altogether rather than this (cf. also Elijah, 1 Kings 18:21). This double-mindedness, ever seeking to serve God and mammon, compromising and tampering with truth, well may it excite the hate of holy souls. For:
1. It dishonors God. The man makes profession of religion, and men judge by what they see in him, and, instead of God being glorified, he is dishonored day by day.
2. The Church of God is weakened. Such men spread an awful contagion in a Church; they chili the ardor of fervent souls, they encourage those who are like themselves.
3. The man himself is in fearful peril. He is forever saying, "Peace, peace," when there is no peace. The publicans and harlots go into the kingdom of heaven before him. And who is to arouse and waken him?
4. He enjoys none of the great blessedness which ever accompanies real religion and single-minded service of God. Such as peace of conscience: the Spirit never beareth witness to such that they are saved, and there is often a terrible misgiving, especially at the hour of death. Purity of heart: that cannot be theirs. Calm amid trouble. Power to bless others, etc. For all these and other reasons such double-mindedness cannot but be hateful to all holy souls.
II. BUT IT IS A CONDITION VERY PREVALENT, NEVERTHELESS. Men like it: it avoids extremes; they would not be altogether without religion—that would be very sad; but yet they do not want to be considered as enthusiastic or fanatical; it enables them to get on very well with the world, and to maintain a pleasant religious reputation at the same time. No wonder, therefore, that it is common.
III. WE ARE SHOWS HERE HOW TO GAIN DELIVERANCE FROM IT.
1. Let God be our Hiding-place and our Shield. When such thoughts assail us, as they often will, let us turn to God. It is not enough to drive away the wrong; we must bring in the right. Therefore "with thoughts of God and things Divine" let us occupy our minds, and so will deliverance come. And we should habitually cherish such thoughts, for so they will serve as a shield to ward off thoughts of an opposite nature.
2. Keep away from evildoers. (Psalms 119:115.) For they are ever tempting us to such deceitful serving of God: they will inevitably, if we make companions of them, lower the tone and sap the fidelity of our thoughts.
3. Commit yourselves to the Lord for safety, so that you may not be ashamed. Ask him day by day and hour by hour to uphold you and keep you true (Psalms 119:116, Psalms 119:117).
4. Call to mind the dreadful end of such double-mindedness. (Psalms 119:118, Psalms 119:119.) They are trampled down, they are rejected like dross.
5. Cherish a holy fear lest you should incur a like doom. (Psalms 119:120.) Therefore bare your heart before him, and pray him to help you always and everywhere to hate all such deceitful and double-minded thoughts.—S.C.
An appeal of the righteous to the righteous God against the unrighteous.
I. PLEADS HIS INNOCENCE AND INTEGRITY. (Psalms 119:121.) "If I will not oppress others, I may hopefully pray that others may not oppress me" (1 John 3:20). It was a great thing in those days of old, when might stood for right in well-nigh all men's estimation, when—
"They should take who have the power,
And they should keep who can"
—was considered "the good old rule, the simple plan." At such time for a man to be able to say, "I have done justice and judgment," was indeed a rare and remarkable thing. But if, by the grace of God, this has been true of us, and we know it, there is no wrong in the affirmation of it when pleading before God.
II. IMPLIES GOD'S PROTECTION. (Psalms 119:122.) "Be Surety;" that is, "be my Champion, my Defender." He knows the righteous Lord loveth righteousness, and therefore he confidently appeals to him. Nothing so secures the putting forth of the Divine power as the consciousness and confession of the littleness of our own.
III. DEPRECATES ITS LONG DELAY. (Psalms 119:123.) "He wept, waited, and watched" for its coming, until from very weariness his eyesight began to give way. It is good to tell the Lord our trouble, to pour it out before him as the psalmist does here. Trouble is like water; it gets less by being poured from one vessel into another.
IV. CONFESSES HIS NEED OF MERCY. (Psalms 119:124.) Before men he could hold up his head, and declare that he was guilty of no wrong, as in Psalms 119:121; but before God it is mercy that he implores, for he, as all who know themselves, knew full well his need thereof.
V. FOR THE THIRD TIME AVOWS THAT HE IS GOD'S "SERVANT." (Psalms 119:122, Psalms 119:124, Psalms 119:125.) Why this repeated avowal? Surely it is:
1. A confession of God's absolute right to deal with him as he pleases. He is the absolute property of God by creation, redemption, preservation, and personal choice. But:
2. A profession of confident trust that the Lord wilt be mindful of his own, will not give him over unto the will of his enemies.
3. It is a renewal of his self-devotion. He does not want to renounce his service, to take anything back, but rather, under the oppression of his enemies, he would all the more consecrate himself to God. Where God gives a spirit like this, it is the sure harbinger and herald of the speedy coming of the needed help. It lays hold upon God.
VI. CALLS ATTENTION TO THE PREVAILING CORRUPTION. (Psalms 119:126.) How often God's servants have said, "It is time for thee, Lord, to work"! and when they have been made deeply sensible of the sins and sorrows of men, so that their hearts grieve over them (see Psalms 119:136), then it is a token that the time for the Lord's interposition is at hand. "Where the carcass is, there will the vultures be gathered together."
VII. PROTESTS THAT, HOWEVER IT BE WITH MEN GENERALLY, HE LOGES AND ESTEEMS THE LORD'S COMMANDMENTS AS ALTOGETHER RIGHT AND PRECIOUS. (Cf. John 21:15-17.) Such are the appeals and the appellants that have favor with God and prevail—righteous, lowly, earnest, devoted, grieved at sin, true, believing.—S.C.
Thy testimonies are wonderful.
The tone and spirit of this section are much brighter than those of the foregoing one. Something had happened. The plaintive and heart-broken appeal of those verses is followed by the joyous confession with which these, in this section, begin. Believing that there is a real connection in these sections, and that they are not so many disjointed and disconnected sayings, we infer that help had come to the psalmist—had come through God's Word, and had come in wonderful way and power.
I. THESE WORDS DECLARE A FACT.
1. In the psalmist's own experience. He had found God's testimonies wonderful. They had lifted him up from the depths of sorrow to blessed calm, confidence, and delight in God. Not that his outward circumstances appear to have been much changed, but the mood of his mind about them, and the thoughts of his heart, had greatly changed.
2. And this was because of the light-giving power of God's Word. (Psalms 119:130.) Light reveals what was hidden before—truths that had remained in obscurity, and which had great bearing on his condition, he could now see. His mind had been illuminated, and he was as in a new world. And light cheers and gladdens the heart. By means of the Word of God such light had come to him, and with such power, that he could only exclaim, "Thy testimonies are wonderful."
3. And the like experience has been reproduced in all men like-minded to the psalmist. Wonderful is the book of Holy Scripture, for its age, preservation, interest, adaptation to all, for its inspiration, for its spread, for its blessed and ever-increasing power, for the revelation of God given in it, and for many more and personal reasons beside.
II. THEY REVEAL THE INFLUENCE AND EFFECT THEY EVER HAVE.
1. They explain the tenacity with which the soul clings to God's Word. (Psalms 119:129.) Of course, the soul which has had such experience of its power will "keep them." Do we fling gold away? Neither will such soul the testimonies of God.
2. They produce deep humility. Psalms 119:139 is a plea for mercy. The psalmist knew that he needed that. These wonderful testimonies had made that clear to him, as they ever do. But as one of the company of them that loved God's Name, he pleads for the mercy he needs.
3. Made him long for complete rectitude in God's sight. (Psalms 119:133.) He would have his every step, not merely his general walk, ordered in God s Word, and he would that no iniquity should have, etc. This is a constant result of such a realization of the power of God's Word. Nothing less than complete obedience win serve.
4. Gives renewed force to his prayers for grace to obey. Hence he prays
(1) that man's oppression may cease (Psalms 119:134). How often such oppression does hinder the keeping of God's precepts! Not entirely, but largely. How many would openly serve God, but are cruelly forbidden or held back by fear! God's people have to hide away; they cannot do the things that they would. Also he prays
(2) that God's face may shine upon him; for that is like the warm shining of the sun upon the plant-world, causing it to spring and grow as otherwise it could not.
5. Made him deeply grieve over men's sin. (Psalms 119:136.) We do not grieve over what we do not value. If, therefore, we do not value the grace of God, we shall not, etc.
III. THE CONDITION OF REALIZING ALL THIS. Fervent desire (Psalms 119:131).—S.C.
The righteous Lord and Word.
In this section we have, mainly, a further eulogium of God's Word. Righteousness is the key-note of these verses, even as the initial letter with which they all begin is the first and prominent letter in the Hebrew word for "righteousness." But the remembrance of the righteousness of the Word of the Lord sends his thoughts to the righteousness of the Lord himself. The name of Jehovah does not often occur in this psalm, but here it is openly and emphatically given. For the most part the psalmist has been praising the richness and volume and preciousness of the stream, which, of course, could not be done without implicitly praising the fountain whence the stream issued. But here that fountain—the righteous Jehovah—is explicitly named and glorified. It is good to rise up from the gifts to the Giver of all. Note—
I. JEHOVAH IS RIGHTEOUS. (Psalms 119:137.) To receive, retain, and hand on this foundation-truth was Israel's great function. To no other nation had God so revealed himself. It was not merely the unity of God that Israel was commissioned to teach, but, what was yet more important, the righteousness of God. But no other nation knew either the one truth or the other. When we remember that men become like the gods they worship, it is evident that the truth of the righteousness of Jehovah cannot be over-estimated in its practical power. And today, amongst ourselves, it is the foundation and stability of all our national life. We cannot understand all we see, but we can and do believe in a righteous God.
II. HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS IS EVERLASTING. (Psalms 119:142.) In days when the oppression of ungodly men was rampant and raging ruthlessly against the righteous, what could sustain their soul but this immovable conviction that the Lord's righteousness was everlasting? It might be for a while obscured, but it should surely shine out again ere long. Men die, but God liveth (Psalms 90:1).
III. HE HAS GIVEN TO US TESTIMONIES OF HIMSELF. (Psalms 119:138.) The Scriptures in a very real sense are God's Word. They contain, embody, and enshrine it for all generations. To assert that they are of purely human origin, as are the poems of Homer, the works of Shakespeare, or any other product of human genius, is to be insensible to their distinguishing characteristic as a revelation of God. The treasure is often in earthen vessels, but it is there all the same, and is ever to be distinguished from the vessel that contains it.
IV. THESE TESTIMONIES ARE THEMSELVES RIGHTEOUS. (Psalms 119:138, Psalms 119:140.) Compare them with any, even the purest of human laws, or philosophies, or sacred literatures, and let honest verdict be given: will not their righteousness shine out as the light? There are few who will now dispute this.
V. THEIR RIGHTEOUSNESS, LIKE HIS WHO GAVE THEM, IS EVERLASTING. The lapse of ages, the increased light of science and experience, the testing to which they have been and yet are perpetually subjected, has not lessened, but rather heightened, the estimate of their righteousness (Psalms 119:144).
VI. THE RESULTS OF THESE CONVICTIONS UPON THE BELIEVING SOUL.
1. Intense zeal. (Psalms 119:139.)
2. Ardent love. (Psalms 119:140.)
3. Affectionate retention of God's Word in the memory. (Psalms 119:141.)
4. Rejoicing in tribulation. (Psalms 119:143.)
5. Longing to understand more. (Psalms 119:144.)—S.C.
Very much are we told of it.
I. ITS EARNESTNESS. It was "with the whole heart" (Psalms 119:145). The very word "cry," repeated in this section so often, is full of suggestion as to what kind of seeking God this is. It denotes not only earnestness, but also sense of helplessness: if a man could do anything he would not "cry." It indicates, too, humility, simplicity, trust. It is the kind of prayer that has prevailing power
II. ITS PETITION. "Save me" (Psalms 119:146). We know not what the nature of the peril was in which he then was, but it was evidently very great. This petition, though very concise, is very complete and direct and definite. We have many such prayers recorded. Blessed is it when the soul seeks to be saved—seeks with a cry like this told of here! If we knew our need of salvation, there would be more such crying unto the Lord.
III. ITS SEASONS OF UTTERANCE. (Psalms 119:147, Psalms 119:148.) Very untimely they seem. Sleep, surely, should have claimed such seasons. Very early in the morning, in the dim twilight, and through the silent watches of the night. "The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence," etc. (Matthew 11:12). Here was one of these violent ones. Blessed is the soul that is stirred to such intensity of earnest seeking as this man was!
IV. ITS TRUSTED PLEA. "Thy loving-kindness." (Psalms 119:149.) As suppliants for mercy, not as demanders of right due to us, must we come to God. As the publican, not the Pharisee.
V. ITS PROMPTING MOTIVE. (Psalms 119:150.) The drawing nigh of ungodly men. When we are going into the company of such, as we often have to do, we should specially seek for grace to be faithful and true. Here is a fit preparation for such a peril.
VI. ITS ENCOURAGEMENT. (Psalms 119:151.) True, they that follow after mischief are drawing nigh, but then, thou, Lord, art nigh likewise. Blessed recollection is this. It has helped God's people many a time, and ever will.
VII. ITS UNDERLYING CONVICTION AND SUPPORT. (Psalms 119:152.) He who possesses this will go to God, not as one who thinks his prayer may possibly do some good, there is just a chance—what a vast deal of prayer is of this sad sort!—but as one who knows that he cannot seek the Lord in vain.
VIII. ITS SUPREME AND CONSTANT AIM-HOLINESS OF HEART AND LIFE. See in every verse of the section how this aim is directly or indirectly avowed. To be right with God was his abiding desire.—S.C.
God's quickening grace the real help in affliction.
It is evident from these verses that—
I. AFFLICTION WAS ABUNDANTLY PRESENT. (Psalms 119:153,Psalms 119:154, Psalms 119:157.) He prays God to consider it, to deliver him from it, and he tells how that it was caused by many persecutors and enemies. Hence, here as throughout the psalm we have presented to us the case of a man much troubled, but also much helped of God by means of his Word; and who can over-estimate the worth of this portraiture to the troubled children of God, who have needed his comfort in all the ages of the Church's history (2 Corinthians 1:4)?
II. THE RESORT OF THE AFFLICTED SOUL WAS TO GOD. He prays God to "consider," etc; that is, as of old he considered the affliction of Israel when in Egypt, and in many like distresses since, for such considering ever led to his delivering them. The psalmist trusts to no stratagem, or clever policy, or armed force for his help, but to God alone.
III. THAT WHICH HE ESPECIALLY DESIRED OF GOD WAS HIS QUICKENING GRACE. "Quicken me" is the repeated prayer of this section, as indeed of the whole psalm, where it occurs nine times, three of which are in these verses before us (Psalms 119:154, Psalms 119:156, Psalms 119:159).
1. It does not imply that there was no spiritual life. He was not dead in trespasses and sins, so that he needed to be quickened from that; unconverted, unregenerate men do need this, but the psalmist was not such as they. For he possessed a true and deep spiritual life, as all this psalm testifies (see here, Psalms 119:153, Psalms 119:157-159).
2. But what he craved was a renewed and intensified life. More, far more of what he had already—that "more abundant life." which our Lord said he came to give: ha would be "filled with the Spirit."
IV. THIS DESIRE MOST REASONABLE. For if it were granted:
1. He would be strong for his burden. It would not matter how heavy that burden, if he had—as he would have if this quickened life were given him—the strength to sustain it.
2. He would be able to rise above his affliction. His soul would mount up on wings as eagles, he would be able to run and not be weary, to walk and not faint. This is one of the choice present privileges of the soul that is filled with the Spirit of God. Often and often has it been proved (cf. Romans 8:1-39; at end).
3. He would be able to enjoy God in the midst of it. Many such a one as himself had done so. God and his Word had never been so precious, nor so clearly seen and understood.
4. He would be able to comfort others as he could not have done before. Then his words would come with power, for he himself would know not merely what deep affliction was, but how God can sustain the soul beneath it all.
5. This very affliction would prove a means of heavenward ascent—a ladder reaching from earth to heaven, up which his soul would surely mount.
6. And God would be glorified. His persecutors would see how God-sustained he was, and they would be compelled to confess the mighty power of God. How reasonable, therefore, was and ever is this prayer! Let it be our own.—S.C.
The ever-blessed Word.
Here, again, there seems to be the joyful acknowledgment of answered prayer. The longing cry of the former section was for God's quickening grace; here there seems to be the proof and evidence that that cry had been heard. And the answer of God had come through his Word, that ever-blessed Word which he here so lauds and magnifies. For—
I. BY IT HE HAD BEEN DELIVERED FROM THE FEAR OF MAN. (Psalms 119:161.) Princes, with "the awe and majesty of kings," had persecuted him, innocent though he was; but instead of being abashed and afraid, the greater holier fear, the awe of God's Word, came to his help and drove out all other fear. It is ever so; but only by the fear of God is it so.
II. HIS JOY IN IT WAS THAT OF ONE WHO FINDETH GREAT SPOIL. Sometimes spoil is found unexpectedly, as by the lepers in the Syrian camp (2 Kings 7:1-20.); or as by the man who found the treasure hid in the field (Matthew 13:1-58.). But the finding here spoken of seems to be that of the warrior who, after stern struggle and the hard conflict of battle, has at length conquered, and is rewarded by the great spoil which he now takes possession of. And it is in such way that the great spoils of the Scriptures are won. Doubt, indolence, distraction, love of sin, the world's clamor, and much beside, have to be met and overcome by faith and earnestness, toil of brain and heart, and by persevering prayer. To those who will thus strive, the Scriptures will open up to them its reachest treasure, and they shall rejoice therein, as is here said.
III. IMPARTS A HOLY AND DEEP DETESTATION OF ALL DECEIT. (Psalms 119:163.) He who loves God's Law must hate and abhor lying. As the one comes in, the other goes out, and vice versa. And what a blessing this holy hatred of lying is! All society and commerce of man must be based on truth and honesty. Lying is destructive of all good both in the liar and those lied to; but truth, the sure product of the love of God's Law, is for the blessing of us all.
IV. ITS PRAISE IS NEVER WEARISOME TO HIM. (Psalms 119:164.) He means that he is always, on all possible occasions, to praise God because of his Word, so great is his delight in it. And the reason is not far to seek. The sense of God's loving-kindness is the highest and purest joy of the soul (Psalms 63:3). But that is given only to the pure in heart and life. This purity, however, is the product of the Law of God loved and obeyed, and of this only. What wonder, then, that the instrument of such blessedness should be prized by him so highly?
V. IMPARTS A PEACE WHICH NOTHING CAN DESTROY. (Psalms 119:165.) For such peace has its anchor in God, and that anchor holds. Experience has proved this perpetually.
VI. SUSTAINS GOOD HOPE OF SALVATION. (Psalms 119:166; cf. Genesis 49:18.) The commandments of God obeyed create sunshine in the soul, part of which is this hope of salvation. The unfaithful and disobedient have it not.
VII. THE MORE IT IS KEPT THE MORE IT IS LOVED. (Psalms 119:167.) When not alone, there is external obedience; but that which is inward, of the soul, the love which led to this obedience, now becomes exceeding great. But all such keeping of God's Word is owing to his having set the Lord always before him (Psalms 119:168; cf. Psalms 16:8).—S.C.
The humility of holiness.
We suppose no one can have gone through this psalm but must have come more and more to the conviction that the writer of it was a true saint of God. The signs and tokens of true holiness of character could scarcely be more manifest than they are in this psalm. But now that he comes to the close, instead of there being any note of exultation or glorying because of his attainments in holiness, there is the profoundest humility. We might have expected a tone of triumph and elation, but it is quite the reverse that we find. There is impassioned fervor in prayer, but no glorying; there is the same constant longing for deeper understanding of God's Word, which we have met with all through; but no self-congratulation that he has gained it; there is the same confession of his need and prayer for deliverance, for help, for life; and there is a lowlier confession still; for in the last verse of the psalm he speaks not merely as an afflicted soul, but as one who has gone astray like a lost sheep, and who therefore craves that God should seek after him. And the different sentences of this prayer are all in keeping with this humility of heart which characterizes this great saint of God. He speaks of his prayer as his "cry," as his "supplication"—that which a beggar would present to one who could befriend him. He disclaims the possession of understanding of God's Word, but prays that it may be given him. He takes the position of one who has no right to come before God, and asks that he may "come near," He makes no plea of merit or goodness of his own, but his hope is ever "according to thy Word." He deems himself powerless to praise God until taught of God. It is all of a piece, all the utterance of a profoundly humble soul. Now, concerning this humility, note—
I. WHENCE IT SPRINGS.
1. From the effect on the mind of his afflictions. If we would have the grace of humility, we must be content to be humbled; and so precious is this grace in God's sight, that he sends affliction for this very end.
2. From his advance in the knowledge of God. No human soul can thus perseveringly seek God without coming into very close contact and converse with him; but the result of that is ever the prostration of the soul in adoring humility (cf. Isaiah 6:1-13.; Luke 5:8; Revelation 1:1-20.). The vision of God's infinite holiness and glory bows down the soul of the beholder. But such vision had often been before the mind of the psalmist—seems to have been especially so here, when drawing to the close of this psalm.
3. From the longing after God's salvation. Earnest desire is ever lowly.
II. HOW BEAUTIFUL IT IS!
1. Because it is just and becoming to man in relation to God. It is what it should be. The opposite of it is revolting to the mind.
2. Because we are made instinctively to admire it.
III. AND HOW DESIRABLE!
1. It has ever been a distinguishing mark of God's saints.
2. It is well pleasing to God. He delights in it; will dwell with him in whom it is.
3. It is such sure safeguard for all other virtues of holy character.—S.C.
Man helpless as a lost sheep.
Though in the foregoing homily we have spoken of this verse as a confession of sin, yet it is to be much questioned if the meaning of the metaphor in this verse, as in well-nigh all other places where it is found, be not that of helplessness rather than of sin. For in this entire psalm we have no confession of sin, no prayer for its forgiveness, though there be not a few for more of purity and knowledge of God. The prayer of the whole psalm is not that of a penitent returning to God from the paths of sin, but of one who has long known God, but yearns for yet deeper knowledge. We have many declarations of the psalmist's distress, and of the persecution under which he suffers, and of the extremities to which he has been reduced; and we have protestations many of desire after God, of cleaving to God, of delight in God; but have no confession of sin. This is very noteworthy. Not a few godly men deem it right, whenever they approach God, to make confession of sin and to bewail their wickedness. But there is none of this here in this protracted outpouring of the thoughts and desires of the great saint who wrote this psalm. Before he was afflicted he tells us that he had gone astray (Psalms 119:67); "but now," etc. And the whole tone of the psalm is of one who had done with going astray, and was now faithfully walking in the ways of God. In this very verse he declares, "I do net forget thy commandments." If he had been conscious of sin, he would surely have confessed it ere he came to this last stanza of the psalm. It seems, therefore, impossible to put upon the expression here the meaning of Psalms 119:67, or that of the Lord's parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15:1-32. But the idea of weakness, defenselessness, helplessness, is meant (cf. Jeremiah 1:6; Matthew 9:36; Matthew 10:16). And so the psalmist protests that he is lost, as a stray sheep would be, unless the shepherd goes and seeks for him. There is no Pharisaism in all this, no coming under the condemnation of 1 John 1:8, 1 John 1:10; but there is, what there ought to be far more of, a simple taking the Lord at his word. He had been sinful (verse 67), but he had been led to repentance and faith; and now he believed that, according to God's Word, he was forgiven, even as he knew he was an altered man. God had pardoned him and renewed him. Why, then, should he think or speak of himself as if neither of these blessed facts was true? And for ourselves, if the blood of Jesus Christ is keeping me cleansed from all sin—and if I am sincere and walking in the light, I am so cleansed, not once for all, but hour by hour. Then, if I assert this, and confess it, I am not, any more than the psalmist, condemned as a serf-deceiver, and without the truth, because of such confession. And this psalm is a perpetual and precious protestation and assertion of deliverance from sin. This last verse, then, tells of his sad circumstances, and not of sinful character. But it implies these three facts—
I. MAN'S HELPLESSNESS. We cannot make one hair white or Mack (Matthew 5:36). "We are crushed before the moth."
II. GOD'S LOVING, SHEPHERD-LIKE CARE OF US. He will be sure to come after us when in peril, and see that we come to no real harm. "I am the good Shepherd."
III. THE INWARD GUARANTEE AND PLEDGE THAT GOD WILL DO THIS FOR US.
"I do not forget thy commandments." God has begun a good work in us, or this would not be true. Therefore, etc. (Philippians 1:6)—
"His honor is engaged to save
The meanest of his sheep."
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
Sincerity is perfectness.
The word "undefiled" in the Authorized Version is rendered "perfect" in the Revised Version; and the terms "sincere" and "upright" are marginal suggestions. The term "perfect" includes a variety of meanings, and the Old Testament use materially differs from that of the New Testament. The apostles express the idea of wholeness, completeness; their word is well represented by "entire," i.e. having every part and faculty according to standard, and every part and faculty in full health, vigor, harmonious development, and activity. The older writers have in mind rather what we understand by "simplicity," "genuineness," "sincerity." To the pious mind the supreme evil was doubleness, the divided heart, fearing God and worshipping other gods—the man whose body was in God's temple, but whose soul was absorbed in self-interests. And therefore, to the pious mind, the perfect became the sincere—the man who was what he seemed to be. This readily becomes the "undefiled," the man who is not stained by self-seeking motives or a spirit of hypocrisy; the man who professes to walk in the Law of the Lord, and does. The psalm affirms, in its opening verse, the blessedness of walking genuinely in the way of God's Word, and thus gives the key-note of the whole psalm, with which may be usefully compared the composition of Tennyson's 'In Memoriam.' Like that poem, the psalm represents a variety of moods in which a poetic soul may meditate on some leading thought or fact. It is not only that the subject is dealt with all round; it is that it is approached from a variety of points of view; and the points are decided by the mental and spiritual moods of the poet. It has been well said that in the first three verses we have described the three elements of obedience to the Law.
(1) Purity of intention;
(2) reverence in treasuring up;
(3) and, as a result, freedom from the power of sin.
Absolute perfection, that is Perfection tested by comparison with the sublime idea we have of God, is necessarily unattainable by the creature. The perfection of a creature must be in the range of possible attainment for the creature. We can think of a man reaching the standard or ideal of manhood. We know that the standard manhood has been presented to us historically in the life of the Lord Jesus Christ. And that life helps us to realize the point before us now—that, for the created being, man, who must stand in dependent relations to his Creator, perfection is sincerity. We may recall the saying of Shakespeare—
"To thine own self be true, and it shall follow …
Thou canst not then be false to any man."
I. INSINCERITY LIMITS PERFECTION IN THE SIGHT OF MEN. Some advantage is gained by putting the truth before us in this negative form, because we are so much quicker to discern the evil than the good, to condemn insincerity than to praise sincerity. The one supreme offence to man, and to our Divine Lord, the Son of man, is hypocrisy. The suspicion of it kills trust. Let a man have an apparently complete set of good qualities, if we suspect insincerity it is all spoiled for us, as is the good shield across which lies the "bar sinister." All the goodness will not suffice to win confidence. And, on the other hand, if we are convinced of a man's sincerity, we are well able to deal with his infirmities. This may be illustrated from imaginative literature even more effectively than from actual experience. The one thing we look for in the characters presented to us is sincerity; and the most fascinating persons lose all charm for us if we are led to suspect that they are not genuine or true. Nothing so convincingly limits human perfection as the sense of two-facedness—the sense that a man is not when away from us what he seems to be when before us.
II. INSINCERITY LIMITS PERFECTION IN THE SIGHT OF MEN. Distinguish between God's idea of perfection for himself and his idea of perfection for man his creature. God looks for no perfection that is not within the range of possibility for the creature man, and for the particular man whose character he may be estimating. But, to use familiar language, God draws the line somewhere. He draws it at sincerity. A man must be true; he must be what he seems to be. No profession can take the place of fact. Illustrate by the glass carefully ground for the telescope. It seems to be perfect. Nay, there is a flaw, and it must be rejected. The acceptance of God is absolutely conditioned upon this—the man must be "undefiled in the way" by any trace or suspicion of insincerity.—R.T.
Care in obedience.
"Observe them diligently." There are possible obediences which cannot be acceptable to God. The things required are done, but there is no heart, and therefore no merit, in the doing. "Diligently" implies attentively, carefully, intelligently, persistently. And when we worthily apprehend God, we discover that what he accepts is the spirit in the doing, not the mere doing. It is not enough for God that he gets what he wants done; he fixes attention on the spirit that finds expression in the doing. This is made quite plain in the Mosaic persuasions to the keeping of the Law. "Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently;" "Hear, O Israel, the statutes and judgments, that ye may learn them, and keep and do them;" "Ye shall diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and his testimonies, and his statutes, which he hath commanded thee."
I. DILIGENCE IN OBEDIENCE AS A SIGN OF CHARACTER. It is more especially the indication that a man has his heart in his work, and that is the condition of all good work. None so aggravate the business man as the servants who only get through their work. Character is revealed by the heartlessness of it, and there is no disposition to put fuller trusts in the hands of such persons. Diligence is distinct from ability. And it is quite possible to trust ability and neglect diligence. But ability has nothing to do with character, and diligence has everything to do with it. Diligence is a sign of
(2) of a cherished sense of duty and obligation;
(3) of reverence for high things;
(4) of humility;
(5) of desire to win approbation.
"Seest thou a man diligent in his business, he shall stand before kings. Diligence in the spheres of Divine obedience is precisely what it is in ordinary relations.
II. DILIGENCE IN OBEDIENCE AS A CONDITION OF ACCEPTANCE. Is it conceivable that God's favor can rest upon a mere doing of what he requires? A father will accept such obedience, but he hardly cares to smile on the child who has only that to offer. A business man accepts such obedience, and does nothing for the man who has only that to offer. God accepts it as bare duty, but he has no favor, no smile, for him who has but that to offer. We must put our hearts into keeping God's Law. Then we shall be diligent, and meet the conditions of full acceptance.—R.T.
Good habits confirming goodness.
"Oh that my ways were established to observe thy statutes!" The importance of settling good habits in the religious life is seldom dealt with in public teaching, and yet there are few subjects of more directly practical importance. It is quite true that perils attach to the fixing of habits; they are chiefly
(1) the disposition to judge others by our own ways; and
(2) the loss of spiritual force through the routine character of our doings. But we need never depreciate good things because it is possible to misuse them and make mischief out of them. In a thousand things of daily life we prove the usefulness of good habits. We do things again and again, or do things at the same time and in the same way day after day, until they become not so much easy to do as a joy to the doer. They make up the life, and provide the pleasure of the life. Let, then, any one purpose to live the godly life, and he must take due account of the helpfulness of well-formed habits. The subject may be illustrated in connection with both the culture and the expression of the religious life.
I. GOOD HABITS IN RELATION TO THE CULTURE OF GOODNESS. The gardener knows well the importance of regular habits in the tending of plants. The godly life is cultured by the Word of God, prayer, and pious conversation; and in each of these the formation of good habits early in life is singularly helpful. The custom of devoting some time daily to Bible-reading may become a mere routine, and even to the liveliest Christian it is at times a formality; but its helpfulness is clearly seen when the negligences of those who have formed no such habit is duly contrasted. The best of us are constantly needing to be carried over our wilfulness's and indispositions, as only good habits can carry us.
II. GOOD HABITS IN RELATION TO THE EXPRESSION OF GOODNESS. We have no right to permit any divorce between the cultured heart and the devoted life. If we have soul-life, it must find fitting expression in daily service. These may be classed under acts of worship and acts of ministry. Habits very materially aid in maintaining family worship, and in meeting the obligations of God's house; and they exert an important influence on our acts of charity and ministry. We all need to have our "ways established," that we may thus be helped in "observing God's statutes."—R.T.
Cleansing one's way.
This should be a familiar text to us all—one of those that are enshrined in memory, and made an abiding power in the life. Occasions for its consideration and for its counsels are ever recurring, because:
1. Among us are always boys coming out into the responsibilities of youth and young manhood.
2. While phases of youthful sin may vary for each generation, Bible counsels fit to every age, because they deal with principles.
I. THE GROUNDS ON WHICH THE INQUIRY OF THE TEXT IS BASED. The moral perils to which the young are exposed. The text does not say that the way of the young is actually unclean, but it views the young as just beginning to walk in a way that is miry and dangerous. To compass the whole truth we should consider:
1. The moral weakness of the young man himself. It partly lies in
(1) the relics left of evil influences, and the imperfect and incomplete results of early training;
(2) in an inexperience of life which young people never estimate worthily;
(3) in susceptibility to influences that are merely attractive, not deeply true;
(4) in the intensity with which they enter on present pleasures, heedless of future issues and results. These make dangers on the side of the young man himself.
2. The evils actually lying in the way of the young.
(1) The appeals of evil to the sensual side of human nature. See the warnings in the Book of Proverbs.
(2) The pride of independence loosening the moral restraints of education and home influence.
(3) The false maxims that are attractive to opening mental faculties, and readily meet youthful dispositions; such as "Youth is the time for pleasure;" "Gaining wealth is the true end of life;" "Religion is a gloomy affair, and awfully dull;" "No certainty—nothing that can be called 'knowledge,' is to be obtained about morals, or about spiritual things." Show the moral influence exerted by such prevailing evil sentiments.
II. THE GROUNDS ON WHICH A WISE ANSWER TO THIS INQUIRY MAY REST.
1. No other answer than that given in the text can fully meet the case.
2. The Word of God can become a deliverance from young men's moral weaknesses and perils. It can be a power of practical wisdom and self-restraint. Illustrate by our Lord's use of the Word, as a weapon, in the time of his temptation as a young Man.
3. The Word of God acts as do beacons and lighthouses and sign-posts—it points out the dangerous parts of the way, and indicates the safe and direct roads.
4. The Word of God delivers us from the mischievous influence of false maxims by its revelation of truth and duty. But the Word does not, once for all, cleanse any man's way. All through life the way in which we walk will be foul and full of perils, traps, and temptations. The Word enables us to pick our path safely amidst the dirt and the snares and the pitfalls that may be put in our way. "Not defiled their garments;" "Unspotted from the world." Appeal thus: In view of life, do you think you can safely go all alone? Can you certainly triumph over all the subtlety and all the strength of evil in your own sufficiency? "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall."—R.T.
The perils of youth.
Because the psalmist refers to the "young man," we need not imagine that, at the time of composing the psalm, he was himself a young man. The stanzas represent a variety of moods; and for this one the psalmist was in a mood of retrospection; he was looking back over the past, and seeing what a help God's Word had been to him amid the perils and temptations of his youthful years. He had "ruled himself after God's Word," and rejoices in having come through his youth-time clean-souled and unspotted from the world. The Prayer-book Version suggests that no external defenses will ever suffice to keep the young man from "city snares and town traps." He will be kept if he keeps himself; he will only keep himself if he asks God to keep him; and God will only keep him as he diligently seeks direction and counsel from God's book of instructions and warnings. "Even by ruling himself after thy Word." It is implied in the expression, "cleanse his way," that there are things surrounding the young man that may easily defile him. But that is true for old men as well as young men. What is of special importance to young men is that
(1) by bodily constitution,
(2) by disposition,
(3) and by inexperience, they are unusually exposed to defiling influences.
I. THE YOUNG MAN WANTS A STANDARD AND A GUIDE. The ship of a young life has to sail over unknown seas, and there must be culture for managing the vessel, and a chart for directing its course. This the young are not ready to admit. "Why not wait and gain power out of experience?" Experience is a dear school, and its lessons are only learned aright when the life is in the ordering of God's infallible guide. Experience is to a man according to what the man is.
II. THE YOUNG MAN CANNOT SAFELY RE A LAW UNTO HIMSELF. Can any man? "It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps." If any man can, it is the experienced and sanctified Christian. But he is the very man who is sure that he cannot. If he cannot, how can the youth? What always happens when youth takes the ordering of life into its own hands?
III. THE YOUNG MAN CAN GO RIGHT WITH THE HELP OF GOD'S WORD. Which is no mere set of rules, but the Father-God finding counsel and warning and help for every emergency. It is a strengthening of the soul to resist, as well as a clearing of the eyes to avoid all that would befoul.—R.T.
"Thy Word have I laid up in mine heart." Another psalmist describes the righteous man in this way, "The Law of his God is in his heart; none of his steps shall slide" (Psalms 37:31). The point of the text lies in the assertion that the Word of God is in the man's heart because he had put it in, and put it in carefully.
I. STORING THE MIND WITH SCRIPTURE AS THE DUTY OF TEACHERS. It is a primary duty of all who have to do with children. Storing the memory with the material of after-thought comes before the cultivation of the mind for using its material. And if we would have the after-thought of life inclusive of the highest things, we must take care that the mind is early stored with Scripture truth and fact and counsel. It is not suggested that the child-mind should be crammed even with that which is good, nor should Scripture ever be made a task. But that child is in an especially effective manner equipped for life who has God's Word stored as a treasure in his memory. In modern times this hiding of Scripture in the heart is sadly under-estimated.
II. STORING THE MIND WITH SCRIPTURE AS A MAN'S OWN DUTY. It will not, in his case, be a merely formal memorizing, as it must largely be in the case of the child. A man will store what the Scripture says to him, and not merely what the Scripture says. This involves:
1. A personal interest in the revealed Word of God.
2. Well-formed habits in relation to its study.
3. Careful attention to the relations of the Word to personal life and needs.
4. Such persistent habits of meditation as press the Word in, and lay it up on the secret places of the soul. It is not necessary to say any strong things concerning the "criticism" of the Bible, because of that the psalmist knew nothing. To him the Word of God was a book of practical directions for godly living. And we need to have its actual relation to life and conduct so deeply impressed on us, that we should feel impelled to store its truths and counsels.
III. THE AVAILABLENESS OF SCRIPTURE-STORES FOR THE EMERGENCIES OF LIFE. From those stores our Lord readily fetched effective weapons in the time of his temptations. We have often fetched our best comfortings in time of trouble; our best warnings in times of danger; our best answers when the enemies of faith and righteousness assailed. "He who hides can find;" and if the laying up has been carefully done, the recovery for use is sure to be prompt and easy.—R.T.
The treasures of meditation.
"I will meditate in thy precepts;" "In his Law doth he meditate day and night." There would be no need to explain to an Eastern man what is meant by meditation, and wherein lies the pleasure of it. He can sit still and think; both the physical and social atmosphere of the East encourage quietness, slowness, broodiness, and these favor meditation. Perhaps the proper warning of Eastern religious persons would concern the exaggeration of meditation, which tends to give men sentiment rather than truth. They need to be aroused to the exercise of the intellectual powers in the study of God's Word. But in the West meditation is almost despised. It seems like doing nothing, and that is offensive to active and energetic Westerns, who are so keen for results. Consequently, meditation on God's Word has become almost a lost art. It has little or no place in the ordinary routine of a Christian life. The West has much to learn from the East, but it need not copy any of its exaggerations. Perhaps we are misusing the Bible, failing to make it in our lives what it was intended to be, because we do not meditate in the precepts, dwell on them long and lovingly, so as to realize their helpfulness.
I. MEDITATION IS A NECESSARY METHOD OF DEALING WITH THE REVEALED WORD, It is necessary that we should see this clearly. There are some studies which only call for active mental application. Put your whole mind into them while concerned with them, and put them wholly out of your mind when you have done. But these lie outside the man himself, and are but matters of knowledge. The revealed Word gives truth in relation to men—truth for the sake of men; and the relations will only appear in response to that kind of mental action which we call "meditation."
II. MEDITATION DEPENDS MUCH MORE UPON HEART-MOOD THAN UPON BRAIN-POWER. It is really moral faculty using brain-power as its agency, and carefully keeping the brain-power in subjection. Interest in meditation is found to be in precise relation to spiritual culture; and it is akin with the spiritual insight that gets to the heart of things, and the deeper relations of things, and cannot be trammeled by the mere forms and settings of things.
III. MEDITATION PROVIDES THE MOST SATISFYING PLEASURES OF THE RELIGIOUS LIFE. It unfolds the most precious truths, and gives them personal relations and personal interest. And it brings to a man the most satisfying sense of Divine communion; for God speaks his best things to the soul that is still and open to receive Divine thought.—R.T.
The largeness of Divine dealings.
"Deal bountifully with thy servant;" Prayer-book Version, "Oh do well unto thy servant." The thought is expressed in another psalm (Psalms 116:7), "Return unto thy rest, O my soul; for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee." It reappears in the assurance of the New Testament, "He giveth more grace;" "He is able to make all grace abound." The psalmist felt straitened in his own circumstances, but he was quite sure that there was no straitening of the sufficiency of God. His very straitness seemed to make large demands on God; but he felt that he might pray for large and bountiful dealings.
I. THE LARGENESS OF THE DIVINE DEALINGS INVOLVES COMPREHENSIVENESS, A large thing covers all. No satisfaction can be felt in God unless we are sure that every feature of our life stands in relation to him. The author of Psalms 139:1-24, puts this into poetical figure when he presents the hopelessness of ever getting from the presence of God. In heaven he is. On earth he is. In hell he is. Go where we may, God's hand is on us. Do what we may, God's grace and strength are there for our helping. We could not rest in God if we could, even mentally, fix any limit to the sphere of his operation. He would not be God to us if there was a single relation of life with which he was not dealing, or could not deal.
II. THE LARGENESS OF THE DIVINE DEALINGS INVOLVES ADAPTATION. The charm of all human relationships lies in adaptation. A thing that fits us helps us much more than a far better thing that does not fit. We have a notion that largeness tends to make us indifferent to adaptation. If it covers, it need not fit. But all the best things we possess are not quantities, but adaptations. And God's bountifulness is chiefly apprehended in the surprise with which we find he can meet every form of recurring need.
III. THE LARGENESS OF THE DIVINE DEALINGS INVOLVES GENEROSITY. The man who barely and exactly does for us what we immediately need gives us no impression of bountifulness. It seems to us that he has not much to give, so must carefully watch his giving. God shows himself in nature, pouring out a wealth of flowers and fruits, and going altogether beyond our need. He giveth spiritual grace and help generously, as if he would convince us of a sufficiency which should inspire us to "trust in him at all times."—R.T.
"Open thou mine eyes." This figure of speech is a familiar Eastern one. It is based on the observed fact that the eye, as an organ, is dependent on the mind and the will. Men have to be helped to see everything that is really worth seeing; and if they are to apprehend Divine and spiritual things, it can only be with Divine illuminations. He who sees the unseen must have come into the eye-opening power of God. The servant of Elisha, with the partly closed eyes, could see nothing but the chariots and horsemen of Syria. With opened eyes he saw all round the hills the chariots and horsemen of God. Our Lord opened the blind bodily eyes of men in order to illustrate his gracious work in souls. And the living Lord counsels his half-blinded Church at Laodicea, "Anoint thine eyes with eye-salve, that thou mayest see." The opening of the soul-eyes is a figure of speech for the quickening of the spiritual discernment. Nothing do we need more than keen sensitiveness to Divine and eternal things; insight of the Divine will; the sharpness of vision that can detect at once the pointing of the Divine finger. The prayer of the text implies—
I. A CONSCIOUSNESS OF THE DIMNESS OF OUR SPIRITUAL VISION. Our Lord reproached the Pharisees because they were blind, yet thought they saw with unusual clearness. "Ye say, we see, therefore your sin remaineth." There is no prayer in the man who thinks he sees. There is no conscious want to find expression. It is not merely that the vision is distorted by the self-willed spirit; it is that in the godly life things seen and temporal have the power to dim and darken the vision of things unseen and eternal. If humility proves mightier than self-satisfaction, the sense of dimness is a constant source of anxiety; but that is an anxiety which is altogether healthy.
II. A CONSCIOUSNESS OF OUR DEPENDENCE ON GOD FOR THE CLEARING OF OUR SPIRITUAL VISION. A man may feel the imperfectness of his soul-vision, but think to clear it himself. It is not always duly considered that the idea of self-help spoils the religious life as truly as it prevents our entering the religious life. It may have to come through a hitter experience, but it must come somehow, that we may discover the helplessness of self-help for clearing the soul-vision; and then we pray to God, "Open thou mine eyes."—R.T.
The soul breaking through its forced watchings.
"My soul breaketh out for the very fervent desire that it hath always unto thy judgments." This expression reminds us of our Lord's beatitude, "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness." "True godliness lies very much in desires. As we are not what we shall be, so also we are not what we could be. The desires of gracious men after holiness are intense—they cause a wear of heart, a straining of the mind, till it feels ready to snap with the heavenly pull. A high value of the Lord's commandment leads to a pressing desire to know and to do it, and this so weighs upon the soul that it is ready to break in pieces under the crush of its own longings." The idea seems to be that the psalmist is really trying to know God's will, and strictly and carefully watching himself, and seeking to get what he knows to be God's will adjusted to his conduct. But he is dissatisfied; he wants to reach a freer and nobler kind of obedience. It is all too formal for him. He wants to serve with a bound: to fly at the Lord's bidding. His loving soul frets against all limitations and restraints. He would break out of his cage. He would get into the large liberty of unhindered service of God. The apostle gives the answering Christian mood when, fretting against body-bonds, he says, "O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?"
I. IT IS WELL TO HAVE THE SOUL BIGGER THAN THE CIRCUMSTANCES. Consider this especially in relation to the obedience of God's Law which circumstances permit. Bodily conditions and earthly circumstances put limits on our obedience. It is a bad sign if a man keeps contentedly within his limits. We must want a higher, fuller, worthier obedience than we have ever attained.
II. IT IS WELL TO HAVE THE SOUL ACTUALLY PRESSING OUT OF THE LIMITS OF ITS CIRCUMSTANCES. What a humdrum life it would be if we had always to keep within what we call facts! We press beyond facts into the glorious world of imaginations and possibilities. And so there is an imagined obedience to God, and joy in his Word and will, toward which we should ever be pressing, breaking bounds to get into that higher world of service. And a measure of triumph over circumstances limiting obedience is attainable now, and it prepares us for the full liberty unto righteousness which is the glory of our by-and-by.—R.T.
Quickening the exhausted.
In this verse there is characteristic extravagant Eastern figure, which is difficult for the calmer Western mind to appreciate. Such exaggerated descriptions of mental conditions seem to us untruthful. The presentation does not accord with the fact. But the Eastern would urge that his mode of speech suggests the fact, and does not pretend to state it. And that is strictly true which it suggests. We may think of the worm, laboriously creeping over the ground, and longing to become a butterfly, and be quickened into the higher life that is possible to it. It is possible to find allusion to the custom of sitting in sackcloth and ashes as an expression of mourning. Sitting in dust is the attitude of humiliation, and so it fittingly expresses the depressed and exhausted spiritual mood of the psalmist. It may be that in the Christian life we ought never to be depressed; it is certainly the fact of Christian life that we often are. Depression does not always come as response to outward circumstances, but it often does; and we may think of conditions that encourage it.
I. DEPRESSION FOLLOWS ON THE DIFFICULTIES AND DISAPPOINTMENTS OF BUSINESS LIFE. "Souls cleave to the dust" of worldly care. When things will not go rightly, mind and heart are very full day and night, and brooding always tends to encourage fears, and to make the dark things grow darker. When the soul is full of care, better things are pushed out, and faith fails. At such times we need the prayer, "Quicken thou me"—give me life, new life, life of energy to battle with difficulty; life of hope to keep me in good cheer.
II. DEPRESSION FOLLOWS ON BODILY PAIN AND VARYING CONDITIONS OF HEALTH. Then the "soul cleaves to the dust," self and feeling are made too prominent; they force themselves out of place and proportion; and all truth seems discolored and distorted. Illustrate by the effect of looking through colored glad. The self of feeling can never give other than distorted views of life. At such times we need the prayer, "Quicken thou me"—give me the life of strength to bear; give me to keep sure of the fatherliness of chastisement, and to cherish the trustful and patient spirit of a son.
III. DEPRESSION FOLLOWS ON AFFLICTIONS AFFECTING THOSE WHOM WE LOVE. We cleave to the dust of kindred, and are afflicted in their afflictions. Some of our worst times of depression are times of sympathy. Then we need to pray, "Quicken me into the life of trust, that will enable me to commit all I love to God." True Christian life is a series of Divine quickenings into higher forms of life.—R.T.
Strength to run.
Running is to be distinguished from walking, as involving active determination and persistent energy. A man may walk in simple habit and routine; a man only runs when he wills to run, and makes positive efforts. So the psalmist is not satisfied with a kind of obedience to the Law of God which is a sort of regular thing in which he has been brought up; he cannot be content without having his heart in it, putting energy into it, and making a life-work of it; and this he expresses in the figure of running. The Revised Version gives, "when thou shalt enlarge my heart." The Prayer-book Version gives, "when thou hast set my heart at liberty." Putting these together, we learn that the "enlargement of the heart" is not so much any expansion of the faculties, as deliverance from oppressing fears that prevent the free movement of the soul. The heart enlarged is the heart set in a large place, where there is room to run; then run it will. So often, by reason of bodily conditions or hindering circumstances, our hearts are limited and confined—they can neither "fly nor go." It is a good sign if then the heart frets against the bondages, and is ready to run whenever God is pleased to set it free. The key-note of the whole psalm may be expressed in the words, "I would if I could;" and the whole prayer of the psalm is, "O God, let me."
I. IT IS WELL THAT WE SHOULD WANT TO RUN IN THE WAYS OF OBEDIENCE AND GODLINESS. The peril of the godly life is drifting into ease and indifference; the doing of religious duties as mere routine; the meeting of religious obligations listlessly and without heart. It may be that we cannot run; it ought always to be that we want to run. We must not rest without energy and activity in the religious life. A formal obedience should be as distressing to us as it is to God.
II. IT IS WELL THAT THE CHERISHED WANT SHOULD KEEP US WAITING ON GOD FOR THE OPPORTUNITY. The want would soon die down if we trusted to ourselves for cherishing it. It never dies down if we keep turning it into the prayer of patient, but persistent, waiting upon God.
III. IT IS CERTAIN THAT GOD RESPONDS TO THOSE WHO IN THIS SPIRIT WAIT ON HIM. The liberties and enlargements always come. And God makes the waiting for them as true a blessing as getting them.—R.T.
Man's purpose, and God's help.
In multiplied forms the difficulty of reconciling God's sovereignty and man's responsibility, God's help and man's energy, is presented to us in Scripture. But the difficulty is always intellectual only. It is one that the heart solves with perfect ease. It knows well how the inspiration of unseen ones does ennoble and strengthen our human activity; and its apprehension of God makes him to be nearer and dearer than any unseen friend of human fellowship. Ask the mind to explain how we can be "working out our own salvation" and God can be "working in us," and it is baffled into silence. Ask the heart if this twofoldness of the religious life is ever actually realized, and it will say, "It is true, I know it to be true in the experience of my life." He who said, "I live, yet not I, Christ liveth in me," was at the very heart of the deepest truth. The psalmist, in his own way, arrives at the same conviction. Let the Lord teach him his will, and he will set all effort upon keeping it. Let God give understanding, and obedience shall be maintained. "I can do all things in him who strengtheneth me"
I. MAN MUST CHERISH RIGHT PURPOSES. God puts no force on any man; he overrides no man; he does nothing for any man that the man can and ought to do for himself. Unless we resolve to live the godly life; unless we set ourselves upon seeking first God's kingdom and righteousness, nothing can be done for us. God never comes with help until he is wanted.
II. MAN MUST WANT DIVINE HELP IN CARRYING THEM OUT. This sense of need is often a later experience, into which a man comes only on the failure of his self-effort in carrying out his resolves and purposes. But it must come before godly living can take on its higher and more hopeful forms. The earnest man comes at last to say, "O Lord, I am oppressed; undertake thou for me."
III. MAN OBTAINS DIVINE HELP WHEN IT IS MADE EVIDENT THAT HE WANTS IT. It would be wasted on him before; it is fully effective on him then. It is true that God "helps those who help themselves," but the point to dwell on is, that he who tries to help himself in Divine things is the man who most feels his need of God's help.—R.T.
A path for our goings.
"Make me to go in the path of thy commandments." To go is to keep moving, to keep advancing. The earnest man wants to progress in the Divine life. The Christian stamp is put on this truth by the apostle, when he says, "I count not myself to have apprehended;" "I press toward the mark." The good man wants—
I. PROGRESS IN THE APPREHENSION OF GOD'S COMMANDMENTS. All the command-meats of God cannot be made clear even to the understanding of a child or of a young Christian. They concern spheres and things which are known only through the experience of life, and cannot be made plain to the child or the young Christian. And it is a deeper thought that only the formality and externality of Divine Law can ever come to any man at first; he must grow into the spirituality of it. Contrast the spheres for which the young Christian needs Divine rules, with the spheres for which the advanced and experienced Christian needs the guidance of the Divine eye, and the progression will at once be manifest.
II. PROGRESS IN FIXING THE RELATION OF THE COMMANDMENTS TO LIFE. At first the commands seem outside us, and are interesting studies. As we "go in the path" of them we gradually recognize their personal relations; they directly concern us; they fit to unfolding circumstances and conditions. Getting God's will applied to cherished moods of mind, to fixed habits of conduct, to unfolding relations and responsibilities, to unexpected times of strain, comes to be the most real work of the religious life. Life is the path which God's revealed will marks out for us, and it is our work to keep the path.
III. PROGRESS IN THE CHARACTER AND SPIRIT OF THE OBEDIENCE OFFERED. At first the service of God, and obedience to his holy Law, is a strain. Perhaps not absolutely at first, because the waves of early impulse bear young souls for a while into an easy obedience. Just after the first a rebound comes, a time of dullness, and then obedience is the strain of constant effort. The will battles with the feeling. But we go in the path, and gradually the strain passes, the love dominates the will, and bears it to an obedience that says, "I delight to do thy will, O God."—R.T.
God's work in men's hearts.
"Incline my heart;" "Quicken me in thy ways." There is marked difference between "being made" to go in the way of righteousness, and "wanting" to go in the way of righteousness. And creating and sustaining the want is precisely what is here called the "inclining" and "quickening" work of God's Spirit in men's hearts. He puts the laws into our hearts, and in our minds he writes them. When a child wants to obey, he ceases to need any formal law—he is a "law unto himself." With the inclined heart the life of obedience becomes easy, becomes even a delight.
I. THE CONDITION OF MAN'S HEART IN WHICH GOD WORKS. By the heart here is meant the seat of motives and impulses by which the will is moved, and action inspired and directed. The heart is regarded as subject to outside influences, and as actually in the sway of influences both bad and good. It can be moved by the self-spirit to things that are evil. It can be moved by the Divine Spirit to things that are good. It can be inclined. If a thing is moving, the least deviation from the straight line involves an ever-widening departure. In man there is always a sort of centrifugal tendency to fly away, and the constant need of a centripetal tendency to restrain it, and keep it in the right line. "Covetousness" is named as the representative of all the alien inclinations, because the very essence of covetousness is "getting for self." And that is a perpetual enticement to the natural man, which only the grace of God can enable him to overcome. The point of this prayer is that the good man, in the experience of life, will be sure to find the old evil inclinations return upon him as temptations, especially when anything appeals to covetousness. So he finds that he always needs the preventive, and the readjusting, inclinings of God.
II. THE KIND OF WORK WHICH GOD DOES IN MEN'S HEARTS. This is often represented as quickening, the renewing of vitality, strength, right purpose, energy. What is here set forth is a more precise, and more unusually recognized, form of Divine dealing with men. The Spirit is the inward power that sways decisions, inclines to good judgments, by putting force into the good motives, reasons, and considerations. Or, to express it in the mode of the psalmist, he inclines to righteousness by making God's testimonies more attractive and persuasive than our own covetousness.—R.T.
The freedom of right, willedness.
"I will walk at liberty: for I have sought thy precepts." The Apostle Paul earnestly contends that" we are called unto liberty," but he carefully distinguishes liberty from self-willedness. A man can never have his liberty save on the supposition that he knows what to do with it, and is able to do what he knows. And so the godly man is a free man, be is able to do what he likes, but the distinct assumption is that his likes have come into the renewing grace, and are still in the sanctifying grace, of God. He is free because he is right-willed, and can be trusted with his liberty. The phrase is significant, "freedom in righteousness." We get the idea illustrated if we observe our anxiety that our sons should be right-principled ere they go forth to meet life's temptations. We are not afraid for them to have their freedom, if only they are right-willed. The psalmist may only mean freedom from special circumstances of constraint and intimidation, but we can use his words in a more comprehensive and more general sense.
I. RIGHT-WILLEDNESS AS A CONDITION TO BE GAINED AND KEPT. Here it is the disposition to seek the guidance and help of God's precepts in every emergency of life. Wrong-willedness is an undue tendency to trust in self for wisdom and guidance. Dependent man never comes right until he wants God; and he never keeps right unless he leans on God. The very essence of the example of the Lord Jesus lies in his right-willedness. No restraint had ever to be put on him, because he always wanted what God wanted for him. We only get our wills set in harmony with God's in the persuasion and power of God's Spirit; but we can set ourselves, and keep ourselves, open to his gracious leadings and inspirings and inworkings.
II. RIGHT-WILLEDNESS AS A CONDITION IN WHICH FREEDOM CAN BE ENJOYED. Where there is that disposition and purpose there is always sensitiveness to evil. It is detected at once. It is disliked. To it there is a natural resistance. It is illustrated in Joseph, who "could not do wickedly;" and in the Hebrew youths, who could not "defile themselves with the king's meat." These young people could be trusted anywhere, because they were set on doing right. The only man in God's world who is really free, and can be safely trusted with freedom, is the man who means to do right, who is resolved to do God's will as he may get to know it.—R.T.
The joy of obedience.
"And I will delight myself in thy commandments." It may be urged, and indeed it is sometimes urged, that "obedience is obedience by whomsoever it is done, in whatsoever circumstances and in whatsoever spirit. If a master or a king issues a command, he gets all he can expect to get if what he wishes to be done is done. It cannot matter to him whether it is done with a grumble or with a smile. And it must be the same with God. We may reasonably expect him to be satisfied if what he wishes to have done is done." It is easy to answer that formal obedience involves no personal relationship; but as soon as that is recognized, the moral quality of the obedience becomes the true ground of acceptance. What is really accepted is the man in the obedience, and not the mere act of obedience. The best figures of the Divine relations with men are taken from family life. A master may be satisfied with formal obedience, and so may a king (though the deeper truth is that both want to find willing love-service in the obedience), but a father never is. He wants his child to obey; but he never can rest content until his child loves to obey, and is manifestly happy in his obedience.
I. AN OBEDIENCE WHICH CAUSES STRAIN.
1. There is the strain which follows upon the feeling that we must. A power is compelling us—a power which we fear; a power which can punish, "casting body and soul into hell." Much of the obedience of life has no higher range than this. Men obey, but there is neither credit nor joy in their obedience, for in their hearts they say, "We would not, if we dared not." Neither God nor man cares for such obedience as that.
2. There is the strain which follows upon the feeling that we ought. This is altogether higher and nobler. Duty is one of the most exalted inspirations. And yet it may keep the strain, and a man may but force himself to meet his duty. If man may be satisfied with that, God cannot. The true obedience is out of the range of strain. God's acceptance waits until heart and hand go well together, and we love what we do.
II. THE OBEDIENCE WHICH KNOWS NO STRAIN. It is no trouble to do what we wish to do. There is no sense of strain when we love and choose and persist in finding our pleasure in what we do. The soul moves freely in its delights. Make a joy of your obedience, and the result is that obedience becomes your joy.—R.T.
Man's trust a plea for securing God's faithfulness.
"Because thou hast made me to hope." "Those that make God's promises their portion may with humble boldness make them their plea." In ordinary life nothing so surely calls forth the best in a man as to be trusted. No persuasion acts on us more forcibly than this, "I must do it for him because he trusts me." We may in everything that is good, or that works out good, rise from man to God, seeing that in God's image man is made. In another psalm the feeling of God towards the man who trusts him is precisely expressed (Psalms 91:14), "Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him."
I. THE GROUND OF MAN'S TRUST IS GOD'S OWN PROMISES. This needs to be opened up both in a lighter and in a deeper sense.
1. Man's trust rests upon God's spoken promises. "Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises." How God makes spoken words the basis of trust may be illustrated in a very precise way from the promises to Adam (Genesis 3:15); Abraham (Genesis 12:2, Genesis 12:3); Moses (Exodus 3:7-10); Joshua (Joshua 1:5, etc.). Later on, such books as Isaiah contain most gracious Divine promises. And the wonderful discovery of advancing religious experience, and of increasing knowledge of God's Word, is that promises in exact adaptation to the ever-varying disposition and circumstance of godly men have been given; so that a man can never be so circumstanced that he need fail to find a written promise on which to ground his trust in God.
2. Man's trust rests on him who gives the promises. And the promises never fulfill their true purpose unless they lead a man to this higher trust. If we seem to hope in God's Word, we really hope in him who spoke the Word. When this is seen, it is further seen that if God found it best to change his word to us, that would not affect our trust in him.
II. MAN'S TRUST BECOMES AN EFFECTIVE PLEA WITH GOD. Because the honor of God's Name is bound up in response to trust. Illustrate by Joshua's plea (Joshua 7:9). Reminding a man of his promise is the highest plea man can use with man. "You told me to trust you." That is just what God has done—told us to trust him for life, for redemption. He will remember his Word unto his servants.—R.T.
Steadfast goodness may be exposed to misunderstanding.
"The proud have had me greatly in derision." Throughout this psalm there is evidence that the writer was in circumstances of limitation and difficulty. He was evidently trying to live a godly life in depressing surroundings; no one about him seemed to be in sympathy with him; and some even scorned the persistency with which he ordered his life in accordance with God's commandments. The condition may be represented by that of a godly prince in a godless court; but the thing is brought closer home to us if we take the position of a godly young man in a godless house of business. His companions will, as we say, "lead him a life;" will misrepresent his doings and sayings; call him names; point at him the finger of scorn.
I. DERISION IS ONE OF THE MOST POTENT FORCES OF THE TEMPTER. We all want to stand well with others. We all love praise. It is right that we should. Many a man can bear blame, reproach, and denunciation, who is quite mastered by scorn and derision. Let a man "make fun" of him, and his amour propre is wounded. In this light, what a sublime triumph our Lord won by his patience on the cross when the scorners were all about it! But the godly man more especially wants to stand well with others, because in that way he testifies to them of the grace of God that is upon him. To be derided then seems to spoil his witness. So derision does two things, and serves the tempter's purpose well.
1. It wounds the good man's sensibilities.
2. It damages, and may even destroy, the good man's witness. Young men have stood strong before open temptation who have bent like reeds before subtle, yet strangely powerful, derision. And they who deride and misunderstand are the proud—a term which does not here suggest the "boaster," but rather the "self-confident." The man who relies on himself is ever ready to deride him who relies on God. Such reliance he cannot appreciate.
II. STEADFAST GOODNESS HOPEFULLY RESISTS THIS TEMPTATION. Steadfast goodness is steadied goodness; and the steadying that is specially in mind in this psalm is that which comes from familiarity with God's Word, love for it, and practiced skill in the use of it. And the supreme instance of this steadying power is found in the temptation-scene of the Lord Jesus.—R.T.
A good man's songs.
"Thy statutes have been my songs." "When the Eastern traveler takes shelter from the scorching heat of noon, or halts for the night in some inn or caravansary, which is for the time the house of his pilgrimage, he takes the sackbut or the lyre, and 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 my resting hours by the way, and cheered myself onward through the wearisome journey and across the scorching deserts of life. Not songs of old tradition, not ballads of war, or wine, or love, have supported me; but I have sung of God's commandments, and these have been the solace of my weary hours, the comfort of my rest." What is striking in this expression of the psalmist is that he makes his obligations appear as if they were, what he sincerely esteems them to be, his privilege. Here is surely an unusual thing; the man is glad to be placed under restraint, only it must be clearly seen that it is Divine restraint. "Let me fall into the hands of God, and not into the hands of man."
I. A GOOD MAN'S SONGS BEAR THEIR OWN PECULIAR STAMP. Song is the relief of life; but it is one of the most genuine expressions of life. It may be said that a man can be judged by the songs that he loves to sing or to hear sung.
1. The good man always wants to sing. Joy is one of the necessary constituents of goodness.
2. The good man wants the singing to match himself. And since his joy is in God, his singing must be about God.
3. The good man's supreme concern is loyalty and duty, and therefore his songs are about the statutes by which duty is controlled.
II. A GOOD MAN'S SONGS ARE THE EVIDENCE OF HIS GOODNESS. They surprise his fellow-men, who wonder how he can find rest and pleasure in what seems to them so dull. He could not but for that vital change through which he has passed, which we recognize in calling him "a good man."
"I thirst, but not as once I did,
The vain delights of earth to share."
1. The delight in vulgar and comic songs evidences the low, uncultured man.
2. The delight in high-class music evidences the educated taste.
3. The delight in songs whose interest lies in their religious tone and suggestion rather than in their music, evidences the renewed man. The delight in songs that encourage and inspire obedience evidences a noble sense of the Divine obligations and responsibilities that rest on human life.—R.T.
"I thought on my ways;" "Let a man examine himself;" "I called my own ways to remembrance" (Prayer-book Version). There are two directions in which the important duty of self examination is abused and made mischievous.
1. It may be turned into introspection, which concerns itself only with moods and feelings.
2. It may be conducted in the light of fictitious human standards of goodness. The first is the error of sentimental religion; the second is the error of ceremonial religion. Both are mischievous in the same way. They nourish untruthfulness. The one forces feeling, the other exaggerates frailties into sins. The true sphere and the true standard of self-examination need to be presented.
I. THE TRUE SPHERE OF SELF-EXAMINATION. It is that of a man's conduct in his relationships; not that of a man's thoughts and feelings. It is that which a man has beyond himself, which, nevertheless, bears the impress of himself, upon which he can look, which he can appraise. A man cannot examine his own thoughts and feelings; but let thought find expression in act, and feeling put tone and character on the act, then the man can exercise judgment. Thought and feeling are too variable ever to be arrested for examination. They are the "secret things which belong only to God." Illust.: what weakness is brought into Christian lives by introspection! It makes a particular type of religious life, and leads in a subtle form of trusting the self instead of trusting God. True self-examination is "considering our ways." We can estimate the conduct of others; we can estimate our own. We cannot estimate the feelings of others; we cannot estimate our own.
II. THE TRUE STANDARD OF SELF-EXAMINATION. There are three possible standards that are manifestly unworthy.
1. The priestly standard, provided for the confessional.
2. The sectarian standard, which manufactures an experience through which all must pass.
3. The personal standard, which a man shapes according to his particular disposition and temperament. The true standard is twofold.
(1) The revealed idea of right conduct in the relations of life. That was the standard wholly for the psalmist, and in part for us.
(2) The revealed model of right conduct in relations—the Lord Jesus. That is the standard especially provided for us; and it was the full obedience of God's will.—R.T.
The good man's friends.
"I am a companion of all them that fear thee." The man who most entirely turns to God as his Helper is the man who most anxiously seeks, and most wisely uses, the help of godly associations and friendships. Men's help to one another in the godly life is brought before us in this verse. "How weak is human nature! Verily there are times when the presence of one so great as the Almighty becomes oppressive, and we feel our need of one like ourselves to sympathize with us. And there have been provided for us, by the way, many kind, sympathizing friends, like Jesus. As we pass on, we get the human supports which the Lord hath provided. We get them for fellowship too" (Jno. Stephen).
I. THE GOOD MAN FINDS FRIENDS. Every living thing looks for something akin to it, and finds that God has always provided the answering thing. This is typified in the fact that God provided for Adam a "help meet for him." If a man is a good man, he will discover that he need not, and must not, live a lonely life. He is not the only good man, and his good life will only grow aright, grow healthily, when it grows in company. The individual and personal relations of converted men to God are often presented in an exaggerated form. The true ideal is presented by Malachi, "Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another." The ordinary laws of human friendship apply to religious friendship. For close relationship there must be felt kinship; but for ordinary relations the common object and common interest will suffice. All who fear God, and obey him, can be true helpers one of another.
II. THE USE THE GOOD MAN MAKES OF FRIENDS DEPENDS UPON HIMSELF. It depends upon the maintenance and culture of his own godly life. So one of the first signs of flagging Christian life is flagging Christian friendship. Loosen your relations with God, and you will soon hold loose relations with his people. The law of friendship is this, "He that would have friends must show himself friendly;" and the friendliness of the godly man is bound up with the maintenance of his godliness.
III. THE USE A GOOD MAN CAN MAKE OF HIS GODLY FRIENDS DEPENDS UPON THEM. They must maintain their godliness. They can be nothing to him as helpers unless they keep fearing God, and observing his precepts. The good man soon finds his friends cease to help him when they fail from the godly life. Let each be at his best, and then godly friendship becomes one of the truest and best helps in the godly life.—R.T.
The moral service of affliction.
We are constantly dealing with the mission of affliction to the spiritual life. It may come with some freshness to follow the thought of the psalmist here, and see that the experience of affliction tells directly on the practical life of duty and relationship. It masters that growing self-willedness which leads the good man to try and take life into his own hands; and brings to him the humility and self-distrust which incline to keep well within the limits of God's Word. "If any of us remember a time in which we had no trouble, we also probably recollect that then grace was low, and temptation was strong." As an illustration in a larger sphere, Bishop Wordsworth's suggestion may be taken, "This was eminently true of the Hebrew nation. Before the Captivity, they had been torn by schisms—Israel against Judah, and Judah against Israel, and corrupted by idolatry; but they were purified from these evils by their afflictions."
I. AFFLICTIONS PROVIDE TIMES OF MEDITATION. They are to the moral life what sabbaths are to the bodily life. They stop the rush; they affirm that there is something more important than self-interest; they compel quietness; they give opportunity for reviewing. When we can do nothing, we have a chance of thinking. Let life go on without changes or trials, and the sell must assume exaggerated importance. How can a man keep nobly dependent on God, who finds everything prosper under the hand of his energy? Affliction comes, makes him stop and think, and look back and up.
II. AFFLICTIONS TONE TIMES OF MEDITATION. Distinguish between the tone of meditations in our holiday-times, and in our times of affliction. In the one case we have bodily health; in the other, bodily weakness. It is an element of importance that suffering and pain should give tone to meditation; but it is needful to bear in mind that affliction may make meditation exaggerated, one-sided, or unworthy. The meditation of such times needs Divine guiding and sanctifying.
III. AFFLICTIONS PASS INTO NEW OPPORTUNITY. When a man comes back to life from a sick-bed, it is as if he began life afresh; with this difference—he had to grow into experience, now he has the opportunity to use experience. Habits are broken. He can make a new way, ordered and shaped by the new resolves based on the meditations of his affliction.—R.T.
The faithfulness of the Divine Chastener.
"In faithfulness thou hast afflicted me;" "Thou of very faithfulness hast caused me to be troubled" (Prayer-book Version)—
"Who guideth mortals to wisdom, maketh them grasp lore
Firmly through their pain."
It was the marked peculiarity of the Israelites that they recognized God in history. It is the marked peculiarity of the renewed man that he recognizes God in personal history. The same events happen alike to all men, and are the outworking of natural laws, but what events are to each man depends on his point of view. There is a moral significance in events when a man can see that God is working in them and through them his purposes of grace.
I. GOD HAS UNDERTAKEN A WORK OF GRACE IN THE RENEWED MAN. He has "begun a good work" in the quickening of a new and Divine life in the man. To begin a work is for God to pledge himself to carry it on to perfection. The work undertaken is to give man full share in the regeneration of the world, and complete personal deliverance from the particular form in which moral evil affects him. The deliverance from physical evils comes after deliverance from moral evils, and is of interest only so far as it is related to and follows on the higher work. Physical evil for man would only be what physical evil is for animals, if man were not a moral being. God's work in man is his deliverance from moral evil, and then from all the physical disasters and disabilities which have come from moral evil, or have followed in its train.
II. THAT WORK OF GRACE CAN ONLY BE CARRIED ON THROUGH AFFLICTION. We see plainly that when man works on character in the child he must use discipline, which involves chastening, correction, limitation, pain. It is, indeed, impossible to conceive of moral training, under human conditions, that does not require the agency of pain and suffering. A father cannot be faithful to his son unless he can be a chastener. Much more may we say that since God is pledged to the culture of the higher moral character, and that must even more certainly require discipline and affliction, it is only being true to himself, and faithful to his pledge, that he becomes in each individual life the Chastener for our profit.—R.T.
Experience can teach.
It is said that "Experience is a dear school, but fools will learn in no other." The proverb is in a large sense true, but we want it now only to fix the point that experience is a school; experience can teach, does teach. In a satirical spirit Froude says, "Experience is like the stern-lights of a ship, it casts its rays over a way that has been taken." But that is not in any large, or practical sense, true; the actual experience must be a thing of the past, but the lessons learned by experience are available forces for the ordering of the life that we have to live. The distinction between animal and man, instinct and intelligence, is that man can profit by experience, the animal does not.
I. THE EXPERIENCE WHICH TEACHES IN THE RELIGIOUS LIFE IS EXPERIENCE RELATIVE TO DIVINE COMMANDMENTS. What the good man wants his past life for is the study of conduct in the light of what was known to be God's will. What has happened in our lives does not much matter, and of themselves events teach very little. How did what happened stand related to what we knew to be right? That is the supreme question; and that alone reveals failures and frailties. That experience alone teaches, and provides forces for the endeavor to live a better life. In measure we have "known God's testimonies;" but how has our actual life been ruled and toned by what we knew?
II. THE ONE THING THAT EXPERIENCE TEACHES IS OUR ABSOLUTE NEED OF DIVINE SUPPORT. The one thing which the past has to show every honest and earnest-minded man is, that he has always failed when he trusted to his own judgment and strength, and ventured to neglect or to go aside of God's revealed will; and that he has always succeeded when, in a spirit of true humility, he persistently endeavored to know God's will, and shape conduct and meet emergencies in its gracious leadings. Experience when consulted has always the same teaching to give. It may be summed up in this way, "You have always needed God as your Helper and Guide; you need him now as much as ever; you always will need him."—R.T.
What is a perfect heart?
It is necessary to see that the term "perfect" varies its connotation according to the substantive word with which it stands connected. We speak of a perfect animal, and mean completely and healthily organized, according to the standard of that particular animal. We speak of a perfect machine, and mean one that entirely and efficiently accomplishes everything that it is required to do. We speak of perfect conduct, and mean that which in every detail conforms to the rule. We speak of a perfect statue, and mean one that in all points realizes and satisfies our ideal. Then what do we mean by a perfect heart—using that term as meaning the will inspired by the emotions? Both the will and the emotions are such fluctuating things that it may not be possible to create an ideal, or to find a standard, by which every heart must be judged. Even here we cannot say of the Lord Jesus that he has presented an absolute standard. He has with his particular environment found a model expression for the highest principles; but righteousness for each man must be the expression of the principles of right in his own particular environment, and with his own particular disposition. A perfect heart cannot mean a will always biased to decision by particular considerations; and getting the bias by a particular condition of the feelings. Perfection when applied to the heart must mean genuineness, sincerity. But it means this made even more distinct and precise. It means unity, absolute agreement; the whole being brought in and bound together in one purpose. And if taken in its fullest suggestiveness, it farther means an instructed heart, not one carried into conduct by any accident, but borne to it by a deliberate choice, based on competent knowledge. Perfect-hearted may be apprehended as whole-hearted, true-hearted, and as opposed to half-hearted.—R.T.
The wine-skin in the smoke.
The wine-bottles of the East were skins. Rosenmüller tells us that it was a custom of the ancients to hang skins of wine in the smoke of a fire, for very much the same reason that we stand a bottle of claret on the hearth, in order to mellow the wine by a gradual and moderate warmth, and to bring it to an earlier perfection. And in that custom the psalmist finds an illustration of the meaning, and of the mercy, of the afflictions to which he has been exposed. They have been sent to act on him like the warm smoke on the wine—to refine, mellow, and ripen his character; and because, under them all, he has refused to part with his faith in God and duty; because he has been true to God and God's statutes, they have had their intended and proper effect upon him (S. Cox). This explanation gives a fresh suggestion to the text, but it may be doubted whether the mood of the psalmist is fairly represented by it. The older view seems more in harmony with the general tone of the stanza. Though, under the severe pressures of trial and affliction, the good man shrinks and wastes and blackens like a wine-skin hung in the smoke of the chimney, he still remembers the Divine statutes, and holds fast his faith in God and duty. What seems to be in mind is a long waiting-time, which was also a time of suffering and strain. The watching for God was prolonged; no response seemed to come; much had to be borne while he was waiting; he seemed to get dry, shriveled, and blackened, like the wine-skin in the chimney that had waited so long (and seemed to get tired of waiting, even as he did) for the moisture and refreshing of being used, and filled again with wine. But the question of supreme importance was this—What was he doing during this hard waiting-time? He has the joy of this confident assurance—he was holding fast his integrity; he was keeping on his obedience and trust; he was persistently ordering his life according to the Divine statutes.
I. WAITING-TIMES ARE A PART OF THE DIVINE AFFLICTIVE DISPENSATIONS. It sometimes seems as if God would do more for a man by making him wait than by making him suffer.
II. WAITING-TIMES HAVE A PECULIAR INFLUENCE ON A MAN'S SPIRIT. It may be represented by the effect of smoke on an empty wine-skin.
III. WAITING-TIMES SHOULD THROW US UPON THE COMFORTING AND STRENGTHENING OF THE DIVINE WORD. Everything for us depends on the cherished moods of our waiting-times.—R.T.
Leaving our enemies with God.
The New Testament teachings concerning the treatment of our enemies is a decided advance upon the Old Testament teachings, but this should not prevent our seeing that the godly men of the Old Testament were in advance of the prevailing sentiments of their day.
I. IF A MAN BELIEVES IN HIMSELF, HE WILL ALWAYS TRY TO AVENGE HIMSELF. Then a man's enemies are entirely in the self-sphere, and must be dealt with in that sphere. This essential idea of unregenerate and self-circumscribed humanity may be efficiently illustrated in the mission of the family blood-avenger. A man was expected to avenge himself upon his enemies. But if he was killed, he could not avenge himself, and so his next of kin had to do this duty for him. Retaliation seems noble and right only so long as a man is self-centered, and thinks the ordering of life is wholly in his own control. Civil government does but make public this system of dealing with our enemies ourselves. The state protects itself, provides its own sanctions and avengements. And the individual and the state are constantly in peril of acting upon impulse, or in the unreasoning sway of vindictive feeling.
II. IF A MAN BELIEVES IN GOD, HE WILL LEAVE HIS ENEMIES WITH HIM. To believe in God takes a man out of the self-sphere, and consequently gives him another point of view from which to regard his enemies. To believe in God is to apprehend God's personal interest in a man's highest welfare; and this must include concern for the influence which enemies and enmities may have upon a man. To believe in God is to be absolutely assured of his ability to defend from our enemies, and to punish them for their enmity. To believe in God is to be willing to let him undertake dealing with our enemies for us, and upholding us while we have to suffer their power. The godly man prays, "Help thou me."
III. IF A MAN BELIEVES GOD IN CHRIST, HE WILL, WITH THE CHRIST-HELP, WIN HIS ENEMIES. This leads into familiar topics. "If thine enemy hunger, feed him;" "Love your enemies;" "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves." Let God in Christ undertake our enemies, and he will teach us how to save them from their enmity.—R.T.
Divine quickening our supreme need.
"Judged by his own, and, so far as we know, only work, the author of this psalm was a man wholly devoted to God and the Word of God. His confidence in that Word or Law, as the true rule of human life, had been exposed to the severest trials. He had seen the wicked in authority, using and straining their power to oppress and destroy the righteous. He himself had been called to suffer a long agony of anguish and distress, in which his soul fainted within him, simply because he would obey the highest rule he knew. In the time of his tribulation he had besought the Judge of all the earth to do him right, to vindicate the Word in which he put his trust, to deliver him from his afflictions. And, though neither answer nor deliverance came, he held fast his integrity; he refused to forget the statutes for his obedience to which he suffered, or to relinquish his trust in the God who did not save him" (S. Cox). But if such an attitude is to be maintained, the good man will find he has constant need of one thing—Divine quickening. It may at the first starting of a religious life seem as if our supreme need were the precise Divine help in every detail of life and relation; and so the prayers of young Christians are often exact and minute; they ask for particular things, and expect precise answers. Then they often mistake contingencies for prayer-answers, and are in peril of assuming that they stand in some special Divine favor. As experience enlarges, the one thing most impressed on the renewed man is the tendency of the Divine life in him to flag and fail. It is always dying down. And it always needs requickening. It comes to us gradually that God would rather leave us free in the movements of life, and expect to do the best work for us by "strengthening us with strength in our soul." And we at last see that this constant quickening and requickening and soul-vitalizing is precisely our supreme need. Even Christian experience can reach no higher prayer than this, "Quicken thou me." So prayer in the good man's life gradually loses its detailed character: it becomes simply a heart and life opening to the Divine quickening; and that is found to involve the supply of all our real needs.—R.T.
The supreme strain of affliction.
This verse Luther selected as the motto for his own Bible, which is now in the museum at Berlin. So long as affliction keeps in the sphere of a man's circumstances it is endurable. We make too much of human afflictions when we fix our attention on them, and miss estimating the ways in which men are affected by them. What affliction is to a man, what amount of strain it involves, depend on the man's emotional nature, the condition and character of his will and affections. We often observe that things are afflictions to one man which are no afflictions at all to another; and that the same afflictions affect men differently at different times. Here the psalmist recognizes that his afflictions would have altogether overwhelmed him, but for the condition of his heart, cheered as it was by the assurances and promises of the Divine Word.
I. THE STRAIN OF AFFLICTION DEPENDS ON ITS RELATIVITY TO A MAN'S INWARD CONDITION. This can be shown by illustrating what affliction is to a man when he is in a normal condition of bodily, mental, and moral health. Then nothing seems to be overwhelming; there is an activity of endurance and resistance which prevents a man's "perishing in his affliction." But man is seldom, if ever, found in this normal state. We can conceive it; but it is seldom realized. Man is usually below it, and therefore affliction becomes such a strain. Sometimes below it through untrained natural disposition; through temporary states of bodily health; or through neglect of spiritual life. So man is unfitted, and affliction overwhelms. Man may be above the normal; and this he is by the infusion of Divine life through the Word. Then he is a nobler self. He has a consciousness of power which masters the strain. The power brings a joy and delight which put a man above himself.
II. THE GRACE OF GOD BEARS RELATION TO A MAN'S INWARD CONDITION. Therefore in it is found both the relief and the sanctifying of affliction. God makes and keeps the heart right, fills it with the joy of his Word and promise, and then man becomes master of all circumstances.—R.T.
The disappointment of human hopes.
"I have seen an end of all perfection." "The true relation of the two parts of this verse to each other seems to be that of contrast. No other relation brings out so clear and full a meaning. The meaning of the whole, therefore, must be something like this: Here is something called 'perfection' existing among men in a great variety of forms. 'But,' says the psalmist, 'according to my experience and observation, these are altogether too superficial, and too precarious, and too short-lived to make men happy, and the very best of them, the idealisms of human life, can never be attained. But thy commandment is exceeding broad,' and that will do, unless men hinder, what nothing else will do." The human hopes referred to are a man's wholly self-centered purposes and ambitions. Let a man fashion something for himself as a supreme aim of life; let it be something which he regards as "perfection;" let it bear no relation to the blessing of his fellow-men, or to the will and honor of God, and there will surely be an end to all such perfection. Let perfection be humanly conceived success and happiness, and ere life closes the man will say with the "preacher," who had such a varied experience, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity."
I. ALL AROUND US WE MAY SEE THE END OF PERFECTIONS. The story of the ages is the story of well-conceived ideals in social and national life that were never realized. The story of individual lives that had only self-centered aims is this wail, "My purposes are broken off." It is even a large truth that no life ever was lived that realized its ideal, reached its perfection, or accomplished its purposes. And this must be so because perfection is for the race, not for the individual, who has never more than a piece of the whole entrusted to him. And because, by man's very nature, he cannot rest satisfied with things, only with character, which finds expression in things, and is always below a possible attainment, while God is the supreme character.
II. IF WE CANNOT GET PERFECTION, WE MAY WORK TOWARDS IT. To do this we must get out of the human sphere into the Divine sphere. Man fails to reach his own perfection because it is so small. God's Word is large, broad, and towards its perfection man may move through all eternity, and get ennobled as he moves.—R.T.
The inspiration of obedience.
"Oh how love I thy Law!" There are three possible inspirations of the obedient life; the psalmist presents the true and efficient one.
I. WE MAY OBEY BECAUSE WE MUST: THERE IS THE OBEDIENCE OF FEAR. Preachers seek to help men with this inspiration when they declare the "terrors of the Lord," testify of a coming judgment, and cry, "Prepare to meet thy God." And presumably there are persons to whom fear is an effective inspiration. All we need say is that they are not the nobler members of our race. A person amenable to the influence of fear is either uneducated, untrained, or un-self trained. As science destroys superstition, so knowledge and self-knowledge and Divine knowledge destroy fear. Fear God, and you need fear nothing else. It is not yet worthily seen that Christianity has something with which it intends, absolutely and entirely, to replace fear.
II. WE MAY OBEY BECAUSE WE OUGHT: THERE IS THE OBEDIENCE OF DUTY. This is an altogether higher kind of inspiration. In it we still recognize a power above us; but it is now a power personally related to us and interested in use power with which we are in sympathy, and whose authority to rule us we recognize. No man is his true self until he says, "I am not independent. I am under authority. There is something that I ought to be. It is the will of a Personal Divine Being, in whose image I have been made." The sense of duty has been the inspiration of the noblest things in every sphere of human life—in the family, the business, and the nation. Duty has often inspired heroism. Poets have sung its praise so much that it would hardly be unreasonable to regard it as man's highest inspiration. And yet we must see that its power is altogether surpassed.
III. WE MAY OBEY BECAUSE WE WISH TO: THERE IS THE OBEDIENCE OF LOVE. "Oh how love I thy Law!" It is sometimes said that this is the Law "getting into a man," and becoming himself, so that when he obeys he simply expresses himself. And this is true. Even duty keeps law outside us; it remains something which we must conform ourselves to. Love brings law in, makes it one with us, and so becomes an actual force of obedience in us. The inspiration of love is our best selves carrying our conduct into righteousness.—R.T.
Human teachers and the Bible itself.
"I understand more than the aged, because I have kept thy precepts." This is no mere boasting, no invidious comparison. It is the recognition of the fact that the man who is taught of God knows what no human teacher can teach. The human teacher has a limited range; the Divine Teacher transcends it. But the Word of God, the Scriptures of the Divine revelations, are the agencies God uses for imparting the higher knowledge. It is necessary to say that what God teaches is not a mere advance on what man teaches. It is other than man teaches. Man deals with the surface of things; God deals with the inmost of things. Man keeps within the agency of limited human language; God can teach through spiritual sensibilities. It is true that he uses the written Word; but it is not true that he confines himself to the formality of the Word. He teaches through the spiritual feeling which the Word excites. There is much made of a comprehensive, all-round education, but it is not enough insisted on that this must include the Divine teaching.
I. THE NECESSARY LIMITS OF HUMAN TEACHINGS.
1. They are limited by the mental capacity of those who teach and those who are taught.
2. They are limited by the imperfection of the vehicle by which human knowledge is conveyed. No human word has the same connotation for every one who uses it, and few words keep the same connotation for one man through a long life.
3. They are limited by the variableness of the material at their command. New facts are continually displacing old ones, and new theories condemning old ones. In science, a book ten years old is comparatively useless.
4. They are limited by the range over which they extend, which is compelled to keep away from all knowledge of God and the things of God. "Who by searching can find out God?" And yet it is in that higher range of knowledge alone that man's true nature can be unfolded. The queen of sciences is theology.
II. THE DIVINE TEACHINGS BEYOND THE HUMAN LIMITS. Is man only a mind? Many seem to think of him as having no more than a mental organization. A man is a spiritual being, kin to God, having for his present agency and use a body and a mind. The Divine range is the soul, which is the man himself.—R.T.
Dealing with hindrances to obedience.
"I have refrained my feet from every evil way." The point here is that the man resolutely dealt with himself; and, being absolutely purposed to obey, he persisted in removing out of the way whatever, in his disposition, inclination, habit, or circumstances, tended to hinder him in his obedience. How much goes along with obedience! How much is involved in it! "Refrained my feet" is a figure. The man recognizes the constant disposition to step over the line, or into the tempting side-walk, and he has again and again, by an effort of will, to pull his feet back, to hold them tight. Compare the figure of setting a watch on the door of the lips. "I am purposed that my mouth shall not transgress."
I. THE HINDRANCES TO OBEDIENCE MAY BE EXTERNAL TO A MAN.
1. They may lie in a man's friendships. There are associations of life which a man can arrange for himself, and he can secure that these shall be helpful. But there are associations in life which are made for a man, and these may be hindering to his purposed obedience. Illust.: Joseph, Daniel.
2. They may lie in a man's circumstances. The straitened man is put upon guileful and self-trusting schemes to improve his circumstances, and is thus hindered from obedience. The well-to-do man is in danger of being self-reliant and over-confident, and so made indifferent to obedience. Virtue is man's triumph over external hindrances. Innocence only becomes virtue through its struggle with hindrance and evil.
II. THE HINDRANCES TO OBEDIENCE MAY BE IN THE MAN HIMSELF. These hindrances are in the mind of the psalmist. He found something wrong with his own feet. They did not stand firm; they inclined to slide; they seemed to have a bias outward; if he was not careful, of themselves they carried him over the line. In this way he represented that carnal, self-seeking tendency with which the good man has continually to deal. He may will to obey; but he will find self-interest ever ready to resist good resolve. The hindrances that are in the man himself are never wholly mastered while a man lives, so that he can feet safe. Indeed, to "feel safe" is to be in the gravest peril. Through a long life, if a man really means to live for God and obey, he will find that he must always be at work at his own hindrances, "refraining his feet from evil ways."—R.T.
Heavenly light on the earthly path.
The Book of Proverbs has the same figure (Proverbs 6:23). For the "commandment is a lamp, and the law is light." And Wordsworth calls duty "a light to guide." The "lamp" is kindled specially for the hours of darkness; the "light" is the natural light for all time. The need for the lantern on dark nights is well understood by those who live in country districts. A minister without a lantern, one dark night, got over a stile, intending to take a straight line across a most familiar field; but in a little while he found he had wandered round to the stile again. In the East the figure of the text is even more expressive. The streets of the towns are narrow, unlighted, ill-kept, and specially dark at night, because of the high walls of the houses on either side. The causeway often has dangerous holes, and soft muddy places, and great loose stones; and if a man is to pick his way safely, he must not only have a lantern, but hold it right down to his feet, so that its light may guide his next footstep. That gives point to the text. God's Word is not just a general light for the guidance of our route; it is something to hold close, for the direction of each step in life that we take.
I. LIFE IS TOO FULL OF PERILS FOR A MAN TO TRUST HIS OWN EYESIGHT. What can a man do with his eyesight in a dark Eastern street in the night-time? He may have the best eyesight, but it will not serve him then and there. "It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps." Human life is dark relative to human experience. "Ye have not gone this way heretofore." Human life is full of perils. Such as affect everybody, and such as affect particular dispositions. Every man is in danger of being taken at unawares; tripped up by some stone of offence; sore wounded by slipping into some hole of neglect. Some can manage life better than others; but every man is beaten by life in the long run, if he undertakes it himself.
II. LIFE-PERILS CAN BE PASSED SAFELY THROUGH WITH THE HELP OF GOD'S LAMP. The Word of God is relative to all possible human experiences and dangers. Its light acts in two ways.
1. It gives the man general principles and moral strength, so that he is ready prepared for every testing-time.
2. It gives precise counsels guiding actual conduct in every emergency. It is the lantern held down close to the feet, so as to direct the next footfall. The adaptation of the Divine Word to a man's every circumstance and need is the surprise of religious experience.—R.T.
Confirming our pledges by keeping them.
"I have sworn, and am steadfastly purposed" (Prayer-book Version); "have confirmed it" (Revised Version). It is not enough that the light shines on our path; it is necessary that we should steadfastly fix our gaze on that part which the light illumines. The lamp shines in vain unless its holder looks intently on its shining. "Sworn' here only means made solemn resolve with myself and solemn pledges with God. There are times in every good man's life when he makes fresh and solemn resolves—new year times, birthday times, or times of convalescence, or of rescue from sudden peril. But every good man knows that these are often made upon impulse, and need confirming. There are two ways of confirming resolves.
I. BY RENEWING THE RESOLVE AFTER "COUNTING THE COST." For illustration of this we have our Lord's teaching. On sudden and untested impulse, a passionate movement of feeling, very many made the resolve to become his disciples, and in great excitement offered themselves to him. How well he knew human nature! The fire that too suddenly blazes up soon fades. Our Lord showed no eagerness to receive them. He even somewhat coldly repressed them, setting them upon quietly thinking over what they were doing. He would have them "sit down and count the cost." He would have nobody upon an exclamation. He would have anybody who had resolved again quietly. This needs to be remembered in view of the exciting missions of our day, which work towards an impulsive resolve to become Christ's disciples. That may be good; but it is only good when it is followed up by a second resolve, made quietly in view of thoughtful estimates of all discipleship involves.
II. BY MAKING IMMEDIATE EFFORT TO KEEP THE RESOLVE. It is never safe to allow any gap between the resolve to do a thing and the effort to do it. That gap gives time for the impulse to die down, and for other interests to come in and fill up mind and heart. A man seldom keeps his resolve if he puts off beginning to keep it. It is carrying it out that keeps the resolve alive, and enables it to continue a moral force. Heart-rightness and life-rightness go together, and are mutually helpful. Doing what we purpose renews the purpose, and works passing resolve into ever-controlling principle.—R.T.
Soul-life for suffering bodies.
"I am troubled above measure; quicken me, O Lord, according to thy Word" (Prayer-book Version). The point here can best be seen in a contrast. The Apostle Paul had some severe bodily infirmity, which he calls a "thorn in the flesh." He prayed to God about it, and asked that he might lose his trouble; have his circumstances changed; have the "thorn in the flesh removed." The apostle in this was on a lower level than the psalmist. He too had some serious form of bodily trial, or temporal trouble, that almost overwhelmed him; and he too took the matter to God in prayer. But he did not ask for any change of his circumstances; he asked to be quickened, soul-quickened; to be so filled with Divine life, and made so soul-strong, that he could rise above his circumstances, however distressful they might be. And the apostle had to be taught by God the lesson which the psalmist had learned ages before. God's answer to his prayer was, "My grace is sufficient for thee. My strength is made perfect in weakness." Power to bear is a better Divine blessing than any mere removal of suffering from our bodies. The wonder of our Lord's bearing in the judgment-halls and Calvary is the soul-strength that triumphed over circumstances.
I. SOUL-LIFE IS BETTER THAN RELIEVED SUFFERING. But we find this very hard to believe. We only do believe it as we realize that God's idea for a man's life is not the providing of a pleasant time, but the providing of a scene which shall become a moral discipline, out of which spiritual character may be evolved. The suffering has in view the character; and to remove the suffering may be the worst thing that could happen to the man. The sigh of the Divine using of the suffering for the highest ends is found in the imparting of soul-strength. It shows the suffering to be a blessing to us.
II. SOUL-LIFE REALLY MATES AND MASTERS THE SUFFERING. For the real measure of the suffering is the measure of power to bear which the sufferer has. Some can bear nothing; some can bear anything. At one time we can bear what at another overwhelms. Then strength to bear—the soul-life of full trust in God—does actually lift us above our sufferings, and make them feel, as Christ's yoke is, easy and light.—R.T.
God's Word the safer for the tempted.
"The ungodly have laid a snare for me; but yet I swerved not from thy commandments." Temptations are sometimes open and manifest, and we know what we are doing when we resist them. But often they are secret and subtle, and we have nothing evidently to oppose. Then our safety depends on our moral and spiritual health and vigor, which in a natural way resists the encroachment of spiritual disease. The secrecy and trickiness of much of our temptation to evil is indicated by the psalmist's calling it a snare. Illustration may be taken from our physical relation to infectious disease. A man may, in the way of his duty, have to go where there is infectious disease. Then he braces up his will to a positive resistance, and so is in great measure guarded. But a man may, in the ordinary course of life, without knowing it, be subject to infection; then his safety absolutely depends on the measure of his vitality. Vital force is resistance of disease. Fungus grows on the parts of trees in which the life is flagging. The psalmist here declares that the resolute will and persistent effort to keep God's commandments, had proved to be a power of moral health and life which had kept him from insidious temptations that were like snares.
I. EVIL CANNOT PUT ITS SNARES IN THE GOOD MAN'S PATH. Not actually in the path. The highway of holiness God keeps, and makes a plain path. It is a well-kept road; he allows no obstructions, and removes all perils. If a man will only keep in the way of righteousness, his path shall be clear right through, his life shall be like the light which "shineth more and more unto the perfect day." It is God's narrow way, and nobody and nothing can put obstacles or snares into it.
II. EVIL CAN PUT ITS SNARES JUST ON ONE SIDE OF THE GOOD MAN'S PATH. There is a line which it may not pass, but it puts its snares as near to the line as it possibly can. They are well in the good man's sight, and always most attractively disguised. But the good man must swerve a little from the right, and step over the line, before he can possibly fall into the snare. The man is in the wrong before he does the wrong.
III. THE GOOD MAN'S SAFETY LIES IN GOING STRAIGHT ON. Swerving is the peril; looking about is the mistake. We know God's will; then let us keep on doing it. "Let thine eyes look straight on."—R.T.
Our power over our own hearts.
"I have inclined my heart." "The sinful heart will run any way: upon earthly things, upon evil things, or upon impertinent and unseasonable things; but it will not come to or keep upon that which it should mind; therefore it must be taken as by a strong hand, and set upon spiritual things, set on musing and meditation of heavenly things. The psalmist took and bent his heart, as a thing bending too much to other things; set his mind on musing on it. He found his heart and the Law of God too far asunder, and so would continue, unless he brought them together and made them one. If he had not brought his heart to the Word, he had never meditated; the object cannot apply itself to the mind, but the mind must bring itself to the object. No holy duties will come to us; we must come to them".
I. WE RECOGNIZE OUR POWER OVER OUR OWN LIVES. We say that a man may make of his life what he pleases. He can set before him standards and rules of conduct, and compel his actions to conform to them. His power is indeed within limitations, so that he cannot always do the things that he would. There are limitations arising from
(1) natural character, feebleness of will, etc.;
(2) imperfect mental and moral training;
(3) hindering circumstances;
(4) resistance of other wills.
And yet every man knows that the dominion given to man in this world includes, and indeed reaches, its higher forms in the dominion of his own conduct and relationships.
II. WE NEED TO RECOGNIZE OUR POWER OVER OUR OWN HEARTS. Because a vague sentiment easily grows on us that our hearts are the sphere only of the Divine operations, and we can do nothing with them, but must leave them wholly to the indwelling Spirit. This, however, is exaggerating and misrepresenting a most vital and precious truth. What we cannot do in the inclining and shaping of our hearts or affections should bring to view how much there is that we can do. We can put ourselves in the way of nourishing all good affections and emotions. We can keep out of the way of things that would unworthily bias or occupy our hearts. And we may keep ever fresh in our convictions that the power which we have to incline our own hearts is power on which God's power rests, and through which his power works.—R.T.
The offense of the insincere.
"I hate them that are of a double mind" men who "halt between two opinions" (1 Kings 18:2). "Perhaps we are to think of those among the Jews who were for political reasons favorably inclined towards foreign customs and ideas, and who would not throw in their lot frankly and courageously with the national party." Compare St. James's "double-minded man" (James 1:8). The good man has a natural repugnance to the "two-faced" man. He revolts from him. He cannot trust him. He shrinks from him as from the serpent, which is the type of subtlety in a bad and perilous sense. When the ideal Man moved to and fro among men, this characteristic of the good man was most marked in him. He was keenly sensitive to insincerity; he most vigorously denounced the hypocrite; the two-faced man was ever an unendurable offence to him.
I. THE INSINCERE ARE AN OFFENSE TO EVERY MAN. Genuineness is the basis of all human trust. The schemer undermines society. We can only deal with our fellow-men on the assumption that they are what they seem to be. Home, friendship, business, society, nations, Churches, all are so seriously injured by the influence of the insincere, that they are always on the watch for them. To stand in any relation in this world, a man must be true to himself.
II. THE INSINCERE ARE AN OFFENSE TO THE GOOD MAN. Everything that is characteristic of man is sharpened and polished (furbished) by his becoming a good man. And this may especially be observed in relation to truth and truthfulness. To apprehend and know God is to gain an altogether higher estimate of sincerity; for he "desireth truth in the inward parts." And to endeavor to live a godly life is to establish and confirm truth as the basis of character and relationships; and the man of truth requires truth in others. And he is keen to detect and to renounce that almost unconscious insincerity into which men fall whose lives are not ruled by high and noble principles. Their "permissions" are an offence to him.
III. THE INSINCERE ARE AN OFFENSE TO GOD. This can be illustrated from Old Testament character-studies, from Psalms, Proverbs, and Prophets; but more fully from the relations of the God-Man, the Lord Jesus, with the hypocrite and the insincere (Matthew 23:1-39.).—R.T.
The mischievous influence of the disobedient.
"Away from me, ye wicked!" (Prayer-book Version). If we take the psalmist as representing the nation Israel establishing itself again after the Captivity, then the verse expresses its determination to purify itself from the leaven of evil influence; from the power of every one who, and everything which, could be a hindrance to the full and worthy re-establishment of the Jehovah-religion. We may somewhat enlarge on this so as to get a point that will give us practical and helpful applications. Here is a distinct apprehension of the evil influence exerted by the wicked, which rouses indignation, and impels the psalmist to say vigorously, "Away from me, ye wicked!" The wicked man, in the view of the psalmist, is the self-willed man, who refuses to shape his conduct by the rule and Law and will of God. And that sort of man is found in every sphere of human association—in the home, the business, the social circle, the senate. And everywhere that man is, he must be, a mischief-maker. What is the mischievous influence that he exerts?
I. HE PRESENTS AN EVIL EXAMPLE. This is familiar, but point may be gained by showing that in every sphere of life there are the immature, who are specially susceptible to influence, and unable to resist the attractiveness of evil example. For instance, the insidious doubtings and questionings of the evil ones have no power on the matured, but seriously affect the immature.
II. HE BREAKS UP THE UNITY OF ENTERPRISE. He is always the other one, the objector, the one who pulls the other way, who wants something else. He is the drag on all good effort. This may be illustrated in relation to united prayer. He prays against the prayer, and so prevents the blessing which is promised to unity.
III. HE BEINGS ON THE JUDGMENTS OF GOD WHICH AFFECT OTHERS BESIDE HIMSELF. "The wicked shall not go unpunished," but it is not possible, under the conditions of human existence, to isolate the punishment to the evildoer. Those in association with him must share in the effects of the judgment (see the cases of Achan, Korah, etc.). The evil-disposed persons in the new Jewish nation might bring judgments on the nation by their willful doings. Therefore the psalmist is anxious for distinct and entire separation from them.—R.T.
"Let me not be ashamed of my hope." "A man would be ashamed of his hope if it turned out that this was not based upon a sure foundation." But here the psalmist evidently expresses a kind of fear of himself. He is afraid lest he should be ashamed of his hope, and so earnestly cries to God to save him from himself.
I. SELF-DISTRUST AS A SECRET OF MORAL POWER. It belongs to the normal condition of man as a dependent creature. He ought to distrust himself; if he does not, he cannot be reliant on a Power beyond himself. A self-confident man is making the attempt to be something that he is not. He is trying to transcend his normal condition; and in the measure of his success he becomes an unnatural being. He is a "law unto himself," and that a created being never can be. Further than this, a self-distrust kept within due limits is an element of moral power, because it leads him
(1) never to act without due consideration and care;
(2) never to act without outlooking and uplooking for grace and help from a higher power.
And man is only the moral being that he can be, and was intended to be, when he is man inwardly guided, moved, restrained, inspired, by the indwelling God. Normal man says, "I cannot, but God can through me."
II. SELF-DISTRUST AS A WEAKENING OF MORAL POWER. And this it is when it is only in a small degree intellectual, and in a very large degree emotional. Self-distrust becomes perilous sentimentality in some forms of sectarian religious life. It is exaggeration of sentiment to assume that, in the matter of redemption, or in the ordering of the godly life, God must do everything and man can do nothing. So long as self-distrust holds itself ready to respond to what comes of its reliance on God, it is healthy. When self-distrust is fostered by introspection, by examination of variable feelings, or by attempting to match feeling with impossible human standards, it is unhealthy, and utterly weakening to the moral fiber. Self-distrust that makes a man miserable and idle is, by its influence, stamped as bad. Self-distrust that inspires trust, self-distrust that persists in keeping on doing active duty, is healthy and good, honoring to God, and every way hopeful for man.—R.T.
Psalms 119:119, Psalms 119:120
Confidence in God's judgments blending with fears.
"Thou puttest away all the ungodly of the earth like dross …. My flesh trembleth for fear of thee." The good man is variously affected by the judgments of God. He is not always in the mood to view them aright. It is intended that he should be influenced by them. It is well to remember that Divine judgments never exhaust their mission in punishing wickedness, they are designed to warn the unwary, and to assure the perplexed of the living working of the great Vindicator. But good people sometimes misuse Divine judgments. They do when they exaggerate judgment as a feature of the Divine administration. They do when they dwell on the physical suffering that the judgment may involve, and pay little heed to the moral purpose which is at the heart of all Divine judgment. They do when they cherish the fear that the Divine judgments are indiscriminate, at least practically, and sweep away the righteous with the wicked. And when it seems as if, in a bodily and temporal sense, the judgment of the wicked does affect the righteous, the good man is full of fears lest his bodily calamities should destroy his heart-confidence in God. There are human calamities, such as epidemic disease; natural calamities, such as storm and famine; and national calamities, such as war and commercial panic, which the good and evil share together, and everything depends on the good man keeping the right attitude of mind in relation to such things.
I. WHAT THE GOOD MAN SEES. In some moods—as that of Asaph—all he can see is the wicked prospering, and then he is tempted to question the justice of the Divine dealings. In other moods he can see how short is the tether of the wicked, and how certain and overwhelming are the Divine judgments. The difficulty is that the seeing is usually so unqualified; it is exclusive and exaggerated on the one side or on the other.
II. WHAT THE GOOD MAN FEELS. Based on what he sees. He seldom can trust his feelings, because they respond to sense-conditions, and are inefficiently toned by the sanctified will. So he either feels as if God were neglecting him, or as if he would be borne away by circumstances. Then he needs the cheer of God's Word.—R.T.
The cry for spiritual discernment.
"Oh grant me understanding.' By this term is often to be understood that particular spiritual discernment which is a special power of the spiritual man; of the man who looketh "not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal." It is scarcely possible to describe the spiritual man more sharply or more suggestively than is done by the Apostle Paul in these sentences (2 Corinthians 4:18). By "understanding" is said to be meant "a deeper knowledge of God's Law and dispensation," but this keeps us outside, on the surface of things; and what the good man wants is inward discernment of the relativity of Divine counsels, warnings, revealings, and promises, to himself. We only understand moral things as we discern their relativity. The immediate connection of the verse may be the delay of God's judgment on the wicked. The good man often finds himself puzzled to explain God's ways with the wicked. "If our heart fail in its longing for speedy retribution, 'it is our own infirmity;' fuller conception of the mind of God would take away perplexity and impatience."
I. SPIRITUAL DISCERNMENT AS ONE OF THE POWERS OF THE SPIRITUAL LIFE. The Divine life in man involves two things:
1. A quickening of the powers of the soul that have been dimmed and deadened by the service of self and sin.
2. A bestowment of fresh powers, as trusts (gifts) for the ministry to which the renewed man is called. Spiritual discernment is one of the natural powers that get quickened, freed from entanglements, and exercised. But it is a power whose vigor depends on the general culture of the spiritual life. It fades and revives with the variation of our soul-moods. So its renewal is a subject of prayer.
II. SPIRITUAL DISCERNMENT AS THE WORK OF THE INDWELLING SPIRIT. This leads us into the Christian apprehension of the matter. In the renewed man the Holy Ghost abides. He works his work of grace in us through our faculties. These and especially our spiritual discernment, he quickens into power.—R.T.
Making void God's Word.
"For they have made void thy Law." Rendered it ineffective. Put it aside, as if it were stone impossible, ineffective thing. that was all very well as an ornament, but of no real use in this workaday world. There are many who still treat God's Word in this way. They do not take the trouble to deny its claims, to oppose its demands, or to doubt its teachings; they simply "shunt it off on a side line," and along the main track their trains go hurrying to and fro, heedless of the Word of God on the siding, it may remain there forever for all they care, and at least it is safely out of the way. They "make void God's Law." Can we set out some of the ways in which this is done? First, however, it is necessary to present the claims of God's Word to direct and control man's life. It is no mere storehouse of excellent sentiments; it is an actual chart, guide, adviser, of a good man's conduct. It must come into closest relation to life and conduct. And it is precisely this demand on its behalf which the man who would live unto the "devices and desires of his own heart" resists. It wants to be effective, he wants it to be ineffective.
I. MEN MAKE VOID GOD'S LAW BY SIMPLY NEGLECTING IT. And this is the most successful way. It gains the end with the least trouble, and involves no conflict with conscience. The Bible on the shelf, only dusted, is void enough. It does nobody either good or harm.
II. MEN MAKE VOID GOD'S LAW BY MISUSING IT. And this they do when they employ it for bolstering up their sectarian opinions; regard it as a storehouse of material for doctrinal conflicts rather than as a guide to practical life.
III. MEN MAKE VOID GOD'S LAW BY THROWING DOUBTS UPON IT. Such doubts have been thrown in every age, and do but take on some new form for each new age. The mischief of the doubts is their plucking away from us the sense of authority in the Word. It is the serpent's perpetual whisper, "Yea, hath God said" To which the proper answer is, "Yes, he has."
IV. MEN MAKE VOID GOD'S LAW BY FAILING TO DO WHAT IT ENJOINS. The test of right treatment of God's Word is obedience. "Surely in vain made he it, the pen of the scribes is in vain," if men hear and do not; know and obey not. For them the Law is void.—R.T.
The self-willed treatment of God's Word.
"Therefore hold I straight all thy commandments" (Prayer-book Version). "In the word 'therefore' there is a peculiar beauty. The violation of God's Law by the wicked only brings out more intensely in his servants the sense of its preciousness, and the enthusiasm of devotion to it." It is not so much the wickedness of the wicked that is in the psalmist's mind, as the wrong and unworthy ways in which they twist and turn God's Word, so that it shall either excuse their wickedness or seem to have nothing to do with it. He "hates every false way," every way of dealing with God's way which is not genuine and straightforward; and for himself he will persist in "holding straight" all the command-melts, dealing honestly and sincerely with them.
I. SELF-WILL SELECTS FROM GOD'S WORD WHAT SUITS IT. It is true that every one does and must select from God's Word what is most helpful; and that all Bible-readers find different parts and portions helpful in different moods and circumstances. The Bible of each individual is a much smaller book than the Bible God has provided for the world. But the good man
(1) recognizes the value and authority of all;
(2) seeks relativity to his passing spiritual needs; and
(3) depends on Divine illumination and guidance for the parts he finds; giving due heed to them, whether he likes them or not.
The self-willed man takes out only what he likes or what will serve his ends, and consequently his Bible is his own; it is not God's.
II. SELF-WILL DISTORTS EVEN WHAT IT GETS. Only the sincere, God-honoring mind sees in the Word what God put there. If a man brings his own ideas to the Word, looking in it for what he wants to find, the mere language will easily take shape that satisfies him. He will loudly assert what it says, in entire indifference to what it means. This self-willed distortion of God's Word to support preconceived doctrinal ideas is the treacherous basis on which all sectarianism rests. But it is more important to rebuke the distortion of God's Word which is made to support practical unrighteousness. It has even been made the minister, and the excuser, of man's sin.—R.T.
High estimates of God's Word.
"Thy testimonies are wonderful." Dr. Barry's outline of this section is suggestive. "The key-note of this meditative section is struck in the first words. God's dispensation is wonderful: ' As the heaven is higher than the earth, so are his ways higher than our ways.' His Word gives light only to simple faith (Psalms 119:130); it satisfies only those who long for it and love it (Psalms 119:131, Psalms 119:132); it saves from oppression only those who rest on his promise, and are willing to be taught (Psalms 119:133-135); for those who will not bow their hearts to it, there is no salvation; over them we can but weep (Psalms 119:136)." S.T. Coleridge says, "All knowledge begins and ends with wonder; the first wonder is the child of ignorance; the last wonder the parent of adoration." The Scriptures are "wonderful," with respect to
(1) the matter which they contain;
(2) the manner in which they are written; and
(3) the effects which they produce.
The following outline is from T. Manton: Wonderful
(1) in their majesty and composure; which striketh reverence into the hearts of those that consider.
(2) They are wonderful for the matter and depth of mystery, which cannot be found elsewhere, concerning God, and Christ, the creation of the world, the souls of men, and their immortal and everlasting condition, the Fall of man, etc.
(3) They are wonderful for their purity and perfection. The Decalogue in ten words compriseth the whole duty of man, and reacheth to the very soul, and all the motions of the heart.
(4) They are wonderful for the harmony and consent of all the parts. All religion is of a piece, and one part doth not interfere with another, but conspireth to promote the great end of subjection of the creature to God.
(5) They are wonderful for the power of them. There is a mighty power which goeth along with the Word of God, and astonisheth the hearts of those that consider it and feel it. Wonderful, as a term, does much more than express admiration and appreciation. It implies unusualness; the thing to which it is applied is other than we expected. And the otherwiseness suggests a higher and Divine source. The wonderful is the supernatural.—R.T.
God practically applying his own Word.
"Order my steps in thy Word." It would seem as if the psalmist were asking God to do what he ought to do for himself. Ordering footsteps, shaping conduct, is a man's own business. But that is to miss the point of the psalmist. He knew well enough that God only works with a man; and that God will order no man's footsteps unless the man is ordering his own. It is not extravagant to see in the psalmist's plea an anticipation of the higher truth of Christianity, that God, as the living God, is actually in his Word, and working its work. God was in Christ, using for the redemption of man his human manifestation. Christ, risen, living, spiritual, is actually in his gospel, as it is proclaimed to men, using it for the carrying out of his redemptive mission. In this we have but the unfolding, the development, of what has been the truth concerning God's Word through all the ages. In whatever form it has come to men, it has been inseparable from God. God has been in it. We are always wrong when we try to make two things—God's Word, and God. The Word is a living thing, and its life is God. Then when the psalmist is most anxiously seeking the counsels of the Word for the guidance of his conduct, with the most resolute intention to shape his conduct by what he discovers to be God's will, he can most sincerely pray the prayer of this text, for God is in the Word, prepared to make all due applications of it, in the life that is freely and fully opened to him. When the genuine man takes God's Word into his mind and heart, he takes God in, and he therefore has not knowledge only, but knowledge and power. He knows what he ought to do; he feels what he wants to do; but beyond and above this, he realizes what he can do. God is no distant Being communicating a rule for his guidance. God is with him, and in him, prepared to order his footsteps, to help him in ordering his footsteps by the rule.—R.T.
Freedom in order to be righteous.
The tone of this entire psalm is that of a man who is in some kind of bondage to his fellow-man, either material, mental, or moral. It may reflect the feeling of the exile in Babylon; but perhaps it reflects better the feeling of the restored exile, whose endeavors to resuscitate the Israelite nation and religion were so variously opposed by the neighboring kingdoms, and by political parties. The restored exile, because of his joy in his new-found liberty, felt all the more deeply the way in which he was checked and hindered by fresh forms of the "oppression of man." And true to the Jewish instincts, he saw the oppression chiefly as a hindrance to his hope of restoring the Jehovah-worship.
I. THE VALUE OF FREEDOM DEPENDS ON THE USE WE MAKE OF IT. A child had better not be free, because he does not know what to do with freedom. He gradually gains the freedom as he gains the control of himself and the control of his circumstances. Some men never can be free. They are not masters of themselves enough to have so serious a trust. Freedom is a passionate desire of humanity everywhere, and in all its stages. It is God's gift to man, and his inalienable right. And yet with this passion for his own freedom there goes another passion to hold his brother in bonds. Man would use his freedom to take away his brother's; or to satisfy his lower animal nature. There is dignity and peril in mental freedom and in moral freedom. They depend on the use we make of the trust.
II. WE USE OUR FREEDOM ARIGHT ONLY WHEN WE PUT OURSELVES IN BONDS. The psalmist wants his liberty in order that he may keep God's precepts. Liberty for man is but license when it is simple freedom from restraint. It is a noble anti intelligent thing only when a man uses it to fix rules for himself, or to put himself into the Divine rule. Men think of freedom as getting rid of the restraints of righteousness, so that they may do what they like. But the true liberty, the only liberty a man can desire who looks aright on life, is getting rid of the restraints of evil, self will, and self-pleasing, so that he may be free to do what God likes. He wants liberty to be righteous.—R.T.
The shining face.
The expression is clearly a figurative one, and the idea is suggested by life at court. The courtiers watch the expression on the countenance of their king. The sign of his favor and acceptance is given in his bright, smiling, "shining" face. If they are out of favor, they know it by the darkened look upon his face. It is a peculiarity of Eastern life that a master says as little as possible to his servant, and expects that servant to watch his every movement, and to interpret every change in his face, and do everything for him without his speaking a word. And Eastern servants gain a marvelous skill in thus comprehending their masters' wishes.
I. GOD'S SHINING FACE IS THE SIGN OF DIVINE FAVOR. The face of God is constantly referred to in the Old Testament. To turn the back on a person is to show one's self angry with him. To turn the face towards a person is to show one's self favorable to him. "Thou didst hide thy face, and I was troubled;" "Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us;" "No man hath seen God at any time." All man ever has had, or can have, is a spiritually realized presence. And if our spiritual senses are duly cultured, we do not need the help of bodily appearances. Soul-apprehensions become real and satisfying. And it comes to this with us—God gives us the inward feeling, the assurance of his Divine favor and acceptance, and we want to express what we feel, and plain prosaic language does not satisfy us, so we call it "the shining of his face upon us." But what must we be if God's face is to be ever shining on us?
II. GOD'S SHINING FACE IS THE INSPIRATION TO NOBLE ENDEAVOR. There may be some who can never do right and good things unless they are kept up to duty by threatening and the whip. But the better-natured men respond to approval and encouragement. Their inspiration is their master's smile. Kindly praise, the cheerful word, a loving approval, will draw out a man's best. The good man will do anything for him who treats him kindly and trustingly. Let God's shining face be on us, and it is our joy to do his will.—R.T.
Rests in God's righteousness.
"The soul takes refuge in the sense of the eternity of righteousness, both against all transitory forgetfulness and denial of it, and against all contempt and persecution of those who love it. The Law is 'right forevermore;' its righteousness must shine out in the end." "The initial letter with which every, verse (of this section) commences is the Hebrew tz, and the key-word is "purity." The expression, "Righteous art thou, O Jehovah," we should express by saying, "Ideal, or standard, or absolute Righteousness art thou."
I. RIGHTEOUSNESS IS CONCEIVABLE. Man is able to create in his mind the idea of absolute right—the moral straight line. But this suggests a philosophical difficulty. Is that an innate idea, or is it dependent on acquired knowledge? Can man know right without knowing wrong? Can man conceive perfect right without a revealed standard? Man has the mental power of conceiving completion. No matter what he deals with, he can think of it in a perfect state. And this power can be applied to moral things; he can conceive complete rightness. But the fact must be noted, that man cannot think without using the materials provided by God's revelation in nature and in his own nature. Man knows nothing of himself, of the world, or of God, save through revelations made to him, which are the necessary materials of his thinking. God helps him to conceive righteousness.
II. RIGHTEOUSNESS IS CONCEIVED AS PERSONAL. A philosopher may conceive such a perfection of morals as he can call "righteousness," but his conception is absolutely ineffective to him. It lies wholly outside the man himself. The idea must be associated with a person, and the person must be kin to the person having the idea, or it can be no power. Absolute perfection in morals, or righteousness, associated with a person kin with man, is God. "Righteous art thou, O Jehovah."
III. A RIGHTEOUS PERSON CAN BECOME THE SOUL'S REST. Because righteousness then ceases to be an abstract thing. It becomes relative. The person may have a personal interest in making us what he is. "The Eternal, who makes for righteousness."—R.T.
"I am small, and of no reputation." It is pointed out that these words are very suitable to the struggling Israel of the Return, which was so much despised by the surrounding kingdoms, and had to keep up such a prolonged struggle with the Eastern powers. But we may take it as a remarkable revelation of one of the weaknesses of human nature. Precisely what men never can do wisely and worthily is "estimate themselves," appraise their own moral condition. Imperfection or exaggeration attaches to all self-estimates.
I. THE SELF-ESTIMATES OF THE WORLDLY MAN. Except with the hypocrisy of a Pecksniff, or a Uriah Heep, the worldly man never talks like our text. If he feels small, he never tells anybody what he feels. He makes the most of himself, and is only too ready to see a strength and goodness which are not really there. But it is, perhaps, truer to say that a Complete self-estimate a man never makes, because he does not take into consideration his moral and spiritual condition. And a man is, first of all, a moral being. And also because he has no adequate standard by which to judge himself. He can but make himself a law, judge himself by himself; and he cannot possibly reach any wise or worthy conclusions in that way. "Could an emmet pry into itself, it might marvel at its own anatomy. But let it look on eagles to discern how mean a thing it is" (Tapper).
II. THE SELF-ESTIMATES OF THE GODLY MAN. There is always grave danger of his erring on the side of undue depreciation. The good man is usually half afraid of his goodness. His religious life begins with a deep sense of sin and helplessness. He regards himself as a monument of grace. He wants to keep up absolute dependence on God, and so he is gravely afraid of every form of self-confidence. He dare not "think of himself more highly than he ought to think," and so his thinking is incomplete, exaggerated on one side. And there is a further danger associated with particular sections of religious professions. It is assumed that God is honored and pleased by man's self-abasement, and even self-debasement; and men think it is pious to "write bitter things against themselves." But God always wants truth and sincerity. And it is neither truth nor sincerity to say that we are "small, and of no reputation," when, in fact, we are not.—R.T.
"Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness." The psalmist uses the word "everlasting" in a figurative way. He would never take the trouble to say so small, and indeed so unnecessary, a thing as that God's righteousness would last forever. That is a truism. All righteousness, God's and man's, lasts forever: it can do nothing else. There are no forces that can stop it or kill it. Goodness is in its very nature eternal. And everlastingness is but one Of the qualities or attributes of righteousness; but in view of the limitations of human language, it may be used to represent all the qualities of it; or, as we have expressed it, everlasting righteousness may stand for complete, all-round righteousness.
I. ALL-ROUND RIGHTEOUSNESS IS THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD. This is true not only of that abstract idea of righteousness which we connect with God, but also of that practical idea of righteousness which concerns his relations with men and dealings with them. "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" Find God where you may, he is always doing right. You never take him at unawares; you never find him below himself. His righteousness is an always righteousness, and "always" includes "everlasting," but suggests much more than "everlasting." We think of man as a dual being, having an internal life of thought and feeling, and an external life of action and relation. As man is made in the image of God, we may think of God's righteousness as including himself and his doings. There is no kind of falling harmony, but righteousness all round and quite through. A righteousness that never fails.
II. ALL-ROUND RIGHTEOUSNESS IS TO BE THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF MAN. Can man be satisfied with the assurance that the righteousness he may gain will last forever? Must he not say, "I am: quite willing to leave that, if I can only be assured of the quality of the righteousness'? The man who wants a present righteousness, and must have an all-round one, alone gains what is worthy to receive the everlasting stamp. All-round righteousness is the sublimest conception a man may form. It includes right thinking, right willing, right feeling, right acting. Righteousness within. Right relations. And a bloom on all—the Christly bloom—wonderful and beautiful as that which lies on autumn fruits.—R.T.
The plea of the prayerful.
So intent was the psalmist on devout meditation and prayer, that he arose before the dawn for that purpose. And in his prayer he pleaded his trust. "I hoped in thy Word." It is as if he had said, "I trusted thee, surely thou wilt respond to my trust." There are two great pleas which man may use when approaching God in prayer—God's promise, his own trust. And both are powerful and prevailing pleas with God.
I. TRUST DRAWS OUT THE REST OF EVERY MAN. It is perhaps the mightiest of all moral forces. The parent gets the best out of the child by trusting him; and the child gets the best out of the parents by trusting them. In common business relations, the keen man, who trusts nobody, is badly served; the man who trusts his fellows is indeed occasionally deceived, but usually he gets the best attention, the best goods, and the best services. The master who trusts his servants and employees puts them on their mettle, and secures their best of energy and devotion. Show little or no confidence in your fellow-men, and all you can get from them is drudgery. It is often noticed how positions of trust rapidly develop a man's powers. It would be a world full of poor characters but for the ennobling power of mutual trust. Society is built on mutual trust.
II. TRUST DRAWS THE MOST GRACIOUS RESPONSES FROM GOD. "Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him."
1. God is to be thought of as a Father, and his relations with us understood through our paternity; and we have suggested what wonders child-trust works in family life.
2. God is to be thought of as a Master; and we have seen what response the workman makes to the trust of the master, and the master to the trust of the workman.
3. God is to be thought of as a King; and we know how he is moved when any one relies upon his gracious Word. It is but using imperfect human language, based on human analogies, if we say, "Would we take God at his best?" Then we must trust him fully, absolutely rely on him, take him at his word, commit ourselves to him. This is our all-prevailing plea, "I have hoped in thy Word."—R.T.
The helpfulness of meditation.
"Mine eyes prevent the night-watches." "Prevent" is here used in the sense of "anticipate." When the night-watches come he is wide awake; he does not let them interrupt his meditations by their demand for sleep. He is not taken at unawares. According to the psalmist's thought, morning is the fitting time for earnest resolves, and evening the time for quiet meditation. Meditation can be understood when contrasted with study. Study deals with something outside the mind, and presented to it. Meditation deals with the contents of the mind itself, and that which may be suggested by the indwelling Spirit. A panorama of the contents of our mind is continually moving before us. Usually we rapidly select to meet the need of the moment, according to the mental laws of association. In meditation we let the panorama move by more slowly, pay more quiet heed to its varied contents, End so discover and enjoy much that usually escapes attention. Apply this to the panorama of our knowledge of God's Word, and we have religious meditation.
I. MEDITATION HELPS US BY MAKING US KNOW' MORE. Illustrate by the difference between the tourist who rushes through delightful scenery, getting no more than general impressions, and the tourist who tarries awhile in one place, finding out ever-fresh charms, and seeing everything beautiful in new moods and settings. The man who only read God's Word may know much, but the man who quietly meditates therein knows more.
II. MEDITATION HELPS US BY MAKING US KNOW BETTER. Illustrate by the stereo-scope. Just look into it, and you can see nothing unusual. Look fixedly, quietly, and everything in the picture seems to get place and relation. You realize vistas and distances, and the full charm is revealed. The Word of God has but little to give in response to a mere look; all its best things come to view when the soul is quiet enough to fix its gaze, and look long and lovingly.—R.T.
The cry for more.
The Revised Version has a marginal note which is suggestive, "Quicken me, O Lord, as thou art wont;" but this is given also in the Prayer-book Version, and for Per. 156. The point suggested is, that when a soul has received spiritual blessing from God, it can never be satisfied unless that blessing is renewed. Or, to put it in another way, the good man can heartily rejoice in the gracious past, but he cannot be satisfied with what has been, or with what he has had—he always wants the past to become the present.
I. A MAN MAY SAVE SINGLE BLESSINGS FROM GOD. We are accustomed to think of "quickening" as a single Divine act, and to say, "Ye must be born from above." And if by quickening we mean the imparting of new life, that must be a single blessing. But a life existing may need quickening; and in that sense the blessing may be renewed. Life is full of single blessings from God, and these may unduly occupy our attention. They really are the only indications of the blessings that attend us every day in life. They are like the miracles of Jesus, which do but show what the Father God is doing for us, in healing and providing, every day.
II. A MAN MAY HAVE CONTINUOUS BLESSINGS FROM GOD. If we may use language that properly applies only to man, we may say that God gets into the habit of blessing us with his daily quickenings. He blesses us as he is wont to do. There is a ground of confidence in this. God in the soul's life is like God in nature. He is in such a way of making his sun rise day by day, that we have come to depend on it. But there is a side of peril in this for us. God's regularity in blessing makes us either set up a claim, or miss the recognition of God's hand. He has sometimes to break the continuity in order to arouse our attention.
III. A MAN MAY HAVE PRESENT BLESSINGS FROM GOD. That is, blessings recognized as present; the soul awake to observe that they are present, and so responding aright to them. When the soul wants more it is prepared to recognize God's quickening grace actually with it to-day. What God has done, and what God usually does, are not enough. The soul cannot rest unless it knows and feels what God is doing.—R.T.
Conditions beyond self-help.
"Oh, consider my adversity, and deliver me." Plainly the adversity is such that the psalmist feels he cannot deliver himself. Therefore he pleads with God to deliver him. Some of the trials and afflictions of life are within the man s own reach and control, if he has the help of God. But there are some forms of adversity which bring to a man an overwhelming sense of self-helpless-ness. Then, if he be a good man, he makes absolute committal of his case to God, and seeks Divine intervention in his behalf. Illustrate by the helplessness of Israel at the shores of the Red Sea. Then they were bidden "Stand still, and see the salvation of Jehovah." Men, however, often seriously mistake if they ask Divine intervention when what they really need is Divine help; not that God should do for them, but should enable them to do. Apply this to the deliverance of the soul from sin. Here man is helpless. "God must save, and God alone." But usually the saved man must unite his labor and his dependence on God in every endeavor to live out the godly life. Only very occasionally has he to put down his tools and absolutely wait while God works for him. Bunyan's pilgrim only once in his journey had to put down his weapons, and betake himself to "All-Prayer." It is weak sectarian feeling that exaggerates self-helplessness, and thinks thus to honor God. Here the psalmist shows his anxiety by two petitions.
I. "CONSIDER MY AFFLICTION." He wants God to consider it, estimate it, see what it really is, involves, and needs, because he feels how easily he might misapprehend it. It might not really be as serious as he thought it was. He might so easily read it through his feeling rather than through his judgment. So he wants God to take it into his consideration, and so find out what could best be done with it. Was not this what St. Paul wanted when he prayed about his "thorn"?
II. "DELIVER ME." If God would give the matter consideration, he felt sure he would invent the wisest way of deliverance. He would be well content whichever way of deliverance God thought to be best. "Help me to do it, Lord, or do it altogether thyself."—R.T.
Salvation for the obediently disposed.
"Salvation is far from the wicked." Why cannot God save the wicked man against his will? Because
(1) such a salvation would do the wicked man no good; and
(2) because when God saves a man, what he saves is his bad will. Therefore the absolute first condition of salvation must necessarily be "repentance." And this truth has its further application in the life of the saved man, who is ever needing God's further salvations. He cannot have them if he is self-willed and rebellious. They can only come as he keeps the spirit of sonship, and is "obediently disposed."
I. SALVATION IS FAR FROM THE WILFUL. It is, and it must necessarily be. Illustrate by the paper which is to receive the photographic picture—it must be in a prepared state. The willful man does not want the salvation. He has no intention of responding to it. God's salvation is always a work in the man himself, not in his circumstances. The father, in the parable of the prodigal son, could do nothing for his boy so long as he kept in his willful mind. Hope for him dawned when "he came to himself." So penitence is the door of salvation. No man can ever have God's soul-salvation until he feels that he both needs it and wants it. There can be no waste in God's spiritual dealings; and it would be waste to give salvation to a man who did not care for the gift, and would make no return for it.
II. SALVATION IS NEAR TO THE WILLING AND OBEDIENT. These represent the attitude and mood of mind with which God can work. Let a man want to obey, God will help him to obey. Let a man want to get free from sin, and God will deliver and save him from sin. Let a man be in any kind of disability and distress, if he be a son of God, and cherishing the spirit of sonship, he may be sure of the Father's deliverance. So the preservation of right attitudes and moods of soul bears direct relation to the workings of the Divine Deliverer in our lives.—R.T.
The psalmist "loved the precepts of God. Many there are who have a warm side towards the promises, but as for the precepts they cannot endure them. The psalmist so loved everything that was good and excellent, that he loved all God had commanded. The precepts are all of them wise and holy, therefore the man of God loved them extremely, loved to know them, to think of them, to proclaim them, and principally to practice them." As a matter of fact, what may, and what actually does, inspire obedience in the relationships of life?
I. PATRIOTISM MAY INSPIRE OBEDIENCE. There is a sentiment which possesses the soldiers of an army, which we call "patriotism," though it but poorly represents that term, and which makes the soldier a model of strict, exact, unquestioning, but, to a great extent, unintelligent, obedience. There are answering sentiments, in the religious sphere, which have similar and no higher powers of inspiring obedience. They carry us over into obedience as a big wave carries a boat over the bar.
II. FEAR MAY INSPIRE OBEDIENCE. Of this principle animals are, for the most part, trained to obey. And fear is effective on men just in the measure in which the animal in them is trained and the spiritual undeveloped. Fear has its moral influence—at least in its coarser forms—on those who occupy low and servile positions in society. Culture a man, and one thing you do is deliver him from fear.
III. DUTY MAY INSPIRE OBEDIENCE. Relationship involves duty; and obligation creates duty. And man is a higher being as the sense of duty grows in him. But a certain hardness, self-restraint, characterizes all obedience that is inspired only by duty. The man does what he must.
IV. LOVE MAY INSPIRE OBEDIENCE. Then the man is in the obedience. His feeling runs with it as well as his will. The whole man is borne into the service. There are no resistances to occasion distress. In obeying the man has the joy of doing just what he wishes to do.—R.T.
The contrast suggested is between the possible aims a man may set before him. He may want to gain material success, wealth, fame, position-things which the psalmist satirizes cleverly by calling them "spoil." lie may want to gain that personal culture, that perfecting of character, which is the true end of life, and which God's Word is the supreme agency for attaining. "The profits made in searching the Scriptures are greater far than the trophies or spoils of war."
I. THE JOY OF FINDING THIS WORLD'S TREASURE. This is indicated in our Lord's parable. "The kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field." Worldly treasure is gained in two ways—by the persistent labor of a life, and by the accident of fortuitous circumstances. But the joy is chiefly felt when the treasure is found, lighted on, unexpectedly gained; as when success suddenly attends a business venture, a vein of precious metal or a spring of mineral oil is struck, or a fortune is left us. Then it is thought that we are to be specially congratulated, and we heartily congratulate ourselves. A higher joy ought to be found in getting treasure as the result of a lifelong labor; but then the capacity for enjoyment too often wears out with the labor. Treasure accidentally gained too often demoralizes. Treasure gained by force of will too often becomes temptation and a snare. Treasure gained worthily fails to satisfy the soul.
II. THE JOY OF FINDING THE TREASURE OF GOD'S WORD. Did we but think rightly, and get free from the enslaving power of the physical and the temporal, we should see that the treasures of character, of the interior life, of the soul, which is the self, are the treasures which should bring real joy to us. And the truths, counsels, promises, of God's Word are the treasures that enrich the soul, that alone satisfy, alone meet the needs of the man, who is essentially a spiritual being, and alone bear relation to that continuity of life which is man's prerogative.—R.T.
Self-serving and time-serving.
By the term "lying" is specially meant "false faiths," deviations from, or misrepresentations of, the true religion, which is "the truth." Compare the antichrist of Christianity.
I. FALSEHOOD IN RELIGION REGARDED AS SELF-SERVING. It is necessary to keep in mind that to the Israelite the very essence of falsehood was idolatry. Represent the unseen, spiritual Jehovah by any earthly form or figure, and to him the representation was a lie. No form or figure could represent all God, or anything about God perfectly. But it was falsehood in another way, for it did but hide the fact that the man who made the image was really worshipping himself, his own idea, and that was acting a lie. In whatever way man constructs his own religion, and creates his own deity, in thought and imagination he is not only false to revelation, but he is false to himself; for he deceives himself with the idea that he is worshipping God, when all the while he is only projecting himself outside himself, in order to worship himself. Both formal and mental idolatry are phases of idol-worship; and in them both man is false to himself and false to God.
II. FALSEHOOD IN RELIGION REGARDED AS TIME-SERVING. The stronger man thinks for himself, and makes his own religion; the weaker man simply is carried along the current of his age, and does as his generation does. But he is false to the responsibility under which his manhood lies, lee he is bound to decide for himself whom or what he will serve. In the way of agreeing with what exists around him, common opinion and common worship, with the ease and comfort of life. Resisting the age for the sake of truth means disability. So the man is willing to be false. And timeserving in religion is really the same thing as worshipping self. However it is done, it is always being false to God to say we are worshipping him when we, in fact, only bow in the temple of self.—R.T.
The steadying influence of God's Word.
"They are not staggered or perplexed by anything which they meet with, either in Scripture or nature." "When God's Law is loved, instead of being struggled against, the conscience is at peace, and the inward eye is clear; a man sees his duty, and does it, free from those stumbling-blocks which are ever occasion of falling to others." Marginal reading is," They shall have no stumbling-block." Compare our Lord's denunciation of those who "offend"—"put a stumbling-block in the way of"—"one of his little ones." The point is that those who steady themselves by holding firm to God's Word have a sure support in every time of temptation or danger. There are two ways in which the knowledge and use of God's Word steadies us. It braces us up. It gives us something sure to lean upon.
I. GOD'S WORD STEADIES BY BRACING US UP. This may be illustrated by the careers of two youths, who leave their country homes for business city life, and the peril of city snares and town traps." The one is braced up with good principles, and is able to resist temptation, and to throw off morally infecting disease. The principles of the other hang all lax and loose about him; and he has no ready resisting force when the enemy "comes in like a flood." Just what familiarity with God's Word. does is brace up our principles, brace up our moral nature, hold. us together; nourish the vitality in every part of us, so that we are kept in health and energy. Mind braced up with knowledge; heart braced up with right feeling; will braced up with motive. "Let your loins be girded about"
II. GOD'S WORD STEADIES BY GIVING US SOMETHING SURE TO LEAN UPON. Illustrate by the ship-captain who can always fortify his own judgment by appealing to his chart. It is of the utmost importance that we should preserve our sense of the authority of God's Word, as an absolute and final appeal; a trusty staff on which we may lean. This form of the steadying power of God's Word was effectively illustrated in the time of our Lord's temptation.—R.T.
Joy in God's response.
The metaphor in the Hebrew is "pour forth a stream of praise." "You have stood at the fountain-bead of a stream of water, and admired while it bubbled up and ran down in a cleat' little rivulet, tilt at length it swelled into the mighty river. Such is the allusion here. The heart taught of God cannot contain itself, but breaks out in praise and singing. This would be the effect of Divine illumination, and this would be felt to be a privilege, yea, a high duty" (John Stephen).
I. JOY FINDS EXPRESSION IS PRAISE. "IS any merry, let him sing psalms." There are natural expressions, by the body and the bodily faculties, of all the various emotions. Let a man be unsophisticated, and free from external restraints, and his body will respond to his moods. He will tear things if he is vexed. He will drop his head if he is convicted of doing wrong. He will flush if lie is taken by surprise; and so on. If a man is glad, he wants to sing. Send a party of young people out for a day of pleasure, and they must sing. The genuine religious man, who finds joy in God anti in God's Word, must praise; he cannot help it. He must become ungenuine in order to keep praise in. Our public services have so much of the element of praise, because it is expected that God's people will ever be full of the "joy of the Lord."
II. PRAISE FINDS RENEWAL FOR THE JOY. Many things live and grow through expression, and soul-joy in God is one of them. Silence joy, and it will fade and die down. Let it speak, let it sing, and it will ever grow louder, stronger, worthier. We shall love to sing, delight in singing, and so the joy of our hearts will grow stronger and stronger. Praise has its aspect as a duty we owe to God. "Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me." But we need not miss seeing how much it does for us, in the renewing of our soul's joy in God.—R.T.
The frailties of the sincere.
"I have gone astray like a lost sheep." Perowne says, "According to the accents, the rendering would rather be, 'I have gone astray; seek thy servant as a lost sheep.' In what sense can one who has so repeatedly declared his love of God's Word, who has asserted that he has kept God's precepts, make this confession? The figure cannot be employed here in the same sense, for instance, in which it is employed in our Lord's parable. He who is the lost sheep here is one who does not forget God's commandments. The figure, therefore, seems in this place to denote the helpless condition of the psalmist, without protectors, exposed to enemies, in the midst of whom he wanders, not knowing where to find rest and shelter. But in the 'I have gone astray,' there is doubtless the sense of sin as well as of weakness." The exclamation of the psalmist is at once made clear when we realize the distinction which the good man makes between "frailties" and "sins."
I. SINS, AS ABERRATIONS OF SELF-WILL, DO NOT DISTRESS THE SINCERE MAN. "He cannot sin, because he is born of God." The sincere man of the Old Testament is represented by the new man, the man born of God, the man in whom is the Divine life, of the New Testament. Let that man genuinely express his life, and he will not commit sin. Sin is the act and purpose or' a man's will; but his will is regenerate, and set on conformity to the will of God. The good man is "clean every whit;" he does not sin with his will.
II. FRAILTIES, AS ABERRATIONS DUE TO INFIRMITY, DO DISTRESS THE SINCERE MAN. He knows how he needs to "wash his feet." He cannot help getting them soiled. The man with the renewed will has to make that will work through a biased, enfeebled, physically weak body; and by that body he finds himself led into mistakes, infirmities, negligences, and even into things that look like wilfulness's. This is the sense in which a sincere man may mourn over himself as "prone to go astray."—R.T.
HOMILIES BY C. SHORT
The praise of God's Law.
"Thy Word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee."
I. THE GRANDEST AIM. "That I might not sin against thee."
1. This is the highest object of man's pursuit. Intrinsically the greatest object of life, as calling forth the greatest faculties, in the direction of the greatest object, for the grandest achievement. The assimilation of the human to the Divine mind. And we are bound to it by the greatest obligation.
2. Yet it is a practicable object. This proved from three considerations.
(1) That we are responsible for it. That is, we can attain the fundamental principles of all obedience. Faith and love. And we are capable of continued effort and attainment in connection with it.
(2) And that God's love furnishes sufficient and adequate motives to it. These motives are the strongest spiritual forces which can act on man's soul.
(3) And that God helps man in his efforts by his Spirit.
3. It is the most profitable object of human pursuit. In two ways. in the pure and ever-growing delight which the pursuit of it affords. And in the present and future rewards of every kind which are graciously connected with it.
II. THE MEANS OF ITS ATTAINMENT. The hiding of God's Word in the heart.
1. God's Word is to be the light and guide of our lives. In opposition to all conventional standards of conduct, and to the casuistic reasonings of our own minds.
2. That a sacred passion is to be cherished towards the Divine Law. God's Word is to be enthroned on the seat of the affections. "Oh, how I love thy Law!" He would hide it in his heart as the most valued treasure.
3. God's Word is the nourishment of our spiritual nature. He would hide it in his heart as the vivifying principle of his nature, on account of its enlightening, strengthening, hope-giving properties. "I have inclined my heart to perform thy statutes always, even unto the end."—S.
"Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy Law." "Law" is the will of God expressed in man, in nature, and in history.
I. THE WILL OF GOD IS THE LAW OF MAN'S LIFE.
1. A law that reaches to every part of man's nature. To the inward and outward life. A law that claims to rule over reason and affection and conscience.
2. A law that guides by aiming at the renewal of our nature. In this respect how different from all human law! "The Law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul." This Law not merely bids us obey, but urges us by grand arguments of love and obligation. And helps us by the energy of the Holy Spirit, which it promises and gives.
II. THIS "LAW" CONTAINS WONDROUS THINGS.
1. Wonders of doctrine. Forgiveness through Christ. Demands the perfection of our nature. An immortal and blessed life.
2. Wonders of precept. Supreme love to God and man. No one can love God with all his soul and mind and strength without loving his neighbor as himself, any more than the earth can gravitate towards the sun without attracting toward itself the moon by the same force of gravity.
3. Wonders of promise. In personal union with Christ we find the fulfillment of all Divine promise.
III. THE HOLY SPIRIT MUST GIVE US TO DISCERN THESE WONDERS. The best Christians feel that our perceptions of spiritual truth are infirm and obscure; but things are greater than we see them—more wonderful than they now appear. Hence this prayer, for the opening the eyes of the heart and soul. To be a philosopher, or artist, or orator, there must be two things—some genius for it, or natural capacity; and training, or instruction and discipline. To be a Christian there must be spiritual eyesight—the gift of God's Spirit. "Open thou mine eyes." And trained and disciplined insight—the work also of the Spirit, our Teacher.—S.
The utterance of a man conscious of imperfect obedience to the will of God; and one who deplores his weakness. Also the expression of hope and confidence. A time will come when God will enlarge his heart. Also the hungering of joyful purpose: "I will run," etc. Two main thoughts.
I. SPIRITUAL LIBERTY IS NECESSARY TO DOING THE WILL OF GOD.
1. It is freedom from the bondage of worldly passions and appetites. There can be no spiritual active obedience to the will of God as long as we are under the dominion of worldly principles and affections.
2. Spiritual liberty is freedom from the fear that springs from a sense of guilt. We must be free from the terror of guilt before we can serve God with joy and freedom. Remove Jesus Christ and his doctrine from between God and ourselves, and we stand in the presence of terrifying law; and have the feeling of helpless weakness. Faith is the instrument of our freedom: What we can perceive and trust in Christ by the faculties of the mind.
3. The highest liberty is found in love. Love to God and love to man. Here we ascend beyond faith to the loftiest pitch we are capable of—to the development of the most perfect freedom, and we run in the ways of God. The profoundest aphorism of Scripture is that "love is the fulfilling of the Law."
II. THE PRODUCTION OF THIS LIBERTY IS A DIVINE WORK. "When thou shalt enlarge," etc. If God has laid upon us laws which his power must enable us to obey, how is our duty to be explained, and where lies our sin, if we fail in obedience?
1. God is the First Cause of all life; but man is a second cause. He "worketh in us to will and to do according to his good pleasure." It is his will and work that our will should coincide with his, and work towards the same holy ends.
2. But he does this by methods which impose duty and responsibility upon us. The principle on which God enriches men with increasing gifts of power and grace is—the use we make of them. The Divine teaching attributes to us the power of increasing the talents entrusted to us, so that future bestowments are made to depend upon our appropriation of those that have gone before.—S.
Religion under two aspects.
I. AS A MENTAL EXERCISE. "I thought on my ways." Religion revives the past, rouses the moral memory.
1. The supreme interest of the past is of a religious nature. What we have been intellectually or socially is of great interest. But what have been our convictions and conduct religiously? We thrill with joy or shiver with misery according to the answer we give to this question—What are our "ways"? what are we?
2. But to think upon our "ways" is difficult and repulsive. To think of good fortune in worldly speculation, success in business, formation of esteemed connections and friendships, fills us with complacent delight. But to think of a youth wasted in thoughtless frivolity or in impure pleasures, of manhood hardening itself against all religious impression, of a past whose track has been fouled with the slime of the serpent,—we turn away from this as from folly, loss, guilt, shame, and misery.
3. To think upon our "ways" is necessary and salutary. Necessary to realize our sin, to a change of life, and renewal of the soul. The connection there is between thought and practice.
II. RELIGION AS A PRACTICAL PRINCIPLE. "And turned my feet unto thy testimonies."
1. Practical resolves should be the result of earnest thought. Fits and impulses too often precede our resolutions and efforts. But thought, deliberate and earnest, summons up the grand motives, surveys the difficulties to be conquered, counts the cost, and prays for Divine help, and should go before every effort after a change of life.
2. The great end of religion is active obedience to the will of God. True understanding of our ways brings the grand conclusion—that man's "way ought to be God's "way." We are forgiven in order to this.
3. If we are not led to this, we miss the end for which Divine intelligence was given. Reason is under an eclipse if it does not light us to this end. Conscience is a corrupted judge, bribed to betray us, if it does not pronounce this verdict. The whole nature of man suffers loss and ruin if we fail to turn our feet to the Divine testimonies.—S.
The whole duty of man.
"I made haste, and delayed not to observe thy commandments."
I. A GREAT PART OF MAN'S IRRELIGION IS IN THE DELAY OF PRESENT DUTY.
1. Most men purpose turning to Christ some time.
2. This purpose is one of man's greatest deceivers. It is the excuse for neglecting the present duty.
3. This purpose not fulfilled, progressively increases the difficulty of turning to Christ.
II. OBEDIENCE TO CHRIST IS OUR IMMEDIATE IMPERATIVE DUTY.
1. The wickedness of trifling with our convictions is very great.
2. The claims of Christ upon us are before all others, both in time and in importance.
3. God sometimes sends special influences to turn us to Christ. To neglect these is the quenching of the Spirit.—S.
The use of adversity.
"I know, O Lord, that thy judgments are right, and that thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me."
I. A RECOGNITION OF AFFLICTION AS ONE OF GOD'S JUDGMENTS. God's judgments are:
1. Remarkable punishments which God inflicts for sins. "Judgments are prepared for scorners, and stripes for the back of fools" (Proverbs 19:29).
2. The chastisement which God brings upon his children for their trial and instruction. In a modified, but true and deep, sense health and riches are judgments—tests and trials of our faith and character.
II. AN ASSURANCE OF GOD'S RIGHTEOUSNESS IN HIS JUDGMENTS. His judgments are a great deep, and his righteousness like the great mountains.
1. Just. Though we cannot comprehend them.
2. Beneficent. Though they inflict suffering. He does not willingly afflict nor grieve the children of men.
III. AN ASSURANCE OF GOD'S FAITHFULNESS IN HIS JUDGMENTS. Faithfulness here means:
1. That he always purposes our good.
2. That he always keeps his promises.
IV. THE GROUND OF THIS ASSURANCE.
1. Our past experience. Personal history.
2. Our knowledge of what he has done for us in Christ.—S.
The breadth of God's Law.
I. CAUSES THAT WARRANT OUR THOUGHTS OF THE DIVINE LAW.
1. Indulgence of sinful habits.
2. Tendency to justify ourselves in what we do—or self-love.
3. Deference to worldly maxims.
4. False views of its relation to our salvation.
II. ILLUSTRATIONS OF ITS BREADTH.
1. It applies to every relation we bear to God and man.
2. It has to do with omitted duties as well as positive transgressions.
3. It is spiritual—widening to our view the higher we rise.
III. LESSONS SUGGESTED.
1. It rebukes self-complacency.
2. It shows how impossible it is that we can be justified by it.—S.
The prayer here may have its highest reference to our religious hopes.
I. WHAT IS THE NATURE OF THE GREATEST HOPE WHICH GOOD MEN CHERISH?
1. That which relates to our everlasting state.
2. That which is based upon the revelation of God in Christ.
II. HOW MAY SUCH A HOPE TURN TO SHAME? What brings disgrace upon men in relation to their hopes is that they cherish unreal objects; that they expect too much; that they fail in the attainment through want of rational calculation, indolence, self-indulgence, etc. It is not from the nature of the objects that our disappointment can come, if we are building upon the hopes of the gospel. We cannot expect tot much, or draw too largely upon our imagination, as to the good that is to come. But we may fail—and there is the shame—and fail from various causes.
1. We may fail in perceiving the essential things, confounding the ritual with the spiritual, the ceremonial with the substantial.
2. Through careless contentment with our spiritual state. Not being assured that devotion to Christ, activity, and self-denial are indispensable.
III. SOME REASONS FOR EVERY ONE TO BE APPREHENSIVE AS TO THE FATE OF HIS HOPE.
1. Present things may be absorbing so as to endanger the issue.
2. Tendency of our nature to flattering views of ourselves.
IV. WHAT MEASURES NECESSARY TO ENSURE THE SUCCESS OF OUR HOPE?
1. The maintenance of constant interest in it.
2. Fidelity towards ourselves in demanding the practical influence of piety.
3. Habitual reliance upon God for help and direction.—S.
A great sorrow.
"Rivers of waters run down mine eyes, because they keep not thy Law."
I. CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS SORROW.
1. It is the sorrow of only good men. (Philippians 3:18, "Many walk of whom I have told you often, and now tell you," etc.) It can be felt only by those who have wept over sin in their own hearts. Three ways of feeling towards the sins of others by men of the world—apathy, pride, mockery.
2. It is an unselfish sorrow. Most of our griefs are personal and selfish. When they are so they often weaken and debase the mind. But this is a disinterested sorrow, akin to Christ's sorrow over Jerusalem; it comes from the noblest sympathies, and braces the mind for the highest exertion.
3. It is inexpressible sorrow.
II. THE REASON OF IT. The transgression of God's Law is a subject of grief under two aspects.
1. As that transgression has reference to God. Sins of the Church and the sins of the world.
2. As it has reference to man. A reasonable sorrow. This sorrow should lead to exertion. Sinners should weep for themselves.—S.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Psalms 119". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent