By Charles Bridges
Verse 1. Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord.
This most interesting and instructive Psalm, like the Psalter itself, "opens with a Beatitude for our comfort and encouragement, directing us immediately to that happiness, which all mankind in different ways are seeking and inquiring after. All would secure themselves from the incursions of misery; but all do not consider that misery is the offspring of sin, from which therefore it is necessary to be delivered and preserved, in order to become happy or blessed." (Bishop Horne)
The undefiled character described in this verse marks, in an evangelical sense, "an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit", not one who is without sin, but one who in the sincerity of his heart can say, "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do."
As his way is, so is his "walk", "in the law of the Lord." He is "strengthened in the Lord, and he walks up and down in His name;" his "ears hearing a word behind him, saying, This is the way--walk in it"--when he is "turning to the right hand or to the left." And if the pardon of sin, imputation of righteousness, the communion of saints, and a sense of acceptance with God; if protection in providence and grace; and--finally and forever, the beatific vision, are the sealed privileges of His upright people, then there can be no doubt, that "blessed are the undefiled in the way." And if temporal prosperity, spiritual renovation and fruitfulness, increasing illumination, fellowship with the Savior, peace within, and--throughout eternity--a right to the tree of life, are privileges of incalculable value; then surely "the walk in the law of the Lord" is "the path of pleasantness and peace." "Truly"--indeed may we say, "God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart."
But let each of us ask--What is the "way" of my heart with God? Is it always an "undefiled way?" Is "iniquity" never "regarded in the heart?" Is all that God hates habitually lamented, abhorred, forsaken? "Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."
Again--What is my "walk?" Is it from the living principle of union with Christ? This is the direct--the only source of spiritual life. We are first quickened in Him. Then we walk in Him and after Him. Oh! that this my walk may be steady, consistent, advancing! Oh! that I may be ever listening to my Father's voice, "I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be perfect!"
Is there not enough of defilement in the most "undefiled way," and enough of inconsistency in the most consistent "walk" to endear to us the gracious declaration of the gospel, "If any man sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous?"
Verse 2. Blessed are those who keep His testimonies, and who seek Him with the whole heart.
The "testimony," in the singular number, usually denotes the whole canon of the inspired writings--the revelation of the will of God to mankind--the standard of their faith. "Testimonies" appear, chiefly, to mark the preceptive part of Scripture; that part, in which this man of God always found his spiritual delight and perfect freedom. Mark his language: "I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies, as much us in all riches. Your testimonies have I taken as a heritage forever; for they are the rejoicing of my heart." Not, however, that this blessedness belongs to the mere outward act of obedience; but rather to that practical habit of mind, which seeks to know the will of God in order to "keep" it. This habit is under the influence of the promise of God, "I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you shall keep my judgments, and do them." And in thus "keeping the testimonies of God," the believer maintains the character of one, that "seeks Him with the whole heart."
Oh! how many seek, and seek in vain, for no other reason, than because they do not "seek Him with the whole heart!" The worldling's "heart is divided; now shall he be found faulty." The professor "with his mouth shows much love; but his heart goes after his covetousness." The backslider "has not turned unto Me with his whole heart, but feignedly, says the Lord." The faithful, upright believer alone brings his heart, his whole heart, to the Lord: "When You said, Seek my face, my heart said unto You, Your face, Lord, will I seek." For he alone has found an object, that attracts and fills his whole heart, and, if he had a thousand hearts, would attract and fill them all. He has found his way to God by faith in Jesus. In that way he continues to seek. His whole heart is engaged to know and love more and more. Here alone the blessing is enjoyed, and the promise made good: "You shall seek Me, and find Me, when you shall search for Me with all your heart."
But let me not shrink from the question, Do I "keep His testimonies" from constraint, or from love? Surely when I consider my own natural aversion and enmity to the law of God, and the danger of self-deception in the external service of the Lord, I have much need to pray, "Incline my heart to Your testimonies. Give me understanding--save me, and I shall keep Your testimonies." And if they are blessed, who seek the Lord with their whole heart, how am I seeking Him? Alas! with how much distraction! with how little heart-work! Oh! let me "seek His strength" in order to "seek His face."
Lord! search--teach--incline--uphold me. Help me to plead Your gracious promise, "I will give them a heart to know Me, that I am the Lord; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God; for they shall return unto Me with their whole heart."
Verse 3. They also do no iniquity; they walk in His ways.
This was not their character from their birth. Once they were doing nothing but iniquity. It was iniquity without mixture, without cessation--from the fountain-head. Now it is written of them, "they do no iniquity." Once they walked, even as others, in the way of their own hearts, "enemies to God by wicked works." Now "they walk in His ways." They are "new creatures in Christ; old things are passed away; behold! all things are become new." This is their highly-privileged state, "Sin shall have no dominion over them: for they are not under the law, but under grace." They are "born of God, and they cannot practice sin: for his seed remains in them, and they cannot sin, because they are born of God." Their hatred and resistance to sin are therefore now as instinctive, as was their former enmity and opposition to God. Not, indeed, that the people of God are as "the saints made perfect," who "do no iniquity." This is a dream of perfection--unscriptural and self-deluding. The unceasing advocacy of their Heavenly Friend evidently supposes the indwelling power of sin, to the termination of our earthly pilgrimage. The supplication, also, in the prayer of our Lord teaches them to ask for daily pardon and deliverance from "temptation," as for "daily bread." Yes--to our shame be it spoken--we are sinners still; yet--praised be God!--not "walking after the course," not "fulfilling the desires," of sin. The acting of sin is now like the motion of a stone upward, violent and unnatural. If sin is not cast out, it is dethroned. We are not, as before, "its willing people," but its reluctant, struggling captives. It is not "the day of its power."
And here lies the holy liberty of the Gospel--not, as some have imagined--a liberty to "continue in sin, that grace may abound"; but a deliverance from the guilt and condemnation of abhorred, resisted, yet still indwelling, sin. When our better will has cast it off--when we can say in the sight of a heart-searching God, "What we hate, that do we"--the responsibility is not ours: "It is not we who do it, but sin which dwells in us."
Still let us inquire, is the promise of deliverance from sin sweet to us? And does our successful resistance in the spiritual conflict realize the pledge of its complete fulfillment? Blessed Jesus! what do, we owe to Your cross for the present redemption from its guilt and curse, and much more for the blissful prospect of the glorified state, when this hated sin shall be an inhabitant no more forever! Oh, let us take the very print of Your death into our souls in the daily crucifixion of sin. Let us know the "power of Your resurrection," in a habitual "walk in newness of life."
Verse 4. You have commanded us to keep Your precepts diligently.
We have seen the character of the Man of God. Let us mark the authority of God, commanding him to a diligent obedience. The very sight of the command is enough for him. He obeys for the command's sake, however contrary it may be to his own will. But has he any reason to complain of the yoke? Even under the dispensation, which "genders unto bondage" most encouraging were the obligations to obedience, "that it may be well with them, and with their children forever." Much more, then, we, under a dispensation of love, can never lack a motive for obedience! Let the daily mercies of Providence stir up the question, "What shall I render to the Lord?" Let the far richer mercies of grace produce "a living sacrifice" to be "presented to the Lord." Let "the love of Christ constrain us." Let the recollection of the "price with which we were bought," remind us of the Lord's ownership in us, and of our obligations to "glorify Him in our body, and in our spirit, which are His." Let us only "behold the Lamb of God;" let us hear His wrestling supplications, His deserted cry, His expiring agonies--the price of our redemption; and then let us ask ourselves--Can we lack a motive?
But what is the scriptural character of evangelical obedience? It is the work of the Spirit, enabling us to "obey the truth." It is the end of the purpose of God, who "has chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love." It is the only satisfactory test of our profession.
Then let me begin my morning with the inquiry, "Lord, what will You have me to do?" "Teach me Your way, O Lord; I will walk in Your truth; unite my heart to fear Your name." Let me trade with all my talents for You: ever watchful, that I may be employed in Your work; setting a guard upon my thoughts, my lips, my tempers, my pursuits, that nothing may hinder, but rather everything may help me, in keeping Your precepts diligently.
But why do I ever find the precepts to be "grievous" to me? Is it not that some indolence is indulged; or some "iniquity regarded in my heart;" or some principle of unfaithfulness divides my services with two masters, when I ought to be "following the Lord fully?" Oh! for the spirit of "simplicity and godly sincerity" in the precepts of God. Oh! for that warm and constant love, which is the main-spring of devoted diligence in the service of God. Oh! for a larger supply of that "wisdom which is from above," and which is "without partiality and without hypocrisy!"
Verse 5. Oh that my ways were directed to keep Your statutes!
The Lord has indeed "commanded us to keep His precepts." But, alas! where is our power? Satan would make the sense of our weakness an excuse for indolence. The Spirit of God convinces us of it, as an incitement to prayer, and an exercise of faith. If, Reader, your heart is right with God, you "consent to the law that it is good;" you "delight in it after the inner man;" you would not have one jot or tittle altered, mitigated, or repealed, that it might be more conformed to your own will, or allow you more liberty or self-indulgence in the ways of sin. But do you not sigh to think, that, when you aim at the perfect standard of holiness, you should, at your best moments, and in your highest attainments, fall so far below it; seeing indeed the way before you, but feeling yourself without ability to walk in it? Then let a sense of your helplessness for the work of the Lord lead you to the throne of grace, to pray, and watch, and wait, for the strengthening and refreshing influences of the Spirit of grace. Here let your faith realize at one and the same view your utter insufficiency, and your complete All-sufficiency. Here behold Him, who is ever presenting Himself before God as our glorious Head, receiving in Himself, according to the good pleasure of the Father, the full supply for this and every successive moment of inexpressible need. Our work is not therefore left upon our own hands, or wrought out at our "own charges." So long as he has the "Spirit of grace" he will be found "sufficient"--Divine "strength will be made perfect in weakness." "Without Him we can do nothing;" "through Him, all things." Even the "worm Jacob shall thresh the mountains," when the Lord says, "Fear not, I will help you."
In connecting this verse with the preceding, how accurately is the middle path preserved, equally distant from the idea of self-sufficiency to "keep the Lord's statutes," and self justification in neglecting them! The first attempt to render spiritual obedience will quickly convince us of our utter helplessness. We might as soon create a world, as create in our hearts one pulse of spiritual life. And yet our inability does not cancel our obligation. Shall God lose His right, because sin has palsied our ability? Is not a drunken servant still under his master's law? and is not the sin which prevents him from performing his duty, not his excuse, but his aggravation? Thus our weakness is that of a heart, which "cannot be subject to the law of God," only because it is carnal, "enmity against God." The obligation therefore remains in full force. Our inability is our sin, our guilt, and condemnation.
What then remains for us, but to return the mandate to heaven, accompanied with an earnest prayer, that the Lord would write upon our hearts those statutes, to which He requires obedience in His word?, "You have commanded us to keep Your statutes diligently." We acknowledge, Lord, our obligation; but we feel our impotency. Lord, help us: we look unto You. "Oh that our ways were directed to keep Your statutes!" "Give what You command--and then command what You will." (Augustine.)
Now, as if to exhibit the fullness and suitableness of the promises of the gospel, the commands and prayers are returned back again from heaven with promises of quickening and directing grace. Thus does the Lord fully answer His end with us. He did not issue the commands, expecting that we could turn our own hearts to them; but that the conviction of our entire helplessness might cast us upon Him, who loves to be sought, and never will be thus sought in vain. And indeed this is a part of the "mystery of godliness," that in proportion as we depend upon Him who is alike, "the Lord our righteousness," and our strength; our desire after holiness will increase, and our prayers become more fervent. He who commands our duty, perfectly knows our weakness; and he who feels his own weakness is fully encouraged to depend upon the power of his Savior.
Faith is then the principle of evangelical obedience, and the promises of His grace enable us for duty, at the very time that we are commanded to it. In this view are brought together the supreme authority of the Lawgiver, the total insufficiency of the creature, the full provisions of the Savior, and the all-sufficiency of "the God of grace." We pray for what we lack; we are thankful for what we have; we trust for what is promised. Thus "all is of God." Christ "is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last." Thus "grace reigns" triumphant. The foundation is laid in grace, and the headstone will be brought forth with shoutings, crying, "Grace, grace unto it!" The Savior's work is finished, and Jesus is crowned Lord of all forever.
Verse 6. Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all Your commandments.
The Lord expects our obedience to be not only "diligent," but universal. Willingly to dispense with the least of the commandments, proves that we have yet to learn the spirit of acceptable obedience. Grace is given and suited for all, no less than for one of them, "that we might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing." One lust "regarded in the heart" is sufficient to keep possession for the tyrant, however others may be restrained. Even Herod could "do many things;" and yet his adulterous wife cherished in his bosom, too plainly proved the sovereignty of sin to be undisturbed. Saul slew all the Amalekites but one; and that single exception to universal obedience marked his unsoundness, cost him the loss of his throne, and brought him under the awful displeasure of his God. And thus the one corrupt unmortified member brings the whole body to hell. Reserves are the canker upon godly sincerity. A secret indulgence, "the rolling of the sweet morsel under the tongue," "the part of the price kept back"--stamps our service as a robbery, not as an offering. We may be free, sincere, and earnest in many parts of our prescribed duty; but this "root of bitterness" renders the whole an abomination.
Sincerity therefore must be the stamp of my Christian profession. Though utterly unable to render perfect obedience to the least of the commandments, yet my desire and purpose will have respect unto them all. I shall no more venture to break the least, than the greatest of them; much less shall I ever think of attempting to atone for the breach of one by the performance of the rest. They are indeed many commandments; yet--like links in a chain--they form but one law; and I know who has said, "Whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all."
However the professor may confine his regard to the second table (as if the first were ceremonial, or obsolete, or the regulation of the outward man was the utmost extent of the requirement,) I would fix my eye with equal regard to both; yet specially marking any command in either of them; that may appear most directly opposed to my besetting corruptions. Thus "walking in the fear of the Lord," I may hope to walk "in the comfort of the Holy Spirit" and "hereby shall I know that I am of the truth, and shall assure my heart before God."
But where, in my strictest walk, is my hope of acceptance, but in Him, whose obedience has "fulfilled all righteousness" in my stead, and whose death "has redeemed me from the curse" of my unrighteousness, when repentance, prayers, and tears, would have been of no avail? Yet it is only in the path of holiness that we can realize our acceptance. The heart occupied with this world's pleasure knows nothing of this heavenly joy. Its brightness is dimmed--its freshness fades--its life withers--in the very breath of an unholy world. A godly assurance of the present favor of God must be weakened by self-indulgence, unwatchfulness, allowance of secret sins, or neglect of secret duties. "If you return to the Almighty"--said a wise man, "you shall be built up, you shall put away iniquity far from yourself. Then shall you have your delight in the Almighty, and shall lift up your face unto God."
Let us then carefully examine the character of our assurance. Does it rest simply and exclusively upon the testimony of the Gospel? Will it abide the test of the word of God? Is it productive of tenderness of conscience, watchfulness, and circumspection of conduct? Does it exercise our diligence in adding grace to grace, that we may "make our calling and election sure," and that "an entrance may be ministered to us abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?" How boldly can we plead our Christian confidence in the path of godliness, "I have stuck to Your testimonies; O Lord, put me not to shame. Let my heart be sound in Your statutes, that I be not ashamed."
Verse 7. I will praise You with uprightness of heart, when I shall have learned Your righteous judgments.
The righteous judgments of God include the whole revelation of His word--so called--as the rule by which He judges our present state, and will pronounce our final sentence. David's attainments here seemed to be as nothing. So much remained unlearned and unknown, that he could only anticipate the time, when he shall have learned them. "Your commandment"--he exclaims, "is exceedingly broad." When the Apostle, after twenty years' acquaintance with the gospel, expressed it as the one desire of his heart, "That I may know Christ;" evidently he entertained the same humbling views of his high attainments, and the same exalted apprehensions of the value of treasures yet unexplored, and progressively opening before him. Thus the wisest saints are only students in the Divine School. Yet whatever their learning be, it casts them into the mold and spirit of their doctrine. Conceit of one's knowledge, is the greatest enemy to knowledge, and the strongest proof of ignorance; so that, "if any man thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know." "He deceives himself."
But what is the motive, that enlivens the believer in this holy learning? Is it that he may live upon the airy breath of human applause? No, rather that he may "praise his God with uprightness of heart." When our mind is dark, our lips are sealed. But when "He opens our understandings" to "learn His judgments," He will next "open our lips, and our mouth shall show forth His praise." And this indeed is the end for which "His people are formed;" for which they "are called out of darkness into marvelous light." This is the daily frame, in which our God will be glorified. Yet must we live as well as sing His praise. "The praise of the upright heart will be shown in the holy walk and conversation."
But let us watch, that our praise really flows "out of the abundance" of what our hearts have "learned" of His "righteous judgments." For do we not sometimes speak of our Savior with a secret lurking after self-exaltation? May we not really be seeking and serving ourselves in the very act of seeming to serve and honor Him? Surely the very thought of the selfishness that defiles our holiest earthly praise, may well quicken our longings after that world of praise, where the flame burns active, bright, incessant; where we shall offer our sacrifices without defilement, without intermission, without weariness, without end!
Verse 8. I will keep Your statutes: O forsake me not utterly.
The resolution to "keep the Lord's statutes" is the natural result of having "learned His righteous judgments." But how happily does David combine "simplicity" of dependence with "godly sincerity" of obedience! Firm in his purpose, but distrustful of his strength, instantly upon forming his resolution, he recollects that the performance is beyond his power; and therefore the next moment, and almost the same moment, he follows it up with prayer, "I will keep Your statutes: O forsake me not utterly." Oh! beware of self-confidence in the Christian course. We stumble or advance, as we lean upon an arm of flesh, or upon an Almighty Savior.
Temporary desertion may be the seasonable chastisement of spiritual wantonness. When grace has been given in answer to prayer, it was not duly prized, or diligently improved. The "Beloved"--in answer to solicitation, "has come into His garden," He knocks at the door, but the spouse is "asleep." The answer to prayer was not expected, not waited for, and therefore not enjoyed; and the sleeper awakes too late, and finds herself forsaken by the object of her desire. Again--when we have given place to temptation; when love for our Savior "waxes cold," and our earnestness in seeking Him is fainting; we must not be surprised, if we are left for a time to the trial of a deserted state.
Yet we sometimes speak of the hidings of God's countenance, as if it were a sovereign act, calling for implicit submission; when the cause should at least be sought for, and will generally be found, in some "secret thing" of indulgence, unwatchfulness, or self-dependence. It was while David "kept silence" from the language of contrition, that he felt the pressure of the heavy hand of his frowning God. And may not the darkness, which has sometimes clouded our path, be the voice of our God, "Your own wickedness shall correct you, and your backslidings shall reprove you; know therefore and see, that it is an evil thing and bitter, that you have forsaken the Lord your God."
But in the engagement of the Lord's everlasting covenant, how clear is the warrant of faith!--how ample the encouragement for prayer, "Forsake me not utterly!" David knew and wrote of the Lord's unchangeable faithfulness to His people; and while he dreaded even a temporary separation from his God more than any worldly affliction, he could plead that gracious declaration, "Nevertheless, my loving-kindness will I not utterly take from him, nor permit my faithfulness to fail."
We would not indeed make the promises of grace an encouragement to carelessness: yet it is indispensable to our spiritual establishment that we receive them in their full, free, and sovereign declaration. How many fainting souls have been refreshed by the assurances, "For a small moment have I forsaken you; but with great mercies will I gather you: with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on you, says the Lord your Redeemer!" "My sheep shall never perish; neither shall any pluck them out of My hand." In a lowly, self-abased, and dependent spirit, we shall best, however, learn to "make our boast in the Lord;" "confident of this very thing, that he who has begun a good work in us, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ." And even if awhile destitute of sensible consolation, still our language will be, "I will wait upon the Lord, who hides His face from the house of Jacob; and I will look for Him."
Great, indeed, is the danger and evil to the soul, if we apprehend the Lord to have forsaken us, because we are in darkness; or that we are out of the way, because we are in perplexity. These are the very hand-posts, that show us that we are in the way of His own promised leading--painful exercise--faithful keeping--eternal salvation: "I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known; I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them." Oh! the rest--the satisfaction of placing an implicit confidence in a covenant-keeping God!
Forsaken we may be--but not utterly. David was forsaken, not like Saul. Peter was forsaken, not like Judas, utterly and forever. What foreboding have you of such desertion? Is your heart willing to forsake Him? Have you no mournings and thirstings for His return? "If, indeed, you forsake Him, He will forsake you." But can you forsake Him? 'Let Him do as seems good to Him (is the language of your heart); I will wait for Him, follow after Him, cleave to His word, cling to His cross.' Mark His dealings with you. Inquire into their reason. Submit to His dispensation. If He forsakes, beg His return: but trust your forsaking God. "Though He slays me, yet will I trust in Him." Though my comfort is clouded, my hope remains unchanging, unchangeable--such as I would not resign for the glory of an earthly kingdom. What are these earnest breathings--this abiding confidence, but His own work in us? And can the Lord "forsake the work of His own hands?" Sooner should heaven and earth pass, than the faithful engagements of the gospel be thus broken.
Verse 9. How shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to Your word.
Why is the young man so especially called to cleanse his way? Because God justly claims the first and the best. And is it not a most affecting proof of the alienation of the heart from God, that the youth of man--the bloom and freshness of his mind, "his first love"--should naturally be devoted to the service of sin? Ever since fallen man "begat a son in his own likeness," "the imagination of man's heart has been evil from his youth." For "who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?" And never does the heart utter the cry, "My Father! You are the guide of my youth," until the misery of wandering without a guide has been painfully felt. And even when Divine grace has awakened the desire to return homewards, the habit of wandering from God, and the long-cherished pollutions of sin, seem to form an almost invincible barrier to progress.
The fearful power of "youthful lusts," and the madness with which the heart is hurried into forbidden indulgences, give solemn weight to the inquiry, "How shall a young man cleanse his way?" And the answer is ready. Let him "take heed thereto according to Your word." Thus did Joseph, and Daniel with his young companions, "cleanse their way" in the defilement of an heathen atmosphere. It was probably the recollection of this purifying efficacy of the word, that induced the venerable Beza to mention in his will, among his chief matters of thankfulness to God--the mercy of having been called to the knowledge of the truth at the age of sixteen; thus, during a course of more than seventy years' walk with God, "escaping the pollutions of the world through lust." But the "way can only be cleansed" by the cleansing of the heart; for how can a corrupt fountain "send forth" other than "bitter waters?" "Out of the heart are the issues of life." Hence the urgent need to cry, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me."
How precious, therefore, is the word of God, as the means of this cleansing operation! When our Savior had been setting forth Himself as "the way, the truth, and the life," and exhibiting the high privilege of union with Himself, "Now," He adds, "you are clean, through the word which I have spoken unto you." This is "the truth," which He pleaded with His Father as the means of our sanctification. This sets out our purifying hope. Here are the promises, by which we "cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." Thus is restored to man that golden "crown"--the stamp of his Maker's holiness--which "fell from his head when he sinned."
But oh! how does the recollection force itself upon us, that our way needs daily cleansing! so defiled are our actions, our thoughts, our motives--no more, our prayers and services. Let us then "take heed according to the word of God"--specially thankful for its heavenly light, which guides us to the "Fountain, that is opened for sin and for uncleanness." Let us also, under the same Divine light, seek for the daily sanctifying influence of the Spirit of God. "Who can understand his errors? Cleanse me from secret faults." "Cleanse the thoughts of my heart by the inspiration of Your Holy Spirit." (Prayer-Book.)
Verse 10. With my whole heart have I sought You; O let me not wander from Your commandments.
Attention to the word, however important, can never be practically effective without earnest prayer. Indeed this is the character of the Lord's people, "a generation of seekers;" and yet how much do we lose of the comfort of our religion, and obscure the glory of our profession, by neglecting to bring "our whole heart" to this work! When sin is vigorous, and our spiritual affections are dull, and various hindrances combine in prayer--at this crisis strong faith is needed to overcome and to persevere. But here the soul too commonly yields to the difficulty, and contents itself either with heartless complainings, or with just sufficient exertion to quiet the voice of conscience, and produce a delusive peace within. But the Lord will not be found thus. His promise is not to such seekers as these; and if we are satisfied with this state, we must look for a very scanty measure of spiritual success, accompanied with the total absence of spiritual enjoyment.
In a far different spirit David could appeal, "With my whole heart have I sought You." And this assurance, instead of producing self-confidence, will, so far as it is genuine, invariably show itself in a prayerful acknowledgment of our weakness, "O let me not wander from Your commandments." Yet the feeblest desire and attempt to seek the Lord is the Spirit's rising beam in the heart, a "day of small things" not to be "despised." It is distinguished from every other principle by the simplicity of its object, "This one thing I do. One thing have I desired of the Lord; that will I seek after." My God! my Savior! with my whole heart have I sought You. "The desire of my soul is to Your name, and to the remembrance of You. With my soul have I desired You in the night; yes, with my spirit within me will I seek You early."
When the soul is thus conscious of "following the Lord fully," there is a peculiar dread of wandering. In a careless or half-hearted state, wanderings are not watched, so long as they do not lead to any open declension. Secret prayer will be hurried over, worldly thoughts unresisted, waste of time in frivolous pursuits indulged, without much concern. Not so, when the heart is fully in pursuit of its object. There is a carefulness, lest wandering thoughts should become habitual. There is a resistance of the first step, that might lead into a devious path. The soul remembers the "wormwood and the gall," "the roaring lion," and the devouring wolf; and in the recollection of the misery of its former wandering, dreads any departure from the Shepherd's fold.
This blessed state of mind the flock of Christ should cherish with godly jealousy. Yet let it be remembered, that daily progress in the heavenly walk is not maintained by yesterday's grace. Humble and dependent prayer must fetch in a fresh supply continually, "O let me not wander from Your commandments." 'Lord, I feel my heart so prone to wander. My affections are often scattered to the ends of the earth. "Unite my heart to fear Your name." Concentrate every thought, every desire, in Yourself, as the one object of attraction.'
Verse 11. Your word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against You.
What an aggregate of guilt and misery is comprehended in this short word "sin"! Sin is the greatest curse that ever entered the universe of God, and the parent of every other curse! Its guilt is aggravated beyond the conception of thought. Injury to a Superior--a Father--a Sovereign! Its power is misery wherever it extends--in the family--in the world. In eternity its power is unrestrained. Sometimes the death-bed scene casts a fearful gleam of light upon "the worm that never dies, and the fire that never shall be quenched." But experience alone, can develop its full-grown horrors.
How supremely important therefore is the object of our preservation from sin! and how wisely adapted are the means to the end! That word--which the man of God had just before mentioned as the guide to the cleansing of the way--he hides within his heart--not for concealment, but for security, that it may be ready for constant use. It is not therefore a mere acquaintance with the word, that will avail us. There must be a cordial assent--a sound digestion--a constant respect. It must be to us the rule that we would not transgress--the treasure that we are afraid to lose.
Often indeed Satan shuts out its entrance. He "catches away that which was sown." Too often, again, it is "withered or choked" in the soil. But "the honest and good heart" "hides it, keeps it, and brings forth fruit with perseverance, unto perfection."Here it "dwells richly in all wisdom," the storehouse, as occasion requires; a principle of holiness; a covering from sin. In this view it is recommended by one who had well acquainted himself with its valuable uses: "My son, let them (the Divine precepts) not depart from your eyes; keep sound wisdom and discretion. So shall they be life to your soul, and grace to your neck. Then shall you walk in your way safely, and your foot shall not stumble." David also gives us the same experience: "By the word of Your lips I have kept myself from the paths of the destroyer." And it was probably this recollection, combined with a sense of continual danger, that suggested the prayer, "Order my steps in Your word; and let not any iniquity have dominion over me."
The value of the word is inestimable, as our means of walking with God in the hurry, business, and temptation of the day. The Psalms furnish precious materials for spontaneous prayer; the promises, food for comfort; the rules, such light in perplexity; the instruction, such solid matter for godly conference--all operating for one end--a preservation from sin. Being from the word--a manifestation of the Savior's love--what a keeping of the heart! what a quickening motive! How seasonable in worldly temptation is the warning of the word hidden in the heart, "No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God!" So in the spiritual conflict, let this word, "Him who comes to Me, I will never cast out," be hidden in the heart--what a preservation is it against unbelief!
Take the word to the wavering believer, alarmed by ridicule or persecution, "If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you." Fearing that he shall never hold out to the end; "I will never leave you nor forsake you." Trembling lest his sins should rise up to his condemnation, "The blood of Jesus Christ the Son of God cleanses from all sin." And then as to duties: Let his Savior's word rebuke his indolence and unwatchfulness, "What! could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation." Hide in the heart the sorrowful story of His agony in the garden, and His death on the cross, that "sin may appear yet more exceedingly sinful."
But how is the word to gain entrance into hearts like ours? How shall it be "hid" in so unkindly a soil? No power of man surely can plant it there. The Holy Spirit's Almighty agency must be diligently sought; for in proportion as we are filled with His gracious influence shall we be armed, as was our Master, for the effectual resistance of our spiritual temptations.
Lastly, connected with this subject, mark the Christian's character, "In whose heart is my law." His security, "None of his steps shall slide." His happiness, "O how I love Your law." His victory, "The word of God abides in him, and he has overcome the wicked one." All infallibly provided by the covenant promise, "I will put My law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts." Oh! let us not then shrink from a close contact with the word, though the cost may be the cutting off a right hand for the saving of the life. There is no better test of our security, than our willingness to come to the searching light of the word.
Verse 12. Blessed are You, O Lord: teach me Your statutes.
"Praise is lovely for the upright." It is at once their duty and their privilege. But what does highest exercise amount to, when placed on the ground of its own merit? We clothe our ideas with magnificence of language, and deck them out with all the richness of imagery; and perhaps we are pleased with our forms of praise. But what are they in His sight beyond the offering of a contemptible worm, spreading before its Maker its own mean and low notions of Divine Majesty? If a worm were to raise its head, and cry--'O sun! You are the source of light and heat to a widely-extended universe'--it would, in fact, render a higher praise to the sun, than we can ever give to our Maker. Between it and us there is some proportion--between us and God none. Yet, unworthy as the offering confessedly is, He will not despise it. No, more, instead of spurning it from His presence, He has revealed Himself as "inhabiting the praises of Israel;" thus intimating to us, that the service of praise is "set forth in His sight as incense;" and at the same time, that it should be the daily and unceasing exercise of one at his own home.
The true character of praise, however, depends entirely upon the state of the heart. In the contemplative philosopher it is only cheerless, barren admiration: in the believer it becomes a principle of comfort and encouragement. For, can he forget the revelation, which his God has given of Himself in the gospel of His dear Son; how it divests every attribute of its terrors, and shines before us in all the glory of His faithfulness and love? The ascription of praise, "Blessed are You, O Lord," frames itself therefore into the prophet's song, "Who is a God like You, who pardons iniquity, and passes by the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He retains not His anger forever, because He delights in mercy."
Truly then He is "blessed" in Himself, and delights to communicate His blessedness to His people. Hence we are emboldened to ask for continual "teaching in His statutes," in the truths which He has revealed, and the precepts which He has enjoined; that we may "be followers of Him, as dear children," and "walk with Him in love."
The practical influence, however, of Divine light, constitutes its peculiar privilege. Man's teaching puffs up--God's teaching humbles. Man's teaching may lead us into error as well as into truth--God's teaching is "the unction from the Holy One, by which we know all things." Man's teaching may make us more learned--God's teaching makes us more holy. It persuades, while it enlightens. It draws the heart, inclines the will, and carries out the soul to Christ. The tried character of God encourages us to look for His teaching, "Good and upright is the Lord; therefore will He teach sinners in the way." Our warrant is especially confirmed in approaching Him as our covenant God, "Lead me in Your truth, and teach me; for You are the God of my salvation. Teach me to do Your will: for You are my God."
Reader! do you desire to praise your God? Then learn to frequent the new and living way, "by which alone you can offer your sacrifice acceptably."And while engaged in this holy service, inquire, surrounded as you are with the means of instruction, what progress you are making in His statutes. Seek to have a deeper acquaintance with the character of God. Seek to be the vessels of honor and glory, into which He is pouring more and more continually, "until they be filled with all the fullness of God." Value the unspeakable blessing of Divine teaching, by which you learn to live the life, and begin the blessedness of God.
Verse 13. With my lips have I declared all the judgments of Your mouth.
We have seen the word hid in the heart: now we see it poured forth from the lips. The Lord has taught us His statutes; now we declare these judgments of His mouth. But who can declare them with unction and power, except those who are taught of God? Now we are introduced to the high and honorable privilege of becoming a witness for our Savior! Our opportunities of service are our talents, and we trade with a large increase; for "to everyone who has shall be given, and he shall have abundance." But, "our lips are our own"--is the proud language of the world. Blessed be God; "we know that we are not our own." Most gladly do we acknowledge, that He, who fashioned our lips, has the best claim to their service. And when He has added to the claim of creation the right of purchase, what further constraining can we need, to induce the consecration of all that we are, and all that we have, to His glory!
This is a family obligation--to declare the judgments of God's mouth. Thus did Abraham obtain a blessing for his children. Heavenly blessings are the gracious reward of thus honoring our God. This also is the material of our general conversation, fruitful in spiritual results. Thus did Andrew bring Peter, and the woman of Samaria her neighbors, to Jesus. What might we not do for our fellow-sinners, if our conversation with them was the overflowing of a heart full of love; guided by a single desire to glorify our Savior, and to edify His Church! Fearful, indeed, is the guilt of sinful silence; and those, who thus prove their unfaithfulness to God, may well tremble at His awful denunciations. And yet it is possible to be bold in speech for God, when in the closet, the family, or the world, our consciences justly convict us of insincerity: "You who teach another, do you not teach yourself?" Let us seek, therefore, to have our hearts "filled with the Spirit"; otherwise ours will be "the talk of the lips, which tends only to poverty."
This subject illustrates the character of the Lord's people, "The mouth of the righteous speaks wisdom, and his tongue talks of judgment;" their resolution, "My mouth shall show forth Your righteousness and Your salvation all the day; for I know not the numbers thereof;" their prayer, "O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall show forth Your praise;" their blessing, "The lips of the righteous feed many. A wholesome tongue is a tree of life." The example of the Savior, here as everywhere, is our perfect and encouraging pattern: "I have preached righteousness in the great congregation; Lo! I have not refrained My lips, O Lord, You know." In this spirit of their Master, the Apostles awed their persecutors into forbearance: "We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard."
How sinful is it to employ our lips for any but the Lord! Yet not less sinful is our reluctance to employ them for Him! Surely the day, when perhaps we have been fluent in worldly conversation, and yet have neglected our opportunities of speaking a word for Him, must be considered a lost day! Is there not much cause for watchfulness, prayer, and self-denial; lest our silence should deny Him, whom by every obligation we are bound to confess? If our inability to bear a testimony for our Lord is not painful to us, must we not suspect, if not the sincerity, at least the strength, of our attachment to His precious name? and we can do no better than retire into our closets with the prayer of contrition, "Enter not into judgment with Your servant, O Lord."
Verse 14. I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies, as much as in all riches.
How natural is it to be speaking of that which is our delight! The man of God was always declaring the Lord's judgments, because they were his rejoicing. There is indeed a real joy in despising earthly joys. "How sweet"--said Augustine, referring to the period of his conversion, "was it in a moment to be free from those delightful vanities, to lose which had been my dread; to part with which was now my joy!" More satisfying is the believer's rejoicing in the way of God, than that of the miser in his untold riches. Here he may safely say to his soul, "Soul, you have much goods laid up for many years; take your ease." And these are the only riches within the reach of all. If we are poor in this world, it is the Lord's providence. If we are poor in grace, it is our own fault. It is because we have despised our Lord's "counsel to buy from Him gold tried in the fire, that we may be rich." And what is this enriching portion?, "Things present or things to come;" something enjoyed, and much more expected: the mercies of eternity added to the blessings of time; the riches of both worlds--all assured to him by the covenant of grace "in the way of the Lord's testimonies."
Is it not then most strange, that, with such treasure in possession and in prospect, the child of God should be so careless in increasing his store, and in confirming his own interest in it? But the riches of God's testimonies have this peculiar property, that they cease to rejoice the heart, when they are not uppermost there. Have there not been times, when we have actually rejoiced in the accession of some worldly good, or the accomplishment of some worldly desire, more than in this heavenly treasure? What then do we count our riches? To thrive in grace, or in the world? To be rich towards God, or for our own indulgence?
But though we would rejoice in the testimonies, and would not, for all this world can afford, lose a verse or a letter of our Bibles, yet we cannot be satisfied with a general interest. Many texts--doctrinal, practical, or experimental--have been specially sealed by the Divine Spirit upon our hearts. This or that promise--yes, all the land of promise, as much as I can set my foot upon--is mine. From these precious testimonies, shall we not increase our little stock, until we have apprehended the full enjoyment of the whole; if indeed the fullness of that which is called "unsearchable" can ever be, in this life at least, completely enjoyed?
But it is not so much in the Lord's testimonies, as "in the way of them," that David rejoiced--the way to God, of which they testify; "the way of holiness," in which they lead--the narrow way of the cross--so contrary to our natural desires and inclinations, that none but the true sheep of Christ can ever enter, or continue in it. Who that walks in these ways will fail to find them, in duties no less than in privileges, "paths of pleasantness and peace?" Our happiness is not withered, but flourishing. "Thus says the Lord, Stand in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and you shall find rest for your souls."
Verse 15. I will meditate in Your precepts, and have respect to Your ways.
Our rejoicing in the testimonies of God will naturally flow in a habitual meditation in them. The thoughts follow the affections. The carnal man can never be brought to this resolution. Having no spiritual taste, he has no ability for spiritual meditation. Indeed many sincere Christians, through remaining weakness and depravity, are too often reluctant to it. They are content with indolent reading: and, with scarcely a struggle or a trial, yield themselves up to the persuasion, that they are unable sufficiently to abstract their minds for this blessed employment. But let the trial prove the work. Perseverance will accomplish the victory over mental instability, and the spiritual difficulty will give way to prayer, "Lord! help me."
The fruitfulness of meditation will soon be manifest. Does it not "stir up the gift of God that is in us," and keep the energies of the heart in a wakeful posture of conflict and resistance? Besides this, meditation is the digestive faculty of the soul, which converts the word into real and proper nourishment: so that this revolving of a single verse in our minds is often better than the mere reading of whole chapters. "Your words were found, and I ate them; and Your word was to me the joy and the rejoicing of my heart." Thus the mind becomes the instrument of faith and love--of joy and strength.
But this meditation not only includes the stated times of thought, but the train of holy thoughts, that pass through the mind during the busy hours of the day. This maintains a habitual flow of spiritual desires, and excites the flame of love within, until at length the Psalmist's resolution becomes the inwrought habit of our minds, "I will meditate in Your precepts."
Can we lack a subject for meditation, if indeed the salvation of Jesus has been made known to our souls? While musing upon the glorious theme, does not "the fire burn" within, as if our hearts were touched with a live coal from the altar of God? Chide then, believer, your dull and sluggish spirit, that permits the precious manna to lie ungathered upon the ground, that is slow to entertain these heavenly thoughts, or rather that heavenly guest, whose peculiar office it is to "help our infirmities," and especially to "take of Christ's, and show it to us."
The exercise, however, of this, as of every other duty, may prove a barren form, that imparts neither pleasure nor profit. Let each of us then ask--'What distinct experimental benefit have I received from the word? Do I endeavor to read it with prayerful meditation, until I find my heart filled with it?'
But this communing with the word is not for contemplation, but for practice. By meditating on God's precepts, we learn to have respect unto His ways--carefully "pondering the path of our feet," that we "turn not aside." "Your loving-kindness is before my eyes; and I have walked in Your truth." "My foot," says Job, "has held His steps; His ways have I kept, and not declined. Neither have I gone back from the commandment of His lips; I have esteemed the words of His mouth more than my necessary food."