Verse 91. They continue this day according to Your ordinances, for all are Your servants.
The Christian extends his survey far beyond the limits of his individual sphere. His view of the operations of God in creation enlarges his apprehensions of the Divine attributes, and especially that of unchanging faithfulness. Indeed, the very fact of a creation in ruins--a world in rebellion against its Maker, failing of the grand end of existence, and yet still continued in existence--manifests His faithfulness unto all generations. How different is the contemplation of the Christian from that of the philosopher! His is not a mere cold, speculative admiration, but the establishment of his faith upon a clear discovery of the faithfulness of God. Thus he stays his soul upon the assured unchangeableness of the Divine word, "Concerning Your testimonies, I have known of old, that You have founded them forever. Your word is true from the beginning: and everyone of Your righteous judgments endures forever." How striking is the contrast between the transient glory of man's goodness, and the solid foundation of all the promises, hopes, and prospects of the children of God!, "The grass withers, and the flower fades; but the word of our God shall stand forever." "Unbelief" is the character of our "evil hearts." Man chooses his own measure and objects of faith; he believes no more than he pleases. But it is a fearful prospect, that the threatenings of God rest upon the same solid foundation with His promises. "Heaven and earth shall pass away but My word shall not pass away."
Need we any further proof of His faithfulness? Look at the earth established by His word of power. See how "he hangs it upon nothing," as if it might fall at any moment;--and yet it is immovably fixed--it abides--and with all its furniture, continues according to His ordinances. This--though the scoff of the infidel--is the encouragement to Christian faith. It is at once a token of His covenant with nature, that "while the earth remains, seed-time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night, shall not cease;" and an emblem of His covenant with the seed of David, that He "will not cast them off for all that they have done." Thus every view of the heavens--yes--every time we set our foot on the earth--shows the unchangeableness of His everlasting covenant, and the security of the salvation of His own people.
In this vast universe, all are His servants. "The stars in their courses" "fire and hail, snow and vapors, stormy wind--fulfill His word. He sends forth His commandment upon earth: His word runs very swiftly." Man--the child of his Maker, "created in His image"--destined for His glory--is the only rebel and revolter. Most affecting is the appeal, that his own Father and God is constrained to make concerning him, "Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the Lord has spoken. I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me!"
Is not then the universe of nature a parable of grace--setting out on every side--in every view--a cheering display of the faithfulness of God? If His providence fails not, will the promise of His covenant disappoint us? Why should He change? Does He see or know anything now, that He has not foreseen and foreknown from eternity? What more sure ground of salvation than the unchangeableness of God? If I can prove a word to have been spoken by God, I must no more question it than his own Being. It may seem to fail on earth; but it is forever settled in heaven. The decrees of the kings of the earth, "settled" on earth, are exposed to all the variations and weakness of a changing world. They may be revoked by themselves or their successors, or they may die away. The empty sound of the "law of the Medes and Persians that alters not," has long since been swept away into oblivion. But while "the word settled" on earth has "waxed old like a garment," and perished; the word settled in heaven--is raised above all the revolutions of the universe, and remains as the throne of God--unshaken and eternal; exhibiting the foundation of the believer's hope and of the unbeliever's terror to be alike unalterably fixed.
But we also remark the foreknowledge as well as the faithfulness of God. From the eternity that is past, as well for the eternity that is to come, Your word is settled in heaven. Before this fair creation was marred, yes, before it was called into existence, its ruin was foreseen, and a remedy provided. "The Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world," and fore-ordained before that era. Concurrent with this period, a people "were chosen in Him," and forever the word was settled in heaven., "All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me." For the establishment of the Redeemer's kingdom upon earth "the decree is declared;" however earth and hell may combine against it, "Yet have I set My king upon My holy hill of Zion." And what a blessed encouragement in the grand work of bringing back "the lost sheep of the house of Israel," and those "other sheep" with them, "which are not of this fold" is it, that we do not depend upon the earnestness of our prayers, the wisdom of our plans, or the diligence of our endeavors; but upon "the word" forever settled in heaven!, "The Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, says the Lord. As for Me, this is My covenant with them, says the Lord--My Spirit that is upon You, and My words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, nor out of the mouth of your seed, nor out of the mouth of your seed's seed, says the Lord, from henceforth, and forever." "I have sworn by Myself, the word is gone out of My mouth in righteousness, and shall not return--That unto Me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear."
Verse 92. Unless Your law had been my delights, I should then have perished in my affliction.
The support of the word is as sure as its basis--and that in the time when other supports sink--in affliction. David--like his great prototype--was a man of affliction--sometimes ready to perish--always kept up by the law of his God. How many a false professor has been tried and cast by this hour of affliction! But he who has been sifted by temptation--who has "endured the hardness" of persecution, as a "good soldier of Jesus Christ,"--and who is ready rather to be "consumed upon earth," than to shrink from his profession--this is he whom his Master "will lift up, and not make his foes to rejoice over him." It is the established rule of the kingdom, "Them that honor Me I will honor." "Because you have kept the word of My patience, I also will keep you from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth."
The law of God opens to us a clear interest in every perfection of His Godhead--every engagement of His covenant. What wonder then, that it brings delights, which the world can never conceive, when bowed down with accumulated affliction? However the believer's real character may be hidden from the world, the hour of trial abundantly proves, both what the law can do for him, and what a lost creature he would have been without it. In affliction, friends mean well; but of themselves they can do nothing. They can only look on, feel, and pray. They cannot "speak to the heart." This is God's prerogative: and His law is His voice.
But for this support, Jonah probably would have perished in his affliction. In the belly of the fish, as "in the belly of hell," he appears to have recollected the experience of David under deep and awful desertion; and in taking his language out of his mouth, as descriptive of his own dark and terrific condition, a ray of light and hope darted upon his dungeon-walls. Indeed it is a mystery, how a sinner, destitute of the support and comfort of the word of God, can ever uphold himself in his trials. We marvel not, that often "his soul should choose strangling, and death, rather than his life."
But in order to derive support from the law, it must be our delights--yes--that it may be our delights it must be the matter of our faith. For what solid delight, can we have in what we do not believe? Must it not also be our joy in prosperity, if we would realize its support in affliction? For this, how ineffectual is the mere formal service! Who ever tasted its tried consolations in the bare performance of the outward duty? It must be read in reality; it will then be taken as a cordial. Let it be simply received, diligently searched, and earnestly prayed over; and it will guide the heavy-laden to Him, who is their present and eternal rest. The tempest-tossed soul will cast anchor upon it., "Remember the word unto Your servant, upon which You have caused me to hope." One promise applied by the Spirit of God is worth ten thousand worlds. And each promise is a staff--if we have but faith to lean upon it--able to bear our whole weight of sin, care, and trial.
Is then affliction our appointed lot? If "man is born"--and the child of God twice born, "to trouble, as the sparks fly upward,"--how important is it to lay in a store of supply from this inexhaustible treasury, against the time when all human support will fail! Supplied hence with heavenly strength, we shall be borne up above the weakness and weariness of the flesh. And as the riches of this storehouse are "the riches of Christ," let those parts be most familiar to us, which mark His person, His character, offices, life, sufferings, and death, resurrection and glory, together with the promises, encouragements, and prospects directly flowing from this blessed subject--and oh! what a treasure-house shall we find, richly furnished with every source of delight, and every ground of support!
Verse 93. I will never forget Your precepts; for with them You have quickened me.
An admirable resolution! the blessed fruit of the quickening power of the word in his deep affliction. He had before acknowledged this supernatural efficacy, "Your word has quickened me." Now he more distinctly mentions it, as the instrumental only--not the efficient--cause--With them You have quickened me. Had the power been in the word, the same effect would have immediately and invariably followed. Nor should we have been constrained to lament the limited extent of its influence. How many, Christian, shared with you in the outward privileges; but perhaps unto none was the life-giving blessing given, save unto yourself--the most unlikely--the most unworthy of all! Thus does "God work in us both to will and to do"--not according to any prescribed law, but "of His good pleasure." The grace therefore is not from, but through, the means. Almighty God is the source of the life. The word is the instrument--yet so "quick," so melting, so attractive, that we might ask, out of what rock was that heart hewn, that is proof against its power? Yet while the precepts work nothing without the agents they are the ordinary course, by which the Lord quickens whom He will.
And do not we find them still lively channels of refreshment? Surely, then, we will hold to our purpose of not forgetting the precepts. The leaves of the word of God are the leaves of the tree of life, as well as of the tree of knowledge. They not only enlighten the path, but they supply life for daily work and progress. "The words that I speak unto you"--said Jesus, "they are spirit, and they are life:" so that the times when we have been most diligent in our meditation and obedience to the precepts, have been uniformly the seasons of our most holy consolation.
Men of the world, however, with accurate recollections of all matters, connected with their temporal advantage, are remarkably slow in retaining the truths of God. They plead their short memories, although conscious that this infirmity does not extend to their important secular engagements. But what wonder that they forget the precepts, when they have never been quickened with them--never received any benefit from them? The word of God is not precious to them: they acknowledge no obligation to it: they have no acquaintance with it. It has no place in their affections, and therefore but little abode in their remembrance.
But this resolution is the language of sincerity, not of perfection. The child of God is humbled in the conscious forgetfulness of the Lord's precepts. And this consciousness keeps his eye fixed upon Jesus for pardon and acceptance: while every fresh sense of acceptance strengthens his more habitual remembrance. Then, as for his natural inability to preserve an accurate recollection of Divine things--let him not estimate the benefit of the word by the results in the memory, so much as by the impression upon the heart. The word may have darted through the mind, as a flash of lightning, that strikes and is gone; and yet the heart may have been melted, and the passing flash may have shed a heavenly ray upon a dubious path. If the heart retains the quickening power, the precepts are not forgotten, even though the memory should have failed to preserve them.
But whatever word of conviction, direction, or encouragement, may have come to us, affix this seal to it--I will never forget Your precepts. It may be of signal use in some hour of temptation. The same Spirit that breathed before upon it may breathe again; if not with the same present sensible power, yet with a seasonable and refreshing recollection of past support.
Verse 94. I am Yours; save me; for I have sought Your precepts.
What a high and honorable character is stamped upon the lowest believer! He is the Savior's unalienable property, his portion, the "workmanship" of His hand, the purchase of His blood, the triumph of His conquering love. He is given to Him by His Father, "preserved in Him, and called." The evidence of his character is found in seeking the Lord's precepts. "Whom we serve" will prove "whose we are." "His servants you are, to whom you obey." "Know that the Lord has set apart him that is godly for Himself." "The carnal mind is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then those who are in the flesh" cannot seek the Lord's precepts. A new and spiritual bias, therefore, is the visible stamp and seal of the Lord's interest in us.
True it is, that our Divine Savior can never be robbed of His property--that His people are saved in Him, beyond the reach of earth and hell to touch them. Yet are they dependent still--always sinners--every day's provocation making them more sinners than before; needing, therefore, from day to day, fresh power, fresh keeping, and, above all, fresh cleansing and acceptance. But what a powerful plea for mercy may we draw from the Lord's interest in us! Will not a man be careful of his children, his treasure, his jewels? 'Such am I. Your sovereign love has bought me--made me Yours--I am Yours; save me. You have saved me; "You have delivered my soul from death; will You not deliver my feet from falling?" Save me from the love of sin, from the daily guilt and power of sin; from the treachery of my own foolish heart from all this, and all besides, which You see ensnaring to my soul. If I am not Yours, whence this desire, this endeavor to seek Your precepts? What mean my privileged moments of communion with You? What mean the yet unsatisfied desires after a conformity to Your image? Lord, I would humbly plead Your own act, Your free and sovereign act, that made me Yours. Save me, because You have brought Your salvation near to me, and sealed me Yours. I need mercy to begin with me; mercy to accompany me; mercy to abide with me forever. I am Yours; save me.'
And what irresistible energy does it give to our pleading, that this was the sole purpose, that brought down the Son of God from Heaven! "I came down"--said he, "from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him that sent Me. And this is the Father's will which has sent Me, that of all which He has given Me I should lose nothing." Of this purpose He was enabled to testify at the conclusion of His work, "Those that You gave Me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition."
But some cry for salvation, who neglect duty, and thus make void their plea. Can we make our interest good, by seeking His precepts? Is it the way in which we love to walk? Then let us not desist from our plea before God, until our heart listens to the voice of love, centering every blessing of creation, redemption, and heavenly calling, in the privilege of adoption, "Thus says the Lord, that created you, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel Fear not, for I have redeemed you: I have called you by your name; you are Mine. You are My servant; O Israel, you shall not be forgotten of Me. I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, your transgressions; and as a cloud your sins." I have regarded this your plea. I have heard this your prayer--I am Yours, save me.
Verse 95. The wicked have waited for me to destroy me; but I will consider Your testimonies.
Am I, as a believer, safe as the Lord's property, and in the Lord's keeping? Yet must I expect that the wicked, the ungodly, as the instruments of Satan, will not cease to distress me. The Psalmist had before alluded to this trial, as driving him to his refuge. And, indeed, this is the constant character of the believer's walk--enduring the enmity of the ungodly, and seeking his refuge in the word of God--in that hiding-place of safety to which the word directs him. How striking is the proof of the irreconcilable variance between God and the world--the world encouraging all that is contrary to God, and persecuting His image in His people! Yet the word opens to us a sure defense. If our "soul is among lions," cannot we testify to the astonishment of the world, "My God has sent His angel, and has shut the lions' mouths, that they have not hurt me?" We hear indeed the roaring of the winds and waves; but we hear also the voice hushing the storm to rest, "Peace, be still."
The experience of this trial and support beautifully illustrates the promise, "He who believes shall not make haste." He whose hope is firmly fixed on that "tried corner-stone," which God Himself has "laid in Zion as a sure foundation" "shall not be greatly moved;" no--he "shall not be moved" at all, by the wicked waiting for him to destroy him. In the hour of difficulty, instead of perplexing himself with successive expedients for his safety (sought more from human contrivance, than from asking counsel at the mouth of God) he "possesses his soul in patience," and calmly commits all events to the Lord. Such a man "shall not be afraid of evil tidings! his heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord." 'This trust is grounded on the word of God, revealing His power and all-sufficiency, and withal His goodness, His offer of Himself to be the stay of the soul, commanding us to rest upon Him. People wait on I know not what persuasions and assurances; but I know no other to build faith on but the word of promise. The truth and faithfulness of God opened up His wisdom, and power, and goodness, as the stay of all those that, renouncing all other props, will venture on it, and lay all upon Him. "He who believes, sets to his seal that God is true:" and so he is sealed for God; his portion and interest secured. "If you will not believe, surely you shall not be established."'
But it is the considering of the Lord's testimonies that draws out their staying support. The soul must be fixed upon them, as "tried words, purified seven times in the fire." And in this frame, I will, under all distresses, all circumstances of trial, or even of dismay, consider Your testimonies. I will consider the faithfulness of those blessed declarations, "There shall not an hair of your head perish. Touch not My anointed." "He who touches you, touches the apple of My eye." With this armor of defense, I shall not be afraid, even should I hear the "evil tidings," that the wicked have waited for me, to destroy me. Or even should I be destroyed, I know that Your testimonies cannot fail--that my rock is perfect, "that there is no unrighteousness in Him;" and therefore, "though a host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident." Whether, then, I am delivered from the wicked, and live, "I live unto the Lord;" or whether I fall into their snare, and "die--I die unto the Lord;" for I will consider Your testimonies, assured that all Your purposes shall be accomplished concerning me, as You have said, "I will never leave you, nor forsake you." "You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You."
Verse 96. I have seen an end of all perfection; but Your commandment is exceeding broad.
A deeper insight into the Lord's testimonies is the sure result of considering them. Weigh them in the balances against this world's excellency; the world and the word--each with all its fullness. Of the one perfection we see an end--of the other--none. This world is a matter of experience and observation. We have seen an end--not of some--but of all its perfection. It wants sufficiency. It stands us in no stead in the great emergencies of affliction--death--judgment--eternity. It wants solidity in its best substance. "In its wisdom is grief!" All its delicacies and indulgences--after having, like the King of Jerusalem, "not withheld the heart from any joy"--all end in the verdict of disappointment, "Behold! all was vanity and vexation of spirit!" Its continuance is but for a moment. The soul is born for eternity. Therefore it must have a portion to last as long as itself. But the world, with its lusts and fashions, passes away. All that it can offer is a bubble--a shadow. In its best riches, honors, and pleasures--in the utmost that its perfection can yield--in its height and prime of enjoyment--what is it in itself--what is it able to do for us? "All is vanity." And yet such is the alienation of the heart from God, that it is first tried to the very uttermost, before any desire to return homeward is felt or expressed. And even then, nothing but the Almighty power of God can bring the sinner back. He would rather perish in his misery, than "return to his rest."
Now contrast with the emptiness of the world the fullness of the commandment of God. Our whole duty to our God, our neighbor, and ourselves, is here laid open before us--commanding without abatement, and forbidding without allowance--making no excuse for ignorance--frailty or forgetfulness--reaching not only to every species of crime, but to everything tending to it. This is perfection, of which we never see an end. Every fresh view opens--not the extent--but the immensity of the field; and compels us at length to shut up our inquiries with the adoring acknowledgment--Your commandment is exceeding broad. Its various parts form one seamless piece; so that no particle can be separated without injury to the whole. As all the curtains of the tabernacle connected by taches and loops, made but one covering for the ark, and the loosening or disjunction of the smallest point disannulled the fitness of the whole; so it belongs to the perfection of the commandment, that "whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all." The spirituality of its requirements equally illustrates its Divine perfection. An angry look is murder; an unchaste desire is adultery; the "stumbling-block of iniquity" "covetousness"--in the heart is idolatry; the thought as well as the act--the first conception of sin, as well as the after-commission--brings in the verdict--Guilty--Death.
Can we, then, endure the sight of its exceeding breadth? Yes--for the commandment of the gospel is equally broad, and covers all. We know who has stood in our place--who has satisfied Sinai's unalterable requirements, and borne its awful curse. Broad as it may be, the love which has fulfilled it is immeasurable. As a covenant, therefore, it has now lost its terrors. As a rule, we love it for its extent, and for its purity; for the comprehensiveness of its obligations, and for the narrowness of its liberty for indulgence; nor would we wish to be subject to a less severe scrutiny, or a more lenient administration.
Reader! if you have learned the exceeding breadth and spirituality of the law (the first lesson that is taught and learned in the school of Christ), your views of yourself and your state before God will be totally changed. Before, you were "thanking God" in your heart, "that you were not as other men are." Now you will be "smiting upon your bosom, saying--God be merciful to me a sinner!" Before, perhaps, you might have thought yourself, "touching the righteousness which is of the law, blameless." Now you will glory in your new and more enlightened choice, "What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ." Once you considered yourself "alive," when you were really dead. Now that "the commandment is come" in its heart-searching spirituality and conviction to your soul, you "die" that you may live. Blessed change from the law to the gospel, "from death to life!" "I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God."
Such is the effect of the transition from a legal to an evangelical ground. Before, we were reckless of sin, and therefore reckless of the gospel. As the one fell lightly upon our conscience, the other held a light estimation in our judgment. While we had no disturbance from the law, we had no delight in the gospel. But now that we see in the true mirror, we are at once alarmed and enlightened. Praised be God! we now take the true estimate--we degrade to the uttermost righteousness by works--we exalt to the uttermost righteousness by faith. In the one we see pollution--in the other perfection.
Verse 97. O how love I Your law! it is my meditation all the day.
Mark the man of God giving utterance to his feelings of heavenly delight--expressing most, by intimating that he cannot adequately express what he desires. He seems unable to restrain his acknowledgments of Divine influence springing up in his heart--O how love I Your law! This experience is most distinctive of a spiritual character. The professor may read, and understand, and even externally obey the law; but the believer only loves it; and he lives in it, as if he could not live without it. To the professor it is a task imposed to satisfy conscience; "the veil upon the heart" darkens all his spiritual apprehension, and consequently excludes spiritual delight. To the child of God, it is food and medicine, light and comfort--yes, "life from the dead." The law of precept in the word is a "law of liberty"--a law of love--in his heart. His former obedience was the bondage of fear. But how different is the effect of constraining love! He now delights to view it in every lineament. He dwells upon every feature with intense enjoyment. Before, it was his confinement--his chain. Now, it is his liberty--his ornament. He is not what he was, "Old things are passed away: behold, all things are become new."
Think what good reason there is to love the law. It is the epistle of our most beloved friend--not to be slighted, but to be placed in our bosom, nearest our hearts. It sets out that relief, without which the conscience would have been tortured by the never-dying worm. There is more of glory--more of God--in this, than in any other manifestation of His name. It has ever been the mirror, that has reflected Christ to His church. The spiritual eye discerns Him in every part. Now--Reader--do you search for Him in His law? Do you love His law, because it "testifies of Him?" Do you pray for His Spirit, that His law may guide you to Him? This is the evidence that you have "turned unto the Lord, when the veil is taken away," and you "with unveiled face behold in this glass the glory of the Lord." Then if you do love His law, you will love the whole of it--its obligations as well as its privileges. You will love it at all times, even when it is thwarting your own will and way. The whole law is light and love--wisdom and faithfulness.
But love of the law fastens the soul to the beloved object, It is my meditation all the day. When you cannot have it in your hand, it will be found, if indeed your soul is in a prosperous state, "hid in your heart." There it is kept as your most precious treasure; while you live upon it with unwearied appetite as your daily bread, and exercise yourself in it as your daily rule. Oh, how worthy is it of all the love of the warmest heart! The deepest students are most humbled for their want of suitable enlargement.
But this heavenly spirit can only be grounded upon a sense of reconciliation. Can an unreconciled sinner be interested in the law, in every page of which he reads his own condemnation? This explains the enmity of the ungodly. But the cultivation of this spirit upon the ground of the gospel is a most important principle of the Christian steadfastness, the want of which has been the source of fearful delusion; and in the exercise of which we shall realize a deeper insight and more spiritual discernment of Scriptural truth. Warm affections will be far more influential than talent, or mere external knowledge.
This habit of love and holy meditation will spread its influence over our whole character. It will fill our hearts with heavenly matter for prayer, diffuse a sweet savor over our earthly employments, sanctify the common bounties of Providence, realize the presence of God throughout the day, command prosperity upon our lawful undertakings, and enlarge our usefulness in the church. Thus the man of God is formed in his completeness, symmetry, and attraction--such as the world is often constrained secretly to admire, even where the heart is unready to follow.
Lord! implant in my heart a supreme love to Your law. Write it upon my heart--even that new law, "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus." May I love it so, that I may be always meditating upon it, and by continual meditation yet more enlarging my love and delight in it! So let it prove an ever-springing source of heavenly enjoyment and holy conversation!
Verse 98. You through Your commandments have made me wiser than my enemies; for they are ever with me.
Verse 99. I have more understanding than all my teachers: for Your testimonies are my meditation.
Verse 100. I understand more than the ancients, because I keep Your precepts.
What a fruitful harvest did David reap from his glowing love, and "daily meditation on the law of God!" He became wiser than his enemies in "subtlety"--than all his teachers in doctrine--than the ancients in experience. Yet he is not speaking of his extraordinary gifts as a prophet, but of his knowledge gained by ordinary means. Nor is he here boasting of his own attainments: but commending the grace of God in and towards him--You through Your commandments have made me wiser. How much more wisdom does the persecuted believer draw from the word of God, than his persecutors have ever acquired from the learning of this world! Those, however, who have been effectually taught of God, need to be daily taught of Him. While they rest upon their God, and seek counsel in His word, they are wise indeed; yet when they trust to their own wisdom, and turn to their own counsel, they become a bye-word and occasion of offence by their own folly. Was David wiser than his enemies or his teachers, when he dissembled himself before Achish--or when he yielded to the indulgence of lust--or when in the pride of his heart he numbered the people? Alas! how often do even God's children befool themselves in the ways of sin!
But how did David attain this Divine wisdom? Not by habits of extensive reading--not by natural intelligence--but by a diligent meditation in the testimonies. In order to avail ourselves, however, of this means--a simple reception of the Divine testimony is of absolute importance. We can never obtain that assurance of the certainty of our faith, which is indispensable to our peace, or resist the influence of unenlightened teachers, or the long-established worldly maxims of the ancients, except by entire submission to the supreme authority of Scripture. Many sincere Christians--especially at the outset of their course--are much hindered--either by the skepticism of others, or of their own minds; or from their previous habit of studying the Bible in the light of carnal wisdom, or in dependence upon human teaching. Such need special prayer for humility of mind and simplicity of faith. Under this gracious influence they will discern that path to glory, which in infinite condescension is made so plain, that "the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein," and the unlearned believer, who has the word before his eyes, in his heart, and in his life, shall become "perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works."
In our Christian progress, David's habit of scriptural meditation will prove of essential service. For while those who "confer with flesh and blood" cannot have their counselors always at hand; we, seeking our wisdom from the word of God, have the best Counselor ever with us, teaching us what to do, and what to expect. Obedience also, as well as meditation, directs our way. David found understanding, because he kept the precepts. And David's Lord has pointed out the same path of light: "If any man will do God's will, he shall know of the doctrine." "You meet him who rejoices, and works righteousness--those that remember You in Your ways." Your ways truly are ways of light, joy, and love!
Now let us turn in, and inquire--What is our daily use of the word of God? Are we satisfied with a slight looking, or do we seek an intimate acquaintance with it! Is its influence ever present--ever practical? Do we prize it as a welcome guest? Is it our delightful companion and guide? Oh! meditate in this blessed book. "Eat the word," when you "have found it; and it will be unto you the joy and rejoicing of your heart." The name of Jesus--its great subject--will be more precious--your love will be inflamed--your perseverance established--and your heart enlivened in the spirit of praise. Thus bringing your mind into close and continual contact with the testimonies of God, and pressing out the sweetness from the precious volume, it will drop as from the honeycomb, daily comfort and refreshment upon your heart.
Verse 101. I have refrained my feet from every evil way, that I might keep Your word.
David's wisdom was of a practical--not of a merely intellectual or speculative--character. It taught him to "keep the Lord's precepts;" and in order to this, to refrain his feet from every evil way. And will not advancing wisdom show itself by increasing tenderness of conscience and carefulness of conduct? The professor is afraid of hell; the child of God--of sin. The one refrains from the outward act--the other seeks to be crucified to the love of sin. Observe not only the practice, but the motive--that he might keep the word. Shall we not "abhor that which is evil," that we might "cleave to that which is good" "abstaining from all appearance of evil" lest unconsciously we should be drawn into the atmosphere of sin, "hating even the garment spotted by the flesh"--fearing the infection of sin worse than death? But how fearful the danger of self-deception! What need to entreat the Lord to "see if there be any wicked way in us?" Oh! for the large supply of grace and unction, to maintain an upright walk before a heart-searching God; to "keep ourselves from our iniquity;" and in dependence upon the promises, and in the strength of the gospel, to "perfect holiness in the fear of God!"
But how awful to hear men talk of keeping the word in a loose and careless profession! For how can it be kept, if the heart has not felt its holiness? For this is its beautiful peculiarity; that, in order to keep it, there must be a separation from sin. The two things are incompatible with each other. The two services are at variance at every point; so that the love of sin must be cast out, where the love of God is engrafted in the heart. Yet so strongly are we disposed to every evil way, that only the Almighty power of grace can enable us to refrain from one or another crooked path. Often is the pilgrim (yes, has it not too often happened to ourselves?) held back by a temporary ascendancy of the flesh--by a little license given to sin--or by a relaxed circumspection of walk. At such seasons, the blessed privilege of keeping the word is lost. We are sensible of a declining delight in those spiritual duties, which before were our "chief joy." And "is there not a cause?" Have we not provoked our gracious God by harboring his enemy in our bosom--no more--by pleading for its indulgence? Has not "the Holy Spirit been grieved" by neglect, or by some worldly compliance: so that His light has been obscured, and His comforting influence quenched? No consolations, consistent with the love and power of sin, can ever come from the Lord. For the holiness of the word of God cannot be either spiritually understood, or experimentally enjoyed, but in a consistent Christian walk. And yet, such is the true blessedness of the word, that the very expectation of keeping it may operate as a principle of restraint from every evil way.
Is there any bondage in this restraint from sin? Oh, no! Sin is slavery; and therefore deliverance from it is "perfect freedom." There is indeed a legal restraint much to be deprecated, when the conscience is goaded by sins of omission or of wilfulness; and the man, ignorant of, or imperfectly acquainted with, the only way of deliverance, hopes to get rid of his burden by a more circumspect walk. But not until he casts it at the foot of the cross, and learns to look wholly to Jesus his deliverer, can he form his resolution upon safe and effectual grounds. Oh, may I therefore seek to abide within a constant view of Calvary! Sin will live everywhere but under the cross of Jesus. Here it withers and dies. Here rises the spring of that holiness, contrition, and love, which refreshes and quickens the soul. Here let me live: here let me die.
Blessed Lord! You know that I desire to keep Your word. Prepare my heart to receive and to retain it. May I so "abide in Christ," that I may receive the sanctifying help of His Spirit for every moment's need! And while I rejoice in Him as my Savior, may I become daily more sensible of every deviation from the straight path! May my eye guide my feet! "Looking to Jesus," may I have light and grace! And may daily grace be given to refrain my feet from every evil way, that I may keep Your word!
Verse 102. I have not departed from Your judgments; for You have taught me.
If I have refrained my feet from sin--if I have not departed from God's judgments--to Him be all the glory. Oh, my soul! Are you not a wonder to yourself? So prone to depart--to be carried away by uncertain notions--by the oppositions of Satan--by the example or influence of the world--how is it, that you are able to hold on your way? Because the covenant of the Lord engages Your perseverance, "I will put My fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from Me." While conscious of my own corrupt bias to depart, let me humbly and thankfully own the work of Divine teaching. Man's teaching is powerless in advancing the soul one step in Christian progress. The teaching from above is "the light of life." It gives not only the light, but the principle to make use of it. It not only points the lesson, and makes it plain: but imparts the disposition to learn, and the grace to obey. So that now I see the beauty, the pleasantness, the peace, and the holiness of the Lord's judgments, and am naturally constrained to walk in them. Oh, how much more frequent would be our acknowledgment of the work of God, did we keep nearer to the Fountain-head of life and light! How may we trace every declension in doctrine and practice--all our continual estrangement from the Lord's judgments--to following our own wisdom, or depending upon human teaching! "Trusting in man," is the departing of the heart from the Lord. I never shall depart from sin by the influence of human persuasion. I never shall depart from the Lord, so long as I have the witness in my heart--You teach me.
Reader! what has been your habit and progress in the judgments of God? Have you been careful to avoid bye-paths? Has your walk been consistent, steady, advancing "in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit?" If there has been no allowed departure from the ways of God, it has been the blessed fruit of "ceasing from your own wisdom," and the simple dependence upon the promise "written in the prophets--And they shall be all taught of God." And how delightfully does this heavenly teaching draw your heart with a deeper sense of need and comfort to the Savior! For, as He Himself speaks, "Every man therefore that has heard, and has learned of the Father, comes unto Me." Remember--it was no superior virtue or discernment that has restrained your departure from God, but--You have taught me the way to come to God; the way to abide in Him--Christ the way--Christ the end. And His teaching will abide with you. It will win you by light and by love, and by a conquering power allure your heart with that delight in His judgments, and fear of offending against them, that shall prove an effectual safeguard in the hour of temptation. Watch the first step of departure--the neglect of secret prayer--the want of appetite for the sincere word--the relaxing of diligence--the loss of the savor of godliness. Be careful therefore that the teaching of the Lord be not lost upon you. Inquire into your proficiency in His instructive lessons. And do not forget to prize His teaching rod--that loving correction, of which David had felt the blessing, and which He so often uses, to keep His children from departing from His judgments.
Lord! do lead me by the hand, that I may make daily progress in Your judgments. Restrain my feet from "perpetual backsliding." All human instruction will be ineffectual to keep me from departing from Your judgments, except You teach me. Neither grace received, nor experience attained, nor engagements regarded, will secure me for one moment without continual teaching from Yourself.
Verse 103. How sweet are Your words to my taste! yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth.
None but a child of God could take up this expression. Because none besides has a spiritual taste. The exercises of David in this sacred word were delightfully varied. Its majesty commanded his reverence. Its richness called forth his love. Its sweetness excited his joy. Its holy light, keeping his heart close with God, naturally endeared it to his soul. How barren is a mere external knowledge of the Gospel! The natural man may talk or even dispute about its precious truths. But he has never tasted them--at least not so as to relish and feed on them. The highest commendation cannot explain the sweetness of honey to one who has never tasted it. Thus nothing but experience can give a spiritual intelligence. But what we have really tasted, we can warmly commend, "Oh! taste and see that the Lord is good." Having once tasted of His Divine goodness, the sweetest joys of earth will be insipid, distasteful, and even bitter.
Do we ask--what is it that gives this unutterable sweetness to the word? Is it not that name, which "is as ointment poured forth?" Is it not "the savor of the knowledge of Christ", that revives the soul in every page with the breath of heaven? For can the awakened sinner hear, that "God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life"--and not be ready to say--How sweet are Your words to my taste! yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth? Can the weary soul listen to the invitation to "all that labor and are heavy-laden;" and not feel the sweetness of those breathings of love? Who can tell the sweetness of those precious words to the conflicting, tempted soul--displaying the Divine sovereignty in choosing him, the unchanging faithfulness in keeping him, and the Almighty power of the Divine will in the gift of eternal life? And how can the believer hear his Savior "knock at the door" of his heart, calling him to fresh communion with Himself: and not turn to Him with the ardent excitement of his love, "All Your garments smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia, out of the ivory palaces, whereby they have made You glad!"
But are there not times, when we gather no sweetness from the word? It is with the spiritual, as with the natural food--a want of appetite gives disgust, instead of sweetness and refreshment. An indolent reading of the word without faith--without desire--without application--or with a taste vitiated by contact--with the things of sense--deadens the palate, "The full soul loathes an honeycomb: but to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet."
But how melancholy is the thought of the multitudes, that hear, read, understand the word, and yet have never tasted its sweetness! Like Barzillai, they have no sense to "discern between good and evil." Full of the world, or of their own conceits--feeding on the delusive enjoyments of creature-comforts--nourishing some baneful corruption in their bosoms--or cankered with a spirit of formality--they have no palate for the things of God; they are "dead in trespasses and sins." But how sweet is the word to the hungering and thirsting taste! We eat, and are not satisfied. We drink, and long to drink again. "If so be we have tasted that the Lord is gracious, as new-born babes" we shall "desire the sincere milk of the word, that we may grow thereby." We shall take heed of any indulgence of the flesh, which may hinder the spiritual enjoyment, and cause us to "loathe" even "angels' food" as "light bread." Instead of resting in our present experience of its sweetness, we shall be daily aspiring after higher relish for the heavenly blessing. And will not this experience be a "witness in ourselves" of the heavenly origin of the word? For what arguments could ever persuade us that honey is bitter, at the moment when we are tasting its sweetness? Or who could convince us that this is the word of man, or the imposture of deceit, when its blessed influence has imparted peace, holiness, joy, support, and rest, infinitely beyond the power of man to bestow? But let this enjoyment--as the spiritual barometer--the pulse of the soul--accurately mark our progress or decline in the Divine life. With our advancement in spiritual health, the word will be increasingly sweet to our taste: while our declension will be marked by a corresponding abatement in our desires, love, and perception of its delights.
Verse 104. Through Your precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way.
The Psalmist having spoken of the pleasure, now speaks of the profit--of the word--the teaching connected with its sweetness. Before, he had mentioned the avoiding of sin in order to profit--now, as the fruit of profit. So closely are they linked together. Man's teaching conveys no understanding--God's teaching not only opens the Scriptures, but "opens the understanding to understand them," and the heart to feel their heavenly warmth of life. Thus having learned "the principles of the doctrine of Christ," we shall "go on to perfection" "growing in grace, in the knowledge of Christ." Many inconsistencies belong to the young and half--instructed Christian. But when through the precepts he gets understanding, he learns to walk more uniformly and steadily, abiding in the light. In this spirit and atmosphere springs up a constant and irreconcilable hatred of every false way; as contrary to the God he loves. These ways will include a thousand devious paths--all meeting in one fearful end--often discovered too late. In doctrine can we too much turn away from the thought of putting anything--the Church, ordinances, repentance, prayers--in the place of Jesus--another "foundation" in the stead of that which God Himself "laid in Zion?" Oh, for spiritual understanding to hate this false way with a deadly hatred! What think we of the ways of the sinful world--so long trusted to for happiness--yet so delusive? The sinner thinks that he has found a treasure, but it proves to be glittering trash--burdensome instead of enriching--only leaving him to the pain of disappointed hope. Rightly are such ways called false ways; and of those that tread in them, it is well said, "This their way is their folly." Strewed they may be with the flowery "pleasures of sin." But they are "hard" in their walk, and ruinous in their end. Inquire of those, whose past wanderings justly give weight and authority to their verdict--'What is your retrospective view of these ways?' Unprofitableness. 'What is your present view of them?' Shame. 'What prospect for eternity would the continuance in them assure to you?' "Death." Let them then be not only avoided and forsaken, but abhorred; and let every deviation into them from the straight path, however pleasing, be "resisted" even "unto blood."
But let me ask myself, Have I detected the false ways of my own heart? Little is done in spiritual religion, until my besetting sins are searched out. And let me not be satisfied with forbearance from the outward act. Sin may be restrained, yet not mortified; nor is it enough that I leave it for the present, but I must renounce it forever. Let me not part with it as with a beloved friend, with the hope and purpose of renewing my familiarity with it at a "more convenient season:" but let me shake it from me, as Paul shook off the viper into the fire, with determination and abhorrence. What! can I wish to hold it? If through the precepts of God I have got understanding, must not I listen to that solemn, pleading voice, "Oh! do not this abominable thing that I hate?" No, Lord: let me "pluck it out" of my heart, "and cast it from me." Oh, for the high blessing of a tender conscience! such as shrinks from the approach, and "abstains from all appearance of evil;" not venturing to tamper with any self-pleasing way; but hating it as false, defiling, destructive! I have noticed the apple of my eye--that tenderest particle of my frame--that it is not only offended by a blow or a wound; but that, if so much as an atom of dust find an entrance, it would smart, until it had wept it out. Now such may my conscience be--sensitive of the slightest touch of sin--not only fearful of resisting, rebelling, or "quenching the Spirit," but grieving for every thought of sin that grieves that blessed Comforter--that tender Friend! To hate every false way, so as to flee from it, is the highest proof of Christian courage. For never am I better prepared to "endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ," than when my conscience is thus set against sin. Would not I then submit to the greatest suffering, rather than be convicted of unfaithfulness to my God?
Lord! turn my eyes, my heart, my feet, my ways, more and more to Your blessed self. Shed abroad Your love in my heart, that sin may be the daily matter of my watchfulness, grief, resistance, and crucifixion.
Verse 105. Your word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.
The nightly journeys of Israel were guided by a pillar of fire--directing not only their course, but every step and movement. Thus is our passage in a dark and perilous way irradiated by the lamp and light of the word. But except the lamp be lighted--except the teaching of the Spirit accompany the word, all is darkness--thick darkness. Let us not then be content to read the word without obtaining some light from it in our understanding--in our experience--in our providential path. Did we more habitually wait to receive, and watch to improve the light, we should not so often complain of the perplexity of our path. It would generally determine our steps under infallible guidance: while in the presumptuous neglect of it--like Israel of old--we are sure to come into trouble.
Yet it may sometimes be difficult to trace our light to this heavenly source. A promise may seem to be applied to my mind, as I conceive, suitable to my present need. But how may I determine, whether it is the lamp of the word; or some delusive light from him, who can at any time, for the accomplishment of his own purpose, transform himself "into an angel of light?" Or if a threatening be impressed upon my conscience, how can I accurately distinguish between the voice of "the accuser of the brethren," and the warning of my heavenly guide? Let me mark the state of my own mind. If I am living in the indulgence of any known sin, or in the neglect of any known duty--if my spirit is careless, or my walk unsteady; a consoling promise, being unsuitable to my case, even though it awakened some excitement of joy, would be of doubtful application. The lamp of God under the circumstances supposed, would rather reflect the light of conviction than of consolation. For, though God as a Sovereign may speak comfort when and where He pleases; yet we can only expect Him to deal with us according to the prescribed rules of His own covenant; chastening, not comforting, His backsliding people. In a spirit of contrition, however, I should not hesitate to receive a word of encouragement, as the lamp of God to direct and cheer my progress; being conscious of that state of feeling, in which the Lord has expressly promised to restore and guide His people. Let me also inquire into the terms and character of the promise. When He "that dwells in the high and holy place," engages to dwell "with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit;" any symptoms of tenderness and humility would naturally lead me to consider this word of promise, as sent by my kind and watchful Father, to be a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.
Again--a distinct and experimental view of the Savior in His promises, endearing Him to me, and encouraging my trust in His faithfulness and love--this is manifestly light from above. Or if the purpose of the promise answers any proper end--to excite or to encourage to any present duty connected with the promise; I cannot doubt, but the lamp of the Lord is directing my path.
For example--when the promise was given to Joshua, "I will not fail you, nor forsake you;" he could not misconstrue "a word" so "fitly spoken" "in a time of need." And when the same promise was subsequently given to the Church, the application was equally clear, as a dissuasive from inordinate attachment to the things of time and sense, and an encouragement to entire dependence upon the Lord.
Further--The practical influence of the word will also enable me clearly to distinguish the light of heaven from any illusion of fancy or presumption. The effect of an unconditional promise of deliverance given to the Apostle in a moment of extremity, was exhibited in a diligent use of all the appointed means of safety. An absolute promise of prolonged life given to Hezekiah when lying at the point of death, produced the same practical result, in a scrupulous attention to the means for his recovery. Upon the warrant of a general promise of Divine protection, Ezra and the Jews "fasted, and besought their God for this." Now in these and other instances, the power of the word, working diligence, simplicity, and prayer, evidently proved its sacred origin. An assurance of safety proceeding from another source, would have produced sloth, carelessness, and presumption; and therefore may I not presume the quickening word in darkness and perplexity, to be the Lord's lamp unto my feet, and light unto my path, "to guide my feet into the way of peace?"
Let me apply the same test to the threatenings of the word. Their influence, meeting me in a watchful and humble walk with God, I should at once consider as the suggestion of the great enemy of the soul, ever ready to whisper distrust and despondency to the child of God. But in a self-confident, self-indulgent state, I should have as little hesitation in marking an alarming word to be the light of the word of God. It would be well for me at such a time to be exercised with fear; not as arguing any insecurity in my state; but as leading me to "great searchings of heart," to increasing watchfulness, humiliation, and prayer. "The commandment is a lamp, and the law is a light: and reproofs of instruction are the ways of life." Oh, that I may be enabled to make use of this lamp to direct every step of my heavenly way!
Whence then--it may be asked--the various tracks even of the sincere servants of God? Though there is clear light in the word, yet there is remaining darkness in the most enlightened heart. There is no eye without a speck, no eye with perfect singleness of vision--consequently without some liability to error. There is light for the teachable--not for the curious;--light to satisfy faith--not caviling. Add to this the office of the ministry--the Lord's gracious ordinance for Christian instruction and establishment; not to enslave, but to direct the judgment in the light of the word. To honor this ordinance is therefore the path of light. To neglect it, is the exposure to all the evils of a wayward will and undisciplined judgment.
Lord! as every action of the day is a step to heaven, or hell--Oh! save me from ever turning my face away from the path, into which Your word would guide me. Enable me to avail myself of its light, in the constant exercise of faith, prudence, and simplicity.