Verse 121. I have done judgment and justice: leave me not to my oppressors.
Verse 122. Be surety for Your servant for good: let not the proud oppress me.
There is something very solemn in the reflection, that God has set up a Viceregent in the heart--an internal Judge, who takes cognizance of every thought, every emotion, every act--determining its character, and pronouncing its sentence. This tribunal tries every cause without respect to persons, time, place, or any circumstances, that might seem to separate it from other cases under the same jurisdiction. No criminal can escape detection from defect of evidence. No earthly power can hinder the immediate execution of the sentence. The sentence then, of this awful Judge, whether "accusing or excusing," is of infinite moment. The ignorant expression--'Thank God, I have a clear conscience!' is used alike by the self-righteous and the careless. The awakened sinner, however, pleads guilty to its accusations, and knows not how to answer them. Blessed be God for the revelation of His gospel, which proclaims the blood of Jesus--sprinkling the conscience--silencing its charges--and setting before the sinner the way of peace! And now through Jesus, "the new and living way" of access to God, conscience, sitting on the throne--speaks peace and acceptance; and though sins of infirmity will remain, defiling every thought, desire, and act; yet, like the motes on the face of the sun in the clearest day, they have little or no influence to obstruct the shining of the cheerful light upon the heart.
The clearing of conscience is however connected with Christian integrity. "If our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God." This "testimony of conscience" has often been "the rejoicing" of the Lord's people, when suffering under unremitted reproach or proud oppression. They have been enabled to plead it without offence in the presence of their holy, heart-searching God--no, even when in the near prospect of the great and final account, they might have been supposed to shrink from the strict and unerring scrutiny of their Omniscient Judge.
But observe the influence of this testimony upon our spiritual comfort. David was at this time under persecution--no new trial to a child of God and one that will never cease, so long as Satan has instruments at his command. But see the blessing which conscious uprightness gave to his prayers: I have done judgment and justice: leave me not to my oppressors. Can my heart and conscience respond to this appeal? Then may I plead my cause before God, Leave me not to my oppressors. Let not the proud oppress me. Plead my cause with them. Let my righteousness be made known. Let it be seen, that You "will not leave me in their hand, nor condemn me when I am judged. Let integrity and uprightness preserve me: for I wait on You." But if any deviation from the exact rule of righteousness between man and man has been allowed--if the world charge me as ungodly, because they have proved me unrighteous--then let me not wonder, that "the consolations of God shall be small with me;" nor let me expect a return of the Lord's cheering manifestation, until the Achan has been removed from the camp, and by confession to God, and reparation to man, I have "given glory to the Lord God of Israel."
But let not this appeal be thought to savor of Pharisaical pride. He pleads not merit. He only asserts his innocence--the righteousness of his cause--not of his person. Though upright before man, he ever felt himself a sinner before God. The highest tone of conscious integrity is therefore consistent with the deepest prostration of evangelical humility. The difference is infinite between the proud Pharisee and the upright believer. The Pharisee makes the appeal with undisturbed self-delight and self-righteous pleading. The believer would ever accompany it with the Tax-collector's prayer for mercy. Instantly--in a deep conviction of need--he appends the supplication--Be surety for Your servant for good. The keen eye of the world may possibly not be able to affix any blot upon my outward profession; but, "if you, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?" The debt is continually accumulating, and the prospect of payment as distant as ever. I might well expect to be left to my oppressors, until I should pay all that was due unto my Lord. But behold! "Where is the fury of the oppressor?" The surety is found--the debt is paid--the ransom is accepted--the sinner is free! There was a voice heard in heaven, "Deliver him from going down to the pit: I have found a ransom." Yes, the Son of God Himself became "surety for a stranger," and "smarted for it." At an infinite cost--the cost of His own precious blood--He delivered me from my oppressors--sin--Satan--the world--death--hell. "It was exacted: and he answered." As Judah in the place of Benjamin, he was ready to stand in my stead before his Father, "I will be surety of him: of my hand shall you require him." As Paul in the stead of Onesimus, he was ready to plead, before the same tribunal, "If he has wronged you, or owes you anything, put that on my account; I will repay it."
Let this subject be ever present to my mind. Well indeed was it for me, that Jesus did not "hate suretyship." Had He refused the vast undertaking, how could I have answered before the bar of God? Or had He undertaken only for those who loved Him, again should I have been left without a plea. But when as my surety He has brought me under His yoke, and made me His servant, I can plead with acceptance before His throne, Be surety for Your servant for good--for the good, which You know me to need--my present and eternal deliverance from my proud oppressors. And do not I need such a surety every moment? And need I be told how fully He has performed the Surety's part? So that I may boldly say, "Who is he who condemns? it is Christ that died. It is Christ that lives. There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus."
Verse 123. My eyes fail for Your salvation, and for the word of Your righteousness.
And do your eyes, tried believer, begin to fail? So did your Redeemer's before you. He, whom you have been recollecting as your Surety, when He stood in your place, burdened with the intolerable load of your sin--bearing the weighty strokes of Infinite justice upon His soul--He too was constrained to cry out, "My eyes fail, while I wait for my God." Listen, then, to your deserted Savior counseling His deserted people; "gifted with the tongue of the learned, that he should know how to speak a word in season to you that are weary" "Who is among you that fears the Lord, that obeys the voice of His servant; that walks in darkness, and has no light? Let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God."
That our Surety will plead for our good, doubt not. Yet "the vision is for an appointed time." "But shall not God avenge His own elect, which cry day and night unto Him, though He bear long with them?" Salvation--a gift of such comprehensive and enduring blessing--is it not worth the waiting trial? Wonderful is that arrangement, by which the word of grace is made the word of righteousness! God has bound Himself to us by His promises of grace, which are not, Yes and no, but "Yes and amen"--under His own hand and seal. Who that has tried them, but will "set to his seal that God is true?" Cheering indeed is the thought, that, amid the incessant changes in Christian experience, our hope is unchangeably fixed. We may not indeed always enjoy it; but our salvation does not depend upon our present enjoyment of its consolation. Is not the blessing as certain--yes--is not our assurance of an interest in it as clear, when we are brought to the dust under a sense of sin, as if we were "caught up into the third heaven" in a vision of glory?
In a season of desertion, therefore, while we maintain a godly jealousy over our own hearts, let us beware of a mistrustful jealousy of God. Distrust will not cure our wound, or quicken us to prayer, or recommend us to the favor of God, or prepare us for the mercy of the Gospel. Complaining is not humility. Prayer without waiting is not faith. The path is plain as noon-day. Continue to believe as you can. Wait on the Lord. This is the act of faith, depending on Him--the act of hope, looking for Him--the act of patience, waiting His time--the act of submission, resigned even if He should not come. Like your Savior, in His "agony" of desertion, "pray more earnestly." Condemn yourself for the sins of which you are asking forgiveness. Bless Him for His past mercy, even if you should never taste it again. Can He frown you from His presence? Can He belie His promise to His waiting people? Impossible! No! while He has taken away the sensible apprehensions of His love, and in its room has kindled longing desires for the lost blessing; is not this to show Himself--if He be "verily a God that hides Himself"--yet still "the God of Israel, the Savior?" Though He delays His promise, and holds us as it were in suspense; yet He would have us know, that He has not forgotten the word of His righteousness. But this is His wise and effectual mode of trying His own gift of faith. And it is this "trial of faith"--and not faith untried--that will be "found to praise, and honor, and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ."
The full consolation of the Gospel is therefore the fruit of patient, humble waiting for the Lord, and of earnest desire, conflicting with impatience and unbelief, and at length issuing in a state of child-like submission and dependence. The man who was here expressing his longing expectation for God's salvation, was evidently, though unconsciously, in possession of the promise. Nor would he at this moment have exchanged his hope, clouded as it was to his own view, for all "the pleasures of sin," or the riches of the world. Although at this moment he appeared to be under the partial hidings of his Father's countenance, yet it is important to observe, that he was not satisfied, as an indolent professor, to "lie upon his face" in this sad condition. His "eyes failed with looking upward"--stretched up with earnest expectation to catch the first rising rays of the beaming Sun of Righteousness. He knew, what all Christians know, who walk closely with God, that his perseverance in waiting upon God, would issue in the eventual fulfillment of every desire of his heart.
But can we assuredly plead the word of His righteousness for the anticipation of the object of our desire? Have we always an express promise answering to our expectations, "putting God in remembrance" of His word? Possibly we may have been asking not "according to His will," and therefore may have "charged God foolishly," as if He had been unfaithful to His word, when no engagement had been pledged: when we had no warrant to build upon from the word of His righteousness. If, however, our petition should be found to be agreeable to His word of promise, and faith and patience hold on in submission to His will, we must not, we cannot, suppose, that one tittle that we have asked will fail. Whether the Lord deliver us or not, prayer and waiting will not be lost. It is a blessed posture for Him to find us in, such as will not fail to ensure His acceptance, even though our request should be denied. An enlivening view of the Savior is in reserve for us; and the word of righteousness will yet speak, "This is the rest, with which you may cause the weary to rest: and this is the refreshing." To every passing doubt and rising fear, oppose this word of His righteousness.
But let me bring my own heart to the test. Am I longing for the manifestation of God? Surely if I am content with what I already know, I know but very little of the unsearchable depths of the love of Christ; and I have abundant need to pray for more enlarged desires, and a more tender enjoyment of His Divine presence. If faith is not dead, yet it may have lost its conquering and quickening vigor. Let me then exercise my soul in diligent, careful, patient waiting upon God, equally removed from sloth and frowardness--and I shall yet find the truth of that consoling word of His righteousness, "Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart."
Verse 124. Deal with Your servant according unto Your mercy, and teach me Your statutes.
Verse 125. I am Your servant; give me understanding, that I may know Your testimonies.
A sense of mercy, and the privilege of Divine teaching, were the earnest of the Lord's salvation, for which the eyes of his servant were failing, and for which he was waiting in dependence upon the sure word of His righteousness. And indeed these two wants daily press upon every servant of God as matter for earnest supplication. Both are intimately connected. A deeper sense of mercy will bind us more strongly to His statutes; while a more spiritual teaching in the statutes will humble us in a sense of sin, and consequent need of mercy. As it respects the first--if there is a sinner upon the earth, who needs the special mercy of God, it is His own servant. For as the Lord sees abundantly more excellence in his feeblest desire, than in the professor's most splendid external duties; so He sees far more sinfulness and provocation in the workings of his sin, than in the palpably defective services of professors, or in the open transgression of the wicked of the earth. Let him scrutinize his motives, thoughts, and affections, even in his moments of nearest and happiest approach unto his God; and he will find such defilement cleaving to every offering, with all the aggravations of mercy, light, and knowledge, given, that the confession of his soul, when comparing himself with his fellow-sinners, will be, "Of whom I am chief." And therefore, as a servant of God, I can only come before Him upon the ground of mercy. For my best performances I need an immeasurable world of mercy--pardoning--saving--everlasting mercy; and yet by the blood of Jesus I dare to plead--Deal with Your servant according unto Your mercy.
But then I am ignorant as well as guilty; and yet I dare not pray for teaching--much and hourly as I need it, until I have afresh obtained mercy. These two blessings lead me at once to the foundation of the gospel--in the work of Christ, and the work of the Spirit--mercy flowing from the blood of the Son--teaching from the office of the Spirit. Mercy is the first blessing, not only in point of importance, but in point of order. I must know the Lord as a Savior, before I can go to Him with any confidence to be my teacher. But when once I have found acceptance for my petition--Deal with Your servant according to Your mercy--my way will be opened to enlarge my petition--yes, once and again to repeat it--Teach me Your statutes. Give me understanding, that I may know Your testimonies--that I may know with intelligent conviction; walk, yes, "run in the way of Your commandments" with "an enlarged heart." For let me never forget, that I am "redeemed from the curse" only--not from the service "of the law"--yes, redeemed from its curse, that I may be bound to its service. And does not my especial relation to my God as His servant, furnish me with a plea for His acceptance? For when this "earth is full of His mercy"--much more may I, as belonging to His house, plead for the special mercy of His teaching--His own covenant promise--so needful for His servant, who desires to know, that he may do, His will.
But if I am the Lord's servant, how did I become so? Time was (let me be ashamed and confounded at the remembrance of it) when I was engaged for another master, and in another service. But His sovereign grace called me from the dominion of sin--from the chains of Satan--from the bondage of the world, and drew me to Himself. "His I am--and Him I serve." His service is my highest privilege: His reward of grace is my glorious hope. "If any man serve Me," says my Master, "let him follow Me: and where I am, there shall also My servant be. If any man serve Me, him will My Father honor." As His servant, therefore, I cast myself with confidence upon His mercy, and expect to be dealt with according to that mercy. No--I shall be denied nothing that I "ask according to His will." For He has condescended to call me--not His servant, but "his friend"--yes more, to call himself "my brother."
Lord! You have showed me this great favor and grace, to make me Your servant. I would be Yours forever. I love Your service too well to wish to change it; yet must I mourn over my dullness, my backwardness in doing Your will, and walking in Your way. Oh! teach me Your statutes more clearly, more experimentally! Give me understanding to discern their heavenly sweetness and their holy liberty, that I may live in a more simple and devoted obedience to them, until I come to see Your face, and to be Your servant in Your heavenly temple, "no more to go out."
Verse 126. It is time for You, Lord, to work; for they have made void Your law.
If I desire a more spiritual understanding of the revelation of God, how can I but mourn to witness its awful neglect and contempt? It seems as if the ungodly not only sin against it, but that they would drive it out of the world. They make it void--denying its power to rule, to annul its power to punish. Oh! let us cherish that distinguishing feature of the Lord's people, "sighing and crying for all the abominations of the land;" so that we cannot hear or see the name of God dishonored, without feeling as for our Father's wounded reputation. Can we suffer the men of the world quietly to go on their course? Must we not throw in our weight of influence, whatever it may be, to stem the flowing torrent: and when (as, alas! is too often the case) all efforts are unavailing, carry the cause to the Lord, "It is time for You, Lord, to work?" This pleading does not contradict the law of love, which requires us to love, pray for, and to bless our enemies; for the Lord's people are not angry for their own cause, but for His. David had no regard to his own honor, but to God's law. He had not injured his enemies. "He had labored to overcome their evil with good." He had often wept for their sins, and prayed for their conversion. But all was in vain. 'Now, Lord, take the rod in Your own hand. "It is time for You, Lord, to work."' This was true zeal--zeal of the Spirit, not of the flesh. How gracious is our God in permitting His servants thus to plead with Him, and, as it were, to give Him no rest, until "he shall arise, and work," and sit upon the throne of the kingdoms of the earth!
But why does He not break out with some overpowering manifestation of His power? They are "his sword and rod" for the chastening of His people, to discipline their watchfulness into constant exercise. They are the trial of their faith--believing the Lord's justice against apparent inconsistency; and of their patience, "waiting the set time of deliverance." Thus they become a profitable ministry for the church--and this valuable end accomplished, God works His work upon them, and "will avenge His own elect speedily."
Meanwhile--waiting for this "little while," let us "live by faith." Let us be found on the Lord's side--laboring for sinners--pleading with their hardness and rebellion in our Master's name, and for our Master's sake. Let all the weight of personal exertion and influence, consistent example, and wrestling supplication, be concentrated in "coming to the help of the Lord against the mighty." Let us see to it, that if we cannot do what we would, we do what we can. And if at last we be overborne by the torrent of ungodliness, we shall find our refuge and rest in pleading with our Lord for the honor of His name--Remember this, that the enemy has reproached, O Lord, and that the foolish people have blasphemed Your name. "His Spirit shall not always strive with man." Often, when He has seen it time for Him to work, have His judgments made the earth to tremble. "Sodom and Gomorrah" have "known the power of His anger," and are "set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire." And when His time to work is fully come, what is all the resistance of earth and hell, but as "setting the briars and thorns against Him in battle?" "I would"--says he, "go through them. I would burn them together." A word--a frown--a look--is destruction. "He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength. Who has hardened himself against Him, and has prospered?" Or "who has resisted His will?"
But what shall we say of that stupendous work of His hand, by which--when men had made void His law--when no restrictions could bind, no forbearance win them--when He "saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor, therefore His arm brought salvation unto him, and His righteousness, it sustained him." Surely, if we could conceive the hosts of heaven to have taken up this expression of ardent concern for the glory of God, It is time for You, Lord, to work--they could little have thought of such a work as this--they could never have conceived to themselves such an unlooked-for, combined display of power, justice, and mercy. To set at nothing then this work--is it not to refuse all hope--all remedy? To persist in making void the law after so magnificent an exhibition of Almighty working--must it not expose the transgressors to reap the fruit of their own obstinacy, and to prepare to meet Him as their Judge, whom they refuse to receive as their Savior? Nor must they wonder, if the Lord's people, with a holy indignation against sin, and a fervent zeal for His glory, should appeal to His faithfulness for the fulfillment of His judgments--It is time for You, Lord, to work: for they have made void Your law.
Verse 127. Therefore I love Your commandments above gold; yes, above fine gold.
Therefore I love Your commandments. Yes--shall they not have double valuation in my eyes, for the scorn and reproach which the world cast upon them? They count them dross--I love them above gold--yes, above fine gold. This hope, confidence, and idol of the worldling, the love of which has been the ruin of thousands--is not the commandment of God more to be desired than it? "The merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold. It is more precious than rubies and all the things you can desire are not to be compared unto it." Here has the Lord unlocked to us His golden treasure, and enriched our souls with "the unsearchable riches of Christ."
This image brings the miser before us. His heart and treasure are in his gold. With what delight he counts it! with what watchfulness he keeps it! hiding it in safe custody, lest he should be despoiled of that which is dearer to him than life. Such should Christians be: spiritual misers: counting their treasure, which is above fine gold; and "hiding it in their heart," in safe keeping, where the great despoiler shall not be able to reach it. Oh, Christians! how much more is your portion to you than the miser's treasure! Hide it; watch it; retain it. You need not be afraid of covetousness in spiritual things: rather "covet earnestly" to increase your store; and by living upon it, and living in it, it will grow richer in extent, and more precious in value.
But have I through Divine grace been enabled to withdraw my love from the unworthy objects which once possessed it: and to fix it on that which alone offers satisfaction? Let me attempt to give a reason to myself of the high estimation in which I hold it, as infinitely transcending those things, which the world venture their all--even their temporal happiness--to obtain. Therefore I love the commandments of God above gold: yes, above fine gold--because, while the world and my own heart have only combined to flatter me, they have discovered to me my real state, as a self-deceived, guilty, defiled sinner before God: because they have been as a "schoolmaster to bring me to Christ"--the only remedy for sin, the only rest for my soul. I love them; because they have often supplied wholesome reproofs in my wanderings, and plain directions in my perplexity. I love them; because they restrict me from that which would prove my certain ruin; and because in the way of obedience to them the Lord has "accepted me with my sweet savor." Should I not love them? Can gold, yes, fine gold, offer to me blessings such as these? Can it heal my broken heart? Can it give relief to my wounded spirit? Has it any peace or prospect of comfort for me on my death-bed? And what cannot--what has not--what will not--the precious word of God do at that awful season of trial? O my God, I would be deeply ashamed, that I love Your commandments so coldly--that they are so little influential upon my conduct--that they so often give place to objects of comparative nothingness in Your sight. O that my heart might be wholly and habitually exercised in them, that I may find the "work of righteousness to be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness, and assurance forever!"
Verse 128. Therefore I esteem all Your precepts concerning all things to be right: and I hate every false way.
The general contempt of religion acts upon the Christian's judgment no less than upon his affections. Is wickedness breaking loose to make void the law? Therefore he esteems it to be right. His judgment--instead of being shaken--is more determined. How beautiful is it to see the leaven of grace pervading the whole man! In the fervor of his heart he loves the commandments even above fine gold; but yet his "love will abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment." His is an intelligent and universal regard to them--esteeming all the precepts concerning all things to be right. This constitutes his separate and exclusive character. He is readily known from the thoughtless worldling. But his difference from the professor, though really as marked in the sight of God, is far less perceptible to general observation. Consisting more in the state of heart, than in any external mark of distinction, it is often only within the ken of that eye, whose sovereign prerogative it is to "search the heart," and to "weigh the spirits."
Many profess to esteem the precepts to be right, so far as they inculcate the practice of those moral virtues, of which they may present some faint exhibition, and demand the abandonment of those sins, from the external influence of which they may have been delivered. But when they begin to observe the "exceeding breadth of the commandment"--how it takes cognizance of the heart, and enforces the renunciation of the world, the crucifixion of sin, and the entire surrender of the heart unto God; this searching touchstone separates them from the church, and exposes to open day the brand of hypocrisy upon their foreheads. "Herod did many things." And so the enemy still will allow a partial subjection to the precepts. But--as he well knows--one sin holds us his captive as well as a thousand. The willful contempt of one precept is the virtual rejection of all. All, therefore--not many--is the Christian's word. He fails in some--yes, in all--but all are the objects of his supreme regard--every duty, and every circumstance and obligation of duty--the evangelical as well as the moral precepts--teaching him to renounce himself in every part (his sins as a source of pleasure, and his duties as a ground of dependence): and to believe in the Son of God as the only ground of hope. He never complains of the strictness of the precepts!--but he is continually humbled in the recollection of his nonconformity to them. Every way, however pleasing to the flesh, that is opposed to the revealed will of God, is hated, as false in itself, and false to his God. This "godly sincerity" will apply to every part of the Christian Directory. So that any plea for the indulgence of sin (as if it admitted of palliation, or was compensated by some surplus duty, or allowed only for some temporary purpose) or any willful shrinking from the universality of obedience--blots out all pretensions to uprightness of heart. If holiness be really loved, it will be loved for its own sake; and equally loved and followed in every part. By this entire "approval of things that are excellent," we shall "be sincere and without offence unto the day of Christ."
O my soul, can you abide this close test? Have you as much regard to the precepts, as to the privileges, of the Gospel? Is no precept evaded, from repugnance to the cross that is entailed to it? Is no secret lust retained? Are you content to let all go? If my hatred of sin is sincere, I shall hate it more in my own house than abroad; I shall hate it most of all in my own heart. Here lies the grand seat of hypocrisy. And therefore may the great Searcher of hearts enable me to search into its depths! May I take the lamp of the Lord to penetrate into its dark interior hiding-places of evil! May I often put the question to my conscience, 'What does the Omniscient Judge know of my heart?' Perhaps at the time that the Church holds my name in esteem, the voice of conscience, as the voice of God, may whisper to me "That which is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God." Some false way, yet undetected within, may keep me lifeless and unfruitful in the midst of the quickening means of grace. Let me look into my house--my calling--my family--my soul; and in the course of this search how much matter will be found for prayer, contrition, renewed determination of heart, and dependence upon my God! "O that my ways were directed to keep Your statutes! I will keep Your statutes; O forsake me not utterly." And oh! let my spirit be wounded by every fresh discovery of sin. Let my soul bleed under it. But specially and instantly let me apply to the "fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness." Here let me wash my soul from the guilt of sin, and regain my peace with God. And to Him, who opened this fountain, let me also repair for a large supply of spiritual strength. May His power and grace sharpen my weapons for the spiritual conflict, until every secret iniquity is overcome, and forever dispossessed from my heart!
And just as sin, besides its guilt, brings its own misery; so does this whole-hearted purity carry with it its own happiness. Can I forget the time, when, under Divine grace and teaching, I made a full presentment of myself, when I began to estimate myself as an hallowed, devoted thing--sacred--set apart for God? Was not this the first sunshine of my happiness? Nor was this offering made with momentary excitement, notional intelligence, forced acquiescence, or heartless assent. My judgment accorded with the choice of my heart. All was right in His precepts. All that was contrary to them was abominable. And will not this form the essence of the happiness of heaven, where every aspiration--every motion--every pulse of the glorified soul--in the eternity of life--will bear testimony to the holiness of the service of God?
Verse 129. Your testimonies are wonderful: therefore does my soul keep them.
Can the mere professor make this acknowledgment? He knows only the letter--the shell, which excites no interest. Yet hidden from his eye is an unsearchable depth, which will make the believer a learner to the end of his life. Even he, who "was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter," was brought to this adoring contemplation, "O the depths of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!" Every way indeed is this revelation worthy of Him, the first letter of whose name is "Wonderful." It lays open to the heaven-taught soul what "eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has entered into the heart of man." Think of the Creator of the world becoming a creature--yes, "a curse for man." Think of man--guilty and condemned--made just with God by a righteousness not his own. Think of God bringing out of the ruinous fall more glory to Himself, and more happiness to man, than from his former innocence--in the display of His mercy--the glory of His justice, and the investment of sinners--not, as before; with a creature's righteousness, security, and reward, but with His own righteousness, guardianship, and glory. Think how "the way into the holiest of all" is thus "made manifest." Think how abounding grace is the death as well as the pardon of sin--the present as well as the everlasting life of the soul. These are among the stupendous discoveries of the sacred book, that bow the humble and reflecting mind to the confession--Your testimonies are wonderful! Let us therefore join with the Apostle, in "bowing our knees to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ"--that we "might be able to comprehend with all saints" (for, blessed be God! the privilege is common to all His people) "what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height: and to know the" unsearchable "love of Christ," "in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge."
And how delightful is the recollection of these testimonies being our "heritage forever!" For they are not less wonderful in their practical fullness, than in their deep unfathomable mysteries of love. Such is the infinite enlargement of this "heritage," that He who foreknew every thought that would find an entrance into the minds of His people, has here secretly laid up seasonable direction and encouragement for every, even the most minute occasion and circumstance of need. Here, again, is wrapped up, in words fitted by wisdom to receive the revelation, all that communion between God and man, throughout all ages of the Church, which is treasured up in the vast unsearchable depository of the Divine mind and purpose. Can we then forbear repeating the exclamation--Your testimonies are wonderful!
But it is not enough to 'adore the fullness of Scripture:' we must seek to imbibe and exhibit its practical influence. Holy admiration of the testimonies will kindle spiritual devotedness to them--Therefore does my soul keep them. The stamp of Divine authority upon them, while it deepens our reverence, commands our steady and cheerful obedience. To keep them is our privilege, no less than our obligation; and in this path we shall delight to persevere to the end.
But how affecting is the thought of the mass, who look at these wonders with a careless or unmeaning eye, unconscious of their interesting import! They pass by the door of the treasury, hardly condescending to look aside into it: or only taking a transient glance, which comprehends nothing of its inexhaustible stores. "I have written to them"--says the Lord, "the great things of My law: but they are counted as a strange thing." But far more wonderful is it, that we, enlightened, in answer to prayer (See verse 18), with "the Spirit of wisdom and revelation"--should often be so indifferent to the mysteries of redeeming love here unfolded before us, and should experience so little of their practical influence! Oh! let the recollection of our indolence, and want of conformity to them, never cease to humble us. Let us not enter into the testimonies, as a dry task, or an ordinary study; but let us concentrate our minds, our faith, humility, and prayer, in a more devoted contemplation of them. Every such exercise will extend our view of those parts, with which we had conceived ourselves to be competently acquainted: opening a new field of wonders on every side, far beyond our present contracted apprehensions.
And can any joy be imagined so sublime as the adoring contemplation of this revelation? It reflects even to angels a new and glorious manifestation of their God. It engages their every faculty with intense admiration and delight. And while they behold and worship with self-abasement, their obedience is lively. "With twain he" (the seraph before the throne) "covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly." Thus may we study the same lessons, and with the same spirit. May our contemplation humble us in the dust, and animate us in the service of our God! Your testimonies are wonderful: therefore does my soul keep them.
Verse 130. The entrance of Your words gives light: it gives understanding to the simple.
'So "wonderful are Your testimonies," gracious God,' that even by touching as it were only their threshold, the entrance of Your words gives light and understanding unto my heart. The study commenced in simplicity and prayer, opens an entrance to the first dawning light of the word into the soul; often only sufficient to make darkness visible, but still "shining more and more unto the perfect day." Indeed all the spiritual light known in this dark world has flowed from the word, forcing its entrance, like the beams of the sun, upon the opening eyes of "a man that was born blind." It is a most striking instance of Divine condescension, that this word--so wonderful in its high and heavenly mysteries--should yet open a path so plain, that the most unlearned may find and walk in it. Indeed the entrance of the word into unintellectual and uncultivated minds, often gives an enlargement and elevation of thought, which is the earnest of the restoration of man to his original glory, when doubtless every mental as well as spiritual faculty was "filled with all the fullness of God." So astonishing is the power of this heavenly light, that from any one page of this holy book, a child, or even an idiot, under heavenly teaching, may draw more instruction than the most acute philosopher could ever attain from any other fountain of light! No--he may acquire a more intelligent perception of its contents, than the student, untaught by the Spirit of God, who may have devoted to its study the persevering industry of many successive years. For very possible is it to be possessed of all the treasures of literature, and yet to remain in total ignorance of everything that is most important for a sinner to know. The Apostle's paradox unfolds the secret, "If any man among you seems to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise." We do not mean to disparage human wisdom; but it is the pride of wisdom, so opposed to the simplicity of the gospel, which prevents us from "sitting at the feet of Jesus, and hearing His word." It makes the teacher instruct in "the words of man's wisdom," rather than in the knowledge of "Christ and Him crucified," and hinders the learner from receiving Christ in the light and love of the truth.
It is painful to remember how much light may be shining around us on every side, without finding an entrance into the heart. "The light shines in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not." Not only the pride of human reason, but the love of sin, shuts out the light: "Men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil." And thus because "the eye is evil, the whole body is full of darkness:" and "if the light that is in them is darkness, how great is that darkness!" Most awful is the view given us of the conflict between the contending powers of light and darkness, "The God of this world blinding the eyes of them that believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them,"--the Almighty God resisting his hateful influence, and "shining into the hearts" of His people, "to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." How necessary is it to watch vigilantly against the pride that "rebels against the light," and the indifference that neglects to cherish it! How much more entrance would have been given to the word, and consequently how much clearer would have been the diffusion of light in the soul, were we as earnest and diligent in secret prayer for heavenly teaching, as we are accustomed to be in the public hearing of the word!
But the enthusiast is not satisfied with the light of the word. The delusion of his own heart dreams of a light within--an immediate revelation of the Spirit, independent of the word. It cannot however be safe to separate the light of the Spirit from the light of the word. The word indeed moves in subserviency to the Spirit; but the light of the Spirit is nowhere promised separate from the word. If it does not always guide directly by the word; yet it is only manifested in the direction of the word. The word is in the matter, if not in the mode; and though the Spirit may by immediate light direct us to any path of duty, yet it is invariably to that path, which had been previously marked by the light of the word. Thus the Spirit and the word conjointly become our guide--the Spirit enlightening and quickening the word--and the word evidencing the light of the Spirit. Nor will their combined influence ever leave the church of God, until she has joyfully and completely entered into Immanuel's land, where she shall need no other light, than that of the glory of God, and of the Lamb, which shall shine in her forever.
But--Reader--rest not satisfied with whatever measure of light may have been hitherto given. Seek that the word may have "an entrance ministered unto you abundantly." The most advanced believer is most ready to acknowledge, how much of the word yet remains unexplored before him. Cultivate the disposition of simplicity--the spirit of a "little child"--willing to receive, embrace, submit to, whatever the revelation of God may produce before you. There will be many things that we do not understand: but there is nothing that we shall not believe. "Thus says the Lord"--is sufficient to satisfy reverential faith. To this spirit the promise of heavenly light is exclusively made. "The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The meek will He guide in judgment; the meek will He teach His way." It is beautiful to see a man like Solomon, endued with enlarged powers of mind--acknowledging himself to be a little child, afraid of trusting in his own light; and seeking instruction from above. But never will an unhumbled mind know the benefit of this Divine instruction. To such a student, the Bible must ever be a dark book; since its very design is to destroy that disposition which he brings to the inquiry. That knowledge, therefore, which is unable to direct our way to heaven--no, which by closing the avenues of spiritual light, obstructs our entrance there, is far more a curse than a blessing. Far more glorious is the simplicity of the word than the wisdom of the world.
"In that hour, Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank You, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hid these things from the wise and prudent, and have revealed them unto babes: even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight."
Verse 131. I opened my mouth, and panted; for I longed for Your commandments.
When the "wonderful" character of God's "testimonies" is apprehended; and when their entrance has given light to the soul; something far beyond ordinary affection and desire is excited. A thirsty man--burning with inward heat on a sultry day, opening his mouth, and panting for some alleviation of his thirst--is a fine image of the child of God intensely longing for the attainment of his object. Or, if we suppose before us the man nearly exhausted by the heat of his race, and opening his mouth, and panting to take in fresh breath to renew his course; so would the believer "rejoice," like the sun, to "run his" heavenward "race." He cannot satisfy himself in his desires. The motions of his soul to his God are his life and his joy. It is a spring of perpetual motion beating within--perpetual, because natural--not a rapture, but a habit--a principle, having indeed its faintings, and its sickness, but still returning to its original spring of life and vigor. It seems as if the soul could never draw in enough of the influences of the spiritual life. Its longings are insatiable--as if the heart would "break with" the overpowering strength of its own desires; until at length, wearied with the conflict, the believer opens his mouth, and pants to fetch in a fresh supply of invigorating grace. He enjoys "a little reviving" in his Lord's commandments; enjoying the Lord Himself as his well-spring of refreshment.
Hear the man of God elsewhere giving, or rather attempting to give, expression to his pantings, "As the deer pants after the water-brooks, so pants my soul after You, O God. My soul thirsts for You; my flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where no water is. I stretch forth my hands unto You; my soul thirsts after You as a thirsty land." Thus did Job open his mouth, and pant. "O that I knew where I might find Him! that I might come even to His seat!" And the church--pouring out her heart before the Lord, "With my soul have I desired You in the night; yes, with my spirit within me will I seek You early." St. Paul also describes the same intenseness of his own desire, "Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect; but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended; but this one thing I do; forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." But amid all these examples, and infinitely beyond them all--behold the ardor of our blessed Master in his work. Such was the panting of His heavenly desire, that, when "wearied with his journey," and "sitting at Jacob's well," He forgot even His natural want for His thirsty frame, in the joy of the conversion of a lost sinner to Himself.
And thus must our affections be fully engaged. The soul must be kept open to heavenly influence; so that, when the Lord touches us with conviction, inclines our hearts to Himself, and constrains us to His service, we may be ready to "exercise ourselves unto godliness," in receiving, cherishing, and improving the heavenly longing after His commandments; and may open our mouths, and pant for more advanced progress in them. We look not so much to the quantity, as to the activity of faith; always at work, stirring up a holy fire within, for the utmost stretch of human attainment: like men of large projects and high determinations, still aspiring to know more of God, both in the enjoyment of His love, and in conformity to His will. And shall we be ashamed of these feelings? Shall we not rather be deeply humbled, that we know so little of them--encouraged, if we have any springing of them--alarmed, if we be utterly destitute of their influence? Shall we not be opening our mouth, and panting, when any new path of service is opened before us? For if we are content to be strangers to this longing after God--this readiness for duty; what else can be expected, but "sliding back from the Lord by a perpetual backsliding?" Growing in sin, declining in love, and gradually relinquishing the habit of prayer, we shall shortly find little attaching to us but the empty name--Christianity without Christ. The world will despise these exercises as enthusiasm, the distemper of a misguided imagination. But is it--can it be--otherwise than a "reasonable service" as well as a bounden obligation, to give up our whole desires to Him, who is alone worthy of them? There can be no evidence of their sincerity, unless they are supreme.
But let union with Christ, and the life flowing from Him, be the constant spring of this holy ardor. Thus shall I enjoy a more habitual influence of His love--that all-constraining principle, which overcomes all my complaints of coldness and deadness of heart, and fills me with pantings and longing in His service. But am I ready to shrink from this elevated standard? If my heart is drawing back, let me force it on. Let me lay my command, or rather God's command, upon it. Let conscience do its office, until my heart is brought into actual and close contact with this touchstone of my spiritual prosperity. What then--let me ask myself--is the pulse of my desires after spiritual things? What exercises of grace do I find in them? What improvement of grace do I derive from them? Do I pant, thirst, long, after the enjoyment of heavenly pleasure? Do I mourn over, and conflict with, that indolence and indifference, which so often hinders my race? Oh! let me be found a frequent suppliant at the throne of grace; bewailing my dullness, yet "stirring up" my faith "to lay hold on" my God; seeking for larger views of the Gospel, a warmer experience of its promises, a more intense appetite for its enjoyments, and a more devoted attachment to its service. Surely such desires will issue in the confidence of faith. "My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness."
Verse 132. Look upon me, and be merciful unto me, as You do unto those that love Your name.
The highest ardency of holy desire is no ground of satisfaction before God. Nor does the believer in his most elevated moments forget his proper character--always a sinner--needing mercy every moment--in every duty. His prayer for mercy therefore suitably follows his exalted expression of love--Look upon me, and be merciful unto me. Mercy is indeed secured to him beyond the power of earth and hell to despoil him of it; but the comfortable sense of this mercy is given only according to the earnestness of his desires, and the simplicity of his faith. And this is indeed a blessing, with which no earthly source of satisfaction can compare. What are all the riches of the world without it, but splendid poverty, as little able to supply the place of Jesus in the soul, as the magnificent array of the starry skies is to compensate for the absence of the sun? It is night with the child of God--Egyptian night, "darkness which may be felt," until his Sun appear to chase away his gloom--until his Lord hear his cry--Look upon me, and be merciful unto me!
To have this portion of those that love the name of God, is, then, the grand object. To have our offering, as Abel's was, accepted with God--to walk as Enoch walked, with God--to commune with Him as Abraham and Moses were privileged to do--to be conformed with the holy Apostle to the death of Christ--in a word, to be interested in all the purchase of a Savior's blood, "this is the heritage of the Lord's servants"--this is the "one thing that we have desired of the Lord, and are seeking after," "this," with the dying Psalmist, "is all our salvation, and all our desire." "Remember me then, O Lord, with the favor that You bear to Your people; O visit me with Your salvation; that I may see the good of Your chosen: that I may rejoice in the gladness of Your nation; that I may glory with Your inheritance."
And yet, alas! how often has the power and deceitfulness of sin cast us into so lifeless a state, that we are not only living without the enjoyment of this portion, but at rest without it; scarcely knowing or caring whether the Lord look on us or not? Can we wonder, that our holy, jealous God, should "hide Himself," and "go and return to His place?" His next manifestations will probably be in the way of sharp conviction, making us to feel our distance, our coldness, our barrenness: awakening us to search into the cause; and, in the contrast of our sad condition with those who are walking in His favor, again bringing forth the cry--Look upon me, and be merciful unto me, as You do unto those that love Your name. The prayer of humility, earnestness, and perseverance, though it may be tried awhile, will surely never be forgotten. If therefore we cannot yet "sing in the ways of the Lord," yet let us not cease to mourn after Him, until He look upon us, and "satisfy us with His mercy." And oh! let us remember that there is but one way through which one gracious look, or one expression of tender mercy, can visit our souls. Let our eyes and heart then be ever fixed on Jesus. It is only in this His "beloved" Son that the Lord can look upon us, so as not to "behold iniquity in us." But we "are complete in Him." Here then let us wait; and when this our prayer has received its answer in the Lord's best time--whether it be in "the goings of our God in the sanctuary," or in the more secret manifestation of His love--Christians, "arise, and shine." Let it be known, that you have been on the mount with God, by the luster of your face, the adorning of your profession, before the world.
Lord! since our looks to You are often so slight, so cold, so distant, that no impression is made upon our hearts; do condescend continually to look upon us with mercy and with power. Give us such a look, as may touch us with tenderness and contrition, in the remembrance of that sin, unbelief, and disobedience, which pierced the hands, the feet, the heart of our dearest Lord and Savior. Oh! for that contrite spirit, in which we shall enjoy the look of Your special favor! Oh! for a glimpse of Your love, that will put our spiritual enemies to shame! Oh! for that sunshine of Your countenance, which brings present salvation to our souls!
Verse 133. Order my steps in Your word; and let not any iniquity have dominion over me.
To expect the favor of the Lord without an habitual desire of conformity to His image, is one among the many delusions of a self-deceiving heart. It is the peculiar character of the Christian, that his desires are as earnest for deliverance from the power as from the guilt of sin. Having therefore prayed for acceptance, he now cries for holiness. For even could we conceive the Lord to look upon him with a sense of His favor, he would still feel himself a miserable creature, until he has received an answer to his prayer--Let not any iniquity have dominion over me.
But it is often difficult to distinguish the power of temptation from the prevalence of sin, and thus precisely to ascertain, when iniquity may be said to have dominion over us. Is it not however the influence of temptation--not acting upon the mind, but admitted with consent into the heart? It is this actual consent of the will, obtained by the deceitfulness and solicitations of sin, that marks its real dominion. Light, knowledge, and conscience, may open the path of holiness; but while the will--the sovereign power in the soul--dissents, the reigning power of sin continues undisputed. Much care, however, much singleness, and a most jealous scrutiny of the springs of action, are required, accurately to determine the bias of the will, and consequently the dominion of iniquity. The perplexed, conflicting soul may mistake the rebellion for the dominion of iniquity--its continued impression upon the heart for its ruling sway. On the other hand, a constrained opposition of conviction may present some hopeful symptoms of deliverance, while the dominant principle is still unshaken. The present resolution to any particular act of sin may be weakened, while the love and habit of it remained unaffected. Sin is not always hated, when it is condemned, or even forsaken; nor are duties always loved in the act of their performance. The opposition to sin, which the awakened superficial professor considers as his evidence of uprightness of heart, is often only the unavailing resistance of a natural enlightened conscience to the ruling principle of the heart. The light and power of conscience may do much in condemning every known sin, and in restraining from many; in illustrating every known duty, and insisting upon the external performance of many; while yet the full dominion of iniquity is undisturbed. Were not Ahab and Judas as completely under his dominion after their repentance as they were before? Did not Balaam, with all his knowledge--and the young ruler, with all his natural loveliness and semblance of sincerity, "lack that one thing"--a heart delivered from the dominion of its own iniquity? Yet it is not occasional surprisals, resisted workings, abhorred lust, nor immediate injections of evil and blasphemous thoughts; but only the ascendancy of sin in the affections, that proves its reigning power. The throne can admit but of one ruler; and therefore, though grace and iniquity may and do co-exist within, they cannot be co-partners in one sovereignty. Yet do not forget that every sinful indulgence is for the moment putting the scepter into the hands of our worst enemies. The setting up of an usurper is the virtual dethronement of the rightful sovereign. The subjection to sin is therefore the rejection of Christ.
How inestimably precious is the thought, that deliverance from this cursed dominion is inseparably connected with a state of acceptance with God! The man who enjoys the unspeakable blessing of pardoned iniquity, is he "in whose spirit there is no deceit." He has a work done within him, as well as for him. His Savior is a whole Christ, "made of God unto him Sanctification" and complete "Redemption" as well as "Righteousness." He comes to the cleansing fountain, as the double cure of his iniquity--equally effectual to wash from its power, as from its guilt.
But let us duly estimate the value of David's preservation. He had been used to "hide the word in his heart," as his safeguard against sin, and from his own experience of its power he had recommended it to the especial attention of the young. Yet the recollection of his continual forgetfulness and conscious weakness, leads him to turn his rule into a matter of prayer--Order my steps in Your word;--implying, that if his steps were not ordered, from want of their keeping, iniquity would regain its dominion. And who of us have not daily need of this ruling discipline? Without it, all is disorder. Our scattered affections need to be "united" in one central principle, under the direction of the word. The universal influence of this rule also is so important. The word not only cheers our path, but orders our steps. Every act--every duty--are as steps in the heavenward path--guarding us from the devious paths on either side, beset with imperceptible danger, and spread with the fowler's snare. And what a blessed path would this be for us, if we had singleness and simplicity always to "look right on, and straight before us!" But alas! we are often only half-roused from our security. The word is forgotten; or there is an unreadiness to receive its Divine impressions. Our own wisdom is consulted: and, "or ever we are aware," iniquity regains a temporary dominion over us.
Now I would ask myself--What do I know of this godly, careful walk? Am I frequently during the day looking upward to my heavenly guide; and then looking into His word as my direction in the way; and lastly considering my heart and conduct, whether it is ordered in the word? The man, who has "the law of God in his heart," alone possesses the security, "that none of his steps shall slide." When I take therefore a step into the world, let me ask--Is it ordered in God's word, which exhibits Christ as my perfect example; so that, walking after Him, and following in His steps, I may be able to frame my temper and habits according to this unsullied pattern?
But let us mark, how fully is this prayer warranted by the special promise of the Gospel, "Sin shall not have dominion over you; for you are not under the law, but under grace." The law stirred up sin, and gave it increased power; while it left us to our unassisted exertions to subdue it. We watch, pray, and strive against it; yet, alas! it mocks our efforts--rages, yes, tyrannizes more than ever. But it is the cross of Calvary, that gave the child of God his first view of sin, that first made him loathe it, that first enabled him to contemplate a holy God without fear, and even with confidence. This--this alone--subdues his pride, rebellion, enmity, selfishness. In Him that hung there we trust as an Almighty conqueror; and we are made ourselves "more than conquerors through Him that loved us." His very name of Jesus marks His office, His crown, His glory. Here therefore--not in doubts and fears--not in indolent mourning for sin--here lies the appointed means of present relief--the only hope of final victory. Iniquity, even when subdued, will struggle to the last for dominion: but looking to and living on Jesus, we have the victory still. The more clear our view of Jesus, the more complete is our victory. Supplies of continual strength will ever be given to restrain the dominion of iniquity, and even to "keep under" its daily risings; except as they may be needful for the exercise of our graces, and be eventually overruled for the glory and praise of our faithful God.
Verse 134. Deliver me from the oppression of man: so will I keep Your precepts.
"Many are the afflictions of the righteous," from external as well as from internal enemies--not only from their own iniquity, but from the oppression of man. Yet "man is only the Lord's hand and sword," and he can only move under the overruling guidance of our Father's wisdom and love. Not indeed that the believer would (except in submission to the will of God) desire his deliverance from this trouble on account of personal pain and distress: but he sometimes finds peculiar circumstances of trial an unavoidable hindrance in the service of his God. And his conviction sends him to the throne of grace: and there he never makes interest in vain. "He cries unto the Lord because of the oppressors: and He sends a Savior, and a great one: and He delivers him."
The power of faith is indeed Omnipotent. Mountains are removed from their place, or they become "plains before" it; or the "worm" is enabled to "thresh them, and beat them small, and make them as chaff." Often is the Christian strengthened to overcome the most formidable opposition, and to "profess a good profession before many witnesses," who are "watching for his halting." The grace of Christ will make the hardest duty easy; and the love of Christ will make the sharpest trials sweet: yet, where in the continued exercise of faith the obstacles to conscientious service remain unmoved (as, for instance, a child of God restrained in the fetters of a worldly family from a free and avowed obedience), we may lawfully pray that the providence of God would deliver from the oppression of man, that we might keep His precepts.
A time of deliverance, as well as a time of persecution, has proved a season of extraordinary prosperity in the church of God. When "the Churches had rest throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria," they "were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, were multiplied." And thus in individual experience, whatever be the benefit of persecution, yet the weariness of a long-protracted conflict is often more than flesh and blood can bear; and which He who "knows our frame," will not refuse to look upon, and remove, in answer to the prayers of His afflicted people. At the same time, our proneness, self-indulgence, and our natural inclination to shrink from discipline--as needful as our food--require this prayer to be presented with exceeding caution and self-jealousy. There is a great danger, lest, in our eagerness to escape from the difficulties of our path, we should lose the most important benefit intended by them. We must therefore accompany the petition for deliverance with a sincere purpose to keep God's precepts. For how many have exposed the unsoundness of their own hearts, when the supplication has been heard, the deliverance granted, and the promise of obedience been forgotten!
Fellow-Christian! have your circumstances of trial ever dictated this prayer? How then have you improved your liberty, when the answer has been given? Has the "way of escape made" for you been kept in grateful remembrance? Has the effect of your deliverance been visible in an increasing love and devotedness to the Lord's service? Oh! let a special Ebenezer be set up to mark this special achievement of prayer. Let the mercy be connected with the sympathy of our "faithful and merciful High-Priest, who being Himself touched with the feeling of your infirmities," has pleaded for your support and release. And be encouraged henceforth to tread the ways of God with more firmness and sensible stay, "having your feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace." But remember--the blessing of the cross is lost, if it does not issue in a song of praise--if we have not taken it up as a token of fatherly love. At all times the safest and shortest way to peace, is to let God use His own methods with us; to live the present moment to Him in the situation He has placed us; not dreaming of other circumstances more favorable to our spiritual prosperity; but leaving ourselves, our difficulties, our discouragements, in His hands, who makes no mistakes in any of His dispensations--but who orders them all, that they "may turn to our salvation, through our prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ."
Verse 135. Make Your face to shine upon Your servant; and teach me Your statutes.
If the Lord deliver us from the oppression of man, and "make even our enemies to be at peace with us;" still, if we are in spiritual health, we shall be restless and uneasy, until He make His face to shine upon us. And in the Scripture revelation of God, "dwelling between the cherubim," and therefore on the mercy-seat--with the "rainbow," the emblem of "the covenant of peace" "round about the throne," as if to invite the access of sinners from every quarter--have we not full warrant to plead, "You who dwell between the cherubim, shine forth; stir up Your strength, and come and save us? Turn us again, O God; and cause Your face to shine, and we shall be saved." Others we see eagerly asking, "Who will show us any good?" Alas! they will discover in the end, that they have "spent their money for that which is not bread, and their labor for that which satisfies not." The believer's incessant cry is--Let me see "the King's face." This is a blessing worth praying for. It is his heart's desire, his present privilege, and what is infinitely better--his sure and everlasting joy, "They shall see His face."
It is both important and interesting to mark the repetitions--always new--in this beautiful Psalm. David had just before prayed, "Look upon me, and be merciful unto me." Perhaps another passing cloud had darkened his sky. Again he darts up the same prayer, Make Your face to shine upon Your servant. Such cries in the mouth of this holy servant of God, must have been most hopeless petitions--no, the expression of the most daring presumption--had he not been acquainted with the only true way of access to God, joyfully led to renounce every other way, and enabled diligently to improve this acceptable approach to his God. Indeed whatever obscurity may hang over the question relating to the faith of the Old Testament believers, their confidence at the throne of grace shows them to have attained a far more distinct perception of Christian privilege, through the shadowy representations of their law, than is commonly imagined. Else how could they have been so wrestling and persevering in their petitions; overcoming the spirit of bondage, and breathing out the spirit of adoption in the expression of their wants and desires before the Lord? The prayers of the Old Testament church are not more distinguished for their simplicity, spirituality, and earnestness, than for their unfettered, evangelical confidence. When they approached the footstool of the Divine Majesty, with the supplications--Make Your face to shine upon Your servant--You who dwell between the cherubim, shine forth--it was as if they had pleaded--'Reconciled Father--You who sit upon a throne of grace, look upon us--Abba, Father, be gracious to us!'
Many, however, seem to despise this child-like confidence. They go on in heartless complaining and uncertain apprehensions of their state; as if doubting was their life, and as if they might rest upon the presumption, that the shining of God's face upon them is not indispensable to their salvation. But will they then be content to "be saved, yet so as by fire," instead of having an "entrance ministered unto them abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior?" Is it enough for them to be just alive, when "the things that remain," from want of being duly cherished, "are ready to die?" If they can be safe without a conscious interest in the favor of God, can they be so without the desire for it? Is not this assurance attainable? Is it not commanded? Is it not most desirable? This cold contentment clouds the integrity of their profession. For God's real people are living habitually either in spiritual enjoyment, or in restless dissatisfaction. Their dark seasons are times of wrestling supplication--seasons of deep humiliation, tenderness of spirit, and constant waiting upon God, until He makes His face to shine upon His servants. They can dispense with ordinary comforts. But it is death to be without Him. "All their springs are in Him." They estimate their happiness by the shining--and their misery by the clouding--of His face. This is the true principle of assurance, even if this most important blessing be not sensibly enjoyed.
How then stands the case between us and God? From ourselves originates the mist, which darkens the shining. His sovereign free grace blots the cloud away. We raise the mountains of separation. The Almighty power of our great Zerubbabel removes them. To ourselves then be all the shame. To Him be all the praise!
But how may we realize more constant sunshine?--Apart from the hindrances just alluded to, others are mainly to be found in mistaken or contracted views of the Gospel. Hence, therefore, the value of enlarged apprehensions of the Gospel of the grace of God--of its fullness, satisfying every claim, and supplying every want--of its freeness, unencumbered with conditions, and holding forth encouragement to the most unworthy--of its holiness, restraining the sinful hindrances to enjoyment--and of its security, affording permanent rest in the foundations of the covenant of grace. The life of faith will thus be maintained in more full contemplation of Jesus, and renewed reliance upon Him; and walking in closer communion with Him, our hope will be enlivened with the constant sense of reconciliation and love.
We need not wonder at the Psalmist's persevering determination to seek the shining of the Lord's face. This high privilege is connected no less with the Christian's public usefulness than with his personal enjoyment. For who is most likely to win others to the love of the Savior, and to the service of God--to enliven the drooping soul, or to recover the backslider? Is not he, who lives most in the sunshine of the Gospel, and who therefore has most to tell of its heavenly joy? But you say, 'My heart, alas! is so cold and barren, my affections so languid, my desires so faint, my sky so often clouded. I do not forget that I am a child; but a child in disgrace is too often my dishonorable character and wretched condition.' Then exercise your faith in going where David was accustomed to go. As a penitent child, "Arise and go to your Father" "only acknowledge your iniquity"--tell your complaint before Him--resort much and often to Him; be importunate; be patient; plead the name and merits of Jesus; and you will not, you cannot plead in vain; you will once more walk happily, holily, as well as confidently, in the light of your Father's countenance. And in marking more carefully His gracious dealings with your soul, you will be kept from formality, hardness, and despondency.
But we cannot expect this shining, save in the paths of God; and he who looks for comfort, while careless of duty, is only the victim of his own delusions. Well, therefore, does the child of God--longing for higher enjoyment, and learning more of his own ignorance, add this petition--Teach me Your statutes. And He who taught us this petition, will Himself, according to His promise, be our teacher in the way of holiness. And if, under His teaching, in the pathway to glory--our God makes His face to shine upon us, what more want we to beguile the toil and weariness of the way? And if one beam of His countenance, though but dimly seen through this sinful medium, exceeds the glories of ten thousand worlds--what will it be to live under the perpetual cloudless shining of His face!
Believer! does not this prospect invigorate every step of your journey? Your Lord is at hand. Soon will He appear to gladden with His inexpressible smile every soul that is in readiness for Him. Oh! seek to realize His approach, and with holy aspirations and joyful expectancy respond to His welcome voice. "He which testifies these things says, Surely I come quickly: Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!"