Verse 136. Rivers of waters run down my eyes, because they keep not Your law. (Comp. Jer. 9:1; 14:17; Lam. 2:18)
If the Lord teaches us the privileges of His statutes, He will teach us compassion for those who keep them not. This was the mind of Jesus. His life exhibited one, whose "heart was made of tenderness." But there were some occasions, when the display of His compassion was peculiarly striking. Near the close of His life, it is recorded, that, "when He was come near, and beheld the city" "beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth"--but now given up to its own ways, and "wrath coming upon it to the uttermost," He "wept over it." It was then a moment of triumph. The air was rent with hosannahs. The road was strewed with branches from the trees, and all was joy and praise. Amid all this exultation, the Savior alone, seemed to have no voice for the triumph--no heart for joy. His omniscient mind embraced all the spiritual desolation of this sad case; and He could only weep in the midst of a solemn triumph. Rivers of waters run down my eyes, because they keep not Your law.
Now a Christian, in this as in every other feature, will be conformed to the image of his Lord. His heart will therefore be touched with a tender concern for the honor of his God, and pitying concern for those wretched sinners, that keep not His law, and are perishing in their own transgressions. Thus was "just Lot" in Sodom "vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked." Thus did Moses "fall down before the Lord, as at the first, forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread nor drink water; because of all their sins which they had sinned, in doing wickedly in the sight of the Lord to provoke Him to anger." Thus also Samuel, in the anticipation of the Lord's judgments upon Saul, "grieved himself, and cried unto the Lord all night." Ezra, on a similar occasion, in the deepest prostration of sorrow, "rent his garment and his mantle, and plucked off the hair of his head and of his beard, and sat down astonished until the evening sacrifice." And if David was now suffering from the oppression of man, yet his own injuries never drew from him such expressions of overwhelming sorrow, as did the sight of the despised law of his God.
Need we advert to this tender spirit, as a special characteristic of "the ministers of the Lord?" Can they fail in this day of abounding wickedness--even within the bounds of their own sphere--to hear the call to "weep between the porch and the altar?" How instructive is the posture of the ancient prophet--first pleading openly with the rebellion of the people--then "his soul weeping in secret places for their pride!" Not less instructive is the great apostle--his "conscience bearing witness in the Holy Spirit to his great heaviness and continued sorrow in his heart for his brethren, his kinsmen according to the flesh." In reproving transgressors, he could only write to them, "Out of much affliction and anguish of heart with many tears," and in speaking of them to others, with the same tenderness of spirit, he adds, "Of whom I tell you even weeping." Tears were these of Christian eloquence no less than of Christian compassion.
Thus uniformly is the character of God's people represented--not merely as those that are free from, but as "those that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst of the land." They--they alone--are marked out for mercy in the midst of impending, universal ruin. The want of this spirit is ever a feature of hardness and pride--a painful blot upon the profession of the gospel. How wide the sphere presenting itself on every side for the unrestrained exercise of this yearning compassion! The appalling spectacle of a world apostatized from God, of multitudes sporting with everlasting destruction--as if the God of heaven were "a man that He should lie," is surely enough to force rivers of waters from the hearts of those who are concerned for His honor. What a mass of sin ascends as a cloud before the Lord, from a single heart! Add the aggregate of a village--a town--a country--a world! every day--every hour--every moment--well might the rivers of waters rise to an overflowing tide, ready to burst its barriers. We speak not of outward sensibility (in which some may be constitutionally deficient, and the exuberance of which may be no sign of real spiritual affection), but we ask--Do we lay to heart the perishing condition of our fellow-sinners? Could we witness a house on fire, without speedy and practical evidence of our compassion for the inhabitants? And yet, alas! how often do we witness souls on the brink of destruction--unconscious of danger, or bidding defiance to it--with comparative indifference! How are we Christians, if we believe not the Scripture warnings of their danger? or if, believing them, we do not bestir ourselves to their help? What hypocrisy is it to pray for their conversion, while we are making no effort to promote it! Oh! let it be our daily supplication, that this indifference concerning their everlasting state may give place to a spirit of weeping tenderness; that He may not be living as if this world were really, what it appears to be, a world without souls; that we may never see the sabbaths of God profaned, His laws trampled under foot, the ungodly "breaking their bands asunder, and casting away their cords from them," without a more determined resolution ourselves to keep these laws of our God, and to plead for their honor with these obstinate transgressors. Have we no near and dear relatives, yet "lying in wickedness--dead in trespasses and sins?" To what blessed family, reader, do you belong, where there are no such objects of pity? Be it so--it is well. Yet are you silent? Have you no ungodly, ignorant neighbors around you? And are they unwarned, as well as unconverted? Do we visit them in the way of courtesy or kindness, yet give them no word of affectionate entreaty on the concerns of eternity? Let our families indeed possess, as they ought to possess, the first claim to our compassionate regard. Then let our parishes, our neighborhood, our country, the world, find a place in our affectionate, prayerful, and earnest consideration.
Nor let it be supposed, that the doctrine of sovereign and effectual grace has any tendency to paralyze exertion. So far from it, the most powerful supports to perseverance are derived from this source. Left to himself--with only the invitations of the Gospel--not a sinner could ever have been saved. Added to these--there must be the Almighty energy of God--the seal of His secret purpose--working upon the sinner's will, and winning the heart to God. Not that this sovereign work prevents any from being saved. But it prevents the salvation from being in vain to all, by securing its application to some. The invitations manifest the pardoning love of God; but they change not the rebel heart of man. They show his enmity; yet they slay it not. They leave him without excuse; yet at the same time--they may be applied without salvation. The moment of life in the history of the saved sinner is, when he is "made willing in the day of the Lord's power"--when he comes--he looks--he lives. It is this dispensation alone that gives the Christian laborer the spring of energy and hope. The palpable and awful proofs on every side, of the "enmity of the carnal mind against God," rejecting alike both His law and His Gospel, threaten to sink him in despondency. And nothing sustains his tender and compassionate interest, but the assurance of the power of God to remove the resisting medium, and of His purpose to accomplish the subjugation of natural corruption in a countless multitude of His redeemed people.
The same yearning sympathy forms the life, the pulse, and the strength of Missionary exertion, and has ever distinguished those honored servants of God who have devoted their time, their health, their talent, their all, to the blessed work of "saving souls from death, and covering a multitude of sins." Can we conceive a Missionary living in the spirit of his work--surrounded with thousands of mad idolaters, hearing their shouts, and witnessing their abominations, without a weeping spirit? Indignant grief for the dishonor done to God--amazement at the affecting spectacle of human blindness--detestation of human impiety--compassionate yearnings over human wretchedness and ruin--all combine to force tears of the deepest sorrow from a heart enlightened and constrained by the influence of a Savior's love. This, as we have seen, was our Master's spirit. And let none presume themselves to be Christians, if they are destitute of "this mind that was in Christ Jesus;" if they know nothing of His melting compassion for a lost world, or of His burning zeal for His heavenly Father's glory.
Oh, for that deep realizing sense of the preciousness of immortal souls, that would make us look at every sinner we meet as a soul to be "pulled out of the fire," and to be drawn to Christ;--which would render us willing to endure suffering, reproach, and the loss of all, so that we might win one soul to God, and raise one monument to His everlasting praise! Happy mourner in Zion! whose tears over the guilt and wretchedness of a perishing world are the outward indications of your secret pleadings with God, and the effusion of a heart solemnly dedicated to the salvation of your fellow-sinners!
'But feeble my compassion proves, And can but weep, where most it loves; Your own all-saving arm employ, And turn these drops of grief to joy.'
Verse 137. Righteous are You, O Lord, and upright are Your judgments.
Verse 138. Your testimonies that You have commanded, are righteous, and very faithful.
The advancing Christian learns to adore the awful perfections of his God, and to acknowledge His righteous character and government, even when "his ways are in the sea, and His paths in the great waters." "Clouds and darkness are round about Him; righteousness and judgment are the habitation of His throne." We have already brought out the unvarying testimony of His people to the righteous character of His afflictive dispensations. Even from haughty Pharaoh was a similar acknowledgment extorted. Adonibezek also, under the blow of His hand, cried out, "As I have done, so God has requited me."
Yet in this path, "we walk by faith, not by sight." Often in Providence "his footsteps are not known." We cannot trace the reasons of the Divine mind. We must wait and see the "end of the Lord," when the disjointed pieces shall be compacted into one complete texture and frame-work. "At evening time there shall be light." Much more in the dispensation of grace do we hear the voice, "Be still, and know that I am God." Doubtless He could give His grace to all as well as to some. Yet none have a claim upon Him. "Is it not His to do what He will with His own?" "No, but, O man, who are you that replies against God?" "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" Thus much is plain--enough to silence cavil, and justify God--grace is freely offered to all. Man's own will rejects it, and leaves him without excuse. Effectual grace is withheld from none, but those who deserve that it should be so. None are forced to sin. None are condemned without guilt. Therefore when we stand upon the ocean's brink, and cry, "Oh, the depth!" are we not constrained to the adoring acknowledgment--Righteous are You, O Lord, and upright are Your judgments? And if this be our praise, even while "we see but as through a glass darkly, and know but in part," how much more, in the world of uncloudy day, when we shall see "face to face, and know even as we are known"--shall we sing with reverential joy "the song of the Lamb--Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty! just and true are Your ways, You King of saints!"
The young Christian, however, less able to grasp these deeper apprehensions, exercises himself chiefly in his more engaging perfections of long-suffering, goodness, and love. It is therefore a satisfactory evidence of growth in grace, when our habitual contemplation of God fixes upon our minds the more full and awful displays of His character; and we gather from thence an increase of light, peace, humility, and consolation. But the cross of Calvary harmonizes to our view at once the most appalling and the most encouraging attributes. Though His own declaration--that "he will by no means clear the guilty"--seemed to present an insurmountable barrier to the purpose of mercy; yet, rather than the glory of a God of love should be obscured, or His righteous law should be mitigated, "He spared not His own Son;" He "made Him, who knew no sin, to be sin for us."
And do not we naturally argue from His nature to His testimonies? If He be righteous, nothing unrighteous can come from Him. His testimonies, therefore, are His lively image--like Himself--righteous and very faithful--requiring nothing impossible--nothing unsuitable--perfect love to God and man, "our reasonable service," no less our privilege than our duty to render. None that are blessed with a spiritual apprehension of their nature, and are conformed and framed to them, will hesitate in setting their seal to the inscription, "The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether." "The law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good."
But let us take care to exhibit the practical influence of our contemplations of the character and government of God. The unconverted--far from understanding or subscribing to our acknowledgment--complain, "The ways of the Lord are not equal." "My punishment is greater than I can bear." And so opposed are the righteous judgments of God to the perverseness of corrupt nature, that even with the child of God there is much murmuring within, that needs to be stilled--much repining to be hushed--much impatience to be repressed--many hard thoughts to be lamented, resisted, and banished. Did we believe more simply, how much more joy would there be in our faith, and readiness in our submission! How clearly would our experience "show, that the Lord is upright; He is our rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him!" "In returning" then "and rest shall we be saved; in quietness and confidence shall be our strength." In the submissive acknowledgment of the Lord's dispensations, "our peace" will "flow as a river;" more deep and extensive as it approaches the ocean, and fertilizing our souls with abundant spiritual peace and enjoyment.
Verse 139. My zeal has consumed me; because my enemies have forgotten Your words.
Such was David's high estimation of the testimonies of his God, that his spirits were consumed with vehement grief in witnessing their neglect. He could bear that his enemies should forget him; but his zeal could not endure, that they should forget the words of his God. Zeal is a passion, whose real character must be determined by the objects on which it is employed, and the principle by which it is directed. There is a true and a false zeal, differing as widely from each other, as an heavenly flame from the infernal fire. The one is fervent, unselfish affection, expanding the heart, and delighting to unite with the whole empire of God in the pursuit of a good, which all may enjoy without envious rivalry. The other is a selfish, interested principle, contracting the heart, and ready to sacrifice the good of mankind, and even the glory of God, to its own individual advantage. Were its power proportioned to its native tendency, or were it to operate extensively in an associated body, it would end in detaching its several members each from their proper center; in disuniting them from each other; and, as far as its influence could reach, crumbling the moral system into discordant atoms. Too often does this baneful principle exemplify itself in the Church--either in an obstinate opposition to the truth of the gospel, or in a self-willed contention for its own party."This wisdom descends not from above: but it is earthly, sensual, devilish." How much also of that misguided heat, that spends itself upon the externals of religion, or would "call fire down from heaven" in defense of fundamental truths, may be found among us, exposing its blind devotees to our Master's tender rebuke, "You know not what manner of spirit you are of!"
Often also do we see a distempered, counterfeit zeal, disproportioned in its exercise, wasting its strength upon the subordinate parts of the system, and comparatively feeble in its maintenance of the vital doctrines of Christ. Thus it disunites the Church by adherence to points of difference, instead of compacting the Church together by strengthening the more important points of agreement. Often again, by the same process in practical religion, are the "mint, anise, and cummin," vehemently contended for; "while the weightier matters o# the law" are little regarded.
Widely different from this fervor of selfishness is that genuine zeal, which marks the true disciple of our Lord. Enlightened by the word of God, and quickened into operation by the love of Christ, it both shines and warms at the same moment. It is indeed the kindled fire of heavenly love, exciting the most heavenly desires and constant efforts for the best interests of every child of man, so far as its sphere can reach; and bounded only by a consistent regard to the general welfare of the whole. Thus earnest and compassionate in its influence, awakened to a sense of the preciousness of immortal souls, and the overwhelming importance of eternity, it is never at a loss to discover an extended sphere for its most vehement and constraining exercises. While it hates the sins that pass on every side before its view, it is all gentleness to the sinner; and would gladly weep tears of blood over those who are deaf to the voice of persuasion, could such tears avail to turn them from their iniquity. But, knowing all human unassisted efforts to be insufficient, it gives to the world its protest against the abominations, which it is too feeble to prevent; and then hastens to the secret chamber to pour out its wrestling desires in the tenderness of our Master's intercession, "Father, forgive them! for they know not what they do."
Such was the zeal of the ancient Lawgiver, whose spirit, though, as it regarded his own cause, "meek above all the men which were upon the face of the earth," "waxed hot" on witnessing the grievous dishonor done to his God during his absence on the mount. At the same time (as if most clearly to distinguish the holy burning from the heat of his own spirit) how fervently did he plead his people's cause in secret before his God, as he had manifested his concern for the honor of his God before the congregation! Surely he could have taken up this language--My zeal has consumed me; because my enemies have forgotten Your words. Burning with the same holy flame, the great Old-Testament Reformer bore his testimony against the universal prevalence of idolatry; making use of the arm of temporal power, and of the yet greater power of secret complaint, to stem the torrent of iniquity. The same impulse in later times marked the conduct of the Apostles: when, "rending their clothes, and running in among" a frantic multitude of idolaters, by all the power of their entreaties "they were scarcely able to restrain the people, that they had not done sacrifice unto them." On another occasion the great Apostle, forgetting "the goodly stones and buildings" that met his eye at Athens--found "his spirit stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry." In another city "was he pressed in spirit" by the intensity of his interest for the souls of his fellow-sinners and his Master's work.
Yet this is not a heat that wastes itself without a proportionate object. The truth of God is the grand object. Not one atom of its dust shall be lost. For its fundamentals all consequences must be hazarded--yes, life itself--if need be--sacrificed. Nor does this fervor expend itself in strong impulses that wear out without fruit. It is a constant affection in "a good thing." Nor is it an undisciplined burst of warm feeling, but a sober controlled exercise of Christian judgment. The Apostle--with his inexpressible abhorrence of idolatry--yet remained in the midst of it for two, perhaps three, years, faithfully employed in his Master's work; yet waiting for the fittest time of open protest against Diana's worship. So admirably was "the spirit of power and love" disciplined by "the spirit of a sound mind."
But, "compassed about, as we are, with so great a cloud of witnesses," let us yet turn aside to look unto One greater than them all--to One, whose example in every temper of Christian conduct affords equal direction and encouragement. Jesus could testify to His Father, "The zeal of Your house has eaten Me up." He was ever ready to put aside even lawful engagements and obligations, when they interfered with this paramount demand. Yet was His zeal tempered with a careful restraint from needless offence. Rather would He work a miracle, and retreat from publicity, than seem to give occasion to those that might desire it. And if we bear the stamp of His disciples, without rushing into offence in the waywardness of our own spirits, and while rejoicing to have our own "names cast out as evil," we shall at the same time be tender of any reflection on the name of our God, as on our dearest friend and benefactor. We shall feel any slight of His honor as sensitively as a wound to our own reputation; nor shall we hesitate to thrust ourselves between, to receive on ourselves any strokes that may be aimed at His cause. This combined spirit of self-denial and self-devotedness kindles the flame, which "many waters cannot quench, neither can the floods drown." 'I could bear'--said holy Brainerd--'any desertion or spiritual conflict, if I could but have my heart burning all the while within me with love to God, and desire for His glory.' It is indeed a delightful exercise to "spend and be spent" in the service of Him, who for our sakes was even consumed by the fire of His own zeal.
However, the surest evidence of Christian zeal is, when it begins at home, in a narrow scrutiny, and "vehement revenge" against the sins of our own hearts. Do we mourn over our own forgetfulness of God's words? Are we zealous to redeem the loss to our Savior's cause from this sinful neglect? And do we plainly show, that our opposition to sin in the ungodly is the opposition of love? And is this love manifested to the persons and souls of those, whose doctrines and practice we are constrained to resist, and in a careful restraint from the use of unhallowed "carnal weapons" in this spiritual "warfare?"
Perhaps the weak, timid child of God may be saying, 'I can do nothing for my God. I allow His words to be forgotten, with little or no success in my efforts to prevent it.' Are you then making an effort? Every work done in faith bears fruit to God and to His church. You may not see it. But let your secret chamber witness to your zeal: and the Lord "will not be unrighteous to forget your work and labor of love." He will even strengthen you for your dreaded conflict in the open confession of His cause, "For He has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty." Or, should peculiar trials restrain the boldness of your profession, you may be found in the end to have made as effectual a resistance to the progress of sin by your intercession before God, as those who have shown a more open front in the face of the world.
Verse 140. Your word is very pure: therefore Your servant loves it.
The Psalmist's love for the law of his God may account for the zeal he felt on account of its general neglect. All other systems of religion (or rather of "philosophy falsely so called") allure their disciples by the indulgence of carnal lust or self-complacent pride. The word of God outweighs them all in its chief excellence--peculiar to itself--its purity. "Every word is very pure--tried to the uttermost" in the furnace, and found to be absolutely without dross. Its promises are without a shadow of change or unfaithfulness. Its precepts reflect the holy image of their Divine Author. In a word, it contains 'truth without any mixture of error for its matter'--Therefore Your servant loves it.
'No one but a true servant of God can therefore love it, because it is pure; since he who loves it must desire to be like it, to feel its efficacy, to be reformed by it.' The unlettered believer cannot well discern its sublimity; but he loves it for its holiness. The mere scholar, on the other hand, admires its sublimity--but the secrets which it reveals (such as the pride of the natural heart struggles to conceal) forbid him to love it. Its purity, which is the matter of love to the one, excites enmity in the other. From "the glass" which shows him "his natural face"--his neglected obligations--his fearfully self-deluded state--and his appalling prospects--he turns away in disgust. The indulgence of sin effectually precludes the benefit of the most industrious search into the word of God. The heart must undergo an entire renewal--it must be sanctified and cleansed, yes, be "baptized with the Holy Spirit," before it can discern, or--when it has discerned--can love, the purity of the word of God.
Witness the breathings of Brainerd's soul in this holy atmosphere--'Oh, that my soul were holy, as He is holy! Oh, that it were pure, even as Christ is pure; and perfect, as my Father in heaven is perfect! These I feel are the sweetest commands in God's book, comprising all others.' 'Oh, how refreshing'--exclaims the beloved Martyn--'and supporting to my soul was the holiness of the word of God! Sweeter than the sweetest promise at this time, was the constant and manifest tendency of the word, to lead men to holiness and the deepest seriousness.'
The valuable end for which we "desire this word" is, "that we may grow thereby"--grow in purity of heart and conduct; learning to shrink from the touch of sin; "cleansing ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, and perfecting holiness in the fear of God." Our "esteem" for it, "more than our necessary food"--will be in proportion to our growth in grace, an evidence of this growth, and a constant spring of holy enjoyment.
An additional excitement to love its purity is the exhibition of that purity embodied in our perfect pattern, in Him, who was "holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners." For the habit of "beholding the Savior" with the eye of faith "in the glass of the word," conforms us to His image. But be it ever remembered, that its holiness can have no fellowship, and communicate no life, except in its own atmosphere. Oh, for a larger influence of the Spirit of God upon our souls, that we may enjoy the purifying delights of the word of God; that we may live in it, live by it to the glory of our dear Redeemer, and to the edification of His Church!
Verse 141. I am small and despised; yet do not I forget Your precepts.
Evidently David did not love the word for selfish gain. Small and despised was his condition, when the Lord first looked on him. It was also the reproach, which in the height of his glory he endured for the name of his God. Yet--stripped and destitute as he might be--did he not forget His precepts. The remembrance of his God was a cheering encouragement to his faith in his lowly condition; and no less his support in the far greater trials of his prosperity. Thus habitually did he realize the unspeakable privilege of an ever-present God!
The objects of the Lord's sovereign choice, whom He has stamped as a "peculiar treasure unto Him above all people," and whom at the day of His appearing He will bring forth as the "jewels" of His crown--are most frequently in their worldly condition--always in the eyes of the world, and in their own estimation--small and despised. And yet pride and hypocrisy in the natural heart will sometimes assume this character for selfish ends. This language of humility is not infrequently in the mouth of the professor, to enable him to maintain "a name to live" in the church of God. But are those who call themselves small and despised willing to be taken at their word? Are they content to be despised by those, whose esteem this "voluntary" spurious "humility" was meant to secure? Do they really believe themselves to be what they profess--false, vile, mean, deceitful creatures? Have they any experimental knowledge of the depth of inner wickedness, that God could open door after door in "the chamber of imagery" to confound them with the sight of greater, and yet "greater abominations!" When, therefore, they "take the lowest place," do they feel it to be their own place? Or does not the language of self-abasement mean in the eyes of God--'Come, see how humble I am?'
Christian! do not think these self-inquiries unnecessary for the cautious scrutiny of Your own heart. A self-annihilating spirit before men, as well as before God;--to feel small and despised, when we have a reputable name in the Church--is a rare attainment--a glorious triumph of victorious grace--usually the fruit of sharp affliction. This was the spirit of Brainerd--that meek and lowly disciple of his Master, who would express his astonishment that any one above the rank of "the beasts that perish" could condescend to notice him. But if we are small and despised, in the estimation of men, let us think of "Him, whom man despises--Him whom the nation abhors." Never was such an instance of magnanimity displayed, as when Pilate brought out the blessed Jesus, arrayed in the mockery of royalty, and with the blood streaming from His temples: and said, "Behold the man!" Then was there a human being, sustaining himself in the simple exclusive consciousness of the favor of God, against the universal scorn of every face. This was independence--this was greatness indeed. With such a pattern before our eyes, and such a motive touching our hearts, we may well account it "a very small thing, that we should be judged of man's judgment." What upheld "the man Christ Jesus," will uphold His servants also. "He committed himself to Him that judges righteously." Must we not desire to "know the fellowship of His sufferings"--yes, to rejoice in the participation of them?
Christian! do you love to be low, and still desire to be lower than ever? Small and despised as you are in your own eyes, and in the eyes of the world, "you are precious in the eyes of Him," who gave a price "for your ransom"--infinitely more precious than "Egypt, Ethiopia, and Seba," and who will suffer "none to pluck you out of His hands." Many may rebuke you; many may scorn you; even your brethren may treat you with contempt; yet your God, your Redeemer, will not depart from you, will not permit you to depart from Him; but will put His Spirit within you, and bring forth His precepts to your remembrance, that you may keep them, and many a sweet supporting promise for your consolation. Therefore "fear not, you worm Jacob; I will help you, says the Lord, and your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel."
Verse 142. Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and Your law is the truth.
The Psalmist in the midst of his trials could not forget the precepts, while he maintained so just a perception of their exalted character. His mind at this time seems to have been filled with the contemplation of the righteous government of God. He therefore repeats his adoration, not as applied to any particular instance, but as distinguishing the general character of His administration from everlasting.
But on whom is this government appointed to rest? Think of our Immanuel--the human brow encircled with Divine glory--the crucified hands wielding the scepter of the universe--Him, whom they mocked as the King of the Jews, seated on His own exalted throne, "King of Kings and Lord of lords!" "The government is upon His shoulder: and of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end." How delightful to join Jehovah Himself in the ascription of praise, "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom!" How glorious also to praise that everlasting righteousness--the ground on which the administration of His church is framed--which Jesus "brought in," and "which is unto all them that believe;" which, when once clothed with it, is our infinite glory and reward!
"Every ordinance of man" is connected only with time. The Divine government has a constant reference to eternity, past and to come. "And I heard"--said the enraptured disciple, "the angel of the waters say; You are righteous, which are, and was, and shall be; because You have judged thus." Every instance, therefore, of His righteous administration, is that display of the Divine character which constrains the adoration of heaven. "One cried to another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory." His law, "the manifestation of His righteousness"--is the truth. "Your word is true from the beginning! and everyone of Your righteous judgments endures forever."
This truth is the law of righteousness, which Jesus bound Himself to "fulfill"--to which He "came to bear witness," and for which He commended His people to His Father as the means of their sanctification; for what else is holiness, but the influence of truth, digested and practically embodied in the life and conduct? There may be fragments of truth elsewhere found--the scattered remnants of the fall. There may be systems imbued with large portions of truth deduced from this law. But here alone is it found perfect--unsullied. How carefully, therefore, should we test, by this standard, every doctrine--every revelation; receiving with implicit subjection all that is conformed to it; rejecting with uncompromising decision whatever will not abide the fiery trial. Most careful also should we be to preserve its unadulterated simplicity. Even the most seemingly trifling infusion of fundamental error is the grain of poison cast into the food, and making it "a savor of death unto death." Such was the error of the Galatian Church, "another gospel, yet not another"--not deserving the name--not putting ordinances in the stead of Christ (an error too gross to beguile a Christian profession), but what is far more subtle, and equally destructive, mixing them with Christ; thus impairing the integrity of the foundation, paralyzing the springs, poisoning the sources of life, yes, converting life itself into death. Let this church stand out as a beacon to our own--as a much-needed warning to each of her members.
But in a more general view, let us adore the Divine revelation, as bearing so full an impress of a "God that cannot lie"--of a "covenant ordered in all things" beyond human contrivance, "and sure" beyond the possibility of a change. How many dying testimonies have sealed the truth of the precious promises! Joshua, Simeon, and a "cloud of witnesses with which we are compassed about," have "set to their seals that God is true"--that "all the promises of God are in Christ Jesus yes and amen"--that "all are come to pass unto them, and not one thing has failed thereof." Equally manifest is the truth of His threatenings. Hell is truth seen too late. Those on the right hand and those on the left, at the great day of God, will combine their testimony to the declaration of the "Faithful and True Witness" "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away."
Verse 143. Trouble and anguish have taken hold on me: yet Your commandments are my delights.
Christian! expect not unmixed sorrow or uninterrupted joy as your present portion. Heaven will be joy without sorrow. Hell will be sorrow without joy. Earth presents to you every joy mingled with grief--every grief tempered with joy. To be accounted small and despised does not comprise the whole of your trials. Like the great apostle, you must expect not only trouble without, but anguish within. Others may not have it. But your Savior engages, "You shall." To all His people He has not meted out the same measure. Some have rebuke. Some have a scourge. But all have the cross, and this a daily cross--not a single or an occasional trial--but a life of trial--constant contradiction to the will--constant mortification of the flesh. And this takes hold of us. We cannot escape from it. Should we wish to escape it? This discipline, as Luther observes in his own way (and who was a better calculator in this school?), 'is more necessary for us, than all the riches and dignities of the whole world.' And the exercise of faith and patience in the endurance will bring more honor to God and profit to ourselves than a life of ease and indulgence. The instruction of the rod delivers us from its curse, and brings a substantial and enriching blessing.
But how precious is the sympathy of Jesus, "in all things made like unto His brethren"--enduring trouble and anguish inconceivable to human apprehension, "that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest to support His tempted people!" How does it lift up our head amid the billows, when in communion with our Lord we can call to mind, that His sorrow was for the sake of His dear purchased people; that they might drink their lighter cup bereft of its bitter ingredients!
The Psalmist did not find that the Lord afflicted him to leave him in misery, but rather to increase his happiness. The precepts which he had not forgotten, were now his delights. The scriptural records of the trials of the Lord's people bear similar abundant testimony to the inexhaustible resources of support in the Book of God: and they are written for our learning, "that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope." The child of God, whose thoughts are habitually occupied in the word, will always find it to be his food and light, his joy and strength; witnessing within, the presence and power of God, even where its sensible comfort may not be enjoyed.
But specially is affliction the time, that unfolds the delights of the word, such as more than counterbalances the painful trouble and anguish of the flesh. Such cheering prospects of hope and deliverance does it set forth! Such mighty supports in the endurance of trial does it realize! Truly the experimental power of the word in keeping the soul alive--much more than this--cheerful--sustained--established--is there any blessing like this--the fruit of the cross? Can we mourn over that cross, that brings so gainful a harvest? The bitterness of the cross then best realizes the delights of the commandments. But never does the believer more "rejoice in tribulation," than when the trouble and anguish which take hold of him, is for the love he bears to the name of his dear Lord. Persecution for His sake, far from appalling him, only endears His service to his heart. It is in his eyes, "not a penalty endured, but a privilege conferred," "to suffer for His name's sake."
But contrast the condition of the child of God and the follower of the world, in the hour of affliction. The one in the midst of his troubles drinks of the fountain of all-sufficiency; and such is his peace and security, that, "in the floods of great waters they shall not come near unto him." The other, "in the fullness of his sufficiency, is in straits." David could look upward, and find the way of escape in the midst of his trouble: but for Saul, when trouble and anguish took hold of him, no source of comfort opened to his view. "God was departed from him, and was become his enemy." It was therefore trouble without support, anguish without relief--trouble and anguish; such as will at length take hold of them that forget God, when nothing will be left, but the unavailing "cry to the mountains and the hills to fall upon them, and cover them." Thanks be to God for deliverance from this fearful prospect! Thanks for the hope of unfading delights, when earthly pleasures shall have passed away! The first sheaf of the heavenly harvest will blot out the painful remembrance of the weeping seed-time which preceded it. The first moment of heaven will compensate for all the troubles and anguish of earth; and these moments will last throughout eternity. "Say to the righteous, it shall be well with him"--eternally well.
Verse 144. The righteousness of Your testimonies is everlasting: give me understanding, and I shall live. (Comp. verses 137, 138.)
What deep--weighty--impressive thoughts were exercising the Psalmist's mind! He had just marked the happy influence of the testimonies upon the believer's heart. Now he again recurs to their righteousness--as the Divine administration--not subject to the incessant variations of the human standard--but everlasting--of unalterable obligation--binding us unchangeably to God, and God to us. His creatures can virtually "make them void" by their rebellion; but they cannot change their character, or shake their foundation. No--themselves shall be the instruments of their fulfillment. Every word shall be established either by them as His obedient servants, or in and upon them as rebel transgressors. What solemn weight therefore is due to this Divine standard! It seems now to be trampled under foot; but its righteousness, inflexible in its demands, and unalterable in its obligations--will before long assert its sovereignty over the world, when every other standard shall have passed away. It will be the rule of the Divine procedure at the great day of decision. When the "great white throne" is set up--when "the dead, small and great, stand before God, and the books are opened, and another book is opened, which is the book of life;" and the dead are judged out of those things which were written in the books, "according to their works"--the acknowledgment will be made throughout the universe of God--The righteousness of Your testimonies is everlasting. How glorious is the confidence of being dealt with in that great day upon an everlasting foundation of righteousness!
But this view of the Divine righteousness and everlasting obligation of the testimonies, naturally suggests the prayer for a more spiritual, enlightened, and experimental acquaintance with them. Often before had the petition been sent up. But who can cry too often or too earnestly? One ray of this understanding is of far higher value than all the intellectual or speculative knowledge in the world. If its first dawn exhibits the infinite difference between light and darkness--if prayer for it implies a measure already received, still--Give me understanding--will be the cry--not of the "little child" whose spiritual perception is just opening--but of the "father who has known Him that is from the beginning." Let me know the holiness of Your testimonies--their extent--their perfection--their intimate connection with every part of my daily walk--with the restraint of my inclination, the regulation of my temper, the direction of every step of my path. And indeed the more devoutly we study them, the more shall we feel our need of supplication for Divine teaching, to give us more adoring and thankful views of the government of God, and to subjugate our caviling disposition to the humbling influence of faith.
The principle of spiritual and eternal life flows from the enlightened perception of the testimonies of God. Give me understanding, and I shall live. For "this is life eternal, that we might know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent." His testimonies are the revelation of Himself. If then we "have an unction from the Holy One, and know all things," our knowledge of them will become more spiritual in its character, more experimental in its comforts, and more practical in its fruits. And thus, 'the life of God in the soul' will invigorate us for higher attainments in evangelical knowledge, and more steady advancement in Christian holiness. But how infinitely do we live below the full privilege of knowing God in His testimonies! Christians of a Scriptural standard are "forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded."
And then--what will it be at the great consummation; when our God of love will have put His last hand to His glorious work; when the mark of all our aims--the term of all our hopes and desires--all that we have so long labored for--so earnestly panted after--so restlessly pursued--when all shall be attained? Then indeed we shall live a life worthy of the name--not as now under the shadowed glimmerings--but under the immediate full-eyed glory of His light and love; having escaped forever the deadliest of all dangers--sin--the very deadliness of death itself.
Verse 145. I cried with my whole heart; hear me, O Lord, I will keep Your statutes.
Verse 146. I cried unto You; save me and I shall keep Your testimonies.
This is indeed the "pouring out of the soul before the Lord," a beautiful and encouraging picture of a soul wrestling with God, in a few short sentences, with as much power and success as in the most continued length of supplication. Brief as are the petitions, the whole compass of language could not make them more comprehensive. Hear me. The whole heart is engaged in the cry. Save me--includes a sinner's whole need--pardon, acceptance, access, holiness, strength, comfort, heaven, all in one word--Christ. Save me--from myself, from Satan, from the world, from the curse of sin, from the wrath of God. This is the need of every moment to the end. I cried unto You.--What a mercy to know where to go! The way of access must have been implied, though not mentioned, in these short ejaculations. Hear me--must have been in the name of the all-prevailing Advocate. Save me--through Him, whose name is, Jesus the Savior. A moment's interruption of our view of Jesus casts for the time an impenetrable cloud over our way to God, and paralyzes the spirit of prayer. Prayer is not only the sense of guilt, and the cry of mercy, but the exercise of faith. When I come to God, I would always bring with me the blood of Christ--my price--my plea in my hand. He cannot cast it out. Thus am I "a prince, that has power with God, and prevail." Here is the warrant to believe, that my God does, and will hear me. Here is my encouragement to "look up"--to be "watching at His gate"--like the cripple at the "beautiful gate of the temple, expecting to receive somewhat of Him." Not a word of such prayer is lost. It is as seed--not cast into the earth, exposed to hazard and loss--but cast into the bosom of God--and here--as in the natural harvest, "he which sows bountifully, shall reap also bountifully." The most frequent comers are the largest receivers--always wanting--always asking--living upon what they have, but still hungering for more.
With many, however, the ceremony of prayer is everything, without any thought, desire, anxiety, or waiting for an answer. These slight dealings prove low thoughts of God, and deep and guilty insensibility;--that the sense of pressing need is not sharp enough to put an edge upon the affections. But are none of God's dear children, too, who in days past never missed the presence of God, but they "sought it carefully with tears"--now too easily satisfied with the act of prayer, without this "great object of it--the enjoyment of God?" Perhaps you lament your deficiencies, your weakness in the hour of temptation, your indulgence of ease, your unfaithfulness of heart. But is your cry continually ascending with your whole heart? Your soul would not be so empty of comfort, if your mouth were not so empty of prayer. The Lord never charges presumption upon the frequency or extent of your supplications; but He is often ready to "upbraid you with your unbelief," that you are so reluctant in your approach, and so straitened in your desires--that you are so unready to receive what He is so ready to give--that your vessels are too narrow to take in His full blessing--that you are content with drops, when He has promised "floods,"--yes "rivers of living water,"--and above all, that you are so negligent in praising Him for what you have already received.
We must not lightly give up our suit. We must not be content with keeping up the duty, without keeping up "continued instancy in prayer" in our duty. This alone preserves in temptation. Satan strikes at all of God in the soul. Unbelief readily yields to his suggestions. This is the element in which we live--the warfare of every moment. Will then the customary devotion of morning and evening (even supposing it to be sincere) suffice for such an emergency? No. The Christian must "put on the whole armor of God;" and buckle on His panoply with unceasing "prayer and watchfulness in the Spirit." If his heart be dead and cold, let him rather cry and wait as Luther was used to do, until it be warm and enlivened. The hypocrite, indeed, would be satisfied with the barren performance of the duty. But the child of God, while he mourns in the dust, "Behold I am vile!"--still holds on, though sometimes with a cry, that probably finds no utterance with his lips, that vents itself only with tears, or "groanings that cannot be uttered." And shall such a cry fail to enter into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth? The Lord has heard the voice of my weeping. Lord, all my desire is before You; and my groaning is not hid from You.
But why is the believer so earnest for an audience?--why so restless in his cries for salvation? Is it not, that he loves the statutes of his God; that he is grieved on account of his inability to keep them; and that he longs for mercy, as the spring of his obedience? Hear me; I will keep Your statutes. Save me: and I shall keep Your testimonies--a most satisfactory evidence of an upright heart. Sin can have no fellowship with the statutes. As saved sinners, they are our delight.
Lord! You know how our hearts draw back from the spiritual work of prayer: and how we nourish our unbelief by our distance from You. Oh, "pour upon us this Spirit of grace and supplication." "Teach us to pray"--even our hearts--our whole hearts--to cry unto You. Give us the privilege of real communion with You--the only satisfying joy of earth or heaven. Then shall we "run the way of Your commandments, when You shall enlarge our hearts."
Verse 147. I prevented the dawning of the morning, and cried: I hoped in Your word.
Verse 148. My eyes prevent the night-watches, that I might meditate in Your word.
The Psalmist here brings before us not only the fervency, but the seasons, of his supplication. Like Daniel, he had set times of prayer, "three times a-day." Yet did not this frequent exercise satisfy him, without an habitual "waiting all the day upon his God." Prayer was indeed his meat, and drink, and breath. "I give myself unto prayer." His sketch of the "blessed man delighting in the law of his God, and"--as an evidence of this delight, "meditating therein day and night"--unconsciously furnished an accurate picture of himself. For early and late was he found in the work of God; preventing the dawning of the morning for prayer, and again the night-watches, that he might meditate in the word. But to look above the example of David to David's Lord--surely "it was written" most peculiarly "for our learning," that Jesus--after a laborious Sabbath--every moment of which appears to have been spent for the benefit of sinners; and when His body, subject to the same infirmities, and therefore needing the same refreshment with our own, seemed to require repose, "in the morning, rising up a great while before day, went out and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed." On another occasion, when intensely engaged in the service of His church, and about to lay her foundation in the choice of her first ministers, did His eyes prevent the night-watches. "He continued all night in prayer to God."
So long as the duty only of prayer is known, we shall be content with our set seasons. But when the privilege is felt, we shall be early at work, following it closely morning and night. While, however, family and social exercises are refreshing--while "the tabernacles of the Lord are amiable" in our view, and we delight to "wait at the posts of His doors;" yet it is the lonely, confidential communion with our God, "the door shut"--the Church as well as the world excluded--that makes our closest walk with God. Secret prayer is most likely to be true prayer. At least there is no true prayer without it. It was the "garden" prayer--separate even from His own disciples--that brought special support to the fainting humanity of Jesus. And if He needed this perfect retirement, whose affections were always fixed upon their center, what must be our own need, whose desires are so unstable and languishing! And how cheering is His succoring sympathy, knowing as He does experimentally the heart of a secret, earnest pleader! Such, doubtless, were David's cries--penetrating no ear, but His Father's--yet delightful incense there.
But to see the King of Israel, with all His urgent responsibilities, "sanctifying" such frequent daily seasons "with the word of God and prayer"--how does it expose the insincerity of the worldling's excuse, that the pressing avocations of the day afford no time for the service of God! It is not, that such men are busy, and have no time for prayer; but that they are worldly, and have no heart to pray. The consecrated heart will always find time for secret duties, and will rather, as David, redeem it from sleep, than lose it from prayer.
And does not the uniform experience of the Lord's people warrant the remark--how much our vital spirituality depends upon the daily consecration of the first-fruits of our time to the Lord? How often are opportunities for heavenly communion during the day unavoidably straitened! But the night watches and the dawning of the morning afford seasons free from interruption, when our God expects to hear from us, and when "the joy" of "fellowship with Him" will be "our strength" for active service, and our preservation from many a worldly snare. What a standard of enjoyment would it be, with our last thoughts in the night watches, to leave as it were our hearts with Him, and to find them with Him in the morning, awaking as with our hearts in heaven! Surely the refreshments of our visits to Him, and His abidance with us, will often constrain us to acknowledge, "Truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ." The thoughts of God were clearly the first visitors to David's waking mind; and to this may be ascribed his habitual success in realizing His presence throughout the day. The lukewarmness and our want of spiritual enjoyment may often be traced to that morning indolence, which not only throws the business of the day into confusion, but also consumes the time in self-indulgence or trifling, which should have been given to sacred communion. For--not to speak of the seasonableness of the early hours for devotion--the very exertion made to overcome "this lust of the flesh," and to steal a march upon the demands of the world, is an exercise of self-denial, honorable to God, "that shall in no wise lose its reward." No remembrance of the past will be so refreshing at a dying hour, as the time redeemed for communion with God.
And, even should there be no actual enjoyment, at least let us honor God by expectancy. I hoped in Your word. There can be no exercise of faith in the neglect of prayer; but the ground of faith, and that which gives to it life, hope, and joy, is the view of God in His word as a promising God. Therefore when His Providence opens no present encouragement, let us seek it in His covenant. To hope in His word is to build up ourselves upon "our most holy faith" and to lay all our desires, all our cares, all our weights, and burdens, upon a solid, unsinking foundation.
Well, therefore, were David's night-watches employed in meditation in the word. For, in order to stay ourselves upon it in time of need, it must occupy our whole study, thought, and desire. Instability of faith arises from a want of fixed recollection of the promises of God. This superficial habit may suffice for times of quietness; but amid the billows of temptation we can only cast "anchor sure and steadfast" in an habitual and intelligent confidence upon the full, free, firm promise of the word. Let it therefore be the food of our meditation, and the ground of our support, when our suit seems to hang at the throne of grace without any tokens of present acceptance. Often will it lift up our fainting hands, and supply strength for fresh conflict, and the earnest of blessed victory. The ground is always sure for faith. May the Lord ever furnish us with faith enough for our daily work, conflict, consolation, and establishment!
Verse 149. Hear my voice according to Your loving-kindness: O Lord, quicken me according to Your judgment.
In the eyes of the world, David appeared "in all his glory," when seated on his throne, and surrounded with the magnificence of his kingdom. But never did he appear so glorious in the sight of God, as when presenting himself as a suppliant before the mercy-seat, seeking an audience of the King of Kings only to send up reiterated cries for quickening grace. And do I not need the same grace every moment, in every duty? Does not "the gift of God within me" need to be daily "stirred up?" Are not the "things that remain" often "ready to die?" Then hear my voice, O Lord; quicken me.
But to urge my suit successfully, I must "order my cause before God;" I must "fill my mouth with arguments." And if I can draw a favorable plea from the character of my Judge--if I can prove that promises have been made in my behalf, these will be most encouraging pledges of a successful issue. Now David had been so used to plead in cases of extremity, that arguments suited to his present distress were always ready at hand. He now pleads with God for quickening grace, on the ground of His own loving-kindness and judgment. Can He "deny Himself?"
And with what "full assurance of faith," may I ask to be heard on account of that transcendent proof of loving-kindness manifested in the gift of God's dear Son--not only as His chief mercy, but as the pledge of every other mercy--and manifested too at the fittest time--according to His judgment--after the inefficiency of the power of reason, and the sanctions of the law, to influence the heart, had been most clearly displayed! And what a plea is it to ask for quickening influences, that this is the very end for which this gift of loving-kindness was given, and that the gift itself is the channel, through which the quickening life of the Godhead is imparted! Could I ask for this grace on any other ground than loving-kindness? All ground of fitness or merit is swept away. On the footing of mercy alone, can I stand before Him. And how is my faith enlivened in retracing the records of my soul from the beginning--how He "betrothed"--how He "drew--me with loving-kindness!" May I not then cry, "Oh! continue Your loving-kindness?" And not less full is my conviction of His judgment, in dealing wisely and tenderly with me, according to His infallible perception of my need. Left to my own judgment--often should I have prayed myself into evil, and asked what it would have been my curse to have received. But I have learned, that the child must not be guided by his own will, but by his father's better mind--not the patient by his own humor, but by the physician's skill. Truly, even the Lord's corrections have been in judgment! And in the thankful remembrance of them my confidence for the time to come is established! Gladly will I "set to my seal," that "the Lord is a God of judgment;" and that "blessed are all those who wait for Him." He knows not only what grace is needed, but at what time. Not a moment sooner will it come; not a moment later will it be delayed. "As You will, what You will, when You will" (Thomas a Kempis)--is the expression of faith and resignation, with which all must be committed to the Lord, waiting for the end in humility, desire, expectation. And if in pleading my suit for a hearing according to His loving-kindness, my poor, polluted, lifeless petitions should find no liberty of approach; may I be but enabled to direct one believing look to "the Lamb that is in the midst of the throne!" and I will not doubt that my feeblest offering shall come up as a memorial before God.
Verse 150. They draw near that follow after mischief: they are far from Your law.