Verse 166. Lord, I have hoped for Your salvation, and done Your commandments.
The great peace connected with the love of God's law, is at once the fruit of faith, and the motive of obedience. And the enjoyment of it leads the man of God to give renewed expression to his faith and devotedness. "Faith, which works by love," is no less the characteristic of the Old, than of the New Testament, Church. For mark here the principle and the object of faith--I have hoped for Your salvation--and the practical influence of faith--I have done Your commandments. "Walked not believers always in the same spirit? Walked they not in the same steps?"
Faith is the exercise of the soul in a sense of need, in desire, and in trust. Faith goes to God on the ground of the promise; hope in the expectation of the thing promised. Thus hope implies the operation of faith. It appropriates to itself the object of faith. The power to take hold of the promises of faith, and to stay our souls upon their "everlasting consolation," is the energy of "a good hope through grace"--such as "makes not ashamed." Conscious unworthiness may give a trembling feebleness to the hand of faith; but the feeblest apprehension of one of the least of the promises of the gospel assures us of our interest in them all. Why may we not set all the fullness of the covenant before the weakest as well as before the strongest believer, and proclaim to both with equal freedom the triumphant challenge, "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? Who is he who condemns?" Every believer is alike interested in the gospel of grace. "There is no difference" in the righteousness of the gospel, which is "the righteousness of God"--nor in the imputation of it, which is "unto all and upon all," nor in the subjects--which is them that believe--nor in the means of its application, which in all cases is "by faith of Jesus Christ,"--nor in the need of the blessing, "All have sinned" without difference. All therefore are justified without difference. The only difference regards the strength or weakness of the faith, by which the righteousness is more or less distinctly appropriated, and its consequent blessings enjoyed. No soul, however, can sink into perdition, that grasps the promise of Christ with the hand of faith, be that hand ever so weak and trembling; though if the promise did not hold us more firmly by its unchangeableness, than we hold it by our faith, who could ever attain the blessing?
Not that our interest in the Gospel is transient or uncertain. For though the perception of it may be often interrupted, yet is it not still in the Bible, in the covenant of God, in the heart of God? And is it not constantly renewed in the exercise of faith? The repetition of the same act of faith is therefore equally necessary every successive moment, as at the first moment of our spiritual life. What ever be our standing in the Gospel, faith will always realize to the end the same hope for God's salvation. Indeed the neglect of the cultivation of its habitual exercise materially weakens its operation in great emergencies. Let it then be regarded as the breathing of the soul. Let it be constantly exercised in the daily occasions of need; and we shall enjoy its clear light and active influence upon occasions, where its special energy is required.
Now is not this sometimes your experience? You are distressed by an unsuccessful struggle with wandering, defiling imaginations. You know the promise, and the remedy. But "the shield of faith" has been laid by. You have therefore to seek it, when you want it at hand for the present moment; and thus you lie powerless, at a distance from the cure, instead of being able to bring your sin at once to Jesus--'Lord, this is my trouble; this is the "plague of my heart;" "but speak the word only, and Your servant shall be healed."' Thus the indolent neglect of the quickening principle greatly impairs its powerful energy, and the "confidence and rejoicing of hope" flowing from it. If "the life in the flesh is" not "a life of faith on the Son of God," no solid rest or acceptance can be known.
But on what ground is this hope for the Lord's salvation built? On His faithfulness, not on our sincerity; on His promises, not on our frames; on His unchangeableness, not on our constancy. It is built, not on the work of grace in us, but on the work of Christ for us; a work which has satisfied every claim, provided every security, and pledged all the Divine perfections on our behalf; a work so finished and complete, that all the difficulties of salvation on the part of God are removed; and the sinner, finding no hindrance in the way but himself, is warranted, though covered with guilt and defilement, to apply for full, immediate, and unconditional forgiveness. What then hinders the instant reception of the privilege, but disbelief of the record? It is this which dares to "make God a liar;" which therefore must not, as is too often the case, be lamented as an infirmity (except indeed in cases of constitutional weakness); but watched, prayed against, and resisted, as a deep and aggravated sin. The present enjoyment of the blessing is indeed often marred by looking at the fruits of faith (contrition, love, diligence, &c.) as prerequisites for believing, instead of looking to the object of faith, to put away our sin, and to produce these fruits in us. This not only binds our sin upon us, but robs God of His honor;--and, while it restrains His blessing on our souls, reflects upon His wisdom and grace, who has laid the foundation of a sinner's hope on His own dear Son, irrespective of any warrant of faith in himself. We want to be enlivened with sensible comfort, as a ground for our believing in Christ; or, if we look for it from faith, it is from faith as an act (in which respect it is no more a proper ground for comfort than any other grace,) instead of looking for it from the object of faith. Thus we not only lose the peace and joy we are seeking, but we lose it by our mistaken way of seeking it.
The fullness of Christ, and the promises of God in Him, are the only basis of a full assurance of salvation: and this basis is equally firm at all times, and under all circumstances. "You are complete in Him." Your title at this moment is as perfect, your interest as secure, as ever it will be at the day of "the redemption of the purchased possession." Awakened sinner! let not then a sense of unworthiness paralyze your faith. As a guilty sinner, you are invited. As a willing sinner, you are welcome. As a believing sinner, you are assured. Why hesitate then to "lay hold on eternal life?" Is it presumption in the drowning man to attempt to swim to the rock of safety? Why then should not the sinking soul cast itself upon the "Rock of Ages?" Lord, I have hoped for Your salvation.
Believer! "Behold!" says your Lord, "I come quickly; hold that fast which You have, that no man take your crown." "Hold fast your confidence and the rejoicing of your hope." This is of no trifling importance. An established confidence ought to result from, and to witness to, your interest in the Lord's salvation. For without it, you have no relief from the spirit of bondage; no enlargement in duties; no enjoyment of privileges; no "growth in grace, and in the knowledge of the Savior;" no honored usefulness in the Church of God. "The things which remain will be ready to die." Rest not, then, satisfied with an occasional gleam of light and joy, while your horizon is overcast with doubts and fears. Waste not time in heartless complaints, that would be far better employed in a vigorous habit of faith. Live above frames and feelings, upon this glorious truth--'Christ has undertaken for me.' He lives, and reigns, and pleads for every sinner that trusts in Him. Exercise your dependence upon Him in importunate and persevering supplication. "Give all diligence"--at all times--in all ways, private and public, "instant in season and out of season." Thus "an entrance into" the joy, peace, and glory of "the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior, will be richly ministered unto you." You shall be released from the prison-house of despondency, and shall breathe the free atmosphere of adoption and heavenly love.
But remember, that this "assurance of hope," even in its weakest and lowest influence, is a practical principle--I have done Your commandments. "Every man that has this hope in Him purifies himself, even as He is pure." All obedience that springs not from this source is of a low and legal character; the fruit of self-will, self-righteousness, self-sufficiency. Evangelical obedience can only flow from Evangelical faith and hope. Love to Christ catches fire from the perception of His love to us. Without this perception, all is weariness, toil, and travail of soul in His service; duty, not privilege; constraint, not delight; conscience, not love. Hence the most assured believers will be the most devoted servants of their Master. "The joy of the Lord" "the joy of faith," of acceptance, of communion, "is their strength." They live by faith; and as they believe, they love; they deny themselves; they lay themselves out for their Master's work; they conquer all that opposes their progress.
We cannot, therefore, do His commandments without a hope for His salvation. For only in proportion as we have assured our title to the promises of the Gospel, can we take hold of them, plead them, or experience their support. When therefore our hope is indistinct, we are almost left to our own unassisted resources; and our course will probably end in "perpetual backsliding." Active devotedness flows from assured acceptance. Where there is no certainty, there can be little love, little delight, little diligence. Let us walk in sunshine, and we shall work cheerfully and honorably for God.
Keep then the eye fixed on Christ as the ground, and on obedience as the evidence, of our hope. Thus will our own confidence be more established; and others, beholding in us the power of our Christian hope, will be led to say, "We will go with you, for we have heard that God is with you."
Verse 167. My soul has kept Your testimonies; and I love them exceedingly.
Verse 168. I have kept Your precepts and Your testimonies: for all my ways are before You.
Those only who have hoped in the Lord's salvation can express this joyful delight in His precepts. The Christian does not acknowledge the popular separation of duty and privilege, according as it may be constraint or indulgence to his inclination. Every part of his walk identifies these terms of distinction. If it is his duty, it is no less his privilege, to love the precepts. Nothing holds him to them--nothing enables him thoroughly to keep them, but love. All resolutions, vows, covenants, would be as ineffectual to bind him, as the green withs to fasten the giant. David had not done the commandments from constraint; but his soul kept them; yes, he loved them exceedingly. Indeed, the bias of the new nature to keep the precepts is as prevalent, as that of the old nature to break them. Once the believer would have wished the law of God blotted out of the universe, or at least exchanged for a more indulgent dispensation. But now that it is written in his heart, even its restraint is delightful to him; and as he gains a closer intimacy with it, and a clearer discernment of its spirituality, he loves it exceedingly. Not one, indeed, of the precepts or testimonies does he keep as he ought, and as he desires; but there is not one of them that he does not delight in, and most anxiously desire to fulfill. Thus every feature of the Divine image is inwrought in the soul, beautiful in its place and proportion; and all other graces grow in connection with love to the testimonies.
Nor let our consciousness of daily failures restrain this strong expression of confidence. The most humble believer need not hesitate to adopt it 'as an evidence of grace, not as a claim of merit.' This frequent repetition marks the godly jealousy of the man of God, mindful of his own self-deceitfulness and manifold infirmities, and "giving" careful "diligence to make his calling and election sure." David knew himself to be a poor sinner; but he was conscious of spirituality of obedience, exceeding love to the word, and an habitual walk under the eye of his God--the evidences of a heart (often mentioned in the Old Testament) "perfect with Him." 'Christ alone kept the old law, and He enables us to observe the new.'
The active love to the word should be cultivated on the principle of our public walk before God. We must not study the Scripture merely for our present gratification, or to furnish materials for our Christian communion. We ought rather, from every step in the history of Christ, as well as from the more finished course of instruction in the Epistles, to be gathering some help to "set the Lord always before us"--realizing the interest that He takes in us, and His presence with us as our Father, Governor, Teacher, Comforter, Friend.
Now, let us ask--Do our souls thus keep the Lord's testimonies habitually, perseveringly? Does conscience testify that, with all our defects and sinful mixture, they are uppermost in our minds; that our love rises above the worldly rules of expediency, prudence, or the example of those around us (the too common measurement of scanty obedience)--as if it could never burn with sufficient fervor in His service, "who loved us, and gave Himself for us?" Why, then, should we shrink from this acknowledgment of "simplicity and godly sincerity?" If we are ready to own, that "without Christ we can do nothing;" that His Spirit "has wrought all our works in us;" that "by the grace of God we are what we are;" that our hope of acceptance is grounded only upon the finished work on the cross--why should we refuse to confess the grace of God in us? Yet we must not forget, that allowed unfaithfulness, neglect of secret prayer, impurity of motive, or any "iniquity regarded in the heart"--though they will not loosen the ground of our hope--will obscure the comfort of our Christian confidence. How beautiful is that princely spirit, which will not serve the Lord "of that which costs us nothing;" that not only longs for holiness as the way to heaven, but loves heaven the better for the holy way that leads to it, and for the perfect holiness that reigns there eternally!
But never let us lose sight of the recollection, that all our ways are before God! that every act, every thought, every desire, every word, is registered by conscience as His viceregent, and laid up in His book of remembrance! Well would it be for us, if we walked less before men, and more before God; if in secret, in business, at home and abroad, we heard the solemn voice, "I am the Almighty God: walk before Me, and be perfect." We may be unreproveable in the sight of men, while it is a mere artificial walk, grounded upon base external principles--a "walking after the flesh"--not before God. Even the engagements of active duty may be the subtle snare of the great enemy to divert us from intense personal religion, and to spoil the hidden walk of communion with God, by concentrating the mind upon a more public, and, apparently, a more useful walk. Thus too often the vital principle of religion sinks into a stated formal habit. "Walking with God" is the secret spring of the Christian. "Walking before God" is the manifestation and the exercise of the hidden principle. For in all things, private as well as public, the most trivial as well as the most weighty, to have our eye fixed in dutiful reverence upon the Omniscient, Omnipresent eye of Jehovah--what solemnity would it give to our whole behavior! what influence would it have upon our public professions, our general conversation, our secret duties! We should be energetic in "serving our own generation by the will of God;" and yet, while walking before men, should be truly "walking before God"--all our ways before Him, "done" in His sight, "as to Him," and accepted in His favor.
When, therefore, I am about to venture upon any line of conduct, let me consider the watchful eye, that pierces into the deepest recesses of my thoughts, and brings, as it were, to daylight, my principles, my motives, and my ends. Above all, let me ever recollect, that he, before whom are all my ways, is He who hung upon the cross for my sins. Let me then walk, as if He were standing before me in all the endearing obligations of His love. Oh, do not I owe Him sacrifice for sacrifice, heart for heart, life for life? Then surely I cannot be dead, insensible, sluggish in keeping His precepts. I cannot forbear to show this practical proof of my love to Him. Let not, then, the fear of legality make me neglect this privilege of "keeping the commandments" of my beloved Master and Lord. Let me live under the solemn recollection, "You, God, see me;" and in the joyful assurance, "You, God, love me;" and His ways will be to me holiness, happiness, heaven.
Verse 169. Let my cry come near before You, O Lord; give me understanding, according to Your word.
Verse 170. Let my supplication come before You: deliver me according to Your word.
We mark David here, where he always loved to be, a supplicant at the throne of grace. Many had been his cries and supplications. His petition now is--that they may come near before his Lord. Oh, that our wants of every moment were felt with the same pressure, and carried to the Lord with the same faith, earnestness, humility, and perseverance! Richness of expression, and fluency of utterance, are the mere shell and shadow of prayer. The life of prayer is the cry of the heart to God. The eloquence of prayer is its earnestness. The power of prayer is that, which comes not from education, or from the natural desire of the man; but that "which is from above" "the spirit of supplication" "the spirit of adoption." The urgency of present need calls for instant prayer. The soul is at stake; the enemy is within the walls, perhaps within the citadel. Oh, what a privilege to know, that we have a "strong habitation, whereunto we may continually resort;" to be able to remind the Lord, "You have given commandment to save me: for You are my rock and my fortress!"
But then we must see that our cry comes before--comes near before--the Lord; that nothing blocks up the way, or interrupts the communication. If we are believers, the way is open: "the middle wall of partition is broken down." Oh, let us be excited to greater nearness of communion, "Having boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which He has consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, His flesh," why should we be backward to come? Had we not seen the way marked by this blood of sprinkling, we should (if we have had any sight into our own hearts) no more have dared to take one step into the awful presence of God, than to rush into the devouring flame. If in a moment of extremity, we had felt that we must pray or perish, we should have had no boldness to open our mouth before God, much less to expect that our supplication would come near before Him, had we not been "made near by the blood of Christ." But what an amount of privilege is it, that this way to God is always open; that, as members of Christ, we stand in the sight of God as pure as Christ is pure; that we have not only "access," but "access with confidence;"--yes, with the same confidence as the Son of God Himself! For the Father is never weary of delighting in His dear Son, or in those who are one with Him. If He, therefore, takes our names into the holy place; if He offer sacrifice and incense for us, and sprinkle us with His blood, we "are complete in him" "in Him," therefore, let us "glory." "Having an High-priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith."
But where we feel as if we did not, could not, reach the throne of grace, "is there not a cause?" Our distance from God must be traced to a deeper origin than the dullness and insensibility of our hearts. The real difficulty of prayer, and indeed the actual inability to pray, arises in many, and probably in most, cases, from an indistinct perception of the way of access. We must admit this, not only in those who are totally ignorant of Christ, but also in the cases of weak, unestablished, or negligent Christians. Through ignorance of the fullness and freeness of the gospel in the one, and indulgence of sin or secret unwatchfulness in the other, the way of access (only perceptible by the eye of faith) becomes obscured, the desire faint, the spiritual strength weakened. And instead of the acknowledgment, "The Lord has heard the voice of my supplications," we have the mournful complaints, "My soul cleaves to the dust--oh, that I were as in months past!" It must be so; for prayer without faith is a heartless ceremony in the spirit of bondage. That which gives to it life and acceptance is the believing apprehension of Christ. The ignorant and self-righteous may find it a matter of course (as easy as it is fruitless) to bow their knee in the form of prayer. But the light that darts in upon the awakened conscience reveals something hitherto unknown of God and of themselves, and shows the ground of confidence, for a self-condemned sinner, to be a matter of the deepest mystery, and most amazing difficulty. Such a confidence, however, God has laid open to us. We cannot honor Him more than by making use of it. All that come in the name of Jesus are welcome. Why, then, penitent sinner, should not you be welcome? The throne of grace was raised for sinners such as you. You cannot want larger promises or a better plea. You come, not because you are worthy, but because you are bid, to come. Take the command and lay it upon your conscience. Christ is your only way to God. Faith is the act and exercise of coming to Christ. Faith, therefore, will bring you to God, if you have not hitherto come; or restore you to God, if you have wandered from Him.
But there may be a secret departure from God even in the engagement of active service, or in the exercises of social religion. For if these duties are substituted for secret communion with God, "the things that remain in us will be ready to die;" ordinances will fail to enrich; Christian fellowship will bring no refreshment; and the soul, while blessed with the abundance of means of grace, "in the fullness of its sufficiency will be in straits." Indeed, if our affections and feelings are moved in social exercises, and are cold and insensible when we are alone with God, it is a bad symptom of our state. What, then, do we know of the comforts of the closet? Do we pray, because we love to pray, or only because our consciences constrain us to the duty? Does the Lord mark those secret transactions with Himself, that manifest our hearts to be really drawn to Him? Is it any pressing business of our soul's salvation that brings us to God? Are our services enlivened with spiritual manifestations of Christ? It is possible long to continue in the outward course of duty: and yet not one of our prayers to come near before the Lord. We have not come in the appointed way; and, therefore, we have not really come at all. Or if the name of Christ has been affixed to our prayers, it has been as a component part of a formal system, not as an exercise of dependence in seeking acceptance with God.
But it may be, that we have backslidden from God, in a habit of indulged coldness or willful iniquity. Now if we would expect "the candle of the Lord again to shine upon our heads, and His secret to be upon our tabernacle," we must rest satisfied with nothing short of the full restoration of our privileges. We must return to the Lord with deepened contrition in His appointed way, and wait for Him to look upon us, and once more to let our supplication come near before Him. He had "gone, and returned to His place, until we acknowledged our offence, and sought His face;" and He is now sitting on a "throne of grace, waiting that He may be gracious." Again and again, therefore, let us fall down at His feet, and never cease to pray, until we feel that our cry and supplication come near before Him, and spiritual understanding of our case, and deliverance from our danger, are given. As a God of wisdom and yearning mercy, we may trust Him to "perform all things for us." Let Him then judge for the time and means of our deliverance. Only let it be according to His own word of faithfulness, and we "shall yet praise Him."
It is beautiful to observe the oil of the Psalmist's faith feeding the flame of his supplication. Every petition is urged upon the warrant of a promise--according to Your word. The promises were the very breath of his supplication; exciting his expectation for a favorable answer, and exercising his patience, until the answer should come. Though in possession of so comparatively small a portion of the blessed book, he seemed always to find a word for the present occasion; always able to show to his God His own hand and seal. Alas! sometimes, with the whole word of God before us, we are at a loss to appropriate one of its innumerable promises to the present emergency. Yet with all our contracted views of the covenant, still our interest in it is not denied. Such is the condescension of our tender Father, that He accepts even the stammering language of faith in His children! The cry "Abba, Father"--'though' (as Luther sweetly expresses it) 'it is but a cry; yet it does so pierce the clouds, that there is nothing else heard in heaven of God and His angels.' And how delightful is the thought that God's elect--as they will shortly be gathered a countless multitude around the heavenly throne--so do they now hold spiritual communion with each other, while "they cry day and night" before their Father's throne of grace! True it is--we understand not one another's tongues. Yet does our loving Father understand us all. Nor do our different dialects cause any confusion in heaven--rather do they unite, and form one cloud of incense, ascending with continual acceptance and delight in His presence. Ineffable is the delight, with which our Beloved enjoys that communion with His people, "which He purchased with His own blood" "O my dove, that are in the clefts of the rocks, in the secret places of the stairs, let me see your countenance, let me hear your voice; for sweet is your voice, and your countenance is lovely."
Verse 171. My lips shall utter praise, when You have taught me Your statutes.
How happy is it to bring to God a heart as large in praise as in prayer! The answer of the supplication for spiritual understanding and deliverance naturally issues in the sacrifice of praise. Guilt had sealed David's lips; while living in sin, and restrained alike the utterance of praise and prayer. But when awakened to a sense of his sin, how earnest were his cries!, "Restore to me the joy of Your salvation. O Lord, open my lips; and my mouth shall show forth Your praise." And if guilt or unbelief has made us dumb, his petitions will tune our hearts to the "songs of Zion." When the Lord has taught us in His statutes the revelation of Himself, as having given His dear Son for us and to us, "the tongue of the dumb is made to sing." "Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift!"
And do I not remember "the time of love," when I first knew myself to be "a brand plucked out of the fire"--a redeemed sinner--a pardoned rebel--destined for a seat on the throne of God--indulged with a taste, and assured of the completion, of heavenly bliss? This was a work worthy of God--a work, which none but God could have wrought. What mercy is this! Everlasting! Unchangeable! Let me cast myself daily upon it; yes, let me bury myself in it! What gratitude is demanded! My lips shall utter praise, now that He has taught me His statutes. "O Lord, I will praise You; though You were angry with me, Your anger is turned away, and You comfort me."
Again--I seemed to have sunk beyond all help. No means, no ministers, no providences, could reach my extremity. All were "physicians of no value," tried and tried again: but tried in vain. But "in weakness" thoroughly felt, "strength was made perfect." The threatening clouds were dispersed; the breaches were healed; the veil of unbelief was rent. "The right hand of the Lord has brought mighty things to pass." "He has both spoken unto me, and Himself has done it," and it is "marvelous in our eyes." Let my stammering lips utter praise. What a display of power! It is the spark preserved in the ocean unquenched, the drop in the flames unconsumed; the feather in the storm unshaken. "Who is a God like unto You? Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us; but unto Your name give glory."
And again--I was perplexed in a dark and bewildered path. Every dispensation appeared to frown upon me. One dark hour had blotted out all the recollections of my former comforts; and it was as if I never could, never should, rejoice again. But little did I think how the Lord was "abounding towards me in all wisdom and prudence"--how His arrows were sharpened with love--how He was "humbling me, and proving me, to know what was in my heart" and in the moment of chastening was speaking to me, "I know the thoughts that I think towards you, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end." What a display of "wisdom!" My lips shall utter praise; for if I "should hold my peace, the stones would immediately cry out."
The thought of what I was before my conversion--what I have been since--what I am now, overwhelms me with shame and with praise. "Lord, how is it that You should have manifested Yourself to me, as You have not unto the world?" "Who am I, O Lord God, that You have brought me hitherto?" And how much more "that You have spoken of Your servant for a great while to come!" For You have prepared for me a happy eternity in Your unclouded presence. Should not then my praise be bubbling up, as from a fountain--pouring forth, as from a rich treasure-house? Should not my instrument, if not always employed, be always kept in tune? Forward we may be in prayer. But how backward we are in praise! Self-love may constrain the one. Only the love of God will quicken the other. And yet ought we not to be more touched in receiving mercies, than we were in asking for them? In the one case we only knew them by testimony or report. In the other we know them by our own experience. We hear of one, who had much forgiven, and who "loved much." And surely the more sin pardoned--the more mercies received--does not God justly expect of us more love in the heart--more utterance of praise from the lips?
And yet who of us are fit to praise, except those whom God has taught? The "new song" ill accords with the old heart. God vouchsafes His grace for the praise of His grace. Ought not we then to glory in our Savior--a privilege as high as to enjoy Him--no--the very means of increasing our enjoyment of Him, in the active excitement of our love, and every grace for His sake? Let not the enemy rob me, as too often he has done, of my high privilege. Let me prize secret prayer. Let me be separated from an ensnaring world. Let me dread separation from my God; and if ever estranged from Him, let me never rest, until, by "receiving the atonement," always presented and accepted on my behalf, I once more walk in the light of His countenance. Let me then fix the eye of my faith, weak and dim as it may be, constantly upon Jesus. He must do all for me, in me, by me; He must teach me more and more of the statutes of my God, that my heart may be delightfully engaged with my lips in uttering His praise.
Verse 172. My tongue shall speak of Your word; for all Your commandments are righteousness.
To speak of God and for Him, will be the desire and delight of him, whose heart and lips have been taught to utter praise. Yet alas! how seldom is "our conversation seasoned with grace!" So much of this poor world's nothing! So little of Jesus! 'If only five minutes can be redeemed for prayer, for Scripture, or for thought; let it be seized as an inestimable jewel. If we can pass five minutes less in foolish or ensnaring company, secure the advantage.' If vain words are flowing up from the bottom, look on the restraint that represses them from our lips as a triumphant mercy. This active energy of Christian discipline will communicate a fragrance to our conversation, most acceptable to our beloved Lord; and will make our "lips" enriching, feeding, and instructive to His church. And truly when we see how hardly men judge of Him, how they count His "commandments grievous," and His ways "unequal," it will be delightful to bear our testimony, that all His commandments are righteousness; restraining the power of sin, and conforming the soul to His image.
"Lord, open my lips, that my tongue may speak of Your word." Honor me, O my God, by helping me to show, that all Your commandments are righteousness. In our own atmosphere, and our own spirit, how often do we pour out our words without waiting on the Lord for unction and power; speaking of the things of God without His presence and blessing! Were we living fully in the atmosphere and breathing of prayer, enriched with habitual meditation in the word; how much more fluent would our tongue be to speak of His word "to the use of edifying!" It would be made really our own, known experimentally; and then how cheering, how enlivening the conversation of the man of God! His "light so shines before men, that" they are constrained to "glorify His Father which is in heaven."
Perhaps, Believer, supposed inability, natural bashfulness, or want of seasonable opportunity, may restrain your lips. But under the most unfavorable circumstances something may generally be said or done in the service of God. And while it is well carefully to watch against the "talk of the lips, which tends only to poverty;" beware, lest, through the scrupulous tenderness of conscience, "Satan get advantage" to shut the mouth of the faithful witnesses of God, and thus to weaken that cause, which it is your first desire to support. Guard then against the influence of unbelief. Bring your weakness and inability daily to the Lord. Let any dreaded inconsistency of profession be searched out, examined, and lamented before Him, and opposed in dependence on His grace; but never let it be made a covering for indolence, or supply fuel for despondency. Consider how your interest in a Divine Savior makes your way open to bring all your wants to Him. Be encouraged therefore to ask for the Spirit of God to guide your lips: that a poor weak sinner may be permitted to "show forth the praises of Him," who is surrounded with all the Hosts of Heaven.
When however our silence has arisen from the too feeble resistance of our natural carelessness and indolence, the recollection of many important opportunities of glorifying our Savior, lost beyond recall, may well excite the prayer, "Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God; and my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness." Oh! to have the preciousness of souls deeply impressed upon our hearts! Oh! for that compassionate love, that would never suffer us to meet a fellow-sinner without lifting up our hearts to God on his behalf: without making an effort to win his soul to Christ, and manifesting an earnest desire for his salvation! What loss is there to our own souls in these neglected opportunities of blessing the souls of others! For never do we receive richer fruit to ourselves, than in the act or endeavor to communicate to others. The heart becomes enlarged by every practical exercise of Christian love. Yet much simplicity, much unction from above, much tenderness of heart, much wisdom combined with boldness--is needed in our daily conversation, that we may "make manifest the savor of the knowledge of Christ in every place;" and especially, that our very desires to bring sinners to the Gospel may proceed, not from a goading conscience, much less from pride and vainglory; but from the pure source of love to Christ and to our fellow-sinners. For even if we are as "full of matter" as Elihu was, nothing will be said for God--nothing, that will "minister grace to the hearers," unless the influence of the Divine Spirit fills our hearts, as "a well of water, springing up into everlasting life"--a blessing to all around us.
Verse 173. Let Your hand help me: for I have chosen Your precepts.
David, having engaged himself to a bold profession of his God, now comes to seek His needful supply of help. Let Your hand help me. And if we may "come to the throne of grace," that we may find "grace to help in time of need," when should we not come? For is not every moment a "time of need," such as may quicken us to flee to the "strong tower," where "the righteous runs, and is safe?" Besieged without; betrayed within; "wrestling against flesh and blood," and yet "not against flesh and blood" only: disputing every inch of ground, yet often discouraged by the little ground we seem to gain; surely we need all the help of Omnipotence to sustain us in the tremendous conflict. We may plead our choice of His precepts, in looking for His help. David had before "taken the testimonies of God as his heritage"--including all the precious promises of the Gospel, extending to every necessity of time, and to every prospect of eternity. He now confesses his obligation, in choosing the precepts--a happy choice, the influence of the Spirit upon his heart.
This choice is the distinctive mark of the Lord's people--the exercise of a well-instructed and deliberate judgment; prompt obedience in the simplicity of faith. It is the choice of all the precepts--no other than the voluntary acknowledgment of our Baptismal obligations. Many carnal suggestions offer themselves the moment that the purpose is forming into the choice. "The things that were gain to us," and which now must be "counted loss for Christ," (should we allow their weight in the balance at this crisis) will bring much hesitation and perplexity. Conferences "with flesh and blood" are most subtle hindrances to Christian determination. 'What will the world say? If I go too far, I shall give offence; I shall lose all my influence, and blast all my prospects of eventual benefit to those around me.' The apprehension also of losing the affection and of incurring the displeasure of those whom my heart holds dear, is most fearful. And then this sacrifice is too costly to make; that pleasure too hard to resign. Such thoughts--the injections of the tempter--are ever at the door; and even when effectual resistance is offered, the struggle is most severe. But it is such a mighty help in this conflict, when one desire has taken sole possession of the heart, "Lord, what will You have me to do?"--when we are so crucified to worldly influence, whether of pleasure, profit, fear, or esteem, as to be ready to act upon the resolution, "Therefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh." Now the heavenly beauty of the religion of the gospel breaks in upon us.
Experience of our own weakness, and of the great power of the world, is gradually preparing us for victory over it. We shall then most specially find our happiness in losing our own will; and our Master's cross will be a delightful burden; like wings to a bird, or sails to a ship; assisting, instead of retarding, our course. The more we trust to His help and guidance in everything, the more we shall be able to do, and the more delightful will His service be to us.
The lack of a determined choice is the secret of the halting profession that prevails among us. A compromise is attempted with the world. "The offence of the cross" begins to "cease." A middle path of serious religion is marked out, divested of what is called needless offensiveness. But the religion that pleases the world will never be acceptable with God; nor can the religion that pleases God, be ever accommodated to the inclination of the world. Oh! we shall do well to consider, whether the way of the Lord's precepts may not be found too hard, too strait, too unfrequented; whether we are prepared to brave the pointed finger and whispered scoff of the ungodly, and perhaps the mistaken opposition of beloved friends. Often has the profession of Christ been hastily taken up and relinquished. He who wishes to abide by it, must daily learn this lesson, "Without Me you can do nothing:" and in conscious helplessness, he will often breathe the cry--Let Your hand help me.
Nor is this petition needful only in the first determination of this choice. In the growing and more decided conviction of its superior happiness, and in the daily endeavor to live in it, we shall find increasing need for the same acknowledgment of helplessness, and the same cry for support. Dependence is a principle of deep humility and mighty energy. The thought that we are entering upon the work in the Lord's strength is a great stay. Blessed indeed is that helplessness, that makes us lie in the bosom of our Savior, supported and cherished! Blessed be God for the "help laid" for us "upon one that is mighty;" so that our insufficiency and all-sufficiency are visible at one glance: and "when we are" most "weak, then are we" most "strong!" "Those who war against you shall be as nothing, and as a thing of nothing. For I the Lord your God will hold your right hand, saying unto you, Fear not, I will help you."
Verse 174. I have longed for Your salvation, O Lord; and Your law is my delight.
Before we close this Psalm, let us dwell once more upon this word--salvation. Common as is its use, to the believer it has a constant freshness and an infinite meaning. Do we wonder at his longing for it? Look at its fullness--including all the mercy of the everlasting covenant. Look at its ground--that work of Calvary's cross once "finished," and leaving nothing to be filled up or improved; standing out in all its glorious completeness; constraining the admiration--and encouraging the confidence, of the chief of sinners; but wholly disclaiming all assistance from the most eminent saint. Look at its simplicity--not keeping the sinner aloof from the Savior, not hedging up or bewildering the open freeness of his path, but bringing to him immediate peace and joy in resting upon the great atonement of the gospel. Mark its unchangeableness--independent of and above all frames and feelings, so that, while "walking in darkness" we can "stay upon our God," expecting salvation even from the hand that seems ready for our destruction; leaving it to our heavenly Father to frown or to smile, to change as He pleases from the one to the other; and looking at every aspect of His countenance, as only a different arrangement of the same features of ineffable paternity; and the different, suitable, and seasonable expression of unchangeable covenant love.
Is not this an object for the longing of the soul, that feels its own pressing wants, and sees in this salvation an instant and full supply? This longing marks the character of evangelical religion--not merely duty, but delight. The mind wearies in the continued exertion for duty; but it readily falls in with delight. Duties become privileges, when Christ is their source and life. Thus every step of progress is progress in happiness. The world's all to the believer is really nothing. It presents nothing to feed the appetite, or quench the thirst, of an immortal soul. Indeed the creatures were commissioned to withhold consolation, until every desire was concentrated in the single object. "You, O God, are the thing that I long for;" until the sinner has found rest in the answer to his prayer, "Say unto my soul, I am Your salvation." And now he enjoys his earthly comforts, "as not abusing them," because he loves them as God would have them loved, and longs for His salvation above them all. This is true religion; when the Lord of all occupies that place in the heart, which He fills in the universe--There He is "All in all." Here the believer cries, "Whom have I in heaven but You? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside You." Oh, what a privilege is it to have Him in heart, in thought, and in view; to be rejoicing in His presence; and to be longing for a more full conformity to His image, and for a more lively enjoyment of His love! If this be but earth, what must heaven be! This longing is a satisfactory evidence of the work of God. It exercises the soul in habitual contemplation of the Savior, in nearer communion with Him, and supreme delight in His law. Such desires will be unutterably increased, and infinitely satisfied in the 'fruition of His glorious Godhead.'
But the Lord often brings this charge against His professing people, "You have left your first love." The principle is not dead, but the energy is decayed. Human nature is prone to apostasy. Slumber unconsciously steals upon the soul. Faith is not in habitual exercise. The attraction of the Savior is not felt. His love is not meditated upon. The soul is satisfied with former affections to Him. There is little heart to labor for Him. The means of communion with Him are slighted. The heart naturally becomes cold in spiritual desires, and warm in worldly pursuits and too often without any smitings of conscience for divided love.
Some professors indeed consider this declension of affections to be a matter of course. The young convert is supposed to abound most in love, and, as he advances, his fervor gradually subsides into matured judgment. Those indeed, who "have no root in themselves," lose their lively affections, and their religion with them. But surely the real principle of love cannot decay; that is, our esteem of God cannot be lowered: our longing for His salvation cannot languish; our delight in its enjoyment cannot diminish, without guilt and loss to our souls, He claims our love, and it is most unreasonable to deny Him His own. He is the same, as when we first loved Him. Then we thought Him worthy of our highest love. Do we now repent of having loved Him so much? Have we found Him less than our expectations? Can we bestow our heart elsewhere with stricter justice, or to better advantage? Do not all the grounds of our love to Him continue in full force? Have they not rather increased every day and hour? What would an indulgent husband think of incessant and increasing attentions repaid with diminished affection? Oh! let us be ashamed of our indolence, and "remember" the times when our longings for His salvation were more intense; when our communion with Him was more heavenly; when we were ready to labor and suffer for Him, and even to die to go home to His presence. Let us "repent" with deeper contrition, and "do our first works:" never resting until we can take up afresh the language of delight--I have longed for Your salvation, O Lord.
Some, however, of the Lord's dear children are distressed in the conscious coldness of their spiritual affections. But if it be a mark of the decay of grace to "lose our first love," it is at least a mark of the truth of grace to mourn over this loss. There is always a blessing for those "that hunger and thirst after righteousness." These restless desires are the beating pulse of the hidden life; and if there be not always a sensible growth of desire and enjoyment, there may be (as with the trees in winter) growth at the root, in a more fixed habit of grace and love, in a deeper spirit of humility, and in a more established self-knowledge and simplicity. Yet the shortest way of peace will be to look off from our longing for this salvation, to the salvation itself. For nothing is more desecrating to this great work--nothing is more paralyzing to its saving power, than the incorporating with it the admixture of our own experience as the ground of hope. The most Christian feelings must find no place at the foundation. Indeed their continual variation renders them, especially in the hour of temptation, very uncertain. Yet amid all these fluctuations, Christ may always be safely trusted. While therefore our coldness humbles us before Him, let not brooding despondency cover His precious cross from view. Let not our eyes be so filled with tears of contrition, as to obscure the sight of His free and full salvation. "Looking" singly "unto Jesus" as our peace and our life, is at once our duty, our safety, and the secret principle of our daily progress heavenward. We shall but realize the perception of our own emptiness in the contemplation of His unbounded fullness.
But the connection between longing for salvation, and delight in the law, is at least an incidental evidence, that right apprehensions of salvation must be grounded upon the word or law of God; and that a religion of feeling is self-delusion. Our delight is not only in His love, but in His law. And so practical is Christian privilege, that longing for salvation will always expand itself in habitual delight in the law: which in its turn will enlarge the desire for the full enjoyment of salvation. All spiritual desire therefore, that is not practical in its exercise, is impulse, excitement; not, as in this man of God, the religion of the heart; holiness, delight.
Would that this beautiful Psalm might quicken us to be followers of Him, who evidently knew so much of the heavenly joys of religion! Why should we not, why do we not determine to know as much of God as we can? Why are our longings for His salvation so transient and so few? The religion of thousands who bear the name is of a very different stamp; empty instead of solid; withering instead of profitable; insipid instead of delightful. If there be any exercise, it is only "the door turning upon hinges," movement without progress. The head is stored with knowledge, but there is no unction in the heart, "ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth."
But the soul that really longs shall "not be ashamed of its hope." Even to taste the present fruits (though it be but a taste) in a sense of reconciliation, liberty of access, a beam of the love of Jesus in the heart, is unutterable enjoyment. It strengthens the soul for endurance of trials, and for a devoted, self-denying, obedient service. But there are heights and depths of Divine love yet unexplored. He who has given large apprehensions of them to others, "is rich in mercy to all that call upon Him." The fountain of everlasting love is ever flowing, ever full; and He who commands us to "open our mouths wide," has promised, "I will fill them." After all, however, the grand consummation is the object, to which these longings for salvation stretch with full expansion. The fullness and likeness of God; the complete and everlasting deliverance from sin; the glorious "manifestation of the sons of God;" the coming of the Lord. Then--not until then--will they be fully and eternally satisfied. Praised be God! "Now is our salvation nearer than when we believed."
Lord of all power and might! create in our souls a more intense longing for Your salvation, and a more fervent delight in Your law. And as our longings for Your salvation increase, oh! nail us to the door-posts of Your house, that we may be Your happy servants forever!
Verse 175. Let my soul live, and it shall praise You; and let Your judgments help me.
There must be life, in order to praise. For how can the dead speak? Yet is it as natural for the living soul to praise, as for the living man to speak. And is not the life that the Psalmist is now praying for, the salvation for which he was longing? The taste that he has received makes him hunger for a higher and continued enjoyment; not for any selfish gratification, but that he might employ himself in the praise of His God. Indeed, the close of this Psalm exhibits that pervading character of praise which has been generally remarked in the concluding Psalms of this sacred book. Yet he alone is fitted for this heavenly exercise, of whom it has been said, "This my son was dead, and is alive again." And how will he, who has "looked to the hole of the pit whence he was dug," who has been awakened to a sight of that tremendous gulf, from which he is but "scarcely saved," long to give utterance to the effusions of a praising heart! How will he cry for the quickening influence of "the Lord and Giver of life," to stir him up to this delightful privilege! Praise springs from prayer--Let my soul live, and it shall praise You. When the breathing of life into our souls enlivens our services, we become, in the noblest sense, "living souls."
Too often, however, the consciousness of inconsistency, carelessness, and unspirituality, damps our song. But let every recollection of our sin be accompanied with an humble yet assured confidence in the Lord's pardoning grace. The abominations of a desperately wicked and unsearchably deceitful heart may well lead us to "abhor ourselves in dust and ashes." Yet in the lowest depths of abasement, the Savior's blood, applied to the conscience, "cleanses from all sin." He who once "passed by us, and saw us polluted in our blood, and said unto us, when we were in our blood, Live"--still "holds our souls in life;" covering our daily infirmities, and maintaining our everlasting acceptance before God.
But while the song of praise dwells on our lips for life thus freely given, let us guard against all hindrance to its growth and influence. For if the life within waxes low, praise will be dull and heartless. But when the assured believer cries with acceptance--Let my soul live, and it shall praise You--see how his spirit kindles with holy fire, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead!" The work of praise is now his nature, his element, his delight. No wonder, then, that he continues his cry for the daily renewal of his spiritual life, that he may return to this sweet foretaste of heaven--Let my soul live. And, indeed, this life--the more it is known, the more will it form the constant matter for prayer. For what besides makes existence tolerable to a child of God? The mere actings of a sickly pulsation can never satisfy him. Considering how much nearer he might live to God than he has yet known, he longs for more vigorous influence of the Divine principle. In his most active enjoyments, his insufficiency for this sacred work presses upon him, and stirs up petition for help--Let Your judgments help me. Give me such an enlightened apprehension of Your word, of Your character, and of Your perfections as the God of my salvation, as may furnish abundant matter of unceasing praise; so that my daily exercise may be, "Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."
Verse 176. I have gone astray like a lost sheep: seek Your servant; for I do not forget Your commandments.
The natural disposition to wander from the fold is constant ground for prayer for the help of the Lord's judgments, to give us clearer light and preserving principles. Yet our need of this safeguard opens to us a most humbling truth. Who can gainsay the testimony from the mouth of God--that "all we like sheep have gone astray?" But how afflicting is the thought, that this should not only be the description of a world living without God, but the confession even of God's own people! And yet where is the child of God that does not set his own seal with shame to the confession--I have gone astray like a lost sheep? "Who can understand his errors?" If he be not found, like Peter, in the open path of wandering; yet has he not need to cry, "Cleanse me from secret faults?" Is he never led away by sense, fancy, appetite? If the will be sincere, how far is it from being perfect! And only a little yielding, a little bending to the flesh, giving way to evil--who knows what may be the end of this crooked path? Who knows what pride, waywardness, earthliness, may be working within, even while the gracious Lord is strengthening, guiding, comforting His poor straying sheep? That they should ever wander from privileges so great, from a God so good, from a Shepherd so kind! What can induce them to turn their backs upon their best Friend, and sin against the most precious love that was ever known, but something that must, upon reflection, fill them with shame! The blame is readily cast upon the temptations of Satan, the seductive witcheries of the world, or some untoward circumstances. But whoever deals with himself must trace the backsliding to his own heart, "This is my infirmity." And have we replaced what we have wilfully yielded up, with anything of equal or superior value? May it not be asked of us, "What fruit had you in those things, whereof you are now ashamed; for the end of those things is death."
But there is no enjoyment while distant from the beloved fold. It is as impossible for the child of God to be happy, when separated from his God, as if he were in the regions of eternal despair. He has not lost--he cannot wholly lose--his recollection of the forsaken blessing. In struggling, weeping faith, he cries--Seek Your servant. 'I cannot find my way back: the good Shepherd must seek me. Once I knew the path: but now that I have wandered into bye-paths, I am no more able to return, than I was to come at first. I have no guide but the Shepherd whom I have left.' How cheering, then, is His office character!, "Behold I, even I, will both search My sheep, and seek them out: as a shepherd seeks out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out My sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day" Cannot I set my seal to His faithful discharge of His office, "He restores my soul?"
If I want further encouragement to guide my steps homeward, let me think of His own description of tender faithfulness, and compassionate yearnings over His lost sheep; not showing it the way back to the fold, and leaving it to come after Him: but "laying it upon His own shoulders, and bringing it home:" all upbraidings forgotten; all recollection of His own pains swallowed up in the joy, that He has "found the sheep which was lost." Let me remember the express commission, that brought the Shepherd from heaven to earth, from the throne of God to the manger, and thence to the garden and cross, "to seek and to save that which was lost." Let me see upon Him the especial mark of "the Good Shepherd, giving His life for the sheep." Let me observe this sacrifice, as covering the guilt of my wanderings, and opening my way to return--yes, drawing me into the way. Surely then, I may add to my contrite confession the prayer of confidence--seek Your servant. I cannot forbear to plead, that though a rebellious prodigal, I am still Your servant, Your child: I still bear the child's mark of an interest in Your covenant. Though a wanderer from the fold, I do not forget Your commandments. Nothing can erase Your law, which was "written in my mind and inward parts" by the finger and Spirit of God, as an earnest of my adoption, as the pledge of my restoration. What man writes is easily blotted out; what God writes is indelible. Let me then lie humbled and self-abased. But let me not forget my claim--what has been done for me. Thus, again, I hope to be received as a "dear" and "pleasant child;" again to be clothed with "the best robe," to be welcomed with fresh tokens of my Father's everlasting love, and to be assured with the precious promise, "My sheep shall never perish, and none shall pluck them out of My hand."
Such, Christian reader, would be the application we should make of this verse to ourselves; and such a penitent confession of our backslidings, united with a believing dependence on the long-tried grace and faithfulness of our God, would form a suitable conclusion to our meditations on this most interesting Psalm. We would unite the tax-collector's prayer with the great Apostle's confidence; and, while in holy brokenness of heart we would wish to live and die, smiting upon our bosom, and saying, "God be merciful to me a sinner:" the remembrance of our adoption warrants the expression of assurance, "I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him against that day." Yet, as it regards the experience of David, is there not something striking, and we had almost said, unexpected, in the conclusion of this Psalm? To hear one, who has throughout been expressing such holy and joyful aspirations for the salvation of his God, such fervent praises of His love, that we seem to shrink back from the comparison with him, as if considering him almost on the verge of heaven--to hear this "man after God's own heart," sinking himself to the lowest dust, under the sense of the evil of his heart, and his perpetual tendency to wander from his God, is indeed a most instructive lesson. It marks the believer's conflict sustained to the end:--the humility, and yet the strength, of his confidence; the highest notes of praise combining with the deepest expressions of abasement--forming that harmony of acceptable service, which ascends "like pillars of smoke" before God. And thus will our Christian progress be chequered, until we reach the regions of unmixed praise, where we shall no longer mourn over our wanderings, no longer feel any inclination to err from Him, or the difficulty of returning to Him--where we shall be eternally safe in the heavenly fold, to "go no more out."
"That is why they are standing in front of the throne of God, serving him day and night in his Temple. And he who sits on the throne will live among them and shelter them. They will never again be hungry or thirsty, and they will be fully protected from the scorching noontime heat. For the Lamb who stands in front of the throne will be their Shepherd. He will lead them to the springs of life-giving water. And God will wipe away all their tears." Revelation 7:15-17