Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,
says Yahweh of Hosts. Zechariah 4:6
Lift up your heads, O gates, and be lifted up, O ancient doors,
That the King of Glory may come in! Who is this King of Glory?
Yahweh of Hosts: He is the King of Glory. Psalm 24:9-10
This marvelous poem [Psalm 119] seemed to me a great sea of holy teaching, moving, in its many verses, wave upon wave, altogether without an island of special and remarkable statement to break it up. I confess I hesitated to launch upon it. Other Psalms have been mere lakes, but this is the main ocean. It is a continent of sacred thought, every inch of which is fertile as the garden of the Lord. It is an amazing level of abundance, a mighty stretch of harvest fields. I have now crossed the great plain for myself but not without persevering, and, I will add, pleasurable toil. Several great authors have traversed this region and left their tracks behind them, and so far the journey has been all the easier for me. But yet to me and to my helpers it has been no mean feat of patient authorship and research. This great Psalm is a book in itself. Instead of being one among many Psalms, it is worthy to be set forth by itself as a poem of surpassing excellence. Those who have never studied it may pronounce it commonplace and complain of its repetitions. But to the thoughtful student it is like the great deep, full so as never to be measured, and varied so as never to weary the eye. Its depth is as great as its length. It is mystery, not set forth as mystery, but concealed beneath the simplest statements.
[Psalm 119] is like the celestial city which lies four-square, and the height and the breadth of it are equal. Many superficial readers have imagined that it harps upon one string and abounds in pious repetitions and redundancies. But this arises from the shallowness of the reader's own mind. Those who have studied this divine hymn and carefully noted each line of it are amazed at the variety and profundity of the thought. Using only a few words, the writer has produced permutations and combinations of meaning which display his holy familiarity with his subject and the sanctified ingenuity of his mind. He never repeats himself, for if the same sentiment recurs it is placed in a fresh connection and so exhibits another interesting shade of meaning. The more one studies it the fresher it becomes. As those who drink the Nile water like it better every time they take a drink, so does this Psalm become the more full and fascinating the oftener you turn to it. It contains no idle word. The grapes of this cluster are almost to bursting full with the new wine of the kingdom. The more you look into this mirror of a gracious heart the more you will see in it. Placid on the surface as the sea of glass before the eternal throne, it yet contains within its depths an ocean of fire, and those who devoutly gaze into it shall not only see the brightness but feel the glow of the sacred flame. It is loaded with holy sense and is as weighty as it is bulky. Again and again have we cried while studying it, "Oh, the depths!" Yet these depths are hidden beneath an apparent simplicity, as Augustine has well and wisely said, and this makes the exposition all the more difficult. Its obscurity is hidden beneath a veil of light, and hence only those discover it who are in thorough earnest not only to look on the word, but, like the angels, to look into it.
This is a Psalm by itself. It excels them all and shines brightest in this constellation. It is much longer than any of them; more than twice as long as any of them. It is not making long prayers that Christ censures, but making them for a pretense, which intimates that they are in themselves good and commendable. It seems to me to be a collection of David's pious and devout ejaculations, the short and sudden breathings of his soul to God, which he wrote down as they occurred, and towards the latter end of his time gathered them out of his daybook where they lay scattered, added to them many like words, and digested them into this Psalm in which there is seldom any coherence between the verses. But, like Solomon's proverbs, it is a chest of gold rings, not a chain of gold links. And we may not only learn by the Psalmist's example to accustom ourselves to such pious ejaculations, which are an excellent means of maintaining constant communion with God and keeping the heart in frame for the more solemn exercises of religion, but we must make use of the Psalmist's words both for the exciting and the expressing of our devout affections. Some have said of this Psalm, "He who shall read it considerately, it will either warm him or shame him." And this is true.
In the 1st Psalm it was "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly"; but who could think to walk in that way and not have his feet soiled? Who could go upon hot coals and his feet be not burned? Here, however, the caution is to take heed not to get any soil or defilement "in the way"--in the Lord's way. Oh! what an insight does this give us of the pitfalls and snares that beset us in the road, and of the plague and evil of our own hearts that even in the midst of holy things some stain or spot or wrinkle will stick to us! (Barton Bouchier)
The word of God is called his testimony not only because it testifies his will concerning his service, but also his favor and goodwill concerning his own in Christ Jesus. If God's word were no more than a law, yet were we bound to obey it because we are his creatures. But since it is also a testimony of his love, wherein as a father he witnesses his favor towards his children, we are doubly inexcusable if we do not most joyfully embrace it. (William Cowper)
Has God enjoined us to observe his precepts so exceeding carefully and diligently? Then let nothing draw us therefrom, no, not in the least circumstance. Let us esteem nothing needless, frivolous, or superfluous that we have a warrant for out of his word, nor count those too wise or precise who will stand resolutely upon the same. If the Lord require anything, though the world should gainsay [contradict] it, and we be derided and abused for the doing of it, yet let us proceed still in the course of our obedience. (Richard Greenham)
In tracing the connection of this verse with the preceding, we cannot forbear to remark how accurately the middle path is preserved, as keeping us at an equal distance from the idea of self-sufficiency to "keep the Lord's statutes" and self-justification in neglecting them. The first attempt to render spiritual obedience will quickly convince us of our utter helplessness. We might as soon create a world as create in our hearts one pulse of spiritual life. And yet our inability does not cancel our obligation. It is the weakness of a heart that "cannot be subject to the law of God," for no other reason than because it is "carnal" and therefore "enmity against God." Our inability is our sin, our guilt, our condemnation, and instead of excusing our condition, stops our mouth and leaves us destitute of any plea of defense before God. Thus our obligation remains in full force. We are bound to obey the commands of God whether we can or not. What, then, remains for us but to return the mandate to heaven, accompanied with an earnest prayer that the Lord would write upon our hearts those statutes to which he requires obedience in his word? "Thou hast commanded us to keep thy statutes diligently." We acknowledge, Lord, our obligation, but we feel our impotency. Lord, help us; we look unto thee. "O that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes." (Charles Bridges)
This prayer reads like the startled cry of one who was half afraid that he had been presumptuous in expressing the foregoing resolve. He desired to keep the divine statutes, and like Peter he vowed that he would do so. But remembering his own weakness, he recoils from his own venturesomeness and feel that he must pray. I have made a solemn vow, but what if I have uttered it in my own strength? What if God should leave me to myself? He is filled with terror at the thought. He breaks out with an "Oh". He implores and beseeches the Lord not to test him by leaving him even for an instant entirely to himself. To be forsaken of God is the worst ill that the most melancholy saint ever dreams of. Thank God, it will never fall to our lot; for no promise can be more express than that which says, "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee." This promise does not prevent our praying but excites us to it. Because God will not forsake his own, therefore do we cry to him in the agony of our feebleness, "Oh, forsake me not utterly." (Charles Spurgeon)
Instead of question and answer both in this one verse, the Hebrew demands the construction with question only, leaving the answer to be inferred from the drift of the entire Psalm--thus: "Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way to keep it according to thy word?" This translation gives precisely the force of the last clause. Hebrew punctuation lacks the interrogation point, so that we have no other clue but the form of the sentence and the sense by which to decide where the question ends. (Henry Cowles)
It is not that young men in our day require information; they require the inclination. In the gracious young man there are both, and the word that began feeds the proper motives. The awful threatenings and the sweet encouragements both move him in the right direction. The answer furnished to this anxious inquiry is sufficiently plain and practical. He is directed to the word of God for all direction, and we might say, for all promised assistance. Still the matter presented in this light does not appear to me to bring out the full import of the passage. The inquiry to me would seem to extend over the whole verse. There is required the cleansing that his way be according to the Divine Word. The inquiry is of the most enlarged comprehension and will be made only by one who can say that he has been honestly putting himself in the way, as the young man in the 10th and 11th verses; and it can be answered only by the heart that takes in all the strength provided by the blessed God, as is expressed here in the 12th verse. The Psalmist makes the inquiry, he shows how earnestly he had sought to be in the right way, and immediately he finds all his strength in God. Thus he declares how he has been enabled to do rightly and how he will do rightly in the future. (John Stephen)
Whoever reads the Psalm with attention must observe in it one great characteristic, and that is, how decisive are its statements that in keeping the commandments of God nothing can be done by human strength, but that it is he who must create the will for the performance of such duty. The Psalmist entreats the Lord to open his eyes that he may behold the wondrous things of the law, to teach him his statutes, to remove from him the way of lying, to incline his heart unto his testimonies, and not to covetousness, to turn away his eyes from beholding vanity, and not to take the word of truth utterly out of his mouth. Each of these petitions shows how deeply impressed he was of his entire helplessness as regarded himself, and how completely dependent upon God he felt himself for any advancement he could hope to make in the knowledge of the truth. All his studies in the divine law, all his aspirations after holiness of life he was well assured could never meet with any measure of success except by the grace of God preventing and cooperating, implanting in him a right desire, and acting as an infallible guide whereby alone he would be enabled to arrive at the proper sense of Holy Scripture, as well as to correct principles of action in his daily walk before God and man. (George Phillips)
How much our "rejoicing in the testimonies" of God would be increased by a more habitual meditation upon them! This is, however, a resolution which the carnal mind can never be brought to make, and to which the renewed mind through remaining depravity is often sadly reluctant. But it is a blessed employment and will repay a thousandfold the difficulty of engaging the too backward heart in the duty. (Charles Bridges)
He takes pleasure in owning his duty to God and counts it the joy of his heart to be in the service of his God. Out of his condition he makes a plea, for a servant has some hold upon a master. But in this case the wording of the plea shuts out the idea of legal claim, since he seeks bounty rather than reward. Let my wages be according to thy goodness and not according to my merit. Reward me according to the largeness of thy liberality and not according to the scantiness of my service. The hired servants of our Father have all of them bread enough and to spare, and he will not leave one of his household to perish with hunger. If the Lord will only treat us as he treats the least of his servants we may be well content, for all his true servants are sons, princes of the blood, heirs of life eternal. David felt that his great needs required a bountiful provision and that his little desert wold never earn such a supply. Hence he must throw himself upon God's grace and look for the great things he needed from the great goodness of the Lord. He begs for a liberality of grace after the fashion of one who prayed. "O Lord, thou must give me great mercy or no mercy, for little mercy will not serve my turn." (Charles Spurgeon)
These words might be--Render unto thy servant, or upon thy servant. A deep signification seems to be here involved. The holy man will take the responsibility of being dealt with, not certainly as a mere sinful man, but as a man placing himself in the way appointed for reconciliation. Such we find to be the actual case, as you read in the 16th verse in the part immediately preceding--"I will delight myself in thy statutes; I will not forget thy word." Now, the statutes of the Lord referred preeminently to the sacrifice for sin and the cleansings for purifications that were prescribed in the Law. You have to conceive of the man of God as being in the midst of the Levitical ritual, for which you find him making all preparations (1 Chr. 22, 23, 24). Placing himself therefore upon these, he would pray the Lord to deal with him according to them. Or, as we in the New Testament language would say, placing himself on the great atonement the believer would pray the Lord to deal with him according to his standing in Christ, which would be in graciousness or bounty. For if the Lord be just to condemn without the atonement, he is also just to pardon through the atonement. Yea, he is just and the justifier of him who believes in Jesus. (John Stephen)
That he styles himself so frequently the servant of God notes the reverent estimation he had of his God, in that he accounts it more honorable to be called the servant of God who was above him than the king of a mighty, ancient, and most famous people who were under him. And indeed, since the angels are styled his ministers shall men think it a shame to serve him, and especially since he of his goodness has made them our servants--"ministering spirits"--to us? Should we not joyfully serve him who has made all his creatures to serve us, and exempted us from the service of all other, and has only bound us to serve himself? (William Cowper)
How few are there even among the servants of God who know anything of the intense feeling of devotion here expressed! O that our cold and stubborn hearts were warmed and subdued by divine grace that we might be ready to faint by reason of the longing which he had "at all times" for the judgments of our God. How fitful are our best feelings! If today we ascend the mount of communion with God, tomorrow we are in danger of being again entangled with the things of earth. How happy are they whose hearts are "at all times" filled with longings after fellowship with the great and glorious object of their love! (John Morison)
So sure as God is just, pride shall not go unpunished. I know now we are all ready to call for a basin, with Pilate, and to wash our hands from this foul sin. Honorable and beloved, this vice is a close one. It will cleave fast to you; yea, so close that you can hardly discern it from a piece of yourselves. This is it that aggravates the danger of it. For as Aquinas notes well, some sins are more dangerous "for the fury of their assault," as the sin of anger; others for their correspondence to nature, as the sins of lust; others "for their close skulking" in our bosom, as the sin of pride. Oh, let us look seriously into the corners of our false hearts, even with the lantern of God's law, and find out this subtle devil, and never give peace to our souls till we have dispossessed him. . . . There is not the holiest of us but is this way faulty. Oh, let us be humbled by our repentance that we may not be brought down to everlasting confusion. Let us be cast down upon our knees that we may not be cast down upon our faces. (Joseph Hall)
The word rendered "cleaves" means to be glued to; to stick fast. It has the sense of adhering firmly to anything, so that it cannot easily be separated from it. The word "dust" here may mean either the earth and earthly things, considered as low, base, unworthy, worldly; or it may mean the grave, as if he were near to that and in danger of dying. De Wette understands it in the latter sense. Yet the word cleave would hardly suggest this idea. The force of that word would be better represented by the idea that his soul, as it were, adhered to the things of earth, that it seemed to be so fastened to them-- so glued to them that it could not be detached from them; that his affections were low, earthly, grovelling, so as to give him deep distress and lead him to cry to God for life and strength that he might break away from them. (Albert Barnes)
No one has less cause for despair than he who has lost hope in himself, and really learns to seek in God that, which he deeply feels, he least of all can give himself. (J. J. Van Oosterzee)
One does not wonder at the fluctuations which occur in the feelings and experience of a child of God--at one time high on the mountain, near to God and communing with God, at another in the deep and dark valley. All, more or less, know these changes and have their sorrowing as well as their rejoicing seasons. When we parted with David last, what was he telling us of his experience? That God's testimonies were his delight and his counsellors [vs. 24]. But now what a different strain! All joy is darkened, and his soul cleaves to the dust. And there must have been seasons of deep depression and despondency in the heart of David--driven as a fugitive and wanderer from his home, hunted as a partridge upon the mountains, and holding, as he himself says, his life continually in his hands. Yet I think in this portion of the Psalm [vss. 25-32] there is evidence of a deeper abasement and sorrow of heart than any mere worldly suffering could produce. He had indeed said, "I shall one day perish by the hand of Saul." But, even in that moment of weak and murmuring faith, he knew that he was God's anointed one to sit on the throne of Israel. But here there is indication of sin, of grievous sin which had laid his soul low in the dust; and I think the petition in the 29th verse gives us some clue to what that sin had been: "Remove me from the way of lying." Had David--you may well ask in wonder--had David ever lied? Had he ever deviated from the strait and honorable path of truth? I am afraid we must own that he had at one time gone so near the confines of a falsehood that one would be but a poor casuist and a worse moralist who should attempt to defend the Psalmist from the imputation. We cannot read the 27th chapter of the 1st of Samuel without owning into what a sad tissue of equivocation and deceit David was unhappily seduced. Well might his soul cleave to the dust as he reviewed that period of his career. And though grace did for him what it afterwards did for Peter, and he was plucked as a brand out of the burning, yet one can well imagine that, like the Apostle afterwards, when he thought thereon he wept, and that bitterly. (Barton Bouchier)
Here he acknowledges that although he were already exercised in the law of God and in his knowledge, and that although he were a prophet to teach others, nevertheless he was subject to a number of wicked thoughts and imaginations which might always wickedly lead him from the right way, except God had held him with his mighty and strong hand. And this is a point which we ought here rightly to note, for we see how men greatly abuse themselves. When any of us shall have had a good beginning, we straightway think that we are at the highest. We never bethink us to pray any more to God when once he has showed us favor enough to serve our turns. But if we have done any small deed, we by-and-by lift up ourselves and wonder at our great virtues, thinking straightway that the Devil can win no more of us. This foolish arrogance causes God to let us go astray so that we fall mightily, yea, that we break both arms and legs and are in great hazard of breaking our necks. I speak not now of our natural body but of our soul. Let us look upon David himself, for he it is who has made proof hereof. It came to pass that he villainously and wickedly erred when he took Bathsheba the wife of his subject, Uriah, to play the whoremonger with her, that he was the cause of so execrable a murder, yea, and that of many; for he did as much as in him lay to cause the whole army of the Lord and all the people of Israel to be utterly overthrown. See, then, the great negligence and security into which David fell; and see also why he says, "Alas, my good God, I beseech thee so to guide me that I may forsake the way of lying." (John Calvin)
In this Octonarius, now and again the same prayer is repeated, of which several times mention has before been made. For he prays that he may be divinely taught, governed, strengthened, and defended against the calumnies, reproaches, and threatenings of his enemies. And the prayer is full of the most ardent longings, which is manifest from the same resolve being so frequently repeated. For the more he knows the ignorance, obscurity, doubts, and the imbecility of the human mind and sees how men are impelled by a slight momentum so that they fall away from the truth and embrace errors repugnant to the divine word, or fall into great sins, the more ardently and strongly does he ask in prayer that he may be divinely taught, governed, and strengthened lest he should cast away acknowledged truth or plunge himself into wickedness. And by his example he teaches that we also, against blindness born with us and the imbecility of our flesh and also against the snares and madnesses of devils, should fortify ourselves with those weapons, namely, with the right study and knowledge of the divine Word and with constant prayer. For if so great a man who had made such preeminent attainments prayed for this, how much more ought they to do so who are but novices and ignorant beginners. This is the sum of this Octonarius. (D. H. Mollerus)
In the sincerity of your hearts go to God for his teaching. God is pleased with the request. "Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad. For who is able to judge this thy so great a people? And the speech pleased the Lord, that Solomon had asked this thing" (1 Kings 3:9,10). Oh, beg it of God for these three reasons: (1) The way of God's statutes is worthy to be found by all. (2) It is hard to be found and kept by any. (3) It is so dangerous to miss it, that this should quicken us to be earnest with God. (Thomas Manton)
In every sin there is something both of ignorance and error at the bottom. For did sinners truly know what they do in sinning, we might say of every sin what the Apostle speaks concerning that great sin, "Had they known him, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory" (1 Cor. 2:8). Did they truly know that every sin is a provoking the Lord to jealousy, a proclaiming war against heaven, a crucifying the Lord Jesus afresh, a treasuring up wrath afresh unto themselves against the day of wrath, and that if ever they be pardoned it must be at no lower a rate than the price of his blood--it were scarce possible but sin instead of alluring should affright, and instead of tempting, scare. (From the "Recommendatory Epistle prefixed to the Westminster Confession and Catechisms")
The Psalmist does not ask the Lord to do for him what he ought to do for himself. He wishes himself to "go" or tread in the path of the command. He asks not to be carried while he lies passive but to be made "to go." Grace does not treat us as stocks and stones, to be dragged by horses or engines, but as creatures endowed with life, reason, will, and active powers, who are willing and able to go of themselves if once made to do so. God works is us, but it is that we may both will and do according to his good pleasure. The holiness we seek after is not a forced compliance with command, but the indulgence of a whole-hearted passion for goodness such as shall conform our life to the will of the Lord. Can the reader say, "therein do I delight"? Is practical godliness the very jewel of your soul, the coveted prize of your mind? If so the outward path of life, however rough, will be clean and lead the soul upward to delight ineffable. He who delights in the law should not doubt but what he will be enabled to run in its ways, for where the heart already finds its joy the feet are sure to follow. (Charles Spurgeon)
A child of God has not the bent of his heart so perfectly fixed towards God but it is ever and anon returning to its old bent and bias again. The best may find that they cannot keep their affections as loose from the world when they have houses and lands and all things at their will as they could when they are kept low and bare. The best may find that their love to heavenly things is on the wane as worldly things are on the increase. It is reported of Pius Quintus that he should say of himself, that when he first entered into orders he had some hopes of his salvation; when he came to be a cardinal he doubted of it; but since he came to be pope he did even almost despair. Many may find a very great change in themselves as it fares better with them in the world--much decay of zeal for God's glory, [less] love and relish of God's word and mindfulness of heavenly things. Now it is good to observe this before the mischief increases. Look, as jealousy and caution are necessary to prevent the entrance and beginning of this mischief, so observation is necessary to prevent the increase of it. When the world gets too deep an interest in our hearts, when it begins to insinuate and entice us from God and weaken our delight in the ways of God and zeal for his glory, then we need often to tell you how hard it is for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven. (Thomas Manton)
We must be convinced that covetousness, I mean that our covetousness, is a vice; for it holds something of a virtue--of frugality--which is not to waste that which one has, and this makes us entertain thoughts that it is no vice. (Richard Capel)
Were we naturally and spontaneously inclined to the righteousness of the law, there would be no occasion for the petition of the Psalmist, "Incline my heart." It remains, therefore, that our hearts are full of sinful thoughts and wholly rebellious until God by his grace change them. (John Calvin)
"Covetousness" is an immoderate desire of riches in which these vices concur: First, an excessive love of riches and the fixing of our hearts upon them. Second, a resolution to become rich, either by lawful or unlawful means. Third, too much haste in gathering riches joined with impatience of any delay. Fourth, an insatiable appetite which can never be satisfied. Fifth, miser-like tenacity whereby they refuse to communicate their goods, either for the use of others or themselves. Sixth, cruelty exercised both in their unmercifulness and oppression of the poor. Covetousness is a most heinous vice, for it is idolatry and the root of all evil, a pernicious thorn that stifles all grace and chokes the seed of the word and pierces men through with many sorrows and drowns them in destruction and perdition. (James Usher)
It is a most dangerous experiment for a child of God to place himself within the sphere of seductive temptations. Every feeling of duty, every recollection of his own weakness, every remembrance of the failure of others should induce him to hasten to the greatest possible distance from the scene of unnecessary conflict and danger. (John Morison)
Is it asked, "What will most effectually turn my eyes from vanity?" Not the seclusion of contemplative retirement; not the relinquishment of our lawful connection with the world; but the transcendent beauty of Jesus unveiled to our eyes and fixing our hearts. (Charles Bridges)
This commences a new portion of the Psalm in which each verse begins with the letter Vau, or v. There are almost no words in Hebrew that begin with this letter, which is properly a conjunction, and hence in each of the verses in this section the beginning of the verse is in the original a conjunction--vau. (Albert Barnes)
The mercies of God everywhere meet the man whom God quickens (vs. 40). David understood that God blesses the soul, the body, the household, the ordinances, and all things else that belong to his servants; the whole of which blessing is from mercy, without merit, bestowed largely, wonderfully, etc. (Martin Geier)
It is not any sort of delivery by any means which the servant of God, being in straits, does call for or desire, but such a deliverance as God will allow and be pleased to give in a holy way. "Let thy salvation come." As the word of promise is the rule of our petition, so is it a pawn of the thing promised and must be held fast till the performance come. (David Dickson)
Sometimes we are afraid to speak for the Savior lest we should incur the charge of hypocrisy. At other times we are ashamed to speak from the absence of that only constraining principle--"the love of Christ." And thus "the word of truth is taken out of our mouths." Often have we wanted a word to speak for the relief of the Lord's tempted people and have not been able to find it, so that the recollection of precious lost opportunities may well give utterance to the prayer, "Take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth." Not only do not take it out of my heart, but let it be ready in my mouth for a confession of my Master. Some of us know the painful trial of the indulgence of worldly habits and conversation, when a lack of liberty of spirit has hindered us from standing up boldly for our God. We may perhaps allege the plea of bashfulness or judicious caution in excuse for silence, which however, in many instances, we must regard as a self-deceptive covering for the real cause of restraint--the lack of apprehension of the mercy of God to the soul. (Charles Bridges)
Wherever God pardons sin, he subdues it (Mic. 7:19). Then is the condemning power of sin taken away when the commanding power of it is taken away. If a malefactor be in prison, how shall he know that his prince has pardoned him? If a jailer comes and knocks off his chains and fetters and lets him out of prison, then he may know he is pardoned. So, how shall we know God has pardoned us? If the fetters of sin be broken off and we walk at liberty in the ways of God, this is a blessed sign we are pardoned. (Thomas Watson)
When the Bible says that a man led by the Spirit is not under the law, it does not mean that he is free because he may sin without being punished for it. But it means that he is free because being taught by God's Spirit to love what his law commands, he is no longer conscious of acting from restraint. The law does not drive him, because the Spirit leads him. (Frederick William Robertson)
God promises salvation before he gives it to excite our desire of it, to exercise our faith, to prove our sincerity, to perfect our patience. For these purposes he seems sometimes to have forgotten his word and to have deserted those whom he had engaged to succor and relieve; in which case he would have us, as it were, to remind him of his promise and solicit his performance of it. The Psalmist here instructs us to prefer our petition upon these grounds: first, that God cannot prove false to his own word--"Remember thy word;" second, that he will never disappoint an expectation which himself has raised--"upon which thou hast caused me to hope." (George Horne)
As David beseeches the Lord to remember his promise, so he protests in verse 52 that he remembered the judgments of God, and was comforted; and in verse 55 that he remembered the name of the Lord in the night. It is but a mockery of God to desire him to remember his promise made to us when we make no conscience of the promise we have made to him. But alas, how often we fail in this duty and by our own default diminish that comfort we might have of God's promises in the day of our trouble. (William Cowper)
Comfort is desirable at all times, but comfort in affliction is like a lamp in a dark place. Some are unable to find comfort at such times; but it is not so with believers, for their Savior has said to them, "I will not leave you comfortless." Some have comfort and no affliction, others have affliction and no comfort, but the saints have comfort in their affliction.
The word frequently comforts us by increasing the force of our inner life: "This is my comfort; thy word has quickened me." To quicken the heart is to cheer the whole man. Often the near way to consolation is sanctification and invigoration. If we cannot clear away the fog, it may be better to rise to a higher level and so to get above it. Troubles which weigh us down while we are half dead become mere trifles when we are full of life. Thus have we often been raised in spirit by quickening grace; and the same thing will happen again, for the comforter is still with us. The Consolation of Israel ever lives and the very God of peace is evermore our Father. On looking back upon our past life, there is one ground of comfort as to our state--the word of God has made us alive and kept us so. We were dead, but we are dead no longer. From this we gladly infer that if the Lord had meant to destroy he would not have quickened us. If we were only hypocrites worthy of derision, as the proud ones say, he would not have revived us by his grace. An experience of quickening is a fountain of good cheer. (Charles Spurgeon)
Adore God's distinguishing grace if you have felt the power and authority of the word upon your conscience; if you can say as David, "Thy word has quickened me." Christian, bless God that he has not only given you his word to be a rule of holiness but his grace to be a principle of holiness. Bless God that he has not only written his word but sealed it upon your heart and made it effectual. Can you say it is of divine inspiration because you have felt it to be of lively operation? Oh free grace! That God should send out his word and heal you; that he should heal you and not others! That the same Scripture which to them is a dead letter should be to you a savor of life. (Thomas Watson)
He was horrified at their action, at the pride which led them to it, and at the punishment which would be sure to fall upon them for it. When he thought upon the ancient judgments of God, he was filled with terror at the fate of the godless, as well he might be. Their laughter had not distressed him, but he was distressed by a foresight of their overthrow. Truths which were amusement to them caused amazement to him. He saw them utterly turning away from the law of God and leaving it as a path forsaken and overgrown from lack of traffic, and this forsaking of the law filled him with the most painful emotions. He was astonished at their wickedness, stunned by their presumption, alarmed by the expectation of their sudden overthrow, amazed by the terror of their certain doom.
See verses 106 and 158 and note the tenderness which combined with all this. Those who are the firmest believers in the eternal punishment of the wicked are the most grieved at their doom. It is no proof of tenderness to shut one's eyes to the awful doom of the ungodly. Compassion is far better shown in trying to save sinners than in trying to make things pleasant all round. Oh that we were all more distressed as we think of the portion of the ungodly in the lake of fire! The popular plan is to shut your eyes and forget all about it or pretend to doubt it. But this is not the way of the faithful servant of God. (Charles Spurgeon)
Oh, who can express what the state of a soul in such circumstances is! All that we can possibly say about it gives but a very feeble, faint representation of it. It is inexpressible and inconceivable, for who knows the power of God's anger?
How dreadful is the state of those who are daily and hourly in danger of this great wrath and infinite misery! But this is the dismal case of every soul in this congregation who has not been born again, however moral and strict, sober and religious they may otherwise be. Oh that you would consider it, whether you be young or old! There is reason to think that there are many in this congregation now hearing this discourse who will actually be the subjects of this very misery to all eternity. We know not who they are, or in what seats they sit, or what thoughts they now have. It may be they are now at ease, and hear all these things without much disturbance, and are now flattering themselves that they are not the persons, promising themselves that they shall escape. If we knew that there was one person, and but one, in the whole congregation who was to be the subject of this misery, what an awful thing would it be to think of! If we knew who it was, what an awful sight would it be to see such a person! How might all the rest of the congregation lift up a lamentable and bitter cry over him! But, alas! Instead of one, how many is it likely will remember this discourse in hell! (Jonathan Edwards in a sermon entitled, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God)
He is an exceedingly covetous fellow to whom God is not sufficient, and he is an exceeding fool to whom the world is sufficient. For God is an inexhaustible treasury of all riches, sufficing innumerable men, while the world has mere trifles and fascinations to offer and leads the soul into deep and sorrowful poverty. (Thomas LeBlanc)
The Word of God may be divided into three parts: into commandments, threatenings, and promises. And though a Christian must not neglect the commanding and threatening word, yet if ever he would make the Word a channel for Divine comfort, he must study the promising word, for the promises are a Christian's magna charta for heaven. All comfort must be built upon a Scripture promise, else it is presumption, not true comfort. The promises are the food of faith and the soul of faith. As faith is the life of a Christian, so the promises are the life of faith. Faith is a dead faith if it has no promise to quicken it. As the promises are of no use without faith to apply them, so faith is of no use without a promise to lay hold on. (Edward Calamy)
Avoid all delay in the performance of this great work of believing in Christ. Until we have performed it we continue under the power of sin and Satan, and under the wrath of God; and there is nothing between hell and us besides the breath of our nostrils. It is dangerous for Lot to linger in Sodom, lest fire and brimstone come down from heaven upon him. The manslayer must fly with all haste to the city of refuge, lest the avenger of blood pursue him, while his heart is hot and slay him. We should make haste and not delay to keep God's commandments. (Walter Marshall)
If convictions begin to work, instantly yield to their influence. If any worldly or sinful desire is touched, let this be the moment for its crucifixion. If any affection is kindled towards the Savior, give immediate expression to its voice. If any grace is reviving, let it be called forth into instant duty. This is the best, the only, expedient to fix and detain the motion of the Spirit now striving in the hearts. And who knows but that the improvement of the present advantage may be the moment of victory over difficulties hitherto found insuperable, and may open our path to heaven with less interruption and more steady progress? (Charles Bridges)
We learn hence the preciousness of time . . . . We should not content ourselves with so much grace as will merely serve to save us. Alas! we have much idle time hanging upon our hands. If we would give that to God, it were well. (Thomas Manton)
This is the summary of his life, and assuredly it is the sum of ours. The Psalmist tells the Lord the verdict of his heart. He cannot be silent; he must speak his gratitude in the presence of Jehovah, his God. From the universal goodness of God in nature, in verse 64, it is an easy and pleasant step to a confession of the Lord's uniform goodness to ourselves personally. It is something that God has dealt at all with such insignificant and undeserving beings as we are, and it is far more that he has dealt well with us--and so well, so wondrously well. He has done all things well; the rule has no exception. In providence and in grace, in giving prosperity and sending adversity, in everything Jehovah has dealt well with us. It is dealing well on our part to tell the Lord that we feel that he has dealt well with us, for praise of this kind is specially fitting and comely. This kindness of the Lord is, however, no chance matter. He promised to do so, and he has done it according to his word. It is very precious to see the word of the Lord fulfilled in our happy experience. It endears the Scripture to us and makes us love the Lord of the Scripture. The book of providence tallies with the book of promise. What we read in the page of inspiration we meet with again in the leaves of our life story. We may not have thought that it would be so, but our unbelief is repented of now that we see the mercy of the Lord to us and his faithfulness to his word. Henceforth we are bound to display a firmer faith both in God and in his promise. He has spoken well, and he has dealt well. He is the best of Masters, for it is to a very unworthy and incapable servant that he has acted thus blessedly. Does not this cause us to delight in his service more and more? We cannot say that we have dealt well with our Master, for when we have done all we are unprofitable servants. But as for our Lord, he has given us light work, large maintenance, loving encouragement, and liberal wages. It is a wonder that he has not long ago discharged us, or at least reduced our allowances or handled us roughly. Yet we have had no hard dealings. All has been ordered with as much consideration as if we had rendered perfect obedience. We have had bread enough and to spare, our livery has been duly supplied, and his service has ennobled us and made us happy as kings. Complaints we have none. We lose ourselves in adoring thanksgiving and find ourselves again in careful thanks-living. (Charles Spurgeon)
If the children of God did but know what was best for them, they would perceive that God did that which was best for them. (John Mason)
He knew that God's gifts are without repentance, and that he is not weary of well-doing but will finish the thing he has begun; and therefore he pleads past favors. Nothing is more forcible to obtain mercy than to lay God's former mercies before him. Here are two grounds: First, if he dealt well with him when he was not regenerate, how much more will he now? Second, all the gifts of God shall be perfectly finished, therefore he will go on to deal well with his servant. Here is a difference between faith and an accusing conscience: the accusing conscience is afraid to ask more because it has abused the former mercies; but faith, assuring us that all God's benefits are tokens of his love bestowed on us according to his word, is bold to ask for more. (Richard Greenham)
The expression, "according to thy word, is so often repeated in this Psalm that we are apt to overlook it or to give it only the general meaning of "because of thy promise." But in reality it implies much more. Had God dealt "well" with David according to man's idea? If so, what mean such expressions as these: "O forsake me not utterly" (vs. 8); "I am a stranger in the earth" (vs. 19); "My soul cleaves unto the dust" (vs. 25); "My soul melts for heaviness" (vs. 28); "Turn away my reproach which I fear" (vs. 39); "The proud have had me greatly in derision" (vs. 51); "Horror has taken hold upon me" (vs. 53)?
In view of such passages as these, can it be said that God "dealt well" with David according to man's idea? David's experience was one of very great and very varied trial. There is not a phase of our feelings in sorrow which does not find ample expression in his Psalms. And yet he says, "Thou hast dealt well with thy servant, according to thy word."
How, then, are we to interpret the expression, so often repeated here, in accordance with the facts of David's spiritual life?
God dealt well with him "according to his word" in the sense of dealing with him according to what his word explained was the true good--not delivering him from all trial, but sending him such trial as he specially required. He felt truly that God had dealt well with him when he could say, "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now have I kept thy word" (vs. 67). Again, "It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn thy statutes" (vs. 71). Such dealing was hard for flesh and blood to bear, but it was indeed "well" in the sense of accomplishing most blessed results.
It was "according to his word" too in the sense of being in accordance with his revealed manner of dealing with his people, who are chastened for their profit.
Again, God had "dealt well" with David according to his word or covenant, the present fulfillment (even if in itself bitter) being a sure earnest of his final perfecting of his work, and glorifying himself in the entire fulfillment of his word, in the completed salvation of his servant.
According to thy word, O Lord, thou hast dealt well with thy servant. Thy word is the light and lamp that shows things in their true aspect, and teaches us to know that all things work together for good to thy people; that thou doest all things well. "Open thou mine eyes, O Lord, that I may see wondrous things out of thy law." What can be more wonderful than such views to our eyes? (Mary B. M. Duncan)
Again he begs for teaching, as in verse 64, and again he uses God's mercy as an argument. Since God had dealt well with him, he is encouraged to pray for judgment to appreciate the Lord's goodness. Good judgment is the form of goodness which the godly man most needs and most desires, and it is one which the Lord is most ready to bestow. David felt that he had frequently failed in judgment in the matter of the Lord's dealings with him. From lack of knowledge he had misjudged the chastening hand of the heavenly Father, and therefore he now asks to be better instructed since he perceives the injustice which he had done to the Lord by his hasty conclusions. He means to say, "Lord, thou didst deal well with me when I thought thee hard and stern. Be pleased to give me more wit that I may not a second time think so ill of my Lord." A sight of our errors and a sense of our ignorance should make us teachable. We are not able to judge, for our knowledge is so sadly inaccurate and imperfect. If the Lord teaches us knowledge we shall attain to good judgment, but not otherwise. The Holy Ghost alone can fill us with light and set the understanding upon a proper balance. Let us ardently long for his teachings, since it is most desirable that we should be no longer mere children in knowledge and understanding. (Charles Spurgeon)
Certainly there is a faith in the commandments as well as in the promises. We must believe that God is their author and that they are the expressions of his commanding and legislative will, which we are bound to obey. Faith must discern the sovereignty and goodness of the law-maker and believe that his commands are holy, just and good. It must also teach us that God loves those who keep his law and is angry with those who transgress, and that he will see to it that his law is vindicated at the last great day. Faith in the commandments is as necessary as faith in the promises. For as the promises are not esteemed, embraced, and improved unless they are believed to be of God, so neither are the precepts. They do not sway the conscience nor incline the affections except as they are believed to be divine. (Thomas Manton)
Often our trials act as a thorn hedge to keep us in the good pasture, but our prosperity is a gap through which we go astray. If any of us remember a time in which we had no trouble, we also probably recollect that then grace was low and temptation was strong. It may be that some believer cries, "O that it were with me as in those summer days before I was afflicted." Such a sigh is most unwise and arises from a carnal love of ease. The spiritual man who prizes growth in grace will bless God that those dangerous days are over, and that if the weather be more stormy it is also more healthy. It is well when the mind is open and candid, as in this instance. Perhaps David would never have known and confessed his own strayings if he had not smarted under the rod. Let us join in his humble acknowledgments, for doubtless we have imitated him in his strayings. Why is it that a little ease works in us so much disease. Can we never rest without rusting? Never be filled without waxing fat? Never rise as to one world without going down as to another? What weak creatures we are to be unable to bear a little pleasure! What base hearts are those which turn the abundance of God's goodness into an occasion for sin. (Charles Spurgeon)
Even in affliction God is good and does good. This is the confession of experience. God is essential goodness in himself, and in every attribute of his nature he is good in the fullest sense of the term. Indeed, he has a monopoly of goodness, for there is none good but one, that is God. His acts are according to his nature. From a pure source flow pure streams. God is not latent and inactive goodness. He displays himself by his doings. He is actively beneficent. He does good. How much good he does no tongue can tell! How good he is no heart can conceive! It is well to worship the Lord as the poet here does by describing him. Facts about God are the best praise of God. All the glory we can give to God is to reflect his own glory upon himself. We can say no more good of God than God is and does. We believe in his goodness, and so honor him by our faith. We admire that goodness, and so glorify him by our love. We declare that goodness, and so magnify him by our testimony. (Charles Spurgeon)
Very little is to be learned without affliction. If we would be scholars we must be sufferers. As the Latins say, Experientia docet, experience teaches. There is no royal road to learning the royal statutes. God's commands are best read by eyes wet with tears. (Charles Spurgeon)
If I have no cross to bear today, I shall not advance heavenwards. A cross, (that is, anything that disturbs our peace), is the spur which stimulates and without which we should most likely remain stationary, blinded with empty vanities, and sinking deeper into sin. A cross helps us onwards in spite of our apathy and resistance. To lie quietly on a bed of down may seem a very sweet existence; but pleasant ease and rest are not the lot of a Christian. If he would mount higher and higher, it must be by a rough road. Alas, for those who have no daily cross! Alas, for those who repine and fret against it! (From "Gold Dust")
What, David, what do you know? . . . I would rather, much rather, possess the knowledge of this man in this text than have the largest acquaintance with the whole circle of the sciences, as it is proudly called. . . . He was blessed with superior understanding. He excepts nothing: "I know that all thy judgments are right." Then in the latter part of the text he makes the matter personal. It might be said, it is an easy thing for you so to think when you see the revolutions of kingdoms, the tottering of thrones, the distresses of some mortals, and the pains of others, that they are all right. "Yes," says he, "but I have the same persuasion about all my own sorrows. I do know that in faithfulness thou hast afflicted me." (From a sermon by John Martin, 1817)
The text is in the form of an address to God. We often find this in David, that, when he would express some deep feeling, or some point of spiritual experience, he does so in this way--addressing himself to God. Those who love God delight to hold communion with him; and there are some feelings which the spiritual mind finds peculiar comfort and pleasure in telling to God himself. "I know, O LORD, that thy judgments are right." God orders all things, and his "judgments" here mean his general orderings, decisions, dealings--not afflictions only, though including them. And when the Psalmist says, "thy judgments," he means especially God's judgments towards him, God's dealings with him, and thus all that had happened to him or should happen to him. For in the Psalmist's creed there was no such thing as chance. God ordered all that befell him, and he loved to think so. He expresses a sure and happy confidence in all that God did and would do with regard to him. He trusted fully in God's wisdom, God's power, God's love. "I know thy judgments are right"--quite right, right in every way, without one single point that might have been better, perfectly wise and good. He shows the firmest persuasion of this. "I know," he says, not merely "I think." But these very words,"I know," clearly show that this was a matter of faith, not of sight. For he does not say, "I can see that thy judgments are right, but "I know." The meaning plainly is, "Though I cannot see all--though there are some things in thy dealings which I cannot fully understand--yet, I believe, I am persuaded, and thus I know, O Lord, that thy judgments are right."
"Thy judgments." Not some of them, but all. He takes into view all God's dealings with him and says of them without exception, "I know, O LORD, that thy judgments are right." When the things that happen to us are plainly for our comfort and good, as many of them are, then we thankfully receive what God thus sends to us and own him as the Giver of all, and bless him for his gracious dealing; and this is right. But all the faith required for this (and some faith there is in it) is to own God as dealing with us, instead of thanklessly receiving the gifts with no thought of the Giver. It is a far higher degree of faith that says of all God's dealings, even when seemingly not for our happiness, "I know that thy judgments are right."
Yet this is the meaning here, or certainly the chief meaning. For though the word "judgments" does mean God's dealings of every kind, yet here the words that follow make it apply especially to God's afflictive dealings, that is, to those dealings of his that do not seem to be for our happiness; "I know, O LORD, that thy judgments are right, and that thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me." The judgments which the Psalmist chiefly had in view, and which he felt so sure were right, were not joys but sorrows; not things bestowed but things taken away; those blessings in disguise, those veiled mercies, those gifts clad in the garb of mourning, which God so often sends to his children. The Psalmist knew, and knew against all appearance to the contrary, that these judgments were "right." Whatever they might be--losses, bereavements, disappointments, pain, sickness--they were right, perfectly right; so right that they could not have been better; just what were best; and all because they were God's judgments. That one thing satisfied the Psalmist's mind and set every doubt at rest. The dealings in themselves he might have doubted, but not him whose dealings they were. "Thy judgments." That settled all. "And that thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me." This means that, in appointing trouble as his lot, God had dealt with him in faithfulness to his word, faithfulness to his purposes of mercy, with a faithful, not a weak love. He had sent him just what was most for his good, though not always what was most pleasing; and in this he had shown himself faithful. Gently and lovingly does the Lord deal with his children. He gives no unnecessary pain; but that which is needful he will not withhold. (Francis Bourdillon)
"Thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me." Mark the emphasis. He does not barely acknowledge that God was faithful, though notwithstanding he had afflicted him, but faithful in sending the afflictions. Affliction and trouble are not only consistent with God's love plighted in the covenant of grace, but they are parts and branches of the new-covenant administration. God is not only faithful notwithstanding afflictions, but faithful in sending them. There is a difference between these two: the one is like an exception to the rule, the other makes it a part of the rule. God cannot be faithful without doing all things that tend to our good and eternal welfare. The conduct of his providence is one part of the covenant engagement; as to pardon our sins, and sanctify us, and give us glory at the last, so to suit his providence as our need and profit require in the way to heaven. It is an act of his sovereign mercy, which he has promised to his people, to use such discipline as conduces to their safety. In short, the cross is not an exception to the grace of the covenant but a part of the grace of the covenant.
The cause of all afflictions is sin, therefore justice must be acknowledged. Their end is repentance, and therefore faithfulness must be acknowledged. The end is not destruction and ruin, so afflictions would be acts of justice, as upon the wicked; but that we may be fit to receive the promises, and so they are acts of faithfulness. (Thomas Manton)
"Thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me." That is, with a sincere intention of doing me good. God thoroughly knows our constitution, what is noxious to our health and what may remedy our distempers . . . . Instead of pleasant honey he sometimes prescribes wholesome wormwood for us. We are ourselves greatly ignorant of what is conducive to our real good, and, were the choice of our condition wholly permitted to us, should make very foolish, very disadvantageous elections.
We should (be sure) all of us embrace a rich and plentiful estate; when, as God knows, that would make us slothful and luxurious, swell us with pride and haughty thoughts, encumber us with anxious cares and expose us to dangerous temptations; would render us forgetful of ourselves and neglectful of him. Therefore he wisely disposes poverty unto us; poverty, the mother of sobriety, and the nurse of industry, the mistress of wisdom; which will make us understand ourselves and our dependence on him and force us to have recourse unto his help. And is there not reason we should be thankful for the means by which we are delivered from those desperate mischiefs and obtain these excellent advantages?
We should all (certainly) choose the favor and applause of man. But this, God also knows, would corrupt our minds with vain conceit, would intoxicate our fancies with spurious pleasure, would tempt us to ascribe immoderately to ourselves, and sacrilegiously to deprive God of his due honor. Therefore he advisedly suffers us to incur the disgrace and displeasure, the hatred and contempt of men; that so we may place our glory only in the hopes of his favor and may pursue more earnestly the purer delights of a good conscience. And does not this part of divine providence highly merit our thanks?
We would all climb into high places, not considering the precipices on which they stand nor the vertiginousness of our own brains. But God keeps us safe in the humble valleys, allotting to us employments which we are more capable to manage.
We should perhaps insolently abuse power, were it committed to us. We should employ great parts on unwieldy projects, as many do, to the disturbance of others, and their own ruin. Vast knowledge would cause us to overvalue ourselves and condemn others. Enjoying continual health, we should not perceive the benefit therefore, nor be mindful of him who gave it. A suitable mediocrity therefore of these things the divine goodness allots unto us, that we may neither starve for want nor surfeit with plenty.
In fine, the advantages arising from afflictions are so many and so great that it were easy to demonstrate that we have great reason, not only to be contented with, but to rejoice in, and to be very thankful for, all the crosses and vexations we meet with; to receive them cheerfully at God's hand as the medicines of our soul and the condiments of our fortune; as the arguments of his goodwill and the instruments of virtue; as solid grounds of hope and comfortable presages of future joy unto us. (Isaac Barrow)
Believe under a cloud, and wait for him when there is no moonlight nor starlight. Let faith live and breathe, and lay hold of the sure salvation of God when clouds and darkness are about you, and appearance of rotting in the prison before you. . . . O sweet epitaph, written upon the gravestone of a departed believer, namely, "I died hoping, and my dust and ashes believe in life!" (Samuel Rutherford)
It is a customary manner of God's working with his children to delay the answer to their prayers and to suspend the performance of his promises, not because he is unwilling to give, but because he will have them better prepared to receive. He is slow to give that which we seek that we should not seek slowly, but may be awakened to instancy and fervency in prayer, which he knows to be the service most acceptable unto him and most profitable unto ourselves. (William Cowper)
Neither the men nor their pits were according to the divine law. They were cruel and crafty deceivers, and their pits were contrary to the Levitical law and contrary to the command which bids us love our neighbor. If men would keep to the statutes of the Lord, they would lift the fallen out of the pit, or fill up the pit so that none might stumble into it; but they would never spend a moment in working injury to others. When, however, they become proud, they are sure to despise others; and for this reason they seek to circumvent them that they may afterwards hold them up to ridicule. (Charles Spurgeon)
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