Psalm 119:120

Psalm 119: An Exposition
Charles Bridges

"My flesh trembles for fear of you;
and I am afraid of your judgments."

The justice of God is a tremendously fearful subject of contemplation, even to those who are safely shielded from its terrors. The believer, when witnessing its righteous stroke upon the wicked of the earth, cannot keep back the cry, "My flesh trembles for fear of you!" Thus did holy men of old tremble, sensing something close to horror in the presence of the Divine judgments. David trembled when God struck Uzzah, as if it came very near to himself. "Destruction from God," says holy Job, "is a terror to me, and because of his magnificence I cannot endure." Such also was Habakkuk's strong sensation: "When I heard, my body trembled; my lips quivered at the voice; rottenness entered my bones." In the same way, when God comes to tread down and put away his enemies for the display of the holiness of his character and to excite the love of his people, those who stand by secure under the covert of their hiding-place cannot but exclaim, "Alas! who shall live when God does this!" (Num. 24:23.)

The children of God reverence their Father's anger. They cannot see his terrible majesty without an awful fear. It is this trembling at his judgments upon the ungodly which shelters them from the heavy stroke. Those who refuse to tremble shall be made to feel it, while those who are afraid of his judgments shall be secure. "Only with your eyes shall you look, and see the reward of the wicked," says the Psalmist. "I trembled in myself," said Habakkuk, "that I might rest in the day of trouble." Even the manifestations of his coming "for the salvation of his people" are attended with all the marks of the most fearful terror, as if his voice would shake the earth to its very foundation: "You caused judgment to be heard from heaven; the earth feared and was still, when God arose to judgment, to deliver all the oppressed of the earth."

To recognize that this trembling characterizes the child of God, we need only contrast it with the scoffing of the ungodly: "Where is the God of justice?" "Where is the promise of his coming?" "Yahweh will not do good, nor will he do evil." These defiant charges evoke the astonishment of the heavenly hosts, being so utterly discordant with their notes of humble praise: "Who shall not fear you, O Lord, and glorify your name? . . . for your judgments have been manifested." God looks with special favor upon this trembling spirit. We find a genuine display of it in Josiah, whom God spared from seeing the doom of his people. "Because your heart was tender, and you humbled yourself before God when you heard His words against this place and against its inhabitants, and you humbled yourself before Me, and you tore your clothes and wept before Me, I also have heard you, says Yahweh. Surely I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace; and your eyes shall not see all the calamity which I will bring on this place and its inhabitants." Even some shadow of it secured a respite for wicked Ahab and a pardon for the penitent Ninevites. Those with a tender heart will always be regarded with favor by this awe-inspiring God. "But on this one will I look: on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word."

Believers in Christ, let us rejoice in being delivered from that fear associated with punishment (1 John 4:18). Yet let us cherish that holy reverential fear of the character and judgments of God which will form our most effectual safeguard from presumptuous sins. God has engaged himself to us by an irrevocable covenant so that his fearful judgments might not be our eternal portion. This in itself is sufficient to mingle the wholesome ingredient of fear with the most established assurance. Can we look down into the burning bottomless gulf beneath our feet without recalling that if we were not securely fastened to the "Rock of Ages" by the strong chain of everlasting love, this must be our abode through the countless ages of eternity? If we had not been upheld by the grace as well as by the providence of God, we might have fallen out of his hand into intolerable perdition, just as others have fallen who were not more rebellious than us! O God, my flesh trembles for fear of you; and I am afraid of your judgments.

Thus the dread of the judgments of God is not necessarily of a slavish and tormenting character. His saints are called to fear him, but their fear does not lead to bondage. Rather it is consistent with the strongest assurance, is even its fruit and effect. It embraces the principle of present obedience and final perseverance. It is the confession of weakness, unworthiness, and sinfulness, laying us low before our God. It is our most valuable discipline. It is the bit and bridle that curbs the waywardness of the flesh and enables us to serve God acceptably, in the remembrance that though in love he is a reconciled Father, yet in holiness he is "a consuming fire."

Now, if we are under the influence of this reverential awe and seriousness of spirit, we shall learn to attach a supreme authority and consideration to the least of his commands. We shall dread the thought of willfully offending him. The fear of grieving him will be far more powerful now than was the fear of hell in our unconverted state. Those, however, who presume upon their gospel liberty will probably not understand this language. But the humble believer knows very well how intimately the fear of the Lord is connected with the comfort of the Holy Ghost, and with his own steady progress in holiness and preparation for heaven.

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