Psalm 119:136

Psalm 119: An Exposition
Charles Bridges

"Rivers of water run down from my eyes,
because men do not keep your law."

If the Lord teaches us the privileges of his statutes, he will teach us compassion for those who do not keep them. This was the mind of Jesus. His life exhibited a heart of tenderness. There were some occasions when his display of compassion was peculiarly striking. Near the close of his life it is recorded that when he came near to Jerusalem and beheld the city (a city "beautiful in elevation, the joy of the whole earth," but now given up to its own ways with wrath to come upon it to the uttermost), Jesus "wept over it." At the time it was a moment of triumph. The air was filled with hosannahs. The road was strewn with branches from the trees, and all was joy and praise. Amid this exultation, the Savior alone seemed to have no voice for the triumph, no heart for joy. His omniscient mind embraced all the spiritual desolation of this sad case, and he could only weep in the midst of a solemn triumph. Rivers of waters run down from my eyes, because they do not keep your law.

A Christian desires always to be conformed to the image of his Lord. Therefore, his heart will be touched with a tender concern for the honor of his God, and pitying concern for those wretched sinners who do not keep his law, who are perishing in their own transgressions. Thus while living in Sodom, "just Lot" was "vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked." Thus did Moses "fall down before the LORD, as at the first, forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water, because of all their sins which they had committed in doing wickedly in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger." Thus also was Samuel grieved in the anticipation of the Lord's judgment upon Saul, "and he cried to the LORD all night." Ezra, on a similar occasion, in the deepest prostration of sorrow, "tore his garment and his robe, and plucked out some of the hair of his head and of his beard, and sat down astonished until the evening sacrifice." And if David was now suffering from the oppression of man, yet his own injuries never drew from him such expressions of overwhelming sorrow as did the sight of men despising God's law.

Is it necessary to draw attention to the fact that this tender spirit should be a special characteristic of the ministers of the Lord? Can they fail in this day of abounding wickedness--even within the bounds of their own sphere--to hear the call to "weep between the porch and the altar?" How instructive is the posture of the ancient prophet Jeremiah--first pleading openly with the rebellion of the people, then weeping in secret because of their pride. Not less instructive is the great apostle Paul: "My conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh." In reproving transgressors, he wrote "out of much affliction and anguish of heart, with many tears," and in speaking of them to others he adds, with the same tenderness of spirit, "of whom I tell you even weeping." These were tears of Christian eloquence no less than of Christian compassion.

This uniformity of character is representative of God's people. They sigh and cry because of all the abominations that are done in the land. They, and they alone, are marked out for mercy in the midst of impending, universal ruin (Ezek. 9:4). The lack of this spirit is ever a feature of hardness and pride, a painful blot upon the profession of the gospel. Consider how wide the arena is before us, offering opportunity on every side for the unrestrained exercise of yearning compassion! The appalling spectacle of a world apostatized from God, of multitudes sporting with everlasting destruction (as if the God of heaven were a man that he should lie) is surely enough to force rivers of water from the hearts of those who are concerned for his honor. What a mass of sin from a single heart ascends as a cloud before the Lord! Add to it the sins of a village, a town, a country, a world, and this every day, every hour, every moment, and well might the rivers of water rise to an overflowing tide, ready to burst its barriers. Do we lay to heart the perishing condition of our fellow-sinners? Could we witness a house on fire without speedy and practical evidence of our compassion for the inhabitants? And yet, alas, how often do we see souls on the brink of destruction--unconscious of danger or bidding defiance to it--with comparative indifference! How can we call ourselves Christians if we do not believe the Scripture warnings of their danger? Or if we do believe them, then why don't we bestir ourselves to help them? What hypocrisy it is to pray for their conversion while we make no effort to promote it!

Oh, let it be our daily supplication that this indifference concerning their everlasting state may give way to a spirit of weeping tenderness. Let us not live as if this world were in reality what it appears to be--a world without souls. Let us pray that we may never see the sabbaths of God profaned, his laws trampled underfoot, the ungodly "breaking their bands asunder and casting away their cords from them," without a more determined resolution on our part to keep these laws of our God and to plead for their honor with these obstinate transgressors. Have we no near and dear relatives who lay in wickedness, dead in trespasses and sins? To what blessed family, reader, do you belong where there are no such objects of pity? If it be so, then it is well. Yet is that a reason to be silent? Have you no ungodly, ignorant neighbors around you? And are they unwarned as well as unconverted? Do we visit them in the way of courtesy or kindness yet give them no word of affectionate entreaty on the concerns of eternity? Let our families indeed possess, as they ought to possess, the first claim to our compassionate regard. Then let our parishes, our neighborhood, our country, the world, find a place in our affectionate, prayerful, and earnest consideration.

Do not let it be supposed that the doctrine of sovereign and effectual grace has any tendency to paralyze exertion. Far from it! The most powerful supports to perseverance are derived from this source. Left to himself with only the invitations of the Gospel, not a single sinner could ever have been saved. There must be the Almighty energy of God, the seal of his secret purpose, working upon the sinner's will and winning the heart to God. This sovereign work does not prevent any from being saved; but it prevents salvation from being in vain to all by securing its application to some. The invitations manifest the pardoning love of God, but they do not change the rebel heart of man. They show man's enmity, yet they slay it not. They leave him without excuse, yet at the same time they may be applied without salvation. The moment of life in the history of the saved sinner is when he is made willing in the day of the Lord's power--when he comes, he looks, and he lives. It is this divine ordering of affairs alone that gives the Christian laborer the spring of energy and hope. The palpable and awful proofs of the enmity of the carnal mind--rejecting alike both God's law and his Gospel--are everywhere, and they threaten to sink the Christian worker in despondency. Thus, nothing will sustain his tender and compassionate interest but the assurance of the power of God to remove the resisting medium, and of his purpose to accomplish the subjugation of natural corruption in a countless multitude of his redeemed people.

The same yearning sympathy forms the life, pulse, and strength of Missionary exertion. It has ever distinguished those honored servants of God who have devoted their time, their health, their talent, their all, to the blessed work of saving souls from death and covering a multitude of sins. Can we conceive of a Missionary who, living in the spirit of his work (surrounded with thousands of mad idolaters, hearing their shouts, and witnessing their abominations) is without a weeping spirit? Indignant grief for the dishonor done to God, amazement at the affecting spectacle of human blindness, hatred of human impiety, compassionate yearnings over human wretchedness and ruin--all these combine to force tears of the deepest sorrow from a heart enlightened and constrained by the influence of a Savior's love. This, as we have seen, was our Master's spirit. And let none presume themselves to be Christians if they are destitute of "this mind that was in Christ Jesus," if they know nothing of his melting compassion for a lost world or of his burning zeal for his heavenly Father's glory.

Oh, for that deep comprehension of the preciousness of immortal souls that would make us look at every sinner we meet as a soul to be "pulled out of the fire" and to be drawn to Christ! It would make us willing to endure suffering, reproach, and the loss of all so that we might win one soul to God and raise one monument to his everlasting praise! Happy are you, mourner in Zion, whose tears over the guilt and wretchedness of a perishing world are the outward indications of your secret pleadings with God, and the effusion of a heart solemnly dedicated to the salvation of your fellow-sinners!

But feeble my compassion proves,
And can but weep, where most it loves;
Thine own all-saving arm employ,
And turn these drops of grief to joy.

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