Psalm 119:37

Psalm 119: An Exposition
Charles Bridges

"Turn away my eyes from beholding vanity;
and quicken me in your way."

So strongly does the man of God link temptation to self-indulgence that he prays to be kept the greatest possible distance from it. In order that his heart may not be inclined to it, he desires that his eyes may be turned away from beholding it. "Keeping the eye" is a splendid means of "keeping the heart." Satan has so infused his poison into everything around us that all furnishes fuel for temptation. And the heart, naturally inclined to evil and hankering after vanity, is stolen away in a moment.

Vanity includes all that is in the world--the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life. All is sin, "because it is not of the Father but is of the world." Concerning all that belongs to earth, the preacher, the son of David, has pronounced his judgment. Standing on the vantage-ground and having taken within his view the widest horizon of this world's excellency, he declares, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity."

In verse 36 we took note of how covetousness chokes many a promising profession. Our Lord's solemn caution to his own disciples implies the ruin it can bring upon a sincere profession--"But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly" (Luke 31:34). Some, indeed, walk as if they were living proof against temptation! They venture to the very edge of the precipice under a vain assurance that there is no danger. But such a confidence is the prelude to a grievous fall. But the tender-hearted child of God trusts in the promise that sin shall not have dominion over him. He knows he can only enjoy the security of it while he is shrinking from every occasion of sin. He hates "even the garment defiled by the flesh." And remembering how often his outward senses have contributed to the actions of his weak and treacherous heart, he continues in prayer, "Turn away my eyes from beholding vanity!"

For the remainder of his life, no doubt, David's recollection of the circumstance of his own sin would remind him of his special need for this prayer. Yet who that is conscious of his own weakness and corruption will find the prayer unsuitable to his circumstances of daily temptation? But we must watch as well as pray; for as watchfulness without prayer is presumption, so prayer without watchfulness is self-delusion. To pray that our eyes may be turned from vanity without "making a covenant with our eyes" that they should not look on it, is like taking hold of fire and expecting not to be burned just because we have prayed for it. If we pray not to be led into temptation, we must watch that we do not presumptuously enter into it. The sincerity of our prayer will be proved by carefully avoiding the circumstances and occasions of temptation. The fear of sin will manifest itself by a fear of the temptation to sin. "And put a knife to your throat if you are a man given to appetite" (Prov. 23:2). Be afraid of the wine sparkling in the glass.

But where is the harm of beholding vanity if we do not follow it? Consider Eve. When she saw the forbidden fruit, perhaps she did not think of taking it. And when she took it, perhaps she did not think of eating it. But the beginning of sin is like the opening of the floodgates. Once opened, the water engulfs all before it. And who, like our "beguiled mother," has not found the eye an inlet to sin? When Bunyan's pilgrims were obliged to pass through Vanity Fair, beset on every side with temptations and allurements, they turned their eyes and covered their ears, and quickening their pace they cried, "Turn away our eyes from beholding vanity!" What a striking reproof to us who too often loiter and gaze until we begin to covet those vanities to which, as Christians, we "are dead!"

"What," it is asked, "will most effectually turn my eyes from vanity?" Not the seclusion of contemplative retirement; not the relinquishment of our lawful connection with the world. Only the transcendent beauty of Jesus unveiled to our eyes and anchoring our hearts will do it. This will turn our eyes from vanity in its most glittering forms. The sight of the "pearl of great price" dims the luster of the most precious pearls of earth and at once deadens us to the enticements of the world, propelling us forward in the pursuit of the prize. And is not this our object? It is not enough, however, that through special mercy I am preserved from temptations. I want to be revived, quickened to more life, energy, delight, and devotedness in the way of my God.

The secret of Christian progress is in its simplicity and diligence--"This one thing I do, forgetting those things that are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead. I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3:13, 14). The Spirit leaves no desire in the heart for beholding vanity. The world with all its flowery paths is a dreary wilderness. Christ and heaven are the only objects of desire. Those who shut their eyes from beholding evil are the ones who shall dwell on high. "Your eyes will see the King in his beauty; they will see the land that is very far off" (Isa. 33:15-17). These are precious promises to those who flee from temptation and desire to walk in the ways of God!

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