Exposition of Psalm 119
by Charles Bridges, 1827
Verses 126 - 149
126. It is time for You, Lord, to work; for they have made void Your law.
If I desire a more spiritual understanding of the revelation of God, how can I but mourn to witness its awful neglect and contempt? It seems as if the ungodly not only sin against it, but that they would drive it out of the world. They make it void—denying its power to rule, to annul its power to punish. Oh! let us cherish that distinguishing feature of the Lord's people, "sighing and crying for all the abominations of the land;" so that we cannot hear or see the name of God dishonored, without feeling as for our Father's wounded reputation. Can we suffer the men of the world quietly to go on their course? Must we not throw in our weight of influence, whatever it may be, to stem the flowing torrent: and when (as, alas! is too often the case) all efforts are unavailing, carry the cause to the Lord, "It is time for You, Lord, to work?" This pleading does not contradict the law of love, which requires us to love, pray for, and to bless our enemies; for the Lord's people are not angry for their own cause, but for His. David had no regard to his own honor, but to God's law. He had not injured his enemies. "He had labored to overcome their evil with good." He had often wept for their sins, and prayed for their conversion. But all was in vain. 'Now, Lord, take the rod in Your own hand. "It is time for You, Lord, to work."' This was true zeal—zeal of the Spirit, not of the flesh. How gracious is our God in permitting His servants thus to plead with Him, and, as it were, to give Him no rest, until "he shall arise, and work," and sit upon the throne of the kingdoms of the earth!
But why does He not break out with some overpowering manifestation of His power? They are "his sword and rod" for the chastening of His people, to discipline their watchfulness into constant exercise. They are the trial of their faith—believing the Lord's justice against apparent inconsistency; and of their patience, "waiting the set time of deliverance." Thus they become a profitable ministry for the church—and this valuable end accomplished, God works His work upon them, and "will avenge His own elect speedily."
Meanwhile—waiting for this "little while," let us "live by faith." Let us be found on the Lord's side—laboring for sinners—pleading with their hardness and rebellion in our Master's name, and for our Master's sake. Let all the weight of personal exertion and influence, consistent example, and wrestling supplication, be concentrated in "coming to the help of the Lord against the mighty." Let us see to it, that if we cannot do what we would, we do what we can. And if at last we be overborne by the torrent of ungodliness, we shall find our refuge and rest in pleading with our Lord for the honor of His name—Remember this, that the enemy has reproached, O Lord, and that the foolish people have blasphemed Your name. "His Spirit shall not always strive with man." Often, when He has seen it time for Him to work, have His judgments made the earth to tremble. "Sodom and Gomorrah" have "known the power of His anger," and are "set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire." And when His time to work is fully come, what is all the resistance of earth and hell, but as "setting the briars and thorns against Him in battle?" "I would"—says he, "go through them. I would burn them together." A word—a frown—a look—is destruction. "He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength. Who has hardened himself against Him, and has prospered?" Or "who has resisted His will?"
But what shall we say of that stupendous work of His hand, by which—when men had made void His law—when no restrictions could bind, no forbearance win them—when He "saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor, therefore His arm brought salvation unto him, and His righteousness, it sustained him." Surely, if we could conceive the hosts of heaven to have taken up this expression of ardent concern for the glory of God, It is time for You, Lord, to work—they could little have thought of such a work as this—they could never have conceived to themselves such an unlooked-for, combined display of power, justice, and mercy. To set at nothing then this work—is it not to refuse all hope—all remedy? To persist in making void the law after so magnificent an exhibition of Almighty working—must it not expose the transgressors to reap the fruit of their own obstinacy, and to prepare to meet Him as their Judge, whom they refuse to receive as their Savior? Nor must they wonder, if the Lord's people, with a holy indignation against sin, and a fervent zeal for His glory, should appeal to His faithfulness for the fulfillment of His judgments—It is time for You, Lord, to work: for they have made void Your law.
127. Therefore I love Your commandments above gold; yes, above fine gold.
Therefore I love Your commandments. Yes—shall they not have double valuation in my eyes, for the scorn and reproach which the world cast upon them? They count them dross—I love them above gold—yes, above fine gold. This hope, confidence, and idol of the worldling, the love of which has been the ruin of thousands—is not the commandment of God more to be desired than it? "The merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold. It is more precious than rubies and all the things you can desire are not to be compared unto it." Here has the Lord unlocked to us His golden treasure, and enriched our souls with "the unsearchable riches of Christ."
This image brings the miser before us. His heart and treasure are in his gold. With what delight he counts it! with what watchfulness he keeps it! hiding it in safe custody, lest he should be despoiled of that which is dearer to him than life. Such should Christians be: spiritual misers: counting their treasure, which is above fine gold; and "hiding it in their heart," in safe keeping, where the great despoiler shall not be able to reach it. Oh, Christians! how much more is your portion to you than the miser's treasure! Hide it; watch it; retain it. You need not be afraid of covetousness in spiritual things: rather "covet earnestly" to increase your store; and by living upon it, and living in it, it will grow richer in extent, and more precious in value.
But have I through Divine grace been enabled to withdraw my love from the unworthy objects which once possessed it: and to fix it on that which alone offers satisfaction? Let me attempt to give a reason to myself of the high estimation in which I hold it, as infinitely transcending those things, which the world venture their all—even their temporal happiness—to obtain. Therefore I love the commandments of God above gold: yes, above fine gold—because, while the world and my own heart have only combined to flatter me, they have discovered to me my real state, as a self-deceived, guilty, defiled sinner before God: because they have been as a "schoolmaster to bring me to Christ"—the only remedy for sin, the only rest for my soul. I love them; because they have often supplied wholesome reproofs in my wanderings, and plain directions in my perplexity. I love them; because they restrict me from that which would prove my certain ruin; and because in the way of obedience to them the Lord has "accepted me with my sweet savor." Should I not love them? Can gold, yes, fine gold, offer to me blessings such as these? Can it heal my broken heart? Can it give relief to my wounded spirit? Has it any peace or prospect of comfort for me on my death-bed? And what cannot—what has not—what will not—the precious word of God do at that awful season of trial? O my God, I would be deeply ashamed, that I love Your commandments so coldly—that they are so little influential upon my conduct—that they so often give place to objects of comparative nothingness in Your sight. O that my heart might be wholly and habitually exercised in them, that I may find the "work of righteousness to be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness, and assurance forever!"
128. Therefore I esteem all Your precepts concerning all things to be right: and I hate every false way.
The general contempt of religion acts upon the Christian's judgment no less than upon his affections. Is wickedness breaking loose to make void the law? Therefore he esteems it to be right. His judgment—instead of being shaken—is more determined. How beautiful is it to see the leaven of grace pervading the whole man! In the fervor of his heart he loves the commandments even above fine gold; but yet his "love will abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment." His is an intelligent and universal regard to them—esteeming all the precepts concerning all things to be right. This constitutes his separate and exclusive character. He is readily known from the thoughtless worldling. But his difference from the professor, though really as marked in the sight of God, is far less perceptible to general observation. Consisting more in the state of heart, than in any external mark of distinction, it is often only within the ken of that eye, whose sovereign prerogative it is to "search the heart," and to "weigh the spirits."
Many profess to esteem the precepts to be right, so far as they inculcate the practice of those moral virtues, of which they may present some faint exhibition, and demand the abandonment of those sins, from the external influence of which they may have been delivered. But when they begin to observe the "exceeding breadth of the commandment"—how it takes cognizance of the heart, and enforces the renunciation of the world, the crucifixion of sin, and the entire surrender of the heart unto God; this searching touchstone separates them from the church, and exposes to open day the brand of hypocrisy upon their foreheads. "Herod did many things." And so the enemy still will allow a partial subjection to the precepts. But—as he well knows—one sin holds us his captive as well as a thousand. The willful contempt of one precept is the virtual rejection of all. All, therefore—not many—is the Christian's word. He fails in some—yes, in all—but all are the objects of his supreme regard—every duty, and every circumstance and obligation of duty—the evangelical as well as the moral precepts—teaching him to renounce himself in every part (his sins as a source of pleasure, and his duties as a ground of dependence): and to believe in the Son of God as the only ground of hope. He never complains of the strictness of the precepts!—but he is continually humbled in the recollection of his nonconformity to them. Every way, however pleasing to the flesh, that is opposed to the revealed will of God, is hated, as false in itself, and false to his God. This "godly sincerity" will apply to every part of the Christian Directory. So that any plea for the indulgence of sin (as if it admitted of palliation, or was compensated by some surplus duty, or allowed only for some temporary purpose) or any willful shrinking from the universality of obedience—blots out all pretensions to uprightness of heart. If holiness be really loved, it will be loved for its own sake; and equally loved and followed in every part. By this entire "approval of things that are excellent," we shall "be sincere and without offence unto the day of Christ."
O my soul, can you abide this close test? Have you as much regard to the precepts, as to the privileges, of the Gospel? Is no precept evaded, from repugnance to the cross that is entailed to it? Is no secret lust retained? Are you content to let all go? If my hatred of sin is sincere, I shall hate it more in my own house than abroad; I shall hate it most of all in my own heart. Here lies the grand seat of hypocrisy. And therefore may the great Searcher of hearts enable me to search into its depths! May I take the lamp of the Lord to penetrate into its dark interior hiding-places of evil! May I often put the question to my conscience, 'What does the Omniscient Judge know of my heart?' Perhaps at the time that the Church holds my name in esteem, the voice of conscience, as the voice of God, may whisper to me "That which is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God." Some false way, yet undetected within, may keep me lifeless and unfruitful in the midst of the quickening means of grace. Let me look into my house—my calling—my family—my soul; and in the course of this search how much matter will be found for prayer, contrition, renewed determination of heart, and dependence upon my God! "O that my ways were directed to keep Your statutes! I will keep Your statutes; O forsake me not utterly." And oh! let my spirit be wounded by every fresh discovery of sin. Let my soul bleed under it. But specially and instantly let me apply to the "fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness." Here let me wash my soul from the guilt of sin, and regain my peace with God. And to Him, who opened this fountain, let me also repair for a large supply of spiritual strength. May His power and grace sharpen my weapons for the spiritual conflict, until every secret iniquity is overcome, and forever dispossessed from my heart!
And just as sin, besides its guilt, brings its own misery; so does this whole-hearted purity carry with it its own happiness. Can I forget the time, when, under Divine grace and teaching, I made a full presentment of myself, when I began to estimate myself as an hallowed, devoted thing—sacred—set apart for God? Was not this the first sunshine of my happiness? Nor was this offering made with momentary excitement, notional intelligence, forced acquiescence, or heartless assent. My judgment accorded with the choice of my heart. All was right in His precepts. All that was contrary to them was abominable. And will not this form the essence of the happiness of heaven, where every aspiration—every motion—every pulse of the glorified soul—in the eternity of life—will bear testimony to the holiness of the service of God?
129. Your testimonies are wonderful: therefore does my soul keep them.
Can the mere professor make this acknowledgment? He knows only the letter—the shell, which excites no interest. Yet hidden from his eye is an unsearchable depth, which will make the believer a learner to the end of his life. Even he, who "was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter," was brought to this adoring contemplation, "O the depths of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!" Every way indeed is this revelation worthy of Him, the first letter of whose name is "Wonderful." It lays open to the heaven-taught soul what "eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has entered into the heart of man." Think of the Creator of the world becoming a creature—yes, "a curse for man." Think of man—guilty and condemned—made just with God by a righteousness not his own. Think of God bringing out of the ruinous fall more glory to Himself, and more happiness to man, than from his former innocence—in the display of His mercy—the glory of His justice, and the investment of sinners—not, as before; with a creature's righteousness, security, and reward, but with His own righteousness, guardianship, and glory. Think how "the way into the holiest of all" is thus "made manifest." Think how abounding grace is the death as well as the pardon of sin—the present as well as the everlasting life of the soul. These are among the stupendous discoveries of the sacred book, that bow the humble and reflecting mind to the confession—Your testimonies are wonderful! Let us therefore join with the Apostle, in "bowing our knees to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ"—that we "might be able to comprehend with all saints" (for, blessed be God! the privilege is common to all His people) "what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height: and to know the" unsearchable "love of Christ," "in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge."
And how delightful is the recollection of these testimonies being our "heritage forever!" For they are not less wonderful in their practical fullness, than in their deep unfathomable mysteries of love. Such is the infinite enlargement of this "heritage," that He who foreknew every thought that would find an entrance into the minds of His people, has here secretly laid up seasonable direction and encouragement for every, even the most minute occasion and circumstance of need. Here, again, is wrapped up, in words fitted by wisdom to receive the revelation, all that communion between God and man, throughout all ages of the Church, which is treasured up in the vast unsearchable depository of the Divine mind and purpose. Can we then forbear repeating the exclamation—Your testimonies are wonderful!
But it is not enough to 'adore the fullness of Scripture:' we must seek to imbibe and exhibit its practical influence. Holy admiration of the testimonies will kindle spiritual devotedness to them—Therefore does my soul keep them. The stamp of Divine authority upon them, while it deepens our reverence, commands our steady and cheerful obedience. To keep them is our privilege, no less than our obligation; and in this path we shall delight to persevere to the end.
But how affecting is the thought of the mass, who look at these wonders with a careless or unmeaning eye, unconscious of their interesting import! They pass by the door of the treasury, hardly condescending to look aside into it: or only taking a transient glance, which comprehends nothing of its inexhaustible stores. "I have written to them"—says the Lord, "the great things of My law: but they are counted as a strange thing." But far more wonderful is it, that we, enlightened, in answer to prayer (See verse 18), with "the Spirit of wisdom and revelation"—should often be so indifferent to the mysteries of redeeming love here unfolded before us, and should experience so little of their practical influence! Oh! let the recollection of our indolence, and want of conformity to them, never cease to humble us. Let us not enter into the testimonies, as a dry task, or an ordinary study; but let us concentrate our minds, our faith, humility, and prayer, in a more devoted contemplation of them. Every such exercise will extend our view of those parts, with which we had conceived ourselves to be competently acquainted: opening a new field of wonders on every side, far beyond our present contracted apprehensions.
And can any joy be imagined so sublime as the adoring contemplation of this revelation? It reflects even to angels a new and glorious manifestation of their God. It engages their every faculty with intense admiration and delight. And while they behold and worship with self-abasement, their obedience is lively. "With twain he" (the seraph before the throne) "covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly." Thus may we study the same lessons, and with the same spirit. May our contemplation humble us in the dust, and animate us in the service of our God! Your testimonies are wonderful: therefore does my soul keep them.
130. The entrance of Your words gives light: it gives understanding to the simple.
'So "wonderful are Your testimonies," gracious God,' that even by touching as it were only their threshold, the entrance of Your words gives light and understanding unto my heart. The study commenced in simplicity and prayer, opens an entrance to the first dawning light of the word into the soul; often only sufficient to make darkness visible, but still "shining more and more unto the perfect day." Indeed all the spiritual light known in this dark world has flowed from the word, forcing its entrance, like the beams of the sun, upon the opening eyes of "a man that was born blind." It is a most striking instance of Divine condescension, that this word—so wonderful in its high and heavenly mysteries—should yet open a path so plain, that the most unlearned may find and walk in it. Indeed the entrance of the word into unintellectual and uncultivated minds, often gives an enlargement and elevation of thought, which is the earnest of the restoration of man to his original glory, when doubtless every mental as well as spiritual faculty was "filled with all the fullness of God." So astonishing is the power of this heavenly light, that from any one page of this holy book, a child, or even an idiot, under heavenly teaching, may draw more instruction than the most acute philosopher could ever attain from any other fountain of light! No—he may acquire a more intelligent perception of its contents, than the student, untaught by the Spirit of God, who may have devoted to its study the persevering industry of many successive years. For very possible is it to be possessed of all the treasures of literature, and yet to remain in total ignorance of everything that is most important for a sinner to know. The Apostle's paradox unfolds the secret, "If any man among you seems to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise." We do not mean to disparage human wisdom; but it is the pride of wisdom, so opposed to the simplicity of the gospel, which prevents us from "sitting at the feet of Jesus, and hearing His word." It makes the teacher instruct in "the words of man's wisdom," rather than in the knowledge of "Christ and Him crucified," and hinders the learner from receiving Christ in the light and love of the truth.
It is painful to remember how much light may be shining around us on every side, without finding an entrance into the heart. "The light shines in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not." Not only the pride of human reason, but the love of sin, shuts out the light: "Men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil." And thus because "the eye is evil, the whole body is full of darkness:" and "if the light that is in them is darkness, how great is that darkness!" Most awful is the view given us of the conflict between the contending powers of light and darkness, "The God of this world blinding the eyes of them that believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them,"—the Almighty God resisting his hateful influence, and "shining into the hearts" of His people, "to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." How necessary is it to watch vigilantly against the pride that "rebels against the light," and the indifference that neglects to cherish it! How much more entrance would have been given to the word, and consequently how much clearer would have been the diffusion of light in the soul, were we as earnest and diligent in secret prayer for heavenly teaching, as we are accustomed to be in the public hearing of the word!
But the enthusiast is not satisfied with the light of the word. The delusion of his own heart dreams of a light within—an immediate revelation of the Spirit, independent of the word. It cannot however be safe to separate the light of the Spirit from the light of the word. The word indeed moves in subserviency to the Spirit; but the light of the Spirit is nowhere promised separate from the word. If it does not always guide directly by the word; yet it is only manifested in the direction of the word. The word is in the matter, if not in the mode; and though the Spirit may by immediate light direct us to any path of duty, yet it is invariably to that path, which had been previously marked by the light of the word. Thus the Spirit and the word conjointly become our guide—the Spirit enlightening and quickening the word—and the word evidencing the light of the Spirit. Nor will their combined influence ever leave the church of God, until she has joyfully and completely entered into Immanuel's land, where she shall need no other light, than that of the glory of God, and of the Lamb, which shall shine in her forever.
But—Reader—rest not satisfied with whatever measure of light may have been hitherto given. Seek that the word may have "an entrance ministered unto you abundantly." The most advanced believer is most ready to acknowledge, how much of the word yet remains unexplored before him. Cultivate the disposition of simplicity—the spirit of a "little child"—willing to receive, embrace, submit to, whatever the revelation of God may produce before you. There will be many things that we do not understand: but there is nothing that we shall not believe. "Thus says the Lord"—is sufficient to satisfy reverential faith. To this spirit the promise of heavenly light is exclusively made. "The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The meek will He guide in judgment; the meek will He teach His way." It is beautiful to see a man like Solomon, endued with enlarged powers of mind—acknowledging himself to be a little child, afraid of trusting in his own light; and seeking instruction from above. But never will an unhumbled mind know the benefit of this Divine instruction. To such a student, the Bible must ever be a dark book; since its very design is to destroy that disposition which he brings to the inquiry. That knowledge, therefore, which is unable to direct our way to heaven—no, which by closing the avenues of spiritual light, obstructs our entrance there, is far more a curse than a blessing. Far more glorious is the simplicity of the word than the wisdom of the world.
"In that hour, Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank You, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hid these things from the wise and prudent, and have revealed them unto babes: even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight."
131. I opened my mouth, and panted; for I longed for Your commandments.
When the "wonderful" character of God's "testimonies" is apprehended; and when their entrance has given light to the soul; something far beyond ordinary affection and desire is excited. A thirsty man—burning with inward heat on a sultry day, opening his mouth, and panting for some alleviation of his thirst—is a fine image of the child of God intensely longing for the attainment of his object. Or, if we suppose before us the man nearly exhausted by the heat of his race, and opening his mouth, and panting to take in fresh breath to renew his course; so would the believer "rejoice," like the sun, to "run his" heavenward "race." He cannot satisfy himself in his desires. The motions of his soul to his God are his life and his joy. It is a spring of perpetual motion beating within—perpetual, because natural—not a rapture, but a habit—a principle, having indeed its faintings, and its sickness, but still returning to its original spring of life and vigor. It seems as if the soul could never draw in enough of the influences of the spiritual life. Its longings are insatiable—as if the heart would "break with" the overpowering strength of its own desires; until at length, wearied with the conflict, the believer opens his mouth, and pants to fetch in a fresh supply of invigorating grace. He enjoys "a little reviving" in his Lord's commandments; enjoying the Lord Himself as his well-spring of refreshment.
Hear the man of God elsewhere giving, or rather attempting to give, expression to his pantings, "As the deer pants after the water-brooks, so pants my soul after You, O God. My soul thirsts for You; my flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where no water is. I stretch forth my hands unto You; my soul thirsts after You as a thirsty land." Thus did Job open his mouth, and pant. "O that I knew where I might find Him! that I might come even to His seat!" And the church—pouring out her heart before the Lord, "With my soul have I desired You in the night; yes, with my spirit within me will I seek You early." St. Paul also describes the same intenseness of his own desire, "Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect; but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended; but this one thing I do; forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." But amid all these examples, and infinitely beyond them all—behold the ardor of our blessed Master in his work. Such was the panting of His heavenly desire, that, when "wearied with his journey," and "sitting at Jacob's well," He forgot even His natural want for His thirsty frame, in the joy of the conversion of a lost sinner to Himself.
And thus must our affections be fully engaged. The soul must be kept open to heavenly influence; so that, when the Lord touches us with conviction, inclines our hearts to Himself, and constrains us to His service, we may be ready to "exercise ourselves unto godliness," in receiving, cherishing, and improving the heavenly longing after His commandments; and may open our mouths, and pant for more advanced progress in them. We look not so much to the quantity, as to the activity of faith; always at work, stirring up a holy fire within, for the utmost stretch of human attainment: like men of large projects and high determinations, still aspiring to know more of God, both in the enjoyment of His love, and in conformity to His will. And shall we be ashamed of these feelings? Shall we not rather be deeply humbled, that we know so little of them—encouraged, if we have any springing of them—alarmed, if we be utterly destitute of their influence? Shall we not be opening our mouth, and panting, when any new path of service is opened before us? For if we are content to be strangers to this longing after God—this readiness for duty; what else can be expected, but "sliding back from the Lord by a perpetual backsliding?" Growing in sin, declining in love, and gradually relinquishing the habit of prayer, we shall shortly find little attaching to us but the empty name—Christianity without Christ. The world will despise these exercises as enthusiasm, the distemper of a misguided imagination. But is it—can it be—otherwise than a "reasonable service" as well as a bounden obligation, to give up our whole desires to Him, who is alone worthy of them? There can be no evidence of their sincerity, unless they are supreme.
But let union with Christ, and the life flowing from Him, be the constant spring of this holy ardor. Thus shall I enjoy a more habitual influence of His love—that all-constraining principle, which overcomes all my complaints of coldness and deadness of heart, and fills me with pantings and longing in His service. But am I ready to shrink from this elevated standard? If my heart is drawing back, let me force it on. Let me lay my command, or rather God's command, upon it. Let conscience do its office, until my heart is brought into actual and close contact with this touchstone of my spiritual prosperity. What then—let me ask myself—is the pulse of my desires after spiritual things? What exercises of grace do I find in them? What improvement of grace do I derive from them? Do I pant, thirst, long, after the enjoyment of heavenly pleasure? Do I mourn over, and conflict with, that indolence and indifference, which so often hinders my race? Oh! let me be found a frequent suppliant at the throne of grace; bewailing my dullness, yet "stirring up" my faith "to lay hold on" my God; seeking for larger views of the Gospel, a warmer experience of its promises, a more intense appetite for its enjoyments, and a more devoted attachment to its service. Surely such desires will issue in the confidence of faith. "My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness."
132. Look upon me, and be merciful unto me, as You do unto those that love Your name.
The highest ardency of holy desire is no ground of satisfaction before God. Nor does the believer in his most elevated moments forget his proper character—always a sinner—needing mercy every moment—in every duty. His prayer for mercy therefore suitably follows his exalted expression of love—Look upon me, and be merciful unto me. Mercy is indeed secured to him beyond the power of earth and hell to despoil him of it; but the comfortable sense of this mercy is given only according to the earnestness of his desires, and the simplicity of his faith. And this is indeed a blessing, with which no earthly source of satisfaction can compare. What are all the riches of the world without it, but splendid poverty, as little able to supply the place of Jesus in the soul, as the magnificent array of the starry skies is to compensate for the absence of the sun? It is night with the child of God—Egyptian night, "darkness which may be felt," until his Sun appear to chase away his gloom—until his Lord hear his cry—Look upon me, and be merciful unto me!
To have this portion of those that love the name of God, is, then, the grand object. To have our offering, as Abel's was, accepted with God—to walk as Enoch walked, with God—to commune with Him as Abraham and Moses were privileged to do—to be conformed with the holy Apostle to the death of Christ—in a word, to be interested in all the purchase of a Savior's blood, "this is the heritage of the Lord's servants"—this is the "one thing that we have desired of the Lord, and are seeking after," "this," with the dying Psalmist, "is all our salvation, and all our desire." "Remember me then, O Lord, with the favor that You bear to Your people; O visit me with Your salvation; that I may see the good of Your chosen: that I may rejoice in the gladness of Your nation; that I may glory with Your inheritance."
And yet, alas! how often has the power and deceitfulness of sin cast us into so lifeless a state, that we are not only living without the enjoyment of this portion, but at rest without it; scarcely knowing or caring whether the Lord look on us or not? Can we wonder, that our holy, jealous God, should "hide Himself," and "go and return to His place?" His next manifestations will probably be in the way of sharp conviction, making us to feel our distance, our coldness, our barrenness: awakening us to search into the cause; and, in the contrast of our sad condition with those who are walking in His favor, again bringing forth the cry—Look upon me, and be merciful unto me, as You do unto those that love Your name. The prayer of humility, earnestness, and perseverance, though it may be tried awhile, will surely never be forgotten. If therefore we cannot yet "sing in the ways of the Lord," yet let us not cease to mourn after Him, until He look upon us, and "satisfy us with His mercy." And oh! let us remember that there is but one way through which one gracious look, or one expression of tender mercy, can visit our souls. Let our eyes and heart then be ever fixed on Jesus. It is only in this His "beloved" Son that the Lord can look upon us, so as not to "behold iniquity in us." But we "are complete in Him." Here then let us wait; and when this our prayer has received its answer in the Lord's best time—whether it be in "the goings of our God in the sanctuary," or in the more secret manifestation of His love—Christians, "arise, and shine." Let it be known, that you have been on the mount with God, by the luster of your face, the adorning of your profession, before the world.
Lord! since our looks to You are often so slight, so cold, so distant, that no impression is made upon our hearts; do condescend continually to look upon us with mercy and with power. Give us such a look, as may touch us with tenderness and contrition, in the remembrance of that sin, unbelief, and disobedience, which pierced the hands, the feet, the heart of our dearest Lord and Savior. Oh! for that contrite spirit, in which we shall enjoy the look of Your special favor! Oh! for a glimpse of Your love, that will put our spiritual enemies to shame! Oh! for that sunshine of Your countenance, which brings present salvation to our souls!
133. Order my steps in Your word; and let not any iniquity have dominion over me.
To expect the favor of the Lord without an habitual desire of conformity to His image, is one among the many delusions of a self-deceiving heart. It is the peculiar character of the Christian, that his desires are as earnest for deliverance from the power as from the guilt of sin. Having therefore prayed for acceptance, he now cries for holiness. For even could we conceive the Lord to look upon him with a sense of His favor, he would still feel himself a miserable creature, until he has received an answer to his prayer—Let not any iniquity have dominion over me.
But it is often difficult to distinguish the power of temptation from the prevalence of sin, and thus precisely to ascertain, when iniquity may be said to have dominion over us. Is it not however the influence of temptation—not acting upon the mind, but admitted with consent into the heart? It is this actual consent of the will, obtained by the deceitfulness and solicitations of sin, that marks its real dominion. Light, knowledge, and conscience, may open the path of holiness; but while the will—the sovereign power in the soul—dissents, the reigning power of sin continues undisputed. Much care, however, much singleness, and a most jealous scrutiny of the springs of action, are required, accurately to determine the bias of the will, and consequently the dominion of iniquity. The perplexed, conflicting soul may mistake the rebellion for the dominion of iniquity—its continued impression upon the heart for its ruling sway. On the other hand, a constrained opposition of conviction may present some hopeful symptoms of deliverance, while the dominant principle is still unshaken. The present resolution to any particular act of sin may be weakened, while the love and habit of it remained unaffected. Sin is not always hated, when it is condemned, or even forsaken; nor are duties always loved in the act of their performance. The opposition to sin, which the awakened superficial professor considers as his evidence of uprightness of heart, is often only the unavailing resistance of a natural enlightened conscience to the ruling principle of the heart. The light and power of conscience may do much in condemning every known sin, and in restraining from many; in illustrating every known duty, and insisting upon the external performance of many; while yet the full dominion of iniquity is undisturbed. Were not Ahab and Judas as completely under his dominion after their repentance as they were before? Did not Balaam, with all his knowledge—and the young ruler, with all his natural loveliness and semblance of sincerity, "lack that one thing"—a heart delivered from the dominion of its own iniquity? Yet it is not occasional surprisals, resisted workings, abhorred lust, nor immediate injections of evil and blasphemous thoughts; but only the ascendancy of sin in the affections, that proves its reigning power. The throne can admit but of one ruler; and therefore, though grace and iniquity may and do co-exist within, they cannot be co-partners in one sovereignty. Yet do not forget that every sinful indulgence is for the moment putting the scepter into the hands of our worst enemies. The setting up of an usurper is the virtual dethronement of the rightful sovereign. The subjection to sin is therefore the rejection of Christ.
How inestimably precious is the thought, that deliverance from this cursed dominion is inseparably connected with a state of acceptance with God! The man who enjoys the unspeakable blessing of pardoned iniquity, is he "in whose spirit there is no deceit." He has a work done within him, as well as for him. His Savior is a whole Christ, "made of God unto him Sanctification" and complete "Redemption" as well as "Righteousness." He comes to the cleansing fountain, as the double cure of his iniquity—equally effectual to wash from its power, as from its guilt.
But let us duly estimate the value of David's preservation. He had been used to "hide the word in his heart," as his safeguard against sin, and from his own experience of its power he had recommended it to the especial attention of the young. Yet the recollection of his continual forgetfulness and conscious weakness, leads him to turn his rule into a matter of prayer—Order my steps in Your word;—implying, that if his steps were not ordered, from want of their keeping, iniquity would regain its dominion. And who of us have not daily need of this ruling discipline? Without it, all is disorder. Our scattered affections need to be "united" in one central principle, under the direction of the word. The universal influence of this rule also is so important. The word not only cheers our path, but orders our steps. Every act—every duty—are as steps in the heavenward path—guarding us from the devious paths on either side, beset with imperceptible danger, and spread with the fowler's snare. And what a blessed path would this be for us, if we had singleness and simplicity always to "look right on, and straight before us!" But alas! we are often only half-roused from our security. The word is forgotten; or there is an unreadiness to receive its Divine impressions. Our own wisdom is consulted: and, "or ever we are aware," iniquity regains a temporary dominion over us.
Now I would ask myself—What do I know of this godly, careful walk? Am I frequently during the day looking upward to my heavenly guide; and then looking into His word as my direction in the way; and lastly considering my heart and conduct, whether it is ordered in the word? The man, who has "the law of God in his heart," alone possesses the security, "that none of his steps shall slide." When I take therefore a step into the world, let me ask—Is it ordered in God's word, which exhibits Christ as my perfect example; so that, walking after Him, and following in His steps, I may be able to frame my temper and habits according to this unsullied pattern?
But let us mark, how fully is this prayer warranted by the special promise of the Gospel, "Sin shall not have dominion over you; for you are not under the law, but under grace." The law stirred up sin, and gave it increased power; while it left us to our unassisted exertions to subdue it. We watch, pray, and strive against it; yet, alas! it mocks our efforts—rages, yes, tyrannizes more than ever. But it is the cross of Calvary, that gave the child of God his first view of sin, that first made him loathe it, that first enabled him to contemplate a holy God without fear, and even with confidence. This—this alone—subdues his pride, rebellion, enmity, selfishness. In Him that hung there we trust as an Almighty conqueror; and we are made ourselves "more than conquerors through Him that loved us." His very name of Jesus marks His office, His crown, His glory. Here therefore—not in doubts and fears—not in indolent mourning for sin—here lies the appointed means of present relief—the only hope of final victory. Iniquity, even when subdued, will struggle to the last for dominion: but looking to and living on Jesus, we have the victory still. The more clear our view of Jesus, the more complete is our victory. Supplies of continual strength will ever be given to restrain the dominion of iniquity, and even to "keep under" its daily risings; except as they may be needful for the exercise of our graces, and be eventually overruled for the glory and praise of our faithful God.
134. Deliver me from the oppression of man: so will I keep Your precepts.
"Many are the afflictions of the righteous," from external as well as from internal enemies—not only from their own iniquity, but from the oppression of man. Yet "man is only the Lord's hand and sword," and he can only move under the overruling guidance of our Father's wisdom and love. Not indeed that the believer would (except in submission to the will of God) desire his deliverance from this trouble on account of personal pain and distress: but he sometimes finds peculiar circumstances of trial an unavoidable hindrance in the service of his God. And his conviction sends him to the throne of grace: and there he never makes interest in vain. "He cries unto the Lord because of the oppressors: and He sends a Savior, and a great one: and He delivers him."
The power of faith is indeed Omnipotent. Mountains are removed from their place, or they become "plains before" it; or the "worm" is enabled to "thresh them, and beat them small, and make them as chaff." Often is the Christian strengthened to overcome the most formidable opposition, and to "profess a good profession before many witnesses," who are "watching for his halting." The grace of Christ will make the hardest duty easy; and the love of Christ will make the sharpest trials sweet: yet, where in the continued exercise of faith the obstacles to conscientious service remain unmoved (as, for instance, a child of God restrained in the fetters of a worldly family from a free and avowed obedience), we may lawfully pray that the providence of God would deliver from the oppression of man, that we might keep His precepts.
A time of deliverance, as well as a time of persecution, has proved a season of extraordinary prosperity in the church of God. When "the Churches had rest throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria," they "were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, were multiplied." And thus in individual experience, whatever be the benefit of persecution, yet the weariness of a long-protracted conflict is often more than flesh and blood can bear; and which He who "knows our frame," will not refuse to look upon, and remove, in answer to the prayers of His afflicted people. At the same time, our proneness, self-indulgence, and our natural inclination to shrink from discipline—as needful as our food—require this prayer to be presented with exceeding caution and self-jealousy. There is a great danger, lest, in our eagerness to escape from the difficulties of our path, we should lose the most important benefit intended by them. We must therefore accompany the petition for deliverance with a sincere purpose to keep God's precepts. For how many have exposed the unsoundness of their own hearts, when the supplication has been heard, the deliverance granted, and the promise of obedience been forgotten!
Fellow-Christian! have your circumstances of trial ever dictated this prayer? How then have you improved your liberty, when the answer has been given? Has the "way of escape made" for you been kept in grateful remembrance? Has the effect of your deliverance been visible in an increasing love and devotedness to the Lord's service? Oh! let a special Ebenezer be set up to mark this special achievement of prayer. Let the mercy be connected with the sympathy of our "faithful and merciful High-Priest, who being Himself touched with the feeling of your infirmities," has pleaded for your support and release. And be encouraged henceforth to tread the ways of God with more firmness and sensible stay, "having your feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace." But remember—the blessing of the cross is lost, if it does not issue in a song of praise—if we have not taken it up as a token of fatherly love. At all times the safest and shortest way to peace, is to let God use His own methods with us; to live the present moment to Him in the situation He has placed us; not dreaming of other circumstances more favorable to our spiritual prosperity; but leaving ourselves, our difficulties, our discouragements, in His hands, who makes no mistakes in any of His dispensations—but who orders them all, that they "may turn to our salvation, through our prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ."
135. Make Your face to shine upon Your servant; and teach me Your statutes.
If the Lord deliver us from the oppression of man, and "make even our enemies to be at peace with us;" still, if we are in spiritual health, we shall be restless and uneasy, until He make His face to shine upon us. And in the Scripture revelation of God, "dwelling between the cherubim," and therefore on the mercy-seat—with the "rainbow," the emblem of "the covenant of peace" "round about the throne," as if to invite the access of sinners from every quarter—have we not full warrant to plead, "You who dwell between the cherubim, shine forth; stir up Your strength, and come and save us? Turn us again, O God; and cause Your face to shine, and we shall be saved." Others we see eagerly asking, "Who will show us any good?" Alas! they will discover in the end, that they have "spent their money for that which is not bread, and their labor for that which satisfies not." The believer's incessant cry is—Let me see "the King's face." This is a blessing worth praying for. It is his heart's desire, his present privilege, and what is infinitely better—his sure and everlasting joy, "They shall see His face."
It is both important and interesting to mark the repetitions—always new—in this beautiful Psalm. David had just before prayed, "Look upon me, and be merciful unto me." Perhaps another passing cloud had darkened his sky. Again he darts up the same prayer, Make Your face to shine upon Your servant. Such cries in the mouth of this holy servant of God, must have been most hopeless petitions—no, the expression of the most daring presumption—had he not been acquainted with the only true way of access to God, joyfully led to renounce every other way, and enabled diligently to improve this acceptable approach to his God. Indeed whatever obscurity may hang over the question relating to the faith of the Old Testament believers, their confidence at the throne of grace shows them to have attained a far more distinct perception of Christian privilege, through the shadowy representations of their law, than is commonly imagined. Else how could they have been so wrestling and persevering in their petitions; overcoming the spirit of bondage, and breathing out the spirit of adoption in the expression of their wants and desires before the Lord? The prayers of the Old Testament church are not more distinguished for their simplicity, spirituality, and earnestness, than for their unfettered, evangelical confidence. When they approached the footstool of the Divine Majesty, with the supplications—Make Your face to shine upon Your servant—You who dwell between the cherubim, shine forth—it was as if they had pleaded—'Reconciled Father—You who sit upon a throne of grace, look upon us—Abba, Father, be gracious to us!'
Many, however, seem to despise this child-like confidence. They go on in heartless complaining and uncertain apprehensions of their state; as if doubting was their life, and as if they might rest upon the presumption, that the shining of God's face upon them is not indispensable to their salvation. But will they then be content to "be saved, yet so as by fire," instead of having an "entrance ministered unto them abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior?" Is it enough for them to be just alive, when "the things that remain," from want of being duly cherished, "are ready to die?" If they can be safe without a conscious interest in the favor of God, can they be so without the desire for it? Is not this assurance attainable? Is it not commanded? Is it not most desirable? This cold contentment clouds the integrity of their profession. For God's real people are living habitually either in spiritual enjoyment, or in restless dissatisfaction. Their dark seasons are times of wrestling supplication—seasons of deep humiliation, tenderness of spirit, and constant waiting upon God, until He makes His face to shine upon His servants. They can dispense with ordinary comforts. But it is death to be without Him. "All their springs are in Him." They estimate their happiness by the shining—and their misery by the clouding—of His face. This is the true principle of assurance, even if this most important blessing be not sensibly enjoyed.
How then stands the case between us and God? From ourselves originates the mist, which darkens the shining. His sovereign free grace blots the cloud away. We raise the mountains of separation. The Almighty power of our great Zerubbabel removes them. To ourselves then be all the shame. To Him be all the praise!
But how may we realize more constant sunshine?—Apart from the hindrances just alluded to, others are mainly to be found in mistaken or contracted views of the Gospel. Hence, therefore, the value of enlarged apprehensions of the Gospel of the grace of God—of its fullness, satisfying every claim, and supplying every want—of its freeness, unencumbered with conditions, and holding forth encouragement to the most unworthy—of its holiness, restraining the sinful hindrances to enjoyment—and of its security, affording permanent rest in the foundations of the covenant of grace. The life of faith will thus be maintained in more full contemplation of Jesus, and renewed reliance upon Him; and walking in closer communion with Him, our hope will be enlivened with the constant sense of reconciliation and love.
We need not wonder at the Psalmist's persevering determination to seek the shining of the Lord's face. This high privilege is connected no less with the Christian's public usefulness than with his personal enjoyment. For who is most likely to win others to the love of the Savior, and to the service of God—to enliven the drooping soul, or to recover the backslider? Is not he, who lives most in the sunshine of the Gospel, and who therefore has most to tell of its heavenly joy? But you say, 'My heart, alas! is so cold and barren, my affections so languid, my desires so faint, my sky so often clouded. I do not forget that I am a child; but a child in disgrace is too often my dishonorable character and wretched condition.' Then exercise your faith in going where David was accustomed to go. As a penitent child, "Arise and go to your Father" "only acknowledge your iniquity"—tell your complaint before Him—resort much and often to Him; be importunate; be patient; plead the name and merits of Jesus; and you will not, you cannot plead in vain; you will once more walk happily, holily, as well as confidently, in the light of your Father's countenance. And in marking more carefully His gracious dealings with your soul, you will be kept from formality, hardness, and despondency.
But we cannot expect this shining, save in the paths of God; and he who looks for comfort, while careless of duty, is only the victim of his own delusions. Well, therefore, does the child of God—longing for higher enjoyment, and learning more of his own ignorance, add this petition—Teach me Your statutes. And He who taught us this petition, will Himself, according to His promise, be our teacher in the way of holiness. And if, under His teaching, in the pathway to glory—our God makes His face to shine upon us, what more want we to beguile the toil and weariness of the way? And if one beam of His countenance, though but dimly seen through this sinful medium, exceeds the glories of ten thousand worlds—what will it be to live under the perpetual cloudless shining of His face!
Believer! does not this prospect invigorate every step of your journey? Your Lord is at hand. Soon will He appear to gladden with His inexpressible smile every soul that is in readiness for Him. Oh! seek to realize His approach, and with holy aspirations and joyful expectancy respond to His welcome voice. "He which testifies these things says, Surely I come quickly: Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!"
136. Rivers of waters run down my eyes, because they keep not Your law. (Comp. Jer. 9:1; 14:17; Lam. 2:18)
If the Lord teaches us the privileges of His statutes, He will teach us compassion for those who keep them not. This was the mind of Jesus. His life exhibited one, whose "heart was made of tenderness." But there were some occasions, when the display of His compassion was peculiarly striking. Near the close of His life, it is recorded, that, "when He was come near, and beheld the city" "beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth"—but now given up to its own ways, and "wrath coming upon it to the uttermost," He "wept over it." It was then a moment of triumph. The air was rent with hosannahs. The road was strewed with branches from the trees, and all was joy and praise. Amid all 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 my eyes, because they keep not Your law.
Now a Christian, in this as in every other feature, will be conformed to the image of his Lord. His heart will therefore be touched with a tender concern for the honor of his God, and pitying concern for those wretched sinners, that keep not His law, and are perishing in their own transgressions. Thus was "just Lot" in Sodom "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 did neither eat bread nor drink water; because of all their sins which they had sinned, in doing wickedly in the sight of the Lord to provoke Him to anger." Thus also Samuel, in the anticipation of the Lord's judgments upon Saul, "grieved himself, and cried unto the Lord all night." Ezra, on a similar occasion, in the deepest prostration of sorrow, "rent his garment and his mantle, and plucked off 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 the despised law of his God.
Need we advert to this tender spirit, as 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—first pleading openly with the rebellion of the people—then "his soul weeping in secret places for their pride!" Not less instructive is the great apostle—his "conscience bearing witness in the Holy Spirit to his great heaviness and continued sorrow in his heart for his brethren, his kinsmen according to the flesh." In reproving transgressors, he could only write to them, "Out of much affliction and anguish of heart with many tears," and in speaking of them to others, with the same tenderness of spirit, he adds, "Of whom I tell you even weeping." Tears were these of Christian eloquence no less than of Christian compassion.
Thus uniformly is the character of God's people represented—not merely as those that are free from, but as "those that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst of the land." They—they alone—are marked out for mercy in the midst of impending, universal ruin. The want of this spirit is ever a feature of hardness and pride—a painful blot upon the profession of the gospel. How wide the sphere presenting itself on every side for the unrestrained exercise of this 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 waters from the hearts of those who are concerned for His honor. What a mass of sin ascends as a cloud before the Lord, from a single heart! Add the aggregate of a village—a town—a country—a world! every day—every hour—every moment—well might the rivers of waters rise to an overflowing tide, ready to burst its barriers. We speak not of outward sensibility (in which some may be constitutionally deficient, and the exuberance of which may be no sign of real spiritual affection), but we ask—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 witness souls on the brink of destruction—unconscious of danger, or bidding defiance to it—with comparative indifference! How are we Christians, if we believe not the Scripture warnings of their danger? or if, believing them, we do not bestir ourselves to their help? What hypocrisy is it to pray for their conversion, while we are making no effort to promote it! Oh! let it be our daily supplication, that this indifference concerning their everlasting state may give place to a spirit of weeping tenderness; that He may not be living as if this world were really, what it appears to be, a world without souls; that we may never see the sabbaths of God profaned, His laws trampled under foot, the ungodly "breaking their bands asunder, and casting away their cords from them," without a more determined resolution ourselves to keep these laws of our God, and to plead for their honor with these obstinate transgressors. Have we no near and dear relatives, yet "lying in wickedness—dead in trespasses and sins?" To what blessed family, reader, do you belong, where there are no such objects of pity? Be it so—it is well. Yet are you 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.
Nor let it be supposed, that the doctrine of sovereign and effectual grace has any tendency to paralyze exertion. So 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 sinner could ever have been saved. Added to these—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. Not that this sovereign work prevents any from being saved. But it prevents the salvation from being in vain to all, by securing its application to some. The invitations manifest the pardoning love of God; but they change not the rebel heart of man. They show his 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—he lives. It is this dispensation alone that gives the Christian laborer the spring of energy and hope. The palpable and awful proofs on every side, of the "enmity of the carnal mind against God," rejecting alike both His law and His Gospel, threaten to sink him in despondency. And nothing sustains 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, the pulse, and the strength of Missionary exertion, and 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 a Missionary living in the spirit of his work—surrounded with thousands of mad idolaters, hearing their shouts, and witnessing their abominations, without a weeping spirit? Indignant grief for the dishonor done to God—amazement at the affecting spectacle of human blindness—detestation of human impiety—compassionate yearnings over human wretchedness and ruin—all 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 realizing sense 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;—which would render 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 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;
Your own all-saving arm employ,
And turn these drops of grief to joy.'
137. Righteous are You, O Lord, and upright are Your judgments. 138. Your testimonies that You have commanded, are righteous, and very faithful.
The advancing Christian learns to adore the awful perfections of his God, and to acknowledge His righteous character and government, even when "his ways are in the sea, and His paths in the great waters." "Clouds and darkness are round about Him; righteousness and judgment are the habitation of His throne." We have already brought out the unvarying testimony of His people to the righteous character of His afflictive dispensations. Even from haughty Pharaoh was a similar acknowledgment extorted. Adonibezek also, under the blow of His hand, cried out, "As I have done, so God has requited me."
Yet in this path, "we walk by faith, not by sight." Often in Providence "his footsteps are not known." We cannot trace the reasons of the Divine mind. We must wait and see the "end of the Lord," when the disjointed pieces shall be compacted into one complete texture and frame-work. "At evening time there shall be light." Much more in the dispensation of grace do we hear the voice, "Be still, and know that I am God." Doubtless He could give His grace to all as well as to some. Yet none have a claim upon Him. "Is it not His to do what He will with His own?" "No, but, O man, who are you that replies against God?" "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" Thus much is plain—enough to silence cavil, and justify God—grace is freely offered to all. Man's own will rejects it, and leaves him without excuse. Effectual grace is withheld from none, but those who deserve that it should be so. None are forced to sin. None are condemned without guilt. Therefore when we stand upon the ocean's brink, and cry, "Oh, the depth!" are we not constrained to the adoring acknowledgment—Righteous are You, O Lord, and upright are Your judgments? And if this be our praise, even while "we see but as through a glass darkly, and know but in part," how much more, in the world of uncloudy day, when we shall see "face to face, and know even as we are known"—shall we sing with reverential joy "the song of the Lamb—Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty! just and true are Your ways, You King of saints!"
The young Christian, however, less able to grasp these deeper apprehensions, exercises himself chiefly in his more engaging perfections of long-suffering, goodness, and love. It is therefore a satisfactory evidence of growth in grace, when our habitual contemplation of God fixes upon our minds the more full and awful displays of His character; and we gather from thence an increase of light, peace, humility, and consolation. But the cross of Calvary harmonizes to our view at once the most appalling and the most encouraging attributes. Though His own declaration—that "he will by no means clear the guilty"—seemed to present an insurmountable barrier to the purpose of mercy; yet, rather than the glory of a God of love should be obscured, or His righteous law should be mitigated, "He spared not His own Son;" He "made Him, who knew no sin, to be sin for us."
And do not we naturally argue from His nature to His testimonies? If He be righteous, nothing unrighteous can come from Him. His testimonies, therefore, are His lively image—like Himself—righteous and very faithful—requiring nothing impossible—nothing unsuitable—perfect love to God and man, "our reasonable service," no less our privilege than our duty to render. None that are blessed with a spiritual apprehension of their nature, and are conformed and framed to them, will hesitate in setting their seal to the inscription, "The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether." "The law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good."
But let us take care to exhibit the practical influence of our contemplations of the character and government of God. The unconverted—far from understanding or subscribing to our acknowledgment—complain, "The ways of the Lord are not equal." "My punishment is greater than I can bear." And so opposed are the righteous judgments of God to the perverseness of corrupt nature, that even with the child of God there is much murmuring within, that needs to be stilled—much repining to be hushed—much impatience to be repressed—many hard thoughts to be lamented, resisted, and banished. Did we believe more simply, how much more joy would there be in our faith, and readiness in our submission! How clearly would our experience "show, that the Lord is upright; He is our rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him!" "In returning" then "and rest shall we be saved; in quietness and confidence shall be our strength." In the submissive acknowledgment of the Lord's dispensations, "our peace" will "flow as a river;" more deep and extensive as it approaches the ocean, and fertilizing our souls with abundant spiritual peace and enjoyment.
139. My zeal has consumed me; because my enemies have forgotten Your words.
Such was David's high estimation of the testimonies of his God, that his spirits were consumed with vehement grief in witnessing their neglect. He could bear that his enemies should forget him; but his zeal could not endure, that they should forget the words of his God. Zeal is a passion, whose real character must be determined by the objects on which it is employed, and the principle by which it is directed. There is a true and a false zeal, differing as widely from each other, as an heavenly flame from the infernal fire. The one is fervent, unselfish affection, expanding the heart, and delighting to unite with the whole empire of God in the pursuit of a good, which all may enjoy without envious rivalry. The other is a selfish, interested principle, contracting the heart, and ready to sacrifice the good of mankind, and even the glory of God, to its own individual advantage. Were its power proportioned to its native tendency, or were it to operate extensively in an associated body, it would end in detaching its several members each from their proper center; in disuniting them from each other; and, as far as its influence could reach, crumbling the moral system into discordant atoms. Too often does this baneful principle exemplify itself in the Church—either in an obstinate opposition to the truth of the gospel, or in a self-willed contention for its own party."This wisdom descends not from above: but it is earthly, sensual, devilish." How much also of that misguided heat, that spends itself upon the externals of religion, or would "call fire down from heaven" in defense of fundamental truths, may be found among us, exposing its blind devotees to our Master's tender rebuke, "You know not what manner of spirit you are of!"
Often also do we see a distempered, counterfeit zeal, disproportioned in its exercise, wasting its strength upon the subordinate parts of the system, and comparatively feeble in its maintenance of the vital doctrines of Christ. Thus it disunites the Church by adherence to points of difference, instead of compacting the Church together by strengthening the more important points of agreement. Often again, by the same process in practical religion, are the "mint, anise, and cummin," vehemently contended for; "while the weightier matters o£ the law" are little regarded.
Widely different from this fervor of selfishness is that genuine zeal, which marks the true disciple of our Lord. Enlightened by the word of God, and quickened into operation by the love of Christ, it both shines and warms at the same moment. It is indeed the kindled fire of heavenly love, exciting the most heavenly desires and constant efforts for the best interests of every child of man, so far as its sphere can reach; and bounded only by a consistent regard to the general welfare of the whole. Thus earnest and compassionate in its influence, awakened to a sense of the preciousness of immortal souls, and the overwhelming importance of eternity, it is never at a loss to discover an extended sphere for its most vehement and constraining exercises. While it hates the sins that pass on every side before its view, it is all gentleness to the sinner; and would gladly weep tears of blood over those who are deaf to the voice of persuasion, could such tears avail to turn them from their iniquity. But, knowing all human unassisted efforts to be insufficient, it gives to the world its protest against the abominations, which it is too feeble to prevent; and then hastens to the secret chamber to pour out its wrestling desires in the tenderness of our Master's intercession, "Father, forgive them! for they know not what they do."
Such was the zeal of the ancient Lawgiver, whose spirit, though, as it regarded his own cause, "meek above all the men which were upon the face of the earth," "waxed hot" on witnessing the grievous dishonor done to his God during his absence on the mount. At the same time (as if most clearly to distinguish the holy burning from the heat of his own spirit) how fervently did he plead his people's cause in secret before his God, as he had manifested his concern for the honor of his God before the congregation! Surely he could have taken up this language—My zeal has consumed me; because my enemies have forgotten Your words. Burning with the same holy flame, the great Old-Testament Reformer bore his testimony against the universal prevalence of idolatry; making use of the arm of temporal power, and of the yet greater power of secret complaint, to stem the torrent of iniquity. The same impulse in later times marked the conduct of the Apostles: when, "rending their clothes, and running in among" a frantic multitude of idolaters, by all the power of their entreaties "they were scarcely able to restrain the people, that they had not done sacrifice unto them." On another occasion the great Apostle, forgetting "the goodly stones and buildings" that met his eye at Athens—found "his spirit stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry." In another city "was he pressed in spirit" by the intensity of his interest for the souls of his fellow-sinners and his Master's work.
Yet this is not a heat that wastes itself without a proportionate object. The truth of God is the grand object. Not one atom of its dust shall be lost. For its fundamentals all consequences must be hazarded—yes, life itself—if need be—sacrificed. Nor does this fervor expend itself in strong impulses that wear out without fruit. It is a constant affection in "a good thing." Nor is it an undisciplined burst of warm feeling, but a sober controlled exercise of Christian judgment. The Apostle—with his inexpressible abhorrence of idolatry—yet remained in the midst of it for two, perhaps three, years, faithfully employed in his Master's work; yet waiting for the fittest time of open protest against Diana's worship. So admirably was "the spirit of power and love" disciplined by "the spirit of a sound mind."
But, "compassed about, as we are, with so great a cloud of witnesses," let us yet turn aside to look unto One greater than them all—to One, whose example in every temper of Christian conduct affords equal direction and encouragement. Jesus could testify to His Father, "The zeal of Your house has eaten Me up." He was ever ready to put aside even lawful engagements and obligations, when they interfered with this paramount demand. Yet was His zeal tempered with a careful restraint from needless offence. Rather would He work a miracle, and retreat from publicity, than seem to give occasion to those that might desire it. And if we bear the stamp of His disciples, without rushing into offence in the waywardness of our own spirits, and while rejoicing to have our own "names cast out as evil," we shall at the same time be tender of any reflection on the name of our God, as on our dearest friend and benefactor. We shall feel any slight of His honor as sensitively as a wound to our own reputation; nor shall we hesitate to thrust ourselves between, to receive on ourselves any strokes that may be aimed at His cause. This combined spirit of self-denial and self-devotedness kindles the flame, which "many waters cannot quench, neither can the floods drown." 'I could bear'—said holy Brainerd—'any desertion or spiritual conflict, if I could but have my heart burning all the while within me with love to God, and desire for His glory.' It is indeed a delightful exercise to "spend and be spent" in the service of Him, who for our sakes was even consumed by the fire of His own zeal.
However, the surest evidence of Christian zeal is, when it begins at home, in a narrow scrutiny, and "vehement revenge" against the sins of our own hearts. Do we mourn over our own forgetfulness of God's words? Are we zealous to redeem the loss to our Savior's cause from this sinful neglect? And do we plainly show, that our opposition to sin in the ungodly is the opposition of love? And is this love manifested to the persons and souls of those, whose doctrines and practice we are constrained to resist, and in a careful restraint from the use of unhallowed "carnal weapons" in this spiritual "warfare?"
Perhaps the weak, timid child of God may be saying, 'I can do nothing for my God. I allow His words to be forgotten, with little or no success in my efforts to prevent it.' Are you then making an effort? Every work done in faith bears fruit to God and to His church. You may not see it. But let your secret chamber witness to your zeal: and the Lord "will not be unrighteous to forget your work and labor of love." He will even strengthen you for your dreaded conflict in the open confession of His cause, "For He has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty." Or, should peculiar trials restrain the boldness of your profession, you may be found in the end to have made as effectual a resistance to the progress of sin by your intercession before God, as those who have shown a more open front in the face of the world.
140. Your word is very pure: therefore Your servant loves it.
The Psalmist's love for the law of his God may account for the zeal he felt on account of its general neglect. All other systems of religion (or rather of "philosophy falsely so called") allure their disciples by the indulgence of carnal lust or self-complacent pride. The word of God outweighs them all in its chief excellence—peculiar to itself—its purity. "Every word is very pure—tried to the uttermost" in the furnace, and found to be absolutely without dross. Its promises are without a shadow of change or unfaithfulness. Its precepts reflect the holy image of their Divine Author. In a word, it contains 'truth without any mixture of error for its matter'—Therefore Your servant loves it.
'No one but a true servant of God can therefore love it, because it is pure; since he who loves it must desire to be like it, to feel its efficacy, to be reformed by it.' The unlettered believer cannot well discern its sublimity; but he loves it for its holiness. The mere scholar, on the other hand, admires its sublimity—but the secrets which it reveals (such as the pride of the natural heart struggles to conceal) forbid him to love it. Its purity, which is the matter of love to the one, excites enmity in the other. From "the glass" which shows him "his natural face"—his neglected obligations—his fearfully self-deluded state—and his appalling prospects—he turns away in disgust. The indulgence of sin effectually precludes the benefit of the most industrious search into the word of God. The heart must undergo an entire renewal—it must be sanctified and cleansed, yes, be "baptized with the Holy Spirit," before it can discern, or—when it has discerned—can love, the purity of the word of God.
Witness the breathings of Brainerd's soul in this holy atmosphere—'Oh, that my soul were holy, as He is holy! Oh, that it were pure, even as Christ is pure; and perfect, as my Father in heaven is perfect! These I feel are the sweetest commands in God's book, comprising all others.' 'Oh, how refreshing'—exclaims the beloved Martyn—'and supporting to my soul was the holiness of the word of God! Sweeter than the sweetest promise at this time, was the constant and manifest tendency of the word, to lead men to holiness and the deepest seriousness.'
The valuable end for which we "desire this word" is, "that we may grow thereby"—grow in purity of heart and conduct; learning to shrink from the touch of sin; "cleansing ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, and perfecting holiness in the fear of God." Our "esteem" for it, "more than our necessary food"—will be in proportion to our growth in grace, an evidence of this growth, and a constant spring of holy enjoyment.
An additional excitement to love its purity is the exhibition of that purity embodied in our perfect pattern, in Him, who was "holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners." For the habit of "beholding the Savior" with the eye of faith "in the glass of the word," conforms us to His image. But be it ever remembered, that its holiness can have no fellowship, and communicate no life, except in its own atmosphere. Oh, for a larger influence of the Spirit of God upon our souls, that we may enjoy the purifying delights of the word of God; that we may live in it, live by it to the glory of our dear Redeemer, and to the edification of His Church!
141. I am small and despised; yet do not I forget Your precepts.
Evidently David did not love the word for selfish gain. Small and despised was his condition, when the Lord first looked on him. It was also the reproach, which in the height of his glory he endured for the name of his God. Yet—stripped and destitute as he might be—did he not forget His precepts. The remembrance of his God was a cheering encouragement to his faith in his lowly condition; and no less his support in the far greater trials of his prosperity. Thus habitually did he realize the unspeakable privilege of an ever-present God!
The objects of the Lord's sovereign choice, whom He has stamped as a "peculiar treasure unto Him above all people," and whom at the day of His appearing He will bring forth as the "jewels" of His crown—are most frequently in their worldly condition—always in the eyes of the world, and in their own estimation—small and despised. And yet pride and hypocrisy in the natural heart will sometimes assume this character for selfish ends. This language of humility is not infrequently in the mouth of the professor, to enable him to maintain "a name to live" in the church of God. But are those who call themselves small and despised willing to be taken at their word? Are they content to be despised by those, whose esteem this "voluntary" spurious "humility" was meant to secure? Do they really believe themselves to be what they profess—false, vile, mean, deceitful creatures? Have they any experimental knowledge of the depth of inner wickedness, that God could open door after door in "the chamber of imagery" to confound them with the sight of greater, and yet "greater abominations!" When, therefore, they "take the lowest place," do they feel it to be their own place? Or does not the language of self-abasement mean in the eyes of God—'Come, see how humble I am?'
Christian! do not think these self-inquiries unnecessary for the cautious scrutiny of Your own heart. A self-annihilating spirit before men, as well as before God;—to feel small and despised, when we have a reputable name in the Church—is a rare attainment—a glorious triumph of victorious grace—usually the fruit of sharp affliction. This was the spirit of Brainerd—that meek and lowly disciple of his Master, who would express his astonishment that any one above the rank of "the beasts that perish" could condescend to notice him. But if we are small and despised, in the estimation of men, let us think of "Him, whom man despises—Him whom the nation abhors." Never was such an instance of magnanimity displayed, as when Pilate brought out the blessed Jesus, arrayed in the mockery of royalty, and with the blood streaming from His temples: and said, "Behold the man!" Then was there a human being, sustaining himself in the simple exclusive consciousness of the favor of God, against the universal scorn of every face. This was independence—this was greatness indeed. With such a pattern before our eyes, and such a motive touching our hearts, we may well account it "a very small thing, that we should be judged of man's judgment." What upheld "the man Christ Jesus," will uphold His servants also. "He committed himself to Him that judges righteously." Must we not desire to "know the fellowship of His sufferings"—yes, to rejoice in the participation of them?
Christian! do you love to be low, and still desire to be lower than ever? Small and despised as you are in your own eyes, and in the eyes of the world, "you are precious in the eyes of Him," who gave a price "for your ransom"—infinitely more precious than "Egypt, Ethiopia, and Seba," and who will suffer "none to pluck you out of His hands." Many may rebuke you; many may scorn you; even your brethren may treat you with contempt; yet your God, your Redeemer, will not depart from you, will not permit you to depart from Him; but will put His Spirit within you, and bring forth His precepts to your remembrance, that you may keep them, and many a sweet supporting promise for your consolation. Therefore "fear not, you worm Jacob; I will help you, says the Lord, and your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel."
142. Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and Your law is the truth.
The Psalmist in the midst of his trials could not forget the precepts, while he maintained so just a perception of their exalted character. His mind at this time seems to have been filled with the contemplation of the righteous government of God. He therefore repeats his adoration, not as applied to any particular instance, but as distinguishing the general character of His administration from everlasting.
But on whom is this government appointed to rest? Think of our Immanuel—the human brow encircled with Divine glory—the crucified hands wielding the scepter of the universe—Him, whom they mocked as the King of the Jews, seated on His own exalted throne, "King of Kings and Lord of lords!" "The government is upon His shoulder: and of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end." How delightful to join Jehovah Himself in the ascription of praise, "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom!" How glorious also to praise that everlasting righteousness—the ground on which the administration of His church is framed—which Jesus "brought in," and "which is unto all them that believe;" which, when once clothed with it, is our infinite glory and reward!
"Every ordinance of man" is connected only with time. The Divine government has a constant reference to eternity, past and to come. "And I heard"—said the enraptured disciple, "the angel of the waters say; You are righteous, which are, and was, and shall be; because You have judged thus." Every instance, therefore, of His righteous administration, is that display of the Divine character which constrains the adoration of heaven. "One cried to another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory." His law, "the manifestation of His righteousness"—is the truth. "Your word is true from the beginning! and everyone of Your righteous judgments endures forever."
This truth is the law of righteousness, which Jesus bound Himself to "fulfill"—to which He "came to bear witness," and for which He commended His people to His Father as the means of their sanctification; for what else is holiness, but the influence of truth, digested and practically embodied in the life and conduct? There may be fragments of truth elsewhere found—the scattered remnants of the fall. There may be systems imbued with large portions of truth deduced from this law. But here alone is it found perfect—unsullied. How carefully, therefore, should we test, by this standard, every doctrine—every revelation; receiving with implicit subjection all that is conformed to it; rejecting with uncompromising decision whatever will not abide the fiery trial. Most careful also should we be to preserve its unadulterated simplicity. Even the most seemingly trifling infusion of fundamental error is the grain of poison cast into the food, and making it "a savor of death unto death." Such was the error of the Galatian Church, "another gospel, yet not another"—not deserving the name—not putting ordinances in the stead of Christ (an error too gross to beguile a Christian profession), but what is far more subtle, and equally destructive, mixing them with Christ; thus impairing the integrity of the foundation, paralyzing the springs, poisoning the sources of life, yes, converting life itself into death. Let this church stand out as a beacon to our own—as a much-needed warning to each of her members.
But in a more general view, let us adore the Divine revelation, as bearing so full an impress of a "God that cannot lie"—of a "covenant ordered in all things" beyond human contrivance, "and sure" beyond the possibility of a change. How many dying testimonies have sealed the truth of the precious promises! Joshua, Simeon, and a "cloud of witnesses with which we are compassed about," have "set to their seals that God is true"—that "all the promises of God are in Christ Jesus yes and amen"—that "all are come to pass unto them, and not one thing has failed thereof." Equally manifest is the truth of His threatenings. Hell is truth seen too late. Those on the right hand and those on the left, at the great day of God, will combine their testimony to the declaration of the "Faithful and True Witness" "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away."
143. Trouble and anguish have taken hold on me: yet Your commandments are my delights.
Christian! expect not unmixed sorrow or uninterrupted joy as your present portion. Heaven will be joy without sorrow. Hell will be sorrow without joy. Earth presents to you every joy mingled with grief—every grief tempered with joy. To be accounted small and despised does not comprise the whole of your trials. Like the great apostle, you must expect not only trouble without, but anguish within. Others may not have it. But your Savior engages, "You shall." To all His people He has not meted out the same measure. Some have rebuke. Some have a scourge. But all have the cross, and this a daily cross—not a single or an occasional trial—but a life of trial—constant contradiction to the will—constant mortification of the flesh. And this takes hold of us. We cannot escape from it. Should we wish to escape it? This discipline, as Luther observes in his own way (and who was a better calculator in this school?), 'is more necessary for us, than all the riches and dignities of the whole world.' And the exercise of faith and patience in the endurance will bring more honor to God and profit to ourselves than a life of ease and indulgence. The instruction of the rod delivers us from its curse, and brings a substantial and enriching blessing.
But how precious is the sympathy of Jesus, "in all things made like unto His brethren"—enduring trouble and anguish inconceivable to human apprehension, "that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest to support His tempted people!" How does it lift up our head amid the billows, when in communion with our Lord we can call to mind, that His sorrow was for the sake of His dear purchased people; that they might drink their lighter cup bereft of its bitter ingredients!
The Psalmist did not find that the Lord afflicted him to leave him in misery, but rather to increase his happiness. The precepts which he had not forgotten, were now his delights. The scriptural records of the trials of the Lord's people bear similar abundant testimony to the inexhaustible resources of support in the Book of God: and they are written for our learning, "that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope." The child of God, whose thoughts are habitually occupied in the word, will always find it to be his food and light, his joy and strength; witnessing within, the presence and power of God, even where its sensible comfort may not be enjoyed.
But specially is affliction the time, that unfolds the delights of the word, such as more than counterbalances the painful trouble and anguish of the flesh. Such cheering prospects of hope and deliverance does it set forth! Such mighty supports in the endurance of trial does it realize! Truly the experimental power of the word in keeping the soul alive—much more than this—cheerful—sustained—established—is there any blessing like this—the fruit of the cross? Can we mourn over that cross, that brings so gainful a harvest? The bitterness of the cross then best realizes the delights of the commandments. But never does the believer more "rejoice in tribulation," than when the trouble and anguish which take hold of him, is for the love he bears to the name of his dear Lord. Persecution for His sake, far from appalling him, only endears His service to his heart. It is in his eyes, "not a penalty endured, but a privilege conferred," "to suffer for His name's sake."
But contrast the condition of the child of God and the follower of the world, in the hour of affliction. The one in the midst of his troubles drinks of the fountain of all-sufficiency; and such is his peace and security, that, "in the floods of great waters they shall not come near unto him." The other, "in the fullness of his sufficiency, is in straits." David could look upward, and find the way of escape in the midst of his trouble: but for Saul, when trouble and anguish took hold of him, no source of comfort opened to his view. "God was departed from him, and was become his enemy." It was therefore trouble without support, anguish without relief—trouble and anguish; such as will at length take hold of them that forget God, when nothing will be left, but the unavailing "cry to the mountains and the hills to fall upon them, and cover them." Thanks be to God for deliverance from this fearful prospect! Thanks for the hope of unfading delights, when earthly pleasures shall have passed away! The first sheaf of the heavenly harvest will blot out the painful remembrance of the weeping seed-time which preceded it. The first moment of heaven will compensate for all the troubles and anguish of earth; and these moments will last throughout eternity. "Say to the righteous, it shall be well with him"—eternally well.
144. The righteousness of Your testimonies is everlasting: give me understanding, and I shall live. (Comp. verses 137, 138.)
What deep—weighty—impressive thoughts were exercising the Psalmist's mind! He had just marked the happy influence of the testimonies upon the believer's heart. Now he again recurs to their righteousness—as the Divine administration—not subject to the incessant variations of the human standard—but everlasting—of unalterable obligation—binding us unchangeably to God, and God to us. His creatures can virtually "make them void" by their rebellion; but they cannot change their character, or shake their foundation. No—themselves shall be the instruments of their fulfillment. Every word shall be established either by them as His obedient servants, or in and upon them as rebel transgressors. What solemn weight therefore is due to this Divine standard! It seems now to be trampled under foot; but its righteousness, inflexible in its demands, and unalterable in its obligations—will before long assert its sovereignty over the world, when every other standard shall have passed away. It will be the rule of the Divine procedure at the great day of decision. When the "great white throne" is set up—when "the dead, small and great, stand before God, and the books are opened, and another book is opened, which is the book of life;" and the dead are judged out of those things which were written in the books, "according to their works"—the acknowledgment will be made throughout the universe of God—The righteousness of Your testimonies is everlasting. How glorious is the confidence of being dealt with in that great day upon an everlasting foundation of righteousness!
But this view of the Divine righteousness and everlasting obligation of the testimonies, naturally suggests the prayer for a more spiritual, enlightened, and experimental acquaintance with them. Often before had the petition been sent up. But who can cry too often or too earnestly? One ray of this understanding is of far higher value than all the intellectual or speculative knowledge in the world. If its first dawn exhibits the infinite difference between light and darkness—if prayer for it implies a measure already received, still—Give me understanding—will be the cry—not of the "little child" whose spiritual perception is just opening—but of the "father who has known Him that is from the beginning." Let me know the holiness of Your testimonies—their extent—their perfection—their intimate connection with every part of my daily walk—with the restraint of my inclination, the regulation of my temper, the direction of every step of my path. And indeed the more devoutly we study them, the more shall we feel our need of supplication for Divine teaching, to give us more adoring and thankful views of the government of God, and to subjugate our caviling disposition to the humbling influence of faith.
The principle of spiritual and eternal life flows from the enlightened perception of the testimonies of God. Give me understanding, and I shall live. For "this is life eternal, that we might know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent." His testimonies are the revelation of Himself. If then we "have an unction from the Holy One, and know all things," our knowledge of them will become more spiritual in its character, more experimental in its comforts, and more practical in its fruits. And thus, 'the life of God in the soul' will invigorate us for higher attainments in evangelical knowledge, and more steady advancement in Christian holiness. But how infinitely do we live below the full privilege of knowing God in His testimonies! Christians of a Scriptural standard are "forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded."
And then—what will it be at the great consummation; when our God of love will have put His last hand to His glorious work; when the mark of all our aims—the term of all our hopes and desires—all that we have so long labored for—so earnestly panted after—so restlessly pursued—when all shall be attained? Then indeed we shall live a life worthy of the name—not as now under the shadowed glimmerings—but under the immediate full-eyed glory of His light and love; having escaped forever the deadliest of all dangers—sin—the very deadliness of death itself.
145. I cried with my whole heart; hear me, O Lord, I will keep Your statutes. 146. I cried unto You; save me and I shall keep Your testimonies.
This is indeed the "pouring out of the soul before the Lord," a beautiful and encouraging picture of a soul wrestling with God, in a few short sentences, with as much power and success as in the most continued length of supplication. Brief as are the petitions, the whole compass of language could not make them more comprehensive. Hear me. The whole heart is engaged in the cry. Save me—includes a sinner's whole need—pardon, acceptance, access, holiness, strength, comfort, heaven, all in one word—Christ. Save me—from myself, from Satan, from the world, from the curse of sin, from the wrath of God. This is the need of every moment to the end. I cried unto You.—What a mercy to know where to go! The way of access must have been implied, though not mentioned, in these short ejaculations. Hear me—must have been in the name of the all-prevailing Advocate. Save me—through Him, whose name is, Jesus the Savior. A moment's interruption of our view of Jesus casts for the time an impenetrable cloud over our way to God, and paralyzes the spirit of prayer. Prayer is not only the sense of guilt, and the cry of mercy, but the exercise of faith. When I come to God, I would always bring with me the blood of Christ—my price—my plea in my hand. He cannot cast it out. Thus am I "a prince, that has power with God, and prevail." Here is the warrant to believe, that my God does, and will hear me. Here is my encouragement to "look up"—to be "watching at His gate"—like the cripple at the "beautiful gate of the temple, expecting to receive somewhat of Him." Not a word of such prayer is lost. It is as seed—not cast into the earth, exposed to hazard and loss—but cast into the bosom of God—and here—as in the natural harvest, "he which sows bountifully, shall reap also bountifully." The most frequent comers are the largest receivers—always wanting—always asking—living upon what they have, but still hungering for more.
With many, however, the ceremony of prayer is everything, without any thought, desire, anxiety, or waiting for an answer. These slight dealings prove low thoughts of God, and deep and guilty insensibility;—that the sense of pressing need is not sharp enough to put an edge upon the affections. But are none of God's dear children, too, who in days past never missed the presence of God, but they "sought it carefully with tears"—now too easily satisfied with the act of prayer, without this "great object of it—the enjoyment of God?" Perhaps you lament your deficiencies, your weakness in the hour of temptation, your indulgence of ease, your unfaithfulness of heart. But is your cry continually ascending with your whole heart? Your soul would not be so empty of comfort, if your mouth were not so empty of prayer. The Lord never charges presumption upon the frequency or extent of your supplications; but He is often ready to "upbraid you with your unbelief," that you are so reluctant in your approach, and so straitened in your desires—that you are so unready to receive what He is so ready to give—that your vessels are too narrow to take in His full blessing—that you are content with drops, when He has promised "floods,"—yes "rivers of living water,"—and above all, that you are so negligent in praising Him for what you have already received.
We must not lightly give up our suit. We must not be content with keeping up the duty, without keeping up "continued instancy in prayer" in our duty. This alone preserves in temptation. Satan strikes at all of God in the soul. Unbelief readily yields to his suggestions. This is the element in which we live—the warfare of every moment. Will then the customary devotion of morning and evening (even supposing it to be sincere) suffice for such an emergency? No. The Christian must "put on the whole armor of God;" and buckle on His panoply with unceasing "prayer and watchfulness in the Spirit." If his heart be dead and cold, let him rather cry and wait as Luther was used to do, until it be warm and enlivened. The hypocrite, indeed, would be satisfied with the barren performance of the duty. But the child of God, while he mourns in the dust, "Behold I am vile!"—still holds on, though sometimes with a cry, that probably finds no utterance with his lips, that vents itself only with tears, or "groanings that cannot be uttered." And shall such a cry fail to enter into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth? The Lord has heard the voice of my weeping. Lord, all my desire is before You; and my groaning is not hid from You.
But why is the believer so earnest for an audience?—why so restless in his cries for salvation? Is it not, that he loves the statutes of his God; that he is grieved on account of his inability to keep them; and that he longs for mercy, as the spring of his obedience? Hear me; I will keep Your statutes. Save me: and I shall keep Your testimonies—a most satisfactory evidence of an upright heart. Sin can have no fellowship with the statutes. As saved sinners, they are our delight.
Lord! You know how our hearts draw back from the spiritual work of prayer: and how we nourish our unbelief by our distance from You. Oh, "pour upon us this Spirit of grace and supplication." "Teach us to pray"—even our hearts—our whole hearts—to cry unto You. Give us the privilege of real communion with You—the only satisfying joy of earth or heaven. Then shall we "run the way of Your commandments, when You shall enlarge our hearts."
147. I prevented the dawning of the morning, and cried: I hoped in Your word. 148. My eyes prevent the night-watches, that I might meditate in Your word.
The Psalmist here brings before us not only the fervency, but the seasons, of his supplication. Like Daniel, he had set times of prayer, "three times a-day." Yet did not this frequent exercise satisfy him, without an habitual "waiting all the day upon his God." Prayer was indeed his meat, and drink, and breath. "I give myself unto prayer." His sketch of the "blessed man delighting in the law of his God, and"—as an evidence of this delight, "meditating therein day and night"—unconsciously furnished an accurate picture of himself. For early and late was he found in the work of God; preventing the dawning of the morning for prayer, and again the night-watches, that he might meditate in the word. But to look above the example of David to David's Lord—surely "it was written" most peculiarly "for our learning," that Jesus—after a laborious Sabbath—every moment of which appears to have been spent for the benefit of sinners; and when His body, subject to the same infirmities, and therefore needing the same refreshment with our own, seemed to require repose, "in the morning, rising up a great while before day, went out and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed." On another occasion, when intensely engaged in the service of His church, and about to lay her foundation in the choice of her first ministers, did His eyes prevent the night-watches. "He continued all night in prayer to God."
So long as the duty only of prayer is known, we shall be content with our set seasons. But when the privilege is felt, we shall be early at work, following it closely morning and night. While, however, family and social exercises are refreshing—while "the tabernacles of the Lord are amiable" in our view, and we delight to "wait at the posts of His doors;" yet it is the lonely, confidential communion with our God, "the door shut"—the Church as well as the world excluded—that makes our closest walk with God. Secret prayer is most likely to be true prayer. At least there is no true prayer without it. It was the "garden" prayer—separate even from His own disciples—that brought special support to the fainting humanity of Jesus. And if He needed this perfect retirement, whose affections were always fixed upon their center, what must be our own need, whose desires are so unstable and languishing! And how cheering is His succoring sympathy, knowing as He does experimentally the heart of a secret, earnest pleader! Such, doubtless, were David's cries—penetrating no ear, but His Father's—yet delightful incense there.
But to see the King of Israel, with all His urgent responsibilities, "sanctifying" such frequent daily seasons "with the word of God and prayer"—how does it expose the insincerity of the worldling's excuse, that the pressing avocations of the day afford no time for the service of God! It is not, that such men are busy, and have no time for prayer; but that they are worldly, and have no heart to pray. The consecrated heart will always find time for secret duties, and will rather, as David, redeem it from sleep, than lose it from prayer.
And does not the uniform experience of the Lord's people warrant the remark—how much our vital spirituality depends upon the daily consecration of the first-fruits of our time to the Lord? How often are opportunities for heavenly communion during the day unavoidably straitened! But the night watches and the dawning of the morning afford seasons free from interruption, when our God expects to hear from us, and when "the joy" of "fellowship with Him" will be "our strength" for active service, and our preservation from many a worldly snare. What a standard of enjoyment would it be, with our last thoughts in the night watches, to leave as it were our hearts with Him, and to find them with Him in the morning, awaking as with our hearts in heaven! Surely the refreshments of our visits to Him, and His abidance with us, will often constrain us to acknowledge, "Truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ." The thoughts of God were clearly the first visitors to David's waking mind; and to this may be ascribed his habitual success in realizing His presence throughout the day. The lukewarmness and our want of spiritual enjoyment may often be traced to that morning indolence, which not only throws the business of the day into confusion, but also consumes the time in self-indulgence or trifling, which should have been given to sacred communion. For—not to speak of the seasonableness of the early hours for devotion—the very exertion made to overcome "this lust of the flesh," and to steal a march upon the demands of the world, is an exercise of self-denial, honorable to God, "that shall in no wise lose its reward." No remembrance of the past will be so refreshing at a dying hour, as the time redeemed for communion with God.
And, even should there be no actual enjoyment, at least let us honor God by expectancy. I hoped in Your word. There can be no exercise of faith in the neglect of prayer; but the ground of faith, and that which gives to it life, hope, and joy, is the view of God in His word as a promising God. Therefore when His Providence opens no present encouragement, let us seek it in His covenant. To hope in His word is to build up ourselves upon "our most holy faith" and to lay all our desires, all our cares, all our weights, and burdens, upon a solid, unsinking foundation.
Well, therefore, were David's night-watches employed in meditation in the word. For, in order to stay ourselves upon it in time of need, it must occupy our whole study, thought, and desire. Instability of faith arises from a want of fixed recollection of the promises of God. This superficial habit may suffice for times of quietness; but amid the billows of temptation we can only cast "anchor sure and steadfast" in an habitual and intelligent confidence upon the full, free, firm promise of the word. Let it therefore be the food of our meditation, and the ground of our support, when our suit seems to hang at the throne of grace without any tokens of present acceptance. Often will it lift up our fainting hands, and supply strength for fresh conflict, and the earnest of blessed victory. The ground is always sure for faith. May the Lord ever furnish us with faith enough for our daily work, conflict, consolation, and establishment!
149. Hear my voice according to Your loving-kindness: O Lord, quicken me according to Your judgment.
In the eyes of the world, David appeared "in all his glory," when seated on his throne, and surrounded with the magnificence of his kingdom. But never did he appear so glorious in the sight of God, as when presenting himself as a suppliant before the mercy-seat, seeking an audience of the King of Kings only to send up reiterated cries for quickening grace. And do I not need the same grace every moment, in every duty? Does not "the gift of God within me" need to be daily "stirred up?" Are not the "things that remain" often "ready to die?" Then hear my voice, O Lord; quicken me.
But to urge my suit successfully, I must "order my cause before God;" I must "fill my mouth with arguments." And if I can draw a favorable plea from the character of my Judge—if I can prove that promises have been made in my behalf, these will be most encouraging pledges of a successful issue. Now David had been so used to plead in cases of extremity, that arguments suited to his present distress were always ready at hand. He now pleads with God for quickening grace, on the ground of His own loving-kindness and judgment. Can He "deny Himself?"
And with what "full assurance of faith," may I ask to be heard on account of that transcendent proof of loving-kindness manifested in the gift of God's dear Son—not only as His chief mercy, but as the pledge of every other mercy—and manifested too at the fittest time—according to His judgment—after the inefficiency of the power of reason, and the sanctions of the law, to influence the heart, had been most clearly displayed! And what a plea is it to ask for quickening influences, that this is the very end for which this gift of loving-kindness was given, and that the gift itself is the channel, through which the quickening life of the Godhead is imparted! Could I ask for this grace on any other ground than loving-kindness? All ground of fitness or merit is swept away. On the footing of mercy alone, can I stand before Him. And how is my faith enlivened in retracing the records of my soul from the beginning—how He "betrothed"—how He "drew—me with loving-kindness!" May I not then cry, "Oh! continue Your loving-kindness?" And not less full is my conviction of His judgment, in dealing wisely and tenderly with me, according to His infallible perception of my need. Left to my own judgment—often should I have prayed myself into evil, and asked what it would have been my curse to have received. But I have learned, that the child must not be guided by his own will, but by his father's better mind—not the patient by his own humor, but by the physician's skill. Truly, even the Lord's corrections have been in judgment! And in the thankful remembrance of them my confidence for the time to come is established! Gladly will I "set to my seal," that "the Lord is a God of judgment;" and that "blessed are all those who wait for Him." He knows not only what grace is needed, but at what time. Not a moment sooner will it come; not a moment later will it be delayed. "As You will, what You will, when You will" (Thomas a Kempis)—is the expression of faith and resignation, with which all must be committed to the Lord, waiting for the end in humility, desire, expectation. And if in pleading my suit for a hearing according to His loving-kindness, my poor, polluted, lifeless petitions should find no liberty of approach; may I be but enabled to direct one believing look to "the Lamb that is in the midst of the throne!" and I will not doubt that my feeblest offering shall come up as a memorial before God.