Practical Reflections on the Psalms: Psalm 119:1-24

Psalm 119:1‑24  •  13 min. read  •  grade level: 6
Psa. 119 is the expression of the effect of the law written in the heart of Israel, when they had long erred from God's ways and were sorrowing under the effects of it. It is one of the psalms which pronounces blessedness. We will examine some of the elements of this work in the heart. This blessedness is pronounced on “the undefiled in the way.” The world is full of defilement. There is only one path in the world (for ours is out of it, we are pilgrims and strangers following Christ who is gone on high) but only one in the world which can be undefiled; that is, God's law. It is not what is heavenly formed within, affections set on things above, a walking in the Spirit; that no doubt will produce fruits which no law of God will condemn. It is the way wholly formed by God's expressed will for man's walk in this world. They “walk in the law of Jehovah.” There is a delight in what is right, in what is not defiled by sin or the world; but that is in walking in the law. It is a perfect rule, according to God, in this world for a living man. But this is carried farther in the heart. It looks to the source. God has borne witness to His will, and shewed that He would have man walk in it, and the heart turns to it, not only as undefiled and right, but as “His testimonies.” This connects itself with the desire after Himself. They “seek Him with the whole heart.” This is the general character of the effect of the law written in the heart. The practical effect is evident: they “do no iniquity.” Not only the heart is set morally right in undefiledness, but evil or unrighteousness, relative wrong, is not done. Instead of their own will, and puffing, as it is said, at God, “they walk in His ways.” The authority of God is recognized in the heart, and diligence in acquiescence in it, and the desires of the heart are towards it. “O that my ways were directed,” &c. It is not only the perception of God's ways—what is intrinsically approved in the heart; but the desire that the actual course of life were ordered so as to keep God's statutes; not satisfying our will, or our will being towards God's. And here dependence is felt as to the course of a man's life, and there is the desire it may be directed. Conscience and spiritual discernment go together. Shame does not flow from man's disapprobation; but from the conscience not being good according to God's revealed will. But this way is complete and an only one. Whatever is out of it is not undefiled, is the world which is abhorrent from God; we must be in it in will, heart, and way, or out of it, and so ashamed, if the will of the heart be right. If my mind and soul have morally discerned the excellency of God's way, the conscience, if I am out of it in every respect, makes me ashamed. The heart set right has respect to “all God's commandments.” But where this is, not only the conscience is right and peaceful, but the heart is set free. “I will praise Thee with uprightness of heart, when I shall have learned thy righteous judgments.” There is knowledge of God through His ways, and the heart restored to Him, and having learned His thoughts, (not only commandments, but His judgments,) can praise Him not only for benefits but in the heart's association with Himself. Another element of this state is full will and purpose of heart to obey and keep what God has ordained or appointed, what has God's authority attached to it, not merely moral right and wrong. But it was a time when Israel had erred; hence here there is a special looking to God, not utterly giving them up. We see thus that the form of this psalm cannot apply to the Christian. He never expects to be utterly forsaken; in a particular course he may apply this, when he is conscious of having followed his own will. But from the general principle we may learn much, as that which is wrought in the heart as regards its moral disposition. (Ver. 1-8.)
But there are other points practically. The tendency of man's energy as such is to follow his own will. This s now natural, not before the fall. Then man enjoyed, thanked, and blessed; followed naturally in the path described by God—a simple one. Now, through that first distrust of God, will is come in. And here we have a difference of the very last importance in Christian obedience and the law. The law addresses itself, as such, to responsible man down here without raising the question of and not supposing a new nature, though it may discover (when known to be spiritual) the need of one. It supposes a will and lusts which have to be checked and put down. The Old Testament does not speak of flesh and spirit, but of responsible men and their ways. Christian obedience is as Christ's; the will of God is the motive of action, not merely the rule. “I come to do thy will:” no doubt it will herein be a rule to guide us. In us this is a new nature, Christ being our life. We do not find in the Old Testament “he cannot sin because he is born of God.” It is not that there was not the desire to obey in renewed souls then; surely there was. It could not be otherwise. But the relationship in which men stood to God was a law without them to govern their ways when in flesh, not a known new nature standing in the results of redemption whose only motive of action was God's will. The prophets indeed pointed out Christ as such (as in psalm 90) and the masters in Israel should have known that, to have their future privileges, they must be born of water and the Spirit (as in Ezek. 36). But obedience under the law was a rule applied to one who had a will whose movements were to be judged by the law, not a nature whose only motive was God's will, standing in the power of redemption so as to have the right to reckon a discovered old man to be dead, yea which God had pronounced dead through Christ. Hence the heirs differed nothing from servants, to do this, and that, whatever their own will might be. Ways, and not nature, were in question, even though renewal of heart were there. Hence the young man, where energy of will is found, into “cleanse his way.” Lusts would have carried his will elsewhere: how should he find the means of having his ways clear before God? Watchfulness, the fear of God (not will) according to God's word. God's word—how precious to have it in such a world of darkness and will, to guide our feet in a path according to God's mind! For the heart is set right. It is not indeed the sweet enjoyment of love in a reconciled soul, love shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost given, but (what is of all vital importance) the heart right in the sight of God. It supposes the man away from God but undiscovered in his desire. Both are true of the Christian. He is reconciled and has peaceful affections in perfect relationship (this the law had not); and he has, as known and seen in glory, earnest desire after Him that has loved him, only as knowing (not merely seeking) Him. Here He is “sought with the whole heart;” no guile but the true desire of the heart towards God. Being so, (the commandments of God being precious, as making known His will,) the true heart prays not to be let to wander from them. God is looked to in goodness; for when He is truly sought, there is always some sense of His goodness. It is what distinguishes conversion from mere terror of conscience, desire towards Him and sense of goodness in God. We have then another element. The heart which thus seeks God, and has a desire to do His will, not only seeks outward conduct to be right when the occasion arises, but keeps the word at the center, so to speak, and springs of action. He hides it in his own heart as that which he loves; “out of the heart (where that word is hid) are the issues of life. How large a place the word has here. Note, too, man's estimate of conduct disappears. It is between God and the heart, and that is integrity of heart. It is not here a single eye to an object; so far as that is here, it is found in seeking with the whole heart. This is the integrity which, by reason of the desire towards God, takes His mind as governing the springs of life. It is a blessed and important principle. The word hid in the heart prevent' sinning against Him. But the heart goes farther. It owns the blessedness of Jehovah Himself, known in His ways, His goodness, His mercy, that endureth forever. There, in the midst of its distress, the renewed heart finds its resource and its rest. “Blessed art thou, O Jehovah.” This makes the heart look for what He has decreed and ordained and for divine teaching in it. This looking at God gives courage and the consciousness of integrity and faithfulness. When the heart is right, this is the case. The heart, however humble, when it walks in integrity, has the consciousness of it before God. It may see weakness and infirmity in its ways, shortcomings of which it will judge the cause; but with God it will have the consciousness of entire guilelessness and purpose of heart. “This one thing I do” — “To me to live is Christ.” This does not affect humility; entire dependence on grace and divine strength for willing and doing is felt, (we are in result unprofitable servants, had we done all,) it is duty and delight. But there is the joyfulness with and from God that the heart is right. Service flows from confidence in God and knowledge of His blessedness with the value we have of what God has given. So Christ fully in Psa. 40. The spirit is the same here. It is the effect of perception of divine things, in power and value for them, to make us declare them. It is glorifying God. Love to others may accompany this, but it is another thing. We owe it to God to declare what He is. He ought to be known, and what He is owned. The difference of praise is that the sense of what He is, is addressed to Himself. Perfection is where He is fully known, so that there is no need to declare it to others; all with one mind worship because of it. Then we hold nothing back, “all the judgments of Thy mouth.” We are filled with what God is, its value; and it is uttered. We may be wise for others' sake, but God is sufficiently valued to be fully declared. God's testimonies become the riches of the soul. The possession of heaven somewhat modifies this; yet, still, for here below, the way of God's testimonies are joy, moral joy, as riches would be to men. But there is an inward life, which occupies itself with these things, as well as the activity of duty; much to be fed on, digested, learned in God's testimonies. We meditate on them: we have thus God's mind—the Holy Ghost's intention in them. Thus the soul is fed in delight. But God's ways are held in respect, as authority to the mind. The heart goes with them too. It is not merely that they delight his soul, but there is the activity of the new man; he delights himself with them, he makes it the matter of his occupation, seeking his enjoyment there, and keeps it (oh! how needed it is) in memory, the true proof of affection.
From the third division, another element comes in. Its literal application is to the sorrows of Israel in the last days; in principle it applies to all times—the sorrows and trials which accompany godliness. The soul looks for mercy from One that is supreme, where it is a stranger. It needs this to keep the law. No doubt, it may be strengthened even to martyrdom; but, in general, it looks for mercy to be able to walk. The heart owns it, is God's servant, and looks to be kept in mercy in order to walk truly. This is a great point of the return of the soul to God. By this fact God has now His own place and authority as such. Whatever evil may be permitted (comp. 94), God, our God, is supreme; and, further, goodness is always then necessarily known in Him. But there is more; the soul thus knowing God desires the knowledge of His mind, not merely a rule to direct, but “wondrous things out of God's law.” But all this gives the consciousness of being a stranger in the earth. A good God, (whose servants we are,) and an evil world, make a man “a stranger” (we much more, through Christ). We need these—our own moral delights—God's commandments; we must add the fullness of Christ. “They are not of the world as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.” And here the heart is fully engaged and filled; “my soul breaketh” forth, for there is infinite delight, in the new nature, in the fullness of God's revelations. It does break forth with delight. But this delight in the word gives a just estimate of man in the world, the “proud” man acting from his own will and setting himself up. He may seem to succeed and puff at God. He is under a curse, he errs from the one true way of man—God’s ways. The exaltation of will brings necessary curse; for we are thus away from, in rebellion against, God—all acting of human will. But godliness does more than make a stranger, a sure thing for the heart. It brings cruel mockings, for proud man will not have subjection to God: it is contemptible to man; and the deist, he cannot help him, he boasts. That is not contemptible, his will is in it. But with God man must be subject, and the willful despise this, though often with misgivings of heart. This the saint, while enduring, seeks to be removed. God should assert His title, not suffer the faithful to be pressed down by evil. Still, meanwhile, he can retreat into his own delights; he meditates in God's statutes, hid there from the pride of man. They are his delight, and his counselors, too. (Ver. 17-24.)