Practical Reflections on the Psalms: Psalm 119:25-72

Psalm 119:25‑72  •  18 min. read  •  grade level: 6
He who seeks to follow God's ways will find himself often in evil days—days when the power of evil prevails and presses upon his spirit. What then marks faithfulness is that the heart does not turn aside to an easier path or other comforts, but looks to God and His raising up the heart according to His word. There his heart is. He prefers sorrow with it to leaving it, but has learned to trust God, and in the sorrow looks to relief, according to this revelation of God; and God can be counted on for it. The heart had been true with God—not only knew that He knew all its ways, but the desire of being right in His sight and confidence with God even there. He had declared His ways. This integrity in the time of trouble, when there is not the joy of God's deliverance, is very important—to be able to say, “When my spirit was in heaviness, thou knewest my path.” Still there is confidence in the result, so that the soul cleaves to God's ways, and the heart reckoning on His faithfulness is sure, if led by Him in faithfulness of walk, it will soon declare His wondrous works. Not only did the heart take the lowly and abased place, as having no courage as to external things, but it melted within for heaviness—inwardly was in felt weakness. Still the strength it looks for is according to God's word. It seeks nothing but this. The false way in the midst of which it lived, it would have kept far away from the heart. Through this it was downcast. But better to be downcast through evil than to walk merrily in it. More energetic faith might lift up. Still the sense of evil and dependence is good. It was deliberate. He knew all this, but he had chosen the way of truth. “Lord, to whom should we go?” How simple the path then! The soul had been steadfast, and another thing was connected with this. The heart sees that its joys and sorrows are in the hand of God. If it was put to shame, it would be His doing, but He could not for our keeping His own testimonies. “Put to shame” is not here bearing shame by man's mocking, but confounded as coming under judgment. After all, the free running in God's path is when the heart is set at liberty and free, joyfully, with Him. (Ver. 25-32.)
These last verses look for apprehension of the ways of God's precepts; so that the heart is taught in the midst of sorrow. Here it is more keeping and observing it in his path. Otherwise the first three portions were his own resolutions; here the demand of God's teaching. For the heart, true in its resolutions, then turns to God. It may be first for its sorrows, but then for guidance and dependence on Him. We need His teaching when the will is right, need understanding from Him—His help too. “Make me to go.” But the heart seeks to be rightly inclined also, but that root of all evil turns it aside—covetousness. The same as to vanity, but this is all around us. It is not the inclination of the heart, but distraction and leading away the mind from God to folly. Hence the soul seeks to be given energy and life, to seek in singleness of eye heartily the Lord and His will. He seeks too that the word may be confirmed to the soul. This may be inwardly by the Holy Ghost giving it power or even by God's ways according to it. The heart follows God and bows in heart to Him at any rate, but seeks to be strengthened and confirmed. Reproach is when God allows shame on one for righteousness without interfering to screen or save from it. It is as if He abandoned His servant to the mockery of the enemy, successful in his ways, or at any rate the faithful in a state to be triumphed over. So Christ: “Reproach hath broken my heart.” The world could say, “He trusted in God, let him deliver him.” But after all, what God ordained was good, in which the faithful walked. Why should he be left to reproach, which he feared? The heart was right. It longed after God's precepts, and looked for the Lord to give liveliness of heart and energy of renewed will, undistractedness through the faithfulness of God (that consistency with His own goodness and favor on which we can reckon in Him). “Quicken me in thy righteousness.” This last supposes an increased knowledge of God, so that we can reckon on Him. So indeed does all this demand on God for help and teaching. Uprightness and integrity lead to confidence in Him for our leading in the way of righteousness, which we know He must love. Being thus of one mind with Him, through grace, gives it; but the last word here shows deepened intimacy of faith, which counts on what God must be. (Ver. 33-40.)
Remark here, that all through there is no thought of looking, in difficulty or trial, to anything but God.
Help to keep the law, deliverance from trial because of it, these are sought, but there is not the smallest idea of turning anywhere else; it does not even to the faithful. This is true integrity of heart. God in truth, of His will, God in mercy, God Himself as an object, but only God—nothing outside or away from Him. His mercies are looked for, and that is right, and deliverance from Him, and this according to His word, for He has perfectly revealed Himself, and we want nothing short of Him. What an answer will His deliverance be to the enemy that reproaches! And the word He had sent to us was trusted in as well as obeyed. This is an important point, it is not only the authority of the word, but we have set to our seal that God is true, we receive it as the word of God, and God, we know, must be true, for we know Him; and the soul is interested in the truth of the word. It has taken it as of and from God, delighted in it, had its confidence in it, taken it in face of the wicked as that which we had of God (was perfect as He, revealed Him,) identified it, so to speak, with God. Hence, when there was deliverance according to it, (and other the heart would not seek,) it was the very answer the heart wanted to him that reproached; God's word has an immense place in the heart. It is what reveals Him. Not only it does so, but it is what does so. (So John 5:3939Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. (John 5:39).) Had God abandoned the faithful, as fear would lead him to expect, the word would have been taken out of his mouth. Yet here it is not doubting the truth of the word, or its being God's testimony; but be was allowed to accredit it no more by faith. This he fears because he values it. This was Christ's trial and perfectness of the cross, as to desire (“how, then, should the Scriptures be fulfilled?") as to trust. “Yet thou continuest holy.” Here the faithful has hoped in God's judgments, God's acting on that which is gone out of His mouth, His acting according to the revelation of Himself in His word; and this enabled him to keep it forever. So will it be with Israel when he is delivered from the oppressor at the end, the law having been written in his heart. Christ took none of the promises in life, but higher glory awaited Him as man, an answer to higher and infinite faithfulness to God, faithfulness to make good His nature, to be the proof of it when abandoned, when only it could be done because of sin. Then will Israel walk at large, when God's judgments have come in, for that was his desire, to be free to keep them in delight and joyfully. Through mercy we may learn this by times, but our path is a higher one—to follow and suffer with Christ. But he has been encouraged by these thoughts. The word gets its value and God His place, so to speak, though unseen. He speaks of His testimonies before kings, and is not ashamed. This is the character of faith. It has the sense of the importance of God's testimonies, and is filled with it. Men take their place, may be respected, as due to them; but God fills and governs the mind, not by effort, but, so to speak, naturally. The commandments of God become thus, instead of a pressure on the conscience, the delights of the heart. There is open confession and dedication to them; I suppose this is lifting up the hands to them. It is a solemn avowal and asseveration of heart; not only he has loved them, but he openly declares his owning their truth and authority, saying, That is what I own. And as he openly owns his affiance to them, so he meditates in them for his own joy. (Ver. 41-48.)
But the soul has counted on God's word; God has taught and led the soul to do it, and now it looks for God to put His amen to it (man, through grace, having put his). This confidence of faith in God's word had been its comfort in affliction. There was that which was firm and steadfast for hope, and brought in God's faithfulness and testimony—Himself in hope to the soul when all circumstances around were adverse, and nothing to lean on. And this is comfort, true comfort, in affliction; but it looks to God to fulfill His word—knows He cannot but do it. That very word had quickened the soul itself to do it. This lowly, patient obedience, accepting meekly reproach, had been the scorn and derision of the proud; but faith in His word had kept the soul from swerving. It kept fast in the sorrow. It looked back to God's ways of old, when His hand bad been stretched out. What made it obedient made it confident: that is, God was looked to, and this kept the vision and memory of faith clear. It counted on faithfulness, and it remembered judgments; for all this is the government of God. And His ways of old are ever the thought of Israel in the Psalms, and, in their place, we can think of them; though our hope be elsewhere, as Christ's, in whose favor, when all was tested, it was not made good; but the better portion of resurrection was the answer for us. But this thought of God's judgments does make it awful to contemplate the result for the wicked, who are hurrying willfully against them. But it is not only the end of the wicked that is spoken of here. The wickedness itself is to the soul poignant distress. The soul dwells in Mesech. It sees around what is grief of heart, for its delight is in the fresh air of God's holy will. The rank and fetid breath of sin is distress and pain to it, and seen not only intrinsically as sin, but in the pride of wickedness. Still there is joy: God's statutes are its song in the house of its pilgrimage. How true that is! How, when pressed in by evil around, does the heart find its relief and enlargement in the word and testimony of God Himself! His statutes are our songs in the house of our pilgrimage; and the loneliness in which the heart is in a world of evil, (for it will and must be isolated, however sweet communion may be by the way, if it be faithful,) will be met by the name of the Lord (to them Jehovah, to us Christ and the Father in Him). And when cast upon our thoughts, these thoughts are filled with their names and all is peace, and the purpose of the heart in obedience and communion is settled and strengthened. And this is the fruit of obedience, for holiness and communion—the sense of God's presence—are the fruit of obedience. So Rom. 6:2222But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. (Romans 6:22), “Ye had your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.” The obedience here has the sense of diligent observation of God's precepts, a thing not to be forgotten. (Ver. 49-56.)
In this part (ver. 57-64) we have more the affections connected with the word written in the heart: “Thou art my portion, O Lord.” The heart has Himself as its source of joy and blessing. This connects itself necessarily with purpose of heart towards God: “I have said.' It is impossible to look to the Lord as one's portion without thus purposing to do His will, for that would be not owning Him. This, too, necessarily involves the desire of His favor since He is God. Still the word here has its place, which has awakened this desire and confidence, both as assuring of the mercy and the revelation of the principles on which this favor and mercy are shown. I see the same desire, not mere obedience though resulting in it, but the meditation of the heart: “I thought on my ways” —the heart's inward exercises, a needful and important matter for us— “and turned my feet unto thy testimonies.” We may obey instinctively, carelessly almost, with right intention, but showing that the heart is not with God, not exercised, not anxious as to pleasing Him, and in which, though the path be not evil, the heart may be in a very poor state. But the saint rightly with God will review the purpose of his ways, the direction of them, how far they are according to the measure of the purpose which the light given to us leads to, and if the purpose be adequate, how far the filling up in practice be true to it and earnestly pursued, true to the character of that purpose. For we may be externally blameless, in appearance even amiable, and unfaithful to the calling of God. Here, of course, we have to turn to God's testimonies which are able to make the man of God perfect, “throughly furnished unto all good works.” We see how having the Lord for our portion is the very spring of all this. Thus we should have a heart which thinks on our ways. But this gives diligence when the heart is right. It does not confer then with flesh and blood, having only God's favor in view and purpose of heart: “I made haste, and delayed not, to keep thy commandments.” How characteristic and all-important this is I need not say. It is the essential first-fruits and spring of a life true to God, as we see in the blessed Apostle Paul. Suffering may be found in this path, opposition of the haters of the Lord, the instruments of Satan, but the inward life remains steady and rightly directed—does not swerve in its judgment of its path: “I have not forgotten thy law.” We may be occupied with opposition and evil, so as to have the state of our mind formed by it, though opposed to the wicked. It is but meeting flesh by flesh. He who looks to the Lord has the character of his path in the scene of wickedness formed by the unforgotten word, and this leads to see God as the dealer with these things. It looks for the perfectness of God's dealings with evil. This, is a comfort, for an upright mind would often rise up in indignation against public evil; but the wrath of man does not work the righteousness of God. It is hard often for an active energetic mind to take the lowly place, and not bring down fire from heaven, or will to smite with the sword, when Christ and His truth are insulted and annoyed; but in looking above we have songs in the night. The heart, in singleness of eye, led of God in His ways, has springs of joy which wake it up in the time of evil, and when it is alone with God. Sorrow may be around, but joy with Him. It arises. There is a chord of heart to praise. It is not only comforted in the sorrow, but freed from the bond of evil, active in praising Him whom it knows and who is its portion. For judgment and deliverance will come according to the word, and the heart gets up to God as to it now. But though we are and must be alone in faith, not in fellowship, when the Lord is our portion, we are a companion of thorn that fear Him and walk in His ways. And here the heart is able to turn round and, when all the evil had pressed upon it, yet see mercy. And so it is: evil may rise up like a flood, but the Lord is always above it; and when the heart by faith realizes that, and the will is bowed as to it all, if it is then comforted by the thought of God's judgments, it finds the constant exposition of His mercy now, and seeks in peace to be led in His ways. This is an interesting part of the soul's experience under the influence of the word of God. (Ver. 57-64.)
We have now the sense of blessings from God, and the heart turned to Him as its portion: this with the consciousness, the will being broken, of being His servant. Still in unerring goodness the word, the great subject of this psalm, has its place. The word guides Jehovah in His goodness, as it assures us of that goodness, revealing Him and His ways to us, as it guides us in our path. This is very precious, because it teaches how to reckon on it, and that we can. And here he had found it by experience; he had been afflicted, and he can now account for it; but as His word, so Jehovah's ways had been. So even, (and it is most precious,) we can reckon on it at all times. We may have more, but this we have. Now he looks for discernment as taught of God, divinely-given judgment and knowledge; for be had put the seal to God's commandments, for believing here is putting the amen of His heart. Herein he can confidently look to be guided—so we; and it gives confidence to the heart, so as to look for it. His will had been broken. Affliction had been there; before will had its way, forgetting God and going its own way. Affliction is understood now, and obedience wrought. How graciously God follows though righteously as to government and necessarily so in general! For sometimes He breaks the heart through favor as He knows how, when we have wandered away from Him. Hence God is known in goodness in the subdued heart: “Thou art good and doest good.” The desire of the heart is after God's ways.
Now “teach me thy statutes;” that is, the goodness the heart seeks. This subdual of will and setting the heart right is beautiful to see. The pride of ungodly adversaries is before him, saying evil of him in untruth: it is natural if he has left their ways and his own pride of will, but experience has given purpose of heart. It was enough to have gone astray; he clings to that with purpose which he has now got; and the moral difference is great. Filled with will and self on one side, perhaps success; delight in Jehovah's law on the other: the law of Him whose we are—Jesus Christ's will in all things. But not only was there breaking of will and return; there is positive progress, through infinite grace, in this experience. The breaking of will brings the elements of the heart directly into contact with the word. Self is judged in the forms it takes within in the heart—what flesh is in its ways, however deceitful. Thus the heart gets to learn, freed from self, and the light of the word breaking in on the heart and exercised by it, thus rendered cognizant of its import and power; for (though, yea, and because, of God) it is directed to and adapted to the heart of man: only till the will is broken and conscience awakes, it does not reach it intelligently. See the parable of the sower and John 4. But then the law of God's mouth is precious above all, the expression of His own perfect mind and will, and His will about us. We live by it, but we live on it too, and with delight, as from Him and perfect and for us.