Practical Reflections on the Psalms: Psalm 119:73-120

Psalm 119:72‑120  •  17 min. read  •  grade level: 6
The soul looks now to God as dependent for man's very being on God, so that He should surely direct and guide it, as Peter wrote, “Committing the keeping of our souls to him in well doing as unto a faithful Creator.” The heart alone, which knows Him in grace, can do this. Otherwise we seek our own will in resistance to Him. But once He is known, He is known in all that He is according to the truth of His nature in grace. This enlarges our knowledge of God and applies it to everything. It warrants thus the desire founded on it. Here it is applied to the teaching of the word, because the soul is walking and to walk in the old creation. Still we can, as down here now, look to the truth of God's nature, when, as I said, He is known, and look to Him thus because thus our dependence on Him, in the fullest and most absolute sense, is expressed, as well as the desire of the renewed heart. I only exist by thy work: make me then walk as disposed in heart and guided by thee. He who made can give understanding. But there was a common bond in thus looking to God—the same disposition of heart which delighted in His being owned and honored, and was kind to those who did, in the midst of an evil world. They were companions, as Malachi speaks: “They that feared the Lord spake often one to another; and as we see so beautifully in the lovely picture of the hidden ones in the beginning of Luke. There is another trait of this divine work in the soul. God being really known in the soul, it rises up to the justification of Him in His ways, however painful. Thus the heart knows in a double way that His judgments are right. They are His and we know what He is. He cannot but do rightly, and more, rightly towards us. He is faithful to us in goodness; but then, secondly, we see the rightness of it morally. God ought not to allow evil—above all, not in His people. For their good He could not. Right and wrong are known and judged, and it is God's care over His people which makes Him follow them in their ways.
But the feeling that the chastening comes from God, though it gives submission, gives the desire of His favor, when the submission is complete. Still one desires relief; but a subdued heart, while naturally desiring relief, yet seeks divine favor in it, and comfort from God, not in self-will. “Let, I pray thee, thy merciful kindness be for my comfort.” “God who comforteth,” says the apostle, “them that are cast down;” and this depends on God's faithful word. On that goods ness he counts and looks for it, and this is right.
Mere looking for relief is self-will and may be the means, if we had it, of more sorrow; but a subdued and broken will under chastisement is all right in desiring mercy. It knows this character in God and desires that it may be exercised, if possible; and it can plead its integrity in this case, for the desire is right when submission is complete, that goodness is felt to be in God. So here, “For thy law is my delight;” and judgment is the portion of the proud. There is the sense that the proud will is the subject of judgment. In the time of grace the Christian desires that will may be changed. Yet he knows faith is not of all. Here the desire that they should be ashamed is according to the righteous character of God. The faithful one keeps himself apart and meditates in God's revealed will. But there is the desire, not only of the favor of God, but that those who fear God should turn to the afflicted one. There is something special in these. It is not that he seeks them, though this be right. There is energy of affiance in God, and he seeks Him only, nor leans on another, but delights in their association with him. It is not that he was not a companion of those that feared God's name, but here he seeks his comforts from God; and as Job's acquaintance came to him again when the testimony of God was with him, so it is here. Only whatever the comforts of God, his desire is to be maintained in integrity. There is no thought of blessing out of the way of God's word. So shall the servant of God not be ashamed (ver. 73-80).
Ver. 81-88 goes farther. The pressure of the power of evil is greater and the cry more earnest, but the word is fully trusted. This blessed revelation of God Himself, of His will and favor, that in which He cannot lie, maintains the heart through all. How precious is it—the fact of having a revelation of Himself as sure as Himself! With this two grounds of appeal—the extremity of distress. He is dried up like a bottle in the smoke; but he dare not forget God's statutes. But a poor, short-lived creature, it was time for God to lay to his hand, if he was to taste of mercy. And the sorrow he was suffering was both the pride of man and was not according to the word which God made good and owned. Yet that word was, all of it, faithful and the persecution wrongful. It had gone very far. He was almost consumed in the land, the very place of promise and God's power; but he forsook not God's precepts. Mercy, too, is looked for as life-giving to himself. It is not only comfort from without, but the restoration of the soul itself, and so is it kept firmly, and with good courage, and confidence, the testimonies of God's mouth. Thus sorrow itself and great pressure, where there is integrity, become a plea with God.
Another aspect of the word is now before the soul—before God in heaven itself. There it is settled forever. There where He is, it remains in its own character of God's settled and expressed purpose. But God has acted out of heaven, though. His purpose be settled in it. His faithfulness, His abiding by what He is and has said, continues through the changing generations of men. Hence when we have His word, we can reckon upon it as sure as what is in heaven, and changes not as God Himself. He established the earth and it abides. All continues as God orders it; for—and it is another important truth—all that does exist is the servant of God. If even He has given them fixed laws, why do they abide in them? Because they depend on Him. They are His servants. All are His servants; but then the soul has its strength in this word. Here is a moral, willing obedience in a renewed heart, and when circumstances were all adverse, it were hard to hold good unless the moral side of the law had its power. God seemed out of the circumstances, but the inward delight in the law of God kept it fast. We have, I think, something more, though this be interesting as a testimony to a renewed heart and true to us. We glory in tribulation, knowing its working in us, having the love of God shed abroad in our hearts, as it is witnessed in the gift of the Son, by the Holy Ghost given to us. “All things work together for good to them that love Him.” How truly Christ held to God's will, in the highest sense, against all adverse circumstances—even to wrath. This power of the word in sustaining the heart, in sorrow, in its inward quickening and restoring power in the new man, gives purpose of heart in the consciousness of its divine preciousness. And this leads up to God in the consciousness that we are His. I do not say it creates the thought, but it leads the heart to the consciousness of it; and hence to look to Him who is faithful to save and deliver, and that, as ever here, in the consciousness of integrity. “I have sought thy precepts;” and this must be so. Want of it enfeebles all confidence, though God may have mercy. One sees how constantly the soul is seen in the presence of oppressing enemies; for the remnant will be so in the last days. In one sense we always are, but it applies often in evil days. “The wicked have waited for me to destroy me.” But the soul waits in peace, occupied with God's testimonies. And this does give peace and enables the soul to leave all to God. Another pressure of the soul is universal failure. Not that there is no integrity; but the heart would be disposed to say so under the pressure of it. But there is no fulfilling, completing—such is the force of the word—the will of God even in those who undertake to walk in it. But if the heart turn to the word, it has quite another effect. This very failure, though never justified, leads to see how perfect, how complete, and wide God's commandment is—how it reaches to everything in which man can be engaged—everything in the relation of the creature to God—all moral relations (ver. 89-96).
Ver. 97-104 is the affection and value he has for the law, its known experienced value. He loves God's law in itself. It is of God to him, the revelation of His will. It is his meditation all the day. It is not for the fruit he got from it, nor the wisdom it gave him towards others; he loved it for itself. This characterizes the new man. But its effect when loved for its own sake was to make him wiser than his enemies, however subtle and cunning they may be; there is a path which the vulture's eye has not known— “simple concerning evil, and wise unto that which is good,” which outreaches and baffles the adversaries of God and the godly man. They can form no estimate of the principles of those who fear God. But this supposes constancy and consistency in them. “They are ever with me.” It is divine wisdom, and immediately so that it gives a discernment, because it acts on the soul itself and forms it, and is perfect in every respect which no human teaching however godly can. This may be very useful as drawn from and leading to the word; but even in the case of the highest gift nothing gained by it is in the faith of the soul with God, until it is learned there; it may be pointed out, interest the heart and mind; but to possess it, it must be learned with God. “They shall be all taught of God.” Nothing teaches like the word of God, sought out and searched in holy subjection, and received as a new-born babe. We have thus understanding—divine wisdom—as to our mind and path; so it gives more wisdom than human experience, when God's precepts are kept. It becomes a positive motive; it is preferred to every evil way: we leave them all for that one which is God's way, because the heart has learned to delight in that. We see too how directly the soul connects itself with God in grace here, and has the consciousness that it is of God, gives the word authority. “I have not departed from thy judgments, for thou hast taught me.” This has great weight in the soul, when the power of God's word has been realized. What has been taught of man, may be left for man; but what has been taught of God, will never be left for God; and for whom else shall we leave it? It has the bond of faith and authority for the soul. It comes from and leads to Him. The soul returns to the thought of the sweetness of the word to the taste. These divine communications are the delight of the soul. It is not merely duty, though that is owned, but they are sweeter than honey to the mouth. Through God's precepts the heart itself is formed; learns to discern good and evil. It is not merely obedience to a law, but moral discernment grown up in the heart and will. By reason of use, the heart being attached to God's word, the senses are exercised to discern good and evil, and every false way is hated.
It is remarkable to how many things the word applies. In the last section the heart and affections were engaged in it for its own sake, leading to wisdom. Now it is a guide to our path through the world in which we walk, a very different service. It “is a lamp to my feet and a lantern to my path.” This it is. It is the means of a right walk, not merely because it sets the heart right, but as casting light on this world; yet not merely light on this world, such as it is, but on our path through it. So Christ does not merely detect by practical righteousness, but he that follows Him has the light of life. It shows the path of the law, to us of divine life, through the world. But withal it never loses the character of obedience. Here, of course, in Jewish form: “I have sworn and will perform it: I will keep thy righteous judgments.” Yet here, I think, with a decided moral estimate of their character in contrast with man and the world. It is not testimonies here, that is for oneself; righteous judgments are the contrast of God's ways and man's ways. He then turns to his trials through which this path must pass. Affliction is here seen not as coming from the hand of God, but as affliction. The former he had to learn and did learn, his will being bound (see ver. 67, 71, 75). So it was the wasting of human strength (ver. 81, 83). Here it is viewed as affliction on the path which was lighted up for him by the word; and he looks for strength and revival through the word from God in his soul in that path. But the desire of the heart is not here deliverance, sweet as it may be, but that, in turning to God in this path of righteousness, the free-will offerings of his mouth may be accepted. He can bring, as kept there, and God's thoughts in him, free praises to God: that was not interrupted through affliction. He was brought low—had been astray, but walking now in rectitude of heart, desired that these outgoings of his heart, fruit of the word's power, might be accepted. This is all right. It is not the joy of present salvation. There is all through the consciousness of having been astray; only the heart is set right. The word has power over his ways; he feels it as a light in these be has entered on; and, though in a certain sense under the fruit of his old ways, his heart set right, can go forth in praise; can it be accepted? Such is his desire, and surely it would be. But the lowliness of the desire is right, as the desire itself is the fruit of grace. It is not the simple-hearted praise of one in known relationship when it flows forth unhesitatingly as the natural and necessary fruit of blessing. As he praises, so he looks to be taught in God's ways, in contrast with evil. Purpose of heart then characterizes his path. His state of affliction and even danger was great, his soul was continually in his hand; but this did not alter his purpose, he does not forget God's law. He was not so absorbedly in the danger as to put this out of his mind. This is a blessed witness of the power of the link with God which grace gives, and how what is known of God, where faith is in exercise, is paramount to the strongest effects of circumstances and the power which Satan can exercise! What God gives to the soul is kept in remembrance in spite of it. Craft and subtle wiles were in his path; and to an upright mind this is trying and painful, but his feet were steadfast in the way. They were set in that way to dishearten in it, but the word had its own power within; and the full secret of this was, he had taken God's testimonies as his portion forever. It was not present delight which may influence the mind and be lost as in a moment; it was a divinely-given estimate of the good and divine truth that was in them. Hence, when really held by grace, it abides, and is not affected by circumstances. The terrors of the enemy and his wiles make the soul cling more closely to what is of God and truth from Him. They have been and are themselves the rejoicing of the heart; only we say more— “nothing shall separate from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Hence obedience was the purpose of the heart, in its continual practice or as a perpetual bond. So indeed with us. Still we say rather, “Having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end.” Yet even that leads to equally perpetual obedience as our very element and state as men (ver. 105-112).
This section is simple in its character. The soul states its. own condition, but then looks out to see God's intervention according to the word, hoping in that, but withal apprehends God's judgment on the disobedient. “I hate vain thoughts, but thy law do I love” —thoughts, I suppose, of man's understanding and reasoning, but God's word he loved. The soul thus turned to God from man's reasonings, God, and God only, is his hiding-place and shield; he hopes in His word. So in turning to men he refuses evildoers, his mind is made up, he looks to be upholden to the end, and not disappointed in this hope founded on the word. But this desire is more precise; that is, he looks to the Lord to hold him up in the way, and be will be safe. He needs not only to be guarded, but kept morally upright—God's strength and grace to sustain him: otherwise the enemy would have the advantage over him; but thus kept be would constantly heed God's commandments. But he sees God's judgments on those that went away from them. That by which they sought to beguile men turned out to be emptiness and vanity. Deceit is, as regards men, falsehood—what was vain and false in itself. God rejected them and treated them as naught—as dross. This encouraged the heart in God's testimonies, whose way the heart had kept, in spite of the wicked who puffed at them. But there was fear, and just fear, in the prospect of these judgments. We indeed shall be above them, taken out of the hour of temptation which shall come on all the earth, but encouraged by the word and even by the judgment in looking up to Min from whom it came. And such is ever the case in this psalm. Nothing can be more natural nor more true than this righteous fear. The expression of the apostle, (how perfect is Scripture ever!) in view of deeper judgments, if less outwardly terrible, shows that while he would not directly be in it at all, he was not unconscious of it. “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.” It only awoke love (for he would not come into judgment), but he knew its solemnity and terror. It acted in sanctifying power, manifesting him as a present thing to God, but where one passed through it, though not reached by it, fear was right. So “Noah, being warned of God, moved with fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his house” (ver. 113-120).