Psalm 119

God's Word Our Only Life

February 6, 2011 Series: Scripture: Psalm 119:9-16 by Chris Strevel

9 BETH. Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word.
10 With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments.
11 Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.
12 Blessed art thou, O LORD: teach me thy statutes.
13 With my lips have I declared all the judgments of thy mouth.
14 I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies, as much as in all riches.
15 I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways.
16 I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word.

Cleansing for the Young (v. 9)

The direction of our thoughts, affections, and habits are profoundly affected, often decidedly, early in life. For this reason, David, showing us in this section that God’s word is our only life, begins with the proverbial “young man,” which also includes the young woman. We might think that rebellion in youth is normal. It is not. It is particularly evil, a painful proof that our depravity is deep-rooted, that even though the Lord demands and deserves our first love and desire, we “go astray from the womb.” Our hardness of heart, spawning ingratitude and carelessness, makes us stray from the Lord’s way when we are young, not hormones or culture. This is nothing but a vain excuse for our wickedness and, in our day, serves the interests of those who have something to sell and souls to enslave, thus making the young lifelong customers of vanity fair. Rare is that man or woman who gives himself wholly to God from his youth; it is often only after painful wandering from the Lord, when we have felt the misery of life without him, that he graciously humbles our proud hearts and turns our feet back to the path of life. Sadly, we are usually bruised by this time, having learned firsthand that “the way of the transgressor is hard,” especially upon the inner life of the spirit, which is crushed and wounded by sin, paralyzed by guilt and frustration, and gasps for the pure light of God and his word. He has made us for himself, and the first steps of a painful life are often taken upon the giddy road of youthful rebellion – so apparently pleasing and pleasurable, yet bitter and empty.

Unless prevented by God’s special providence and covenant love, sin and Satan will usually make an all-out attempt to overthrow and enslave our hearts early in life. When we are young, our affections often boil – lust, anger, selfishness, stubbornness – the seed of our corruption endeavoring to put forth its choking vines before the habit and heart of godliness can take firm root in us. One thing only can preserve and cleanse our way – the power of God’s word. His word alone can subdue our wills to him, break the stranglehold of sin, and put our feet on the firm and happy path of holiness, of consecration to God. What power is in God’s word, that it is able to restrain the wild and hell-bent emotions of youth, our reckless wandering from the Lord! It will do this, for God has sworn that it will, but only if we “take heed” to it. This means that we must seek from him, even while we are young, “ears that are opened” to be taught by him, a heart that is made willing in this day of our Savior’s power, and affections that are turned away from the world and toward his fair and shining city, his beloved church and eternal kingdom. It must be observed, however, that only God’s word can perform this marvelous work. God’s word must “abide in young men,” for this is the only way the wicked one may be overcome, as John teaches (1 John 2:14). If, then, you are careless when young, unmindful of God’s covenant goodness and love, and bent on pursuing your own desires and interests, it is almost certain that you will go from bad to worse. You must gain self-mastery early, for even though God’s marvelous grace saves men later in life, after a season long or short of waywardness, why would you choose the path of misery and heartache when your heavenly Father offers himself to you as your first joy and blessedness? This is the reason you must come to God’s school early in life to be his pupil. Your first wisdom is to say: “I will certainly wander away from the Lord and from happiness unless he himself teaches and subdues my stubborn and deceitful heart. I must feel my need to be taught by him and listen to him humbly. God is calling me here to give myself to his word that my way may be cleansed, my feet set upon the rock. What a blessing and privilege he offers to me! I must give myself to him.”

It is to draw us to himself in this way that the Lord directs so much of his word to the young. By wisdom sayings, notable examples of youthful faithfulness and heroism, and especially our Lord’s tender treatment of the young, the Lord would woo us early to himself. To have this joy, you must feel that your way needs cleansing. Youthful pride says: “I am sufficient to guide myself; I will give ear-service to parents and teachers, but I will do what I please.” Youthful modesty, that rarest of heaven-sent graces, says otherwise: “I cannot guide myself; following my own desires will be my downfall; if I am to be preserved from sin and my way cleansed, I must turn to him who made me for himself, listening to him, crying after him, believing his promises.” You must seek this heart from the Lord, my young friend, for you cannot conjure it up yourself or talk yourself into it. Satan is too wily to be put off by your self-trusting resolutions to do better. No, you must cast yourself upon God from your mother’s womb, as your only Savior and Lord did, trusting in God, hoping in his goodness and faithfulness. If you are an adult and feel only too bitterly a misspent youth, do not despair, for great is his faithfulness and mercy! Remember, God’s word can cleanse the vilest offender, straighten the most crooked path, and transform the most depraved mind. For whether we are young or old, the beginning of blessedness is when we look to God’s word alone to purify us. This is the first and only legitimate step to recovery: when we give ourselves to God’s word as our only guide, anchor, and security.

This Poor Man Cried (v. 10)

But who among us feels this as he should? It goes without saying, of course, that the impious “through the pride of his countenance will not seek after God” (Ps. 10:4), yet even after we hear that God’s word will cleanse us, we do not seek him as we should. We grow weary, embarrassed to admit our weakness, are too focused upon our doings and desires, and think that a few mumbled prayers here and there are sufficient to overcome the flesh, ward off the devil, and keep unspotted from the world. David’s ardent plea tells us otherwise. Hearing God’s promise and standing in awe of the power of his word, the pursuit of our lives should be to seek God wholly, sincerely, and fervently. Even the godliest among us find much imperfection, much that offends, and ample incentive to put aside the sleepiness of soul that so besets us and to pant after God, as our Savior rebuked his sleeping disciples: “Watch and pray, so that ye do not enter into temptation” (Matt. 26:41). How can we motivated to seek him in this way, or even to seek the grace to do so, unless we feel the need to have our way cleansed, that impurity teems in us, that sin and Satan are roaring lions dedicated to our destruction, or at least to our temporary overthrow and misery? Feeling our weakness, we are led to seek God with our whole heart: confessing our sins, honestly arraigning ourselves before him and confessing to him the truth about our inner corruptions, trials, and temptations, and calling upon him to deliver us by his goodness and power. We cannot seek him unless we truly unburden our souls to him, look to him as our only Rock and Fortress, his word as our sure path. We are here taught to put away all trust in ourselves, seek him “in the wilderness” – quietly, without distraction, with his word open before us or occupying all our thoughts – and wait upon him continually, not giving him rest until he fulfills all his good word to us in his own way and time. We have his promise that he will hear and answer us, and we have the assurance of the Savior’s own presence by his indwelling Spirit that he will receive us as his sons and daughters, deliver us from our sins, and show himself favorable to us by abounding grace, light, and transforming power.

One way you may tell if you are seeking the Lord in such a way that he will surely hear, answer, and cleanse, is if your pride is overthrown to the degree that you beg him: “O let me not wander from your commandments!” The heart in which the Holy Spirit dwells is ever mindful of its weakness, of its tendency to turn away from the Lord, that it cannot keep itself in the right path. There is thus a dread of wandering in all the faithful – not presumption and self-assurance that leads to forgetfulness of God and flagrant sinning. The humbled heart remembers the “wormwood and the gall” (Lam. 3:19), the misery of those seasons in which it has not walked with the Lord. Not, of course, that you should be sin-centered, but you honestly face and confess your weakness. You groan with David: “My sin is ever before me” (Ps. 51:3). With trembling and shame, you know you are capable of the vilest thoughts and acts should the Lord forsake you even for a moment. Hence, you make all your appeals to him for preservation; you put no confidence in your current resolve or emotional state. You know full well that these are a puff of smoke before the onset of temptation. The Lord of hosts, the God of covenant and love alone can preserve you in the right way. It is for this reason that you seek the Lord with your whole heart. You believe that he alone can “keep that which you have committed to him,” your very soul and life before him. Young and old must be devoted to the seeking of God in prayer. That you are is proof that you are not asleep, or worse, dead in your sins, for those who seek the Lord half-heartedly or not at all will never “watch unto prayer.” They are foolish virgins, unaware of the danger that lurks – whether the sin that so easily besets or the coming of the Lord to settle accounts with his servants. Our failure to seek the Lord with our whole heart, that vanity and pride that prevent us from calling upon him to preserve us, is the reason many fall away from the right path. For some, they were never on the right path but are those who, as in our Lord’s parable, never had the word of life truly implanted in them. For others, though they may be his true children, he will teach us that our whole safety and joy is in seeking him, even if this lesson involves the hard and bitter way of falling miserably into sin and being bereft, at least for a time, of the joy that would be ours if we would but establish our complete happiness and security in him.

Treasured Word, Pure Lives (v. 11)

If God’s word is to be our life, however, it cannot flit about in our brains but must be firmly rooted in us. It must abide in us, control us, dominate our thoughts, and determine our course. Many never possess settled joy in God because they have only hazy conceptions of God’s “word of promise.” O, they can recite a verse here and there and have some understanding of a few doctrines. A few snippets come to mind, a favorite verse, when it seems to fit their situation. Yet, it is not their treasure. They have not sold all for it, especially their own thoughts and feelings. When God’s word is hidden in our hearts, it quickens the conscience, making it sharp against all occasions of displeasing its beloved God and Father. It shapes our thoughts and desires. It renews and cleanses us, even effecting a mighty renovation in us, as Paul says (Rom. 12:1). To bring this about, two things are necessary. First, we must ask God to hide it in our hearts, to make it our inmost treasure and deepest love, for we can in no wise effect this mighty work of the Spirit by our own efforts. When many hear a parent or teacher encourage meditation upon God’s word, they say to themselves, “Yes, I think I will do that.” It will never happen. It cannot happen until we call earnestly upon the Lord with our whole hearts to plant the word of his Son deeply within us. Therefore, we must be humbly persuaded that we cannot cause God’s word to be a “river of life” in us or that “hidden manna” that feeds and overcomes the world, but our heavenly Father can and will if we ask him. And this must be the subject of our constant prayers: asking the Lord to help us see the connection between the presence of the reigning Savior and his written word in our hearts (Col. 3:16), remove our sorry laziness in not partaking of such a rich treasure as the Lord offers to us in his word, and cause our hearts to burn within us that we might “desire the sincere milk.” The Spirit’s rising beam is when we cry: “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wonderful things out of thy law” (Ps. 119:18); and, “I opened my mouth and panted, for I longed for thy commandments” (Ps. 119:131).

Then, we must labor to make God’s word our treasure by hiding it within our hearts. Nothing else will do here but that we, depending upon God’s grace alone, habitually memorize, yes, but even more meditate upon God’s word. It must go with us wherever we go; thinking God’s thoughts revealed in his word must become more important to us than thinking our own thoughts and listening to the world’s thoughts, especially in the songs and other entertainments, which are little more than “walking in the counsel of the ungodly and standing in the path of sinners.” They may even be more dangerous, for setting the world’s unbelief, self-worship, sensuality to catchy ditties is very alluring to the vanity of the human heart. We must exercise ourselves unto godliness in this, seeking the Lord for the mental discipline and soul desire that will make every word of his precious to us. Why should we make this effort? So that armed with the word of his power and loving his precious thoughts, we may not sin against him. If sinning against him is a horror to us, as it should be the most dreadful thing we can imagine – to sin against our love and joy – if we would know by the Spirit’s renovating and true witness that the path of holiness is the path of blessedness, indeed, that all our happiness lies in hearing and obeying his voice, we shall think it a light and joyful thing to give ourselves to God’s word. When it is your treasure, sin you will loathe, holiness will be your delight, and triumph in Jesus Christ will be your destiny.

God Our Only Teacher (v. 12)

You see in this verse that David does not make our feelings and happiness the ultimate reason we should give ourselves to God’s word as our life. He ascends far higher: to the blessedness of God himself. God is blessed: always and ever, fully and self-sufficiently. Having all “life, glory, goodness, and blessedness in himself,” he alone is blessed and can bless us. And how does he do this but by giving himself to us through his word? You will recall that the highlight of those first halcyon days of our existence was when God came down to walk and talk with us. It was the highlight because we were created to hear God’s voice, to find our life’s purpose in his thoughts, to feel our inmost being throb with pleasure when he speaks to us of our blessedness in him. Those two on the Emmaus Road felt the same when our Lord opened the Scriptures to them (Luke 24:32). Behold this glorious connection! God himself walks and talks with us, fulfilling the central promise of his covenant, when he speaks to us in the word. Ours is no faith of mystical connection, wispy feelings, and noisy exuberance. No, the height of our happiness is when the ever-blessed God gives his word to us, for in it he himself, Christ himself, dwells in us by his Spirit (Col. 3:16). And desiring us to be blessed in him, he claims for himself the right and pledges to be our only teacher (Ps. 25:8). He sent the living Word into the world to pay the price of our refusal to listen and to give us the anointing of his Spirit both to apply his “redemption obtain” to us and to subdue us to himself forever. Whenever you read in Scripture or hear a human teacher calling you to meditate upon God’s precious word, think: “Ah, what wonder is this? The ever-blessed God would restore me to blessedness in him by being taught by him? He would undertake to teach me, wretch that I am, his own precious thoughts. I must cry after him, like old Bartimaeus beside the road, for him to have mercy upon me in my waywardness, to stretch forth his hand to deliver me from my cursed stubbornness, and to take me back to be his pupil.” This is all our joy, when we take God’s word to be our only life, when he takes us to be his students.

Speaking God’s Word (v. 13)

This overflowing blessedness, ours by grace and mercy alone, is too precious, too consuming to be kept hidden within our own hearts. Those who know the fellowship of the living God in his word speak that word, with his Son “declaring all the judgments of his mouth” (Ps. 40:9). There has been a long attempt to make God’s people feel guilty for not “witnessing,” sharing their faith with others. It has availed little. Guilt is no motivation for faithfulness. When God’s word is hidden in our hearts, when it is our inmost treasure, “how can we but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). The desire of our lives, being those out of whom legions of miserable devils have been cast, is to “share with others the great things he has done for our soul” (Luke 8:39). No guilt or emotional manipulation is required to stimulate the true lovers of the Lord of glory to share his wonders with others. How this rebukes our slumber, our selfishness, our worldliness! We who have been delivered from misery worse than death, healed of sin’s slavery, and cleansed of our deforming leprosy – we to whom God has revealed the glorious truths of his word, condescended to walk and talk with us again – that we would not freely and joyfully, with all the personal compulsion of men raised from the dead, share with others the wonders of God’s word. Of what is such guilty silence a sign but that we are more than willing to allow our fellowman to perish eternally in his sins, our Savior’s glory to lie buried in the dung heap of our own selfish hearts, and – horror of horrors – that the ever blessed God is not walking with us, or that we are not walking with him? If he were, we would speak. His word would progressively burn away our inwardness, our fears, our embarrassment – we would be embarrassed not to speak of him who died for us, who gave his back to the smiters for us, who has given his precious word to us after we had spurned it for our own poisonous thoughts. Is the Lord among us or not? Is the Ever-Blessed walking with us? O, may the glory not have so departed from us! Do our hearts burn within us when he speaks his word to us, whether in our own reading or in the preaching of those whom he mercifully sends to us? Make it your life’s aim, child of God, for the word of Jesus Christ to dwell richly in you, for when it does, Christ himself will dwell in you by his Spirit, and open wide your lips so that your mouth may show forth his praise, his word in all its wisdom and authority becoming the single thing about which you love most to speak. In doing so, you are speaking about him. And this is what the world needs – Christians in whom Christ’s word dwells and whose lips are speaking of his glory.

Nothing as Precious as God’s Word (vv. 14-15)

Our Savior once said that the “cares of the world and deceitfulness of riches choke out the word, so that it becomes unfruitful” (Matt. 13:22). So precious must God’s word be to you, if you would know this blessedness, that you rejoice in “his testimonies” as deeply and exuberantly as if you discovered a field in which was buried all the world’s treasures – and all for your taking and use. Proverbs is filled with these sorts of comparisons. Why? The Lord knows how divided our hearts are, that the baubles and gadgets, distractions and entertainments, wealth and business of this world are persuasive sirens, calling us away from the Lord’s word. Now the Lord would assuredly have us work diligently in our callings, raise our families, and seek to glorify him in all that we do. Yet, while we are occupied with these legitimate, necessary and very good, the “way” of our lives, as we pursue every legitimate thing, is to “meditate upon his precepts and have respect to his ways.” Of what are you thinking while you work? When you are with your family in the evening? When you are engaged in other worthy projects? What is your desire in them, your goal? You see, we tend to compartmentalize God’s word away from life – “O, I will have my quiet time later.” Rubbish! If the way of our lives is not delighting in God’s testimonies, his assurances of life and salvation in his word, if we are not meditating upon his precepts and respecting his ways in all we do, “quiet time” is nothing but “hypocrite time.” We may assuage our guilt by squeezing God in for a few minutes, but this is not the blessedness he offers to us – of walking in his ways, thinking of his word in every season of our life, of making it the single and sole treasure for which we give up all else, deny ourselves, and make it the focal point and very life-energy of all else we do. Said another way, God himself is our delight and way – in everything. As his walking with us is not limited to “holy times,” so our delight and meditation upon his word must be as unlimited as his very presence with us by his Spirit. Have we the strength to delight in him and his word thus? No, but he has all strength and blessedness in himself, and we are reminded again that we must “seek him with our whole hearts.”

Commitment (v. 16)

As with the first section and throughout the remainder of this Psalm, David’s joy, as he thinks upon God’s word as our life, early in life and all our days, issues forth in a commitment. “I will delight myself in thy statues.” This is not enthusiasm without content or a bare externalism. God’s statutes are the details of his law loved deeply, studied carefully, and applied extensively throughout our lives. “Statutes” remind us that his word must be spiritually comprehended and practically obeyed. To delight in his statutes means that we know and love them, mediate and apply them to our lives, and seek from his Spirit inner conformity to them so that we exclaim with Paul: “I delight in thy law after the inward man” (Rom. 7:22). It is this to which David pledges himself. And how could God’s word not be our delight also, especially as it cleanses us from defilement, preserves us from sin, and is the blessed God himself walking and talking with us? Remember, though, that if our chief joy lies in this life, in things, activities, and even other people, we will never be able to delight ourselves in God’s word. The joy our heavenly Father offers to us is an exclusive one, and here many have tragically stumbled, thinking that delight in God’s word may be shared with other delights, that it need not dominate us completely. Against this kind of thinking, our Savior’s description of God’s word as the “pearl of great price” is not overdrawn or exaggerated but is, indeed, a very useful antidote for our divided hearts. If our hearts are right with him, if we are filled with gratitude for his saving grace and delight in his life-giving presence, we will not forget his word. We will cling tightly to it, meditate upon it, speak of it, and rejoice in it as our Father’s own voice calling us out of the world of sin and darkness into his kingdom of righteousness and light. We will delight in his word as we delight in him – above all other loves, in every season, and for his own glory, which we love more than life itself.

The Blessedness of Keeping God's Word

January 30, 2011 Series: Scripture: Psalm 119:1-8 by Chris Strevel

1  ALEPH. Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the LORD.
2 Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, and that seek him with the whole heart.
3 They also do no iniquity: they walk in his ways.
4 Thou hast commanded us to keep thy precepts diligently.
5 O that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes!
6 Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all thy commandments.
7 I will praise thee with uprightness of heart, when I shall have learned thy righteous judgments.
8 I will keep thy statutes: O forsake me not utterly.

Introduction

The Holy Spirit has made it very clear that he wants us to learn this Psalm. Each of its twenty-two sections is arranged in the order of the Hebrew alphabet, with the first word of each verse in the section beginning with that letter. We might say that this Psalm is the ABC’s of the Christian life. It is not only for the learned, who are hereby warned that all man’s knowledge, skill, and industry that tend not to the honoring of God and the obeying of his word are an utter waste, but also for the simple, who cannot complain that it is too difficult for them. We remember all kinds of witticisms, jokes, stories, and songs, many of which are pure vanity at their best if not tending toward outright sin. When it comes to God’s word, however, we are ingenious and ingenuous creators of excuses for not remembering it. By this Psalm the Holy Spirit removes and rebukes all our lame excuses laziness and preoccupation with things that do not satisfy the soul but frequently poison it. The very arrangement says: “Remember this; awaken from you dullness; see, I have put the whole sum of life in one place, easy to remember, without any obscure reasoning, dark sayings, or lofty conundrums.”

The Psalm has one main theme: the word of God. In every possible way – direct command, passionate appeal and prayer, and abundant promise of blessing, as well as by the diversity of words used to describe God’s word – David sets forth the blessedness of giving ourselves completely over to his word. I say “David,” for though this particular Psalm lacks an authorial heading, it is clear by parallels with known Davidic Psalms, the pathos, the language, and also the universal testimony of the church, that he was indeed its author. It is often thought that he wrote portions of this Psalm throughout his life, collecting the whole sometime before his death. If true, this would explain the growing depth of thought the Psalm manifests and more so the points of contact with the seasons of his life, which we know from inspired history exhibited the entire range of feelings experienced by all the godly, from the heights of joy and peace to the depths of sifting and struggle. Thus, while its sections do not always manifest logical progression or clear thematic development, it closely resembles “life,” with its varying seasons of joy and pain, hope and struggle, assurance and uncertainty, victory and patient waiting. What unites these seasons, and indeed, the only thing that can truly provide unity, joy, and hope to our lives, whatever they may look like at a given time, is the light, power, and wisdom of God’s word. Our whole blessedness lies in obeying God’s word with our whole heart, and this is David’s main theme. Even more deeply, God’s word is the way he fellowships and walks with us in every season. Our emotional state is as unstable as wind; God remains constant in his presence and power through his unchanging word. If we have God’s word, we have all we need, for we have him, providing light in our darkness, encouragement in our weariness, and hope in our great contest against the world, the flesh, and the devil.

O the Blessedness! (vv. 1-2)

The heart of true piety is delight in God’s word. This is the reason David begins with: “O the blessedness!” Do we wish to know if our lives shall be blessed or cursed, whether when we stand before the glorious Lamb of God on the final day we shall hear “Come, ye blessed of my Father,” or the most horrible words a living soul can ever hear, “Depart from me, ye cursed” (Matt. 25:39,41)? Hear, then, in anticipation of that day, the silver trumpet of God, calling us to rejoice in his word and to give ourselves to it. The path to which our Father calls us is a rule that delights, for our whole happiness consists in hearing and following his voice. There is no coldness here, for holiness is happiness. Sin not only defiles us, but it also makes us miserable. Thus, David begins where we should begin when we are young, where we should begin each new day, where we should begin each new season of life, with the exclamation and conviction – “all my joy will be found in walking in fellowship with my God in his word.” This will be our joyful cry, however, only if we give ourselves to God’s word. Too many have access to the bounteous feast of God’s word but barely sample it. They decide beforehand that such a life is for the weak and old, and will not give up their diet of poison so that they might know the happiness of walking in fellowship with God in cheerful obedience to him. Our age, especially, thrives on distraction and entertainment, and such a life absolutely prevents us from feeling the fullness of our Savior, his “grace unto grace” (John 1:16) and “strength to strength” (Ps. 84:7) that will surely be ours if our Lord’s words dwell richly in us (Col. 3:16). When his word dwells richly in us, he does, so closely has he joined himself to his word.

Though all men seek happiness, only the “undefiled in the way” will ever experience deep, soul-satisfying joy. This, of course, rebukes the family of man, for though God made us upright so that we might know the pleasure of walking with him, we sought out many inventions, devious courses to satisfy the cravings of our flesh (Eccl. 7:29). By his free love, our Father directs us back into the path of happiness by giving us his word and the heart to delight in it. In a fundamental sense, only those who are “in Christ” are undefiled, unspotted, and righteous before God; these alone “walk in white” (Rev. 3:4). This is the reason that you, child of God, possess a core joy and peace that cannot be taken away from you. He has made us righteousness, exalted us to be kings and queens, heirs of heaven and of every blessing he possesses, and for this reason alone ours is a happy, cheerful, and even exuberant faith. At the same time, David is speaking of the man who walks in an undefiled way, the true devotee of God, who keeps himself unspotted by the world (James 1:27). The fruit of being “in Christ,” called, justified, and adopted by his Spirit, is being made “servants of God and slaves to righteousness” through union and communion with him (Rom. 6:18; Eph. 2:10; Phil. 1:11). Through walking in the way of righteousness, we progressively and more fully enjoy the blessedness that is our in Jesus Christ. The “way” of holiness is thus the path of happiness, and on this path we are called to make steady, quiet, and persistent progress. There will be many obstacles, for not only do we find within ourselves much resistance due to the remaining corruption of our flesh, but the Lord also tests and chastens us in order to prove and refine our faith. We shall not always find this path smooth and easy, but we shall find it happy, for the clear polestar that directs our course is God’s very law. “Law” is used throughout this Psalm for God’s word as the “rule of conduct.” Connected to “way,” we are to see that obedience to God’s word is a sort of roadmap for life. It is our compass, for it always leads us toward the holiness of God himself, our nourishment for the journey, in that we shall find it sufficient and sustaining manna for every season, and our walking stick, for it helps us pick our way through the pitfalls of life, whether those of our own sinfulness or the many trials through which we must pass as we seek the celestial city. By walking in obedience and fellowship with the Lord through his word, we shall surely and triumphantly reach our destination and be truly blessed along the way.

By a wonderful parallel, our blessedness is further extolled as a “keeping of his testimonies.” This latter word is also used throughout Psalm 119 when the Holy Spirit wishes to emphasize God’s covenant with us, that when he gives us his word he gives us himself, assures us of his faithfulness to us, and binds himself to us through his word. The word of God is his own self-witness to his intent to bless us as we give ourselves to him, as if to say that as long as we walk with him in the path of obedience, we shall surely know his loving presence and experience his goodness. He has sworn; his word is his oath to us. As we keep his testimonies, he will make his power, wisdom, and goodness known to us; he will keep us in the right way, give us victory over sin, and finally bring us to eternal joy in his presence. As God’s own testimony, his word not only tells us what to do but also assures us that God himself is our reward. Even, then, though our earthly path is sometimes very difficult, so much so that we hardly believe we can persevere in it, God through his word will prove himself our faithful God and wise Friend, our joy, peace, and pleasure. But we shall know happiness only if we “seek him with the whole heart.” Hearing his offer of blessedness, we must desire him above all, to enjoy closer communion with him through obedience. This was our Savior’s heart and reward, the course of his life: “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love” (John 15:10). Walking with God in obedience and thus being blessed in him, can never be a half-hearted pursuit. It is a whole-hearted one: no divided affections, with one eye on the world or self and the other on God. A divided man is unstable, unsatisfied, and unhappy. He is always haunted by guilt. Because he will never give himself fully to God, he is only half a man, which is to be no man at all and to cut oneself off from the happiness God promises to us even if we falter at times and fall “seven times.” For seeking him with the whole heart implies not a perfection in us but a longing for perfection, a crying after his grace, an ardent desire to walk more closely with him, repentance, and trust in him as our covenanted good despite our many sins and weaknesses. God has given us his sworn and Spirit-sealed testimony; he will never fail us if we seek him.

The Fruit of Keeping God’s Word (v. 3)

This, indeed, is a wonderful promise: that if we keep God’s testimonies and seek him with the whole heart, we shall not sin so much. It is not a promise of perfection in this life but of victory over sin and progress in holiness. If we would know the happiness of holiness, however, we must be wholly intent upon doing good, which David describes as “walking in his ways.” That God’s word is “God’s way” is more than a moral truism; it is an inspiring promise of grace. For when we submit to God as our teacher, we shall bypass much of the self-inflicted misery in the world that is brought about by sin. We shall begin to taste the highest happiness: of being like him. His word shows us the way, for in it, as a living mirror, we behold by faith the joy of God’s holiness. None is happier than our God, and we are never happier than when we reflect his image.  True and satisfying religion, then, is more than a list of “not’s:” it is a positive, cheerful obedience to God that delights in his ways. Our great protection against sin is to love righteousness, which is to love God himself. Therefore, if we would keep from misery, we must fight against sin all our lives and surrender our hearts to the Lord. This happiness will not come to us if we are always looking for the next mountaintop experience and “magic” keys to make our lives better; it is the fruit of keeping God’s word and seeking him. Even so, such a life often seems far removed from us, and we are forced to confess: “O wretched man that I am!” If we feel our misery as we should, this, too, is a blessing from God, for if we are then led by his Spirit to seek from God what we lack in ourselves, it is a sure sign that God is showing us our true selves so that we might seek renewal and reformation in him alone. We also have his promise of mercy, that when we confess and repent of our sins, he will forgive them and put them away, even forgetting them (2 Sam. 12:13). Hence, it is a wonderful harbinger of coming happiness when we begin to be seriously displeased with ourselves, provided that we look to his mercy, do not lose heart, and depend upon his grace to strengthen us unto holiness. How often must faith look to the Savior, for by his blood he has secured our forgiveness!  Thus humbled and transformed by his love, gratitude swells up in us so that we long to please him and find fresh delight in obedience.  Above all, lest we grow weary and faint, for the battle often rages intensely, we have God’s promise that sin will never hold such sway in us as to engulf and overwhelm us completely, for his seed of life and faith abides in us and will never be so extinguished as to be unable to cry out to God, even from the depths of despair. He will hear, forgive, and raise us up on high because Jesus Christ is our exalted Head and has secured our entrance into the very presence of God for grace to help in times of need.

A Command and a Plea (vv. 4-5)

And is it not an added incentive to blessedness that our heavenly Father has “commanded us to keep his precepts diligently?” Since walking in his ways and keeping his testimonies are our happiness, it is as if he commands us to be happy. While sinful men hate to be commanded to do anything, the heart that desires God leaps for joy that he is calling us to hold ourselves in closer obedience to him. “I am your happiness,” he says; “walking in my ways is the path of life. I am offering this to you, but even more I am commanding you to take advantage of my offer. I am ordering you to be blessed in obeying me.” What more can our Father do to draw us to himself, for with his command comes grace to fulfill it? Yet we are so sluggish and dull, thinking that obedience to God is a secondary matter and an impediment to our happiness, or otherwise distasteful to our fallen lust to be as gods, determining good and evil for ourselves. Here he is, though, despite our utter unworthiness, calling us to himself with all power and authority to find joy and happiness in him. Sensing this, David cries out: “O that my ways were directed to keep your statutes!” Notice his change to the first person. All God’s calls to us to be blessed in obeying him will seem far removed and not for me until the Holy Spirit makes them personal. He applies them to each one of us individually, for though we are joined to Christ in one body, that body has many members. We cannot lose sight of the personal directedness and the individuality of God’s call. He wants me to be blessed, to walk with him in the fellowship of his word. What wonderful love and kindness, especially since self-honesty will always yield a cry similar to David’s! For why would David utter such a prayer here unless he found much within himself that was opposed to his own happiness? This is the way we should think of sin and siren calls of the world – they are enemies to my blessedness in God, dedicated to throwing me into hell, dressed up, attractive, and very persuasive they often are, but they are truly fell voices bent upon my misery and destruction. To walk with the Lord, then, in the fellowship of obedience, we must cry to him for the grace to conform our ways to his statutes. Here we encounter for the first time yet another term David uses to describe God’s word: “statutes.” You will notice how personal the term must be for it to be the focus of a plea to God. It refers to the specific laws of God applied personally to the heart and life. Outward conformity is insufficient. David is pleading for inward conformity and heart pleasure in God’s law.

How encouraging it is to hear the voice of our Savior in the cry of David, his earthly type! Was this not his cry in the days of his flesh: “Thy will be done?” “I delight to do thy will, O God.” “But be not thou far from me, O Lord: O my strength, haste thee to help me” (Ps. 22:19). You see, the Lord can extend to us warm offers and numerous commands to be blessed in obeying him, but until we see our weakness, on the one hand, and feel his faithfulness and goodness, on the other, we will never cry like this. We will never feel our neediness or long for his help as we should. But if we are honest with ourselves, we shall immediately confess that walking in God’s ways is far beyond us. We cannot even make one step in such a path until he comes to us with his transforming love and unconquerable power. When we begin to feel this, then this cry will be ours: “Help me, Lord; make your ways mine, obedience to you my delight; conform my inmost thoughts and affections to your statutes; subdue my will to yourself.” He would never have led David to utter this plea did he not fully intend to hear and grant it. Make it your daily plea to God, and he will by his Spirit form “Christ in you,” who always did those things that pleased his Father and whose meat was to do the will of his Father in heaven.

Two Very Personal Blessings (vv. 6-7)

Now we might be embarrassed to think of pleading like this, for it assumes that we have been reduced and brought very low in how we think of ourselves. We do not like to think of being so humbled, especially in our age, which encourages holding on to feelings of self-worth regardless how low a person has sunk in the mire of his own folly and sinfulness. Our Father, the one inviting us to be blessed in him, says the exact opposite; it is not being humbled before God that is shameful or embarrassing. Far from it: our sin is our shame. The reason we do not think like this is because we do not often consider God’s holiness. We live for the approval and by the opinions of others. For many, the greatest shame is not to seem to conform to their peer group, or culturally accepted mores, or the latest trends and styles. It is truly pitiable how men will lose their own souls, spend all their resources, and abandon any good teaching or examples God has given them in order to avoid being embarrassed before men. We rarely think of being utterly shamed before God for our sins, of the unbearable agony of being exposed before him as corrupt, profligate, ungrateful, and wicked, of having spat upon the throne of his holiness by our lives of carelessness. We should think of this and tremble, for by a right sense of shame for our sins we are led to seek cleansing for our consciences and covering for our sins by the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ. Having been so reduced in ourselves that we seek our only rectitude and healing before God in his Son, we are then empowered and encouraged by his Spirit to live in such a way that we bring no shame upon him by a life of sin. And how may we live in such a way? We must have “respect unto all his commandments,” to regard offending and displeasing him as the great personal embarrassment of which we can conceive. If we remember that he walks with us and recall his constant goodness to us, what could be more embarrassing than to offend him: by impure thoughts and speech, by indifference to his word and prayerlessness, by being more concerned with what others think than what he thinks, by indulging our silly and pernicious love for self – and all while he is near us, offering himself to us? Can there be anything more atrocious than to offend the living God who has condescended to walk with us, fellowship with us, and give his Son to us? We must cry after a greater sense of his covenanted presence with us, so much so that sin begins to be utterly distasteful to us, an embarrassment, so that we can blush again at all that tramples his love and offends his majesty. The only way to have a healthy conscience, a controlled spirit, and freedom from guilt is to respect God’s commandments, to esteem obeying him as our pleasure and our boast.

And what is the ultimate reason we are seeking to keep God’s commandments? It is so that we might “praise him with uprightness of heart.” Here the Holy Spirit confronts us with a truth that is practically lost in many segments of the church. For many, praising and worshipping God is primarily about a “worship experience” and the elevation of their emotional state. Said another way, we do not so much worship God as our feelings about God. Against this, to the question, “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord and stand in his holy place,” the Lord says, “He who hath clean hands and a pure heart” (Psalm 15:1-2). We have no hope of offering to God worship he shall accept unless it comes from a life of holiness. So that we do not lose heart, however, for to a man we fall short of the glory of God in this, we should recall such worship is a fruit of crying out to God – for a heart to seek him, for mercy to cover our sins, and for grace to walk with him. God will work in us the very uprightness he requires if we desire him above all, hating and mourning over our sins, and seeking to walk in obedience to him, though we are very weak and sinful. At the same time – and these must be kept in careful balance – the believing heart very much wants to praise God with an upright heart. Its greatest desire is to be like him, to offer back to him a heart he has renewed and transformed by his goodness and love. This is progressively realized in this life, as is our capacity to delight in worshipping God “in spirit and truth.” It comes after “I shall have learned his righteous judgments,” when and as we are walking in obedience to the sanctions of his word. The reason so much of today’s worship is utterly displeasing to God, for it is really nothing but man-worship, is our failure to walk in holiness. When keeping God’s word is our delight, we do not desire experiences, fluff, and performances – we see these things for what they truly are: a substitute for true worship, noise to fill impiety’s void, distraction to cover gnawing guilt. Putting these aside, we shall truly delight in worshipping God as he commands as we walk with him, when his word is our delight, when pleasing him is our chief happiness. Then, worshipping him will deeply satisfy us, for he will be our satisfaction. The times we spend with him and his people in Zion will deepen our passion for holiness, transform us by his presence, and whet our appetites for heaven.

A Commitment (v. 8)

David concludes this first lesson in the ABC’s of piety with a commitment. This must be our response to our Father’s gracious invitation to bless us so richly as we walk in fellowship with him in his word. “I will keep thy statutes.” This is a bold statement. He has felt his weakness and cried for grace and mercy. Yet when the Lord offers himself to us, promises to bless us, and invites us to himself, what else can we do but pledge to keep his statutes. It is not a begrudging commitment; it is the promise of the heart that adores God’s goodness and revels in his love. “Lord, I want nothing more than to walk in fellowship with you, to keep your word, and to seek you with my whole heart. You are wonderful; I desire nothing more than you, to be blessed by you, to be happy in you.” Then, for the heart of the godliest man trembles as it makes commitments to God, he adds: “O forsake me not utterly.” There is no strength in us to keep even the most sincere promises to God. We would certainly fall did he not uphold us by his grace and power. Thus, desiring to be blessed by him, we cast ourselves completely into his safekeeping and depend upon his faithfulness. He will never leave us or forsake us. He will walk with us, dwell with us, and be our God to the end. We look to him to keep us in the right way, to honor the desires he has placed within us and to bless us with happiness as we give ourselves sincerely and completely to him.

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