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.