Psalm 119

Faith in God's Word and It's Fruit

March 13, 2011 Series: Scripture: Psalm 119:41-48 by Chris Strevel

41   VAU. Let thy mercies come also unto me, O LORD, even thy salvation, according to thy word.
42   So shall I have wherewith to answer him that reproacheth me: for I trust in thy word.
43   And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth; for I have hoped in thy judgments.
44   So shall I keep thy law continually forever and ever.
45   And I will walk at liberty: for I seek thy precepts.
46   I will speak of thy testimonies also before kings, and will not be ashamed.
47   And I will delight myself in thy commandments, which I have loved.
48   My hands also will I lift up unto thy commandments, which I have loved; and I will meditate in thy statutes.

Crying for Mercy and Salvation (v. 41)
Here we find David in a humbled state before the Lord. He strongly feels that unless God holds him up by his covenant love and strength, he will surely fail: either by not speaking God’s truth boldly (vv. 42,43), losing hope (v. 43), turning away from his commandments (vv. 44,45), or being so weighed with care that he is unable to delight in God’s word (vv. 47,48). Therefore, as all the godly do when the “floods of great waters” come upon them (Ps. 32:6), he looks up to heaven and casts himself upon the free mercy and power of God. When he pleads for mercy, he desires for the Lord to deal with him according to his promises, to fulfill them, to be to him what he has pledged in his grace and mercy to be. God’s mercy is his covenanted love and goodness. However miserable David was in himself and in his circumstances – and we are often reduced to such a state of anxiety and perplexity, trouble and grief, that that unless God himself comes to us, we feel all hope is lost – he knew that the Lord loved him, had promised good to him, and would surely hear his cry, even from the depths of his misery. When he pleads for salvation, he is not speaking primarily of justifying righteousness, though this is included, for it is presumptuous for us to ask God to be good to us without at the same time confessing our sins and seeking forgiveness through the blood of Jesus Christ. He is crying out for deliverance, safety, and even victory. He learned early in life that his only security and strength were in “the name of the Lord of hosts” (1 Sam. 17:45). Thus, David cries: “Lord, you are true; come to me with your promises; remember your word to me; I believe it; I am sorely tried and greatly reduced; I have no strength or hope but in you; please, Lord, remember me for good according to your sworn goodness and love; deliver me; I am in great, even overwhelming need of you.”

We never know who we truly are, that we really have faith, indeed, that Christ Jesus our Lord lives and reigns in us except in such times as feeling ourselves utterly beyond all hope of deliverance, we are taught by the Holy Spirit to call upon the Lord like this. It is one thing to have religious sentiments when all is going relatively well, when we are comfortable in our circumstances and feeling that we are blessed. It is truly wondrous when the Lord deals bountifully with us, and David cherished seasons of joy when “he danced before the Lord with all his might” (2 Sam. 6:14). In this life, however, the Lord is wisely pleased to bring seasons of great sifting and trouble to us. In our fallen state, we cannot otherwise learn that he is our only Deliverer and Comforter. We cannot be conformed to the image of our Savior unless we are made to feel his cross. We cannot know how light and easy his burden is, that he cares for us and carries us, until we are brought to feel our need of him (Matt. 11:28-20). Therefore, rather than being surprised by such times, we should expect them, for “whom the Lord loveth, he chasteneth” (Heb. 12:6), and “the Lord trieth the righteous” (Ps. 7:9; 11:5). We should also expect them to be a blessing to us. For why does he so try us but to release us more and more from the stranglehold of sin and worldliness, that in “losing our life in this world” we might find our life in his abiding presence, certain promises, and insuperable power (Matt. 16:24,25). He would have us be so emptied of carnal hope – in our own understanding and experiences, resources, self-confidence, and vain pretensions of goodness and strength – that we are brought to cast ourselves and our burdens upon him, to wait for him to deliver us, and to hope only in his name and word as our shield and hiding place. Therefore, it is in our weakness that we come to learn of his power (2 Cor. 12:10), that he is our only life, that he is loveliness and goodness itself – our only good and joy.

To cry like this, however, we must have faith in God’s word. David does not cry out of any sense of his own goodness and worth. He does not cry on the basis of the benefit it would be to God to deliver him, as if looking back over past victories and successes in the defense of God’s kingdom and truth, he deceives himself into thinking that the Lord somehow needs him to be strong again. No, he pleads only God’s word. This is the way we put God’s word into practice. First, when we know it, for God’s wonderful promises will not profit us if we are ignorant of them, or having known them, we allow our troubles and afflictions, as well as the cares of the world and vanity of riches, to choke them out (Mark 4:19). Then, we must actually pray with God’s promises in mind, even leading the way in our prayers. When we read that he is our “hiding place and shield” (Ps. 32:7; 119:114), why else does the Lord bind himself to us but so that we will run to him in times of trouble and hide ourselves in the cleft of the rock, his glory, faithfulness, and strength? When we read that his name is a “strong tower” (Ps. 61:3; Prov. 18:10), why does he invite us to fly unto him and open the door of his very presence to us through prayer but that when we feel the floods of great waters, when we are afflicted by temptation and overcome by feelings of guilt, we might run straight to him and turn away from all human helps? To pray like this, to seek him like this, we must be persuaded of his goodness; we must believe his word. Without faith, it is impossible to please him (Heb. 11:6); on the other hand, “all things are possible to him that believeth” (Mark 9:23). We see a notable instance of this in Peter. Seeing his Lord walking on the water, faith surged to meet him, would not wait even a moment to come to him, would go to him even upon the boisterous sea. Looking directly to his Lord and heeding his command, “Come,” Peter actually walked on the water. The moment, though, he took his eyes off the Lord, the moment the choppy seas became more real to him than the command and promise of his Savior, he began sinking. Even then, faith did not die in Peter; he cried, “Lord, save me, I am drowning.” And what did the Lord do – since Peter was his, believed his word, called upon him in his distress? He reached out his hand and raised him. “Surely in the floods of great waters they will not come nigh unto him” (Ps. 32:6).

Whatever happens to us – is happening to us – it is not happening accidentally. It is happening with far more than a general purpose, as many confess in bad times: “Well, I know this is happening for a reason.” We must move past this and be firmly persuaded that God’s purpose is for us to call upon him, plead his promises, and put his word into action. If we are besieged by sin and temptation, and here, at least, the experiences of the faithful stand upon common ground, we must plead for “mercy and grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 3:14-16), call upon our Advocate, Jesus Christ, whose blood retains its power to cleanse us from all sin (1 John 1:9; 2:1), and take up the armor that God has provided and empowered by his own promise to “quench all the fiery darts of the evil one” (Eph. 6:10-18). When we are overcome by enemies and feel the terrors of the wicked, why else does the Lord ordain and direct their assaults but to call us to himself as our “light and salvation,” that “though ten thousand fall at our right, we shall not fear, for he is with us” (Ps. 27:1-3)? But we must have a settled hope in his word, that his promises are sure, his goodness everlasting, and his love sealed with the blood of his Son. We must believe that we stand secure upon the promises of God, whatever is happening to us. He will not fail us. The word of his promise is certain.

Yet, since he has so bound himself to us through his word, since we have many examples that he hears our cries, why do we not feel the power of his promises as we should? Why is our faith so hesitant to lay hold upon our Father’s invitation? It is because we do not trust him, but ourselves. We think that we shall somehow pull ourselves up from the miry pit. We delude ourselves in this way because honest crying to God means opening ourselves up to him: confessing our sins, willing to have all our vanities and idols exposed and toppled, truly believing that we shall only find our life if we lose it by believing his promises and bearing our Savior’s cross. Above all, we do not have a lively sense of the greatness of his mercy to us in Jesus Christ, a mercy he promises to extend to us each and every time we call upon him in faith. And not feeling this as we should, we waiver in hard times, look for any other solution, cry to him only with bitterness or half-heartedness, and are not truly broken of our pride and self-trust. How we rob ourselves not only of the consolation of calling upon the living God – for this is the chief benefit of prayer, that we are seeking him – but also of his promised aid! How we dishonor his pledge to be our Defender and Deliverer! How we retard the progress of the kingdom of God in our own lives and in the world – all because we do not believe his promises and cry to him with all our hearts! He will save us. He will save his church. He has promised. His word cannot be broken. It is only our unbelief, our low and carnal aims, and our miserable pride that prevents our seeing the Spirit raise a standard when the enemy rushes in like a flood. Yet, there is our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, sitting as King above the flood, pledging to come to our aid and save us by his goodness and love. His standard has been raised; it is the old rugged cross, the empty tomb, the throne at the Father’s right hand, the outpoured Spirit. He has overcome; all who look to him will overcome, for his life is in us. His life is bound up with ours. He is our Head. He will never fail us.

“I believe, therefore have I spoken” (vv. 42-43)
Sometimes, we prefer to slip through life without having to do much confessing before men. But our Savior would not have joined our eternal salvation to confession with the mouth were it not intimately bound up with faith in the heart (Matt. 10:32,33; Rom. 10:9), were it not a very real and widespread failing and temptation among God’s people to be silent about him when they should be speaking? Sadly, we are too often goaded into defending the faith and bearing witness to the truth by guilt-laden appeals, but how can guilt motivate us when guilt is the very source of our silence? We see a better approach and motivation here. First, David must have felt himself to be in a period of “silence” (Ps. 39:2). Perhaps he was overwhelmed by the number and ferocity of his enemies. He may have been besieged by guilt for his sins (Ps. 32:1-3). Sometimes we reflect too much upon our own inner condition and immediate needs while allowing opportunities to do good by speaking the truth pass by. David was no introverted pietist, however; he was not content to work on his “personal walk with God” while the world burned. He knew he had a responsibility to answer those who reproached him, for assuming he was walking with the Lord, they were really reproaching his faith, his hope, and his God (v. 42). He did not want his own sunken state to result in having the word of truth removed from his mouth (v. 43). David realized that it is a great misery for God to deprive us of the will, the spirit and courage, to speak his truth. This is often the very opposite of our outlook. We think it is miserable to have to go out on a limb and speak of Christ. Shame and ridicule may result. Others may not like us as much. We think too much of whether or not we know all the answers, will win the argument, or will only harm the cause of Christ by our muddling attempts to “defend earnestly the faith once for all given to the saints” (Jude 3). Thus he prayed that he might be delivered from this season of silence, that he might be privileged to have God’s word in his mouth again that he might speak it. If we are persuaded that “he who wins souls is wise” (Prov. 11:30), and we at the same time sense our lack of wisdom and zeal in his area, should we not be aroused to ask the Lord to supply our lack (James 1:5), to restore unto us the honor of being his witnesses and the strength to be his ambassadors of reconciliation? Yes, it is an honor – one of our highest on earth – to be employed by God, whether in great ways or small, to sow the good seed, which is God’s own thoughts, to speak for him and give a good confession, as our Savior did (1 Tim. 6:13). This is the reason our Lord joins “confessing him before men with being confessed by him before his Father” – united to him by faith, he works in us the wisdom and grace of speaking the truth. We cannot lack this, at least in some small way, if we are truly joined to him, for he is our Head, the living Vine, the Fountain of all righteousness. It will not so much be we who speak but his Spirit that speaks through us (Matt. 10:19).

But we must rise yet higher. You will remember that David has pled for mercy and salvation (v. 41). He called upon the Lord in faith, believing his word and asking the Lord to fulfill his promises. Speaking God’s truth follows from experiencing God’s mercy and salvation in Jesus Christ. Guilt, lack of assurance, and overwhelming need prevented David from speaking. He expects to receive relief from guilt, renewed assurance, and deliverance, for the Lord always honors his promises. Yet, it is not enough for David to receive these personal blessing. He knows that in receiving fresh supplies of grace from his Savior, with these mercies will come the desire, ability, and responsibility to speak God’s truth. You see, it is when we perceive in our souls that God has been merciful to us that we “cannot but speak the things we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). The same was true in many of those whom the Lord healed. He told them not to tell anyone, but did they sin when they disobeyed him? No, I do not think so, for his command was related to his commitment not to rush ahead beyond his Father’s appointed end and will for his earthly existence, that men must not seek to interfere with his death, making him the kind of king they wanted him to be, or reduce him to simply another wonder-worker and pseudo-Messiah. But in those deeply touched by his goodness and mercy, he knew they could not keep silence. Mercy floods the heart; the tongue opens wide, proclaiming and shouting from the housetops what the ears have heard in quiet places (Matt. 10:27). And while this is more than a “let me tell you what Jesus means to me,” it will certainly be a heartfelt confession of “how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee” (Mark 5:19). That last idea – compassion – is the very mercy David sought and received by crying to the Lord. The kind of witness-bearing and truth-defending the Holy Spirit has in mind for all God’s people is that which flows not from formulas. It is certainly not a release valve for guilt. It is not a know-it-all attitude toward the lost. It is a confession of mercy received: “Look, we say to others, what God has done for me. I called upon him. I hoped in his judgments – that he would look upon me with mercy according to his word, that he would forgive my sins and rescue me from all my distress. And he has. Should you not, would you not also call him to deliver you, forgive your sins, and have mercy upon you?” As long, however, as we are filled with pride and self-reliance, we will not call upon God for mercy and, therefore, shall not receive any. And not receiving any, we cannot speak his truth, defend his honor, or be courageous in confessing him before men. Unbelief and prayerlessness, we must understand, leads to a barren soul, a wasteland of miserable, mercy-less existence, an empty, hopeless, and self-absorbed existence in which we still talk to others, but it is all about how “hard life is,” or what we have, or our other accomplishments. It will not be about mercy received in the soul. Our tongues will be nailed to the roof of our mouth with the steel pin of pride. Guilt will compound. Misery will intensify, until we call upon the Lord, as David did, confessing his sins, his need of mercy, and his desire to receive God’s goodness and salvation that he might share it with other needy souls.

Is not this exactly what our lost and dying culture requires at this very moment? What else is looking for a political solution to our problems but evidence that we will not bow before the Lord and confess our absolute, unwavering need of his mercy? What else is hiding and hording, when it is thought that these will preserve us in uncertain times, but evidence of unbelief, that we have not called upon the Lord to save us, that we think we can save ourselves from the miseries heaped on us by our very unbelief? But how shall lost men ever turn from such a miserable, blind way of life? It will only be when the Lord fills his people with a sense of his wondrous mercy in Jesus Christ, when he turns our eyes away from ourselves to his promises, when he by his Spirit gives us faith in his word and the heart to call upon him. Then, he will hear us; his mercies will come to us; he will save us. And being saved by his goodness and love, we shall confess: “I cried unto the Lord, and he heard my voice” (Ps. 3:4; 18:6; 107:13). His rich mercy will be the song of our life. Our praise will not be silent. We will speak the things we have seen and heard. It will not be someone else’s story, encounter with God, or paradigm for social change. It will be restored sinners, those who have received God’s mercy when all his waves and billows were going over them, calling other sinners to “taste and see that the Lord is good; and how blessed is the man that trusteth in him” (Ps. 34:8).

Perseverance and Liberty (vv. 44-45)
Mercy sought and received not only loosens the tongue, but is also empowers unto obedience. When the Lord breaks the chains that hold us – our sin and its guilt, our old dead lives – he sets us free to serve the living God. We cannot serve him with sufficient gratitude and joy. His law, far from being grievous, burdensome, becomes our greatest delight (Ps. 119:97). And why is this? Is it because we feel the need to repay the Lord in some way for his mercy? Perish the thought! How can we who have been forgiven a great debt, delivered from the curse of sin, and redeemed by the incomparable blood of the Son of God ever think that any of our good works could repay the love and mercy of our Father? When God hears our believing cry and delivers us from our troubles, our sole desire is to love him more. This is not a fleeting desire or impression: “So shall I keep thy law forever and ever.” David is not promising something he cannot perform; he is expressing his “I delight to do thy will, O God, and I would do it forever. Obeying you is my privilege, my passion, my set purpose.” This is the way mercy in the soul transforms us from dead, wandering men into living, settled ones. It is the fruit of calling upon God during every stage of our life, and the reason we go from “strength to strength” and receive “grace unto grace” (Ps. 84:7; John 1:16). It is because in answer to our prayer for mercy and salvation, the Lord himself comes to us through his word. He dwells with us, making us his temple. Our Savior’s life of delight in God and loving obedience begins to shape and change us, from “glory unto glory,” by the Spirit of the Lord (2 Cor. 3:18). We should sense here how unspeakably important it is for us to believe God’s promises, else we shall never call upon, never receive mercy, and never have strength to persevere in obedience to him. But in seeking mercy, we are not only forgiven but also receive fresh gifts of the Spirit’s power and light to walk in obedience to God.

This alone, as David hastens to confess, is our whole liberty: when we devote ourselves to obeying the blessed voice of our God and Father. All else is slavery; all else. Now, the world promises liberty, as do many wolves in the church who trumpet “grace, grace,” while they themselves remain slaves to sin (2 Pet. 2:19). Ours is an age that prides itself on liberation; every form of its liberation is so many additional chains, heavy chains, miserable chains that are sinking us further into moral, domestic, and financial slavery. It requires no great acumen to see that the most basic problem of our culture, when considered as a whole, is that it is a culture of slavery: to its own lusts, lifestyle, experiences, and covetousness. All other problems flow from this fundamental slavery and harsh reality: that the Lord of hosts has not seen fit to deliver us from our bondage, and being enslaved to our own carnal desires, we slip further each day into the dark dungeon of depravity. No other proof of this is required than that we think of ourselves as a free people. This is blind rebellion. Only in obedience to God’s law is there liberty of any kind. David celebrates this, and so must we. And from where does such liberty come? When recognizing our need, we call upon God to deliver us. We plead his covenant love and saving grace to deliver us from our blindness, leprosy, and brokenness. Until we do, our slavery will only increase. But for those who have tasted God’s mercy – and it is ourselves, as humble and lowly as we are, that God will effect deliverance, for he disdains the high and mighty (1 Cor. 1:26-29) – we must think and speak of liberty in terms of obedience to God’s law. It is not living as we please under the guise of the Spirit, or making our desires equivalent to God’s will; it is when we yield ourselves joyfully – with the fragrance of mercy and salvation fresh upon us – to obey him. This is the truth that frees (John 8:32): when delivered from the bondage in which we are held, the Lord shines his truth in us, shows mercy to us, saves and releases us from the dominion of our corruption, and weds our hearts to his truth so that it is our delight always “to do those things that please him” (John 8:29).

Boldness before Kings (v. 46)
David must often have been in the position of having to speak God’s truth before kings, from Saul to foreign potentates that worshipped false gods. Boldness in such settings is the fruit of faith in God’s word. Boldness in speaking God’s truth is inseparable from deep, personal commitment to God for his many mercies received. Boldness is not bluster. Boldness is humility before God that makes us fearless before men: even before kings. When the apostles were humbled, when they gave up their vanity of earthly pomp, when the Lord showed them their true selves, then they saw something of their sinfulness and the wonders of God’s mercy in Jesus Christ. Emptied of themselves and filled with God’s mercy in Christ, they spoke God’s truth before governors and kings. They were not leaders of a cause, a movement, or human organization; they were ambassadors of mercy and of judgment. Now, we shall not likely be called often before the high and mighty. It is a good thing, for we are often ashamed of the gospel before the lowly. We want to be liked, to be approved before men. Even when our words turn toward religion, they are often nebulous: political conservatism masquerading as salvation, social causes confused with true gospel initiatives, or humanitarianism pretending to be divine mercy. Mercy is clear; salvation is clear. They focus upon Christ, and him crucified (1 Cor. 1:23; 2:2). Proclaiming them is the fruit of believing in him, knowing him, feeling in one’s soul what great things he has done for us. Mercy and salvation received make us far more concerned with offending him, far more desirous of pleasing him than receiving either the world’s ridicule or accolades. They set us on high. They place us before the throne of God by faith, where we behold his glory in the face of Jesus Christ. Seeing that glory, we know that just as the lions of the field roar, so the living God has spoken. High and low must tremble, bow before him, or face his wrath. Yet we do not give this message with arrogance or meanness. No, it comes from a heart broken over its sin, and a heart that rejoices in God’s mercy. It wants both to honor the God of our salvation and be the means of seeing lost souls recovered for the Master. This spirit will animate us, even dominate us, only when we are touched and transformed by mercy.

Sheer Delight (vv. 47-48)
David ends this section exuberantly. In fact, he cannot sufficiently express his great delight in God’s word. He speaks of “delighting himself in God’s commandments, which I have loved,” and “raising his hands to God’s commandments, which I have loved.” He loves God’s commandments because he loves God. God has heard his cry. Already, as we see in his other Psalms, David moves in a very short span from a sense of his great need to feelings of great joy. By believing God’s word and calling upon him, he anticipates, indeed, he receives the very mercy and salvation God has promised. Did all his problems disappear? No, there was no need. He needed to call upon God in faith, confess his sins, and cast himself upon the promises of God. By doing so, he found what he needed: God himself. God is not a genie; calling upon him is not magic. The chief benefit of falling before him and casting ourselves upon his goodness and love is that you receive God himself. Your problems may and likely will be unchanged, but you will be changed. You cannot come into the presence of “consuming fire” and not be purified, strengthened, and quickened, especially since his presence for us is life and mercy, grace and peace, strength and hope. We come through Jesus Christ. Believing his name opens heaven to us. Seeing the glory of God in his face, we know not when the Lord may be pleased to change our circumstances, but we know that if walks with us, we shall be changed, enabled to bear whatever comes, and to do so with joy and hope, lips opened wide in his praise, and steadfastness in obeying him and waiting upon him. This is the great transformation he effects in all those in whom he dwells by his Spirit. From crying, he brings us to joy – in him. In our neediness, he shows his abundance. In our cowardice, he gives us strength so that we “mount up with wings like eagles” (Isa. 40:31) and confess him before men. His glory evaporates our fear; his mercy our guilt; his promises our anxiety; his truth our slavery. Granted, this is a process, and the work of the Spirit in us, individually and collectively, is life and history-long. It is nonetheless a certain work. When we take him at his word and believe his promises, when forsaking all other helps we rest in him, he comes to our aid. We may not even know what our true need is, but that is no obstacle for him. His truth liberates us from blindness. It makes us fruitful unto every good work. He, by his goodness and love, by his presence and power, hears and answers us, brings his salvation to us, and makes us his faithful servants. In response, can we not confess to him our many sins and needs? Find we no motivation to come to him? Can we not say with David: “Lord, I raise my hands to your commandments; I love them; I love you; I want to follow you, wait upon you, see your mighty works in my own soul so that my lips may not be silent but that I may praise you all day long. You have shown me such great mercy and love; will you not glorify your own name by using me to show compassion upon other poor sinners?” Let the church of our Lord be animated by this spirit, let us ourselves be confronted again by the mercy and love of God, and the world will look less like a tare field and more and more as our Savior’s own vineyard. He delights in such wondrous mercy. Do we delight in it? May the Lord make us beside ourselves with joy in his goodness, delight in his commandments, humility for our sins, and confident in his love and goodness to us through Jesus Christ!

Crying for God's Word

March 6, 2011 Series: Scripture: Psalm 119:33-40 by Chris Strevel

33 HE. Teach me, O LORD, the way of thy statutes; and I shall keep it unto the end.
34 Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law; yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart.
35 Make me to go in the path of thy commandments; for therein do I delight.
36 Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not to covetousness.
37 Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity; and quicken thou me in thy way.
38 Stablish thy word unto thy servant, who is devoted to thy fear.
39 Turn away my reproach which I fear: for thy judgments are good.
40 Behold, I have longed after thy precepts: quicken me in thy righteousness.

For the Lord to be My Teacher (v. 33)

We learn daily that “Christ in us” means that we must die to ourselves so that he may have the preeminence in all things, including all our thoughts and ways (Gal. 2:20; Col. 1:18). As he dwells with us by his Spirit, his “refiner’s fire” draws out our impurities so that we feel another “law in our members, warring against the law of our minds” (Mal. 3:2; Rom. 7:23). Though the dominion of sin has been broken in us through union with our Lord in his death and resurrection (Rom. 6:1-7), the root of contagion within us ever seeks to choke out the new root of righteousness. Even though it cannot gain full sway over us, for our Lord “worketh in us mightily” (Col. 1:29) and his “seed remaineth in us” (1 John 3:9), it can torment and weaken us, making us “groan within ourselves” as we wait for the full realization of our adoption (Rom. 8:23). Coming to feel more deeply, then, that we truly are “strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Heb. 11:13; 1 Pet. 2:11), that here “we have no continuing city but seek one to come” (Heb. 13:14), we long for God himself to be our guide and teacher. As long as we live, he must continually persuade us by his Spirit that the Scripture is truly his own word, not man’s (1 Thess. 2:13). For unless we are endowed with a firm sense that the Bible is his Word and unless God himself teaches us, we shall surely be overcome, even in a moment, by all the wiles of the evil one and the weakness of our hearts. The world, flesh, and devil exert a constant warfare against God’s truth in order to overthrow our hope in this, and we shall fare no better than others against their combined pressures unless the Lord takes us by his own hand and subdues our hearts to be led by him. This desire to be taught by God grows in all the godly, for unlike the wicked, who have no desire for God’s ways (Job 21:14; Rom. 8:7), we want nothing more than for God to teach and uphold, guide and protect us that we may arrive at the end of our course in full faith, ripe for heaven and eternal joy in our Savior.

You will notice that David does not cry to be taught a few isolated verses or pithy principles. No, he sees that God’s statutes, the specifics of his word, set forth a way of life. It is not as if we are followers, disciples of our Lord, only in parts and seasons of life, free to live as we please in supposed areas of indifference. Our plea is for the Lord to undertake to teach us the whole way of life set forth in his law. We desire, for example, to worship him acceptably and keep his Sabbath as much as to avoid all impurity and covetousness. We desire business integrity as well as domestic holiness.  One of the reasons believers tend to blend in more with the world than to influence it is our unwillingness to recognize that walking with the Lord is a unified path – there are no areas in which we do not seek to please him, no areas about which we assume he is unconcerned, no areas in which we do not require his guidance. If believers would cease seeking to find ways in which we they can conform with the world’s expectations without ostensibly forsaking what are often called “the fundamentals,” and instead seek closer conformity to all God’s precepts – so that his voice alone may lead us – the world would be confronted and transformed by the same glory that dwells in us. This is not a glory of synthesis with the world but of peculiarity from the world: Spirit-wrought, distinctive walking with God in the way of his statues. When we try to be wiser than God in this, we shall arrive at the end of our course frustrated and regretful that we thought there was a better way to honor God and reach men. There is not. Only as careful disciples of Jesus Christ, who honor him in all the jots and tittles of his word (Matt. 5:17-20), can we be used of him to make true disciples – unless, of course, we seek to make disciples for ourselves. The church is full of such hubris, of ambitious men who would “draw away disciples after themselves” (Acts 20:30; 2 Tim. 3:6,7). Christ’s true sheep, however, do not listen to them, for they know his voice; they have only one Master (John 10:27). We know we have no strength in ourselves and shall only reach the end of our course if Christ our Shepherd guides us by his own mouth and enables us, against all our weakness and waywardness, to keep to the way of his statutes. Other paths may seem broader and smoother, and you will find many travelers to keep you company (Matt. 7:13). The narrow way can be lonely at times and is accompanied by sifting and trials, but it is the only path to the city of God. It is the path our Savior walked – “My ears you have opened! – and we are only his disciples if we take up his same cross, repudiate ourselves, cry after God to be our guide, and joyfully submit to be led by his word.

For Spiritual Understanding and Whole-Hearted Obedience (v. 34)

The understanding for which David here cries is more than intellectual comprehension of sacred truth, though this is a wonderful gift of God and very necessary for piety and stability. His desire is for the “wisdom and spiritual understanding” (Col. 1:9) by which the inner mind, will, and affections are illumined and quickened by the Holy Spirit so that the very heartbeat of our lives is “in thy light we see light” (Ps. 36:9). It is only by this understanding that we come to “know the things that are given to us by God” (1 Cor. 2:12), not as theological propositions but as divine life and energy leading to “walking worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:10). Thus, the understanding our Savior gives to us, which Paul calls the very “mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16), is a Spirit-produced apprehension, fervent reverence, and ardent longing for God, his truth, and holiness before him. It is never lifeless or cold, as David’s addition, “with my whole heart” indicates. True understanding always leads us to obedience, to the observance of God’s law, the whole-hearted keeping of it. This is true and undefiled religion, heavenly wisdom and understanding: “to show forth out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom” (James 3:13). It is not obedience before the eyes of men and for the praise of men, but before God himself: an inmost conformity and delight in his law. Such understanding is our privilege and inheritance in Jesus Christ. Only God can give us this understanding, as well as the desire to seek it. In ourselves, we prefer to remain self-contented and unchallenged by the brilliance of the Holy Spirit’s illumination. Then again, if this only means some sort of religious fervor and warm feelings, we might somewhat desire it. It is when we see that such understanding brings with it an entire renovation of the inner life, that it effects a reformation of life, that we begin to back away somewhat. We, sadly, prefer a little coldness of heart to the challenging, awe-inspiring life of walking in God’s law. It scares us a bit, for we know it will require and bring change in us. Compromise is easier than consecration, double-mindedness than wholehearted devotion to God. We must, then, pray, indeed, cry, as David did, to be awakened from the slumbers of our self-contentedness and to desire the Lord to enter into us by his Word and Spirit, bringing his refiner’s fire with him, washing and cleansing us, toppling our idols, and erecting within us his own temple, in which we offer to him pleasing sacrifices of righteousness. The Lord delights in these more than all our contrived acts of devotion. His sacrifices are a “broken and contrite heart” that cries after understanding that it may walk in consecrated, sincere, and life-wide obedience to him. And notice, again, that against our giddiness, true understanding is not wispy piety and heightened religious feeling. If it is heaven-sent, if the light we profess to possess is that “light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,” it always bears fruit in obedience to his word. Its chief mark is that it delights in God’s word above all. In God’s presence, light breeds light, understanding obedience, and truth in the soul truth in the life.

For Strength to Walk in the Path of Obedience (v. 35)

Since we are undone before such brilliant light, since it seems so daunting to our weak faith to walk with God – alas, we seem to have so few examples, have failed so many times, and feel so besieged by sin and wickedness – we must lift our eyes heavenward and ask our merciful Father to “make us go” in this path. Did not our Savior pray, “Father, not my will, but thine be done?” Though holy, harmless, and undefiled, in the days of his flesh he was deeply conscious of his dependence upon his Father, that unless upheld by the promises and power of God, he could not “humble himself unto death,” drink the cup his Father put into his hands, or always do those things that please him. If this was his path, can ours be any different, seeing he is our Head who not only saved us by his sacrifice but also established the only path of discipleship? The imperative, “Make me walk,” shows the fervency with which we must cry out for our Father’s aid. He alone can put on us on the right path, and he alone can keep us on it. David felt this keenly – that if he had made any progress on this path, God had done it; if he hoped to make future progress, his God must sustain him. And how we also want to walk upon it, once we have heard our Father’s voice calling us to himself, calling us homeward and heavenward! It is our delight and desire, because our Savior works his heart in all those whom he joins to himself by his Spirit, “always to do those things that please our Father” (John 8:29). We delight in his law in our “inner man,” for the Spirit of God has emblazoned God’s law upon our very hearts (Rom. 7:22). This delight is the very life of true religion. God puts it there. He sustains it. Delight in obedience is present in every believer because he is present, and he loves righteousness. He puts the same delight in all his children. What David is seeking is to walk more consistently upon this delightful path, strewn as it is with so many gospel flowers, bounded by such clearly marked out precepts, and leading to our Captain, Jesus Christ, who has already completed the trail and stands at its finish holding out to us the crown of life! Should we not most passionately desire this same delightful walk? To walk with the Lord steadily in the path of his own blessed commandments – ah, to know God in this fashion is to possess eternal life in the soul, to receive already the “goal of our faith, even the salvation of our souls” (1 Pet. 1:9)! This is the path of life that God shows to all his, the fullness of joy and pleasures of walking with the Lord of life in the way of life, which is his word (Ps. 16:11). Finding much weakness in ourselves, let us apply to him constantly for strength with that ardent “make me” that is the wellspring of all faithfulness to God, all cheerfulness in duty, all consistency in obedience, and all hope of strength in our many trials.

For the Lord to Deliver Me from Worldly Vanity, and to Quicken Me (vv. 36-37)

David’s honesty about his own sins should greatly encourage us to confess the sins of our own heart, which are not simply annoyances and occasions for guilt but real obstacles in our pursuit of the path the Holy Spirit here marks out for us. “Incline” reminds us that God must turn us to himself from all those horrid sins we find within ourselves. Now, covetousness may not seem like such a terrible sin. While the human heart has always been filled with the love of the world, our age is particularly infamous for creating, sustaining, and applauding the insatiable desire to possess more and more of this world’s goods. In modern thinking, we are not so much citizens of a nation but consumers of goods, members of a corporation. Scripture takes a different view, telling us that “covetousness is idolatry” (Col. 3:5), for whatever form it may take – greed, lasciviousness and concupiscence, ultimate satisfaction in one’s life, goods, or position – it is the setting up of another god in our very soul. Covetousness is dissatisfaction with God as our highest good and discontent with what he deems good and useful for us. It prompted Balaam to resist God’s prophetic will (Num. 22:15-21; 2 Pet. 2:14-16), Ahab to murder Naboth (2 Kings 21:1-13), David to adultery and murder (2 Sam. 11:12-17), Achan to steal and lie (Josh. 7:21), Judas to steal and betray the Son of man, and Gehazi and Ananias to lie (2 Kings 5:20-26; Acts 5:1-8). Even the inclination to be wealthy is fatal to true religion, for “the love of  money is the root of all kinds of evil,” and “they who will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition” (1 Tim. 6:9-10). Our Savior said that the love of this world is the greatest obstacle to sincere, consistent desire for God’s word (Matt. 13:20-22), for it chokes out the word and makes it unfruitful. Could anything be clearer than his: “You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt. 6:24). The love of this world and love for God, therefore, are unflinching, uncompromising enemies (1 John 2:15). The weakness of the church is nowhere more evident than in its attempt to join these two, especially in those dens in which “godliness” has become a “means to gain” (1 Tim. 6:5), the gospel a prosperity formula, God an open bank account.

Since covetousness runs so deeply in the human family, we must cry to the Lord to bend our hearts to his testimonies. He must give us a stronger and better love to replace our base longing after the temporal and fleeting. He alone can break the stranglehold of the world upon us. There is only one love, one surpassing loveliness that will release us. We must set our affections on things above, where Christ is, where he is seated at the Father’s right hand (Col. 3:1-3). As we long more for him, as we are captivated by his beauty – his life of persevering obedience, his bearing of our curse, his glorious ascension and reign at the Father’s right hand, his ruling over all things for the sake of the church, his light and easy yoke, his presence, peace, and power, his compassion upon the weak – the world will lose its hold upon us. This is the only way. Our idolatrous longings must be replaced with pure love, his for us and ours for him flowing from his. He must occupy our highest thoughts, our deepest longings. True, this seems far removed from the normal way of life, but unbelieving men live only by sight. This is the reason our Father often gives them their portion in this life (Ps. 17:14). He grants their earthly desires but sends leanness to their souls” (Ps. 106:15). They “pierce themselves through with many sorrows,” and finally receive the just end for their idolatry. We, however, see through new eyes, for the light of the glory of God has dawned upon us and in us (2 Cor. 4:6). We live and long for that which we cannot yet see. We have set out hope upon that “exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:17). We endure now by “seeing him who is invisible” (Heb. 11:27). And what guides this vision? It is not ethereal impulses or giddy spirituality but the “testimonies of the Lord,” his sworn and verified word. It is to this word that we must give ourselves, for it shows the loveliness of Jesus Christ to us, sustains us when we are tempted to make this world our good and its goods our world, and refreshes us with heavenly delight when the “trouble and anguish take hold on us” (Ps. 119:143).

To this cry to be delivered from covetousness, David adds the plea to be “turned away from beholding vanity” (v. 37). “Vanity” includes all those fancies of the mind and body with which we seek to satisfy ourselves, a way of life that grounds its ultimate good not in God and in his word but in self and in the world. Vanity is ubiquitous. It may appear in self-admiring and self-cherishing thoughts of oneself, one’s accomplishments, appearance, or possessions. It manifests itself in love of wealth, adventure, and thrills. It is found in the philosopher who cherishes his intellect and system, the romantic his feelings and liberation from the hoi polloi, the artist his creativity and avante garde superiority, the athlete his strength and demigod status, the politician his pragmatism, and the man of the world his chameleon morality. Vanity varies from soul to soul, but every man has two gates open to it: his eyes. Here we face a very hard truth about ourselves. It is not simply that the world holds ample occasion to vanity. It is also within us, for the longing of the eyes is nothing but a reflection of the soul’s desires. The eyes run in the direction of the inward appetites. So, we have a traitor lurking deeply within that is ever ready to open the gates to enemies without. How powerless we are against such a concerted attack! David shows us the way to overcome. We must call upon the Lord to “turn away our eyes from beholding vanity.”  Like Job, we must make a covenant with our eyes (Job 31:1), not only against occasions for sexual vanity but also against all forms of vanity. But who alone can turn our eyes? Who has a beauty and power that is able to arrest our deepest attention, move and hold our deepest affections? Only Jesus Christ, who is loveliness itself. We must seek him with our whole heart, desiring him alone, asking him to quicken us that we might behold him as he is in beauty and glory. In comparison to him, we must and will consider all else “dung,” that we may gain him and be found in him (Phil. 3:8,9). For him, we gladly pluck out our worldly eyes and “look not to the right or left” (Prov. 4:25-27). We must desire to know him and the power of his resurrection, the fellowship of his sufferings, and conformity to his death (Phil. 3:10). And what does “conformity to his death” in this context entail but the very blinding of our eyes to the world and the bestowal of new eyes through his resurrection power and indwelling Spirit?  As we gain eyes only for him, for he is our Husband and Lord, Friend and Shepherd, King and Savior, our eyes will not be so often turned toward the vanities of this world. And as your vanity inclines to various things, you must cry to him to turn your eyes especially there to him as your joy and satisfaction, for only his immeasurable and unconquerable love can turn and hold our eyes to righteousness.

For the Lord to Fulfill His Promises to Me as I Fear Him (vv. 38-39)

Our merciful Father will grant these new eyes to us; only he can quicken us so that the world loses it deadly grip upon our souls and in its place set up a holy passion for obedience. Thus, David cries that the Lord will “stablish thy word unto thy servant,” which is but another way of David asking the Lord to do for him what he cannot do for himself. And upon what does he base this plea but the faithfulness to God to the word of his promise? As David consider his great weakness – his tendency toward covetousness and vanity, his need for God to be his teacher and give him spiritual understanding – all his hope for truth and righteousness is the free promise of God to him through his Anointed, Jesus Christ. This is the only solid foundation for our faith, when, sensing our weakness and facing manifold temptations, we cast ourselves upon the promises of God, believing and praying for them, longing for them, and crying out to the Lord to fulfill them by coming to us and quickening us by his Spirit. Who may have legitimate hope of such prayers being answers? After all, we see many, even leaders and teachers in the church, falling prey to covetousness and vanity. If they were not preserved in the path, how can I expect to be? God will hear the cry and establish his word unto his servants “who are devoted to his fear.” This is truly a remarkable statement. To fear God is to stand in awe of him, to love and adore him so much that my greatest dread is to displease him, even in small ways. To fear God is to revere him and to desire to honor him, as well as for others to honor him supremely, in thought, word, and deed. But when David adds that he is “devoted” to his fear, this means that far from simply dreading God, fleeing from him, and wanting him only to meet some immediate need, he rather longs to be in his glorious presence, to behold his beauty, to be transformed by his glory, and to be purged utterly of all that offends him. God’s holy presence that spells death to the worldling, we seek as our only protection from sin, our incentive to holiness, indeed, the very delight of our lives, however uncomfortable and personally challenging the majesty of God is to us, dust and ashes as we are. Thus, the Bible’s constant command to “fear the Lord” has this wonderful motivation: that if we are truly devoted to God’s fear, though we feel ourselves weak and tossed by so many vanities and vexations, our heavenly Father will fulfill his promises to us. He will hear our cries and do in us and for us what is wholly beyond us, even victory over those twin gates to the soul that have so often proven themselves traitors: our eyes. Rather than pursuers of corruption and vanity, he will make them to desire only his loveliness and one day perfect them so they behold his likeness and be satisfied with him.

Because the fear of the Lord conjures up such unattractive ideas, however – and even in the church the very notion is being rejected in favor of a silly familiarity with God that robs him of his otherness, reduces him to nothing but a friendly force, and has little room for any notion of “fear” – a further word ought to be said about it, especially its relationship to God’s renovating, renewing presence. Only those who know something of the Lord’s majesty, who by faith have seen his consummate purity and loveliness, will ever fear him. Those who fear the Lord most will be those who have had the deepest dealings with him. Those who know him at a distance may have some kind of craven respect for him, but they cannot truly adore and reverence him. They may even speak of him with some kind of superstitious veneration, but they are not drawn to him as their only good and joy. Those in whom he dwells by his Spirit, however, find nothing at all distasteful in the idea of fearing the Lord. It is quite natural to them. They have beheld by faith something of his majesty; they are in believing, lively awe of him. They are aware of his presence not as a force but as a person, the most wonderful person of all. They think of him as a godly, modest wife thinks of her husband, or a faithful child feels toward his parents – with a certain sense of wonder and longing, of the desire to please, of a deep dread of offending or of acting in any way as to disrupt the relationship. And since the living God has been pleased to fulfill his covenant promises and now lives, dwells, walks and talks with us through his abiding presence in the tabernacling Son and outpoured Spirit, is he not showing us the wonders of his love and grace, the holy mystery of his goodness and power? His known, felt, and believed presence makes us thus devoted to his fear. We do not think or speak of him, as Calvin once wrote, without the highest veneration. We find love for the world gradually yet truly losing its hold upon us. We are drawn to holiness because he is drawing us to himself. We hate sin because we love him and want to please him. Even, as Calvin also wrote, if there were no hell, we would dread offending him. We desire him, long to know more of him, and want more of Him. His presence is thus a transforming glory, and his true, abiding presence is known nowhere more surely than that the more we learn of him, the more we adore his majesty and find our hearts dwelling more in his house than in the house of the world. If this is us, we may be sure that he will “stablish his word to us,” hear our cries, and form us more and more into the image of his Son.

So devoted is David to fearing the Lord that he begs him to “turn away my reproach, which I fear” (v. 39). Now, it is true that believers often receive the reproach of the world, but if this comes to us for the sake of our Lord, because we have humbly stood for his truth and boasted in his cross, this is no shame to us but our highest honor (Matt. 5:10-12; Acts 5:41; 1 Pet. 4:12-16). How can we be embarrassed by the taunts of the world, since the cross is our only boast? No, David has a different reproach in mind here. David’s dreads offending the Lord. There is an interesting contrast between David and Saul at this very point that illustrates the point he is making here. After his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah, Nathan the prophet came to David and said: “Thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme” (2 Sam. 12:14). David’s trembling response to this encounter is Psalm 51. Yes, he has given God’s enemies the opportunity to ridicule David’s faith and God by his actions, but even more David is deeply conscious that “against thee, and thee only, have I sinned” (Ps. 51:4). Saul, however, after he had sinned against God by offering sacrifices without warrant, since he was not a priest and could not officiate in worship, said to Samuel: “I have sinned: yet honour me now, I pray thee, before the elders of my people, and before Israel” (1 Sam. 15:30). Could there be a more vivid difference between the hearts of these two men, indeed, between true and sham repentance. David was made conscious by the Holy Spirit of the vertical implications of his sin: that he had offended the God who had been so good to him, brought dishonor upon him, despised his grace, and disrupted fellowship with God. Saul thought only of the horizontal implications of his sin, of their consequences for him, that Saul’s rebuke would result in him losing honor among the people. If we are devoted to God’s fear, upon conviction of sin, our first thoughts will not be: “What will others think,” but, “What will my God think?”

And why? Because he dwells with us: we are conscious of his holy presence. We delight in him, adore him, tremble before him. Whatever others may think of us, whatever the consequences of our actions will be for us, they are irrelevant in comparison to pleasing him to whom we are devoted. Satan, of course, is the “accuser of the brethren” (Rev. 12:10), and even though our triumphant Savior has vanquished him, he still makes the occasional attempt to throw our sins up in our faces, to tempt us to focus upon our past failures, our grievous sins, and our inconsistencies. Here is a marvelous thing! Relief from his accusations, as well as from the guilt we justly feel for our sins, is found in running right back to the “fear of Isaac,” the One who has provided a sacrifice for us, the holy One against whom we have sinned. If we are truly devoted to his fear, if we respect his judgments, we shall plead our guilt before his throne and cling to the shed blood of the Lamb of God, whose sacrifice ever retains its power to cleanse the conscience from dead works to serve the living God (Heb. 9:14) and silence our accuser. This is the way the Lord Jesus Christ continues to cast him out: when bringing our consciences before the throne of God, when confessing that God’s judgments are good and just (1 Cor. 11:31-32), we lift the eyes of faith to the finished work and accomplished redemption of our Savior, who is our Advocate in the presence of God (1 John 2:1), and who turns away our reproach by covering them with his own blood and righteousness. Then, however corrupt we are in ourselves – and there is not one of us who feels as he should just how corrupt we are – because we have feared the Lord and demonstrated our devotion to his fear by turning to him – even though he is the One whom we have offended – he will cleanse us, cast our sins behind his back, remember them no more, and restore us to fellowship. What grace! What amazing love! How must we be devoted to his fear! He may chasten us, as he did David for his sins, but this is only to purify us, teach us the joy of walking before him in holiness, and produce within us the “peaceable fruits of righteousness” (Heb. 12:11).

A Cry of Longing and for Quickening – unto Righteousness (v. 40)

Having felt, then, our own sins – and each one of us must honestly confess our individual vanities and repudiate our “household idols” before the Lord – and tasted of his love and goodness, we “long for his precepts.” We know that he does not give himself to us other than through his word. Longing for his word and longing for him are really the same thing, at least if we understand something of the living relationship in which he stands to his word – that in giving us his word, he gives us himself; that he is not known except through his word; that it is through Christ’s word dwelling in us that he himself dwells in us; that he erects his temple in us upon the sole condition that his word holds chief sway among us. And being thus drawn to him, we desire him to “quicken us in his righteousness.” Having beheld his righteousness, we hunger and thirst all the more for it (Matt. 5:6). Yes, we have eaten and drunk of him and are satisfied, never to hunger and thirst again – except for more of him. The taste of grace always brings with is the desire for more Christ: light for more light, glory for more glory, strength for more strength, Christ for more Christ. This is our Lord both satisfying and drawing us unto himself, beginning his work in us and then moving it forward unto perfection. And notice that this desire for quickening is directed toward righteousness,” God’s righteousness. It is not life for the sake of life, feeling for more feeling that we desire. No, when we are legitimately enjoying his glory and presence, it is always for him as he reveals himself, not as we would like him to be. And “the righteous Lord loveth righteousness” (Ps. 11:7). He does not give himself to us other than by making us righteousness before him through the imputed righteousness of his Son and by transforming us by his glorious righteousness so we seek and possess “the fruits of righteousness that come through Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:11). That for which our heart longs is to be more like him – in righteousness and truth, holiness and purity, integrity and uprightness. When we sin, we are deeply grieved and fly right back to his promises of forgiveness. When we are cold and sluggish, we desire not to be left alone but for him to restore life to us that we may continue upon the path to his righteous kingdom. When we are besieged by our own traitorous hearts and betrayed by our own wandering eyes, we cry for him to pluck them out and replace them with eyes that desire to behold him in righteousness alone. We cry for his word. “My soul breaketh for the longing that it hath unto thy judgments at all times” (Ps. 119:120). He hears this cry; he put it within us. It is the cry of grace for more grace, of justifying righteousness for sanctifying righteousness, of glory beheld by faith to glory realized and “all in all.”

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