The advancing Christian learns to adore the awful perfections of his God, and to acknowledge His righteous character and government, even when "his ways are in the sea, and His paths in the great waters." "Clouds and darkness are round about Him; righteousness and judgment are the habitation of His throne." We have already brought out the unvarying testimony of His people to the righteous character of His afflictive dispensations. Even from haughty Pharaoh was a similar acknowledgment extorted. Adonibezek also, under the blow of His hand, cried out, "As I have done, so God has requited me."
Yet in this path, "we walk by faith, not by sight." Often in Providence "his footsteps are not known." We cannot trace the reasons of the Divine mind. We must wait and see the "end of the Lord," when the disjointed pieces shall be compacted into one complete texture and frame-work. "At evening time there shall be light." Much more in the dispensation of grace do we hear the voice, "Be still, and know that I am God." Doubtless He could give His grace to all as well as to some. Yet none have a claim upon Him. "Is it not His to do what He will with His own?" "No, but, O man, who are you that replies against God?" "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" Thus much is plain—enough to silence cavil, and justify God—grace is freely offered to all. Man's own will rejects it, and leaves him without excuse. Effectual grace is withheld from none, but those who deserve that it should be so. None are forced to sin. None are condemned without guilt. Therefore when we stand upon the ocean's brink, and cry, "Oh, the depth!" are we not constrained to the adoring acknowledgment—Righteous are You, O Lord, and upright are Your judgments? And if this be our praise, even while "we see but as through a glass darkly, and know but in part," how much more, in the world of uncloudy day, when we shall see "face to face, and know even as we are known"—shall we sing with reverential joy "the song of the Lamb—Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty! just and true are Your ways, You King of saints!"
The young Christian, however, less able to grasp these deeper apprehensions, exercises himself chiefly in his more engaging perfections of long-suffering, goodness, and love. It is therefore a satisfactory evidence of growth in grace, when our habitual contemplation of God fixes upon our minds the more full and awful displays of His character; and we gather from thence an increase of light, peace, humility, and consolation. But the cross of Calvary harmonizes to our view at once the most appalling and the most encouraging attributes. Though His own declaration—that "he will by no means clear the guilty"—seemed to present an insurmountable barrier to the purpose of mercy; yet, rather than the glory of a God of love should be obscured, or His righteous law should be mitigated, "He spared not His own Son;" He "made Him, who knew no sin, to be sin for us."
And do not we naturally argue from His nature to His testimonies? If He be righteous, nothing unrighteous can come from Him. His testimonies, therefore, are His lively image—like Himself—righteous and very faithful—requiring nothing impossible—nothing unsuitable—perfect love to God and man, "our reasonable service," no less our privilege than our duty to render. None that are blessed with a spiritual apprehension of their nature, and are conformed and framed to them, will hesitate in setting their seal to the inscription, "The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether." "The law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good."
But let us take care to exhibit the practical influence of our contemplations of the character and government of God. The unconverted—far from understanding or subscribing to our acknowledgment—complain, "The ways of the Lord are not equal." "My punishment is greater than I can bear." And so opposed are the righteous judgments of God to the perverseness of corrupt nature, that even with the child of God there is much murmuring within, that needs to be stilled—much repining to be hushed—much impatience to be repressed—many hard thoughts to be lamented, resisted, and banished. Did we believe more simply, how much more joy would there be in our faith, and readiness in our submission! How clearly would our experience "show, that the Lord is upright; He is our rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him!" "In returning" then "and rest shall we be saved; in quietness and confidence shall be our strength." In the submissive acknowledgment of the Lord's dispensations, "our peace" will "flow as a river;" more deep and extensive as it approaches the ocean, and fertilizing our souls with abundant spiritual peace and enjoyment.
What deep—weighty—impressive thoughts were exercising the Psalmist's mind! He had just marked the happy influence of the testimonies upon the believer's heart. Now he again recurs to their righteousness—as the Divine administration—not subject to the incessant variations of the human standard—but everlasting—of unalterable obligation—binding us unchangeably to God, and God to us. His creatures can virtually "make them void" by their rebellion; but they cannot change their character, or shake their foundation. No—themselves shall be the instruments of their fulfillment. Every word shall be established either by them as His obedient servants, or in and upon them as rebel transgressors. What solemn weight therefore is due to this Divine standard! It seems now to be trampled under foot; but its righteousness, inflexible in its demands, and unalterable in its obligations—will before long assert its sovereignty over the world, when every other standard shall have passed away. It will be the rule of the Divine procedure at the great day of decision. When the "great white throne" is set up—when "the dead, small and great, stand before God, and the books are opened, and another book is opened, which is the book of life;" and the dead are judged out of those things which were written in the books, "according to their works"—the acknowledgment will be made throughout the universe of God—The righteousness of Your testimonies is everlasting. How glorious is the confidence of being dealt with in that great day upon an everlasting foundation of righteousness!
But this view of the Divine righteousness and everlasting obligation of the testimonies, naturally suggests the prayer for a more spiritual, enlightened, and experimental acquaintance with them. Often before had the petition been sent up. But who can cry too often or too earnestly? One ray of this understanding is of far higher value than all the intellectual or speculative knowledge in the world. If its first dawn exhibits the infinite difference between light and darkness—if prayer for it implies a measure already received, still—Give me understanding—will be the cry—not of the "little child" whose spiritual perception is just opening—but of the "father who has known Him that is from the beginning." Let me know the holiness of Your testimonies—their extent—their perfection—their intimate connection with every part of my daily walk—with the restraint of my inclination, the regulation of my temper, the direction of every step of my path. And indeed the more devoutly we study them, the more shall we feel our need of supplication for Divine teaching, to give us more adoring and thankful views of the government of God, and to subjugate our caviling disposition to the humbling influence of faith.
The principle of spiritual and eternal life flows from the enlightened perception of the testimonies of God. Give me understanding, and I shall live. For "this is life eternal, that we might know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent." His testimonies are the revelation of Himself. If then we "have an unction from the Holy One, and know all things," our knowledge of them will become more spiritual in its character, more experimental in its comforts, and more practical in its fruits. And thus, 'the life of God in the soul' will invigorate us for higher attainments in evangelical knowledge, and more steady advancement in Christian holiness. But how infinitely do we live below the full privilege of knowing God in His testimonies! Christians of a Scriptural standard are "forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded."
And then—what will it be at the great consummation; when our God of love will have put His last hand to His glorious work; when the mark of all our aims—the term of all our hopes and desires—all that we have so long labored for—so earnestly panted after—so restlessly pursued—when all shall be attained? Then indeed we shall live a life worthy of the name—not as now under the shadowed glimmerings—but under the immediate full-eyed glory of His light and love; having escaped forever the deadliest of all dangers—sin—the very deadliness of death itself.
All that which God has testified in his word is right and truthful. His testimonies are righteous, and may be relied upon for the present; they are faithful, and may be trusted in for the future. About every portion of the inspired testimonies there is a divine authority: they are published by God's command, and they bear the impress of the royal style which carries omnipotence in it Not only the precepts but the promises also are commanded of the Lord, and so are all the teachings of Scripture. It is not left to our choice whether we will accept them or not; they are issued by royal command, and are not to be questioned. Their characteristic is that they are like the Lord who has proclaimed them, they are the essence of justice and the soul of truth. God's word is righteous, and cannot be impeached; it is faithful, and cannot be questioned; it is true from the beginning, and it will be true unto the end.
Dwell upon that sweet word—"very faithful." What a mercy that we have a God to deal with who is scrupulously faithful, true to all the items and details of his promises, punctual to time, steadfast during all time! Well may we risk all upon a word which is "ever faithful, ever sure."
Since in these verses the Psalmist dwells upon the righteousness of God and of his words, it becomes us to consider the divine character, and to endeavor to imitate it. "If you know that he is righteous, you know that every one that does righteousness is born of him": 1 John 2:29.