As delight quickens to meditation, so does the practical habit of meditation strengthen the principle of delight. In the enjoyment of this delight, the Christian (however small his attainments may be) would rather live and die, than in the pursuit, and even in the possession, of the most satisfying pleasures of a vain and empty world. But if it be a real "delight in the Lord's statutes," it will be universal—when they probe the secret lurking-places within, and draw out to the full light the hidden indulgences of a heart that is yet carnal; when they call for the entire crucifixion of every corrupt inclination, and the unreserved surrender of all to the self-denying service of our God. This spirit is very different from the delight of the hypocrite, which is rather to "know," than to do, the "ways of his God;" and, therefore, who is satisfied with outward conformity, with little or no desire to "understand the errors" of his heart, that he might be "cleansed from secret faults." The spring of our obedience will therefore prove its sincerity; and the reality of our love will be manifested by its fruitfulness and active cheerfulness in our appointed sphere of duty.
We may also observe here an evidence of adoption. Obedience is not a burden, but a delight. The servant may perform the statutes of God; but it is only the son who "delights in them." But what—we may ask—is the spring of adoption? It is "the Spirit of the Son sent into our hearts, whereby we cry, Abba, Father." It is because we are at peace with God through Jesus Christ; because the statutes are the message of reconciliation through Him, that they become delightful to those, who are partakers of this great salvation. "The spirit of adoption," therefore, as the principle of delight, is the spring of acceptable obedience in the Lord's service.
And surely those who are serving Him in this happy filial walk, are not likely to "forget His word." As the eye is continually turned to the object of its affection, so the eye of the soul, that has been fixed with delight on the ways of God, will be habitually resting upon them. As one of the wise heathens observed—'I never yet heard of a covetous old man, who had forgotten where he had buried his treasure.' The reason is abundantly evident. His heart is in it. And this explains the forgetfulness of the ungodly or the formalist. They have no delight in the statutes. And who is not glad to forget what is distasteful? But if we "have tasted that the Lord is gracious"—if we have found a treasure "in the way of His testimonies"—we cannot forget the sweetness of the experience, or where to go to refresh ourselves with the repetition of it.
Forgetfulness of the word is, however, to the Christian, a source of continual complaint, and sometimes also of most distressing temptation. Not that there is always a real charge of guilt upon the conscience. For, as Thomas Boston somewhat quaintly observes—'Grace makes a good heart-memory, even where there is no good head-memory.' But means must be used, and helps may be suggested. Watchfulness against the influence of the world is of the first importance. How much of the good seed is choked by the springing thorns! If our hearts are ever refreshed with spiritual delight, we should be as cautious of an uncalled-for advance into the world, as of exposing an invalid's susceptible frame to a damp or an unhealthy atmosphere. Whatever warmth has been kindled in spiritual duties, may be chilled by one moment's unwary rush into an unkindly climate.
We would also recommend increasing attention to the word, as the means of its preservation—the exercise of "faith," without which it will "not profit"—the active habit of love, bringing with it a more habitual interest in the statutes—all accompanied with unceasing prayer for the gift of the Holy Spirit, made the express subject of promise for this purpose. Under His heavenly teaching and recollection, what delight will be found in the statutes! what blessed remembrance of His word! And what a happy spirit is this delight and remembrance of the word—the affections glowing—the memory pondering—the presence and manifestation of truth keeping the heart in close communion with God! "O Lord God, keep this forever in the imagination of the thoughts of the heart of Your people, and prepare their hearts unto You."
"I will delight myself in your statutes." In this verse delight follows meditation, of which it is the true flower and outgrowth. When we have no other solace, but are quite alone, it will be a glad thing for the heart to turn upon itself, and sweetly whisper, "I will delight myself. What if no minstrel sings in the hall; I will delight myself. If the time of the singing of birds has not yet arrived, and the voice of the turtle is not heard in our land, yet I will delight myself." This is the choicest and noblest of all rejoicing; in fact, it is the good part which can never be taken from us; but there is no delighting ourselves with anything below that which God intended to be the soul's eternal satisfaction. The statute-book is intended to be the joy of every loyal subject. When the believer once peruses the sacred pages, his soul burns within him as he turns first to one and then to another of the royal words of the great King—words full and firm, immutable and divine.
"I will not forget your word." Men do not readily forget that which they have treasured up (verse 14), that which they have meditated on (verse 15),and that which they have often spoken of (verse 13). Yet since we have treacherous memories, it is well to bind them well with the knotted cord of "I will not forget."
Note how two "I wills" (verses 13 and 14) follow upon two "I haves." We may not dare to promise for the future if we have altogether failed in the past; but where grace has enabled us to accomplish something, we may hopefully expect that it will enable us to do more.
Action repeated becomes habit, and when habits are well formed we may without boasting resolve to maintain them, and even to engraft upon them other and higher exercises. Yet it is well never to let our I wills of resolves exceed our I haves of actual performance.
It is curious to observe how this sixteenth verse is molded upon verse 8: the changes are rung on the same words, but the meaning is quite different, and there is no suspicion of a vain repetition. The same thought is never given over again in this psalm: they are dullards who think so. Something in the position of each verse affects its meaning, so that even where its words are almost identical with those of another, the sense is delightfully varied. If we do not see an infinite variety of fine shades of thought in this psalm, we may conclude that we are color-blind; if we do not hear many sweet harmonies, we may judge oar ears to be dull of hearing, but we may not suspect the Spirit of God of monotony.
Exposition of Verses 17 to 24
DEAL bountifully with your servant, that I may live, and keep your word.
Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.
I am a stranger in the earth: hide not your commandments from me.
My soul breaks for the longing that it has unto your judgments at all times.
You have rebuked the proud that are cursed, which do err from your commandments.
Remove from me reproach and contempt; for I have kept your testimonies.
Princes also did sit and speak against me: but your servant did meditate in your statutes.
Your testimonies also are my delight and my counselors.
In this section the trials of the way appear to be manifest to the Psalmist's mind, and he prays accordingly for the help which will meet his case. As in the last eight verses he prayed as a youth newly come into the world, so here he pleads as a servant and a pilgrim, who growingly finds himself to be a stranger in an enemy's country. His appeal is to God alone, and his prayer is specially direct and personal. He speaks with the Lord as a man speaks with his friend.