Those only who have hoped in the Lord's salvation can express this joyful delight in His precepts. The Christian does not acknowledge the popular separation of duty and privilege, according as it may be constraint or indulgence to his inclination. Every part of his walk identifies these terms of distinction. If it is his duty, it is no less his privilege, to love the precepts. Nothing holds him to them—nothing enables him thoroughly to keep them, but love. All resolutions, vows, covenants, would be as ineffectual to bind him, as the green withs to fasten the giant. David had not done the commandments from constraint; but his soul kept them; yes, he loved them exceedingly. Indeed, the bias of the new nature to keep the precepts is as prevalent, as that of the old nature to break them. Once the believer would have wished the law of God blotted out of the universe, or at least exchanged for a more indulgent dispensation. But now that it is written in his heart, even its restraint is delightful to him; and as he gains a closer intimacy with it, and a clearer discernment of its spirituality, he loves it exceedingly. Not one, indeed, of the precepts or testimonies does he keep as he ought, and as he desires; but there is not one of them that he does not delight in, and most anxiously desire to fulfill. Thus every feature of the Divine image is inwrought in the soul, beautiful in its place and proportion; and all other graces grow in connection with love to the testimonies.
Nor let our consciousness of daily failures restrain this strong expression of confidence. The most humble believer need not hesitate to adopt it 'as an evidence of grace, not as a claim of merit.' This frequent repetition marks the godly jealousy of the man of God, mindful of his own self-deceitfulness and manifold infirmities, and "giving" careful "diligence to make his calling and election sure." David knew himself to be a poor sinner; but he was conscious of spirituality of obedience, exceeding love to the word, and an habitual walk under the eye of his God—the evidences of a heart (often mentioned in the Old Testament) "perfect with Him." 'Christ alone kept the old law, and He enables us to observe the new.'
The active love to the word should be cultivated on the principle of our public walk before God. We must not study the Scripture merely for our present gratification, or to furnish materials for our Christian communion. We ought rather, from every step in the history of Christ, as well as from the more finished course of instruction in the Epistles, to be gathering some help to "set the Lord always before us"—realizing the interest that He takes in us, and His presence with us as our Father, Governor, Teacher, Comforter, Friend.
Now, let us ask—Do our souls thus keep the Lord's testimonies habitually, perseveringly? Does conscience testify that, with all our defects and sinful mixture, they are uppermost in our minds; that our love rises above the worldly rules of expediency, prudence, or the example of those around us (the too common measurement of scanty obedience)—as if it could never burn with sufficient fervor in His service, "who loved us, and gave Himself for us?" Why, then, should we shrink from this acknowledgment of "simplicity and godly sincerity?" If we are ready to own, that "without Christ we can do nothing;" that His Spirit "has wrought all our works in us;" that "by the grace of God we are what we are;" that our hope of acceptance is grounded only upon the finished work on the cross—why should we refuse to confess the grace of God in us? Yet we must not forget, that allowed unfaithfulness, neglect of secret prayer, impurity of motive, or any "iniquity regarded in the heart"—though they will not loosen the ground of our hope—will obscure the comfort of our Christian confidence. How beautiful is that princely spirit, which will not serve the Lord "of that which costs us nothing;" that not only longs for holiness as the way to heaven, but loves heaven the better for the holy way that leads to it, and for the perfect holiness that reigns there eternally!
But never let us lose sight of the recollection, that all our ways are before God! that every act, every thought, every desire, every word, is registered by conscience as His viceregent, and laid up in His book of remembrance! Well would it be for us, if we walked less before men, and more before God; if in secret, in business, at home and abroad, we heard the solemn voice, "I am the Almighty God: walk before Me, and be perfect." We may be unreproveable in the sight of men, while it is a mere artificial walk, grounded upon base external principles—a "walking after the flesh"—not before God. Even the engagements of active duty may be the subtle snare of the great enemy to divert us from intense personal religion, and to spoil the hidden walk of communion with God, by concentrating the mind upon a more public, and, apparently, a more useful walk. Thus too often the vital principle of religion sinks into a stated formal habit. "Walking with God" is the secret spring of the Christian. "Walking before God" is the manifestation and the exercise of the hidden principle. For in all things, private as well as public, the most trivial as well as the most weighty, to have our eye fixed in dutiful reverence upon the Omniscient, Omnipresent eye of Jehovah—what solemnity would it give to our whole behavior! what influence would it have upon our public professions, our general conversation, our secret duties! We should be energetic in "serving our own generation by the will of God;" and yet, while walking before men, should be truly "walking before God"—all our ways before Him, "done" in His sight, "as to Him," and accepted in His favor.
When, therefore, I am about to venture upon any line of conduct, let me consider the watchful eye, that pierces into the deepest recesses of my thoughts, and brings, as it were, to daylight, my principles, my motives, and my ends. Above all, let me ever recollect, that he, before whom are all my ways, is He who hung upon the cross for my sins. Let me then walk, as if He were standing before me in all the endearing obligations of His love. Oh, do not I owe Him sacrifice for sacrifice, heart for heart, life for life? Then surely I cannot be dead, insensible, sluggish in keeping His precepts. I cannot forbear to show this practical proof of my love to Him. Let not, then, the fear of legality make me neglect this privilege of "keeping the commandments" of my beloved Master and Lord. Let me live under the solemn recollection, "You, God, see me;" and in the joyful assurance, "You, God, love me;" and His ways will be to me holiness, happiness, heaven.
"I have kept your precepts and your testimonies." Both the practical and the doctrinal parts of God's word he had stored up, and preserved, and followed. It is a blessed thing to see the two forms of the divine word equally known, equally valued, equally confessed: there should be no picking and choosing as to the mind of God. We know those who endeavor to be careful as to the precepts, but who seem to think that the doctrines of the gospel are mere matters of opinion, which they may shape for themselves. This is not a perfect condition of things. We have known others again who are very rigid as to the doctrines, and painfully lax with reference to the precepts. This also is far from right. When the two are "kept" with equal earnestness, then have we the perfect man.
"For all my ways are before you." Probably he means to say that this was the motive of his endeavoring to be right both in head and heart, because he knew that God saw him, and under the sense of the divine presence he was afraid to err. Or else he is thus appealing to God to bear witness to the truth of what he has said. In either case it is no small consolation to feel that our heavenly Father knows all about us, and that if princes speak against us, and worldlings fill their mouths with cruel lies, yet he can vindicate us, for there is nothing secret or hidden from him.
We are struck with the contrast between this verse, which is the last of its octave, and verse 176, which is similarly placed in the next octave. This is a protest of innocence, "I have kept your precepts," and that a confession of sin, "I have gone astray like a lost sheep." Both were sincere, both accurate. Experience makes many a paradox plain, and this is one. Before God we may be clear of open fault, and yet at the same time mourn over a thousand heart-wanderings which need his restoring hand.
Exposition of Verses 169 to 176
LET my cry come near before you, O LORD: give me understanding according to your word.
Let my supplication come before you: deliver me according to your word.
My lips shall utter praise, when you have taught me your statutes.
My tongue shall speak of your word: for all your commandments are righteousness.
Let your hand help me; for I have chosen your precepts.
I have longed for your salvation, O LORD; and your law is my delight.
Let my soul live, and it shall praise you; and let your judgments help me.
I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant; for I do not forget your commandments.
The Psalmist is now at the last section of the psalm, and his petitions gather still more force and fervency; he seems to break into the inner circle of divine fellowship, and to come even to the feet of the great God whose help he is imploring. This nearness creates the most lowly view of himself, and leads him to close the psalm, prostrate in the dust, in deepest self-humiliation, begging to be sought out like a lost sheep.