A glowing picture of the Christian's delight in the ways of God! If we "have chosen the way of God's commandments," and have been able to "stick to" this way, surely we shall wish to "run in it" with constancy and cheerfulness. We shall want to mend our pace. If we walk, we shall long to "run." There is always the same reason for progress, that there was for setting out. Necessity, advantage, enjoyment, spur us on to the end. Whatever progress we have made, we shall desire to make more; we shall go on praying and walking, and praying that we may walk with a swifter motion; we shall be dissatisfied, yet not discouraged, "faint, yet pursuing." Now this is as it should be. This is after the pattern of the holy Apostle:, "Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do; forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." But the secret as well as the pattern of Christian progress is—looking beyond the Apostle, and the "so great cloud of witnesses, with which we are encompassed"—and "looking unto Jesus." Faith is the principle of life, and supplies the daily motion of life;—directing our eye to Him as "the Author," until He "becomes the Finisher," of our faith. This is at once our duty, our privilege, our happiness, and our strength. This is the point, at which we begin to run; and we "so run, that we may obtain."
But let us more distinctly mark the medium through which this spiritual energy flows—an enlarged heart. Without this influence how could we run this way of God's commandments? Such is the extent and latitude of the course, that a straitened heart is utterly inadequate to carry us through. There must be large treasures of knowledge, in order that from a rich "treasure-house the good things" may pour out abundantly. For indeed spiritual "knowledge" is the principle of "multiplied grace." Scriptural truths, divinely fixed in the understanding, powerfully influence the heart. Christian privilege also greatly advances this important end. In seasons of depression we are "so troubled, that we cannot speak." We cannot pour out our hearts, as at other times, with a large measure of spirit and life. But when "we joy in God, having received the atonement," the spirit is invigorated, as with oil on the wheels, or as "with wings to mount" on high in the service of praise.
Very different, however, is this enlargement of heart from enlargement of gifts. Fluency of utterance is too often fearfully separated from the spiritual life, and utterly unconnected with delight in the way of God's commandments. It is expression, not feeling—counterfeit grace—public, not secret or personal, religion. The yoke of sin is not broken, and the self-deceiver will be found at last among the deluded throng of gifted hypocrites, "punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord."
Indeed the spiritual principle is far too little realized. At the commencement of the course, conscious guilt straitens the approach to the throne of grace. Unbelief imprisons the soul. And even when the deliverer is known, who "sets at liberty them that are bruised," still the body of death with all its clogging burden and confinement presses down the soul. Unbelief also continues to work, to narrow the conceptions of the gospel, and by the painful recollections of the past, to bring in distrust, distance, and bondage. And most painful is this restraint. For the soul, which is but beginning to see how desirable is the favor of God, feels also an earnest desire to honor Him. And to him who—having fully "tasted that the Lord is gracious"—asks, "What shall I render unto the Lord?" this remaining influence of "the spirit of bondage" is more afflicting, than perhaps was a greater measure of it in a less enlightened stage of his way. Still, however, this legal spirit pursues him. His comforts, ebbing and flowing, according as he is dissatisfied or satisfied with his Christian progress, clearly evince a secret "confidence in the flesh," greatly hindering that "rejoicing in Christ Jesus," which so enlarges the heart.
Thus by the shackles of sin, unbelief, and self-righteousness, we are indeed 'sore let and hindered in running the race set before us.' (Collect for Advent.) The light is obscured. Faith loses sight of its object. What otherwise would be a delight becomes a weariness. Obedience is irksome; self-denial intolerable; the cross heavy. The heart is, as it were, "shut up, and it cannot get forth." Faith is so low: desires are so faint; hopes so narrow, that it seems impossible to make progress. Frequent defeats induce despondency. The world is resorted to. Sin ensnares and captivates. Thus "we did run well; but we have been hindered."
This sad evil naturally leads us to inquire for the remedy. The case is backsliding, not apostasy. The remedy therefore is in that engagement, which embraces a wider expanse of light, and a more full confidence of love. We find that we have not been "straitened" in God, but "in our own affections." If then the rich fool thought of enlarging his barns, when his stores had increased upon him, much more should we "enlarge the place of our tent," that we may make more room for God, encourage larger expectations, if we would have more full manifestations of Him. Let not the vessels fail, before the oil stays. Continually let the petition be sent up, "Oh that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my coast!" Whatever cause we have to cry out, "My leanness, my leanness!"—still let us, in the exercise of faith and prayer, be waiting for a more cheerful ability to love, serve, and praise. Let us be restless, until the prison-doors are again opened, and the command is issued to the prisoners, "Go forth: and to them that are in darkness—Show yourselves. They shall feed in the ways, and their pastures shall be in all high places." Who knows but the Lord will once more shine upon us; once more unloose our fetters, and renew our strength?
But again and again must we be reminded that every motion must begin with God. I will run—but how? not in my own strength, but by "the good hand of my God upon me," delivering and enlarging my heart. He does not say—I will make no efforts, unless You work for me; but if You will enlarge—I will run. Weakness is not the plea for indolence, but for quickening grace. "Draw me"—says the Church, "we will run after You." Effectual calling will issue in running." Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." The secret of Christian energy and success is a heart enlarged in the love of God.
Let me then begin betimes—make haste—keep straight on—fix my eye on the mark, "endure unto the end." I may yet expect in the joy of blessed surprise to exclaim, "Or ever I was aware, my soul made me like the chariots of Ammi-nadib." Godly sorrow had made me serious. Now let holy joy make me active. "The joy of the Lord is my strength;" and I am ready, under the power of constraining love, to work and to toil—to run without weariness—to "march onward" without fainting; not measuring my pace by my own strength, but looking to Him who "strengthens with all might by His Spirit in the inner man."
Happy fruit of wrestling prayer and diligent waiting on God! Joy in God, and strength to walk with Him, with increasing knowledge of Him, increasing communion with Him, and increasing confidence in Him.
"I will run the way of your commandments." With energy, promptitude, and zeal he would perform the will of God, but he needed more life and liberty from the hand of God. "When you shall enlarge my heart." Yes, the heart is the master; the feet soon run when the heart is free and energetic. Let the affections be aroused and eagerly set on divine things, and our actions will be full of force, swiftness and delight God must work in us first, and then we shall will and do according to his good pleasure. He must change the heart, unite the heart, encourage the heart, strengthen the heart, and enlarge the heart, and then the course of the life will be gracious, sincere, happy and earnest; so that from our lowest up to our highest state in grace we must attribute all to the free favor of our God. We must run; for grace is not an overwhelming force which compels unwilling minds to move contrary to their will: our running is the spontaneous leaping forward of a mind which has been set free by the hand of God, and delights to show its freedom by its bounding speed.
What a change from verse 25 to the present, from cleaving to the dust to running in the way! It is the excellence of holy sorrow that it works in us the quickening for which we seek, and then we show the sincerity of our grief and the reality of our revival by being zealous in the ways of the Lord.
For the third time an octave closes with, "I will."
These "I wills" of the Psalms are right worthy of being each one the subject of study and discourse.
Note how the heart has been spoken of up to this point: "whole heart" (2), "uprightness of heart" (7), "hid in my heart" (11), "enlarge my heart." There are many more allusions further on, and these all go to show what heart-work David's religion was. It is one of the great lacks of our age that heads count for more than hearts, and men are far more ready to learn than to love, though they are by no means eager in either direction.
Exposition of Verses 33 to 40
TEACH me, O LORD, the way of your statutes; and I shall keep it unto the end.
Give me understanding, and I shall keep your law; yes, I shall observe it with my whole heart.
Make me to go in the path of your commandments; for therein do I delight.
Incline my heart, unto your testimonies, and not to covetousness.
Turn away my eyes from beholding vanity; and quicken me in your way.
Establish your word unto your servant, who is devoted to your fear.
Turn away my reproach which I fear: for your judgments are good.
Behold, I have longed after your precepts: quicken me in your righteousness.
A sense of dependence and a consciousness of extreme need pervade this section, which is all made up of prayer and plea. The former eight verses trembled with a sense of sin, quivering with a childlike sense of weakness and folly, which caused the man of God to cry out for the help by which alone his soul could be preserved from falling back into sin. That cry for help is here expressed in requests for teaching, upholding, inclining, establishing and quickening.
The section is a honeycomb of prayers. Let us put up similar petitions while we read, and we may be assured that prayers thus taught us by the Lord will be answered by him.