Behold! An appeal to the heart-searching God, "You know that I love" Your precepts! The heartfelt acknowledgment of their goodness naturally leads us to long after them. The professor longs after the promises, and too often builds a delusive—because an unsanctifying—hope upon them. The believer feels it to be his privilege and safety to have an equal regard to both—to obey the precepts of God in dependence on His promises, and to expect the accomplishment of the promises, in the way of obedience to the precepts. The utmost extent of the professor's service is the heavy yoke of outward conformity. He knows nothing of an "inward delight and longing after them." Of many of them his heart complains, "This is a hard saying: who can hear it?" The Christian can give a good reason for his delight even in the most difficult and painful precepts. The moments of deepest repentance are his times of sweetest "refreshing from the presence of the Lord." Whatever be the pleasure of indulgence in sin, far greater is the ultimate enjoyment arising out of the mortification of it. Most fruitful is our Savior's precept, which inculcates on His followers self-denial and the daily cross. For by this wholesome discipline we lose our own perverse will; the power of sin is restrained, the pride of the heart humbled; and our real happiness fixed upon a solid and permanent basis. So that, whatever dispensation some might desire for breaking the precept without forfeiting the promise, the Christian blesses God for the strictness, that binds him to a steady obedience to it. To him it is grievous, not to keep it, but to break it. A longing therefore after the precepts, marks the character of the child of God: and may be considered as the pulse of the soul. It forms our fitness and ripeness for heaven.
There are indeed times, when the violence of temptation, or the paralyzing effect of indolence, hides the movements of the "hidden man of the heart." And yet even in these gloomy hours, when the mouth is shut, and the heart dumb, before God, "so troubled, that it cannot speak"—even then, acceptable incense is ascending before the throne of God. We have a powerful intercessor "helping our infirmities"—interpreting our desires, and crying from within, "with groanings that cannot be uttered;" yet such as, being indited by our Advocate within, and presented by our Advocate above, are cheering pledges of their fulfillment. "He will fulfill the desire of them that fear Him: He also will hear their cry, and will save them."
These longings might seem to betoken a vigorous exercise of grace. But shall I be satisfied, while the most fervent desires are so disproportioned to their grand object—so overborne by the corruption of the flesh—and while a heartless state is so hateful to my Savior? Idle confessions and complaints are unseemly and unfruitful. Let me rather besiege the mercy-seat with incessant importunity—'Quicken me in Your righteousness.' 'I plead Your righteousness—Your righteous promise for the reviving of my spiritual life. I long for more lively apprehensions of Your spotless righteousness. Oh! let it invigorate my delight, my obedience, my secret communion, my Christian walk and conversation.' Such longings, poured out before the Lord for a fresh supply of quickening grace, are far different from "the desire of the slothful, which kills him," and will not be forgotten before God. "Delight yourself in the Lord; and He shall give you the desires of your heart." O for a more enlarged expectation, and a more abundant vouchsafement of blessing; that we may burst forth and break out, as from a living fountain within, in more ardent longings for the Lord's precepts!
But it may be asked—What weariness in, and reluctance to duties, may consist with the principle and exercise of grace? Where it is only in the members, not in the mind—where it is only partial, not prevalent—where it is only occasional, not habitual—where it is lamented and resisted, and not allowed—and where, in spite of its influence, the Christian still holds on in the way of duty, "grace reigns" in the midst of conflict, and will ultimately and gloriously triumph over all hindrance and opposition. But in the midst of the humbling views of sin that present themselves on every side, let me diligently inquire—Have I an habitual "hungering and thirsting after righteousness?" And since, at the best, I do but get my longings increased, and not satisfied; let the full satisfaction of heaven be much in my heart. "As for me, I will behold Your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with Your likeness."
And what an expectation is this to pretend lo! To think what the infinitely and eternally blessed God is—and what "man is at his best estate," then to conceive of man—the worm of the dust—the child of sin and wrath—transformed into the likeness of God—how weighty is the sound of this hope! What then must its substantiation be? If the initial privilege be glorious, what will the fullness be! Glory revealed to us! transfused through us! becoming our very being! To have the soul filled—not with evanescent shadows—but with massive, weighty, eternal glory! Worlds are mere empty bubbles, compared with this, our sure, satisfying, unfading inheritance.
"Behold, I have longed after your precepts." He can at least claim sincerity. He is deeply bowed down by a sense of his weakness and need of grace; but he does desire to be in all things conformed to the divine will. Where our longings are, there are we in the sight of God. If we have not attained perfection, it is something to have hungered after it. He who has given us to desire, will also grant us to obtain. The precepts are grievous to the ungodly, and therefore when we are so changed as to long for them we have clear evidence of conversion, and we may safely conclude that he who has begun the good work will carry it on. Any man may long for the promises; but to long after the precepts is the mark of a renewed heart.
"Quicken me in your righteousness." The Psalmist had life enough to long for more life, in order that he might more perfectly know and observe the precepts of the Lord. Give me more life with which to follow your righteous law; or give me more life because you have promised to hear prayer, and it is according to your righteousness to keep your word. How often does David plead for quickening! But never once too often. We need quickening every hour of the day, for we are so sadly apt to become slow and languid in the ways of God. It is the Holy Spirit who can pour new life into us; let us not cease crying to him. The creation of life is a divine work, and so is the increase of it. Never let us forget to pray for quickening in each and every duty. Even the precepts seem a dead letter unless we feel life in our obedience to them. Nothing is worse in religion than spiritual death. The living God should be served with living worship.
The last verses of the octaves have generally exhibited an onward look of resolve, hope, and prayer. Here past fruits of grace are made the plea for further blessing. "Onward in the heavenly life!" is the cry of this verse. Oh for grace to press forward, and make daily advances towards Heaven.
Keble thus versifies these eight verses:
33 Lord, shower your light along my way,
That I may keep your laws entire,
34 Your precepts teach me to obey,
And watch with all my heart's desire
35 By your appointed rule and line,
Guide me, for there I love to be;
36 My heart to your decrees incline,
And not to gold's base witchery.
37 From sight of ill my eyes withdraw,
Give life and gladness in your road,
38 And on your servant bind your law,
As best may teach your fear, O God.
39 Spare me the shame I deeply fear,
Most merciful in judgment spare;
40 You see I hold your counsels dear,
Give life, your righteousness to share.
Exposition of Verses 41 to 48
LET your mercies come also unto me, O LORD, even your salvation, according to your word.
So shall I have with which to answer him that reproaches me: for I trust in your word.
And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth; for I have hoped in your judgments.
So shall I keep your law continually forever and ever.
And I will walk at liberty: for I seek your precepts.
I will speak of your testimonies also before kings, and will not be ashamed.
And I will delight myself in your commandments, which I have loved
My hands also will I lift up unto your commandments, which I have loved; and I will meditate in your statutes.
In these verses holy fear is apparent and prominent. The man of God trembles lest in anyway or degree the Lord should remove his favor from him. The eight verses are one continued pleading for the abiding of grace in his soul, and it is supported by such holy arguments as would only suggest themselves to a spirit burning with love to God.