A deeper insight into the Lord's testimonies is the sure result of considering them. Weigh them in the balances against this world's excellency; the world and the word—each with all its fullness. Of the one perfection we see an end—of the other—none. This world is a matter of experience and observation. We have seen an end—not of some—but of all its perfection. It wants sufficiency. It stands us in no stead in the great emergencies of affliction—death—judgment—eternity. It wants solidity in its best substance. "In its wisdom is grief!" All its delicacies and indulgences—after having, like the King of Jerusalem, "not withheld the heart from any joy"—all end in the verdict of disappointment, "Behold! all was vanity and vexation of spirit!" Its continuance is but for a moment. The soul is born for eternity. Therefore it must have a portion to last as long as itself. But the world, with its lusts and fashions, passes away. All that it can offer is a bubble—a shadow. In its best riches, honors, and pleasures—in the utmost that its perfection can yield—in its height and prime of enjoyment—what is it in itself—what is it able to do for us? "All is vanity." And yet such is the alienation of the heart from God, that it is first tried to the very uttermost, before any desire to return homeward is felt or expressed. And even then, nothing but the Almighty power of God can bring the sinner back. He would rather perish in his misery, than "return to his rest."
Now contrast with the emptiness of the world the fullness of the commandment of God. Our whole duty to our God, our neighbor, and ourselves, is here laid open before us—commanding without abatement, and forbidding without allowance—making no excuse for ignorance—frailty or forgetfulness—reaching not only to every species of crime, but to everything tending to it. This is perfection, of which we never see an end. Every fresh view opens—not the extent—but the immensity of the field; and compels us at length to shut up our inquiries with the adoring acknowledgment—Your commandment is exceeding broad. Its various parts form one seamless piece; so that no particle can be separated without injury to the whole. As all the curtains of the tabernacle connected by taches and loops, made but one covering for the ark, and the loosening or disjunction of the smallest point disannulled the fitness of the whole; so it belongs to the perfection of the commandment, that "whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all." The spirituality of its requirements equally illustrates its Divine perfection. An angry look is murder; an unchaste desire is adultery; the "stumbling-block of iniquity" "covetousness"—in the heart is idolatry; the thought as well as the act—the first conception of sin, as well as the after-commission—brings in the verdict—Guilty—Death.
Can we, then, endure the sight of its exceeding breadth? Yes—for the commandment of the gospel is equally broad, and covers all. We know who has stood in our place—who has satisfied Sinai's unalterable requirements, and borne its awful curse. Broad as it may be, the love which has fulfilled it is immeasurable. As a covenant, therefore, it has now lost its terrors. As a rule, we love it for its extent, and for its purity; for the comprehensiveness of its obligations, and for the narrowness of its liberty for indulgence; nor would we wish to be subject to a less severe scrutiny, or a more lenient administration.
Reader! if you have learned the exceeding breadth and spirituality of the law (the first lesson that is taught and learned in the school of Christ), your views of yourself and your state before God will be totally changed. Before, you were "thanking God" in your heart, "that you were not as other men are." Now you will be "smiting upon your bosom, saying—God be merciful to me a sinner!" Before, perhaps, you might have thought yourself, "touching the righteousness which is of the law, blameless." Now you will glory in your new and more enlightened choice, "What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ." Once you considered yourself "alive," when you were really dead. Now that "the commandment is come" in its heart-searching spirituality and conviction to your soul, you "die" that you may live. Blessed change from the law to the gospel, "from death to life!" "I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God."
Such is the effect of the transition from a legal to an evangelical ground. Before, we were reckless of sin, and therefore reckless of the gospel. As the one fell lightly upon our conscience, the other held a light estimation in our judgment. While we had no disturbance from the law, we had no delight in the gospel. But now that we see in the true mirror, we are at once alarmed and enlightened. Praised be God! we now take the true estimate—we degrade to the uttermost righteousness by works—we exalt to the uttermost righteousness by faith. In the one we see pollution—in the other perfection.
"I have seen an end of all perfection." He had seen its limit, for it went but a little way; he had seen its evaporation under the trials of life, its detection under the searching glance of truth, its exposure by the confession of the penitent. There is no perfection beneath the moon. Perfect men, in the absolute sense of the word, live only in a perfect world. Some men see no end to their own perfection, but this is because they are perfectly blind. The experienced believer has seen an end of all perfection in himself, in his brethren, in the best man's best works. It would be well if some who profess to be perfect could even see the beginning of perfection; for we fear they cannot have begun aright, or they would not talk so exceeding proudly. Is it not the beginning of perfection to lament your imperfection? There is no such thing as perfection in anything which is the work of man.
"But your commandment is exceeding broad." When the exceeding breadth of the law is known the notion of perfection in the flesh vanishes: that law touches every act, word, and thought, and is of such a spiritual nature that it judges the motives, desires, and emotions of the soul. It reveals a perfection which convicts us for shortcomings as well as for transgressions, and does not allow us to make up for deficiencies in one direction by special carefulness in others. The divine ideal of holiness is far too broad for us to hope to cover all its wide area, and yet it is no broader than it ought to be. Who would wish to have an imperfect law? Nay, its perfection is its glory; but it is the death of all glorying in our own perfection. There is a breadth about the commandment which has never been met to the full by a corresponding breadth of holiness in any mere man while here below; only in Jesus do we see it fully embodied. The law is in all respects a perfect code; each separate commandment of it is far-reaching in its hallowed meaning, and the whole ten cover all, and leave no space wherein to please our passions. We may well adore the infinity of divine holiness, and then measure ourselves by its standard, and bow before the Lord in all lowliness, acknowledging how far we fall short of it.
Exposition of Verses 97 to 104
O HOW love I your law! it is my meditation all the day.
You through your commandments have made me wiser than my enemies: for they are ever with me
I have more understanding than all my teachers: for your testimonies are my meditation.
I understand more than the ancients, because I keep your precepts.
I Have refrained my feet from every evil way, that I might keep your word.
I have not departed from your judgments: for you have taught me.
How sweet are your words unto my taste! yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through your precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way.