"I am a stranger in the earth: hide not Thy commandments from me."
"The earth, O Lord, is full of Thy mercy: teach me Thy statutes."—Psalm cxix. 19, 64.
There is something very remarkable in the varietyin-monotony of this, the longest of the Psalms. Though it be the longest, it is in one sense the simplest, inasmuch as there is but one thought in it, beaten out into all manner of forms and based upon various considerations. It reminds one of the great violinist, who from one string managed to bring such music and melody. The one thought is the infinite preciousness of God's law, by which, of course, is not meant the written record of His Will which lies in Scripture, but the utterances of it in any form by which men may receive it. That wider signification of the words "law," "commandment,'' "statute," is essential to the understanding of this Psalm.
Now these two petitions base the prayer, which they both have in slightly varied form ("Teach me Thy statutes," or "Hide not Thy comniandmerits from me,") upon two diverse considerations, which, taken in conjunction, are extremely interesting.
The two facts on which the one petition rests are like two great piers on opposite sides of a river, each of which holds one end of the arch. "The earth is full of Thy mercy"; ay! but "I am a stranger upon the earth." These two things are both true, and from each of them, and still more from both of them taken together, rises up this petition.
"The earth is full of Thy mercy," as a cup is brimming with rich wine or as the flowers are full of morning dew. The Psalmist's point of view is not the scientific nor poetical. It lies back of all science, and is quite unaffected by it. He is sure that God is at work in the world, so that every creature that lives, and every thing that is, lives and is because God is operative on it, and that the whole creation is the object of God's loving thought, and has some reflection of His smile cast across it as " the light of laughing flowers along the grass is spread." Spring days with life opening out of the dust, and the annual miracle beginning again all round, with the birds in the trees that even dwellers in towns can hear singing as if their hearts would burst for very mirth and hopefulness, the blossoms beginning to push above the frosty ground, and the life breaking out of the branches that were stiff and dry all through the winter, proclaim the same truth as the Psalmist was contemplating when he spoke thus. He looks all round, and everywhere sees the signature of a loving divine hand. The earth is full to brimming of Thy mercy. A deeper faith than most men have is needed to feel thus. For sadly many of us the world has come to be very empty of God, and we rather hear the creaking of the wheels of a machine, or see the workings of impersonal force, than hear the sound of His going or catch the gleam of His garment. But all the growth of physical knowledge may be accepted thankfully, and yet beneath all we may see the living will and work oi God. There is no reason why nineteenth-century savants, full to the finger-tips of modern physical science, may not say as heartily as, and more intelligently than, the Psalmist said, "The earth, O Lord, is full of Thy mercy."
But when we include ourselves in "the earth," a different aspect is presented. The sunny play of gladness is shadowed: "I am a stranger upon earth." Man is out of joint with the great whole, out of tune with the concert, the only hungry guest at the feast. All other creatures fit their environment, and it them, like a glove on a hand; but we, "the roof and crown of things," have been made "acquainted with grief," have learned what they "amidst the woods have never known—the weariness, the fever, and the fret." We have burdens of toil and care, are cursed with forecast and saddened by remembering, and torn with desires. "We look before and after, and pine for what is not." And the more we see that the earth is full of God's mercy, the more we feel that we need something more than the "mercy," of which the earth is full, to make us as completely blessed as the lowest little life that crawls or buzzes about us.
"Hide not Thy commandments from me." The one thing that will give us rest and blessedness to the height of our capacity is that we should have the knowledge and the love of the will of God. If we delight to do His will, and lay ourselves beneath the mould of God's impressing purpose to be shaped as He will, then care and toil and sorrow and restlessness and the sense of transiency and the sorrow of homelessness cease to pain. Like some black cliff, smitten by sunrise into rosy and golden glory, the ills of life are tinted and glorified, when the light of God's recognised will falls on them.
"All is right that seems most wrong,
If it be His sweet will."
With His will in our hearts we can cease to feel that it is sad to be as strangers and sojourners here, for then can we say, "We seek a better country, that is an heavenly." We shall be cursed with unrest, and "weighed upon with sore distress, and the transiency of all things will be a misery to us until we have learned to yield our will to God, and to drink in His law as the joy and rejoicing of our hearts." We need the "statutes of the Lord "; we need no more, and they will "be our songs in the house of our pilgrimage."
If the thought, "I am a stranger upon earth," teaches us our need of God's commandments, the thought, "The earth is full of Thy mercy," assures us that we shall receive what we need. He who opens His hand and satisfies the desires of every living thing will not leave us to sit, the only hungry ones at His table. Surely if all through the universe besides, we see that the measure of a creature's capacity is the measure of God's gift to it, there is not going to be, there need not be, any disproportion between what we require and what we possess. Surely if His ear can hear and translate, and His loving hand can open to satisfy the croaking of the young raven when it cries, He will neither mistake nor neglect the voice of a man's heart, when it is asking what is so in accordance with His will as that He should make him know and love His statutes. We are not intended to lie dry and dusty, like Gideon's fleece, while every blade of grass holds its own drop of dew- In a world full of God's mercy, am I to be empty of the highest mercy, the knowledge and love of God's will? Never, never can that be so.
The Psalmist's prayer on our lips becomes a prayer for more knowledge of that Christ who is God's uttered will and our law, more love to Him whom to love is to be a stranger nowhere, and to be filled with God's mercy. "The earth is full of Thy mercy," but the Word who dwelt among us is "full of grace and truth," and of His fulness can we all receive. Then we shall be strangers no longer, and our spirit shall be replenished with richer mercy than all the universe beside is capable of receiving.