7 The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul:
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple:
8 The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart:
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes:
9 The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever:
The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey, and the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is
12 Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults.
13 Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have
dominion over me: Then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression.
14 Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart,
Be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.
'Great and marvellous are Thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are Thy ways, Thou King of Saints. Who shall not fear Thee, O Lord, and glorify Thy name? for Thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before Thee; for thy judgments are made manifest.' Such is the song of Moses and of the Lamb, in which the saints on earth also join, according to their limited knowledge and weak faith. To combine our believing view of creation with that of providence, and both with devout understanding of the covenant of grace, is indeed characteristic of God's people. The world in which we live is, in that sense, not a strange place to us. It is our Father's work, from which, indeed, He has not withdrawn Himself. 'In Him we live, and move, and have our being.' In this world of ours are His 'ways,' 'just and true,' and from its re-opened lips shall ascend the voice of praise and of prayer to the Triune Jehovah. It is under the influence of such views and feelings that we ever love best to read in the opened book of God's works. Yet are we not left merely to such teaching. God has spoken to us, and in these last days 'by His Son, whom He hath appointed heir of all things.' And thus do we learn really to understand nature when we have learned to understand His word. If His works call forth our adoring wonder, language scarcely sufficeth to express our value of His precious and life-giving Word. The one showed us the Creator, the other reveals to us our Father. By faith we realize this, and rejoice in God, the glorious Creator and gracious Redeemer.
Yet while God's works and His Word are the two parts of His revelation, which, so far from contradicting, illustrate each other, it is well to remember that the one speaks no language, while the other clearly reveals unto us the way unto the Father. Accordingly, the transition in the use of the designations given to the Lord in the two parts of this Psalm is most marked. In reference to His works He is ever spoken of as God, or the Most High ; in His covenant of grace (as in this second part of our Psalm) He appears as Jehovah. We have ascended the steps of the Temple; we have entered with real joy into His courts. What we have seen and felt of and in nature has gladdened our hearts, and now pours forth our song of praise. Heaven and earth declare His glory and handywork. We also declare His glory and are His handywork. They declare the glory of His power, we of His grace; they are the silent, we the living monuments of His mercy.
In the twelve beatitudes attached to the law (vers. 7-9), which Luther compares to the twelve manner of fruit on the tree of life, we read the high estimate which the believing soul, or rather the Holy Ghost, attaches to the revelation of our Father's will. These beatitudes are entirely different from all legalism, and represent the feelings of one who has learned to rejoice in the law of God after the inward man. They refer not to our justification by the deeds of the law, but to our sanctification by looking into 'that perfect law of liberty,' and our deep joy in fellowship with God. Nor should it be forgotten that at that time the law was perhaps the only portion of God's written w1ll which existed in its present form. 'All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness ; that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.' There is, as our divines have it (Calvin, hist. ii. 7, 9-13), a threefold use of the law: as schoolmaster to Christ, to hedge up sinners and prevent them from gross iniquity ; and, what is designated as its principal and primary object, to teach believers more fully, day by day, what is the will of their Father; and to admonish them to walk therein. If it were needful to give proof of the holy disposition of God's people, it would appear most clearly in their views of the Divine law. They are not, and wish not, to be freed from its obligations, but from its curse; not from its yoke, but from its bondage. None the less, but all the more, do we delight in it, that we are not under it as a covenant, but as a rule of life. The 'thou shalt' has through grace become 'I will'—not unmingled with humble confession and earnest prayer. When most legal we were greatest law-breakers ; when most free from the law we are its closest observers. It is 'perfect,' and therefore 'converting' (or rather quickening, refreshing) 'the soul.' The whole will of God is perfectly brought out, and, shining upon us, refreshes the weary soul, by showing 'what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.' It is a law to which the words of St. Augustine apply: 'Give what Thou commandest, and command what Thou wilt.' Viewed from another point, it is not merely law (which properly means instruction or doctrine), but also 'testimonies,' referring to its hortatory and directing character. As such it 'is sure,' stable and reliable, and hence 'making wise the simple'—a designation given to believers, as denoting their natural weakness, like that of children. In this respect also, He will bring 'the blind by a way they knew not.' Unable 'to direct' our steps, we have in His word a sure guide, and if with simplicity we surrender ourselves to its teachings we are safe. There is a peculiar significance even in the derivation of the word 'simple,' which properly means open or susceptible. 'Be ye not, therefore, as the horse or as the mule, whose
mouth requireth to be kept with bit and bridle, lest he come near unto thee.' Yet how often and grievously have we misunderstood the import of the law, while we were under its dominion! Then spake it only of us, now speaks it only of Him ; then spake it with the thunders of Sinai, now speaks it in the accents of Him whose 'yoke is easy' and whose 'burden is light;' then spake it the demands of an unknown God, now speaks it as the kingly will of our heavenly Father; then was it our curse and fear, now is it our liberty and joy. This change has grace wrought by transporting us, as it were, to the other, the bright side of the cloud, and making us His children through faith in Christ Jesus. All has now become changed. 'The statutes' (or demands) 'of Jehovah are right' (or straight). Hence, so far from burdening or terrifying, they 'rejoice the heart.' It is no hard commandment that all-comprehensive demand: 'My son, give me thine heart.' Greater joy we have not, and know not, than to see and to be led in the way of the Lord. 'The commandment of Jehovah is pure, enlightening the eyes.' Its entrance gives light, and sheds light upon men and matters. Corresponding to this its twofold character are the results. 'The fear of Jehovah is clean, enduring for ever.' So far from these feelings passing away, they are purified and tried; hence they endure for ever. And again, 'The judgments of Jehovah' (or His decisions) 'are true and righteous altogether.'
Such being the character of God's Word, we can understand the feelings of God's people in reference to it. Its objective preciousness and its subjective joyousness are presentcd under the strongest figures (ver. 10). The choice which the world so often makes is not only reversed, but with the emphasis of Paul's experience: 'Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, my Lord.' It is not only that we cast in our lot there, but that we highly esteem and delight in this as our best treasure. We would not have it otherwise. What we want is not less of His light, but more of His love; for, as Calvin remarks, the expressions apply not to the naked commandment, nor to it as separated from the hope of forgiveness and the presence of His Holy Spirit. And this is what Luther calls the great wonder, that now that pleases supremely, which formerly displeased above all. Truly, we are here on evangelical ground. It is the ' servant' of the Lord who not only exalts this law, but pleads about it before His throne of grace. 'Also by them is Thy servant enlightened; in keeping of them is great reward' (the latter word very significantly means the end, the sequence, and is closely related to the word 'heel'). Present enlightenment, though only to His servants, and eternal reward, that is, reward lasting into eternity, are the two blessings connected with this spiritual apprehension of the law. It is a great mistake to banish the idea of 'reward'—in the New Testament sense, not as of merit, but as of promise—from our view. He which soweth bountifully shall reap bountifully. There are various degrees of glory, corresponding to the varied measure of grace. And this affords a constant stimulus to renewed service. 'Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, Unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.'
But just in measure as we delight in the law of God after the inward man, do we find another law in our members warring against the law of the Spirit. This makes not the law of God less precious, but ourselves more intent on pardon and sanctification. Hence the burden of the closing confession and prayer. Alas, despite all that I know and feel, 'Who can understand—observe and know—his errors?' More than the hairs on our head are they; all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags. Very significantly these errors are marked by a word which designates sins of weakness or of ignorance, in opposition to known and voluntary sins. The old man is still alive, and we are full of all evil. Such sins generally pass by us unobserved, save so far as concerns their spring and effects in heart-alienation from God. Yet these sins we also confess with deep humiliation. As an old German divine expresses it, Mentally fall down before Him and acknowledge thy guilt and misery, asking for pardon and grace, and also forming in all sincerity holy resolutions,' and then torment thyself no further.' Accordingly, we follow up this confession by the prayer: 'From hidden sins absolve Thou me,' the word being equivalent to justification, in what divines call the forensic sense, implying the judicial declaration of 'not guilty.' For, our guilt has been laid upon our Surety. This petition is appropriately followed by one for sanctification (ver. 13). We ask to be pardoned our hidden sins, and to be preserved from 'presumptuous sins,'—from high-handed, conscious, intentional and known transgression. Such sins, indulged in or tampered with, become besetting sins which ' have dominion' over us. Therefore 'let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith.' And with reference to both classes of sin, and to our twofold need of justification and sanctification,' let us come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.' 'Then shall I be unpunishable' (not guilty), 'and justified' (declared absolved) 'from the great transgression.' And with an humble prayer for acceptance of this spiritual sacrifice of lips and hearts (the terms being sacrificial) closes this truly evangelical Psalm.
1. 'O Jehovah, my Rock and my Redeemer ;' what fulness of hope and experience are embodied in these words! This indeed is prayer which closes in accents of such confidence. It is New Testament language in Old Testament times. And why should we, to whom fuller light has been granted, be unwilling or unable to rise to this height of believing conviction? That He is a Rock and a Redeemer, is His revelation in grace ; that He is my Rock and my Redeemer, is my application in faith. For faith dares to write the personal pronoun into God's promises, and it does so on the warrant of God's invitation. Hence the joyous characters of true faith. To Thee do I flee; Thou hast purchased me with Thy precious blood. Is there anything less that in deepest humility I could say of myself, or anything more that in highest praise I could say of Him? And thus meet these two in Christ: justice, which has condemned me, and mercy, which has absolved me. Grace can descend no further, and ascend no higher; all is in Christ, and all is for me.
2. Confession and prayer, not morbid self-seeking nor self-righteous effort, for all is from Thee and in Thee. 'Beloved, if our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts, and knoweth all things.' 'Who can understand his errors? cleanse Thou me from secret faults.' Yet this refers to the constantly renewed pardon granted to His people. With reference to our justification, and the pardon of our sins generally, we have Ps. xxxii. and li. Yea, and 'the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.' But justification and sanctification are closely united in our experience and in our prayers (see Rom. viii.) ; and both spring from our union to Christ. Much of our unrest arises from those numberless and continuous failings which are due to our ignorance, our weakness, and our forgetfulness. But 'he that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit.' Another cause of our anxiety is our inability to cope even with high-handed, especially with besetting sin. Here we pray and believe, 'Keep back Thy servant;' 'Lead us not into temptation.' 'He will with the temptation also make a way to escape.' Therefore, we rejoice in the Lord, and rejoice alway. Let us seek to realize our privileges. Lord, have mercy upon me; Lord, heal me; Lord, save me; I flee to Thee!
3. God's works and God's Word: both perfect, both showing forth the praises of Him who brought us out of darkness into His marvellous light. The one the unspoken, the other the spoken revelation of Him who is our Father in Christ. We know little of heaven, save what is associated with God. But this sufficeth us. There must be abundant employment and constant enjoyment there. And if such is the brightness of what we now see dimly, what must it be in the full light of His countenance? Meanwhile, let us neither be inattentive nor undevout observers; let us learn of Him who is meek and lowly in heart, and connecting what we see of His works with what we know of His Word, let us go on in the name of God the Lord, from strength to strength, till we all appear in Zion before God. Why stand ye idle all the day? Is there nothing to admire, nothing for which to plead, nothing to do for Him? And still among the lilies of Thy promises will we feed, until the day break and the shadows flee away.
Lord, Thy Word abideth,
And our footsteps guideth;
Who its truth believeth
Light and joy receiveth.
When our foes are near us,
Then Thy Word doth cheer us:
Voice of consolation,
Message of salvation.
Word of Mercy, giving
Succour to the living;
Word of life, supplying
Comfort to the dying!
O that we, discerning
Its most holy learning,
Lord, may love and fear Thee,
Evermore be near Thee! Amen.