Psalm 119:144

 

EXPOSITION

Verse 144. The righteousness of thy testimonies is everlasting. First he had said that God's testimonies were righteous, then that they were everlasting, and now that their righteousness is everlasting. Thus he gives us a larger and more detailed account of the word of God the longer he is engaged in writing upon it. The more we say in praise of holy writ, the more we may say and the more we can say. God's testimonies to man cannot be assailed, they are righteous from beginning to end; and though ungodly men have opposed the divine justice, especially in the plan of salvation, they have always failed to establish any charge against the Most High. Long as the earth shall stand, long as there shall be a single intelligent creature in the universe, it will be confessed that God's plans of mercy are in all respects marvellous proofs of his love of justice: even that he may be gracious Jehovah will not be unjust.

Give me understanding, and I shall live. This is a prayer which he is constantly praying, that God will give him understanding. Here he evidently considers that such a gift is essential to his lifting. To live without understanding is not to live the life of a man, but to be dead while we live. Only as we know and apprehend the things of God can we be said to enter into life. The more the Lord teaches us to admire the eternal rightness of his word, and the more he quickens us to the love of such lightness, the happier and the better we shall be. As we love life, and seek many days that we may see good, it behooves us to seek immortality in the everlasting word which liveth and abideth for ever, and to seek good in that renewal of our entire nature which begins with the enlightenment of the understanding and passes on to the regeneration of the entire man. Here is our need of the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, and the guide of all the quickened ones, who shall lead us into all truth. O for the visitations of his grace at this good hour!

 

EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS

Verse 144. -- The righteousness of thy testimonies is everlasting. Thy moral law was not made for one people, or for one particular time; it is as imperishable as thy nature, and of endless obligation. It is that law by which all the children of Adam shall be judged. "Give me understanding." To know and practise it. "And I shall live." Shall glorify thee, and live eternally; not for the merit of having done it, but because thou didst fulfil the work of the law in my heart, having saved me from condemnation by it. --Adam Clarke.

Verse 144. -- Give me understanding, and I shall live. I read it in connection with the preceding clause; for although David desires to have his mind enlightened by God, yet he does not conceive of any other way by which he was to obtain an enlightened understanding than by his profiting aright in the study of the law. Further, he here teaches that men cannot, properly speaking, be said to live when they are destitute of the light of heavenly wisdom; and as the end for which men are created is not that, like swine or asses, they may stuff their bellies, but that they may exercise themselves in the knowledge and service of God, when they turn away from such employment their life is worse than a thousand deaths. David therefore protests that for him to live was not merely to be fed with meat and drink, and to enjoy earthly comforts, but to aspire after a better life, which he could not do save under the guidance of faith. This is a very necessary warning; for although it is universally acknowledged that man is born with this distinction, that he excels the lower animals in intelligence, yet the great bulk of mankind, as if with deliberate purpose, stifle whatever light God pours into their understandings. I indeed admit that all men desire to be sharp witted; but how few aspire to heaven, and consider that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. Since, then, meditation upon the celestial life is buried by earthly care, men do nothing else than plunge into the grave, so that while living to the world, they die to God. Under the term life, however, the prophet denotes the utmost he could wish. Lord, as if he had said, although I am already dead, yet if thou art pleased to illumine my mind with the knowledge of heavenly truth, this grace alone will be sufficient to revive me. --John Calvin.

Verse 144. -- Give me understanding, and I shall live. The saving knowledge of God's testimonies is the only way to live. There is a threefold life.

  1. Life natural.
  2. Life spiritual, and,
  3. Life eternal. In all these considerations may the point be made good.

First. Life is taken for the life of nature, or the life of the body, or life temporal, called "this life" in Scripture: 1 Corinthians 15:19 ; 1 Timothy 4:8 . Life is better preserved in a way of obedience than by evil doing; that provoketh God to cast us off, and exposes us to dangers. It is not in the power of the world to make us live or die a day sooner or longer than God pleaseth. If God will make us happy, they cannot make us miserable: therefore, "Give me understanding, and I shall live"; that is, lead a comfortable and happy life for the present. Prevent sin, and you prevent danger. Obedience is the best way to preserve life temporal: as great a paradox as it seems to the world, it is a Scripture truth, "Keep my commandments, and live" ( Proverbs 4:4 ); and, "Take fast hold of instruction; let her not go: keep her; for she is thy life" (verse 13); and, "Length of days is in her right hand; and in her left hand riches and honour" ( Proverbs 3:16 ); and, "She is a tree of life" (verse 18). The knowledge and practice of the word is the only means to live comfortably and happily here, as well as for ever hereafter.

Secondly. Life spiritual; that is twofold, the life of justification, and the life of sanctification.

  1. The life of justification: "The free gift came upon all men unto justification of life": Romans 5:18 . He is dead, not only on whom the hangman hath done his work, but also he on whom the judge hath passed sentence, and the law pronounces him dead. In this sense we were all dead, and justification is called justification to life; there is no living in this sense without knowledge: "By his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many": Isaiah 43:11 . We live by faith, and faith cometh by hearing, and hearing doeth no good unless the Lord giveth understanding; as meats nourish not unless received and digested.
  2. The life of sanctification: "And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins": Eph 2:. And men live not properly till they live the life of grace; they live a false, counterfeit life, not a blessed, happy, certain, and true life. Now, this life is begun and carried on by saying knowledge: "The new man which is renewed in knowledge": Colossians 3:10 . Again, men are said to be "alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them": Ephesians 4:18 . They that are ignorant are dead in sin: life spiritual cometh by knowledge. Hence begins the change of the inward man, and thenceforth we live. "Give me understanding," ut vere in te vivare, that the true life began in me may grow and increase daily, but never be quenched by sin.

Thirdly. Life everlasting, or our blessed estate in heaven. So it is Said of the saints departed, they all live unto God: Luke 20:38 . And this is called the water of life, the tree of life, the crown of life; properly this is life. What is the present life in comparison of everlasting life? The present life, it is "mars vitalis", a living death; or "mortalis vita", a dying life, a kind of death; it is always in flux, like a stream: it runneth from us as fast as it cometh to us: "He fleeth also as a shadow, and continueth not": John 14:2 . We die as fast as we live: it differeth but as the point from the line where it terminates. It is not one and the same, no permanent thing; it is like the shadow of a star in a flowing stream. Its contentments are base and low, called "the life of thine hand": Isaiah 57:10 . It is patched up of several creatures, fain to ransack the storehouses of nature to support a ruinous fabric. And compare it with the life of grace here, it doth not exempt us from sin, nor miseries. Our capacities are narrow. We are full of fears, and doubts, and dangers; but in the life of glory we shall neither sin nor sorrow any more. This is meant here: "The righteousness of thy testimonies is everlasting: give me understanding, and I shall live"; it is chiefly meant of the life of glory. This is the fruit of saving knowledge, when we so know God and Christ as to come to God by him. --Thomas Manton.

Verse 144. -- I shall live. I shall be kept from those sins which deserve and bring death. -- Matthew Pool.

 

HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS

Verse 144. -- Everlasting righteousness revealed in the word, and producing everlasting life in believers.

Verse 144. --

  1. Eternal truths.
  2. Eternal life dependent upon them.
  3. A cry from amid these everlasting hills. --W.B.H.

Verse 144. (last clause). --

  1. Consider the prayer in its simplicity.
(a) It is suitable for the awakened sinner.
(b) For the Christian struggling against temptation.
(c) For the suffering believer.
(d) For the worker
(e) For aspiring minds in the church of God.
(f) For expiring saints.

  1. The prayer more fully opened up.
(a) Here is want confessed.
(b) The prayer is evidently put upon the footing of free
grace: "Give."

  1. Lay bare the argument in the prayer.
  2. The word of God, when practically and experimentally understood, is a pledge of life.
  3. The word of God is the incorruptible "seed" which liveth and abideth for ever.
  4. It is the food of life.
  5. It is the very flower and crown and glory of true life.
  6. It is righteous.
  7. It is everlasting. See "Spurgeon's Sermons," No. 1572: "Alive."