Psalm 119:176

 

EXPOSITION

Verse 176. This is the finale, the conclusion of the whole matter: I have gone astray like a lost sheep -- often, wilfully, wantonly, and even hopelessly, but for thine interposing grace. In times gone by, before I was afflicted, and before thou hadst fully taught me thy statutes, I went astray. "I went astray" from the practical precepts, from the instructive doctrines, and from the heavenly experiences which thou hadst set before me. I lost my road, and I lost myself. Even now I am apt to wander, and, in fact, have roamed already; therefore, Lord, restore me.

Seek thy servant. He was not like a dog, that somehow or other can find its way back; but he was like a lost sheep, which goes further and further away from home; yet still he was a sheep, and the Lord's sheep, his property, and precious in his sight, and therefore he hoped to be sought in order to be restored. However far he might have wandered he was still not only a sheep, but God's "servant," and therefore he desired to be in his Master's house again, and once more honoured with commissions for his Lord. Had he been only a lost sheep he would not have prayed to be sought; but being also a "servant" he had the power to pray. He cries, "See thy servant," and he hopes to be not only sought, but forgiven, accepted, and taken into work again by his gracious Master.

Notice this confession; many times in the psalm David has defended his own innocence against foul mouthed accusers, but when he comes into the presence of the Lord his God he is ready enough to confess his transgressions. He here sums up, not only his past, but even his present life, under the image of a sheep which has broken from its pasture, forsaken the flock, left the shepherd, and brought itself into the wild wilderness, where it has become as a lost thing. The sheep bleats, and David prays, "Seek thy servant."

His argument is a forcible one, -- for l do not forget thy commandments. I know the right, I approve and admire the right, what is more, I love the light, and long for it. I cannot be satisfied to continue in sin, I must be restored to the ways Of righteousness. I have a home sickness after my God, I pine after the ways of peace; I do not and I cannot forget thy commandments, nor cease to know that I am always happiest and safest when I scrupulously obey them, and find all my joy in doing so. Now, if the grace of God enables us to maintain in our hearts the loving memory of God's commandments it will surely yet restore us to practical holiness. That man cannot be utterly lost whose heart is still with God. If he be gone astray in many respects, yet still, if he be true in his soul's inmost desires, he will be found again, and fully restored. Yet let the reader remember the first verse of the psalm while he reads the last: the major blessedness lies not in being restored from wandering, but in being upheld in a blameless way even to the end. Be it ours to keep the crown of the causeway, never leaving the King's highway for By path Meadow, or any other flowery path of sin. May the Lord uphold us even to the end. Yet even then we shall not be able to boast with the Pharisee, but shall still pray with the publican, "God be merciful to me a sinner; "and with the Psalmist, "Seek thy servant."

 

EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS

Verse 176. -- I have gone astray like a lost sheep. Though a sheep go astray, yet it is soon called back by file voice of the shepherd: "My sheep hear my voice." Thus David when he went against Nabal was called back by the Lord's voice in a woman; and when he had slain Uriah he was brought again by Nathan. And therefore if we will be sheep, then though we sometimes go astray, yet we must be easily reclaimed. --Richard Greenhorn.

Verse 176. -- I have gone astray like a lost sheep, driven out by storm, or dark day, or by the hunting of the dogs chased out from the rest of the flock. --David Dickson.

Verse 176. -- I have gone astray like a lost sheep, etc. And this is all the conclusion -- "a lost sheep!" This long psalm of ascriptions, praises, avowals, resolves, high hopes, ends in this, that he is a perishing sheep. But, stay, there is hope -- "Seek thy servant." "I have gone astray like a lost sheep." The original is of the most extensive range, comprehending all time past, and also the habitual tendencies of the man. The believer feels that he had gone astray when the grace of God found him; that he had gone astray many times, had not the grace of God prevented it. He feels that he went astray on such and such unhappy occasions. He also feels that he hath gone astray in all that he hath done; and indeed that he is astray now. But the word expresses the habitual tendency likewise -- I go astray like a lost sheep, and this rendering is in keeping with the prayer, "Seek thy servant." The third member is also properly rendered in keeping with it: "I go astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant; for I do not forget thy commandments." All this is descriptive of the remaining corruption that is in the believer. He is not unmindful of the Lord; he has the root of the matter in him, the seed of divine life; yet he does go astray; whence the necessity of the prayer: "Seek thy servant." Isaiah's description of men, although conveyed in the same terms, is evidently more sweeping, as the context words show: "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all." This would seem to apply to the race of man. Rather is the experience of the Psalmist similar to that described by the apostle Paul: "I find a law, that when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God, after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members." And the Psalmist had the same remedy at the early period, as had the apostle in the later times; for God's salvation is one. The Psalmist's remedy was, "Seek thy servant;" the apostle's,: "O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord." --John Stephen.

Verse 176. -- I have gone astray. The original word signifies either the turning of the foot, or the turning of the heart, or both, out of the way. "I have gone astray like a lost sheep;" that is, I have been deceived, and so have gone out of the way of thy holy commandments. Satan is an ill guide, and our hearts are no better: he that follows either, quickly loseth himself; and until God seeketh us (as David prays in the next words), we cannot find our way when we are once out of it. --Joseph Caryl.

Verse 176. -- I have gone astray. Gotthold one day saw a farmer carefully counting his sheep as they came from the field. Happening at the time to be in an anxious and sorrowful mood, he gave vent to his feelings and said: Why art thou cast down, my soul? and why disquieted with vexing thoughts? Surely thou must be dear to the Most High as his lambs are to this farmer. Art thou not better than many sheep? Is not Jesus Christ thy shepherd? Has not he risked his blood and life for thee? Hast thou no interest in his words: "I give unto my sheep eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hand"? John 10:28 . This man is numbering his flock; and thinkest thou that God does not also count and care for his believing children and elect, especially as his beloved Son has averred, that the very hairs of our head are all numbered? Mt 10:30. During the day, I may perhaps have gone out of the way, and heedlessly followed my own devices; still, at the approach of evening, when the faithful Shepherd counts his lambs, he will mark my absence, and graciously seek and bring me back. Lord Jesus, "I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant; for I do not forget thy commandments." --Christian Striver (1629-1693), in Gotthold's Emblems.

Verse 176. -- I have gone astray, etc. Who is called "the man after God's own heart"? David, the Hebrew king, had fallen into sins enough -- blackest crimes -- there was no want of sin. And, therefore, unbelievers sneer, and ask, "Is this your man after God's own heart?" The sneer, it seems to me, is but a shallow one. What are faults, what are the outward details of a life, if the inner secret of it, the remorse, temptations, the often baffled, never ended struggle of it, be forgotten?...David's life and history, as written for us in those psalms of his, I consider to be the truest emblem ever given us of a man's moral progress and warfare here below. All earnest souls will ever discover in it the faithful struggle of an earnest human soul towards what is good and best. Struggle often baffled -- sore baffled -- driven as into entire wreck; yet a struggle never ended, ever with tears, repentance, true unconquerable purpose begun anew. --Thomas Carlyle, (1795-1881), in "Heroes and Hero Worship."

Verse 176. -- For I do not forget thy commandments. In all my wandering; with my consciousness of error; with my sense of guilt; I still do feel that I love thy law, thy service, thy commandments. They are the joy of my heart, and I desire to be recalled from all my wanderings, that I may find perfect happiness in thee and in thy service evermore. Such is the earnest wish of every regenerated heart. For as such a one may have wandered flora God, yet he is conscious of true attachment to him and his service; he desires and earnestly prays that he may be "sought out," brought back, and kept from wandering any more. --Albert Barnes.

Verse 176. -- For I do not forget thy commandments. The godly never so fall but there remains in them some grace, which reserves a hope of medicine to cure them: so David here. Albeit he transgressed some of God's commandments, yet he fell not into any full oblivion of them. --William Cowper.

Verse 176. -- I do not think that there could possibly be a more appropriate conclusion of such a Psalm as this, so full of the varied experience and the ever changing frames and feelings even of a child of God, in the sunshine and the cloud, in the calm and in the storm, than this ever clinging sense of his propensity to wander, and the expression of his utter inability to find his way back without the Lord's guiding hand to restore him; and at the same time with it all, his fixed and abiding determination never to forget the Lord's commandments. What an insight into our poor wayward hearts does this verse give us -- not merely liable to wander, but ever wandering, ever losing our way, ever stumbling on the dark mountains, even while cleaving to God's commandments! But at the same time what a prayer does it put into our mouths, "Seek thy servant," -- "I am thine, save me." Yes, blessed be God! there is One mighty to save. "Kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation." --Barton Bouchier.

As far as I have been able, as far as I have been aided by the Lord, I have treated throughout, and expounded, this great Psalm. A task which more able and learned expositors have performed, or will perform better; nevertheless, my services were not to be withheld from it on that account, when my brethren earnestly required it of me. -- Augustine.

 

HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS

Verse 176. --

  1. My confession: "I have gone astray."
  2. My profession: "thy servant."
  3. My petition: "seek thy servant."
  4. My plea: "for I do not forget," etc.

Verse 176. --

  1. The confession: "I have gone astray."
  2. The petition: "Seek thy servant."
  3. The plea: "For I do not," etc.

--G.R.

Verse 176. -- The last verse as such. The closing minor cadence.

  1. The highest flights of human devotion must end in confession of sin: "I have gone astray."
  2. The sincerest professions of human fidelity must give place to the acknowledgment of helplessness: "seek thy servant."
  3. The loftiest human declarations of love to God's law must come down to The mournful acknowledgment that we have only not forgotten it.

--C.A.D.

 

WORKS WRITTEN ABOUT THE 119 PSALM. IN SPURGEON'S DAY

Two and Twentie Sermons of Maister Iohn Caluin. In which Sermons is most religiously handled, the hundredth and nineteenth Psalme of Dauid, by eight verses apart according to the Hebrew Alphabet. Translated out of French into Englishe by Thomas Stocker. Imprinted at London for John Harison and Thomas Man. 1580. 4to

"An Exposition on the 119 Psalme." In "The Workes of...M. RICHARD GREENHAM" pp. 379-608, folio, 1612.

A Holy Alphabet for Sion's Scholars; Full of Spiritval Instrvctions, and Heavenly Consolations, to direct and encourage them in their Progresse towards the New Jerusaleum: Deliuered, by way of Commentary vpon the whole 119 Psalme. By WILLIAM COWPER, Minister of God's Word, and B. of Galloway...4to. London... 1613. Also in Bishop Cowper's Works pp. 359 474, folio, 1629.

"Summary and Holy Observations collected out of the route first Octonaries or parts of the hundred and nineteenth Psalme."

The above will be found in "A Commentarie upon the first and second chapters of Saint Paul to the Colossians...together with divers places of Scripture briefly explained. By Mr. Paul Bayne, B. D. London: 1635." 4to

One Hundred and Ninety Sermons on the Hundred and Nineteenth Psalm. By the Rev. THOMAS MANTON, D.D., Folio. London, 1725. Also 3 vols., 8vo., 1842; 3 vols. (with Life), 1845; and in vols. 7,8, and 9 of Nichol's (now Nisbet's) edition of Manton's Works.

An Hundred, Seventy and Six, SACRED OBSERVATIONS. Upon the Several VERSES of (The Sweetest of PSALMES) the Hundred and Nineteenth PSALM, Stated, Opened, and Applied (as a brief Exposition thereon) to the People of WEST COWES, in the Isle of WIGHT, being the Exercise of my Publick Ministry, in their New Chappel, lately Consecrated by the Right Reverend Father in God, George Lord Bishop of WINTON.

The preceding forms the latter part of a very small 8 vo. entitled "MOSES REVIVED," on "The Unlawfulness of Eating Blood"; by John Moore, 1669. The exposition is simply worthless, and we notice it merely to save collectors of Psalm literature trouble and expense.

Exposition of Psalm 119 as illustrative of the Character and Exercises of Christian Experience. By the Rev. CHARLES BRIDGES, M.A. 12mo 1827, and many subsequent editions.

Lord's Day Literature: or, Illustrations of the Book of Psalms, from the Hundred and Nineteenth Psalm consecutively. By R. B. SANDERSON, Esq., B.A. 12mo 1842.

The Utterance of the 119. Psalm; expounded in a Series of Lectures. By the Rev. JOHN STEPHEN, A.M. Free John Knox's, Aberdeen... 1861. 2mo