Psalm 119:20

 

EXPOSITION

Verse 20. My soul breaketh for the longing that it hath unto thy judgments at all times. True godliness lies very much in desires. As we are not what we shall be, so also we are not what we would be. The desires of gracious men after holiness are intense, -- they cause a wear of heart, a straining of the mind, till it feels ready to snap with the heavenly pull. A high value of the Lord's commandment leads to a pressing desire to know and to do it, and this so weighs upon the soul that it is ready to break in pieces under the crush of its own longings. What a blessing it is when all our desires are after the things of God. We may well long for such longings.

God's judgments are his decisions upon points which else had been in dispute. Every precept is a judgment of the highest court upon a point of action, an infallible and immutable decision upon a moral or spiritual question. The word of God is a code of justice from which there is no appeal.

"This is the Judge which ends the strife
Where wit and reason fail;
Our guide through devious paths of life,
Our shield when doubts assail." Watts.

David had such reverence for the word, and such a desire to know it, and to be conformed to it, that his longings caused him a sort of heart break, which he here pleads before God. Longing is the soul of praying, and when the soul longs till it breaks, it cannot be long before the blessing will be granted. The most intimate communion between the soul and its God is carried on by the process described in the text. God reveals his will, and our heart longs to be conformed thereto. God judges, and our heart rejoices in the verdict. This is fellowship of heart most real and thorough.

Note well that our desire after the mind of God should be constant; we should feel holy longings "at all times." Desires which can be put off and on like our garments are at best but mere wishes, and possibly they are hardly true enough to be called by that name, -- they are temporary emotions born of excitement, and doomed to die when the heat which created them has cooled down. He who always longs to know and do the right is the truly right man. His judgment is sound, for he loves all God's judgments, and follows them with constancy. His times shall be good, since he longs to be good and to do good at all times.

Remark how this fourth of the third eight chimes with the fourth of the fourth eight. "My soul breaketh"; "my soul melteth." There is surely some recondite poetic art about all this, and it is well for us to be careful in studying what the psalmist was so careful in composing.

 

EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS

Verse 20. My soul breaketh, etc. Here is a protestation of that earnest desire he had to the obedience of the word of God; he amplifies it two ways: first, it was no light motion, but such as being deeply rooted made his heart to break when he saw that he could not do in the obedience thereof what he would. Next, it was no vanishing motion, like the morning dew; but it was permanent, omni tempore, he had it at all times. William Cowper.

Verse 20. My soul breaketh for the longing, as one that with straining breaks a vein. William Gurnall.

Verse 20. My soul breaketh, etc. This breaking is by rubbing, chafing, or crushing. The spirit was so fretted with its yearning desire after the things which Jehovah had spoken, that it was broken as by heavy friction. The "longing" to find out and follow the hidden wonders was almost unbearable. This longing continued with the Psalmist "at all times," or "in every season." Prosperity could not make him forget it; adversity could not quench it. In sickness or health, in happiness or sadness, in company or alone, nothing overcame that longing. "The wondrous things" were so wonderful, and still so hidden. To see a little of "the beauty of the Lord" is to get to know how much there is which we fail to see, and thus to long more than ever. He who pursues ardently the wonders of the word of the Lord, will never set that longing at rest as long as he remains "in the earth." It is only when we shall "be like him," and "shall see him as he is," that we shall cry, "Enough, Lord!" "I shall be satisfied when I awake in thy likeness." F. G. Marchant.

Verse 20. My soul breaketh for the longing. For the earnest desire. "That it hath unto thy judgments at all times." Thy law; thy commands. This was a constant feeling. It was not fitful, or spasmodic. It was the steady, habitual state of the soul on the subject. He had never seen enough of the beauty and glory of the law of God to feel that all the wants of his nature were satisfied, or that he could see and know no more; he had seen and felt enough to excite in him an ardent desire to be made fully acquainted with all that there is in the law of God. Albert Barnes.

Verse 20. My soul breaketh for the longing, etc. The desire after God's appointments becomes painfully intense. A longing -- an intense longing -- for the judgments of the Lord -- at all times. These are the particulars of his breaking soul. His whole mind is toward the things of God. He prays that he may behold the wondrous things of Jehovah's law, and that he may not hide his commandments from him; and here his soul breaks for longing towards his judgments at all times. The state of the Psalmist's mind would not lead us here to suppose that he was awaiting the manifestation of the Lord's judgments in vindicating his cause against ungodly men, or that he was longing for opportunity of fulfilling all the deeds of righteousness towards his fellow men; for this he was doing to the utmost. Evidently he is intent upon the ordinances of religion, which were called "judgments" in reference to the solemn sanctions with which they were enjoined. The man of God so longed to join with the Lord's people in these, that his heart was ready to break with desire, as he was forced from place to place in the wilderness. The renewed heart is here. Another might long to be delivered from persecution, to be at rest, to be restored to home, relations, and comfort. The man of God could not but desire those natural enjoyments; but, over all, his holy mind longed with ardour for the celebration of Jehovah's worship. John Stephen.

Verse 20. Thy judgments. God's judgments are of two sorts: first, his commands; so called because by them right is judged and discerned from wrong. Next, his plagues executed upon transgressors according to his word. David here refers to the first. Let men who have not the like of David's desire, remember, that they whose heart cannot break for transgressing God's word because they love it, shall find the plagues of God to bruise their body and break their heart also. Let us delight in the first sort of these judgments, and the second shall never come upon us. William Cowper.

Verse 20. Mark that word, at all times. Bad men have their good moods, as good men have their bad moods. A bad man may, under gripes of conscience, a smarting rod, the approaches of death, or the fears of hell, or when he is sermon sick, cry out to the Lord for grace, for righteousness, for holiness; but he is the only blessed man that hungers and thirsts after righteousness at all times. Thomas Brooks, 1608-1680.

Verse 20. At all times. Some prize the word in adversity, when they have no other comfort to live upon; then they can be content to study the word to comfort them in their distresses; but when they are well at ease, they despise it. But David made use of it "at all times;" in prosperity, to humble him; in adversity, to comfort him; in the one, to keep him from pride; in the other, to keep him from despair; in affliction, the word was his cordial; in worldly increase, it was his antidote; and so at all times his heart was carried out to the word either for one necessity or another. Thomas Manton.

Verse 20. At all times. How few are there even among the servants of God who know anything of the intense feeling of devotion here expressed! O that our cold and stubborn hearts were warmed and subdued by divine grace, that we might be ready to faint by reason of the longing which we had "at all times" for the judgments of our God. How fitful are our best feelings! If today we ascend the mount of communion with God, tomorrow we are in danger of being again entangled with the things of earth. How happy are they whose hearts are "at all times" filled with longings after fellowship with the great and glorious object of their love! John Morison, 1829.

Verse 20. If you read the lives of good men, who have been, also, intellectually great, you will be struck, I think, even to surprise, a surprise, however, which will not be unpleasant, to find them, at the close of life, in their own estimation so ignorant, so utterly imperfect, so little the better of the long life lesson. Dr. Chalmers, after kindling churches and arousing nations to their duties, summed up his own attainments in the word "desirousness," and took as the text that best described his inner state, that passionate, almost painful cry of David, My soul breaketh for the longing that it hath unto thy judgments. But how grand was the attainment! To be in old age as simple as a little child before God! To be still learning at threescore years and ten! How beautiful seem the great men in their simplicity! Alexander Raleigh, in "The Little Sanctuary," 1872.

 

HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS

Verse 20. --

  1. The word sought, and sought at all times.
  2. The word sought, and sought with intense desire.
  3. The word sought, and sought the more intensely the more it is found. It was because he had found so much in the word of the Lord already, that the soul of the Psalmist was breaking to find more. Those who have been once admitted to "the secret of the Lord" find their highest joy in knowing that secret still more fully. It is to those who know that secret that the promise is given: "He will show them his covenant:" Psalms 25:14 . -- F.G.M.

Verse 20. -- One of the best tests of character and prophecies of what a man will be, are his longings.

  1. The saint's absorbing object: "Thy judgments." The word here is synonymous with the "word" of God.
    1. The Psalmist greatly reverenced the word.
(b) He intensely desired to know its contents.
(c) He wishes to feed upon God's word.
(d) He longed to obey it.
(e) He longed to feel the power of God's judgments in his own
heart.

  1. The saint's ardent longings.
(a) They constitute a living experience.
(b) The expression used in the text represents a humble
sense of imperfection.
(c) It indicates an advanced experience.
(d) It is an experience which we may term a bitter sweet.
(e) These longings may become very wearying to a man's
soul.

  1. Cheering reflections.
(a) God is at work in your soul.
(b) The result of God's work is very precious.
(c) It is leading on to something more precious.
(d) The desire itself is doing you good.
(e) It makes Christ precious. See "Spurgeon's Sermons," No.
1586: "Holy Longings."