Psalm 119:38

 

EXPOSITION

Verse 38. Stablish thy word unto thy servant. Make me sure of thy sure word: make it sure to me and make me sure of it. If we possess the spirit of service, and yet are troubled with sceptical thoughts we cannot do better than pray to be established in the truth. Times will arise when every doctrine and promise seems to be shaken, and our mind gets no rest: then we must appeal to God for establishment in the faith, for he would have all his servants to be well instructed and confirmed in his word. But we must mind that we are the Lord's servants, for else we shall not long be sound in his truth. Practical holiness is a great help towards doctrinal certainty: if we are God's servants he will confirm his word in our experience. "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine"; and so know it as to be fully assured of it. Atheism in the heart is a horrible plague to a God fearing man, it brings more torment with it than can well be described; and nothing but a visitation of grace can settle the soul after it has been violently assailed thereby. Vanity or falsehood is bad for the eyes, but it is even worse when it defiles the understanding and casts a doubt upon the word of the living God.

Who is devoted to thy fear, or simply -- "to thy fear." That is, make good thy word to godly fear: wherever it exists; strengthen the whole body of reverent men. Stablish thy word, not only to me, but to all the godly ones under the sun. Or, again, it may mean -- "Stablish thy word to thy fear," namely, that men may be led to fear thee; since a sure faith in the divine promise is the fountain and foundation of godly fear. Men will never worship a God in whom they do not believe. More faith will lead to more godly fear. We cannot look for the fulfilment of promises in our experience unless we live under the influence of the fear of the Lord: establishment in grace is the result of holy watchfulness and prayerful energy. We shall never be rooted and grounded in our belief unless we daily practise what we profess to believe. Full assurance is the reward of obedience. Answers to prayer are given to those whose hearts answer to the Lord's command. If we are devoted to God's fear we shall be delivered from all other fear. He has no fear as to the truth of the word who is filled with fear of the Author of the word. Scepticism is both the parent and the child of impiety; but strong faith both begets piety and is begotten of it. We commend this whole verse to any devout man whose tendency is to scepticism: it will be an admirable prayer for use in seasons of unusually strong misgivings.

 

EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS

Verse 38. Stablish thy word unto thy servant. In view of the exposition of the previous verses of the section this would be more correctly rendered, "Hold up thy word before thy servant;" i.e., hold it up to my eyes, to my mind, to my steps, and to my heart. Make all that is vain to pass, so that I see it not; but let thy word be so set up before my whole being that I shall always see it, and thus, by it, see my way to thee.

 

EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS

Verse 38. Stablish thy word unto thy servant, etc. -- Well, but here is a strange thing -- a man who is a true "servant of God," "devoted to his fear," praying for what he surely must already have, else how could he be a servant? or be living in Jehovah's fear? He seems to assume, clearly and without any doubt, his own personal consecration, and then he prays for that which must surely be, at least in considerable measure, assumed and comprehended in the very idea of a true personal consecration. Unless God's word is made sure to a man he will never become his servant. If he is his servant, why should he pray, "Stablish thy word"? Why, too, should he say in Psalms 119:35 , "Make me to go in the path of thy commandments; for therein do I delight"? "Therein do I delight. It is the way of my choice, of my joy!" And yet, "Make me to go in it," as if I were unwilling. This apparent contradiction or discrepancy is easily solved in a true experience, and can be, in fact, solved in no other way. Is not this the very condition of many and many a one? "Stablished," yet moved; "devoted," yet uncertain; "serving" God truly, yet looking and longing for clearer warrant, and higher sanction, and more inward grace, to make the service better; "believing," yet crying, sometimes, "with tears, Help thou mine unbelief!" Alexander Raleigh.

Verse 38. Stablish thy word unto thy servant. Why doth David pray thus, "Stablish thy word to me;" since God's word is most certain and so stable in itself that it cannot be more so? ( 2 Peter 1:19 ). "We have a more sure," or a more stable, "word of prophecy," as the word signifies. How can the word be more stable than it is? I answer, it is sure in regard of God from whom it comes, and in itself. In regard of the things propounded it cannot be more or less stable, it cannot be fast and loose: but in regard of us, it may be more or less established. And that two ways, --

  1. By the inward assurance of the Spirit increasing our faith.
  2. By the outward performance of what is promised.

First, By the inward assurance of the Spirit, by which our faith is increased. Great is the weakness of our faith, as appears by our fears, doubts, distrusts, so that we need to be assured more and more. We need say with tears as he doth in the gospel: "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief" ( Mark 9:24 ); and to cry out with the apostles, "Lord, increase our faith" ( Luke 17:5 ). There is none believeth so, but he may yet believe more. And in this sense the word is more established, when we are confirmed in the belief of it, and look upon it as sure ground for faith to rest upon. Secondly, By actual performance, when the promise is made good to us. Every event which falls out according to the word is a notable testimony of the truth of it, and a seal to confirm and strengthen our faith. Three ways may this be made good.

  1. The making good of some promises at one time strengthens our faith in expecting the like favour at another. Christ was angry with his disciples for not remembering the miracle of the loaves, when they fell into a like strait again. "Do ye not yet understand, neither remember the five loaves?" ( Matthew 16:9 ). We are to seek upon every difficulty; whereas former experience in the same kind should be a means of establishment to us: "He hath delivered, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us" ( 2 Corinthians 1:10 ). In teaching a child to spell we are angry, if, when we have showed him a letter once, twice, and a third time, yet when he meets with it again still he misses: so, God is angry with us when we have had experience of his word in this, that, and the other providence, yet still our doubts return upon us.
  2. The accomplishment of one promise confirms another; for God, that keepeth touch at one time, will do so at another: "I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom." ( 2 Timothy 4:17-18 ). In such a strait God failed not, and surely he that hath been true hitherto will not fail at last.
  3. When the word is performed in part, it assures us of, the performance of the whole. It is an earnest given us of all the rest: For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him amen ( 2 Corinthians 1:20 ). A Christian hath a great many promises, and they are being performed daily; God is delivering, comforting, protecting him, speaking peace to his conscience; but the greater part are yet to be performed. Present experiences do assure us of what is to come. Thus, "Stablish thy word," that is, make it good by the event, that I may learn to trust another time either for the same, or other promises or accomplishments of thy whole word. Thomas Manton.

Verse 38. Stablish thy word unto thy servant. Confirm it; make it seem firm and true; let not my mind be vacillating or sceptical in regard to thy truth. This seems to be a prayer against the influence of doubt and scepticism; a prayer that doubts might not be suffered to spring up in his mind, and that the objections and difficulties of scepticism might have no place there. There is a class of men whose minds are naturally sceptical and unbelieving, and for such men such a prayer is peculiarly appropriate. For none can it be improper to pray that the word of God may always seem to them to be true; that their minds may never be left to the influence of doubt and unbelief. Albert Barnes.

Verse 38. Who is devoted to thy fear. The word may be rendered either which or who; as relating either to thy word or to thy servant.

  1. Thy word; for in the original Hebrew the posture of the verse is thus, "Stablish to thy servant thy word, which is to the fearing of thee," or, "which is given that thou mayest be feared;" there being in the word of God the greatest arguments and inducements to fear, to reverence, and to obey him. The word of God was appointed to plant the fear of God in our hearts, and to increase our reverence of God; not that we may play the wantons with promises, and feed our lusts with them.
  2. I rather take our own translation, and it hath such a sense as that passage, "But I give myself unto prayer" (Ps 119:4). In the original it is, "But I prayer." So in this place it may be read, Stablish thy word to thy servant, "Who is to thy fear." Our translators add, to make the sense more full, addicted, or "devoted to thy fear," that is, who makes it his business, care, and desire to stand in the fear of God.

Now this is added as a true note and description of God's servants, as being a main thing in religion, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" ( Psalms 11:10 ), it is the first in point of order, and it is the first thing when we begin to be wise, to think of God, to have awful thoughts of God, it is a chief point of wisdom, the great thing that makes us wise to salvation. And it is added as an argument of prayer, "O Lord, let thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servants, who desire to fear thy name" ( Nehemiah 1:11 ). The more any are given to the fear of God, the more assurance they have of God's love, and of his readiness to hear them at the throne of grace. Thomas Manton.

Verse 38. Who is devoted to thy fear. He who hath received from the Lord grace to fear him may be bold to seek any necessary good thing from him; because the fear of God hath annexed the promises of all other blessings with it. William Cowper.

Verse 38. He that chooses God, devotes himself to God as the vessels of the sanctuary were consecrated and set apart from common to holy uses, so he that has chosen God to be his God, has dedicated himself to God, and will no more be devoted to profane uses. Thomas Watson.

 

HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS

Verse 38. -- Confirmation. What? "Thy word established." To whom? "Unto thy servant." Why? "Who is devoted," etc.

Verse 38. -- Fear of God evidences itself,

  1. By a dread of his displeasure.
  2. Desire of his favour.
  3. Regard for his excellencies.
  4. Submission to his will.
  5. Gratitude for his benefits.
  6. Conscientious obedience to his commands. --Charles Buck.

Verse 38. -- The four kinds of fear.

  1. The fear of man, by which we are led rather to do wrong than to suffer evil.
  2. Servile fear, through which we are induced to avoid sin only from the dread of hell.
  3. Initial fear, in which we avoid sin partly from the fear of hell, but partly also from the love of God, which is the fear of ordinary Christians.
  4. Filial fear, when we are afraid to disobey God only and altogether from the love we bear him. Jeremiah 32:40 . --Ayguan, in J. Edward Vaux's "Preacher's Storehouse," 1878.