Psalm 119:75

 

EXPOSITION

Verse 75. I know, O LORD, that thy judgments are right. He who would learn most must be thankful for what he already knows, and be willing to confess it to the glory of God. The Psalmist had been sorely tried, but he had continued to hope in God under his trial, and now he avows his conviction that be had been justly and wisely chastened. This he not only thought but knew, so that he was positive about it, and spoke without a moment's hesitation. Saints are sure about the rightness of their troubles, even when they cannot see the intent of them. It made the godly glad to hear David say this,

And that thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me. Because love required severity, therefore the Lord exercised it. It was not because God was unfaithful that the believer found himself in a sore strait, but for just the opposite reason: it was the faithfulness of God to his covenant which brought the chosen one under the rod. It might not be needful that others should be tried just then; but it was necessary to the Psalmist, and therefore the Lord did not withhold the blessing. Our heavenly Father is no Eli: he will not suffer his children to sin without rebuke, his love is too intense for that. The man who makes the confession of this verse is already progressing in the school of grace, and is learning the commandments. This third verse of the section corresponds to the third of Teth (67), and in a degree to several other verses which make the thirds in their octaves.

 

EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS

Verse 75. -- I know, O LORD, that thy judgments are right. In very early life the tree of knowledge seemed a very fine, a glorious tree in my sight; but how many mistakes have I made upon that subject! And how many are the mistakes which yet abound upon that which we are pleased to call knowledge, in common speech. He that hath read the classics; he that hath dipped into mathematical science; he that is versed in history, and grammar, and common elocution; he that is apt and ready to solve some knotty question and versed in the ancient lore of learning, is thought to be a man of knowledge; and so he is, compared with the ignorant mass of mankind. But what is all this compared with the knowledge in my text Knowledge of which few of the learned, as they are called, have the least acquaintance with at all.

I know -- What, David? What do you know? -- "I know, O Lord, that thy judgments are right, and that thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me."

Fond as I may yet be of other speculations, I would rather, much rather, possess the knowledge of this man in this text, than have the largest acquaintance with the whole circle of the sciences, as it is proudly called... I am apprehensive that, in the first clause, the Psalmist speaks, in general: of the ordinances, appointments, providence, and judgments of God; and the assertion is, he doth know that they are right, that they are equitable, that they are wise, that they are fair, and that they are not to be found fault with; and that though men, through folly, bring themselves into distress, and then their hearts fret against God. He was blessed with superior understanding. He excepts nothing: "I know that all thy judgments are right." Then, in the latter part of the text, he makes the matter personal. It might be said, it is an easy thing for you so to think when you see the revolutions of kingdoms, the tottering of thrones, the distresses of some mortals and the pains of others, that they are all right. "Yes," saith he, "but I have the same persuasion about all my own sorrows; I do know that in faithfulness thou hast afflicted me." -- From a Sermon by John Martin, 1817.

Verse 75. -- I know, O LORD, that thy judgments are right, etc. The text is in the form of an address to God. We often find this in David, that, when he would express some deep feeling, or some point of spiritual experience, he does so in this way -- addressing himself to God. Those who love God delight to hold communion with him; and there are some feelings which the spiritual mind finds peculiar comfort and pleasure in telling to God himself. "I know, O LORD, that thy judgments are right." God orders all things, and his "judgments" here mean his general orderings, decisions, dealings -- not afflictions only, though including them. And when the Psalmist says, "thy judgments," he means especially God's judgments towards him, God's dealings with him, and thus all that had happened to him, or should happen to him. For in the Psalmist's creed there was no such thing as chance. God ordered all that befell him, and he loved to think so. He expresses a sure and happy confidence in all that God did, and would do, with regard to him. He trusted fully in God's wisdom, God's power, God's love. "I know thy judgments are right" -- quite right, right in every way, without one single point that might have been better, perfectly wise and good. He shows the firmest persuasion of this. "I know," he says, not merely, "I think." But these very words, "I know," clearly show that this was a matter, of faith, not of sight. For he does not say, "I can see that thy judgments are right," but "I know." The meaning plainly is, "Though I cannot see all -- though there are some things in thy dealings which I cannot fully understand -- yet I believe, I am persuaded, and thus I know, O Lord, that thy judgments are right."

Thy judgments. Not some of them, but all. He takes into view all God's dealings with him, and says of them without exception, "I know, 0 LORD, that thy judgments are right." When the things that happen to us are plainly for our comfort and good, as many of them are, then we thankfully receive what God thus sends to us, and own him as the Giver of all, and bless him for his gracious dealing; and this is right. But all the faith required for this (and some faith there is in it) is to own God as dealing with us, instead of thanklessly receiving the gifts with no thought of the Giver. It is a far higher degree of faith, that says of all God's dealings, even when seemingly not for our happiness, "I know that thy judgments are right."

Yet this is the meaning here, or certainly the chief meaning. For though the word "judgments" does mean God's dealings of every kind, yet here the words that follow make it apply especially to God's afflictive dealings, that is, to those dealings of his that do not seem to be for our happiness; "I know, O LORD, that thy judgments are right, and that thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me." The judgments which the Psalmist chiefly had in view, and which he felt so sure were right, were not joys, but sorrows; not things bestowed, but things taken away; those blessings in disguise, those veiled mercies, those gifts clad in the garb of mourning, which God so often sends to his children. The Psalmist knew, and knew against all appearance to the contrary, that these judgments were "right." Whatever they might be -- losses, bereavements, disappointments, pain, sickness -- they were right; as right as the more manifest blessings which went before them; quite right, perfectly right; so right that they could not have been better; just what were best; and all because they were God's judgments. That one thing satisfied the Psalmist's mind, and set every doubt at rest. The dealings in themselves he might have doubted, but not him whose dealings they were. "Thy judgments." That settled all. "And that thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me." This means that, in appointing trouble as his lot, God had dealt with him in faithfulness to his word, faithfulness to his purposes of mercy, with a faithful, not a weak love. He had sent him just what was most for his good, though not always what was most pleasing; and in this he had shown himself faithful. Gently and lovingly does the Lord deal with his children. He gives no unnecessary pain; but that which is needful he will not withhold. --Francis Bourdillon, 1881.

Verse 75. -- Thy judgments. There are judicia oris, and there are judicia operis; the judgments of God's mouth, and the judgments of God's hands. Of the former there is mention at verse 13: "With my lips have I declared all the judgments of thy mouth." And by these "judgments" are meant nothing else but the holy law of God, and his whole written word; which everywhere? This psalm are indifferently called his "statutes," his "commandments", his "precepts," his "testimonies," his "judgments." And the laws of God are therefore, amongst other reasons, called by the name of "judgments," because by them we come to have a right judgment whereby to discern between good and evil. We could not otherwise with any certainty judge what was meet for us to do, and what was needful for us to shun. A lege tua intellexi, at Psalms 119:104 ; "By thy law have I gotten understanding." St. Paul confesseth (Romans 7), that he had never rightly known what sin was if it had not been for the law; and he instances in that of lust, which he had not known to be a sir, if the law had not said, "thou shalt not covet." And no question but these "judgments," these judicia oris, are all "right" too; for it were unreasonable to think that God should make that a rule of right to us, which were itself not right. We have both the name (that of "judgments;") and the thing too, (that they are "right") in the 19th Psalm; where having highly commended the law of God, under the several appellations of the "law," testimonies, statutes and commandments, verses 7 and 8, the prophet then concludes under this name of "judgments," verse 9: "The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

Besides these judicia oris, which are God's judgments of directions, there are also judicia operis, which are his judgments for correction. And these do ever include aliquid paenale, something inflicted upon us by Almighty God, as it were by way of punishment; something that breeds in us trouble or grief. The apostle saith in Hebrews 12 that every chastening is grievous; and so it is, more or less; or else it could be to us no punishment. And these, again, are of two sort; yet not distinguished so much by the things themselves that are inflicted, as by the condition of the persons on whom they are inflicted, and especially by the affection and intention of God that inflicts them. For all, whether public calamities that light upon whole nations, cities, or other greater or lesser societies of men (such as are pestilences, famine, war, inundations, unseasonable weather), and the like for private afflictions, that light upon particular families or persons, (as sickness, poverty, disgrace, injuries, death of friends, and the like;) all these, and whatsoever other of either kind, may undergo a twofold consideration; in either of which they may not unfitly be termed the judgments of God, though in different respects.

Now we see the several sorts of God's judgments: which of all these may we think is here meant? If we should take them all in, the conclusion would hold them, and hold true too. Judicia oris, and judicia operis; public and private judgments; those plagues wherewith in fury he punishes his enemies, and those rods wherewith in mercy he correcteth his children: most certain it is they are all "right." But yet I conceive those indicia oris not to be so properly meant in this place; for the exegesis in the latter part of the verse (wherein what are here called judgments ale there expounded by troubles) Seemeth to exclude them, and to confine the text in the proper intent thereof to these judicia operis only; but yet to all them of what sort soever; public or private, plagues or corrections. Of all which he pronounces that they are "right;" which is the predicate of the conclusion: "I know, O Lord, that thy judgments are right." --Robert Sanderson.

Verse 75. -- Thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me. Mark the emphasis: he doth not barely acknowledge that God was faithful, though or notwithstanding he had afflicted him, but faithful in sending the afflictions. Affliction and trouble are not only consistent with God's love plighted in the covenant of grace; but they are parts and branches of the new covenant administration. God is not only faithful notwithstanding afflictions, but faithful in sending them. There is a difference between these two: the one is like an exception to the rule, quae firmat regulam in non exceptis: the other makes it a part of the rule, God cannot be faithful without doing all things that tend to our good and eternal welfare. The conduct of his providence is one part of the covenant engagement; as to pardon our sins, and sanctify us, and give us glory at the last, so to suit his providence as our need and profit require in the way to heaven. It is an act of his sovereign mercy which he hath promised to his people, to use such discipline as conduces to their safety. In short, the cross is not an exception to the grace of the covenant, but a part of the grace of the covenant.

The cause of all afflictions is sin, therefore justice must be acknowledged: their end is repentance, and therefore faithfulness must be acknowledged. The end is not destruction and ruin, so afflictions would be acts of justice, as upon the wicked; but that we may be fit to receive the promises, and so they are acts of faithfulness. --Thomas Mantel.

Verse 75. -- Thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me. That is, with a sincere intention of doing me good. God thoroughly knows our constitution, what is noxious to our health, and what may remedy our distempers; and therefore accordingly disposes to us

Pro jucundis aptissima quaeque

instead of pleasant honey, he sometimes prescribes wholesome wormwood for us. We are ourselves greatly ignorant of what is conducible to our real good, and, were the choice of our condition wholly permitted to us, should make very foolish, very disadvantageous elections.

We should (be sure) all of us embrace a rich and plentiful estate; when as, God knows, that would make us slothful and luxurious, swell us with pride and haughty thoughts, encumber us with anxious cares and expose us to dangerous temptations; would render us forgetful of ourselves and neglectful of him. Therefore he wisely disposes poverty unto us; poverty, the mother of sobriety, the nurse of industry, the mistress of wisdom; which will make us understand ourselves and our dependence on him, and force us to have recourse unto his help. And is there not reason we should be thankful for the means by which we are delivered from those desperate mischiefs, and obtain these excellent advantages?

We should all (certainly) choose the favour and applause of man: but this, God also knows, would corrupt our minds with vain conceit, would intoxicate our fancies with spurious pleasure, would tempt us to ascribe immoderately to ourselves, and sacrilegiously to deprive God of his due honour. Therefore he advisedly suffers us to incur the disgrace and displeasure, the hatred and contempt of men: that so we may place our glory only in the hopes of his favour, and may pursue more earnestly the purer delights of a good conscience. And doth not this part of divine providence highly merit our thanks?

We would all climb into high places, not considering the precipices on which they stand, nor the vertiginousness of our own brains: but God keeps us safe in the humble valleys, allotting to us employments which we are more capable to manage.

We should perhaps insolently abuse power, were it committed to us: we should employ great parts on unwieldy projects, as many do, to the disturbance of others, and their own ruin: vast knowledge would cause us to over value ourselves and contemn others: enjoying continual health, we should not perceive the benefit thereof, nor be mindful of him that gave it. A suitable mediocrity therefore of these things the divine goodness allots unto us, that we may neither starve for want, nor surfeit with plenty.

In fine, the advantages arising from afflictions are so many, and so great, that it were easy to demonstrate that we have great reason, not only to be contented with, but to rejoice in, and to be very thankful for, all the crosses and vexations we meet with; to receive them cheerfully at God's hand, as the medicines of our soul, and the condiments of our fortune; as the arguments of his goodwill, and the instruments of virtue; as solid grounds of hope, and comfortable presages of future joy unto us. --Isaac Barrow.

Verse 75. -- Thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me. When a father disowns and banishes a child, he corrects him no more. So God may let one whom he intends to destroy go unchastened; but never one with whom he is in covenant. --William S. Plumer.

Verse 75. -- I know, O Lord, etc.

Yet, Lord, in memory's fondest place
I shrine those seasons sad,
When, looking up, I saw thy face
In kind austereness clad.
I would not miss one sigh or tear,
Heart pang, or throbbing brow:
Sweet was the chastisement severe,
And sweet its memory now.
Yes! let the fragrant scars abide,
Love tokens in thy stead,
Faint shadows of the spear pierced side.
And thorn encompassed Head.
And such thy tender force be still,
When self would swerve or stray,
Shaping to truth the froward will
Along thy narrow way. --John Henry Newman, 1829.

 

HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS

Verse 75. -- Experimental knowledge: positive, personal, glorifying to God, consoling to the saints.