Psalm 119:9

 

EXPOSITION

Verse 9. Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? How shall he become and remain practically holy? He is but a young man, full of hot passions, and poor in knowledge and experience; how shall he get right, and keep right? Never was there a more important question for any man; never was there a fitter time for asking it than at the commencement of life. It is by no means an easy task which the prudent young man sets before him. He wishes to choose a clean way, to be himself clean in it, to cleanse it of any foulness which may arise in the future, and to end by showing a clear course from the first step to the last; but, alas, his way is already unclean by actual sin which he has already committed, and he himself has within his nature a tendency towards that which defileth. Here, then, is the difficulty, first of beginning aright, next of being always able to know and choose the right, and of continuing in the right till perfection is ultimately reached: this is hard for any man, how shall a youth accomplish it? The way, or life, of the man has to be cleansed from the sins of his youth behind him, and kept clear of the sins which temptation will place before him: this is the work, this is the difficulty.

No nobler ambition can lie before a youth, none to which he is called by so sure a calling; but none in which greater difficulties can be found. Let him not, however, shrink from the glorious enterprise of living a pure and gracious life; rather let him enquire the way by which all obstacles may be overcome. Let him not think that he knows the road to easy victory, nor dream that he can keep himself by his own wisdom; he will do well to follow the Psalmist, and become an earnest enquirer asking how he may cleanse his way. Let him become a practical disciple of the holy God, who alone can teach him how to overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil, that trinity of defilers by whom many a hopeful life has been spoiled. He is young and unaccustomed to the road, let him not be ashamed often to enquire his way of him who is so ready and so able to instruct him in it.

Our "way" is a subject which concerns us deeply, and it is far better to enquire about it than to speculate upon mysterious themes which rather puzzle than enlighten the mind. Among all the questions which a young man asks, and they are many, let this be the first and chief: "Wherewithal shall I cleanse my way?" This is a question suggested by common sense, and pressed home by daily occurrences; but it is not to be answered by unaided reason, nor, when answered, can the directions be carried out by unsupported human power. It is ours to ask the question, it is God's to give the answer and enable us to carry it out.

By taking heed thereto according to thy word. Young man, the Bible must be your chart, and you must exercise great watchfulness that your way may be according to its directions. You must take heed to your daily life as well as study your Bible, and you must study your Bible that you may take heed to your daily life. With the greatest care a man will go astray if his map misleads him; but with the most accurate map he will still lose his road if he does not take heed to it. The narrow way was never hit upon by chance, neither did any heedless man ever lead a holy life. We can sin without thought, we have only to neglect the great salvation and ruin our souls; but to obey the Lord and walk uprightly will need all our heart and soul and mind. Let the careless remember this.

Yet the "word" is absolutely necessary; for, otherwise, care will darken into morbid anxiety, and conscientiousness may become superstition. A captain may watch from his deck all night; but if he knows nothing of the coast, and has no pilot on board, he may be carefully hastening on to shipwreck. It is not enough to desire to he right; for ignorance may make us think that we are doing God service when we are provoking him, and the fact of our ignorance will not reverse the character of our action, however much it may mitigate its criminality. Should a man carefully measure out what he believes to be a dose of useful medicine, he will die if it should turn out that he has taken up the wrong vial, and has poured out a deadly poison: the fact that he did it ignorantly will not alter the result. Even so, a young man may surround himself with ten thousand ills, by carefully using an unenlightened judgment, and refusing to receive instruction from the word of God. Wilful ignorance is in itself wilful sin, and the evil which comes of it is without excuse. Let each man, whether young or old, who desires to be holy have a holy watchfulness in his heart, and keep his Holy Bible before his open eye. There he will find every turn of the road marked down, every slough and miry place pointed out, with the way to go through unsoiled; and there, too, he will find light for his darkness, comfort for his weariness, and company for his loneliness, so that by its help he shall reach the benediction of the first verse of the Psalm, which suggested the Psalmist's enquiry, and awakened his desires.

Note how the first section of eight verses has for its first verse, "Blessed are the undefiled in the way." and the second section runs parallel to it, with the question, "Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way?" The blessedness which is set before us in a conditional promise should be practically sought for in the way appointed. The Lord saith, "For this will I be enquired of by the house of Israel to do it for them."

 

EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS

The eight verses alphabetically arranged:

  1. By what means shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word.
  2. By day and by night have I sought thee with my whole heart: O let me not wander from thy commandments.
  3. By thy grace I have hid thy word in my heart, that I might not sin against thee.
  4. Blessed art thou, O Lord: teach me thy statutes.
  5. By the words of my lips will I declare all the judgments of thy mouth.
  6. By far more than in all riches I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies.
  7. By thy help I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways.
  8. By thy grace I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word. Theodore Kuebler.

Whole eight verses, 9-16. Every verse in the section begins with b, a house. The subject of the section is, The Law of Jehovah purifying the Life. Key word, xkz (zacah), to be pure, to make pure, to cleanse. F. G. Marchant.

Verse 9. Whole verse. In this passage there is,

  1. A question.
  2. An answer given.

In the question, there is the person spoken of, "a young man," and his work, "Wherewithal shall he cleanse his way?" In this question there are several things supposed.

  1. That we are from the birth polluted with sin; for we must be cleansed. It is not direct "his way," but "cleanse his way."
  2. That we should be very early and betimes sensible of this evil; for the question is propounded concerning the young man.
  3. That we should earnestly seek for a remedy, how to dry up the issue of sin that runneth upon us. All this is to be supposed.

That which is enquired after is, What remedy there is against it? What course is to be taken? So that the sum of the question is this: How shall a man that is impure, and naturally defiled with sin, be made able, as soon as he cometh to the use of reason, to purge out that natural corruption, and live a holy and pure life to God? The answer is given: "By taking heed thereto according to thy word." Where two things are to be observed.

  1. The remedy.
  2. The manner how it is applied and made use of.
  3. The remedy is the word; by way of address to God, called "Thy word"; because, if God had not given direction about it, we should have been at an utter loss.
  4. The manner how it is applied and made use of, "by taking heed thereto," etc.; by studying and endeavouring a holy conformity to God's will. Thomas Manton.

Verse 9. Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? etc. Aristotle, that great dictator in philosophy, despaired of achieving so great an enterprise as the rendering a young man capable of his hqika akroamata, "his grave and severe lectures of morality"; for that age is light and foolish, yet headstrong and untractable. Now, take a young man all in the heat and boiling of his blood, in the highest fermentation of his youthful lusts; and, at all these disadvantages, let him enter that great school of the Holy Spirit, the divine Scripture, and commit himself to the conduct of those blessed oracles; and he shall effectually be convinced, by his own experience, of the incredible virtue, the vast and mighty power, of God's word, in the success it hath upon him, and in his daily progression and advances in heavenly wisdom. John Gibbon (about 1660) in "The Morning Exercises."

Verse 9. A young man. A prominent place -- one of the twenty-two parts -- is assigned to young men in the 119th Psalm. It is meet that it should be so. Youth is the season of impression and improvement, young men are the future props of society, and the fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom, must begin in youth. The strength, the aspirations, the unmarred expectations of youth, are in requisition for the world; O that they may be consecrated to God. John Stephen, in "The Utterances of the 119 Psalm," 1861.

Verse 9. For young man, in the Hebrew the word is r[g naar, i.e., "shaken off"; that is to say, from the milder and more tender care of his parents. Thus Mercerus and Savailerius. Secondly, naar may be rendered "shaking off"; that is to say, the yoke, for a young man begins to cast off the maternal, and frequently the paternal, yoke. Thomas Le Blanc.

Verse 9. Cleanse his way. The expression does not absolutely convey the impression that the given young man is in a corrupt and discreditable way which requires cleansing, though this be true of all men originally: Isaiah 53:6 . That which follows makes known that such could not be the case with this young man. The very inquiry shows that his heart is not in a corrupt state. Desire is present, direction is required. The inquiry is -- How shall a young man make a clean way -- a pure line of conduct -- through this defiling world? It is a question, I doubt not, of great anxiety to every convert whose mind is awakened to a sense of sin -- how he shall keep clear of the sin, avoid the loose company, and rid himself of the wicked pleasures and practices of this enslaving world. And as he moves on in the line of integrity -- many temptations coming in his way, and much inward corruption rising up to control him -- how often will the same anxious inquiry arise: Ro 7:24. It is only in a false estimate of one's own strength that any can think otherwise, and the spirit of such false estimate will be brought low. How felt you, my young friends, who have been brought to Christ, in the day of your resolving to be his? But for all such anxiety there seems to be an answer in the text.

By taking heed thereto according to thy word. It is not that young men in our day require information: they require the inclination. In the gracious young man there are both, and the word that began feeds the proper motives. The awful threatenings and the sweet encouragements both more him in the right direction. The answer furnished to this anxious inquiry is sufficiently plain and practical. He is directed to the word of God for all direction, and we might say, for all promised assistance. Still the matter presented in this light does not appear to me to bring out the full import of the passage. The inquiry to me would seem to extend over the whole verse. (This opinion is confirmed by the quotation which follows from Cowles.) There is required the cleansing that his way be according to the Divine Word. The enquiry is of the most enlarged comprehension, and will be made only by one who can say that he has been honestly putting himself in the way, as the young man in Psalms 119:10-11 ; and it can be answered only by the heart that takes in all the strength provided by the blessed God, as is expressed here in Psalms 119:12 . The Psalmist makes the inquiry, he shows how earnestly he had sought to be in the right way, and immediately he finds all his strength in God. Thus he declares how he has been enabled to do rightly, and how he will do rightly in the future. John Stephen.

Verse 9. Instead of question and answer both in this one verse, the Hebrew demands the construction with question only, leaving the answer to be inferred from the drift of the entire Psalm -- thus: Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way to keep it according to thy word? This translation gives precisely the force of the last clause. Hebrew punctuation lacks the interrogation point, so that we have no other clue but the form of the sentence and the sense by which to decide where the question ends. Henry Cowles, 1872.

Verse 9. His way. xra, orach, which we translate way here, signifies a track, a rut, such as is made by the wheel of a cart or chariot. A young sinner has no broad beaten path; he has his private ways of offence, his secret pollutions; and how shall he be cleansed from these? how can he be saved from what will destroy mind, body, and soul? Let him hear what follows; the description is from God.

  1. He is to consider that his way is impure; and how abominable this must make him appear in the sight of God.
  2. He must examine it according to God's word, and carefully hear what God has said concerning him and it.
  3. He must take heed to it, rmfl, lishmor, to keep, guard, and preserve his way -- his general course of life, from all defilement. Adam Clarke.

Verse 9. By taking heed, etc. I think the words may be better rendered and supplied thus, by observing what is according to thy word; which shows how a sinner is to be cleansed from his sins by the blood of Christ, and justified by his righteousness, and be clean through his word; and also how and by whom the work of sanctification is wrought in the heart, even by the Spirit of God, by means of the word, and what is the rule of a man's walk and conversation: he will find the word of God to be profitable, to inform in the doctrines of justification and pardon, to acquaint him with the nature of regeneration and sanctification; and for the correction and amendment of his life and manners, and for his instruction in every branch of manners: 2 Timothy 3:16 . John Gill, 1697-1771.

Verse 9. By taking heed. There is an especial necessity for this "Take heed," because of the proneness of a young man to thoughtlessness, carelessness, presumption, self confidence. There is an especial necessity for "taking heed," because of the difficulty of the way. "Look well to thy goings"; it is a narrow path. "Look well to thy goings"; it is a new path. "Look well to thy goings"; it is a slippery path. "Look well to thy goings"; it is an eventful path. James Harrington Evans, 1785-1849.

Verse 9. According to thy word. God's word is the glass which discovereth all spiritual deformity, and also the water and soap which washes and scours it away. Paul Bayne.

Verse 9. According to thy word. I do not say that there are no other guides, no other fences. I do not say that conscience is worth nothing, and conscience in youth is especially sensitive and tender; I do not say that prayer is not a most valuable fence, but prayer without taking heed is only another name for presumption: prayer and carelessness can never walk hand in hand together; and I therefore say that there is no fence nor guard that can so effectually keep out every enemy as prayerful reading of the word of God, bringing every solicitation from the world or from companions, every suggestion from our own hearts and passions, to the test of God's word: -- What says the Bible? The answer of the Bible, with the teaching and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, will in all the intricacies of our road be a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path. Barton Bouchier.

Verse 9. Thy word. The word is the only weapon (like Goliath's sword, none to equal this), for the hewing down and cutting off of this stubborn enemy, our lusts. The word of God can master our lusts when they are in their greatest pride: if ever lust rageth at one time more than another, it is when youthful blood boils in our veins. Youth is giddy, and his lust is hot and impetuous: his sun is climbing higher still, and he thinks it is a great while to night; so that it must be a strong arm that brings a young man off his lusts, who hath his palate at best advantage to taste sensual pleasure. The rigour of his strength affords him more of the delights of the flesh than crippled age can expect, and he is farther from the fear of death's gunshot, as he thinks, than old men who are upon the very brink of the grave, and carry the scent of the earth about them, into which they are suddenly to be resolved. Well, let the word of God meet this young gallant in all his bravery, with his feast of sensual delights before him, and but whisper a few syllables in his car, give his conscience but a prick with the point of its sword, and it shall make him fly in as great haste from them all, as Absalom's brethren did from the feast when they saw Amnon their brother murdered at the table. When David would give the young man a receipt to cure him of his lusts, how he may cleanse his whole course and way, he bids him only wash in the waters of the word of God. William Gumall.

Verse 9. The Scriptures teach us the best way of living, the noblest way of suffering, and the most comfortable way of dying. John Flavel, 1627-1691.

 

HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS

Outlines Upon Keywords of The Psalm, by Pastor C. A. Davis

Verse 9-16. -- Sanctification by the word, declared generally ( Psalms 119:9 ); sought personally ( Psalms 119:10-12 ); published to others ( Psalms 119:13 ); personally rejoiced in ( Psalms 119:14-16 ).

 

HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS

Verse 9. --

  1. The young man's question.
  2. The wise man's reply.

Verse 9. -- In the word of God, when applied to the heart by the Spirit of God, there is,

  1. A sufficiency of light to discover to men the need of cleansing their way.
  2. Sufficiency of energy for the cleansing their way.
  3. A sufficiency of pleasure to encourage them to choose to cleanse their way.
  4. A sufficiency of support to sustain them in their cleansed way. -- Theophilus Jones, in a "Sermon to the Young," 1829.

Verse 9. The word of God provides for the cleansing of the way.

  1. By pointing out to the young man the evil of the way.
  2. By discovering an infallible remedy for the disorders of his nature -- the salvation that is by Jesus Christ.
  3. By becoming a directory in all the paths of duty to which he may be called. -- Daniel Wilson, 1828.

Verse 9. -- The Psalmist's rules for the attainment of holiness deduced from his own experience.

  1. Seek God with thy "whole heart" ( Psalms 119:2 ). Be truly sensible of your wants.
  2. Keep and remember what God says ( Psalms 119:11 ): "Thy word have I hidden," etc.
  • Reduce all this to practice ( Psalms 119:11 ): "That I might not sin against thee."
  • Bless God for what he has given (vet. 12): "Blessed art thou," etc.
  • Ask more ( Psalms 119:12 ): Teach me thy statute,.
  • Be ready to communicate his knowledge to others ( Psalms 119:13 ): "With my lips have I declared."
  • Let it have a due effect on thy own heart ( Psalms 119:14 ): "I have rejoiced," etc.
  • Meditate frequently upon them ( Psalms 119:15 ): "I will meditate," etc.
  • Deeply reflect on them ( Psalms 119:16 ): "I will have respect," etc. As food undigested will not nourish the body, so the word of God not considered with deep meditation and reflection will not feed the soul.
  • Having pursued the above course he should continue in it, and then his happiness would be secured ( Psalms 119:16 ): "I will not forget thy word: I will (in consequence) delight myself in thy statutes." --Adam Clarke.

    Verse 9. -- A question and answer for the young. The Bible is a book for young people. Here it intimates,

    1. That the young man's way needs to be cleansed. His way of thinking, feeling, speaking, acting.
    2. That he must take an active part in the work. The efficient cause in the operation is God. Other good influences are also at work. But the young man must be in hearty and practical sympathy with the work.
    3. That he must use the Bible for the purpose. This records facts, presents incitations, enjoins precepts, utters promises, and sets up examples, all which are adapted to make a young man holy. By reading, studying, and imitating the Scriptures in a lowly and prayerful spirit the young shall escape pollution and ornament society. --W.J.

    Verse 9. -- A word to the young.

    1. Show how the young man is in special danger of defiling his way. Through,
      1. His strong passions.
    (b) His immature judgment.
    (c) His inexperience.
    (d) His rash self sufficiency.
    (e) His light companions, and,
    (f) His general heedlessness.

    1. The circumspection he should use to cleanse his way. "Taking heed,"
    (a) Of his evil propensities.
    (b) Of his companions.
    (c) Of his pursuits.
    (d) Of the tendencies of all he does.

    1. The infallible guide by which his circumspection is to be regulated: "according to thy word" -- that is to say,
      1. Its precepts.
    (b) Its examples.
    (c) Its motives.
    (d) Its warnings.
    (e) Its allurements. --C.A.D.