Psalm 119:96

 

EXPOSITION

Verse 96. I have seen an end of all perfection. He had seen its limit, for it went but a little way; he had seen its evaporation under the trials of life, its detection under the searching glance of truth, its exposure by the confession of the penitent. There is no perfection beneath the moon. Perfect men, in the absolute sense of the word, live only in a perfect world. Some men see no end to their own perfection, but this is because they are perfectly blind. The experienced believer has seen an end of all perfection in himself, in his brethren, in the best man's best works. It would be well if some who profess to be perfect could even see the beginning of perfection, for we fear they cannot have begun aright, or they would not talk so exceeding proudly. Is it not the beginning of perfection to lament your imperfection? There is no such thing as perfection in anything which is the work of man. "But thy commandment is exceeding broad." When the breadth of the law is known the notion of perfection in the flesh vanishes: that law touches every act, word, and thought, and is of such a spiritual nature that it judges the motives, desires, and emotions of the soul. It reveals a perfection which convicts us for shortcomings as well as for transgressions, and does not allow us to make up for deficiencies in one direction by special carefulness in others. The divine ideal of holiness is far too broad for us to hope to cover all its wide arena, and yet it is no broader than it ought to be. Who would wish to have an imperfect law? Nay, its perfection is its glory; but it is the death of all glorying in our own perfection. There is a breadth about the commandment which has never been met to the full by a corresponding breadth of holiness in any mere man while here below; only in Jesus do we see it fully embodied. The law is in all respects a perfect code; each separate precept of it is far reaching in its hallowed meaning, and the whole ten cover all, and leave no space wherein to please our passions. We may well adore the infinity of divine holiness, and then measure ourselves by its standard, and bow before the Lord in all lowliness, acknowledging how far we fall short of it.

 

EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS

Verse 96. -- I have seem an end of all perfection, etc. These words are variously rendered and understood by interpreters, who in this variety do very much conspire and agree in the same sense. The Chaldee Paraphrase renders the words thus, "I have seen an end of all things about which I have employed my care; but thy commandment is very large." The Syriac version thus, "I have seen an end of all regions and countries" (that is, I have found the compass of the habitable world to be finite and limited) "but thy commandment is of a vast extent." Others explain it thus, "I have seen an end of all perfection," that is, of all the things of this world which men value and esteem at so high a rate; of all worldly wisdom and knowledge, of wealth, and honour, and greatness, which do all perish and pass away; "but thy law is eternal, and still abideth the same"; or, as the Scripture elsewhere expresses it, "The word of the Lord endureth for ever." --John Tillotson, 1630-1694.

Verse 96. -- I have seen an end of all perfection. Poor perfection which one sees an end of! Yet such are all those things in this world which pass for perfections. David in his time had seen Goliath, the strongest, overcome; Asahel, the swiftest, overtaken; Ahithophel, the wisest, befooled; Absalom, the fairest, deformed. --Matthew Henry.

Verse 96. -- I have seen an end of all perfection, etc. The Psalmist's words offer us a double comfort and encouragement. We may read them in two ways:

  1. "I have seen an end of all perfection; for thy commandment is exceeding broad"; and
  2. "I have seen an end of all perfection, but thy commandment is exceeding broad."

Read in the first way, they suggest the animating thought, that our haunting consciousness of imperfection springs from the bright and awful perfection of the Law we are bent on obeying, of the ideal we have set before us. It is not because we are worse than those who are without law, or who are a law unto themselves, that we are restless and dissatisfied with ourselves; but because we measure both ourselves and our fellows by the lofty standard of God's commandment. It is because that commandment is so broad, that we cannot embrace it; it is because it is so high, that we cannot attain to it; it is because it is so perfect, that we cannot perfectly obey it.

But we may read the verse in another way, and still derive comfort and encouragement from it. We may say: "I have seen an end of all perfection in myself, and in the world; but thy commandment is exceeding broad: that is perfect, though I am imperfect, and in its perfection I find the promise of my own." For shall God give a law for human life, and that law remain for ever unfulfilled Impossible! "The gifts of God are without repentance" -- irreversible, never to be lessened or withdrawn. His purpose is not to be made of none effect by our weaknesses and sins. In the Law he has shown us what he would have us to be. And shall we never become what lie would have us to be? Can the Law remain for ever without any life that corresponds to it and fulfils it? Nay, God will never take back the fair and perfect ideal of human life depicted in his Law, never retract his purpose to raise the life of man till it touches and fulfils its ideal. And so the very Law which is our despair is our comfort also; for if that be perfect we must become perfect; its perfection is the pledge of ours. --From "The Expositor," 1876.

Verse 96. -- I have seen an end of all perfection. David's natural eye had seen the end of many human perfections, and the eye of his understanding saw the end of them all. He had seen some actually end, and he saw that all must end. Adam did not continue in that perfection which had no imperfection in it; how then shall any of his children continue in what is at best an imperfect perfection? --Abraham Wright.

Verse 96. -- I have seen an end, etc. The laws of Lycurgus among the Grecians, and of Numa among the Romans, had somewhat of good in them, but not all; prohibited somewhat that was evil, but not all that was evil. But the Christian religion is of a larger extent, both in its precepts and prohibitions: "I have seen an end of all perfection: but thy commandment is exceeding broad." A man with the eye of his body may behold an end of many worldly perfections, of many fair estates, great beauties, large parts, hopeful families; but a man with the eye of his soul (or by faith) may see an end of all earthly perfections. He may see the world in a flame, and all its pomp and pride, and glory, and gallantry, and crowns and sceptres, and riches, and treasures, turned into ashes. He may see the heavens passing away like a scroll, and the elements melting with fervent heat, and the earth, with the things thereon, consumed; and all its perfections, which men dented so much on, vanished into smoke and nothing. It is easy to see to the end of all terrene perfections, but it is difficult, yea, impossible, to see to the end of divine precepts: "But thy commandments are exceeding broad," of a vast latitude, beyond our apprehension. They are so deep that none can fathom them, Psalms 36:6 , so high that they are established in heaven, Psalms 114:48 ; so long that they endure for ever, 2 Peter 1; and so broad, that none can measure them. They are not only "broad," but "exceeding broad": higher than heaven, longer than the earth, broader than the sea. "The commands of God reach the inward parts, the most secret motions and retired recesses of the soul. They reach all the privy thoughts, they pierce even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and discern the thoughts and intents of the heart, Hebrews 4:12 . They reach to all our actions; to those that seem smallest and of less concernment, as well as to those that are greater and of more concernment." --George Swinnock.

Verse 96. -- Thy commandment is exceeding broad. As there is more mercy in the gospel than we are able to comprehend, so there is more holiness in the law than we are able to comprehend. No man ever saw into the depths of that righteousness. There is an infinite holiness in the law. "I have seen an end of all perfection: but thy commandment is exceeding broad." He speaks not in the concrete, I have seen an end of perfect things, but in the abstract, "an end of perfection," I have come to the outside or to the very bottom of all (a man may soon travel through all the perfections that are in the world, and either see their end, or see that they end); "but thy commandment is exceeding broad," that is, it is exceedingly broader than any of these perfections; I cannot see the end of it, and I know it shall never have an end. There is a vastness of purity and spiritualness in the law. -- Joseph Caryl.

Verse 96. -- Thy commandment is exceeding broad. It is so by the comprehensive applicableness of its grand, simple rules. "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and soul, and strength, and thy neighbour as thyself." It is so by the ample order of its special injunctions. Where is there a spot without a signal of the divine will? It is so by laying an authoritative hand on the first principles and origin from which any thing can proceed, in human spirit and action; then it reaches to all things that do or can proceed thence. It asserts a jurisdiction over all thought and inward affection. All language is uttered under this same jurisdiction. All that the world and each man is in action about. And even over what is not done it maintains its authority, and pronounces its dictates and judgments. It is a positive thing with respect to what is negative, omission, nonexistence Like the divine government in the material world, over the wastes, deserts, and barren sands. And from these spaces of nothing (as it were) it can raise up substantial forms of evil, of sin, in evidence against men. As at the resurrection men will rise from empty wastes, where it would not have been suspected that any were concealed. Let a man look back on all his omissions, and think what the divine law can raise from them against him. Thus the law in its exceeding breadth, is vacant nowhere; it is not stretched to this wide extent by chasms and void spaces. If a man could find one such, he might there take his position for sin with impunity, if not with innocence. --John Foster, 1768- 1848.

Verse 96. -- Thy commandment is exceeding broad. In the popular religious literature of the present times, the terms "broad" and "free" are of frequent occurrence. The fascination that surrounds them is enhanced by the use, at the same time, of their opposites, "narrow" and "bigoted." By an adroit manipulation of these terms and their equivalents, the heterodoxy of the day is labouring to stamp out the doctrine and spirit of the evangelical faith, and to allure the Christian multitude within the influence of the spreading rationalistic drift. Going to the market where the heterodox wares are exhibited with labels so attractive, the unsuspecting purchaser soon discovers that "their vine is of the vine of Sodom, and of the fields of Gomorrah: their grapes are grapes of gall, their clusters are bitter." Is the time not come when the adherents of the true faith should make an effort to wrest from their opponents the monopoly in the use of these terms, which they seem desirous of establishing for themselves? Those who, in the spirit of their Master, abide most closely by, and contend most tenaciously for, the whole faith that has been delivered to the saints, must be the most liberal minded and catholic; and those who forsake the "old paths" must, in proportion to the extent of their departures, become contracted in their mental grasp, and narrow in their soul. Is not the Bible -- the whole Bible -- the only manual of Broad churchism in its truest and highest sense? Is not the revelation of God's Son in us, the great soul expanding power? "If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." Must we not infer, from the words of Christ "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free," that the mind which apprehends the truth is a home of mental liberty? Does not strict conformity of the life to God's law produce real breadth of character? For "Thy commandment is exceeding broad." Is not the gospel system the only true Broad churchism -- "the perfect law of liberty"? Is not the believer -- and the more so in proportion to the strength of his faith -- the only true Broad churchman, "increasing with the increase of God," "filled with all the fulness of God"? --James Kerr, in "The Modern Scottish Pulpit," 1880.

Verse 96. -- Exceeding broad. Notwithstanding many things do show the way of life to be narrow, yet unto the godly man it is a way of great breadth; though not for sin, yet for duly and delight. He makes haste and progress in it. --Robert Trail, 1642- 1716.

Verse 96. -- Take notice that the law, which is your mark, is exceeding broad. And yet not the more easy to be hit; because you must aim to hit it, in every duty of it, with a performance of equal breadth, or else you cannot hit it at all. --Stephen Marshall.

 

HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS

Verse 96. --

  1. An end: -- "seen"; seen by one man; seen where it should not have been; seen where there was no end of boasting; seen in all perfection.
  2. No end: -- to the extent, spirituality, perpetuity, and perfectness of the law.

Verse 96. --

  1. The Finite explored.
  2. The Infinite unexplored. --W.D.

Verse 96. -- Perfectionism disproved by experience and inspiration. --W.B.H.

Verse 96. -- Perfection -- perfect and imperfect.

  1. Loud professions of perfection arise from ignorance (of self, or of God's requirements).
  2. Are peculiarly liable to collapse: "I have seen an end."
  3. Are best corrected by a survey of the breadth of the divine law. --C.A.D.