Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way ? It does not follow from this inquiry that the writer is a "young man"—rather the reverse. He is anxious to give advice to young men, which is naturally the part of one somewhat advanced in life. By taking heed thereto, according to thy Word. This is the answer to the question raised in clause 1. By looking to God's Word, and guiding himself thereby, the young man may "cleanse his way"—not otherwise.
The blessedness of obedience.
The first two verses of the psalm leave no mistake as to the nature of true obedience; it includes:
1. Integrity of heart . Sincerity, being "undefiled," seeking the favor and entering the service of God "with the whole heart" ( Psalms 119:10 ), with a spirit in which "is no guile."
2. Consistency of conduct . "Walking in the Law," "keeping his commandments;" it is" he that doeth righteousness that is righteous" (John).
3. Patient continuance in well-doing . Making an earnest and sustained endeavor to do the will of God ( Psalms 119:4 ). Such genuine obedience is attended with great blessedness.
I. IT INVOLVES PURITY OF HEART AND LIFE . "They do no iniquity: they walk in his ways" ( Psalms 119:3 ). Obedience is its own reward, apart from any recompense it may secure. To be pure-hearted, to be true and faithful, to be unselfish and helpful, to be like our Lord in spirit and in character, to be living a life that is worthy and honorable in the sight of God,—is not this the truest and the largest blessing?
II. IT BRINGS SALVATION FROM EVIL .
1. From sin itself, whether in the heart or the life ( Psalms 119:11 ).
2. From the shame to which sin constantly conducts ( Psalms 119:6 ).
3. From Divine condemnation ( Psalms 119:21 ).
4. From the rebuke which comes from the lips of the Lord himself.
III. IT IS THE SERVICE OF SACRED JOY . ( Psalms 119:14 , Psalms 119:16 , Psalms 119:24 ; see also Psalms 119:35 , Psalms 119:47 , Psalms 119:54 , Psalms 119:103 , Psalms 119:111 , Psalms 119:127 , Psalms 119:162 .) Sweeter than honey to the taste, more precious than gold in the heart's esteem, is the Word of God, "the mind of Christ." The sweet substance will soon pail, the spoil will soon he spent, the much-prized wealth may become a snare; but the study of God's will, meditation upon the truth and grace of Jesus Christ, the welcome given by the heart to the heavenly hopes and the Divine consolations with which the pages of Holy Writ are studded, sitting at the feet of the great Teacher and learning of him,—this is the source of pure, unfailing, ever-deepening joy. The acquisition of any kind of knowledge is pleasant to the mind, but the enrichment of the soul by the reception of Divine wisdom means deep "delight," an intense satisfaction to the spirit. If such is the blessedness of obedience, we learn:
1. The excellency of steadfastness ( Psalms 119:5-10 ). How needful to have our feet "firmly fixed" in the way of life; to be saved from "wandering" first into byways and then into highways of evil! Hence:
2. The wisdom of keeping an open mind ( Psalms 119:7 ), of realizing that there is something more to learn. Hence also:
3. The need for serious, strenuous effort ( Psalms 119:4 , Psalms 119:16 ), of being "diligent" in duty and of keeping the will of our Lord always before our mind, of continually refreshing our memory from his Word. Hence also:
4. The need for prayer ( Psalms 119:10 ).
5. The duty of teaching as well as learning ( Psalms 119:13 ). Such true and pure blessedness as we ourselves have gained, we should seek to pass on to other souls.
Meditation: its place in Christian culture.
In these days and in this country we may speak of meditation as a lost art, if not, indeed, as a lost faculty. We have become incapable of sustained thought, of prolonged consideration of Divine truth. Even with the aid of a well-studied and well-spoken discourse, and the presence of sympathetic fellow-listeners, it is found difficult to maintain continuous attention for more than half an hour once or twice a week. The psalmist again and again recurs to this sacred duty; he speaks of it as a much-prized privilege. The best men of Old and New Testament times were men of meditation as well as of action—Enoch, Abraham, Moses, Samuel, David, Elijah, Nehemiah, John Baptist, St. Paul, John the apostle—all of these illustrate the truth. Our Lord himself sought the mountain fold for solitude and communion with his own heart and with his Father. The best men that have lived and wrought during this Christian era have been men that found time for contemplation, and for the devotion in which that reaches its highest point. In a time and a land where action is felt to be everything; where there is a multitude of distractions; where every hour may easily be occupied with some lawful or even laudable activity; where a positive effort has to be made to secure a quiet hour;—there is serious danger lest our Christian character suffer from want of earnest and devout meditation.
I. THE TWO THINGS ON WHICH TO DWELL . These are God's Word and our own "ways." We should meditate on God's statutes or precepts; we should "think on our ways." What a field for thought is here ] The nature and the character and the work of God as revealed in sacred history and in Jesus Christ; the truth spoken to us by our Lord, and written for our learning by inspired men; the ways in which Divine truth has been illustrated and enforced in human history; the path along which God has led us; the witness we have borne, and the work we have done; the failure to become and to effect what we might have been and have done; the lessening distance before us this side the grave; the immortal life beyond, etc.
II. THE STATE OR ACT IN WHICH IT CULMINATES . In prayer. Meditation is the best friend of devotion; it is its source and safeguard. There is much that passes for prayer which, in the absence of meditation, is only mechanical repetition; there is no real meditation which does not pass into genuine, acceptable, fruitful prayer.
III. ITS PRACTICAL ISSUE . "I turned my feet," etc. (verse 59). To be nothing at all but a thinker, or even a student, is a sad mistake. We must come forth from the chamber of communion to the field of conflict. But there is little danger now of too much seclusion. Much serious consideration, passing into prayer, is the best preparation for the "world's broad field of battle," for the dangers to be dared and the duties to be done.
Success in every sphere of action is attained by thoroughness, by concentrating our forces, and working "with our whole heart." Many a man has allowed his life to be a failure because he has dissipated his strength. He "has done a great many things badly." But in no sphere of thought or action is thoroughness so much demanded as in that of religion. Surely we should offer the very best, our whole self, to our Creator, to our Savior. This applies to—
I. OUR APPROACH TO HIM AND PURSUIT OF HIS FAVOR . ( Psalms 119:2 , Psalms 119:10 , Psalms 119:58 .) To engage in the worship of God, or to read his Word, or to seek his friendship and forgiving love, in a formal and ceremonious fashion, with little seriousness and no earnestness of spirit, is to make a sad mistake; it is to lose the battle. Our relation to God is immeasurably higher than any other relation can be; his claims are absolutely supreme; our interest in his merciful regard is surpassingly great; and there cannot possibly be any engagement of the soul that demands such strenuousness, such concentration of powers, such fixedness and fullness of soul, as prayer, as devotion, as the seeking after God.
II. OUR LIFE - SERVICE . ( Psalms 119:4 , Psalms 119:34 .) The languid and listless efforts which some "religious" men make in the service of God must be wholly unacceptable, as they are altogether unbecoming. "Worthy is the Lamb to receive riches"—the riches of our remembrance, our obedience, our submission, our service. To make a few feeble efforts to subdue our temper, to quell our repining, to preserve a sustained tranquility or cheerfulness of spirit, to show friendliness to Christian brethren, or to speak words of guidance or warning, but to give up the attempt because we do not immediately succeed,—this is not to keep God's precepts "diligently," to observe his will " with our whole heart." It is to relegate religion to the second or third place in our esteem. Christ claims the first . He tells us that if we love any one or anything more than him, we are not worthy of him. He promises us that if we subordinate all other things to him and to his service, we shall receive a large reward at his hands.
God's Word and shame.
I. THE THREE KINDS OF SHAME .
1. The shame of which we need not be ashamed; of which we may be proud—the " reproaches of Christ;" being disregarded and even despised because we are loyal to our Lord, and true to the convictions we have learnt of him; the reproach which purity sometimes suffers at the hands of laxity, and integrity from the lips of dishonesty, and devotion from the ribaldry of ungodliness. This is all to our credit, and does us honor. But then there is:
2. Self-reproach, the accusation of our own conscience. There is also:
3. The condemnation of the good; that strong and sometimes stern reprobation with which an instructed society visits the crime, the vice, the cruelty, the selfishness, the wrong-doing which comes before its tribunal, and calls for its verdict.
II. OUR TRUE SUPPORT IN HONORABLE SHAME . This is found in what God's Word tells us of:
1. Our Lord's esteem add strong approval ( Matthew 5:10-12 ).
2. His own example. He "suffered the contradiction of sinners against himself," and stooped to the lowliest shame, "even to the death of the cross."
3. Our hope. "Unto the upright there ariseth light in the darkness."
III. THE TRUE PRESERVATIVE FROM THE SHAME WE SHOULD FEAR . This also God's Word affords us, for it supplies:
1. The constant, the eternal principles which save from sin and wrong—truth, probity, purity, temperance, faithfulness, etc.
2. The strongest inducements to integrity—that fear of God and love of Jesus Christ which will make us shrink sensitively from all that grieves his Spirit, and which will lead us to pursue that path which ends in his large reward.
The way of life: the young.
Our attention is called to—
I. THE WAY OF LIFE ; especially as it presents itself to the young. It is interesting to look forward to a long journey; to anticipate the scenes that will be witnessed, the companionships that will be formed, the memories that will be gathered for years to come, etc. But how much more interesting to look forward to the journey of life still in prospect; to anticipate its joys, it successes, its triumphs; to hope for its friendships and achievements; to guard against its dangers and its mistakes! The uncertainties of the future in the case of the young, the possibilities of failure or of victory, make the earlier years of life to be fraught with the deepest interest.
II. THE SECRET OF SUCCESS . This is twofold.
1. It is found in manly thoughtfulness . How shall a young man make his course sweet and clean and pure? "By taking heed thereto; ' by refusing to treat his life with levity, to let things take their own course, to make his "way" nothing but a "chapter of accidents;" by determining that it shall be a matter of intelligent, deliberate choice; by devoting to that most serious subject his most earnest consideration, and bridging to bear upon it the full faculties of his nature.
2. It is found in Divine guidance—"according to thy Word." And this "Word"
(a) Rejection of some—the resolute refusal to admit to our confidence those who are unworthy of it. I hate "vain thoughts," or "doubters, skeptics, double-minded men" ( Psalms 119:113 ); the peremptory dismissal from friendship of those who are unprincipled ( Psalms 119:115 ).
(b) Admission of others . ( Psalms 119:63 , Psalms 119:74 .) Very few things go so far to decide the way of life as the choice of companions. Associate with the frivolous or the skeptical, and the path of life leads downward to folly, unbelief, ruin; walk with the wise, the earnest, the godly, and that path leads upward to wisdom, virtue, usefulness, heaven.
Introductory to whole psalm.
I. WHOM WAS IT WRITTEN BY ?
1. Some assert that it is David ' s work . They profess to be able to find proofs of his style and manner, and there is no limit to the laudations they pass on this psalm; but extravagant rhetoric proves nothing.
2. But all the chief and most reliable of expositors refuse to admit the Davidic authorship . The style is far later than that of David. In the Lamentations of Jeremiah there is a similar alphabetical composition. It is altogether an artificial and didactic composition, widely different from that which we have most reason to assign to the age and pen of David. Moreover, so far as we know, that general reading of the Law, which this psalm presupposes, could not have been without the wide circulation of copies of the Law. But of such circulation we have no evidence until the time of Ezra. Moreover, the life of David, as it is portrayed in the Scriptures, seems quite out of keeping with the tone, spirit, and allusions of this psalm.
3. It is not possible to name any individual person as the author . But we gather from the psalm that it was written by a devoted servant of God, whoever be may have been; that he was probably a young man—one of those of whom St. John would say, "I have written unto you young men, because ye are strong, and have overcome the wicked one." Verses 9, 99, 100, warrant the supposition that he was young. But, nevertheless, deeply taught of God to love the Word of God, and to continually feed upon it. Very lowly minded and humble before God. See the general tone of the psalm, and especially the last eight verses. He seems to have been much tried (verses 21, 23, 36, 37). His one fear being lest he should prove unworthy, and be ashamed (verses 6, 7, 22, 31), If we were to look for one in whom the various conditions of authorship meet, we should turn to the Book of Daniel; either he himself, or one of those three noble Hebrew youths his book tells of, might well have been the writer of this psalm.
II. WHEREFORE IT WAS WRITTEN .
1. Perhaps as a memoir of the writer ' s own experience , and for his own help.
2. But yet more probably for the instruction of others . Hence the alphabetic, acrostic style, which was adopted as an aid to memory; just as preachers now divide their sermons into various heads.
3. And for the glory of God— that his grace might be praised.
4. For the commendation of the Word of God . The psalmist would bear his emphatic testimony to the preciousness of that Word.
5. And for the stirring up of those who should read the psalm to diligent search for the treasures of that Word . Personal testimony such as is so largely given in this psalm has ever great power over the minds of others.
III. ITS GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS .
1. It is from a believer to believers . The infidel and scoffer are not contemplated in the design of the psalm.
2. It is for the edification and growth in holiness of the people of God .
3. It is intensely spiritual . Rites and ceremonies and appeals to the mere reason are absent from it; it speaks to the soul.
4. It is universal in character . Limited to no one period, to no one land, to no one nation, but for all.
5. Its spiritual force and power are witnessed to by the God-fearing of all ages . — S.C.
Characteristics of the Word of God as declared by the various names given to it in this psalm.
There are eight such names.
I. IT IS CALLED THE " LAW ." ( Psalms 119:1 , Psalms 119:18 , Psalms 119:34 , etc.) The word implies that which rules guides, directs, therefore a rule of conduct. And this was evidently the psalmist's meaning, God's Word was not something to be merely talked about, praised, or argued over, but it was to order a man's life, and be his constant guide.
II. " TESTIMONIES ." The word signifies that which bears witness to. And the Word of God is this.
1. It bears witness to us of God , and of his will concerning us; and:
2. It bears witness to our hearts of the acceptableness or wrong of our lives and conduct in the sight of God. It will ever bear true testimony, which it is at our peril if we neglect. By it God's sentence upon us will be determined.
III. " PRECEPTS ." This expression comes from a word which signifies "that which is entrusted to us." And so God's Word is the deposit of faith, which we are to keep and guard. St. Paul declared, at the end of his career, "I have kept the faith;" and he exhorted Timothy to "keep that which was committed unto" him. We shall be asked at the last what we have done with this precious entrustment. God's words to us are the talents which, whilst he is absent from our sight, we are to "occupy," that is, trade with, until the Lord comes.
IV. " STATUTES ." The term is derived from a word which tells of that which is engraved, definitely and clearly drawn, as a chart, a map, and so prescribes the way that is to be taken. And is not this true of the Word of God? Is it not ever saying to us, "This is the way, walk ye in it "? How clear and plain is the course it marks out for us! And, perhaps, the psalmist thought also of the depth and clearness with which this word is written on the human heart, and especially on the believing heart. There God has engraved deeply and definitely his will for us. Christ, the Word, is the Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
V. " COMMANDMENTS ." That which is ordained, as the commander of an army orders what is to be done. God's people are the army of the living God, and in this holy war success is only to be gained by strict and diligent obedience to his commands.
VI. " JUDGMENTS ." This expression is used of the verdict in a court of law, that which has legal sanction, and which governs the sentence of the judge. And so the Word of God is the Divine sentence, and is in accordance with the law of nature, of reason, and of righteousness. Who are we to set up our flimsy ideas against the precedents, principles, and judgments of the righteous Judge?
VII. " WORD ." ( Psalms 119:9 , Psalms 119:11 , Psalms 119:17 , etc.) This answers to that sacred name of Christ, who is the Word of God. It tells, not of a written letter, a series of documents drawn up by men; but it is that inner word of God which the spirit of man hears—it may be through the written or spoken Word, but it may be also independently of either. It is that Word which, if not heard, no preaching or teaching of man is of any avail. This is the Word we need to hear.
VIII. " WAY ." The road, the course, the path, along which God himself walks, and that in which he would have us walk. And that the Word of God is. It is the way of holiness, the King's highway, and blessed are they that walk therein.—S.C.
Sanctified through the truth.
We have here—
I. A DIFFICULT QUESTION . "Wherewithal shall a young man," etc.? ( Psalms 119:9 ).
1. The very word " wherewithal " implies this . It seems to suggest that all manner of means had been tried, but found inadequate.
2. It is also implied that the way is already defiled . And this most true, as most sad. The young man starts with an evil bias, and he has made this stronger than before by frequent compliance with it. So that it is not a clean way that has to be kept clean—that is difficult enough, but a defiled way that has to be made clean.
3. And youth is so open to temptation . The passions and appetites of the body clamoring like a set of foul harpies for indulgence. The mind, impatient of control, giving heed to all manner of unbelief and doubt and denial of the truth; the heart inexperienced and untaught, ready to be ensnared with the varied deceits of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Here is the fuel ready and the fire, and they come together in youth. What can prevent the conflagration?
II. BUT IT IS NOT A QUESTION THAT CANNOT BE ANSWERED . It has been again and again. See the history of Joseph; of Daniel and the noble Hebrew youths in exile with him; see the young men to whom St. John writes ( 1 John 2:13 , 1 John 2:14 ). And there are many such today, glory be to God!
III. HERE WE ARE TOLD HOW THE QUESTION IS ANSWERED . "By taking heed. thereto," etc. (verse 9).
1. There must be taking heed to the way : thought and care given to it. It will not come right by chance, or when we are asleep, but it will need strenuous endeavors.
2. And this must be according to God ' s Word . For that Word supplies the pattern and model of such cleansed way; especially in Christ, "who did no sin," who was "holy, harmless, and undefiled." And it supplies the all-constraining motives—the love of God, the cross of Christ, the beauty of holiness, the eternal reward. And it gives the wisest counsel as to all holy living; there the right road is marked out for us. God's Word is a sure guide. And it points to the one source of help—the Holy Spirit of God, by whom God causes us to will and to do according to his good pleasure.
3. And all this he had done . See the following verses in this section. He tells how he had sought God with the whole heart, had hidden God's Word in his heart, etc; so that he had come to rejoice therein; and this, doubtless, because of their help.—S.C.
Cleansing one's way.
This should be a familiar text to us all—one of those that are enshrined in memory, and made an abiding power in the life. Occasions for its consideration and for its counsels are ever recurring, because:
1. Among us are always boys coming out into the responsibilities of youth and young manhood.
2. While phases of youthful sin may vary for each generation, Bible counsels fit to every age, because they deal with principles .
I. THE GROUNDS ON WHICH THE INQUIRY OF THE TEXT IS BASED . The moral perils to which the young are exposed. The text does not say that the way of the young is actually unclean, but it views the young as just beginning to walk in a way that is miry and dangerous. To compass the whole truth we should consider:
1. The moral weakness of the young man himself. It partly lies in
2. The evils actually lying in the way of the young.
II. THE GROUNDS ON WHICH A WISE ANSWER TO THIS INQUIRY MAY REST .
1. No other answer than that given in the text can fully meet the case.
2. The Word of God can become a deliverance from young men's moral weaknesses and perils. It can be a power of practical wisdom and self-restraint. Illustrate by our Lord's use of the Word, as a weapon, in the time of his temptation as a young Man.
3. The Word of God acts as do beacons and lighthouses and sign-posts—it points out the dangerous parts of the way, and indicates the safe and direct roads.
4. The Word of God delivers us from the mischievous influence of false maxims by its revelation of truth and duty. But the Word does not, once for all, cleanse any man's way. All through life the way in which we walk will be foul and full of perils, traps, and temptations. The Word enables us to pick our path safely amidst the dirt and the snares and the pitfalls that may be put in our way. "Not defiled their garments;" " Unspotted from the world." Appeal thus: In view of life, do you think you can safely go all alone? Can you certainly triumph over all the subtlety and all the strength of evil in your own sufficiency? "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall."—R.T.
The perils of youth.
Because the psalmist refers to the "young man ," we need not imagine that, at the time of composing the psalm, he was himself a young man. The stanzas represent a variety of moods; and for this one the psalmist was in a mood of retrospection; he was looking back over the past, and seeing what a help God's Word had been to him amid the perils and temptations of his youthful years. He had "ruled himself after God's Word," and rejoices in having come through his youth-time clean-souled and unspotted from the world. The Prayer-book Version suggests that no external defenses will ever suffice to keep the young man from "city snares and town traps." He will be kept if he keeps himself; he will only keep himself if he asks God to keep him; and God will only keep him as he diligently seeks direction and counsel from God's book of instructions and warnings. "Even by ruling himself after thy Word." It is implied in the expression, "cleanse his way," that there are things surrounding the young man that may easily defile him. But that is true for old men as well as young men. What is of special importance to young men is that
I. THE YOUNG MAN WANTS A STANDARD AND A GUIDE . The ship of a young life has to sail over unknown seas, and there must be culture for managing the vessel, and a chart for directing its course. This the young are not ready to admit. "Why not wait and gain power out of experience?" Experience is a dear school, and its lessons are only learned aright when the life is in the ordering of God's infallible guide. Experience is to a man according to what the man is.
II. THE YOUNG MAN CANNOT SAFELY RE A LAW UNTO HIMSELF . Can any man? "It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps." If any man can, it is the experienced and sanctified Christian. But he is the very man who is sure that he cannot. If he cannot, how can the youth? What always happens when youth takes the ordering of life into its own hands?
III. THE YOUNG MAN CAN GO RIGHT WITH THE HELP OF GOD 'S WORD . Which is no mere set of rules, but the Father-God finding counsel and warning and help for every emergency. It is a strengthening of the soul to resist, as well as a clearing of the eyes to avoid all that would befoul.—R.T.
1. TORAH , "the Law" itself; but not merely the Law given on Mount Sinai; rather, God's law in the widest sense, all whereby he has intimated his will to man.
2. ' EDVOTH , or ' EDOTH , "testimonies." God's commands, considered as witnesses to his character, and as attesting his will.
3. MISHPATIM , "judgments." Judicial pronouncements by act or word against particular lines of conduct.
4. KHUQQIM , "statutes"—once translated "ordinances" ( Psalms 119:91 ). Enactments of God as Legislator, but not confined to the written Law.
5. DABAR or DEBARIM , "God's Word" or "Words." His actual spoken or written utterances.
6. PIQQUDIM , "precepts." Instructions given to men to direct their conduct.
7. MITSROTH , "commandments." Only slightly differing from piqqudim—rather wider.
8. IMRAH , properly "promise," but used rather as a variant, instead of dabar , and extending to all God's utterances.
9. DAREK or DEEAKIM , "way" Or "ways." Prescribed lines of conduct (very seldom used).
The synonyms from 1 to 8 occur, each of them twenty times, or oftener, in the psalm. Darek ( derakim ) occurs only four times. Emunah , which has been called a synonym (Kay), scarcely deserves to be so considered. It is only wanted as a synonym once ( Psalms 119:90 ). The excellence of "the Law" is considered in almost every possible aspect.
א ALEPH .