A commentary on Psalm 119:97-104.
“Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts. I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word. I do not turn aside from your rules, for you have taught me. How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.”
The law is such an adverse subject among believers. It gets a bad rap among many and too much attention for many others. Confusion and angst surround the law and any dialogue about it. Anytime it’s brought up in lectures, sermons, or discussions, an ominous cloud immediately descends. Believers drop the law and its demand for obedience at the first accusation of legalism, fearing that the two are synonymous. But the law isn’t something to be jilted or ditched at the first sign of discomfort — it’s something to be cherished. That might sound odd but believers are made by the Spirit to not only revere but love the law, for in it we see, find, and are pointed to Jesus.
“The law is God’s law, and therefore it is our love . . . Those who know the power of the gospel perceive an infinite loveliness in the law as they see it fulfilled and embodied in Christ Jesus.” (Spurgeon, 229)
“Oh how I love your law,” the psalmist declares; “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Ps. 119:97, 103) So too can all true believers in Jesus say the more they meditate upon the truths found in God’s Word. There’s a circular movement to Scripture, in that, the more we meditate upon it the more we’ll love it; and the more we love it the more we’ll meditate upon it. The longer we’re in God’s Word, the sweeter it becomes. Familiarity with the Word breeds affection, and affection yields greater familiarity. This is the way in which we feed upon the words of God, making them our portion and nourishment day to day. For the disciple of Christ, the Word of God is his inalienable and indefeasible possession — yes, including God’s law.
Defeat Before Victory
You see, only the person who’s been broken and defeated by the law can love that law, for in the brokenness and defeat comes the healing and victory of grace. The law pierces through our worthless cobweb righteousness that we spin for ourselves and shows us for who we really are: cold, gaunt, naked beggars, devoid of all spiritual life. Apart from God, all performances of the law and attempts at spirituality are vain and useless. The Holy Spirit spies all the specks and stains in our best works, revealing that they’re nothing more than “polluted garments.” (Isa. 64:6) But without a right understanding of God’s law and God’s gospel, we resign ourselves to languishing in vagrant’s rags, which reek with the stench of piety and self-righteousness.
The right knowledge of the law permits us to see our beggarly state and the guilty, filthy, damning power thereof; it awakens the soul to its lifeless condition to bring him to the Life. By recognizing that sin will be with us regardless of the quantity of deeds done in God’s name, we’re made to understand that nothing saves or satisfies apart from the grace and mercy of Christ. And once we’re made to see this paralyzing image of ourselves, the Spirit reminds us of God’s gospel, which promises a complete erasing of our putrid account, a garbing of us in Christ’s “garments of salvation” (Isa. 61:10; Col. 2:9-14), and a blessed fountain from which to nurse our soul back to health, that is, God’s Word of grace.
Nothing should enrapture the attention like that of the divine testimony of the crucified Christ.
Whether through mercy or through mandate, in law or in gospel, always the Word is directing us and pointing us to Jesus, the Hope and Savior of the world! Indeed, the Word of God is a revelation of himself — it’s the unveiling of the ever-blessed, ever-loving, ever-gracious Lord and Creator of the universe. On that account, then, the Word is everything to the believer:
“If thou be hungry, it is meat to satisfy thee; if thou be thirsty, it is drink to refresh thee; if thou be sick, it is a present remedy; if thou be weak, it is a staff to lean unto; if thine enemy assault thee, it is a sword to fight withal; if thou be in darkness, it is a lantern to guide thy feet; if thou be doubtful of the way, it is a bright shining star to direct thee; if thou be in displeasure with God, it is the message of reconciliation; if thou study to save thy soul, receive the word engrafted, for that is able to do it: it is the word of life.” (Sandys, 113)
Familiarity Breeds Faithfulness
It’s in the meditation upon this infinite balm of God that the thriving Christian is found. “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.” (Ps. 119:97) And it’s not as if the psalmist was in perpetual, unceasing study of God’s Word but that he never let occasion for meditation and musing upon the words, works, and promises of God to pass him by. Regardless of his immediate obligation, ample time was allotted for engagement with the Scriptures. “Your testimonies are my meditation.” (Ps. 119:99) Those who meditate most thrive most; the more we consider and study the Word the more it’ll serve to be a ready help in times of trouble and trial. Our familiarity with God’s Word has a direct correlation with our faithfulness under pressure.
The Christian ought to make the Word of God his choicest companion; for the wiser we are in the truths of Scripture, the readier we’ll be for the assaults of the devil. We’re made wise to the degree that we’re humble and obedient to God, owning nothing of ourselves but attributing all to Christ and his glorious grace. Obedience and surrender to Christ isn’t a pious claiming of control of spiritual life — it’s a hearkening back to the law, realizing that you’re a corpse and that Christ’s imputed to you his life. Whatever way of life we were pursuing before Jesus found us wasn’t working — it was a dead end. The humble recognition of this and obedience to God’s design is the beginning of true wisdom. The more obedient we are, the wiser we are; and the wiser we are, the more indefatigable we’ll be when assailed by the throes of life and the devil.
You see, our safety and security as children of God isn’t tied to our obedience but upon the facts that God’s our Father and he is faithful. Obedience is nothing more than a sinner’s admission that God’s grace is stronger and his way better. The psalmist’s boasts of greater understanding (Ps. 119:99-100), greater restraint (Ps. 119:101), and greater loyalty (Ps. 119:102) aren’t of himself and his knowledge — rather, they stem from and stand on the knowledge of God. (Ps. 119:98) The psalmist’s refraining is only due to the Lord’s teaching. The steadfast truth of God’s gospel is the only ground upon which an obedient Christian is found. It’s by God’s councils, then, that we persevere and prosper — not our performances. The natural bent of our hearts is to wander from God’s design. Hence, faithfulness in and to his words is of utmost importance.
Survival of the Most Dependent
The Christian is called to a murdering affection of sin; strangling sin is the only way to survive. There’s no real reverence for God if there’s no real avoidance of those things which offend him. All sin is falsehood (Ps. 119:104); at its basest form, sin is the belief in a lie, the trust in a false promise that never delivers. Sin betrays us, leaving us empty, wanting, and begging. Sin is an attempt to cheat God; but in so doing, we cheat our own souls. (Prov. 14:12)
“There is no delusion like the folly of believing that a course of sin will conduce to our happiness.” (William Plumer, in Spurgeon, 242)
Christian maturity isn’t concurrent with doctrinal knowledge or understanding but with meditative repose at the feet of Jesus. (Ps. 119:99) All of the platitudes that can be put forth by the most popular of speakers of our time are but hot air when compared with the “sound doctrine” of the Word of God. (Ps. 119:99-100) The wisdom of the Word infinitely exceeds that of all human writings, making men wise unto salvation. (2 Tim. 3:15)
“There is more wisdom in the testimonies of the Lord than in all the teachings of men if they were all gathered into one vast library. The one book outweighs all the rest.” (Spurgeon, 230)
Spiritual understanding is predicated upon spiritual feeding. Those who taste God’s Word in all its sweetness and bitterness, partaking of both words of condemnation and absolution, both law and gospel, are those who understand deeper and greater truths regarding “the God of all grace.” (1 Pet. 5:10)
The Word of God, then, is food for the soul upon which the believer can eternally feed and be satisfied. Whatever God may say to us or about us in his Word is healthful for us. God’s judging and pardoning, his condemning and forgiving are likewise considered good, pointing and directing us to the Son.
The Christian finds his undying happiness in the unchanging words of the Savior.
God’s Word is incalculably precious to the life of the believer.
The Savior’s Word of grace is eternally sweet — it’s sustenance never evaporates. “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Ps. 119:103) Feed upon the Word and faithful you will be.
Notes & References:
Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, Vol. 3 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1988).
Edwin Sandys, The Sermons of Edwin Sandys, edited by John Ayre (Cambridge: University Press, 1841).