The Entrance of God's Words
Francis Bourdillon, 1864
"Your testimonies are wonderful — therefore does my soul keep them. The entrance of Your words gives light — it gives understanding unto the simple. I opened my mouth, and panted — for I longed for Your commandments.
Look upon me, and be merciful unto me, as You have done unto those who love Your Name. Order my steps in Your word — and let not any iniquity have dominion over me. Deliver me from the oppression of man — so will I keep Your precepts. Make Your face to shine upon Your servant and teach me Your statutes. Rivers of waters run down my eyes, because they keep not Your law."
There are times when the Word of God is brought home to us with peculiar power — when we seem to see in it a new and deeper meaning than before, and a closer application to ourselves. It then enlightens, impresses, and comforts us. We feel its value more than ever. We are conscious of a fresh admiration and love for it. Then we are ready to say with the Psalmist, "Your testimonies are wonderful — therefore does my soul keep them. The entrance of Your words gives light — it gives understanding unto the simple."
This is what we should seek — for it is the gift of God, the work of the Spirit, God's blessing on His own Word. We should pray that the words of God may thus find entrance into our hearts — that they may not be to us a mere outward thing, but the voice of God speaking within us. We should ask God Himself, by His Holy Spirit, thus to teach us out of His Word, so that as simple and unlearned as we may be, we may yet have an understanding of the things of God.
The more we have of a true and heartfelt understanding of the Word of God — the more shall we prize and love it, treasuring up what we have learned already and earnestly desiring to learn more. "I opened my mouth, and panted — for I longed for Your commandments."
One thing that we find written in the Bible, is the gracious dealings of God with those who love Him. This should lead us to desire that He may deal graciously with us too. Thus the Psalmist prays, "Look upon me, and be merciful unto me — as You have done unto those who love Your Name." When we read of the mercy of God toward others — how He has forgiven them, blessed them, helped them, delivered them from danger, comforted them in sorrow — then we should be encouraged to seek the same for ourselves. For thus we are taught how God has acted towards those who love His Name, and we may pray that He will deal with us in like manner. David cheered in despondency, Peter was forgiven and restored, Paul was singing praises in prison — such cases should encourage us greatly. God dealt so with them — will He not deal so with us, when we pray to Him?
Another effect of the Word when it reaches the heart, is to give us a hatred of sin and a great desire to walk in God's ways. We see this here: "Order my steps in Your Word — and let not any iniquity have dominion over me." It is a happy thing when a man is led thus to pray against sin. There must be a change in him — a good work, it is to be hoped, begun; for we do not by nature wish to be kept from sin. And when a man prays against sin — it seems that he must besides have learned something of his own weakness. If he thought he could keep from sin by his own strength — then would he seek help of God?
"Order my steps in Your Word." This is what we should seek. That our common daily course, and every step of it — may be according to the Word of God. That in all things, great and small — we may be governed by that rule. Not by the customs or opinions of men, by what others do or what others think — but simply by the Word of God. This is the only true and safe rule.
"Let not iniquity have dominion over me." A man who lives in sin, is the slave of his sin. He flatters himself that he does what he likes and is his own master — but in reality, sin is his master. "Don't you know that to whom you yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants you are to whom you obey, whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?" Christ has set us free from this bondage. The true believer in Him is no longer the servant of sin. It is as much a promise as a command: "Sin shall not have dominion over you." Now, wherever there is a promise, there is a warrant for prayer; so we may use this prayer in faith, "Let not any iniquity have dominion over me."
Sometimes we have troubles of other kinds. Man is unjust or unkind towards us. Something of this sort the Psalmist was suffering under; for he says, "Deliver me from the oppression of man." In any trouble, whatever it may be — we should pray. It is our greatest comfort and our greatest help. "Deliver me!" we may say. God
can deliver us. We need hardly say more — if we say that from the heart. For God knows all — and the way, the means, and the time, it is best to leave to Him.
The Psalmist puts up that short petition as the thought of his oppressors comes over him, but then he goes back again directly to what he had been praying about before: "So will I keep Your precepts." This was his chief desire. If he were delivered from the oppression of his enemies — then he would be more free perhaps to serve God. And not only so, but he would consider this gracious deliverance as a fresh motive for serving God. Come what might, this was his earnest desire and his fixed purpose: "So will I keep Your precepts."
And now he seems to draw even nearer to God and to raise his thoughts and desires yet higher. Before he had prayed, "Look upon me, and be merciful unto me." Now he prays, "Make Your face to shine upon Your servant." Yes, he was God's servant. He delighted to consider himself so. He draws near to God, therefore, not as a stranger, but as one of His servants, humbly yet in hope and trust. He asks to be made happy — but happy in God, in God's favor and love, "Make Your face to shine upon Your servant"! Beautiful figure! As on some dark and gloomy day, if the sun breaks forth from the clouds, in a moment all is bright, and nature seems to smile again; so it is with the soul when God shines upon it with the light of His countenance. This is what the Psalmist asks for. This is what we too may seek for Christ's sake. For He is our peace. He has reconciled us to God by His blood. Through Him, we may draw near in faith and seek mercy, pardon, and acceptance, the favor of God, the light of His countenance. Nothing else can make us truly happy. In His favor is life.
But there can be no true happiness apart from duty. Once more the Psalmist goes back to his former subject: "Make Your face to shine upon Your servant — and teach me Your statutes." It is not pleasure and happiness, apart from keeping God's commandments, that he asks for. He joins the two. He asks in one breath for God's favor and God's teaching — that God will make His face to shine upon him — and also that He will teach him His statutes.
In the same way, if we would be truly happy, we must follow his example. Our happiness and our duty are linked together. God Himself is the only source of happiness, and it is only when we are humbly striving to walk in His ways, that we can find happiness in Him. Sin indulged and happiness in God, cannot be together. "Teach me Your statutes!" How good, how right a prayer! Teach me not only to know, but to believe and feel and do them. Teach, incline, dispose my heart. Teach me from Your Word; teach me by Your Spirit; teach me by Your providential dealings. By all Your providential dealings — by sickness, by sorrow, by trial. It is a good prayer, and a fit prayer for us all — a prayer which God will not refuse to hear: "Teach me Your statutes!"
When a man has such thoughts and such desires for himself, he is sure to care for others too. "Rivers of waters run down my eyes — because they do not keep Your law." Has this anything to do with what has gone before? At first sight it may seem not, but a moment's thought shows us that it has. The Psalmist has been thinking and praying about the Word of God. He has been under the impression of the Word — of . . .
its great truths,
its solemn warnings,
its deep importance,
The Word has entered his heart — he has felt it deeply.
He has also been praying for deliverance from his oppressors, for light, guidance, mercy, comfort, happiness. His last words of prayer were, "Teach me Your statutes." What wonder, that his thoughts should turn to the multitudes who were not walking in God's statutes (his own oppressors among them perhaps), and who were thus far from God, from the light of His countenance, from safety, and happiness. There is no great change in his thoughts. It is but a natural turn for the mind to take.
There is no true servant of God, but must grieve for the ungodly. And that, on account both of God dishonored — and of their souls endangered. He who has learned to know and love God in Christ Jesus feels a tender pity for sinners, even for those who have done him wrong. Their sins, their carelessness, their danger, are a trouble to his mind. He can enter into the Psalmist's words; nay, he can truly say the same of himself: "Rivers of waters run down my eyes, because they keep not Your law."
What is the next step? To pray for them. Ah, what a comfort, that when we can do nothing else for others — we can pray! Many an earnest prayer goes up from a sick-bed — not only for oneself but also for others. A sick person has much time for thought, and many thoughts come into his mind about his family, his friends, his old acquaintances and neighbors, his enemies perhaps, and the world at large. Let him pray for them! He may do them good which he little thinks of. He may do more for them now, perhaps, than ever he did before. He may thus return good for evil to some. Let him freely forgive all who have injured him. Let a tender sorrow for sinners fill his mind. And let him plead for them at the throne of grace for Jesus' sake!