Francis Bourdillon, 1881
"I know, O Lord, that Your judgments are right — and that in faithfulness You have afflicted me." Psalm 119:75
The psalmist prayed for understanding (verse 73), "Give me understanding — that I may learn Your commandments." Yet it is plain that understanding had already been given to him, or he could not have felt as he expresses in the text — for none but those who are taught of God, take such a view of affliction and of God's providential dealings in general. Any measure of spiritual light, begets a desire for more; and any true knowledge of God, makes us wish to know Him better.
The text is in the form of an address to God. We often find this in David, that when he would express some deep feeling or some point of spiritual experience — he does so in this way, addressing himself to God. Those who love God — delight to hold communion with Him; and there are some feelings which the spiritual mind finds peculiar comfort and pleasure in telling to God Himself.
"I know, O Lord, that Your judgments are right." God orders all things, and His judgments seem here to mean His general orderings, decisions, dealings — not necessarily afflictions only, though including them. And when the psalmist says, "Your judgments," he means especially God's judgments toward him, God's dealings with him, and thus all that had happened to him, or would happen to him. For in the psalmist's creed, there was no such thing as chance. God ordered all which befell him, and he loved to think so.
He expresses a sure and happy confidence in all that God has done, and would do — with regard to him. He trusted fully in God's wisdom, God's power, God's love. "I know that Your judgments are right." Quite right, right in every way, without one single point that might have been better — they are perfectly wise and good. He shows the firmest persuasion of this. "I know," he says — not merely, "I think."
But these very words, "I know," clearly show that this was a matter of faith, not of sight. For he does not say, "I can see that Your judgments are right," but "I know." The meaning plainly is, "Though I cannot see all, though there are some things in Your providential dealings which I cannot fully understand — yet I believe, I am persuaded — I know, O Lord, that Your judgments are right."
"Your judgments." Not some of them — but all of Your judgments. He takes into his view all God's providential dealings with him, and says of them all, "I know, O Lord, that Your judgments are right."
When the things that happen to us are plainly for our comfort and good, as many of them are — then we thankfully receive what God thus sends to us, and own Him as the Giver of all, and bless Him for His gracious dealing — and this is right. But all the faith required for this (and some faith there is in it) is to own God as dealing with us, instead of thanklessly receiving the gifts with no thought of the Giver.
It is a higher degree of faith, that says of all God's providential dealings, even when seemingly contrary to our happiness, "I know that Your judgments are right."
Yet this is evidently the meaning here, or certainly the chief meaning. For though the Word "judgments" does mean God's dealings of every kind — yet here the words that follow make it apply especially to God's afflictive dealings, that is, to those dealings of His which seem to be contrary to our happiness, "I know, O Lord, that Your judgments are right, and that in faithfulness You have afflicted me." The judgments which the psalmist chiefly had in view and which he felt so sure were right — were not joys, but sorrows. They were not gifts bestowed, perhaps — but things taken away. They were blessings in disguise, those veiled mercies, those gifts clad in a garb of mourning — which God so often sends to His children.
The psalmist knew, and knew against all appearance to the contrary, that these afflictive judgments were right. Whatever they might be — losses, bereavements, disappointments, pain, sickness — they were right. They were as right as the more manifest blessings which went before them. They were quite right, perfectly right — so right, that they could not have been better, just what were best, because they were judgments of the most wise God. That satisfied the psalmist's mind; that set every doubt at rest. The dealings in themselves he might have doubted — but he could not doubt Him whose dealings they were: "Your judgments." That settled all.
"And that in faithfulness You have afflicted me." This means that, in appointing trouble as his lot — God had dealt with him in faithfulness to His Word, faithfulness to His purposes of mercy, and with a faithful love — not a weak love. He had sent him just what was most for his good, though not always what was most pleasing at the time — and in this He had shown Himself faithful. Gently and lovingly does He deal with His children. He gives no unnecessary pain — but that which is needful, He will not withhold.
Yet it requires strong faith to say this of God's dealings with oneself, "I know, O Lord, that Your judgments are right — and that in faithfulness You have afflicted me." We can read of the afflictions of those who have gone before us — and can see that God's dealings with them were right and faithful and for their good. We can look around on the present trials of others — and see and own the same in their case too. But when these painful dealings come to ourselves, and we are those whom God shows His faithfulness in afflicting — then it is a harder matter for us to feel that His judgments are right.
We must know God for this. We must be able to see His dealings, not as the dealings of a stranger — but as those of a Friend and Father. We cannot understand His providential dealings, until we know Him. It is only when we have acquainted ourselves with God — that we can be at peace under His afflicting hand. It is when we have learned to know Him as reconciled to us in Christ Jesus — the God of love, our God — it is then, and then only, that we see that all that He does is well, and must be well!
We can trust Him then. We can raise our eyes and look beyond the things that are happening to us — and see through the cloud that seems to surround us — and behold the hand of unerring wisdom and love, ordering all. He sees the end from the beginning. He is working for eternity.
"It shall be well." Let the trial be very grievous — some great cutting off, some sad, sad stroke — yet does not He send it? Could it come without Him? It is in very faithfulness, that He deals thus with us. That stroke was needed — therefore He sent it. But He will not forsake us now. He will be faithful still — faithful in supporting, cheering, comforting; faithful in hearing prayer, in sending help, in speaking peace — faithful in smiting, and faithful in healing.
Indeed, apart from all other comforts which God can give, there is comfort in the very exercise of faith. Doubtless David felt comforted when he said, "I know, O Lord, that Your judgments are right" — and Job, when he said, "Though he slays me — yet I will hope in Him." When the heart thus goes up to God from the very depths of trouble — then there is a sense of comfort and blessing at the very time. God is felt to be near — and His peace is experienced in the heart. Happy are those who have learned thus to feel and thus to speak — when God's afflictive hand is upon them. Happy those who are learning this lesson even now in God's school of affliction.
And what are we all, but learners to the last? I said just now that we must know God in order to know His dealings — but it is equally true that it is by means of His dealings with us, that we learn to know more of God. Who that has drunk of the deep cup of sorrow, and found it through grace a wholesome draught — but can testify to this?
It is a blessed thing to be brought to own God's afflictive dealings right now. All must own them so hereafter. When at last He shall bring down the pride of the stout-hearted and put forth His mighty power against the rebellious and cause every hardened and impenitent sinner to submit — then there will not be one but will be forced to own, "I know, O Lord, that Your judgments are right." Not one will be able to say that he has been dealt harshly with, that he was not warned, that no mercy was offered him, that no forbearance was shown him. Every mouth will be speechless before Him — or will only speak to own Him right and faithful.
Ah, learn to know Him, love Him, trust Him, now! Submit to His grace now — do not wait until you must submit to His power at last. All is dark to one who does not know God in Christ — his ways are dark; his dealings are dark; the present is dark; the future is dark. But all is bright to the believer. Through all that befalls him, he can say, or at least he is learning to say, in the confidence of a trusting and loving heart, "I know, O Lord, that Your judgments are right, and that in faithfulness You have afflicted me!"