A Meditation on Psalm 119:1

“Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord.” (Psalm 119:1, KJV)

Jonathan Edwards said, “I know of no part of Holy Scriptures where the nature and evidences of true and sincere godliness are so fully and largely insisted on and delineated as in the 119th Psalm. The Psalmist declares his design in the first verses of the Psalm, keeps an eye on it all along, and pursues it to the end. The excellence of holiness is represented as the immediate object of a spiritual taste and delight. God’s law, that grand expression and emanation of the holiness of God’s nature, and prescription of holiness to the creature - is all along represented as the great object of the love, the complacence, and the rejoicing of the gracious nature, which prizes God’s commandments ‘above gold, yea, the finest gold:’ and to which they are ‘sweeter than the honey and the honeycomb.’”[1]

Such is a fitting introduction to the first verse of this Psalm, which in many ways is an introduction to the whole Psalm itself. In fact, Spurgeon said, “The first verse is not only a preface to the whole Psalm, but it may be also regarded as the text upon which the rest is a discourse.”[2] Here we find the general theme of the Psalm introduced in seed form, from which spring the mighty branches of 176 verses of expansion and exposition.

The Psalm begins with the same word with which the Book begins (Psalm 1:1), and with which Christ began His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3): “blessed.” The writer is concerned with blessedness.[3] Blessedness is simply happiness. This is the concern of all men. There is no one who is unconcerned with happiness. In fact, the desire for happiness is the root motive of all human actions.[4] All people do everything they do to either increase happiness or decrease misery. The problem with fallen men is that their whole perception of what true happiness is has been distorted. Men pursue happiness but they are mistaken in their judgments about what end will bring happiness, what the means to that happiness is, or the manner in which the means are to be employed.

Many are deluded into thinking that the end which brings happiness is that of temporal prosperity and ease. So they search for satisfaction in the acquisition of things and the avoidance of trial. They do not take to heart the words of Christ: “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (Luke 12:15). Such people “intend happiness, but choose misery.”[5] Others mistake the means. They heed not God’s word. They seek not His counsel. And thus they pursue satisfaction in the by-path meadows of sin and license, rather than in the straight and narrow path of sanctification. They wrongly perceive restraints on their appetites to be barricades to their happiness. They do not know that the hedges of God’s laws are meant to protect them from eternal danger. There are some who recognize the end and means to happiness as described in God’s word, but their affections are so sluggish that their manner of pursuit is only half-hearted. “The soul of the sluggard desireth and hath nothing, for his hands refuse to labour” (Prov. 13:4a). Being lukewarm in their desires for God, they will find themselves spat forth from His mouth (Rev. 3:16).

The Scriptures alone can give us the prescription for real blessedness, and that is what the author does here. Thomas Manton, the Puritan divine, wrote: “Blessedness is that which we all aim at, only we are either ignorant or reckless of the way that leadeth to it; therefore the holy Psalmist would first set us right in the true notion of a blessed man: ‘Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord.”[6]

Here we have clearly revealed the way in which true happiness found: sincere and persevering conformity to God’s law. Conformity to God’s law keeps us from sin which is the root of all human misery, and brings us near to God who is the source of the “lasting joys and solid treasures” which John Newton spoke of in his famous hymn. “Thou wilt show me the path of life: in thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand are pleasures for evermore” (Psalm 16:11). God Himself is the only One who can fill the heart of man with unending satisfaction. But not just anyone is admitted into the presence of the Holy One of Israel. Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8); and the writer to the Hebrews exhorted us to “follow [lit. pursue] holiness . . . without which no man shall see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). Sanctification is a prerequisite to satisfaction[7] Sin stifles joy. Only holiness leads to true happiness. And such holiness is found in conformity to God’s law.

Conformity to God’s law must be sincere. This is the import of the first phrase, undefiled in the way. The root of the Hebrew word tamiym means to be complete, sound, or whole, having no blemish or spot. It clearly carries the idea of sincerity and authenticity as opposed to duplicity or hypocrisy. Thus for a person to be truly happy, he must be one who is wholeheartedly committed to the way of God. He must be fully devoted to one Master, the Lord Jesus Christ, having a single eye towards Him and His Kingdom (cf. Matt. 6:22-24). He must be one whose heart is perfect[8] towards God. Let no hypocrite think that he is in the way of blessedness. The profession of his mouth means nothing if not accompanied with the perfection of his motive.

But not only is sincerity of the heart necessary in one’s conformity to God’s law, but also perseverance in the walk. Blessed are they . . . who walk in the law of the Lord. The metaphor of walking suggests the continuous, habitual, perseverance of the devout soul. “The holy life is a walk, a steady progress, a quiet advance, a lasting continuance.[9] Such a lifestyle precludes slothfulness, idleness, and retreat. The genuine disciple is not slack in spiritual exercise. Jesus said, “If ye continue in my word, then are ye disciples indeed [truly]” (John 8:31).

The carnal mind will arch its back and stiffen its neck against God’s prescription for happiness, because spiritual things are loathsome to the untransformed heart. “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Cor. 2:14). But to those whose spiritual appetites have been enlivened and awakened by grace, “his commandments are not grievous” (I John 5:3), but rather their “delight” (Psalm 1:2). Those who are born from above are they who discover not only in Holy Writ, but in a holy walk, that God’s “ways are ways of pleasantness” and His paths “paths of peace” (Prov. 3:17).

[1] Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 1 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1974), p. 280
[2] C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, Vol. 3, Part 1 (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, n.d.), p. 139-140
[3] “We have in this verse blessed persons who enjoy five blessed things, A blessed way, blessed purity, a blessed law, given by a blessed Lord, and a blessed walk therein; to which we may add the blessed testimony of the Holy Ghost given in this very passage that they are in very deed the blessed of the Lord.” (Spurgeon, p. 141)
[4] Blaise Pascal in his Penses said: “All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of man, even of those who hang themselves.” Quoted by John Piper in Desiring God: The Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Books, 1996), p. 16
[5] Thomas Manton, Psalm 119, Vol. 1 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1990) , p. 2
[6] Ibid, p. 1
[7] “Doubtless the more complete our sanctification, the more intense our blessedness” - Spurgeon, p.140
[8] By perfect is not meant sinlessness, but sincerity in an evangelical gospel faith (see John 1:47).
[9] Spurgeon, p. 141

1 comment:

mwh said...

Thanks for the meditation. Holiness so quickly slips off my radar!