The crusade of the soul: Psalm cxix, part 21.
As we begin to close this colossal psalm, the writer reminds us of the foundation for all true godliness. For twenty-odd stanzas now, we’ve seen the remarkable prominence with which the psalmist placed upon God’s Word for everything he did. It was, indeed, his life and his all — a perpetual respite from the torrent and the storm. It served to be his continual sanctuary of hope and peace. But, to be sure, the Word of God isn’t an end unto itself, it’s a means to an end. That is to say, we don’t just stop at the Word without standing in wonder at the God of the Word. Awe of God is formed through deep intimacy with the Word of God. And it is this awe, then, that is our foundation — the foundation for all true godliness.
Princes persecute me without cause, but my heart stands in awe of your words. I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil. I hate and abhor falsehood, but I love your law. Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous rules. Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble. I hope for your salvation, O Lord, and I do your commandments. My soul keeps your testimonies; I love them exceedingly. I keep your precepts and testimonies, for all my ways are before you. (Ps 119:161–168)
The Word of God can’t be read without producing awe at what’s read. (Ps 119:161) The stories and illustrations and events that are recounted aren’t mere history. The Scriptures aren’t just facts. The Bible isn’t simply an addendum to your ancient history textbook. These pages are the divine revelation of the Son of God to men, emblazoned with the infinite grace and holiness of Jehovah upon every sentence. They are the message of God’s condescending mercy to us, the glorious retelling of how the Father sent his only Son to reclaim what was rightfully his. “My heart stands in awe of your words,” the psalmist says. (Ps 119:161) And so must we with such grand and blessed discoveries of grace and peace and hope that are found in the Scriptures — discoveries that continually surprise us.
The spoils of Scripture.
“I rejoice at your word,” he continues. (Ps 119:162) And rightfully we can conclude that awe of God produces joy in him. The more we’re in amazement at the good news of grace, the less we’ll despair over the hardships of life. The psalmist certainly knew this firsthand. He rejoiced so mightily in the Word because he knew that, like the spoils of a long-fought war, the blessings of Scripture aren’t gained without conflict. Our natural man will always be at war with what the Word says. The old self is constantly attacking God’s gospel, trying to cause us to disbelieve its truth. Satan’s weapon to bring down believers isn’t necessarily through degradation or corruption but through the more subtle means of irresolution and suspicion. If we are hesitant of God’s assurance and promise of grace, we’re playing right into the devil’s hand, putting on the old self again. (Eph 4:22) And so it is that we must battle for belief in the Word. The Bible’s treasures aren’t enjoyed nor its virtues gained without personal confrontation with the old Adam that lies in each of us. This battle for belief is the greatest struggle we can engage in, and the spoils won thereby are worth more than all the spoils of all the wars in the history of the world.
Such is the infrastructure for the psalmist’s awe. Realized in the crusade on his own soul, the psalmist understands that confidence in the gospel is only gained in spiritual warfare for the gospel. These sacred truths of God’s Word are those to which we hold fast for life itself. They form a stronghold of hope upon which we can place our future, knowing that we are putting it in the very hands of he who is sovereignly ruling the universe, the One who knows the ends from the beginnings. (Is 46:10) We aren’t likely to be disheartened by the world when our soul’s awe is fixed on the Lord Jesus Christ. Those who quake in amazement at the convictions of God’s Word are those who can glory in the consolations of it. The awe of God is the freedom of the gospel on display, the very crux of true Christian religion.
Even when we don’t feel as though we can praise God, when we commence upon singing to him, we’re reminded of all the things we can praise and worship him for. As a believer, cheering rays can emanate out of the darkest cloud. If recollection fails you, open your Bible. The language of faith gets louder as the night grows darker. Worship, then, strengthens our dependence and elevates our love — even in tribulation. Adversity is a predestined consequence of belief. Hardship and suffering are inevitable results of aligning your life with Christ. (1 Thes 3:5) In fact, the more we serve the Lord and pledge ourselves to his mission of furthering the gospel, the more we should expect and count on the world’s resistance. But for all of mankind’s opposition to it, nothing can hinder the giving of God’s love to fallen creatures. Who are we to object to God’s self-donation on behalf of our redemption?
If we praise God when we are persecuted our music will be all the sweeter to him because of our constancy in suffering.1
Divine hatred and the directive of obedience.
The psalmist continues his refrain by observing both sides of his devotion. “I hate and abhor falsehood, but I love your law.” (Ps 119:163) Distortions of the truth, in doctrine and life, in any shape or form, should be utterly detestable to us. An awe of the Lord derived from his Word will drive our earnestness for sound doctrine and the preservation of the truth of the gospel. It is our hatred of falsehood that often drives our love for truth. Some might recoil at the notion of Christian hatred. Many would say that hate has no place in the life of a believer, and in most senses I would concur. Some say this because, as Christians, we’re to be defined by love and the natural impulse is to believe that hate is the opposite of love, and, therefore, we should have nothing to do with hate. But I don’t believe this to be true. The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s selfishness. Selfishness and self-obsession is the antithesis to love because true love involves giving and serving without any notion of reciprocity or self-interest. And so it is that divine hatred sometimes finds its place, empowering love.
Many today misunderstand this, postulating, “If God is a God of love, why does he appear so angry in the Bible?” “I just don’t believe there’s a place for a wrathful, vengeful God in my religion,” etc. But such notions completely miss what it means to be a “God of love.” To be a God of love is to be a God of wrath. You can’t have one without the other. God’s wrath is inseparable from God’s love. Divine love for the sinner is built out of a divine hatred for sin.2 This is really what God was doing on the cross. His wrath for sin and his love for man collide at Calvary, where the Son of God makes his enemies to be his friends and the orphans of depravity to be his adopted brothers and sisters. Those who love what God hates are redeemed to love what he loves. You see, we’ll never fight against that which we’ve never been saved from — we’ll never engage in the battle for belief if we haven’t first believed. And so it is that our abhorrence and hatred of sin always stems from a sense and reality of our reconciliation and redemption.
Furthermore, this hatred of sin and awe of God serve to direct us into obedience. “I hope for your salvation, O Lord,” the psalmist says, “and I do your commandments.” (Ps 119:166) When we understand and wonder at the majesty of God, we’re in position to live out his Word. Affection for the Lord will always result in action for him. This action, to be sure, isn’t in any way laying claim to merit, it’s merely the expression of a soul rescued by grace. The same divine teaching which delivers us from confidence in our own doings leads us to abound in every good work to the glory of God. (2 Cor 9:8) It is the height of arrogant presumption to conclude that you are in God’s favor without regard for the consequences of his gospel. The psalmist’s hope was fixed upon God, and him alone. And that hope, then, served as his motive and directive for obedience.
The assurance of salvation — secured by the Son and sealed in the Spirit — is the great, pervading spur to holiness. “The great peace connected with the love of God’s law, is at once the fruit of faith, and the motive of obedience.”3 Our surrender to God, therefore, is derived out of our interest in divine grace, not in our determination. Nothing keeps us in the service of God but his love. (Ps 119:168) Those who place the least reliance on good works frequently have the most of them. The love of God in the soul is like a relentless fire, which burns and manifests itself in the submission to his commands and the praise of his benefits.
The Psalms are inexorably associated with praise. Countless times throughout the stanzas, we are encouraged to praise God the Father for who he is and what he’s done. And so the psalmist, here, says, “Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous rules.” (Ps 119:164) I would note that he’s most likely not referring to a literal “seven times” in a day, but as seven is the number of completion and perfection through the Bible, this sentiment seems to convey a comprehensive mindset and lifestyle of praise. He was in a constant state of active thankfulness and gratitude for the Lord’s deliverance. And so we might learn, that when the mind is stirred to praise God, we ought not to ignore the opportunity, but rather, embrace the opportunity, ability, and freedom we have to praise the Almighty Father for his wonder-working compassion and grace.
Very often should we be in praise of him who saved us from the muck and mire of our corruption. Indeed, neglecting to praise God is an actual act robbery of God. Self-glory is spiritual thievery. And those that glory in themselves receive the inverse consequences of a rejected gospel: treachery and inconstancy — confusion and hesitation. There’s no confidence, peace, or assurance to be found in the praise of one’s own merits. Indeed, the first gust of trial that dashes against you will beat down all claims of favor that find their origin in your own works. Unless our confidence and conviction stems from a prior knowledge of our utter helplessness and entire reliance upon divine grace, we are made to stumble. But, in contrast to the instability of self-glory remains the awe of God. As the psalmist confesses, “Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble.” (Ps 119:165)
As a sinner, you may be tempted to believe that this “great peace” is not for you, that you have no part in it. But such feelings stem not from the Spirit but from the devil. At all times, he is warring on the front of assurance. Both the sinner and the saint are brought to despair by their failure to hope in God’s salvation and Christ’s assurance. (Ps 119:167–168) Don’t let your sense of sin and unworthiness paralyze your faith and hope in Christ.
Don’t let your daily stumbling restrain you from strong expressions of confidence in Jesus’s grace. Indeed, the only obstacle in all the world to being redeemed is man’s own disbelief in the gospel. “All have sinned” without difference. All therefore are justified without difference. Christ lives forever as the perfect Mediator of all those who believe, releasing the weary soul from the prison of despair to breathe the free air of adoption, love, and grace. There is no sinner who doesn’t have a stake in God’s gospel.
All are invited.
As a guilty sinner, you are invited. As a willing sinner, you are welcome. As a believing sinner, you are assured . . . Active devotedness flows from assured acceptance. Where there is no certainty, there can be little love, little delight, little diligence.4
The believer of God, you see, isn’t necessarily one who “keeps” the law, at least not perfectly. Rather, he is one who loves it. “Great peace have those who love your law.” (Ps 119:165) The term “peace,” here, signifies wholeness, prosperity, tranquility, completion, etc. Indeed, the happiness of God’s children can be summed up in that one word, peace — to which all ends of the gospel are geared. The blood of Christ knows only words of peace and pardon. (Rom 5:1) The lovers of the law are those who’ve learned the mysterious and scandalous depths of God’s redeeming, reconciling mercy, which allows them to stand before the throne of God as accepted sons and daughters, even as the blood of the Son drips from their fingers. Christ’s appeasement of the Father’s wrath is our continual source of joy, hope, and praise. “Great peace have those who love your law!” Great love to the law produces great peace, even in the midst of great turbulence.
True believers are those who have not only held fast their confidence, but whose confidence has deepened with the roaring of the waves. The awe of God settles the soul and brings peace, confidence, and assurance to the heart — peace too great for the world to break. (Phil 4:7) Amidst the deepest troubles and fiercest storms, the gospel of God whispers, “Peace be still.” The soul that knows “No condemnation” is the soul that can say, “It is well.” Difficulties will surely arise. (1 Pt 4:12–13) Storms will intensify. Yet these do but exercise and strengthen the faith of God’s children, so that whether our way be dark or light, our soul is at peace. Only those who’ve been beaten down by God’s hammer are those who can be remade by his grace. Only the heart that’s been made at peace with God the Father because of the Son’s work and the Spirit’s crusade of the soul can be at peace the when torrent comes and the troubles increase.
Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, Vols. 1–3 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1988), 3:1.424.
For more on the topic of the relationship between God’s kindness and his severity, I’d highly recommend this sermon clip from Matt Chandler. Also, read Chandler’s The Explicit Gospel, pages 40–58, where he discusses this subject matter at length.
Charles Bridges, Psalm 119: An Exposition (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2002), 439.
Ibid., 442, 444.