The light of the word: Psalm cxix, part 14.
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. I have sworn an oath and confirmed it, to keep your righteous rules. I am severely afflicted; give me life, O Lord, according to your word! Accept my freewill offerings of praise, O Lord, and teach me your rules. I hold my life in my hand continually, but I do not forget your law. The wicked have laid a snare for me, but I do not stray from your precepts. Your testimonies are my heritage forever, for they are the joy of my heart. I incline my heart to perform your statutes forever, to the end. (Ps 119:105–112)
Called into darkness.
Those who contend that the world, and society in general, is progressing and “getting better” certainly have both duped themselves and disregarded Scripture. Sorry to burst your bubble, but man’s “utopia” is not imminent, it’s not just around the corner. Proof of mankind’s going “from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” abounds and superabounds. (2 Tm 3:13) I don’t have to go very far or look very hard to conjure up enough damning evidence that while our intellects are expanding, our morals are eroding. This isn’t meant to discourage you, I’m simply trying to be honest with the world around us. Neither, though, am I trying to be hopeless and dour — for while sin and debauchery continue to escalate, God’s grace has remained forever infinite, far above any ceiling the rebellion of man strives for and vastly deeper than the lowest abyss of sin to which man sinks.
It’s to this darkness that Christians must go, to it we’ve been called. Believers in Jesus all have the same duty to re-enter the world from which they were saved to bring others out in the same manner. Just as firefighters enter and re-enter a house that’s ablaze, burning to the ground, vehemently calling for and seeking out stragglers, so too must we enter this world with a heart overflowing with grace, ready to give the same grace to sin-sick stragglers crying for aid. And as we venture into the darkness of the world, God’s Word is with us, ever-present as the Father’s illuminating Word of grace. (Ps 119:105) I would never know the way if the Spirit through Scripture didn’t first give it light. Nor would any believer that seeks to make a difference for the gospel. Apart from the Word of God, accompanied by his Spirit, all is utter darkness. God’s Word breaks through our blindness and darkness to give light to our path. It interjects whatever calamity surrounds us to embrace us with Christ’s comfort and counsel, that we might have hope in affliction, preservation in peril, and joy in jeopardy.
The psalmist states that he is committed and “confirmed” to follow God. (Ps 119:106) His resolve in keeping God’s “righteous rules” isn’t for his own name to be exalted but only that God’s Word be proven true and glorious, giving praise to the Father’s name. (Ps 119:108) The psalmist understands that not only does his heart need spiritual illumination but his feet spiritual direction, and so he prays to that end. Our own ways lead to no other end but destruction. The paths we embark upon in our own strength are nothing but follies, filled with failure. Christ, however, rescues us from ourselves as both the “light” and “lamp” for all those who believe. Because of God’s glorious and gracious redemption of us, we’re bound to follow him and his Word, vowing, with the psalmist, to do so regardless of what the path of life might hold.
The psalmist, then, is praying and resolving to follow God, come what may, notwithstanding his own weakness and withering, with the full understanding that God’s Spirit and Word alone impart him the strength, might, and “life” to do so. (Ps 119:107) Apart from the Word, the psalmist knows he would be lost, and so might we. What God’s Word is to each of us is a personal and practical letter of divine love, which discloses the very heart of the Good Shepherd, whose mission is to seek and search out his lost sheep. It’s not given to astound us with it’s brilliance but to guide and instruct us with its grace.
This revelation of the Triune God leads to resolution in the heart of man — resolutions that stem not from an inner fortitude or strength but solely from remembrance and reflection upon God’s redemption of man as gloriously and graciously communicated in the gospel. Our allegiance and devotion to Christ, our commitment to follow him, regardless of the circumstances, doesn’t rest on our confidence in what lies ahead — it rests exclusively upon the shoulders of the One who is both the “lamp” and “light” of all who believe.
A believer’s assurance is not in knowing what’s going to happen tomorrow, in the next hour, or even in the next minute. It’s in knowing the One who holds tomorrow — and has died for your tomorrow. The strength of God’s saints is in trusting their Savior who has eradicated sin, past, present, and future, by his wondrous grace. This is the Christian’s reckless confidence in God.
But this revelation of God continues to not only generate the resolve of man but also his service. “Accept my freewill offerings of praise, O Lord,” the psalmist cries. (Ps 119:108) He is offering up service and sacrifice to God in order to bring him glory. And the type of service God’s after is the spontaneous kind, the kind that’s unforced and impulsive.
The psalmist’s offerings and pleads for acceptance, again, aren’t founded upon his performances but on his Father’s promises. He is not boasting in his own religiosity or sanctimony — he’s not barging into God’s presence with his righteousness firmly in hand, shouting, “Accept me, because . . .!” No, it is evident that the psalmist, here, is simply trusting what God has said, what he has promised, knowing that it will come to pass because God cannot lie. (Num 23:19; Ti 1:2) “Give me life, O Lord, according to your word!” (Ps 119:107) The praise of man for God’s words and works should be spontaneous and free, springing from the rejoicing and reveling of God’s people in the immensity of love that’s been bestowed upon them. This is genuine worship and awe of God. It’s not coerced or coaxed out of a person — it flows freely from a heart that knows it’s free. (Gal 5:1) This is what is meant by “freewill offerings.”
Yet, even still, the psalmist knows how meager this offering is. He petitions God for the acceptance and approval of his praise, understanding in full measure that even his best service and sacrifice is in need of pardon. The psalmist undoubtedly understood, as the apostle Paul later declared, that there was nothing good in him, he was wholly unclean. (Ps 51:5; Rom 7:18) Thus, whatever offering is presented upon God’s altar, and however good we reckon it, it is still in dire need of cleansing because it comes from an unclean source. (Job 14:4) Our best is worse than we think. Our righteousness is nothing but filthy rags in God’s eyes. (Is 64:6) “Our best works are but ‘splendid vices,’” says the venerable Augustine, “in the sense they are less than the perfection God requires.”1 Giving God our “best” should remind us that even our best is in need of bettering — our piety is in want of purifying. What does the psalmist stand on — what do we stand on — apart from the Father’s assurance of grace?
Confidence in affliction.
Moreover, our service for God doesn’t screen us from trial; rather, it secures us in it. God’s people aren’t always made to escape adversity, they’re made to endure it, wholly resting upon Jesus’s name, strength, and grace, not their own. Just as the stoking of a fire quickens the heat of the flame, so too does affliction and suffering enliven the spiritual passions of the believer. Adversity, you could say, is the Spirit’s way of reviving and renewing us — not by bringing us back to some experiential feeling, but by bringing us to a place where we remember that God the Father is our only hope.
The psalmist lived in perpetual jeopardy. (Ps 119:107) In fact, “I hold my life in my hand” is a Hebrew euphemism for living in dangerous, perilous times. (Ps 119:109) The Christian life, oftentimes, is a scene of constant turmoil, frequently being one of peril and living in the very grip of death. Such chaos, though, causes many to forget their calling, to forget their God. And there’s no worse danger for the Christian than to forget the promises of the omni-true God.
Troublesome times have the tendency to stoke the flames of our forgetfulness when they should stir our faith. The same fate would have ensnared the psalmist if he had not run to Jesus. Apart from the quickening and teaching from God’s Word, so, too, would the psalmist have forgotten the precious promises of his Father. The Word of God is the most sufficient antidote for the heaviest affliction. (Ps 119:107, 111) The only deliverance from Satan’s snares is found by running to Jesus’s words, his promises and testimonies, not by resolving to be “better.” (Ps 119:110) Indeed, it is a sure sign of God’s remembrance of us if we’re made to recall his promises when in the midst of adversity.
The Spirit of God renews and revives us in suffering by causing us to remember the Word of God. He cheers us by recalling our hope in the Father’s love for us. The Spirit stirs us to recall God’s “testimonies” of grace, his gospel, even as we’re thrown to and fro by the storm. It is a remembrance of God’s faithful promises to us and for us, which should incline us to lean into him, knowing that it’s not up to us. The believer’s hope can live on and hold fast amidst the fray precisely because it’s not about you holding on and keeping your grip of things. Even as your life appears to be falling apart and unraveling at the seams, the believer’s hope endures because it is not found in his own inner resolve or good deeds or personal strength, but is found in a Person. When enduring severe affliction, our only comfort is the God of affliction. The truths contained in the gospel are the only truths that deliver peace and comfort to troubled souls. Lay your dead hearts and weary souls at Christ’s feet and there you’ll receive his quickening, enlivening, resurrecting, illuminating grace.
Augustine, quoted in Jerry Bridges, The Transforming Power of the Gospel (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2012), 35.