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7

The law of the Lord is perfect,

reviving the soul;

the decrees of the Lord are sure,

making wise the simple;

8

the precepts of the Lord are right,

rejoicing the heart;

the commandment of the Lord is clear,

enlightening the eyes;

9

the fear of the Lord is pure,

enduring forever;

the ordinances of the Lord are true

and righteous altogether.

10

More to be desired are they than gold,

even much fine gold;

sweeter also than honey,

and drippings of the honeycomb.

 

11

Moreover by them is your servant warned;

in keeping them there is great reward.


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7. The law of the Lord. Here the second part of the psalm commences. After having shown that the creatures, although they do not speak, nevertheless serve as instructors to all mankind, and teach all men so clearly that there is a God, as to render them inexcusable, the Psalmist now turns towards the Jews, to whom God had communicated a fuller knowledge of himself by means of his word. While the heavens bear witness concerning God, their testimony does not lead men so far as that thereby they learn truly to fear him, and acquire a well-grounded knowledge of him; it serves only to render them inexcusable. It is doubtless true, that if we were not very dull and stupid, the signatures and proofs of Deity which are to be found on the theater of the world, are abundant enough to incite us to acknowledge and reverence God; but as, although surrounded with so clear a light, we are nevertheless blind, this splendid representation of the glory of God, without the aid of the word, would profit us nothing, although it should be to us as a loud and distinct proclamation sounding in our ears. Accordingly, God vouchsafes to those whom he has determined to call to salvation special grace, just as in ancient times, while he gave to all men without exception evidences of his existence in his works, he communicated to the children of Abraham alone his Law, thereby to furnish them with a more certain and intimate knowledge of his majesty. Whence it follows, that the Jews are bound by a double tie to serve God. As the Gentiles, to whom God has spoken only by the dumb creatures, have no excuse for their ignorance, how much less is their stupidity to be endured who neglect to hear the voice which proceeds from his own sacred mouth? The end, therefore, which David here has in view, is to excite the Jews, whom God had bound to himself by a more sacred bond, to yield obedience to him with a more prompt and cheerful affection. Farther, under the term law, he not only means the rule of living righteously, or the Ten Commandments, but he also comprehends the covenant by which God had distinguished that people from the rest of the world, and the whole doctrine of Moses, the parts of which he afterwards enumerates under the terms testimonies, statutes, and other names. These titles and commendations by which he exalts the dignity and excellence of the Law would not agree with the Ten Commandments alone, unless there were, at the same time, joined to them a free adoption and the promises which depend upon it; and, in short, the whole body of doctrine of which true religion and godliness consists. As to the Hebrew words which are here used, I will not spend much time in endeavoring very exactly to give the particular signification of each of them, because it is easy to gather from other passages, that they are sometimes confounded or used indifferently. עדות, eduth, which we render testimony, is generally taken for the covenant, in which God, on the one hand, promised to the children of Abraham that he would be their God, and on the other required faith and obedience on their part. It, therefore, denotes the mutual covenant entered into between God and his ancient people. The word פקודים, pikkudim, which I have followed others in translating statutes, is restricted by some to ceremonies, but improperly in my judgment: for I find that it is every where taken generally for ordinances and edicts. The word מצוה, mitsvah, which follows immediately after, and which we translate commandment, has almost the same signification. As to the other words, we shall consider them in their respective places.

The first commendation of the law of God is, that it is perfect. By this word David means, that if a man is duly instructed in the law of God, he wants nothing which is requisite to perfect wisdom. In the writings of heathen authors there are no doubt to be found true and useful sentences scattered here and there; and it is also true, that God has put into the minds of men some knowledge of justice and uprightness; but in consequence of the corruption of our nature, the true light of truth is not to be found among men where revelation is not enjoyed, but only certain mutilated principles which are involved in much obscurity and doubt. David, therefore, justly claims this praise for the law of God, that it contains in it perfect and absolute wisdom. As the conversion of the soul, of which he speaks immediately after, is doubtless to be understood of its restoration, I have felt no difficulty in so rendering it. There are some who reason with too much subtilty on this expression, by explaining it as referring to the repentance and regeneration of man. I admit that the soul cannot be restored by the law of God, without being at the same time renewed unto righteousness; but we must consider what is David’s proper meaning, which is this, that as the soul gives vigor and strength to the body, so the law in like manner is the life of the soul. In saying that the soul is restored, he has an allusion to the miserable state in which we are all born. There, no doubt, still survive in us some small remains of the first creation; but as no part of our constitution is free from defilement and impurity, the condition of the soul thus corrupted and depraved differs little from death, and tends altogether to death. It is, therefore, necessary that God should employ the law as a remedy for restoring us to purity; not that the letter of the law can do this of itself, as shall be afterwards shown more at length, but because God employs his word as an instrument for restoring our souls.

When the Psalmist declares, The testimony of Jehovah is faithful, it is a repetition of the preceding sentence, so that the integrity or perfection of the law and the faithfulness or truth of his testimony, signify the same thing; namely, that when we give ourselves up to be guided and governed by the word of God, we are in no danger of going astray, since this is the path by which he securely guides his own people to salvation. Instruction in wisdom seems here to be added as the commencement of the restoration of the soul. Understanding is the most excellent endowment of the soul; and David teaches us that it is to be derived from the law, for we are naturally destitute of it. By the word babes, he is not to be understood as meaning any particular class of persons, as if others were sufficiently wise of themselves; but by it he teaches us, in the first place, that none are endued with right understanding until they have made progress in the study of the law. In the second place, he shows by it what kind of scholars God requires, namely, those who are fools in their own estimation, (1 Corinthians 3:18,) and who come down to the rank of children, that the loftiness of their own understanding may not prevent them from giving themselves up, with a spirit of entire docility, to the teaching of the word of God.

8. The statutes of Jehovah are right. The Psalmist at first view may seem to utter a mere common-place sentiment when he calls the statutes of the Lord right. If we, however, more attentively consider the contrast which he no doubt makes between the rectitude of the law and the crooked ways in which men entangle themselves when they follow their own understandings, we will be convinced that this commendation implies more than may at first sight appear. We know how much every man is wedded to himself, and how difficult it is to eradicate from our minds the vain confidence of our own wisdom. It is therefore of great importance to be well convinced of this truth, that a man’s life cannot be ordered aright unless it is framed according to the law of God, and that without this he can only wander in labyrinths and crooked bypaths. David adds, in the second place, that God’s statutes rejoice the heart. This implies that there is no other joy true and solid but that which proceeds from a good conscience; and of this we become partakers when we are certainly persuaded that our life is pleasing and acceptable to God. No doubt, the source from which true peace of conscience proceeds is faith, which freely reconciles us to God. But to the saints who serve God with true affection of heart there arises unspeakable joy also, from the knowledge that they do not labor in his service in vain, or without hope of recompense, since they have God as the judge and approver of their life. In short, this joy is put in opposition to all the corrupt enticements and pleasures of the world, which are a deadly bait, luring wretched souls to their everlasting destruction. The import of the Psalmist’s language is, Those who take delight in committing sin procure for themselves abundant matter of sorrow; but the observance of the law of God, on the contrary, brings to man true joy. In the end of the verse, the Psalmist teaches that the commandment of God is pure, enlightening the eyes By this he gives us tacitly to understand that it is only in the commandments of God that we find the difference between good and evil laid down, and that it is in vain to seek it elsewhere, since whatever men devise of themselves is mere filth and refuse, corrupting the purity of the life. He farther intimates that men, with all their acuteness, are blind, and always wander in darkness, until they turn their eyes to the light of heavenly doctrine. Whence it follows, that none are truly wise but those who take God for their conductor and guide, following the path which he points out to them, and who are diligently seeking after the peace which he offers and presents by his word.

But here a question of no small difficulty arises; for Paul seems entirely to overthrow these commendations of the law which David here recites. How can these things agree together: that the law restores the souls of men, while yet it is a dead and deadly letter? that it rejoices men’s hearts, and yet, by bringing in the spirit of bondage, strikes them with terror? that it enlightens the eyes, and yet, by casting a veil before our minds, excludes the light which ought to penetrate within? But, in the first place, we must remember what I have shown you at the commencement, that David does not speak simply of the precepts of the Moral Law, but comprehends the whole covenant by which God had adopted the descendants of Abraham to be his peculiar people; and, therefore, to the Moral Law, the rule of living well — he joins the free promises of salvation, or rather Christ himself, in whom and upon whom this adoption was founded. But Paul, who had to deal with persons who perverted and abused the law, and separated it from the grace and the Spirit of Christ, refers to the ministry of Moses viewed merely by itself, and according to the letter. It is certain, that if the Spirit of Christ does not quicken the law, the law is not only unprofitable, but also deadly to its disciples. Without Christ there is in the law nothing but inexorable rigour, which adjudges all mankind to the wrath and curse of God. And farther, without Christ, there remains within us a rebelliousness of the flesh, which kindles in our hearts a hatred of God and of his law, and from this proceed the distressing bondage and awful terror of which the Apostle speaks. These different ways in which the law may be viewed, easily show us the manner of reconciling these passages of Paul and David, which seem at first view to be at variance. The design of Paul is to show what the law can do for us, taken by itself; that is to say, what it can do for us when, without the promise of grace, it strictly and rigorously exacts from us the duty which we owe to God; but David, in praising it as he here does, speaks of the whole doctrine of the law, which includes also the gospel, and, therefore, under the law he comprehends Christ.

9. The fear of Jehovah is clean. By the fear of God we are here to understand the way in which God is to be served; and therefore it is taken in an active sense for the doctrine which prescribes to us the manner in which we ought to fear God. The way in which men generally manifest their fear of God, is by inventing false religions and a vitiated worship; in doing which they only so much the more provoke his wrath. David, therefore, here indirectly condemns these corrupt inventions, about which men torment themselves in vain, 456456     “Apres lesquelles les hommes se tourmentent en vain.” — Fr. and which often sanction impurity; and in opposition to them he justly affirms, that in the keeping of the law there is an exemption from every thing which defiles. He adds, that it endures for ever; as if he had said, This is the treasure of everlasting happiness. We see how mankind, without well thinking what they are doing, pursue, with impetuous and ardent affections, the transitory things of this world; but, in thus catching at the empty shadow of a happy life, they lose true happiness itself. In the second clause, by calling the commandments of God truth, David shows that whatever men undertake to do at the mere suggestion of their own minds, without having a regard to the law of God as a rule, is error and falsehood. And, indeed, he could not have more effectually stirred us up to love, and zealously to live according to the law, than by giving us this warning, that all those who order their life, without having any respect to the law of God, deceive themselves, and follow after mere delusions. Those who explain the word judgments, as referring only to the commandments of the second table, are, in my opinion, mistaken: for David’s purpose was to commend, under a variety of expressions, the advantages which the faithful receive from the law of God. When he says, They are justified together, the meaning is, They are all righteous from the greatest to the least, without a single exception. By this commendation he distinguishes the law of God from all the doctrines of men, for no blemish or fault can be found in it, but it is in all points absolutely perfect.

10. More to be desired are they than gold. The Psalmist now exalts the law of God both on account of its price and sweetness. This commendation depends on the commendations given in the preceding verses; for the many and great advantages which he has just now enumerated, ought justly to make us account heavenly truth the highest and most excellent treasure, and to despise, when compared with it, all the gold and silver of the world. Instead of the word fine gold, which the Latins have called Aurum obryzum, 458458     “Lequel les Latins ont nomm, Aurum obryzum.” Fr. some render the Hebrew word a jewel, or precious stones, 459459     The rendering of the Septuagint is, λιθον τιμιον, precious stone; and in Psalm 119:127, they translate the same Hebrew word, τοπαζιον, a topaz, which is a precious stone. This last Greek word, according to Hesychius, is derived from the Hebrew word פז, paz. but the other translation is more generally received, namely, fine gold, that is, gold which is pure and well refined in the furnace; and there are many passages of Scripture by which this rendering is confirmed. 460460     The word is evidently used for fine gold in Psalm 21:3, and Job 28:17. The Hebrew word פז, paz, is derived from פזה, pazah, which signifies to strengthen; 461461     Or to consolidate: and hence פז, paz, means solid gold, or gold “well purified” for the more it is purified, it is the more solid, and consequently of greater weight and value. from which we may conjecture that the Psalmist does not mean the gold of any particular country, as if one should say the gold of Ophir, but gold completely refined and purified by art. So far is פז, paz, from being derived from the name of a country, that, on the contrary, it appears from Jeremiah 10:9, that the land of Uphaz took its name from this Hebrew word, because it had in it mines of the finest gold. As to the origin of the word obrizum, which the Latins have used, we cannot say any thing with certainty, except that, according to the conjecture of Jerome, it signifies brought from the land of Ophir, as if it had been said, aurum Ophrizum. In short, the sense is, that we do not esteem the law as it deserves, if we do not prefer it to all the riches of the world. If we are once brought thus highly to prize the law, it will serve effectually to deliver our hearts from an immoderate desire of gold and silver. To this esteem of the law there must be added love to it, and delight in it, so that it may not only subdue us to obedience by constraint, but also allure us by its sweetness; a thing which is impossible, unless, at the same time, we have mortified in us the love of carnal pleasures, with which it is not wonderful to see us enticed and ensnared, so long as we reject, through a vitiated taste, the righteousness of God. From this we may again deduce another evidence, that David’s discourse is not to be understood simply of the commandments, and of the dead letter, but that he comprehends, at the same time, the promises by which the grace of God is offered to us. If the law did nothing else but command us, how could it be loved, since in commanding it terrifies us, because we all fail in keeping it? 462462     “Veu qu’en commandant elle nous espouante, a cause que nous deraillons tous en l’observation d’icelle?” — Fr. Certainly, if we separate the law from the hope of pardon, and from the Spirit of Christ, so far from tasting it to be sweet as honey, we will rather find in it a bitterness which kills our wretched souls.

11. Moreover, by them is thy servant made circumspect. These words may be extended generally to all the people of God; but they are properly to be understood of David himself, and by them he testifies that he knew well, from his own experience, all that he had stated in the preceding verses respecting the law. No man will ever speak truly and in good earnest of heavenly truth, but he who has it deeply fixed in his own heart. David therefore acknowledges, that whatever prudence he had for regulating and framing his life aright, he was indebted for it to the law of God. Although, however, it is properly of himself that he speaks, yet by his own example he sets forth a general rule, namely, that if persons wish to have a proper method for governing the life well, the law of God alone is perfectly sufficient for this purpose; but that, on the contrary, as soon as persons depart from it, they are liable to fall into numerous errors and sins. It is to be observed that David, by all at once turning his discourse to God, appeals to him as a witness of what he had said, the more effectually to convince men that he speaks sincerely and from the bottom of his heart. As the Hebrew word זהר, zahar, which I have translated made circumspect, signifies to teach, as well as to be on one’s guard, some translate it in this place, Thy servant is taught, or warned, by the commandments of the law. But the sentence implies much more, when it is viewed as meaning that he who yields himself to God to be governed by him is made circumspect and cautious, and, therefore, this translation seems to me to be preferable. In the second clause the Psalmist declares, that whoever yield themselves to God to observe the rule of righteousness which he prescribes, do not lose their labor, seeing he has in reserve for them a great and rich reward: In keeping of them there is great reward. It is no mean commendation of the law when it is said, that in it God enters into covenant with us, and, so to speak, brings himself under obligation to recompense our obedience. In requiring from us whatever is contained in the law, he demands nothing but what he has a right to; yet such is his free and undeserved liberality, that he promises to his servants a reward, which, in point of justice, he does not owe them. The promises of the law, it is true, are made of no effect; but it is through our fault: for even he who is most perfect amongst us comes far short of full and complete righteousness; and men cannot expect any reward for their works until they have perfectly and to the full satisfied the requirements of the law. Thus these two doctrines completely harmonize: first, that eternal life shall be given as the reward of works to him who fulfils the law in all points; and, secondly, that the law notwithstanding denounces a curse against all men, because the whole human family are destitute of the righteousness of works. This will presently appear from the following verse. David, after having celebrated this benefit of the law - that it offers an abundant reward to those who serve God — immediately changes his discourse, and cries out, Who can understand his errors? by which he pronounces all men liable to eternal death, and thus utterly overthrows all the confidence which men may be disposed to place in the merit of their works. It may be objected, that this commendation, In the keeping of thy commandments there is great reward, is in vain ascribed to the law, seeing it is without effect. The answer is easy, namely, that as in the covenant of adoption there is included the free pardon of sins, upon which depends the imputation of righteousness, God bestows a recompense upon the works of his people, although, in point of justice, it is not due to them. What God promises in the law to those who perfectly obey it, true believers obtain by his gracious liberality and fatherly goodness, inasmuch as he accepts for perfect righteousness their holy desires and earnest endeavors to obey.




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