Vol. 12 No. 1 January 2010
T. Pierce Brown
Many of us make resolutions each New Year, most of which are broken fairly soon. This is being written just before the New Year, but the desirability of making the proper resolutions is so important that it makes very little difference when it is published or read. The stimulus for writing it came from a reading again from Psalm 119. David was a man after God’s own heart. His resolutions are worthy of our attention and emulation.
In verse 7 he says, “I will praise (give thanks unto, ASV) thee with uprightness of heart, when I shall have learned thy righteous judgments.” There are at least five Hebrew words translated praise. The word used here (yadah) is translated “confess” 16 times, “give thanks” 32 times and “praise” 53 times. It is possible that he used this term because he wanted to emphasize his confession and thanksgiving for the righteous judgment of God with reference to his own grievous sins. In any case, we need to resolve to praise and thank God with uprightness of heart. Perhaps our petitions would get more attention from Him if our prayers had more praise and thanksgiving instead of mostly begging for what we want.
Verse 8 says, “I will observe thy statutes: Oh forsake me not utterly.” There are at least six other times in the chapter when he says similar things about the judgments, statutes, ordinances or commandments of God. Each of us should deliberately resolve to keep the statutes, precepts and commandments of God that apply to us. One of the strangest doctrines being taught by some connected with the Lord’s church is that we are not under any sort of obligation to obey God’s Law, since Paul says, “We are not under law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14). Those of us who teach the importance of obeying God’s laws are called legalists, since the New Testament is supposed to be merely a group of love letters setting forth suggestions and principles. Paul also taught that we are under law to Christ (1 Corinthians 9:21). If we are not under law in some sense, then there could be no sin, for sin is a transgression of the law (1 John 3:4).
In verse 15 he says, “I will meditate on thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways.” It is doubtful if most church members understand and properly practice meditating on the precepts of God. It involves more than merely reading, or even studying about or memorizing a passage. It involves thoughtful consideration, turning over in the mind the meaning and application of that Scripture. A widespread practice of meditation on the precepts, and respect for the ways of God would be most valuable for the individual and the church. Perhaps if we had properly emphasized and taught the value of meditation there would not be so many who seem to assume that one has to go to some Hindu or believe in some strange philosophy to practice meditation.
In verse 16, he goes beyond meditation, for he says, “I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word.” Meditation will bring delight in many cases, but delight will lead to further meditation, remembering and practicing.
In verse 32, he says, “I will run the way of thy commandments, when thou shalt enlarge my heart.” Running implies diligence, earnestness, exertion, labor and toil. We are told in Hebrews 12:1-2 that we are to “run with patience the race that is set before us.” Merely running is not enough. We must run with patience. It is not just any race, but the one God set before us. It must be according to his rules—“in the way of thy commandments,” or as the Hebrew writer puts it, “looking unto Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.”
In verse 45 he says, “And I shall walk at liberty: for I have sought thy precepts.” Freedom in Christ is a wonderful theme, but many want to walk in liberty without seeking His precepts. We need to understand and teach that true liberty is found only in obedience to the law. A person who says, “I want to be free from the law of gravity and fly like a bird” and leaps from the top of the Empire State building may understand too late that true freedom is not freedom from law, but freedom under law. Anyone who will study the story of the Prodigal Son will find that freedom from his father’s guidance was merely freedom to live in a hog pen and starve. When Jesus said in John 8:36, “If the Son of Man sets you free, then you are free indeed,” He indicated that there is a kind of freedom that is not freedom indeed. We have the perfect “law of liberty” (James 2:12). When we live by that law, we, as David, “walk at liberty.”
There may be a tremendous truth in the fact that the astronauts became free from the law of gravity when they got to the second heaven only by meticulous observance of the laws of gravity and aerodynamics while still on earth. No doubt, if we get to the third heaven where we will be released from the obligation of many laws under which we operate now, it will be because we carefully observed and obeyed those laws while on earth.
There are several other “I will’s” in this wonderful psalm, but the last one we will now mention is in verse 46, “I will also speak of thy testimonies before kings, and shall not be put to shame.” Most of those connected with the Lord’s church have not really made that resolution. Many may have even gone so far as to resolve to meditate, delight, observe, walk and run, but are afraid or ashamed to speak. Though it may be true that it is better to see a sermon than hear one, there is no way the Gospel plan of salvation can be revealed except by teaching.
It may be significant that he did not merely say, “I will not be ashamed to speak of thy testimonies before kings,” but “I will not be put to shame.” This suggests that it is a shameful thing to be ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16). We should be ashamed to be ashamed, and afraid to be afraid, for the fearful are classed along with others who will be lost (Revelation 21:8). Do not wait until a new year to make resolutions like these of David. Perhaps an extended study of Paul’s resolutions would be even better.