The Lord's Day Evening
January 6, 2013
“Not by Bread Alone Blessed are Those Who Walk in the Word”
The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you do have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Psalm 119 as we begin a new series together in this wonderful psalm. Last year, as we were finishing our way through the fifth book of the Psalter that takes us from Psalm 107 all the way to Psalm 150, we came to Psalm 119 and I preached two sermons, sort of, on Psalm 119. If you’ll remember, I read Psalm 119 and it took about twenty-five minutes to read out loud and then I gave a very brief, sort of five or six minute, highpoint exposition, and then I came back and we looked at some more of the themes in Psalm 119 the next week without reading it all the way through.
Well, having looked at that psalm last year, I had feared that breaking it down into parts might lead to a certain of redundancy because it's all focused on the theme of the Word of God. But as a read the psalm more and more and as I read commentators on the psalm I realized that the focus of the psalm was not only fixed on the Word of God but incredibly varied in its application to the Christian life. And I realized, no, actually a series of messages on Psalm 119 would be very edifying.
As you know, the Psalms in general are not only an anatomy of the Christian soul, that is, we see every aspect of the heart-life of the believer displayed for us in the Psalms. The Psalms also show us the way of true piety. Now I'm going to use that word, “piety,” repeatedly and I'm going to use it positively. Very often in our culture when you hear people say the word, “piety,” they say it with a sneer, as a bad thing. It's something that people who are holier than thou do or talk about, but piety is a wonderful word. It's been defined as meaning, “the life of God in the soul of man.” Or piety could mean “living to God,” or we could define piety as the way of life for the believer taught in Scripture and experience in life. And so this psalm teaches us much about Christian piety. The Psalms are not only an anatomy of the Christian soul, they teach us the way of true piety, the way of truly living with God and to God from the fullness of our hearts being expressed in all aspects of our lives. And this psalm, in especial, helps us in that way. And so it's going to be a blessing to work through this psalm with you tonight. Now let's give our attention to God's Word in Psalm 119. We’re going to read verses 1 to 8 and before we do it, let's pray.
Heavenly Father, we thank You that on the first Sunday night of a new year, we are together in Your Word. What a blessing that is to our souls. We pray that as we are together in Your Word we would be all in, that our hearts would be wholly given over to hearing You speak to us from Your Holy Scriptures, inspired by Your Holy Spirit. We know, O God, that Your Son taught us that we do not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Teach us that especially tonight and in the weeks to come as we study Psalm 119 together. We ask these things in Jesus' name, amen.
This is the Word of God. Hear it, in Psalm 119:
“Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD! Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart, who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways! You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently. Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes! Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments. I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous rules. I will keep your statutes; do not utterly forsake me!”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
If someone told you that they could teach you the secret of true happiness, and deliver, would you be interested? If someone told you that they could teach you the secret of Christian resolution, would you be interested? If someone told you that they could help you live in the Christian life in that tension between what you long to do and who you want to be and who you often end up being and what you often end up doing, would you be interested? This psalm does all those things and more, and we're going to begin a journey through it together tonight for the good of our souls and for the glory of God.
GOD’S WORD IS GOD’S WORD
Now in this passage there are many truths that we do not have time or space to do justice to, but I do want you to see seven things in this passage that's before us. And the first one is very simple but really easy to miss. And here it is. The psalmist teaches us a very important principle about the Christian life all throughout this section of Psalm 119 and it is — God's Word is God's Word. God's Word is God's Word. And we need to remember that. I'm not just being redundant. I'm saying that when we read the Word of God we need to remember whose word it is because we are very often apt to place our opinions on the level of God's truth and fail to realize the uniqueness of having God's Word given to us to read, to hear, to listen to, to understand, to respond to. And the psalmist, in many ways, just in the passage we've read tonight, presses home this truth that God's Word is the Word of God. It belongs to God; it comes from God. It is His possession given to us.
Look at how he does this. In verse 1, he speaks of “the law.” He's going to use different names for the Word of God throughout this psalm. Sometime later in this exposition we’ll categorize some of those terms that he uses for the law and we’ll talk about some of the slight differences and the shades of meaning, but right now I just want you to understand, in general, he speaks of the Word of God as “the law,” in verse 1. But what does he call it? He doesn't just call it the law; he calls it the “law of the Lord.” The law isn't just the law; it's the Lord's law! God's Word is God's Word. Look at verse 2. He speaks of “testimonies.” That another term that he uses for the Word of God but he doesn't just say testimonies, he says, “His testimonies,” God's testimonies. The emphasis is these testimonies come from God. Verse 3, he speaks of “ways.” Way is a Bible way of talking about a path of living, a way of living, a manner of living. But in verse 3 he doesn't just say, “ways,” he says, “His ways.” Verse 4, he speaks of “precepts,” yet another term that he uses for the Word of God, the law of God, but he doesn't just say “precepts,” he says, “your precepts,” God's precepts. Verse 5, he speaks of “statutes,” yet another term that he uses for the Word of God, the law of God, but he doesn't just say, “statues,” he says, “your statues.” Verse 6, he speaks of “your commandments.” Verse 7, he speaks of “your righteous rules.” Verse 8, he speaks again of “your statutes.”
Get the emphasis? The psalmist wants us to understand that God's Word is God's Word. He wants us to reckon with that. These aren't our ideas. These aren't man's witness to God's revelation. These are God's Words to His people. They are revelation. They are revelation written and they come from God. They are inspired of God; they are authored by God. God's Word is God's Word. That is hugely important for the Christian life, especially in our day and time where, one very side, the authority of God's Word is under assault. If you see the Word of God mentioned in our culture today, it is so often denigrated, questioned, undermined. And the psalmist wants to just get it straight in our minds at the outset that God's Word is God's Word. If you are wavering in that conviction, please come talk to me, come talk to one of the ministers of the church, come talk to one of the elders of the church. We want you to be resting with confidence in the truth that this is the Word of God. We've staked our lives on it, here and hereafter, and the beginning of the true way of life is in confidence in God's Word. There's the first thing that I want us to see.
THE WAY OF BLESSING AND HAPPINESS
The second thing is this; you’ll see it especially in verses 1 and 2. In verses 1 and 2, the psalmist teaches us that the way of blessing and happiness — has that got your attention? I told you before that if you could go to a book that would teach you the way of true happiness, would you be interested? Well the psalmist is getting ready to tell you. The way of blessing and happiness is the way of the Word. The way of true blessing and happiness is the way of the Word. Listen to what he says in verse 1. “Blessed are” — okay, I want to know the answer to that! Happy are, truly happy are, deeply and eternally happy are, truly blessed are who? “Those whose way is blameless who walk in the law of the LORD!” Verse 2 — “Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart, who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways!”
Now I want to tell you about a mystery and an irony. The mystery and the irony of this is we know that Scripture says this. Scripture doesn't just say it here in Psalm 119; it says it in Psalm 1. In many ways, Psalm 119 is just elaborating Psalm 1, isn't it? This is said over and over in the Bible, that true blessedness is walking according to the Word of God. We know that. Scripture says that. Furthermore, our experience even confirms that. If you’re a believer, you know that the times of deepest blessing that you have ever experienced is when your life, your desires, your purposes have been shaped by the Word of God. I don't say that those times have been your most trouble-free. Some of you have testified to me that it was precisely in the times of greatest trouble that you experienced the greatest blessing because what you cared about what not freedom from temporal trouble but the presence of the living God, fellowship with the living God. Your goals were drawn from Scripture, your motivation was drawn from Scripture, your desires were directed by Scripture, and even though you were in those storms that we sang about in 498 in the very first hymn, “Storms about me, night overtakes me, He my Savior” — He takes me home, He brings me home, He cares for me. And you've testified, “I've know that kind of blessing even in trouble.” So both in Scripture and in providence, you have tasted and seen that it is true, that true blessedness, true happiness, is when you’re walking in the Word, you’re walking according to the Word.
But here's the mystery; here's the irony. The irony is also that our experience sometimes sorely tempts us to disbelieve that. I mean, every time we sin, every time we sin, we are in some form or fashion and to some degree questioning that truth. And if you listened to Pete's message tonight that came out loud and clear. If you take something that's not yours, why do you do that? You do that to increase your joy! Now God's Word says that that will not increase your joy; it will diminish your joy. So when you do it, what are you saying? You’re saying, “I've got a better way to joy than God does.” So every time we sin in our Christian experience, we are in some ways calling into question the truth that the way of blessing and happiness is in the way of the Word. So there's an irony that we have to wrestle with and the psalmist is very aware of this. You’re going to see this clearly in the passage tonight. The psalmist isn't just throwing out platitudes. You know, you want to be happy? Take two Scriptures and call me in the morning. The psalmist isn't throwing out platitudes. He knows the fight of faith. He's going to use very strong words about that fight of faith in the very final verse that we study tonight. But the psalmist also knows that for the believer, both the Bible teaches and providence confirms that true happiness is only found when you’re walking in the way of the Word.
Listen to what William Plumer says. “No man has taken the first step towards real, abiding blessedness unless he has become a sincere and habitual servant of the Most High God according to Scripture.” What's Plumer saying? He's saying, “You don't know the first thing about happiness until you've taken that first step towards living for the Most High God according to His Word because that's where the street address of blessedness is found and nowhere else.” No matter what Satan says, no matter what the temptations of your own hearts say, no matter what contradicting experience says, the street address of blessedness is found only in the way of the Lord.
THE WAY OF THE LORD IS ABOUT WALK, NOT TALK
Third, look again at verses 1 and 2. Powerful truth for the Christian life — the way of the Lord is about walk, not talk. The way of the Lord is about walk, not talk. Listen to the language that is used in verses 1, 2, and 3. “Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD! Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart, who do no wrong, but walk in his ways!” Did you get that? “Way, walk, keep, seek, do, walk?” All of those terms indicate a way of living, not just saying the right words, thinking the right thoughts, being able to engage intelligently and articulately in whatever the theological discussion is, but living it out. That's why some of the godliest people that you've ever met aren't able to have deep and profound discourses about intricate aspects of theological issues but they live out the Word. They love the Lord, they love the Word; they live it out. They’re not just in it for the talk; they’re in it for the walk. Listen to what Matthew Henry says. “It will not serve us to make religion merely the subject of our discourse (our conversation); we must make it the rule of our walk.” And isn't that the point that the psalmist is making? The way of blessedness isn't about talk; it's about walk. It's not about being able to have theologically correct conversations; it's about living out the truth.
IT IS GOD’S WILL THAT WE PURSUE AND GROW IN HOLINESS
Fourth, look at verses 4 and 5. It is God's will, purposed in His providence and propounded in His Scripture, that we pursue and grow in holiness. It is God's will, purposed in His providence and propounded in His Scripture, that we pursue and grow in holiness. Listen again to the Word of God. “You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently. Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes!” Those passages state, first of all, that the Word of God is commanded in order that we keep it, and second of all, they reflect an aspiration, a resolution, on the part of the Christian in his or her heart to live out the Word of God. And both God's purpose in providence is that we would grow in holiness and His teaching in Scripture is that we might grow in holiness. Again, listen to what William Plumer says. “In the arrangements of providence and in the teachings of Scripture, everything rightly understood conduces to holiness.”
You know, if the Christian could have it his way, if the Christian could have it her way, he would never sin again, she would never sin again. If we could, when we are in the Word, when the Lord is the light of our salvation, the one thing that we are tired of is our own sin. And if, in those moments, we could sign up for the deepest desire of our heart we’d say, “Lord, sign me up for never sinning against You again. I never want to rob Your glory again. I never ever want to do it. I don't want to do it because Your lovingkindness is better than life. In Your courts is joy forevermore. In Your presence and provision is true blessedness. That's where I want to live. I don't want to live, I don't want to live outside of Your blessing, but that's where sin takes me. I don't want to live outside Your joy, and that's where sin takes me. I don't want to rob Your glory, and that's what is involved in my sinning against You.” And the believer is just tired of sinning. We don't want to do it anymore. Why? Because we know that God's purpose in providence and we know that His teaching in Scripture is all designed to be conducive to our growing in holiness so that we can also grow in happiness and blessedness because those things are inseparably joined. You cannot grow in holiness without growing in happiness and you cannot grow in happiness without growing in holiness. They are inseparably joined.
CHRISTIAN HOLINESS IS COMPREHENSIVE
Fifth, look at verse 6. Christian holiness is comprehensive; it attends to all of God's commands. Listen to what the psalmist says in verse 6. “Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.” True piety, truly living to God, truly walking with God, true piety is not indifferent to any of God's commandments. Have you ever had the experience that I have had where you’re attendant to God's Word but there's this area where you’re not attendant to God's Word and you know it? And that's the thing that always gets you! Have you had that experience like I have? You know, a godly woman, a godly woman, but she's fighting a losing battle against jealousy and she doesn't attend to that fight and that's what gets her. Or a godly man and he's fighting a losing battle against bitterness and he doesn't attend to that fight; he lets it go. That's what gets him. That's why John Owen said, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” Be killing sin or it will be killing you. True godliness is not indifferent to any of God's commandments and it knows that if we allow sin to be nurtured in one place in our life, sure enough Satan will use that place to bring us to grief.
TRUE PIETY IS BASED ON GOD’S WORD
Sixth, look at verse 7. True piety, living the Christian life the Bible way, true Christian piety is based on the Word of God. Verse 7 says, “I will praise you with an upright heart, when I Learn your righteous rules.” He's saying, “Lord, I’ll live the way that You want me to live when I know Your Book, when I've studied Your Bible, when I've understood Your Word.” So the foundation for Christian living is the Word of God, understanding that Word of God. True Christian piety, truly living to God, is based on sound knowledge and theology. That's why the psalmist will say that the lamp of truth is the light of our path. “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” The path, the feet, reflect living, walking along the way, but what lights it? What guides you? The Word of God. True Christian piety is based on the Word of God and that's why Matthew Henry said, “As long as we live, we must be scholars in Christ's school and sit at His feet.”
Have you ever wondered why in the world do these people at First Presbyterian Church turn around and study the Bible every time you’re not looking? I mean, they are studying the Bible all the time! There are Women in the Church Bible studies and there’re men's Bible studies and there are Sunday school classes and they preach three times a week! Why in the world are these people in the Word? So that we can know stuff that other people don't know? No. So that we can impress all our less Biblically illiterate friends with our Scriptural knowledge? No. because the life of blessedness, life with God, is based on the Word of God! We want to be with God. We want to walk with God. We want to know true blessedness. We want to bless other people. The only way we can do that is if our lives are based on the Word of God. If we're not studying the Word of God for that reason, then chances are our studying is going awry.
Again, John Calvin says, “No one will worship God sincerely and cordially” — in other words, you won't worship God for the right reason, not to impress somebody else but truly, unfeignedly and sincerely – and you won't worship God from your heart “unless He has made such progress in Christ's school as to mold his life into subjection to His Word.” Wow. And you know what that reminds me of? It reminds me of the Great Commission. When Jesus tells the disciples to go to all nations, what does He tell them to do? “Teach them to obey all that I have commanded you.” And all Calvin is saying here is that we’ll never worship God sincerely and from the heart unless we are subjecting the whole of our life to all that Jesus has commanded us. We’ll never worship God sincerely and from the heart unless we've subjected ourselves to the Word of God because true Christian piety is based on the Word of God.
TO WALK WITH THE LORD REQUIRES RESOLUTION
AND UTTER DEPENDENCE ON GOD’S GRACE
And one last thing; look at verse 8. To walk with the Lord requires resolution and utter dependence on God's grace. Listen to the resolve in the first part of verse 8 and listen to the desperation in the second part. “I will keep your statutes; do not utterly forsake me!” Now did you read that and say, “What are those doing together?” Or did it immediately, intuitively make sense? “Lord, I want to do Your Word! Lord, I know I don't do Your Word! Lord, I want to walk according to the Word! Lord, I know I'm going to fall flat on my face! Help! Don't leave me!” That's exactly what's going on in the psalmist's heart. Those who are most godly in their resolve for holiness are least confident in their ability to follow God's commandments through their own resolve and so they cry out to God in desperation for help. That's why I said the psalmist isn't throwing out platitudes to you; he knows this struggle. You've sensed the struggle actually throughout the psalm but you can't miss it in verse 8. “Lord, I want to be a Christian, I want to walk according to Your Word. I know the minute I make that resolve I'm going to fail; I'm going to step right out of this room and I'm going to fail. Don't forsake me.”
Listen to what William Plumer says. “These eight verses teach that true piety is sincere, consistent, practical, hearty, intelligent, earnest, active, stirring, diligent, humble, distrustful of itself, symmetrical, guileless, unspotted from the world, self-renouncing, confident in God, delighting in thankfulness, fully purposed to keep the law, and ready to confess without God's grace that it cannot do any of it.” Do you see how God's Word and the Gospel and God's grace all go together in the living of the Christian life? It's right there. All you have to have is Psalm 119 verse 8! It's all right there! If you could read a book that taught you about true happiness, if you could read a book that helped you read the Christian life, resolved the tensions of your contradictory aspirations and your fumblings and stumblings in the Christian life, would you? It's Psalm 119. Join me in this journey. Let's pray.
Heavenly Father, thank You for this time in Your Word together tonight. Bless it. We don't just want to know things in our heads; we want to know true things in our heads, Lord, we want to know right things in our heads, we want to know Your truth, but we want to live it out so as to live in Your blessedness and happiness but we can only do that by Your grace, so we pray for that in Jesus' name, amen.
Would you stand for God's benediction and then please pick up your bulletin and be ready to sing these two verses from Psalm 119?
Receive God's blessing. Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, until the daybreak and the shadows flee away. Amen.