The Lord's Day Evening
January 13, 2013
“Not By Bread Alone — How Do You Keep Your Way Pure?”
The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I'd ask you to turn again to Psalm 119. Last Lord's Day Evening we began our journey through Psalm 119 in a series we're calling, “Not By Bread Alone,” that is, we're recognizing what Jesus did and what the psalmist did, that we live by the very Word of God. The theme in this section tonight is very much sanctification. We live in sanctification as believers from the first nanoseconds of our conversion to the final time we close our eyes in this world. So we live most of the Christian life in sanctification and yet sanctification is not for the faint of heart. We saw serious and specific hints at that very trust last Lord's Day Evening. We’ll get more than hints of that tonight.
This passage, like the passage we read last week and like many that we’ll read ahead in the days and weeks in which we study this passage, speaks over and over of God's Word as God's Word. We emphasized that last Lord's Day Evening but look at how it happens as you scan the lines of verses 9 to 16. Again in verse 9, the word is not simply named, the word, it is “Your Word,” God's word. In verse 10, the commandments are not just commandments, they’re, “Your commandments,” God's commandments. In verse 11, the word is again not simply, the word, it is “Your word,” God's word. In verse 12, the statues are not simply, the statutes, they are “Your statues,” God's statutes. In verse 13 the rules are not just, the rules, they are “the rules of Your mouth.” Isn't that a beautiful way to speak of God's rules? In verse 14 it's not just, the testimonies, it's “Your testimonies.” In verse 15 it's not just, the ways, it's “Your ways.” And again in verse 16 it's not simply, the statutes or the word, but “Your statutes and Your word.” So once again there is an emphasis throughout this psalm and this section of Psalm 119 that the Word of God is the Word of God; God's words are God's words.
Keeping those things together is actually a very, very important theological point for sanctification and it may well have been one of the significant breakdowns that occurred after the exile that led to the rise of an external, formal religion that was propounded by the Pharisees. They unwittingly separated God from His Word.
Now you’ll already see, if you've allowed your eyes to look at verse 9, that this psalm is addressed in a specific way to young men. Don't feel discriminated against if you’re not in that category here tonight. In fact when I'm done, you may be very glad that you’re not in that category tonight. The psalmist is talking about sanctification here, sanctification for all Christians, but what he has to say has a specific application to the young in general and to young men specifically. And we’ll pause and we’ll think about that together tonight as we study this, the Word. Before we read the Word let's pray and ask for God's help and blessing.
Heavenly Father, we bow before You tonight thanking You that at the end of the day we're with You. We’re with You in Your ordinances. We’re with You with Your people. We’re with You in Your worship giving You praise, confessing our sins, expressing our thanksgiving, lifting up our petitions, sitting under Your Word read and proclaimed. We ask that You would bless this to us As we study a serious and sober and practical passage, we ask that You would, by Your Spirit, open our eyes to behold wonderful things from Your law. Do this, we pray, O God, for Your glory and for our everlasting good because we ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.
This is the Word of God. Hear it in Psalm 119 beginning in verse 9:
“How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. Blessed are you, O LORD; teach me your statutes! With my lips I declare all the rules of your mouth. In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches. I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, an inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
The Bible says so much about sanctification. It's so utterly realistic about sanctification. It's so utterly helpful about sanctification. To me, one of the great proofs that the Bible is true is the way that it talks about sanctification. All believers have an aspiration to be more godly, to love the right things, to pursue holiness, to grow in grace, to mature. We want to mature. But all believers know that it is a great challenge, sometimes a war, sometimes a storm, sometimes a struggle. Sometimes we feel like we simply lose all of the time. Sometimes it feels utterly futile. And when we feel that way, passage after passage after passage after passage says to us, in the voice of our Father, “Child, I understand. I wrote about this in a book for you thousands of years before you were born. I wrote these things because I love you and I do want you to grow in grace but there are some things you need to understand.” And three of those things are before us in the passage tonight and so I want to look at those things with you.
GOD IS INTERESTED IN OUR GROWTH IN GRACE
And the first is this. God is greatly interested in our growth in grace, especially in the growth in grace of the young, and specifically in the growth in grace of young men. And I want to say just a few words about that tonight. When you hear, “How can a young man keep his way pure?” by young friends who are here tonight – and that encompasses more and more of you every week – my young friends who are here tonight, don't write the psalmist off as an old man getting ready to tell you one of those, “When I was your age” stories. You know when you go to Belhaven College to speak in chapel they write you a letter and they tell you what not to say when you’re in chapel. They don't tell you, “Don't share the Gospel;” they want you to share the Gospel. They don't tell you, “Don't preach the Word;” they want you to preach the Word. But one of the things in that letter is, “Don't tell ‘When I was your age’ and ‘When I was in college’ stories.” Apparently they do that because almost all the chapel speakers do, “When I was your age” and “When I was in college” stories. And you may be tempted when you hear the psalmist say, “How can a young man keep his way pure?” you may be tempted to roll your eyes and say, “Here it comes again, one of those, ‘When I was your age’ stories.”
But here's the interesting thing. The young man in this psalm is probably the psalmist. He's probably speaking to himself. He's certainly praying for himself and he is definitely preaching to himself. It may well be the psalmist himself, wizened by years, tested by time, looking back and saying, “I wish I had known these things better. It would have made a difference in my life.” So he's not about to tell you one of those, “When I was your age” stories; he's preaching to himself. So young people, listen to his words. And I want to say three things specifically about that.
First of all, as the psalmist preaches to himself and perhaps looks back on a time when he was himself a young man, we are reminded that all of us need to learn and re-learn the way of purity and the way of righteousness — all of us. Here he is writing a psalm under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that hundreds of years of Jewish believers and hundreds of years of Christian believers would go to, to base their lives on and he's still preaching to himself and he's still begging God for help in prayer. And he's still looking back and there are regrets. All of us need to learn and to re-learn the way of purity and the way of righteousness. And this psalmist, in the very aspirations that he lifts up in this psalm, reminds us of these things. Do you not hear, do you not hear the history in verse 11? “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” Do you know how many of hundreds of memories flashed through the psalmist's mind when he writes those words? All of us need to learn and re-learn the way of righteousness and purity.
SANCTIFICATION IS FOR YOUR JOY
The second thing I want to say is this. The word about sanctification here, the word about growth in grace, the word about maturity is especially applicable to youth, to young people. I'm not sure that you adequately appreciate, young people, how much we love you, and how much we long for you to experience the fullness of life. You know I think sometimes you must hear us saying, “Don't do this and do that,” and you think that all that we have for you are commandments and prohibitions and all that we want to do is to rain on your parade, when in fact, I think I can say that it is the aspiration of every parent's heart here and of every grandparent's heart here, that you know joy in life that we have never known and that you be spared all the pain that we have experienced. If we could, we would go the way with you all the way, and if at every point we could take the pain that you will experience, we gladly would. But we cannot go the way with you. Our time is passing. This world will be yours. We will not be able to walk the walk and end the journey with you. We would love to see it all the way to the end, all of your joys. We would love to be there to wipe away your tears but we will not. All we can leave with you is the Word that our fathers and forefathers left with us and the Word that will always be here. And we can commend it to you because it is the only way, it is the only truth, and it is the only lamp that will light your way. And when we tell it to you we do not tell it to you to constrict your joy; we tell it to you to increase your joy. Please know that.
We delight in your energy, we delight in your youth, we remember when we had those powers. And you give us something of a recollection in reliving of them even when we see it in you. We long for you not to waste them like we wasted ours. And so the psalmist is speaking to you. He's speaking to you for your joy, for the increase of your joy, because the psalmist knows a secret that so many of your contemporaries do not know. They think that your joy will be found in deciding to go your own way. We know that your joy will only be found in deciding to go God's way. There is an inseparable connection between your joy and His way. And the psalmist is telling you about that here.
SANCTIFICATION AND YOUNG MEN
There's a third thing I want to say and this especially to young men, because this psalm is especially and specifically applicable to young men. Listen to these wise words spoken by William Plumer a hundred and fifty years ago:
“The Scriptures would not be perfect if they did not give proper directions, warnings, and encouragements to young men. Their case is full of interests. By birth's sin, their way is already defiled and they are inexperienced, self-confident, rash, and inconsiderate. The imagination of their hearts is evil, their passions are strong, and their principles are weak, their lusts imperious and their self-knowledge very imperfect. Til taught from heaven, they are void of wisdom and their will is stubborn and they are impatient of restraint. All rules not yet enforced by divine authority are too feeble to control their strong inclinations and yet youth is the seed-time both for maturity in life and for eternity. In such a circumstance, God's Word is the only antidote by which we can protect ourselves against the corruption of our nature. One wrong step in youth is very apt to lead to another and yet another until ruin comes.”
Young Christian men are an endangered species. Nothing, nothing in this culture designs to help you. Everything in this culture seeks to break you down. And I say to you this — your heavenly Father cares for your soul and He knows that His plan for families and for churches is dependent upon the raising up of godly, young men. And there is a congregation of brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers, young men, that will stand with you and fight for you and we will go through whatever we have to go through with you to see God's design worked out in your heart and life. And this psalm, this psalm is for you. I beg you, pay attention to God's Word. There's the first thing I want to say. The psalmist has a word here about sanctification that is applicable to all of us but especially to youth and especially to young men.
SANCTIFICATION DOES NOT OCCUR BY OUR OWN NATIVE STRENGTH
Here's the second thing that I want to say to you about this psalm. This psalm teaches us that sanctification does not occur by our own native strength. Sanctification does not occur by our innate strength and power and resolve and effort. There's all sorts of resolve in this psalm, and there should be, and there should be in our Christian lives. There's all sorts of aspiration in this psalm for godliness and there should be in our Christian lives. But our resolve and our aspiration is not equal to the task. Look at the second verse in this section, verse 10. “With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments!” Now friends, where was the editor? How does the second part of that verse follow on the first? “I seek you with my whole heart” — people who are seeking God with their whole heart don't wander! “I seek you with my whole heart; don't let me wander!” My friends, don't you hear in the two parts of that psalm aspiration? “Lord, I want to seek You with my whole heart. I'm begging You to help me seek You with my whole heart, but I don't. So Lord, You know my experiences. Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love. Here's my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above.” That's the aspiration in the experience. “I want to seek You with my whole heart; don't let me wander because I have and I know I will unless You, by Your grace, work in me.”
Do you hear the words of Paul in this? Turn with me to Romans 7. This is Paul, Paul! Romans 7 verse 15 — “I do not understand my own actions, for I do not do what I want but I do the very thing I hate.” Do you hear it? “Do not let me wander from your commandments! I don't even understand my actions! I don't do what I want to do; I do what I don't want to do! Don't let me wander from your commandments!” And then look what he says. Verse 18 — “I have the desire to do what is right but not the ability to carry it out.” Is that not the motto of so many Christians? “Lord, I desire to do what is right but I don't have the ability to carry it out!” Listen to what wise, old Charles Simeon once said:
“There is much despondency in the human mind, especially in reference to the great work of sanctification. There are many who wish to become holy but they know not how. They would mortify sin but they cannot. They would serve God in newness of life but to attempt it appears to them a hopeless task. The people of the world, if exhorted to give themselves to God, do not hesitate to affirm that in the existing state of things it is impossible, and many who have begun to do this in their own strength and found its insufficiency for so great a work have given up in despair and returned to their former state of carelessness and indifference.”
Sounds like Romans 7. Sounds like Psalm 119 verse 10. The psalmist is telling you that you are not the engine of your sanctification; God is the engine of your sanctification. What does the apostle Paul say in Philippians chapter 2? Why is it that we work out our sanctification, why is it that we work out our salvation with fear and trembling? Because it is God at work in you and if you know your desires and if you know your habits and if you know your instincts and if you know your besetting sins, you know that only God can conquer them. You are helpless against them, utterly. And the psalmist is reminding here that the work of sanctification is first and foremost God's work. He wants you to have aspirations, he wants you to resolve, he wants you to long to obey the Word of God, he wants you to care about God's commands, he wants you to respect God's Word, he wants you to live according to it, but he knows that you need God. He's pressing you back on dependency. Listen again to the wise words of William Plumer. “Let us cultivate a deep sense of our dependence upon divine grace relying solely upon God to keep us from going astray.” And then listen to David Dickson, the early commentator on The Confession of Faith in that wonderful book, Truth's Victory Over Error. Listen to what he says. “The more experience a man hath in the ways of God, the more sensible is he of his own readiness to wander insensibly, by ignorance or inadvertence, from the ways of God.” The more experience a man hath in the ways of God, the more sensible is he of his own readiness to wander insensibly, by ignorance or inadvertence, from the ways of God. We need God. If sanctification won't press you back on God's grace I don't know what will.
GOD’S WORD IS THE MEANS OF SANCTIFICATION
Third and finally, in this great passage we are reminded again and again that God's Word is the means of sanctification. God's Word is the means of sanctification. And by saying that I am not saying that God is not the engine of sanctification, I'm not saying that sanctification is not a work of God's grace, I am not saying that the Holy Spirit is the dynamo of our sanctification. All of those things are true; God is at work in our sanctification. Our sanctification is enabled by God's grace at work in us. It is the Holy Spirit who is working in us, indwelling us to sanctify us. But the means He has chosen to use is the Word. The Word is all the fuel for the altar of devotion in our hearts that the Holy Spirit sets ablaze. The Spirit uses the Word of the Spirit, the Word inspired by the Spirit, as the fuel for our sanctification. And this psalm has it all over the place. “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to the Word… I have stored up your Word in my heart…Teach me your statutes…In the way of your testimonies I delight…I meditate on your precepts…I fix my eyes on your ways…I delight in your statutes…I will not forget your word.” What is going on? The mind that stores up the Scriptures has its tastes, its judgments, its desires, its aspirations educated, formed by God.
You know the story of the old man who came to his pastor and he was frustrated at how often he forgot the pastor's sermons and how often he forgot Scripture that he had memorized. And he said, “Pastor, I try to remember what you have taught in the sermon, I try and remember Scripture, but I memorize it and I forget it, I listen and I forget it.” He said, “I feel like a cup that's been dipped down into a bucket of water and it's filled with holes and by the time I get it up to my lips all the water has come out of those holes.” And his pastor said, “Just think how clean that ladle is. Just think how clean that ladle is.” The Word of God, it forms our judgments, our desires, our aspirations. It educates us, it shapes us, and the psalmist is telling us here that God's Word is the means of sanctification.
GOD’S WORD SANCTIFIES US BY TELLING US THE GOSPEL
And let me share specifically just a few ways that God uses His Word for our sanctification. First, God's Word tells us the Gospel. You know one big problem that people in churches face is that they try to be sanctified before they’re justified. They try to grow in godliness before they know God savingly. They try to be more holy before they've been transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit. And one of the great ways that God works for our sanctification is that it works for our conversion and for our justification.
GOD’S WORD SANCTIFIES US BY GIVING US THE PROMISES OF GOD
It teaches us the Gospel; it gives us the promises of God. It changes us from the inside out. You can't live the Christian life unless you've been transformed by the Gospel. And the Bible preaches the Gospel to you. And the Bible is crystal clear. It's not written for rocket scientists; it's written for us. It's profitable for reproof and correction and training in righteousness that the man and woman of God may be equipped for every good work.
GOD’S WORD SANCTIFIES US BECAUSE IT IS MEMORABLE
And third, the Bible is so memorable. You know, we may be like that man; we forget to easily. But God has such a remarkable way of telling us things in the Word where they lodge in our hearts and we can't ever get them out. When John Newton thought he was drowning off the coast of Ireland in the bottom of a slave vessel, he remembered the words of Scripture that his mother had taught him as a child and God saved his soul from damnation. Oh, the Word of God is memorable.
GOD’S WORD SANCTIFIES US BY GIVING US EXAMPLES
And the Word of God gives us examples. It gives us good examples and bad examples and one perfect example. God's urging of us unto godliness is not theoretical. He says, “Look at how this saint endured trials or look at how that poor soul suffered and look at My Son. That's how you live the Christian life. And the Bible is filled with the most powerful motives for living the Christian life. It doesn't just say, “Do this,” it gives you the motivation. And the Bible encourages us to pray, to pray with hope for the power of the Spirit to work in us.
And all those things and a hundred things more, the Bible is the fuel on the altar of devotion that the Spirit, who wrote the Scriptures, sets ablaze as we mature in the faith and as we grow in grace. Let's pray.
Lord, we want to be Christians in our hearts. We want to be like Jesus. We don't want to be stuck where we are now. We want to know the real joy, the real blessing, the real delight that comes only in Your way, only according to Your Word, but we so easily wander and our hearts are so easily tricked. O God, help us, keep us, and grant that we might learn to trust and obey for there's no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey. We pray these prayers in Jesus' name, amen.
Would you stand?
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.