Meditation on Grace in Psalm 119
â€œYou shall sow, but not reap; you shall tread olives, but not anoint yourselves with oil; you shall tread grapes, but not drink wine.â€ â€“ Micah 6:15
Among the curses God gave as a warning to Israel for their disobedience was that they would sow, but not reap; they would tread the grapes they had grown but never have the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of their labors.Â Consider this text carefully, because it means that we can labor for something, and externally do everything necessary to expect a positive result (good crops in this instance), but unless God blesses the effort, our labors will come to naught.Â We can plow, sow and water, but only God, who either showers blessing or withholds it, can ultimately cause the growth.Â To extend this farming analogy to another realm, God likewise calls us to labor and pray for the souls of all those around us by indiscriminately casting forth the seed of the gospel to those He places in our lifeâ€™s path.Â We know not whether we cast the seed on fallow ground or on ground that the Lord has prepared.Â Our labor, therefore, is not in vain, for God has called the church to gather up his elect from the ends of the earth in this way.Â Through the hearing of the gospel are the nations reached, but only the Spirit of God can open or leave hardened the hearts of those to whom we cast seed. It is important to remember that election, of itself, saves no one. Election, rather, is the blueprint of God for what He plans to do on earth in time through the redemptive work of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit ...and this through the preaching of the word (Rom 10). Our work is, therefore, a necessary and an integral part of God's plan. Souls will not come to Christ without the participation of the the church whom God uses to gather His elect. So we should labor as if all depended on us while knowing that the final fruit ulimately rests with God. Our witness and our preaching alone will do nothing, and that is why we pray to the Lord to bless it to His good and perfect ends.
Recently, while meditating on Psalm 119, the Lord opened my understanding more deeply that this principle is not only true of new souls being engrafted into the kingdom, but also of every spiritual blessing we need for daily living in the Christian life. Here are some of the verses that particularly stuck out:
4You have commanded your precepts
to be kept diligently.
5Oh that my ways may be steadfast
in keeping your statutes!
This text reminds me of the prayer by Augustine that started the Pelagian controversy:Â â€œLord, command what you will and grant what you commandâ€. The psalmist gladly acknowledges that God commands his precepts to be diligently kept ... but then utters a short prayer to God for the ability and strength to do so.Â In other words, God's command to do something does not imply the moral ability to do so. Apart from Godâ€™s supernatural blessing there simply will be no diligent keeping of His precepts.Â
10 With my whole heart I seek you;
let me not wander from your commandments!
11I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.
12Blessed are you, O LORD;
teach me your statutes!
The Psalmist promises to seek the Lord and never wander from his commandments, but does he do so presumptuously?Â No, he not only stores Godâ€™s word in his heart to avoid sin but still prays to the Lord to teach his statutes to him.Â He knows that he is impotent to do so of his natural understanding and abilities. The psalmist exerts great effort to follow after God, yet he recognizes that Godâ€™s blessing is essential, or failure will be inevitable. The word alone must be joined with the Spirit for there to be be understanding of God's word, affection for God's word and obedience to God's word. Apart from God answering David's prayer, there are none of these things.
17 Deal bountifully with your servant,
that I may live and keep your word.
18Open my eyes, that I may behold
wondrous things out of your law.
19I am a sojourner on the earth;
hide not your commandments from me!
Again, only as Godâ€™s abundant blessing is poured out will David actually keep Godâ€™s word.Â He is completely and utterly blind to seeing the glory and excellence of Godâ€™s law unless God open his eyes to it.Â The commands remain hidden from him through a merely natural reading of them unless his reading is joined by the Holy Spirit, who illumines the meaning and desire for them in his heart. Should we not see all of God's commands this way?
25 My soul clings to the dust;
give me life according to your word!
Not only is the psalmist blind, but dead to the things of God unless life is first imparted to him.Â He is naturally not only disinclined, but utterly dead apart from Godâ€™s gracious blessing.Â
27 Make me understand the way of your precepts,
and I will meditate on your wondrous works.
The psalmist is committed to meditating on Godâ€™s works but can do so ONLY if God first gives him an understanding of them.Â If this is true for the believer who has the Holy Spirit, how much more for the unbeliever who can have no natural understanding at all unless God gives it?Â
29Put false ways far from me
and graciously teach me your law!
Why does the psalmist need to pray that God would put false ways from him?Â Because he is inclined to them by nature. One can intellectually understand the law as read in the Text of Scripture, but only by the gracious teaching of the Lord through the medium of the Spirit can one actually see the glory and excellence of the law and thus put false ways far from himself.Â
33 Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes;Â
and I will keep it to the end.
34 Give me understanding, that I may keep your law
and observe it with my whole heart.
35 Lead me in the path of your commandments,
for I delight in it.
36 Incline my heart to your testimonies,
and not to selfish gain!
37 Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things;
and give me life in your ways.
38 Confirm to your servant your promise,
that you may be feared.
39Turn away the reproach that I dread,
for your rules are good.
40Behold, I long for your precepts;
in your righteousness give me life!
Our perseverance is assured but it is also utterly dependent on Godâ€™s preservation.Â Only He can keep us, and through His promises to do so in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit cries ABBA Father within us.Â Prayer, preaching and sacrament are means God uses outwardly to keep us persevering to the end.Â
While this may seem all to obvious, we need to be reminded lest we deceive ourselves into trusting in our own strength