The Steadfast Assurance of the Word: Psalm CXIX Part 12
A commentary on Psalm 119:89–96.
Forever, O Lord, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens. Your faithfulness endures to all generations; you have established the earth, and it stands fast. By your appointment they stand this day, for all things are your servants. If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life. I am yours; save me, for I have sought your precepts. The wicked lie in wait to destroy me, but I consider your testimonies. I have seen a limit to all perfection, but your commandment is exceedingly broad.
After the midnight comes the morning; from the sea of tribulation the psalmist hastens to shore to stand on the Rock. In beautiful juxtaposition of the anguish just considered (Ps. 119:81–88), the languishing heart of the psalmist is bolstered and uplifted once again by the Word of God. For him, it is the promises and assurances therein discovered that are his glad and joyous strain of reflection and rejoicing when enduring affliction and hardship.
The Same Word
God’s Word is always the same — it is immutable and inflexible, sure and settled, far unlike the words of man which are fleeting and fickle, in perpetual flux, neither landing nor staying for longer than a moment. Indeed, as the apostle James asserts, all of man is fleeting, as “a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” (James 4:14) Such is man, laying so much confidence in his own thoughts and understandings but they flit and fly as swiftly as they come. How unlike God this is, “with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17) There’s no variableness with God and his Word. (Mal. 3:6) But even more so, the psalmist declares that God’s Word is “firmly fixed in the heavens” (Ps. 119:89), so far out of man’s reach that his vile groping cannot stain it.
Man is defined by change, by “shifting shadows.” (James 1:17) But God never changes, never wavers. Against the bleak backdrop of the psalmist’s own fainting and faltering is the Lord’s unfainting, unwearying Word. The words of God are so deep that none can fathom them (Ps. 36:6), so high that they are established in heaven (Ps. 114:48), so long that they endure forever (2 Pet. 1:1–21), and so broad that none can measure them. (Ps. 119:96; cf. Eph. 3) Whenever the Christian grows tired and weary of the ever-shifting ebbs and flows of life, with all its pain and torment and violence and want, he only needs to look to the immutability and unchangeableness of God’s gospel, which cannot be disturbed.
However unsettled we may become or feel ourselves to be, God’s covenant of grace is never moved or shaken. It is constant, permanent, always working, always the same. Regardless of how much our hearts stagger and stumble, God’s Word remains “firmly fixed.”
The Constant Word
The idea perpetuated by the word “fixed” is that of both constancy and permanency. Everything related to God, especially his Word, is both constant and permanent, continual and enduring, not affected by the running clock of time. The power, glory, and might of heaven confirm for eternity every word spoken by the Lord — everything he says is sure and abiding. And what great comfort this is, for as steadfast as God’s Word stands in heaven, so does his faithfulness persist on earth. (Ps. 119:90; 117:2) The same God who sustains the believers in ancient days is the same God who is strong, gracious, and merciful on the believer’s behalf this very moment.
The words and works of God are each unchangeable and fixed. And it is only by his continued goodness that our creation continues to exist. (Ps. 119:91; 104:5) No fragment of creation escapes God’s government; no world is too vast or atom too small for his sovereignty. God rules it all by his abiding Word. The succession of day and night, the order of the seasons, the stars in their courses, all are manifest sentinels of God’s harmony and handiwork, his authority and power.
The Cheering Word
But as “all things are [his] servants” (Ps. 119:91), so all things must exalt their Creator. These unchangeable courses of creation serve a deeper purpose to show the believer the certainty of his salvation. Every time a foot hits the ground, one should be reminded of the surety and stability of God’s promises. Each day is a demonstration of God’s preserving, upholding, sustaining grace as our great Creator and Redeemer. Moreover, the same Word of God which preserves the heavens preserves his people in affliction. As the world is upheld by God’s perfect will, so apart from divine grace would affliction devastate the Christian. (Ps. 119:92) God’s Word is charming and delightful when all of life seems dismal and absent of delight.
The psalmist had purposed to delight in God’s Word, and only those who delight therein will find his Word to be a light in the darkness. And as many sorrows and difficulties the believer might endure here is as many, and more, comforts and delights he will find in God’s Word of grace. For God’s Word is the refuge amidst ruin, relief for the weary, remedy for the ailing, and rest for perishing. The heart of the gospel beats for those who are abandoned. As the psalmist cried, “When will you comfort me?” (Ps. 119:82), he now testifies to the great benefit and comfort found in God’s Word. That which is our delight is our light in adversity; that which keeps us by day preserves us through night.
For the psalmist, and for every believer, the testimonies of God were his consolation in affliction and triumph over trouble. And his meditation thereon served to buttress him in the storm. Such is the course for all believers who wish to prevail over Satan’s arrows and life’s afflictions. Remembrance of the Word of grace is that which will sustain and support the wearied pilgrim. And the more we remember his mercy, the less we forget his goodness, and the more we’ll trust him. By constantly considering the promises of the Word (Ps. 119:93), the believer is made to resist the malice of the wicked. (Ps. 119:95) By committing to the pursuit of God and meditating on glad tidings of the Son’s condescension, the Spirit impresses upon the memory God’s interest in us.
The Prevenient Word
If we seek the Lord, we can be sure that he sought us first. Our interest in God is always pre-empted by his interest in us. (Ps. 119:94; cf. 1 John 4:10, 19) “From first to last, God pursues the sinner as he flies from him; pursues him not in hatred, but in love; pursues him not to destroy, but to pardon and to save.” (Bonar, God’s Way, 213) This faithful seeking of the Lord after those who are fickle, filthy, and faithless is that which informs and inflames, that which gives the Christian life. (Ps. 119:93; cf. Jer. 23:29; Luke 24:32) “If we are faithless, he remains faithful.” (2 Tim. 2:13) This is the promise of the gospel.
Notwithstanding your capricious and changeable heart, God’s promised Word ensures abundant peace, pardon, and relief for spent, exhausted sinners. Forgiveness to the filthy, faithfulness to the faithless: this is the promise of grace — this is the steadfast assurance of God’s Word.
O the infinite dimensions of this immeasurable grace! It has a breadth and length, a depth and height, that pass all knowledge. And it is this wondrous grace, in all its exceeding riches, that God is presenting to each sinner here, that they may take it and live for ever. (Bonar, Sermons, 281)
Horatius Bonar, Family Sermons (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1954).
Horatius Bonar, God’s Way of Peace: A Book for the Anxious (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1864).