Then shall I not be ashamed,
When I have respect unto all thy commandments (Psa 119.6).
The psalmist is not only a model of what we should be, but also a real-life example of what true believers really are. James reminds us that Elijah, one of the greatest OT saints, was “subject to like passions as we are,” and as he prayed for great things and received them, so may we (Jas 5.16-18). Similarly, Psa 119.6 is both a guide and mark of true Christian believers. All have the same hope, and this hope will increase with spiritual maturity. Anyone who lacks this hope is still unconverted. And what was this hope, thus expressed?
Real Christians hope for perfect conformity to God’s law.
NOURISHED BY IMPERFECTION NOW
This hope follows from the aching desire of the previous verse: “O that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes!” Both these soul-experiences are vital signs of spiritual life. Any heart that beats with the spiritual pulse of Psa 119.5 will race at the prospect of Psa 119.6.
Just like verse 5, this one contains a humble and sad confession: “I do not now have respect unto all Thy commandments.” The Hebrew verb for respect literally means look, and figuratively, have regard. Both of these interpretive options yield essentially the same conclusion.
1) “Look.” Verse 4 is an acknowledgement that God wants me to keep His precepts diligently. Verse 5 is an expression of deep desire that I would do so. When that desire is granted, then I shall not be ashamed when I look upon all God’s commandments. But for now, gazing upon them exposes my sin, my horrid inconsistencies. It is humiliating to see how far I have to go in the journey of sanctification. With respect to some few commandments I can testify of a little progress, for God has not left me completely to myself. But oh, how many commandments there are that I have not even wholly understood, much less put into consistent practice! I am bespattered with remaining filth of soul and life, and the more I look at God’s commandments the more completely obvious that is to me!
2) Have regard. This sense does not imply that I have no regard for any of God’s commandments now, but that my respect for them is not all that it ought to be, for if it were, I would be keeping them all perfectly. If we understand the verb this way, the psalmist is saying that it is not until he has perfect regard for all the commandments, that is, until perfect and comprehensive obedience becomes his actual experience, that he will be able to experience total freedom from shame and humiliation. Blessed glorification will accompany perfect sanctification!
In both cases, it is the psalmist’s felt sense of remaining sin, his painful recognition of falling short morally, that nourishes his hope for perfect conformity to God’s moral law, which is just another way of saying conformation to the image of Christ, the very thing believers are predestined to experience when He returns (Psa 40.8 of Christ; Rom 8.29 of all the elect; 1 John 3.2-3 of all God’s sons).
RELATED TO GOD’S MORAL LAW
When many modern Christians consider what it will really mean to be made like Jesus in heaven, the particulars consist primarily of Christian virtues like the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance or self-control (Gal 5.22-23). How wonderfully true that in heaven, true believers will possess and display this fruit of the Spirit in its perfect fullness!
Another way of conceiving the perfect transformation of saints in heaven, the way of our text, relates to the commandments of God’s moral law. Indeed, Paul evidently had them in mind when writing, “against such there is no law” (Gal 5.23b). All these virtues are perfectly legal. They were the very qualities, with consequent behaviors flowing out of them, which the moral law required from the beginning.
Against such (saith the apostle) there is no law; no law to accuse or to condemn them; for these are things which the law commandeth to be done, and are acts of obedience to the law. So as those who do these things are led by the Spirit, and are not under the condemning power or curse of the law (M. Poole, in loc.).
Sometimes Gal 5.23b has been interpreted in an antinomian way—as if Paul were opposing God’s law—but that is surely an error. He did not make void the law through faith, but established the law (Rom 3.31). Believers are not under the law as a covenant of works, but we do have the benefit of the law as a rule of life, a revelation of God’s will for our lives, “a godly man’s picture drawn with a Scripture pencil” (T. Watson).
The NT explicitly defines sin in these terms: “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3.4). In identifying this law, Thomas Boston explained it includes the moral law:
There is the moral law which is a system or body of those precepts which carry an universal and natural equity in them, being so conformable to the light of reason, and the dictates of every man’s conscience, that as soon as ever they are declared and understood, we must needs subscribe to the justice and righteousness of them. We have the sum of this law in the ten commandments. This law continues in its full force and power, obliging the conscience as a standing rule for our obedience. Our Lord tells us, Matt 5.17, that “he came not to destroy the law or the prophets, but to fulfill them.” The ceremonial law was abolished by the death of Christ, and the judicial law, so far as it concerned the nation of the Jews as a commonwealth and body politic; particularly touching their not marrying out of their own tribes, their not alienating the inheritance of their fathers, the raising up of seed to their deceased brother, etc. . . . So the law of which sin is the transgression, is to us the law of nature in our hearts, and the moral law contained in the scriptures, and summed up in the decalogue, as well as the positive laws of the gospel of Christ (Works, I.258).
When we come to realize that the Christian hope is related to God’s moral law, and that it can be thought of as perfect conformity to that law which requires and describes the minutiae of supreme love to God and unselfish love to neighbor, a wonderful reality appears before our eyes! When a Christian looks at these commandments, they are no longer merely requirements that expose our sins, they are promises regarding our destiny! Every “thou shalt” and thou shalt not” shall be fully realized in us and through us, and our sins shall be no more!
To the unconverted, God’s commandments are a flying scroll of judgment, announcing all the reasons why they will be condemned on Judgment Day, but a true Christian should never read the law that way. Legally, Christ has kept them perfectly in our place for our justification. Christ has already suffered all their threats in our place, delivering us from their condemnation. And now Christ is working that very righteousness in us, progressively and powerfully so, day by day through a miraculous inner work of the Holy Spirit, for our glorification!
This is nothing less than the ultimate realization of the New Covenant blessing:
But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more (Jer 31.33-34).
How much more brightly this text shines with the additional light of the gospel in the NT! “Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all Thy commandments.” Let that blessed day come soon! Amen.
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