And I will walk at liberty:
For I seek thy precepts (Psa 119.45).
Sinners naturally consider the Lordship of Christ over them as some kind of restriction that is not to be endured even for a moment. The very thought of yielding to His authority and conducting their lives according to His revealed will is revolting to them. In their minds this would be a kind of cosmic slavery bound to make their lives unbearable drudgery. They view conscientious Christians as repressed and miserable because they cannot live as “normal people” do. They dwell under the cloud of a thousand “thou shalt nots,” that rains on every potential parade of fun.
This unbelieving and rebellious mindset is illustrated in a prophecy of pagan rulers and their people (Psa 2.1-3):
Why do the heathen rage,
And the people imagine a vain thing?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
And the rulers take counsel together,
Against the Lord, and against his anointed, saying,
Let us break their bands asunder,
And cast away their cords from us.
Or as it has been rendered, “Let’s tear off the shackles they’ve put on us! Let’s free ourselves from their ropes!” (NET). This attitude lurks behind the teenage daughter’s loud protest when dad says she can’t attend the party with drugs and alcohol, the middle-age man’s rationalization that some lewd movies are no big deal in his life, and the housewife’s resistance to habitual closet devotions.
The fact is, even real Christians are more skeptical than we ought to be that our true and lasting happiness comes by faith and obedience to God’s Word. Conversely, we are so often seduced by the Devil into imagining that if only we indulged this or that “little sin,” it would be worth it, and we can just deal with the consequences later—if there even are any.
Is it any wonder we sometimes struggle in spiritual things with so little success? As long as we keep believing the lie, we will seize the bait and succumb to the trap.
Our text addresses these things head-on.
THE BLESSING OF FREEDOM
“I will walk at liberty.” This is an accurate and wonderful translation of the Hebrew. Young’s Literal Translation gives it as, “And I walk habitually in a broad place,” but the AV captures the figurative sense perfectly. There are two figures of speech here. “Walk” is plainly a reference to the way one habitually lives, especially in regard to one’s moral and religious life1. The “broad place” evokes freedom of movement, not being hemmed in. Thus in this context the statement means the Psalmist is living life to the fullest, freely, as it is meant to be lived. He feels no bondage or restrictions; he is conducting himself before God like a calf loosed from the stall and joyfully frolicking in the field.
And this is a good thing, this kind of religious and moral freedom! This is the state of things when God is blessing someone with gospel salvation and the fullness of the Holy Spirit. A wicked observer may judge the liberated believer to be repressed and restricted because he does not live according to the observer’s carnal desires, even though, in reality, the mature Christian is doing with pleasure, at his best moments, exactly what he sincerely wants to do, and that is nothing more or less than loving God supremely and loving others unselfishly, while enjoying real, tangible triumph over the old addictions that plagued him before conversion.
Noticing the connection of this verse with the several before it, we see that these spiritual blessings are the fruit of God’s mercies, even salvation, coming to the psalmist (119.41), and the Lord’s spiritual preservation of his soul as a sincere confessor of the biblical faith (119.43).
To know and trust God without reservation is the beginning of joyful freedom. Unbelief cannot receive this truth, and it is no wonder that Satan himself rages against it with all his might.
THE WAY OF FREEDOM
Our text elaborates just a little more in its second line concerning the way or explanation of this spiritual freedom: “for I seek thy precepts.” The possessive pronoun “Thy” refers to “the LORD” (Heb. Yahweh, God’s unique name) in a context of prayer-language addressed to Him. “Precepts” is one of the several rich terms used in Psalm 119 to refer to Scripture in general or God’s commandments and prohibitions in particular, “a general term for the responsibilities that God places on His people.”2 Seeking God’s precepts is the earnest and dogged pursuit to know and understand them for practical application in one’s life, that sin might be overcome and true virtue might become real, consistent, and conspicuous. This does not happen without determination or much effort. The one engaged in this seeking knows for sure that he is, just as certainly as an athlete knows he is training for the Olympics.
The grace that saves sinners not only procures their forgiveness but also motivates them to this relentless pursuit of spiritual excellence in heart-obedience to all God’s commandments, whether concerning explicitly religious duty or moral matters in relationships with other people (the first and second tables of the Ten Commandments).
And the real Christian, when most obedient to these precepts, is at his happiest! This is when he gladly testifies with the psalmist, “I am walking in liberty!”
It is the double-minded man that is unstable in all his ways, he whose heart is divided between God and the world, whose loyalty is constantly shifting first one way and then the other, who prays, but without much if any faith, who wavers in spiritual things like a wave of the sea driven by the wind and tossed (Jas 1.5-8), and this is a very miserable way to live. Referring to Scripture, James calls it “the perfect law of liberty,” and whosever keeps peering steadily into this law, fixing his attention upon it and doing it, not becoming a forgetful hearer but living out what he discovers there, this one and this one ONLY will be truly blessed in whatever he does (1.25).
This is the same picture of the blessed man so clearly drawn with a Scripture pencil (as Thomas Watson wrote) in the first psalm (Psa 1.1-3, which see).
“But how can keeping commandments be consistent with genuine liberty?,” the skeptic challenges us. It is easy and illustrated many ways in real life. How much liberty would we have to drive our cars on the highway if everyone were allowed to go anywhere they wished without any lines or signs or lights or orderliness? Practically none, for the road would be strewn with smashed-up cars and ambulances and wreckers!
Have you ever been amazed by the freedom with which a virtuoso guitarist handles his instrument, moving his left hand and its fingers all over the fret board in fractions of a second, and plucking or strumming the strings below with his right hand at lightning speed and producing sounds that make your spirit soar with delight? How did he acquire, and how does he maintain, such freedom to play the guitar? By countless hours of study and practice. He has learned something of music theory and technique particular to his instrument. There are rules to be known and put into practice. Now if the ignorant would-be musician would pick up the very same guitar and just manipulate it with his hands in any old way he felt like doing, his musical limitations and restrictions would grate on the ears of every hearer!
Brethren, are you actually experiencing an exhilarating spiritual freedom these days? If not, why not? Have you incorporated and stuck to spiritual disciplines in your life comparable to the virtuoso guitarists’ regimen? Are you daily reading and studying Scripture, with prayerful meditation upon how you can live out the truth more consistently in your daily life? Do you really believe that your freedom and happiness will come through trust in and obedience to God? There is our problem, friends! Charles Bridges probes our consciences in his commentary on this verse:
Are we . . . obeying the precepts as our duty, or “seeking” them as our privilege? Do we complain of the strictness of the law, or of the corruption of the flesh? Are the precepts of our own hearts our burden? Is sin or holiness our bondage? The only way to make religion easy, is to be always in it. The glow of spiritual activity, and the healthfulness of Christian liberty, are only to be found in the persevering and self-denying pursuit of every track of the ways of God—“If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed: and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. If the Son, therefore, shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:31-32, 36.) To have the whole stream of all our thoughts, actions, motives, desires, affections, carried in one undivided current towards God, is the complete and unrestrained influence of his love upon our hearts.3
May the Lord grant us faith to receive His truth and spiritual resolve to be happy His way, for it is the only way that leads to ultimate salvation. Amen.
1. ISBE Revised, in loc.
2. TWOT #1802e.
3. Charles Bridges, in loc.
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