Thou art good, and doest good;
Teach me thy statutes (Psa 119.68).
From our youngest days, we were exhorted to “be good,” and if we wanted to please our parents, we were motivated at least to try. We discovered by experience that being good wasn’t easy, and some of us became frustrated. Then we rationalized that being good is for little kids. Teenagers typically want to be cool, independent, or rebellious—anything but good! And too many adults never return to their earlier aspirations for goodness.
If we ever come to our senses spiritually and morally, we realize that nothing is more important to us personally than to be truly, profoundly good. That may seem an unworthy goal if you have a shallow view of what goodness is. Helping little old ladies across the street is overrated, you may think. But this at best a mere caricature of goodness.
The psalmist aspired to the highest kind of goodness and wrote succinctly of his ambition by the infallible guidance of the Holy Spirit. This text is just five Hebrew words—literally, “Thou / good/ doest good / teach / me thy statutes,” but it is such a profound statement of theology and philosophy that we cannot fully comprehend it. Let us meditate upon it under two leading propositions, both simple and deep.
GOD, THE SOURCE OF GOODNESS
“Thou art good, and doest good.” The psalmist praises Yahweh to His face by ascribing to Him inherent goodness of being and universal goodness of action. He is not only good but the font of all goodness that exists; all good creatures derive their goodness from their good Creator. Everything He does is an expression of His goodness of nature. There is no standard outside Himself by which He could possibly be judged; rather, all His creatures are seen to be more or less good as they are conformed to Him and reflect His goodness.
This ascription of goodness to God is absolutely true. Recognizing this, our language developed the words “God” and “good” from a common origin.1 “Facts about God are the best praise of God. All the glory we can give to God is to reflect His own glory upon himself” (Spurgeon).2 I still remember the simple mealtime prayer of my childhood, “God is great, / God is good; / And we thank Him / For our food.”
Because sinners doubt the reality of His goodness they rationalize their neglect and hostility toward Him. Because they think He is blameworthy in His administration of all things they feel justified in going their own way. “I can’t believe in a God who would cast people into hell,” they say. All this proves is that they themselves lack the goodness of God. “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3.3).
When we would seriously ponder this verse, the question naturally arises, “What does it mean for God to be good and do good?” The same Hebrew cognate is used in both instances. “Thou art good” uses a word that in this context probably means the opposite of moral evil, that is, righteousness.3 I think this is the case because in this verse God’s goodness is connected with what He does and with His revealed will in Scripture. The same word is used in Ecclesiastes 2.24 to connote the summum bonum (highest good), ultimate blessedness, and that sense may also be intended here. Communion with God is the greatest possible good any creature could possibly attain. This is the substance of saints’ eternal bliss.
The second use of the word is a verbal participle indicating “an action of unbroken continuity.”4 Here it seems to have the sense that God is constantly doing good, every moment of time, without interruption. This is a beautiful description of what Reformed theology means by God’s works of providence, “His most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all His creatures and all their actions” (WSC #11).
Everything that happens is a revelation of God at work, for He is the ultimate sustainer of all things and cause of all events. Further, everything that happens is the outworking of God’s goodness. While not all things are objectively good, yet they come to pass because of the exercise of God’s goodness. When fire fell upon Sodom, that was a terrible thing, but their just punishment was God wielding His righteous sword upon the inexcusably ungodly, delivering the rest of the world from their pernicious influence, and making them an example for the potentially beneficial warning of others.
As John Gill noted, God’s goodness is especially seen in the redemption of His chosen people.
Jehovah the Father, has displayed His goodness to His special people, in His good designs towards them, and thoughts of them; in setting them apart for Himself, His own glory, and their good; in laying up all good things for them in Christ, and in the covenant of His grace; in making promises of good things to them, both for this life, and that which is to come; and in bestowing good gifts on them, the gift of Himself, the gift of His Son, and the gift of His Spirit; and all the blessings of goodness, as of adoption, justification, pardon of sin, etc., and all the graces of the Spirit, as the gift of faith, of repentance, of a good hope of eternal life, and also the gift of eternal life itself.5
So aspiring to be good is nothing else but aspiring to be God-like, that is, godly. It is to yearn for the full restoration of God’s image in us, that we might fulfill the end for which He made us. The NT exhorts us to “put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Eph 4.24). You Christian believers “have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of He who created him” (Col 3.10). See how much more worthy and glorious this aspiration is than helping the proverbial little old ladies?
GOD’S WORD, THE SCHOOL OF GOODNESS
A true apprehension of God’s essential and relational goodness awakens holy desires, by His mercy, in the human soul. But by what means can a sinner become good and learn to do good? From God, of course! He has revealed both Himself and His works in Scripture which is the Word of God. Therefore the psalmist prays, “Teach me thy statutes.”
Some study the Bible as literature. Seminary students gather proof texts to make their own theological points and refute others. Pastors pore over it for sermons. But the best study of God’s Word is that we might become good as He is and do good as He does.
Your aim in studying the Bible makes all the difference in what you get out of it. If you pick it up each day to get through it in a year, and stick to the schedule, that is what you will accomplish. But we ought to approach it prayerfully, as the psalmist did. “Lord, You are good and do good; teach me Your statutes.” We should glean everything it contains about God with His glorious attributes and dealings. We ought to depend on Scripture to inspire us in worship, to praise God as the psalmist did. “Lord, You are good! You are constantly doing good!” And we should crave Bible intake as a means of our own spiritual transformation by God Himself, “Teach me Your statutes.”
God’s Word is the school of goodness. No one can even comprehend clearly what real goodness is apart from it, much less make any progress toward goodness in their own heart and conduct. It is in learning God’s statutes, particularly His commandments, and then walking in them by gospel grace and from gospel motives, that we will enjoy the answer to the holy petition. It is just as Jesus prayed to His Father for the disciples, “Sanctify them through Thy truth; Thy word is truth” (John 17.17).
Noted modern author Jerry Bridges wrote, “It is impossible to practice godliness without a constant, consistent and balanced intake of the Word of God in our lives.”6 We are not good by nature, but God is, and He has revealed Himself in Scripture. “Only one means and one way of cure has been given us and that is the teaching of the Word. Without it nothing else will avail” (Chrysostom).
This truth has the most practical implications. To be saved from sin and grow in goodness you must give daily attention to your Bible. The Word-centered church is inestimably valuable for your progress in godliness. Husbands ought to keep up an informal ministry of the Word for their wives, and parents for their children. Public schools devoid of Scripture are utterly powerless to make the students truly good, moral, and upright. Likewise with a thousand secular or heretical “self-improvement” programs. Everybody wants to eradicate the miseries of social ills that stem from bad behavior (e.g., violence, drunkenness, fraud, theft, etc.), but very few have the faith and insight to realize that the gospel of Jesus Christ is the only answer, and that prayerful Bible study is the primary means of learning and applying it.
Let us be those who aspire to goodness, that is, godliness, with the firmest resolve, and with the certain knowledge that only as we know and apply Scripture with God’s blessing can we hope to attain it. The Lord bless us in this most worthy of all pursuits. Amen.
1. Our English word God seems to be a contraction of the word “Good”; or, however, is the same with the German “Gott” and “Godt”; which came, as it is thought, from the Arabic word “Gada”, which so signified; so that the German and English name of the divine Being, in common use, is taken from the attribute of His goodness (Gill, A Body of Doctrinal Divinity, I.XVI).
2. The Treasure of David, in loc.
3. DBL #3202.
4. TVM #8813.
6. The Complete Gathered Gold, p. 258.
All Rights Reserved.