June 18, 2017
God’s Word is essential for the Christian life, from beginning to end. Alistair Begg teaches that the Word of God gives life to dead souls, provides wisdom appropriate to our weakness, and spurs us on to purity. In it, we discover warnings to be heeded and promises to be trusted as we look to Jesus, who keeps us secure in His grace and enables our obedience.
Sermon Transcript: Print
Well, I invite you to follow along as we read again from the Nineteenth Psalm, as we did this morning. Psalm 19:
To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
Their [cry] goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from its heat.
The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart,
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean,
the rules of the Lord are true,
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
Who can discern his errors?
Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
Thanks be to God for his Word.
We turn to God and ask his help:
Father, as we come now to the Bible at the tail end of this day, we acknowledge that our need of you is as great as it was when the day dawned and when our first steps took us into all that we have enjoyed this day. We thanked you for our fathers, we have blessed you for our partnership in the gospel, and now we come and humbly ask that you will speak to us through the Word. We realize that the voice of a man is a tiny thing—it flies away—but that your Word is all that we have just affirmed in our song. And therefore, we look to you, and we listen to you. And we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Well, for those of you who were present this morning, you know that we began to look at this psalm. We said that we would consider, first of all, in the opening six verses, God’s revelation in his works—or, as we put it under a heading, “The Majesty of God’s Works”—and then that we would turn to the way in which God reveals himself in his words. So, if you like, from “The Majesty of God’s Works” to “The Clarity of God’s Word,” or from, if you like, the eloquence of creation to the straightforward and clear expression of who and all that God is in his Word itself.
Now, as we come to this, it’s perhaps helpful to recognize that in the opening section, God is referred to in his most generic name: “The heavens declare the glory of God,” El, E-l. When the psalmist moves to the clarity of the Word itself, he changes, and he refers to God by his revealed name of Yahweh. And he does so, I think, some seven times, at least when I counted them before. And it would seem that he is helping, as it were, to advance things in the very terminology that he uses to make clear the nature of the relationship that the saints of God enjoy in a way that is distinct from routine humanity, if you like—insofar as everybody who exists is capable of seeing the glory of God as revealed in creation, even though they may deny that it expresses that, that they may choose to suppress that truth. But only those—the children of God—who have been brought into the family of God are then in a covenant relationship with Yahweh and therefore are the ones who are able to affirm the truths concerning God’s Word itself.
And what you have here in this section is a classic expression of Hebrew parallelism. In fact, for those of you who like to draw things out, you can diagram these verses very easily in three columns. And you can put the adjectives and the nouns and the verbs in three separate columns, and you will see, both by looking across the column and by looking up and down the columns, that God’s Word is affirmed for us in this very important and clear way. So, for example, just allow your eyes to scan the adjectives with me. “The law of the Lord is”—here’s the first one—“perfect.” And then, it is the “sure” testimony of the Lord. And then, “The precepts of the Lord are right.” “The commandment of the Lord is pure.” “The fear of the Lord is clean.” “The rules,” or the ordinances, “of the Lord are true.”
And what you really have here is a succession of words that are, if you like, combining to make one great truth clear for the reader. When it says that “the law of the Lord is perfect,” this is the same word that is used, for example, of the will of God in Romans chapter 12, where it says, “And then you can test and approve the will of God,” which Paul says is absolutely perfect. In chapter 18 of the Psalms—in fact, it’s on my page; it might be on yours as well: “This God—his way is perfect; the word of the Lord proves true.” So, David is affirming the fact that the will of God and the way of God and the Word of God is perfect.
When he speaks concerning the surety of the testimony of God, the word is simply to remind us of the fact that this is a word that God has confirmed, or, if you like, that this is a word that God himself has verified. The “precepts of the Lord,” proving to be “right”—the word that is used there for “right” is a word that is not simply distinguishing between right and left or even right and wrong, but it has to do with morality, and it’s making the point that the way in which God has established his world is within the framework of moral cleanliness. And then the remainder are simply “pure” and “clean” and “true.” It’s not my purpose to delay on these. We could go through them all one at a time and be here until late in the evening.
The point that we need to make sure we understand is that when you take these words and we set them against the background of our world tonight, then we’re setting them in a context that is a dark background. Because the culture in which we live—and this is not entirely the case, but it is largely the case—is a culture that deals in half-truths, is a culture that has become adept at false news, a culture that is relativistic, a culture that is embracing compromise. And so, for us to be confronted by words like “perfect,” “sure,” “clean,” “pure,” “right,” “true” is to immediately realize that the Word of God shines, then, into the darkness of the world in which we live.
Some years ago, when we were down having Tabletalk downtown in the Old Stone Church, we had three talks, I remember, on a succession of Wednesdays. One was “Purity in a Dirty World,” the other was “Integrity in a Shady World,” and the other one was “Stability in an Uncertain” or “in a Shaky World.” And most of that was grounded in what we find here in this particular section. The contrast, then, I put to you, is unmistakable.
But let’s just pause for a moment on this opening statement in verse 7: “The law of the Lord is perfect.” “The law of the Lord is perfect.” It’s possible to go immediately wrong by this word “law.” If you immediately start to think in terms of the Ten Commandments, if you immediately start to think in terms of legislation, then you need to be corrected in your thinking. The word that is used here is torah, and it is a comprehensive term for the will of God as revealed in the Word of God. It is, if you like, a comprehensive term for God’s revealed will, and its root meaning is instruction. So what he’s saying is that the essential instruction that God has given to us, has revealed to us, is that which converts, revives the soul. In fact, Jim Boice—the late Jim Boice—says if you want to consider our best equivalent, it would be the Scriptures or the Word of God. Okay? So instead osf us immediately thinking about laws and rules and regulations, think in terms of a comprehensive statement concerning the nature of God and the revealing of his mind and of his will. It has to do with everything that God has revealed to us.
“And,” he says, “this instruction is absolutely perfect, and it revives the soul.” If you use a King James Version, an Authorized Version, or if you remember memorizing this, as I do, then you will know that the word that is used there is the word “converting”—that “the law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul.” Plumer, who lived in the nineteenth century, I think in New England, says in his commentary, “There is no good reason for limiting the meaning of the word, converting, to anything short of a saving change of heart”—so that not all revivings are conversions, but all conversions are revivings, and that it is this Word which God provides for us that gives life.
Now, this is very, very important, you see. When you think about it, this morning we said the sun, which penetrates the entire globe, is actually the source of life on earth. Now he moves on, and he says, “Now, when we come to the instruction of God’s law, to his Word, then this, in the way that the sun provides for us physically, this is the source of life spiritually.” The hymn writer: “I know not…” And I quote this all the time; it’s one of my favorite songs:
I know not how the Spirit moves,
Convincing men of sin,
Revealing Jesus through the Word,
Creating faith in him.
And what he’s describing here is truth for life. Truth for life. In other words, he’s not saying, “The law of the Lord is perfect and will make you a very skillful theologian.” He’s not saying, “The law of the Lord is perfect, and it’s full of a lot of terrific ideas for how to live your family life.” No. He’s saying, “The law of the Lord is perfect, and it revives, it converts, the soul.”
It is a reminder again of what we want to happen, what we expect may happen, what we pray will happen when we study and teach the Bible. The late Mark Ashton, from St Andrews in Cambridge, writes very helpfully in a little book that was done before he passed away as just a young man, and here’s what he says: in preaching,
the primary aim is not to achieve increased biblical understanding along with a few practical ideas for applying it to life. Rather, the aim is that after the text is proclaimed, [we] will encounter God himself in a life-[changing] way.
I.e., that the Word will make a difference, will produce change.
Now, it seems to me that that is perfectly in accord with this opening statement here in verse 7. And it’s certainly in accord with what we read in the rest of the Bible. One of the great tests of the Old Testament is when you go into the New Testament and you see whether these truths and themes are carried forward, whether they’re reinforced and reapplied and so on. And, of course, you wouldn’t have to search very hard, and those of you who have an inkling of the Bible would be able immediately to affirm what I’m saying to you.
Here we go. This is Peter now, and he’s speaking to the scattered believers of his day, and he’s describing in part what has happened to them. And this is what he says: “You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.” So the word of God was the agent applied by the Holy Spirit to these people when they heard the Bible being taught. That is why, you see, we want to encourage people again and again to come and hear the Bible being taught.
You know, when the pastors say that, it can sound very much as if what they’re trying to do is raise a crowd. No. What we’re saying is “If this is worth hearing, it’s worth telling. It’s worth sharing.” Why? Because of who’s sharing it? No, because of what’s being shared! Because we actually believe that “the law of the Lord is perfect,” and it convert souls. Therefore, if it converts souls, and if the hearing of God’s Word brings light into darkness, then the more darkness you can bring into the context of light, the greater the opportunity there is for people’s lives being radically transformed. It really just makes perfect sense. “You have been [brought to faith] … through the living and abiding word of God”—and this is in accord with the song we’ve just sung—“for ‘All flesh is like grass … all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, … the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.’” And then he says, “And this word is the good news that was preached to you.”
James, he actually says the same thing, doesn’t he, in his opening chapter, in his most practical little letter? “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth.” Or, in the NIV, “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth.” Psalm 119, which is another torah Psalm—as is Psalm 1, incidentally—Psalm 119 says, “The unfolding of your [word] gives light,” or “The entry of your word gives light.”
Today is kind of Luther Day for me, and so I’ll just give you another quote from Luther, as it fits with this thought. Here is Luther in The Bondage of the Will—page 73 in James Clark Publishers, London, 1957, for those of you who want to go and look for it. This is Luther: “Nobody who has not the Spirit of God sees a jot of what is in the Scriptures.” And the people can come in; they say, “Would you like to take a Bible?” They look at the Bible. It might as well be written in Chinese, or they could read it upside down. They don’t know a jot of what they see in the Scriptures.
All men have their hearts darkened, so that, even when they can discuss and quote all that is in the Scripture, they do not understand or really know any of it. They do not believe in God, nor do they believe that they are God’s creatures, nor anything else … “The fool ha[s] said in his heart ….” The Spirit is needed for the understanding of all Scripture and every part of Scripture.
So you see, when sometimes we say, “And I hope you will pray as the pastor is teaching the Bible,” well, why would you need to pray? Well, pray for clarity. Pray for fluency. Pray for brevity, perhaps. But also pray that the Spirit of God will use the agency of the Word of God to penetrate the darkness of people’s hearts who have come into the context of this, and they regard it as the strangest thing that ever happened to them in their life. And then they walk out the door, and they go, “There’s this strange thing that happened to me today. Some of that has begun to make sense.” Well, you see, it is his Word that is absolutely perfect.
And then the synonyms that follow down… This is one of the other columns, now. Here are your nouns: “law,” “testimony,” “precepts,” “commandment,” “fear,” “rules.” As I say, if you want to just diagram it, you can make sense of it on your own. “The testimony of the Lord is” absolutely “sure.” And someone in a court of law says, “And is that your testimony?” And the person says, “Yes, that is my testimony.” “Are you prepared to swear to that?” “Yes, I am.” So in other words, he’s saying that this testimony, this truth, is affirmed by God himself. If you like, in his Word, God appears as his own witness to the truth and to righteousness. In the same way, “the precepts” and “the commandment[s] of the Lord” speak again to the way in which God has purposefully and clearly delineated all that he desires with an authority which addresses the reader as we bow to it.
And “the fear of the Lord is clean.” “Fear” actually doesn’t quite fit, does it, as you look at it? Because it’s not a synonym for “law” or for “precept” or for “testimony” or for “ordinances” or for “rule.” And it isn’t strictly so. What it is, is a description of the effect of the law of God—the effect that it has on the life of the believer. We’ll come to that. But “the fear of the Lord is clean.” And “the rules”—or the ordinances or the judgments or the verdicts—of God are entirely “righteous.”
Again, you have the same thing in the previous psalm. Psalm 18:22: “For all his rules were before me, and his statutes I did not put away from me.” This refers to decisions, if you like, already rendered by God, where he has made a decision. I suppose the attorneys here might call it case law, if you like—and so, the application of case law. Here is a previous judgment has been rendered, a decision has been made, and in the light of that, it is now applied, and the psalmist says, “And these judgments of God, these rules of God, you can take it to the bank that they’re absolutely true, and they are completely righteous.”
Now, with all that said, you still have to come to the verbs. If these adjectives describe these nouns, what, in actual fact, are these verbs making clear to us in terms of the effect of the law of God or the impact of the Word of God? Well, they’re written for us here, aren’t they? That not only do they revive the soul, but they also make the simple wise. They make the simple wise.
Now, when in Proverbs chapter 9 you have that sort of personification of wisdom, and Solomon is speaking to his son, and he says, “Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk [on the path] of insight,” it’s not that the person is a simpleton intellectually here, but rather, it is that they are morally susceptible to the By-Path Meadow and so on. And so here the psalmist says, “You know, the testimony of the Lord actually makes wise the simple,” so that God teaches from his Word lessons that are appropriate to our weakness so that he might reach down to where we are.
Not only do they make wise the simple, but they also create deep-seated joy in the heart. And people say, “Well, what about the Bible? What does it actually do? Why would I ever read the Bible? I don’t do it very much at all.” And some of the people who find themselves in all kinds of predicaments, and I say to them, “You know, would you ever just take your Bible and read it? Do you believe that God may actually speak to you and open your eyes?” And do you realize that the precepts of the Lord provide a deep-seated joy? “Fading is the worldling’s pleasure, all his boasted pomp and show,” and “solid joys and lasting treasure none but Zion’s children know.”
Not only creating rejoicing in the heart but bringing enlightenment to the eyes. Enlightenment to the eyes. Our eyes are by nature darkened and dim and foggy, and suddenly, as in the story of the man who was blind and Jesus touched him and touched him again, first of all, he began to see: “I see men. They look like trees walking.” And then he said, “No, I think I got it entirely now.” Again Plumer, in what is a big, fat, but wonderfully helpful commentary on the Psalms, he says, “The doctrines” then “show us what we must believe; the precepts, what we must do; the [warnings], what we must shun; [and] the promises, what we must hope for.” But it is as we turn to God’s Word that we then are made aware of each of these things.
At the same time, the Word of God creates an enduring purity. An enduring purity. “The fear of the Lord is clean,” and that endures forever. In other words, the Word of God doesn’t lead us into bad and corrupt thoughts. The Word of God does not enable us to engage in emotional journeys that take us away from the purity and clarity of his instruction. The Word of God does not grant us freedom to use our tongues and our words in ways that run counter to his purposes, and certainly not in relationship to our deeds.
And then you say, “Well, there should be a sixth one to balance this out.” But it then ends, “The rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.” Say, “Well, but wait a minute. The parallelism demands a sixth one, and we don’t have a sixth one.” No, we’ve got that it revives the soul, makes wise the simple. It rejoices the heart. It enlightens the eyes. It endures forever. And then it just says, “And it’s righteous.” That annoyed me for a little while, and then I realized, “No, he just pauses for a moment.” This is poetry, after all. Right? He pauses. Here’s the final one, verse 11. What does it do? “It warns your servant.” What does the Word of God do? “It warns your servant.” “By them is your servant warned.” So, here, he says, in the majesty of creation, in the clarity of the Bible, we discover all of this and more.
And verse 10, which is the sort of little bridge verse there, is his own personal evaluation. These things, he says, are “more to be desired … than gold, … much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.” I don’t know how that strikes you. It doesn’t actually appeal to me at all. It just makes recoil. I don’t like stickiness. I do not like that. I’ve never been able to get my head around the metaphor about the blessing of God running down the beard of so-and-so, dripping all over the place. I just, that’s… I’m not doing that one. It’s not part of my deal.
So, what am I supposed to do with this? Well, here’s my thing: these are more to be desired than honey and money. They’re more to be desired than honey and money. In other words, to the extent that honey represents the good life and the provision and the overflow and the magnificence of, you know, your favorite food magazine, and money represents the security that, we are told, is to be found in the amassing of these things, then, says the psalmist, in actual fact, when God impresses upon the heart of the believer the extent and the wonder and the clarity of his Word and all that it means in him, to him, through him, and for him, then in actual fact, you will find that you come to believe that the benefits exceed anything else. Calvin says, “The sense is, that we do not esteem [God’s Word] as it deserves, if we do not prefer it to all the riches of the world.”
Well, what are these great benefits, then? What are the benefits of this? Well, here you have them in verse 11. The greatest benefit is that they provide warnings that need to be heeded, and they provide promises that are to be trusted. They provide both warnings and rewards. Again, that is the appeal, all the way through the book of Proverbs: “To my son: Listen! Heed the warnings! Trust the promises!” “Heed the warnings! Trust the promises!” It’s the story of Hebrews, isn’t it? “Heed the warnings, and take God at his word.”
So, there’s the revelation: in the glory and eloquence of creation, in the clarity of Scripture itself. And so, what does the psalmist do by way of response? Does he award himself a PhD? Does he say to himself, “Well, I can tick it off. I’ve learned a tremendous amount. Now I’m able to speak concerning these things.” No. It’s quite striking, isn’t it? Because we move from the majesty of God’s works to the clarity of God’s Word to the humility of God’s worshipper, or God’s servant.
Isn’t it interesting he goes immediately to his errors, his faults, his sins, his transgressions? Why is that? One old commentator puts it like this: “No good [person], with any tolerable degree of knowledge of [them]self, can be ignorant of the fact that [they come] far short of the absolute perfection required by God’s word.”
This is somewhat akin to Isaiah in chapter 6, isn’t it? And Isaiah says, “I saw the Lord. And then I went on television, and I told everybody, ‘I saw the Lord.’ And I explained to them what an amazing thing it was.” No. He says, “I saw the Lord, and then I fell flat on my face, and I said, ‘Woe is me, because I’m a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.’” You have the same thing in the disciples, don’t you, on the boat, in the manifestation of the glory of Christ? And the disciple falls on his face: “Depart from me, [’cause] I[’m] a sinful man, O Lord.”
No, you see, I think the temptation for us, especially in the study of the Bible—because we’re so into gratification, we’re so into affirmation, we’re so into making sure that we’re feeling good and better as a result of having taken the time to go out and do something, that the idea that the impact of the Word of God might be to us to put us on our knees is not something necessarily that appeals. But that’s exactly what happens here. That’s why sometimes we pray before we turn to the Bible, in the old song from home,
Make the Book live to me, O Lord,
Show me yourself within your Word,
Show me myself.
Do you really want to see yourself? Painful, isn’t it? Why? Well, because God’s Word exposes our errors. “Who can discern his errors?” I can’t even discern my own errors. I know some of them, but I don’t know all of them. What about my “hidden faults”? What about your hidden faults? What about the things that your wife doesn’t know, your husband doesn’t know, your mom and dad don’t know, your neighbor doesn’t know—but God knows? How are they to be dealt with? In the clarity of God’s Word.
“Declare me innocent from hidden faults.” In other words, “Equip me.” “And help me,” verse 13: “Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins.” “Presumptuous sins.” Now, this is not things that we’ve done inadvertently or mistakenly or unwittingly. “This is, now,” he says, “where I’m just flat-out going to sin—when I’m going to take something that the Bible says don’t do, and I’m going to do it. And then I’m going to say to myself, ‘Well, I did it, but nothing happened.’ Or I’m going to say, ‘Well, I did it, and nobody knew.’” And on both counts, we’re wrong. And the psalmist says, “As I come to the end of this poem that I’ve written, my great concern is that you won’t allow my presumptuous sins to have dominion over me.” What does that mean? “Don’t let them control me.” “Control me.” You see, if we are controlled by sin, then we are the servants of sin, not the servants of God.
And God, in his mercy and in his grace, will allow us to be brought under the dominion of our presumptuous sins as a measure of judgment on our lives until we reach the point where we’re prepared to acknowledge them and ask and cry to God for forgiveness. “And,” he says, “in light of that—if you will keep me in this way, if you will help me in this way—then I shall be blameless and innocent of this great transgression.” You could get a PhD on the “great transgression,” or the great sin. I’m not going to delay on it. It’s bad, that’s for sure. Exodus 32, you have the “great sin,” the “great sin,” the “great sin,” three times. What was the great sin? Well, they made a golden calf. “Well,” you say, “well, I’m good on that one, ’cause I don’t even fancy a golden calf. I never even gave it any thought at all.” No, no, no. The golden calf represented what? Willful rebellion against the divine authority of God. Willful rebellion against the divine authority of God.
Now, you think about it. Let’s just think in terms of… This is King David, remember. He’s the poet. And if you’ve lived at all in the circles in which I have lived, you know—and some of these are so up to date it is painful to even mention them—but we have all had occasion to mourn the loss of those whose impact on our lives for the gospel and for good was so singular, so striking, so powerful that we would have been very happy to carry this person’s suitcase for the rest of our lives and carry it on our backs if we could only be in his company, if we could only have his advice, if we could only have the instruction from the Bible that this individual was so powerfully able to give. And yet, somewhere along the line, in a moment—in a moment, it would seem—there was a tremendous collapse, a disintegration, a moral or a financial failure, and into the abyss goes the individual. And as of right now tonight, they have never arisen.
And everybody says, “I don’t see how that could happen.” Well, I’m going to tell you how it can happen. And I’ll tell you how it did happen, even though I don’t know the details myself. It starts with “hidden faults.” It starts with an unwillingness to discern our errors. It starts by being unprepared to keep short accounts in the realm of our lives that is known only to God in the secret place—there! That, unchecked, leads to presumptuous sins. That boldness may lead us then to a great transgression and a dreadful collapse. And so if you read some of this and you say, “This never happens to me,” then take heed, in case you actually come crashing down.
Alan Stibbs, who was a wonderful teacher of the Bible in his day, wrote a number of little books: Teaching God’s Word, Believing God’s Word, Understanding God’s Word, and so on. And I turned to this; it just happened. It caught my eye, as sometimes happens when I’m sitting in the cave. And so I want just to read this, and then I’m going to stop. Some of you youngsters have done very, very well sitting through this, and I should take you all out and buy you ice cream. But I don’t have any money, and so… And I’m a very stingy Scotsman. But he, in this little book on understanding God’s Word, has a number of chapters: how to get at the true text, how to understand the text, how to interpret the text in relationship to figurative language and prophecy, and so on. And then he says, “But let’s get to the heart of it. Let’s get down to the Bible and Christian living.” And this is what he says about dealing with the Bible: he says, “Listen…”
Aim to discover spiritual truth which is capable of immediate personal application. Do not read the Bible … as a detached spectator or enquiring student whose only concern is to know what it contains. [Rather,] regard it … as a looking-glass in which [you] can by God’s help see both the man [you are] and the man [you are] meant to become as a child of God. Look first in it for the things which directly bear on your own needs and problems, failures and temptations, responsibilities and duties. Be prepared seriously and sincerely to ask, and to face the answer to, such questions as—What has God … say to me [in] this passage [now]? What may I learn here concerning [my] daily life[?] [How may I discover] how to live it [in pleasing God]?”
That’s number three of his application.
Recognize the need for continual return to, and fresh reformation according to, the Word of God. [The] pursuit first of the discovery and then of the doing of God’s will as revealed through His Word never ends. In this life we never reach the place of final perfection. Each fresh day brings its fresh challenge. The road is uphill all the way. It is all too easy to degenerate … to slip back from the observance of standards once accepted. No one reformation can put an individual or a church permanently right. There is constant need for a continual return to God to examine oneself afresh in the light of His Word, to be convicted of the beginnings of sinful decline, to be made aware of fresh ways in which advance in holiness and love is now possible. Only so can we follow on to know the Lord, and hope to share in coming “to a perfect man.” We must be willing ever and again to submit ourselves to the searching light and compelling imperatives of the Word of God. …
[And] recognize that the person whom every man is responsible to judge in this light is himself. Such practical moral application of Scripture to life and conduct is something which each believer is called and qualified in Christ to do for himself. [And] this is our Christian calling to grow up from infancy [to fulfill the responsibilities that are now ours].
And so, no surprise that the psalm ends with the cry in verse 14, which is usually used by the minister before he teaches from the Bible. But it’s an applicable word for all of us, isn’t it? “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight.” In other words, “I’m in need of your divine grace to pardon me, to prevent me, to restrain me, to sanctify me.” But where is the acquittal to be found? How are we to be forgiven of these things? And, of course, the answer takes us from the king of Israel to the Lord himself—Jesus, who is the end of the law; Jesus, who by his perfect life met its demands, satisfied its claims, and brings everlasting righteousness. So that what it does is, it doesn’t send us to ourselves to try and engineer this, but it sends us again to him. Because all depends on him, for he is our rock and our Redeemer. As all our prayers and all our holy endeavors and abilities to serve God must be fashioned to us by the Lord Jesus, so also every other grace and the acceptance of our person and all of our service must always come through him. In other words, all the Bible sends us all the time to the Lord Jesus, so that we’re enabled to say in the end, “‘In Christ alone my hope is found. He is my strength. He’s my song.’ He’s my rock. He’s my Redeemer.”
If the message was “Now, you better just get your act together here and clean it all up and fix it, and hopefully God will accept you”—no! The answer is that it turns us again and again back to the finished work of Christ, and to the work of the Spirit in and through the agency of the Bible, to say, “Hey, don’t dance around these warnings, and don’t stand back from these promises”—preventing us on the one hand and assuring us on the other hand, so that together we might make progress to know the Lord.
Father, we thank you that when we meditate on your Word, it sinks into our hearts and begins to turn us again and again to your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. We thank you that he “who knew no sin” became sin for us, in order that “in him we might become the righteousness of God.” And we affirm tonight that it’s just as we are, in our starts and in our stoppings, in our hidden faults and in our presumptuous hearts, that we have to throw ourselves again and again on the amazing mercy and grace that is ours in Christ alone. And so in his name we pray. Amen.
 See Romans 1:18.
 Romans 12:2 (paraphrased).
 Psalm 18:30 (ESV).
 Psalm 19:7 (KJV).
 William S. Plumer, Studies in the Book of Psalms: Being a Critical and Expository Commentary […] (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1866), 257.
 Daniel Webster Whittle, “I Know Not Why God’s Wondrous Grace” (1883).
 Murray Capill, The Heart Is the Target: Preaching Practical Application from Every Text (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2014), 17.
 1 Peter 1:23 (ESV).
 1 Peter 1:24–25 (ESV).
 James 1:18 (ESV).
 Psalm 119:130 (ESV).
 Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will, trans. J. I. Packer and O. R. Johnston (Grand Rapids: Revell, 1957), 73–74.
 Proverbs 9:6 (ESV).
 John Newton, “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken” (1779).
 Mark 8:24–25 (paraphrased).
 Plumer, Psalms, 257.
 See Psalm 133:2.
 John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms, trans. James Anderson (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1845), 1:323.
 Plumer, Psalms, 259.
 Isaiah 6:1, 5 (paraphrased).
 Luke 5:8 (ESV).
 R. Hudson Pope, “Make the Book Live to Me” (1943).
 Exodus 32:21, 30–31 (ESV).
 Alan M. Stibbs, Understanding God’s Word (London: Inter-Varsity, 1950), 61.
 Stibbs, 63–64.
 Stuart Townend and Keith Getty, “In Christ Alone” (2001). Lyrics lightly altered.
 2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV).
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.