Exposition of Psalm 119:49-56

by Charles Spurgeon

49. Remember the word unto thy servant, upon which thou hast
caused me to hope.

50. This is my comfort in my affliction for thy word hath
quickened me.

51. That proud have had me greatly in derision: yet have I not
declined from thy law.

52. I remembered thy judgments of old, O LORD; and gave
comforted myself.

53. Horror hath taken hold upon me because of the wicked that
forsake thy law.

54. Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my

55. I have remembered thy name, O LORD, in the night, and
have kept thy law.

56. This I had, because I kept thy precepts.

This octrain deals with the comfort of the word. It begins by seeking the
main consolation, namely, the Lord’s fulfillment of his promise, and then it
shows how the word sustains us under affliction, and makes us so
impervious to ridicule that we are moved by the harsh conduct of the
wicked rather to horror of their sin than to any submission to their
temptations. We are then shown how the Scripture furnishes songs for
pilgrims, and memories for night-watchers; and the portion concludes by
the general statement that the whole of this happiness and comfort arises
out of keeping the statutes of the Lord.

49. “Remember the word unto thy servant, upon which thou hast caused
me to hope.”

“Remember the word unto thy servant.” He asks for no new promise, but
to have the old word fulfilled He is grateful that he has received so good a
word he embraces it with all his heart, and now entreats the Lord to deal
with him according to it. He does not say, “remember my service to
thee,” but “thy word to me.” The words of masters to servants are not
always such that servants wish their lords to remember them; for they
usually observe the faults and failings of the work done, so far as it does
not tally with the word of command. But we who serve the best of masters
are not anxious to have one of his words fall to the ground, since the Lord
will so kindly remember his word of command as to give us grace
wherewith we may obey, and he will couple with it a remembrance of his
word of promise, so that our hearts shall be comforted. If God’s word to
us as his servants is so precious, what shall we say of his word to us as his

The Psalmist does not fear a failure in the Lord’s memory, but he makes
use of the promise as a plea, and this is the form in which he speaks, after
the manner of men when they plead with one another. When the Lord
remembers the sins of his servant, and brings them before his conscience,
the penitent cries, Lord, remember thy word of pardon, and therefore
remember my sins and iniquities no more. There is a world of meaning in
that word “remember,” as it is addressed to God; it is used in Scripture in
the tenderest sense, and suits the sorrowing and the depressed. The
Psalmist cried, “Lord, remember David, and all his afflictions” Job also
prayed that the Lord would appoint him a set time, and remember him. In
the present instance the prayer is as personal as the “Remember me” of
the thief, for its essence lies in the words — “unto thy servant.” It would
be all in vain for us if the promise were remembered to all others if it did
not come true to ourselves; but there is no fear of failure; for the Lord has
never forgotten a single promise to a. single believer.

“Upon which thou hast caused me to hope.” The argument is that God,
having given grace to hope in the promise, will never disappoint that hope.
He cannot have caused us to hope without reason. If we hope upon his
word we have a sure basis to build upon: our gracious Lord will never
mock us by exciting false hopes. Hope, deferred maketh the heart sick;
hence the petition for immediate remembrance of the cheering word.
Moreover, it is the hope of a servant, and it is not possible that a great and
good master would disappoint his dependent. If such a master’s word
were not kept, it could only be through an oversight; hence the anxious
cry, “Remember.” Our great Master will not forget his own servants, nor
disappoint the expectation which he himself has raised: because we are the
lord’s, and endeavor to remember his word by obeying it, we may be sure
that he will think upon his own servants, and remember his own promise by
making it good.

This verse is the prayer of love fearing to be forgotten, of humility
conscious of insignificance and anxious not to be overlooked, of penitence
trembling lest the evil of its sin should overshadow the promise, of eager
desire longing for the blessing, and of holy confidence which feels that all
that is wanted is comprehended in the word. Let but the Lord remember
his promise, and the promised act is as good as done.

50. “This is my comfort in my affliction: for thy word hath quickened
me.” He means — Thy word is my comfort, or the fact that thy word has
brought quickening to me is my comfort. Or he means that the hope which
God had given him was his comfort, for God had quickened him thereby.
Whatever may be the exact sense, it is clear that the Psalmist had affliction
— affliction peculiar to himself, which he calls “my affliction”; that he
had comfort in it — comfort specially his own, for he styles it “my
comfort”; and that he knew what the comfort was, and where it came
from, for he exclaims — “This is my comfort.” The worldling clutches
his money-bag, and says, “This is my comfort”; the spendthrift points to
his gaiety, and shouts, “This is my comfort”; the drunkard lifts his glass,
and sings, “This is my comfort;” but the man whose hope comes from
God feels the life-giving power of the word of the Lord, and he testifies,
“This is my comfort.” Paul said, “I know whom I have believed.”
Comfort is desirable at all times; but comfort in affliction is like a lamp in a
dark place. Some are unable to find comfort in tribulation; but it is not so
with believers, for their Savior has said to them, “I will not leave you
comfortless.” Some have comfort and no affliction, others have affliction
and no comfort; but the saints have comfort in their affliction.

The word frequently comfort us by increasing the force of our inner life:
“This is my comfort; thy word hath quickened me.” To quicken the heart
is to cheer the whole man. Often the near way to consolation is by
sanctification and invigoration. If we cannot clear away the fog, it may be
better to rise to a higher level, and so to get above it. Troubles which
weigh us down while we are half dead become mere trifles when we are
full of life. Thus have we often been raised in spirit by quickening grace;
and the same thing will happen again, for the Comforter is still with us, the
Consolation of Israel ever liveth, and the very God of peace is evermore
our Father. On looking back upon our past life there is one ground of
comfort as to our state — the word of God has made us alive, and kept us
so. We were dead, but we are dead no longer. From this we gladly infer
that if the Lord had meant to destroy he would not have quickened us. If
we were only hypocrites worthy of derision, as the proud ones say, he
would not have revived us by his grace. An experience of quickening by
the word of God is a fountain of good cheer.

See how the experience of this verse is turned into a prayer in verse 107:
“Quicken me, O Lord, according unto thy word.” Experience teaches us
how to pray, and furnishes arguments in prayer.

51. “The proud have had me greatly in derision: yet have I not declined
from thy law.”

“The proud have had me greatly in devision.” Proud men never love
gracious men, and as they fear them, they veil their fear under a pretended
contempt. In this case their hatred revealed itself in ridicule, and that
ridicule was loud and long. When they wanted sport they made sport of
David because he was God’s servant. Men must have strange eyes to be
able to see a farce in faith, and a comedy in holiness; yet it is sadly the case
that men who are short of wit can generally provoke a broad grin by jesting
at a saint. Conceited sinners make footballs of godly men. They call it
roaring fun to caricature a faithful member of “The Holy Club”: his
methods of careful living are the material for their jokes about “the
Methodist”; and his hatred of sin sets their tongues a-wagging at long-faced
Puritanism, and strait-laced hypocrisy. If David was greatly derided,
we may not expect to escape the scorn of the ungodly. There are hosts of
proud men still upon the face of the earth, and if they find a believer in
affliction they will be mean enough and cruel enough to make jests at his
expense. It is the nature of the son of the bondwoman to mock the child of
the promise.

“Yet have I not declined from thy law.” Thus the deriders missed their
aim: they laughed, but they did not win. The godly man, so far from
turning aside from the right way, did not even slacken his pace, or in any
sense fall off from his holy habits. Many would have declined, many have
declined, but David did not do so. It is paying too much honor to fools to
yield half a point to them. Their unhallowed mirth will not harm us if we
pay no attention to it, even as the moon suffers nothing from the clogs that
howl at her. God’s law is our highway of peace and safety, and those who
would laugh us out of it wish us no good.

From verse 61 we note that David was not overcome by the spoiling of his
goods any more than by these cruel mockings. See also verse 157, where
the multitude of persecutors and enemies were baffled in their attempts to
make him decline from God’s ways.

52. “I remembered thy judgments of old, O Lord; and have comforted
myself.” He had asked the Lord to remember, and here he remembers God
and his judgments. When we see no present display of the divine power, it
is wise to fall back upon the records of former ages, since they are just as
available as if the transactions were of yesterday, seeing the Lord is always
the same. Our true comfort must be found in what our God works on
behalf of truth and right, and as the histories of the, olden times are full of
divine interpositions, it is well to be thoroughly acquainted with them.
Moreover, if we are advanced in years we have the providences of our
early days to review, and these should by no means be forgotten or left out
of our thoughts. The argument is good and solid: he who has shown
himself strong on behalf of his believing people is the immutable God, and
therefore we may expect deliverance at his hands. The grinning of the
proud will not trouble us when we remember how the Lord dealt with their
predecessors in bygone periods: he destroyed them at the deluge, he
confounded them at Babel, he drowned them at the Red Sea, he drove
them out of Canaan: he has in all ages bared his arm against the haughty,
and broken them as potters’ vessels. While in our own hearts we humbly
drink of the mercy of God in quietude, we are not without comfort in
seasons of turmoil and derision; for then we resort to God’s justice, and
remember how he scoffs at the scoffers: “He that sitteth in the heavens
doth laugh, the Lord doth have them in derision.”

When he was greatly derided the Psalmist did not sit down in despair, but
rallied his spirits. He knew that comfort is needful for strength in service,
and for the endurance of persecution, and therefore he comforted himself.
In doing this he resorted not so much to the sweet as to the stern side of
the Lord’s dealings: he dwelt upon his judgments. If we can find sweetness
in the divine justice, how much more shall we perceive it in divine love and
grace! How thoroughly must that man be at: peace with God who can find
comfort, not only in his promises, but in his judgments! Even the terrible
things of God are cheering to believers. They know that nothing is more
to the advantage of all God’s creatures than to be ruled by a strong hand
which will deal out justice. The righteous man has no fear of the ruler’s
sword, which is only a terror to evil-doers. When the godly man is unjustly
treated he finds comfort in the fact that there is a Judge of all the earth who
will avenge his own elect, and redress the ills of these disordered times.

53. “Horror hath taken hold upon me because of the wicked that forsake
thy law.” He was horrified at their action, at the pride which led them to
it, and at the punishment which would be sure to fall upon them for it
When he thought upon the ancient judgments of God he was filled with
terror at the fate of the godless; as well he might be,. Their laughter had
not distressed him, but he was distressed by a fore sight of their overthrow.
Truths which were amuse. merit to them caused amazement to him. He
saw them utterly turning ;away from the law of God, and leaving it as a
path forsaken and overgrown from want of traffic, and this forsaking of the
law filled him with the most painful emotions: he was astonished at their
wickedness, stunned by their presumption, alarmed by the expectation of
their sudden overthrow, amazed by the terror of their certain doom.

See verses 106 and 158, and note the tenderness which combined with all
this. Those who are the firmest believers in the eternal punishment of the
wicked are the most grieved at their doom. It is no proof of tenderness to
shut one’s eyes to the awful doom of the ungodly. Compassion is far better
shown in trying to save sinners than in attempting to make things pleasant
all round. Oh that we were all more distressed as we think of the portion of
the ungodly in hell! The usual plan is to shut your eyes to it, or try to doubt
it; but the faithful servant of God can say, “So did, not I, because of the
fear of God”

54. ‘“Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage.”
Like others of God’s servants, David knew that he was :not at home in this
world, but a pilgrim through it, seeking a better country. He did not,
however, sigh over this fact, but he sang about it. He tells us nothing about
his pilgrim sighs, but speaks of his pilgrim songs. Even the palace in which
he dwelt was but “the house of his pilgrimage,” the inn at which he
tested, the station at which he halted for a little while. Men are wont to
sing when they come to their inn, and so did this godly sojourner; he sang
the songs of Zion, the statutes of the great King. The commands of God
were as well known to him as the ballads of his country, and they were
pleasant to his taste, and musical to his ear. Happy is the heart which finds
its joy in the commands of God, and makes obedience its recreation!
When religion is set to music it goes well. When we sing in the ways of the
Lord it shows that our hearts are in them. Ours are pilgrim psalms, or
Songs of Degrees; but they are such as we may sing throughout eternity;
for the statutes of the Lord are the psalmody of the highest heaven.

Saints find horror in sin, and harmony in holiness. The wicked shun the
law, and the righteous sing of it. In past days we have sung the Lord’s
statutes, and in this fact we may find comfort in present affliction. Since
our songs are so very different from those of the proud, we may expect to
join a very different choir at the last from that in which they sing, and to
make music in a place far removed from their abode.

Note how in the sixth verses of their respective octaves we often find
resolves to bless God, or records of testimony. In verse 46 it is, “I will
speak,” and in 62, “I will give thanks”; while here he speaks of songs.

55. “I have remembered thy name, O LORD, in the night, and have kept
thy law.”

“I have remembered thy name, O LORD, in the night.” When Others
slept I woke to think of thee, thy person, thy actions, thy covenant, thy
name, under which last term he comprehends the divine character as far as
it is revealed. He was so earnest after the living God that he woke up at
dead of night to think upon him. These were David’s “Night-Thoughts.”
If they were not “Sunny Memories” they were memories of the Sun of
Righteousness. It is well when our :memory furnishes us with consolation,
so that we can say with the Psalmist — Having early been taught to know
thee, I had only to remember the lessons of thy grace, and my heart was
comforted. This verse shows not only that the man of God had
remembered, but that he still remembered the Lord his God. We are to
hallow the name of God, and we cannot do so if it slips from our memory.

“And have kept thy law.” He found sanctification through meditation; by
the thoughts of the night he ruled the actions of the day. As the actions of
the day often create the dreams of the night, so do the thoughts of the
night produce the deeds of the day. If we do not keep the name of God in
our memory we shall not keep the law of God in our conduct.
Forgetfulness of mind leads up to forgetfulness of life.

When we hear the night-songs of revelers we have in them sure evidence
that they do not keep God’s law; but the quiet musings of gracious men are
proof positive that: the name of the Lord is dear to them. We may judge of
nations by their songs, and so we may of men; and in the case of the
righteous, their singing and their thinking are both indications of their love
to God: whether they lift up their voices, or sit in silence, they are still the
Lord’s. Blessed are the men whose “night-thoughts” are memories of the
eternal light; they shall be remembered of their Lord when the night of
death comes on. Reader, are your thoughts in the dark full of light, because
full of God? Is his name the natural subject of your evening reflections?
Then it will give a tone to your morning and noonday hours. Or do you
give your whole mind to the fleeting cares and pleasures of this world? If
so, it is little wonder that you do not live as you ought to do. No man is
holy by chance. If we have no memory for the name of Jehovah we are not
likely to remember his commandments: if we do not think of him secretly
we shall not obey him openly.

56. “This I had, because I kept thy precepts.” He had this comfort, this
remembrance of God, this power to sing, this courage to face the enemy,
this hope in the promise, because he had earnestly observed the commands
of God, and striven to walk in them. We are not rewarded for our works,
but there is a reward in them. Many a comfort is obtainable only by careful
living: we can surely say of such consolations, “This I had, because I kept
thy precepts.” How can we defy ridicule if we are living inconsistently?
How can we comfortably remember the name of the Lord if we live

It may be that David means that he had been enabled to keep the law
because he had attended to the separate precepts: he had taken the
commands in detail, and so had reached to holiness of life. He who is not
careful of the parts of the law cannot keep it as a whole. Or he may mean
that by keeping certain of the precepts he had gained spiritual strength to
keep others: for God gives more grace to those who have some measure of
it, and those who improve their talents shall find themselves improving.
Probably it is best to leave the passage open just as our version does; so
that we may say of a thousand priceless blessings, “These came to us in
the way of obedience.” All our possessions are the gifts of grace, and yet
it is unquestionably true that certain of them come in the shape of reward.
Even when good things come to us in this way the reward is not of debt,
but of grace. God first works in us good works, and then rewards us for
them. This is a complex condescension, a chequer-work of goodness.

In this verse we have an apt conclusion to this section of the psalm, since it
contains a strong argument for the prayer with which the section
commenced. If we have been helped to remember our Lord’s commands
we may be sure that he will remember our necessities. The sweet singer
had evidence of having kept God’s precepts, and therefore he could the
more properly beg the Lord to keep his promises. All through the passage
we may find pleas, especially in the two remembers. “I have remembered
thy judgments,” and “I have remembered thy name”; “Remember thy
word unto thy servant.”

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