Prefatory Word & Introduction

by Charles Spurgeon

THE TREASURY OF DAVID, in seven large volumes, is to be found in
thousands of libraries, but it is too huge a work to be commonly known
among the thousands of Israel, Hence it came into my mind to publish
certain parts of it in smaller books, that many more might be profited by it.
The One Hundred and Nineteenth Psalm is of such a size as to stand out
from all the rest, and claim a separate treatment. It is known among the
Germans as “The Christians’ golden A B C of the praise, love, power, and
use of the Word of God”; and from them I have borrowed the title of this
volume. Each portion of the Psalm begins with a letter of the Hebrew
alphabet. As a specimen, we would show how the first eight verses may be
so rendered as to begin in each case with the letter A, or Aleph.

“A blessing is on them that are undefiled in the way;
...............and walk in the law of Jehovah;
A blessing is on them that keep his testimonies,
...............and seek him with their whole heart;
Also on them that do no wickedness,
...............but walk in his ways.
A law hast thou given unto us,
...............that we should diligently keep thy commandments.
Ah, Lord! that my ways were so directed
...............that I might keep thy statutes!
And then shall I not be confounded,
...............while I have respect unto all thy commandments.
As for me, I will thank thee with an unfeigned heart,
...............when I shall have learned thy righteous judgments.
An eye will I have unto thy statutes:
...............O forsake me not utterly.”

This psalm is a wonderful composition. Its expressions are many as the
waves, but its testimony is one as the sea. It deals all along with one
subject only; but although it consists of a considerable number of verses,
some of which are very similar to others, yet throughout its one hundred
and seventy-six stanzas the self-same thought is not repeated: there is
always a shade of difference, even when the color of the. thought appears
to be the same. Some have said that in it there is an absence of variety; but
that is merely the observation of those who have not studied it. I have
weighed each word, and looked at each syllable with lengthened
meditation; and I bear witness that this sacred song has no tautology in it,
but Is charmingly varied from beginning to end. Its variety is that of a
kaleidoscope: from a few objects innumerable permutations and
combinations are produced. In the kaleidoscope you look once, and there
is a strangely beautiful form you shift the glass a very little, and another
shape, equally delicate and beautiful, is before your eyes. So it is here.
What you see is the same, and yet never the same: it is the same truth, but
it is always placed in a new light, put in a new connection, or in some way
or other invested with freshness.

I do not believe that any subject other than a heavenly one would have
allowed of such a psalm being written upon it; for the themes of this world
are narrow and shallow. Neither could such a handling have been given
even to a sacred subject by any mind less than divine; inspiration alone can
account for the fullness and freshness of this psalm.

The best compositions of men are soon exhausted; they are cisterns, and
not springing fountains. You enjoy them very much at the first
acquaintance, and you think you could hear them a hundred times over; but
you could not: you soon find them wearisome. Very speedily a man eats
too much honey: even children at length are cloyed with sweets. All human
books grow stale after a time; but with the Word of God the desire to
study it increases, while the more you know of it the less you think you
know. The Book grows upon you: as you dive into its depths you have a
fuller perception of the infinity which remains unexplored. You are still
sighing to enjoy more of that which it is your bliss to taste. All this is true
even of the psalm which is in itself nothing more than the eulogy of the
divine testimony.

This wonderful psalm, from its great length, helps us to wonder at the
immensity of Scripture. From its keeping to the same subject it helps us to
adore the unity of Scripture, for it is but one. Yet, from the many turns it
gives to its one thought, it helps us to see the variety of Scripture. How
manifold are the words and thoughts of God I In his Word, just as in
creation, the wonders of his skill are displayed in many ways.

I admire in this psalm the singular commingling of testimony, prayer, and
praise. In one verse the Psalmist bears witness; in a second verse he
praises; in a third verse he prays. It is an incense made up of many spices;
but they are wonderfully compounded and worked together, so as to form
one perfect sweetness. The blending greatly increases the value of the
whole. You would not like to have one-third of the psalm composed of
prayer — marked up to the sixtieth verse, for instance; and then another
part made up exclusively of praise; and yet a third portion of unmixed
testimony. It is best to have all these divinely-sweet ingredients intermixed,
and wrought into a sacred unity, as you have them in this thrice-hallowed
psalm. Its prayers bear testimony, and its testimonies are fragrant with

Mr. Charles Bridges has written upon this psalm a peculiarly delightful
work. I do not seek to rival him; but I would attempt the edification of the
Lord’s people in the same way as he has done, for he has made no effort to
display learning, but has aimed at promoting devotion. Several notable
authors traversed this heavenly country before Mr. Bridges, and I am one
of those who follow after him: the succession will not end till the Lord

I commend my labor to my Lord’s acceptance, and pray that his Holy
Spirit may make these praises of Holy Scripture to ring as sweet bells in
the ears of his own people evermore.

Dear Reader, pray for
Thy brother in Christ,
C. H. Spurgeon
Westwood, July 1887.

There is no special title to this. Psalm, neither is any author’s name
mentioned. It is THE LONGEST PSALM, and this is a sufficiently distinctive
name for it. It equals in bulk twenty-two psalms of the average length of
the Songs of Degrees. Nor is it long only; for it equally excels in breadth
of thought, depth of meaning, and height of fervor. It is like the celestial
city which lieth four-square, and the height and the breadth of it are equal
Many superficial readers have imagined that it harps upon one string,
and abounds in pious repetitions and redundancies; but this arises from
the shallowness of t he reader’s own mind: those who have studied this
divine hymn, and carefully noted each line of it, are amazed at the variety
and profundity of the thought. Using only a few words, the writer has
produced permutations and combinations of meaning which display his
holy familiarity with his subject, and the sanctified ingenuity of his mind.
He never repeats himself; for if the same sentiment recurs it is placed in a
fresh connection, and so exhibits another interesting shade of meaning.
The more one studies it the fresher it becomes. As those who drink the
Wile water like it better every time they take a draught, so does this Psalm
become the more full and fascinating the oftener you turn to it. It contains
no idle word; the grapes of this cluster are almost to bursting full with the
new wine of the kingdom. The more you look into this mirror of a gracious
heart the more you will see in it. Placid on the surface as the sea of glass
before the eternal throne, it yet contains within its depths an ocean of fire,
and those who devoutly gaze into it shall not only see the brightness, but
feel the glow of the sacred flame. It is loaded with holy sense, and is as
weighty as it is bulky. Again and again have we cried while studying it,
“Oh the depths!” Yet these depths are hidden beneath an apparent
simplicity, as Augustine has well and wisely said, and this makes the
exposition all the more difficult. Its obscurity is hidden beneath a veil of
light, and hence only those discover it who are in thorough earnest, not
only to look on the word, but, like the angels, to look into it.

The Psalm is alphabetical Eight stanzas commence with one letter, and
then another eight with the next letter, and so the whorl., Psalm proceeds
by octonaries quite through the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet.
Besides which, there are multitudes of oppositions of sense; and others of
those structural formalities with which the oriental mind is pleased, —
formalities very similar to those in which our older poets indulged.
The Holy Spirit thus deigned to speak to men in forms which were
attractive to the attention and helpful to the memory. He is often plain or
elegant in his manner, but he does not disdain to be quaint or formal if
thereby his design of instruction can be the more surely reached. He does
not despise even contracted and artificial modes of speech, if by their use
he can fix his teaching upon the mind. Isaac Taylor has worthily set forth
the lesson of this fact: — “In the strictest sense this composition is
conditioned; nevertheless in the highest sense is it an utterance of
spiritual life; and in thus finding these seemingly opposed elements,
intimately commingled as they are throughout this Psalm, a lesson full of
meaning is silently conveyed to those who shall receive it — that the
conveyance of the things of God to the human spirit is in no way damaged
or impeded, much less is it deflected or vitiated, by its subjugation to
those modes of utterance which most of all bespeak their adaptation to the
infancy and the childlike capacity of the recipient.”

The fashion among modern writers is, as far as possible, to take every one
of the Psalms from David. As the critics of this school are usually
unsound in doctrine and unspiritual in tone, we gravitate in the opposite
direction, from a natural suspicion of everything which comes from so
unsatisfactory a quarter. We believe that David wrote this Psalm. It is
Davidic in tone and expression, and it tallies with David’s experience in
many interesting points. In our youth our teacher called it “David’s
pocket-book,” and we incline to the opinion then expressed, that here we
have the royal diary written at various times throughout a long life. No,
we cannot give up this Psalm to the enemy. “This is David’s spoil.” After
long reading an author, one gets to know his style, and a measure of
discernment is acquired by which his composition is detected even if his
name be concealed: we feel a kind of critical certainty that the hand of
David is in this thing, yea, that it is altogether his own.

The one theme of this Psalm is the word of the Lord. The Psalmist sets his
subject in many lights, and treats of it in divers ways, but he seldom omits
to mention the word of the Lord in each verse under some one or other of
the many names by which he knows it; and even if the name be not there,
the subject is still heartily pursued in every stanza. He who wrote this
wonderful song was saturated with those books of Scripture which he
possessed. Andrew Bonar tells of a simple Christian in a farmhouse who
had meditated the Bible through three times. This is precisely what this
Psalmist had done, — he had gone past reading into meditation. Like
Luther, David had shaken every fruit-tree in Gowns garden, and gathered
golden fruit therefrom. “The most,” says Martin Boos, “read their
Bibles like caws that stand in the thick grass, and trample under their feet
the finest flowers and herbs.” It is to be feared that we too often do the
like. This is a miserable way of treating the pages of inspiration. May the
Lord prevent us from repeating that sin while reading this priceless

There is an evident growth in the subject-matter. The earlier verses are of
such a character as to lend themselves to the hypothesis that the author
was a young man, while many of the later passages could only have
suggested themselves to age and wisdom. In every portion, however, it is
the fruit of deep experience, careful observation, and earnest meditation.
If David did not write it, there must have lived another believer of exactly
the same order, of mind as David, and he must have addicted himself to
psalmody with equal ardor, and have been an equally hearty lover of Holy

Our best improvement of this sacred composition will come through
getting our minds into intense sympathy with its subject. In order to this,
we might do well to commit it to memory. Philip Henry’s daughter wrote
in her diary, “I have of late taken some pains to learn by heart Psalm
119, and have made some progress therein.” She was a sensible, godly

Having rehearsed the subject-matter of this golden Psalm, we should still
further consider the fullness, certainty, clearness, and sweetness of the
word of God, since by such reflections we are likely to be stirred up to a
warm affection for it. What favored beings are those to whom the Eternal
God has written a letter in his own hand and style! What ardor of
devotion, what diligence of composition, can produce a worthy eulogium
for the divine testimonies! If ever one such has fallen from the pen of man
it is this 119th Psalm, which might well be called the holy soul’s soliloquy
before an open Bible.

This sacred ode is a little Bible, the Scriptures condensed, a mass of
Bibline, Holy Writ rewritten in holy emotions and actions. The Germans
called it “The Christian’s golden A B C of the praise, love, power, and
use of the Word of God. Blessed are they who can read and understand
these saintly aphorisms: they shall find golden apples in this true
Hesperides, and come to reckon that this Psalm, like the whole Scripture
which it praises, is a pearl island, or, better still, a garden of sweet

The study of this sacred song has often proved helpful to holy men. Henry
Martyn mentions it again and again in his diary; as for instance — “I
experienced a solemn gladness in learning this part, MEM, of the 119th
Psalm.” William Wilberforce makes this record during a time of political
trouble: “Walked from Hyde Park Corner repeating the 119th Psalm in
great comfort.” Pascal, in the reading of this holy song, seemed to pass
out of himself in holy rapture.

May those who shall read the Psalm, accepting the help of our
exposition, feel their hearts burn within them! To this end, at the very
outset let our prayer ascend to God, that his Holy Spirit may rest upon us
while we devoutly peruse the volume.

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