Exposition of Psalm 119:9-16

by Charles Spurgeon

9. Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed
thereto according to thy word.

10. With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander
from thy commandments.

11. Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against

12. Blessed art thou, O LORD: teach me thy statutes.

13. With my lips have I declared all the judgments of thy mouth.

14. I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies, as much as in all

15. I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways.

16. I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word.

These verses commence at: the beginning of life. Though written by an old
man, they were written for all young men. Only he who begins with God in
the greenness of youth will be able to write thus experimentally in the
ripeness of age. No sooner has David introduced his subject with one
octave of verses, but he must be looking after young men in the next set of
eight stanzas. How much he thought of youthful piety. In the Hebrew each
verse in this section begins with B. If thoughts upon the Blessed Way make
up his A, then thoughts upon Blessed Young Men shall fill up the next
letter. O to be early with God! To give him the dew of the day of life is to
make the most of life.

9. “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed
thereto according to thy word.”

“Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way?” How shall he become
and remain practically holy? He is but a young man, full of hot passions,
and poor in knowledge and experience; how shall he get right, and keep
right? Never was there a more important question for any man; never was
there a fitter time for asking it than at the commencement of life. It is by no
means an easy task which the prudent young man sets before himself. He
wishes to choose a clean way, to be himself clean in it, to cleanse it of any
foulness which may arise in the future, and to end by showing a clear
course from the first step to the last; but, alas his way is already unclean
by actual sin which he has already committed, and he himself has already
within his nature a tendency towards that which defileth. Here, then, is the
difficulty; first, of beginning aright; next, of being always able to know and
choose the right, and of continuing in the right till perfection is ultimately
reached: this is hard for any man, how shall a youth accomplish it? The
way, or life, of a man has to be cleansed from the sins of his youth behind
him, and kept clear of the sins which temptation will place before him: this
is the work, this is the difficulty.

No nobler ambition can lie before a youth, none to which he is called by so
sure a calling; but none in which greater difficulties can be found. Let him
not, however, shrink from the glorious enterprise of living a pure and
gracious life; rather let him inquire the way by which all obstacles may be
overcome. Let him not think that he knows the road to easy victory, nor
dream that he can keep himself by his own wisdom; he will do well to
follow the Psalmist, and become an earnest inquirer asking how he may
cleanse his way. Let him become a practical disciple of the holy God, who
alone can teach him how to overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil,
that trinity of defilers by whom many a hopeful life has been spoiled. He is
young and unaccustomed to the road, let him not be ashamed often to
inquire his way of him who is so ready and so able: to instruct him in it.
Our “way” is a subject which concerns us deeply, and it is far better to
inquire about it than to speculate upon mysterious themes which rather
puzzle than enlighten the mind. Among all the questions which a young
man asks, and they are many, let this be the first and chief: “Wherewithal
shall! cleanse my way?” This is a question suggested by common sense,
and pressed home by daily occurrences; but it is not to be answered by
unaided reason, nor, when answered, can the directions be carried out by
unsupported human power. It is ours to ask the question, it is God’s to
give the answer and enable us to carry it out.

“By taking heed thereto according to thy word:” Young man, the Bible
must be your chart, and you must exercise great watchfulness that your
way may be according to its directions. You must take heed to your daily
life as well as study your Bible, and you must study your Bible that you
may take heed to your daily life. With the greatest care a man will go
astray if his map misleads him; but with the most accurate map he will still
lose, his road if he does not take heed to it. The narrow way was never hit
upon by chance, neither did any heedless man ever lead a holy life. We can
sin without thought, we have only to neglect the great salvation and ruin
our souls; but to obey the Lord and walk uprightly will need all our heart
and soul and mind. Let the careless remember this.

Yet the “word” is absolutely necessary; for, otherwise, care will darken
into morbid anxiety, and conscientiousness may become superstition. A
captain may watch from his deck all night; but if he knows nothing of the
coast, and has no pilot on board, he may be carefully hastening on to
shipwreck. It is not enough to desire to be right; for ignorance may make
us think that we are doing God service when we are provoking him, and
the fact of our ignorance will not reverse the character of our action,
however much it may mitigate its criminality. Should a man carefully
measure out what he believes to be a dose of useful medicine, he will die if
it should turn out that he has taken up the wrong vial, and has poured out a
deadly poison: the fact that he did it ignorantly will not alter the result.
Even so, a young man may surround himself with ten thousand ills, by
carefully using an unenlightened judgment, and refusing to receive
instruction from the word of God. Willful ignorance is in itself willful sin,
and the evil which comes of it is without excuse. Let each man, whether
young or old, who desires to be holy have a holy watchfulness in his heart,
and keep his Holy Bible before his open eye. There he will find every turn
of the road marked down, every slough and miry place pointed out, with
the way to go through unsoiled; and there, too, he will find light in his
darkness, comfort for his weariness, and company for his loneliness, so that
by its help he shall reach the benediction of the first verse of the psalm,
which suggested the Psalmist’s inquiry, and awakened his desires.
Note how the first section of eight verses has for its first verse, “Blessed
are the undefiled in the way,” and the second section runs parallel to it,
with the question, “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way?” The
blessedness which is set before us in a conditional promise should be
practically sought for in the way appointed. The Lord saith, “For this will
I be inquired of by the house of Israel to do it for them.”

The sooner we avail ourselves of a promise of God the better, especially as
our early days enjoy peculiar encouragement! for Wisdom hath said,
“They that seek me early shall find me.” It is a pity to miss for a year, or
even a day or an hour, the blessedness which belongs to holiness.

10. “With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from
thy commandments.”

“With my whole heart have I sought thee.” His heart had gone after God
himself: he had not only desired to obey his laws, but to commune with his
person. This is a right royal search and pursuit, and well may it be followed
with the whole heart. The surest mode of cleansing the way of our life is to
seek after God himself, and to endeavor to abide in fellowship with him.
Up to the good hour in which he was speaking to his Lord, the Psalmist
had been an eager seeker after the Lord, and if faint, he was still pursuing.
Had he not sought the Lord he would never have been so anxious to
cleanse his way.

It is pleasant to see how the writer’s heart turns distinctly and directly to
God. He had been considering an important truth in the preceding verse,
but here he so powerfully feels the presence of his God that he speaks to
him, and prays to him, as to one who is near. A true heart cannot long live
without fellowship with God.

His petition is founded on his life’s purpose: he is seeking the Lord, and he
prays the Lord to prevent his going astray in or from his search. It is by
obedience that we follow after God: hence the prayer, “O let me not
wander from thy commandments”; for if we leave the ways of God’s
appointment, we certainly shall not find the God who appointed them. The
more a man’s whole heart is set upon holiness the more does he dread
falling into sin; he is not so much fearful of deliberate transgression as of
inadvertent wandering: he cannot endure a wandering look, or a rambling
thought, which might stray beyond the pale of the precept. We are to be
such whole-hearted seekers that we have neither time nor will to be
wanderers; and yet with all our whole-heartedness we are to cultivate a
jealous tear lest even then we should wander from the path of holiness.
Two things may be very like and yet altogether different: saints are
“strangers” — “I am a stranger in the earth” (verse 19), but they are
not wanderers: they are passing through an enemy’s country, but their
route is direct; they are seeking their Lord while they traverse this foreign
land. Their way is hidden from men; but yet they have not lost their way.
The man of God exerts himself, but does not trust himself: his heart is in
his walking with God; but he knows that even his whole strength is not
enough to keep him right unless his King shall be his keeper, and he who
made the commands shall make him constant in obeying them: hence the
prayer, “O let me not wander,” Still, this sense of need was never turned
into an argument for idleness; for while he prayed to be kept in the right
road he took care to run in it, with ibis whole heart seeking the Lord.
Note how the second part of the psalm keeps step with the first: where
verse 2 pronounces that man to be blessed who seeks the Lord with his
whole heart, the present verse claims the blessing by pleading the
character: “With my whole heart have I sought thee.”

11. “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against

When a godly man sues for a favor from God he should carefully use every
means for obtaining it, and accordingly, as the Psalmist had asked to be
preserved from wandering, he here shows us the holy precaution which he,
had taken to prevent his falling into sin. “Thy word have I hid in mine
heart.” His heart would be kept by the word because he kept the word in
his heart. All that he had of the word written, and all that: had been
revealed to him by the voice of God, — all, without exception, he had
stored away in his affections, as a treasure to be preserved in a casket, or
as a choice seed to be buried in a fruitful soil: what soil more fruitful than a
renewed heart, wholly seeking the Lord? The word was God’s own, and
therefore precious to God’s servant. He did not wear a text an his heart as
a charm, but he hid it in his heart as a rule. He laid it up in the place of love
and life, and it filled the chamber with sweetness and light. We must in; this
imitate David, copying his heart-work as well as his outward character.
First, we must mind that what we believe is truly God’s word; that being
done, we must hide or treasure it each man for himself; and we must see
that this is done, not as a mere feat of the memory, but as the joyful act of
the affections.

“That I might not sin against thee.” Here was the object aimed at. As one
has well said, — Here is the best thing, — “thy word” hidden in the best
place, — “in my heart” for the best of purposes, — “that I might not sin
against thee.” This was done by the Psalmist with personal care, as a man
carefully hides away his money when he fear, thieves: in this case the thief
dreaded was sin. Sinning “against God” is the believer’s view of moral
evil; other men care only when they offend against men. God’s word is the
best preventive against offending God, for it tells us his mind and will, and
tends to bring our spirit into conformity with the divine Spirit. No cure for
sin in the life is equal to the word in the seat of life, which is the heart.
A very pleasant variety of meaning is obtained by laying stress upon the
words “thy” and “thee.” He speaks to God, he loves the word because it
is God’s word, and he hates sin because it is sin against God himself. If he
vexed others, he minded not so long as he did not offend his God. If we
would not cause God displeasure we must treasure up his own word.
The personal way in which the man of God did this is also noteworthy:
“With my whole heart have I sought thee.” Whatever others might
choose to do, he had already made his choice, and placed the Word in his
innermost soul as his dearest delight; and however others might transgress,
his aim was after holiness: “That I might not sin against thee.” This was
not what he proposed to do, but what he had already done: many are great
at promising, but the Psalmist had been true in performing: hence he hoped
to see a sure result. When the word is hidden in the heart the life shall be
hidden from sin.

The parallelism between the second octave and the first is still continued.
Verse 3 speaks of doing no iniquity, while this verse treats of the method
of not sinning. When we form an idea of a blessedly holy man (verse 3), it
becomes us to make an earnest effort to attain unto the same sacred
innocence and divine happiness; and this can only be through heart-piety
founded on the Scriptures.

12. “Blessed art thou, O LORD : teach me thy statutes.”

“Blessed art thou, O LORD.” These are words of adoration arising out of
an intense admiration of the divine character, which the writer is humbly
aiming to imitate. He. blesses God for all that he has revealed to him, and
wrought in him; he praises him with warmth of reverent love, and depth of
holy wonder. These are also words of perception uttered from a
remembrance of the great Jehovah’s infinite happiness within himself. The
Lord is and must be blessed, for he is the perfection of holiness; and this is
probably the reason why this is used as a plea in this place. It is as if David
had said: I see that in conformity to thyself my way to happiness must lie,
for thou art supremely blessed; and if I am made in my measure like to thee
in holiness, I shall also partake in thy blessedness.

No sooner is the word in the heart than a desire arises to mark and learn it.
When food is eaten, the next thing is to digest it; and when the word is
received into the soul the first: prayer is — Lord, teach me its meaning.
“Teach me thy statutes”; for thus only can I learn the way to be blessed.
Thou art so blessed that I am sure thou wilt delight in blessing others; and
this boon I crave of thee that I may be instructed in thy commands. Happy
men usually rejoice to make others happy; and surely the happy God will
willingly impart the holiness which is the fountain of happiness. Faith
prompted this prayer, and based it, not: upon anything in the praying man,
but solely upon the perfection of the God to whom he made supplication.
Lord, thou art blessed, therefore bless me by teaching me.

We need to be disciples or learners — “teach me;” but: what an honor to
have God himself for a teacher! How bold is David, to beg the blessed God
to teach him! Yet the Lord put the desire into his heart when the sacred
word was hidden there, and so we may be sure that he was not too bold in
expressing it. Who would not wish to enter the school of such a Master to
learn of him the art of holy living? To this Instructor we must submit
ourselves if we would practically keep the statutes of righteousness. The
King who ordained the statutes knows best their meaning, and as they are
the outcome of his own nature he can best inspire us with their spirit. The
petition commends itself to all who wish to cleanse their way, since it is
most practical, and asks for teaching, not upon recondite lore, but upon
statute-law. If we know the Lord’s statutes, we have the most essential

Let us each one say, “Teach me thy statutes.” This is a sweet prayer for
everyday use. It is a step above that of verse 10, “O let me not wander,”
as that was a rise beyond that of 8, “O forsake me not utterly.” It finds its
answer in verses 98-100: “Thou through thy commandments hast made
me wiser than mine enemies,” etc.; but not till it had been repeated even to
the third time in the “Teach me” of verses 33 and 66, all of which I beg
my reader to peruse. Even after this third pleading, the prayer occurs again
in so many words in verses 124 and 139, and the same longing comes out
near the close of the psalm in verse 171 — “ My lips shall utter praise
when thou hast taught me thy statutes.”

13. “With my lips have I declared all the judgments of thy mouth.”

The taught one of verse 12 is here a teacher himself. What we learn in secret
we are to proclaim upon the housetops. So had the Psalmist done. As much
as he had known he had spoken. God has revealed many of his judgments by
his mouth, that is to say, by a plain and open revelation; these it is our duty
to repeat, becoming, as it were, so many exact echoes of his one infallible
voice. There are judgments of God which are a great deep, which he does
not reveal, and with these it will be wise for us not to intermeddle. What
the Lord has veiled it would be presumption for us to uncover; but, on the
other hand, what the Lord has revealed it would be shameful for us to
conceal. It is a great comfort to a Christian in time of trouble when in
looking back upon his past life he can claim to have done his duty by the
word of God. To have been, like Noah, a preacher of righteousness, is a
great joy when the floods are rising, and the ungodly world is about to be
destroyed. Lips which have been used in proclaiming God’s statutes are
sure to be acceptable when pleading God’s promises. If we have had such
regard to that which cometh out of God’s mouth that we have published it
far and wide, we may rest quite assured that God will have respect unto
the prayers which come out of our mouths.

It will be an effectual method of cleansing a young man’s way if he addicts
himself continually to preaching the gospel, He cannot go far wrong in
judgment whose whole soul is occupied in setting forth the judgments of
the Lord. By teaching we learn; by training the tongue to holy speech we
master the whole body; by familiarity with the divine procedure we are
made to delight in righteousness; and thus in a threefold manner our way is
cleansed by our proclaiming the way of the Lord.

What a joy to any man to be able to look back upon a faithful testimony to
divine truth. When weary with Sabbath services, how sweet to feel that we
have spoken, not our own words, but the teachings of divine revelation!
When we shall come to die, it will be no mean consolation that we have
“kept the faith.” Christ will surely plead for those whose lives are spent in
pleading for him.

14. “I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies, as much as in all

Delight in the word of God is a sure proof that it has taken effect upon the
heart, and so is cleansing the life. The Psalmist not only says that he does
rejoice, but that he has rejoiced. For years it had been his joy and bliss to
give his soul to the teaching of the word. His rejoicing had not only arisen
out of the word of God, but out of the practical characteristics of’ it. The
way was as dear to him as the Truth and the Life. There was no picking
and choosing with David, or if indeed he did make a selection, he chose the
most practical first. “As much as in all riches.” He compared his intense
satisfaction with God’s will with that of a man who possesses large and
varied estates, and the heart to enjoy them. David knew the riches that
come of sovereignty, and which grow out of conquest; he valued the
wealth which proceeds from labor, or is gotten by inheritance: he knew
“all riches.” The gracious king had been glad to see the gold and silver
poured into his treasury that he might devote vast masses of it to the
building of the Temple of Jehovah upon Mount Zion. He rejoiced in all
sorts of riches consecrated and laid up for the noblest uses, and yet the way
of God’s word had given him more pleasure than even these. Observe that
his joy was personal, distinct, remembered, and abundant. Wonder not that
in the previous verse he glories in having spoken much of that: which he
had so much enjoyed: a man may well talk of that which is his delight.

15. “I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways.”

“I will meditate in thy precepts.” He who has an inward delight in
anything will not long withdraw his mind from it. As the miser often
returns to look upon his treasure, so does the devout believer, by frequent
meditation, turn over the priceless wealth which he has discovered in the
Book of the Lord. To some men meditation is a task; to the man of
cleansed way it is a joy. He who has meditated will meditate; he who saith,
‘“I have rejoiced,’” is the same who adds, “I will meditate.” No spiritual
exercise is more profitable to the soul than that of devout meditation; why
are many of us so exceeding slack in it? It is worthy of observation that the
preceptory part of God’s word was David’s special subject of meditation;
and this was the more natural because the question was still upon his mind
as; to how a young man should cleanse his way. Practical godliness is vital

“And have respect unto thy ways,” that is to say, I will think much about
them, so as to know what thy ways are; and next, I will think much of
them, so as to have thy ways in great reverence and high esteem. I will see
what thy ways are towards me, that I may be filled with reverence,
gratitude and love; and then will observe what are those ways which
thou hast prescribed for me, thy ways in which thou wouldst have me
follow thee; these I would watch carefully, that: I may become obedient,
and prove myself to be a true servant of such a Master.

Note how the verses grow more inward as they proceed: from the speech
of verse 13 we advanced to the manifested joy of verse 14; and now we
come to the secret meditation of the happy spirit. The richest graces are
those which dwell deepest.

16. “I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word”

“I will delight myself in thy statutes.” In this verse delight follows
meditation, of which it is the true flower and outgrowth. When we have no
other solace, but are quite alone, it will be a glad thing for the heart to turn
upon itself, and sweetly whisper, “I will delight myself. What if no minstrel
sings in the hall; I will delight myself. If the time of the singing of birds has
not yet arrived, and the voice of the turtle is not heard in our land, yet I
will delight myself.” This is the choicest and noblest of all rejoicing; in
fact, it is the good part which can never be taken from us; but there is no
delighting ourselves with anything below that which God intended to be
the soul’s eternal satisfaction. The statute-book is intended to be the joy of
every loyal subject. When the believer once peruses the sacred pages, his
soul burns within him as he turns first to one and then to another of the
royal words of the great King — words full and firm, immutable and

“I will not forget thy word.” Men do not readily forget that which they
have treasured up (verse 14), that which they have meditated on (verse
15), and that which they have often spoken of (verse 13). Yet since we
have treacherous memories, it is well to bind them well with the knotted
cord of  “I will not forget.”

Note how two “I wills” (verses 13 and 14) follow upon two “I have.”
We may not dare to promise for the future if we have altogether failed in
the past; but where grace has enabled us to accomplish something, we
may hopefully expect that it will enable us to do more.

Action repeated becomes habit, and when habits are well formed we may
without boasting resolve to maintain them, and even to engraft upon them
other and higher exercises. Yet it is well never to let our I wills of resolves
exceed our I have of actual performance.

It is curious to observe how this sixteenth verse is molded upon verse 8:
the changes are rung on the same words, but the, meaning; is quite
different, and there is no suspicion of a vain repetition. The same thought is
never given over again in this psalm: they are dullards who think so.
Something in the position of each verse affects its meaning, so that even
where its words are almost identical with those of another, the sense is
delightfully varied. If we do not see an infinite variety of fine shades of
thought in this psalm, we may conclude that we are colour-blind; if we do
not hear many sweet harmonies, we may judge oar ears to be dull of
hearing, but we may not suspect the Spirit of God of monotony.

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