Exposition of Psalm 119:33-40

by Charles Spurgeon

33. Teach me, O LORD, the way of thy statutes; and I shall keep it
unto the end.

34. Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law; yea, I shall
observe it with my whole heart.

35. Make me to go in the path of thy commandments; for therein
do I delight.

36. Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not to covetousness.

37. Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity; and quicken
thou me in thy way.

38. Stablish thy word unto thy servant, who is devoted to thy fear.

39. Turn away my reproach which I fear: for thy judgments are

40. Behold, I have longed after thy precepts: quicken me in thy

A sense of dependence and a consciousness of extreme need pervade this
section, which is all made up of prayer and plea. The former eight verses
trembled with a sense of sin, quivering with a childlike sense of weakness
and folly, which caused the man of God to cry out for the help by which
alone his soul could be preserved from falling back into sin. That cry for
help is here expressed in requests for teaching, upholding, inclining,
stablishing and quickening.

The section is a honeycomb of prayers. Let us put up similar petitions
while we read, and we may be assured that prayers thus taught us by the
Lord will be answered by him.

33. “Teach me O Lord, the way of thy statutes; and I shall keep it unto the

“Teach me, O Lord, the way of thy statutes.” Childlike, blessed words,
from the lips of an old, experienced believer, and he a king, and a man
inspired of God. Alas for those who will never be taught! They dote upon
their own wisdom; but their folly is apparent to all who rightly judge. The
Psalmist desires to have the Lord for his teacher; for he feels that his heart
will not learn of any less, effectual instructor. A sense of great slowness to
learn drives us to seek a great teacher. What condescension it is on our
great Jehovah’s part that he deigns to teach those who seek him! The
lesson which is desired is thoroughly practical; the holy man would not
only learn the statutes, but the way of them, the daily use of them, their
tenor, spirit, direction, habit, tendency. He would know that path of
holiness which is hedged in by divine law, along which the commands of
the Lord stand as sign-posts of direction, and mile-stones of information,
guiding and marking our progress. The very desire to learn this way is in
itself an assurance that we shall be taught therein; for he who made us long
to learn will be sure to gratify the desire.

“And I shall keep it unto the end.” Those who are taught of God never
forget their lessons. When divine grace sets a man in the true way, he will
be true to it. Mere human wit and wilt have no such enduring influence:
there is an end to all perfection of the flesh, but there is no end to heavenly
grace except its own end, which is the perfecting of holiness in the fear of
the Lord. Perseverance to the end is most certainly to be predicted of
those whose, beginning is in God, and with God, and by God; but those
who commence without the Lord’s teaching soon forget what they learn,
and start aside from the way upon which they professed to have entered.
No one may boast that he will hold on his way in his own strength, for that
must depend upon the continual teaching of the Lord: we shall fall like
Peter, if we presume on our own firmness, as he did. If God keeps us we
shall keep his way, and it is a great comfort to know that it is the way with
God to keep the feet of his saints. Yet we are to watch as if our keeping of
the war depended wholly on ourselves: for, according to this verse, our
perseverance rests not on any :force or compulsion, but on the teaching of
the Lord, and assuredly teaching, whoever be the teacher, requires learning
on the part of the taught one: no one can teach a man who refuses to learn.
Earnestly, then, let us drink in divine instruction, that so we may hold fast
our integrity, and to life’s latest hour follow on in the path of uprightness I
If we receive the living and incorruptible seed of the word of God we must
live: apart from this we have no life eternal, but only a name to live.

The “end” of which David speaks is the end of life, or the fullness of
obedience. He trusted in grace to make him faithful to the utmost, never
drawing a line and saying to obedience, “Hitherto shalt thou come, but no
further.” The end of our keeping the law will come only when we cease to
breathe; no good man will think of marking a date and saying, “It is
enough, I may now relax my watch, and live after the manner of men.”
As Christ loves us to the end, so must we serve him to the end. The end of
divine teaching is that we may persevere to the end.

The portions of eight show a relationship still. GIMEL begins with prayer
for life, that he may keep the word (17); DALETH cries for more life,
according to that word (25); and now HE opens with a prayer for teaching,
that the man of God may keep the way of God’s statute. If a keen eye is
turned upon these verses a closer affinity will be discerned.

34. “Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law; yea, I shall observe
it with my whole heart.”

“Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law.” This is the same
prayer enlarged, or rather it is a supplement which intensifies it. He not
only needs teaching, but the power to learn: he requires not only to
understand, but to obtain an understanding. How low has sin brought us;
for we even lack the faculty to understand spiritual things, and are quite
unable to know them till we are endowed with spiritual discernment! Will
God in very deed give us understanding? This is a miracle of grace. It will,
however, never be wrought upon us till we know our need of it; and we
shall not even discover that need till God gives us a measure of
understanding to perceive it. We are in a state of complicated ruin, from
which nothing but manifold grace can deliver us. Those who feel their folly
are by the example of the Psalmist encouraged to pray for understanding:
let each man by faith cry, ‘“Give me understanding.’” hers have had it, why
may it not come to me? It was a gift to them; will not the Lord also freely
bestow it upon me?

We are not to seek this blessing that we may be famous for wisdom, but
that we may be abundant in our love to the law of God. He who has
understanding will learn; remember, treasure up, and obey the
commandment of the Lord. The gospel gives us grace to keep the law; the
free gift leads us to holy service; there is no way of reaching to holiness but
by accepting the gift of God!. If God gives, we keep; but we never keep
the law in order to obtaining grace. The sure result of regeneration, or the
bestowal of understanding, is a devout reverence for the law and a resolute
keeping of it in the heart. The Spirit of God makes us to know the Lord
and to understand somewhat of his love, wisdom, holiness, and majesty;
and the result is, that we honor the law and yield our hearts to the
obedience of the faith.

Matthew Henry wisely notes that “an enlightened understanding is that
which we are indebted to Christ for; for the Son of God is come, and hath
given us an understanding” (1 John 5:20). Any writer can give us
something to understand, but only the Lord Jesus can give to us
understanding itself.

“Yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart.” The understanding
operates upon the affections; it convinces the heart of the beauty of the
law, so that the soul loves it with all its powers; and then it reveals the
majesty of the lawgiver, and the whole nature bows before his supreme will
An enlightened judgment heals the divisions of the heart, and bends the
united affections to a strict and watchful observance of the one rule of life.
He alone obeys God who can say, “My Lord, I would serve thee, and do it
with all my heart”; and none can truly say this till they have received as a
free grant the inward illumination of the Holy Ghost. To observe God’s
law with all our heart at all times is a great grace, and few there be that find
it; yet it is to be had if we will consent to be taught of the Lord.

Look backward and observe the parallel to this verse in verses 2 and 10,
where the whole heart is spoken of in reference to seeking, and then look
forward to the like parallel in verse 58 in pleading for mercy; these are all
second verses in their octonaries. The frequent repetition of the phrase
whole heart shows the importance of undivided love: the heart is never
whole or holy till it is whole and wholly united in the fear of the Lord. The
heart is never one with God till it is one within itself, and it is never one
with itself till it is at one with God.

35. “Make me to go in the path of thy commandments; for therein do I
delight.” “To will is present with me; but how to perform that which is
good I find not.” Thou hast made me to love the way, now make me to
move in it. It is a plain path, which others are treading through thy grace; I
see it and admire it; cause me to travel in it This is the cry of a child that
tongs to walk, but is too feeble; of a pilgrim who is exhausted, yet pants to
be on the march; of a lame man who pines to be able to run. It is a blessed
thing to delight in holiness; and surely he who gave us this delight will
work in us the yet higher joy of possessing and practicing it Here is our
only hope; for we shall not go in the narrow path till we are made to do so
by the Maker’s own power. O thou who didst once make me, I pray thee
make me again: thou hast made me to know; now make me to go!
Certainly! shall never be happy till I do, for my sole delight lies in walking
according to thy bidding.

The Psalmist does not ask the Lord to do for him what he ought to do for
himself: he wishes himself to “go” or tread in the path of the command.
He asks not to be carried while he lies passive; but to be made “to go.”
Grace does not treat us as stocks and stones to be dragged by horses or
engines, but as creatures endowed with life, reason, will, and active
powers, who are willing and able to go of themselves if once made to do
so. God worketh in us, but it is that we may both will and do according to
his good pleasure. The holiness we seek after is not a forced compliance
with command, but the indulgence of a whole-hearted passion for
goodness, such as shall conform our life to the will of the Lord. Can the
reader say, “therein do I delight”? Is practical godliness the very jewel of
your soul, the coveted prize of your mind? If so, the outward path of life,
however rough, will be clean, and lead the soul upward to delight ineffable.
He who delights in the law should not doubt but what he will be enabled to
run in its ways; for where the heart already finds its joy, the feet are sure to

Note that the corresponding verse in the former eight (35) was, “Make me
to understand”; and here we have, “Make me to go.” Remark the order:
first understanding, and then going; for a clear understanding is a great
assistance towards practical action.

During the last few octaves the fourth has been the heart verse see 20, 28,
and now 36. Indeed, in all the preceding fourths great heartiness is
observable. This also marks the care with which this sacred song was

36. “Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not to covetousness.”
“Incline my heart unto thy testimonies.” Does not this prayer appear to
be superfluous, since it is evident that the Psalmist’s heart was set upon
obedience? We are sure that there is never a word to spare in Scripture.
After asking for active virtue, it was meet that the man of God should beg
that his heart might be in all that he did. What would his goings be if his
heart did not go? It may be that David felt a wandering desire, an
inordinate leaning of his soul to worldly gain; possibly it even intruded into
his most devout meditations, and at once he cried out for more grace. The
only way to cure a wrong leaning is to have the soul bent in the opposite
direction. Holiness of heart is the cure for covetousness. What a blessing it
is that we may ask the Lord even for an inclination! Our wills are free; and
yet, without violating their liberty, grace can incline us in the right
direction. This can be done by enlightening the understanding as to the
excellence of obedience, by strengthening our habits of virtue, by giving us
an experience of the sweetness of piety, and by many other ways. If any
one duty is irksome to us, it behooves us to offer this prayer with special
reference thereto: we are to love all the Lord’s testimonies, and if we fail in
any one point, we must pay double attention to it. The leaning of the heart
is the way in which the life will lean: hence the force of the petition,
“Incline my heart.” Happy shall we be when we feel habitually inclined to
all that is good! This is not the way in which a carnal heart ever leans; all
its inclinations are in opposition to the divine testimonies.

“And not to covetousness.” This is the inclination of nature, and grace
must put a negative upon it. This vice is as injurious as it is common; it is
as mean as it is miserable. It is idolatry, and so it dethrones God; it is
selfishness, and so it is cruel to all in its power; it is sordid greed, and so it
would sell the Lord himself for pieces of silver. It is a degrading, groveling,
hardening, deadening sin, which withers everything around it: that is lovely
and Christlike. He who is covetous is of the race of Judas, and will in all
probability turn out to be himself a son of perdition. The crime of
covetousness is common, but very fear will confess it; for when a man
heaps up gold in his heart, the dust of it blows into his eyes, and he cannot
see his own fault. Our hearts must have some object of desire, and the only
way to keep out worldly gain is to put in its place the testimonies of the
Lord. If we are inclined or bent one way, we shall be turned from the
other: the negative virtue is most surely attained by making sure of the
positive grace which inevitably produces it.

37. “Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity; and quicken thou me in
thy way.”

“Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity?” He had prayed about his
heart, and one would have thought that the eyes would so surely have been
influenced by the heart that there was no need to make them the objects of
a special petition; but our author is resolved to make assurance doubly
sure. If the eyes do not see, perhaps the heart may not desire: at any rate,
one door of temptation is closed when we do not even look at the painted
bauble. Sin first entered man’s mind by the eye, and it is still a favorite gate
for the incoming of Satan’s allurements; hence the need of a double watch
upon that portal. The prayer is not so much that the eyes may be shut as
“turned away”; for we need to have them open, but directed to right
objects. Perhaps we are now gazing upon folly, we need to have our eyes
turned away; and if we are beholding heavenly things, we shall be wise to
beg that our eyes may be kept away from vanity. Why should we look on
vanity? or melts away as a vapor. Why not look upon things eternal? Sin is
vanity, unjust gain is vanity, self-conceit is vanity, and, indeed, all that is
not of God comes under the same head. From all this we must turn away.
It is a proof of the sense of weakness felt by the Psalmist and of his entire
dependence upon God, that he even asks to have his eyes turned for him;
he meant not to make himself passive, but he intended to set forth his own
utter helplessness apart from the grace of God. For fear he should forget
himself and gaze with a lingering longing upon forbidden object, he
entreats the Lord speedily to make him turn away his eyes, hunting him off
from so dangerous a parley with iniquity. If we are kept from looking on
vanity we shall be preserved from loving iniquity.

“And quicken thou me in thy way.” Give me so much life that dead
vanity may have no power over me. Enable me to travel so swiftly in the
road to heaven that I may not stop long enough within sight of vanity to be
fascinated thereby. The prayer indicates our greatest need, —more life in
our obedience. It shows the preserving power of increased life to keep us
from the evils which are around us, and it also tells us where that increased
life must come from, namely, from the Lord alone. Vitality is the cure of
vanity. When the heart is full of grace the eyes will be cleansed from
impurity. On the other hand, if we would be full of life as to the things of
God we must keep ourselves apart from sin and folly, or the eyes will soon
captivate the mind, and, like Samson, who could slay his thousands, we
may ourselves be overcome through the lusts which enter by the eye.
This verse is; parallel to verses 21 and 29 in the previous eights:
“rebuke,” “remove,” “turn away”; or “proud,” “lying,” “vanity.”

38. “Stablish thy word unto thy servant, who is devoted to thy fear.”

“Stablish thy word unto thy servant.” Make me sure of thy sure word:
make it sure to me, and make me sure of it. If we possess the spirit of
service, and yet are troubled with skeptical thoughts, we cannot do better
than pray to be established in the truth. Times will arise when every
doctrine and promise seems to be shaken, and our mind gets no rest: then
we must appeal to God for establishment in the faith; for he would have all
his servants to be well instructed and confirmed in his word. But we must
mind that we are the Lord’s servants, for else we shall not long be sound in
his truth. Practical holiness is a great help towards doctrinal certainty: if we
are God’s servants he will confirm his word in our experience. “If any man
will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine”; and so know it as to be
fully assured of it. Atheism in the heart is a horrible plague to a God-fearing
man, it brings more torment with it than can well be described; and
nothing but a visitation of grace can settle the soul after it has been
violently assailed thereby. Vanity or falsehood is bad for the eyes, but it is
even worse when it defiles the understanding and casts a doubt upon the
word of the living God.

“Who is devoted to thy fear,” or simply — “to thy fear.” That is, make
good thy word to godly fear wherever it exists; strengthen the whole body
of reverent men. Stablish thy word, not only to me, but to all the godly
ones under the sun. Or, again, it may mean — “Stablish thy word to thy
fear,” namely, that men may be led to fear thee; since a sure faith in the
divine promise is the fountain and foundation of godly fear. Men will never
worship a God in whom they do not believe. More faith will lead to more
godly fear. We cannot look for the fulfillment of promises in our
experience unless we live under the influence of the fear of the Lord:
establishment in grace is the result of holy watchfulness and prayerful
energy. We shall never be rooted and grounded in our belief unless we
daily practice what we profess to believe. Full assurance is the reward of
obedience. Answers to prayer are given to those whose hearts answer to
the Lord’s command. If we are devoted to God’s fear we shall be delivered
from all other fear. He has no fear as to the truth of the word who is filled
with fear of the Author of the word. Skepticism is both the parent and the
child of impiety; but strong faith both begets piety and is begotten of it.

We commend this whole verse to any devout man whose tendency is to
skepticism: it will be an admirable prayer for use in seasons of unusually
strong misgivings.

There is here an argumentative prayer. As good Bishop Cowper says, —
“He who has received of the Lord grace to fear him, may be bold to seek
any necessary good thing from him; because the fear of God hath annexed
to it the promise of all other blessings.”

39. “Turn away my reproach which I fear: for thy judgments are good.’”

“Turn away my reproach which I fear.” He feared just reproach,
trembling lest he should cause the enemy to blaspheme through any glaring
inconsistency. We ought to fear this, and watch that we may avoid it.
Persecution in the form of calumny may also be prayed against, for it is a
sore trial, perhaps the sorest of trials to men of sensitive minds. Many
would sooner bear burning at the stake than the trial of cruel mockings.
David was quick tempered, and he probably had all the greater dread of
slander because it raised his anger, and he could hardly tell what he might
not do under great provocation. If God turns away our eyes from
falsehood, we may also expect that he will turn away falsehood from
injuring our good name. We shall be kept from lies if we keep from lies.
The judgments of the wicked are bad, and we may therefore appeal from
them to the judgment of God. If, however, we have so acted as to come
under the just censures of men, what cause we have to fear the juster
judgments of the Lord!

“For thy judgments are good.” Therefore he is anxious that none may
speak evil of the ways of God through hearing an ill report about himself.
We mourn when we are slandered; because the shame is east rather upon
our religion than ourselves. If men would be content to attribute evil to us,
and go no further, we might bear it, for we are evil; but our sorrow is, that
they cast a slur upon the word and character of God, who is so good, that
there is none good in comparison with him. When men rail at God’s
government of the world, it is our duty and privilege to stand up for him,
and openly to declare before him, “Thy judgments are good ”; and we
should do the same when they assail the Bible, the gospel, the law, or the
name of our Lord Jesus Christ But we must take heed that they can bring
no truthful accusation against us, or our testimony will be so much wasted

This prayer against reproach is a parallel to verse 31, and in general to
many other of the seventh verses in the octaves, which usually imply
opposition from without and a sacred satisfaction within. Observe the
things which are good: “thy judgments are good” (39); “thou art good,
and doest good” (68); “good for me that I have been afflicted” (70;
“teach me good judgment” (66).

40. “Behold, I have longed after thy precepts: quicken me in thy

“Behold, I have longed after thy precepts.” He can at least claim
sincerity. He is deeply bowed down by a sense of his weakness and need of
grace; but he does desire to be in all things conformed to the divine will.
Where our longings are, there are we in the sight of God. If we have not
attained perfection, it is something to have hungered after it. He who has
given us to desire, will also grant us to obtain. The precepts are grievous
to the ungodly, and therefore when we are so changed as to long for them
we have dear evidence of conversion, and we may safely conclude that he
who has begun the good work will carry it on. Any man may long for the
promises; but to long after the precepts is the mark of a renewed heart.
“Quicken me in thy righteousness.” The Psalmist had life enough to long
for more life, in order that he might more perfectly know and observe the
precepts of the Lord. Give me more life wherewith to follow thy righteous
law; or give me more life because thou hast promised to hear prayer, and it
is according to thy righteousness to keep thy word. How often does David
plead for quickening! But never once too often. We need quickening every
hour of the day, for we are so sadly apt to become slow and languid in the
ways of God. It is the Holy Spirit who can pour new life into us; let us :not
cease crying to him. The creation of life is a divine work, and so is the
increase of it. Never let us forget to pray for quickening in each and every
duty. Even the precepts seem a dead letter unless we feel life in our
obedience to them. Nothing is worse in religion than spiritual death. The
living God should be served with living worship.

The last verses of the octaves have generally exhibited an onward look of
resolve, hope, and prayer. Here past fruits of grace are made the plea for
further blessing. ‘“Onward in the heavenly life!’” is the cry of this verse.
Oh for grace to press forward, and make daily advances towards heaven.
Keble thus versifies these eight verses : —

33. Lord, shower thy light along my ways
That I may keep thy laws entire,
34. Thy precepts teach me to obey,
And watch with all my heart’s desire.
35. By thine appointed rule and line,
Guide me, for there I love to be
36. My heart to thy decrees incline,
And not to gold’s base witchery.
37. From sight of ill mine eyes withdraw,
Give life and gladness in thy road,
38. And on thy servant bind thy law,
As best may teach thy fear, O God.
39. Spare me the shame I deeply fear,
Most merciful in judgment spare;
40. Thou seest I hold thy counsels dear,
Give life, thy righteousness to share

Back | Home | Books & Articles | Spurgeon Gems | Pink Gems
Devotional Helps | Puritan Prayers | Inspirational Quotes | Inspirational Poems
Audio Messages | Assurance | Prayer | Praise | About Our Ministry