“Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage.” Psalm 119:54
The one hundred and nineteenth Psalm, from which this text is taken, is in every verse a song or hymn in praise of the Law of the Lord. It is evident that multitudes of men and women have toward God’s Law a very different attitude from this. Divine Law, obligation to God, responsibility in any form, authority under any conditions they feel to be a hindrance and check upon life. They want their own will and way. Why should they be held back in any of their pleasures or checked in following their strongest impulses? If only they could be free, life, they think, would be a comparatively easy and fair existence.
In the text “Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage” the Psalmist is expressing in figurative language the teaching that the Law of the Lord is really a delight throughout the course of life. The thought that obedience to Divine Law is hard and restrictive, that it cuts one off from the real pleasures of life and makes our pilgrimage here dry and barren is quite contrary to fact. The Psalmist is right.
Everyone is a pilgrim. Even the most selfish and evil, even the atheist is a pilgrim, but these belong to an unhappy class of pilgrims reluctantly driven to do things cheerfully done by others. There is perfect harmony between obligation to God and all the sources of pleasure and happiness that God has provided. There is no antagonism between the Divine Laws over us and the conditions in which we live. Only false pleasures are denied us, those that would brutalize the mind or mar the health of the body or in some way violate the happiness of fellow beings around us. Take a long view of life, consider all its scope and interests, and we shall see that our obligation to God not only does not infringe upon our pleasures but actually directs us to the greatest and highest enjoyments of which we are capable.
We have civil laws to the violation of each of which a penalty is attached. Yet they are not regarded as severe and hard restrictions except by the criminals and malefactors. They are restrictions only to the lawless – not to the good. Right-minded and loyal people value and cherish them as a safeguard to their liberties. Just so the righteous man will have God’s statutes for his songs in all the course of his pilgrimage.
Suppose that all obligation to keep any laws was taken away, how would it be with us? All moral distinctions would disappear and all social defenses. We should be reduced to the state of animals. There would be no standards of right and wrong. All that is good in society rests on the keeping of laws. Extinguish these laws and all the lovely virtues die, for their life is upheld by the sense of duty and right. Purity and truth would be mere accidents. Without obligation to God – on which all moral obligations must finally rest – society would be disrupted. Life would be wrong without any sense of wrong, mankind would come into a state of fear and distrust and unhappiness without any sense of wrong to explain it. How much confusion and torment would result if the sense of obligation were removed!
And in the spiritual realm there would be confusion if there were no obligation to God. God governs the world by His truth. His laws are the throne which He erects in the human soul. His laws cannot be changed. If violated they bring suffering but there is no need of this suffering, for it can be avoided by obedience. Natural laws, if violated, become our persecutors but if kept they become our faithful friends and helpers. What if the laws of nature were variable so that the law of attraction would cease to operate and the heavenly bodies could move independently? Could anyone live in a world where nature was let loose? We should be lost in a physical anarchy. Just so it would be if we could be absolved from all obligation to God. The release that we coveted would be the bitterest enemy of our desired liberty.
With a sure and clear belief in God there is in the very center of our being a fixed element. We are not adrift in a sea of endless variables, but our view of life and its basic principles is immovably established. A standard is set up by which the answers to our questions may be determined and about which our otherwise random thoughts may settle into order. Few men even today conceive what they owe to obligation to God as a bond of order and of mental sanity. To have no real guide in life, to be led by passions and fancies, and to form judgments apart from any fixed standard of judgment would make life a distressing puzzle which men could not bear. We should have no confidence in any of our thoughts, we should soon go mad in the struggle, for the human mind cannot endure perpetual uncertainty.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
“Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage.”
The Word contains the laws of life. We are commanded diligently to learn and teach these laws for our good. They come from the Lord bearing blessings and, established in our souls, they become the beginning and the throne of wisdom. They are as definite and stable as the laws of the firmament and if obeyed will mark out the path of our pilgrimage, keeping us within the bounds of goodness and truth.
The Word was given as a light to our path. How foolish and aimless life would be if there were no obligations! Life is made great only when something worthy is laid upon us to do. It is not self-indulgence but victory achieved that can make a happiness suitable for men. There are hard tasks to be done, tasks that require self-sacrifice, but we all realize that greatness does not come from self-indulgence or from things that are easy to do. No call can really stir the human heart that promises only greater comfort or ease. The idea of personal perfection enters only with obligation to God. And to feel under obligation to God, having to do with what is holy, true, and good, makes human life partake also of the Divine. This raises the soul out of the dust of the earth and opens it to the thought of eternity. Then even nature is seen in a different light. The world is not a mere physical mechanism. God is in it controlling it. Human history becomes the history of the Divine operation in the world. Everything changes in aspect and meaning. The mind sees through the veil of the senses and discerns God and His purposes everywhere. Those who acknowledge God see the same sun and the same world as those who do not acknowledge Him. They live in similar houses, walk the same streets and shores. They ask what is the meaning of man’s history, of his birth, life, and death. But the answers which come to them are different. The atheist sees only a clay world with its material beauties, which will soon vanish from his sight. The believer back of all these visible things sees the eternal spirit. God is recognized through the visible things of the world, giving of Himself to His children. Every least thing has its use. Nothing is unimportant or wearisome.
When the Lord was born into the world, the angels brought the message of “good tidings of great joy.” When the Lord was about to leave the world, He said, “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you and that your joy might be full.” He came to do not His own will but the will of the Father. His life was a constant struggle, yet it is pictured in the Gospels as a life of true happiness. The Lord said to His Apostles, “I have meat to eat that ye know not of.” This was just after He told the woman of Samaria, “He that drinketh of this water shall thirst again, but he that drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst.” We know that the Lord’s meat was, as He said, “to do the will of my Father which is in heaven.” When we reach the stage in which our hearts likewise feed on this meat, we have the Lord’s joy fulfilled in us. And this state comes only as a result of keeping the Lord’s statutes always in mind, which is to drink of the living water.
“Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage.” Music is primarily an expression of the affections. To be genuine it must come from the heart. There are many passages in the Word which teach that the commandments, when written on the heart, give joy, for happiness is the sovereignty of goodness and truth in the heart and mind. Then one can say, “The Lord is my strength and song, and is become my salvation.” It is in this love and nowhere else that real happiness of life is found.
It is written, “The Lord will command his loving kindness in the daytime, and in the night his song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life.” “In the night his song shall be with me,” This happiness is not dependent upon outward conditions. The statutes of the Lord raise us above our tribulations; they raise us above the world and make us conquerors of it.
“Thy statutes have been my songs.” In the Book of Revelation we read of a new song which none could learn but those redeemed from the earth. When our minds are formed by the statutes of the Lord, we come under the government of eternal law. In all of life’s changes, in the dark days and the bright, in sorrow and wrong, in success and in hopes, and in our labors what is inmost in our hearts is what makes us happy or unhappy.
“And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father’s name written in their foreheads.
“And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps:
“And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth.”