Within the following discourse upon the first two verses of the first Psalm, I wish to draw attention of my readers to the fullness of the Psalm’s meaning. My intention is not to write upon aspect or application of the Psalm but upon the entirety of the text’s meaning.
The use of the first Psalm is manifold: verses one to two gives us a description of the godly, verse three shows us how the godly is made to be as a’fore described, verse four shows us what results if verse three is lacking in a person’s life, verses five and six declares the end of both the godly and the ungodly and also the reasons (or causes) of such ends.
However, my particular attention will be focused upon the first two verses of the Psalm which primarily deal with a description of the godly, that is to say, the Christian.
Verses one and two, wherein I will expound the Psalmist’s description of the godly – firstly negatively (that is by way of negation); secondly, positively (that is by way of positing). The text reads, according to the English Standard Version, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and upon his law he meditates day and night.” Verse one presents an image of the godly by way of negation, whereas verse two resents the same image (though different features of that image) by way of positing – that is, in a manner which is the opposite to the way of negation.
I shall firstly deal with those phrases which fall by negation: 1.) he does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, 2.) he does not stand in the way of sinners, and 3.) he does not sit in the seat of scoffers. 1.) By this is meant, that the godly does not conduct his life according to whatsoever advice, aims, principles, or purposes the wicked proposes. While the whole world around us may walk in whatever their carnal leaders and wise men propose, the godly does not conduct his life so, he “does not take his measurements from their principles, nor act according to the advice they give” (Commentary on the Whole Bible, Matthew Henry; vol. 3, pg.194).
Indeed, he draws his principles by which he lives from another source: the law, wherein he delights and meditates upon day and night (see verse two). While the wicked live according to their own counsel, which is as they are – godless and impious – the godly walks according to the counsel of His God, given to us in the Holy Scriptures. 2.) By this is meant, that the godly man does not stand in the path which the sinners tread. They fearlessly tread the path of sin, running down the road which is called Iniquity, leading to their own destruction, as Christ said, “the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.” (Matthew 7:13) This road the godly do not stand in – that is, this manner of life the godly does not live in.
The godly, by the Spirit, utterly forsakes this manner of living and pursues the road which has many names: Godliness, Holiness, Righteousness, and Obedience. The godly, having been removed from this path of the ungodly, is set – indeed, planted (see verse three) – upon the narrow way, of which Christ says, “The gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:14)
While the sinner sensually and drunkenly plummets down his own way, the godly is set upon the way which God prescribes and commands: firstly, Christ, being the narrow gate, through which all must pass to land upon the narrow road – “I am the Way…No one come to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6); secondly, holiness, being the hard and narrow path along which all those godly pilgrims must walk for we are charged, “Strive…for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14)
And 3.) by this is meant, that the godly is not fixed, seemingly immovably, in the school of wickedness, nor is he of great proficiency in that school, neither does he have ability nor readiness to teach such school to others. The ungodly, sinners, and scoffers sit here in this “seat of scoffers” by which the Psalmist signifies a position fixed and matured in the school of wickedness, these who occupy such seats do possess “a great proficiency…in the school of wickedness, and an ability and readiness to teach others therein.” So says Mathew Poole (Commentary on the Holy Bible; vol. 2, pg. 1).
This phrase “seat of scoffers” does not solely signify the above but also signifies a “desperate obstinacy” in wickedness, so says Calvin (see commentary upon Psalm 1:1). The godly is not so, for though he had once been the most esteemed doctor in the school of wickedness, no longer is he, for a sovereign work of God occurred in his life, a sovereign administration of grace which has made him ignorant of such depth of knowledge in the school of wickedness.
As it is written, “We know that our old self was crucified with [Christ] in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we are no longer slaves to sin.” (Romans 6:6) And, “you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” (1 Peter 1:8-9) More upon this sovereign work of God in verse three.
I shall now, secondly, deal with those phrases which present by way of positing: 1.) he delights in the law of Yahweh and 2.) upon this law does he meditate, both day and night. 1.) Concerning the first, the godly, a previously presented by way of negation – that is, by manner of what which he does not do – is not solely, nor primarily, considered to be godly because of his disassociation with the wicked, as here shown by the second verse.
For while many may distance themselves from those who live in gross sensuality and drunkenness and the like, such distancing does not make the godly – the Pharisees, while they were indeed distanced from the tax collectors and harlots, were by no means godly but hypocrites, pretending to be godly outwardly but inwardly were as filthy as an occupied tomb (Matthew 23:27).
Rather the godly is primarily recognized by that which he does do, namely, he delights himself in the hearing and doing of the commandments of our holy, just, righteous, and just God. These offer joy and peace to his soul, not as a means of salvation but done in light of his redemption as worship offered up to his Redeemer. This delighting in the law (or ‘instruction’) of God is of a distinguishing character, as Matthew Poole comments, “This [is] noted as the peculiar character of a good man, that he delighteth himself not only in the promises…but even in the commands of God,” (Commentary on the Holy Bible; vol. 2, pg. 1).
It is especially important that it be maintained that this delighting in the law is not a works based salvation, for verse three declares the sovereignty of God’s grace in salvation, being separate from – and indeed, the cause of – our works. We do not delight to do His will to the end of achieving salvation; rather we delight to do His will because of His mighty salvation as accomplished fully in Christ alone, apart from our own works.
Having stated the above, I find it profitable to ask and answer the question, why does the godly – that is, the Christian – delight in the law of God? Another way to put the same being, what are the causes of the godly’s delight in the law of God? This question, I believe, has more than one legitimate answer, as Scripture gives us a host of reasons to delight in God’s law. The first of those reasons which I wish to address is this: the godly man may delight in God’s law precisely because of, or related to, the salvation to be found in Christ alone, apart from works of this same law.
For it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all the things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” (Galatians 3:10) Our disobedience renders a sure curse against us, for God is “not a God who delights in wickedness;” – such wickedness being the disobedience to His holy commandments – and “evil may not dwell with [Him].” (Psalm 5:4) Therefore, all who disobey are under a curse, yet “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13).
By his death, and this death alone, are we pardoned from the curse of the law. For truly, the law was not given as a works based path of salvation but it, nevertheless, does not provide room for excuse on the part of the disobedience and impenitent. Yet we ourselves, by our nature, are among the disobedient and impenitent. Therefore, By Christ’s keeping the law for us and by dying for us to satisfy the curse of the law has brought us to the law a justified and now able to delight in the commands of God as well as perform them, although not perfectly.
The law, therefore, does not condemn those who are in Christ but instructs, showing them how they ought to live as those redeemed by Christ, who is God. For he says, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:16; Deuteronomy 11:44) Just as Christ the Redeemer is holy, so ought we to be holy – this holiness is twofold: that which we have by virtue of our union with Christ – that which is commonly called alien righteousness, being performed by Christ and imputed to us by faith – and that which we are to strive for by the sanctification wrought by the Spirit of God and of Christ, being one and the same Spirit.
The second of those reasons is this: the godly do indeed delight in the law of God as it displays the excellencies of the image of Christ to the godly. For Christ is, in and of himself, all that the law commands, yet Christ as the co-eternal Son who was with the Father in the beginning (John 1:1) existed before the law was given at Sinai. Many will say that “the Decalogue…is the transcript of God’s moral character” (Psalms, William Plumer; pg. 28) yet the law constantly posits a most natural dichotomy between the image of the covenant breaker (who is Adam and all under his covenantal headship) and the image of the covenant keeper (who there is but one inherently: Christ; but there are many who are thus by virtue of their union to Christ by means of covenantal headship).
As Christ kept the law for us, so He is all that the law demands. Yet He is all that the law demands in and of Himself, having an eternal existence. Therefore, I believe it right to say that the law given to Moses was a veiled, though legible, description of the image of Christ.
For just as we are to be obedient to the law – and thereby conformed to it – so we are to be conformed to the image of Christ, as it is written. “those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son,” (Romans 8:29); yet these two – obedience to the law and conformity to the image of Christ – are not opposed to one another at all. Rather, we are conformed to the image of Christ by our obedience to the law of God, such made possible by the sanctifying work of the Spirit. For the image of Christ is none other than loving Yahweh our God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind (Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37), which commandment we are to obey and thereby be conformed into the image of Christ, though not perfectly until the final day.
Nevertheless, the godly delights in the law because therein he sees the excellencies of Christ, he see Christ as covenant keeper on his behalf; whereas, the one who approaches the law by works, and not by faith, sees only commands to obey lest they perish, but the godly, who approached the law by faith in Christ, sees commands to be obeyed but they firstly see the excellencies of their Christ who kept all commands for them that they may never perish. And it is only after this viewing of Christ as the image of the covenant keeper as their covenantal head that the godly see the commands as demanding their obedience, not for their salvation but because of it.
This point, as well as the previous, shows that my proposed view is opposed to that of the pernicious error of so-called “Torah-Keeping,” as propagated by many as of late. For these seek to delight in the law without Christ in their view at all, though they may say His name. For they approach the law pharisaically and not as one justified by faith alone upon the righteousness of Christ alone; indeed, they see only commands to be obeyed and curses to be inflicted upon disobedience and nothing of Christ’s keeping the law for the and atoning for their sins, thereby securing an eternal redemption.
These turn their back upon the substance of the covenant of grace, as it is in the person and work of Christ, and run after the fore-shadowings of that substance as if such never came or was of no effect. Let us not be so, let us look upon the shadows of the Old Testament with the light of the revelation of the substance of the covenant, who is Christ. Let us look upon the law and see it firstly fulfilled in the person and work of Christ and then secondly as deserving and commanding of our obedience because of our salvation in Christ alone and the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit.
The third of these reasons is this: the godly may delight in the law of God because he first delights in and loves the God of the law; therefore, he delights in both the hearing, understanding, and doing of the will of God, being conformity to the image of Christ as described in the Decalogue and the two great commandments. The law, while it is truly a view of the excellencies of Christ, who is the sole ultimate covenant keeper, is also the revealed will of God for the lies of His covenant people, which is fully deserving of their obedience.
Nevertheless, the delighting in the law of God must be preceded by a true delighting in the God of the law; otherwise one’s delighting in the law is a self-righteous exaltation of self and not a humble submission to the complete and sovereign Lordship of the God who gave the law to His people. Where delight in God is found there does a proper and true delight in His revealed will, by manner of both promises and commandments, flourish and grow. For this reason the greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all that we are (Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37). For the one who loves God only is such because God has loved him first (1 John 4:10).
Thus, our delighting in God’s commands shows the love for God in our hearts, as imperfect as it may be, which continues onward to show the saving love of God which he has bestowed on us, which love is never weak nor insufficient, neither is it ever in flux or imperfect, but rather always strong, perfect, constant, sufficient, and everlasting. Those for whom such love is not given cannot truly delight in the law of God, for they cannot delight in the God of the law, but rather their delight in the law is that of self-righteous self-exaltation.
They delight to see their own, alleged, moral excellencies over that of Christ’s, who’s moral excellencies are sure and actual. Therefore, let us examine ourselves that, by testing, we might see more clearly where our hearts lie: upon the Christ and the God of the law or upon ourselves, those who deluded themselves into believing we are such good covenant keepers. My friends, don’t trust to what you see within, for therein shall you only find evil and deceit, rather I petition you: look out of yourself and to Christ alone, for He alone is your rock and mighty fortress, a sure foundation amidst a sea of false security established by the Father for our salvation and His glory.
2.) Concerning the second, the godly, whose delight is in both the law of God and the Christ and the God of the law, meditates in the law, both day and night. Herein the Psalmist presents the second action taken by the godly which manifestly shows them to be such and not the ungodly, nor the wicked, neither the reprobate. Plumer here agrees, saying, “Pious reflection on God’s word greatly distinguishes a saint from a sinner.” (Psalms, pg. 28) This is the outward evidence of the a’fore stated inward reality, namely, his delight in the law of God caused by his antecedent delight in the God and the Christ of the law, which itself is caused by God’s first loving him. He who delights in the law of God shall surely spend his days and nights contemplating and studying therein.
As Christ said, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks,” (Matthew 12:34) so from the heart does the man act. Therefore, he who delights in the Scriptures will act accordingly with a certain level of consistency: namely, he shall meditate upon them, day and night. Calvin here accords, saying, “From the love of the law proceeds constant mediation upon it…for all who are truly actuated by love to the law must feel pleasure in the diligent study of it.” (Commentary on Psalm 1:2) The relationship here is similar to that of faith and works: as faith without works is dead (James 2:7), so an alleged love for the Triune God and His Scripture is dead if it be without outward evidence such as this, “on his law he meditates day and night.”
It is by no accident that the Psalmist chooses the word ‘meditate’ to describe the diligence of the godly in the knowing of God by way of the Scriptures, for the word in Hebrew and in Greek signifies “a deep, and serious, and affectionate thoughtfulness about it” (Commentary on the Bible, Matthew Poole; vol. 2, pg. 1) and “to discourse with ourselves concerning the great things contained in it, with a close application of mind, a fixedness of thought, till we be suitably affected with [the things contained therein] and experience the savor and power of them in our hearts.” (Commentary on the Bible, Matthew Henry; vol. 3, pg. 195)
By this we know that we are not meditating upon the Scriptures unless our minds are firmly fixed upon the same and our hearts are affected by its contents. True meditation always results in an affected heart, to whatever degree that may be present. The chief result of the meditation upon the Scriptures is conformity to the image of Christ.
To this George Horne calls attention to in his commentary, “When the law of God is the object of our studies and meditations, we are conformed to the example of our Redeemer himself, who, as a man, while he “increased in stature” increased likewise “in wisdom,” and grew powerful in the knowledge of the law which he was to fulfill, and of those prophecies which he was to accomplish; so that at twelve years of age, he appeared to “have more understanding than all his teachers; for the divine testimonies had been his meditation.” (Commentary on the Psalms, pg. 30)
As I said previously, the godly delight in the law of God because of the view of the excellencies of the image of Christ to be had therein, so by our meditation therein we are conformed to the image of Christ, for the Psalmist later says, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.” (Psalm 119:9)
How, then, shall we be conformed to the image of Christ apart from our seeing it, marveling at it, and meditating upon it according to the Scriptures? Where Christ is not focused upon, there can be no conformity to His image. Thus, in our meditation upon the Scriptures, we enable conformity to His image to take place by the applying of the Scripture according to the power of the Holy Spirit. Let us see our meditation upon any text of Scripture as having a twofold end: firstly, doxology – the praising of the Triune God for all He is and for all He has done, is doing, and will do; secondly, conformity to the image of Christ – whether it be motivation towards, means to, or anything else related to such conformity.
This I believe to the Psalmist’s description of the godly generally – that is, all those members of the body of Christ which have been brought into union with Christ by way of regeneration and efficacious calling. However, the Psalmist’s chief concern here, in my estimation from my studies in the Psalms, is not the godly generally, but rather The Godly, that is to say, the one who is called, “The LORD (the Hebrew being “Yahweh”) is our righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:6) is the Psalmist’s ultimate concern, since it is this one, of whom it was told, “he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land,” (Jeremiah 33:15), that ultimately can fit in the Psalmist’s description.
For, no matter how far down the road of sanctification we may travel in this life, we shall not reach the point of perfection until we are glorified by the power of God. Yet the Psalmist describes one who is perfect (for the statements he makes all indicate and continual, and even perpetual, nature to them) in this world. And only one has lived as such: the Christ, who is Jesus.
We are called to strive to be as the Psalmist here describes because it is how our Lord is – note: not was, but rather is, at this very moment. Christ, the God-Man, in his humanity was subjected to the law and subsequently delighted in it since the law is the expression of the will of His Father, to perform such He said was His food (John 4:31-34), that is to say, to perform the will of His Father was that which sustained Him. Oh that we would see our Mediator in this description and rest our assurance upon Him that we might truly work in light of the work of our Mediator towards being like Him as was predestined for the body of Christ (Romans 8:29).