An Exposition of Psalm 105

by Richard Greenham

Ver. 105 Thy word is a lantern unto my feet and a light unto my path.

This section is a prayer to the Lord, seeking further instruction in God's word and a transformation of one's affections through it. Three reasons are presented: firstly, faith in the word is expressed, as it is regarded as the sole means of guidance in one's life, as found in the first verse of this section: "Thy word is a lantern unto my feet and a light unto my path." Secondly, a steadfast commitment to obeying God's word is affirmed in the following verse: "I have sworn and will perform it, that I will keep thy righteous judgments." Lastly, the prayer arises from a state of distress, as indicated in the subsequent verse: "I am very sore afflicted, O Lord, quicken me according to thy word." These themes are further elaborated upon in the subsequent verses, discussing faith in God's law in the final two verses and the experience of calamity in the first and sixth verses, with prayer interspersed within the section.

It is truly remarkable that a single idea is repeated so frequently—praising God's law and seeking continuous instruction. This repetition arises from the comfort derived from God's word and the recognition of the corruption within one's heart. It serves as a lesson to highlight our own corruption and encourage us to strive for similar spiritual growth. Hence, our gratitude to God is warranted for revealing our own inner struggles.

As the first verse lauds the word, it also attests to a profound faith: "Thy word, O Lord, is a lantern to my feet and a light unto my path." This may seem like a well-established concept, acknowledged even during the era of Popery, yet when we examine people's actions—the true measure of their beliefs—it becomes evident that true faith is often absent. This dissonance between profession and practice led the Prophet to swear an oath, recognizing the vast disparity between the immense value of God's word and the corruption within his heart. In meditating on God's law day and night and contemplating His righteous judgments, he honestly states, "Thy word is a lantern." If we introspect, we may discover that what appears easily believable is often far from true faith. It is common to hear people say, "Who wouldn't believe this? Who would deny the truth of God's word?" Yet our lackadaisical reading, infrequent meditation, lukewarm prayers, and praises for God's word, along with our rare discussions of it, will testify against us, revealing our lack of genuine belief. To make progress, we must first scrutinize ourselves.

The man of God here contrasts God's word with human wisdom, which was mentioned in the preceding verse. Just as we cannot safely navigate in darkness without a lantern or a similar source of light, similarly, we are lost in ignorance and rebellion unless continuously guided by the word of God and His Spirit. This raises a pertinent question: how could blind individuals be so audacious, believing they are in the light while dwelling in the darkness of Egypt? They mistake presumption for despair, promises for threats, and voluntary actions for those strictly commanded. Such clear-sightedness is rare. As it is stated in Matthew 6:22-23: "The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness." Here, Christ employs bodily senses to describe the faculties of the soul. Just as every part of the body is illuminated when the eye sees, a person enlightened by the word and the Spirit, with their gaze always directed towards heaven, has their affections properly aligned. Conversely, just as the body is repelled by all things when it is completely shrouded in darkness due to the absence of sight, a person dwelling in the darkness of ignorance, with their mind focused entirely on earthly matters, has disordered affections.

Now, that there is no light in us, but all is darkness in our souls, the Apostle Peter plainly demonstrates this in 2 Peter 1:19. He says, "We have a most sure word of the Prophets, to which you do well to take heed, as to a sure light in a dark place," and so on. Here, as he commends the Christians for their diligence in cherishing the word, he emphasises that it is a light amidst the darkness. He also teaches us that the extent of our knowledge is proportional to our virtuous inclinations.

Similarly, Paul, in Ephesians 4:17-18, asserts, "I testify in the Lord, that you should not walk as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God," and so forth. He reveals that an unregenerate person's mind, understanding, and heart are corrupted and blinded to the life God lives. Just as a person in darkness cannot move safely, a blind man gropes uncertainly, likewise, all our actions are purposeless and misguided without the light of knowledge.

Do we think that everyone truly believes this to be true? No, for if they did, their actions would reflect it. If they had even a fraction of this sentiment within them, wouldn't they escape their confinement and enter the liberty of God's saints? Wouldn't they shun darkness to behold the bright sun? What folly it would be for someone with scales and eye ailments to remain unhealed! This is a twofold fault: that when people could acquire knowledge, they persist in error and ignorance, and when they could convert, they still dwell in heresy. Oh, what a strange thing it is to willingly remain in darkness, to slumber when hearing the word, when the Lord offers them a lantern for their path and the opportunity for knowledge. They end up no better than the very stocks they sit upon. If the Lord, who grants understanding to the ignorant and brings light out of darkness, were to reveal the light to their dark consciences, they would realise that they had rejected light when it came to them, and that they preferred darkness over light. However, the One who works powerfully in all people must illuminate this darkness because those in hell can think of nothing else but heaven, those in unrighteousness can conceive of no other righteousness, and those in the valleys of death remember no other life. Therefore, we must pray that the glorious light of the gospel may open the eyes of their consciences, and each individual should examine their own heart, praying to have their judgment cleared by a true understanding of the word and their affections renewed in due obedience to it. For the amount of knowledge we possess corresponds to the amount of light we have. And, just as much as we are ignorant, we remain in darkness. We know only in part, even at our highest level of understanding in this life. How great, then, is that darkness when we don't even know what the word could instruct us in? When a person is as blind as a Papist or a block of wood, they must consider that their lack of care for the word and their conscience's feeble commitment to obedience are indicative of their lack of spiritual enlightenment. Yes, even if we possess knowledge and do not live according to it, we are still in darkness. We grope around, lacking conscience, even with knowledge.

This statement may hit close to home: we have only a faint glimmer of light, like Paul had in his outward self at his conversion, or we are like people with uncleaned eyes, our vision is not clear when we have knowledge, and yet we do not strive to build virtue upon virtue. If you do not strive to benefit from the word, your sight is dim, and your light is feeble; a shadow obscures your vision, making it difficult to distinguish between two different things. It's no wonder then that so few have keen insight into the word, given that we either know very little or, even when we have some knowledge, put it into practice rarely.

Furthermore, it is very perilous to progress partially in light and continue the rest of the journey in darkness, just as it is in regeneration. If we have spent part of our lives obeying true knowledge and yet do not overcome the inclinations of the flesh in the remainder of our lives, we cannot navigate the path in the Spirit without dangerous darkness. Mixing light and darkness together, confusing the world with the Church, the wisdom of God with human inventions, is not true obedience, nor is it walking in the light of the word.

Just as anything not based on faith is sin, and whatever is not in the light is darkness, so too, whatever is not done in accordance with the light of knowledge is done in the darkness of ignorance. Therefore, in all our affairs, we must learn to seek counsel from the word.

Here, there is a comforting doctrine that we are in darkness to the extent that we are in ignorance, either partially or wholly. So, whether we are partially or fully justified by the word of God for our actions, we have a guide, a lodestar, a lantern, and a reliable light, as Peter attests, to lead us. This refutes the claims of the Papists who argue that the word contains difficult things. It is true that the word of God holds many mysteries, especially in matters of salvation, which may appear daunting to a natural person. However, there are many things that are easily understood by a regenerated person, and even the initial steps towards understanding shed light on the path for the blind and the humble. It is our great failing that when we only know in part, we act as if we have a dim view of our way and, out of fear of being considered completely blind, reject a guide. Nevertheless, although we see only partially and to a limited extent, just as a person with sight can follow the light of a lantern, we can gain knowledge unless we willingly close our eyes to the truth. Therefore, we can, for the sake of our souls, follow the light of the word as safely as we can, for the protection of our bodies, follow the light of a lantern.

The path to salvation outlined in the word is a high, clear, and well-trodden path. If anything obstructs us from it, it is a curse, and our sin lies in our lack of care to be guided. Indeed, the word is there to enlighten our understanding, even if we were born blind, unless we deliberately close our eyes. However, it is essential to note that God's word serves as a lantern when God's Spirit works through it. When we focus only on the bare and literal meaning, it is no different from a blind man reading or a person with sight putting a veil over their eyes. Therefore, as the man of God prays in Psalm 119:105 and 119:135, "Direct my steps in thy word," and "Show the light of thy countenance upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes." Why then do we gain so little from the word? It's because we believe that we can understand correctly on our own and neglect to pray for God's Spirit to teach us. Just as no one knows what is within a person except the spirit of that person, similarly, no one knows what is within God except the Spirit of God and His word. Hence, as the Apostle says in 1 Corinthians 2:10-11, "God hath revealed them unto us by his spirit; for the spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man but the spirit of a man which is in him? Even so, the things of God knoweth no man, but the spirit of God." Flesh and blood, as our Saviour attests to Peter, cannot reveal the things of our salvation to us, but only the Spirit of God.

So, why are we still unprofitable? It's because we don't acknowledge our own weaknesses, we don't see the darkness and blindness within us, or if we do, we don't recognize the miserable captivity and bondage it imposes on our souls. This is why the Prophet repeatedly offers prayers such as "Teach me true judgment, teach me true understanding, teach me thy statutes," which might seem like empty repetition if he did not have such a keen awareness of his inner corruptions and a desire to be freed from them. This should condemn our darkness and teach us that there is no light within us except through the word.

Many may possess a modest spirit and have some awareness of their ignorance, yet they may not feel the misery in specific matters or examine themselves thoroughly to understand what it means to be in darkness. Consequently, they do not desire to be enlightened and led by another, much like someone with poor eyesight who refuses a guide, as if they were blind. Even though the Lord often sheds light upon us and makes us aware of our blindness, we fail to see how repugnant, burdensome, and discomforting darkness is, or how delightful, admirable, and comforting light is. We may confess in general terms that we lack light and are in darkness.

The inability to perceive the monstrous ugliness of this palpable darkness makes us apathetic in our prayers for the light of God's Spirit. Therefore, we must seek to have what we acknowledge in our judgment be ingrained in our consciences. We must see how beautiful, glorious, and heavenly it is to be enlightened by God's light and how dreadful it is to be immersed in the darkness of the soul. We should realise how sweet, excellent, and wonderful it is to believe and love the word, and how abhorrent and palpable mistrust and ignorance are.

We must be convinced that even though we are not physically imprisoned, we are walking in the night and darkness when we are in ignorance. However, the Lord will eventually lead us to suspect our hearts of ignorance, instilling in us both a desire and a joy to love and live according to the word. We will come to find the truth of this verse to be true in ourselves, as we can say with the Prophet, "Thy word is a lantern to my feet and a light to my paths."

Many do not even acknowledge this doctrine. Some have emerged from this darkness into the glorious kingdom of Christ but lead lives so contrary to their faith that they do not appear to possess this true faith. When people's actions deviate from their profession, we often see this statement more professed in words than practiced in life. Only those who act in accordance with the word's guidance truly believe it to be true. They recognise that within themselves, there is nothing but darkness, and they depend on the ministry of the word and the work of the Spirit to bring them into the light.

While we confess the truth of this in general, we must also apply it to specific situations and individual actions. Each person can say, "I am either in the light or in darkness. If I have a warrant for what I do from the word, I am in the light. But if I act solely based on my own thoughts, I am in darkness." This not only underscores the profound necessity of God's word but also humbles us because of our ignorance. It also provides comfort, as we are assured that just as we believe we travel safely when we have the light of the sun for our bodies, we are on the secure path to salvation when guided by the word.

Some object that the Scriptures contain great difficulties and are hard to understand. However, even though the smallest things may be deep mysteries, they are plain to the humblest of God's children. Proverbs 8:9 says, "Wisdom saith that all her words are plain to him that will understand and straight to them that would find knowledge." Psalm 119:130 declares, "The entrance into thy word showeth light and giveth understanding to the simple." While not everyone needs to delve into intricate theological questions, everyone should earnestly seek the way to salvation. Thus, no one can genuinely complain of darkness except in their own mind. And there is no need for it to persist if they employ the means to dispel it and, with a repentant heart, seek the light through prayer.

The reason why the word appears as a riddle or a dark saying to so many is either due to the pride of their own intellect, thinking themselves capable of comprehending everything, or the assumption that their judgment and learning are sufficient to grasp anything and profit from their own efforts. Yet, God is both the author and the revealer of His truth. Alternatively, it may be because they do not hold the truth in sufficient reverence or are not sufficiently troubled by their blindness and ignorance.


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