Open mine eyes

Open mine eyes

by John Calvin

"Open mine eyes, that I may see the wondrous things of thy law." - Psalm 119:18

Here he declares that it was not without cause that he made this request unto God: For if it were in our power to follow the word of God and keep it, it were mere hypocrisy and feigned holiness to make any such prayer. For we crave at God's hand that which we have not: and in our Prayers we must always confess our poverty and want. Were it not a mockery think you, to crave of God the thing which I have already? I shall beseech him to give it me, and I have it already in my possession?

It is most true that we must crave that at God's hand which already we have. And why so? Because we are certain that we cannot enjoy it, nor yet use the same without his grace and favor: And that the use thereof shall never profit us without he blesses it, even as we desire of him our daily Bread. And although the table be covered, and the meat set ready on the board, yet we desire of God to make it nourishment for our bodies. Whereby, as I have before said; it shall profit us no whit at all, without God blesses it through his grace and liberality. It is very so that we do crave it, by reason of our continual confessing of our want and need.

So then, it cannot possibly be, that this was in David his own hand and power, to keep the word of God. And he shows it to be so in this which follows, O Lord open thou mine eyes. As if he should have said, Alas dear father, it is so far off that I am able to keep thy word, as that I should not be able to understand any whit thereof, if thou guide me not thereto: For it is thou which must both begin the same, and also perform it wholly in me. This is the way and means for us to understand what to do: For many there are which know the thing that is good, and yet for all that they utterly refuse it. Now David declares, that he is not only void of all power to keep the word of God: but also that he is without all understanding, except it be given him by the Holy Ghost. Let us note well who it is that speaks: Even David a most excellent Prophet. And yet for all that we see that he declares (yea and that boldly) himself to be ignorant, without GOD instructs him: Neither does he here speak of any worldly instruction, as we would imagine of the things which we knew nor before. David confesses, that all that, would serve him to no purpose at all, without God, added thereto a notabler or more excellent thing: to wit, that he did enlighten him with his holy spirit.

Since then it is so that David, who was an excellent Prophet, did know that he could neither by reading nor preaching understand that which was requisite unto salvation: what shall become of us, which are yet far from that forwardness that was in him? And let us not think that through our own labor and industry, and by our own sharpness of wit, to come so far as to understand the secrets of God, but let us know that we had need to be enlightened with the grace of his holy spirit, to open our eyes, for without it we are poor blind souls. Now if this were well understood, we should never see such pride amongst us as is, that every of us is wise enough to govern himself. It is an easy matter for us to make protestation that God has given us his word: and yet for all that we shall still be blind, and know nothing, until such time as he opens our hearts and minds. For when nothing else shall govern us but our own sense and natural reason, what beasts and Calves shall we then be? See then how we shall be better instructed in humility, when as the doctrine shall be imprinted in our hearts. True it is, that this was not spoken in vain, but to the end, that we should be admonished after the example of David, to present ourselves before God: and in confessing ourselves that we are not capable to understand anything, without that he put to his helping hand, let us beseech him to open our eyes by his holy spirit. And because it should not seem strange, that David desired to have his eyes open, he declares, that the wisdom contained in the law of God, is too high for our capacities, yea although we think ourselves to have never so sharp and fine wits. And therefore he says, O Lord open mine eyes: that I may see the wondrous things of thy Law. Wherefore uses he this word wondrous. It is, as if he would have said: Although the world takes the law of God to be but a light thing, and seems to be given but as it were for simple souls, and young children: Yet for all that there seems such a wisdom to be in it, as that it surpasses all the wisdom of the world, and that therein lie hid wonderful secrets.

As much is said of the Gospel, and that not without great cause. And in very deed, that which at this day is most plainly declared in the Gospel, was before contained in the law: only these were darker shadows than they are, which were since the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. And yet notwithstanding, there is no change or alteration in this wisdom, as God also is not mutable. It is not then without cause that all the holy scripture is called wisdom, and that the Angels of heaven themselves do wonder thereat. If then the Angels be astonished at the secrets contained in the holy scripture, I beseech you tell me, what reverence deserves it to have among us mortal men? For we are but poor worms upon earth, creeping here below. If there be comparison made betwixt us and the Angels, what shall it be? See how the Angels are wonderfully ravished to see the wisdom of the word of God, and yet we make no account of it, but esteem of it as a base and childish thing. The more therefore ought we thoroughly to mark this saying of David, that the doctrine of the law is not as we take it to be: to wit, a thing of small value, or a common and ordinary doctrine, but a wonderful wisdom, wherein are such secrets as ought to ravish us with admiration, because they far surpass our wit and reason.

But what is the cause that we so lightly esteem of the law of God? that is to say, his whole word? Herein the common proverb is verified when we say, "A fool regards nothing." Which proverb we declare to be rightly verified in us: For many of us make no estimation of the holy scripture, and it seems to us, that, that which we read there, is too common: and this is the reason, because we know not what it is, to see yet the great and abundant treasure hidden therein. But such as have once known what the Majesty of God is, which he shows and declares himself to be there, and do see where it is, that God calls and allures them, and do also understand and know the large and sweet promises offered unto them therein, such I say, will say with David, "O Lord, thy law is wonderful." And so consequently will desire that their eyes might be lightened, confessing themselves to be blind, until such time as God has aided them with his holy spirit. Now it follows,

I am a stranger upon earth: hide not thy commandments from me. When David did put to this verse, he meant to confirm the matter which before he touched, that is to say, that he desired not simply to live, as if his life had been dear and precious unto him, without any other respect: but he had a further meaning. For he says by a by after, "I am a stranger in the world: therefore hide not thy commandments from me." They which make their continual nest here according to their own fancy, and think to make their heaven in this world, these men I say, have nothing to do with the commandments of God for their salvation. For they are safe enough if they may eat and drink to be glutted, that they may take their pleasures and delights, that they may be honored, that they may be in estimation and credit. Lo here is all that they desire or wish to have. Yea forsooth: For they look no further, but to this corruptible and transitory life. These men I say are not greatly troubled, nor yet have any care of the commandments of God, but when as they shall be taken from them, all shall be one to them. When as the covetous man, the whoremonger, the drunkard, the ambitious person, shall hear no preaching of the word at all: neither any talk of God, nor yet of Christianity, nor of life everlasting. He in the meantime ceases not to pursue his own way. Yea, and it is to them a loathsome and unpleasant kind of speech to hear God spoken of, but had rather have no mention in the whole world made of him. And therefore it is not without cause why David requires, not to have the commandments of God taken from him, and this is his reason: to wit, because he is a stranger on the earth. As if he should have said, O Lord, if I had none other consideration but of this present life, I should be even accursed, and it had been better my mother had been delivered of me as of a dead body, and that I had been an hundred times plunged in hell. And why so? For we are here in this world but as pilgrims and wayfaring men: and we pass to a more excellent life: as to that also wherein we repose our whole trust. Seeing then, O Lord, that I am a stranger in the world, let not thy commandments be taken away from me. Now in this part is contained a very profitable doctrine, and exhortation for us, for we know how cold we are, where indeed we ought to have an ardent desire to be taught the word of God, and to be more and more confirmed therein. And I beseech you how careless are we? But what is the cause hereof? No doubt of it, we must always even search and look into the depth and bottom of this corruption and mischief: for when we see any vice in ourselves, we ought to inquire from whence the cause proceeds, to the end we might find remedy for the same. Now the reason is, because we are blind, and do suppose our abode should be here still upon earth, and every man imagines himself to have here everlasting life. Wherefore when we are thus given to the world, and think ourselves to have here an everlasting inheritance, lo this is the cause of our thus contemning of God and his word, or rather that we care no whit at all for the seeking out of the doctrine of our salvation. What must we then do? Forsooth we must look a great deal further than to the world, if we will come unto God, and be exercised in this study whereof mention is here made, and to say with David, O Lord, because we are strangers in this world, to wit, that we are to pass here only, and that nothing can be shorter than our life is here, let not thy commandments be taken away from us. On the other side, David his meaning here, is to signify unto us, that he was but as a poor pilgrim and wandering man, without he were conducted and guided by the word of God.

And this is a very fitting similitude for the purpose. We know that a man in a strange country will think himself to be a strange and forlorn man, so that if he has not a conductor and guide, he knows not what shall become of him. Even so fares it with us, if we are not directed and conducted by the hand and power of God. And why so? Because we are as strangers here in this world. It is very true that we are but too much tied unto our affections and will, and yet, alas, our senses and wits are so confounded that we know not what way to take or hold, except we be shown it. Lo, here the meaning of the similitude which David here uses, in saying that he is a stranger in the world: which is, that he complains that he is a strange and forlorn man, and therefore beseeches God to guide him by his word. Now it follows.


Excerpt from Sermons on Psalm 119 by John Calvin