All the paths of the LORD are mercy and truth to such as keep his covenant and his testimonies.
The text seems, at first, to mean that the Lord is merciful and faithful to such as do His will. They shall have His blessing. As they deal with Him, so will He with them. There is a covenant, a spiritual contract, between them: on the one hand, so much obedience and loyalty; on the other, so much truth and mercy. This conception is drawn from the transactions of the market, and in its lowest terms puts religion on the level of mere sale and barter. There is, indeed, an element of truth in it; see Galatians 4:7, 8. It is certain, however, that they who work just to be rewarded by God will miss it altogether. The true reward is the approval of God, and they alone will gain it who think more of God than of themselves. This is the distinction made in New Testament between faith and works. The difference is seen by comparing Jacob's bargain with St. Francis Xavier's "My God, I love Thee, not because I hope for heaven thereby," etc. The Christian saint gives everything and asks nothing. I do not believe, however, that the text teaches that we are to obey God in order that He may be merciful and true to us, The meaning, I take it, is rather that those who obey Him are thereby enabled to understand His ways, and to see, even when the paths of the Lord are blind and steep, that they are, nevertheless, the paths of mercy and truth. They who keep the covenant and the testimonies of God have their eyes opened to know the purpose and motive of God's acts. The secret of the Lord, the understanding of His strange dealings with us, is open and plain to those who are near to Him, who fear Him with the fear of devout reverence, and obey Him in the keeping of His covenant and testimonies.
I. THIS IS PLAIN ENOUGH IN OUR RELATION TO THE WORLD OF NATURE. How shall we come into complete harmony of eye and ear and touch with our environment; how shall we see the "desirable, clear light of the new morning," and listen fitly to the music of the brooks; how shall we so conduct ourselves that the sun and the rain, the clouds and trees and stars, the sights and sounds of nature, shall give us the satisfaction and benediction that God intends? The way is as evident as it is simple and homely: we must keep the covenant and the testimonies of God as they relate to our daily health of body; we must sleep and eat and work aright; we must answer the fitting, natural demands of our physical being, and keep ourselves alert and strong and well. Nothing else will avail. No amount of beautiful poetry read by lamplight, and no prayers said behind closed doors, can take the place of that imperative obedience to the primitive laws of bodily health by which alone we may hope to look through clear eyes upon this fair and wonderful world.
II. THIS EVERLASTING FACT OF THE INTERPRETIVE VALUE OF OBEDIENCE HOLDS TRUE IN RELIGION AS IN EVERYTHING ELSE. The Bible is never weary of teaching it. It is one of the eternal principles that lie at the heart of spiritual truth. The ten lepers who are cleansed as they obey are representatives of all of us: as we go along the way on which God sends us, strength and health of soul go with us. The pure in heart shall see God. They who are devoted to God, who hold all else subordinate to their service of Him, whose love of Him is the supreme fact in their lives, who live in His conscious presence, see Him and understand Him. It is as simple and natural as friendship. Their obedience opens their eyes. The chosen disciples of Jesus were able to understand Him better than the crowd, because they were keeping, as best they could, though with many blunders, the eternal laws which expressed His own will and way. He was interpreted to them by their obedience. We, too, if we would knew Him, must approach Him by this way. Not by the path of reason, perplexing ourselves among the arguments of theologians; and not by the path of authority, taking what the ecclesiastics tell us and thinking no more about it, like a blind man trying to understand a sunrise by a formula; but by the path of personal obedience is Christ best sought, so that, doing His will, we come into real sympathy with Him, and of our own selves recognise Him and believe in Him and love Him. So it is with certain hard duties to which He summons us, and which are tests of true discipleship. To love our enemies seems at first not only a difficult but an unnatural and unreasonable affection. It appears like an injustice to our friends. We say flatly, we cannot do it. And the other devout exercises which are of a piece with it, such as speaking as well as we honestly can of those who speak ill of us, and turning the other cheek, and going two miles for those who would compel us to go one, and doing good to those who despitefully use us, the more we simply talk or think about these requirements of Jesus, the more impossible they seem. But when we stop discussing and obey! when in this or that immediate instance we do the Master's will, hard as it is, going out of our way to render a kind service to one who has injured us, forbearing to defend our rights, giving up our own strong case and letting our importunate neighbour have his way, actually permitting him to take advantage of us if he will; when we simply do what Jesus tells us to do, and what He Himself was forever doing, then the blessed light shines out upon us, and we understand how this Christian behaviour is not only the best thing in a vague and general way for society, but is the very best for us in particular, and there is a consciousness of the approbation of God, and a new and consequent joy in living, which is far better than any advantage we might have gained by pushing in ahead. We keep the covenant and the testimonies of God, and our obedience interprets them, and it is made plain and sure to us that His paths are truth and mercy. Or, to take another illustration, misfortune of some kind befalls us, grief attends us, the world goes wrong, the light of life is turned of a sudden into black darkness, and a sore burden, too heavy, we think, for us to bear, is set upon our shoulders, and it is desperately hard to see how the paths of the Lord are "mercy." They may be "truth," they may be right; we may be punished for our sins; but how they can mean "mercy," how there can be any fatherly love in them, as the Gospel tells us, passes our understanding. Then, if we betake ourselves to philosophy, there is but cold and scanty comfort. A wise man wrote a book on the consolations of philosophy, and another wise man advises us to be revenged upon fate by becoming philosophers; excellent counsel for the minor perplexities and vexations that beset us. But under a black sky, when things are not only amiss, but dreadfully and tragically amiss, it is a weary and unsatisfying occupation. We cannot by our understanding find out the ways of God. What shall we do, then? Let us submit and obey. Let us take up the new burden and carry it, facing life anew under these strange and hard conditions, and seeking to do our daily duty in it, keeping the covenant and the testimonies of the Lord. That is the way that leads to light. So it is throughout, in every alternative; everything comes right if we obey God. This very world in which we live our daily lives is already heaven to those who do the will of God as it is done in heaven. Here and today, they who keep the commandments receive the blessing of which Jesus assured us; they enter into life.
(George Hodges, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: All the paths of the LORD are mercy and truth unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies.