I have refrained my feet from every evil way, that I might keep thy word.
Blessed Word of God!
That, and the believer’s delight in it, expresses in brief the main theme of this particular section of the psalm.
There is a good deal of similarity, and an intimate relation between this section and the preceding one.
Both extol the Word of God because of its perfection: “I have seen an end of all perfection: but thy commandment is exceeding broad.”
Yet, there is also a rather clear distinction.
In the preceding passage the psalmist considered that Word of God as it is revealed to us, as such, rather objectively, as it is settled in the heavens, as it is faithful and enduring unto all generations, as all things are ordained by it, and continue to be and to operate as God’s servants according to it, and as, in its saving sense and by its saving power, it quickened the poet.
But in the present section that frame perfection of the Word of God is the object of the poet’s praise and adoration, this time with the emphasis on the attitude of the psalmist towards it, and his love of that Word of Jehovah. “Oh how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day.” That is his theme. He tasted the goodness and perfection and salutary effect of that law. It was the means through which God called him unto wisdom and knowledge, so that he is wiser than all his enemies, and has more understanding than all his teachers; and because he keeps that law, he has more understanding even than the ancients. Since God has taught him, His words have become exceeding sweet to his taste, sweeter than honey to his mouth.
Therefore he hates every false way, every way that is not in accord with the Word of God.
He realizes, by experience, the preciousness of God’s law.
He would, therefore, keep it and continue to live in its sphere.
And in order to continue therein, and to experience the goodness of that Word of Jehovah, he walked carefully.
Circumspectly he watched his steps.
From every evil way he refrained his feet.
That he might keep God’s Word which was blessed to him above all things.
Precious Word of the Lord!
I have refrained my feet from every evil way!
Yet, the very form of this testimony is characteristic of the believer in this present world, and beset by constant temptation; of the believer, moreover, as he has, indeed, a small beginning of the new obedience, and a sincere delight in the precepts of his God, but in whose members are the motions of sin actively engaged to lead him astray from the way of righteousness.
For the positive meaning of the words of the psalmist, is, no doubt, that he has walked in the way of Jehovah’s commandments, in obedience to the law of the Lord which he loved. Yet, he does not express it that
way. On the contrary, he suggests that the keeping of God’s way has been a constant struggle, a battle in which It was required that he be continually on the alert, lest he be seduced into paths of sin and corruption; a battle, moreover, in which he felt a. constant urge within him to surrender to the enemy, so that he had to put a restraint on his own members lest they would lead him astray. . . .
I have refrained my feet from every evil way!
I have a delight in the law of God according to the inward man; but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members!
That was the experience of the poet.
And as he thus walked in the midst of the world, desirous to walk in the way of the Lord, he found that it was a constant struggle to keep from error and backsliding. Walking in the way of the Word of God, he found that a thousand other roads zigzagged in every direction across his path, confusing his mind as to the right direction, tempting him to depart from the way of truth and righteousness. And, what is more, he experienced that the law of sin which was in his members so affected him that his feet were inclined to slip into those deviating paths, attracted by the seductive smoothness and ease with which one might appear to walk therein, and the pleasures of sin to which they promised to direct him.
He had kept the way of God’s commandments, but only through a hard and constant struggle!
And another way there is not for the believer in this world.
He must needs live in constant antithesis to himself, that is to his flesh, as well as to the world, if he would be faithful even unto the end.
He cannot serve God and Mammon, but neither can he simply serve God without having anything to do with Mammon. He must love the One and hate the other!
As he directs his feet in the way of righteousness in this world, ways of evil cross his path at every step. From every direction “the world” shouts at him that he walks in the wrong direction, beckons him to change his way and to follow after the vain philosophy of man, after the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. It exhibits to him the benefits and pleasures that are to be found and enjoyed in the ways of sin. It offers him glory and honor, the praise of men, power and might, a position of influence, wealth and luxury, the pleasures and treasures of, sin for a season, if only he will depart from the way of uprightness and yield to the service of sin. Or it threatens him with its fury and wrath. It makes the gate very narrow and the path very strait that leads to life. It fills him with reproach and shame, deprives him of a name and position in the world, makes his place impossible, kills him all the day long. . . .
Every evil way is presented in its most attractive appearance, while the way of God’s precepts is steep and rugged and well-nigh impassable!
And from within operates the flesh, inducing his feet to depart from the way of God’s precepts, and to slip into the ways of iniquity.
The motions of sin in his members operate to darken his understanding so that he cannot clearly discern the way of light and truth, and distinguish it sharply from the ways of darkness and the lie, and inducing him to approve of the latter and to follow after the false and vain philosophy of the world. They affect his desires so that he is attracted, by the pleasures and treasures of corruption, and he would strive to obtain his will, that he may prefer the service of Mammon, and to enjoy them. They struggle to affect and control and yield his members once more to the service of unrighteousness. They are the foe within the gates, allying himself with the enemy from without.
And yet, there is another law in his inward man.
The law of grace!
The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus!
And according to that other law, he hates every false way, and has a delight in the law of God.
And that other law, that new principle of life controls his heart, and has dominion. No, there are no two principles within him, the law of sin and death, and the law of the Spirit of life. He is no dual personality, both good and evil. He does not live in two radically different spheres, that of light and that of darkness. He is a new creature. He is free. He is delivered from the law of sin and death. ‘The law of sin may operate in his members: it does not dominate his heart. . . .
Old things are passed away!
No longer is he a slave of sin, chained with a thousand shackles from within, acknowledging corruption as his master and lord.
And so, though he is surrounded by powers of darkness that, would lead him astray, he keeps the way of God’s precepts.
Though often he may appear to suffer defeat, he has the victory!
He restrains his feet!
For blessed is the man that is able to say: I have refrained my feet from every evil way!
Blessed is he, who every day, as another stretch of the way is finished, and another stage of the spiritual battle is over, and he lays down his weary head to rest, may testify: I have fought a good fight; I have kept the faith! . . . .
I have refrained my feet!
For, let us note that this is the position of the psalmist as he expresses it in this confession. He does not look forward to the future, as he did in the ninety-third verse of this same psalm; he looks back upon the way travelled. He does not make a vow that he will keep the precepts of the Lord, or express confidence that he will continue in the way of Jehovah, as he did there; he declares what thus far he had done: he had fought the battle and won.
And that is blessedness indeed!
Blessedness, mark you well? not because he is glorying in his own accomplishments, and expects others to glory with him in the work of man, Such is the boast of the world, and it is vain and wretched precisely because God is not in it. Not so the poet. It is not of his own power and goodness and faithfulness that he speaks. He is extolling the Word of God. That Word of God he loves. It is sweet to his taste. In it he has his delight. To know that Word, to appropriate it, to trust in it, to keep it, is his delight. And he understands clearly that this is all of grace. It is not of himself that he loves the law of Jehovah. The very inclination of his flesh, the motions of sin that are in his members, the fact that, his feet are always inclined to slip into the ways of evil, remind him constantly of the truth that by nature he is only an enemy of God, dead in trespasses and sin, standing In enmity against God and against His precepts, ignorant and foolish, and loving the darkness rather than the light. But the Word of Jehovah quickened him. . . .
And that he now loves the law of the Lord is all of grace!
Of grace it is, too, that he refrained his feet from every evil way! That he is conscious of this, is evident also from the following verse: “I have not departed from thy judgments: for thou hast taught me!”
Not his own work, but God’s work in and through him; not his own goodness, but God’s grace; not his own faithfulness, but God’s unchangeable Word he extols.
It is to him a manifestation of grace, of the marvelous power and efficacy of the Word of God, the same Word that quickened him, that he refrained his feet from every evil way!
And note the all-comprehensiveness of the statement: from every evil way.
O, the poet does not intend to speak with the boast of the perfectionist. The meaning of his declaration is not that day by day, and week after week, and year after year, he had lived without ever committing sin, and that he had never felt the need of God’s forgiving mercy. He does not mean that he never stumbled in the way. For “who shall understand his errors?” That frequently he did what he would not was the experience of the poet as it was of Paul, and as it is of every child of God in this world.
But he had fought the battle!
And he had not slipped into any evil way so as to live in it. When he stumbled he rose again. When he departed he returned. When evil tempted him he hated it. When he sinned he confessed and found mercy and forgiveness. Always he had refrained his feet from walking in any evil way.
Every evil way he had hated.
The statement allows for no exceptions. Nor could it. For it is not possible that me refrain our feet from some sins, while we walk in others. Nor does the love of God and of His law make such a distinction. If that love is in our hearts, we hate sin radically, hate it because it is sin, and the result will be that we refrain our feet from every evil way. And although believers, even the very holiest of them, have but a small beginning of the new obedience, this beginning is a principle, and by it they are so governed that it is their delight to walk, not only according to some, but according to all God’s commandments!
And in the way of His commandments there is joy and peace, fellowship with God. . . .
In that way there are pleasures for evermore!
Walking in that way, we taste that the Lord m good!
That I might keep thy word!
To refrain our feet from every evil way is the indispensable requisite unto the keeping of the Word of God, and the latter is the blessed fruit that is attainable only in the way of the former.
Thus I would understand the declaration of the psalmist.
He does not, in this second part of the verse, merely declare positively what he had already declared negatively in the first part, as if he meant to say: I have refrained my feet from every evil way, that I might obey thy commandments. Rather does he conceive of the whole Word of God in all its riches and power of salvation and promise of life and blessing, and not simply from its aspect of Jehovah’s commandment to him. For that reason, he employs the widest term, and speaks simply of the Word of God. That Word he loves. It is the Word of salvation, of forgiveness, of redemption, of fellowship with the living God, of grace and mercy and eternal life.
That Word he would keep, continue to hear, to believe, to appropriate.
In the sphere of that Word of life and salvation, he would fain continue to live upon its blessed hope he would continue to lay hold.
And this strong desire motivated him in the battle against sin.
For clearly he realized that in the way of sin that blessed Word of salvation and glory and fellowship with God would forsake him.
In the way of sanctification we lay hold on the Word of life!
Teach us, O Lord, to refrain our feet, that we may keep Thy Word!
And rejoice in Thy salvation!