“Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity; and quicken thou me in thy way.”
New Year in an old world!
All that is changed is time!
Time, the succession of moments, like an ever rolling stream, taking its starting point in the beginning, meandering through the centuries that are past and marching on unto the end. Ever changing, and bearing all its sons away,—such is the nature of the creature we call “time. It has its beginning, because it is creature, and therefore also it has its end. And always under the direction of the Almighty it rushes on to its end. Its seconds become hours, and the hours become days, and the days become years, and the years become centuries,—but when it comes to its end, its terminus is the last moment,—a twinkling of the eye.
But the world is the same!
The sun which God set in the heavens at the beginning is still in its orbit, while the earth, also created in the beginning, continues to revolve about it. Nothing in the world under sin is changed. Murder, deceit, backbiting, stealing, adultery, and all of the rest of corruption still go on at their regular pace. Wars, and rumors of wars, mothers travailing in pain to deliver, morticians as busy as ever, all go on today as they did yesterday.
The wise man of God, were he to speak today as he did long ago, would say the same thing: “Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher, all is vanity.”
Though the time is changed, for we are now in the year of our Lord 1973, yet we are still in the same old world of vanity.
In that world of vanity the saint is troubled especially by two things. He senses that that world of vanity is very strong, and he is very weak. Not only must he be delivered from the vanity of the world, but he must be delivered in it. Shall he persevere to the end, he must be constantly quickened. And so he prays:
Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity!
And quicken thou me in thy way!
The occasion for this need of the saint is the fact that he dwells in the world of vanity.
Perhaps none among mortals, apart from the secondary authors of Scripture themselves, portrayed so graphically the vanity of the world as did John Bunyan in his Pilgrim’s Progress. To him, as to the saint he describes, the world is a veritable vanity fair. To him, as it was to the psalmist who penned the words of our text, vanity was a lying thing. Vanity was (is) a lie, not only opposed to the truth, but seeking to replace it. Vanity assumes such a pose that it tries to entice you into believing that it is good to embrace it. Vanity is the imagination of an evil heart. Vanity is as old as our first father, who was enticed to believe that it was good to transgress the commandment of God not to eat of the forbidden tree, imagining himself to become through transgression as God knowing good and evil. From an auspicious beginning in which man would continue to be in the image and likeness of God so long as he walked in obedience, he, through vanity, the lie that he would be like God if he transgressed His commandment, became vain in all his thoughts, and his heart was filled with lust. And this depravity he passed on to all mankind. And the world in which he lived became filled with vanities. With the help of Satan man began to create lying vanities. Though it appeared that with the deluge God had cleansed His world of all lying vanities, it soon became evident after the flood that this was not the case. And since that day of judgment the vanity of the world has multiplied exceedingly, and will continue to increase until all the vanities are destroyed in the final conflagration.
In this world of vanity the saints of God are required to walk in this year of our Lord 1973.
In this world the saint prays: Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity!
Everywhere he looks, he sees vanity! Vanity riches, vanity philosophy, vanity glory, and vanity pleasure. All is vanity!
Though the saint, through grace, is become estranged to that world, this estrangement he experiences only in principle. He still lives in the flesh; and his old nature, which belongs to this world, is still with him. As we suggested above, the vanity of the world is strong, and he is often so weak. Out of new, regenerated heart; he expresses his need: Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity!
This negative expression of his need is so necessary because he senses his natural inability to withstand the allurement of vanities. He senses, too, that all his senses are naturally attracted to these vanities, and especially the sense of sight. He understands the word of Jesus: “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.” As the periscope to the submarine, so is the eye to the body. Though all his senses are affected by vanity, none more than the sight of the eye.
But does not the saint here pray for the impossible? Is there anywhere he can go in this wide world that his vision can escape the sight of vanities? Supposing that his eyes were turned, where would he not see vanities constantly surrounding him? And isn’t it precisely the will of the Lord that His saints should see the vanities of this world?
If we may answer the last question first, it should be evident from all Scripture that the Lord would not have His saints to go out of the world, even if that were possible. Jesus prayed: “I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil (or, the evil one).” And we must understand well that the prayer of our text is not that of an ascetic who would flee the world. There have been those who made this attempt, and history shows that when they secluded themselves in some desert place, or in the caves of the mountains, they took along with them the very vanities they had endeavored to escape. All Scripture points to the fact that it is the calling of the saints of God to be in the world, though not of it. Their calling is to live antithetically, that is, choosing always the good, and rejecting always the evil. And this answers also all the other questions we raised above. If the saint really realizes his calling, therefore, there is no way that he can escape seeing the vanities.
Let us understand it well, the prayer of our text is the prayer of the saint who walks in the mist of the world and observes all its vanities. However, by the grace of God, and according to the new principle of life in him, he has no desire for those vanities. Nevertheless he realizes that he has but a small beginning of the new obedience, and that often the eyes of his flesh are attracted to these vanities. So his prayer really is: Cause my eyes to see more and more the vanity of these vanities, and to set my heart and whole being with all of its affections on those things which are above and beyond those vanities,—those things which have an abiding value.
This is especially emphasized in the last part of the prayer in its more positive aspect.
And quicken thou me in thy way!
Literally, in thy ways cause me to live!
The way or the ways of Jehovah!
And the way of Jehovah is the way of His statutes, of which every verse in the Psalm speaks. Listen to what the psalmist says in the immediate context. “Teach me, O Lord, the way of thy statutes; and I shall keep it unto the end. Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law; yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart. Make me to go in the path of thy commandments: for therein do I delight. Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not to covetousness.” And then you have the prayer of our text: “Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity; and quicken thou me in thy way.”
It should be abundantly evident that the saint would have his whole life directed by the Word of his God. Cause me to live more and more that way, not in the way where all the vanity of the world would lead me and to which I am attracted by nature.
Understand well the prayer of the saint is one. The two parts of his prayer belong together. They are inseparably connected. His sense of need is one. What good would it be if he should have his eyes turned from vanity, if he had not the grace to walk in Jehovah’s ways? None whatsoever. But together, so long as he is in the state of imperfection, God’s preserving grace will enable him to persevere faithfully unto the end.
And the supply of his need is to be found in his God alone!
He is the living God, and He alone can impart the life which the saint needs. Only as his God imparts unto him His grace can the saint continue to live. Only as that grace of God quickens him can the saint continue to walk in the fear of his God according to His precepts.
Such a prayer the Lord will surely hear!
My reader, shall we not also take upon our lips this prayer as we enter into the new span of time?
Remember, the time is changed; but we are still in an old world that has not changed. It is still full of vanities, vanities to which we will be attracted according to our flesh, in which we still dwell. If we are not able to look beyond these vanities and set our eyes on the heavenly verities, we will surely be swallowed up by the world. Pray then earnestly, and daily, as you walk through vanity fair, for the grace of life, that you may walk faithfully in the light of His Word.
No confidence can we have in our flesh that we shall be able to withstand the enticement of vanity. Boasting in the flesh we shall surely be overcome.
Our victory is in prayer for God’s indispensable grace!
With this prayer rising constantly from our hearts, and constantly offered by our lips, we shall never be ashamed.
World without end!