Notes from “An Exposition of Psalm 119, Part One” – Alistair Begg

This blog (in its entirety) is normally the product of my own reflections on the 22 consecutive octrains of Psalm 119.[1] Each post is linked back to the prayer that corresponds with it. Before we begin a new cycle with Aleph, however, it is good to capture again the overall essence and message of this “Great Psalm.”

For this post, I present to you Alistair Begg’s sermon, “An Exposition of Psalm 119, Part One” (YouTube video; 36:45-minutes, see the Resources page). What follows are my notes from this video. Just like in college when you take notes, your notes will be a blend of  the professor’s word choices, phrases, and direct quotations filtered through your own sense of putting it altogether and occasionally injecting your own side thoughts. This is no different, though I have kept my own deviations to a minimum and (hopefully) clearly tagged as such. This is an attempt to provide you with the body of his message since do not have the opportunity to listen to the media.  Please contact Truth for Life.org  (the Bible-teaching ministry of Alistair Begg) for more information about his sermons and resources online.

I do hope, however, that you will bookmark and view/listen to the video itself. Let this be an introduction only.  My own notes here don’t include Pastor Begg’s current applications, wit and humor, or hs practical and crucial explanations which are well worth the hearing. Besides, who doesn’t love receiving exhortation from the Word of God with a Scottish accent?  Also, please do read the footnotes provided below.

Who is Alistair Begg?[2]  Quickly, Pastor Begg has been the senior pastor of Parkside Church in Bainbridge, Ohio (suburb of Cleveland) since 1983.  His teaching ministry includes Truth for Life radio broadcasts, leading pastor conferences (he is a pastor to pastors), and authoring many books. Additionally, he acted the role of Maiden, the cursing Scottish golf instructor to the young golfing icon Bobby Jones (James Caviezel), in the movie Bobby Jones:  Stroke of Genius (2004; 2 hrs, rated PG).

He is a native of Glasgow, Scotland and graduated from Trent University, London School of Theology (1975), and Westminster Seminary.  He served as pastor in Scotland before becoming a U.S. citizen in 2004 and pastoring in the U.S. He is married with three grown children.

NOTES FROM PASTOR BEGG’S SERMON: [3]

Pastor Begg takes Mem (v.97-104) and Nun (v.105-112) for his text.  Pastor Begg and St. Augustine both declined from preaching on Psalm 119, “The Great Psalm”, for in St. Augustine’s words: “...it always exceeded my powers.”  Though the collection of the psalms as a whole is considered by many scholars to be a “hymnbook” and not intended as preaching text, modern usage takes in both:  they are human expressions toward God and are also instructional texts for our benefit.

The emphasis of Psalm 119, as well as Psalm 1 and Psalm 19, is on “the use of the law of God in the life of the Christian”; “to reorder and reshape the life of his people in terms of salvation.”   Begg says that though the law of God is not just legislation (giving and enforcing laws), it is, also, legislation.  We don’t like the word “law”. One Puritan (unnamed) said, however, that Psalm 119 is a “touchstone of vital godliness.”  Pastor Begg defines ‘godliness’ as “living within the confines of God’s own instructions.”  He says that the judgments of God are considered in contemporary thought to be equal with (the same mthing as) the “law of our own hearts” or how we interpret them according to our own understanding; Pastor says this is not so.  Our own hearts are not able to guide our own hearts. Psalm 119 provides a correction to this error.

God is only rightly served when his law is obeyed.  We are not free to frame a system of religion according to our own judgments.  The whole of scripture is nothing else than an exposition of the law.”  — John Calvin (emphasis added)

In fact, J.I. Packer says that “the root cause of moral flabbiness” is our neglect of God’s law. Pastor Begg makes the point that while physical fear (danger, health, death) will often bring even an athiest to his knees, acknowledgement of moral failure will not.  We are morally flabby without the structure and constraints of the scriptures.

Citing the Heidelburg Catechism (Dutch), the 39 Articles of Religion (1572) (Anglicans), and the Westminster Shorter Catechism and Westminster Confession of Faith (Scottish Presbyterians), Pastor Begg warns that “without the benefit of any confessional, identifiable framework , which gives us extrapolations of scripture” to guide us, we can often fall, depending upon what is going on from the pulpit, into a “hybrid of notions and ideas” coming from our own judgments.  The confessionals (listed as examples) are founded upon proof texts from the scriptures themselves.  Pastor Begg speaks of the Holy Spirit’s work to guide us in living freely within the constraints of scriptures.

Pastor Begg (from here on referred respectfully and simply as “Pastor”) cites Psalm 119:45: “I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts.”  With law, we are free to live in safety without fear; without it we are in constant flux and confusion. He gives examples of this, including one about Cairo’s traffic problems: the laws are there but are not enforced and pandemonium often reigns.

Pastor cites and comments upon a lengthy and appropriate quote from Sinclair Ferguson’s Devoted To God (highly commended).  In summary of Ferguson’s starting premise, Pastor says that:

“…when we look at the blessedness of the Lord Jesus Christ, you are seeing the blessing that attends a life that lives in obedience to the will of the Father; that Jesus is the supreme example of that; that his obedience to the Father’s words, to the law of God, is not an irritation to him; it is not something that he does reluctantly that he might be the great fulfiller of the law.  It is something that he does gladly, as we saw in Psalm 1.  Who is the person of Psalm 1?  Who is there that delights in the law of God, who meditates on it day and night, who does not stand in the way of sinners or doesn’t sit in the seat of scoffers, whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and so on.  Who is that person? … There is only one person who actually did that, and that is Jesus.  He is the prototype of Psalm 1.  He is the great law-keeper.” — Alistair Begg, on Sinclair Ferguson’s Devoted to God, (emphasis added)

Then Pastor Begg cites Ferguson’s direct passage:

 

We live in an anti-nomian [“against law”] world.  The wider western culture in the past fifty years and more has been reacting against what it calls Victorianism, and establishing a new culture which has returned to the drivers of the French Revolution: liberty and equality.[4] Liberty and equality have ascended the throne as King and Queen.  And the moral cathedrals, established in the culture of the west, are now being torn down–because nothing is a greater enemy of human autonomy than divine law.” — Sinclair Ferguson, Devoted to God

Pastor Begg emphasizes that there is a “divine oughtness” in the law of God.  He further quotes from the same passage of Ferguson’s:

“The spirit of the age has undoubtedly bled into the life of the Church. Now, to place any emphasis on the law of God is often regarded by profession Christians as legalism.  And so a new narrative has arisen to interpret the old evangelicalism, which is now characterized or actually caricatured, as as a religion of do’s and don’ts.

 

Now we frequently hear that God loves us the way we are.  Any element of divine demand is seen as a return to the bad old ways and days in a word, to legalism. But this viewpoint requires revision. For one thing, the narrative is jaundiced.  For another, the New Testament is punctuated with exhortations telling us what not to do. Plus, the truth is since the fall of Adam, God has loved only one Person the way he is.

 

We have lost sight of the fact that it is the way we are by nature that put Christ on the cross. The biblical perspective is quite different. God loves us despite the way we are.” — Sinclair Ferguson, Devoted to God. (emphasis added)

Firmly FixedForever

Verse 97 of Psalm 119 is predicated by v. 89:  “Forever, O LORD, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens (ESV).”  God’s Word is unmoveable, not up for human re-engineering.  It is firmly fixed from all time and is not negotiable.

But Psalm 119’s enconium to God’s Word is also predicated upon the following verse 90a:  “Your faithfulness endures to all generations;…”  Law and grace.  So the fixedness of God’s Word “is not legalism;…it is a Light in our darkness, …our strength.”

The psalmist in verse 97,  can then say with all his heart:  “Oh, how I love your law!”  The reason I can love God’s law is that it is fixed; it is dependable–we can trust it.  Verse 103 states that it is “sweet to my taste”.  God’s Word is pleasant and a delight.

THREE SUBPOINTS: Why is the psalmist so in love with the law of God? (in closing)

  • Because of it’s Source: “The Law of the LORD is perfect…”(Psalm 19:7a).  The law emanates from the character and Person of God.  As such, “love for God and love for His Word go hand in hand.”

Pastor Begg further relates the analogy that we love only what we know or are actively learning to know.  For example, he says that a person who says they love Shakespeare but can’t quote him, doesn’t love him.  In other words, (in my own words,–THW), to love someone or some thing is to be attuned to it, to pay the ultimate attention to it, to always be thinking of it and desiring to bestow our best for it.  In Pastor’s words, “If you love the Bible, you would read it,…think about it;….if we met you…we would know that you had been reading your Bible.”

The psalmist doesn’t just say, “I love your law” as a static statement of fact; he says, “Oh!…how I love thy law!”  It is this extra expression of deep feeling (“an exclamation of emphasis”) that sets mere fact from passion and devotion.

 

  • Because of its Substance: “[God’s word] is the Maker’s instruction.”  “What would godliness look like in a person increasingly formed into the likeness of Jesus?  The Word of God tells us.” Read the law.

II Peter 1:3 says this:  “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence” (Berean Study Bible). Instruction manuals are often disliked, partly because we can’t understand them.

>I personally would like to inject that we often dislike them because we want the freedom to challenge our own abilities and, while that is not wrong in itself, it can often stem from or be corrupted into pride:  “I can/will do it by myself.” <

Pastor quotes the Puritan Thomas Manton who says: “The law of God is a love letter to the soul.  The saints put it in their bosoms and it gains upon their hearts.” In other words (and this myself speaking here), rather than envisioning a human judge with a gavel in his hand and stern look upon his face, God’s instruction manual is a love letter to our inmost spirit–the deepest place of us that no one else can see or touch; and that our love of it, like a healthy marriage, “grows and deepens the more we obey it” (Begg) and see its benefits and the love for us that undergirds it.

“God’s Word introduces us to the person of God’s Son who unfolds for us the reality of God Himself and shows us the wonder of the Gospel.” — Alistair Begg

 

  • Because of its Strategy:[5] A strategy is a “plan for successful action”.  It is summarized as two-fold:  “providing wisdom and preventing wandering”.  Part ‘b’ of verse 97 is this:  “It is my meditation all the day.”  In other words, I not only love it, I show my love for it by meditating on it.

What does it mean to meditate on the Word of God?  Pastor answers this:

“…that I bring His word to mind, that I think these thoughts from the word, that I learn to dwell on them, and I ask the Holy Spirit to apply them to my life.”  — Alistair Begg

His Name and His Word are to be exalted above all things. What are we putting into our minds?

Pastor Begg uses the modern assimilation of the practice of yoga, even by church members.  While the exercise part is understandable, he questions if all that practice it are aware of the worldview and its mantras that lie at its foundations.

>For another example of my own, it is common to hear our children using street terms, the origin of which they have no comprehension (or they reason it away as irrelevant and archaic).  Even Christians use these terms; I have heard pastors use it from the pulpit (e.g., my pet peeve: “that sucks”)!  The point is this: What are we thinking, if we are not thinking on God’s Word?  Who is behind the scenes guiding our conscious and sub-conscious mind and heart? <

Pastor Begg’s closing thought for point C of Part One is that our own natural meditations (the products of our own mind) lean toward vanity and sin.  We can’t trust our own meditations, our own lusts and affections. But God’s Word draws us to meditate on God’s Name (character).  We, (including our affections), are reshaped and reorganized, becoming in His likeness for His glory.

SUMMATION

God’s Word is worthy of our love because of it’s Source (it is GOD’s own mind for us); it’s Substance (it is our instruction manual, a love letter to our soul), and it’s Strategy (a planned course of action that molds us in the likeness of Himself for His glory and our joy).

I hope these notes have helped you.  Part Two will be summarized in the next post. Stay tuned!

FOOTNOTES:

[1] I began blogging with Samech and I will begin all over again with Aleph soon.

[2] Biographical information comes from Wikipedia: “Alistair Begg”, Christianity Today article “Alistair Begg–Pastor,l Movie Star”compiled by Rob Moll (May 1, 2004), and Parkside Church’s website at https://www.parksidechurch.com/visit/our-team/.

[3] Other than direct quotes given in quotation marks, the ideas given are re-phrased for summary purposes into my own words.  Any deviations from the intent of Pastor Begg are my own, though it is hoped and expected that there are no such deviations, or if they are, they are minor.  Please do watch the video to ensure the integrity of Pastor Begg’s own thoughts.  In summarizing, there will be the need to use his phrases or choice of words without direct quotations. Again, I am attempting a summary of his thoughts, coming to you through my own reception and expression of them, which will be, by nature of second-hand reporting, less best than the original.  My apologies to Pastor Begg.  I have kept my own intentional deviations or injections tagged as such.

[4] Pastor adds “…or, in our own day, freedom and justice.”

[5] Pastor Begg gave a third point in Part One of this 2-part sermon, but failed to signify it with a third “s” mnemonic. In Part II, he addressed the oversight  and explained the term.  To avoid confusion, I have placed his third “S” back in Part 1.

To hear the continued discussion of Psalm 119, please see the next post (coming here) or view “An Exposition of Psalm 119, Part Two”on YouTube.

2 thoughts on “Notes from “An Exposition of Psalm 119, Part One” – Alistair Begg

  1. Thank you, Carol. I am learning…my heart is learning. One day I would love to do that; as I’m praying through this and working it into my life, I’m on the beginning end and would actually be the one *attending* the class on Psalm 119. I do hope that this website can be of use for individual and/or small group studies, especially with the resource page as a “collecting site” for further study. 😀

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  2. Hi Tamara, You are doing such an awesome job on this Psalm and the website brings glory to God. Our Sunday School teacher left our class and we are filling in with various teachers and subjects. Would you like to consider teaching us about Psalm 119? We meet at Asbury Sundays at 10:45. If so, how many sessions would you want…1, 3, 4? or whatever? Love u c

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