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Dr. Thomas Fuller, an English churchman who lived in the 1600’s, wrote:
“I discover an arrant laziness in my soul. For when I am to read a chapter in the Bible, before I begin I look where it ends. And if it ends not on the same side, I cannot keep my hands from turning over the leaf, to measure the length on the other side; if it swells to many verses, I begin to grudge. Surely my heart is not rightly affected. Were I truly hungry after heavenly food, I would not complain of meat. Scourge, Lord, this laziness of my soul; make the reading of your Word, not a penance, but a pleasure to me; so I may esteem that chapter in your Word the best which is the longest” (Rev. Dr. Thomas Fuller, quoted by Sterling W. Sill: The Quest for Excellence, p. 139).
With the commentary of Dr. Fuller in mind, I turned my attention to the longest chapter in the Standard Works: Psalm 119. This psalm is one hundred and seventy-six verses long. And every verse is about the power and value of the scriptures.
I hoped that the Lord would purge this “arrant laziness in my soul” that inclined me to discouragement when faced with the multitude of verses in this text. I believe he did. I was deeply moved by the messages of this superb psalm, and I turned my experience into a lesson in an Institute class I was teaching called “The Power of the Word.”
My intent was to take students to Psalm 119 and discuss the wonderful verbs and phrases used there to describe the experience of studying the scriptures, and as my instruction commenced, I began to point out some of the verbs and phrases that teach a proper regard for the word of God.
There are some wonderful insights, insights like “walk in the law” [vs. 1], “keep his testimonies” [vs. 2], “I have respect unto all thy commandments” , “take . . . heed thereto” , “I have declared all the judgements of thy mouth” , “I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies” , and “I will meditate in thy precepts:” .
There are so many of these messages, each worth a note and a discussion. I intended to spend the class hour pointing out such treasures to my students.
But in my lesson, as I began to talk about these phrases, and without prior planning, I felt an inclination to invite class members to scan Psalm 119 and find phrases and verses that reflected their own feelings. I gave them several minutes to prepare and then asked for volunteers to teach. A forest of hands leapt skyward. The experience was unbelievable. I spent most of two periods with this psalm in each of the classes I taught. At the end of the first day we stopped because we were out of time. When the classes returned two days later, I asked if there were any others who wanted to share and the hands went up again. Students wept and shared and testified and the Spirit confirmed the truth. My testimony of the value of the scriptures, and my desire to pay a higher price to use them, increased dramatically. I sat quietly and listened and took notes. Here are few of the things that were shared in those classes, and the verses where they can be found.
- “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word.” One of the young men in a class spoke of the increased desire he had to be righteous when he spent time with the scriptures. In response to his insight we went to verse 104: “Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way.”
- “With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments.” We talked about what it means to seek him with our “whole hearts” as opposed to part of our hearts. Mosiah 15:7 tells us that the will of the Son was “swallowed up in the will of the Father.” Some-times only a part of our will is “swallowed up” in the will of the Father and the Son. And the more submissive we are, the less we will be inclined to wander from the rod and the path.
- “I am a stranger in the earth: hide not thy commandments from me.” One young man spoke of how easy it is to get lost in a strange place. The earth is such a place. It is not our home. It is a testing center, and it is easy to get disoriented. But the commandments of the Lord will show us the way home. They are maps, signposts, Liahonas, and our own personal Urims and Thummims showing us the way to go.
- “My soul melteth for heaviness: strengthen thou me according unto thy word.” This is wonderful language. My soul melteth for heaviness. A young lady spoke of melting and of the heaviness she sometimes experienced as she tried to carry the burdens of her life. “But,” she said, “I always find strength when I spend time in the standard works.”
- “I will run the way of thy commandments, when thou shalt enlarge my heart.” Students in more than one class talked about instant obedience; about running to be obedient. Someone mentioned that Abraham, when he was commanded to sacrifice his son, Isaac, (Genesis 21:14), rose up early in the morning following the revelation, took his son, and departed for Moriah. You might expect him to ask for a week for a camping trip and a farewell, but Abraham was one who was determined to “run the way of thy commandments.” We looked at verse 60 during this part of the discussion: “I made haste, and delayed not to keep thy commandments.”
- “I will speak of thy testimonies also before kings, and will not be ashamed.” Two students talked of their willingness to take a stand for the truth of the scriptures in unfavorable circumstances. One student mentioned Paul’s witness: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ . . .”
- “The bands of the wicked have robbed me: but I have not forgotten thy law.” Even when evil men have deprived us of that which is ours, we must be determined that we will be Christians and disciples because of the influence of the word of God in our lives.
- “The law of thy mouth is better unto me than thousands of gold and silver.” When a student shared this verse, I asked the class how much money they would demand before they would give up any contact with the scriptures for the rest of their lives. We compared this verse to verse 127: “Therefore I love thy commandments above gold; yea, above fine gold.”
- “Let thy tender mercies come unto me, that I may live: for thy law is my delight.” This verse is a reminder of Elder Bednar’s classic sermon from April of 2005. We are much more likely to be aware of and to be quickened by the Lord’s tender mercies when we delight in the laws of God.
- “For I am become like a bottle in the smoke; yet do I not forget thy statutes.” The word bottle means “waterskin.” Waterskins were usually made from animal skins. Many translations of the Bible note that a waterskin in the smoke would become dry, brittle, or shriveled. In such a condition it would begin to leak. This seems to be a metaphor for deep affliction. But even in the midst of the most painful of adversities, we must not forget the Lord’s statutes. Verses 87 and 92 seem to say similar things.
- “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” I think this verse came up in almost every class. We live in a world where Satan “spreadeth his dominions, and darkness reigneth” (D&C 82:5). It is a marvelous thing to have a light that never goes out. The Lord warned those who try to get through this Satanic darkness by their own light, rather than by the light of the word of God:
Behold all ye that kindle fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks, walk in the light of your fire and in the sparks which ye have kindled. This shall ye have of mine hand-ye shall lie down in sorrow (2 Nephi 7:11).
Well . . . this might be a good place to stop. There are a multitude of such treasures in this psalm. I suspect that it is worth some dedicated days of scripture study. In my opinion, it is the finest of all scriptural sermons the value of the scriptures.