Practical Reflections on the Psalms: First Book

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My purpose in this series of papers is not to interpret the Psalms, but to draw from them some portion of the spiritual instruction and edification they afford our souls. The interpretation has been sought to be given elsewhere. The Psalms afford us special light on the government of God and the sympathies of the Spirit of Christ with His people. This, in the first instance, has the Jews for its object and center of display. Still, in making allowance for the difference of their state and ours, and of the relationship of a people with Jehovah and children with a Father, God’s ways in government apply to us Christians also. If it is not the highest ground on which a Christian is viewed, for that is heavenly; it is a most important and interesting one, and brings out all the tenderest displays of divine care, the care of Him who counts the very hairs of our head, and the seriousness and vigilance required in walking before God, who never swerves from His holy ways, who is not mocked, nor withdraws His eyes from the righteous, though all be the ministration of His grace for perfecting us according to these ways before Him. Of this application of the government of God to the Christian’s ways, the Epistles of Peter are more especially the witness. See, for example, 1 Peter 1:1717And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man's work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear: (1 Peter 1:17); 1 Peter 3:10-1510For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: 11Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it. 12For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil. 13And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good? 14But and if ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; 15But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: (1 Peter 3:10‑15), and the spirit and tenor of the whole Epistle. This government in the second Epistle is carried on to the consummation of all things. The first is more the government of the righteous, the second the judgment of the wicked, though that judgment, as closing the power of evil and the deliverance of the just, be alluded to in the first also. He was the apostle of the circumcision, and this subject came specially under his eye in teaching.
Psalm 1. This government in the earth is plainly pointed out in the first psalm, and the character of those whom that government blesses. He it is who keeps separate from the wicked in his way, and delights in the law of Jehovah, and meditates on it. Submission to the Christ, as the depositary of this government in God’s counsels at the close of this time of trial, is the subject of the second. Only a few words on the first of these two psalms, which lay the basis of all the rest. The counsel of the ungodly, the way of sinners, and the seat of the scornful are avoided. While here connected with human responsibility in walk, yet it is being kept from the evil. I do not desire to spin out the force of the words, but a few remarks may be made on these words. The ungodly have plans, counsels of their own will, their own way of viewing things, and arrangements to obtain their purpose. There the just is not found. The sinner has a path in which he walks, pleasing himself there: the just does not walk with him. The scornful are at ease, despising God: there the just will not sit. Judgment will come, and such will not be allowed to stand in the congregation of the just then brought to rest by the glory of God.
Psalm 2. This psalm announces the establishment of Christ’s earthly triumph and royalty in Zion, when the heathen shall be given Him for an inheritance. This is not yet fulfilled. The government of God does not secure the good from suffering as it will then, but turns suffering to spiritual blessing, and restrains the remainder of wrath, giving a glorious reward for our little sorrows. But for us a Father’s name is revealed in them. We call on the Father who, without respect of persons, judges according to every man’s work, and we pass the time of our sojourning here in fear, knowing that we are redeemed. Here kings are called on to submit before the coming judgment of the earth. But this is not yet executed, and we have to learn our own lesson in patience. This the Psalms will teach us.
Psalm 3. Let us see the lessons of the first psalms which follow. Troublers are multiplied, but the first thought of faith is Jehovah. There the spirit is at home, and looks at troublers from thence. Jehovah is thus trusted. When Jehovah comes in the heart before those that trouble me, all is well. Our spirits see Him concerned in matters, and are at peace. He is a glory, shield, and lifter up. Another point is, it is not a lazy, listless, view of evil and good, nor listless confidence. Desire and dependence are active, the links of the soul with Jehovah. I cried, and He heard. That is certain. That is the confidence that, if we ask anything according to His will He hears, and if He hears, we have the petition. We do not desire, if sincere, to have anything not according to His will; but it is an immense thing, in the midst of trial and difficulty, to be sure of God’s hearing, and God’s arm in what is according to His will. Hence rest and peace. “I laid me down and slept; I awaked: for Jehovah sustained me.”
How emphatic and simple! Is it so with you, reader? Does all trouble find your heart so resting on God as your Father, that, when it is multiplied, it leaves your spirit at rest, your sleep sweet, lying down sleeping, and rising as if all was peace around you, because you know God is and disposes of all things? Is He thus between you and your troubles and troublers? And if He is, what can reach you? The thousands of enemies make no difference if God is there. The Assyrian is gone before he can arise to trouble or execute the threats, which, after all, betray his conscious fear. We are foolish as to difficulties and trials, measuring them by our strength instead of God’s, who is for us if we are His. What matter that the cities of Canaan were walled up to heaven, if the walls fell at the blast of a ram’s horn? Could Peter have walked on a smooth sea better than on a rough one? Our wisdom is to know that we can do nothing without Jesus—with Him everything that is according to His will. The secret of peace is to be occupied with Him for His own sake, and we shall find peace in Him and through Him, and be more than conquerors when trouble comes; not that we shall be insensible to trial, but find Him and His tender care with us when trouble comes.
Psalm 4. This psalm affords us another most important principle, the effect of a good conscience in calling upon God in our distress. It is not here a good conscience as justified from sin, but a practically good conscience, giving confidence towards God. If our heart condemn us not, says the apostle, then have we confidence towards God. “Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness.” He does not say, Justify me, O God of my righteousness; but, Hear me. The soul is in trouble, yet had been enlarged, had had experience of God’s faithful lovingkindness. His glory and honor was from God. How true this was of Christ! Man turned it into shame, and sought after vanity. Still it remained unalterably true, in the divine government of Him who cannot deny Himself, that He has set apart the godly for Himself. They are Thine, says Christ. We are a peculiar people to Himself. Now this is always true, but in walking in godliness we have the present confidence of it, and our eye sees God brightly, and we know then He will hear us. We have not lost the perception of what He is at the present moment for us. Our soul is not beclouded, and nothing is so soon clouded as present dependence on and confidence in God. Integrity, when there is dependence, gives courage. It is not that God will not hear us from the depths of contrition, but this is another thing. Integrity of heart gives confidence in the day of trouble, because God is seen by the spirit. The eye is then fixed on Him across all the trouble. And so it is here: Commune with your own heart and be still; worship God in integrity, without fear, and trust in Him. In what is around us, many might say, Where is any good to be found? and, discouraged and disheartened, despair of finding any; but in and through all circumstances the light of God’s countenance is the secure and unchangeable good. His favor is better than life. Besides, it secures good. The power of evil is below the power of God. He disposes of it, removes it, turns it to blessing, annuls it as He sees fit. The light of His countenance does this for faith. And the soul rises above evil, and rejoices in God. Hence there is more joy than in temporal blessings. They may be taken away: besides, they are not God Himself, and the light of His countenance in trouble is altogether Himself, and gives the secret to the soul of His being for us. Hence one lies down in peace and sleeps—does not disquiet himself in anxious watchfulness against evil, for after all it is God only that secures him in joy or trouble.
Psalm 5 furnishes the occasion of saying a word on the calls for judgment which are many times found in the book, and with that I shall pass it over. There is constancy of cry in the presence of enemies. It is to Jehovah the tried one looks; but it is on the ground of that righteous character and government of God which makes it impossible for Him to look on evil complacently. He will destroy the violent and deceitful man. And this is right. The Christian feels God ought not to let successful evil go on forever. When his mind rests on the government of God, he looks for the removal of evil by judgment, and rejoices in it; not in thinking of the evil doer, but of the righteousness and the result. Vengeance belongs to God. But it is in no way the element He lives in. The Jew having his portion in the earth—for “the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace” (Psa. 37:1111But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace. (Psalm 37:11))—looks for the removal of the violent and deceitful man, in order to his own comfort and rest. Not so the Christian. He leaves the violent man here and goes to heaven. He walks, as to his personal walk, in the time of grace, and leaves it for glory. Even in the millennium, when government will be exercised and the wicked cut off, his distinctive place is grace. The river of water flows out of the city; the leaves of the tree of life, of which he eats the full ripe fruit, are for the healing of the nations. Now his place is wholly grace and patience. He does well, suffers for it, and takes it patiently, and knows this is acceptable with God. He would overcome evil with good. He sees the evil, knows it will be judged, that the judgment shall devour the adversaries, and, viewed as adversaries, can be glad that they are removed from hindering good. Righteous judgment, I repeat, his soul owns and acquiesces in. But he looks not for it for his own gain or liberty. He is above this in grace. And this was Christ’s place. He will execute judgment. His Spirit calls in these Psalms for judgment. But as walking on earth, in which He was a personal pattern for us, He did not call for judgment on His enemies. “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:3434Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots. (Luke 23:34)) was His word when their violence was directed against Himself; and in judgment He opened not His mouth.
Now Psalm 5 takes up the call for judgment according to God’s government of the earth, founded on Jehovah’s immutable character, and looks for the happiness and joy of Jehovah’s people flowing from it. And so it will; but not ours, because our joy is in heaven, where such deliverances are not needed. We leave the earth. Hence, while the spirit sees and feels the rightness of this psalm, I do not give it as in any way the experience of a Christian, save that his cry in difficulty and trial is undividedly and actively directed to the Lord—we may say to the Father.
Psalm 6 and 7 both partake of this character and call for judgment. But Psalm 6 is on very different ground from Psalm 5, and in certain respects will afford us experimental light for the Christian. When the believing soul is under trial, the recurrence to God as its resource and hope is the natural movement of faith; the great grace of God in being for us, the sense that there is nothing like this love, and the confidence which accompanies submission of heart, draw out the heart towards Him. Nor is there a sweeter time for the soul that trusts Him than the time of trial. This supposes indeed the will to be broken, and the heart subject, and God’s love to be known. When this is not the case, the trial through grace works submission and is then removed, or the soul finds its happiness in the wise and holy will of God, and in the fruit it bears. But there is another case where trial, though ever salutary and gracious, has another element in which it makes confiding love to God more difficult. I mean where the trial has its source in the conduct of the person suffering. If I have brought trial on myself by sin, how difficult to see love in it! how difficult not to groan in the consciousness that it is the fruit of sin, and just rebuke for it, and hence that we have no right to think of love in it! Yet where can we turn but to Him? and how look to Him to deliver whom we have offended? Such is the real and distressing difficulty of a soul which, feeling that it has brought sorrow on itself, feels it has no right to look for deliverance. It is indeed almost tempted to despair and sink under the sense of hopelessness. This was the force of our Lord’s intercession for Peter, that his faith might not fail, his confidence in Christ and his love and hope of divine favor not be lost, or he might fall into the hands of Satan through despair and remorse, In his case it was not trial or chastening, but the danger was the same. Faith hinders this despairing feeling, but it does not take away the sense of sin or of the justness of rebuke; but it trusts God and His love and goodness, which now take the character of mercy to the spirit of the sufferer. The sense of sin is deeper, the dread of consequences less, and God is trusted with a humbled heart in spite of all. Still it is felt that rebuke is deserved—nay, the soul may be in a measure under it.
This is the state brought before us in Psalm 6. It pleads the distress and desolateness under which it is lying, and looks for mercy, and pleads that the rebuke may not be in anger. It has confidence in God, though in presence of the thought that the rebuke of His anger would be but the natural consequence. It owns the justness of this, yet resting in faith on grace says, How long? God cannot cast off forever those who trust in Him: light will spring up. There is relationship with God and faith counts on it. So that the heart can plead its extreme sorrow and trial with a God whose compassions are known. The last three verses express this confidence fully. We see how the government of God applies to this world, so that death has the character, in that government, when so falling on any one, of cutting off. This was fully true with the Jew, as we see in Hezekiah and even in Job. But it is true in a measure as to the Christian. There are sins unto death, and death may have the character of discipline, as in 1 Cor. 11, and may be arrested, as we read in James’ and John’s epistles. The Psalm does not look beyond it, save into darkness, nor does the government of God either. When the believer has peace, he looks at discipline, even when justly severe, in the sense of certain divine favor. Hence his horror of sin is of a much purer kind, for it abhors the sin and not its consequences. It may be that the fiery darts of the wicked reach him or that dread threatens him at least. He looks through it to God’s mercy and faithfulness. His faith through Christ’s intercession does not fail. Still this is a terrible state; but the heart clings to God and can say, How long?
Psalm 7 is a full and elaborate appeal to righteousness and vengeance, and faith in that judgment. Thus the congregation of the peoples of the earth will own Jehovah and compass Him about.
He looks for God’s anger on the wicked as he deprecated it for himself, and he expects it with a certain faith. This we do and own it all to be most right and excellent; but I cannot give the Psalm as presenting anything of the experience of the Christian, save the consciousness of integrity and the fact of trusting God. It is all true and certain; but it is for those who are in the distress produced by the haughty wicked, and look for deliverance, yet not to suffer like and with Christ that they may be glorified together, that the psalm provides an expression of feeling.
Psalm 8 is the celebration of Jehovah’s millennial dominion and the glory of the Son of man in connection with, and in the mouth of, the Jewish people. But the psalm gives us a most interesting insight into the glory of Christ, and, as far as is possible in the Old Testament, our association with Him. It views man, set as the image of the invisible God, ruler over creation. It does not, and could not, in direct revelation, go beyond man’s place in this world, for the mystery was not revealed in the Old Testament; but Adam was the image of Him that was to come. Jehovah is the Lord of Israel. What is man? Christ is the answer. But He is Jehovah, and His glory set above the heavens, the earth put under His feet. Even in the days of His humiliation, the enemy and avenger was stilled by babes and sucklings uttering His praise; for the Father took care that, if for His sake the Lord was despised and rejected of men, there should be the testimony to His glory; and so it was, as Son of God, Son of David (as to which these words are quoted), and Son of man. (See John 11 and 12.) But in that day His name will be excellent in all the earth. Meanwhile He is crowned with glory and honor, even while all things are not put under Him. As a mere creature, man is small and feeble. But the Man of God’s counsel, the last Adam, is over all. See Proverbs 8, where, before the creation, Christ is seen as the wisdom of God, Jehovah’s delight, and His delight in the sons of men. So, when He was born, the angels celebrate God’s delight in (not “goodwill towards”) men. What is man? is asked by Job, irritated. Why could God not let him alone? (Job 7:1717What is man, that thou shouldest magnify him? and that thou shouldest set thine heart upon him? (Job 7:17).) And in Psalm 144, why should God so patiently spare the wicked? But here it is Man in the counsels of God, the last Adam, the second Man, Christ, the glory of Jehovah, set as Man above the heavens, and the earth subject under His feet, yea, all things, which as yet we see not, only the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ crowned with glory and honor, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death.
I pass over Psalm 9 and 10, the former celebrating the judgment of the enemies of Israel, the latter descriptive of the wickedness of their oppressors. They express the consciousness during the oppression that God does see it, and does not forget the humble; and then, on the deliverance, they celebrate the faithfulness of Jehovah. The world is judged in righteousness, and Jehovah known by the judgment which He executes. I have only to draw the reader’s serious attention to the judgment of the world here spoken of, and the main scene of it in the land of Israel; while in every case, the humble soul in oppression and trial may walk in peaceful assurance that God sees it, and that its cause is in the hands of God; yea, what is more difficult, that when it has brought it on itself, if truly humbled, it may count on God. I now turn to the expression of the feeling of those who are in the trial before the deliverance comes, and while they have to possess their souls in patience.
Psalm 11 sees distinctly—as is always true, though not publicly manifested as at that time—that there is no hope from, no reliance on, man on the earth—that nothing earthly is stable, and that evil has brought in ruin. The foundations are cast down, and what are the righteous to do? This, for faith, is true, since the time that Christ was rejected on earth; only the restraining hand of God checks the power of evil, as long as patience can be exercised, and there are souls yet to be drawn out to the fellowship of Christ. It will be openly the case when the wicked one wields power in the earth, before God arises to judgment, and to help all the meek of the earth. Cases of peculiar trial bring us often into analogous circumstances in our own little sphere. Only we must remember that we have to do with a Father known as such, who disciplines us for our profit, for our heavenly and eternal gain, with a well-known love which has not spared His own Son, but delivered Him up for us.
The question put in the psalm is: If the foundations be cast down, what can the righteous do?—what they might refer to as of divine stability? For good does not exist, and the wicked are disturbed by no scruple of conscience, and with fraud of heart seek to destroy the righteous. There is a time when the Lord warns to flee, when no action and no patience is of any avail. This is not the case here. It is only so when God delivers up all to the wicked for a time. Fear and unbelief would urge flight, as a bird, away from the scene to a place of refuge and human security. Faith looks higher. “In Jehovah put I my trust.” Trust in Jehovah, who is above all, to whom nothing is unknown, whom nothing escapes, whose faithfulness is unchangeable, without whom not a sparrow falls to the ground, who, after all, orders everything, whatever man’s plans are, who is our Father. Trust in Him is the resource and peace-giving feeling of the righteous. This, in its nature, gives a perfect walk and calmness at all times; because circumstances do not govern the feelings, and the soul has no motive to lead it but the will of God, and can have boldness to do it when called on, through confidence in Him. It gives calmness too, because God is trusted for every result.
But the simple fact of this confidence is not all the psalm teaches us. All is subverted and in confusion on earth; no security for the righteous there. But Jehovah is in His holy temple; His throne is in heaven; and His eyes behold, His eyelids try, the children of men. He does not slumber nor sleep; the righteous may leave his cause to Him. But there is, besides this, an explanation of God’s ways in the time of sorrow. Jehovah tries the righteous. When His eyelids, who sees all things according to His own purity, try the children of men, He has an object as regards the righteous; He proves and sifts them. This is a most important truth—the activity of God in dealing with the righteous, to accomplish His own gracious purposes as to them, to manifest His own character, to judge, and lead them to judge, all that is not according to it, and thus give them the intelligence of what He is, and conform them morally to it, at the same time subjecting their wills, and engaging their affections, by the sense of His faithfulness and love. The breaking of the will is a great means of opening the understanding.
But His temple and His throne govern all this. In His temple every one speaks of His honor. It is the place where man approaches Him, where His nature and character are revealed for man to be associated with Him according to them. And the throne orders all things to associate us rightly with the temple. The flesh, of course, cannot always like it; but this dealing with it is just what is profitable in the matter. He tries the children of men. Their actions do not escape His eye. All things are naked and open to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do, and He judges of them all. But more particularly He tries the righteous. This is in contrast with His hatred of the wicked, on whom He will pour out judgment. In His trial of the righteous one must first think of God’s own character and glory. This He maintains. For, however His countenance beholds the upright, however much He delights in them in love, He cannot deny Himself. He will conform them to what He is, but not relinquish this. He maintains His character in government. He has let the earth know, in Israel, that He will not have wickedness. The nearness of a people to Him is only an additional motive for this. “You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities” (Amos 3:22You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities. (Amos 3:2)). And now, whatever His grace, God is not mocked: what a man sows he will reap. The passages are numberless in which this principle is applied to Israel. It is carefully maintained in Romans 2:66Who will render to every man according to his deeds: (Romans 2:6), and following verses. The Epistles of Peter particularly unfold this righteous government of God—the first, as regards the righteous; the second, as against the wicked. In trying the righteous, God vindicates and maintains His character in those near Him.
But it is for the profit also of those who are tried, the precious proof of the constant watchful care of God. “He withdraweth not his eyes from the righteous” (Job 36:77He withdraweth not his eyes from the righteous: but with kings are they on the throne; yea, he doth establish them for ever, and they are exalted. (Job 36:7)), says Elihu. It is, if need be, that we are in heaviness through manifold temptations or trials. We are to count it even all joy (James 1:2-32My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; 3Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. (James 1:2‑3)) when we fall into divers temptations, seeing that they work patience. And mark the fruit: “Let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” We are to glory in tribulations (Rom. 5): they work patience; and this brightens, in its result, our hope, the love of God being shed abroad in the heart—the true key to all that comes.
The love of God in the chastening itself leads to two conclusions, expressed in Hebrews 12—not to despise the chastening, for there must be a reason for it in us if love does it; and not to faint, because it is love which does it.
There are two causes which, as we are taught in the book of Job, bring trial on the saint. First, God shows the transgressions in which man has exceeded, that is, positive faults. Secondly, He withdraws man from his purpose, and hides pride from him; Job 33:16, 1716Then he openeth the ears of men, and sealeth their instruction, 17That he may withdraw man from his purpose, and hide pride from man. (Job 33:16‑17); chap. 36: 7-9. This book gives us full divine instruction as to God’s ways in trying the righteous. There we learn another truth, important to exercised souls, who often dwell on secondary causes—that God is the cause, and moves in all these exercises. The origin of all Job’s trials was not Satan’s accusation, but God’s word, “Hast thou considered my servant Job?” God had, and saw that he needed this. The instruments were wicked, or disasters caused by Satan; but God had considered His servant, tried the righteous, but measured exactly the trial— stayed His rough wind in the day of the east wind [“in measure debate with”]; and when He had done His own work (which Satan could not do at all), and shown Job to himself, blessed him abundantly.
He humbles us and proves us, that we may know what is in our heart—feeds us with the bread of faith; but it is to do us good in our latter end.
When the trial is met in the truth and power of spiritual life, it develops and brings out much more softness and maturity of grace—a spirit more separated from the world to God, and more acquainted with God. Where it is met by or meets the flesh, the will of this—its rebellion—is brought to light, the conscience becomes sensible of it before God, and, by the discipline itself, the self-will is, even insensibly, destroyed.
Trial cannot in itself confer grace; but, under God’s hand, it can break the will, and detect hidden and unsuspected evils; so that the new life is more fully and largely developed. God has a larger place in the heart, there is more intelligence in His ways, more lowly dependence, more consciousness that the world is nothing, more distrust of flesh and self. The saint is more emptied of self and filled with the Lord. What is eternal and true, because divine, has a much larger place in the soul; what is false is detected and set aside. There is more ripeness in our relationship with God. We dwell more in the eternal scenes into which He has brought our souls. We can look back then, and see the love which has brought us through it all, and bless God with dependent thanksgiving for every trial. Such only purge away the dross, and confirm us in brighter, fuller, clearer hope, and increasing our knowledge of God, self being proportionately destroyed.
Psalm 12. It is evident that it is written under the pressure of extreme wrong and violence and the feeling of being isolated. Human power, and those that have confidence in it, are all against the soul. It is rare to be in such a case rightly, that is, to have occasion to suffer as is here described. But it may come. Individual Christians may find themselves isolated and pressed down. Verse 5 introduces Jehovah’s judgments, which will put an end to it. This He often does still in His government, but it is not the direct proper hope of the Christian. For him to do well, suffer for it and take it patiently, is acceptable with God. His rest is elsewhere, where God is perfectly glorified; so it was with Christ, and, therefore, with us. He surely did well, suffered for it here on the earth, was not delivered. How acceptable it was with God I need not say. It behooved Christ to suffer. It is our profit; so that we can glory in tribulations also, because of their fruits, a far higher fruit than ease or repose here, and which ripens in heaven, in our being fitted for enjoying God more deeply; and if we suffer for righteousness’ and Christ’s sake, we can say, Happy are we: the Spirit of glory and of God rests on us. But in many cases of detail, deliverance, if we wait patiently for it, comes even here. At any rate, and this is the point of the psalm, the words of Jehovah are pure words; they prove all that is in man, but they may be thoroughly relied on as genuine. He will hold good in holiness, but make good in power, all that His mouth has uttered. Our wisdom is to hold fast by the word of the Lord, come what will. Outward trials are but instruments of purification and of trying the heart as to faith. The word is the test of all for the soul, the inward measure of its condition before God, and the infallible ground of confidence. If it tries the heart, if the circumstances we are in try the heart, it is only to free it from all that would hinder our leaning on and appropriating every word that has come out of the mouth of God. We shall surely live by it.
Psalm 13 continues the expression of the workings of a soul under the trials we have seen referred to in Psalm to. We have, comparatively speaking, less to do with it. Yet the Christian may be tried by the momentary and apparent triumph of the power of evil, and in such can look to the Lord for deliverance, not to be left as if God did not care for him. We see the difference of the Jewish remnant here and Christ, for outwardly He was left in the hand of the wicked; whereas (though indeed some of the wise will fall by the hand of the enemy in that day, obtaining a better resurrection, but), in general, they will be spared and delivered. But our object now is the moral lesson. Not only in the midst of heartless and conscienceless enemies, but apparently forgotten of God, the soul trusts in His mercy, counts on Himself in goodness and faithfulness of mercy so as to rejoice in deliverance by His power before it comes. So we thank God, when we pray, before we receive the answer, because knowing in our hearts by faith that God has heard and answered us, we bless Him before His answer comes outwardly; and this is just the proof of faith. Such confidence gives wonderful peace in the midst of trials; we may not know how God will deliver, but we are sure He will, and rightly. He has all at His disposal. It is Himself we trust, and in looking to Him the heart receives a real answer on which it relies. The circumstances and the word try the heart. Confidence and divine deliverance rejoice the spirit. One knows, even before the deliverance comes, that God is for us. The taking counsel in the heart is very natural, but not faith. It wears and distresses the spirit. The sorrow tends to work death. The soul, even though submitting, preys on itself; it is turning to the Lord which lightens the soul. The consciousness that it is the enemy who works against us helps the soul to confidence. It is a solemn, and for man would be an appalling, thought, but with the Lord is a ground of being assured of deliverance.
Psalm 14 is an eminent example of a principle of very frequent application: how psalms or other passages of scripture, clearly applicable literally to the Jews in the last days, and to events then occurring, are used as great principles deciding morally on important truths at all times—truths which are then publicly and judicially brought to light. The apostle applies this psalm as the expression of the divine judgment on the state of the Jews, as declared in their own scriptures, and proving the need of a righteousness not their own. I have not much to remark on it here. We may expect to meet with difficulties which arise from a total absence of the fear of God in those with whom we have to do. It is hardly credible for one that fears God, that this can be so, that there should be no compunction; nothing that stays the heart in wickedness, at least in deliberate wickedness. But we must expect this sometimes, where we should least expect it. But Jehovah sees all this. This is our confidence. He may take time, be patient with evil, or at least with evil doers, and exercise us; but He sees it all. Not only so, but God Himself is in the generation of the righteous. There is an influence produced by the presence of God with the righteous, which the enemies of Jehovah feel, and which in the righteous is known only by faith. We may see an example in what Rahab evidently saw among the Canaanites (Josh. 2:99And she said unto the men, I know that the Lord hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you. (Joshua 2:9)). The same feeling is referred to in Philippians 1:2828And in nothing terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God. (Philippians 1:28). This feeling of fear, in those who oppose the truth, may be accompanied with boasting and violence; but when faith has confidence in Jehovah, the wicked, even if they succeed, have always fear. So the Jews, even when they had crucified Christ, feared lest, after all, His absence from the tomb should make matters worse than before. But there must be the sense of God’s presence for the righteous to be thus sustained.
Psalm 15 shows evidently that the direct application of these psalms is to the Jews in the last days. Still there is a present government of God which it is well for saints to remember. It is developed in the Epistles of Peter—in the first in favor of the righteous, in the second in the judgment of the wicked. See 1 Peter 3:10-1510For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: 11Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it. 12For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil. 13And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good? 14But and if ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; 15But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: (1 Peter 3:10‑15), showing the Christian application of the principles on which God dealt with the Jews as a people, and will still more absolutely in the last days, but which have their application to the time of our sojourn here below.
Thus, though this psalm be strictly Jewish in its character, we have principles to act on; and so verse 4 gives what, in principle, pleases the Lord at all times.
Psalm 16. With these few remarks I pass on to Psalm 16, which applies directly to Christ, but in which we shall find the sweetest instruction also for ourselves. It is essentially Christ taking the place of a man, and pointing out the path of life before Him through death, since He came for us, but trusting in Jehovah, into His presence, where is fullness of joy. We must not lose sight of the direct prophetic character; still this path is an example for us. The good Shepherd has gone before the sheep. The great principle proposed in the psalm is trust in the Lord, even in death—the place of dependent obedience; and the Lord Himself’s being the whole portion of man excluded all inconsistent with this; we may add, having Him always in view. These are the great principles of divine life, and of divine life come into the scene of sin and death. No doubt we should speak of communion with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ in this path of life; but the great moral principles, the subjective state of soul, is brought out before us here, and that in Christ Himself. And note here, it is His perfection as man, and before God and towards God. It is not divine perfection, God manifested to man, but what He was as man dependent on God. We have not even His offering Himself, in which we have also to follow Him (1 John 3:1616Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. (1 John 3:16)), but His place as man in perfection. It is perfectness before God—the principle that governed Him. Hence even the word, “My goodness extendeth not to thee,” has its application also to us. That our goodness does not actually reach God, it might seem almost absurd to affirm; but when it is applied to Christ as man, who was absolutely perfect, it affords us an apprehension of the nature of this goodness, a principle which we can apply to ourselves, and which puts us in our place. It is man’s perfection towards God, the new path of which Christ is the perfection and example in the earth. But this thought shows the unspeakably blessed place which we have as Christians, though in our own case in the midst not only of weakness but of internal conflicts which were not in Christ, in whom was no sin. But Christ’s place is the perfect expression of our place before God. This is fully unfolded at the close of the Gospel of John, and particularly in chapter 17.
The Epistle of John too, which first presents Christ as the manifestation on earth of that eternal life which was with the Father (its manifestation in a man whom their hands had touched), teaches that this was true in Christians as in Him (1 John 2:88Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in him and in you: because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth. (1 John 2:8)), and unfolds the character of this life in righteousness and in love, adding the presence of the Holy Spirit, through which we can dwell in God and God in us. We have this eternal life, which is come down from heaven but is only said to be in the Son, yet he who has the Son has it; indeed, this gives it all its value. No doubt the Epistle of John unfolds it in all its extent and value, as it cannot be unfolded in the Psalms: still in this psalm we have Christ taking the place itself as amongst the excellent of the earth. I may remark here that the writings of John, though intimating it and just showing that we shall be with Christ above, do not pursue this life to its presentation in glory before God. This is Paul’s office; indeed, he had only so seen Christ. John presents the life in itself and manifested on earth. The life is the light of men.
I have already made some allusion to a restriction which we must put, in speaking of this psalm, to the development of the life of Christ on earth. But this restriction only brings out more directly and blessedly in its place that part of Christ’s life, which is the subject of the psalm itself. Christ was the manifestation of God Himself (I speak of the divine traits of His character, not of His divine nature and title) in His path in this world. Perfect love was seen there, perfect holiness and righteousness. He was the truth in the revelation of all that God is. And this is most blessed; and in this we have to imitate Him. (See Eph. 4:3232And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:32); Eph. 5:1-21Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; 2And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savor. (Ephesians 5:1‑2); Col. 3:1010And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: (Colossians 3:10).) But this is not the aspect in which the psalm views Him. It depicts His place as the dependent devoted man. It depicts Him as taking His place among the remnant of Israel in contrast with the idolatry of that people. But on that I do not dwell now. The character of the blessed Lord’s life will alone occupy our thoughts.
The expression, “My goodness extendeth not to thee,” would not suit the divine manifestation of goodness on the earth. But, taking His place entirely as a man here, the Lord shows us the true place of man living to God; not in his innocence, not surely in sin, but the very opposite; but perfect, in a world of sin; in righteousness and true holiness, having the knowledge of good and evil, tempted but separate from sin and sinners; not made higher than the heavens, but fit for it in the desires of His nature, and in the path towards it; dependent, obedient, taking no place with God, but before Him as responsible as man upon earth, and looking towards the place of perfect blessedness as man with God by being in His presence, which would be fullness of joy for Him: a place which, when having His nature, we can have with Christ. It is man trusting God, deriving His pleasure and joy from God, living by faith, and in that sense apart from Him—not God manifested in the flesh, which we know was also true of the blessed Lord. This, while it is our place on earth as sanctified through the truth, is above the place of the Jewish remnant. We have another in the consciousness of union with Christ through the Holy Spirit.
The Lord takes the place we are considering, when He says to the young man, “Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is God.” Thus far it went outwardly well with the young ruler; but there was more than this to characterize the life where divine life was, in a world of sin and sinners, in its path towards the place of the fullness of joy— what has been shown in Abraham, and in the saints of God, in the Davids and the prophets—“Jehovah is the portion of mine inheritance”—having the Lord Himself as that which governed and led the heart: “Go sell that thou hast and give to the poor... and come, follow me.” But the Lord was not, at any rate then, the portion of his inheritance: only one knows not what may have become afterward his state through grace.
The state described in this psalm is that of man considered apart from God (I do not mean, of course, morally separated, nor touch upon the union of the divine and human nature in Christ); but it is man partaker of the divine nature, for so only it could be, but having God for his object, his confidence, as alone having authority over him, entirely dependent on God, and perfect in faith in Him. This could only be in one personally partaker of the divine nature, God Himself in man, as Christ was, or derivatively as in one born of God; but, as we have seen, Christ is not here viewed in this aspect nor the believer as united to Him. The divine presence in Him is viewed, not in the manifestation of God in Him, but in its effect in His absolute perfection as man. He is walking as man morally in view of God. Christ here depends on Jehovah for His resurrection. He says, “Thou wilt not leave,” though He could say, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Yet He could say, as perfect Man, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” As Peter among the Jews could say, He hath made Him whom ye have crucified both Lord and Christ: while Thomas could say, My Lord and my God. Indeed Peter never leaves this ground—the rejected Man, the Messiah, exalted by God—nor preaches the Son of God (as Paul did at once in the synagogues), though the first, by divine revelation, to confess Him such.
Hence Christ as seen here is a perfect model for us—shows what the perfect man is. The first great principle, and that which characterizes the whole psalm, is the referring Himself entirely, and with confidence, to the care of God. He does not preserve Himself, take care of Himself, or depend at all on Himself; He refers to God. “Preserve me, O God, for in thee do I put my trust.” But this goes far. As God, Christ could have preserved Himself; but He did not come for this. In that sense it was impossible. He came in love to suffer, obey, and so by grace also to save, but to glorify God. From this, morally speaking, He could not swerve; but as to power, He could have preserved Himself, or as to title to favor as Son, He could have asked and had twelve legions of angels. But thus, as He says, He could not have fulfilled the counsels, the revealed counsels, of God.
It was free submission and dependence, but perfect submission and dependence—the one right thing in the position which He had taken. This was perfect faith. He was the leader and completer of faith—absence of self, dependence, and confidence. And, we may add, the word of God was the revelation on which He acted, that which He obeyed, the weapon He used, as we see in His temptation in the desert. He was the word and the truth personally, and all He said expressed what He was; John 8:2525Then said they unto him, Who art thou? And Jesus saith unto them, Even the same that I said unto you from the beginning. (John 8:25). But it is not less true that He used and acted on and obeyed the Scriptures as Man. But here He takes the place of dependence and confidence. As Man, He says, “Preserve me, O God. In thee do I put my trust.”
The next point, partly anticipated necessarily in what I have said, is entire subservience to the will of God. Here to God, as revealed among the Jews, Jehovah; to us it would be the Father and the Son—one God, even the Father, and one Lord Jesus Christ. “Thou hast said unto Jehovah, Thou art my Lord.” Remark, “Thou hast said.” He had taken this place. He was Jehovah, but not taking that place at all here in His path. In the form of God, thinking it no robbery to be equal with God, He had taken the form of a servant, and was found in fashion as a man—freely taken, perfectly preserved in, through death, His taken place through humiliation. Freely to take it is a divine title and action. Creatures have to keep their own; though, when not kept by God, none have done so. His given, but deserved, place as Man is glory; John 17. He humbles Himself, and is highly exalted. He had said to Jehovah, “Thou art my Lord”; that is, I am subservient to Thee. He had taken a place, while never ceasing to be God, and which Godhead alone could fulfill the conditions of, outside Godhead; but in which as man to satisfy God, to glorify God in an earth of apostasy and sin, indeed with all on earth and Satan’s power against Him—at the close, even God’s wrath, if to fulfill His glory in righteousness.
Hence the Lord Jesus says, “My goodness extendeth not to thee”—up to Thee. He was to fulfill man’s place in the condition in which God’s glory was now concerned in it. A perfect man, when a perfect man, was alone in perfectness; none to sustain—none even to have compassion on Him. He must trust God in life and through death, yea, through wrath. But here it is in the path of life, and even this shown Him (vs. 11).
But, further, there were objects of divine favor from whom He did not dissociate Himself. But He does not speak of them as chosen by Himself here—as in John of His disciples, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you” (though there also for service), nor as chosen of God in grace, but as objects of divine delight in the path they trod, as manifested morally— those who were in the path He had to tread in—“the saints that are in the earth, and to the excellent.” This is full of interest. It is still His moral place as man, delighting in what God delighted in, as becomes one perfect with God, as we see in full figure in Moses (Heb. 11:24-2624By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; 25Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; 26Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward. (Hebrews 11:24‑26)). He takes His place with the saints—those really sanctified to God. This we see in fact, and in the way of the most perfect obedience and humiliation, in that the Savior went to be baptized with the baptism of John, when those moved by the Spirit of God to humble themselves went there. In the first and lowest step of divine life, that of the heart giving itself up to God in the acknowledgment of sin, He who knew no sin went with those who owned it; for their owning it was divine life, and it was consecrating themselves to God. They were the true excellent of the earth. How sweet and consoling in the wilderness to see Christ treading this path, victorious over all temptation in it, as shown directly after His baptism by John; binding the strong man, in life possessed of, and victorious over, all the power of the enemy.
One sees easily here, that though it be the divine life, the fruit of grace, it is not in itself God manifesting Himself, a goodness in its character in itself reaching to God; for it was owning sin, though it was divine grace in Christ to do it. Just as it was not properly of God, as such, to die; though nothing but the perfect love, that is, One who was God Himself, could have died as Christ did, given Himself, laid down His life, given a motive to His Father to love Him for what He did. We see One acting as man in man’s place (only absolutely, perfectly, and freely as loving the Father, which He could not have done if not divine) before God and towards God as men had to act. That a divine Person should do this has a value beyond all thought, and it is what, as much else, the blessed Savior did for us, a man in our place, that is, in the perfection of it as God’s delight, and according to what it ought to be, in the midst of this sinful world, what glorified God in it.
And it is of all importance for us to see Christ thus an object of delight, adoring delight, for instruction and confirmation to the soul. It is a path the vulture’s eye has not seen and that no man’s thought could have traced, if Christ, the perfect One, had not walked in it. We have it in life—in a Person—as it only so could be, the path of life in a living One who was the thing to be loved. No doubt the written word gives us the elements of this life in all details, but at the same time it gives much of it, however many blessed precepts direct our path, in the life of Christ Himself; so that this life is understood according to the degree of spirituality which apprehends that life as depicted in the Gospels or other parts of scripture, its motives, or rather its motive and nature. Even in precept we find a direction to walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing. How evidently does this require the true knowledge of what He is!
The view which we have taken of this divine life, perfect in itself, but displayed in a knowledge of good and evil and proved in the midst of evil—in us renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him that created us—is brought out distinctly in positive separation from evil, but especially in the motive and spring of life, the confession of Jehovah. He (vs. 4) repels all that can be called another God. He will have nothing at all to say to it. It is absolute rejection. He cleaves to Jehovah. Fidelity to Jehovah characterizes the life of Christ as so walking on earth. We can say fidelity to Christ Himself. Christ is all and in all. Jehovah is not only Lord to obey, He is the portion of His inheritance. He sought naught else; as of the priest of old and yet better, as in heart and desire, the Lord was His inheritance and the portion of His cup, His lot here, which He had to drink; His enjoyment in hope, His portion by the way.
This, I apprehend, is the difference between heritage and cup. The inheritance is the permanent portion of the soul; the cup, what its feelings are occupied with, what comes to a man to occupy his spirit by the way. He gives the cup of wrath to the wicked to drink; the blessed Lord had to drink the cup of wrath on the cross. “My cup runneth over “was filled to overflow with blessing; so we say, habitually, it was a bitter cup. It is not merely the circumstances we pass through, unless the soul be subject to them; but that which we taste in the circumstances, what our spirits feel, that which presses on them in the circumstances. Thus, in Psalm 23, the circumstances were all sorrowful, but Jehovah being shepherd, all through them, his cup ran over with joy and blessing. Thus Jehovah was the permanent portion of the heart of Christ; and, as walking through this world, that on which His heart rested—what formed and characterized His feelings more than the sorrow He went through, save on the cross.” My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work” (John 4:3434Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work. (John 4:34)). Man (no, not even His disciples) never entered into His thoughts. One who sat at His feet once in affection felt that to which He could give a voice but only to bring out more sadly the failure of all else; but He had meat to eat they knew not of. Jehovah was the portion of His cup, nearer than all circumstances which otherwise could have pressed upon His heart as man, and which He fully felt, if we except the cross, or rather indeed more than ever there, for it was the wrath of Jehovah Himself that pressed upon His soul in the cup He then drank. But otherwise so truly was Jehovah the great circumstance and substance of His life in and through everything, that He could only wish that His joy might be fulfilled in His disciples. But then it was from Jehovah only, and therein His perfection; the world was absolutely a dry and thirsty land, where no water was; but Jehovah’s favor was better than life, and was His life practically through a world where all was felt, but felt with Jehovah realized; Jehovah and His favor, the life of His soul, between Him and all. So the Christian, forsaken perhaps and imprisoned: “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice” (Phil. 4:44Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice. (Philippians 4:4)). Nature has circumstances between itself and God; faith has God between the heart and circumstances. And what a difference!
No peace like the peace, which hiding in the tabernacle from the provokings of all men gives. But this is a divine life through the world; Jehovah—we say the Father and the Son, a brighter development through the Son Himself—the permanent portion of the soul, its inheritance; Jehovah, the present joy and strength that fills the soul and gives its taste to life. Compare Psalm 64 and 23. And, thirdly, the blessed confidence that Jehovah maintains our lot. We trust not ourselves, not favorable circumstances, not a mountain which the Lord Himself has made strong, but Jehovah Himself. “Delight thyself also in Jehovah, and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart” (Psa. 37:44Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. (Psalm 37:4)). Faith leans on Jehovah, on the Father’s love and Jesus’; for the securing infallibly happiness and peace we need not look to circumstances, save to pass through them with Him. This was perfect in Christ. He had only this, nor looked for aught else. We see it brightly manifested in Paul. In principle, it is the path of every Christian; and some time or other he is exercised in it. The life of faith is this: God Himself the portion of our inheritance and of our cup; He maintaineth our lot. This is blessedly developed for us in the knowledge of the Father and Son. But the great principle is the same. It is the life of Christ, and this is enjoyed in contrast with and to the exclusion of all else that could become the confidence or the portion of the heart; expressed here in Jewish relationship, but always essentially true.
I may here remark a distinct characteristic of this psalm which comes into greater relief by the contrast of the one which follows. It touches on no circumstances, though it supposes them. It is divine life with God, and it knows and lives in the present consciousness of only Him. We find that there must have been death, hades, and the grave, but they are only mentioned as the occasion of the power and faithfulness of Jehovah. The psalm is man living through, with, and in view of God in this world, and so enjoying Him forever in spite of death. Circumstances are but circumstances, and not the subject of the psalm. Divine life never passes away. “While we look not,” says the apostle, “at the things that are seen, but at the things that are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:1818While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18)). Such is the Christian expression of this. The former part of the phrase, which I do not cite, tells the effect of this as to circumstances, and is to be compared rather with the following psalm. The apostle beautifully expresses life itself in one word: “for to me to live is Christ, and to die,” no wonder, was “gain.” But it is important to remember, that there is an inward divine life which dwells and joys in God, having nothing to do with circumstances, though enabling us to go through them, and in us helped by them, because annulling the flesh and the will, so that we live more entirely of the inward life with God.
But the consequence in the soul is the deep consciousness of blessing. “The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places.” Christ could not have said this in the same way, had He had the kingdom living on earth; nor could we, were we in the garden of Eden, or the world at our disposal. This living relationship with God casts a light, a halo on all; it lights the soul up with such a direct consciousness of divine blessing that nothing is like it, save the full realization of it in the presence of God. A man with God, enjoying Him in a nature capable of doing so with all the necessary conscious result where it shall be fulfilled without a cloud—a man as Christ was in this world with God—is the most perfect joy possible, save the everlasting fulfillment of all known and felt in it. It is not Messiah’s portion, it is that joy of which Christ speaks when He says, “that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves” (John 17:1313And now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves. (John 17:13)). No doubt, He will inherit all things: but I do not think this to be the thought here. This was not the joy set before Him for which He endured the cross and despised the shame. There is “an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for us” (1 Peter 1:44To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, (1 Peter 1:4)). This is known in joying in God. Life has its delight there. In God’s presence is fullness of joy. The lines fallen in pleasant places I believe to be His joy as man in God, and in what was before God. Compare Colossians 3:1-31If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. 2Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. 3For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:1‑3).
In what follows we have the active expression of this life in reference to God. “I will bless Jehovah who hath given me counsel.” We need in divine life the positive instruction of wisdom—counsel; wisdom, a divine clue and direction in the confusion of evil in this world; to be wise concerning that which is good; “not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time ... not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.” Jehovah gives counsel. So if any man “lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not” (James 1:55If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. (James 1:5)). There is the immense privilege of the positive direction and guidance of God, the interest He feels in guiding the godly man aright, in the true path suited to God Himself, across the wilderness where there is no way. For innocence enjoying the blessings of God, there was no need of a way. In a world departed from God what way can be found? It would be to return, but this is impossible; no sinner ever returned to innocence. The way of the tree of life is shut up on that side; but how a way in a world without God? But God can make a way, if He gives a new life, with a new object to that life—Himself as known in heaven—if there is a new creation, and we are new created. Now Christ is a new life, and passes through the world, according to this life, to a new place given to man; and He does so as man, dependent man. God has prepared the path for man endowed with this life, and so for Christ, who was this life, and so the light of men. He has even prepared the special works suited to it: “good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:1010For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)). This last thought indeed goes somewhat beyond our psalm. It at any rate includes the activity of the divine nature in man, and is not limited to the right and holy path of man having this life before God, a thing as important in its place as the other. So Moses asks not, “Show me a way across the desert,” but “Show me now thy way, that I may know thee, that I may find grace in thy sight” (Ex. 33:1313Now therefore, I pray thee, if I have found grace in thy sight, show me now thy way, that I may know thee, that I may find grace in thy sight: and consider that this nation is thy people. (Exodus 33:13)). What Moses sought, Jehovah gives— the counsel and guidance of His love. So Christ walked; so He guides His sheep, going before them; and now we are led of the Spirit of God as ourselves sons of God. It is the divine path of wisdom which “the vulture’s eye hath not seen” (Job 28:77There is a path which no fowl knoweth, and which the vulture's eye hath not seen: (Job 28:7)): the path of man, but of man with the life of God, going towards the presence of God, and the incorruptible inheritance, in an uncorrupted way—the path of God across the world; but God gives counsel for it. There is dependence on God for this, and Christ walked in it. “Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel,” says even the remnant of Israel; as Jehovah in Psalm 32, “I will guide thee with mine eye.” I repeat, He is interested in the guidance of the man of God, and the soul blesses Him. In this path Christ trod. The written word is the great means of this; still there is the direct action of God in us by His Spirit.
But there is also divine intelligence. “My reins also instruct me in the night seasons.” The divine life is intelligent life. I do not separate this from divine grace in us, but it is different from counsel given. We can be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding (Col. 1:9-109For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; 10That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; (Colossians 1:9‑10)). “Why even of yourselves,” says the Lord to the Pharisees, “judge ye not what is right?” (Luke 13:57). Thus, when removed from external influences, the secret workings and thoughts of the heart show what is suited to the path and way of God in the world. A man is spiritually minded and discerns all things. It is the working of life within (in us through grace) on divine things, and in the perception of the divine path, that is well pleasing. In Christ this was perfect, in us in the measure of our spirituality; but that to which the Christian has to give much heed, that he neglect not the holy suggestions and conclusions of the divinely instructed life when free from the influence of surrounding circumstances. It may seem folly, but, if found in humbly waiting on God, will in the end prove His wisdom. It can always be discerned from an exalted imagination.
In the first place, the state of the soul is exactly the opposite, for pretension to special spiritual guidance is never humble. But, besides, the controlling judgment of God’s word, which overrules the whole divine life, is there to judge false pretensions to it. To this divine life is always absolutely subject. Christ, who was this life—yea, was the Word and Wisdom—yet (and because He was) always wholly honored the written word as the guidance and authority of God for man.
But guidance by the Lord is not quite all the practical process of the exercise of divine life. It looks entirely to the Lord. “I have set,” says Christ, walking as man on earth, “Jehovah always before me.” He kept Him always in view. How have our hearts to own that this is not always so! How withdrawn from all evil—how powerful morally in the midst of this world—should we be, were it always so! There is nothing in this world like the dignity of a man always walking with God. Yet nothing is farther from failure in humility: indeed it is here it is perfect. Self-exaltation is neither possible nor desired in the presence and enjoyment of God. What absence of self, what renouncement of all will, what singleness of eye, and hence bright and earnest activity of purpose, when the Lord is the only object and end! I say the Lord, for no other such object can command and sanctify the heart. All would go against duty to Him. He alone can make the whole heart full of light, when duty and purpose of heart go together, and are but one. Indeed this is what James calls “the perfect law of liberty”—perfect obedience, yet perfect purpose of heart, as Jesus says, “that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave me commandment, even so I do” (John 14:3131But that the world may know that I love the Father; and as the Father gave me commandment, even so I do. Arise, let us go hence. (John 14:31)). We say, as Christians, Christ is all, and he that loves Him keeps His commandments.
Thus Jesus set Jehovah always before His face. This is man’s perfection as man. This is the measure of our degree of spirituality, the constancy and purity with which we do this. But if Jesus did this, surely Jehovah could not fail Him nor us. So walking, He maintains the saint in the path which is His own. “I have set the Lord Jehovah always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.” This is known by faith. He may let us suffer for righteousness’ sake (Christ did so)—be put to death (Christ was); but not a hair of our head can He let fall to the ground, nor fail in making us enter into life according to the path in which we walk. But here it is confidence in Jehovah Himself. It is faith; not the question of righteousness in Jehovah, which is in the next psalm. Faith, in walking in the path of man according to God’s will, and towards God solely as the sanctifying end and object, knows that God is at its right hand. Jehovah will secure. How, or through what, is not the question. It will be Jehovah’s security. What strength this gives in passing through a world where all is against us, and what sanctifying power it has! There is no motive, no resource, but Jehovah, which could satisfy any other craving, or by which the heart desires to secure itself in seeking aught else.
Hence, come what would, Christ waited patiently for Jehovah, looked for no other deliverance. Nor have we to seek any other, and this makes the way perfect. We turn not aside to make the path easier. And to this the psalm turns. Death was before Christ. As Abraham was called to slay his son in whom the promises were to be fulfilled, Christ, as living on the earth, had to renounce all the promises to which He was entitled, and life with them.
The sorrow of this to Him—for He felt all perfectly—is depicted in Psalm 102 but as Abraham trusted Jehovah, and received Isaac from the dead in a figure, so the Lord here, the leader and finisher of faith, trusts Jehovah in view of His own death—is perfect in trust in it. He had set Jehovah always before Him. He was at His right hand: therefore His heart was glad, and His glory rejoiced; His flesh rested in hope, for the Jehovah He trusted would not leave His soul in hades, nor suffer His Holy One to see corruption. “Holy One” is not here the same as “saints that are in the earth.” “Saints” are those set apart—consecrated to God. Thy “Holy” One is one walking in piety, agreeable to God. It is Christ known in this character. He is also given this name in Psalm 89:1919Then thou spakest in vision to thy holy one, and saidst, I have laid help upon one that is mighty; I have exalted one chosen out of the people. (Psalm 89:19), where read “of thy holy one.” Remark that it is “thy Holy One,” One who morally belongs to God by the perfection of His character. Christians are such, only full of imperfections. They are saints, set apart to God, but they are also—and are to walk as—the “elect of God, holy and beloved” (Col. 3:1212Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; (Colossians 3:12)); and as such to put on the character of grace, in which Christ walked. The former part of Colossians 3 displays this life at large in us. Ephesians 1:44According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: (Ephesians 1:4) shows it in its perfection in result. This confidence of the pious soul in the faithfulness of Jehovah, the reasoning of faith from this nature that it could not be otherwise, and the consciousness of relationship with God as His delight, is very beautiful here. It is not, “thou wilt raise me”; but it is not possible in the thought of One in whom is the power of life, that Jehovah should leave the soul that has this life in hades, far from Him in death, and the object of His delight to sink into corruption.
This moral confidence and conclusion is exceedingly beautiful. “It was not,” says Peter, “possible that he should be holden of it” (Acts 2:2424Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it. (Acts 2:24)). This may include His Person, but His power cannot be separated from this grace. The same confidence, flowing from life, is manifested as to Jehovah’s showing Him the path of life. It is the perfection of faith as to life, but in Jehovah. “Thou wilt show me the path of life,” perhaps through death; for there, if He was to be perfect with God, this path led—but not to stay there, or it were not a path of life, Jehovah could show Him no other. Man had taken, in spite of warning, the path of death—the path of his own will and disobedience; but Christ comes, the obedient Man. There was no path for man in paradise, no natural path of life in the desert of sin. Man had not life in himself; but what path of the new divine life in man could there be for man in the world of sin, amongst men already departed from God? The law had indeed proposed one, but it only brought out the sinfulness of man’s nature. The knowledge of sin was by it, and its exceeding sinfulness. Christ, who had life, no doubt, could have kept it, yea, did so, because in Him was no sin, but there He was in this wholly dissociated from us who are sinners. He was alone, separate from sinners. But in a path of faith He could be associated with those quickened by the word—confessors of sin, not keepers of law, judges of all evil, separated by quickening grace from sinners, and treading the path of faith across the world, not of it, towards the full issue of this divine life, which was not here, which must go through the death of flesh. He had nothing to judge, nothing to confess, nothing to die to or for in Himself; but He could walk in the holy path of faith across the world in which they, as renewed, had to walk. But for them this holy path was necessarily death, for theirs was a life of sin. He could have abode alone, and had twelve legions of angels, and gone on high; but, speaking reverently, though this would have been righteous as to Him, there was no sense in His becoming a man for this.
And not only does He die for them (for expiation is not the subject of this psalm, but life) but, having set out to go with, yea, before them, He treads this path through death, that He may destroy its power for us, and treads it alone, as He had overcome Satan’s power in this world, and now destroyed it in death too—treads it alone. The disciples could not follow Him there, till He had destroyed Satan’s power in it. “Thou canst not follow me now; but thou shalt follow me afterward” (John 13:3636Simon Peter said unto him, Lord, whither goest thou? Jesus answered him, Whither I go, thou canst not follow me now; but thou shalt follow me afterwards. (John 13:36)). No earnestness of human will, no affection, could abide there.
But when dead to sin, and strengthened with the strength of Christ, he could let another bind him and carry him (as Jesus did) whither nature would not. Christ then associated Himself from John’s baptism with these saints in the earth—trod the path, only perfectly apart from sin, and only with God, doing His will, showed this path of life in man; then, having died to sin, and, in the full result of this life in its own place, where no evil is, lives to God. He did so by faith, when down on earth, always; but as man, in a world apart from God, and taking the word as His guide, living by every word that came out of the mouth of God, as we have to do. The resurrection demonstrated the perfectness of a life which was always according to the Spirit of holiness; but now He lives in it in its own place, and this is what, though through death, in an undiscontinued life, He anticipates. “In thy presence is fulness of joy.” This, always His delight, was now His perfect enjoyment, and “at thy right hand” (divine power had brought Him to this place of power and acceptance—the witness of His being perfectly acceptable to God) are “pleasures for evermore.”
Such is life, as life is with God, life shown as man in this world, associating itself with the saints on the earth, and treading their path (not Christ uniting them to Himself), life before God, and looking ever at Him: a life which, though free from sin, neither innocence nor sinful man could know, which in fact had not to be lived in paradise, which could not be lived as belonging to the world, but which was lived to God through it, setting Jehovah always before it as its object. Such is the life we have to live. “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:2020I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)). Christ, as the psalm shows us, lived the life of faith, and never of anything but faith; and this was His perfection. In this world there is no other for a man, a life which has no object but the Lord Himself.
This is a wonderful point—not one object in the world at all. For otherwise it is not faith, but sight, or lust. Innocent man had no object; he enjoyed in peace God’s goodness. Man, departed from God, had many objects; but all these separate his heart from God, and end in death. Morally separated from God he may find a famine in the land, but has in no way God for his object. But the new life which comes down from the Father looks up with desire to its source, and becomes the nature in man which tends towards God, has the Son of God for its object—as Paul says, “that I may win Christ.” This life has no portion in this world at all; and, as life in man, looks to God, leans on God, and seeks no other assurance or prop, obeys God, and can live only by faith. But this is a man’s life, it does not extend to God. God, as such, is holy, is righteous, is love; but cannot, it is evident, live by faith. He is its object. Nor is it exactly an angel’s life, though they are holy, obedient, and loving. It is man’s life, living wholly for and towards God in a world departed from Him— hence, towards Him and by faith; for it is not merely that they serve in it: that angels can do. But though not morally of it, for the life is come down from heaven, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (John 17:1414I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. (John 17:14)). Yet, as to their place as man, they are of it, and hence have to live, in order not to be of it morally, objectively entirely out of it; thus having to say to God, or it would be idolatry.
But thus, while it is a man’s life, and no more as such, yet it must be absolutely for God according to His nature: and it lives, in that it lives, to God. The living Father had sent Christ, and He lived on account of the Father, “so he that eateth me, even he shall live on account of me” (John 6:5757As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. (John 6:57)). God is the measure of perfection in motive—hence, hereafter in enjoyment, and a heart wholly formed on Him. This life of man Christ led, and filled the whole career of. Out of this Satan wanted Him to come in the wilderness, and have a will—make the stones bread, distrust—try if the Lord would fulfill His promise or fail Him, have an object—the kingdoms of the world. This last destroyed the very nature of the life, and Satan is openly detected and dismissed. Christ would not come out of man’s dependent, obedient, place of unquestioning trust in Jehovah. His path here was with the excellent of the earth, perfect in the life which was come down from heaven, but which was lived on earth, looking up to heaven.
Whatever our privileges in union with Christ, it is all-important for the Christian to live in the fear and faith of God, according to the life of Christ. It is not man’s responsibility without law or under law as a child of Adam; it is all over with us on that ground. It is the responsibility of the new life of faith, which is a pilgrim and a stranger here—a life come down from heaven (“God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life”), but a life which man lives in passing through this world, yet wholly out of it in its object—a life of faith, which finds in God’s presence fullness of joy. A man’s life does not extend to God, though perfect for God, and in its delight in God. Such was Christ, though He was much more than this. Such are we as far as we are Christians; only we have to remember that the development of this life in us is not, as in the psalm, in connection with the name of Jehovah, but with the full revelation of the Father and the Son. The blessed One who thus lived as man on earth is as man at God’s right hand, where are pleasures for evermore, with Him in whose presence is fullness of joy. His flesh saw no corruption, and His soul was not left in hades. For this joy set before Him, He despised the shame and endured the cross, the leader and finisher of faith.
This psalm gives us the inward spiritual life of Christ, and so ours, ending in the highest joy of God’s presence.
Psalm 17 considers this life practically here below and in respect to its difficulties with man opposed to what is right. The state of the soul is still marked by entire dependence on God, but, as to integrity towards God, and as against man, the soul can plead righteousness. Still it does not avenge itself, but casts itself entirely on God, and thus gets the fruits of His righteous dealings. This is a great secret of practical wisdom not avenging self—the patience of the new life in the midst of evil, and looking, and leaving all to God. This supposes the righteous path as man of the divine life, which therefore can appeal to God’s necessary judgment about it, knowing what He is, and also trusting in Him; but even here deliverance is sought, not vengeance, only the disappointing the plans of wickedness. If we have not walked uprightly, still confidence in God is our true place. He spares and restores in mercy most graciously; but this, though other psalms take it up, is not the subject of this psalm. Here it is the righteous life which God looks at and vindicates against the men of this world, for it is Christ, and Christians as far as they live the life of Christ. Immediately, as ever, it is Christ and the remnant. Jehovah hears the righteous, and the prayer which goes not out of feigned lips.
Remark, that in this psalm the life of Christ is supposed and found to meet opposition, and oppression in the world from the men of this world. We have seen how separated it was, associated with the excellent of the earth, passing as a stranger through it, though humanly in it. But then faith—and this shows how entirely Jehovah is still looked to—sees that the men of this world are the men of God’s hand. They serve to prove the heart, and, in us who are ever in danger to slip into the world, to keep us strangers in it. Still God delivers from them. Christ, for blessed reasons, was not delivered, yet as freely giving Himself. The heart has the sense of righteousness here, and hence counts on deliverance; but there is no spirit of vengeance. It is the Spirit of Christ Himself, and hence above the spirit of the remnant, and much more the Christian spirit. There is the consciousness of righteousness and of integrity, but entire dependence on the Lord in respect of it, not as regards justification—it is not the question here— but confidence. “I know nothing by myself,” says Paul, “yet am I not hereby justified” (1 Cor. 4:44For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord. (1 Corinthians 4:4)). Again, “if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence towards God” (1 John 3:11Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. (1 John 3:1)). So Jesus: “The Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him” (John 8:2929And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him. (John 8:29)). There is the consciousness of righteousness and confidence in God. And the heart appeals to Him, because of righteousness. And all this is right, thinks rightly of God, and trusts to God that He will not be inconsistent with Himself, and cannot be. If there be desire of vengeance, we have sunk below this.
Remark the further traits of the conscious life. It is not merely righteous walk, but a proved heart, where the secret movements of the heart are alone with God. When the reins instruct, God proves, but nothing is found. This, absolutely true of Christ, is true of the Christian as to the purpose of his heart, and so far as he keeps nothing back, nothing reserved from God. This can be, though then in utter humiliation, where even there has been failure. “Thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee.” So in Job. He held fast the consciousness of his integrity—not that he had not failed. The shortcomings of nature had to be checked and judged, and this he only did when humbled in the presence of God. He had for a long while, as God witnesses, held fast his integrity in every sense. He did as with God all through, but did not know himself as this was needed. Christ ever walked so, and the provings of His heart only found integrity to God.
There was purpose: His mouth also should not transgress. He was a perfect man, as James says. Next, as regards the works of men, for He walked as a man in this world, the word was His absolute rule. By it He kept Himself from the paths of the destroyer. But there is no pride, but entire dependence on Jehovah in the right path. “Hold up my goings in thy paths, that my footsteps slip not.” Such was the practical life of Christ in this world. This was His life and walk in itself.
In what follows from verse 6 it is shown in looking to God as regards the opposition and oppression of the wicked. He looks for Jehovah’s loving-kindness as his sole stay in the presence of his enemies. This, again, is perfection. His path was with God; no yielding to please men and be spared; no complaint that he had not his portion in this world. He sees the success and prosperity of the men of this world, without envy. Faith fully tried is faith still. If we trust the Lord and have Him for our portion, we have courage to walk in His path and not find nature satisfied; but this is faith. If this be not so, there will be some craving after what the natural heart could have, and so danger of yielding in order to have what nature craves and the world gives—after all, husks that perish. But the human heart must have something. If it has the Lord, it suffices, but this tests it. Here we have perfection in respect of the heart and path in this world. The great secret is to have the heart filled with Christ, and so be in the path at God’s will. Thus there is no room for will and acts which harass the soul, and of which self is always the center, as Christ is in the heart walking in faith. Hence His presence in righteousness is what is before the soul as the blessed result. It is in righteousness.
It is not the absolute joy in God of Psalm 16, but the righteousness which gives joy in His presence for those who have suffered for it and by it here below in God’s paths, in an opposing world, an absence or denial of self. “God is not unrighteous to forget” (Heb. 6:1010For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labor of love, which ye have showed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister. (Hebrews 6:10)). “It is a righteous thing with God to recompense ... to you who are troubled rest with us” (2 Thess. 1:6-76Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; 7And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, (2 Thessalonians 1:6‑7)). And the heart, too, is satisfied, not here exactly with what God is, but with what we are. “I shall be satisfied when I awake with thy likeness”; so “we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:22Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)). We are predestinated “to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom. 8:2929For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. (Romans 8:29)). Holy delight in God, having Him always before the face, leads to perfect delight and joy in God when His presence makes it full. Faithfulness internal and external, to God in the midst of an opposing and perhaps oppressing world, leads to righteous recompense of glory and God’s presence in righteousness. Both are perfect in Christ, and through Christ, the portion of the saints.
Verses 7, 11, give the general application to those associated with Christ; still, though applicable to the remnant, the psalm gives the proper perfection of Christ and so of the Christian. Deliverance now is looked for in this psalm, not in Psalm 16. There it was the perfect passage of life with God through death, up to fullness of joy in Him in His presence. Here righteous deliverance from men is looked for. And for this— though we may be honored with martyrdom, according to the pattern of Christ’s sufferings—the Christian may look. “The Lord shall deliver me,” says the apostle, “from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom” (2 Tim. 4:1818And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (2 Timothy 4:18)). The soul may confidently and entirely trust God, as against all the machinations of the wicked, as walking in the path of righteousness. God saves such by His right hand. He may trust for restoration, if he has failed; but there is a path of righteousness which Christ has traced here below in a world of sin, and left the blessed track of His steps, and the witness of the movements of His heart, for us to walk in and live by.
Psalm 18 is of the deepest interest, as regards the interpretation, presenting as it does the sufferings of Christ as the center of all the deliverance of Israel. His cry there called out upon Israel all the favor of God in power. But I have not a great deal to say upon it, for that very reason, in its application to us. The great principle developed—and it is a precious one— is the cry to a trusted God in distress, which He surely hears. Of this Christ is the example, as elsewhere. “This poor man cried, and Jehovah heard him.” Only that here it is not, as in Psalm 34, tender commiseration towards the suffering poor; but the interest that Jehovah takes in a suffering Christ, who has walked in perfect obedience to the law. The psalm is a psalm of praise, because He has been heard and Jehovah known as a rock and a deliverer; but this, as often remarked, is the result expressed in the first verses, and what leads to it is then pursued.
“I will call upon Jehovah,” for His name it is, and His alone, the God of His people, which inspires confidence. It is His name which is celebrated, but what has drawn all His praise out is the answer to the cry raised to Him in distress in the midst of enemies, in the sorrows of death. In that distress Jehovah heard out of His temple. This associates it at once with the earth, and deliverance, and triumph there. But another point of the highest interest does so too—obedience to the law laid as the ground of His being heard in the day of distress (vss. 20-26). The righteous obedience on earth and dependence of Messiah on Jehovah, calling on Him in distress, brought Him earthly deliverance and earthly triumph. The two previous psalms look onward to heavenly blessing, though the latter of them for the disappointment of the enemy also; and the hope held out is heavenly, the righteousness not legal; but in the former the heart set on Jehovah, in the latter a heart right with God, and in this world, and looking for righteousness.
Here, in Psalm 18, there is obedience to His statutes, a cry in distress even to the pains of death, and deliverance, and triumph on the earth. Such is the result of the legal righteousness of Christ when in distress, in the midst of the floods of ungodly men and His strong enemy.
Note, it is the power of men and death, and His crying thus to God, and His cry comes before Him—in no way God’s hand upon Him as suffering for sin. Messiah’s legal righteousness and distress bring earthly triumph and supremacy to David and to his seed. It is the government of God (see verses 25-26), having regard to righteousness on the earth which in Christ was perfect. But this, perfectly accomplished when Christ’s enemies are put under His feet, is not actually so now, because God prepared His saints for a heavenly dwelling and joy, and, during all the proving of the first Adam, shows by their trials that their rest is not here.
Still there are some precious points for every soul. In uprightness and suffering through it, he can surely count upon God; and remark here that there interest and sympathy of God, awakening in us the blessedest affections, are sweetly shown. The Lord hears when we call in distress, and in the greatest depths we can have confidence, and what ought to seem to shut us out from it is just the occasion of it.
The psalm instructs us thus to call upon the Lord in distress, come how or why it may, to call on the Lord; and thus not only the deliverance is known, but the Lord is known in His sympathy, and kindness, and interest in us. I love Jehovah, he says; or rather the heart turns to Jehovah Himself and says, “I will love thee, O Jehovah, my strength,” and then the heart thinks of all He is for us. “Jehovah is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, the horn of my salvation, and my high tower.” The heart enlarges in the sense of what He has been for us. And so He is. Though our deliverances may not be exactly of the same kind, yet difficulties and distress often beset us, and there is deliverance in crying to the Lord. Note also, there are holy affections drawn out by the dealings of the Lord, as by His eternal salvation, holy and confiding affections, piety; not merely praise, because He has redeemed us forever, but daily exercise of sympathy and tender thoughts of compassion. He cannot bear to see us suffer, save when needed, and there are trials which draw out love to Him. Surely He says, “Is Ephraim is my dear son?...for since I spake against him, I do earnestly remember him still” (Jer. 31:2020Is Ephraim my dear son? is he a pleasant child? for since I spake against him, I do earnestly remember him still: therefore my bowels are troubled for him; I will surely have mercy upon him, saith the Lord. (Jeremiah 31:20)). There indeed it was the remembrance of him when under chastisement. Here it is suffering in integrity, but at bottom there is integrity in the Christian, and in Christ. He can cry in that distress. The psalm, however, is the cry of a holy and calm spirit, confiding in God and finding the abundant results in His faithfulness. The heart is drawn to Himself. In Psalm 16, 17 and 18, we have found Christ Himself—His personal position, the joy set before Him in heaven, and His final triumph on earth as suffering when legally righteous.
In Psalm 19-21 we have the godly remnant contemplating the different testimonies presented to the responsibility of man. A few remarks on each are called for.
First, there is the testimony of creation, and in particular the heavens, for the earth has been given to man and is corrupt. Here, remark, God is spoken of, not Jehovah—His hope in God as such. Hence the godly man sees that the witness goes out into all lands, and that the Gentiles are the objects of God’s testimony. This is a very important point, which the Jews ought to have understood, and which Paul, by the Holy Spirit, did understand, citing this psalm to show it—not resting on what the testimony was, but on the fact that the testimony of God went out into all lands to the ends of the earth. The godly man can delight in this testimony to the glory of His God; but he sees it reaches out to all. He enters into and understands the penetrating pervading character of this testimony, and that it is God who is witnessed to by it. Such, I add, will be the estimate of the restored remnant in the last days. See Psalm 148.
But the godly man estimates the experimental excellence of the law of Jehovah also; and, though of course for Israel it was the law as given by Moses, we must take it here as the testimony of the word of God to the conscience. I say the conscience, because it is not the revelation of the riches of grace, or the unfolding of the Person of Christ and the ways of God in Him, but the testimony of God’s word respecting man, to the conscience of man, even when it is taken in the largest sense. He does not say the law of God here, but “the law of Jehovah,” a God known in covenant relationship. His law is given to His people, to His servants. It is perfect, the exact mind of God as to what man ought to be before God, according to God’s will, now that evil is known; but man’s mind is not such, even when the law of God is delighted in. It sets the soul therefore right. One has the consciousness of its doing so: for the soul, having life, appreciates it when revealed (though it may not have had it in mind), and is livingly susceptible of its truth. It has living power as the word of God for him who lives. But where it is not forgotten, there is enlightening and direction. It is pure and enlightens the eyes, gives to see clearly when we were obscure in heart and spirituality. But the psalm connects this with the state of the heart. There is a reference, not merely to the law, but to the Lord Himself—the effect of the sense of God’s presence in the conscience, the fear of the Lord—the introduction of God into everything, and the reference of the heart to Him, and the judgment which He has of everything. This is clean; no spot can remain there, and it is an eternal principle, for it depends on the nature of God Himself. Further, God’s dealings and ways as pronounced (for “judgments” include that, as well as judgments executed—He does show His judgment of things in His chastisements—but in general every judgment He forms, however shown) are true and righteous altogether. But they are not only this, but as gold, and the honeycomb to the faithful; they are the expressions of God’s mind, and that is infinitely precious and sweet to the saints.
But, besides this, the heart is in the midst of dangers and human tendencies, which draw us far from God. The judgments of the Lord on all human conduct warn us: for the joy of the word, and, in the case of the Christian, of heaven, do not suffice. We need the wisdom and prudence which can point out a divine path in the confusion of evil, to guide our steps out of the reach of evil here. God’s word meets us even here. And in keeping His judgments there is great reward, great positive blessing and peace of heart here. The soul is happy with God, and walks in peace through the world; and, as a Christian, the heart is thus wholly free to serve others.
Remark that it is not merely what the law is, but what the heart knows it to be: the servant of Jehovah is warned by it. There is delight in it, according to the new nature, and the consciousness of relationship; for we are servants of God, though we have higher, more intimate and glorious, relationships. But in this confidence the effect of this nearness is to turn the eye to another point: the want of full self-knowledge, distrust of self. “Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret [faults].” In many things, although delighting in the word, and appreciating it when thinking of it, I may not have judged my own heart, or be able morally to prove it, so as to judge it according to that perfection: for there is growth in spiritual judgment. But there is integrity and confidence in the Lord, and he demands to be cleansed from his secret faults, and to be kept from all presumptuous faults—what one would commit with open disregard of God. Thus he would be undefiled, and be kept with God, not turning aside to idols or vanity. For small and neglected sins and unjudged confidence of heart lead to forgetfulness of God, and denial of Him in the truth. I do not speak here of security by grace, but of the path in which these evils lead.
Finally, the true desire of the heart is shown, that the words of the mouth, and the meditations of the heart, may be acceptable in God’s sight. This is the true test of a godly life, when good is sought inwardly, when only in God’s sight: the research of good with God, not before man or in the knowledge of man. I speak not of hypocrisy, but of walking with God. But in all true righteousness God is owned as our Rock and Redeemer; for we cannot be “with” Him, with the real apprehensions of a new life, without feeling our need of Him in both characters.
Psalm 20 and 21, as remarked elsewhere, present to us the third witness presented to the responsibility of men—Christ. But this is not our only subject here: Psalm 20 shows us the profound interest which the heart takes in watching the Faithful One in His sorrows—in a Jewish form no doubt; still, as elsewhere, the substance is the same for us. It is still confidence in Jehovah which characterizes the feeling of Him who speaks; for the God of Jacob is before His thoughts. There is faith in Him in this relationship. Yet Messiah is seen in the trials and questions of His life here below, walking but in piety towards Jehovah, and in dependence on Him. Nothing can show Christ more completely as a man than this. The Anointed is saved, that is, delivered, and heard. The whole heart of the godly is wrapped up in this. But the remnant see yet farther here, as Israel ought to have done; they see Him answered in His demand for life by a most glorious one forever in the immediate light of God’s countenance, with which He is made glad, and after that, His right hand finding out all His enemies and destroying them. But, even in all this (as in John 17 where one sees at the same time that He must be one with the Father), Messiah receives all from Jehovah as a man, and is so viewed by the godly. And so was He presented by Peter. His privilege is the favor of Jehovah; His piety, confidence in Jehovah. This link is what occupies the godly, who are thus profoundly attached to Messiah, and this was in effect what characterized Christ— seeking His Father’s glory, and in nothing His own. So Jehovah associates Himself entirely with Him as in Psalm 21:99Thou shalt make them as a fiery oven in the time of thine anger: the Lord shall swallow them up in his wrath, and the fire shall devour them. (Psalm 21:9), as the godly does on his side also. And as Messiah is exalted by Jehovah in spite of His enemies, so is Jehovah exalted in His glory in doing it; and so it is the remnant, equally interested, exalt and praise the power of Jehovah.
This linking up the interests of the godly, bound in heart to Messiah—Messiah and Jehovah, as characterizing the piety of the godly, is full of beauty and interest. Yet, in His life, Christ never took this title with His disciples. He would lead them farther. He was Son of man, and spoke of His Father as being Himself Son of God. “My Father,” said He to the Jews, “of whom ye say, that he is your God” (John 8:5454Jesus answered, If I honor myself, my honor is nothing: it is my Father that honoreth me; of whom ye say, that he is your God: (John 8:54)). All the moral qualities of Messiah, Son of God, He had, but He was weaning His disciples from the earthly associations to higher and heavenly ones; and this shows us the need there is in all our use of the Psalms to make this difference. We see with the profoundest interest the sorrows and sufferings of Christ, but it is from a higher point of view; we look not at His official place and then humiliation, but the divine and perfect love in which He emptied Himself and came down and took the form of a servant, and was found in fashion as a man, and passed with a purpose of love across the trials and sorrows of this world of sorrow; and we see His glory in it. The truth is much more deeply taught in the New Testament. Still the way Christ is presented as a true dependent Man, and His piety in this dependence is most instructive to us who can add the deeper truth from the revelation of the Son of God. The word of life in it is seen.
In commenting on Psalm 22, our part here is not to unfold the blessed doctrine contained in it, in the introduction of grace on a wholly new footing (namely, redemption, and the death of Christ), which rose above and closed all mere human responsibilities in grace. We have rather to pursue the feelings and thoughts of Christ. For —the piety of this part of the Psalms is the piety of Christ Himself. Nor is anything more instructive or sanctifying. Nothing deepens our own piety so much. This then shall be our subject now. The Lord enable us to tread reverently here!
We find what called out the special cry of the Savior—a cry which, till that bitter cup had been fully drunk, could not be heard. There is progress and completeness in the utterance of these sorrows. Violence, unrestrained and full of rage, surrounded Him—bulls of Bashan, ravening and roaring lions. It was no haughty strength of man which met this. He must meet and feel it in the meekness of His nature, and know the weakness of human nature, though never the sin, save bearing it. He was poured out like water. All His bones are out of joint: His heart melted like wax in the midst of His bowels. His strength is dried up like a potsherd: His tongue cleaves to His jaws. But here there is no stopping, nor could He do so, at second causes. He is down in the dust of death; but Jehovah has brought Him there. The point here is His state, the dust of death: only He looks at the real source of all, at the thoughts and counsels of Jehovah. This is perfection in this respect: entire sensibility as to, and moral perception of, the character of the enemies, who are the instruments of our suffering; but looking, through it all, to the ways and wisdom and will of God, and God in faithful relationship to us, the true source of all. But, besides the violence which, instrumentally, had brought the gentle and unresisting Savior, dumb as a sheep before His shearers, to the dust of death— had violently dragged away and mocked Him whose simple presentation of Himself had made all fall to the ground—there was the manifestation of the character of men, when, through His own giving Himself up, He was in their power. Dogs encompassed Him—creatures without heart or conscience— without shame or feeling, whose pleasure was in the shame of another, and insults offered to Him who made no resistance, in outrages to the righteous. They were wicked as well as violent. They stared and looked upon Him. How must the Savior have felt their shameless and heartless insults—His exposure, naked to the hardened eye of those who rejoiced in iniquity and in His shame! They amuse themselves with appropriating His garments. The vesture of the Innocent was an affair of dice or casting lots. No eye to pity, none to help. Trouble was there: He looks on Jehovah, entreating Him not to be far from Him, and, if He has no strength, Jehovah as His strength to be near.
And here we approach the deeper part of this solemn hour. In the utmost trials from man, when no eye was there to pity, no hand to help, He looks to Jehovah, the covenant God of Israel’s and Messiah’s faith. But here, O mystery of mysteries! there was no help either, but only infinite perfection (for infinite it now must be) in the Blessed One. He is still associated here with Israel as to His place in the psalm, whatever the efficacy of that work, in this great turning-point of divine history, this central definition and solution of the question of good and evil, that in which it was settled for eternity. The God of Israel was to leave Him, and destroy the enmity, and rend the veil which, in Israel, concealed God; that, in the full result of divine love by righteousness, grace might reign through righteousness unto eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord, for every believer, Jew or Gentile, and for the complete glory of God in heaven and earth. We still, remark, find the necessary difference of Christ in the Psalms and in the Gospels. There it is as Son (save in His forsaking) He speaks, saying, “Father, forgive them”; and afterward, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:4646And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost. (Luke 23:46)). Here it is, “Be not Thou far from me, O Jehovah.” He seeks help for Himself from the God of Israel, His God. And such is the result. It is the remnant gathered; and then all Israel, the millennial nations, and the people to be born—those who are the called and blessed fruit of this work. We do not rise up to heaven. Having made this remark, as important to the right use of the Psalms, which we find has its place even in what is said of the cross itself in the Psalm 1 turn to the character of faith and piety found here in the Blessed One, in His trust as come in the midst of Israel, in Jehovah. For of Israel, “as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever” (Rom. 9:55Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen. (Romans 9:5)).
There is the deepest consciousness of His own outwardly abject state and desertion, and that in painful contrast with every faithful soul—a circumstance wonderfully calculated to produce in the human heart irritation and despondency, that is, a forgetfulness of what God was, if this had been possible with Jesus. “I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people.” Nor was this all. The blessed Savior, He who had been cast upon Jehovah from the womb, whose hope Jehovah had been from His mother’s breast, who had sought His will and glorified His name, had to declare before all, and in presence of the taunts and mockery of His adversaries, that God had forsaken Him. How deep this trial was morally, none but He could tell who passed through it. It was in the proportion of the love He enjoyed and lived in, and His faithfulness to it. We speak of trial and piety, not of expiation, here.
In all this, and through all this, the blessed Savior is perfect towards Jehovah. First, His trust is perfect. He says not Jehovah; for the relationship was not then in exercise as it was with His Father in Gethsemane; but He says, “My God, my God.” Whatever the dreadful forsaking was, His perfect faith in God and devotedness to God, as the only One He owned, remains absolute and unshaken. His is perfect, absolutely perfect, as Man, subjectively.
But this is shown in another point. Whatever the sufferings of Christ—notwithstanding the fact that in His path there was no cause for His being forsaken—His testimony to God, His sense of the perfectness of His ways and nature, remains the same, yea, more elevated. “But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.” Let God abandon the righteous, the righteous One is sure He is perfect in doing so. Nothing can express more completely the perfection of Christ as man, His position as such, how He had taken the place of “my goodness extendeth not to thee.” He is not here contemplating the counsels of God, and understanding their accomplishment, which He had Himself undertaken. It is the dependent man feeling the trial as it reached Himself as man, but perfect and faithful when, as regards His feelings, there was no answer of God in trials wherein He counted on it, and it alone was to be counted on.
We can answer the question, “Why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:4646And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46)). We shall answer it, who believe in Jesus, with everlasting adoration. But it is of the last importance for us, not only to know that Christ has by Himself purged our sins, having drunk the cup of wrath, but to know Christ as suffering personally under this forsaking of God—His own entrance as man into the sense as regards Himself of this forsaking—His own personal sorrow in it; because, though He were wholly alone in it, it leads us to that joy which He felt in entering, again and more than ever, into the full unclouded light of His Father’s countenance—consequent on, and according to, the value of redemption, and the full resting of the necessary delight of God in Him and His acceptance, as having perfectly glorified Him when sin had put all in confusion. So that all that God was, as brought out by sin (for sin brought out sovereign love, righteousness, truth, vindicated majesty), was perfectly revealed and glorified. His own sufferings, I say, lead us to that joy into which Christ entered with His God and Father as man; and which, as all this was accomplished in a work wrought for our sins, He communicates to us, introducing us into the full blessedness into which He is entered as Man. In the work He was alone; but it was for us, while for the divine glory; and He introduces us into the blessedness, as that which He enjoys in consequence of it.
This is the second part of the psalm, as to which I will only now refer to the sentiments of Christ. He has been heard from the horns of the unicorn, transpierced by the power of death, God’s judgment against sin being executed and passed.
I have remarked elsewhere the very instructive fact, that Christ never speaks in the gospels, during His life, of God as His God, but always as the Father. This was the impression of His own personal relationship, the name too that He revealed to His disciples. He never directly calls Himself the Christ in the Gospel history; not that He was not presented as such to Israel, for He was, but it is not the place and name He takes Himself with God and His Father, which is the way we have to know Him. When the Jews say to Him, “If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly,” He says, “I told you and ye believed not”; but as revealed to us, He is Emmanuel, the Prophet that should come, the Son of man, the Son of God. The word He uses with and of God, is ever Father and My Father; with His disciples, Son of man. In the psalm we are studying we read, My God, My God. He is man with whom God deals in judgment, but man, even if forsaken, perfect in His own relationship with God in faith; He says, My God.
Now He declares the name of God to His brethren, and employs both these titles—man gone to the extreme of trial with God, standing as regards all that God is in righteousness, truth, majesty, love. My God, all that God is in His own perfection and majesty and claim, He is necessarily and obligedly, though in the delight of His love, for us as in Christ, doubtless according to His own counsels, but righteously, and thus necessarily, and unalterably for us. What He is as God, He is as our God, for through Christ—Christ proved on the cross—He is for us, and that, sin being put away by Christ’s sacrifice of Himself. The cloudless perfection of God shines out on us in His own proper blessedness, as on Christ, in virtue of His having glorified Him, in the perfection in which He thus shines out.
His name (that is, the true reality of His relationship) is declared to us. The gracious name and nature of God was declared on earth by Christ, who was the only begotten Son in the bosom of the Father. But with that sinful man, at enmity with God, could have no part or association. The light shines in darkness; the darkness comprehended it not. Yea, man saw and hated Him, and His Father. But Christ was made sin for us, stood as man responsible before God, with God in all these attributes in which He dealt with sin, but was perfect there; that love might righteously have its free course. Hence He says, “I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!” (Luke 12:5050But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished! (Luke 12:50)). For He was that love—God in Christ reconciling, till it could flow out according to the perfection of God in righteousness; but it could not flow out freely where sin was. This, through the cross, through Christ’s perfection, when He was made sin for us, it could; yea, love was exalted, and the very character of God made good in and by it, His name (the very name which was to be revealed) made good by it. Hence Christ could say, “therefore doth my Father love me” (John 10:1717Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. (John 10:17)). But then Christ entered in a still more supreme degree into the joy of His Father’s love, and all this as man. He does so when heard. It was publicly made good and evident in resurrection. He was raised by the glory of the Father. Then He declares this name to His brethren. For now sin being man’s only place with God out of Christ, he who believed had in Christ Christ’s place as raised from the dead, in the relationship in which He stands with the Father; and, death having come in, no other. Go and tell my brethren, said the Lord, “I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God” (John 20:1717Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God. (John 20:17)). Now, He employs both titles, and applies them both to us, both because all that God is He is in righteousness for Him as Man in glory, and He is re-entered into the joy of His Father’s communion, and places us, in virtue of this work wrought for us, in the position in which He is, as His brethren, partakers through grace of the favor and heritage which is His.
I have entered more into the doctrine connected with the psalm than I intended, though it has been practically: for the feelings and affections of Christ are my object now. Remark that the first thought of Christ, when heard from the horns of the unicorn, is to declare the name of God and His Father to His brethren—now glorious, but not ashamed to call us brethren. Perfect in love, attached to these excellent of the earth, He turns (when once He is entered into the position of joy and blessing through a work which gave them the title to enter) to reveal to them what placed them in the same position with Himself. Thus He gathered them; and then, having awakened their voices to the same praise as that which He was to offer, He raises the blessed note as Man, and sings praise in the midst of the assembly. Oh, with what loud voices and ready hearts we ought to follow Him! And note, he who is not clear in acceptance and the joy of sonship with God, in virtue of redemption, cannot sing with Christ. He sings praises in the midst Of the assembly. Who sings with Him? He who has learned the song, which he has learned to sing as come out of judgment into the full light and joy of acceptance. Ephesians 1:3-43Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: 4According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: (Ephesians 1:3‑4) shows us this place. Here we have the saints led by Jesus in praise according to His own joy. The grace of this position is perfect. The further results of the work I do not enter on here, save to remark that all is grace, no judgment (it is founded on it), and nothing goes beyond earth here.
Psalm 23 is so ordered by the Spirit as to apply to a dying Christ, or a saint who follows His footsteps, or the preserved remnant. It does not consider the sufferings of Christ from God, or from man, nor those of the faithful, save as mere facts and occasions of Jehovah’s care. Its subject is “Jehovah is my Shepherd”—the constant unfailing care exercised by Him. It is a life spent under His care and eye, come what will, the experience it affords, and the assurance that Jehovah’s love gives to the end and forever. It is not what He gives which assures the heart, but Himself. “Jehovah is my Shepherd; I shall not want.” Power, grace, goodness, interest in the faithful One, all assure; and assure in all circumstances and forever and always. He has undertaken and has charged Himself with the care of His faithful ones. These cannot want. We have not to think of what may come, or what means may be employed. The Shepherd’s care is our assurance. The natural fruit of this care is fresh and green pastures in security, the peaceful enjoyment of the sure refreshings of goodness. But in fact man, specially the remnant, and Christ Himself, are in the midst of oppressing sorrow, and death, and in presence of mighty enemies. Is the soul troubled and bowed down? He restores it. Does it go through the valley of the shadow of death? does death cast its dark gloom over the spirit that must go down into its shade? He is there, greater than death, to guide and sustain. Are powerful and relentless enemies there to alarm and threaten? They are powerless before Him. He dresses a table for His beloved, where they sit down in safety, and secure. Divine unction is the seal of power when all is against us. Human weakness, death, and spiritual powers of wickedness, all are only the occasions to show most evidently that Jehovah, the Shepherd, is the infallible safeguard of His people.
Christ was not, of course, a sheep, but He trod the path the sheep have to tread, and trusted in Jehovah. He is the Jehovah—Shepherd of them that are His. He loves us, as Jehovah loved and cared for Him. It is then the sure care of Jehovah through all that besets human nature in its path through this world. The natural proper fruit of this care is green pastures in the security of peace; but, in man’s ruined state and the path he has to tread in the midst of the powers of evil, an infallibly sustaining power. Hence the heart, as it trusts to the unchangeable Jehovah, reckons on the future. It is as certain and secure as the past. Goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and the house of Jehovah receives me forever. Confidence is in Jehovah Himself; and therefore all circumstances, and the whole power of evil, and difficulties of mortal man included in them, are but occasions of Jehovah’s power, interested in infallible faithfulness, in carrying the faithful through.
It is interesting to see this care of divine power, holding its place in infallible certainty over all the special sufferings and trial and death of the Lord. This is the faithful man’s blessing, when the earth is not Jehovah’s, when the power of evil, and death, and mighty adversaries are before it. Jehovah is the secure dwelling place of faith.
When the earth is Jehovah’s (Psa. 24), who shall ascend His hill, or stand in His holy place? Here, remark, the door has become open to all. Only Jacob has the place of acceptance and proximity to Jehovah; but blessing and acceptance in favor from God, who is their salvation, are the portion of every one that has purified himself to seek God who has placed His blessing in Jacob. The character of such is given, but the Gentiles who have it have access in Jehovah’s holy hill. Christ Himself enters there in triumph as Jehovah.
Psalm 24 closes the whole series which speaks of the association of Christ with the excellent—the saints that are in the earth. We have in it, Christ in the path of life with the saints; Christ in the path of righteousness in the midst of an evil world; Christ suffering, the center of all Israel’s history, and the object of Jehovah’s interest when identified with Israel; Christ suffering as witness to the truth, object of the remnant’s thoughts and affections; Christ suffering as forsaken of God; Christ taking personally the path in which the sheep had to walk, and so unfolding to them the care of Jehovah, though Himself the true Shepherd (compare John 10); and Christ, when all own Jacob and the God of Jacob, entering into the temple as the triumphant Jehovah, the Lord of Hosts. Though the blessed One be largely a pattern for us in much of this, yet the true effect on the piety of the heart is wrought in seeing Himself truly man, treading the path before our eyes, and engaging every affection of the soul in the contemplation of it.
In what follows we have again the thoughts and feelings of the remnant in their sorrows, in connection with this place of Christ: but we shall find large instruction for our hearts in a path which is always one of sorrow, and essentially the same as long as evil reigns. In looking back to the psalms which we have studied, there is, I think, progress in their character. Thus, in the first psalms, from 3 to 7, we have the general principles and condition, showing that righteousness does not yet reign by judgment (this is founded on the great foundations of Psalm 1 and 2): the righteous man in the midst of the wicked; judgment yet to come; and the counsels of God as to Messiah announced, but not yet fulfilled, in Psalm 8; in Psalm 9 and 10 the circumstances of the land and the Jews in the last days; and then, Psalm 11-15, the relationships, judgment, and principles of the remnant looking towards Jehovah in this state of things. Psalm 16-24 having given the whole position of Christ in respect of Israel, introducing Him amongst them, and showing the result. We have now much more of the experimental exercises of the saints in that day. This we have now to consider. These could not but be founded on the intervention and sacrifice of Christ. It is not meant thereby that they are clear as to this, or that the expressions of the Psalms suppose it or suit a soul which is in liberty. But such exercises could not have place without His intervention and sacrifice; and the Holy Spirit, in the remnant, and in every soul, works in virtue of them, and with a view to their full recognition.
In Psalm 25 we have, for the first time, the definite confession of sin. This, with Psalm 26, the declaration and consciousness of integrity of heart, form the subjective basis of all their experiences; the two following the objective—Jehovah light and salvation, and present distress through the pressure of the wicked, still here with confidence of heart in Jehovah. But the more we study the Psalms, the more we shall see that they apply properly to the Jews, and that almost universally; referring to the godly righteous man of the remnant, animated according to his position, whose thoughts are furnished by the Spirit of Christ speaking in the prophet. Many parts of them can be applied to Christ Himself, when all cannot. But this shows what I have already remarked, that the possibility of referring passages to Christ does not make them exclusively prophecies of Him, nor prove that all the psalm applies to Him; and, further, the real danger of taking the Psalms as the expression of Christian piety. They are not so. Often they furnish blessed instruction on confidence in God; but he who would take the form of his piety from the Psalms as a whole would falsify Christianity. Having said this, I turn to details.
The soul is lifted up to Jehovah in its difficulties—the true secret of overcoming them, and of having peace in the midst of them. The true heart has no other refuge. Another distracts it from this. It says, my God in them—it can now through Christ, and trust in God; and looks not to be ashamed, nor its enemies to triumph over it. This in difficulties is the first desire of faith. But it cannot confine itself when real to self. It is linked up by grace with God’s goodness, felt in this very hope; but then with all those who wait on Jehovah. It desires that the wicked (causeless transgressors, that is, those who love iniquity, not who fall in it) may be ashamed. This, as a general principle, is no way un-Christian. The Christian cannot desire that an individual enemy come under judgment; but he does desire that evil be set aside, and that the adversaries of good be made ashamed. He loves and desires righteousness, and that the oppressor of righteousness, and of the lowly and meek and just be put down, and put to shame. In his own case he can desire it as to result, without wishing evil to the individual. His trust in Jehovah prevents his taking the smallest step for the injury of his enemy; but he refers his case to Jehovah, and leaves it in His hands, looking for His deliverance.
But there is another characteristic of the saint whose heart is turned towards Jehovah in repentance. He seeks Jehovah’s ways, His paths—to be led in His truth and taught. Remark this very definite character of good in the upright soul. It is not simply a right way, but Jehovah’s way he seeks. His spirit is returned to Jehovah, thinks of Him, estimates His character, is conscious of owing allegiance and service to Him, belonging to Him, and that all does, and delights in and seeks only His way. But this psalm presents a returning man (the Jew), not one first converted. Israel (and so the saint) does remember and recall, but looks to Jehovah’s no more remembering his faults, and according to His mercy to remember himself, to remember him in that way; for he knew Jehovah to be merciful, and it was for the glory of His own name—he could ask it for His goodness’ sake.
This shows, not known pardon, but the confiding of grace. This is not a purged conscience, yet it flows from the answer of God. But it is an acceptable way of approaching God. So the poor woman that was a sinner in the gospel. She came thus, she went away in peace. But there is a faithfulness of Jehovah to His own goodness—His own character, which is above evil, which (a ransom being found which maintains righteousness) makes Him act for the true blessing of the sinner thus looking to Him. As it is said even of Joseph, He was a just man, and not willing to make her a public example. No doubt other motives come in with man; still, as far as he has to act like God, this principle comes in. Good and upright is Jehovah. Good to us, He loves uprightness, loves to see it, and so will teach it in grace to those wandered from it. It is sweet to one that has wandered to count on this. Remark, it is not here His way. That was the expression of the state of the saint’s heart; this is the revelation (or rather the confidence) of the saint in what was in Jehovah’s. What “the way” was is not exactly the question—of course a good one; but He would teach them in it. His active love would be occupied with them for good. Yet the character of the way is not left out when the true character of the renewed saint is brought in. The meek will He guide in judgment, in the path which expresses God’s mind. The meek will He teach His way.
But there is progress in other respects in this psalm. It divides itself into three parts, 1-7; 8-14; 15-22. In the first part the oppressed and tried soul, judging its past sins, but trusting God and looking to Him, pleads with God in respect of its wants and difficulties in presence of the power of evil. In the second part this reference to God has led the soul to speak about Him, dwelling on and declaring what He is in His ways. In the third the soul looks personally to Jehovah, as assured of His interest in it, and calls down the eye of God on itself and on its enemies and circumstances, looking for forgiveness in that, but confiding in conscious integrity, and finally applies its request to all Israel.
But there is also progress in detail, as to the condition of the soul in speaking of God. First, His goodness and uprightness lead Him to teach sinners uprightness in heart. They had wandered in their own ways; how terribly are God’s ways forgotten! But the good and gracious Lord will not leave them unguided; their state draws out His compassion. He loves the right way, nor can He bless elsewhere. He teaches sinners in the way. But the effect of acknowledging sin and knowing the goodness of God is meekness, subduedness of spirit, and lowliness; the absence of haughtiness, of self, of what the heathens considered the spring of virtue. In this state God guides in judgment and teaches His way. Not only the way is taught to one who had wandered far from it; but, where there is lowliness and submission to God, He guides in the intelligence of His ways in their own spirit and mind. They are formed by His instructions to judge of what God’s own way is. This is an internal and moral conformity which applies itself to discern and judge circumstances. And this moral conformity and discernment is very precious.
But verse 12 goes farther. We have one fearing God, walking in the consciousness of His presence, and responsibility to Him, referring in heart to Him as subject to Him. Here is not merely moral discernment but knowledge of the chosen way of God. The man who is guided in judgment will know what is right and do it, and avoid what is wrong, but the man of Issachar had understanding of the times. There was a way God chose in the midst of prevalent evil, and he who feared Jehovah should be taught in this way. He would find the path which issued in full blessing. This is a great privilege, and of which no surrounding darkness or confusion can deprive us. It is the way Jehovah chooses in the midst of it—a special covenant way for those who fear Him. So surely there is for the Christian in the confusion in which the church of God is. This is shown with additional evidence in the words which follow. The secret of Jehovah (for He has a secret for the ears of those who hear) is with them that fear Him—His friends to whom He makes known His mind. Is it wonderful that Mary knew more of it than Martha? She could anoint Him beforehand for His burial—had the Lord’s mind in the scene which was before. His word is always a guard against false pretenses to this, but it remains ever true that the secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him. And, however, all seems to run against His sure promise, they see the result and progress towards it by faith, and will see it in full accomplishment farther on when His ways are accomplished. This is a great blessing and gives a tranquility, a calm, in the path, which nothing else does. One has the Lord’s mind in it. This closes the second part.
In traversing the evil, the trust of the soul is in Jehovah, and His faithful love. “Mine eyes are ever toward Jehovah; for he shall pluck my feet out of the net.” This is the secret of all— Jehovah. One looks out of all the evil and trusts in Him who is above it all. Knowledge of Jehovah’s secret is not insensibility to present evil, even as it affects self; nor coldness as to Jehovah’s interest in ourselves, not only in righteousness (though He be ever righteous), but in ourselves. The secret of Jehovah, through His fear tends to give this intimacy and confidence. “Turn thee unto me, and have mercy upon me; for I am desolate and afflicted.” There is a truth of heart with Jehovah. But this supposes integrity, and such is found here; and such in Christ is found in the true of heart, though they confess themselves in themselves the chief of sinners, and in their flesh no good thing. The heart can present all the hostility of its enemies to God, and leave that also with Him. It looks to be not ashamed, for it has put its trust in Him. Christ only had to go through the contrary for us, the upright soul never will. But the heart, though having this intimacy with God, and confidence in Him, does not forget His people— Israel then; for us, the church. The heart is there and, if it is intimate with God, must be.
I have entered somewhat into the detail of moral feelings exhibited in the psalm, but it must be held in mind that all are founded on the presence in the heart of a deep consciousness of what Jehovah was for it, that the thought of Jehovah predominated and is the source of all that is felt.
In Psalm 26 it is, as already remarked, the consciousness of integrity rather than the confession of sins, but here, also, all refers to Jehovah, and draws from what Jehovah is and the attachment of the soul to Him the principle of separation from evil-doers, and final joy in His congregation when there shall be full deliverance from them. The spirit of the psalm is that integrity which has kept the soul by its own affections, and its attachment to Jehovah, and trust in Jehovah in presence of the power of evil (and for the time, as between them and the saints, evil-doers are always the most powerful, because they can act according to their will without restraint or conscience), apart from evildoers; and the conscience in presence of Jehovah looks to God’s (not gathering it with sinners), when He comes in in power, and on this it counts in faith. It is the expression of the path and desire of integrity in presence of evil.
Psalm 27 shows the heart confident in Jehovah, yet exercised before Him in the presence of the outward manifestations of evil. What would create fear more than distress of spirit? The connection of confidence in thinking of the enemies, and exercise of heart when looking to God, I think instructive, though at first sight it seems strange in this psalm. Confidence is not indifference or insensibility; but true exercises of heart with God, even when fear accompanies those exercises, show themselves in confidence and boldness in presence of the hostile action of evil. Man would have spoken of fear when in presence of the enemy and confidence when with God. Whereas grace, working in true exercises of heart with God, gives boldness with the enemy. There is a real power of evil. The rightly taught heart feels it in its inward sources and reality (more or less spiritually), but feels it with God, and then is at peace in the midst of, and as to, the conflict itself. So Christ sweat, as it were, great drops of blood in exercise of soul before God, and was of perfect calmness in the presence of His enemies, yea, they fell to the ground at the mention of His name. This is full of instruction as to the difficulties and pains of Christian life. Where the heart, conscious of the power of evil, is exercised with and before God as to it, the evil itself, whatever its power, is powerless when it comes, assuming the exercise to be complete. “This is your hour,” said Christ, “and the power of darkness” (Luke 22:5353When I was daily with you in the temple, ye stretched forth no hands against me: but this is your hour, and the power of darkness. (Luke 22:53)). But He had felt all that with God, and took the cup, as to the fact, out of the Father’s, not the enemy’s hand, who had as to Christ no such power.
The psalm shows us the working of this in ordinary men according to His Spirit. Jehovah is the saints’ light by faith, lightens up all around. There is no power of darkness for the spirit, when darkness is there in power. It rules in the enemies, but light is in the heart from the Lord, and it walks thus in the light. This is a great consolation. But the Lord is more than this—He is actual deliverance. This, till the cup was drunk, He could not be for Christ; but He is known to be so for the redeemed soul in the midst of the trial. The same revelation of Jehovah which gives light gives us in the light to be assured of the deliverance: I do not say necessarily to see the deliverance, for the how may be obscured, but to be assured of it. Because Jehovah is there in light, He will deliver; so the Father for us, and in His place of government, the Lord. But if it be God Himself, clearly there is nothing to fear. This is celebrated in thinking of the wicked, whom no conscience restrains—of war, where will is unbridled, however violent and mighty; if the Lord is there, all is provided for. But an important principle, or state of soul, is associated with, and is the basis of, this confidence—entire singleness of eye and desire, the looking to Jehovah for, and seeking one thing, to be with Him, in His presence where He is, and can be adored; to behold His beauty, and learn there His will and mind. But this, on the other hand, is connected with confidence in His goodness. The soul, defenseless in itself, knows Jehovah will hide it in the time of trouble in His pavilion. Who shall hurt or disturb it there? And what love in the Lord, what interest He takes in those He loves! The soul dwells with Him, and dwells in safety. It is not apparent deliverance, but the secret of His tabernacle. And it is wonderful how Jehovah does when evil rages, and there seems no resource; the soul seeks none, it confides sweetly and quietly in Jehovah, sure of security in Him. Verse 6 counts on full deliverance and praise in His tabernacle, now not a hiding place, nor a secret, but the blessed place of open praise.
In the following verses we have the exercises of soul with Jehovah while waiting on Him for help. Jehovah had called to seek His face. He could not turn it away. The soul recognizes here the possibility of anger, and deprecates it, and counts on grace. This is important for the soul, for one might think it could trust in Jehovah if He had nothing against it. But not so; the heart may recognize that it ought to expect anger, yet trust grace. It has known a helping God, and looks not to be forsaken of One who is a Savior God. This confidence is complete; more than the nearest ties of nature can give, and so indeed it is for him who knows Jehovah. It takes up its own matters between itself and God, looks to be taught His way, and led in a plain path, because its enemies watched for its getting out of the way. The pressure of enemies was great, and there will be such for the saints. There is a will of evil—false witness, then cruelty.
The goodness of Jehovah—no human means—is the resource of the heart, the goodness of Jehovah in His government. The result is, wait on Jehovah. He strengthens the heart. “Wait, I say, on Jehovah.” This, indeed, is the secret of strength in the time of evil. There is, then, nothing to fear. We may have learned that it is a Father’s love in our path of children, and the care of Christ, that good Shepherd, but the principle of our confiding in the Lord is the same. It is remarkable how entirely absent is the thought of any other resource or help than that of Jehovah. And this it is maintains integrity, for Jehovah cannot help otherwise than in maintaining truth of heart. The wile of enemies is there. The soul knows nothing (no human means or strength, or wisdom, or plan), but seeking Jehovah’s face; with Him all is settled, and so in truth in the inward parts and integrity. The enemies are then Jehovah’s concern. This is the secret of our security and comfort in trial. Hence, grace being there, we can reckon on Jehovah at all times. If we have erred, bring it to Him. It is a true exercise of soul in His presence. He deals with it according to truth, between itself and Him; but grace and His secret place, and then deliverance, are its position.
Psalm 28 Though Jehovah be the great subject as of all these, as regards the faithful there is a special point—his cry to Jehovah, and the supplication addressed to Him. The heart connects itself with Jehovah in crying to Him. The cry implies Jehovah’s interest in us, and our having this for our starting-point; also our avowed dependence on Him. Hence, crying and prayer to the Lord are important, and an index to the state of soul. We may desire from Jehovah, have faith in His goodness in giving, but crying to Him identifies us avowedly with Him, even before others. Here the soul is spoken of as in extreme distress—the pit of sheol open before it. But the principle is ever true, even in interceding for others. Here faith is shown in crying, when all seemed to man’s eye hopeless. This connection with Jehovah is distinctly marked here, in its being made the ground for not being drawn away with the wicked in judgment.
In Psalm 27 it was the integrity of the believer in his ways, which was laid as the ground for not being so drawn away: here it is this connection with Jehovah, shown in calling upon Him. And though the wickedness of evildoers be the ground on which their judgment is looked for, yet their disregard of Jehovah is declared to be the ground of their destruction. The righteous has trusted in Him and been helped. But here is more, and much more in Jehovah’s deliverance of us than the fact of being delivered. He has delivered us. The heart was attached to Him, adored Him, looked up to Him, believed Him, and He has not failed us. Oh! how true this is! and how it attaches afresh the heart to Him. So here (vss. 6-7), “My heart trusted in him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise him.” This looking with confidence to Jehovah is a real entering into His character, and conformity to it, in the sense of estimating, delighting in, and honoring it, in counting it impossible to be otherwise. It appreciates Jehovah; and he who appreciates anything morally excellent is in a dependent way like it.
I have a friend of a noble, faithful self-devoting character. I am in circumstances where all is opposed to the probability or possibility of his coming in to help, but I am sure he will. I count with affection on what he is. It is evident that I hold fast in my appreciation of him. He is to my mind superior to all circumstances, governed by his own excellence; and this is what I appreciate and reckon on. Whatever circumstances may be, my heart goes with his in his conduct, though in the way of dependence, and his with mine. When he has acted, I rejoice in him, in my estimate of him. I say, I knew my appreciation was just; I knew him, and what he is. I rejoice in his excellence; I have reckoned on it as certain, and above all the circumstances. He has proved his interest in me in intervening. Thus, when God shall deliver the remnant, and when He delivers the Christian, they can say, “This is our God; we have waited for him” (Isa. 25:99And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the Lord; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation. (Isaiah 25:9)).
This is what we can see in Job through all his culpable irritation. He reckons on God, and knows what he would be and do if he could find Him. The heart has trusted God’s heart, and found it, and rejoices in it—has really honored God, though only in waiting in assured confidence for Him. It is satisfied in what its mighty Friend is, and in His love. It rejoices in deliverance, for it suffered and was oppressed in weakness, but rejoices in heart—delights in the Deliverer. It has a friend that has formed the heart after His own excellency, and formed it to confide in it. In the Christian this will be calmer, because he is more instructed in heavenly things, knows God better, and has less anxiety as to what is here below, does not look on the things that are seen; but the principle is the same.
Psalm 29 does not call for much remark connected with the way we are now viewing them. It is a summons to the mighty of the earth to own and give glory to Jehovah—the honor due to His name. The only point I would notice is the connection of worship with this, and here owning Him in His temple, where He has placed His name. His name has been revealed. Glory is due to Him as revealed, to His name; a name which, while it is the revelation of Himself, is that also of His relationship with His people. There He has placed His name, so as to form a center of association and a revealed place of worship. Thus, while His voice may proclaim the majesty of that name, they who know it are drawn together by it as a place of common worship. The glory of His name is made good by and revealed in what is declared in the last verses. Jehovah sitteth upon the floods, is above, and rules to His own purposes all the tumultuous movings of the mass of peoples. He sits too King forever. As He is above the swellings of men, so He sits in sure unmoved government forever. But then there is the connection with His people. He gives them strength; He blesses them with peace. Verse 10 is the possession of power over all and in Himself; verse 11, what He is for the people. It is the invitation of the mighty to own Jehovah, and the sure blessing of Israel.
The great truth of Psalm 30 is the practically deeply interesting one, that the joy flowing from the deliverance the Lord (in this psalm Jehovah) affords is greater and deeper than the blessing of prosperity, even when acknowledged to come from God. It may be that the deliverance is from sorrow occasioned by faults. With the remnant of the Jews it will surely be so; but it is complete and full; and when the sin or evil is fully acknowledged, the restoration and blessing is absolute in communion with God. Forgiveness, or the thought of it, in an unhealed soul, may have regrets. When the soul is healed, it will learn judgment of the evil assuredly, and a sense of humbleness, if it be recurred to—always more tenderness of spirit, more grace; but if the healing be full, the soul wholly searched out, no regrets, because what God, as such, is for US, will possess the soul. The soul will abhor the flesh, and the principles which led to evil; but self will be taken out of the abhorrence when the evil is really hated, and peace will be there. I do not say the psalm pursues these thoughts to this depth. It is more occupied with the outward circumstances, with the hand of God upon it for evil, than with the evil for which His hand is upon it. But these are looked at as His anger. The effect is that circumstances are looked at as a matter of His anger and favor; and on this the soul rests. It had been in prosperity, had owned its coming from God, but saw in circumstances its ground of confidence for happiness, though looked at as given and established by God. But, in so doing, however much it owned God in giving and assuring the blessing, it rested on the blessing, and that blessing ministered to self, instead of taking out of it. “I shall never be moved. Jehovah, by thy favor thou hast made my mountain to stand strong.” Though piety might be there, it might degenerate into “the temple of Jehovah, the temple of Jehovah are these” (Jer. 7:44Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord, are these. (Jeremiah 7:4)). The psalm however supposes true piety. Only that God’s favor has made the mountain—“my mountain”—to stand strong, instead of the favor itself being the blessing. Jehovah hides His face, and direct dependence is felt, direct blessing looked for. Chastening and exercises for faults come, and divine favor itself is felt to be the blessing needed. And what Jehovah is Himself is the source of joy. When His anger is on the people, this is felt; not merely the circumstances it is expressed in, but the hiding of Jehovah’s face for sin. The soul is brought into an immediate relationship, though it is by anguish and distress. It is brought to think of itself, not as a self to be caressed, a center of its own blessing, but as sinful, and God’s favor is needed. Thus, though painfully, a most useful and important work is done through grace, when this self-judgment is wrought in the soul, so that there is spiritual integrity. The favor of Jehovah shines in upon it, and is enjoyed, and is become itself the blessing, while positive deliverance accompanies it in God’s good time. The true nature of God in holy worship is entered into; He is not merely a God to serve man in blessing. The enemy does not rejoice over us, and the soul itself is healed. We see that if His anger be there, it is but a moment of discipline and instruction for the saints; and then they, being purified, enjoy Himself more fully. Here, literally, we see the remnant at the verge of the grave, and there delivered; but the true work is, even for them, with God.
I add these conditions of soul in which we may see saints now, of which this psalm gives an occasion to speak. First, what we may call in a comparative sense innocence, when a converted soul has no acquaintance with corruption and no great inward conflict. Here the grace of forgiveness is enjoyed, and the soul is cheerfully happy in the known kindness and love of God its Savior. Such a soul, if walking close with God, may attain to the real judgment of self and deep acquaintance with God. Otherwise the soul is superficial, and the man of self little known, separation from flesh’s sphere (the world on its amiable side) little realized. The next is where it has failed, and, gone through deeper exercises, has been brought thus to the knowledge of self in a humbling way. This is more the case of the psalm. Then forgiveness may be known, and there is the rest of this; but a certain shame of sin and want of open confidence with God, as naturally in enjoyment of Him, if there have been anything base or trifling with God. This is more difficult to attain; but self at any rate is not set aside. Thirdly, when the root that has produced the evil is really judged, the point of departure from God (not merely the evil itself), and self thus set aside practically, then divine favor is everything. The heart is so far whole with God, and, while humble, bold with men. It has its conscious link with God, His favor—God known to be with it in moral unison, and in positive sustainment and strength. The present is its place with Him, not the past.
Psalm 31 is the expression of entire confidence in Jehovah—God known in our relationship with Him, in the most terrible circumstances of trial and distress, and that where sin has brought it on; yet where faith is at work, the known name of God is counted on, and therefore His righteousness in making it good. It is not reckoning upon God with pride. It is Jehovah trusted in for what He is—His name, but with the fullest confession of failure, and that it is through sin that trouble has come upon him that cries to Him. It is not so much the confession of iniquity, but that the sorrow out of which the cry is sent up is due to iniquity; but the extremity of pressure casts the soul in confidence on God according to His revelation of Himself. The special character of the psalm is trust, and, from personal knowledge of Jehovah, the committing one’s case to Him. This is a deep principle of true piety— such a knowledge of the Lord, such faith in what He is, that the soul can trust Him, and cast all on Him, when distress and hostility come to an extremity. And it is a principle of utter righteousness, because the soul cannot look thus to God but in righteousness. Jehovah is known as having considered the distressed one’s trouble. He has known his soul in adversities. The sufferings were not God’s forgetting the sufferer. God has known, recognized, followed; His heart owned the sufferer’s soul, and thought of it in the midst of adversities; and the sufferer, as an owned soul (however faulty), looks through the suffering to Jehovah. It accepts the punishment of its iniquity, but in this righteous feeling trusts Jehovah; and in this spirit, in what is perfect in principle, commits itself entirely to Jehovah, and knows, and is content that it should be so, that all is in His hand (vs. 15). It looks hence for His face to shine on it; but that through His appearing for it, it should not be finally ashamed, nor will any that trust in Him. He has laid up goodness for them that fear Him and trust in Him before the sons of men. His presence is a sure unfailing sanctuary, which makes human malice vain in its attempts. He admits that, in the pressure of distress, he had for a moment spoken as cast out of God. Still faith was shown in the cry to Jehovah, and he was heard. Jehovah preserves the faithful, so that the saints may love Him, and be of good courage, whatever comes.
It is not every one that has to pass through such sorrows, as those referred to here; but, when it is the portion of the saint, it gives great intimacy and confidence. What a known God is is the ground of the psalm, and the cry founded on faith in it. I should not say that such is the brightest exercise of faith: this will be found, for example, more in the Epistle to the Philippians, the bright expression of normal Christian experience. Nor is it the commonest; but God, in His rich mercy, has in His word met every need, and made provision in His word for every state. And the state of soul here is one of much exercised depth and intimacy of confidence in God, only learned through needed distress.
Psalm 32. But, in the midst of all the exercises of heart which belong to a renewed soul in the midst of its difficulties here below, there is one point which is the center of all, a need to which an answer is craved alike by the heart and conscience—its relationship to God when it thinks of its sin before Him. It has need of confidence for trials, of deliverance and help. It is cheered by promises, and bowed in heart and will as to the ways of God. But it needs reconciliation with Himself above all, the unclouded light of His countenance; as regards its own state, forgiveness, and the absence of guilt. The entire removal of all guilt before God, and His complete forgiveness, is beautifully connected here with purifying the heart and inner man, the taking out guile, and this in the confession of actual sins. But it begins, as it must, with God, and finds its satisfaction in His thoughts towards it. And this is right. Thus only can the heart be really purified, and sin have its true character, and God His right place, without which nothing is right. Yet it is the conscious state of its forgiveness which first affects the soul, after conviction and distress for sin have been wrought and the soul brought to confession. “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven.” He has sinned against God—transgressed. It is all perfectly forgiven. But it was sin before God and evil—a thing itself hateful in God’s sight, and now in the soul’s. It is expiated, covered; propitiation has been made. The present state is then put absolutely: Jehovah imputeth no iniquity to it; and now the whole heart is open before God. There is no guile in it; why should there be when all is open with God, all cleared, and sin gone out of His sight? And oh! what a blessing it is to have the perfect light of God on an unsullied soul, not an innocent one. This is a far less thing, and indeed the inshining of perfect light would be inapplicable then; but with a knowledge of good and evil, and knowing what light is (in contrast with darkness), and to have it shining upon one as white as snow is infinitely blessed. I do not deny that it is more personal relationship here, into which also I will enter; but for the Christian this is implied in forgiveness and covering and non-imputation of sin. As yet of course it is by faith, but not the less true for that. The ways of God in bringing the soul to it, and His ways after it, are also gone into in the psalm: no rest to the proud will which not confess (how gracious to pursue the soul thus!)—the most intimate guidance for the soul reconciled in communion, and care in the midst of trial.
The psalm, then, is the expression of conscious blessedness in the sense of being forgiven. And how sweet it is to be in the sunshine of God’s favor in the sense that His love has been active towards us! The undeservedness of the favor, though it is not the brightest joy, gives great deepness to it, because it is God Himself who forgives; for so it must be in forgiveness, when the soul is restored to Him. Then there is the consciousness of the sin being out of God’s sight. This is a very great blessing indeed, and the consciousness of it most sweet—the thought that not one sin appears in the sight of God. But there is the special sense, not that there was no sin, but that God imputes none, that He has • a determined fixed judgment—He does not impute it. The sin is not denied; that would be guile. In this part the feelings are not so much engaged, but there is the judicial certainty of non-imputation necessary for truth in the inward parts. This connects itself with confession.
But it is not only uprightness in word and confession, but in spirit. There was truth in the inward parts: no desire in the soul to hide, to conceal from itself the evil; it presents itself before forgiveness, before non-imputation: that is its connection with sin, not hiding it. He sees the sin truly, but sees, and because he sees, it is not imputed. But the phrase is absolute and general—“unto whom Jehovah imputeth not iniquity.” It is an absolute condition of the individual; it is not his iniquity or particular fault forgiven, though doubtless this is so too, but absolute non-imputation of any. The man exists before God as having no sin, according to the judgment of God. Then my heart is open and free before God; I have the consciousness of this, and look up to God as owning no sin, with the consciousness that He sees none. Hence there is no cloud, nothing to hide. This is not so however when confession is not made. Absolute non-imputation, that is God’s actual judgment of me and manner of looking at me. No sin is there, none between me and Him. But, in arriving at the consciousness of this blessed truth, there has been confession. Till then, the pressure of God’s hand was upon the soul to force it to come to this. How gracious this is, God’s watching over a soul, and a soul going wrong too, to bring it to Himself. But he was brought by grace to this point—acknowledging sin to God, no excuse, giving it its true character, real spiritual uprightness, however humbling it may be.
This was morally important, but is not all. “I will confess my transgressions”; the acts are brought up in memory. He resolved to take this course, and all was right. “Jehovah forgavest the iniquity.” 1 John 1 opens this out christianly. There also we cannot say we have no sin, and we confess our sins. The connection of the absence of all sin on the conscience and no guile in the heart, because it is entirely open through conscious non-imputation, is very instructive. It can be in no other way, only man is brought to it in truth by confession, and to confession through confidence. Thus only is the heart opened to God through grace, thus only is truth in the inward parts, though forced to the humiliation as regards our will, by forgiveness being known by promise. “There is forgiveness with Thee, that Thou mayest be feared.”
This revelation of God awakens the thought and feeling of all the upright and gracious-minded to look to God in the time when He reveals Himself as the forgiving God, when He can be found. So for Christ Himself, in Isaiah 49, it was the accepted time. When He had been perfect, when perfectly proved before God, then He was heard, for He had been made sin; and the apostle cites it thus, “Now is the accepted time, behold now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:22(For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succored thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.) (2 Corinthians 6:2)). The revelation of forgiveness and the joy of such relationship with God awakens the desire after and delight in such a God in gracious souls, and they seek unto Him. Supposing they have not the sense of sin at the moment, they know they are sinners, and God is so revealed—has a character which is their delight, and their soul links itself with Him. They seek to Him, not simply for forgiveness. It is in their character of graciousness they are spoken of here, but it is such a God—a God of this character, and of these ways—who draws their heart; and note, God so acting, so revealed, makes the time the finding time. This connection of the graciousness of the heart with the graciousness of God, and the power of attraction it has, is very beautiful; and it is very deep in the gracious mind. There must be the sense of need, of dependence, and in us of the need of grace as such in the whole character of our relationship with God. But it is withal a deep realization in proportion to godliness, when the conscience is not bad, of the perfect and divine grace, of the loveliness yet the sovereign goodness of God’s ways in this. Happy in goodness, we feel that this grace suits us and suits God; it draws us, as godly, to God. Hence we are there sheltered, come what will.
If we think of the remnant, the principle will be plain. Israel, the Jews, have been deeply guilty in every way. God holds out, as in this psalm, and everywhere in Moses and the prophets, forgiveness. This is felt; God is so revealed; the godly remnant are touched by this. Sins, no doubt, are confessed, but the heart of the godly draws to God. When the flood of judgments break in, they are preserved. In every case, the soul thus acquainted with goodness can count upon God. God Himself, thus known, is its hiding-place. In the end, songs of deliverance will be its portion.
But then promises come. We have to go through a wilderness in which there is no way; and, in the midst of snares and dangers of false ways, God guides and teaches. The eye of God rests on us and guides us. It is not a way marked out and left; it is God Himself who watches over and guides us in a way that suits Him and is the fruit of His wisdom, a divine way for us. God Himself it is that is brought before us here: God’s goodness, God’s leading, God interested in us to forgive when needed, to lead with the undistracted eye of love. But then it supposes that the heart pays attention to the eye of God. It is attention to Him, and the following it with Understanding, that is the way; and thus the soul is inwardly taught in what is agreeable to Him, and is formed after Him in knowledge. This the New Testament largely unfolds (Phil. 1:9-119And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; 10That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; 11Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9‑11); Col. 1:9-109For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; 10That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; (Colossians 1:9‑10); Col. 3:1010And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: (Colossians 3:10); Eph. 4:2424And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. (Ephesians 4:24)). Even Moses says, “If I have found grace in thy sight, show me now thy way, that I may know thee, that I may find grace in thy sight” (Ex. 33:1313Now therefore, I pray thee, if I have found grace in thy sight, show me now thy way, that I may know thee, that I may find grace in thy sight: and consider that this nation is thy people. (Exodus 33:13)).
It is the spiritual learning of God’s way through His guidance, and communion with Him, founded on His favor. Hence they are warned not to be like an unintelligent beast, who must be outwardly held. God can guide us thus, does graciously sometimes by His providence; but there is no spiritual understanding, no moral assimilation to His nature, no growth of the delight of our new nature in Him, no increased capacity, by this means, for knowing God. The result is declared in the judicial ways of God in the last two verses; only that we have to remark, that it is in Jehovah Himself that the soul has to rejoice, not in the consequences, though they that trust in Him be compassed about with mercy. He Himself known by forgiveness, known by ever accessible kindness and goodness, as a hiding place for the soul, as one that guides with His own care, with His eye, was the one in whom the soul thus taught was taught to rejoice. So Paul: “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice” (Phil. 4:44Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice. (Philippians 4:4)). We joy in God through our Lord Jesus, by whom we have received the reconciliation. He fills the soul, and He is above all.
Psalm 33 I have only a few principles to note in speaking of this psalm. All the psalms, to the end of 39, unfold the moral state of the Jewish remnant in the last days. I say the moral state more than their condition under oppression; and the thought of forgiveness gives in general a brighter tint to the coloring of them, though the sense of their condition is found also as elsewhere. Psalm 33 follows on the last verse of Psalm 32, and, the thought of forgiveness having put a new song in his mouth, he can look out with clearer confidence on the principles on which men should act, looking to the word and works of God. The earth is viewed as under God’s eye and direction—His government as applied to it. This, fully displayed at the end, has its application to the lower part of a Christian’s life too. Compare Psalm 34:12-1612What man is he that desireth life, and loveth many days, that he may see good? 13Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile. 14Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it. 15The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry. 16The face of the Lord is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth. (Psalm 34:12‑16); 1 Peter 3:1010For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: (1 Peter 3:10).
We get some general principles. The works of Jehovah are done in truth. I may perfectly reckon on His acting on the known principles of His holy will. Hence His word, which is essentially right, can judge me now. This is always an important principle. The Lord, though not visibly and publicly, does govern all things. Hence I can act on His word, and be sure of the consequences. I may, no doubt, suffer for Christ: this is a still better blessing, but the result of acting on God’s word will be blessing.
From verse 6 the power of the word is shown in creation. The earth should fear Him, “for he spake, and it was done”; again, He subverts the counsels of men, His stand fast. Another principle then comes in, the blessing of being the chosen people of God, His inheritance. This is Israel: still faith has to walk in the strength of it now. “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved” (Col. 3:1212Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; (Colossians 3:12)). We are not God’s inheritance, but heirs of God; but the greater elevation of the position does not destroy, though it may give a deeper application to, the principle. We have to walk through the world as the elect of God; but this is a most blessed position. It is according to the foreknowledge of God the Father; but we walk in the consciousness of being the elect of God. He orders and fashions all hearts. What a thing to say, if I have to say to men! And He makes all things work together for good for me. Thus, while all human strength is naught, I can wait on the Lord with sure confidence. His eye too is never withdrawn from me. Compare Job 36:77He withdraweth not his eyes from the righteous: but with kings are they on the throne; yea, he doth establish them for ever, and they are exalted. (Job 36:7).
But Psalm 34 goes farther. It takes up the case of sorrow and trial in the most beautiful way. Jehovah Himself, as ever, is the blessed burden of the psalm. In verses 1-4 it is the Spirit of Christ in an especial way which speaks, but as for the heart of every one so tried, and belongs to every one who has this faith, that every one may have it. The point of the psalm is “at all times.” It is easy to praise Jehovah when He makes all flow softly for us; yet Jehovah is not as much praised really for what He is. In the midst of trouble the soul is seen humble and subdued in spirit. He has sought Jehovah and he found Him a ready friend. This made Jehovah intimate and precious to him. The saint’s heart was tried, exercised; difficulty and wrong pressed upon it, and his will did not rise up in pride and anger, but he lays his matter with confidence on the kindness of Jehovah, and He interests Himself in him. It is not high and sovereign providence making things flow for outward blessing (no doubt we should be thankful for this) but the gracious interest of Jehovah in his tried heart. This is much nearer, the interest greater, the link more sweet and stronger. It was not pride of will in trial or in success, but an oppressed and humble heart finding Jehovah’s ear and heart open to it. Thus consoled himself, he could console others with the comfort wherewith he himself was comforted of God. He was delivered from all his fears. Oh, how often this happens, even as to the removing not unreasonably expected evil entirely! This knowledge of Jehovah leads to the exercise of love in encouraging others, while the heart experiences it, and is filled with it. It is applied to the remnant by the Spirit in verse 5. They recall the case of Christ in verse 6. In verse 7 we have it as a general truth; in verses 8-10 his own blessed experience enables him who has trusted the Lord to assure others of the certainty of finding this help.
The experience of Jehovah’s kindness is very precious. It is not only that one is assured of it for all trials, but Himself is known. He is blessed and praised. The heart dwells in Him, and finds its joy and rest in Him, and in the goodness of One who is alone, and none like Him in what He is. The blessedness is infinite and divine in its nature, as He who is the source of it, yet as intimate as what is in the heart can be— more intimate than any human being who is without it. We dwell in Him, and the Lord is our stay and the rest of our heart. There is nothing like it. None can be so intimately near us as God; for He is in us. Yet what an intimacy it is!
But there is another principle brought out here—what the walk is in which this blessing is found (vss. 7-10). We have fearing the Lord, trusting the Lord, and seeking the Lord. Verses 11-16 take up what the character of this fear of the Lord is, in a passage most of which is quoted by Peter only. The end of verse 16 is left out as inapplicable now, though the general fact of government for the Christian is not. It is important that we should remember this. Not only is it true that God is not mocked—that what a man sows he will reap— that God has governmentally attached certain consequences to certain conduct; but He also watches over and directly governs His children—may cause them to be sick, to die; may deliver them from it, on confession or intercession. “The eyes of Jehovah are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry.” Not only that, but “nigh unto them that are of broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.” Then there is a path marked out by God as the path of peace in a world like this; not simply in itself the path of spiritual power, but of quietness and peace in this world, going peaceably through it under God’s eye. And that is very precious for us. Grace is a means of doing it, as the heart is elsewhere than in idleness and passion. The feet are shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace. “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men” (Rom. 12:1818If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. (Romans 12:18)). This is true even of unconverted men. Those who walk in this way in general see good days, because such is the consequence of the public government of God. It becomes the Christian so to do, but others may do it. This government of God is always true, as we see in Job; only the saint should understand it.
But the government of God now is applied—not the public government to the suppression of all evil but—to the case of the righteous under and through the power of evil. When Christ appears, there will be this suppression of evil. In general they who live peaceably will live in peace; but in a world where Satan’s power is, the righteous will suffer—have many afflictions, but none without the watchful care of the Lord. And in some way deliverance will come. Who would have said that, in the seemingly unbridled rage of men, when all (Jew, priests, or Gentile) were united against Christ—when to appearance they had all their own way, this psalm should be literally fulfilled in Christ? Not a hair of our head but is counted.
I doubt that this verse 20 in the psalm is exactly a prophecy, though literally accomplished in Christ. I should rather suppose that the passage in John’s Gospel referred to Exodus 12:4646In one house shall it be eaten; thou shalt not carry forth ought of the flesh abroad out of the house; neither shall ye break a bone thereof. (Exodus 12:46). But Christ is a perfect example in any case of the declaration made in the psalm, as a great general principle, if the passage be not cited. God’s care never fails, and is shown in the smallest circumstances, and in spite of all man’s thoughts, though God may allow many afflictions to come upon those that trust Him. These too will surely be a blessing. The soul, thus learning the Lord’s ways and trusting Him, can bless Him at all times. Christianity indeed can teach us deeper fruits of spiritual life in this respect. But it is precious to know the Lord as one that watches thus over us in love— a Father’s tender care, in which we can confide, and in which we can walk peaceably in this world, seeking the good of those around us.
Psalm 35 is the direct demand for judgment of the Spirit of Christ in the remnant, so that I have not much to remark upon it. But Himself was the first to suffer what here will be judged, but, as we have seen, never personally looks for judgment. Still this psalm shows us the spirit in which judgment is demanded. It was after patience and unwearied grace, and when this grace was of no avail, when there was no self-avenging, but casting themselves on the Lord, that at the end the Lord is looked to for deliverance. This is important to remark, as regards the judgment looked for. (See verses 12-14.) And it was only when he would be swallowed up that he looks to the Lord Himself to interfere, and so He will. The poor will not always be forgotten, nor is it right that heartless, unjust, and cruel evil should always have the upper hand unhindered. It is right that the saints should be patient— bear all till the Lord Himself interferes; and such is the spirit of this psalm, and then it rejoices in the Lord’s salvation. There is a righteous feeling that the Lord’s recompensing the cruel wickedness is right, and so it is. Besides this, what we have is the character and way of the wicked, and the preceding entirely gracious walk of him who found the wicked too strong for him.
Verses 26, 27 have a special application to Christ, but the whole psalm, in the mouth of any one forward in faithfulness, was to bring the tide of evil on himself. I would refer to one or two passages to show the working of this spirit, and how far the Lord points to it as to the remnant. As to Himself, save to prophesy the fact, He did not ask for it. He never does. See 1 Samuel 24-26 for the spirit in which David was kept, though weak, yet still then the instrument specially fitted by grace to attune the mind of Christ in these psalms to the circumstances in which the remnant, cast out like him, will be; and rising up, when God pleased, to the prophetic declaration of what Christ Himself should pass through, and provide words, wonderful honor! in which Christ could express Himself (see particularly ch. 24:11-13, and the end of ch. 26), for so many of the psalms. So Abigail keeps him in this spirit through mercy, but there is no self-avenging but casting himself on the Lord.
The way in which the Lord directs His disciples in Matthew to marks the spirit, too, in which the remnant are to bear witness for His commission, and goes on to His return (vss. 13-15). Compare Psalm 35:1313But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth: I humbled my soul with fasting; and my prayer returned into mine own bosom. (Psalm 35:13). It is important that the Christian should understand that while the Spirit of Christ in His own walk in the world was quite different, and so ought the Christian’s to be, from the desire of judgment expressed in the psalms, yet that the desire is righteous and right in its place, and that that desire of judgment is not self-vengeance, but an appeal to a delivering and righteous God after the perfect patience of the heart under unrighteous oppression, as bowing to the will of God, and learning the lesson He had to teach. Compare Psalm 94:1212Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, O Lord, and teachest him out of thy law; (Psalm 94:12), and following. Still the Christian is on quite different ground. In this point of view this psalm is an important one. It is one in which the spirit of the remnant is exercised before God by trial, and, inwardly subdued, is cast upon God to look for deliverance, according to the way in which it was promised to Israel and to the remnant under the divine government revealed in the law and the prophets.
Psalm 36, while spoken in connection with what is a very great trial, is yet, and indeed for that very reason, full of very deep comfort. The trial is this, that the ways of the wicked prove to the heart of the servant of God that there is no restraint of conscience, nothing to reckon on in them, no check to malice by the fear of God. Flattering himself in his own sight, he is devising mischief, he has no abhorrence of evil. How often does this, alas! come before the saint when in conflict with the power of the enemy. It is hard to believe this absence of conscience and planning mischief in malice reflected or advisedly; yet so it is. The heart knows it is true. The word points it out as characteristic. But then the consolation is very great and blessed, while it casts the soul entirely on a faithful and all-gracious God, who is above all schemes of man, so that we can be perfectly peaceful. “Thy mercy, O Jehovah, is in the heavens.” What can malice do then? Its schemes cannot reach there, nor frustrate the plans or government which are established there, nor come between the soul and their effect. Mercy is out of the reach of the wicked’s devices.
But there is another quality in God—faithfulness. Mercy is the spring of and disposes His doings. That is a comfort. Upon His faithfulness I can count. It lifts its head above the machinations of the wicked. The immutable principle of God’s government in faithful love, His dealing in righteousness, is as firm and towering in strength as the mountains; His ways of judging and dealing as profound but as mighty as the great deep. Not fathomable beforehand by us as to how or why, He is working above the power of evil, but beyond the reach of puny man, so that He can bring about His purposes of blessing by the malice of men. He preserves man and beast. The moment we introduce the Lord so known, all the effect of malice of men, unrestrained though it be by the conscience of God in the wicked, is to make us trust God and not man. This is a real trial, but it is perfect peace; a breach with man, that is, of the saint with man as alienated from God, but a knitting of him to God in confiding cleaving of heart. And this has the highest moral effect.
This effect is unfolded in verses 7-8. “How excellent is thy lovingkindness, O God.” It is not merely now a defense against unconscientious malice that is found, but the positive goodness of Him in whom it is found. The children of men put their trust under the shadow of God’s wings, because His lovingkindness is excellent. This is the right and fitting condition of the creature, yet it supposes evil and the need of this goodness, but this goodness as a resource. But this carries the saint yet further. The goodness which has sheltered and protected him becomes his portion. Such is the blessed effect of being entirely cast on God and driven away from man. Brought under the shadow of God’s wings, they enjoy the fatness of His dwelling place. “They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of thy house; and thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasures.” There are joys and pleasures that belong to God’s house, yea, to God Himself. This is characteristic of the joy of the saints, and can only be when we are made partakers of the divine nature. This must have its joys where God has His; and this is the special proper blessedness of the saints. And God gives us this in the fullest way. He gives us His own presence, He gives us Christ.
How rich is this blessing, to receive a nature capable of enjoying divine joys, and these having the fullest divine objects in every way, for it is in every way to enjoy! Looking up, our calling is to be holy and without blame before Him in love, to enjoy God and be His delight according to the divine nature imparted to us, and in relationship to be adopted as sons to Himself; our place of inheritance God’s own house, our home, and, as heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ, all that is subject to Him. But this is the inferior part: but as it is redeemed and made perfectly happy under Christ, it is a divine joy. We have it, too, in fellowship one with another. All this the Christian enjoys in the highest way, because Christ is become his life, and that in the highest and nearest relationship with the Father. Hence—and that through the power of the Holy Spirit—we have fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. Our joy is full. I have referred to this on Christian ground. The principle is stated in the psalm; and, in principle, it is true of all saints, though not in the Christian degree, God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect. But in principle it is true.
The psalm continues, “With thee is the fountain of life; in thy light shall we see light.” Up to this it has spoken rather of what God is for us, looked at as shelter, and protection, and comfort—in a word, a resource; but having brought us into the fatness of His house and the rivers of His pleasures, it refers to what God is more intrinsically in Himself in blessing; still more as what He is for us than in us—that belongs by the Holy Spirit to Christians. What is in us is here seen in Him as its source. “With thee is,” says the psalm; “it, shall be in him,” says the Lord, of the Christian. God is that, however, and so revealed here and known. With Him is the fountain of life—a word of great import, though never fully revealed till Christ came. In Him was life. There was a tree of life of which man never ate, an instrumental ordinance of man’s life. In the patriarchal times life is not the subject, but what the Almighty is to His beloved and blessed ones. The law connects life as a promise with man’s doing, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It was to be one. Life is a living connection with the source of blessing, or at least a living enjoyment of His favor—not necessarily heaven. No law could give it or was it. God promised it to him who kept the law. God is the fountain of it, but the law given to a sinner on the principle of his responsibility could be no means of life, but a ministry of death and condemnation. It, spoke of life—was with life in view, as promise on obedience, but in fact was found to be unto death. The psalms are where, though heavenly things are spoken of, the connection of the heart of the remnant with God is brought out, and all its throbs and beating in its need, and what God is for it are felt; and that according to the working of the Spirit of Christ, though temporal deliverances are, as for the remnant, the main desire. Life and resurrection as the hope of faith necessarily come in, though it be but in the depth of their most intimate thoughts; and they will meet the need of those who may be slain. It is not life and incorruptibility brought to light by the gospel; life in a Man, the Son of God, a quickening Spirit; life in us by His becoming our life. Still as Christ’s Spirit speaks in the psalms, He who had life was sure of the path of it in this world; and, as it led through death in the purpose for which He came into this world, sure of the resurrection too, that His soul would not be left in hades nor His flesh see corruption, but here in dependence on God as being man.
So here, where the saint’s heart is separated from man, as wholly separated himself even from the fear of God, not only protection and lovingkindness are looked for, but the fountain of life is seen to be with God. We know death is overcome, its power rendered void; annulled. We know that the eternal life which was with the Father is come down from heaven. We know it is communicated to us, that Christ is our life, that having the Son we have life, that we are quickened and made alive according to the exceeding greatness of His power, according to the working of His mighty power, in which He raised Christ from the dead and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places; so that life for us and in us (for Christ is our life) is final triumph over death, and reaches into heavenly places. This has been brought to light by the gospel, John giving us life descending and manifested here in Christ and communicated to us; and Paul, life more fully completed in result up there according to the divine counsels in glory. All this of course is not here entered into, and could not be till Christ’s resurrection. There could have been even no righteousness in it. Who had a title to be in a heavenly place till Christ entered into it? In whom could it be displayed in glory till the Head so entered into it? Still the principle, source, root of it is seen and revealed here. The Psalms are not law, though law be yet owned: but the working of the Spirit of Christ and of life, in those who are under it or in Christ Himself, and in those too who have to confess themselves sinners under it, could not hope for life therefore by it, but whose eye is opened on mercy, forgiveness, and grace, if not on heaven; though this, so far as the sense of the joy of God’s presence expresses it, is reached where life is most fully expressed, as in Psalm 16.
Hence the source of life is seen—a blessed thought—when all was condemnation and death under law. They could not say, The life has been manifested, and we have seen it; still less, our life is hid with Christ in God; but they could say, and are taught to say and know, With Thee is the fountain of life. Hence there is a drinking of the river of His pleasures. For where should this life be satisfied, or the cravings of the heart even unconsciously animated by it, if not at that river, the river that makes glad the city of God? We have in us who have drunk, come to Christ and drunk, we have drunk of the water He gives, a well of water in us, springing up into everlasting life: yea, through the Spirit, rivers flow out from us, and that from the inmost consciousness of blessing.
But all this is the power of life in the Spirit; but it is equally precious to know its nature is divine. I have remarked elsewhere, that what is spoken of as life and nature in Colossians is referred to the Holy Spirit in Ephesians. Here we have God as the fountain, a blessed expression; blessed to know that the fountain is God Himself. The Father hath life in Himself; this is true of Christ as Man; then we that have the Son have life. It shows, I think, that it is looked as something flowing forth. What our hearts have to rest on is God being the source of life, that we may feel and know what life is—how divine a joy it is, that, having a life which is divine in its nature, this is capable of rejoicing. It is its nature to rejoice in what is divine. It can, indeed, enjoy naught else, save, as the expression of it, in goodness or truth, but finds its joy in these rivers which flow’ unexhausted from divine love, and in which we drink the blessedness which is in His nature—in a nature which, being spiritually the same, must and can enjoy it according to that nature itself in its own perfectness. We joy in God.
But there is another thing. “In thy light shall we see light.” God shines out, as well as He is a source. He has life in Himself, but with Him is the fountain of it. He is light, but He shines forth, gives light. So Christ; “in Him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:44In him was life; and the life was the light of men. (John 1:4)). And even we, Christ is our life, and we are light in the Lord. Here, no doubt, light is looked at more as comfort in the darkness of trial, when man, under Satan’s power, was in the fullest sense manifested darkness; but this, as we have seen, has led to the discovery of what God is Himself. In the abstract principle nothing indeed in the psalms leads us more to what was fulfilled in Christ. Only here it is seen in Jehovah as its source, and the one in whom it is displayed. But this gives it its divine perfectness. “For with Thee is the fountain of life: in Thy light shall we see light.” It is the confidence, in the midst of darkness and trial, that Jehovah in grace was a source of life, and that in His light they would see light. In Christ we get every way deeper truths; because, when the Life was the light of men, not for mere outward help, but shining in the moral darkness of this world, the darkness was darkness still—did not comprehend it. As long as He was in the world, He was the light of the world. Men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
The closing verses return to the present hopes of deliverance by the government of God, and the assurance of its accomplishment. What characterizes the righteous here is the knowledge of Jehovah and uprightness in heart: the enemies—pride and wickedness. He sees them, by faith, all fallen and unable to rise.
Psalm 37 is very distinctly in connection with the display of the direct government of God in this world, as it will be made good when the meek shall inherit the land and the wicked be cut off. We have already seen that the epistles of Peter especially furnish to us the application of this to the Christian estate as far as it is so applicable. The beginning of Matthew 5 gives us also, only with a much fuller evangelical character, though not going farther than the kingdom of heaven, the application in the way of promise, as far as the temper pleasing to God goes. But there are some most interesting and instructive exhortations in the psalm as to the spirit in which the believer is to walk and the character of his confidence in God in the midst of the evil which surrounds him. For though the time of the direct display of God’s government be not come, and no doubt the power of evil will be displayed more oppressively just before it is put down, still it is even now the time of patience, and the evil is there. Till Christ comes, it is in principle the evil day, and the patience and kingdom of Jesus Christ go together in the heart—not His own kingdom and glory. They are all founded on the certainty that after all Jehovah is above all the evil, loves judgment, does not forget the righteous and those who trust in Him, and that, in the end, His way would have the upper hand. Meanwhile faith is exercised and all that is in the heart judged, which would by self-will mar the spiritual character and hinder the confidence in the Lord which becomes the saint.
The first exhortation is to peacefulness of spirit, and it is general and applies to the state of the mind. “Fret not thyself.” When self-will and the desire of present satisfaction mingles itself with the love of righteousness, when one desires righteousness (and partly sometimes, through fear of the power of evil), and is selfish through peace-loving interests, one is apt to fret oneself because evil has its way. All this is the same spirit of unbelief with other desires. But it is unbelief and self-will. The wrath of man does not work the righteousness of God. We are neither to fret, which is distrust, nor be envious, which is even worse and self-interest. Then comes the positive direction in what spirit we are to walk. What is the resource against the power of evil? “Trust in Jehovah, and do good.” You will reap the fruit of it according to promise.
Next, delight thyself in Jehovah: He will give the desires of the heart. Holy desires, which have Himself for their object, will be satisfied. But opposition, shame, perhaps calumny, is there. “Commit thy way unto Jehovah.” How true is this! He has always, as men speak, the last word if we have only faith to wait for it. He will bring the result the righteous heart desires and make evident its righteousness.
Next, patient waiting for Jehovah in heart and desire, the surest character of trust. Circumstances may thus be in turmoil around one—violence and efforts. The soul waits for Jehovah’s coming in when He will. The wicked may prosper; Jehovah has His own time, a time which is always right and sets all right. He may chasten for good, have plans bringing to maturity, patience Himself with the wicked, His own glory to bring out, which is our everlasting joy. Hence, no anger, no wrath, no fretting, no uneasiness. It leads to doing evil, indulging our own will in evil to meet evil. This is not the patience and faith of the saints. Evil-doers shall be cut off; the saint must not be among the number. They that wait on Jehovah shall inherit the earth. So of the meek, so of such as are blessed of Jehovah. This is Jewish undoubtedly; but, as we have seen, the government of God is still exercised, though not in public manifestation; and, when the soul has waited on Him in patience, it has its blessing even here. The latter part of the psalm is a careful declaration of this sure government of the earth to be publicly manifested in connection with the Jews, more secretly carried on in the time of heavenly grace, still very true.
There are one or two points of blessing to note in it. The steps of a good man are ordered by Jehovah. This is a vast and precious blessing, to think that in this wilderness, where there is no way in the midst of confusion and wickedness, our Father directs our steps. A young Christian may, in confiding zeal, not so much see the value of this; but through how many experiences will he pass? But when one has seen the world, its snares, what a pathless wilderness of evil it is, it is beyond all price that the Lord directs our steps. Also the humble young Christian is directed through grace, if he waits on the Lord, though he may not see the wisdom of it, nor the greatness of the privilege and mercy, till afterward. But this is not all. Being so directed, the path is a good, a divine, path. There is indeed no other, and the heart is directed in it. For the Christian is led by the Spirit of God. His heart is in the ways; as Moses says, Show me Thy way—not a way, but Thy—that I may know Thee. If I know a person’s ways, I know him. God leads by His Spirit acting on and in the inner man, and the word sanctifies. Then God has delight in the saint’s way. He delights in seeing a divine path trodden by a man in this world of evil. This Christ did perfectly, and God delighted in it. So far as we follow Him, the Lord delights in our way, has positive delight in it. It meets His heart.
Remark that there is no way but Christ. Adam did not need a way; he had to abide, enjoying God’s goodness, where he was. In a sinful world there is no way; all is confusion and sin. But Christ was Himself, according to God, in the world, and in passing through it manifesting divine life and its path through the world when not of it. This was a wholly new thing, partially manifested in every saint in his walk of faith; but existing in itself and perfectly manifested in Christ. This is our path. We have to follow His steps and He is the way to the Father, and it is to Him we are going. It is an immense privilege to think our steps are ordered of the Lord, as a guarding from evil, and guidance; and then that the Lord delights in our way. What a path in a world like this! How fast should we hold it, and seek none else, and seek to keep it! Here the precepts, as in Colosians 3, or Ephesians 4 and 5, come in so preciously. There is another mercy—God watches over him. He may fall, that is, in trials, not carnally, but he is not utterly cast down (compare 2 Cor. 4:99Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; (2 Corinthians 4:9) and following); the Lord upholds him by His hand. It may be a part of this government of God that he should be brought low, set aside; but the Lord’s hand is in it, not he out of it, and that hand upholds him. The vessel may be broken or put to dishonor by men, the power is of God.
There is a moral reason for God’s ways—He loves judgment; besides that, there is the assurance of sovereign love. He loves His saints. They are preserved forever: but, then, according to the ways of this judgment, we have besides some traits of the righteous. He speaks wisdom, that is, the mind of God; and talks of judgment, the uprightness of the divine ways in God’s sight, how God judges of right and wrong; his heart is in the walking in God’s known will; his steps will not slide. We have then to wait on the Lord, and to keep His way. The end of the perfect and of uprightness is peace. And so it is, practically, with a Christian; he may be chastened for particular faults, for God’s ways are through mercy unbending and right; but when a man walks with upright purpose of heart in his life, that life closes—if it close this side of glory—in peace. The fear of God and walking in His presence is a great means of peace. I speak not of peace for a sinner’s conscience through the precious blood of Christ, but the peace of God filling the heart when all comes before Him. Finally Jehovah is the strength of the righteous in the time of trouble. This cannot fail. He shall help and deliver them, saving them from their enemies because they trust in Him. This is always true.
Psalm 38 presents to us a special state of soul. The relationship of the heart with God is known and felt, and that even in confidence, as the soul pursues the expression of its feelings. “In thee, O Jehovah, do I hope:Thou wilt hear, O Jehovah my God.” Yet the soul is in the depth of sorrow and distress, and this looked at as the chastening of the Lord. It is under it, but deprecates it; that is, being in profound distress and sorrow, in loathsome disease, and friends abandoning, and enemies lively (as Job’s state partially), Jehovah is looked to in it. The heart attributes it all to sin, but first of all looks to Jehovah and His hand. It is this that shows faith and a right mind.
The order of thought is thus remarkable: first, Jehovah judging, then sin as the cause, then personal misery, then abandonment of friends, then liveliness and ill-will of enemies, and the consciousness of all resulting in the heart confiding in Him that smote, turning to Him that smiteth it; and then comes out what at bottom was in the heart—hope in Jehovah, the consciousness of such belonging to Him as that the triumph of faith’s enemies could not be, and that in the sense of the need of His intervention, because the poor sinning soul had no strength in self.
All this leads to the expression of unfeigned integrity of heart; acknowledgment of sin, not merely owning it to be the cause of judgment, but judging self for it before a trusted Jehovah, and thus able freely to look for help from Him. The soul, in disengaging sin from itself through grace, in judging it, can disengage, so to speak, its enemies from the pressing judgments of Jehovah; and, seeing them only in their own malice and hostility to the servant of Jehovah and to what was right, can now look for Jehovah’s help against them. For the believer, though he had grievously sinned and been brought righteously low for it, yet really followed what was good. And though Jehovah used the malice of the wicked as a rod, it was not the evil which the wicked hated in the saints, but their connection with and owning the Lord. Yet the judgment was righteous. This will be the true history of the remnant when, under the terrible chastisement of Jehovah, they earnestly turn to what is right. But what an instruction also for us when under chastisement for what is wrong! Perhaps complicated chastisement for an extreme case is supposed here.
But what instruction for us when discipline comes upon us, where to look, where to begin! There may be the sense of God’s chastening hand for sin and deserved wrath, but the reference of the heart to God’s faithful love in relationship with us will lead to deprecate just wrath and His hot displeasure. There is a government of God according to His nature, and though the chastening hand of God does not destroy the faith and knowledge of our relationship (to us of Father), nor the reflective certainty that there can be no imputation to the believer, yet the soul does not quiet itself with this under the sense of the governmental hand of God in it. It is of immense consequence no doubt, and is at the basis of confidence—is a real sustaining, directing power to the soul, but it is not directly objectively thought of. God’s holy nature, with whom we have communion, and what He is necessarily as regards sin, is before the soul. And the government of God is according to that nature; which indeed has been glorified by the work of redemption as to the imputation of sin. And though this last be true, the former point is what is rightly felt at the time: not a doubt of redemption, but a sense of the way God, in His very nature, and as Lord in His government, looks at sin with wrath; not reasoning about it, but because one has a nature that knows Him and an awakened conscience, one feels it, and feels it as to self, the goodness of God making self-judgment more terrible. It is not despair, it is not doubting justification; but it is not using this to screen the soul from the sense of the aspect sin has in the sight of God. It deprecates, because it knows the Lord, wrath and hot displeasure, which its sin had deserved, and, because it knows Him, looks to Him of whom it has deserved it. In the circumstances of the trial one looks to the hand and thoughts of Him who inflicts it, and interprets the ways of God because all comes from His hand, and looks to His thoughts in it. And hence, the conscious relationship being present, the heart gets into the power of it as a purifying, more than a wrathful process. It can say, Lord, all my desire is before Thee, my groaning is not hid from Thee.
This introduction of the Lord into His own chastisements, according to the full love and the relationship in which He is to us, is very beautiful. He is, according to these, the key for the heart of His own ways. And the heart recovers its equilibrium, as we see in the end of the psalm, where there is the consciousness of God being for it, as its resource against what before pressed on it, and as to which, in the sense of the sin which had caused it, it was deprecating wrath and hot displeasure. This is the effect of looking straight to Him and confessing simply, and in true depth of soul, the evil as against Himself, setting it between the soul and God; then it settles matters between the heart and the enemies with God. The secret of all is his looking directly to God Himself as He is in relationship with us, and this is the true confession of sin, but looking to and casting all on Himself. Confidence in Jehovah is the spring of every thought in all these psalms.
The relationship of Father in which God stands to us, and which is realized by faith, modifies in a measure the kind of feeling which the heart has. We have more sense of tenderness and graciousness in His thoughts towards us when we look towards Him, more of compassion and love; but this does not hinder its being substantially the same, and God as a God of government, according to the holiness of His nature, being before the soul and conscience, though His love be trusted. It will be remarked that the soul with its desire before God, is entirely submissive, and silent as to the mischief and wrong of the enemy; and that because it referred to God and hoped in Him, trusted in Him as having carried the whole matter in the spirit of confession to Him, and looks at it as coming from His hand. It would not otherwise have put Him between itself and the enemies. Verse 13 and following.
Psalm 39 is more the nothingness of man in presence of all the evil, and the pretensions of power in which it showed itself, the heart referring itself to Jehovah. The heart kept a check on itself in the presence of the wicked, lest it should speak foolishly or rise up against it, as if it had strength too, whereas all in man was vanity. Then God’s hand is seen in what the heart was undergoing, and He is looked to for deliverance, and all the pretensions of the wicked disappear, so to speak. Jehovah was correcting for iniquity. The believer in this world is a stranger, sojourning with God—for how long He alone can say. It does not depend on, nor is it to be vexed by, the bustling pretensions and arrogance of the wicked in their success. This would be to make ourselves of this world with a claim to something in it. Is that true? Verse 12 takes the place of Abraham and David, and all the walkers by faith, but looking as the believing Jew would for present sparing, though of God and as from God; and this in chastening (see verses 9, 10), the soul can now do. As to the government and ways of God, it is a New Testament wish.
Psalm 40. In all these psalms we have had the failing saint (the remnant), looking to a God known in relationship and faithful grace, though in failure. In Psalm 40 we have Christ taking the place of patience without failure, and so furnishing a ground for confidence even for those who failed, by taking His place with them (who after all were the saints upon the earth, the excellent) in their sorrows, and the path of integrity on the earth. Nor does He fail in this to place Himself under the burden of evil and sins under which Israel had brought itself. We, though this be in every sense true for the redemption of Israel, know it in yet a deeper way—such a glorifying of God as gives a heavenly place. This is not looked at here. But the way in which Christ identifies Himself with Israel, though in the integrity of the upright remnant, is profoundly instructive, and leads us into a wonderful apprehension of a special part of His sorrows. His death, and the sorrows of His death, are not viewed as atoning, or bearing of wrath, but as sorrows and suffering and grief. And so they were; though, besides that, atonement was in them, viewed as the drinking the cup of wrath. But there Christ does not bear sorrow with, but for His people; here God is viewed as helping Christ when in sorrow, in which He is, and in which He waits on Jehovah. It lay on the remnant, as in Israel’s opposition, because of their faults and departure from God. Christ, who had been (as He states in this psalm) faithful to God in everything, enters into this sorrow in heavenly grace.
It is not His own relationship to God, but His entering into the remnant’s as connected with Israel. His own had been perfect: theirs, though founded on Jehovah’s faithfulness on one side, actually the fruit of sin. It is further at the close of His life. It is morally closed as to service. During that He had been doing God’s will in the body prepared for Him, and faithfully declaring God’s righteousness in the great congregation, that is, publicly in Israel. Now, and as regards man (and so it will be with the remnant—their trials will come on them from the proud, because of their faithfulness and testimony: only they will have deserved it, as themselves involved in the sins of the people), because of this faithful testimony, the evils come upon Him. So we know it was with Christ historically. His hour was come for it—the hour of His enemies and of the power of darkness. Here (as it is not the atoning character of His suffering and sorrow, but His association with the remnant—with, as I have said, not for), we have not, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” as in Psalm 22, where the foundation of righteous grace was to be laid.
It is Christ’s perfect life, and sorrows at the close of it, in which He refers to the faithfulness and goodness of Jehovah, so as to lead His people to confide in it, instructing them in this in which His perfection was shown. “I waited patiently for Jehovah”; patience had its perfect work—an immense lesson for us. Flesh can wait long, but not till the Lord comes in, not in perfect submission; and confiding only in His strength and faithfulness so as to be perfect in obedience and in the will of God. Saul waited nearly seven days, but the confidence of the flesh was melting away—his army; the Philistines, the proud enemies were there. He did not wait on till the Lord came in with Samuel. Had he obeyed and felt he could do nothing, and had only to obey and wait, he would have said, I can do nothing, and I ought to do nothing, till the Lord comes by Samuel. Flesh trusted its own wisdom, and looked to its own force, though with pious forms. All was lost. It was flesh which was tried and failed. Christ was tried: He waited patiently for Jehovah. He was perfect and complete in all the will of God. And this is our path through grace.
This is the great personal instruction of this psalm, save that Christ’s own perfectness is always the greatest of all. Here He gives Himself as the pattern. “I waited patiently for Jehovah”—that is, till. Jehovah Himself came in. His own will never moved, though fully put to the test. Hence it was perfectness. He would have no other deliverance but His. His heart was wholly right: He would not have a deliverance which was not Jehovah’s. This is a very important point as to the state of the heart; it would not have another than Jehovah’s. Besides, it knows that there is no other, and that Jehovah is perfectly right, when His moral will has been perfectly made good, and His righteousness vindicated when needed. There is the known perfectness of His will—His only title, and then perfectness of submission and the desire of only Him.
As this is a pattern for the saints, trial is looked at as such, and death is not spoken of save as it may be trial—a horrible pit, miry clay, images of distress, terror, and, humanly speaking, danger. The resource was a cry to Jehovah, and He was heard in that He feared. Here Christ speaks in His own Person, but in verse 3 deliverance enables Him to speak to the remnant —“a new song in my mouth”—even for deliverance from what had come upon them because of their sins. “Praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in Jehovah.” This would let in Gentiles. God had come in to deliver out of the effect of evil, and set His feet upon a rock above it and all its effects. This sure faithfulness of grace—the deliverance of God manifested in One who had gone to the depths of trials—would be a resting-place for the faith of others, the rather as He had gone into it as the consequence of the state of the people in the sight of God. Hence it is applied to the condition of the remnant, though thus true of every saint in trial by others’ wickedness and the power of evil, perhaps brought on himself. “Blessed is the man that maketh Jehovah his trust, and respecteth not the proud,” the high pretensions of man, and apparently successful wickedness, “nor such as turn aside to lies,” abandon God for other false refuges, and the falsehoods of infidelity. Then, as man, Christ begins to recite how this most excellent proof of God’s faithfulness to His people came in, though owning them to all others. They were numberless towards His people, “to us-ward.” He puts Himself with them.
In verse 6 the special and glorious One comes in view, He who could discourse with Jehovah in eternity. The Son and Word (who was with God and was God and in the beginning with God), according to what was written in the roll of the book, has the place of obedience prepared for Him, ears dug, a body prepared, and according to the divine counsels (and love for us) freely and willingly undertakes the same place, the place of obedience; His delight (when He has taken it, and is man—has taken the form of a servant) is to do God’s will. God’s law is within His heart. Such is Christ as man, obedient, who in free-will had come, taking the body prepared for Him, and entered into the willing servant’s place, the place of willing and glad obedience.
Verse 6 presents the thought and counsels of God, verse 7 His willing coming to do God’s will according to these counsels. But we must remember He speaks when man, and verses 6, 7 are the revelation of what passed in the everlasting world (wonderful thought!) telling us how He became a man. But, as in verse 5, so again in verse 8, Christ speaks again as actually in the place on earth. “I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, Thy law is within my heart”; that is His perfectness as Man.
In verses 9-10, we have the perfectness of His service. He has preached righteousness before the whole people of Israel; He has not shrunk from it, nor hid it within His heart: a lesson to all of us, though to be used with divine guidance. It was God’s righteousness, His ways, nature, judgments, judgment of evil, what He was in judging it, His faithfulness too, and salvation—for Jehovah was this to Israel—His lovingkindness and truth. He had preached righteousness to man, and that perfectly; and he had fully declared what Jehovah was in all the perfectness of His nature and character towards Israel. All this was accomplished. He appeals to its full accomplishment. But now, He who had freely undertaken this service for God’s glory towards Israel finds Himself in another position. It has brought the hatred of the nation upon Him, the wishers of evil against Him.
But this great controversy, and the need for the saints’ deliverance, raised the question of the state in God’s sight of those that were to be delivered. And without entering here on the ground of atonement, the governmental expression of the view God took of Israel’s sin, in which the remnant had been involved, comes pressing on the soul of Christ, as it will really on the remnant. The iniquities of Israel will take hold upon them as reaping what they have sown—not condemnation (the burden of that Christ indeed underwent for them in atonement), but trial, distress, and felt (or, rather, making them to feel) the displeasure of God, but in which true faith looks for the loving-kindness and truth proclaimed and trusted; for the righteousness proclaimed is felt as a witness against sin, through the distress flowing from it, as with Joseph’s brothers before Joseph. Psalm 40 presented to us the blessed Lord coming to take the place of obedience in the body prepared for Him, to be the poor and needy one on the earth, and waiting patiently for the Lord.
Psalm 41 speaks of the blessedness of those who could discern this place of the poor. The Lord was in it above all, and understood it above all; but we know in the beatitudes how He pronounces blessed those who through grace are like Him poor in spirit. For in truth these beatitudes are nearly the whole of them just a description of what Christ was, though given as a character to which blessing belonged: poor in spirit, meek, pure in heart, who was such like the great Peacemaker? In Luke we have more directly to His disciples: Blessed are ye poor. But He entered into the sorrows and place of His disciples, and, when He put forth His own sheep, went before them.
Although a psalm taking up a general character, it is specially fulfilled in Christ, who used verse 9 as specially fulfilled in Himself. It is indeed this identification with the remnant which gives such a deep interest to the psalms. This poor man cried. What is looked for in the psalm is the understanding of this place. With this we have the sure confidence that Jehovah would uphold him in his integrity, and set him before His face forever. Blessed is he who enters into, and who has spiritual intelligence of, and interest in, this place of the poor man who waits, though in sorrow and lowliness, on Jehovah. If malice pursue him, he looks to Jehovah and His mercy in integrity of heart.