Practical Reflections on the Psalms: Psalms 22-24

Psalm 22‑24  •  19 min. read  •  grade level: 8
In commenting on Psa. 22, our part here is not to unfold the blessed doctrine contained in it, in the introduction of grace on a wholly new footing, (viz., redemption, and the death of Christ,) winch 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 on 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 drank, could not be beard. 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, though never the sin, of human nature, save in bearing it. He was poured out like water—all His bones as 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. lint here there is no stooping, 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 in 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 that 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 I 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 which, 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.” Here it is: “Be not 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 Psa. 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 God over all, blessed for evermore.” 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, i.e., a forgetfulness of what God was—if this had been possible with Jesus. “I am a worm, and no man—a scorn 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. He 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 continuest holy, 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 Elan, 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? 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 drank 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 have told you already;” 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. This name, (that is the true reality of this 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!” 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 slow 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.” 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 to my Father and your Father and my God and your God.” 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 of the favor and heritage which is His, through grace.
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 praises 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. The first chapter of Ephesians shows us this place, in verses 3 and 4. 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 that nothing goes beyond earth here.
Psa. 23 is so ordered by the Spirit as to apply to a dying Christ, or 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. “The Lord 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, especially the remnant, and Christ Himself, are in the midst of oppression, 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 in 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 receive me forever. Confidence is in the Lord 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 suffering and trial and death of the Lord. This is the faithful man's blessing, when the earth is not the Lord'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 the Lord's 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 who 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. Psa. 24 closes the whole series which speaks of the association of Christ with the excellent—time 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; through 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 iii. to vii. we have the general principles and condition, showing that righteousness does not yet reign by judgment. This is founded on the great foundations of psalms i. and ii. 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 viii. In psalms ix. and x. the circumstances of the land and the Jews in the last days; and, then, xi.—xv. the relationships, judgment and principles of the remnant looking towards Jehovah in this state of things; having giving 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 be but 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 that 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.