Practical Reflections on the Psalms: Psalms 85-87

Psalm 85‑87  •  13 min. read  •  grade level: 7
Psalm 85
Psa. 85 brings out a principle of great practical importance, the difference between the forgiveness of what belongs to our former state, and the blessedness into which the believer is introduced in the enjoyment of relationship with God. Here, of course, it is in the restoration of Israel to blessing in the laud in accomplishment of the promises of Jehovah. I shall now speak only of the principle as regards ourselves.
Forgiveness is known as the fruit of Jehovah's goodness, and His sure goodness to His people, and hence full blessing is expected. But the two are distinct. So with us, forgiveness applies to all that we are, looked at as in the old man and his deeds. We are brought back and all the fruit of the old man is put away forever by the sacrifice of Christ. We have thus full forgiveness. Wrath is gone as to it. All our sin is covered; but the distance from God and from the enjoyment of communion with Him is not removed. Fear of judgment and the Judge is gone; but the enjoyment of present blessing with God, His favor as upon those with whom is no question, and the going forth of divine favor in natural though righteous relationship, this is not entered into. Joy there has been, great joy there is, in fin ding oneself forgiven; but it applies to what we are in flesh, and is not communion with God in a nature capable of enjoying Him and none else, because coming from Him. Though forgiven, this distance, this want of enjoyment of God in the new and divine nature, is felt to be in its nature anger. It is not being brought to God. Nor can we rest without the enjoyment of His favor. For this the appeal in the psalm is made. The captivity of Jacob was brought back, but he looked for more, to be turned to God, and that all anger might cease. This is a large word; yet, knowing love and communion at least in hope, we cannot rest without it. We may have desired it, i.e., the sense of favor, but we cannot get it by progress or victory; we must get it by forgiveness and deliverance, for we are sinners. But when we have found there is redemption and pardon, there is then not merely the want of the conscience by which we must come in, but the spiritual desires of the new man. “Wilt thou not revive us again, that thy people may rejoice in thee?” The soul is revived by the presence of the Spirit of God, and rejoices in God Himself. So Rom. 5: we have peace with God: not only so, we joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the reconciliation. “Show us thy mercy, O Jehovah (for it is mercy, but mercy from God known in relationship with His own—for us the Father known in Christ), and grant us thy salvation.” But the soul has learned grace and listens for the answer, because it looks for grace. It is not legal agony, but desired knowledge of God in favor. “He will speak peace. His salvation is nigh them that fear Him.”
Now this is all-important for the soul, not to rest in forgiveness (its first urgent necessity, that applies to what it is as a sinner), but to understand that it is called to the enjoyment of God, in the cloudless communion of a new nature, which being, morally speaking, the divine nature, has necessary and full delight in God, though a dependent and growing delight—we joy in God. No doubt it is and must be founded on righteousness—divine righteousness, as we shall see. It would not be God, were it not so; but it is not the settling that point with a God who is calling it in question, but enjoying God's presence, communion with Him, according to the perfectness in which we have been placed before Him, enjoying Him in the divine nature of which we are partakers. This is thus spoken of in regard of Israel: “Mercy and truth are met together, righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” It is mercy, for it is granted to sinners in pure and sovereign mercy, but it is truth, for it accomplishes all God's promises to Israel. To us far beyond promise, for there was none of the Church; but it is a stronger case. It is being in Christ and as Christ, and so before God according to the favor in which He is before Him as risen. Righteousness seemed against the sinner and was, but through the divine righteousness it associates itself with peace to the sinner. They kiss each other. Peace answers to mercy, righteousness to truth. They have—we have—peace through mercy; but righteousness by the faith of Jesus Christ brings us into the full enjoyment of the place He is in, or it would not be righteousness. Truth springs out of the earth; i.e., for Israel all promised is accomplished there. With us, of course, it is sitting in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. It is not, glory shall dwell in our land, but we are in title and place in the glory of God on high. But in all cases righteousness looks down from heaven.1 It is not for Israel or for us, righteousness looking up from earth to claim blessing from heaven. He has established righteousness in the very heavens. Christ is there. He is there by the righteousness of God. The righteousness was a divine, heavenly righteousness; He having glorified God, is glorified with God, and in Him, and that is divine righteousness. Our heavenly and Israel's earthly blessings both flow from it. Then comes conferred blessing, too; and so surely it is all the produce of that heavenly country, its joys and privileges are made ours to enjoy. The last verse properly applies to earth. But there is a truth yet connected with this I have not noticed. The present government of God applies to this walking in divine enjoyment, not to forgiveness and peace. We enjoy this blessed communion, dwelling in God and God in us by the Holy Ghost given to us. If we grieve Him, we are made sorry, humbled, perhaps chastened. It is always our place, but its realization and enjoyment depend on the revelations and action of the Holy Ghost in us, and these depend on our walk, and state, and obedience. So in John 14 and 15 The enjoyment of divine favor and blessedness is made to depend on the walk of the saint. It must, if it is by the Holy Ghost dwelling in us; for how should we be enjoying communion in love in the midst of evil or idle thoughts? The presence of the Holy Ghost depends on righteousness—Christ's presence on high. That sheds God's love abroad in our hearts. We dwell in Him and He in us. But if evil is there, the flesh is at work, the Holy Ghost is grieved, communion is interrupted. It is not a question of title (that is, settled: Christ is in heaven), but of enjoying the blessedness I am brought into, enjoying. God. Here all our walk with God is in question (though it is by grace I do so walk aright). What I urge here is the soul's getting clear hold of. the difference between forgiveness—grace applied through Christ's work to sin and all the fruits of the old man, and our introduction in Him in righteousness into the presence and communion of God where no cloud or question of sin ever comes. We may get out of this (not out of the title to it, but its enjoyment in spirit—not that peace is destroyed with God, but communion), but in it no cloud of sin can come. We are loved as Christ is loved. All depends on His work. But one is the forgiveness of that out of which we have been brought, the application of Christ's work to our responsibility as children of Adam in flesh. In the other we are not in flesh, but in Christ, in the enjoyment of that into which He is entered—our life forever.
Psalm 86
Psa. 86 This psalm, though it be simple enough in its expression, yet is pretty full of important practical principles, as correcting the feebleness of a soul drawn to God with His full glory and power. It finds its center, not in embracing first the extent of the glory in its feeble state, but in being centered in God, and so praising and looking for strength and final deliverance into glory.
The ground it rests on, as looking to God to bow down His ear, is fourfold. It is poor and lowly, not of the proud of the earth; it is holy, really set apart to God; Jehovah's servant (with us the Father's name must come in here, as we have ever seen, and Christ as Lord), it trusts in Jehovah, and cries daily to the Lord. This is the state of the soul—poor and holy, set apart to the Lord; a servant, one that trusts, and the trust is not idle, it cries in the sense of need and dependence. This last is dwelt on in confidence of goodness, and a sense of the majesty of the Lord above all pretenders to power. He alone is God, is great, and does what to us is wondrous. It looks, then, to be taught God's way—has no thought to walk its own. The truth and word of God guides it. But here there is another need—the tendency of the heart to be distracted to a thousand objects, and wandering thoughts, and it prays the Lord to unite it. How we need this—to have the heart concentrated on the Lord! Here is power; here that presence of divine things which puts the mind in what is heavenly, and in' direct connection with divine sources of strength. When other thoughts come in, one is outside, in another world, from which we have to be delivered; not in the divine and heavenly one, so as to be witnesses of it. The majesty and glory of God's name had been seen (verse 9), but this does not make the soul pass into the glory as if it was at home there. In a sense it is too great for one, and this is felt. How little we are! how we know in part! but it leads the soul to seek further concentration of all its affections, poor and lowly as it is, on God. And this is right, satisfies the soul, suits it. It is in affection and adoring thankfulness at the center, through grace, of all this glory. Hence it continues— “I will praise thee, O Lord my God, with my whole heart.” It is united here, and it can praise as it is called to praise, and as it sees in result will praise. We are called on to comprehend with all saints, the length and breadth, and depth and height; but we must first be thus brought to the center—Christ dwell in our hearts by faith, and we rooted and grounded in love. Hence, knowing Him, we glorify His name for evermore. Our littleness has found, in His greatness, our place and our strength. We are, as I said, at the center of glory. This turns to the view the great deliverance God has wrought. It is seen supreme grace is the source of it all. It is not merely owning His grace according to nature, where all is in order, but grace, sovereign grace—the activity of God's love—Which has come down and delivered us from the lowest estate. This gives a special character to our knowledge of God. All dependent on even goodness, yet intimate in the character of our love to Him, because by our very wretchedness we know we are the objects of His love, thus known, to be infinitely great. The soul thus confiding in God and occupied for itself with Him, its first affair, sees the enmity of proud men, who fear Him not, rising up against it. It looks for God's interference. This is a great mark of faith, but, confiding in His accepting love, it looks for more. It delights in the manifestation that God is for it. This is riot only deliverance but satisfies the heart. It is all it asks—that God should show Himself for it. It is this, the sure portion of every one who trusts God, walking with Him, which the Lord looked for (Psa. 22), and had not, lower than the lowest for our sakes, but therein perfect in love, and glorifying His Father, and so higher than the highest. Therefore His Father loved Him, and He is glorified as man in a far higher way. Holpen and comforted in the trial, at that supreme moment, He was not—but there He stood alone. We trust and are delivered; He perfect above all, alone in this perfection. The Lord. give us at least to have our hearts united, undistracted to His name and in the Father's love. There is our center. We need not fear enemies there. (Phil. 1:27, 2827Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; 28And 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 1:27‑28).)
Psalm 87
Psa. 87 God's foundation which makes all assured. It is not that her foundation is in the holy mountain that calls out the interest, or assures the heart of faith, but that the city of God rests on God's foundation—so we. The sure foundation of God abideth, and in the latter case it was when the Church was going on so very badly that the saint had to judge its state and purge himself from many in it. But God's foundation abides sure. So we say, His calling and His inheritance in the saints. But the psalm brings out another point, hard for the activity of flesh. Faith attaches more importance to God's city, than to all that man has built. The sentiment of the psalm is essentially Jewish. In writing up the people, the saints and Messiah Himself are reckoned to Zion. These are his grounds for glorifying in Zion—God's view of the city. For us, no doubt, the thing comes in a different shape, as to the Church: Christ is of it, as its Head, not as born in it. God's fresh springs are there. But, practically, when the Church of God is despised, when it is formed of people who are of no account in this world, do we make. our boast of it because they are precious in the sight of God, rich in faith? or do the grandeurs of the Egypts and Babylons, which God judges, eclipse it in our sight? Do we judge after God's mind, or after man's? Is the appearance and vain show of this world of weight with us; or does the faith of the Lord of glory lead us to estimate highly what God. esteems, what is glorious? He has people whom He counts up. Is it the spirit of the world or the Spirit of God which forms our estimate of what is vile and what is valuable? Weigh the language of James's epistle. But may our souls especially feel the value of what in those heavenly places will be counted excellent by God.
1. Note how this sets aside legal righteousness; that looks up from earth,