Practical Reflections on the Psalms: Psalms 88-89

Psalm 88‑89  •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 6
Psalm 88
On Psa. 88 I have not much to say. God is known and looked to according to His revealed name as the only Savior, and it is just to this point that the soul is brought by the exercises spoken of in the psalm; cast by the pressure of all around to find it comes from God's hand, and more yet, God's judgment so as to be therein a pure and sovereign salvation from Him. Jehovah, God of my salvation, governs the psalm. The state was this: affliction was present, nature could not find its account there, acquaintance put far from him. But this was but the negative and outward part, because nature found no relief, as it could from nature's sorrows more or less. The great point that pressed on the spirit was death, and death bearing the witness of God's wrath upon it. To this, the knowledge that the revealed God of promise was the only Savior turns the heart; his life drew nigh to the grave. God's wrath lay hard upon him. Still God was appealed to. It was nature without its sustainment, nature with death pressed on it, that is, its destruction and end. And God being brought in, and faith in Him, so far there as to own that all depended on Him, His wrath was felt in it all. And this is true. This is death when seen in its truth. So Christ saw it in Gethsemane, though He would not have said all that is in this psalm. So the convinced soul sees it, whose eye is opened upon God, in its Adam state. The psalm, however, does not look beyond this life. In this it ends in nature—simple Judaism. But the faith in the revelation of God which has made it so feel what death is, as wrath from God, makes it look to Him who has inflicted it as a Savior. And this is the value of such experience. It shows us our true state, our true relationship in God to nature. Nor is there way of escape, for it is our state by judgment before God. Hence self is done with if we are delivered. This makes deliverance known as sovereign grace, as God's deliverance, and the soul rests on revelation. And until the deliverance the soul cries to God. But when deliverance is obtained, the flesh, all that it is, remains as a judged thing under wrath. There is no deception so far as to trust it really, though we may forget its evil for a moment, and even have to watch and contend with it. But its status before God is ever counted as a condemned and evil thing. The psalm is the description of the process which brings the soul to this. Sometimes the soul only reaches this on its death-bed. This ought not to be, but it explains what surprises many in godly persons. When it is not gone through really, the soul is not free. It stands on the ground of God's salvation, in spirit, not in flesh. It is not seeing this that has led many to live on experience, not on Christ. They speak of Holy Ghost work, and knowing the evil of the flesh, and the killing power of the law, which only means that they have not learned it. They are in this psalm. But they have not learned salvation and the gospel. They do not know that they are dead and risen with Christ. They are feeling death press upon them as wrath from God, according to this psalm—all well; but they have not received the sentence of death in themselves, through Christ's having died in grace for them, so as to reckon themselves dead, crucified with Christ, to be nevertheless alive, yet not they, but Christ living in them, who had died and put away all this for them. They are under the pressure of wrath for what they are in nature—all true in its place—but have not learned Christ, and through Him, that they are not in the flesh but in Christ, in that He has borne and passed through this for them, and that now through Him they are free in the new man as risen in Him.
Psalm 89
Psa. 89 has one remarkable character which it behooves us to notice here—reliance on the faithfulness of God according to His original word of promise, when externally all is contrary to it, but the expectation of fulfillment founded on mercy, in fact in Christ, in whom all promised mercies concentrate themselves. “I have said, mercy shall be built up forever, thy faithfulness shalt thou establish in the very heavens.” The accomplishment of God's promises on earth shall be a source of praise for the inhabitants of heaven. Yet we see at the end that it was as if God had made all men in vain—a sad thought—the power of evil ruling, men its willing instruments, and the good having no place but reproach and sorrow. But God is called on to remember His saints' weakness and their reproach. Still there is confidence; and whatever the state of things may be, He has wrought redemption, broken the power of the enemy; and has He not in a far better way than for Israel? His arm is mighty, His right hand high, whatever state they are in. Heaven and earth are His, though till Christ comes we cannot say, Possessor of heaven and earth. Justice and judgment are the constant attributes of His throne. Mercy and truth announce Him when He goes forth. This form of expression is beautiful. God has a throne. There everything must be brought into consistency with it. But in His active going forth tender mercy and goodness announce Him, and faithful truth will tell His people He is there when He comes forth. His activities are mercy and faithfulness, because His will is at work and His nature is love. Yet His throne still maintains justice and judgment. How truly this has been shown in Christ! — will doubtless be so in the last days in Israel—but signally so in Christ, and even then because of Him. This apprehension of God gives the sense of blessedness in the midst of sorrow. “Blessed are the people who know the joyful sound. They shall walk, O Lord, in the light of thy countenance. In thy name shall they rejoice all the day, and in thy righteousness shall they be exalted. For thou art the glory of their strength, and in thy favor shall our horn be exalted.” All this is realized in the heart in the midst of sorrows, so that it can be as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. This gives sweet blessing to the heart of the saint. Trouble does but increase it, because it makes him feel the preciousness of the faithfulness and favor of God, and that nothing separates him from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. The inward revelation of divine favor makes the path of sorrow full of sweetness. So Christ Himself was a man of sorrows. Yet He could say that they might have “my joy fulfilled in themselves.” The sureness of the promises in Christ are then insisted on. Read of “thy holy One,” and remark that “holy” here is the same word as “mercies” in the first verse, not as “holy” in the 18th. Mercy, then, faithfulness, the character of the divine throne and of the divine actings, past accomplishment of redemption, what the title of God is, and the power in which He has broken the hostile power of evil, all to us known as the Father's love through the Son by the Spirit brings the Spirit in the midst of all trial into the enjoyment by faith, but the true enjoyment of the heart, of the light of God's countenance according to all the favor He bears us in Christ. In the psalm, of course, this is expressed as on Jewish ground. But Christ manifests Himself to us as He does not to the world. The Father and the Son come and make their abode with us. Joy is possessed; full, final deliverance counted on.