Practical Reflections on the Psalms: Psalms 94-101

Psalm 94‑101  •  18 min. read  •  grade level: 8
Psalms 94-101
On these psalms, though they are very striking ones, I have very little to say with my present object, because they treat not of the exercises of the heart in the time of trial, but of the coming in of power to put an end to that time. They are characterized by the title “Jehovah reigns, the world is established.” I have, therefore, only a few remarks to make: first, that the result of all this patience of government in God is, that man rises up as the water floods against Him: but God is mightier. The termination of it is by power. But two great truths accompany this. God's testimonies are very sure; we can count upon His word through all. It reveals His nature, His purpose, His character. It gives that according to which He will act—no peace to the wicked, but infallible certainty of purpose and power. Man may be as the grass, evil rise up like the water-floods, the word of Jehovah abides forever, and he that does His will. Hence in all times we can go by it as a rule, dark as all may seem, mighty as evil may be. Israel or the Church, apostasy or hollow profession, persecution or seductive prosperity, His word is true and a sure guide, according to His own nature and character—His to whom power, after all, belongs. And if the time was when He to whom power belonged was counted as a malefactor, He was guided by that word, bowed to it, and fulfilled it; and judgment after all will return to righteousness. Thus far of all present government and future display of public power, the kingdom and patience, or kingdom and glory of the Lord. But there is another thing—Jehovah has a house, a dwelling. Take it as His heavenly dwelling, His temple where all speak of His glory, or in its place as the Church, His habitation by the Spirit. It is always essentially characterized by one thing, because it is Ills habitation—holiness becomes His house forever, separation to Him according to His nature.
These two points guide the saint through all circumstances till power comes in to sustain him, because he counts on God, through all the risings up of the power of evil: the word of God, and the holiness of His nature. God has graciously communicated His mind to men, has spoken. His word remains sure come what will. That is inherent to His nature, depends on His power as God. “Hath He said and shall He not do it, hath He spoken and shall it not come to pass?” If He be God, truth nor power to make it good cannot fail, or He is not God. His speaking obliges Himself, so to speak, by His nature. I cannot believe He is God at all, if, when He has spoken, it is not made good. He would not be God. It would be ignorance, or someone else would have power to hinder Him. His testimonies are sure. In the midst of evil this is an immense, a perfect consolation and stay. But the other test is of importance, the other claim on conscience. Holiness, if He be God, is in every sense necessary. No elevation of truth, no certainty of word to be reckoned on can alter this. It puts man subjectively in his place. He might boast of truth, may exult in sure promises, as if God had bound Himself. But God must be consistent with Himself; what is not holy is in no case of Him. He is supreme, and all must refer to Him, all be consecrated to Him in His presence, and, so far as He is revealed, suited to what He is. Thus a counter-check on man is furnished, and the true knowledge of God. It is not holiness apart from the word, nor knowledge or certainty apart from holiness. The Spirit of truth is the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit the Spirit of truth.
Note further, they are testimonies coming from God, the positive declaration of His mind and will, (not a boasted knowledge of God by man's will, and his pretension to know what God must be, though there he a certain apprehension of conscience connected with, often perverted by, traditional knowledge; but) the positive testimonies of God, so that man is subject to them, though sustained by them. It is not man's reasoning, or man's conscience, but the testimonies of God, His own active revelation of Himself, the utterance of His word. They are simply received by faith, the soul is subject to them as such. This characterizes the soul that owns God. Power will come in due time. This will make all publicly right. Till then faith rests in the testimonies; the soul-subjecting, soul-sustaining revelation of God.
God, moreover, has a house, a dwelling. This, as noticed elsewhere, is an immense fruit of redemption. Neither with innocence, nor with the faithful did God dwell; Adam before His fall nor Abraham had God dwelling with them; innocence marked one, faith the blessed path of the other. A frustrated or gracious visit told of God's condescension and goodness to either. But in Israel's redemption we find that Jehovah had brought them out of the land of Egypt, that He might dwell among them. (Ex. 29:45, 4645And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will be their God. 46And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, that brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, that I may dwell among them: I am the Lord their God. (Exodus 29:45‑46).) Innocence does not become God's house, but absolute consecration to Him according to His nature where good and evil are known; so it is in heaven—this character and nature. But, there, testimonies are not needed. Knowledge of good and evil man has, but separated from God and in sin. But where God has redeemed man to Himself, purified him, and delivered him, then He dwells with him, in him—in Israel according to His then partial revelation of Himself, in the saint now by His Spirit, and in the Church; and so eternally, for now it is according to what He is in Himself, fully revealed in Christ, and by His death. Hence it is founded on testimony. For God must reveal Himself, and His redemption, and His ways, and what He is. Thus the Holy Spirit is given consequent on Christ's exaltation on the accomplishment of redemption, and in fact on the reception of the testimony of God by faith. When God is known, (not merely truth,) then there is the consciousness of what suits, there is the delight of His name according to His nature; and thus it becomes the test not only of truth being known, but truth and so God Himself—for Christ is the truth, and the Spirit is truth. Hence, as soon as Israel is redeemed, the holiness of God is spoken of, not before, because He was going to dwell in them, having brought them to Himself. The world will be established by power; but this is consecration to God by testimony and His own presence through redemption. It is not the pomp and order of His house here, (that we have in psalm 51) but a dwelling-place of delight and nature. (Comp. Psa. 132:13, 1413For the Lord hath chosen Zion; he hath desired it for his habitation. 14This is my rest for ever: here will I dwell; for I have desired it. (Psalm 132:13‑14).)
Psalm 94
In Psa. 94 judgment is looked for and vengeance to set the world right. But we find the discipline and comforts of the Lord sustaining the soul meanwhile, which must occupy us a moment. The triumph of the wicked is, for him who believes in God, a painful and oppressive thought, the power of evil is evident; this is what just affects the mind of the saint, not in a prophetic but a moral way. But the blindness of the haughtiness of man away from God, presses on him who sees, from knowing God, the day of the wicked approaching. There is also the distinct consciousness of being God's people whose weakness and sorrow are but an occasion of oppression. Both are clear motives of judgment that this cannot go on forever. He that formed the eye surely sees it all. Man's thoughts are vanity. These two things then are the foundation of the saint's thought. God's interest in His people, and His goodness which will not overlook the poor when oppressed; yea, the very fact of the pride of the wicked.
But another element is introduced: God does judge evil, but He begins at His own house. God's hand is in the dealings which make His people suffer, as well as man's. It is to this the heart of the saint turns. “Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, O Jehovah.” We have the interpreter here one among a thousand. God with the chastening teaches out of the law. God, by all this process of evil having the upper hand, breaks the will, teaches dependence, separates not only the heart but the spirit from the world where this evil reigns. How could there be union with a world in which this power of evil is seen and morally shrunk from? Man thinks he can go on amiably in the world without its evil, but when the world itself is evil and felt to be so, what then? Thus wickedness and its rising up, discarding God, is its own remedy in the heart of him who owns God, exercises it, purifies it, removes it from the sphere in which its own will works, when it, if not in intention, at any rate practically, sought an outlet for nature. Divine life having given it thoughts of God; it is met by a world which will none of Him, and rises up against Him: all this is God's hand.
But there is more, there is, with the discipline of His hand, direct inward teaching by His word, which reveals Himself. Thus the haughty evil which drives back the heart, also has subduedness, and has tasted that the Lord is gracious, drives it to God, known in grace and the revelation of Himself, His ways, His purposes; and grace effectuates itself in the heart. The renewed heart gets into its own sphere and learns not merely the necessary character of God as hating evil and loving good, but His own ways, the development of His grace and truth, His holiness in the sphere in which He reveals what He is for those who know Him. This is a rest of heart for the saint, a repose of the spirit which seeks and delights in good. If it sought to meet the evil, (though actively in service there will be according to God's will,) but to meet the evil in the world, largely as the heart desires it and looks for God's bringing it in, there would be weariness and heart-breaking; but when the power of evil is rife, the soul is driven up into its own place, into the direct revelation of God and His ways, and there near God's altar, for it draws out worship, it finds rest—till. It still looks for setting evil right and the deliverance of the poor and needy, but it abides in patience, learning God's mind, and finds rest therein, rest in what is eternal. The activity of good it will engage in, where the open door is, but its rest is in that which is properly of God. The establishment of that by power will come, and that is certain. God is sure in His ways. He will not cast off His people. He will not have evil in power forever. Here it is, of course, the intervention of judgment on earth, judgment returning to righteousness—power and good going together, not power and evil. We have better things, a heavenly revelation for sons, a heavenly place, our Father's house before us, but the principle is the same. The judgment, once in the chief priests and Pilate, while righteousness and truth were in the blessed Jesus, will come to His hands who was once Himself the poor and oppressed; judgment will return to righteousness. And if we, taking up our cross, are glad to suffer and so shall reign with Him, yet the thoughts and ways, and counsels, and faithfulness of God will be fulfilled. Heavenly grace and heavenly glory may be added in our present rest of spirit, and the rest that remains to us; still righteousness will have dominion if it be heavenly, and eternal blessing for us who have a part with Him who suffered. The appeal to the impossibility of its going on, if the Lord is to show Himself at all, is strikingly put forward in verse 20.
The power of evil, note, (16, 17) was deeply felt. Be it so; it may show our weakness sometimes, but it is well it should, if faith be there. The heart ought not to get accustomed to the power of evil, will not if it be with God; will be sensible to it, astonished at it, and dependent on divine restoration to meet it in thought. This was true of Christ, only in perfection, and no fault in His thoughts. He was astonished at their unbelief; He looked round upon them with anger, being grieved at the hardness of their hearts; He could say, How long shall I be with you, how long shall I suffer you? But then, no less ready in heart in the activity of good where there was a want, He could say, Now is my soul troubled, and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour; but then perfect in submission and obedience, and the one desire to glorify His Father, that His Father Should glorify Himself—perfect in all things. We, alas! if not helped sometimes, ready to dwell in silence, should soon, so to speak, give up, where Christ, the blessed One, felt all infinitely more, and was perfect in it. But when we turn, in the consciousness of tendency to fail, or being actually in present danger, to God, His help is there. This is great mercy. Teaching, then, is for the rest of the spirit, but there is holding up and help in our ways. David encouraged himself in God: who can fail then? He who is mightier than all, He whose force is accomplished in weakness, is there to help, there in a tried one, witness of goodness, that if we never failed we were in danger.
Another scene opens too, for God thinks of all things for us. What questions, if our minds work, present themselves to us, in the confusion and labyrinths of the mixture of good and evil! The mind enjoying God's goodness may abstain from it. It does well, but the root and spring of all these questions are in men's hearts, and the power of evil around us awakens them. It is not only selfishness, though self is always the center, the center of the questionings, but when evil affects the spirit, a multitude of thoughts are there. I do not say it is right—it is not. It is the fruit of our departure from God, and the consequent letting in of evil into God's world, a being within it in fact; but when heart and mind go out beyond it, having the knowledge of good and evil, revelation here, when the mind works, increases the difficulty and the multitude of thoughts, for the mind sees good clearer. Why and whence this evil? It sees another world of God's power. Why then this? It looks into a world beyond it and brings back its thoughts into this where they are not realized. It sees goodness and power, and dwells in the midst of sorrow and evil. This may be in a selfish shape—often is. It is then a low principle, but it has always man for its center, and, (save as it was in perfect love and holiness in Christ who perfectly brought another world into this, I mean in His own mind and person,) is always evil, is but the “multitude of our thoughts.” Yet God has compassion. I retreat into God by faith. This comforts, delights my soul. Our thoughts speculating, as knowing good and evil, either by personal sorrow, or by working of mind which is worse, launch out into the endlessness, not really infinitude, of speculation as to what ought to be, or into complaint against God as to what God is. It may be sometimes in a more submissive way of wonder and acknowledgment of its being too hard for us; but it is a finite mind, a mind in the sphere of this world, out of which it has no natural powers, let, in thought and speculation, into its relationship with the infinite, with good and with evil. It has a multitude of thoughts, but no possible rest. In its state it does not belong to the sphere it has got into.
Hence, let me add, in passing, the form infidelity has largely taken in these days—what is called positivism or realism, saying, I know what I see and experience, with perhaps some small conclusions from it, and pretending to stop there. It does not, for it pretends to deny all beyond it. This is false upon the face of it, for if it only knows what is knowable to man from himself, it can deny nothing beyond it, any more than it can affirm. It is a low thought. But it is false on another ground. The mind has no certainty, but it has a multitude of thoughts beyond the sphere of the natural human powers which can decide on what is within these powers. There are a multitude of thoughts within us. We are incompetent to come to a conclusion, but there are thoughts and something or other to suggest them, but the heart has no answer. Where there is no infidelity, but merely the natural working of the human heart, this is the case. There is no further answer till judgment comes, till judgment returns to righteousness. In the psalm, this exercise of soul refers naturally more entirely to the government of this world; Christianity, the revelation of another world, has with the former brought in a thousand others, where men's minds work. But there is a refuge and a resource, not in the explanation of everything to the mind, so as to maintain it, in the mad and wicked pretensions to judge God, but in the introduction of the positive good which is in God into the soul, so that it knows it has got blessedness and truth, whatever of its multitude of thoughts it may be unable to solve. Conscience is upright when it is acted on and judges self. But when by our enfeebled and beclouded knowledge of good and evil we pretend, calling it conscience, to judge God, the pretension is to make our ignorance and moral state, as it is, the measure of what is perfect, when all is imperfectly known and God not at all. For in that state men are forming a judgment—what they are to acknowledge as such. It is, on the face of it, judging of a whole system of things when only an obscure end of it is before us. Reasoning from that state of things full of evil, I can judge nothing. God has not yet set things right, nor am I competent to judge even how to do it; but He has introduced good, perfect good, Himself into the midst of the evil. He has made me discover my own evil—judge myself: an immense moral gain. Those only who have done so are, as to soul matters, upright. That is true, honest conscience, and gives me a resource in grace, a perfect knowledge of His love, (in Israel a relative knowledge by His ways,) and in the details of exercises which follow for self-knowledge and purifying the soul, I have known, perfect love to have recourse to, and what it has revealed and imparted to me, grace and truth; and that, not only in the outward revelation of it, however, authoritative, but in my soul by the Holy Ghost. “that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself.” “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for them who love him, but God hath revealed them to us by his Spirit;” and again, “We joy in God.” Besides, God acts directly by His Spirit. His love is shed abroad in our hearts, His faithfulness in that love can be counted on; but direct communion with Himself raises us up to a kind and source of joy which the trouble and sorrow do not touch; nothing separates from His love. We are more than conquerors in this world; we have the joys of another, divine comforts through the sorrows we have to bear, in presence of the evil which besets us: the power of it drives us into our retreat, our joy in Him who is always the same, and whom we learn to know better. Judgment will close the scene in which I have to be troubled.
Psalm 95-101
The psalms that follow I do not dwell upon, because they are the actual coming in of the Lord to judgment, not the exercises of the heart in awaiting it. Psalm 95 calls the Jews to be ready to meet Him. Psalm 96, the Gentiles. In Psalm 97, He is actually coming in clouds; Psalm 98, He has wrought the deliverance; 99, He has taken His seat in Jerusalem between the Cherubim. Psalm 100, calls the Gentiles up to partake in Israel's joy and worship; Psalm 101 gives us the principles on which the government of the earth will be carried on by Jehovah's king.