The Saints' Praise, as Taught and Led by Christ

Psalm 19‑22  •  24 min. read  •  grade level: 7
There is much more method in the Psalms than is generally supposed; but I cannot enter at present into so large a subject. I would draw the reader's attention only to four of them, and in particular to some points in the character of the last of the four, a psalm with which every reader of scripture is familiar-the 22nd.
In the 19th Psalm we have two great witnesses of the power and thoughts of God. First, from verse 1 to 6, the witness creation affords, and especially the heavens " The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handywork." From the 6th verse to the end, the perfection of the law is spoken of-the question of man's keeping it is not here introduced, it is the perfectness of the law itself which is insisted on, and its value for the soul of man, wherever it brings its light, and the moral power of its instructions. These witnesses have their own unchangeable character. Man has been able to corrupt and change the face of the earth, and judgment and destruction have come upon it, death and misery. What is reached by man is, alas! corrupted by man. But the heavens, and the sun in its course, proclaim with bright and unvarying witness, blessed be God, beyond the reach of man's corrupting hand, the glory of Him that made them, and,
"Soon as the evening shades prevail,
The moon takes up the wondrous tale,
And nightly to the list'ning earth,
Repeats the story of her birth;
Whilst all the stars that round her burn,
And all the planets in their turn,
Confirm the tidings as they roll,
And spread the truth from pole to pole.
Forever singing, as they shine,
'The hand that made us is divine.'"
Man may have indeed, perverted these witnesses of power to idolatry, but where man does not reach, all creation still proclaims the glory of God its Creator, So with the law: flesh under it is dill, obedient and perverse; the law itself, of course, changes not. It bears witness to the mind of God about man, though man under it may not keep it; and it gives no life that he may, and so obtain righteousness by it. But another witness, of deeper and fuller character, one who was a witness to the nature, as well as to the power of God; one who manifested the righteousness which the law claimed and taught; and, besides that, revealed and displayed God's love in the midst of the sin and corruption in which man was, appeared amongst those who were guilty of the sin, and under the bondage of the corruption. Christ was amongst men. It was not merely creative glory displayed in the heavens, the work of God's bands, the moon and the stars which He had ordained, shining above, and unreached by man's corruption; nor the law, the rule of right in man, which he could not corrupt, but which condemned him because he was disobedient to it. It was love itself: God, Who is love, manifested as man in the midst of corruption; man, perfect in love to God and to his neighbor; in a word, the witness of divine love and human perfectness in the midst of corruption; passing through it, meeting it in grace, to show that the love of God could, and did, reach to these corrupt ones; passing through it in perfect holiness and righteousness, to show that it was God's love which did thus visit them, as, indeed, it alone had a title to do so. But this Blessed One came in a peculiar manner. He came according to prophecies and promises, in the midst of a people whom God had prepared for this purpose; a people to whom the promises had been given according to the flesh, amongst whom, after their redemption out of Egypt, all the prophets had appeared; who had the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the public worship, and the revelation of Jehovah, the one true God, whose law it was, and by whom the prophets were sent.
How was the promised Messiah, the Christ, received? We all know He was despised and rejected of men, a scorn of men and an outcast of the people. They saw in Him no beauty that they should desire Him. " He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not." The perfection of the witness He bore caused His rejection, and for His love He found hatred. The Christ found a day of trouble; scorned and rejected by the people to whom He came in love, and according to promise and prophecy. It is in this state that He is seen in Psa. 20 and prophetically addressed as by the little remnant whose hearts were under the influence of the Spirit of God. It is, of course, in Jewish terms and thoughts, but the comparison with Psa. 21 shows clearly to whom it applies. Indeed, in the 6th verse, the person who is the subject of the Psalm is said to be Jehovah's anointed, that is, His Christ. The little residue of those who favored His righteous cause, seeing Him rejected of men, desire, in the prophetic testimony of the Psalms, earnestly His acceptance of God, help and deliverance from the sanctuary. They see the perfectness of the desire of His heart, and their own would fain behold the fulfillment of His counsels. Helpless themselves, and not here reaching to the height of God's counsels in redemption, these witnesses of Christ's sufferings, (as Peter calls himself,) as observers of His trouble, and penetrated with love to Himself, look to one who is their only resource, to look on the righteous One, and hear and grant the deliverance a Jew expected from the sanctuary in Zion. In Psa. 21 we get the inspired answer to this godly desire, already anticipated in verses 3 and 6 of Psa. 20. In Psa. 21 they celebrate, prophetically, the triumph of the Christ. He has been heard. (Compare 20:4, and 21: 2.)
But now we have His desires explained, His earthly sorrows opened. out. Death was before Him. (Comp. here Heb. 5:77Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; (Hebrews 5:7).) He asked life of Jehovah, and He is heard. But how, after all? In length of days, (as man,) forever and ever. " His glory," they say to Jehovah, " is great in thy salvation: honor and majesty thou host laid upon him. For thou hest made him most blessed forever: thou hast made him exceeding glad with thy countenance." (Comp. Psa. 16:10, 1110For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. 11Thou wilt show me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore. (Psalm 16:10‑11).) He was prevented with the blessings of goodness, a crown of pure gold set on. His head. In a word, the rejected Messiah is exalted by the right hand of God, and set in glory and majesty above. In these two Psalms, therefore, we have the rejected Messiah exalted by God, honor and majesty put upon Him, and length of days given Him forever and ever. He had suffered from men, been despised and rejected by them, and God has glorified Him as man. Mark the result. His hand finds out all his enemies, His right hand those that hate Him. He makes them as a fiery oven in the day of His anger. For they intended mischief against Him, which they were not able to perform. As He said by parable Himself: "Those mine enemies, who would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me." In the day of His anger the glorified Christ will execute judgment on. His enemies. Man had despised and rejected Him, imagined mischief against Him, and judgment will be the consequence for men.
But the sufferings of Christ had a far deeper character. He suffered from the hand of God. He suffered for sin. From man He had suffered for righteousness' sake, and had hatred for His love. From God He suffers for sin, being made sin for us. Here He is alone, none to sympathize, none to stand by, and with true though feeble interest, at least in spirit, take an interest in His sorrow. In the 20th Psalm we have seen this. In the Gospels we may find Mary anointing Him for His burial, those whom the Lord owns having continued with Him in His temptations, who, in spirit, would take up the words of the psalm, if trouble came on Him " Jehovah hear thee in the day of trouble; the name of the God of Jacob defend thee." But when He comes to suffer from God for sin, to pass through death its wages, who could go with Him there? Who could pass these waters of Jordan when they overflowed all their banks? "As I said to the Jews, so now say I to you," declares the Lord to His disciples, " whither I go you cannot follow me now." This was true of the power of death itself as the path to glory. But more than this, in atonement what place could the sinner have? Christ drank that cup that we might never drink it. Hence, while in the 20th Psalm the saints in spirit are looking at Christ suffering with deep interest and affection, whilst they can look on, and observe Him, and love Him, in the midst of rejecting scorners; in the 22nd Christ speaks Himself and alone. None could observe with sympathy, or fathom, or express, what the suffering He there underwent was. The words are in the mouth of the sufferer who was alone, and alone could express them. He was there, no doubt, suffering from man and as man. Dogs and bulls of Bashan had closed Him round, but Iris cry was to Jehovah, that He, at least, would not be far from Him. But no, the fathers had trusted and were delivered, but this Blessed One must drink the cup to the dregs. Perfect and sinless, He could say, "why hast thou forsaken me?" We have learned and say why. It was for us. He was bearing our sins in His own body on the tree; made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. Here then the Lord was suffering from God, the forsaking of God, that dreadful cup for the Holy One, in His soul. He was suffering for sin, not as He did from man, for righteousness. And now mark the blessed result. Is it judgment? He was bearing it for us. Was sin to be brought on any? It was Jehovah Himself who was bruising Him, and who put Him to grief. Sin was put away for us there. What is the result then P Unmingled, unhindered grace. The bar to the full outflowing of love was taken away in the putting away of sin. Till Jesus was baptized with that baptism, how was He straitened. Not surely in His own bowels of love; but God, consistently with His glory, could not exercise His love and make light of unrighteousness. Surely this was no making light of it. God could now give the fullest scope to the highest and divinest exercise of love shown in, and indeed, in its results, founded on, the redemption that was there accomplished. God was glorified there, and the glory of God was the result for Him that had accomplished it, and that glory is now to us the hope of righteousness by faith. God could not endure sin, but He could put it away perfectly in grace as that which He could not endure, instead of putting the sinner away in his sins from before His face, because He could not endure them. But there is more than this: Christ was heard because he feared. His appeal was not unlistened to, though it was impossible, if we were to be saved, and God fully glorified, and man fully glorified in Christ, that the cup should not be drank, that Christ should not undergo, not merely the fact of death, but the forsaking of God.
Now, though we see the Lord giving up His spirit to His Father in perfect peace, yet the resurrection was the great answer of God to His demand of life. That was the power of God entering into the place and seat of death, and taking the man of His delights out from among the dead in the power of an endless life, declaring Him His Son with power, and giving Him His place according to the counsels of God. It was man set up by the power and according to the counsels of God, and by the love and glory of the Father, where, as regards Christ, He deserved to be, and the Father's delight was to place Him. He was placed before God and the Father as the One whom He delighted in, and as His Son in blessedness (sin being put away). This was the relationship in which Christ stood as man before God and His Father. This was the name of God towards Him. A Deliverer from death and all the consequences of sin which He had borne, and a placing Him in righteous glory and infinite delight in His presence as Son. This is the name which, as heard from the horns of the unicorns, He declares to His brethren. Such was His first thought. How sweet is it to see this! The moment He has entered into the enjoyment of this name,. of this relationship with God, He must bring His brethren into the same relationship and the same joy. Previously, indeed, unless in the very vague expression, " my brother, and sister, and mother," He had never called them brethren. The corn of wheat abode alone. Now redemption was wrought out, and He could bring them into the same place of blessing as Himself: His precious love does it at once. "Thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns. I will declare thy name unto my brethren." And such we find to be historically the case. Speaking to Mary Magdalene, to whom He first appeared, He says, "Go tell my brethren that I go to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God." He declares to them the name in which He rejoiced with His Father and God, saluting them as His brethren. God is our Father as well as His, our God as well as His. This is most blessed. If, indeed, taught by the Spirit, we enter into this love. But the place the Lord then takes shows how thoroughly He sets us in this place of perfect blessing, where He is Himself. "In the midst of the congregation will I sing praise unto thee." How sweet to see the Lord leading the praises of the congregation, the poor remnant whom He has gathered by His death and quickened unto joy by His resurrection. Alone, when it was suffering and death for sin, He gathers them all to Himself for the joy He has wrought by it. And mark the result as to the true character of our praise. Christ, as thus risen into blessedness, having declared to His brethren the name of His God and Father, His praise must be the perfect answer and reflex of this blessing, of this blessed relationship as He enjoys it as man. And after toil and pain, after death and anguish, after wrath and the righteous forsaking of God, oh, what to Him must have been His entering, as risen from the dead, into the ineffable light and joy of God's countenance, in the perfect place into which He had come by that path of life. " Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thy Holy One to see corruption. Thou wilt show me the path of life; in thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand pleasures for evermore.' Into this He now brings His brethren. He leads the chorus of praise. Thus our praise must be according to the fullness with which Christ knows and enjoys the blessedness of the fruit of His work, and the relationship into which He is entered as man in virtue of it. It must answer to the name He declares to us as heard from the horns of the unicorns and risen, that we may join Him in praising His Father and our Father, His God and our God, or it is out of tune with Him, who leads so blessedly these praises. We must praise with Him on the ground of that blessedness in which He praises, or it is discord. Oh for a heart to know and, in some measure, to rise to that place and praise, which such touching and infinite grace gives us. Nothing can give a deeper, more subduing idea of the grace, the perfect grace, into which we are brought, and of the grace of Him who brought us there; of the complete deliverance and sure relationship which we enjoy, than Christ Himself leading our praises, as heard and entering into this place. What must His be? But it is in the midst of the congregation He praises. Oh that indeed by the Spirit our voices may be attuned to follow that praise, that leading, inspiring voice of Him, who has loved and not been ashamed to call us brethren; and is gone to His Father and our Father, His God and our God. The degree of realization of joy, the sweetness and loudness of our joining note, depends, of course, on our spiritual state; but no note that is not founded on the perfect peace and joy of redemption is at all in tune there.
But we have seen that Christ's sufferings from man for righteousness brought judgment on man. His hand will find out all His enemies. But His sufferings from the hand of God for sin bring only blessing, the out-flowing of grace alone. This is remarkably shown in this 22nd Psalm. We have seen its character in the remnant of Israel, gathered by His grace, and who formed the nucleus of the Church, be they Jew or Gentile. Next, as it will be accomplished in the latter days, He turns to all Israel, that His praise may be in the great congregation. (Verses 23-26.) Next, the word goes forth to all the ends of the world, to bring them in to this blessed circle of praise. Are they fat of the earth, they eat and worship. Are they, be they who they may, those on whom death lies, who go down to the dust, (and no man can keep alive his own soul,) they must be witnesses of this mighty deliverance by the dying and risen Savior-that is when the kingdom is the Lord's, and He is governor among the nations. The seed that shall then have been spared shall serve him, and then it shall flow down to other generations. "They shall come, and shall declare unto a people that shall be born," this great and wondrous work of redemption, that that blessed, lowly, afflicted One " has done this." All is the fruit of redemption and victory. Judgment has stilled its voice. That great deed of atonement, of love and righteousness upon the cross, has left it silent and gone, to make, room for the voice of unmingled praise ... . It is not promise merely now. It is not that they shall be filled who hunger after righteousness; that the meek shall inherit. " They that fear the Lord are to praise Him, the meek shall eat and be satisfied; they shall praise the Lord that fear him, their hearts will live forever." Such is the blessed fruit of the perfect atonement for sin which that blessed One, forsaken of,
Jehovah-awful thought!-has accomplished for us; never so acceptable to Jehovah, never so perfect in obedience, as when, as to His soul, He suffered for us the forsaking of His wrath. Now the fruit, in unclouded light, is unmingled and unhindered praise, which He who had tasted and drank that dreadful cup of ours, first teaches us in the name of Father and God, in which He delights in righteousness and love, and then leads in the blessed chorus of praise, in which we shall adore forever and ever, His Father and our Father, His God and our God, in, and through, and with Him.
Now, it is for our hearts, through faith; hereafter Israel's, and the world's, and the people to be born, the universal Witnesses of the power of that work to reconcile and bless, when the kingdom is the Lord's, and He is governor among the nations. For us, though now in suffering, in a better and heavenly way, but to His just praise then in all the earth.
The Lord Jesus speaks of this privilege as belonging, through divine riches of grace, to His saints, when He says, " Henceforth I call you not servants' for the servant knoweth not what his lord 'doeth, but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father, I have made known unto you.' (John 15:1515Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you. (John 15:15).)
This friendship, this communication of secrets, gives a wondrous sense of gracious and confiding intimacy. When we pray, we feel that we need something, when we serve, or when we worship, we judge that we owe something -at least that He is worthy—but when we are receiving communications -not commands as from a master, but, communications as from a friend-we listen, without any necessary reflection upon our own condition, freed of all sense of either need or obligation. Our proper attitude then is sitting-neither standing, like Martha, as to serve, nor kneeling, like Mary, to worship; but like Lazarus, sitting. (John 12)
The inspirations of a prophet are not equal to the communications which a friend receives; they do not intimate the same nearness or dignity. A prophet receives an inspiration as a vessel or oracle, and he may understand it or not; a friend learns secrets on the ground of personal confidence.
All the elect are, I grant, according to the grace and calling of God, endowed with this privilege; but among them, I believe, Abraham, Moses, David, and John had it very conspicuously. They illustrate it.
Abraham was told what the Lord was about to do with Sodom. " Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do," says the Lord; and then tells him of the business which was then taking him down to Sodom. (Gen. 18)
What a moment that was! The Lord had come to Abraham's tent at Mature, and there sat at his table and his feast. The Judge of Sodom was communicating with the conqueror of Sodom; the divine Judge of that vile, reprobate place, with him who bad already through faith and the victory of faith, refused all its offers. Again, I say, what a moment! and in the confidence which all this inspired, Abraham drew near and stood before the Lord, while the attendant angels withdrew and went on their way.
Full of blessing, indeed, this is. And so Moses in his day; for we read, " And the Lord spake with Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend." (Ex. 33:1111And the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend. And he turned again into the camp: but his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, departed not out of the tabernacle. (Exodus 33:11).)
Wonderful! The Lord dealt with Moses as a man will deal with his friend. He talked with him. (See v. 9.) We are not told what He said, because it is the business of the passage, rather to exhibit this grace of intimacy, or divine friendship, than to convey information to us. But we do learn the use which Moses makes of this gracious friendship, the very same use which Abraham of old had made of it. He speaks to the Lord about others, just as Abraham had 'done. He pleads for Israel as the patriarch had pleaded for Sodom. The Lord had approached Moses as His friend; He was not receiving him as His suitor or His debtor; it was fitting, therefore, that Moses should occupy the place and the moment in a manner which showed freedom from him-self.
And never, I may say, was Moses nearer to the Lord, not even when on Pisgah, He was showing the land to him in its length and breadth. Indeed, the two places were of like elevation, for the Lord was communicating to Moses in each of them. Here he "talked" with him, there He "showed" him. In spirit they were the same place, and that the highest; such as he and Elijah afterward filled on the holy mount-for there, as we again read, they "talked with Jesus." (Luke 9:3030And, behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias: (Luke 9:30).)
And so David, as we see in 1 Chron. 17. David was a penitent, wearing sackcloth in the day of the plague, and going up Mount Olivet with dust on his head in the day of Absalom. He was a worshipper, too, singing and dancing, as he bore the ark of the Lord to Zion. But David was a friend, as Abraham and Moses had been. He received communications from the Lord through Nathan; and then, as one whom the Lord, in the ways of His grace, had thus endowed and privileged, " he went in," as we read, and " sat before the Lord." Beautiful and wonderful, but withal right. To have stood or to have knelt then would not have been obedient or holy-for holiness is consistency with God-and if He "mourn" we are to " lament;" if He " pipe" we are to " dance;" if He convict...and reprove us, we may be in sackcloth before Him; but if He deal with us face to face, as a man speaketh to a friend, we may and should sit before Him. But again, John was the nearest to Jesus at the last supper. He lay on His bosom. And thus it was he who reached the secrets of that bosom. Peter in the distance used John's nearness, and the Lord admitted its title, and gave him the privilege of it. John pressed that bosom afresh, in the confidence of an Abraham or a Moses, that the secret which was there would make itself his. (John 13:2525He then lying on Jesus' breast saith unto him, Lord, who is it? (John 13:25).)
Surely all this tells us of the peculiar grace of this wondrous thing, this state end relationship of "friends" into which the Lord has called His saints. And we see the glorified saints in the full use and joy of this privilege; for on the holy hill (and to which I have already, in a passing way, alluded) Moses and Elias " talked" with Jesus. Sharing the glory, they knew the privileges of it, while Peter, beholding it, felt the power of it, saying, " Lord, it is good for us to be here."
It is not to present something strange or striking that I notice all this, but rather to aid the soul in assuring itself of that love wherewith the elect are loved-a love which gives us a place where, forgetting both our need and our obligation, neither kneeling to supplicate nor standing to serve, we may sit to listen and receive communications, as a man is talked with by his friend. And when we see this to be a way of His grace, we may be still conscious of slowness of heart in ourselves; but we cannot but know that we are in possession of a love on God's part which passes knowledge.
And here, let me add, that this privilege or grace of friendship, of which we speak, is eminently ours. It is illustrated in the apostleship of Paul. Paul was let into the secret which had been "hid in God" before the world was, the good pleasure which God had taken in Himself. (Eph. And this was not inspiration as of a prophet merely; it was divine communication as to a friend. For Paul knew the secret and knew it for himself. This was more than a prophet. It was this ancient privilege of the elect, at which we have now been looking, but rising into its church-form, or fullness. In our apostle, and so in us, this privilege takes us into strange and excellent intimacy. "Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself." And accordingly we "sit," as David of old did, or as Lazarus of Bethany did, but it is in "heavenly places in Christ Jesus." (Eph. 2:66And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: (Ephesians 2:6).)
This excelleth. Friendship, as we have seen, is no new form of grace. It has been among the privileges of the elect from the beginning. But with us it has peculiar elevation, as everything else has that belongs to the Church.