“Search me O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see it there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139).
This psalm sets before us the ways of God in leading us into the knowledge of Himself, so that He secures the confidence of our hearts, and fills us with a joy of which that knowledge is the spring and fountain. How very strange to us that a Being so infinite in wisdom, power, and love, and unto whose happiness nothing external to Himself could minister, should set His heart upon such worms of the dust as we! And what a wonder that He who is enough for Himself, and we may add for the whole creation, should take His whole delight in surrounding Himself with such apparently worthless things, whom He has brought into eternal relationship with Himself as His children, and put the cry of FATHER on our lips, a cry which He loves to hear from those He has begotten again by the word of truth.
And what a marvellous place He has purposed to bring us into, and to have us in for ever, even His own house, for what other place would do as a home for the sons He is bringing to glory, who, when there shall all be in the likeness of His own Son, who is leading those many sons to that place designed for them before the world was! And what an amount of training He has spent on the education, which He deemed necessary to fit us for a place in that abode of love, joy, and unspeakable happiness! What wonderful interest He has taken in us! What infinite patience He has shown in His dealings with us! and how provoking we have shown ourselves to be! Are we not often very angry with ourselves on account of our wanderings? Do we not sometimes feel ourselves wicked and cruel by the way in which we treat unfathomable love? And to think that we can never find anything in Him but perfect goodness, while we feel that apart from His grace that saved us, He never can find anything in us but perfect evil. What a God we have to do with! Blessed for ever be His holy name!
But He has taken us in hand for His glory, and He will bring us there, and we shall be there perfectly fit for the place. We shall be there as His workmanship, “Holy and blameless before Him in love.” But He had to begin with us as sinners, and sinners who did not want Him to begin with us at all. But He is not to be hindered in His blessed work. He begins by wakening up the conscience. When Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman about the living water she could have from Him for the asking, she says, Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not neither come hither to draw. He says to her, Go, call thy husband, and come here. This was a very direct word to her conscience, and she had not to leave the well until she knew Him as the Christ. The conscience has to be reached first.
It is so here in this psalm. The psalmist says, O Lord, Thou hast searched me, and known me. We have the awakening of the soul here. There are two momentous occasions in the history of every soul who is brought out of darkness into light, and from the power of Satan unto God. One is when he wakes up to find himself a sinner, and under the eye of God, who is taking account of him, and who will see that he takes his place as a sinner without the least hope of betterment. The other is when he abandons his own thoughts for the thoughts of God. If the sinner does not see himself as he really is in this life, what he is must be taken up at the great white throne, where he finds he is forever lost.
“O Lord, Thou hast searched me, and known me.”
He is become unhappily self-conscious. But it is not a feeling that other human beings are reading his secret thoughts, but that God is taking account of his inward being, and that from Him nothing can be hidden. He speaks of God knowing his down-sitting and uprising, and being acquainted with all his ways, for, he says, “There is not a word in my tongue, but, O Lord, Thou knowest it altogether.” And he says, “Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid Thine hand upon me.” It is not only that his movements are all observed, but his thought afar off is understood.
This man is like most of his fellows, he does not desire his whole state as a sinner gone into by God; and the reason of that is that he is well aware it would not bear the holy investigation of his Maker. He realizes that he is in the hands of One who is omniscient. Not only did God see the people when they had made the golden calf, sitting down to eat and drink, and rising up to play, but He saw how thoroughly they had given Him up. And He was no less observant in this poor sinner’s case, for God is the Observer of men (Job 7:20). He winnows His creature’s path, and all connected with it. He has beset him behind and before, and laid His hand upon him. The path, if it is the path of life, cannot be left to man to discover. The Man of God’s counsels says to God: “Thou wilt show me the path of life”; and that path led into the presence of God where there is fullness of joy, and pleasures everlasting (Ps. 16). Nothing is lost by waiting upon God, but to take our own way is eternal loss.
“Thou hast beset me behind and before, and hast laid Thy hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.”
It is all so different to the ways of men, who take vengeance against those who are their enemies. But God is kind to the unthankful and the unholy; for He would have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4). But this the Psalmist says is high, I cannot attain unto it. And this being so, he seems to think he had better leave God to do His own work, he could not act after His precedent. He must therefore get away from His presence.
“Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit? and whither flee from Thy presence?”
This is the puzzle with many a soul who desires to get away from God. The first attempt was made by the first man and his wife. They hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amid the trees of the garden. It was a vain and fruitless effort. They had to come out of their miserable hiding-place, and own their terrible disobedience.
“If I ascend into heaven, Thou art there, if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, Thou art there.”
In neither of these two extremes is there any refuge for him, for God was found in both places. “If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall Thy hand lead me, and Thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me, even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from Thee, but the light shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to Thee.”
But He has possessed our reins. He has made us for Himself. We are His, we belong to Him. He has covered me in my mother’s womb, He has exercised over me a beneficent Creator’s care. Therefore I will praise Thee for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are Thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. Astronomers set their telescopes to the heavens to see the marvellous works of God, while the most marvellous works are to be witnessed in the person of the astronomer himself. I am fearfully and wonderfully made. But do our souls know this right well?
“My substance was not hid from Thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.”
Down in the depths, the lowest parts of the earth, in the womb of the creature. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect, and in Thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.
“O Lord, Thou hast searched me, and known me.”
Evidently not for His own in formation. Why then were we searched? We were searched that we might know ourselves. This is what we have to learn in the beginning of God’s dealings with us. We naturally do not desire to be searched, for nothing good morally is found in us. Our Lord says to His disciples “If ye then, being evil” (Luke 11:13). What shall God learn by His searchings? Nothing from us. But we may learn a great deal, and we shall learn very much if we answer to His searchings, and we are glad that we are searched. At the first we do not like it, but when we see a little of the good of it we are glad to be searched.
But I come to the next great moment in our history, and that moment is when the thoughts of God become precious to us. And what a glorious privilege it is to sit and listen to the thoughts of God. To what infinite wisdom we are called to listen! Certainly not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world that come to nought but through the servants of Christ we have been hearkening to the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world to our glory, the things that eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things that God has prepared for them that love Him (1 Cor. 1:12). In this mystery of God are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:2).
Well may we with the psalmist exclaim—“How precious also are Thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand.”
How cheerfully people sit down to ponder over the great thoughts of men, which in most cases are absolutely valueless and forgetting that the great thoughts of God are near at hand! But to appreciate the thoughts of God one must have a nature very different from the nature of the first and fallen Adam, who in his effort to get wisdom did nothing but play the fool. “The Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” The apostle asks the Corinthians, “Where is the wise? Where is the Scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God; it pleased God by the foolishness of the preaching to save them that believe.” The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us who are saved it is the power of God. He says: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.” He does this by the gospel of His grace. He wakes up the conscience of the sinner, gives him to feel his need of a Saviour, in the gospel makes known to him Jesus as that Saviour; his need brings him to the feet of that Saviour, and he receives the salvation that is in Him which carries with it eternal glory (2 Tim. 2:10). He is justified by faith, stands in grace, and rejoices in hope of the glory of God (Rom. 5:1-2). The love of God is also shed abroad in His heart by the Holy Spirit who is given to him.
Now he may learn something of the great thoughts of God. God is love, and all the thoughts of God spring from the great love of His heart. No wonder the psalmist says, “How precious also are Thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand.” Eternity alone shall be required to tell out all these great thoughts of love. Let us get our hearts and minds well stored with them. They were all purposed and thought out before the world’s foundation, and in view of their being brought to pass has all the work of God been in operation, and it must go on until the new heavens and the new earth arise in the glory of God. And this day we confidently await, while we tread the path to those scenes of everlasting pleasure.
And while we are on the way we know that all things work together for our good, for the end of all the operations of God must result in good to all who love God, to all who are the called according to His Purpose. For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son: that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He did predestinate, them He also called; and whom He called, them He also justified; and whom He justified, them He also glorified. We are the objects of His eternal thoughts. He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world. His counsels were the counsels of His love. Now that the psalmist has learned the object of all the searching of God, and that by this means he has become conscious of the love that prompted the God-given exercises that were so detrimental to his peace of mind that he could come to no other conclusion than that God was against him, but now has learned that it was infinite love on the part of God, so that he might get rid of his own thoughts by becoming acquainted with the precious thoughts of God, and that instead of being troubled by those divine searchings, his earnest prayer might be “Search me, O God, and know my heart, prove me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
“There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Prov. 14:12). The searchings of God showed him the evil course he was pursuing, a path of his own inclining, but contrary to the guidance of God; it is the way of a fool which is right in his own eyes. But now he desires to be led in the way everlasting. The path that has no death in it is the path for which he cries out. Is there then a way that has no end, no death in it? Yes there is indeed “In the way of righteousness is life, and in the pathway thereof there is no death.” And what is that pathway? It is the pathway of the will of God to which no end can be put. We shall have our delight in that path for ever. So it is a prayer very needful for us, and it is acceptable to God. A prayer that is never without an answer. With us may it be often in use.