The special subject of all the Psalms is connected with a remnant of Israel, or with such of the Jews as have their hearts touched by the Spirit of God, and look out for deliverance from the circumstances in which they are placed. In some of them the interest which God had in them is then taken up, though prophetically, in great detail; and the Lord Jesus is treated of as passing through circumstances of great trial on their account. It is not but that there are many things we may delight in, and godly souls have found great comfort in all ages in the Psalms, and rightly so. Still it is well to understand what the purpose and intention of the Holy Ghost is in them.
In Psalm 1 (which, with the second, is a sort of preface to the book), it is the distinction between the godly and ungodly man. The godly are called the righteous, and the ungodly are always called enemies. That the Lord should not spare any wicked transgressors is not the grace of the gospel. There are many passages where there is the call for judgment, because there must be the destruction of the enemy to allow of the deliverance of the Jewish remnant who seek rest on the earth. We could not consistently use this language, just as it is in itself, and say, "spare not any transgressor." Having received grace we cry, "Spare them, pity them, save them, O Lord." But judgment will be executed another day - when the church is out of, and the Jews are in, the scene. If they have taken the place of adversary against the Lord, then it must be judgment. When the patience of God has been fully exercised, and the continuance of mercy would only be to sanction and perpetuate iniquity in the earth, "the master will rise up and shut to the door." Then will be a time, not of grace as now, but of judgment. And then it will be seasonable. The Holy Spirit will warrant their looking for the deliverance which will cut off the enemies. The distinction in Psalm 1, and so throughout the whole book, is between the righteous and the wicked. "Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly," etc. "The ungodly are not so," etc. "Therefore the ungodly shall not stand," etc.
In Psalm 2 the heathen are raging, the kings or rulers of the earth set themselves against Jehovah and His Christ. But God asserts and will enforce the rights of His Son on earth. Wherever the Spirit of God is working, there is the cry of the Spirit in the soul which must meet an answer. Now is a day of unmingled grace; but here the Spirit of Christ speaks of them as enemies, and is looking forward, as the only remedy, to their being cut off in judgment, unless they bow. Christ Himself is interested in this remnant, and is brought in as bearing their burdens. "They parted my garments among them" is a direct prophecy about the Lord. He joins Himself with their sighs. He has been with them for their sins, and He will deliver them from their foes. The tone and character of this book gives us the expectant blessings to Israel in letter: the spirit of it we take to our soul's comfort. I find in my soul certain anxiety and distress - no doubt very imperfectly expressed - but it is more or less the same in us as in the remnant; I look up to the Lord, but it may be my own fault brought me into the trouble, and I do not know what to say: then the Spirit gives me in the Psalms an inspired feeling of what is right under such circumstances. Thus I hear God's expression of my sorrow. It is a great comfort to the soul, but it must be understood how far they apply. Then again there is sin or Satan. In either case it is wrath against sin which is the source of wrath on our departure from God. Here is the power of Satan and the wrath of God. Christ had to come under the power of death, and therefore He had to come under the sin, I do not say morally, but substitutionally, as bearing the whole burden of our sin; to deliver us He must take it on Himself. He had to drink up the cup of wrath for us - whether for Israel for earthly blessing, or for Christians for heavenly blessing. It is important to see the special bearing. Yet there are certain principles, immutable and that always apply, eternal truths that never vary - whether earthly people or heavenly people are concerned. Only Christ can put us into blessing. The displayed ways may change, but the fundamental principle must always be the same. Sin is at bottom the same, and love is the same too; though the development of both may not be so.
In this Psalm the evil looked at is the bondage of sin; not only servants of sin, but slaves of Satan. He is the god of this world and the prince of its course, and he holds it under thraldom. There are two points in verses 7, 8, I wish to speak about. "Thou hast considered my trouble, thou hast known my soul in adversities and hast not shut me up into the hand of the enemy: thou hast set my feet in a large room." These are the two things God has taken notice of. I would take the great principle of it; true to a Jew, but in a much larger way to us. We are now identified with Christ at the right hand of God. The High Priest is there. He is carrying on His work there. His place is there. Aaron's place is on the earth. God's love is set on this remnant. There they are - there we may be - held in bitter bondage. It may seem liberty because our wills are in it, but it is real and thorough bondage. A man knows a thing is wrong and foolish, yet he goes on doing it. He is away from God; so that there is no power to deliver himself from sin, from his passion, and he is not able to keep from it until he gets back to God. What he did, he did to render himself independent of God. This ruined Eve. Adam was led astray by her, and lost all his blessing, though our blessings are more than Adam lost. Adam thus cast off God's authority and became the slave of Satan's power.
40 There is no such thing as independence: man is perfectly incapable of it. He must have something to govern the heart. "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." Not where your heart is, there your treasure is. A thousand things may govern the heart, but there is something - it may be vanity, or anything else; but naturally it is governed without God. If you had been in paradise now, it would not be independence. "All power is of God." If not, He would not be God. There can be nothing independent of Him. Creature independence is but setting up another god; any other power is not God. Nothing is independent of God. Satan, cast at last into the lake of burning brimstone, will shew that he is not independent. The moment the heart departs from God, it must get some other object. When Adam hears the voice of God in the garden, he hides himself: that is not to be happy. Sin gave him the consciousness of his nakedness, and God had immediately, in his eyes, the character of a judge. Worship and prayer are vanished, the moment we have sinned and God takes this character before us. Man goes out of his mind if he has not an object. He has lost God as such, and he seeks some other, of which he makes himself the centre. We have left God, and He has got the character of a judge, and so the heart seeks something below itself - looked at as made for God, something to satisfy its nature. An animal could not carry on a course of sin - it has no intellect to indulge in sin - but man does; and thus the superiority of our human nature is used to corrupt ourselves by vices. Man is a slave: the god of this world, the enemy of our souls, has got power over him through his passions, and it is thraldom. A man dare not do anything that would set him at variance with the world.
41 Man has lost the knowledge of God (not that there is a God, but the knowledge of God), and this aggravates his guilt. He has a knowledge that there is a God, but he does not know Him. I may know there is a great potentate, but I may not know him. A man's intellect may say, "No God"; but his conscience says there is a God, though he has shut God out, and does not know Him. We have lost, in a great degree, the power of measuring good and evil. Would not the young man have known it was unseemly to be feeding on the husks the swine did eat, if he had been living happily in his father's house? We are by nature darkness; God is light. By the fall man lost the image of God - gained the knowledge of good and evil, but not the knowledge of God by which we can judge the things around us. Satan has blinded you by motives. "I was alive without the law once, but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. And the commandment, which was ordained unto life, I found to be unto death." The moment the word reaches the conscience, then you say, "I am all wrong." There may be almost despair, but the revelation of God's light alone comes in and shews me I was in darkness. Man's very unconsciousness of evil, and contentedness with what he is without God, the thirst in his heart for other things, and the asking, "What harm is there?" prove he has not God. If you talk of sin when men are enjoying what they call innocent pleasures, and speak of either grace or judgment, it stops them immediately; it is all gone. They will tell you, "It is not the time." Man's pleasure is never the time for God's presence. They will talk about God, will tell you what He ought to be, but they cannot bear His presence. The Lord may use outward means, trouble, etc., as in the Psalms; or work without outward means, and then we know the struggle against sin. "Thou hast known my soul in adversity." It is better to be struggling against the tide than going down the stream with the world. When the light shines in, there is the consciousness of need; the world sees it; Satan sees it and says, There is a soul escaping. He has got the consciousness that God is not there. It will be detected if the divine nature is at work in a man.
42 "Thou hast known my soul in adversity" - not my soul has known thee. There is as yet no full apprehension of His grace. I know I have been wrong, but "Thou hast considered my trouble." I am in distress. What am I to do? Well, God has considered my trouble. There is not liberty yet; but if the word has reached the heart, there may be ever so little perception of God, but there is a link between the soul and God. "Thou hast known my soul in adversity." "Is Ephraim my dear son? Is he a pleasant child, for since I spake," etc. If there is any reader that knows he has been going wrong as connected with the conscience, and he wishes to get back to God, I say, God knows it, He considers it - weighs the whole process, and He will surely deliver. The soul may know and have to pass through a good deal of exercise; but He is considering it. "Since I spake against thee," etc. His eye is always upon it. "Thou hast known my soul in adversity."
There is not only sin but the power of Satan to overcome. You cannot be independent of Satan. You cannot go after the smallest vanity, not even a little bit of dress for vanity's sake, without making God a liar and believing Satan. Eve did this when Satan said, "Thou shalt not surely die" - God knows if you disobey, you will become as He is. He treated God as a liar, and she trusted Satan for truth, and so God was entirely cast off. In everything you may be deceived by the same enemy.
Man incautiously trusts Satan for truth, and even for goodness. But when you begin to struggle with Satan, he will trouble your soul, if he sees you want to get away from him. He will send friends and temptations to you, so as to deceive (and that is the difference between the devil and Satan). The Lord comes in; Satan claims his right over us and says, You have sold yourself to me already; but God says, "Is not this a brand plucked from the burning?" Satan was displayed specially as the adversary when he said, "Fall down and worship me." Then the Lord said, "Get thee hence, SATAN." Satan uses scripture for his own wicked purposes and quotes what God has said - "The soul that sinneth, it shall die." You sold yourself to me. No, says the Lord, My eye is upon you: thou shalt not die. The judgment of death is with God, the power of death is with the devil! Christ comes and places Himself in blessed grace in our place to bear the whole weight of Satan's power - puts Himself under the consequences of our sin: "was made sin for us." Thus grace brought Him where sin brought us, that He might deliver us from the whole force of evil. Christ, having not only delivered us but glorified God perfectly by the cross, having made good His tide at all cost, goes into that glory by virtue of redemption, with the full joy of the firstborn among many brethren, enters as Man into the presence of His Father.
43 This gives the character of what we are made partakers of. If He enters there, it is in a certain sense our entering; it is for us, as "our forerunner," in virtue of His entering. We have entered in Him as our Head; we sit "in heavenly places in Christ." "Thou hast not shut me up in the hand of the enemy, but thou hast set my feet in a large room." There is liberty. The state of the heart delivered corresponds with the deliverance into a large place. "Set my feet in a large room." We are in the presence of God without the possibility of wrath. The cup of wrath has been drunk - it is not now to drink. God's eye was upon me when I was in my sins. He has "known my soul in adversity," and I am brought into the presence of God - into the sunshine of His glory, without a cloud, by virtue of redemption. It is after I was a sinner, I am brought there through the efficacy of the work of Christ. I am there necessarily to be the proof of the value of His blood. God looks upon me as the fruit of His Son's work: I am set according to the value of God's Son in His sight. This is how I know His love, in the perfect favour of God - not only in divine favour without a cloud, but assured that there never can be a cloud. And there is another thing - "Sin shall not have dominion over you." Not that it will not be there; but that we are set free from sin and death. The same power that raised Christ into the presence of God has delivered me. I may slip through unbelief, but I am delivered, and am then one spirit with the Lord.
Satan has no power against Christ up on high; all his power was exhausted at the cross, and it is all gone. God "hath delivered us from the power of darkness," and set our feet "in a large room." That we may enjoy this large room, the Holy Ghost is given. "Stand fast in the liberty." Satan has no right or title against Christ. In Him I am delivered. I am entirely out of the enemy's reach (I do not mean if going on in the flesh): in Christ is my title and portion. I have received the Holy Ghost. The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts. "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." "If led by the Spirit, we are not under the law." By the Holy Ghost, I "know the things that are freely given of God," and have the power of enjoying them (1 Cor. 2), an "earnest in our hearts," 2 Cor. 1.
44 I add another thing that puts the crown to all: "we joy in God, through our Lord Jesus Christ." I know it is for ever. The Spirit has sealed me "until the day of redemption." Well, now I can trust and joy in God. "If God be for us, who can be against us?" No creature can separate us from the love of God. There we find ourselves; and the apostle is not afraid to say, "We joy in God." This is a "large room." All the holiness of God is our delight. He that first descended is ascended into the proper glory; and we are brought into it all. If I cannot see the end of it, I can see it is boundless blessedness. And Christ is all and in all. The Lord give us to dwell there! Surely it is "a large place."