Psalms 42 -72.
J. N. Darby.
In the early part of this second book of the Psalms there is an element which gives a very distinct character to its spiritual as well as its prophetical import - the absence of the covenant name of God (the transition to Jehovah is in Psalm 46). Whatever the distresses and sorrows of the first forty-one psalms, the heart of the psalmist always looked freely to Jehovah in them, was in fuller relationship with Him and the enjoyment of public services, in which His name was celebrated. Here he is cast out. He remembers these things. He is an outcast and can only, in the secret of his soul and in wilderness circumstances, look to the nature and essence of what God is. We have still to remember the difference of the nature of relationship of Jehovah and the Father, and the looking for outward deliverance and judgment in order to have that deliverance. Still this change will furnish deep religious instruction.
Psalm 22 furnishes us with the expression of this difference in the strongest way. There Christ Himself was out of the enjoyment of His own relationship with the Father, having been made sin for us. In human sorrows He for once does not find divine comfort. Now as to present wrath, no godly soul of course ever goes through this; but as to sorrow, God's face is hid from Israel, and when they are awakened they feel that it is because of sin, and this though faith is at work, which is just what these psalms describe. It is faith looking at God when all circumstances are against him who exercises it, and they are driven out from the present enjoyment of revealed communion and covenant relationship; it is the position God sets His people in when covenant relationship is broken as it will be, and is - with Israel, or not known: and faith, acknowledging the justice of this, looks through all to God's own faithfulness as such. It is, so to speak, naked faith, without anything to sustain it of what God gives to His people as the witness of conferred favours. The result is a full trial of the soul.
The question for the soul here is not how far it is enjoying His gifts, but, how far its state can link itself with what God is in Himself, and count on that. This probes it to the bottom because all flesh is completely judged; for it can have no connection with God at all. It is true that this is never understood but by a new nature - that nature which can understand what God is, and, through grace and the working of the Holy Spirit, cleave to promises. But the flesh is thereby fully judged, and the difference of that and the new man known and discerned, yet redemption is not known. Because of this new nature there is the consciousness of the desire to do good, and of God's favour, but no peace. It is a searching process that we may be cast in naked dependence on grace. It is practically as to principle Romans 7.
87 In speaking of Psalm 42, we can only take the great principle, unless in a very special case of Christian experience; because the psalm supposes the person's enjoyment of common blessings, he remembered them. The special case is this: when a soul has believed in forgiveness, owning, no doubt, its sinfulness, but not really searched out, or the entirely sinful nature of the flesh discovered, the first joy may be lost, and the soul only know enough of God to feel the dreadfulness of not having the light of His countenance; but this gives the earnest desire to enjoy it. It may also happen when a soul has supposed itself Christian, but finds out, through the operation of God's Spirit, that it is not. In either case, the true blessed effect of the position in which we are placed by redemption is not known.
The psalm goes no farther than hope, but it is a hope much deepened and made more true by the trial. It expresses more the result of the trial than the process; and hence it is we have so blessed an expression of the state of the soul, however forlorn it is. It thirsts after God Himself - the difference of the Christian state is that, as in Romans 5, he joys in God. Still this state of thirsting is in certain respects deeper than the first joy, because the joy is partial in its realisation: the want is complete, and God Himself, in Himself, the thing desired. No doubt the psalm refers to the circumstances, and it is the soul's loss of God, in happy circumstances which supported the soul more or less, which obliges it to lean on and look for God Himself more absolutely, and, as we shall see, draws its joy thence. And it is this the spiritual soul has to look to in this psalm. His soul is athirst for God. He had lost the joy of the multitude, but he now panted after God Himself, where there was none of this. The change was sensible; but what he felt the loss of for his heart was God Himself. This was what he panted after. People and happy circumstances disappear from the mind as from the scene, though they were enjoyed with God. The individual heart wants God for itself.
The divine nature in us craves after its delight in God, the objective fulness that satisfies it, because it is the divine nature. Its thirst is perfect after that - that one great blessed object, which fills all the desires and excludes every other. Previously the soul had enjoyed the blessings from God and God Himself in them.
88 Now God Himself becomes consciously and necessarily the whole blessing itself. The trial has judged all flesh as to the subjective state of the soul, all mediate enjoyment of God in circumstances; and the divine life, in order to its full blessing and consciousness of what that blessing is, has its perfect delight in God only and God Himself.
This is a wonderfully deepening process. It is not that the soul will not have joy, but that the source of joy, pure moral blessing, has a much fuller place in the heart, and, as we shall see, henceforth characterises it. Hence it is that we see persons who have been deeply tried by the loss of blessings, which in their place were given of God, far more calm, possessed of a deeper consciousness of God being their portion, and hence more withdrawn from the influence of circumstances to that blessed centre of rest.
The enemy, though in a painful way - and so is it even in God's discipline - contributes to the furtherance of the soul in this path. They said, Where is thy God? They have driven them out from the public enjoyment of conferred - and in Israel covenant - blessing. (So Job.) And where was the sign of their having blessings from Him? But as they had ascribed it to God and proclaimed His faithfulness and power to secure, they taunt them with it now and say, What can you say now? Where is thy God? This, really, the unhappy Jews did to Christ. But this only casts the soul on Him. There was nothing for it, but what God was Himself The enemy had driven them away from all else - from mercies which by abuse tended to shut God out. These the enemy succeeded in depriving the soul of, and left it only God. And the soul hoped in Him; but what was the consequence? Crying out for the blessing? No. Often the soul, by seeking joy, cannot get it, this would not purify and bless it: and to bless God must purify. When emptied of self and seeking God, we find joy. So here, while remembering the past joy, he says, I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance.
But some other traits must be noticed here. Pride and stoical resistance to sorrow will not do. That does not draw the soul to God, but effectually and specially keeps it from Him - teaches it, or pretends to teach it, to do without Him, as the Stoics held in fact that the virtuous man was God's equal. Here the soul had felt the sorrow and was dependent, and now can be open with God, because of His goodness and faithfulness. Sorrow, when it is complete and helpless, gives intimacy with him who is willing and able to help, and this is now with God. He tells his sorrow to God (v. 5). He reasoned with himself. How he says, "O my God, my soul is cast down within me: therefore will I remember thee."
89 But this leads to another point. The troubles themselves come from God. Inward self-judgment and looking to God bring Him and Him alone into everything. Enemies have disappeared, with blessings. "Thy waves and thy billows are gone over me." God began the matter with Job and told neither Satan nor Job what He was about, and uses Satan's blind malice to break Job's unsubdued, and of himself unsuspected, nature, and to bring about a blessing. Deep called to deep, but it was at the voice of God's waterspouts.
But this seeing God's hand in purpose leads to the consciousness of covenant relationship; to us of Father, here of Jehovah; and He is reckoned upon according to that for the future. "Jehovah will command his loving-kindness in the day-time, and in the night shall his song be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life." Confidence is thus acquired - boldness with a faithful God. "I will say unto God my rock, Why hast thou forgotten me?" He does not say "forsaken" here. That Christ alone was, and faith knows it never can be. But because of this confidence in the unfailing love of God, he asks Him who is his rock why He has left him in the power of the enemy. Note how, when once we see the hand of God in our sorrows, we can look for deliverance, because it is God, and His hand is on us in love.
And now the reproach of the enemies becomes a plea with God; for when they say, Where is thy God? the only answer is, God's manifesting Himself. Meanwhile the soul has been deepened in its desires after God Himself. All carelessness of heart removed, so that manifestation has infinitely more value. Here the assurances of blessing are enlarged, before the distressed soul has said that he was assured of the help of His countenance as the theme of his praises; but we have seen that his heart, purified and exercised, had been drawn up into confiding in the sure faithfulness of God in known relationship. The heart, though not yet outwardly freed, is fixed on God in desire and in confidence. Hence he says now, Who is the health of my countenance - his countenance reflects in joy the outshining of God's in love - and my God. Distress and the deprivation of all given, even religious, blessings, had cast the heart upon God and drawn it to look to Him as the alone source of joy, and with the confidence which must spring up when the soul is near God, known in His own relationship by faith. It cannot be otherwise. There may be delay as to full peace of heart and enjoyment, if the Lord sees purifying and sifting still necessary; but there will be a confiding leaning on Him, and the soul then is brought to thirst evidently for Himself. "My soul is athirst for God." It addresses itself to God, but it is the soul panting after Him. We do not get the answer here, but the state of the soul looking purely for God Himself, brought to do it, and assured of the shining of the light of His countenance and of the joy and health it would give. Remark as to the detail that it is when the soul has been broken down and its force of pride has given way, that it then remembers God; v. 6. So when God's hand is seen in his trials (v. 7), he sees that Jehovah, God as known in relationship, will command His lovingkindness, and God is the God of his life and God his rock.
90 Psalm 43. In Psalm 42 we have seen the soul internally restored and animated to an earnest thirsting after God Himself, seeking all its joy in Himself Being brought to that, in Psalm 43, it is looking out for a deliverance, which shall enable it to enjoy God freely and fully. God has become, for the heart, its exceeding joy; and it will be recalled, thus restored, to free worship of Him, to express its joy and thanksgiving fully. God is not here characterised as the living God, but as the God of his strength. Till the soul was fully fixed on God Himself as its delight, this cry for deliverance, though natural and not wrong, if subject to Ms will (yet it would rather desire purification than escape from affliction), was yet more a reference to comfort and ease; though from the hand of God this is not to be slighted. But now it is identified with the desire to praise and glorify God.
This change has to be noted: when under trial, righteously and graciously from God, perhaps unrighteously from man, the heart naturally desires freedom; but, as Elihu says to Job, if it is not as subject to God's gracious dealings, it is choosing iniquity rather than affliction - there is a want both of uprightness and submission. When once the heart is fully restored (and with an upright conscience we shall pretty well know this, and God will perfectly, that if there be subjection to Him, and the desire of perfectness of heart, the deliverance will be surely at the right time) the desire of deliverance has its fully right place. It is the desire to be manifestly with Him in peace, and to glorify and praise Him openly. Outward enemies had been reproaching in Psalm 42 but they were God's waves and billows. But "where is thy God?" was the terrible thing. His soul became athirst for Him. Now he desires judgment of his cause and deliverance. There was a nearer trial than outward oppression, though he was still under it, the direct wickedness of injustice with which he had to do. He looked for God's light and truth to come out and lead him and bring him to God's holy hill. It is not the consciousness that God was his secret delight to which he had been brought, but that He who was would, by His power, lead Him now to open praise and worship. The God of strength would bring him there; he would be present with Him who was his exceeding joy.
91 This hope encourages his heart and brings him back, too, to that which was the secret and fulness of his joy and which he possessed in hope, that God would be the health of his countenance. He was morally his exceeding joy. Now it would shine forth in glad worship, and be reflected in the gladness of the countenance of him who enjoyed it. The panting after God was the result in the last psalm, though looking out for blessing. Here this is wrought in the soul, and, though not restored yet to outward public blessings, God is his exceeding joy, and God his God; and the outward restoration is presently looked forward to.
Psalm 44. We have certainly in this book of the psalms moral exercises more deeply and fully developed. The soul has to do with God; but the application is not the easier to the Christian state, for this simple reason: the exercises flowing from relationship under trial are not the theme of this book, but exercises of soul with God, when the enjoyment of known relationship is lost.
Hence, while in the former part, in order to apply it to the Christian, it was only needed to apprehend the change of relationship from Jehovah to Father; having in Christianity a relationship founded on the destruction of all in flesh, one in that relationship has passed beyond the whole position in this book. The state of the Christian reveals, and is known in, the exercise of a heavenly one. Hence the proper state of the Christian is found less here even than in the first book. But the relationship of an exercised soul with God, on the other hand, comes out into relief.
92 In this psalm the faithful one recognises that through divine favour and power alone they had enjoyed the blessings of which they were now deprived, the signs of God's favour. The direct government of God is owned, "Thou art my king, O God," is the language of Israel, but always true, though the authority now, without being less absolute, is infinitely sweeter. He is our Lord by redemption. We do not deny the Lord that bought us. This was still the faithful one's trust. In Elohim he made his boast, and praised His name for ever; but they were given up, and their enemies had the upper hand; yet they held fast, and did not forget God, nor were unfaithful to the covenant.
Two great principles, faithfulness to the will and authority of God, whatever disaster and seeming desertion there may be, and looking for no other help than God Himself, who seems to have deserted the faithful, are here in play. This puts integrity utterly to the test, and personal faith; and that is just what is needed for the soul to be in the state in which it can be restored to the full joy of positive blessing. The fact that God thus tests His people (and He does so now spiritually before peace be obtained) is one of deep import. It brings out what we have seen characterises this book - absolute trust in God, in Himself; and it shews that uprightness with Him is before all comfort or ease for the heart: for, if nothing is got from it, they hold to Him for His own sake. He Himself is the object, and Himself, morally, and in His claim upon them. Hence the heart cannot turn to anything else, for it is not God, nor help which would relieve it from His ways.
This brings in another point which this psalm leads us to, that the trials which accompany this apparent desertion are attributed to God's own hand. "Thou makest us to turn our back. . . . Thou hast given us like sheep." There is another thought connected with this psalm besides the individual application. When God confounds and rebukes His people in their public conflicts with the power of evil, when, in the exercise of His government, He allows the power of evil to get the upper hand, and so orders it, this is a deep trial for His people, not only for their own sorrow in it, but because the name of God is dishonoured. The enemy triumphs in this; but surely the government of God is shewn in it.
93 Here we learn the meditations of the upright soul in these circumstances. It had not forgotten God, nor behaved unfaithfully as regarded His covenant, though smitten down in the place of dragons. On the contrary; though it might be the needed public government of God, as regarded the profession of His name, and to separate out the faithful, who may be in the midst of His professed people; yet, as regards those faithful, it was for God's name they were suffering. This is still, I judge, somewhat different from Jehovah's name. Of course it was Jehovah, as with the Father, but here it is for what God is as such. Not only faithfulness in not denying the revealed name is there, but it was for what God is that they were suffering. There was no turning in heart to idols. They preferred suffering anything, or suffer what they might, for owning the true God; they would do it for His own sake, for the attachment of their heart to Him, for what He was when they got no blessing; because the God who was in covenant with His people was the true God, and they would be tried, not only for the covenant blessings, but for their heart - attachment to what He was in Ms nature: and so in principle with us. And this is joy; because the love of integrity, the partaking of the divine nature, by which we delight in what is good, in what is of God, gives the consciousness of itself, the conscious delight there is in that nature in rejoicing in what is good and right.
It is not self-righteousness, but the conscious delight in good of the divine nature, proper divine joy in its nature; only in our case it must have an object, God Himself, and this is tested in us by suffering for God. Hence the true case is - for the enemy hated God - "For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter." To test it fully, and make it real suffering for God, the blessings which belong to His power must not be there. Hence the upright are left for the time to the oppression of the enemy. This, while it searches the heart, if there be any false way, makes it here suffering for what God is; and on the cry for mercy, in due time, brings in the answer from Him; for He cannot leave what answers to His nature - integrity towards Him - needlessly in the power of evil. And so it ever is; though our joy may be in another world altogether, yet, as a rule, God as to His covenant, delivers in this.
94 As regards the earth, this cry brings in Messiah. There is progress, I think, in Psalm 44, as compared with the two preceding psalms. There was deprivation, and the light of God's countenance looked for; and all right. Here God Himself is held to in heart - integrity, in spite of everything. It is the same in principle, but more absolute. And in this is what is needed. This clinging to God Himself in spite of all is to be learnt. And the heart is herein fully tested for God.
Psalm 45. The object is evidently the celebration of Messiah the King. The heart feels it is inditing a good matter. When Christ is before the soul, it is enlivened and roused; here, doubtless, as king, and in His victories, so that there is more of human triumph than in the Christian's estimate of Him. The power of evil will then be put down, and the heart exult in it. Now the joy is deeper and more divine. Collectively, we expect the Bridegroom; individually, the Saviour, who is not ashamed to call us brethren. When we think of Him as a divine Person, we feel the depth of that divine work in which God met sin, and in which it has been put away for us - a work which none can fathom; and we dwell on that glory into which He is entered, and of which He is worthy, both in His Person and by His work. Still, we can understand the exultation of the delivered Jew, or, at least, one anticipating deliverance thus by Messiah.
But there is, besides this joy, a principle of deep importance contained in this psalm - the call to the daughter to forget her own people and her father's house: so shall the king desire her beauty. So, as to blessing, instead of fathers she shall have children. Association with Christ breaks off previous associations which nature has had, and forms wholly new ones. This is, of course and evidently, a principle which is of an absolute and decisive character. But this is put in the strongest way here: "so shall the king greatly desire thy beauty." For the Christian, then, that he may walk so that the Lord may have delight in him, there is an entire breaking with all that nature is linked up with. The doctrines on which this is founded are not laid down here: that would not suit the Psalms. It is the state of the soul. It was to forget all that had a claim on it according to nature. It is the coming in of Christ which calls for this. He has Himself done it - broken with the world by death, and entered on a new world in resurrection. His claim is absolute, and in contrast with all others. According to nature, there was no link, no association with the blessings He brings into. It was another order of relationships. These claimed the heart naturally in their place; but Christ takes to Himself, founds new ones, of which He is the centre, and has a divine claim. The old ones are left, and the new ones entered on by redemption out of them. He must have the whole heart, as a divine claimant, who, by giving Himself for and to us, brings us into a new scene of relationship with Himself No counter claim can be allowed. It is now owning His. It is giving up our nature and place, and going back into the old things. Being His is all our being. As scripture expresses it, "Christ is all." This is denied if concurrent claims are allowed.
95 This is true as to religious claims. The Jew, when Christ reigns, must give up his glorying in his fathers to glory in Christ. So we; whatever legal or fleshly religion may have been indulged in, it is all given up. All that was gain is loss. The past is gone - we are taken out of it. Christ, and the future He gives, are all. Christ may place in present duties connected with human relationships, and He does; but he who looks back is not fit for the kingdom of God. All was failure before: Christ is joy and gladness, and that stabley and in power. See the full doctrinal and experimental statement of this as to the Christian in 2 Corinthians 5: "Though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more. Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away, behold all things are become new."
Psalm 46 gives us one most simple truth, but a most solemn and weighty one - one much needed by Christians in the heavings of this world, and in the tendency to seek relief by human effort. "Be still, and know that I am God." That is the exhortation. The encouragement is this: "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble." But if GOD takes this character, the waters may rage and be troubled, and the mountains shake with their swelling; we can be still. For no matter what power or swelling there is, if God be there, our refuge. Only we must wait, and wait till He comes in: and here it is faith is tried. Hence, "and know that I am God." This may be by the exercise of patience, or the resisting the tendency to human effort. But the truth sustained in the psalm is a most blessed and precious encouragement, which no one trouble can touch; for trouble is at the utmost from the creature, and God is God. But it implies that nothing else is a refuge, and this is perfect reliance, and implies that all else may be against us.
96 The great point is, that it is God as such who is our refuge and strength. He does not say, "The Lord" (Jehovah): further on in the psalm, where relationship is in question, he does. Here the point is, that it is God in His nature contrasted with man - indeed with every power; for if God be for us, who can be against us? Faith gets hold of this. He is a refuge, where we may resort for safety; and He is strength, so that no adverse power can reach or succeed against us. It supposes that trouble, yea, insolent swellings of power, are there; but He is a present help. This secures fully; but the help is not always a present apparent one. But God Himself is looked to; and the fact that we are left wholly to Him, and that no other resource is there, makes all the power of evil immaterial to us; for it is nothing against God. "What is this confidence?" said the king of Assyria to Hezekiah. Other help we might calculate and compare the value of. This only requires faith, "Ye believe in God."
Against this help all effort is unavailing; only we must wait for it. Human efforts shut this help out. It is another kind of resource which is not faith. God may command activity, and faith acts confidently. But this is never man's way; and when the matter is in God's hands, when there is not a duty, then our part is to be still, and we shall soon know that He is God. Human effort only spoils all. No human planning is ever right. In His own time and way, God will come in. There are duties. When there are, do them: but when the power of evil against us is there, and there is not a duty, the path is to be still. Human efforts prove want of faith and restlessness, and planning is mere flesh. Elsewhere we have seen that integrity is needed to trust God, because it is God's holy nature which is trusted. This absolute trust is called for when the power of evil is rampant, and endurance till deliverance is the path of the saint. There is another thought here. God (the Most High over all the earth) has a dwelling - place, where the rivers of His grace refresh: then the city of God, Zion and the temple; now the church. There the streams of refreshment run, and He will preserve her (not now as Zion, the city of God's solemnities, but in a better way), and there He enters into the proper character of His own relationship. And there He gives peace, having destroyed all the power of the enemy. Then will he who has waited know who is God - we in yet brighter and holier scenes.
97 Psalm 47. I have but few words to say on this psalm. It is the triumph of God's people when deliverance is come in, prophetically announced. That which will be useful to remark is, how entirely the government of the world is connected with Israel. God Most High is a great King over all the earth. Then the peoples and nations are subdued under Israel, and God chooses the inheritance for the remnant of His people - His beloved Jacob. But this issues in the praises of God Himself - awakens praise in His people. And whatever the blessings and glory of God's people, their great delight is in the glory of God Himself. First, the power of God is celebrated, and the peoples, those in relationship with Israel, are called upon to triumph in it, for it is their deliverance and blessing, and that, at least, Israel knows, and is the proclaimer of it to them. There Israel gets its place. But this makes God pre-eminent in Israel's thought. Thus it ever is when the soul truly knows blessing. It turns to the Blesser.
But this draws out, not merely thanksgiving, but the celebration of all that God is as known in blessing to those He blesses. But His own proper glory is their joy. I say, "known in blessing"; but not simply because of blessing, but in His own glory as so known. Thus verses 5-8 celebrate what God is, as thus displayed and known. So in Romans 5:11, it is not only the statement of salvation, but "we joy in God, by whom we have received the reconciliation." Further, praises with understanding are called for. The relationships of God are stated in verse 8. This, too, is a point neglected by the saints the living and praising in and according to the relationships in which God stands with us. We have to say "The Father" and "Christ the Lord." Here, in the kingdom, it is He sits upon the throne of His holiness, and He reigns over the heathen - only now that which is power on the earth. The princes of the peoples are gathered in recognition of, and association with, one peculiar people - the people of original promise - the people of the God of Abraham. The shields of the earth belong to God: He is greatly exalted; for this must be the last and possessing thought of the saint. I will only add, that this takes up the reign of God in its great general principle and connected with divine exaltation, though in connection with Israel who celebrates it.
98 The following psalm, 48, connects it more with local details, and the judgment by which His throne is established in Zion. What they had heard (Psalm 44) they have now seen. This closes the historical presentation of this period, beginning with the outcast remnant when evil was in power upon the throne, before the throne of righteousness was set up by judgment. The facts of the latter day are before the soul.
Psalm 49 is a full commentary upon all this, shewing man's place in it. It gives a commentary, shewing the emptiness of the world, connected with the judgment of God at the end, but which is applicable in all times, though publicly proved then. Death proves the folly of all human wisdom and foresight, of all human grandeur - a common observation, little acted on, but always true. As it is said of wisdom, "death and destruction have heard the fame thereof with their ears." They cannot give positive wisdom, but they can negatively shew that only what does not belong to mortal man has any value. Man establishes his family, perpetuates his name, but he is gone: nothing stays the hand of death. Ransom from that is out of man's power. There is a morning coming when the righteous will have the upper hand of those who seem wise as regards this world. Death feeds on these, or, as neglecters of God, they are subjected to the righteous, when His judgment comes. But the power of God, in whom the righteous trust, is above the power of death. He saves the remnant from death. So those who are alive when Christ comes for the church will not die at all; those who are dead will be raised. Such is the confidence of the believer: death does not alarm him, because he trusts in One, who is above it, who redeems frees from its power altogether, or raises.
But the Christian goes yet farther, though this be true of him. He can say, "That we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead." But he says more: "We had the sentence of death in ourselves." He does not at all take, as the remnant, his portion this side of death; so that deliverance from it to live here is the object of his soul. Christ having died, his connection with this world has ceased, save as a pilgrim through it. He has the sentence of death in himself. He knows no man after the flesh, no, not even Christ. His associations with the world are closed, save as Christ's servant in it. He reckons himself dead. He is crucified with Christ, yet lives; but it is Christ lives in him, and he lives the life he lives in the flesh by the faith of the Son of God, who loved him and gave Himself for him, so that he is delivered from this present world. This, while it puts the believer on the ground of this psalm, as far as it goes as to its great principle, yet sets him in a totally different position. There is not a question about escaping death (though outwardly he may, for we shall not all die), for death is a gain, and he reckons himself dead and his life hid with Christ in God, and Christ to be His life. Yet this only shews still more, what the psalm insists on, the folly of laying up and making oneself great, and counting on a future in a world where death reigns and in the things to which its power applies. Man being in honour abides not.
99 How difficult, even if happy and heavenly-minded in Christ as to one's own joys, not to look upon the things that are seen, to think that the wisdom, and talents, and success, and approval of men is simply nothing, the food of death; and that all the moral question lies behind, save so far as these may have deceived men! The saint has to watch still, not to be afraid when success accompanies those who do not accept the cross. We await God's judgment of things in power; we exercise it in conscience. There is no divine understanding in the man whose heart is in the glory of the world. Men will praise him. How well he has got on, settled his children, raised himself in his position! The fairest names will be given to it. He has no understanding. His heart is in what feeds death, and that death weighs it. All the motives of the world are weighed by death. After all, in them man is only as the beasts that perish, with more care.
Psalm 50. But if death tells this tale, divine judgment is executed; and this brings in other considerations too, the contrast of ceremonial religion which God may have ordered in His goodness to man, and that practical righteousness which God must have in order to own man. But this will be found in special relationship to God, and that in His own way. Saints are gathered by sacrifice. Redeeming grace and the sense of its need must come in to be owned as such by God; but these are gathered to God. judgment proceeds on the ground on which man stands; for abuse of privileges if he has them, but on the moral ground on which his conscience stands. So here, as to Israel, God does not complain of want of sacrifices. No ceremonial religion will be in question, but wickedness. Because God had kept silence in long patience, the world may fancy He is to be dealt with as man is, with outward forms, sacrifices, ceremonies, and no conscience, and that God sees no farther; but God sets before man what he has done. He who so knows God as to praise Him, who owns what He is, blesses Him for what He is, and orders his conversation aright, he will have the governmental blessing of God. He who makes offerings as though he would quiet God so, and goes on without taking heed to Him in his conscience' He will reprove, and set in order before him all he has done: if here, for salvation; if in judgment, there is none to deliver.
But where there is a work of God, it goes much deeper, and this we see in Psalm 51. God had announced judgment. Here mercy is looked for by the divinely-moved soul, that He who alone can do it should make us clean, as is suited to Himself; for the soul thus taught feels it has to do with God, and looks for cleansing suited for that. Compare John 13 - a "part with me." (He came from God and was going to God, and the Father had given all into His hand.) The sin too is confessed. Having to say to God Himself is what marks this psalm, and the feeling of him thus concerned; and, as I have said, it goes much deeper than what is spoken of in judgment. From verse 5 the inward principles are looked at, for it is a question of having to say to God, not merely of judgment of acts.
100 There is the sense of sin in the nature and in the origin of our being; and that God must have truth in the inward parts; but confidence in God that He will give divine wisdom to be known in the heart, that which the vulture's eye hath not seen. This is precious to understand. The soul looks to humiliation with pleasure as against, and the breaking down of, an unholy will; for, as it hates it, so it desires it to be broken. The bitterness of humiliation is in this respect sweet. There is the blessed consciousness, that, when the Lord washes us, we are clean every whit, whiter than snow. A blessed thought to be clean before His eyes: how little believed, because men do not believe in His washing!
101 Thus far it has been more the intrinsic preciousness of being clean, clean for God - what is necessary for God and what the heart delights in. Now, gladness is looked for, but from God; as all is seen, the humiliation and chastisement, as the rest, from God's hand - joy, gladness, God's face can be rightly looked for now, not before. That would have been selfish comfort, though natural enough; but God does not give it till the heart is right. The heart must be real, truly purified in accord with God, to enjoy here favour and joy. Nor, while looking to God to hide His face from its sins and blot out its iniquities, is this separate from the desire after cleanliness of heart; only now it is looked at, God's goodness being in view, not as the requirement of His holiness, to which the heart assents, but the work of His grace, something from Him. "Create in me a clean heart, O God." Give it me, and renew (not a right, but) a fixed, settled, spirit within me - one that calmly, settledly thinks on God, the heart's only object, and peacefully counts and waits on Him. The soul thus taught cannot do without the presence of God. its dread is to be cast out of it. It is not yet intelligent in grace and the sureness of God's favour, but cannot do without His presence. To be removed from it would be everlasting misery, as indeed it would, and felt the more, the more the eye is opened upon Him. It craves therefore this above all, not to be cast out from His presence; known in truth, desire, and the necessity of the soul; if not, no joy.
The action of the Holy Spirit is known as the power of joy; His indwelling is not. The soul pleads not to be deprived of the former. Here a difference must be noted with the case of a Christian, whether we consider his first conversion or his restoration to communion. Hitherto we have been able to weigh the great essential principles of the communion of the soul with God. In these verses the occasion comes in. An intelligent Christian could not say literally, Take not thy Holy Spirit from me; he views the effect of his sin in quite another way. He has grieved the Spirit, he has sinned against love. He does not believe that God will ever take His Holy Spirit from him. If the extreme of chastisement is on him, and the shield of faith is down, he doubts or disbelieves he has or perhaps ever had it, but does not ask that it should not be taken away. He all but despairs; he thinks himself a reprobate; and if be thinks he had it outwardly, as Hebrews 6, thinks it impossible he can be renewed to repentance because he has lost it. But, save in this extreme case or the use of Hebrews 6 (common before real peace is obtained) to our own condemnation, there is no such thought in a Christian. A man may doubt whether he has the Holy Spirit, but an intelligent Christian does not think of God taking it away. It is quasi-despair, or grieving because he has grieved the Spirit which is in him. Its present action in Israel, inasmuch as God owned the nation, or the returning remnant hoped so, that remnant may plead for. Compare Haggai 2:5.
102 And David in the same way, having sinned, could so speak but a Christian could not. The cry might come from an inexperienced Christian who had not found peace, nor knew that God does not take His Spirit from the Christian, but not from one who knew the truth. A Christian knowing the truth, but having failed in walk, and assaulted by the enemy, might deprecate the practical loss of that action of the Spirit which alone keeps us in communion, and the shield of faith up, and this would be all right. So could one who had thus lost it, say, Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, though in the extreme of such a case; neither is that the state of soul, but only where it is getting back. In the extreme case it is the thought of being lost, though after all, hope is never absolutely given up. But, on the returning of such a soul verses 11, 12 are, practically used, though never "take not thy Holy Spirit from me." But there is a constant action of the Holy Ghost which keeps faith alive - may be, a source of great joy when we walk with God, but, when we have not joy, keeps the enemy from bringing doubt on our souls before God; keeps, as I said, faith alive. He is not between our souls and God, the power of darkness. This is practically what is desired here, and the sensible joy of God's salvation to be restored, but without the knowledge of the indwelling Spirit founded on redemption.
What verse 12 looks for we may have to look for, the joy of salvation to be restored, and the having the heart established with God's free Spirit, that liberty before God and in His service which is enjoyed through the ungrieved Spirit by the soul that knows redemption and the blessed light of God's countenance. In David there was the uncertainty of repeated forgiveness (abiding acceptance being unknown) and of great sin. In Israel, in the latter days, the knowledge of long enjoyed relationships, all now in question, though God be trusted for them. But this is not the Christian's state: if he knows that the Holy Ghost dwells in him, he knows it abides there.
103 The soul in which God's Spirit works, may, as to this, be in the following states. First, exercised, but ignorant, having a general idea of mercy, it may apply all these consequences of sin to itself vaguely but with terror. When forgiveness is known (and specially when it is known with little depth of conviction of sin), but the righteousness of God not, the soul, losing the sense of forgiveness through failure or carelessness, sees judgment before it, without having righteousness, and all previous joy becomes bitterness, and the sense of loss (Heb. 6); is applied, and all the passages which speak of continuing as a condition or of falling away. But the soul is not really set free here. It has known forgiveness, not righteousness. It has known the blood on the door-post, not the Red Sea. It is in the path of learning divine righteousness and abiding peace before God in Christ risen. There is yet the case, where, with the truth known, sin has been trifled with, and there the enemy gets power - a case I have already spoken of, where there is no power to apply the word or promises, and every bitter sentence is applied to oneself. Yet, God's justice seen to be right, Satan, so to speak, is the interpreter of the word, not God. Yet this, God uses as chastisement, to set the soul right; and the soul, through grace, clings to God in spite of all.
I have said rather more on these verses than might seem natural, because they are so often misused to put Christians on the ground of Old Testament knowledge, and deprive the Christian of the truth of the constantly indwelling Spirit. All this is a misapplication of it. I close with some remarks on the last verses of the psalm.
The soul is not yet restored in the psalm, nor free before God; it is looking for it. When restored, it can teach others freely. But while a clean heart is looked for, there is another character of sin which presses on the soul rejecting Christ, blood - guiltiness. We cannot of course kill Him, but the sin is the same. Thus there is not only uncleanness in sin, but the affections are wrong - there is hatred against God shewn in enmity to saints, but above all to Christ. We can understand how Israel will have to look for this: they have called for His blood on them and on their children. But practically our hearts have rejected Him, and would none of Him. Yet the soul, brought near in grace, can look for cleansing from this also: more than this, in forgiveness of this, it sees that God is indeed the God of its salvation, not of judgment, but in the extremest of sin is a Saviour - saves in love. Then it sings aloud of God's righteousness. In its actual relationship with God there was only sin. The cross was God meeting sin, and sin meeting God in man. Man (that is, the sinner) had only sin. There he shewed what he was in respect of God present in love - hatred and violent will. This was all he was; but there God became, not a restorer, but a Saviour - a complete Saviour, and shewed His righteousness in respect of the work of Christ by setting Man, Him as Man, at His right hand. God's righteousness only now is known; and, as it has triumphed in salvation, the soul sings aloud of it. This is true freedom - the Holy Ghost, thus given, the power of it. The necessary consequence is, that sacrifices have no place. Where would they be? How would they own God? A broken spirit is what suits the cross - suits Christ's sufferings and forgiven sins. Nor does God despise this. It answers to His mind in the cross, to His grace towards the sinner. Then come peace, blessing, and service; here, according to Jewish millennial order, of course, but true in spirit in the Christian.
104 Psalm 52 requires few words. It looks to judgment in Israel, but there are some principles which directly concern the believer at any time, where he looks, in the prevalence of evil power - not to circumstances. Evil boasts itself in power, but faith sees another thing, The goodness of God, before whom men are as grasshoppers, endures, however evil prevails yet continually. There is no moment where it is not fully in Him, no day when anything escapes Him or anything is out of His reach. It is not only the power of God, but His goodness. This is a great general truth; but we say, Our Father. Not a sparrow falls to the ground without your Father. Yet on the other hand there is something specially precious in the thought here. It is not the goodness of Jehovah in His relationship with Israel, but what is in the nature of God. The goodness of God, what a resource against evil! It cannot cease or be interrupted, if it be thus. The end of pride is ruin, but he who trusts in the Lord and His faithful love shall be green, when all else withers, and planted in the courts of God's house.
105 Psalm 53, as we know, convicts of entire sinfulness those who have the best advantages. But the secret of this course is old too, and on that a few words. AU the path of the wicked comes from this. For him God is not. Faith does not exist, and God is not seen. This is the secret of all error in practice and in human reasoning. The more we examine the whole course of human action, the faults of us Christians, the various wanderings of philosophy, the more we shall find that no God is at the root of all. Here it is the case that the conscience takes no notice of God. The heart has no desire after Him, and the will works as if there were none. Man says so in his heart. Why should he say it? Because his conscience tells him there is one. His will would not have one; and, as God is not seen in His working, will sees only what it will. God is set aside, and the whole conduct is under the will's influence, as if no God existed. He takes pains to prove there is not if he thinks, because he cannot get on if there is; but he lifts himself up, and, deceiving himself, comes in practical condition to will there should be none - and not to think, but to act as if he thought, and that in purpose as well as act, as if there were none. In a certain sense, he even thinks so; for, being entirely occupied with present things, and blind through his alienation from God, his moral feelings dead, judging from present things, he can draw conclusions, not believe that there is one, and, living in his own thoughts thus formed, live in the thought there is none - says so in his heart. If conscience awakes, he knows well there is; but he lives in his will and the thoughts of his will, and for him there is no God.
But it is wonderful how habitually human reasoning goes on as if this were so. Man cannot look at all that is around him without feeling the mass of evil there is. If he does not accept the fall and salvation, what can he think when there are no immediate present interventions, as in Israel? Men leave God out, and account for all as if there were none. Men will not put all on the ground of truth. If not, they cannot bring God in it at all, and account for all without doing so. And this is called philosophy, and it leads on necessarily to the power of evil, for evil there is, and consequently the power of evil; and if God be not brought in, the power of evil must have the upper hand, for who is to hinder it having so? God does, till His time is come - the time when no more good is to be done by waiting. Evil then comes to a head, which is embodied in this psalm; and the result is, the judgment spoken of at the end. But the principles of the world are such at all times. Whenever I act as if God was not (that is, without reference to His will), I so far say in my heart, "There is no God."
106 If the fear spoken of in verse 5 be of the congregation of the just, as I suppose, there we see how needless the fear of the godly is in the day of the power of evil. The more it increases, the more the question becomes God's. At its height it is wholly so; consequently, the less reason there is to fear. It is when at their height that God despises them. The Psalmist, as a Jew, longs for this time - the time of the restoration of Israel. In a certain sense we desire it, for we desire the disappearing of evil and the rest of the earth; but it is not the highest good.
Psalm 54 gives one, but a most weighty, practical principle - God alone and His name; that is, the revelation of Himself is the resource of the soul. Strangers have not set God before them, the believer has; and all hangs from His name. Dependence is expressed, and God is sought according to His name. This, the name of God, holds the first place in the psalm. We must remark that God is not known here in subsisting covenant relationship. It is not Jehovah until the end of the psalm, but God, as such, in contrast with men and all else; and in Himself known in what He is - the source of mercy and good, on which we depend. But God has revealed Himself - made Himself known to men; His name, that which expresses what He is, is known, and the heart trusts in this. And how sweet it is to do it! In itself it is joy and rest; and what can man do when God is for us? I may not know what God will do, but He is trusted. God says, He is my helper. When delivered, or in the thought of deliverance, all that God is in relationship with His people comes into the soul for praise; but what God is as God is the resource of the soul.
Psalm 55 is the expression of intense distress of spirit. Outward enemies were there. This was the difficulty in which he stood; but it was only the occasion of what pressed upon his spirit. This was the hatred of those who stood in the closest relationship to him. This brought him into the presence of death, and divine judgment, because as special instruments of Satan they would bring the effect of guilt upon his soul between him and God. How completely the Lord Himself (though the psalm be not properly prophetic of Him) went through this, I need not say. They sought to bring the guilt upon Him and triumphed in His being forsaken of God, did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted. Directly it is the remnant in the last day; but, as we have seen, in all their affliction He was afflicted.
107 But this bringing iniquity on the soul by wicked men as instruments of Satan (which the Lord went through more deeply than any one could, because He took our iniquity) is a very solemn thing. It is not the wrath directly that Christ bore, and we never shall; but the bringing it on the soul by the power of Satan by wicked men. The Lord may see it needed, but it is only a special case with Christians. There is confidence in God, an expectation that His ear is open to the cry of the heart that trusts Him. But till the Lord is looked to, the power of wickedness, and the wickedness itself distress and bow down the soul. The existence and power of evil, of what is opposed to God, weighs on it. This is united with the deepest wounding of confidence in man, for it was not an open enemy, but a friend, who had done it. What in man was to be trusted when the nearest betrayed? It gives isolation of heart. Nothing can be trusted. Now the Lord went through this power of evil. We only feel it when flesh is not broken down and has to be broken down. It is there, but its power is broken by Him for faith. But, inasmuch as we are sinners, this kind of power of Satan brings the character of judgment with it. We may get above this by grace and confide. For this it was that Christ prayed for Peter; and he was kept, when falling under the power of Satan, from going on to doubt the Lord's love, and to despair. The most terrible thing here is wickedness coming as the power of evil. But the spirit itself shrinks from the heartlessness of it and would flee; for a gracious spirit would rest in peace when evil is all around. The heart meanwhile is conscious that it has no association with it, and would only flee away and be alone in quiet, for the condition is that it has none to trust in. But this casts the mind on the Lord, for after all it has not the wings of a dove in this world.
108 The effect of this is to bring up the wickedness before the Lord, that is, in its full light. This necessarily brings in the aspect in which all is looked at in the Psalms, of patience under evil, and righteousness which must view evil as evil; for (though Christ's sufferings under it even to wrath are brought in, and so grace in judgment passed, yet in general as to the government of God) this necessarily brings in the thought of judgment; for the judgment of evil and the deliverance of the oppressed are in the nature of God as governing and seeing all things. The heart groaning under oppression and suffering before, while thinking of evil sought to be charged on it (and so with horror and oppression of spirit), can now, as looking to the Lord, judge all the evil more calmly as to itself in its own character, and the judgment which must follow. And full confidence in Jehovah, a known covenant God, springs up. And then, free in spirit, one can, from verse 19, look calmly at it all and see the end. The full and blessed conclusion in the deepest sense of the most pressing evil is, "Cast thy burden upon the Lord and he shall sustain thee; he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved." Here end all the exercises giving the ground of our constant faith. And although the psalm looks for judgment, if we take the principle of this declaration, it is the blessed sustainment of faith in all trial. There are two points in this. "Cast thy burden on the Lord." Whatever the trial or difficulty may be, cast it upon the Lord. It is not that the trial goes always - here it would not till judgment came; but "He shall sustain thee." It is better than the trials going. It is the direct coming in of God to ourselves, to our own souls, the sense of His interest in us, His favour, His nearness, that He comes to help us in our need. It is a divine condition of the soul, which is better than any absence of evil. God is a sure help to sustain us.
The second point is the infallible faithfulness of God. He shall never suffer the righteous to be moved. Tried they may be, but He cannot suffer evil in the world to prevail, nor will He. We may learn to trust by the evil, but in trusting we know the Lord will keep, and the extreme character of the evil only shews the rather that God must come in - makes His intervention necessary.
Psalm 56. The soul has got out of the depths of inward distress in which it was in Psalm 55. For, though the faithful one's enemies lie in wait for him, it is not the unfaithfulness and treachery of friends. They are enemies who seek to wrong him. He is afraid, more than distressed, and looks through the difficulties to God. Faith is readily in activity. In the previous psalm his spirit was inwardly deeply depressed. Here he is only tried. Hence he soon can trust in God, and His word is the testimony of certain deliverance to him.
109 In Psalm 55 it was only at verse 19 and at the end he could bring God in. Here God is at once before his soul. In truth outward trials are little compared with inward breaches on the spirit. "The spirit [even] of a man will sustain his infirmity, but a wounded spirit who can bear?" The saint's trust then is in God. But this trust in God is not without some revelation of God, Hence, when the soul can look at Him and trust, that by which He has revealed His mind, the testimony which in His love He has given to us, becomes at once the guide and confidence of the soul. It is a blessed thing to have it. God cannot but make it good. These two points are the hinges of thought in this psalm - God Himself and His word. "In God will I praise his word." His word gives us the sure witness of what He will be, what He is for us. But if it be God, what can flesh do? This is the conclusion that the soul comes to. It has enemies, perhaps mighty and strong ones, nor is it insensible to them. They hide themselves and plot against the faithful one; and he has no resource in flesh. All this is good for him. It makes him know the world he is in and weans him from flesh. But what can he do? He can do nothing. This casts him then on God, and this is as positively blessed as it is useful. In truth, if God be for us, what can flesh do? The worldly man may have fleshly resources against flesh. The saint cannot have recourse to these. It would take him away from God just when God is leading him wholly to Him. He cannot say "confederacy" to all to whom the people weak in faith say confederacy. But he is not to fear their fear either, nor be afraid, but sanctify Jehovah of Hosts Himself; and He shall be for a sanctuary. It is out of the occasion of fear that the faithful one looks out to God here. Then what can flesh do? God disposes of everything and has His plans, which He will certainly bring to pass.
But there is another blessing accompanies this, and a deep one. The soul is in trial, the wicked plotting against it. But God is with it in the sorrow and takes account of it all. He tells the wanderings of the saint, for he is here looked at as deprived of outward privileges with God's people and in His house; but God counts all this up, and the saint can look, as it is beautifully expressed, to His putting every tear into His bottle. Every sorrow of the saint is in His book. It is a blessed thought. So the heart confides in Him and knows that, when it cries to Him, all its enemies will be turned back. Then, as it praised His word in faith in the midst of its fears and sorrows, looking to it, sustained by it, counting on it - oh, that saints knew how to do it! - so now the soul will do it in counting on deliverance by His sure intervention.
110 Another principle is found in this psalm (in a Jewish form, of course) connected with these exercises of heart, and which are ever found in them, and indeed one great object of them as coming from God, the sense of belonging to, and being given up to, consecrated to, God: "Thy vows are upon me." It will be in the sense of praise and rendered in praise when delivered; but the heart learns in these trials, what we are apt to forget, that we do not belong to ourselves. It is, in its lowest stage, connected with the want of deliverance; in the highest, with the joy that God owns us for His own, the foundation being the redemption which has made us wholly His in fact, as indeed Israel was externally as redeemed from Egypt. Hence praises are in the heart of the oppressed one already. He receives what he prays for, believing. But the soul uses mercies and deliverances to count for more. it has been delivered from death; hence it looks to be kept from falling. It was under the power and oppression of the enemy, of him that has the power of death, the devil: it is set free; but now it has to walk without stumbling and falling in the way, but it has learnt its dependence in the trial and it looks to God for this. "Wilt thou not deliver my feet from failing?" But the soul has learnt more in its distress, the comfort of walking before God in the light of His favour and the safety of His presence. It looks to this as the object of its being kept. It does look for its own peace and comfort, but it looks for it before God. The light of the living was the light of divine preserving favour for Israel. It is not the highest order of joy here, but it is the soul's looking out of distress and oppression to that faithful goodness of God which shall make it walk before Him in safety and in peace.
In Psalm 57 there are the same trials, but more confidence. But his eye seeing more brightly God's power and help, it sees more of the evil and wickedness of its enemies and less of its own oppression, and this is constantly true. We have to watch this, for our heart is treacherous. If it gets out of its own oppression and fear, it is apt to dwell too much on the wickedness of its enemies. Looking more at God, it must see this more. That is not the evil, but dwelling on it. It is dangerous to merge evil and go on comfortably, but it is injurious also to dwell on evil. It does not nourish the soul - how should it? - and a spirit contrary to the gospel grows up. We shall see it, if we are near God, but we shall soon be occupied with God and not with the evil. He is above it all.
111 Thus there is progress in these three psalms. Between Psalms 56 and 57 the first verse shews the difference: the former, "for man would swallow me up"; the second, "for my soul trusteth in thee." There he was trusting God's word, here he is looking for the accomplishment of it by the hand of God, and trusts under the shadow of His wings till the tyranny be overpast. Hence he is able to look out to God's exalting Himself above the heavens and His glory above all the earth. It is not that the power of evil is not there as much as it was. It is, and the soul is bowed down through it, but the mind rests more on God. Remark too, that there is no thought of resisting the evil and getting rid of it by one's own strength. It waits on God, and this it must do to have its own path perfect. And this Christ did.
The former psalm felt more God's entering into the sorrow. This looks more to its own escape out of it, but by God's sending from heaven and accomplishing deliverance. He sees too the evil taken in their own plannings. There is no thought of counter-planning. But, casting himself wholly on God, he sees their own plans. to be their ruin, and this is a striking way of judgment and confirmation of faith. He gets through faith, so to speak, praise ready, and in the (Ammim and Leummim) peoples and nations: it is not specially among the heathen as adverse and opposed. His trials are within the people, the men he was associated with; and it is not triumph over adversaries, but deliverance where he could only bow down his heart. But the result was praise among men in a wider sphere than that he had been tried in; and so it ever is, for He who delivers is great. In fact he looks out to millennial glory, when all will be gathered together in one in Christ. But I use it now as seen here in God's ways.
112 On Psalm 58 very few words will suffice. The force of the psalm is this: the wicked as such are hopeless as to amendment' but God will judge them; so that men will see that there is a reward for the righteous and a God that judgeth the earth. Is there upright, just judgment among men? is the question. There is wickedness in their hearts: they plan and plot in it. It is in their nature and will, and characterises itself by falsehood. It is of the serpent, in its nature devilish; and they refuse any and every attracting power and influence, whatever it may be. God comes in and Jehovah judges: let their power and strength be as lions, they melt away to nothing when His hand comes in. Vengeance - and this explains the joy in it - does come in, vindicates the just man and shows him right, however he may have seemed helpless and been oppressed, and God righteous, and that there is a judge in spite of oppression.
Psalm 59. I have not much to say on this psalm in view of our present object in commenting on them. It refers directly to the desired judgment of the heathen. I may only note that absence of all conscience and all heart is to be expected from the world when the Lord and His saints are in question; a terrible judgment, but which these psalms, as well as experience, prove to be true. The simple refuge of the saint is in God. "God is my defence." It is not counter-plotting, nor using human means to meet the power of the enemy. We may partially perhaps and for a time so succeed, but in using carnal weapons we have lost the dependence which calls God in, and the perfection of walk and testimony which waiting on Him gives. We have played into the hands of the enemy by acknowledging the power of the world as competent to settle the question of good and evil, a power which after all, till Christ comes, is in his hands, though under God's sovereign rule. The heart of the saint has to say, "the God of my mercy." He knows Him as such. His favour is what he cares for, and he trusts His faithfulness. He expects the wickedness, which has no fear of God at all. They will return heartless and impious, but the godly will sing of God's power. And not that only - mercy, tender consideration of the afflicted saint, of him who has need even of mercy through his failure, has been experienced at the hands of God, He will sing aloud of God's mercy, and that when brighter times come; for in the trouble that mercy has been shewn. God is his strength too, and to Him he sings. The saint thus encouraged not only sings of God but to God. The wickedness of the wicked is viewed as pure wickedness here. As between God and the saint there may be occasion for discipline; but between the saint and the wicked, the former had given no occasion to the malice of his enemy. Still, towards God, in the sense of the power of this evil, he looks for mercy. His heart loves to turn there in the sense of weakness and nothingness. God for him is the God of his mercy.
113 Psalm 60 is one which we can only apply in principle to our outward conflicts with the power of evil. There God can leave us, as to His government, for the time, to defeat and scattering. And it is the deepest kind of chastening in these conflicts. For as we serve in God's cause, we see that it is defeated on earth through our fault or failure. No doubt in us pride may be mortified too, as we are in the conflict; still the feeling of grief and distress is a genuine feeling, a feeling which must fill the heart of the servant of God. It is a terrible thing to see those who stand in the place of God's people and witnesses put to the worse before their enemies, the cause of God for the moment defeated. God has given a banner to them that fear Him to be displayed because of the truth. He has set His ensign among them, and it is terrible if with this they are defeated and driven back; if when saying Jehovah Nissi, the enemy has the upper hand. Jehovah had war with Amalek; but if Achan was in the camp, He did not go out. For if God contends, it is in and for the exercise of His people. But when thus cast down, faith does not lose its courage though drinking the wine of astonishment. It looks to God, judges the evil if it be there, looks to God, owning there must be some if it does not discover it. But God has spoken in His holiness. The very unchangeableness of His nature, which allows no evil, gives the certainty that He will make good His word in their favour. To this faith looks; on this it counts. And when it has to say, "Who will go out with our hosts?" it says, "Wilt not thou, O God, which hadst cast us off?" Then all is right. The One who had thus disciplined His people would be their sure and faithful deliverer and strength. Through Him, though at first scattered, the saints will do valiantly. For faith looks through everything to God, because He is faithful, and His favour better than life. This confidence is fully brought out in the psalm which follows.
114 Psalm 61. The soul is still removed from the enjoyment of present blessing. It is at the end of the earth, but looks to God. The heart is overwhelmed within itself. There is no resource within in the pressure of circumstances. Pride may stand up against difficulties and be haughty even in destruction, but this is not the path of the saint. Besides, the fortitude which maintains itself in adverse circumstances has always some result to hope for; but in the circumstances of the saint here before us, there were none. He is driven out and no ground to hope for human deliverance, and pride is far from him. He bows to God's hand; but he has a resource - God leads him to the rock that is higher than he. Faith gets to what is above circumstances, when nature is overwhelmed by them. And if God be for us, who can be against us? God takes an interest in us; we know it; He has shewn it. The heart can look to Him with whom all circumstances are nothing. The heart trusts God and self disappears overwhelmed, as it may be. God is the securer and portion of the believer. AU else is then simply nothing, It is the contrast between God and circumstances, instead of between ourselves and circumstances. God has heard the cry of distressed faith, and, as it trusts now, so will it abide for ever in the tabernacle of God. It is the secret of all peace in trial, the Rock higher than ourselves. The spies saw themselves grasshoppers. Was God so? The walls were up to heaven - what matter when they tumbled flat down?
Psalm 62. Waiting on God is the subject of this psalm. it implies dependence, confidence; and both in such sort that we abide God's time: dependence, because we cannot do anything without Him, and ought not, because what He does is what the soul alone desires, because action without Him, even in self-defence, is only the action of our own will, and so our being without God so far. Saul did not wait upon God. He waited nearly seven days; but if he had felt he was dependent, and nothing could be done without God, he would have done nothing till Samuel came. He did not; he acted for himself, and lost the kingdom. Deliverance from God is sweet; it is love; it is righteous, holy deliverance; it becomes the revelation of the favour and grace of God. It is perfect in time, way, place. So where the soul waits for it, will not being at work, it meets and enjoys the deliverance in this perfectness; and we are perfect and complete in the will of God. But it implies confidence too; for why should we wait if God would not come in? The soul is thus sustained meanwhile. And this confidence is such that we tarry the Lord's leisure. Patience has its perfect work, so that we should be perfect and complete in all the will of God. There is too an active reckoning upon God. But this leaves the soul absolutely and exclusively waiting on Him. It is not active for itself; it waits only upon God. ("Truly" in verse 1 and "only" in verses 2, 4, 5 and 6 is the same word in Hebrew.)
115 The two points connected with it shew the state of soul "from him cometh my salvation"; "my expectation is from him." He only is the rock and salvation; so the confiding soul waits for Him, and seeks no other refuge - looks for deliverance only from Him. Hence, in principle (in fact, in Christ), the heart is perfect in its confidence, and meets in dependence the perfectness of God; it accepts nothing but that, because it is assured that God is perfect and will act perfectly in the right time. Faith corresponds thus to the perfection of God. On the other hand there is no working of self-will at all, no acceptance or saving of self by an intervention inferior in its nature to God Himself. This makes patient waiting on God a principle of immense moment. It characterises faith in the Psalms, and so Christ Himself.
But there are a few points yet to remark. "Trust in him at all times." There is constancy in this confidence, and constancy in all circumstances. If I look morally to Him, He is always competent, always the same, He does not change. I cannot act without Him, if I believe that He only is perfect in His ways. But, note, this does not suppose there is not exercise and trial of heart; or indeed waiting upon God would not have to be called for. But if God is faithful, and awaits the time suited to the truth and His own character, so that His ways should be perfect, He is full of goodness and tender love to those who wait upon Him. He calls upon them to pour out their hearts before Him. How truly was this the case with Christ too! How in John 12, and above all in Gethsemane, He poured out His heart before God! God is always a refuge: He acts in the right time. He is always a refuge for the heart; and the heart realises what He is when the deliverance is not come: and in some respects this is more precious than the deliverance itself But it supposes integrity.
But yet another point. The effect of thus waiting on God's deliverance is to make us know that it will be perfect and complete when it does come. "I shall not be moved." He had to wait, indeed, till God came in in perfectness; but then His power secured from all. Man may think there is a resource in man, or in what man possesses, or in man's strength of will; but power, faith knows, belongs to God. The last verse shews that the soul is looking to the perfect divine righteousness of God's ways, but in the sense of integrity. The final intervention of God, the judgment He executes, will be the deliverance of the righteous. He has identified himself with God's ways on earth in heart, and waited till God makes them good, perfectly good, in power. But this will be the end of evil, and mercy to those who have sought good, and waited for God to avenge them. It will be a righteous reward to the expecting righteous man: his waiting will be met, and the power of evil set aside. In this path we have to walk. God deals so now in government, though not in its final accomplishment: but we have thus to count and wait upon Him.
116 Psalm 63 supposes the full knowledge of the blessings of relationship with God, but not the full enjoyment of those blessings; on the contrary, that he who thus knows them is in a place entirely the contrary of all their blessedness. But then, the thing sought and desired is not the blessing, but God Himself, and the revelation of His glory where He dwells. The whole being thirsts after Himself. The effect of being in the world, in the dry and thirsty land, is not complaint, nor even looking for deliverance; but thirst is thirsting after God. This sense of nature which craves after Him gives us the consciousness also that He is our God. It is the perfect delight the divine nature in us has in Him which gives the sense of this relationship. They cannot be separated. To have any knowledge of God, and not know Him as ours, is despair, or near to it as may be. And God even so is not known as the spring of delight, so that we desire Him. "My God," and this thirst cannot be separated. It is not Jehovah and blessings, but the divine nature and God its delight; but with the dependent sense of appropriation expressed in "my God." The soul which has the same desires in their nature as God Himself (hence desires after Himself), feels morally and really that He is its God. This was perfectly so in Christ only; and we never lose the sense of relationship and retain this. Still it is true in the nature of the delight, when that delight does not take the form of relationship, but of nature; when I do not say, Father, but "my God."
117 But then this very thirst and desire after God longs to see Him possessing His full power and glory, and must. We cannot love much One we look up to without desiring Him to enjoy all the fulness of the glory that belongs to Him, and to see Him in it. We owe our delight in Him, and feeling of indebtedness to Him; we must desire He should have all that is due to Him, and that we should see Him have it. And this feeling even Christ meets: "Father, I will that they whom thou hast given me be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory, for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world." But the main desire, the spring of all this, is the desire after God Himself, and known as our God, come what will. Not only the heart can appropriate it, as has been said, but would have it so, and none else. The nature which is of God would have none but Him, and would earnestly have Him. Where God is truly known thus, and the soul identified with Him in desire, the fact that it is where there is not one drop of what can refresh it, as is the case in this world, only renders this longing after Him more intense. But it is because He is known, known as He reveals Himself in the intimacy of His own nature, in the sanctuary where He displays Himself and makes Himself known. But with this there is another thought: that is, when God is thus known as He is in the sanctuary, His loving kindness, His grace, His favour, and goodness, are felt by the soul. The sense of them rests upon it. This is better than life, which means life here, the present enjoyment of it in this world; and, as to that, he had absolutely nothing of it: so Paul, "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable." There indeed it was more outward pressure; here the inward necessary sense, from the life in which he speaks and feels here, that there was not the smallest thing in what was in the world which could meet and refresh that nature. So perfectly with Christ. Still, though connected with trial, this was remarkably unfolded in Paul. He rejoiced in the Lord alway, when nothing refreshed his spirit.
Hence, in the sense of this loving kindness, in a dry and thirsty land his lips praised his God. This is very sweet; and, note, it is perfect in its nature, because it is simply God; for in the land the saint is in, there is absolutely nothing. God, his God, is his desire; His loving kindness is the refreshing of his soul. Now this is perfect divine life in one having the divine nature, but in the place of dependence, known only to the soul born of God, or in its perfection. So Christ.
118 This gives then exclusively its colour to life. "Thus will I bless thee while I live" (down here in the dry and thirsty land). This is all his soul lives in here. Hence in this life he blesses God, his God. His whole life in the dry land is in spirit out of it. Nothing attracts his soul in it at all. It finds its refreshings, because the land is altogether such to the new nature, wholly in God. Yet he is not in the present full enjoyment of God as present; he is still in the dry and thirsty land, but blesses while he lives, and owns and worships the God he thus knows. But there is perfect happiness and satisfaction of heart when separated from the turmoil of the world; and when nothing is there to engage the flesh's attention, which is perfect misery to the flesh, but real deliverance to the renewed spirit, the soul can meditate upon God Himself The soul finds in God Himself the fullest and richest food. The soul is satisfied, does not want anything else, when it can be thus alone with God, in whom is its delight, but is filled with it.
So in coming to Christ (only there negatively, which is what human nature in this world wanted, here positively, because it is the new nature's delight in God), "he that cometh to me shall never hunger, and he that believeth on me shall never thirst." There shall not be the unsatisfied cravings of men's hearts in this world. But here there is the full satisfaction. The delights of the heart are created and satisfied with the revelation of God Himself. God is essentially delighted in and enjoyed. And as the soul is full, so it overflows in praise; the mouth praises with joyful lips. There is not the need here of weighing how far we are enabled, or entitled, to praise in the state we are in. It is the new nature finding its own proper delight in God, and thinking (as the new nature does) of nothing else; and, because thinking of Him simply, has not itself to think of, and praises because He is a source of praise. And this is true simplicity. When the eye is not single, the thought of God detects it, and comes as a claim, and forces us to think of ourselves; but when, as is here supposed, it is simply the new nature, its whole delight is simply in God, and the lips praise joyfully. This simplicity of heart is very blessed. Remark here, that while it speaks of this, the psalm supposes one exposed to the distractions of the world, and hence looks to the condition of the soul in loneliness, where, instead of feeling that, it is only delivered from distraction to delight in God.
119 Next, the psalm takes up not merely distractions, but adverse circumstances - the force of enemies. The soul sees God, its God, as its help, that is, as having been so. God was his joy; and his soul, in this wholly desert world, where no water is, was satisfied as with marrow and fatness. That was taking it in spirit out of the world, making it joy in God. But the Blessed One was what he needed for this world too, its conflicts and trials. And this is very gracious of God. We rejoice in the Lord always as looking to the source of our joy. But if without are fightings, and even within fears, He comforts them that are cast down. "Because thou hast been my help." But here is described as already experienced what Paul speaks of himself as experiencing. Hence it is the aspect of the soul towards God because of this. The soul would rejoice under the shadow of God's wings. It was the known place of refuge and confidence. There is the comfort of feeling at all times the favour of God, and the security in which we thus dwell. I know not what may arise, but He will be there; nor this only, but the sense of His goodness and active interest in the soul is a source of sweet joy to it. The soul rejoices in having this divine favour its refuge, and actively interested in securing it. Thus the soul's condition is this in its activities, it follows hard after God. It would follow Him, come to Him, enjoy His presence; and it had the sure certainty that His right hand upholds it.
The latter verses are the judgment on the enemies of the godly men, according to the government of God, and particularly the enemies of Christ. But our present object is the former part. Still, as we have often seen, God does govern, and we may reckon so far upon His interference as is needed for securing the blessing of His people who depended upon Him, though it may not be at the moment our nature could desire.
On the whole the psalm shews us simple faith, the soul making God Himself its joy, and rejoicing in the sure care of the Lord, whose favour protected it as a shield. If we compare this psalm with Psalm 84, which in many respects resembles it, it will be seen that there the present enjoyment of covenant blessings is in view, and the way up to them; here more what God Himself is as away from them in the dry thirsty land, and His protection and care in the difficulties and dangers we are in there. If we think of the remnant driven out, which is the character of the book prophetically, it makes this view easily intelligible.
120 Psalm 64 shews a peculiar course of things in the world, yet one with which every one exercised in the service of God in this world is familiar - that of the wicked, who hate righteousness, seeking to charge evil on the upright. This shews the universality and power of conscience, and another truth too - that the principles of those who trust God and confess His name are expected to produce what is purely good. This is really the strongest witness to the principles of faith on the one hand, and to the utter wickedness of the human heart on the other. The wicked recognise that faith ought to produce, and, as its own proper fruit, does produce, what is right and perfect, and expects it from him who walks by faith. But they shew their hatred of that principle, and of those who cleave to the Lord by it, by searching out iniquity and inconsistency. This is a terrible proof of the wickedness of the world; and yet it is universal, not only found, yea, not so much found among the openly ungodly as in decent unbelievers. Here it is indeed in those who pursue iniquity wilfully, not evident immorality but wickedness, who are pursuing it in their secret counsels. Yet it is the spirit of evil in man. Plotting is characteristic of evil, but its extreme character. But there is concurrence of feeling and acting with a like mind when it has not gone so far as plotting, because a like spirit animates them. Then their tongues are the instruments of attack and injury. The saint has no outward defence or remedy, but as to this, as with regard to violence, God is his refuge.
Remark, he speaks of the fear of the enemy. This malice tends to produce fear. The godly is no equal match for it, he can use no weapon against it. He leaves it to God in representing it to Him. God exercises His saints; but in result the wicked bring His judgment on their own heads, and even fear and see and own God's work. For this the godly must wait, and then joy will be complete, though their deliverance, being a divine one, must wait till the divine time of judgment arrive. So Abraham was kept a stranger and his descendants under oppression, "for the iniquity of the Amorites was not yet full." It may be that the trial is not complete for us, but in all events, when God intervenes, it will be the perfect time for us. But another thing than our deliverance results. The deliverance being in God's time, and so according to His perfect judgments, His ways are displayed in it. And God's judgments being in the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness. This is the full accomplishment; but even in particular cases men glorify God in the day of visitation, and own that they who trusted God were right; that God, who seemed not to interfere, only awaited in His holy righteousness, and that He does care for the righteous, and thus His ways are perfect. And this is an immense gain. God is glorified.
121 Psalm 65 refers directly to the blessing of this creation, and the praise and joy which will spring forth when He sets aside the power of evil, but looks, as witnesses of it, to the present effect of His goodness. It looks, for the groaning creation waits, not only for Israel as here, but much more in order to - its deliverance, for the manifestation of the sons of God, for the blessing of God's people, that this universal blessing may take place; but the heart is ready, and this leads us to a general principle instructive to us at all times - the readiness of heart to praise in the midst of trial, and the almighty power which is looked to, whose nature is to give blessing. But this psalm again applies only to the circumstances of the believer. The Christian is never according to the Spirit, in a state of soul in which he cannot praise. His heart may have got away from God, so that the Spirit has to rebuke him and humble him, but then praise is not ready at all. Here the thought is that, though the heart be ready, circumstances do not furnish occasion to praise. Praise is silent, though there is the consciousness that praise belongs to God; the vow will be performed. This may be the Christian's case. He may say in trying circumstances, I am sure I shall yet praise and thank Him for deliverance. And this is a right spirit. As to our highest praise, this is always the case. In the heavenly courts our praise is yet silent, and we wait and long for it. Verse 4 plainly shews that this is the Jewish form of it: it is the thought of the psalm. The general thought there is, we only await the blessing to be fulfilled for praise to break out. God's faithfulness and power are celebrated as assuring this: here in judgment and for earthly blessings; but the Christian, whatever hindrance and adverse powers there may be, counts on this faithfulness and power of God to bring him into the heavenly city. Transgressions will not bar the way; through grace only we say, "thou hast purged them away." He hears our prayer and helps us.
122 Further, it is a question of the necessary glory of the Lord, and even in the earthly part; but the principle is there. All flesh must come to Him. This the Jew looked to as a part of the glory. God's purposes must be accomplished to His glory, but He has in grace identified them with us. As Paul expresses it, by the Spirit, All the promises of God are in Him (Christ), yea, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God by us. Hence faith, assured that God must be glorified, looks to our own glory and blessing in it. This marks faith, not merely believing that God is glorious, but connecting His glory with the blessing of His people. So Moses, "What wilt thou do to thy great name?" "The Egyptians will hear of it"; and so ever in his pleadings with God. What a source of security and ground for praise, that God should have thus identified His glory with our blessing and His promises to us in Christ!
Psalm 66. There is one point in this psalm as to its moral force which is of great interest to notice: the way in which, when deliverance comes, all is ascribed to God. And God is seen all through. It goes back to original redemption, the unequivocal source of all (v. 6), while the final blessing of God's people is the blessing of the world. Even when all seemed to have been darkness, it is now seen His power was above all. He rules by His power for ever. His eyes behold the nations. Woe to him that exalts himself! But not only this: God is seen in the trouble itself, and as the author of it though our failures may have been the occasion of it, This is the true test of the heart being right - what is called (as to Israel in Leviticus), accepting the punishment of our iniquity. Two things are seen in it: God brought them into the trouble; He held their soul in life through it. So with job in both points. Nor did He suffer their feet to be moved out of the divine path of faith by the trial.
Verses 10, 11, recognise this; and if instruments were employed, yet they were but instruments. The trial was, and they see and feel it, very great; but it was God's doing. Nor was this all. God has a positive purpose in this, a path, a place of love which He carries through, and of which the trial was a part to fit the soul for the place of so great blessing. "Thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place." God sends the trouble, preserves the soul in it, purges the soul by it as silver, brightens its hope which rests more entirely on Him, and looks with purer eye for what He has promised, and then brings out into a wealthy place.
123 But some other points come out as to the state of the soul meanwhile. The trouble had cast the soul on God. And though to us all such things as vows are wrong, yet the reference of the heart to Him, the turning of it to Him as the source of hope in a better way, though under chastisement, is just what hoping in Him produces. Have confidence in, and wait on, Him when tried, and chastened; till the will is broken, we cannot; when it is, we can, though conscious the sorrow is the fruit of our fault. This supposes integrity; it issues in thanksgiving. The heart can then too bear testimony for God to others; it has known what He has been for itself. It cried and He heard. This, says the apostle, is the confidence we have in Him. For what is here learnt through sorrow should be the constant state of the soul without it. Still the governing feeling of the soul is its own thankfulness, and so it will be. It will turn back to that, that is, to God - to the secret of its own thankfulness to Him, which is the joy of the heart. The force of the psalm is recognising all this after deliverance; but what it produces when received into the heart is answering faith when the trouble is there.
On Psalm 67 I have only a remark to make. The glory of God is the spring of the desire of the heart for blessings even on His people. Then blessings flow out and praise goes up to God. This psalm explains Romans 11:15.
On Psalm 68, striking and interesting as the psalm is, I have, for our present object, little to say. One or two remarks, by the bye, present themselves to me. It is specially God's character as regards the Jews in grace, but in His own sovereign grace; not in covenant relationship, but as establishing them, as once in Sinai, only now in grace and power. Jah is not the same as Jehovah, I am fully persuaded. It is the absolute existence of God, not His continuous existence, so as to reckon on His faithfulness, who was, and is, and is to come. He is here, lives for ever and ever. He is only called Jehovah in the psalm when He speaks of His dwelling on the mountain of Zion and His abiding, because there He takes His covenant place and name. We have Jah (v. 14-18); but the Lord, elsewhere in the psalm, is Adonai. It seems to me to connect Christ with the restoration of Israel, to give Him the place of Lord, but more associated with His being also Jehovah than Psalm 110. Verse 18 is naturally the centre of this, only where, as He is Jehovah in Zion according to promise, here ascended on His rejection, He receives gifts as man. He is beyond all Jewish promises. Yet it applies to Jews, the rebellious. But there it is not Jehovah, but Jah Elohim. Christ's exaltation will being back God in sovereign grace into the midst of Israel.
124 Psalm 69 is so fully prophetical of Christ that I make no remark on it here. It is a full description of His sorrows in life and death. I have spoken of it fully elsewhere - see page 330.
Psalm 70 calls for only one remark. The willingness to be anything - poor, needy, despised - provided the people of God be happy and in a condition which draws forth their praise. Jehovah's blessing is not despised, but for it Jehovah is waited for. But the heart set on the happiness and blessing of God's people - this is the true spirit of faith in the saint.
Psalm 71 will not detain us either. It rests on two points. God's righteousness - the psalmist claims nothing on the ground of his own; but God will be consistent with Himself - not desert or abandon him. Hence he counts on His faithfulness.
Psalm 72 is Christ's glory as Solomon, so as not to call for our remarking anything here on its contents.