Psalms 90 - 106
J. N. Darby.
Psalm 90 is in a special manner Israel's cry for mercy and restoration in the last days after their long affliction. But we will apply its principles as usual. It contemplates two things in the government of God; discipline, properly speaking, and satisfying mercy. But both are founded on another point: that God is the one unchangeable God - the same before the world, with which discipline is connected, was created, as now, and now as then (time being as nothing to Him, which to us may seem so long); and that He is the dwelling - place of His people, where is their rest and home and secure abode, whatever wanderings they may have. As to man in time, He sets man aside with a word, and restores him. They are like grass growing up and then withering. But though this be true, if we compare God and man, yet faith gets hold both of the ways and purposes of God in dealing with His people. For Israel it is felt as wrath, because they do not yet know reconciliation. We know it is love, but the truth of the dealing is the same, and we can apply it.
And first as to ways: "as his fear, so is his wrath." It is not arbitrary, but according to His own nature and character. Fear is knowing Him in truth, so that what He is is applied to the holy judgment of all that is in the soul, so that nothing should displease Him or hinder communion. Now wrath as discipline - governmental displeasure - is the expression of this as regards the state of the soul, where it has been unheeded, or the will has been in it. It makes good God's character as regards that which is opposed to it in us. Faith, divine teaching, shews us that His wrath is as His fear. But when the will bows, our very feebleness becomes, not terror, but a motive in our appeal to God. And He owns it. He considers whereof we are made, and remembers we are but dust. But when once we feel our nothingness, and apply our hearts to wisdom, the beginning of which is the fear of Jehovah, instead of God's having to enforce it by subduing our will, and correcting our carelessness, the heart gets courage, gets bold. It is not reasoning, but by grace confidence is restored, and the heart says, "Return; O Lord, how long?"
150 Now this, we have often seen, is the expression of faith. God purposes to bless, and in result will bless His people; and hence, when under pressure, faith can say, How long? Self is not faith, and the fear of God must be produced; but where faith is, it springs up again into the sense of known mercy and says, How long? And, note, there is known mercy. It is not "come," but "return"; not as if God had left them (though, as to His ways, it is true as to Israel - He hides His face from the house of Jacob), but we look to His returning in the sense of known present mercies and enjoyment of favour. Then it brightens up into full confidence. Faith knows His purpose is to bless, to give delight and joy to His people, and that by His own favour. It knows He delights in them; it counts on this: "Satisfy us early." What a bold word with God! But it is confidence now; the soul is morally restored in His love which He delights in. This is looked at as constant too. "Rejoice and be glad all our days," it says. Why should it not expect it from the God of goodness? It may be more outwardly with Israel, still the spirit of it is right. It looks for a refraining God; one who takes account of the sorrow of His people, though He has been bound to inflict it. See how beautifully and blessedly this is put, Isaiah 40 (just what is sought here), 'Speak to the heart of Jerusalem; tell her, her time of trouble is accomplished, for she has received at the hand of the Lord double of all her sins.' His heart counted it twice, the chastisement needed, compared with her sins; for the answer to faith is ever more than the request. (See the prayers and answers in Psalm 132.)
But faith, looking on the thoughts and purposes of God in blessing, goes beyond returning and refraining mercies. God has purposes in His love and works in its accomplishment; hence they say, Not only satisfy us with thy mercy, but "Let thy work appear unto thy servants." God's own work will make good blessing, and so how good it will be! And it will be manifested to their honour and delight. So we, even for our souls; we seek not only restoring mercy, but thereon the positive work of God in producing blessing, in bringing us yet nearer to Himself it is never then merely restoration; it is a soul better able to appreciate God, and God more fully revealed to it. Yet still awaiting, knowing as we are known, the result in the full display of glory (I speak here of children, because it is literally for Israel in the millennium); but we do look for the complete work of God in raising and glorifying us, and then entering into glory to abide.
151 But another sweet thought is added to this "Let the beauty of Jehovah, our God, be upon us." Their thoughts would hardly go beyond the manifest endowment of blessing from His own hand marking them His. With us how fully is it so! Shall not we be in the glory of Christ Himself? like Him arrayed in this blessed likeness before God our Father, a place of perfect delight! Nor do I exclude present blessing, how we may be as thus under grace as the lign - aloes which the Lord had planted; and that was when Israel were abiding in their tents. So the church should be a spectacle of grace, to the angels, of order and beauty, and the life of Jesus as manifested in the individual believer. In this case too the works of our hands under divine favour are established for us.
Psalm 91. On this beautiful psalm, of the structure of which I have spoken elsewhere, I have not much to say, because it defines the names of God which are available, and the specific effects of faith going on even to what is directly applicable to Christ; so that the general principle is less justly deducible from or connected with it. It would be reducing what is purposely specific to what is vague. It takes Jehovah, as such, as God; and so he who owns that name, comes under the care of El-shaddai for a specific performance of earthly promises in the ways of God. This is not our place: one who acted on it would deceive himself. Yet a general faith, and trust of heart founded on it, would surely be blessed. It does not take up a Father's chastenings with which the government of God connects itself.
Here, in trusting Jehovah, no evil comes nigh the dwelling of him who does so. This was what made it strange to Asaph till he went into the sanctuary of God. He saw the wicked prospering, himself plagued every moment, This is the certain result of owning Jehovah, when the government of God does come in.
Still we may learn some of the characters of trust. It is not merely the knowledge that there is an Almighty God, who is above all things: the secret place of His true revelation of Himself must be known. This, true faith has, and confers with God there according to it. His name is revealed to faith. To us it is Christ as Lord, and the Father. Faith thus, in its confession of His name, makes its refuge and strong tower, and moreover trusts in it: a great thing, for no power of evil, no cause of distress can be anything to upset the mind, if the Lord be looked to and trusted in. It has here the promise of ever watchful and protecting care. This is true whatever outward evil may come.
152 As we see in Luke 21:16-18, the Lord says some of them should be put to death, but not a hair of their head should perish - they were all counted. Providential power is all at God's disposal. Faith is identified with the interests of God's people (v. 9); but the Lord's own name is what has governed the heart, and the true name of God is known to it: that is, as I have said, the true revelation of God Himself known by divine teaching. To us it is Christ Himself, and the Father in Him. Faith calls. It is not merely passive trust, right as this is in its place, but it communicates with God about its needs, because it trusts Him. God's presence is there for faith and the exercise of its power; and this is as true now, in its just application, as then, as hereafter. The way is different, because the object is different, that is, to bring in a heavenly state. It brings present blessing though with persecution, and is assured of eternal and heavenly salvation.
Psalm 92 is really praise for the final deliverance of Israel, and Jehovah's millennial name is the key to it, as of the last; as the following psalms are the bringing in again of the only begotten. There is one principle to note in it - the elevation of the wicked is finally for their destruction. The man untaught of God does not see this; but faith discerns in its adversaries and the power of evil which arises up and presses on it, darkening its horizon, the enemies of the Lord. Hence, though tried more than another, for the power of evil is very painful to it, it has confidence. For though it would be foreign to the Christian to wish personally for vengeance (and we have to watch against this), is it so to the Christian to rejoice in the earth being delivered from the power of the wicked? On the contrary, "Rejoice now, ye prophets and ye holy apostles." Faith gives a keen sense of the evil, because it is such and hostile to God and goodness and truth, and rejoices in the righteous judgment. But it is as the Lord's work, as the work of His hands, it rejoices in it; and that is perfect. judgment displays too the uprightness of the Lord, but faith must wait in patience. The following psalms discuss and celebrate the coming in of this judgment.
153 Psalm 93. In this psalm we shall find some very important principles. Though power be now exercised for the triumph of good, it is no new power. The Lord's throne is of old, Himself from everlasting. No inroad of evil has touched or weakened that. This inroad had taken place. The passion and will of man had risen up as the angry and tumultuous waves - in vain. The Lord on high is mightier. Rebellious man is allowed to do this, but the power of the Ancient of Days is concealed from unbelief in the days of patience, so that man thought all was in his hand. When evil rises up so as to reach God and call out His action, an instant suffices to bring about the counsels of God in power by their destruction,
But this is not quite all. Faith has that on which it rests - the Lord's testimonies: they are very sure. God's word may be counted on as Himself, not only for final deliverance but for guidance along the path of difficulty. Nor is this all. There is a character which is a safeguard against delusion and a means of judging and discerning the right path: "Holiness becometh thine house." Oh! how these two principles do cheer and enlighten us in our path. How they strengthen us in the consciousness that it is of God's very nature, and cannot but be! Thus God's testimonies and God's holiness secure and fix the heart as to that which is of God. If the water-floods rise up, the Lord's power will settle all in His own judgment.
On Psalms 93-101, though they are very striking ones, I have very little to say with my present object, because they treat not of the exercises of the heart in the time of trial, but of the coming in of power to put an end to that time. They are characterised by the title "Jehovah reigns, the world is established." I have therefore only a few remarks to make: first, that the result of all this patience of government in God is, that man rises up as the water-floods against Him: but God is mightier. The termination of it is by power.
But two great truths accompany this. God's testimonies are very sure; we can count upon His word through all. It reveals His nature, His purpose, His character. It gives that according to which He will act - no peace to the wicked, but infallible certainty of purpose and power. Man may be as the grass, evil rise up like the water-floods: the word of Jehovah abides for ever, and he that does His will. Hence in all times we can go by it as a rule, dark as all may seem, mighty as evil may be. Israel or the church, apostasy or hollow profession, persecution or seductive prosperity, His word is true and a sure guide, according to His own nature and character - He to whom power after all belongs. And if the time when He to whom power belonged was counted as a malefactor, He was guided by that word, bowed to it, and fulfilled it; and judgment after all will return to righteousness. Thus far of all present government and future display of public power, the kingdom and patience, or kingdom and glory, of the Lord.
154 But there is another thing - Jehovah has a house, a dwelling. Take it as His heavenly dwelling, His temple where all speak of His glory, or in its place as the church, His habitation by the Spirit: it is always essentially characterised by one thing, because it is His habitation - holiness becomes His house for ever, separation to Him according to His nature.
These two points guide the saint through all circumstances till power comes in to sustain him, because he counts on God, through all the risings up of the power of evil: the word of God and the holiness of His nature. God has graciously communicated His mind to men, has spoken. His word remains sure, come what will. That is inherent to His nature, depends on His power as God. His speaking obliges Himself, so to speak, by His nature. I cannot believe He is God at all if, when He has spoken, it is not made good. He would not be God. "Hath he said and shall he not do it? hath he spoken and shall it not come to pass?" If He be God, truth to make it good cannot fail, nor power, or He is not God. It would be ignorance, or some one else would have power to hinder Him. His testimonies are sure. In the midst of evil this is an immense, a perfect, consolation and stay.
But the other test is of importance, the other claim on conscience, holiness, if He be God, is in every sense necessary. No elevation of truth, no certainty of word to be reckoned on, can alter this. It puts man subjectively in his place. He might boast of truth, may exult in sure promises, as if God had bound Himself. But God must be consistent with Himself; what is not holy is in no case of Him. He is supreme, and all must refer to Him, all be consecrated to Him in His presence, and, so far as He is revealed, suited to what He is. Thus a counter-check on man is furnished, and the true knowledge of God. It is not holiness apart from the word, nor knowledge or certainty apart from holiness. The Spirit of truth is the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit the Spirit of truth.
155 Note further, they are testimonies coming from God, the positive declaration of His mind and will (not a boasted knowledge of God by man's will, and his pretension to know what God must be, though there be a certain apprehension of conscience connected with, often perverted by, traditionary knowledge; but) the positive testimonies of God, so that man is subject to them, though sustained by them. It is not man's reasoning, or man's conscience, but the testimonies of God, His own active revelation of Himself, the utterance of His word. They are simply received by faith, the soul is subject to them as such. This characterises the soul that owns God. Power will come in due time; this will make all publicly right. Till then faith rests in the testimonies, the soul-subjecting, soul-sustaining revelation of God.
God, moreover, has a house, a dwelling. This, as noticed elsewhere, is an immense fruit of redemption. Neither with innocence, nor with the faithful did God dwell; Adam before his fall nor Abraham had God dwelling with them; innocence marked one, faith the blessed path of the other. A frustrated or a gracious visit told of God's condescension and goodness to either. But in Israel's redemption we find that Jehovah had brought them out of the land of Egypt, that He might dwell among them; Ex. 29:45, 46. Innocence does not become God's house, but absolute consecration to Him according to His nature when good and evil are known; so it is in heaven - this character and nature. But there testimonies are not needed. Knowledge of good and evil man has, but separated from God and in sin. But where God has redeemed man to Himself, purified him, and delivered him, then He dwells with him, in him - in Israel according to Ms then partial revelation of Himself, in the saint now by His Spirit, and in the assembly; and so eternally, for now it is according to what He is in Himself, fully revealed in Christ, and by His death. Hence it is founded on testimony. For God must reveal Himself, and His redemption, and His ways, and what He is. Thus the Holy Spirit is given consequent on Christ's exaltation on the accomplishment of redemption, and in fact on the reception of the testimony of God by faith. When God is known (not merely truth), then there is the consciousness of what suits Him, there is the delight in His name according to His nature: and this becomes the test not only of truth being known, but truth and so God Himself - for Christ is the truth, and the Spirit is truth. Hence, as soon as Israel is redeemed, the holiness of God is spoken of, not before, because He was going to dwell in them, having brought them to Himself. The world will be established by power; but this is consecration to God by testimony of His own presence through redemption. It is not the pomp and order of His house here (that we have in Psalm 101), but a dwelling-place of delight and nature. Compare Psalm 132:13, 14.
156 In Psalm 94 judgment is looked for and vengeance to set the world right. But we find the discipline and comforts of the Lord sustaining the soul meanwhile, which must occupy us for a moment. The triumph of the wicked is, for him who believes in God, a painful and oppressive thought, the power of evil is evident; this is what just affects the mind of the saint, not in a prophetic but in a moral way. But the blindness of the haughtiness of man away from God presses on him who sees, from knowing God, the day of the wicked approaching. There is also the distinct consciousness of being God's people whose weakness and sorrow are but an occasion of oppression'. Both are clear motives of judgment that this cannot go on for ever. He that formed the eye surely sees it all. Man's thoughts are vanity. These two things then are the foundation of the saint's thought. God's interest in His people, and His goodness which will not overlook the poor when oppressed; yea, the very fact of the pride of the wicked.
But another element is introduced: God does judge evil, but He begins at His own house. God's hand is in the dealings which make His people suffer, as well as man's. It is to this the heart of the saint turns. "Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, O Jehovah." We have the interpreter here, one among a thousand. God with the chastening teaches out of the law. God, by all this process of evil having the upper hand, breaks the will, teaches dependence, separates not only the heart but the spirit from the world where this evil reigns. How could there be union with a world in which this power of evil is seen and morally shrunk from! Man thinks he can go on amiably in the world without its evil; but when the world itself is evil and felt to be so, what then? Thus wickedness and its rising up, discarding God, is its own remedy in the heart of him who owns God, exercises it, purifies it, removes it from the sphere in which its own will works, when it, if not in intention, at any rate practically, sought an outlet for nature. Divine life having given it thoughts of God, it is met by a world which will none of Him, and rises up against Him: all this is God's hand.
157 But there is more, there is, with the discipline of His hand, direct inward teaching by His word, which reveals Himself. Thus, when the haughty evil drives back the heart, there is also subduedness, the heart has tasted that the Lord is gracious, and it drives it to God, known in grace and the revelation of Himself, His ways, His purposes; and grace effectuates itself in the heart. The renewed heart gets into its own sphere, and learns not merely the necessary character of God, as hating evil and loving good, but His own ways, the development of His grace and truth, His holiness in the sphere in which He reveals what He is for those who know Him, This is a rest of heart for the saint, a repose of the spirit which seeks and delights in good. If it sought to meet the evil (though activity in service there will be according to God's will), but to meet the evil in the world, largely as the heart desires it and looks for God's bringing it in, there would be weariness and heartbreaking; but when the power of evil is rife, the soul is driven up into its own place, into the direct revelation of God and His ways, and there near God's altar (for it draws out worship), it finds rest - till. It still looks for the setting evil right and deliverance of the poor and needy, but it abides in patience, learning God's mind, and finds rest therein, rest in what is eternal. The activity of good it will engage in, where the open door is, but its rest is in that which is properly of God. The establishment of that by power will come, and that is certain. God is sure in His ways. He will not cast off His people. He will not have evil in power for ever.
Here it is, of course, the intervention of judgment on earth, judgment returning to righteousness - power and good going together, not power and evil. We have better things, a heavenly revelation for sons, a heavenly place, our Father's house before us; but the principle is the same. The judgment, once in the chief priests and Pilate, while righteousness and truth were in the blessed Jesus, will come to His hands who was once Himself the poor and oppressed; judgment will return to righteousness. And if we, taking up our cross, are glad to suffer and so shall reign with Him, yet the thoughts and ways and counsels and faithfulness of God will be fulfilled. Heavenly grace and heavenly glory may be added in our present rest of spirit, and the rest that remains to us; still righteousness will have dominion if it be heavenly, and eternal blessing for us who have a part with Him who suffered. The appeal to the impossibility of evil going on in power, if the Lord is to shew Himself at all, is strikingly put forward in verse 20.
158 The power of evil, note (v. 16, 17), was deeply felt. Be it so; it may shew our weakness sometimes, but it is well it should, if faith be there. The heart ought not to get accustomed to the power of evil, will not if it be with God; will be sensible to it, astonished at it, and dependent on divine restoration to meet it in thought. This was true of Christ, only in perfection, and no fault in Ms thoughts. He was astonished at their unbelief; He looked round upon them with anger, being grieved at the hardness of their hearts; He could say, How long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? But then, no less ready in heart in the activity of good where there was a want. He could say, Now is My soul troubled, and what shall I say? Father, save Me from this hour; but then perfect in submission and obedience, and the one desire to glorify His Father, that His Father should glorify Himself - perfect in all things. We alas! if not helped sometimes, ready to dwell in silence, should soon, so to speak, give up, where Christ, the blessed One, felt all infinitely more, and was perfect in it. But when we turn, in the consciousness of tendency to fail, or being actually in present danger, to God, His help is there. This is great mercy. Teaching then is for the rest of the spirit, but there is holding up and help in our ways. David encouraged himself in God; who can fail then? He who is mightier than all, He whose force is accomplished in weakness, is there to help, there in a tried one, witness of goodness, that if we never failed we were in danger.
Another scene opens too, for God thinks of all things for us. What questions, if our minds work, present themselves to us, in the confusion and labyrinths of the mixture of good and evil! The mind enjoying God's goodness may abstain from it. It does well, but the root and spring of all these questions are in men's hearts, and the power of evil around us awakens them. It is not only selfishness, though self is always the centre, the centre of the questionings; but when evil affects the spirit, a multitude of thoughts are there. I do not say it is right - it is not. It is the fruit of our departure from God, and the consequent letting in of evil into God's world, a being within it in fact; but when heart and mind go out beyond it, having the knowledge of good and evil, revelation here, when the mind works, increases the difficulty and the multitude of thoughts, for the mind sees good clearer. Why and whence this evil? It sees another world of God's power. Why then this? It looks into a world beyond it, and brings back its thoughts into this where they are not realised. It sees goodness and power, and dwells in the midst of sorrow and evil. This may be in a selfish shape - often is. It is then a low principle, but it has always man for its centre, and (save as it was in perfect love and holiness in Christ who perfectly brought another world into this, I mean in His own mind and person) is always evil, is but the "multitude of our thoughts." Yet God has compassion. I retreat into God by faith. This comforts, delights, my soul. Our thoughts speculating, as knowing good and evil, either by personal sorrow, or by working of mind, which is worse, launch out into the endlessness, not really infinitude, of speculation as to what ought to be, or into complaint against God as to what God is. It may be sometimes in a more submissive way of wonder and acknowledgment of its being too hard for us; but it is a finite mind, a mind in the sphere of this world, out of which it has no natural powers, let, in thought and speculation, into its relationship with the infinite, with good and with evil. It has a multitude of thoughts, but no possible rest. In its state it does not belong to the sphere it has got into.
159 Hence, let me add in passing, the form infidelity has largely taken in these days - what is called positivism or realism, saying, I know what I see and experience, with perhaps some small conclusions from it, and pretending to stop there. It does not, for it pretends to deny all beyond it. This is false upon the face of it, for if it only knows what is knowable to man from himself, it can deny nothing beyond it, any more than it can affirm. It is a low thought. But it is false on another ground. The mind has no certainty; but it has a multitude of thoughts beyond the sphere of the natural human powers which can decide on what is within these powers. There are a multitude of thoughts within us. We are incompetent to come to a conclusion, but there are thoughts and something or other to suggest them, but the heart has no answer. Where there is no infidelity, but merely the natural working of the human heart, this is the case. There is no further answer till judgment comes, till judgment returns to righteousness.
160 In the psalm this exercise of soul refers naturally more entirely to the government of this world; Christianity, the revelation of another world, has with the former brought in a thousand others, where men's minds work. But there is a refuge and a resource, not in the explanation of everything to the mind, so as to maintain it in the mad and wicked pretensions to judge God, but in the introduction of the positive good which is in God into the soul, so that it knows it has got blessedness and truth, whatever of its multitude of thoughts it may be unable to solve. Conscience is upright when it is acted on and judges self. But when by our enfeebled and beclouded knowledge of good and evil we pretend, calling it conscience, to judge God, the pretension is to make our ignorance and moral state, as it is, the measure of what is perfect, when all is imperfectly known and God not at all. For in that state men are forming a judgment - what they are to acknowledge as such.
It is, on the face of it, judging of a whole system of things when only an obscure end of it is before us. Reasoning from that state of things full of evil, I can judge nothing. God has not yet set things right, nor am I competent to judge even how to do it; but He has introduced good, perfect good, Himself into the midst of the evil. He has made me discover my own evil - judge myself: an immense moral gain. Those only who have done so are, as to soul - matters, upright. That is true honest conscience, and gives me a resource in grace, a perfect knowledge of His love (in Israel a relative knowledge by His ways); and, in the details of exercises which follow for self-knowledge and purifying the soul, I have known perfect love to have recourse to, and what it has revealed and imparted to me - grace and truth; and that not only in the outward revelation of it, however authoritative, but in my soul by the Holy Ghost, "He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself." "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love him, but God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit"; and again, "We joy in God." Besides, God acts directly by His Spirit. His love is shed abroad in our hearts, His faithfulness in that love can be counted on; but direct communion with Himself raises us up to a kind and source of joy which the trouble and sorrow do not touch; nothing separates from His love. We are more than conquerors in this world; we have the joys of another, divine comforts through the sorrows we have to bear, in presence of the evil which besets us: the power of it drives us into our retreat, our joy in Him who is always the same, and whom we learn to know better. Judgment will close the scene in which I have to be troubled.
161 The psalms that follow I do not dwell upon, because they are the actual coming in of the Lord to judgment, not the exercises of the heart in awaiting it. Psalm 95 calls the Jews to be ready to meet Him; Psalm 96 the Gentiles. In Psalm 97, He is actually coming in clouds; in Psalm 98, He has wrought the deliverance; in Psalm 99, He has taken His seat in Jerusalem between the cherubim. Psalm 100 calls the Gentiles up to partake in Israel's joy and worship; Psalm 101 gives us the principles on which the government of the earth will be carried on by Jehovah's king.
Psalm 102 is one of the most profoundly interesting in the whole book of Psalms. It applies especially to the Lord Jesus Himself, whatever occasion circumstances of individual sorrow may have furnished to its composition.
The citation of it in Hebrews 1 leaves no doubt as to this, and gives to the psalm a depth of interest in which scarce another equals it. It shews how the divine eternal nature of the Lord meets the difficulty of His having been cut off when Zion is to be restored hereafter. But this gives to the poignancy of His sorrows a depth and character of its own. It is not a glorious result and blessing, the consequence of a work alone in its nature and value, nor the judgment which follows the rejection of Messiah, but the eternal truth of the Lord's divine nature meeting the reality of His sorrows even unto death. Hence it is especially His Person which is the peculiar object of this psalm, and gives it its especial interest. But, though the security of the children of His servants, it does not afford us instruction so much on the government of God, though the foundation of it all is in grace. Nor do the following psalms very largely either (103-106), which close this book. The Spirit views what God always is for faith, but in connection with the deliverance coming in by the coming of the Lord.
162 Still the power of good manifested in setting all things right, which faith looks at as coming in, is realised by that faith as belonging to Him whom it knows already, so that it rests in it, as God's character, in Him as bearing that character, though its results are not yet produced, and clothes present things with that knowledge of God, though evil be still here. It looks at this world as the display of power and wisdom under a government of goodness, God being known, though the evil is not finally set aside, nor the result of goodness produced. But He who governs is good. And this is known by those who have sinned against Him, known for themselves and in themselves; and it is this knowledge of God which enables the soul to see wisdom and goodness in all things, though the effects of sin are still present.
This is a very important principle: the perception of God and goodness in the midst of the scene of evil in which we live. True, a godly Jew, who had not seen Jesus rejected, who did not know the cross, could not know evil as we do; still he knew it; and the faith which looked to a final deliverance not yet come introduced God thus known into the scene through which faith had to pass. God, who, in the midst of evil, has let nothing out of His hand, has ordered all things sovereignly in the midst of the evil, though the evil be not His; in judgment He has remembered mercy. And when the bondage of corruption came in, He who made all things very good has held the reins and ordered all things wisely, whatever witness of evil remains, and sorrow and death. We are in bondage to it till divinely freed, but God never has been, never will be, and He would have us know that all things groan, but that there comes deliverance ;when He shall rule - but that the Creator, who made all things good, overrules and orders all things now. His mercy is over all His works. Now faith pierces through the felt evil, does not wish to be insensible to it, but by faith gets at Him who is above it, and can bring in His goodness even into this present scene, sees His part in it, and even His part as superior to all the evil. It is not natural enjoyment of creation, which, though as creatures all are good and lovely, may be utter self-deception and blindness to evil, but faith getting to goodness above the evil, and bringing this into its own enjoyment of God in the creature.
163 I repeat, Israel could not know the evil as we do; but then, on the other hand, he could not have known the redemption wrought and reconciliation to be wrought as we do, so that we can bring in God more fully yet. This is the general character of Psalms 103, 104, 105. They contemplate the full deliverance of Israel, but by faith; and look at creation not in its abstract perfection, but God in it; and Israel's history, too, as a series of failures, but God's mercy and goodness rising above it.
Thus Psalm 103 recognises forgiveness and healing, looks on by faith to the deliverance and grace in store for Israel, but knows God according to that, seeing His patience and goodness meanwhile, and this applied to His government. He is slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. We know on what a perfect basis, as regards sin, all is founded but here the effect is celebrated in the government of Israel but God is known for all times according to this knowledge of Him. Hence it is not vague goodness, deceiving oneself, but evil owned, yet God known in goodness. This ought to characterise our ways and thoughts. Not that we shall not have to deal with evil, and, if we go below the surface, meet it everywhere; but I ought to have so gone to God about it, as to bring Him back with me according to what I have found Him to be above it all. My feet should be shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace.
Psalm 104 takes up creation in the same way. The last verse shews the judgment which clears the world of evil, and His sovereign power is owned. But the Spirit is able to bring in the goodness into the midst of all it sees. But it does not go beyond a fallen creation.
Psalm 105 reviews the special dealings with Israel in past times. The present deliverance by judgment is also found here, but it is looked at as His faithfulness to His promise and grace. Here what is present manifestation of goodness awakes the memory of all God's past ways. That is what He is, what He always was.
The following psalm takes the other side of the picture, and shews man's ways - that, in all the interventions of God in goodness, man, after the first gladness at being delivered, turned back to his own evil and unfaithful ways. Still God's ear was ever open, He remembered His promise, repented according to the multitude of His mercies, so as to bring, finally, praise and thanksgiving to His name. The former gave what God was in His own ways, this His being finally above the evil in accomplishing mercy and promise when men had shewn what they were. God good in Himself, God good in the midst of evil, but not as allowing the evil, but as making Himself known by His own ways of mercy. And He being thus known by the heart, the heart passes through present circumstances according to this knowledge of Him. But to do this consistently and constantly, supposes the heart not only to know but to be with Him. This closes the fourth book.