"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble." — Psalm 46.
It is impossible to apply this psalm literally to ourselves. No doubt, like many other psalms it gives us precious lessons of spiritual instruction; but it contemplates a people on the earth conscious of Jehovah having shaken the earth, wrought desolations in it, and brought a time of peace and blessing into it, having made wars to cease unto the end of the earth, broken the bow and spear, and burnt the chariot in the fire. The faithful here are on the earth; and knowing that this time of peace and blessing has been brought about by judgments, they are conscious of the presence of Jehovah of hosts with them, and that the God of Jacob is their refuge. There can be no question, then, that the people here referred to are Jews, the faithful remnant so often spoken of by the prophets, brought through the time of Jacob's trouble, and celebrating their glorious deliverance. It is clearly a glance at millennial days, with the realized presence of Jehovah of hosts with them.
As I have said, this psalm reads us profitable lessons, not only as setting forth the goodness and faithfulness of Jehovah to His earthly people, but also because it brings God before us as the refuge, the resource, and the stay of the hearts of His faithful ones in time of trouble. This has always been true. Dispensations have varied; but Jehovah changeth not. Both to His earthly people Israel, and to His heavenly people, the Church, God has ever been the alone source of blessing, and deliverance; so that the word abides immutably true, "Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him."
Let us now look a little, as the Lord may help, at the precious lessons suggested to us in the three practical points — God our Refuge, God our Resource, and God the Stay of our hearts.
1. GOD OUR REFUGE. In time of trouble, the heart is often ready to turn anywhere for help rather than to God; but faith always looks to God, and to God only. The heart that has thus to do with God finds that His love attracts, His faithfulness encourages, and His power to usward in Christ emboldens us to count upon Him, and that too when all is dark and hopeless on every hand. When God is really our refuge, the triumphant utterance of the soul is — "He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" Happy indeed are those who thus in unfeigned faith make God their refuge! We read that when Asa, king of Judah, relied on Jehovah, he was delivered from a great host of the Ethiopians; but when he relied on the king of Syria, and relied not on the Lord his God, he was rebuked by the prophet for it, and had constant wars in consequence. (2 Chron. 16:7-9.) When Jehoshaphat trusted in God, he had great success, and God gave him rest round about; but when he sought to strengthen himself by making affinity with the wicked king of Israel, we are expressly told that the Lord broke his works. (2 Chron. 20:37.) Again, while David trusted in God, the strongest fleshly foe fell before him in the great Goliath; but when, in unbelief and self-occupation, he "said in his heart, I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul," he pursued a course very dishonouring to God and disastrous to himself; but it is beautiful to perceive in the divine record, that when he again "encouraged himself in the Lord his God," the result was most prosperous, and he became more than conqueror. (1 Sam. 18; 27:1; 30:6.) And so in a later day, an inspired apostle marks out the Christian's path as calling for constant exercise of faith, when he says, "We walk by faith, not by sight." And when his heart was well-nigh fainting because of the trouble which came upon him in Asia, he writes, "We had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead: who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that He will yet deliver us." (2 Cor. 1:9, 10.)
But such as really know God as their refuge find Him also their strength, and a very present help in time of trouble. And how blessed for such as are conscious of their own weakness to know where to turn to find real strength; for it is not less true now than in Isaiah's day, that "He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might He increaseth strength."
To rely on self, or friends, or any other arm of flesh, is sure to bring forth, sooner or later, its bitter fruits. To be strong in self-confidence, is only the exhibition of thorough weakness; but to be "strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might;" "strong in the grace which is in Christ Jesus;" "strong in faith, giving glory to God," is strength indeed, though always accompanied with the deepest sense of creature weakness. It is also the path in which the Spirit leads us, the sure way of present blessing. Difficulties thus become bread to faith, and faith grows by being exercised. When the energy and contrivances of nature are called into action in divine things, it will need such trying but salutary lessons of correction from the Father of spirits, as shall produce in us the sense of utter helplessness, and compel us to cling to God for strength. In this way we learn the vastly important lesson, that God's strength is made perfect in weakness; so that when we are weak, and then only, are we really strong in the Lord. God then is our refuge, not man. Men should know our moderation (yieldingness); but we should tell God our need. "In everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God." (Phil. 4:5, 6.)
Is it not well, dear Christian reader, to deal closely with our hearts, in the presence of God, on this deeply-practical and momentous subject? It is easy to speak of our own. weakness; but do we so feel it day by day and continually, that we are compelled to look to God for strength? Is it a realized fact with us, that in us, that is, in our flesh, dwelleth no good thing; and because of this, are we cast upon the power and goodness of God? Surely it is a precious reality to have God for our refuge and strength, waiting on and for Him, because He has been, and is, and will be, "a very present help in trouble;" and such always prove that "blessed is the man whose strength is in thee." If God be our refuge, we shall find either that He will give us deliverance from the trouble, or help in the trouble; but blessing it will be, present blessing, in some way or other. It may be painful to find every other refuge fail us, all other streams dry, every cistern broken, and lover and friend stand aloof; but God being really our refuge, we shall find Him our strength, and a very present help. Trials, more or less, we must all have but what unspeakable blessing there is in making God our refuge! What relief! What rest How truly the following lines express the utterance of many tried souls who cleave to God in their sorrow:
"Other refuge have I none;
Hangs my helpless soul on Thee:
Leave, oh, leave me not alone
Still support and comfort me.
All my trust on Thee is stayed;
All my help from Thee I bring;
Cover my defenceless head
With the shadow of Thy wing!"
To have the sentence of death in ourselves so thoroughly as to reckon ourselves to have died indeed unto sin, and to be alive unto God in our Lord Jesus Christ, will necessarily bring forth such exercise of soul as to cast us upon God, His power and goodness, and prove that He is our "strength, and a very present help in trouble." Surely policy is not faith, nor are human contrivances the Spirit's path. Faith casts each care upon Him who careth for us, though pride and unbelief may take it up again.
2. GOD OUR RESOURCE. "There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God," etc. (v. 4.) It may be that many who have proved the blessedness of making God their refuge have little acquaintance with Him as their resource. It is when barrenness and disappointment are seen stamped on every thing around us, that the heart is fairly tested as to what it is really living upon. The life of faith is upon the Son of God. He has so made known God, that we now know "the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom He hath sent." God is love, and He has manifested His love in sending "His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." God is light, and every thing is naked and open before His eyes; and He has set forth His infinite hatred to sin in forsaking His own Son when bearing our sins, and in condemning sin in the flesh in that spotless One. Thus it is that God is now known; so that instead of being dreaded by us, He is really our hiding-place; and instead of seeking to be away from His presence, we know that He hath reconciled us to Himself, made us stand in His holy presence complete and accepted in the Beloved; and that He abounds in thoughts and purposes of love and grace to us, so that His perfect love not only dismisses all terror from our hearts, but gives us access with confidence. Thus it is that a believer is never so happy as in the conscious enjoyment of God's presence; for God is our resource, the fountain of living waters to our souls. As the apostle expresses it, "We also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the reconciliation." We know God as having sent His Son, spoken to us by His Son, given His Son to be a propitiation for our sins; and we know that He came to do the will of God — "Lo, I come to do thy will, O God!" and this will was, that we should be sanctified and perfected for ever by the one offering of Himself. This is God's love, and this love He commends to us; and thus it is that we have peace with God, and, as we have seen, can now joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ. This is not joy in self, or creatures, or circumstances, but in God, who never disappoints those who thus look to Him. If a prophet with his poor and feeble knowledge of God could say, when there was no blossom or fruit on the vines, the fields and olive-yards barren, and no herd in the stalls, "Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation," how much more does it become us to "rejoice in the Lord always," and find all our springs of consolation and gladness in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. When we thus deal with God as our resource, we rise above every circumstance, painful or pleasant, and can heartily sing —
"My God, the spring of all my joys,
The life of my delights;
The glory of my brightest days,
The comfort of my nights.
"The opened heavens upon me shine
With beams of sacred bliss;
Jesus proclaims that He is mine,
And whispers I am His.
"Soon shall I leave this world of clay,
At that transporting word,
Run up with joy the shining way
To meet and see my Lord."
If then a remnant of God's earthly people will know God, and His rich blessings to them, so that they can say, "There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High," how much more can we triumphantly rejoice in the aboundings of divine grace to us? As a river becomes wider and deeper the further its windings are traced, so surely does the rich and marvellous grace and goodness of God to us in Christ Jesus become more vast and wondrous to our souls. "I saw," said John, "a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb." (Rev. 22:1.) And if another has said, when contemplating the future,
"There from the river of His grace
Drink endless pleasures in,"
why not now by faith delight our souls in the unutterable goodness and blessing of God to us in Christ?
Beloved, what do we know of God as a resource? Are we happy in the Lord, rejoicing in Christ Jesus, worshipping God in the Spirit, having no confidence in the flesh? Do we know the blessedness of dwelling in the secret place of the most High, and abiding under the shadow of the Almighty? Are we happier in God's presence than in the presence of any one else?
3. GOD OUR STAY. "Be still, and know that I am God." It is a great thing for the heart to be steadily looking to God, and quietly waiting on and hoping in Him. We read, "Thou wilt keep Him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee: because he trusteth in Thee." When the people of Israel were well-nigh overwhelmed by the enemy at Pi-hahiroth, they were told to "stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord." (Ex. 14:13.) Faith is quiet before God, and casts all care upon Him but unbelief is restless and plodding. Mary sat at the feet of Jesus, heard His word, and obtained strength for service. Martha's service was well meant, and prompted no doubt by love to the Lord but her busy activity soon broke down. A prophet of Israel told the people that "their strength is to sit still." (Isa. 30:7.) What an unspeakable privilege is it thus to be quietly stayed upon God, remembering His word, "The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace." A careless walk with unjudged sin cannot know this. The lofty workings of an unsubdued imagination knows not this blessed place. But to those who know God to be their refuge and strength, and who find their springs of joy in Him, it seems natural to be quietly stayed upon Him. They wait only on and for God, for their expectation is from Him. Such know that God will be exalted, and that our happy privilege is to give unto Him the glory due unto His name.