The expressions "fire" and "water" in this scripture may perhaps be explained by Numbers 31:23. Concerning the spoil which Israel had taken from the Midianites, Eleazar commanded, by the word of the Lord, "Everything that may abide the fire, ye shall make it go through the fire, and it shall be clean: nevertheless it shall be purified with the water of separation: and all that abideth not the fire ye shall make go through the water." Fire and water, therefore, were the two instrumentalities of purification. So it would seem also in our Psalm, for it expressly says, in verse 10, "For Thou, O God, hast proved us: Thou hast tried us, as silver is tried." And then the psalmist describes briefly God's various dealings with His people on account of their sins, and sums all up in the words, "We went through fire and through water: but Thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place."
Fire is constantly a figure for the holiness of God in judgment (see, for example, Deut. 4:24; Deut. 5:24, 25); and water, when not used as a symbol of the Word, as in John 3:, 13, etc., is employed, in another aspect, in a similar sense, as, for example, in the cases of the Red Sea and the Jordan. (Compare Psalm 69:1, 14; Jonah 2:2-5, etc.)
The period to which the issue ("Thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place") points is the full blessing of Israel in Messiah's glorious kingdom. (See vv. 1-4.) The Psalm is thus Israel's retrospect after restoration and blessing. Worship can now flow out unhinderedly (vv. 13-15), as well as the call to all lands to "make a joyful noise unto God." When the goal is reached, God is seen to be justified in all His ways, and to be "clear" in all His judgments; and hence it is that Israel can cry, "O bless our God, ye people, and make the voice of His praise to be heard," etc.; and also, "Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what He hath done for my soul."
The reference in this scripture is to Messiah's exaltation in His earthly kingdom as consequent upon His suffering and death. This is one of the glories after His suffering, even as He said to the two disciples, when on their way to Emmaus, "Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory?" (See also 1 Peter 1:11.) In the previous verse Jehovah speaks of Him as "My righteous Servant," and this will account for the language here employed, "There fore will I divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong." (Compare Psalm 110.) The period alluded to is when He returns with His saints to take His kingdom, when He will come as King of kings and Lord of lords, and when, in this character, He will put down all rule and all authority and power (1 Cor. 15:24), and when all kings shall fall down before Him, and all nations shall serve Him. (Psalm 72:11.) But looked upon in our scripture as receiving His kingdom, it is Jehovah who says, "I will divide Him a portion with the great;" that is, I will exalt Him above the greatest of the earth, make Him "higher than the kings of the earth;" and then He adds, "He shall divide the spoil with the strong," as the result of His victory over all His enemies. It is thus for the suffering of death that we here behold Him glorious in His exaltation in His kingdom, and in His sovereignty over the kingdoms of the earth.
The moral order in this scripture is of all importance. The Lord appointed (not "ordained") twelve; first, that they might be with Him, and then that He might send them forth to preach, and also to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out demons. To be with Christ therefore, to be in fellowship with Him, is the indispensable qualification for all true service, and for the victorious exercise of divine power in conflict with the enemy. If it be objected that the twelve were never practically in this condition of soul, the answer is, that whatever their failure the teaching abides. To "have part" with Christ is thus a necessity for those who would labour according to His mind, and this will at the same time ensure His presence with the servant in manifest power. So also in the gospel of John it is, "Abide in Me, and I in you."
There can be little doubt that "living sacrifice" is a contrast with the dead sacrifices - the bodies of animals that were laid, as in the burnt-offerings, upon the brazen altar and offered up to God. For the understanding of the exhortation it is necessary to seize the connection. The body is looked upon in this epistle as the seat of sin. In Romans 6, the apostle reminds us that our old man is crucified with Christ, "that the body of sin might be destroyed" (annulled), "that henceforth we should not serve sin;" and thereon he deduces certain moral consequences, and urges, in that Christ died, He died to sin once: and in that He liveth He liveth unto God; that we should reckon ourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God in Christ Jesus. Then he proceeds, "Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body," etc., for "justified" from sin through death with Christ, we are delivered from the old master, and thus free to "yield ourselves unto God as those that are alive from the dead, and our members as instruments of righteousness unto God."
Now our scripture, as to the exhortation, connects itself with this truth; while, as to the ground of appeal ("I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God"), it flows from the end of Romans 8, because that is the conclusion of the setting forth of God's "mercies" in redemption.
If the reader has followed this brief outline he will be prepared to enter into the import of these words of the apostle. Three things are, in fact, supposed - our bodies delivered from the dominion of sin (the old man), the possession of a new life in Christ risen, and the indwelling of the Holy Ghost. It is, then, in the power of the new life through the Spirit that we are called upon to present our bodies (once governed by sin, directed by our own will and inclination) as living sacrifices, immolated alive, as it were, upon the altar, to be henceforth used for Him, vessels now for the display of His glory. (Compare 2 Cor. 4:6, 10, 11.) Such a sacrifice, separated unto God in the power of the Holy Ghost, is holy, acceptable unto God; and it is also our reasonable (intelligent) service, for surely our bodies belong to Him who has emancipated us from sin. As indeed the apostle says, when dealing with another truth, "What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body,* which is God's." (1 Cor. 6:19, 20.)
*The words "and in your spirit" should be omitted, as having no sufficient authority.
This passage is better rendered as in the New Translation: "For the grace of God, which carries with it salvation for all men, has appeared, teaching us that, having denied impiety and worldly lusts, we should live soberly and justly and piously in the present course of things, awaiting the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ," etc. This rendering presents, as will be at once perceived, some interesting and instructive points of difference. It brings, first of all, into prominence the universal character of grace; for although the Authorised Translation is as grammatically correct as that given above, there can be little doubt that the other conveys the mind of the Holy Spirit. The grace of God, then, brings with it salvation for all men. It is unlimited, except by the will of man: "Whosoever will let him take of the water of life freely." And this grace has appeared, first in the person of Christ, and then in the message of His ambassadors. (2 Cor. 5:19, 20.) It has, moreover, been proclaimed in the whole creation under heaven. (Col. 1:23.) But salvation is a comprehensive term; and hence, when this grace is once received, it contains teaching as to the manner of our lives. Thus we are instructed to deny ungodliness (or impiety) and worldly lusts, all of which belong to our past condition in the flesh (compare 1 Peter 4:1-3), and to "live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world." The scope of these three words is very extensive. Soberly will apply to ourselves, signifying that we are to be under the restraint and governance imposed by the presence of Him before whom we live in the power of the Holy Ghost; righteously, that is, we are to recognise the claims of those around, and thus to maintain a conscience void of offence toward man; and godly, which will mean, in another's language, that we are to own the rights of God over our hearts, and exercise godliness.
This is to be the character of our walk amid the seductions of this age; and, moreover, we have to maintain the attitude of expectation, "looking for that blessed hope," etc. The coming of Christ for His people is not found in these personal epistles, nor ever indeed when the believer is regarded as in service or under responsibility. The appearing of Christ is then the goal. (See 1 Tim. 6:13-15.) It is just possible, however, that in "the blessed hope" there is a hint of the coming before the reference to the displayed glory. If not this, it directs our attention to the truth contained in 1 John 3:2 - to our being like Christ, when we see Him as He is. The words, "Our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ," from their arrangement in the original, may, and without question do, refer to the same Person; that is, it is not God and the Saviour Jesus Christ, but rather He who will appear in glory is our great God as well as our Saviour Jesus Christ. What a presentation of the dignity of His person; yea, of His Deity! And what a glorious event it is that we await!
Then, lastly, we are reminded that our God and Saviour Jesus Christ, whose advent in glory we expect, is He who gave Himself for us; and that, if He gave Himself for us, it was that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. This aspect of the death of Christ is much to be observed. (Compare Gal. 1:4, 1 Peter 4:1.) It is not here bearing our sins in His own body on the tree, though He surely did this on the cross, but it is that He might redeem us from all "lawlessness," from all self-pleasing and doing our own will; also that He might have us for Himself, a cleansed and peculiar people, and a people who should be distinguished by their zeal for good works, going about, even as He Himself did, to do good.
C. D. Maynard.
Christian Friend vol. 16, 1889, p. 264.
The defeat at Ai might almost be described in the words of Psalm 44: "Thou hast cast off, and put us to shame; and goest not forth with our armies. Thou makest us to turn back from the enemy . . . . Thou hast given us like sheep for meat . . . . Thou makest us . . . a scorn and a derision to them that are round about us . . . . My confusion is continually before me."
These words might have suited Joshua's lips when he lay on the ground till the evening before the ark, with his clothes rent and dust on his head. But mark the difference. Israel had sinned then, and so prayer was unavailing; what was wanted was self-judgment. Then they had to put away the positive sin with which they were defiled. Joshua at the moment did not know it; but had they enquired of God before going up to Ai, doubtless He would have told them. But there it was, and God brought it to light, and they put it away, and all went well again through God's mercy, and His power with them. But in Psalm 44 there is nothing of that sort; on the contrary, they can, by the Spirit, plead before God their conscious rectitude. "All this is come upon us; yet have we not forgotten Thee, neither have we dealt falsely in Thy covenant. Our heart is not turned back, neither have our steps declined from Thy way; though Thou hast sore broken us in the place of dragons, and covered us with the shadow of death." (vv. 17-19.) This Joshua and the elders could not have said. Here Israel can; yet the chastisement is much the same.
We learn this lesson surely from this, that in the discipline of the Lord we cannot detect the cause of the chastisement from the nature of the chastisement. Trouble may come, and this may be governmental for some positive sin allowed, as at Ai. So the famine in David's reign. So sickness and death on Christians for the state of the assembly (1 Cor. 11), or for personal sin (1 John 5:16). But the same thing may fall upon him, and yet the saint be able to say with the apostle, "I know nothing against myself." Doubtless there is a reason for the suffering. If we think of the defeats of righteous Israel by sinful Benjamin, in Judges 20, we can see there was a reason for Israel's repeated humiliation, yet it was not want of integrity. I suppose the loose state of the nation had made the sin of Benjamin possible, and Israel was probably self-righteously indignant. They certainly got into a humbler spirit before God, and a softer one towards Benjamin, under their defeats; but they did not turn back from what they were about; namely, the judgment of the sinful tribe in which they, were right in the main. This is instructive, as showing us that the Lord may have our general state before Him, which needs correction by chastisement, while there may be perfect integrity of heart, and the path that one is in when one meets the suffering may be the right one. This I suppose will be true of Israel in the latter day, and to which I believe this psalm prophetically points.
But the same principle is good for the Church now. and from this point of view it is beautiful to see that Psalm 44 appears in Romans 8. This being given like sheep for the slaughter for Christ's sake is among the things enumerated as those which cannot separate us from the love of Christ. The heart might fail under prolonged pressure. "No," says the Spirit, "the love of Christ is unchanged. This chastisement is of the Father, that we may be partakers of His holiness." If there be sin on the conscience, this comfort cannot be taken. "Now there is wrath, see that He take thee not away with a stroke" would then be more suitable. But if there is not conscious guilt the chastisement may yet be for correction, and we must bow to it, and wait on God about it for explanation and deliverance. Israel, in Psalm 44, humbles itself, and continues its prayer: "Our soul is bowed down to the dust . . . Arise . . . for Thy mercies' sake." (vv. 25, 26.) Let us look for deliverance only from Him. Let us not turn aside to seek it elsewhere. This might be applied to trouble in a meeting. A violent man is interrupting and trampling on the saints - what can they do? No known sin may be there. What can they do but lie in the dust, and wait for God's deliverance? "For Thy sake are we killed all the day long . . . . Awake, why sleepest Thou, O Lord? arise, cast us not off for ever." Do not these principles apply? Could we not say there is much to be corrected in us? Could we not own we deserved more? And we can say, even of these things, that "all work together for good to those that love God."
The Lord help us to keep a steady course, with conscious integrity and humbleness of mind, waiting upon Him, directed only by the Word, and waiting too for His coming.
C. D. Maynard.
Remarks on the Twenty-Second Psalm.
H. H. Snell.
Christian Friend vol. 16, 1889, p. 267.
It is not without importance that this psalm is headed "A psalm of David," because it shows that the writer was moved by the Holy Spirit to give many details concerning the crucifixion, sufferings, and death of the Saviour at Calvary about a thousand years before they had their actual fulfilment. Elsewhere David is spoken of as "a prophet," and our Lord Himself referred to him as having written another psalm "by the Holy Ghost." Without controversy then, it was the Holy Ghost by David who drew this prophetic picture of the sufferings of Christ as the Sin-bearer on the cross. (Acts 2:30; Mark 12:36; 2 Peter 1:21.)
This psalm also gives us a striking example of the ministry of "the prophets," who by the Spirit of Christ testified beforehand "the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow." Thus they looked over the present Church - time entirely. The Church was not revealed in the Old Testament, though there were many allusions to the blessing of God going out to the Gentiles. The Church or Assembly was a mystery. It was "hid in God," "not made known," "kept secret since the world began," till Saul of Tarsus was converted by seeing the Lord in heaven, and hearing Him speak of the saints on earth as one with Himself - "Why persecutest thou Me?" Whatever figures or types of the Church - the body and bride of Christ - we may now be able to trace in Old Testament Scriptures, it is clear that the testimony of the Holy Spirit in old time was largely concerning Jews and Gentiles; while in the New Testament we have divine instruction concerning Jews, Gentiles, and the Church of God.
The first words in this psalm could not have been uttered by any one but Christ Jesus the Saviour. Nor will they ever be repeated, because His work accomplished on the cross has eternal efficacy. His sacrifice was offered once for all. He could say, "It is finished." The redemption He accomplished was eternal. Observe, the One so forsaken was at that moment declaring His perfect confidence in God and relationship to Him - "My God!" and yet He added the bitter cry, "Why hast Thou forsaken Me?" No saint in glory will ever say, "Why hast Thou forsaken me?" but will be presenting everlasting thanksgiving unto God and the Lamb; nor will the wicked, who are banished from God's presence into outer darkness, be able to say, "My God," while realizing the bitterness of deserved banishment from His holy presence for ever. It is clear then that this bitterest of all sorrows was known to Jesus as the Sin-bearer on the cross, and He only would, or could, drink the bitter cup. As then our adorable Lord did the perfect will of Him who sent Him, and by His one offering perfected for ever them that are sanctified, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, and this dolorous cry will never be heard again throughout God's vast universe.
These very words, we find in the gospels, were actually uttered by our Lord in the closing moments of His sorrow and agony on the cross, when His soul was made an offering for sin. Let us often recall to our minds this scene of unmingled distress, and lay to heart its most solemn import. The blood of the cross not only made peace, but it is able to temper all our joys and give sweetness to all our sorrows.
We cannot grasp the magnitude of the finished work of Christ, because of its infinite character and eternal efficacy. We may, however, have some feeble estimate of its greatness if we consider (1) the glory of the Person who did it; (2) the depth of suffering, and death under the judgment of God for sins, it necessitated; (3) the marvellous results.
1. No one but a divine Person, none less than one having the attributes of Deity, and yet perfect man, was able to accomplish it. Man had sinned, and man must bear the penalty. "By man came death, by Man came also the resurrection from among the dead." He truly said, "I came down from heaven;" and yet while here could also speak of Himself as "the Son of man which is in heaven," "before Abraham was I am;" and His perfect manhood, and the attributes of Deity, are plainly shown in His life and walk. As perfect Man He ate and drank, looked for comforters, wept with the bereaved, endured hunger and thirst was weary with His journey, and had all the qualities of man, sin apart. No less a Person could bear the penalty due to our sins, or answer the righteous demands of the Majesty on high; no one else could so honour, obey, and vindicate God as to His ways with man, and glorify Him as to bearing our sins, so as to blot them out for ever from His holy eye; and also merit, at the hands of divine righteousness, to be set on the right hand of God, and crowned with glory and honour.
2. The depth of suffering the work of the cross involved is seen in the fact that the anticipation of it caused the holy Sufferer to sweat "as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground." May we ponder this solemn moment, and the love which many waters could not quench! Christ knew all that should come upon Him. The grief and suffering, infinitely beyond all else, was to be forsaken by God, when He was numbered with the transgressors, and bare the sins of many. Though dark and sorrowful beyond all thought as it was, yet He could discern at the end light and glory and rest; for we are told that "for the joy that was set before Him" He "endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God."
3. The results also show the vastness of the work accomplished when God's own Son poured out His soul unto death. As to the Assembly, the Church, we are told that "Christ also loved the Church, and gave Himself for it . . . that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing." (Eph. 5.) With regard to Israel it was prophesied "that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not." (John 11:50.) As to creation, we are assured that "the creature [creation] itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God." (Rom. 8:21.) Moreover, in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth (the infernal regions), every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:5-11.) Nor is this all; for it shall finally be manifest that our Lord Jesus has abolished death, and judged him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; taken away the sin of the world, and so established righteousness, that there will be for ever a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
In this psalm it is plainly seen that Christ suffered on the cross from man, from Satan, and from God.
1. By man He was hated without a cause; for His love they were His adversaries. Betrayed, denied, forsaken by all, bound, led to Annas, then to Caiaphas, and after that to the judgment-hall, He was condemned by Pilate, who believed Him to be without fault, scourged, mocked, spit upon, compelled to bear His cross, nailed to the tree, degraded to be numbered with the transgressors, was taken by wicked hands, crucified, and slain.
2. Satan no doubt was behind the wicked activity of man, aiding him by his power; for it had been said in the garden, four thousand years before, that the serpent - the devil - should bruise the heel of the woman's Seed. But more than this, Satan had "the power of death," and doubtless brought the terrors of death, and the dreadful bitterness of the cup, so before the holy Sufferer, that He desired if it were possible that the cup might pass from Him, but in His perfection could only ask it in subjection to the Father's will; therefore He added, "Nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt."
3. But though the perfect Sufferer discerned the power of man and Satan, yet He tool; the cup directly from the hand of God, so that He said on the same night in which He was betrayed, when almost under the shadow of the cross, "The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?" And when hanging on the tree in unutterable pain and anguish, He took all from God. He could say" Thou hast brought me into the dust of death." This surely was His perfection. Perfect in faith, and love, and devotedness to the will of Him that sent Him, yet was He most sensitive to the hatred and insult which men so cruelly heaped upon Him. We hear Him speaking of being "despised of the people," whose violence and malignity He could only liken to "strong bulls of Bashan," as "a ravening and a roaring lion" gaping upon Him, or to "dogs" encompassing Him. Nor was He insensible to their "scorn," the shaking of the head, and derision in saying, "He trusted on Jehovah that He would deliver Him: let Him deliver Him, seeing He delighted in Him." Keenly did He feel their cruelty when He added, "The assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet." All this wickedness of man was no doubt strengthened by "the prince of this world." But He told out to God what men said and did, and added, "Thou art He that took me out of the womb: Thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother's breasts. I was cast upon Thee from the womb: Thou art my God from my mother's belly. Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help." (vv. 9-11.) We learn from the gospels that the whole weight of the body of the holy Sufferer was suspended on the nails in His hands and His feet from the third to the ninth hour, that darkness covered the whole land for the last three hours, and it was not till then that the bitter cry came forth, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" before this He was always heard, so that He said, "I knew that Thou nearest Me always;" but now it was, "Why art Thou so far from helping Me, and from the words of My roaring? O My God, I cry in the daytime, but Thou nearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent." Even in Gethsemane His prayer was to "Abba, Father," so that His perfect communion with the Father was manifest; an angel, too, was sent to strengthen Him. But on the cross His prayer is not heard; He receives no help, He is alone, crying to His God, and not heard, but "forsaken;" for there He was suffering for our sins, and there "God . . . condemned sin in the flesh."
Why is He thus abandoned by God? Why is the One who loved, obeyed, and honoured God supremely, forsaken in the hour of deepest need? Why did God turn away from the only Man in the universe in whom He always found unchanging delight? There is but one answer, and the Lord gives it Himself; it is this: "Thou art holy, O Thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel." Sin must be judged. The death of the cross was not merely a question of His obedience unto death, but God's righteous judgment of "sin in the flesh," and of blotting out our sins for ever. God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh. What unutterable grace! What a deliverance! Blessed be His name, He appeared once at the consummation of the ages "to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself." (Heb. 9:26.) This necessitated God's forsaking of Christ, God's condemnation of sin. This is why in deepest agony He cried out, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?"
And even then all was perfect. Faith was perfect, and confidence, too; for it was still, "My God:" Love was perfect; for He fully carried out the Father's will. Obedience was perfect; for it was the Father's commandment. Self-surrender was perfect; for He claimed nothing for Himself. Holiness was perfect; for nothing impure was there, not even a spot or blemish. Hope was perfect; for He could say, "Thou wilt not leave My soul in hell [hades]; neither wilt Thou suffer Thine Holy One [this body] to see corruption. Thou wilt show Me the path of life [resurrection]: in Thy presence is fulness of joy; at Thy right hand [ascension] there are pleasures for evermore." (Ps. 16.) All in the death of the cross was perfect; and while all the claims of righteousness, truth, and holiness, were perfectly met, yet how sweetly did the grace of the suffering One shine forth when He prayed for His enemies, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." And again, to the expiring thief, in reply to his dying cry for mercy, He said, "This day shalt thou be with Me in paradise." Hence the witness of the Spirit concerning this atoning work is: "By one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified," and "their sins and iniquities will I remember no more." (Heb. 10:14, 17.) Blessed testimony to the eternal efficacy of that finished work!
In the death of the cross Jesus reached the point morally where He could say, "Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in Him." There, at such a cost, He obeyed, honoured, and vindicated God in all His ways with man. The moral glory of the death of the cross was perfect. Faith was perfect, not only when He clave to God in truest love and obedience when men and Satan were against Him, but when God forsook Him. As we have seen, it was still, "My God."
He was heard, we are told, even from "the horns of the unicorns." God, who alone could estimate the glory and perfection of the death of the cross, in righteousness raised Him up from among the dead. Then the first thing we hear, after this account of the sufferings of Christ, in reference to the glories which should follow, is, "I will declare Thy name unto My brethren;" and we have only to turn to the Gospel by John to see how exactly it was fulfilled. Revealing Himself to Mary as the risen One, but not yet ascended, He said unto her, "Go to My brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto My Father, and your Father; and to My God, and your God." (John 20:17.) This she "told the disciples." It was the first time that our Lord spoke of their relationship to Him of "brethren," and of their relationship to the Father of "children" - "My Father and your Father." Precious fruit of the death of the cross!
Next, the seed of Jacob, and all who fear Jehovah, are called to praise Him. Then the Saviour praises Jehovah in the great congregation, when He will reign before His ancients gloriously. Then "all the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto Jehovah: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before Thee. For the kingdom is Jehovah's: and He is the Governor among the nations." H. H. S.
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What Christ is entitled to we get. He has a title to everything, and we have a portion with Him in all that He has.