Psalms 107 - 150
J. N. Darby.
Psalm 107. In the last book of psalms we find, besides many songs of praise, all the moral circumstances of Israel on their return to blessing. The first psalm in it stamps this character on it, It looks at them as gathered back, but traces the various scenes through which they might have passed, and that after their entry into the land too, and God's ways with them in it. It is a description of toils and trials, in which the Lord was looked to, and answered and interfered in behalf of the tossed and tried soul, and men are exhorted to own and praise Him. It carried this blessed truth in the forefront: His mercy endures for ever. God's unchanging love and goodness, celebrated from the first fully proved failure of Israel onward. Man fails, God's mercy to His people does not. It is His redeemed and gathered ones who are the people that have to bear witness to this. Strangers and pilgrims where there was no resting-place, no home, hungry and thirsty, their soul fainting in them, they cried to the Lord and were led in a right way to where their foot and heart found rest.
Two characters are given to the soul in this condition. It is a longing soul and a hungry soul. We have craving and want, but these brought before the Lord. This is mercy. It is not the case of holy desires here, but God meeting wants. The wearied and fainting soul wants, but this want turns into a cry to the Lord. Mercy is surely there. But this might be even where their affliction and distress was chastisement, and the fruit of rebellion. But here where the heart turned to the Lord, mercy met it, and there was deliverance. The gates of brass and iron which shut them in are broken, where iniquity and the folly of departure from the Lord had brought it all on. He sent His word that they might be healed, and so delivered. When men were venturesome and braved dangers and found themselves at their wits' end through the storm of the sea which gives no footing to them, the Lord comes in and gives peace and leads them to the haven of their desire. In the very place of the habitation of His people, in the place of promises, there His direct government comes in. Rivers are a wilderness, a fruitful land barren, through judgment: turning the wilderness into pools of water, judging wickedness and shewing mercy to the needy soul, satisfying the hungry who lean on Him. Careless and lifted up even there, they are brought down. He pours contempt on princes, but the poor and needy He sets on high. It is not the order of a world blessed of God where evil is not, but the government of God where evil is, where God overrules the evil to the purposes of His own government, to hide pride from man, and comfort and encourage the poor in spirit who look to Him, who trust not in pride and human strength and will rest in the Lord. In all the ways too where their will has brought them, where their sins even have brought them, if He be looked to, His mercy and goodness are found.
165 Thus God deals with the heart - turns the state of things and the ways of men into the means of their hearts knowing Him. The righteous rejoice, and oh how true that is! how much truer it will be when the fruit of the Lord's goodness to the humble waiting soul which has put its trust in Him is seen! In the end evil will be put down, but in the way the Lord meets, comforts, and justifies in result the path of the humble soul; and the wise and observant soul will see (however busy, however pretending, however seemingly successful man's will may be) the loving kindness of the Lord will be made good before him to his joy and gladness of heart. The Lord teach us to walk softly before Him, and leave the results in His own gracious hand. It is sometimes difficult, but always wise. Painful no doubt to see the wicked and wickedness prosper, it is a world of evil, but God works in it, and His ways will work out blessing, and the fruit of His goodness and righteous power.
One or two brief remarks on Psalm 108, but on a point of great beauty. There is great confidence here, and, as ever, mercy to the soul which knows itself and comes before God in truth. But then, for its own deliverance and blessing, it looks to the exalting of God. This shews it must be a holy, righteous exalting. "Be thou exalted, O God, above the heavens, and thy glory above all the earth, that thy beloved may be delivered." It is a blessed thought, and this is what faith has to lay hold of now, even in the time of trial, that our blessing and God's glory are one, only we must put His glory first. This is the very principle of uprightness - "He that seeketh his glory that sent him, the same is true," says Christ, "and there is no unrighteousness in him" - and the highest blessing. So Jesus Himself, "What shall I say? Father save me from this hour … Father, glorify thy name." Then comes, "I, if I be lifted up, shall draw all men unto me." So in trial and even in evil, faith identifies the glory of God and His people. "The Egyptians will hear of it … What wilt thou do to thy great name?"
166 For the same reason there is no sparing evil when we are in the midst of the people, and evil calls this principle out, God being publicly dishonoured, "Slay ye every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbour." In a word, faith identifies God's glory and exaltation and His people, but puts God first. Here it is in blessing, and we have the remarkable answer of God: "I will rejoice." His own joy and delight is in the blessing of His people; He exults in doing them good, in delivering His beloved, in the employment of His might to set aside the evil which oppressed them, and put them in possession of what, by His gift, belonged to them. And whatever the strength of their adversaries, He will accomplish their blessing: the strong city cannot stand before Him. And even when through their fault they had been refused His help (in Israel's case, as we know, long cast off), still, when the just time of the blessing of the humble comes, He will put forth the needed strength that all may be fulfilled. He gives strength to His people, His own power delivers them. They have learnt that His strength only is of any worth or avail.
Psalm 109 is the judgment of Judah and the anti-Christian Jews at the end. It affords us little experimental teaching, while most solemn in its testimony. First, the motive of help: "Do it for thy name's sake." The nature and glory of God is at the root of all His ways; and when the heart has caught at this, this answer of help is seen: God cannot be inconsistent with Himself. But for this the heart must be brought into the state co-ordinate with that name, lowliness, the judgment of evil in self, and so uprightness, dependence; and God may exercise us fully to manifest brokenness of will and produce it, and the heart's leaving all submissively to Him. In Christ's place all these exercises only brought out His perfectness; in us they work uprightness and dependence. In Him all this sorrow was purely God's hand: that is, there was no reason for it in Himself. And this is accorded to us in grace, even if we have given occasion to it by our self-will or evil, still God has taken it in hand in discipline, and, when He has wrought His work, sets His saints up in blessing to the confusion of the adversary, forced to own His hand, where they triumphed in evil and thought only to triumph over the just. But they have met God, for these were His ways with His people; and this government can go on with us because redemption is complete. In Christ's case it was pure hatred against good, He undergoing it for us. For His love they were His adversaries. But they, the lovers of evil, are before the Lord continually; the time of shewing it is His own, for us when His work of subjugating our will, teaching us holy dependence, is complete; in Christ, when it has been manifested and God fully glorified.
167 Psalm 110. On this psalm, glorifying Christ at God's right hand, I have only one remark to make. The last verse shews the perfection of Christ in this spirit of dependence on the way, the path in which we have to follow Him as walking in the new man; glad of the refreshments of God, but dependent on them, and taking them as they are found, that is, as God Himself gives them in the way - the spirit of lowly dependence.
Psalm 111. In a vast number of the psalms of this last book, the present intervention of judgment and power is so contemplated, that instructions for the trials of the way are less to be looked for. It is the case in this psalm. It raises; anticipatively no doubt, its hallelujah for the works of God. Only this is to be remarked, and so always, that these works of deliverance are always conformable to, and founded on, and make good, the truth of God's character. They are verity and judgment. His commandments are proved sure in them. They stand fast for ever and ever, and are done in truth and uprightness. Hence to enjoy the fruit of them, our path is to walk after the Lord's ways and reckon on the sureness of His promise, and, if He tarry, wait for Him. But, as we have always seen, mercy and compassion towards us are found and felt in them. If we are delivered, it is sovereign goodness. Hence the fear of Jehovah is the beginning of wisdom; obedience leads us to intelligence. Being in the path of God, light is truth in that path, and according to it.
168 You cannot separate the true knowledge of divine things from godliness. It is the nature which is godly, obedient grace dependent on God, which alone desires or understands them. "If any man will do his will he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God." Hence, in the path of obedience, realising the light in a subjection which owns God, more is found: for the light and the path of the new nature are one - the truth as it is in Jesus, the having put off the old man and put on the new, which, after God, is created in righteousness and true holiness. We are renewed in knowledge after the image of Him who created us. In this path we have to walk by faith till power comes in. In Israel, of course, it was more as law; but the principle is always true, as true knowledge is the knowledge of God. It is impossible to separate true knowledge from a state which owns God for what He is - obedience and dependence on Him.
Psalm 112. I leave aside, of course, the promises of temporal blessing, which apply directly to the Jewish people and system. These latter psalms refer especially to them, because blessing is just come in by judgment, but some principles are worthy of note - the wisdom of acting in obedience through the path of trial is specially insisted on in these psalms. Much was there (there always is) to say that faithfulness was folly and ruin. God warns them, and in that is the path of wisdom. It lasts in its effects when the wicked disappear. The generation of the upright will be blessed. His righteousness endures for ever. No doubt darkness seems to shut him in, but light arises for him even there. We must learn to trust to God: blessing is sure to the obedient. But thus walking with God, peace of heart and the sense of goodness make him gracious and full of compassion towards others - upright too, with them. Self-seeking is not his governing principle. He shews favour, is liberal in heart, nor is there rashness of self-will. He carries out and carries through his matters in the fear of God, with soundness of mind; he does not use lightness, that his yea should be nay. Guided by God in going into them, he carries through his path to the end, because it is God's will, and with the strength and steadiness that the consciousness of doing it gives. And this is of importance in the path of the saints as a testimony that God is there, and His mind the guide of our path. He abides - he that does God's will does so.
169 Further, when the power of evil is abroad, he is not shaken. In the midst of exercises of heart, of moral evil, he has been with God. His will has been supreme with him. He has looked at God as One whose will ordered all, and God Himself as all. If He was pleased, he was content. Circumstances had lost their power as motives, and God had, so to speak, taken their place in his heart and mind. Hence, when adverse ones arise, they find God there known, trusted: his heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord.
Psalm 113. One principle comes before us here but one which cannot be too often brought before our souls, one which we have constant tendency to forget. God chooses weak things, that it may be evident that good and blessing comes from His power and love. God uses means; but, when man speaks of means, he generally speaks not of reference of heart to God, prayer, His word, and the like, but of leaning on man's influence and man's strength. This is all evil. Oh that we may remember that God chooses the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and weak things, and things that are not, to bring to nought things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence! Blessing were not divine blessing indeed if it were not so. But then in this strength we may look for grace. He dwells on high, but humbleth Himself to behold the things that are in heaven and earth. He raiseth the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the needy out of the dunghill to set him with the princes, even the princes of His people, and takes the barren and gives her children like a flock - makes her a joyful mother of children. Such are God's ways. The heart delights in them. Power is His, and goodness, but what a lesson in the midst of this world, and for the heart of man!
Psalm 114. The same thing as to power is seen in this very beautiful little psalm. He brought water out of the flint rock. His presence makes the earth that has forgotten Him to tremble; but, for His people in the desert, His power and grace bring refreshment and life out of what seems to man hopeless and most opposed. Dependence and confidence in Him - such is the peaceful path of faith.
170 Psalm 115. The first principle here brought under our eye is setting the Lord's glory first, a simple but mighty one - "not to us but to thy name." So we find perfectly in Christ. But this is followed, for all that, by the connection of that glory with God's people. The first principle gives purity of motive - this the courage and hope of faith. And note what is specially blessed - the name (that is, the revelation of God's character) is specially suited to the blessings of His people. He had spoken in promise, but they have failed on their side to take up the promise in the path of righteousness. Yet God has promised, and here His name of government in grace comes in. "Give the glory to thy name for thy mercy," which is part of His name; "and for thy truth's sake," which is another. And here the glory comes out - if He were not the former, the latter could not be. Righteous judgment would have cut off the guilty; but there would have been no fulfilment of promise. But mercy rejoices over judgment. What God is in His nature, love, interprets itself in His ways towards the failing, in mercy, leading them no doubt into the place of repentance that they may suitably enjoy - suitably to any moral relationship with God, but then accomplishing His promise in truth. But the divine glory goes first. This is counted on.
God had made Himself, to display His ways, the God of His people. "Wherefore should the heathen say, Where is now their God?" Such was the ancient plea of Moses and Joshua. This is, further, in contrast with the idols of the heathen. When God's glory is first sought by faith, it not only turns to the blessing of the people according to that glory, but it opens out into the consciousness and apprehension of that glory in itself in the hearts of the people. This is a great blessing. They joy, no doubt, in the salvation, but they joy in God. For the full display of this, He must come in in judgment; not for our blessing, for He has given us heavenly things, where His own dwelling is, in what He is in Himself, not merely as what He is in His ways. For we may remark how earth is here the sphere, and this present life the energy in which God is known and owned. "The dead praise not the Lord"; "the earth hath he given to the children of men." We rejoice in being dead and having our place in resurrection with Christ in heavenly places. We cannot keep this too strongly in mind, though there be instruction as to God's ways on earth in these psalms. In these last especially the earthly government is in view, because judgment at the end is just coming in. It is a blessing to have heaven instead, and our God, such as He is, our Father.
171 In Psalm 116 the suppliant has been heard; the government of God consequently enters but little into its composition. The soul has been brought down under the pressure of death, but delivered. It is the history of the remnant at the end, into which the blessed Lord so wonderfully entered, but which is not a prophecy of Him, and applicable to any so suffering, as is seen by the apostle's citation of verse 10 (2 Cor. 4:13.) The deliverance is for this world. The thought of the psalm is - grace and faithfulness in Jehovah in delivering. The character of the saint is simplicity; a spirit difficult to some, but precious. It is formed by a simple-hearted reference to the thoughts of God and living in them, and then trusting Him who always makes His own thoughts good, and remembers those who thus trust in Him. The opposite to this is - the activity of man's thoughts, his will and counsels mixing themselves with them. These perish, he is disappointed. The humble spirit does not think so much it receives God's thoughts. They have a moral character. He abides in them, is obedient, and waits on God. Compare Eliezer in Genesis 24.
The deliverance of God comes as favour and an answer to the soul, and is full of sweetness. His faithfulness to the state and expectation is felt. Hence, on receiving the blessing, thankfulness (not merely enjoying the blessing) is the fruit, and, "I love the Lord." Hence sweet associations of soul are connected with it. It is felt that the Lord has dealt bountifully. The soul returns to its rest, faith had been at work before. The soul believed and spoke as trusting God, but was sore troubled - now finds the God it thus trusted its source of joy and blessing, not, mark, the blessing it gets. The soul was turned to Him, not to comfort, in the trouble. It is turned to Him now in the time of joy. The Lord Himself is before the soul, its source of blessing.
Note another thing in this psalm, the feeling of the failure of all men. It is not exactly "in my haste," but in my anxious pressure of alarm, such as would make man flee in haste. This gave the consciousness that man could not be relied on. It was not simple faith or sound judgment this, but there are moments when God makes us feel that we cannot rely on man but only on Him. Often we have comfort from men. "God, who comforteth them who are cast down, comforted me by the coming of Titus." But we must not rely on man. Hence there are moments when we have to say "all men are liars," and we are cast on the Lord. How truly the Lord was so, I need not say; yet in grace He could say to His disciples "Ye are they which have continued with me in my temptations." But there was an hour when He must say, "one of you shall betray me," and feel it; and "all ye shall be offended because of me this night, and shall leave me alone," That shewed His perfection. It teaches us to lean on the Lord only, not diminishing cordial confidence and openness of heart, but teaching to rely on God. Unhindered joy will come afterwards. But in all trouble the Lord thinks of us.
172 Psalm 117. The consciousness of grace and favour enlarges the heart. Israel never thought of calling the nations to praise when under the law. But now that mercy has brought blessing, they do. It is the sentiment of what God is to us, the thankful enjoyment of it as of God, which opens the mouth and heart by the knowledge of Him. It calls others to enjoy His goodness too. It is an assimilation to the divine nature and privilege in the knowledge of love; only, as it should be, we learn love by knowing its exercise towards ourselves.
In Psalm 118 we are still on the ground of final blessing, so that the government of God in the midst of trial is only referred to in the past. It is Israel's recognition of the divine ways and of Christ Himself when blessing is come, owning that Jehovah's mercy has lasted out all their ways and endured for ever. I notice only the aspect of circumstances as applicable to us at all times. God is for His people; but men, all men, may be against them. One has only to trust the Lord, and victory remains with faith. But in this, where evil has to be governmentally corrected, Satan also seeks, Satan has, his part. How truly it was so in leading all men against Christ; how fully so in the last days of Antichrist's power, I need not say; but as the book of Job shews, it is so in the various chastenings of God. Evil on the conscience, or even unconsciously in the heart, gives him a handle, sometimes a terrible one, against the soul even where it is upright. Rest is found only in self-judgment and confession of what gives him a handle. Satan would seek to make us fall thus; but behind all this the hand of God is to be seen, as in Job's case. "Thou hast chastened me sore, but thou hast not given me over unto death." It is for blessing. One only could declare "The prince of this world cometh and hath nothing in me"; but with us, all is love and blessing to make us know ourselves, and then enjoy His blessing (compare Deut. 8), and fully own what Christ is according to His victory and glory in the counsels of God. We must be thus exercised, the ground ploughed and harrowed, but the result is, "this is the day which the Lord hath made." No doubt this is the final blessing of the earth when Christ comes, but in every exercise of a soul brought to the point of uprightness with God, the principle is made good; the gates of righteousness into the joy of communion, so to speak, are opened. And the mercy to which we had no title we own to be the Lord's doing, and all is light. The direct application to the remnant is evidently the just application of the psalm, but we connect this great display of God's government with the details in which it applies to us.
173 Psalm 119 is the expression of the effect of the law written in the heart of Israel, when they had long erred from God's ways and were sorrowing under the effects of it. It is one of the psalms which pronounces blessedness.
We will examine some of the elements of this work in the heart. This blessedness is pronounced on "the undefiled in the way." The world is full of defilement. There is only one path in the world (for ours is out of it, we are pilgrims and strangers following Christ who is gone on high; but only one in the world) which can be undefiled; that is, God's law. It is not what is heavenly formed within, affections set on things above, a walking in the Spirit; this no doubt will produce fruits which no law of God will condemn. It is the way wholly formed of God's expressed will for man's walk in this world. They "walk in the law of Jehovah." There is a delight in what is right, in what is not defiled by sin or the world; but what is in walking in the law. It is a perfect rule, according to God, in this world for a living man. But this is carried farther in the heart. It looks to the source. God has borne witness to His will, and shewed that He would have man walk in it, and the heart turns to it, not only as undefiled and right, but as "His testimonies."
174 This connects itself with the desire after Himself. They seek him with the whole heart. This is the general character of the effect of the law written in the heart. The practical effect is evident: they "do no iniquity." Not only the heart is set morally right in undefiledness, but evil or unrighteousness, relative wrong, is not done. Instead of their own will and puffing, as it is said, at God, "they walk in his ways." The authority of God is recognised in the heart, with diligence in acquiescence in it, and the desires of the heart are towards it. "O that my ways were directed," etc. It is not only the perception of God's ways - what is intrinsically approved in the heart; but the desire that the actual course of life were ordered so as to keep God's statutes; not satisfying our will, or our will being towards God's. And here dependence is felt as to the course of a man's life, and there is the desire it may be directed. Conscience and spiritual discernment go together. Shame does not flow from man's disapprobation; but from the conscience not being good according to God's revealed will. But this way is complete and an only one. Whatever is out of it is not undefiled - is the world, which is abhorrent from God; we must be in it in will, heart, and way, or out of it, and so ashamed, if the will of the heart be right. If my mind and soul have morally discerned the excellency of God's way, the conscience, if I am out of it in every respect, makes me ashamed. The heart set right has respect to "all God's commandments." But where this is, not only the conscience is right and peaceful, but the heart is set free. "I will praise thee with uprightness of heart, when I shall have learned thy righteous judgments." There is knowledge of God through His ways, and the heart restored to Him, and having learned His thoughts (not only commandments, but His judgments), can praise Him not merely for benefits but in the heart's association with Himself.
Another element of this state is full will and purpose of heart to obey and keep what God has ordained or appointed, what has God's authority attached to it, not merely moral right and wrong. But it was a time when Israel had erred; hence here there is a special looking to God not utterly to give them up. We see thus that the form of this psalm cannot apply to the Christian. He never expects to be utterly forsaken; in a particular course he may apply this, when he is conscious of having followed his own will. But from the general principle we may learn much, as that which is wrought in the heart as regards its moral disposition. Verses 1-8.
175 But there are other points practically. The tendency of man's energy, as such, is to follow his own will. This is now natural, not before the fall. Then man enjoyed, thanked, and blessed; he followed naturally in the path described by God - a simple one. Now, through that first distrust of God, will is come in. And here we have a difference of the very last importance in Christian obedience and the law. The law addresses itself, as such, to responsible man down here, without raising the question of and not supposing a new nature, though it may discover (when known to be spiritual) the need of one. It supposes a will and lusts which have to be checked and put down. The Old Testament does not speak of flesh and spirit, but of responsible men and their ways. Christian obedience is as Christ's; the will of God is the motive of action, not merely the rule. "I come to do thy will": no doubt it will herein be a rule to guide us. In us this is a new nature, Christ being our life. We do not find in the Old Testament "he cannot sin because he is born of God." It is not that there was not the desire to obey in renewed souls then; surely there was. It could not be otherwise. But the relationship in which men stood to God was a law without them to govern their ways when in flesh, not a known new nature standing in the results of redemption whose only motive of action was God's will. The prophets, indeed, pointed out Christ as such (as in Psalm 40), and the masters in Israel should have known that, to have their future privileges, they must be born of water and the Spirit; as in Ezek. 36. But obedience under the law was a rule applied to one who had a will whose movements were to be judged by the law, not a nature whose only motive was God's will, standing in the power of redemption so as to have the right to reckon a discovered old man to be dead, yea, whom God had pronounced dead through Christ. Hence the heirs differed nothing from servants, to do this and that, whatever their own will might be.
Ways, and not nature, were in question, even though renewal of heart were there. Hence the young man, where energy of will is found, is to "cleanse his way." Lusts would have carried his will elsewhere: how should he find the means of having his ways clear before God? Watchfulness, the fear of God (not will) according to God's word. God's word - how precious to have it in such a world of darkness and will, to guide our feet in a path according to God's mind! For the heart is set right. It is not, indeed, the sweet enjoyment of love in a reconciled soul, love shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost given, but (what is of all vital importance) the heart right in the sight of God. It supposes the man away from God, but undivided in his desire. Both are true of the Christian. He is reconciled and has peaceful affections in perfect relationship (this one under the law had not); and he has earnest desire after Him that has loved him, as known and seen in glory, only as knowing (not merely seeking) Him. Here He is "sought with the whole heart"; no guile but the true desire of the heart towards God. Being so (the commandments of God being precious, as making known His will), the true heart prays not to be let to wander from them. God is looked to in goodness; for when He is truly sought, there is always some sense of His goodness. It is what distinguishes conversion from mere terror of conscience, desire towards Him and sense of goodness in God.
176 We have, then, another element. The heart which thus seeks God, and has a desire to do His will, not only seeks outward conduct to be right when the occasion arises, but keeps the word at the centre, so to speak, and springs of action. He hides it in his own heart as that which he loves; "out of the heart (where that word is hid) are the issues of life." How large a place the word has here! Note, too, man's estimate of conduct disappears. It is between God and the heart, and this is integrity of heart. It is not here a single eye to an object; so far as that is here, it is found in seeking with the whole heart. This is the integrity which, by reason of the desire towards God, takes His mind as governing the springs of life. It is a blessed and important principle. The word hid in the heart prevents sinning against Him.
But the heart goes farther. It owns the blessedness of Jehovah Himself, known in His ways, His goodness, His mercy, that endureth for ever. There, in the midst of its distress, the renewed heart finds its resource and its rest. "Blessed art thou, O Jehovah." This makes the heart look for what He has decreed and ordained, and for divine teaching in it. This looking at God gives courage and the consciousness of integrity and faithfulness. When the heart is right, this is the case. The heart, however humble, when it walks in integrity, has the consciousness of it before God. It may see weakness and infirmity in its ways, shortcomings of which it will judge the cause; but with God it will have the consciousness of entire guilelessness and purpose of heart. "This one thing I do"; "to me to live is Christ." This does not affect humility; entire dependence on grace and divine strength for willing and doing is felt (we are in result unprofitable servants, had we done all), it is duty and delight. But there is the joyfulness with and from God that the heart is right.
177 Service flows from confidence in God and knowledge of His blessedness with the value we have of what God has given. So Christ fully in Psalm 40. The spirit is the same here. It is the effect of perception of divine things, in power and value for them, to make us declare them. It is glorifying God. Love to others may accompany this, but it is another thing. We owe it to God to declare what He is. He ought to be known, and what He is owned. The difference of praise is that the sense of what He is, is addressed to Himself. Perfection is where He is fully known, so that there is no need to declare it to others; all with one mind worship because of it. Then we hold nothing back, "all the judgments of thy mouth." We are filled with what God is, its value; and it is uttered. We may be wise for others' sake, but God is sufficiently valued to be fully declared. God's testimonies become the riches of the soul. The possession of heaven somewhat modifies this; yet still, for here below, the way of God's testimonies are joy, moral joy, as riches would be to men. But there is an inward life, which occupies itself with these things, as well as the activity of duty; much to be fed on, digested, learnt in God's testimonies. We meditate on them; we have thus God's mind - the Holy Ghost's intention in them. Thus the soul is fed in delight. But God's ways are held in respect as authority to the mind. The heart goes with them too. It is not merely that they delight his soul, but there is the activity of the new man; he delights himself with them, he makes it the matter of his occupation, seeking his enjoyment there, and keeps it (oh! how needed it is) in memory, the true proof of affection. Vers. 9-16.
From the third division, another element comes in. Its literal application is to the sorrows of Israel in the last days in principle it applies to all times - the sorrows and trials which accompany godliness. The soul looks for mercy from One that is supreme, where it is a stranger. It needs this to keep the law. No doubt it may be strengthened even to martyrdom; but in general it looks for mercy to be able to walk. The heart owns it, is God's servant, and looks to be kept in mercy in order to walk truly. This is a great point of the return of the soul to God. By this fact God has now His own place and authority as such. Whatever evil may be permitted (compare Psa. 94), God, our God, is supreme; and, further, goodness is always then necessarily known to Him.
178 But there is more; the soul thus knowing God desires the knowledge of His mind, not merely a rule to direct but "wondrous things out of God's law." And all this gives the consciousness of being a stranger in the earth. A good God (whose servants we are), and an evil world, make a man "a stranger" (we are much more through Christ). We need these - our own moral delights - God's commandments; we must add the fulness of Christ. "They are not of the world, as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth." And here the heart is fully engaged and filled; "my soul breaketh" forth, for there is infinite delight in the new nature, in the fulness of God's revelations. It does break forth with delight. But this delight in the word gives a just estimate of man in the world, the "proud" man acting from his own will and setting himself up. He may seem to succeed and puff at God. He is under a curse, he errs from the one true way of man - God's way. The exaltation of will brings necessary curse; for we are thus away from, in rebellion against, God - all acting of human will is. But godliness does more than make a stranger, a sure thing for the heart, it brings cruet mockings, for proud man will not have subjection to God; it is contemptible to man; and the reasoner he cannot help Him, he boasts. That is not contemptible, his will is in it. But with God, man must be subject, and the wilful despise this, though often with misgivings of heart. This the saint, while enduring, seeks to be removed. God should assert His title, not suffer the faithful to be pressed down by evil. Still, meanwhile, he can retreat into his own delights; he meditates in God's statutes, hid there from the pride of man. They are his delight, and his counsellors too. Vers. 17-24.
179 He who seeks to follow God's ways will find himself often in evil days - days when the power of evil prevails and presses upon his spirit. What then marks faithfulness is, that the heart does not turn aside to an easier path or other comforts, but looks to God and His raising up the heart according to His word. There his heart is. He prefers sorrow with it to leaving it, but has learnt to trust God, and in the sorrow looks to relief according to this revelation of God; and God can be counted on for it. The heart had been true with God - not only knew that He knew all its ways, but that there was the desire of being right in His sight and confidence with God even there. He had declared His ways.
This integrity in the time of trouble, when there is not the joy of God's deliverance, is very important - to be able to say, "When my spirit was in heaviness, thou knewest my path." Still there is confidence in the result, so that the soul cleaves to God's ways, and the heart reckoning on His faithfulness is sure, if led by Him in faithfulness of walk it will soon declare His wondrous works. Not only did the heart take the lowly and abased place, as having no courage as to external things, but it melted within for heaviness - inwardly was in felt weakness. Still the strength it looks for is according to God's word. It seeks nothing but this. The false way, in the midst of which it lived, it would have kept far away from the heart. Through this it was downcast. But better to be downcast through evil than to walk merrily in it. More energetic faith might lift up. Still the sense of evil and dependence is good. It was deliberate. He knew all this, but he had chosen the way of truth. "Lord, to whom shall we go?" How simple the path then! The soul had been stedfast, and another thing was connected with this. The heart sees that its joys and sorrows are in the hand of God. If it was put to shame, it would be His doing, but He could not for our keeping His own testimonies. "Put to shame" is not here bearing shame by man's mocking, but confounded as coming under judgment. After all, the free running in God's path is when the heart is set at liberty and free, joyfully with Him. Verses 25-32.
These last verses look for apprehension of the ways of God's precepts; so that the heart is taught in the midst of sorrow. Here it is more keeping and observing it in his path. Otherwise the first three portions were his own resolutions; here the demand of God's teaching. For the heart, true in its resolutions, then turns to God. It may be first for its sorrows, but then for guidance and dependence on Him. We need His teaching when the will is right, need understanding from Him - His help too. "Make me to go." But the heart seeks to be rightly inclined also, but that root of all evil turns it aside - covetousness. The same as to vanity, but this is all around us. It is not the inclination of the heart, but distraction and leading away the mind from God to folly. Hence the soul seeks to be given energy and life, to seek in singleness of eye heartily the Lord and His will. He seeks too that the word may be confirmed to the soul. This may be inwardly by the Holy Ghost giving it power or even by God's ways according to it. The heart follows God and bows in heart to Him at any rate, but seeks to be strengthened and confirmed. Reproach is when God allows shame on one for righteousness without interfering to screen or save from it. It is as if He abandoned His servant to the mockery of the enemy, successful in his ways, or at any rate the faithful in a state to be triumphed over. So Christ "Reproach hath broken my heart." The world could say, "He trusted in God, let him deliver him."
180 But after all, what God ordained was good, in which the faithful walked. Why should he be left to reproach which he feared? The heart was right. It longed after God's precepts, and looked for the Lord to give liveliness of heart and energy of renewed will, undistractedness through the faithfulness of God; that consistency with His own goodness and favour on which we can reckon in Him. "Quicken me in thy righteousness." This last supposes an increased knowledge of God, so that we can reckon on Him. So indeed does all this demand on God for help and teaching. Uprightness and integrity lead to confidence in Him for our leading in the way of righteousness, which we know He must love. Being thus of one mind with Him, through grace, gives it; but the last word here shews deepened intimacy of faith, which counts on what God must be. Verses 33-40.
Remark here, that all through there is no thought of looking, in difficulty or trial, to anything but God. Help to keep the law, deliverance from trial because of it, these are sought, but there is not the smallest idea of turning anywhere else; it does not even occur to the faithful. This is true integrity of heart. God in truth, His will, God in mercy, God Himself as an object, but only God is sought - nothing outside or away from Him. His mercies are looked for, and that is right, and deliverance from Him, and this according to His word, for He has perfectly revealed Himself, and we want nothing short of Him. What an answer will His deliverance be to the enemy that reproaches! And the word He had sent to us was trusted in as well as obeyed.
181 This is an important point; it is not only the authority of the word, but we have set to our seal that God is true; we receive it as the word of God, and God, we know, must be true, for we know Him; and the soul is interested in the truth of the word. It has taken it as of and from God, delighted in it, had its confidence in it, taken it in face of the wicked as that which it had of God (was perfect as He revealed Him), identified it, so to speak, with God. Hence, when there was deliverance according to it (and other the heart would not seek), it was the very answer the heart wanted to him that reproached; God's word has an immense place in the heart. It is what reveals Him. Not only it does so, but it is what does so. (So John 5:39.) Had God abandoned the faithful as fear would lead him to expect, the word would have been taken out of his mouth. Yet here it is not doubting the truth of the word, or its being God's testimony; but he was allowed to accredit it no more by faith. This he fears because he values it. This was Christ's trial and the perfectness of the cross, as to desire ("how, then, should the scriptures be fulfilled?"); as to trust, "Yet thou continuest holy."
Here the faithful has hoped in God's judgments, God's acting on that which is gone out of His mouth. His acting according to the revelation of Himself in His word; and this enabled him to keep it for ever. So will it be with Israel when he is delivered from the oppressor at the end, the law having been written in his heart. Christ took none of the promises in life, but higher glory awaited Him as Man, an answer to higher and infinite faithfulness to God, faithfulness to make good His nature, to be the proof of it when abandoned, when only it could be done because of sin. Then will Israel walk at large, when God's judgments have come in, for that was his desire, to be free to keep them in delight and joyfully.
Through mercy we may learn this by times, but our path is a higher one - to follow and suffer with Christ. But he has been encouraged by these thoughts. The word gets its value and God His place, so to speak, though unseen. He speaks of His testimonies before kings, and is not ashamed. This is the character of faith. It has the sense of the importance of God's testimonies, and is filled with it. Men take their place, may be respected, as due to them; but God's fills and governs the mind, not by effort, but, so to speak, naturally. The commandments of God become thus, instead of a pressure on the conscience, the delights of the heart. There is open confession and dedication to them; I suppose this is lifting up the hands to them. It is a solemn avowal and asseveration of heart; not only he has loved them, but he openly declares his owning their truth and authority, saying, That is what I own. And as he openly owns his affiance to them, so he meditates in them for his own joy. Verses 41-48.
182 But the soul has counted on God's word; God has taught and led the soul to do it, and now it looks for God to put His Amen to it (man through grace, having put his). This confidence of faith in God's word had been its comfort in affliction. There was that which was firm and stedfast for hope, and brought in God's faithfulness and testimony - Himself in hope to the soul, when all circumstances around were adverse, and nothing to lean on. And this is comfort, true comfort, in affliction; but it looks to God to fulfil His word - knows He cannot but do it. That very word had quickened the soul itself to do it. This lowly patient obedience, meekly accepting reproach, had been the scorn and derision of the proud; but faith in His word had kept the soul from swerving. It kept fast in the sorrow. It looked back to God's ways of old, when His hand had been stretched out. What made it obedient made it confident: that is, God was looked to, and this kept the vision and memory of faith clear. It counted on faithfulness, and it remembered judgments; for all this is the government of God. And His ways of old are ever the thought of Israel in the psalms, and, in their place, we can think of them; though our hope be elsewhere, as Christ's, in whose favour, when all was tested, it was not made good; but the better portion of resurrection was the answer for us.
But this thought of God's judgments does make it awful to contemplate the result for the wicked, who are hurrying wilfully against them. But it is not only the end of the wicked that is spoken of here. The wickedness itself is to the soul poignant distress. The soul dwells in Mesech. It sees around what is grief of heart, for its delight is in the fresh air of God's holy will. The rank and fetid breath of sin is distress and pain to it, and seen not only intrinsically as sin but in the pride of wickedness. Still there is joy: God's statutes are its song in the house of its pilgrimage.
183 How true that is! How, when pressed in by evil around, does the heart find its relief and enlargement in the word and testimony of God Himself! His statutes are our songs in the house of our pilgrimage; and the loneliness in which the heart is in a world of evil (for it will and must be isolated, however sweet communion may be by the way, if it be faithful), will be met by the name of the Lord (to them Jehovah, to us Christ and the Father in Him). And, when cast upon our thoughts, these thoughts are filled with their names, and all is peace, and the purpose of the heart in obedience and communion is settled and strengthened. And this is the fruit of obedience, for holiness and communion - the sense of God's presence - are the fruit of obedience. So Romans 6:22, "ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life." The obedience here has the sense of diligent observation of God's precepts, a thing not to be forgotten. Verses 49-56.
In this part (v. 57-64) we have more the affections connected with the word written in the heart: "Thou art my portion, O Jehovah." The heart has Himself as its source of joy and blessing. This connects itself necessarily with purpose of heart towards God: "I have said." It is impossible to look to the Lord as one's portion without thus purposing to do His will, for that would be not owning Him. This too necessarily involves the desire of His favour, since He is God. Still the word here has its place, which has awakened this desire and confidence, both as assuring of the mercy and the revelation of the principles on which this favour and mercy are shewn. I see the same desire, not mere obedience, though resulting in it, but the meditation of the heart: "I thought on my ways" - the heart's inward exercises, a needful and important matter for us - "and turned my feet unto thy testimonies."
We may obey instinctively, carelessly almost, with right intention, but shewing that the heart is not with God, not exercised, not anxious as to pleasing Him, and in which, though the path be not evil, the heart may be in a very poor state. But the saint rightly with God will review the purpose of his ways, the direction of them, how far they are according to the measure of the purpose which the light given to us leads to, and, if the purpose be adequate, how far the filling up in practice be true to it and earnestly pursued - true to the character of that purpose. For we may be externally blameless, in appearance even amiable, and unfaithful to the calling of God. Here, of course, we have to turn to God's testimonies, which are able to make the man of God perfect, "throughly furnished unto all good works." We see how having the Lord for our portion is the very spring of all this. Thus we should have a heart which thinks on our ways.
184 But this gives diligence when the heart is right. It does not confer then with flesh and blood, having only God's favour in view and purpose of heart: "I made haste, and delayed not, to keep thy commandments." How characteristic and all-important this is I need not say. It is the essential firstfruits and spring of a life true to God, as we see in the blessed apostle Paul. Suffering may be found in this path, opposition of the haters of the Lord, the instruments of Satan, but the inward life remains steady and rightly directed - does not swerve in its judgment of its path: "I have not forgotten thy law." We may be occupied with opposition and evil, so as to have the state of our mind formed by it, though opposed to the wicked. It is but meeting flesh by flesh. He who looks to the Lord has the character of his path in the scene of wickedness formed by the unforgotten word, and this leads to see God as the dealer with these things. It looks for the perfectness of God's dealings with evil.
This is a comfort, for an upright mind would often rise up in indignation against public evil; but the wrath of man does not work the righteousness of God. It is hard often for an active, energetic mind to take the lowly place, and not bring down fire from heaven, or will to smite with the sword, when Christ and His truth are insulted and annoyed; but in looking above we have songs in the night. The heart, in singleness of eye, led of God in His ways, has springs of joy which wake it up in the time of evil, and when it is alone with God. Sorrow may be around, but joy with Him. It arises. There is a chord of heart to praise. It is not only comforted in the sorrow, but freed from the bond of evil, active in praising Him whom it knows, and who is its portion. For judgment and deliverance will come according to the word, and the heart gets up to God as to it now. But though we are and must be alone in faith, not in fellowship, when the Lord is our portion, we are companions of them that fear Him and walk in His ways. And here the heart is able to turn round and, when all the evil had pressed upon it, yet see mercy. And so it is: evil may rise up like a flood, but the Lord is always above it; and when the heart by faith realizes this, and the will is bowed as to it all, if it is then comforted by the thought of God's judgments, it finds the constant exposition of His mercy now, and seeks in peace to be led in His ways. This is an interesting part of the soul's experience under the influence of the word of God. Verses 57-64.
185 We have now the sense of blessings from God, and the heart turned to Him as its portion: this with the consciousness, the will being broken, of being His servant. Still in unerring goodness the word, the great subject of this psalm, has its place. The word is the path of Jehovah in His goodness, as it assures us of that goodness, revealing Him and His ways to us, as it guides us in our path, This is very precious, because it teaches how to reckon on it, and that we can. And here he had found it by experience; he had been afflicted, and he can now account for it; but as His word, so Jehovah's ways have been. So even (and it is most precious) we can reckon on it at all times. We may have more, but this we have. Now he looks for discernment as taught of God, divinely-given judgment and knowledge; for he had put the seal to God's commandments, for believing here is putting the Amen of his heart. Herein he can confidently look to be guided - so we; and it gives confidence to the heart, so as to look for it. His will had been broken. Affliction had been there; before, will had its way, forgetting God, and going its own way. Affliction is understood now, and obedience wrought.
How graciously God follows, though righteously as to government, and necessarily so in general! For sometimes He breaks the heart through favour as He knows how, when we have wandered away from Him. Hence God is known in goodness in the subdued heart; "Thou art good and doest good." The desire of the heart is after God's ways. Now "teach me thy statutes"; that is the goodness the heart seeks. This subdual of will and setting the heart right is beautiful to see. The pride of ungodly adversaries is before him, saying evil of him in untruth: it is natural if he has left their ways and his own pride of will, but experience has given purpose of heart. It was enough to have gone astray: he clings to that with purpose which he has now got; and the moral difference is great. Filled with will and self on one side, perhaps success; delight in Jehovah's law on the other: the law of Him whose we are - Jesus Christ's will in all things. But not only was there breaking of will and return; there is positive progress, through infinite grace, in this experience. The breaking of will brings the elements of the heart directly into contact with the word. Self is judged in the forms it takes within in the heart - what flesh is in its ways, however deceitful. Thus the heart gets to learn, freed from self, and, the light of the word breaking in on the heart, and exercising it, thus renders it cognizant of its import and power; for (though, yea, and because, it is of God) it is directed to and adapted to the heart of man: only till the will is broken and conscience awakes it does not reach it intelligently. See the parable of the sower and John 4. But then the law of God's mouth is precious above all, the expression of His own perfect mind and will, and of His will about us. We live by it, but we live on it too, and with delight as from Him and perfect for us. Verses 65-72.
186 The soul looks now to God as dependent for man's very being on God, so that He should surely direct and guide it, as Peter wrote, "Committing the keeping of our souls to him in well doing as unto a faithful Creator." The heart alone which knows Him in grace can - do this. Otherwise we seek our own will in resistance to Him. But once He is known, He is known in all that He is, according to the truth of His nature in grace. This enlarges our knowledge of God, and applies it to everything. It warrants thus the desire founded on it. Here it is applied to the teaching of the word, because the soul is walking and to walk in the old creation. Still we can, as down here now, look to the truth of God's nature, when, as I said, He is known, and look to Him thus because thus our dependence on Him, in the fullest and most absolute sense, is expressed, as well as the desire of the renewed heart. I only exist by Thy work: make me, then, to walk as disposed in heart and guided by Thee.
He who made can give understanding. But there was a common bond in thus looking to God - the same disposition of heart which delighted in His being owned and honoured, and was kind to those who did so in the midst of an evil world. They were companions, as Malachi speaks: "They that feared the Lord spake often one to another"; and as we see so beautifully in the lovely picture of the hidden ones in the beginning of Luke. There is another trait of this divine work in the soul. God being really known in the soul, it rises up to the justification of Him in His ways, however painful. Thus the heart knows in a double way that His judgments are right. They are His, and we know what He is. He cannot but do rightly, and more, rightly towards us. He is faithful to us in goodness; but then, secondly, we see the rightness of it morally. God ought not to allow evil - above all, not in His people. For their good He could not. Right and wrong are known and judged, and it is God's care over His people which makes Him follow them in their ways. But the feeling that the chastening comes from God, though it gives submission, gives the desire of His favour, when the submission is complete. Still one desires relief; but a subdued heart, while naturally desiring relief, yet seeks divine favour in it, and comfort from God, not in self-will "Let, I pray thee, thy merciful kindness be for my comfort." "God who comforteth," says the apostle, "them that are cast down"; and this depends on God's faithful word. On that goodness he counts, and looks for it; and this is right.
187 Mere looking for relief is self-will, and may be the means, if we had it, of more sorrow; but a subdued and broken will under chastisement is all right in desiring mercy. It knows this character in God, and desires that it may be exercised, if possible; and it can plead its integrity in this case, for the desire is right when submission is complete, so that goodness is felt to be in God. So here, "For thy law is my delight"; and judgment is the portion of the proud. There is the sense that the proud will is the subject of judgment. In the time of grace the Christian desires that will may be changed. Yet he knows faith is not of all. Here the desire that they should be ashamed is according to the righteous character of God. The faithful one keeps himself apart, and meditates on God's revealed will. But there is the desire, not only of the favour of God, but that those who fear God should turn to the afflicted one. There is something special in these. It is not that he seeks them, though this be right. There is energy of affiance in God, and he seeks Him only, nor leans on another, but delights in their association with him. It is not that he was not a companion of those that feared God's name, but here he seeks his comforts from God; and, as Job's acquaintance came to him again when the testimony of God was with him, so it is here. Only, whatever the comforts of God, his desire is to be maintained in integrity. There is no thought of blessing out of the way of God's word. So shall the servant of God not be ashamed. Verses 73-80.
188 Verses 81-88 go farther. The pressure of the power of evil is greater, and the cry more earnest, but the word is fully trusted. This blessed revelation of God Himself, of His will and favour, that in which He cannot lie, maintains the heart through all. How precious is it - the fact of having a revelation of Himself as sure as Himself! With these two grounds of appeal - the extremity of distress: he is dried up like a bottle in the smoke; but he dare not forget God's statutes. But a poor, short - lived creature, it was time for God to lay to His hand, if he was to taste of mercy. And the sorrow he was suffering was both the pride of man, and was not according to the word which God made good and owned. Yet that word was, all of it, faithful, and the persecution wrongful. It had gone very far. He was almost consumed in the land, the very place of promise and God's power; but he forsook not God's precepts. Mercy too is looked for as life-giving to himself. It is not only comfort from without, but the restoration of the soul itself, and so is it kept firmly, and with good courage and confidence, the testimony of God's mouth. Thus sorrow itself and great pressure, where there is integrity, become a plea with God.
Another aspect of the word is now before the soul - before God in heaven itself. There it is settled for ever. There, where He is, it remains in its own character of God's settled and expressed purpose. But God has acted out of heaven, though His purpose be settled in it. His faithfulness, His abiding by what He is and has said, continues through the changing generations of men. Hence, when we have His word, we can reckon upon it as sure as what is in heaven, it changes not, as God Himself. He established the earth, and it abides. All continues as God orders it; for - and it is another important truth - all that does exist is the servant of God. If even He has given them final laws, why do they abide in them? Because they depend on Him. They are His servants. All are His servants; but then the soul has its strength in this word. Here is a moral willing obedience in a renewed heart, and when circumstances were all adverse, it was hard to hold good, unless the moral side of the law had its power. God seemed out of the circumstances, but the inward delight in the law of God kept it fast.
189 We have, I think, something more, though this be interesting as a testimony to a renewed heart, and true as to us. We glory in tribulation, knowing its working in us, having the love of God shed abroad in our hearts, as it is witnessed in the gift of the Son, by the Holy Ghost given to us. "All things work together for good to them that love God." How truly Christ held to God's will, in the highest sense, against all adverse circumstances - even to wrath! This power of the word in sustaining the heart in sorrow, in its inward quickening and restoring power in the new man, gives purpose of heart in the consciousness of its divine preciousness. And this leads up to God in the consciousness that we are His. I do not say it creates the thought, but it leads the heart to the consciousness of it; and hence to look to Him who is faithful to save and deliver, and that, as even here, in the consciousness of integrity. "I have sought thy precepts"; and this must be so. Want of it enfeebles all confidence, though God may have mercy.
One sees how constantly the soul is seen in the presence of oppressing enemies; for the remnant will be so in the last days. In one sense we always are, but it applies often in evil days. "The wicked have waited for me to destroy me." But the soul waits in peace, occupied with God's testimonies. And this does give peace, and enables the soul to leave all to God. Another pressure of the soul is universal failure. Not that there is no integrity; but the heart would be disposed to say so under the pressure of it. But there is no fulfilling or completing - such is the force of the word - the will of God even in those who undertake to walk in it. But if the heart turn to the word, it has quite another effect. This very failure, though never justified, leads us to see how perfect, how complete, and wide God's commandment is - how it reaches to everything in which man can be engaged - everything in the relation of the creature to God - all moral relations. Verses 89-96.
Verses 97-104 are the affection and value he has for the law, its known experienced value. He loves God's law in itself It is of God to him, the revelation of His will. It is his meditation all the day. It is not for the fruit he got from it, nor the wisdom it gave him towards others; he loved it for itself. This characterises the new man. But its effect when loved for its own sake was to make him wiser than his enemies, however subtle and cunning they may be; there is a path which the vulture's eye has not known - "simple concerning evil, and wise unto that which is good," which outreaches and baffles the adversaries of God and of the godly man. They can form no estimate of the principles of those who fear God.
190 But this supposes constancy and consistency in them. "They are ever with me." It is divine wisdom, and immediately so; so that it gives a discernment (because it acts on the soul itself, and forms it, and is perfect in every respect) which no human teaching, however godly, can. This may be very useful as drawn from and leading to the word; but even in the case of the highest gift nothing gained by it is in the faith of the soul with God, until it is learned there; it may be pointed out, interest the heart and mind; but, to possess it, it must be learned with God. "They shall be all taught of God."
Nothing teaches like the word of God, sought out and searched in holy subjection, and received as a new-born babe. We have thus understanding - divine wisdom - as to our mind and path: so it gives more wisdom than human experience, when God's precepts are kept. It becomes a positive motive; it is preferred to every evil way: we leave them all for that one which is God's way, because the heart has learned to delight in that. We see too how directly the soul connects itself with God in grace here, and has the consciousness that it is of God. This gives the word authority. "I have not departed from thy judgments, for thou hast taught me." This has great weight in the soul, when the power of God's word has been realised. What has been taught of man may be left for man; but what has been taught of God will never be left for God (John 6:68); and for whom else shall we leave it? It has the bond of faith and authority for the soul. It comes from and leads to Him. The soul returns to the thought of the sweetness of the word to the taste. These divine communications are the delight of the soul. It is not merely duty, though that is owned, but they are sweeter than honey to the mouth. Through God's precepts the heart itself is formed - learns to discern good and evil. It is not merely obedience to a law, but moral discernment grown up in the heart and will. By reason of use, the heart being attached to God's word, the senses are exercised to discern good and evil, and every false way is hated.
191 It is remarkable to how many things the word applies. In the last section the heart and affections were engaged in it for its own sake, leading to wisdom. Now it is a guide to our path through the world in which we walk, a very different service. It "is a lantern to my feet and a light to my path." This it is. It is the means of a right walk, not merely because it sets the heart right, but as casting light on this world; yet not merely light on this world, such as it is, but on our path through it. So Christ does not merely detect by practical righteousness, but he that follows Him has the light of life. It shews the path of the law, to us of divine life, through the world. But withal it never loses the character of obedience; here of course in Jewish form: "I have sworn and will perform it: I will keep thy righteous judgments"; yet here, I think, with a decided moral estimate of their character in contrast with man and the world. It is not testimonies here, which is for oneself; righteous judgments are the contrast of God's ways and man's ways.
He then turns to his trials through which this path must pass. Affliction is here seen, not as coming from the hand of God, but as affliction. The former he had to learn, and did learn, his will being bound. See v. 67, 71, 75. So it was the wasting of human strength; v. 81-83. Here it is viewed as affliction on the path which was lighted up for him by the word; and he looks for strength and revival through the word from God in his soul in that path. But the desire of the heart is not here deliverance, sweet as it may be, but that, in turning to God in this path of righteousness, the free-will offerings of his mouth may be accepted. He can bring, as kept there, and God's thoughts in him, free praises to God, that was not interrupted through affliction. He was brought low - had been astray, but, walking now in rectitude of heart, desired that these outgoings of his heart, fruit of the word's power, might be accepted. This is all right. It is not the joy of present salvation. There is all through the consciousness of having been astray; only the heart is set right. The word has power over his ways; he feels it as a light in these he has entered on; and, though in a certain sense under the fruit of his old ways, his heart set right can go forth in praise: can it be accepted? Such is his desire, and surely it would be.
192 But the lowliness of the desire is right, as the desire itself is the fruit of grace. It is not the simple-hearted praise of one in known relationship when it flows forth unhesitatingly as the natural and necessary fruit of blessing. As he praises, so he looks to be taught in God's ways, in contrast with evil. Purpose of heart then characterises his path. His state of affliction, and even danger, was great; his soul was continually in his hand, but this did not alter his purpose, he does not forget God's law. He was not so absorbedly in the danger as to put this out of his mind. This is a blessed witness of the power of the link with God which grace gives, and how what is known of God, where faith is in exercise, is paramount to the strongest effects of circumstances and the power which Satan can exercise!
What God gives to the soul is kept in remembrance in spite of it. Craft and subtle wiles were in his path; and to an upright mind this is trying and painful, but his feet were stedfast in the way. They were set in that way to dishearten in it but the word had its own power within; and the full secret of this was - he had taken God's testimonies as his portion for ever. It was not present delight which may influence the mind, and be lost as in a moment; it was a divinely-given estimate of the good and divine truth that was in them. Hence, when really held by grace, it abides and is not affected by circumstances. The terrors of the enemy and his wiles makes the soul cling more closely to what is of God and truth from Him. They have been and are themselves the rejoicing of the heart; only we say more - nothing "shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Hence obedience was the purpose of the heart, in its continual practice, or as a perpetual bond. So indeed with us. Still, we say rather, "having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end." Yet even that leads to equally perpetual obedience as our very element and state as men. Verses 105-112.
This section is simple in its character. The soul states its own condition, but then looks out to see God's intervention according to the word, hoping in that, but withal apprehends God's judgment on the disobedient. "I hate vain thoughts, but thy law do I love" - thoughts, I suppose, of man's understanding and reasoning, but God's word he loved. The soul thus turned to God from man's reasonings. God, and God only, is his hiding-place and shield; he hopes in His word. So in turning to men he refuses evil-doers, his mind is made up, he looks to be upholden to the end, and not disappointed in this hope founded on the word.
193 But this desire is more precise; that is, he looks to the Lord to hold him up in the way; and he will be safe. He needs not only to be guarded, but kept morally upright - God's strength and grace to sustain him: otherwise the enemy would have the advantage over him; but thus kept he would constantly heed God's commandments. But he sees God's judgments on those that went away from them. That by which they sought to beguile men turned out to be emptiness and vanity. Deceit is, as regards men, falsehood - what was vain and false in itself. God rejected them, and treated them as nought, as dross. This encouraged the heart in God's testimonies, whose way the heart had kept, in spite of the wicked who puffed at them. But there was fear, and just fear, in the prospect of these judgments. We indeed shall be above them, taken out of the hour of temptation which shall come on all the earth, but encouraged by the word, and even by the judgment, in looking up in Him from whom it came. And such is ever the case in this psalm.
Nothing can be more natural, nor more true, than this righteous fear. The expression of the apostle (how perfect is scripture ever!) in view of deeper judgments, if less outwardly terrible, shews that, while he would not directly be in it at all, he was not unconscious of it. "Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men." It only awoke love (for he would not come into judgment), but he knew its solemnity and terror. It acted in sanctifying power, manifesting him as a present thing to God; but where one passed through it, though not reached by it, fear was right. So "Noah, being warned of God, moved with fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his house." Verses 113-120.
There are three points in this section. He is fully in the presence of the power of evil, his regard is to Jehovah Himself; the energy of evil in its moral character only attached him increasedly to God's word and testimonies. This is the effect of nearness to God, because His presence keeps the heart free and confident, and maintains the sense of value for what is in the word. There is, I think, progress here.
194 In verse 82 it is "When wilt thou comfort me?" This is not so here, though Jehovah's mercy is earnestly sought. He appeals on the ground of righteousness to God's protection, but, with this, if waiting in anxious desire for deliverance, yet for the word of God's righteousness - more, I think, than faithfulness to promised deliverance, as verse 124 shews. When delivered, his heart would be set free in obedience. But he looked for more than deliverance, or measuring this by the evil he was under. His heart had got to God, and he looked to be dealt with according to His mercy.
This is progress too, and, I think, shews consciousness of integrity on which God had set His seal in the heart. When under the sorrows of God's chastening hand, we look for mercy, for deliverance: grace and caring for His favour leads us to it. But it is left to Him, as wholly undeserved; the pressure of the power of evil is felt as deserved, and deliverance from it is mercy enough; but when this has wrought its effect, when the heart has been purified to think more of God, and His holiness and will, and less of the sorrow and evil from without, so that it springs up from under it, so to speak - when the heart is morally restored (and God's place in it in contrast with the sorrow is just the test of it), it measures what it seeks for by God, into whose knowledge, revealed within, it has, so to speak, got back. Hence in what follows we see the fruit of this reconciliation with, or restoration to, God. The soul has got into the place of uprightness, and it says, "I am thy servant." In such a shape we have not had this yet. Holy desire, confidence, true confession, we have had - the general expression, "Thou hast dealt well with thy servant." But this is another thing. He presents himself to God directly as being in this relationship and place; "I am thy servant." It is perfect submission, but of one who holds the place, God owning him in it, and he knowing that He does. This is saying a great deal. What a ground to ask from God, understanding that we may serve Him! For what a thing it is to serve God rightly such as we are! No doubt it is a great encouragement being able to say, "I am thy servant": so the parable of the talents, where confidence in Him, who had enabled them to serve, was the spring of service. But there all was happy and right. Here the soul was only getting back to say, "I am thy servant," after long chastening for wanderings.
195 Verse 126 shews the same growing confidence, and, taking the blessed title of one free with God, God's law is precious to himself; not a tittle can pass from it till all be fulfilled. And when the believer can took out of himself, it is a plea with God. It is time for Thee: "They have made void thy law." What a principle it is that God's authority must be maintained, so that the extreme of evil gives the assurance of deliverance. But it makes God's law exceeding precious. The love to the law (and here this is the expression of God's will) grows with the growth of the power of evil. We feel more how precious it is, how sure it is, how it comes from God; and what makes His intervention precious, as against the power of evil, makes His word precious against the development of evil itself. There is a double feeling as to this. The commandments of God are loved above all that could be precious to man. There is decision of moral judgment. All God's precepts are taken as absolutely and the whole of what is right, and every way of vain falsehood is hated. The decision of good and evil is absolutely by the word. Verses 121-128.
The soul has now got into a place where it not only obeys, and tastes the goodness of the law, but estimates its value in itself. There is intelligence. "Thy testimonies are wonderful: therefore does my soul keep them." God's words getting into the heart give light: even to the simple they give understanding. Thus they become to the heart the subject of earnest desire; the soul is engaged with the excellency of them. It was a thirst produced by them; not a filling of the heart, though a desire formed by them. There may be intelligence, obedience as regards the path we walk in on the way, and hunger and thirst after righteousness, a moral forming and filling the desire, but the satisfying it will be only when the promises are fulfilled, and God takes His place, of whose mind His testimonies speak. So with us, though in a higher way; for it is Christ Himself, and a heavenly cry.
Here the cry is for this mercy ordering his steps, delivering from oppression; and one sees he is in the midst of evil, one looks for God's face to shine upon him, and to be taught. He has deep grief because the law is not kept; but this seems to flow here more from the sense of the excellency of the law than from love to the persons who failed. Verses 129-136.
196 But the righteousness of God's law, and the key it gives to God's ways, leads to the recognition of what Jehovah is who gave it. "Righteous art thou, O Lord, and upright are thy judgments." That is the way Jehovah deals with a case, or the moral decision which He utters as to it. His testimonies He had commanded according to righteousness and faithfulness. This characterised them. The contempt of Jehovah's words had roused zeal so as to consume him; he became as an earnest adversary, in collision with evil yet in power, as Christ in the temple. But whatever the evil around, there is in one rest and comfort for the heart when the word of God is known and loved. "Thy word is very pure." Try it ever so, it is only more proved to be purity itself; the heart loves it as its resting-place and joy. And it gives greatness and courage to the heart. One may be small and despised, yet one has the courage to keep God's precepts in spite of the power of the world or its scorn, for they are God's words - what God is as judging evil and good; He is everlasting. His righteousness is everlasting, and His law truth.
It is not here surely the truth that came along with grace by Jesus Christ; but in the presence of all else on the earth, which is a lie, that is truth, true religion, God's mind about everything, in contrast with man's thoughts and all he sets up to be; and God will make His judgment therein revealed good for ever. Compare Isaiah 42:3. It is not the absolute revelation of God as He is; that is in Christ. But it is the revelation of God's judgment as to man, as to good and evil, and that will be made good for ever. Executed judgment will be verified. Those that have sinned against the law will be judged by the law; just as those that heard Christ's word will be judged by it. The tribulation of the power of evil will take hold of the remnant, but there will be the comfort of the commandments being their delight in the inner man. So we in all sorrow, in the evil day, in a yet higher way. And now he arrives at the point we have touched upon. "The righteousness of thy testimonies is everlasting." They come from God, His will and judgment concerning man; and that He will make good for ever. What he has to look for is understanding; then he will live, guided in the path where life is found, found even when the wicked are cut off, yea, never so found here below as then. This is true of government as to us, yea, even of Christ ("as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love"). As to life, it was in Him, and in our case we have it by Him: so all that live; but it was only brought to light by the gospel. What was presented to them as the governmental way of life, and will be so literally at the end, is the governmental way of blessing for us here below. Verses 137-144.
197 Here the soul expresses, and expresses to God, the sense of its dependence. This is an important point. We are dependent, know ourselves to be dependent, and remain quiescently so. This shews want of interest in that for which we are dependent, and want of reckoning on God's faithful love. If we did, we should cry, "If thou knewest … and who it is … thou wouldest have asked, and he would have given." Here he cries with his whole heart, and declares his purpose of obedience to Jehovah's enactments.
Then he looks for deliverance that, having, he may keep them; no hindrance, and his heart so disposed. There was diligence in the cry too; for the word, which led his heart, was trusted; but it was not only for the cry to be delivered he was diligent, but to meditate in Jehovah's word itself Deliverance, no doubt, was sought, but the word itself is loved. All this goes together necessarily in the soul. Deliverance is to be with God, freed from transgressors of His law, from rebellious oppressors. The meditation of the law is to be with God, and the word which makes us hope is the testimonies we delight in. Still he looked, as we shall, in trueheartedness, in distress (so did Christ Himself to be heard) and according to the kindness of Jehovah, but with the desire that the work of power might be wrought in him, to be quickened, receive life according to the mind of God (that is, which had its nature and desires according to God's judgment. He does not speak as dead, but of moral quickening). We know it must be a new life.
The sense of the present power of evil was upon his soul. Jehovah only was his refuge he must draw near to. This is beautiful, the true only resource which gives a perfect principle. "I waited patiently for the Lord" - perfect submission to His will; no deliverance sought until it was so, till His will brought it; but faith knew Jehovah was near and the path plain. All His commandments were the one true path of security and of God. Jehovah's testimonies were founded for ever. They could not change; they will be made good. Only God must come in, and that was his cry and demand here. These verses are a cry for deliverance, but it must be, if true and of God, according to His word and making good for ever its truth, in its moral testimonies, and as the foundation of hope. Verses 145-152.
198 The soul of him who opens out his heart to God is much more in presence of the persecutors and enemies, God's deliverance and of the need of help, than in the beginning. There what the law was for the heart was more in view. So it ever is. With Christ the word of blessing begins; at the end He is in presence of the enemies, and looks for deliverance. So Paul: he begins with the carrying out of the blessing; at the close he has to do with persecution and desertion too. So ever, when good is persevered in, because the testimony of God in every shape and faithfulness draws out opposition, and the place of the word in the world, not in the heart, is more distinctly felt. Still there is no uncertainty of heart. Salvation is needed, that is, present deliverance, but it is far from the wicked. But where righteousness of heart and way is, the affliction is a ground of pleading with God.
But, with deliverance, quickening also is sought, the practical power of life according to the word and revealed judgments of God. Righteousness is sought in liberty and power when righteousness is loved in the heart. External security in the word is sought, but internal power too. In the thought of Jehovah's tender mercies quickening is sought according to God's judgments. The felt goodness of God leads always to the desire of His will. When the purity and blessedness of His word is thought of with delight, His loving-kindness is thought of as that in which He should quicken us. His word is so precious, we look to grace to form us freely into it. Truth and perpetuity characterise the word. I question whether "from the beginning" is the sense, and if not rather "the sum," the whole contents, but cannot now say. Verses 153-160.
The soul goes something farther in this portion. The heart stands in awe of God's word - a godly feeling. It comes with God's authority; yet he rejoices in it as one that has found great spoil. This, that is, the connection of these two, characterises the true full apprehension of the word. It is God's - a most solemn thing; the soul trembles, as it is said, "It at thy word." It comes with divine and absolute authority; but as it is God's word, and we have a new nature and are taught of God, we delight in an unspeakable way in that which is of and reveals Him. Nor is there any difference as to good and evil, the law being taken as the truth or true measure of what is right. He hates and loves - hates lying and loves the law; not merely what is right, but God's authoritative expression of it. And all this begets praise, because the heart rises up to the source of these things.
199 It is not merely that we have what is good; we have it from God. He praises Him in the relationship he was in with Him. These are Jehovah's ways with His people. But the expressed will of God has another power when really received: the heart is in peace. It is a known perfect communion from God with which the heart is satisfied, and, if it trusts in God, circumstances cannot stumble the heart then, because it has and enjoys the mind of God, which no circumstances can affect. There is no stumbling. I have what is perfect from God, know it to be so, and enjoy it in a new nature. That is affected by nothing without.
Another element of a godly walk besides obedience is found here. "All my ways are before thee," but this leads naturally to obedience: but the heart and conscience are all before God. It is a most important principle. So Paul, "We are made manifest to God"; only this goes farther. He looked at complete final judgment of men, and for that knew the righteousness of God. And it was not merely his ways before God as to His earthly government. He himself was manifested, as men would be manifested, before the judgment-seat of Christ, who judges as Son of man perfectly every secret emotion, the heart itself brought out. Verses 161-168.
When men have gone astray, cries and supplications go first, praises and testimony after. Still the cry and supplication is a godly one, though it arise from need. He seeks understanding, intelligence, not exactly of the word, but according to it. It is that wisdom in discernment which those taught in God's word have. They see clearly in what is before them. No doubt it is God's mind and will they discern; but they discern in circumstances. They walk not as fools, but as wise. The word has formed their judgment. Then the soul looks to be heard and delivered. Still its delight is in God's revealed will. It will praise when really taught it of God - for thankfulness comes first - for it is our own portion first of all; and from God; then we have liberty to speak of it to others.
200 This is an important principle also: no testimony, no preaching, no teaching, even if the matter of it be all right, is right teaching, when the soul is not filled for itself first from God. We must drink for ourselves that rivers may flow. Indeed all else dries up the soul. "That thy profiting may appear," says the apostle. It is only fresh, good, and powerful, when it is the soul's own portion first with God. The help of God's hand, the longing for His salvation, is not merely that we may be delivered. That may be sought, if it only be sought in some bye-way, not God's way. But when the heart is in God's precepts, only God's salvation is sought.
So Christ: "I waited patiently for the Lord." There was submission to God's will, God could not come in till His will was done, so that His glory should be made good in coming in - till His counsels were fulfilled, and perfect judgment wrought by His coming in. And this the soul had learnt to desire, though often out of sorrow. There was Christ's perfectness in this respect - there our path in submissive uprightness. Then the soul praises God, God Himself in it; and God's own judgments held us. This is a principle of great perfectness and great blessing. Yet here, though brought to this, yea, because brought to this, the people then - so we, when occasion arises - acknowledge that they had gone astray (for that is their case, and is the condition of the whole psalm, the law being now written, in desire at least, in their hearts), and gone astray like a sheep wholly lost. The humbled and repentant remnant (and, I repeat, we, when we have wandered from God) look for God's seeking them, for they were upright in heart, mindful of His commandments.
This gives the key to the whole psalm - Israel gone astray, the desire and love of God's law in their hearts, but their circumstances and condition not yet set right by Jehovah's deliverance, but their hearts set right, that He may come in His word, and His deliverance being their desire, and His word the ground of their hope. In the restoring of any soul we have an analogous process, specially when under chastisement. It does not seek comfort without restoration, where uprightness of heart is. Only if we know the Lord, we stand in Him as our righteousness. This they could not speak of as established, or their hearts in it. They were only looking for it when delivered. It had been prophesied of: Jehovah would be their righteousness. Gracious and true as this is, our place is infinitely higher. Verses 169-176.
201 I have thus closed this running notice of Psalm 119, of which I feel the poverty. But I feel every day more that, true and applicable as all this may be to the government of our hearts, we are far away from Christian ground here. Nothing makes it more sensible than the Psalms. Neither the Father, nor divine righteousness, is known in them, nor that whole class of feelings, blessed and holy as those feelings are, which flow from them. May we remember we are Christians!
Psalm 120. These psalms of degrees all treat the circumstances of the restored but undelivered remnant: our part now is to inquire into their moral bearing. The first psalm declares their state and resource. "In my distress I cried unto Jehovah, and he heard me." The character of evil is spoken of: deceit and hostile power. It was grief of heart to have constantly to say to this. But such was his condition. He was dwelling in the midst of evil. It was his sorrow, and distress to him. He sought peace: they were for war. It is the spirit and character of the Christian in the midst of the power of evil, which, when called out by the presence of good, shews itself thus. judgment however would come on the false tongue. It is the simple expression of the grief of a soul, peace-loving and peaceable, having to do with the wicked deceit of men. The resource is calling on the Lord, who hears.
Psalm 121. Where should the soul look? To the hills? Compare Jer. 3:23. Help was to be found in the Lord. I suppose it is: shall I look to the hills? My help is in Jehovah, and Jehovah would surely keep me. He slumbers not, nor sleeps. The point is, Direct me away from all false and vain hopes, and set forth the one true object and resource, surely to be reckoned upon, and reckoned upon to keep all evil away. Only we must note now that the literal application of this is not now just. Christ has been reckoned among transgressors; and we have to go on not looking for absolute deliverance: yet we are to be assured that the hairs of our head are numbered. God withdraws not His eyes from the righteous now; but we do not look in result to be kept for earth, as the Jew rightly will in the path of faithfulness. Yet our Father does watch over us with unceasing vigilance. We may be at peace under the shadow of His wings. Our instruction is, in the midst of every evil, to look only to the Lord.
202 Psalm 122. The Lord's house (that is, His presence and worship in the place of His rest) is our desire (for us, heaven). But love to that place of God's dwelling is accompanied by the sense that all this is united in blessing. It is loved, not only for the Lord's own sake, the centre of all, but for all the saints' sake, for our brethren's and companions' sake. This cannot be the first thing, but it is the first circle round the true centre - love to all saints. Heaven is loved, but it is loved as being the dwelling-place of Him with whom we have to do - our Father's house. If heaven is dear to me, that is what especially makes it so. We desire even the church's good now for the same reason. We do take our place in heavenly places. They are bright and holy: we rejoice in it. But the house of God is the centre there for our hearts,
Psalm 123. The hearts on God wait for deliverance. So we. There is pressure on the heart by the presence of the power of evil. We wait continually upon God for the coming of the blessed Lord to remove it all. The contempt of the proud will cease. All will be wholly changed to the soul's rest.
Psalm 124. God alone keeps His people. The great point all through here is to look to Him alone. And it is our part along our path, and specially in these last days. All other refuges will give, in something or another, a wrong direction to the soul, will lead it into a false path, make its state less holy in purpose, less pure and wise in walk. God can make use of everything, because His motive to bless us is always in Himself, and He disposes of everything; whereas we are formed in heart by the objects we have, and must adapt ourselves to what we lean on.
Psalm 125. But then trusting in the Lord is perfectly sure, A divine and almighty hand secures us. We know, from many passages, the Lord may see good to let us suffer, but not a hair of our head shall perish. When His time is come, the rod of the wicked shall not be on the lot of the righteous. He may let us suffer for our God, or for His name's sake; but even so it is not according to the will and power of the wicked, but according to His own. Only this supposes one walking in His ways.
Psalm 126. We find here a partial restoration, leading to look for full blessing. God may have delivered the soul too from the alienation and sorrow of its evil days, when it has gone wrong, backslidden, without its being yet fully restored. God comes in in goodness on repentance, encourages us, brings blessings we never could have hoped for, re-establishes the soul in the place of blessing, makes His favour so far manifest, so that we feel He is for us with great joy. Yet it is not the peaceful flow of favour in communion with Him, as if there was nothing but favour naturally enjoyed in the place we are in. just as to Jacob at Peniel, God blessed him, but would not reveal His name - blessed, but did not reveal Himself. The soul gets the blessing from God, finds so far His favour; but it is not in communion, nor does it receive the communication of what He is, so as to be able, going forth from Him into the world, to be a witness for Him in it. This is our true place. No doubt to be blessed and restored, when we have gone astray, is great mercy; but our place is to be peaceably in communion where God has set us with Himself, and thus the vessels of His revelation of Himself to others. And this, in the Jewish form of it, is what our psalm expresses.
203 But there is another principle also. In a world where the power of evil is, sowing time, in which we meet the evil in possession with the word, is a time of tears. "I have given them thy word, and the world hath hated them," John 17. Christianity was sown in the tears of the Son of God. It is the fruit of the travail of His soul which He will see in that day. So in all service (and we must make up our minds to it), where there is to be real blessing, there must be the sorrow of the world's opposition, and even in the church the greater sorrow of trials, of failure, and shortcoming, where we desire to see Christ fully represented. But, going forth with the precious word, we may reckon on bringing our sheaves back with us.
Psalm 127. This psalm tells us that God alone gives the increase. All labour, all toil, is vain, except the Lord Himself and His hand be in it to work and bless; as the people said of Jonathan, "he hath wrought with God this day." But thus the diligent efforts of evil-doers result in nothing, and (blessed be His name!) He gives rest and peace to His beloved, without all the toil and labour with which the reckless men of the world seek it in vain.
204 Psalm 128. But if the Lord's blessing alone can keep or give success, they who fear the Lord can count upon it. And this is true. It does not exclude persecution, nor does it exclude discipline and the exercise of faith. But when we walk in the fear of God, we are in the path of peace even here. "Who is he that shall harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good? It does not mean a prosperity which consists in gratifying our lusts, but in the peaceful enjoyment of divine favour here below. But there is one joy above all others, here spoken of as the then fruit of godliness - the seeing the Lord's people, and the Lord's habitation, in prosperity and peace, manifestly blessed of God. This, as regards this world, is the highest, most constant, wish of the heart. Blessing shall come to us out of God's dwelling-place, the place of faith on the earth, before the final temple of glory is built and we see blessing resting on it.
The details are of course Jewish, present outward blessings. This is the final blessing promised in the place of distress. And on this faith counts in the evil day and time of distress. Joyful to receive any anticipation of it in the church of God now (and in this detail it applies now), we know that the peace will be perfect when God shall have accomplished His counsels. We do look for it before, but we are sure of it then, for He wills the blessing of the church. Zion is the place of faith. It is not the temple on Moriah, but where David placed the ark when he had brought it back. The Lord is owned there. So we - we have the blessing in the seat of grace in power we shall have perfect rest.
Psalm 129. The soul looks back and sees God's faithful dealings all along the road - a blessed thought! How sweet it is to turn back and see, while we were obliged to walk by faith, and it was as though He beheld not, the eye of the Lord has unceasingly waited on us and ordered all things! It is the effect of integrity to be able to do this. It is true that he who could say, "Few and evil have been the days of the years of the life of my pilgrimage," could also say, "The angel that redeemed me from all evil." And it is blessed to see His faithfulness, even when we have failed, when our unrighteousness commends the righteousness of God. Still it is another thing when, in the path of God through trials and difficulties (perhaps doubts and fears of success as to service and making good what was committed to us), we can trace the good hand of God all through. And here sorrow and trial are looked at, the hostility of God's enemies against God's people. But it was in vain. God, even if He had chastised, had been faithful, and now had manifested His righteousness, faithful to His own ways and promises, the expectation He had raised, the trust He had called for. He had cut asunder the cords of the wicked. We may expect it. He will chastise if needed, though He does not afflict willingly; but He will make good the expectation of faith. He will deliver and bless; and the expectation of the proud shall be as the grass upon the housetop.
205 Psalm 130. The last psalm considered the sorrow and suffering of those that are the Lord's, and the pleasure of the wicked in their oppression. This refers to the chastisement and evil to which I have alluded above in commenting on it. The sorrows have their character to the soul, not from the oppression of the wicked, but in the consciousness of sin with God. The oppression is unrighteous, the pleasure of wickedness; but while, when God restores, we can see this, yet restoration is with God and in looking to His mercy, owning - and yet in spite of - what we have deserved, and looking, with a heart which has the sense of its sin, to His deliverance. For here it is not forgiveness in the sense of justification, though allied to it, but of government. But it is the question of the Lord's marking iniquity, not of oppression, though this were the outward rod that brought iniquity upon the soul from God's hand. But the Lord is cried to. No turning, to gain release, to the oppressor; that is in character apostasy, and accepting the power of evil and making terms with it. The soul is in the depths, but it refers it in integrity to its sin, cries to the Lord in faith as one who forgives; waits for the Lord to come in when He is pleased, so as that the deliverance is righteous, and His favour too, and His word is trusted in. "Let Israel hope in the Lord," he concludes, and this glorifies His character as above evil and Himself good; and, till deliverance has that character, it is not looked for. With Him is mercy and plenteous redemption; mercy to the faulty soul and plenteous redemption. Thus there is truth in the inward parts, and God's true character and His active power in complete deliverance are known. flow far better than compromise with evil itself!
Psalm 131 gives us another character of the returning soul - the soul right with God. It is not speculative or haughty in mind, does not reason about matters. It walks in meekness as a weaned child and waits for deliverance; it hopes in the Lord. But activity of mind as to what ought to be, and managing matters which are really in God's hand, do not go together with true hoping in Him in lowliness of heart. And this is often a great trial of faith when we see the power of evil.
206 Psalm 132. This psalm is important as shewing the position which all these psalms of degrees occupy. We have indeed the house, as in Psalms 122, 127, the former of which seems to refer to the temple; yet (I think) hardly there as yet accepted and built of God, as Psalm 127 shews. The remnant was rejoiced at the thought of going to the house and Jerusalem, and we have it clothed with the thoughts of faith. But the Lord had not yet built it. For all the songs of degrees are the expression of the godly ones' thoughts and feelings between their external restoration, when the sour grape is ripening in the flower (Isaiah 18), and the full restoration to the Lord's enjoyed blessings, their enemies being cut off by judgment. It is all Isaiah 18, but with this we have Zion and David - the interference of power in grace, connecting the hearts of the remnant with Jehovah as a present thing, and giving the present testimony that His mercy endureth for ever. For David placed the ark on Mount Zion, and had this song first sung after the ark had been delivered from the Philistines, and brought up from the house of Obed-edom. Israel in responsibility had failed, and God had delivered His strength into captivity, and His glory into the enemies' hand. Now it was brought out, and sovereign grace for His name's sake (first by a prophet, and next properly by power in grace, by a king) acted in behalf of Israel, and gave a new link and ground of relationship in the ark on Mount Zion. This was not the temple, the place of settled peace and prosperity; but it was a link with God renewed to faith, David being the centre. David's Son, as the true Solomon, would give in time the full blessing; for David did not, after all, build the house. So the place of rest here is in the heart and in hope; what we have is the person on whom the blessing is founded. Compare 2 Samuel 7 and 1 Chronicles 17.
We have David brought before us as the great dispensational root and characteristic consequently of the blessing, but the house is - the subject, a dwelling-place for the mighty One of Jacob, Hence also it is not wilderness blessings. It is not, "Rise up, Jehovah, and let thine enemies be scattered"; and, "Return, O Jehovah, to the many thousands of Israel," Num. 10:3, 5, 6. It is, "Arise, O Jehovah, into thy rest, thou and the ark of thy strength." It is Zion which is God's rest for ever. This it is He has chosen; there He will make the horn of David to bud. The person of David's Son, royal grace in Zion, is thus what characterises the blessing. Whatever house is built, David and his trouble are remembered, not Solomon, the typical son of David and his house. In truth Solomon's faith was personally every way inferior. He went to Gibeon, not to Zion; to the empty tabernacle, not to the ark until afterwards. David's heart was on the house. It was all right. But God built his as He replied to him. It is the personal grace of Christ that is the centre of all, and the faith that, when the outward blessing was not yet there in peace, formed the true link with God.
207 What a blessing for the remnant then, and this is in principle our case now, and especially in these latter days! His tabernacle and His footstool are more than the temple. Hence, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, the tabernacle, never the temple, is taken as the figure and shadow of the blessings of faith, though not so the very image. Still God's rest is desired, that is, that He should rest; and so we worship in His house.
Let us see a little in what particulars this is brought out. The answer of God is in everything beyond the desire. There are three requests. The first is that Jehovah should arise into His rest, that Jehovah's priests may be clothed with righteousness. This became them, it was the right desire. The righteous Lord loveth righteousness. His countenance beholds the upright. How often had they been otherwise! The second is, that Jehovah's favour and blessing might be such that the saints might shout for joy. The third is, that for David's sake Jehovah should not turn away the face of His anointed. As to David there is the positive promise, and the conditional one. The answer then comes. Zion will be His rest for ever. He hath desired and chosen it; her priests will be clothed with salvation, her saints shout aloud for joy. There the horn of David will bud, his crown flourish on him - the true David and David's Son, the Beloved.
And now note the principles. The afflictions of faith are the true path of blessing. A rest for God is the desire of the new nature; for sin, disorder only, has disturbed that rest, and, note, that rest which has its place in His relationship with His creatures, for in Himself He ever rests; but He must rest in holiness and love, in the state of the creatures, with whom He has to do, being according to His mind and love. This the heart desires. It is God's rest, nor can the heart rest till then. But this is according to the manner of His presence; in Israel covenant-promise and governmental glory; for us our Father's house, God's rest according to His own nature, holy and without blame before Him in love, and in glory. That is in the Beloved, the true David, the Anointed, the Christ - this both secures and gives the true character of the blessedness in, with, and like Him.
208 But, note, that simplicity of faith, its proper energy, leaning not on the past which is ruined or to be forgotten, but on what is before us as its object, and on our only dependence, on divine leading as to it - simplicity of faith, wrought as it is by God, leads into the place of God's desire and God's election. David brought the ark to Zion, but Zion God had chosen, had desired for His habitation. This in us is identified with a new creature, being made partakers of the divine nature, In this faith lives and acts and judges. It is in the saint a new nature, living on Christ as its object and food. And it learns and knows the place of God's rest herein. For David and Zion are really identified each in its own way with one another. Thus our new nature, God's desire, God's election, God's rest, and Christ Himself all coincide.
But the place of Christ's glory, which is God's rest, where He dwells, God owns as His for ever. "This is my rest." And faith looks at all connected with it, priests and saints as God's - "thy priests" and "thy saints." But then He, taking Christ for the resting place of His glory, and contemplating the place of His dwelling and rest and habitation (that is, for us, the church which is His habitation, His tabernacle, His city holy Jerusalem) - He having thus so associated Himself with her (compare Eph. 3:21; and Rev. 21:3), looks at the priests and saints as her priests and her saints, thus specially shewing His delight in her, His identification with her. His priests are her priests, His saints her saints, as that to which they belong. Then it is He sets up the glory of David's horn, the glory of the power, and rule of the Beloved; and this (while David is the foundation, His everlasting glory the result) is the subject of the psalm - Zion - for us, the church, the heavenly Jerusalem. This is His rest, His dwelling place for ever, His desire, what He has chosen. And if He fully glorifies His Anointed, as He will and must do, it is there He will do it. Though His name flourish in Himself (for His person must be the ground and centre of glory), yet its place is in the city of grace and glory. Her priests, her saints will have salvation and abundant joy. One cannot say her David or her Christ; that would be out of place. His dignity is our personal glory, but it dwells here as the place with which it is associated, and all the rest can be called hers. The glory is His, the place of it the chosen city of God - for us, the church, the heavenly Jerusalem.
209 Psalm 133. There, too, blessing and unity are, but here after the analogy of Aaron; the lowest skirt of his garment partakes of the anointing of the head, and this one Spirit makes the unity according to which (Eph. 4:3) they ought to dwell together. The blessing too was there. The abundant dew of Hermon, that is, abundant as on Hermon, fell upon the mountains of Zion. This fellowship was rich in blessing from above, as the desired refreshing of abundant dew fell on the everlasting hills. For in Zion Jehovah had promised the blessing. The anointing of the Lord, the Holy Spirit, and the refreshing of goodness from on high in abundance, shall accompany the unity of Israel in Zion. How far more deeply true was it on the church, when the anointing of the Holy Spirit and His full ministration of grace by the word revealing heavenly things enriched and gladdened the unity in Christ which that Spirit formed! Alas, where is it now? Yet it is our privilege.
Psalm 134. These psalms of degrees close by a summons to bless Jehovah. There in the sanctuary they were to bless on the other hand blessing is pronounced out of Zion upon him who has gone through the sorrows and endured. It is Melchisedec blessings, only in Jehovah's sanctuary, and out of Zion where grace has set power to bless. It is the full crowning expression of the result of these psalms; the points, able to bless Jehovah in His own sanctuary, and the godly man blessed out of long desolate Zion, but where Jehovah now dwells. The city over which Jesus could weep, whose dust Jehovah's servants had remembered, was now the seat of Jehovah's sanctuary, and, what was more, of Jehovah's presence. This will not be fully ours till we are in our Father's house. But then, though praise will surely go up unceasingly, we shall not have need to call on others to bless. We are kings and priests, as indeed we bless now as such in spirit, and as more than that, as dear children holy and beloved. It is in the holiest of all, where no Jewish priest could enter to bless even in figure, that we stand in reality, and bless Him in whose presence and light we stand there. Night we cannot say then, for "there shall be no night there"; now we praise in spirit here, saying, "the night is far spent." And as to our souls, the darkness passes, the true light now shines.
210 But it is in the holiest we bless, in God's own presence, and hence in heaven. We may well say He has set us in a wealthy place. And while on earth it will then be Jehovah the Creator who will bless out of the chosen place of grace in power, He who gains eternal life, and in whose knowledge it is possessed, blesses us as brought home into the possession of it in the seat of the unclouded knowledge of it, where what He is, as the power and source of it, is fully displayed. To know the Father and Jesus Christ, whom He has sent is eternal life. The Father has life in Himself, and, in the Son, man here below has life. He was it with the Father before the world. We have it in Him, and there in that which that life is, and therefore enjoys, as a holy being enjoys holiness, a loving being love, we shall possess the divine fulness in God of that which we delight in. And it is the God of redeeming love, the Father and the Son, not simply the Creator of heaven and earth. Such is our place. We enjoy it now by the Holy Ghost, but it is now only in earthen vessels. Still we are called to be "holy and without blame before him in love," and children with the Father, and our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. The accomplishment of promises in grace is much, the enjoyment of communion is more. The psalms of degrees are the progress of Israel in the land, out of sorrow and through sorrow, to the full blessing in Zion, which forms the crowning result, Jehovah being there.
Psalm 135 gives the more general praise of Israel, not so much priestly praise, but then it consequently brings out the place of the people as such with God. They are in the courts of God, there as His people, praise Him, for He is good, and it is pleasant. We do praise Him as priests in the sanctuary. But we praise Him also as on earth in the sense of His goodness, and praise is pleasant. His name is known; that is, His revelation of Himself, so as to be known to us. But there is more: we sing, as we do all else, as the elect of God, holy and beloved - an immense privilege. It is not only that God is good, what He is in nature; but we are the special objects of His favour and delight. This, when known, is an immense delight. As people of God we know it, and for ourselves as part of it, but when personally brought home it is of divine delight to be the peculiar treasure of God, and that not as a national election but according to His own nature, the personal objects of His delight. It is known, it its evident, as of pure grace. It is what gives it its value. Faith recognises it as true, rests in it. It is a doctrine of scripture - the faith, but in relationship it is great delight. But we know withal that He is great, and thought we know Him as Father, yet we do know Him, realize His presence, as exceeding great, and as supreme above all and the heart delights in this. Our God is above all.
211 It is more general for us than for all Israel who could speak of other gods, but the absoluteness and supremacy of God for the heart remains true. He is sovereign in His actings everywhere, a comfort when we have to traverse in weakness a world of wickedness. He disposes of everything. He has smitten the power of evil and brought out His people, and brought them into a heavenly inheritance whence the power of darkness are expelled. This is true for us now, as in Ephesians 4 and Colossians 2, though not for the possession of the inheritance. And we reckon fully on the final result. And it is looked for presently, though no day or hour be known. This as to Israel is brought out here in a remarkable passage.
The original promise in which God appeared to Moses as taking up Israel for ever in grace, His name of memorial for ever, is cited; and the prophetic declaration in Deuteronomy 32 of what He would do when Israel had wholly, utterly failed - judge His people and repent Himself concerning His servants. The idols are nought. It is in the place of royal rest that praise is found, the Jerusalem where Jehovah dwells. And so for us, the church, and even the individual saint, knows itself as the heavenly dwelling - place of God, the bride; and now we dwell in Him and He in us, as we know by the Spirit, and collectively too are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit; but it is as a new heavenly thing, as that which is heavenly, as that which remains.
Psalm 136 celebrates a blessed principle in connection with Zion, the place of sovereign grace in power. Our having the place of praise and thanksgiving depends on this, that His mercy endures for ever. Ichabod had been written on Israel; the ark, where the blood was to be placed on the day of atonement that Israel might have a place with God, was taken - as far as Israel went, lost. But God's mercy endures for ever, and David, so soon as he sets the ark on Zion, establishes this song there, celebrating the alone Jehovah, the Creator and wonder - doer of His people. His mercy does endure for ever for us. Christ and the Father's love in every way secure our blessing and ourselves for it. But while glory awaits us, and He will confirm us to the end, we possess that in which He confirms us, even eternal life as His children. The life we have and know it; the inheritance we have nothing of as yet, but are assured of and being kept for it. And in this wilderness we can abundantly say, His mercy endureth for ever. But it is only along the road we say it, because we have eternal life. Only if a soul wanders from Him and is restored, it can say with special application that His mercy endures for ever.
212 Psalm 137. There is a double application of this to our souls. Nothing can make us forget the heavenly Jerusalem, the house where God and the Lamb are the temple, and where they dwell. All the glory of the world is nothing compared with that heavenly home. But the church on earth, which will be it in glory, arrests our hearts; we see it desolate and her walls cast down, her children scattered or in captivity. But the saint's heart is still there. The outward worldly glory of Babylon cannot efface the attachment and love of heart to the church as God founded it on earth; and even the judgment of those who corrupted it is looked for with joy by the Christian. Not of the individuals, a Christian could not do that - it would be revenge - but of the whole power of evil.
Psalm 138. But the enduring of God's mercy for ever brings out a blessed apprehension in the heart of many other truths, which make God's character known, and His word precious as revealing it and as sure, so that the whole heart praises (and this is a very important element), not will do so for some blessing, not even thankfulness for that which we do desire, while the main current of the heart is elsewhere than with God; but such a learning of God as makes the whole heart praise Him, and this is always in circumstances which make the whole heart want Him; as it will be with Israel in the latter day. This may be learnt gradually by emptying of self, or in times of deep trial when help fails, and thus self is broken up within. Hence too, when God is thus known, He is praised in presence of all the pretentious power of this world, which seemed to make those that leaned upon it happy and enriched. We praise with the whole heart, we praise before the gods. All within, all without, has given place to God known and revealed in His word.
213 Loving-kindness and truth are the great traits in which He is known, just as grace (a fuller word) and truth came by Jesus Christ, who is the living Word. There they came, and we know their fulness and perfectness in Him; here they are learned by experience, and it is lovingkindness in nature and circumstances, not infinite and perfect grace in itself. But God had here made good His word. His faithfulness had exalted itself, and taught the saint how right he was in trusting God when all seemed contrary. But this involved His goodness also in caring for us and persevering in His love in spite of failure. His word taught us to trust in Him, was in its nature a call to it, revealed His goodness to sinners to this effect, but called us to wait on Him to this effect, to trust Him though it set us in a lowly place, apparently far off from all our desires, and left evil in power to try our faith. So it was with Christ and those who followed Him.
But there is another point. The saint, led by this word and guided in his thoughts by it, cried and was answered; and, before the public answer came forth by power, God strengthened with strength in his soul. How true this is of Christ even, and of the Christian! But this gives the assurance that all shall have to own the power which we have trusted in the time of darkness. We have had God's mind, following Jesus, done God's will (by power) before power came in to deliver and make that will good. But every knee shall bow to Him to whom our knees have gladly bowed. But they shall praise and bless His name (for those are looked at here) who own that power truly in that day.
Thus the word revealed God as the object of trust, and then His faithfulness came to make good all that He had led the heart to trust in. The word gave both - revealed God and gave that to hope in which it was fulfilled. This brought out another character of goodness. The Lord, high, as He was, had respect to the lowly. He is too high to make a difference of man's exaltation. If we look down from heaven, all is flat upon the earth. But there are high and low here, and God thinks of the lowly. Trouble too comes on the faithful, but the goodness and the promise give the issue according to the word. Nor is this quite all. God will perfect what concerns us, make good in blessing in and to us all that was in His heart, and which He had revealed in His word, in relationship and communion with Himself. Over all, through all difficulties, and, beyond all, His mercy endureth for ever.
214 Psalm 139. But it is not without the most thorough searching out of all that we are. But this, where there is confidence, is a great grace; for He who alone can do it, and does it according to His own perfectness, does it to purify us from all inconsistent with Himself - His own mind, and hence with our blessedness, which is in communion with Himself.
I do not think that the psalm goes beyond creation and God's knowing perfectly His own work, though there may be a known analogy to the church. It is the conscience brought into the sense of God's perfect acquaintance with everything in us. AU is under His eye and He actually sees everything. It is not only He sees, but He searches. He is there with us, however offended, in all our ways. This produces uneasiness. Adam innocent could not have thought of it. There was no reflex act in himself to judge how he was going on; no thought consequently of what God had to see. He enjoyed and blessed, or might have done so. But where there is a knowledge of good and evil, a reflex act on what passes consequently in our hearts, the eye of' God that reaches all its recesses, knows all, makes us uneasy, that is, makes the disturbed conscience uneasy. God is everywhere and in every corner of my heart, and darkness and light are all the same. The very fact makes us uneasy now in our natural state; for fear and moral fear has entered in and is become a part of our nature. Still, where He is known, there is confidence, and here integrity of heart gives confidence; not here the peaceful confidence of known redemption and living in a nature the fulness of which is Christ Himself; but the state of heart which gives confidence, as being the integrity of the new nature. And this knowledge which searches the conscience is drawn from creative power.
We are the work of His hands. Here it is man as man, so that the earth out of which he was fashioned at first is as the womb out of which we were born. God has formed us, be it in the womb of dust or of our mother, the place where we were nothing before we were. The same God has ever thought of us along the road, and here confidence has been acquired; though thus acquired it reaches to all God's creative knowledge and power. If He sees in the dark, He keeps in the dark. When we awake, and so it will be in resurrection too, we are still with Him. He knows our thoughts, but thinks of us when we think not. Thus if God knows all our thoughts, and long before His are precious to us, to such the putting down of evil is the sure expectation, yea the call for judgment on the haters of the Lord, whom we therefore abhor.
215 Christians do not desire their ruin as souls, nor does God but, looked at as wicked, as haters of the Lord, one does desire their removal by judgment, abhors them as such, and rejoices at their being taken away from corrupting and destroying the earth. But if this desire of their judgment be holiness and righteousness, not will, we shall desire the full searching out of evil in ourselves. It is the hatred of evil as under the eye of an all - seeing God.
But it is exceedingly beautiful to see this integrity of heart brought into the full light of God's presence (once shrunk from as searching all). Now it desires the thorough searching of God, that it may get rid of the evil that it hates. Note too mere integrity will not suffice without God to find out evil. An honest natural man may use his conscience, but as the natural eye must have light to search with, so we the presence of Him who is light. He who had kept the commandments for his own conscience from his youth up shrunk from that which searched his heart and its motives. So we, even if desirous of knowing the evil of our hearts, bring God into the work, and seek Him to do it. If not, there is not integrity.
Psalm 140. I have only for our present purpose to note that it teaches, in the relentless and crafty malice of the wicked, to cast oneself wholly over on the Lord. The saint cannot rival the world in craft and plotting, but there is One above all who knows the end from the beginning: to Him we have to look. The character of the Lord's people in presence of this wickedness is to be remarked; they are the afflicted, the poor, righteous, and upright. And they can reckon upon the Lord against the evil-doer and the wicked man. Jehovah is owned as his God. So we acknowledge God fully as ours in the revelation of the Father and Jesus our Lord. He is owned, that is, in face of the world.
216 Psalm 141 looks indeed for deliverance, but more for rightness of heart in trial. The desire is to be with, near God, that God should draw near. The heart is with Him - is right with Him. He does not say deliver, as his first desire, but "give ear to my voice"; that his prayer may be incense, the lifting up his hands as the evening sacrifice. He seeks too (and how needed it is), that in the pressure of evil God should set a watch before his mouth and keep the door of his lips. We may be true and right in principle on the Lord's side; but how does an impatient or pretentious and reproachful word mar the testimony, give a handle to the enemy, and, so far, set the soul wrong with God!
No point is more important than this for the upright. He who can bridle his tongue, the same is a perfect man. He looks to be in no way drawn away into the paths or society of the wicked. What he wants is to be kept in uprightness. If the smiting of the righteous be needed, he will rejoice in it, as an excellent oil to anoint him, and honour him as a friend. Grace accompanies this. When calamities come upon God's outward people, for of such it speaks here, who have been the enemies of him who has sought to walk godly and keep himself from evil, his heart yearns over them; there is no rejoicing nor triumphing over them; his prayer ascends to God for them. He looks too to the overthrow of those who had power over them, smitten by the enemy, as that which shall break down their pride for good, so that they would hear his words; and he, whatever trouble he might be in, knew their sweetness. The distress was deep, evil in power, but his eyes were unto God.
But again we find here that what his heart is on is the nearness of his soul with God; "leave not my soul destitute." This is a sure mark of the renewal of heart. So the thief on the cross does not even think of his sufferings, but asks Christ to remember him in His kingdom. It is a full picture of uprightness of heart, in a soul which, having been away from God, is morally restored but still under trial.
Psalm 142 is the expression of extreme distress, refuge failing him - no man caring for his soul. He cried unto Jehovah with his voice. This, as we have seen, is more than trusting Him. God is known in the revelation of Himself; so we look to the Lord and to a Father's love. But in crying with the voice there is confession of His name, and open acknowledgment of dependence and confiding in the Lord. The heart can open itself out before the Lord, not be careful, but make its requests known. It is a sure sign of confidence, making our trouble known - a great thing to leave such with God. But there is another comfort here; he was in the path of God. And from this grew the sense, of immense importance in the times of trial, that God knew, acknowledged, and had His eye on, as accepting it, the faithful man's path. This is a fountain of strength and comfort. It supposes faith - that realizing that one's way is pleasing to God suffices. The spirit may be overwhelmed by the pressure of enmity and desertion, but the soul is in peace, resting in the approbation of God.
217 Psalm 143. I pass over here the desires of judgment as dispensational, as we have often seen. In this we have the soul bowed down under the trouble, but in principle set right with God as one chastened for sin, only in the midst of those hostile, but brought to uprightness. It looks for mercy that it may not be under judgment from God, but that God may be a deliverer, and looks for it as in heart belonging to God and His servant. It is broken by the affliction, and trusts God, and seeks His way. It transfers the evils, so to speak, from God to the adversary, associating itself in heart with God, and looking that God should own it and take up its cause as against the power of evil which He had used as a rod. We have this experience when we have suffered from malicious enemies, but through our own fault. The heart true with God when thoroughly subdued and set right, accepting the punishment of its iniquity instead of excusing itself, can then look to God to take up its cause against the malice, but not till it has set God's glory above itself. The soul then clings to the enjoyment of God's lovingkindness in a subdued and softened spirit, and its motives are purified, which is the very object of the discipline, not merely its ways, but its motives, and so power of communion, which is directly in relation with our motives and state of heart.
There is a strengthening of the bond of the heart with God, and His will is sought because it is so. "Thy Spirit," he says, "is good." The heart lives in the sense of what the Spirit works in us; His influences in the heart are good. The soul has found where good is. There is accordance between the heart and the things of the Spirit, and it is felt, and true delight is in the soul in it. So we say, Praise is good; it is right pleasant, felt to be pleasant, and pleasant because it is right. There is the sense too of divine favour with it. But withal the soul seeks to enjoy it, where all is in harmony with it, where its exercises and fruits will be natural (for he was in the midst of unholy enemies). For us this will only be in heaven, The heart is separated by trial to God through grace, and in uprightness owns it cannot stand in the judgment, and looks for divine favour and deliverance.
218 Psalm 144. I have only a remark to make here. All these exercises make us learn what man is, and the whole bearings of good and evil. When man is seen, known, judged, and yet delivered, there is an acquaintance with the whole scene which makes God's patience, goodness, and ways known and perfect in our eyes. "Man is like to vanity," but we sing a new song - happy are the people that are in such a case, We indeed have a far more radical acquaintance with this. It is settled at once by one act in the cross, and we reckon ourselves dead and alive unto God through Him that is risen. It is a new creation, and we are children with the Father. Still every one does not learn it like Paul, and in every case it must be learnt experimentally. Only a simple mind laid hold of by Christ, which therefore does not confer with flesh and blood, learns it easier and walks in the power of it. Only alas! how many like to be Jews, and live only to die at the end, and so learning it, instead of dying and then living as alive to God, and so pass into Christ according to the power of that life, whether they wake or sleep.
Psalm 145 looks back and shews the soul (for I do not speak of dispensation here as such: in that aspect it is the Spirit of Christ shewing what passes in the millennium; but it shews the soul) recounting with praise and thanksgiving the works and ways of God, where it can look back - the greatness of God. But then in these ways the character of God has been fully displayed, and the soul has learned that blessed lesson, knows what He is. See verses 8. 9, 14-20.
This is a great blessing. All that we have passed through exercises us, breaks our will, makes us know ourselves. We have learnt by it, and, in the preparation of the heart it gives what God is. Israel learned themselves in the wilderness, but here they learn God, if they had hearts to understand it; first, what He is, and then in what He shews Himself such to others. Not only His greatness; this indeed has been shewn in bringing all to His own ends; but He is gracious, good, thinking of others in love, and full of compassion. He is slow to anger - perhaps the heart has complained of that sometimes in trial, yet we need it - and of great mercy. Yes, we are often Jonases, though we need or have needed as much mercy as Nineveh.
219 But what should we have lost, to say nothing of losing ourselves, if our God had not been all this? But this is the God we have to say to, and when we are delivered, we delight in Him, such as He is. No doubt by faith we delight in His being such, but we have to get our wills broken, our heart set right in its desires, tempers, and whole state, to delight fully in God who so long suffers evil which we hate, and the evildoers who thwart our desire of good, but with which our will mixes itself, and taking perhaps its most subtle form. "Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of; for the Son of man came not to destroy men's lives, but to save them." He was the manifestation of God in forbearing love; and we have to walk in love as He shewed it, offering Himself up to God, in nothing seeking His own will, committing Himself to Him who judgeth righteously.
Finally in peace we shall heartily rejoice in God as such. And it is His nature and character; He is good to all, His mercy is over all His works. Compare Peter, the apostle of God's government and judgments; 2 Peter 3:9, the epistle that applies judgment to the wicked. He is, too, the faithful Creator, 1 Peter 4:9. One sees in this passage, as elsewhere, how the Epistles of Peter take up the government of God as the Psalms, only introducing redemption.
First then we find mercy: the Lord occupied with the need of men, all that fall (that is weakness), those that be bowed down (that is oppression); then even, as he says in Jonah "and very much cattle," He it is that takes care of and provides for man and beast. But then, further, there are moral character and relationships in which He has to do with men. He is righteous in His ways, takes account of all that is due to others and also to Himself. He Himself thinks of others, for this also is righteousness in Him, and there is gracious consideration in His works - no evil. His ear too is open to the cry of those who seek Him - fulfils the desire of those who fear Him. He preserves those that love Him. He is thus interested in every want, and takes notice of all our ways. Thus the exercises of our hearts will have caused us to know Him.
220 The following psalms are the hallelujahs of a delivered people. Some elements of God's ways in general may be however found here, because God in the deliverance has shewn of whom He thought and His care for them.
Psalm 146, It is the wisdom of trusting the all-enduring ever-living Lord that is spoken of. "Put not your trust in man": his breath goes forth; all his thoughts are gone. Not so with God. Not only He has power, but He is faithful - keeps truth for ever. And again His tender mercy is brought out for the comfort of those that are in sorrow. The oppressed, the hungry, the prisoners come before Him, are the objects of His care and power; to the blind He gives eyes, He raises up those that are bowed down. All this is comfort of heart to those that are in sorrow and trial, that are oppressed. But farther He loves the righteous, so that men, whatever comes upon them, can trust in Him. The stranger whose heart may feel sick where he is, the fatherless or widow whose sustaining props are gone, He preserves and relieves. The heart of the righteous has its sure confidence, of the bowed down and those deprived of earthly stay, the sure hand of a God who cares for them, because they are such. It is what God always is.
Psalm 147. The great principle in all these psalms is that the one true God, the Creator, and He who ministers to every creature, is specially known as the God of His people, and is known by His delivered people to be righteous, full of compassion, and good. His ways and character have become known to the delivered ones; but He is the God of Israel; as we say, our Father, or the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
All this is largely brought out in this psalm - the ground for trusting Him in every trial, but for seeking Him and walking in righteousness, for He takes pleasure in those that fear Him. But, besides this, another blessing is spoken of, belonging to His people and so to us, His word. This is the first of blessings. He gave it to His people. He had not dealt so with any nation. There is a difference between us and Israel here. This in itself is true of both; but the Jew was shut up in his own system. The temple was a place of resort for all nations, but for Jews even there was no access to God Himself, no knowledge of Him by the revelation of Himself. The law told them what man ought to be; God's dealings taught them many a lesson, if they would learn it as they do here; but the way into the holiest was not made manifest, and there was no going out with the testimony that God is love. They learnt from His ways on earth, but did not know Him in heaven and will not, as we do, even in the millennium, though mercy and redemption will be clearer for them. We do; we know God as light and love. We shall be in the Father's house then. Hence, while we have the word which reveals Him who has sanctified Himself, a man in heaven apart from the world, we have known God's love issuing forth and in the power of eternal life. We know the Father in the Son, and then God as love, yea, we are in Him and He in us. Hence we have a gospel ministry, and every one is a witness of divine love and heavenly righteousness.
221 We have no priesthood here, save as we all are, but go with boldness into the holiest, our great High Priest being ever there, The word is in this respect another thing for us, though still God's word. We have the word for others because it is the true knowledge of God Himself in grace, a heavenly word. Some other elements of goodness are spoken of in this psalm, though the general tenor of it be the same. He heals the broken in heart, He binds up their wounds. There is not only tender compassion in grace, but remedy, and, more and more, He establishes securely, strengthens the bars of the city of God, and blesses His children in her. Thus we have a richer and fuller unfolding of mercy in this psalm. The general principle is the same. God's ways revealing what He is in its effects of goodness and righteous government, a knowledge of God by His statutes and judgments; but not the revelation of Himself and introduction into His presence as He is, nor knowledge of Him as Father. It is indeed in contrast with it. See Ephesians 1:3-5, where we have the Christian's place, as in verses 19-23 our relationship with Christ, to which add chapter 5:25-30.
Psalm 148. With this remark I may merely note the character of this psalm. All creation is called to praise God, but with the additional word - He exalts the horn of His people. It is more than deliverance and mercy. He exalts them in the creation as the people of His favour on earth. He is the praise of His saints, a people near Him - a blessed thought, but how far more blessed to us who will be near Himself, unveiled in His house and in His presence! Israel is near the Creator, as His people on the earth; we with God our Father in heaven, like the Lord Jesus His only-begotten Son. In this, as in the following psalm, deliverance is not spoken of, for there is progress in them: first, mercy and deliverance, favour to the tried righteous within her; then the horn of His people exalted, and Israel a people near Him; and now it is joy and triumph.
222 Psalm 149. He takes pleasure in them, and they are His weapon against His enemies, the high praises of God in their mouths and a two-edged sword in their hands, executing the judgment written. We see at once how we are on the Jewish ground of judgment in this world. There is a delight in the setting aside of evil by power, even for the Christian. "Rejoice over her, ye heavens, and ye holy apostles and prophets"; but this only when the church gets on prophetic, not on her own, ground. Hence the Father is not more spoken of in the Apocalypse than in the psalms. Where the relationship is with the Father, there it is carried out in love. And this difference, often noted, is as distinct and plain to the spiritual mind as possible, and of all importance to make the psalms intelligible and set Christianity on its own true ground. The Christian is not a Jew; the revealed name of God to him is not Jehovah but Father, as Christ so markedly states.
Psalm 150 gives the full praise to Jehovah in a double character, the sanctuary and the firmament of His power, for His ways which come from the firmament of His power were always according to the sanctuary in which He governed Israel, and made good the revelation of Himself there. So indeed with us, He makes all things work together for good to them that love Him; but it is according to the heavenly place to which they belong and to which He is bringing them. Christ is in the firmament of His power now. He is praised for His acts, praised for His greatness manifested in them. Jehovah is the theme of praise - Jehovah the God of Israel, but Jehovah the Creator and Sustainer of all - the righteous judge. But here it is Jehovah, God in His sanctuary; as we, after all we have received in a higher way, glory in tribulations' and finally in God Himself - not in what we have received. It is not even here, Praise our God, just as that was; but it rises higher, "Praise God in his sanctuary." The deep sense of what God is goes out beyond the relationship in which we are, though it is relationship with Him in the highest way that we have. Our Father's love, ours and Christ's, is sweet, but we joy in God. Blessed be His name!