Book of Psalms
Fred C. Day.
'Gather up the fragments that nothing
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Thy Word is like a garden, Lord,
With flowers bright and fair;
And everyone who seeks may pluck
A lovely garland there.
So wrote the poet. But it is not my intention to gather posies, much less is it intended that, like the botanist, we should take the flower to pieces to examine its beauty and the wonder of its make-up under the microscope.
In this short study we pass, like the bee, from blossom to blossom, taking a sip here and there, gathering strength and sweetness as we pass. And if, by so doing, we can cultivate a taste for nectar, such as will compel our return again and again to drink more deeply, our pleasant visit to the lovely garden will have been well worth while.
Gathered Fragments from the Book of Psalms.
PERHAPS it is because they are a part of the Scriptures of Truth, and therefore are of the nature of the whole, that one occasionally comes across the assertion, "The Psalms are inexhaustible.' The full depth of the Holy Scriptures, partaking as they do of the divine nature, can never be plumbed, and the wide expanse, embracing the 'yesterday and today and forever,' can never be spanned by mortals. With the poet we would exclaim:
Lord, my weak thought in vain would climb
To search the starry vault profound:
In vain would wing her flight sublime,
To find creation's utmost bound.
But weaker yet that thought must prove,
To search They great eternal plan:
Thy sovereign counsels, born of love,
Long ages ere the world began.
When my dim reason would demand
Why this or that Thou does ordain,
By some vast deep I seem to stand,
Whose secrets I must ask in vain.
While this is true, and indeed must be the experience of every diligent seeker after truth, yet - like the all-embracing love of God - truth, nevertheless, can become the priceless possession of every single believer, no matter now insignificant in his own estimation he may be. As love may becomes ours in so far as we let it enfold us, so the Scriptures, containing the will of God, may become our own in proportion as we absorb as much of them as we are capable of containing. This is particularly applicable to the Psalms. They deal with every aspect of life, and completely cover the span of our being.
What seems to me to be a 'natural' division of my subject has suggested itself; the four seasons. The Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter of spiritual experience. Thus we have Psalms of Praise, Psalms of Adoration, Psalms of Devotion, and Psalms of Confidence.
Psalms of Praise.
AN aged brother, long since called to rest, recounting the experience of his conversion many years earlier, used to tell us that when he came up out of the water, a 'new creature in Christ Jesus,' he just could not contain his feelings of gratitude, but burst forth into singing as he ascended the baptistery steps with the water streaming down his face. New life in Christ, begun with praise and thankfulness! And it is not without significance that the very first word of the Psalter is 'Blessed,' 'Happy,' as the Hebrew word is often translated.
Writing to Timothy, Paul speaks of what had been committed to him as the 'glorious gospel of the blessed God,' 1 Tim. 1. 11, that is the glorious gospel of the happy God. All who come into saving relationship with God, in any age, become partakers of His happiness. So the Psalmist begins, 'Happy is the man ...' But this fine expression is inadequate. There is no verb here in the Hebrew. It is not 'Happy is the man' but something more emphatic:
HAPPY the man that walketh not in the counsel of the wicked, nor standeth in the way of sinners,
nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
But his delight is in the law of the Lord: and in his law he doth meditate day and night.
And he shall be like a tree planted by the streams of water, that bringeth forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also doth not wither: and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. Psa 1:1-3.
There is a remarkable expression in Psalm 139.
I will thanks unto thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are thy works: and that my soul knoweth right well.
My frame was not hidden from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
Thine eyes did see mine unperfect substance, and in thy book were all my members written, which day by day were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them. Psa 139:16.
Praise to God for the marvellous way in which the physical frame is structured! I know the words 'the lowest parts of the earth' are frequently regarded as a poetical description of the place of conception and gradual growth until birth. But, I wonder! The Lord God, we are told, formed man of the dust of the ground and then breathed into him the breath of life. so all that which goes into the make-up of the physical body is produced from the ground; placed there by God. It grows, is consumed, and ultimately becomes the body of every being which comes into the world. 'Thine eyes,' says the Psalmist, 'beheld mine unperfect substance, and in thy book were all my members written, which day by day were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.' The wonder of it all! The amazing adaptability of the body to its environment! 'I will give thanks unto thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.'
There is, you will observe, no attempt on the part of the writer to prove the existence of God. He doesn't come to believe in an almighty Creator by a process of reasoning, as so many attempt, through the winding ways of cause and effect, design and designer, or 'man's natural inclination to look to some power outside himself to which he can turn when trouble threatens.' Twice,* the Psalmist characterizes as a 'fool' the one who says, 'There is no God.' Notice, he does not say such a one is a scoundrel, a blasphemer, or a scamp, but that he is a fool. The description is apt. For a human being to say there is no God is obvious folly, for, as he cannot have been everywhere in the universe, nor have seen everything that exists, then that which he has not seen may be the very God whose existence he denies, and the place he has not visited, the place of His abode.
To the Psalmist, God was not known as the result of argument. He was an experience. Paul says, 'For who among men knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of the man, which is in him? Even so the things of God none knoweth, save the Spirit of God!' That being so, we are absolutely dependent upon revelation for our knowledge of God, and can know no more of Him than He graciously chooses to reveal. This was the Psalmist's experience. After he has drawn attention to, and praises God for, His intimate
knowledge of the very minutest detail of his make-up (confirmed by Jesus, where He declares that 'the very hairs of your head are all numbered') he adds:
How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! How great is the sum of them!
If I could count them, they are more in number than the sand. When I awake, I am still with thee. v 18.
How precious also are thy thoughts (elsewhere translated 'desires.') Think! God's desires! For our welfare, surely! And David says, 'How great is the sum of them.' God's gracious desires, more numerous than the sand, for man's eternal welfare. That the Psalmist is going out beyond this life, into the future is obvious by his closing words: 'Lead us in the way everlasting.'
No! David was not a man to need argument! He had seen God in His handiwork, gorgeously displayed, when, as a shepherd lad, he had spent nights in the plains of Bethlehem and beheld the glorious
exhibition of heavenly lights stretching away into unimaginable distance. And was not that vision the inspiration of these words?
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handiwork.
Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge.
*Psa. 14. 1. Psa. 53. 1.
There is no speech nor language: their voice cannot be heard.
Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. Psa. 19. 1
He is not demonstrative as Isaiah is when he says:
Lift up your eyes on high, and see who hath created these, that bringeth out their host by number. He calleth them all by name: by the greatness of his might, and for that he is strong in power, not one is lacking. Isa 40:26.
No! For David it is simply 'The heavens declare the glory of God.' And again:
O Lord, our Lord, How excellent is thy name in all the earth! Who hast set thy glory upon the heavens ... Psa 8:1.
When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained:
What is man that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? Psa 8:3-5.
David's consideration of the might of God: 'the heavens are the work of thy fingers,' only serves to emphasize the marvel that He can not only be concerned about us individually, but that the sum total of His desires for our welfare are more than the sand. God, who desires my good, is working for my good, and, if I am not too blind, I can see a divine providence in every move of His hand on my account. Truly, 'all things work together for good to them that love God and are called according to His purpose' Rom. 8. 28. So again, we hear the sweet singer and join our praise with his.
Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me bless His Holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits:
Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases;
Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with loving-kindness and tender mercies;
Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle. Psa 103:1-5.
Psalm 34 ever stands out in my memory with remarkable clarity. I was going about my ordinary business and had called upon a tradesman who owed an account that I was to collect. In friendly conversation, before we began to talk business, reference was made to the dire need there was for men to live at peace with each other, and he remarked, 'Yes! we need to "Seek peace and pursue it," and I guess you don't know where that comes from.' I suggested, 'Try the 34th Psalm.' 'Oh!' he exclaimed, 'you know where it is, do you? It's a marvellous Psalm, isn't it?' To which I readily agreed: and then I had the surely unique experience of hearing a shopkeeper reciting a Psalm while paying me an account and I wrote out the receipt.
I will bless the Lord at all times: His praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul shall make her boast in the Lord, the meek shall hear thereof and be glad.
O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together.
I sought the Lord and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.
They looked unto him and were lightened; and their faces shall never be confounded.
This poor man cried and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him and delivereth them.
O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him.
O fear the Lord ye his saints; for there is no want to them that fear him.
The young lions do lack and suffer hunger; but they that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing.
Come, ye children, hearken unto me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
What man is he that desireth life, and loveth many days that he may see good:
Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile.
Depart from evil and do good: seek peace and pursue it.
The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry.
The face of the Lord is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.
The righteous cried, and the Lord heard, and delivered them out of all their troubles.
The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart, and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.
Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth him out of them all.
He keepeth all his bones; not one of them is broken.
Evil shall slay the wicked, and they that hate the righteous shall be condemned.
The Lord redeemeth the soul of his servants; and none of them that trust in him shall be condemned.
There is no time in the life of the Christian that does not call for songs of praise, and there are no songs like the songs of Zion.
Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.
Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice ye righteous: and shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart.
Psa. 32. 1; 11.
We shall never know how many hymnwriters have been inspired by the Psalms to incite us to praise God. John Milton's hymn, composed when he was twelve years of age,
Let us with a gladsome mind,
Praise the Lord for He is kind.
is almost a paraphrase of Psalm 136. Horatius Bonar's hymns have surely caught something of the same spirit of praise to the Almighty:
Blessed be God, our God,
Who gave for us His well beloved Son,
His gift of gifts, all other gifts in one,
Blessed be God, our God.
Fill Thou my life, O Lord my God,
In every part with praise,
That my whole being may proclaim
Thy being and Thy ways.
So shalt Thou, Lord, from me, e'en me,
Receive the glory due;
And so shall I begin on earth
The song for ever new.
So shall no part of day or night
From sacredness be free;
But all my life, in every step,
Be fellowship with Thee.
We have quoted the first word of the Psalms, 'Happy!' Is it not entirely fitting that the last verse should read: 'Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord'?
Praise YE the Lord.
Psalms of Adoration.
WHILE there will never be a time in the life of the Christian when he will not wish to praise God - blessings received from day to day call forth praise and gladness of heart - there must be progression. Praise brings me nearer to the Giver of every good and perfect gift, and my desire is for communion with Him. Desire becomes a need, and that need is only satisfied when I commune with God. I want Him to hear my thanks, and I want to hear Him speak. My Father is pleased to hear, and he delights also to answer. There are times when I must listen.
How can I enter into communion, this intimate association with God? There are conditions, for I cannot come into His presence 'as the horse rushes into battle.' Preparation is essential. When we became Christians, it was through the 'atonement.' 'We who were afar off were made nigh by the blood of Jesus Christ our Lord.' It is through the atonement that one-ness with God is made possible, but it must be embraced. For that, the first essential, surely is purity. 'Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.' The Psalmist knew that. In answer to the question, 'Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord, and who shall stand in his holy place?' he replies: 'He that hath clean hands and a pure heart .... He shall receive a blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.' Psa. 24:3-5.How absolute is the need for purity of heart becomes apparent when we consider the awe-inspiring reminder, 'Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance.' Psa. 90. 8. Again, 'Thou searchest out my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, but lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether.' And again, 'All things are naked and laid open before the eyes of him with whom we have to do.' Heb. 4. 13. The hymn writer reminds us:
They who fain would serve Thee best
Are conscious most of wrongs within.
Recognising this, David cries: 'Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean.' Some people, who mistakenly look upon the Bible as old-fashioned, would be surprised to discover what a lot of up-to-date truths it contains, although in those days of long ago the scientist, as we know him, did not exist. Hyssop was effectively used in Bible times; in the rite of purification, and it is worth noting that the recently acclaimed penicillin is grown on hyssop, which gives it healing power.
Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Psa. 51. 7.
Then there must be contrition. Real sorrow for the sin that marred our happy intercourse with our Maker. For we must recognise that our sin has been directed against Him.
'Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving kindness, according to the multitude of thy
tender mercies, blot out my transgressions ... Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in thy sight.' This is in accord with the Saviour's teaching: 'Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these my brethren, ye did it unto me.' And Paul reminds us that by our sin against a weak brother, we sin against Christ 1 Cor. 8.11. Godly sorrow, then, must characterise our approach to Him, for it reminds us of our frailty, of our own insufficiency, and increases our abhorrence of that which has caused all the discord in this fair universe. The Saviour teaches us:
If, therefore, thou art offering thy gift at the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee, leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way, first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. Matt. 5.24.
Sincerity is another trait of character that must be in evidence in our approach to God. The word comes from sine, without, and cera, wax; not having outside polish to cover up defects; genuine. All kinds of falsity are an abomination to God. Time and again we are warned about allowing ourselves to be influenced by outward appearance. Jesus spake of some men as 'whited sepulchres,' beautiful without, but full of rottenness and corruption within. 'Judge not,' said he, 'by outward appearance, but judge righteous judgment.' Samuel had to be warned when he went to anoint God's successor to the wicked Saul.
But the Lord said unto Samuel, look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have rejected him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart. 1 Sam. 16.7.
Again, our approach to God must be in an absolutely dependent attitude. The hymn writer gives us to sing,
Thou, O Christ, art all I want -
More than all in Thee I find.
Psalm 130 seems to depict, beautifully, a correct approach to God.
Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord.
Lord, hear my voice; let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications.
If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?
But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.
I wait for the Lord, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope.
My soul waiteth for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning.
The eagerness with which the watcher scans the orient skies, is graphically descriptive of my anticipation of that dearest of all communion. And yet - wondrous thought - the eagerness is not all on my side, for Jesus assures us:
If a man love me, he will keep my word: and my Father will love him and we will come unto him and make our abode with him.
It must have been with such thoughts of wonder in mind that Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote:
Abide in me, I pray, and I in Thee!
From this good hour, O leave me never more!
Then shall the discord cease, the wound be healed,
The life-long bleeding of the soul be o'er.
Abide in me; o'ershadow by Thy love
Each half-formed purpose and dark thought of sin;
Quench, ere it rise, each selfish, low desire,
And keep my soul as Thine, calm and divine.
Abide in me; there have been moments blest
When I have heard Thy voice and felt Thy power;
Then evil lost its grasp, and passion hushed
Owned the divine enchantment of the hour.
These were but seasons, beautiful and rare;
Abide in me, and they shall ever be;
Fulfil at once Thy precept and my prayer -
Come, and abide in me, and I in Thee!
Patience is another virtue that must be exercised as we approach God. Says the Psalmist,
My soul waiteth only upon God. From him cometh my salvation. He only is my rock and my fortress. He is my high tower; I shall not be greatly moved. Psa. 62:1.
Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.
Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him and he shall bring it to pass.
And he shall make thy righteousness to go forth as the light, and thy judgement as the noonday. Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for him. Psa. 37:4:7.
It is worth noticing that the Hebrew word here translated 'wait patiently' literally means, 'is silent unto God.' No need for us to fret or exhibit impatience when in God's presence. One has well said, 'God made neither hurry nor worry.' John records that 'no man hath seen God at any time, the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him,' literally, 'brought him out to view.' It is not surprising, therefore, that patience is one of the 'views' of God that Jesus gives us. As he says,
Therefore I say unto you, Be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than the food, and the body than the raiment?
Behold the birds of the heavens, that they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not ye of much more value than they? Matt. 6:25-26.
Be not anxious therefore saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the Gentiles seek; for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of these things. But seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Matt. 6:31-33.
He may test our faith sometimes by keeping us waiting for an answer, but we can rest assured that,
Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him. Psa. 103. 13.
Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee. Trust in the Lord for ever, for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength. Isa. 26. 3.
Quietness and strength often go together. Isaiah says,
In quietness and in confidence shall be thy strength. Isa 30:15.
I waited patiently for the Lord; And he inclined unto me, and heard my cry.
He hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God; Many shall see it and fear, and shall trust in the Lord. Psa. 40:1; 3.
The 46th Psalm is a splendid exhortation to quietness and confidence to all those who would approach God and put their trust in Him.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will we not fear.
There is a river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God shall help her, and that right early. Psa 46:1; 4-5.
Our approach to God in worship must always be with gratitude and thankfulness. Surely we can appropriate to ourselves the expression of joy of the returned captives:
When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like unto them that dream.
Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing;
Then said they among the nations, The Lord hath done great things for them.
The Lord hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad. Psa 126:1-3.
Only those who have experienced the blessedness of His mighty salvation could give such words the spiritual application they deserve.
Psalms of Devotion.
PERHAPS the most remarkable of all the Psalms is the 119th, the longest. It is written in stanzas of eight lines each, in the form of an acrostic, based on the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, which number twenty-two. Over each stanza, there is one letter of the alphabet, and each line of that stanza begins with that letter.
The subject of the Psalm is God's will, presented to the reader by means of eight synonyms, one for each line of a verse. These synonyms are 'commandments,' 'law,' 'word,' 'testimonies,' 'precepts,' 'judgments,' 'promises,' 'statutes,' and they appear over and over again in varying order, like the changes rung on a peal of bells.
We are warned to look well to the commandments to understand them, never to stray from them nor forget them.
Thy hands have made me and fashioned me; give me understanding that I may learn thy commandments.
We are to discern the wonder of the law, to take delight in it.
Blessed are they that are perfect in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord.
The cords of the wicked have wrapped me round, but I have not forgotten thy law.
Precepts are charges we must keep, think about, meditate upon, understand and love.
Behold, I have longed after thy precepts; quicken me in thy righteousness.
The Word we must heed, trust in, remember, be guided by, wait for, and stand in awe of.
Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and light unto my path.
Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word.
Promises are to be loved, remembered, and their direction followed.
The Statutes are for my understanding and delight.
Let my heart be perfect in thy statutes, that I be not ashamed.
Deal with thy servant according to thy mercy, and teach me thy statutes.
Testimonies I must observe to get to know them. They are wonderful.
Blessed are they that keep thy testimonies.
Take away from me reproach and contempt; for I have kept thy testimonies.
Judgements are decisions, righteous and true, and to be desired.
I will give thanks unto thee with uprightness of heart, when I learn thy righteous judgements.
I have remembered thy judgements of old, O Lord, and have comforted myself.
Do you call to mind how David sums up all this in the second part of the 19th Psalm?
The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever: The judgements of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
Moreover by them is thy servant warned; In keeping of them there is great reward.
When, like the Psalmist, we have tasted and seen that the Lord is good; have accepted His proffered salvation and poured out our souls in gratitude to Him; when we have been drawn by the cords of love, and find greater delight in being in His presence than mere words could express, then we realise we have been redeemed for a purpose. Praise is good, but praise is not an end in itself. We may not, dare not, withdraw to the cloistered cell to spend our time in prayer and singing. These are but a preparation for the life He wishes us to live. We have been saved to serve and all our powers must henceforth be consecrated to Him on the altar of service. If our praise for His goodness is real, it will be our delight to see others praising Him also, mingling our voices in harmony with theirs. Do you not call to mind the Psalmist's soliloquy:
These things I remember and pour out my soul within me. How I went with the throng and led
them to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, a multitude keeping holy-day. Psa. 42. 4.
While it is true we are saved individually, just as we are born into the world individually, we are not redeemed in isolation. John saw that the number of the redeemed was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, all joining in the praise of Him whose right it is to reign. What greater joy can we experience than to gather with those of like precious faith, when
In harmony our voices join
To praise with one accord.
These gatherings for praise and worship were the joy of the Psalmist's heart.
I was glad when they said unto me, let us go unto the house of the Lord. Psa 122:1.
Behold, how good and joyful a thing it is for brethren to dwell together in unity. Psa 133:1.
The promised blessing comes to those who together meet for praise and adoration. But the blessing is for a purpose. 'They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.' Strength to meet life with all its problems and difficulties. Strength to work for Him in the grandest of all service. Strength to bear fruit.
No tree bears fruit for its own consumption. Trees grow and expand; they become more firmly rooted, stronger, taller, and more stately; but their fruit is grown for the benefit of men. How is this accomplished? The tree - a separate entity - draws all its life from that in which it is rooted. It is the channel through which the products of the ground are passed on in the form of fruit. That truth has its spiritual counterpart.
Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly ... He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth its fruit in its season. His leaf shall not wither, and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. Psa. 1:1-3.
The trees of the Lord are full of sap. Psa 104:16.
Jesus says: Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; so neither can ye except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches; he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit; for apart from me ye can do nothing. John 15. 4.
There is the first essential to service; lifelong devotion: the preparation that comes as a result of being rooted and grounded in love. We saw something of the process in our last chapter. We put out of our life all that hinders our close approach to Him. We get rid of envy, jealousy, malice, pride. We grow like
Him as He grows up in us, and rather than seeking to work for Him, we let Him work through us. We consecrate all our faculties to Him, saying:
Use me, O Lord, use even me,
Just as Thou wilt and when and where.
Like the Psalmist, we exclaim
O Lord, truly I am thy servant:
I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the Lord,
I will pay my vows unto the Lord. Yea, in the presence of all his people. Psa. 116:17-18.
Our willingness to serve is shown by our submission to His will; and let us here carefully note that God's will is not something that is harsh or arbitrarily imposed. Jesus taught His disciples to pray, 'Thy will be done on earth, even as it is done in heaven.' God's will, then, is something for us to do. How often it is quite mistakenly regarded as some terrible fate that overcomes people. It is strange how ready the worldling is to attribute some terrible calamity or catastrophe to the will of God, and yet forget the inestimable joys of life and never think of praising God for them! When some fearful calamity occurs, there are those who, with a sanctimonious sigh, will exclaim, 'Ah, well! It must have been the will of God.' How foolish! The will of God is something for us to do. Now, we cannot do His will if we are unacquainted with it; thus, the knowledge of God's will is vital for all who would truly serve Him. The Word of God is God's will for us. Was there not an old Covenant - an old will, to be found in the Old Testament? And is there not now a New Testament, containing God's will for us in this age? God's will for us is in God's Word. The 119th Psalm - with a short analysis of which this chapter began - is a wonderful acknowledgement of this truth. It has been spoken of as 'Jehovah's will in relation to human character and conduct.'
Thy word have I laid up in my heart, that I might not sin against thee. Psa. 119. 11.
Knowing where the will of God is, and what it is, let us gladly seek to carry it out.
Willingness to obey Him is the first essential of service.
Ability to work for Him will be in proportion as we submit ourselves to Him, for He is able to use the 'weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.'
Obedience is of extreme importance. We shall need to pray, 'Teach me to do thy will, O God.'
Cheerfulness must be evident in all we seek to do for Him, for are we not happy servants of the 'happy God'?
It is not easy for us to be unselfish. Self occupies so much of our minds that the noblest deed needs to be carefully watched that no thought of self-advancement may enter. It is true that, because of our weakness, God has granted us 'exceeding great and precious promises,' and it would be grand if we loved Him so much that we could serve Him with absolute self-less devotion. Altruism is altogether too rare in
us who claim to follow the example of Him who gave Himself for our sake.
All these things must become part of our service of our Lord, but we are not asked to serve Him unaided. The Psalmist experienced this to a remarkable degree:
The Lord is on my side: I will not fear; What can man do unto me?
The Lord is on my side, among them that help me.
It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man.
It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes.
The Lord is my strength and song; and he is become my salvation.
The voice of rejoicing and salvation is in the tents of the righteous; the right hand of the Lord doeth valiantly. Psa. 118:6-9 ; 14-15.
The victory over evil that I am permitted to experience, is the work of the Lord. 'It is the Lord's doing. It is marvellous in our eyes.' Psa 118:23.
God never allows any who trust in Him to fight their battles alone. No matter under what figure of speech we view life, it will be obvious that we have to DO something. 'The world has no room for a religion that does not eventuate in good deeds.' Is it a battle of right against wrong that I am engaged in? Then the Psalmist says,
The Lord is on my side, what can man do unto me.
Is it a journey through the bewildering maze
Where sin has tracked ten thousand ways
Its victims to ensnare;
All broad and winding and aslope:
All tempting with perfidious hope,
All ending in despair?
Then says the Psalmist,
Thou will show me the path of life. Psa 16:11.
We have the assurance from the same source:
I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go; I will counsel thee with mine eye upon thee. Psa 32:8.
Are we sailing on life's ocean: meeting storm and trial by the way? Then David assures us,
O God of our salvation; thou art the confidence of all the ends of the earth; and of them that are afar off upon the sea; who stilleth the roaring of the seas. Psa 65:5.
Do you remember how the 107th Psalm speaks of these things?
They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters;
These see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep.
For He commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof;
They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths; their soul melteth away because of trouble.
They reel to and fro and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wit's end.
Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses.
He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still.
Then are they glad because they are quiet; so he bringeth them unto the haven where they would be.
O, that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men.
Are we building for eternity? Then we are warned:
Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it. Psa. 127. 1.
If we would serve God, we must serve with God - but serve we must! Jesus says:
Not every one that saith unto me Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father, who is in heaven. Mat 7:21.
Not everyone that SAITH, but he that DOETH. 'The true wealth and rest and joy of life are found in the service of God.'
Behold. O God our shield, and look upon the face of thine anointed.
For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.
For the Lord God is a sun and a shield: the Lord will give grace and glory; no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.
O Lord of Hosts, blessed is the man that trusteth in thee. Psa. 84:9-12.
We need grace not to be upset by the seeming prosperity of the evil-doer. The Psalmist knew such feelings:
As for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
For there are no bands in their death; but their strength is firm.
They are not in trouble as other men. Their pride is as a chain about their neck; violence covereth them as a garment.
Their eyes stand out with fatness; they have more than heart could wish.
They scoff, and in wickedness utter oppression; they speak loftily. They have set their mouth in the heavens, and their tongue walketh through the earth.
Behold these are the wicked; and, being at ease they increase in riches. Surely in vain have I cleansed my heart, and washed my hands in innocency; for all the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning.
When I thought how I might know this, it was too painful for me;
Until I went into the sanctuary of God, and considered their latter end.
Surely thou settest them in slippery places; thou casteth them down to destruction.
Nevertheless I am continually with thee; thou hast holden my right hand. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterwards receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee.
My flesh and my heart faileth; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever.
Psa 73:2-9; 12-14; 16-18; 23-25.
May we be so enabled to labour for Him as to be counted worthy at the last to hear the 'Well done! good and faithful.'
Psalms of Confidence.
THE implicit trust of a little child is a beautiful thing, but the confidence of age, begotten of a life-long experience, is something richer, grander, and more satisfying. I do not forget that Jesus says:
Except ye turn, and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven.
But we do not remain children. As we advance in years, so does our reliance upon self decline and there is borne in upon us a joy like to that of Moses when he told Israel: 'The eternal God is thy refuge; and underneath are the everlasting arms.' Deut 33-27.
It was surely after long experience that the poet could write:
All as God wills, who wisely heeds to give or to withhold,
And knoweth more of all my needs than all my prayers have told!
Enough that blessings undeserved have marked my erring track;
That whereso'er my feet have swerved His chastening turned me back;
That more and more a providence of love is understood,
Making the springs of time and sense sweet with eternal good:
That care and trial seem at last, through memory's sunset air,
Like mountain ranges overpast, in purple distance fair;
That all the jarring notes of life seem blending in a psalm,
And all the angles of its strike slow rounding into calm,
And so the shadows fall apart, and so the west winds play;
And all the windows of my heart I open to the day.
The confidence that will sustain must be without reservation: no longer must there be reliance on self. David says:
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauties of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.
For in the day of trouble he shall keep me secretly in his pavilion; In the covert of his tabernacle shall he hide me; he shall lift me up upon the rock.
And now shall my head be lifted up above mine enemies round about me; and I will offer, in his tabernacle, sacrifices of joy; I will sing; yea, I will sing praises unto the Lord. Psa. 27:1; 4-6.
And then, at the end of the same Psalm, he says:
I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord; be strong, and let thine heart take courage; Yea, wait thou on the Lord. vs 13-14.
There may have been times when we would have liked to see a little ahead, into the future, but experience has taught us that it was a wise and merciful providence that veiled from our eyes what the years would bring. It is for a good reason our Heavenly Father asks us to trust Him with what is in store for us.
God holds the key of all unknown,
And I am glad;
If other hands should hold the key,
Or if He trusted it to me,
I might be sad.
Quite naturally, when the saint is nearing the end of life's journey, the past, with all its many failings and few successes, passes in panoramic view before the mind's eye. We readily admit that
Any virtue we possess,
And any victory won,
And any thought of holiness
Are His alone.
With age and experience should come wisdom - the proper application of knowledge. In the light of what has been learned, things should be seen in their right proportion. There comes astonishment at the brevity of human life. Job's figure of speech, 'My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle,' is not only
beautiful, but true. We sing, though I doubt if we always see its significance:
A sleep, a dream, a story
By strangers quickly told:
An unremaining glory
Of things that soon are old.
Realization of our own insufficiency begets increasing confidence in the Almighty. Like David we might well cry
Lord make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is; let me know how frail I am.
Behold thou has made my days as handbreaths; and mine age is as nothing before thee. Psa 39:4-5.
The best known and most love of the Psalms, the 23rd, has a special place in our consideration here. We are so familiar with it that a remarkable change in its grammatical construction may easily slip by unobserved. The Psalmist commences by talking about the Lord. He tells of the provision the Shepherd makes for his sheep, how he cares for them, considers their comfort and looks after their well-being: but with the immanence of 'the valley of the shadow of death,' comes a change in the 'person' of the pronoun. It has been in the third person up to this point, but the thought of death brings a feeling of closer intimacy. No longer does he talk about the Shepherd, he talks to Him.
The Lord is my shepherd: I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul, he guideth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; thou hast anointed my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
Lancelot Oliver impressed me, many years ago, on this point by saying that it always reminded him of a little boy travelling in a railway carriage with his daddy. The little fellow would pass up and down the length of the carriage, talking, in his childish way about his daddy: my daddy this; my daddy that. But the train plunges into a tunnel, and the child ceases to talk about his daddy. He sidles along, till he finds him, places his little hand in that of his father, and all is well.
In the hour of real need, when darkness overwhelms me, and I journey into the unknown, when those I love best cannot go with me, and those who love me most are powerless to prevent my slipping away, I may whisper: 'I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.'
Death! The last enemy! And the sting of death is gone.
Thou hast delivered my soul from death. Psa. 56. 13.
Precious, in the sight of the Lord, is the death of his saints.
As for me, I shall behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied when I awake in thy likeness.
Now what can I use more suitably to close this fragmentary gathering from the Psalms than these words:
It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in men;
It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes.
Gathered Fragments is a summary of four lectures delivered at Hindley Bible School, 1948, under the title of 'Messages from the Psalms'.
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