The Basis Of Confidence
We have been noticing in studying this book how very frequently a number of Psalms are intimately linked together. Beginning with Psalm 25 and going on through Psalm 39 we have a little group of fifteen Psalms all of which deal with the same general subject, that is, the spiritual exercises of the people of God, particularly the coming remnant of Israel in the days of the great tribulation, but also the exercises that the people of God in general pass through in this world while waiting for the coming again of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Of course we need to remember in studying the Psalms that we are not actually on Christian ground. The disciples of our blessed Lord were never definitely known as Christians until the present glorious dispensation of the grace of God came to us. Of old they were children of God but waiting for the full knowledge of redemption. They had real faith and so they were born again but they did not know what we know, an accomplished redemption and the veil rent so that believers may go right into the presence of God. By and by, after the Church of God has been taken out of this scene, there will be what Scripture calls “the tribulation,” when our Lord turns again to Israel to take out a remnant from among them, to open their eyes and to prepare them for the coming of the King, when He begins His glorious reign. During that time they will be in great measure in the same state of soul as believers were of old before the cross because while they will have learned from the study of the Scriptures that Jesus, the Jesus whom their fathers rejected, was really Messiah, it will not be until He actually appears that they will enter into the full knowledge of redemption. And so we do not find that their worship rises to the full height of Christian worship. There is always with them a certain measure of uncertainty of things. They do not have the clear, definite knowledge of justification from all things that is given to the Church of God today. They are groping largely and yet their hearts are yearning after God.
When we come to consider these fifteen Psalms we find that they all have to do with the exercises of God’s people and yet they fall into three groups. The first five of them, Psalms 25 to 29, deal largely with the basis or the ground of the souls’ confidence as they look up to God because they are conscious of His abiding love and of the integrity of their own hearts. That is, they know that they are seeking to do the will of God. Then in the second section, Psalms 30 to 34, we seem to move on a step and find these Psalms occupied with the hearts’ appropriation of God’s salvation. They seem to have risen largely above themselves and the question of their own personal integrity to realize that salvation rests entirely upon the matchless grace of God. And then in the third section, Psalms 35 to 39, they are occupied largely with the question of personal holiness. They are brought consciously into the presence of God and as they realize His infinite holiness there is on their part a yearning desire to be more and more like Himself. So we can see that believers who used the book of Psalms in the old days before the veil was rent and believers who will use the book in the coming day of the great tribulation have not the same light that we have today. Yet the moral order is the same. When we first come to Christ, if we come to Him sincerely and seek honestly to walk with Him, the moment the soul becomes conscious of failure, of sin, there is a cloud on the sense of assurance. But as we go on and learn to turn from self altogether and to be occupied with Christ and His finished work, and as we progress in the Christian life we are occupied not so much with the question of the putting away of our sin and our final salvation, but, as a sense of His infinite holiness becomes more real to us, we find our hearts crying out for holiness of heart and cleanness of life.
Look then at Psalm 25. Here we find a sense of God’s righteousness and grace leading the heart out to Himself. This is divided in a rather striking way. First, in verses 1 to 7 we have a prayer. In verses 8 to 10 we have the soul’s recognition of God’s goodness, and again in verse 11 there is a prayer. Then in verses 12 to 15 we get the soul’s testimony, and verses 16 to 22 close the Psalm with another prayer. Look at the prayer, “Unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul. O my God, I trust in thee: let me not be ashamed, let not mine enemies triumph over me. Yea, let none that wait on thee be ashamed: let them be ashamed which transgress without cause.” Somebody has very well said that David might have written this Psalm when he was fleeing from Absalom, when perfectly conscious of his own integrity of heart, though he could not forget the sins of years ago, and he was able to trust Him in spite of his difficult circumstances. You remember how beautifully that came out in his case when Shimei, the Benjamite, threw stones and dirt upon David and cried, “Thou bloody man, and thou man of Belial” (2 Samuel 16:7), and Abishai, one of David’s friends, said, “Why should this dead dog curse my Lord the king? let me go over, I pray thee, and take off his head” (2 Samuel 16:9). But David said, “Let him curse, because the Lord hath said unto him, Curse David, Who shall say, Wherefore hast thou done so? And David said to Abishai, and to all his servants, Behold, my son, which came forth of my bowels, seeketh my life: how much more now may this Benjamite do it? Let him alone, and let him curse; for the Lord hath bidden him” (2 Samuel 16:10–11). The Lord can turn the curse into a blessing. David realized deep in his heart that the suffering was to a certain extent the result of that sin of so long ago in the case of Bathsheba. God was still visiting that sin upon him governmentally, but David could just accept it as from God for he was conscious that he had judged his sin and was seeking to walk faithfully with the Lord and so he could look up to God and plead, in that sense, his own integrity. And so if we think of David as in those circumstances when he wrote these words it may help us to understand them better. We cannot say positively that they were written at that time but they would fit that occasion in a wonderful way.
“Show me thy ways, O Lord; teach me thy paths. Lead me in thy truth, and teach me: for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day.” How proper it is that such a prayer should be on our lips and in our hearts! We who have been redeemed to God, can we not take our place with David and pray the same words? Is not this what we want above everything else? But mark this, God will never answer this prayer unless we give much time to the reverent study of His Word. He is not going to teach us His paths, He is not going to make known His truth by some wonderful revelation to us. He has given us all that we need for guidance and direction here in the Book and He commands us to “Search the Scriptures.” Our Lord Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them through thy truth, thy word is truth.” Is it not a lamentable fact that we let our Bibles lie unopened upon the desk or the shelf or table day by day and hardly ever look into them unless it be when we come to a service? We do so little real waiting on God over His Word and yet we cry, “Show me thy ways, O Lord; teach me thy paths.” He will never teach us His ways, He will never show us His paths if we neglect our Bibles. It is as we study the Word that He makes known His truth.
Then the psalmist looks over the past and three times he uses the word, “remember.” “Remember,O Lord, thy tender mercies and thy lovingkindnesses; for they have been ever of old.” As much as to say, “Lord, I am in deep distress but remember how Thou didst take me up in my great need, Thou didst not save me because of any goodness Thou sawest in me, Thou didst take me up in grace. Remember all Thy past dealings; now deal with me still in mercy.” Then he thinks of failures, of sins committed long ago which he has confessed and judged but which often came to his mind in after years, and says, “Remembernot the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions: according to thy mercy rememberthou me for thy goodness’ sake, O Lord.”
About twenty years ago I was called to see an aged saint of about ninety years of age whom we had known as a very godly man. I went into the room where he lay upon his bed and started to speak to him of the goodness of the Lord through all the years but he stopped me and said, “I wonder whether you can help me, everything seems so dark.”
“Dark?” I said, “you have known the Lord for nearly seventy years and you have been such a help and blessing to others.”
“Yes, but in my illness, since I have been lying here so weak my memory keeps bringing up the sins of my youth and I cannot get them out of my mind. They keep crowding in upon me and I cannot help thinking of them and they make me so miserable and wretched.”
I turned to this passage, “Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions: according to thy mercy remember me for thy goodness’ sake, O Lord,” and I pointed out to him that all those sins were long since put away. I said, “You came to God seventy years ago; you confessed the sins of your youth, did you not?”
“I am afraid,” he said, “that I forgot some of them.”
I said, “It is not a question of being able to remember every individual sin. You acknowledged that your life had been a life of sin, and do you not remember what happened then?” His mind was very weak and I said, “Don’t you remember that when you confessed your sins, God said, ‘Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more’? If God has forgotten them, why should you think about them?”
He looked at me and smiled and said, “I am an old fool remembering what God has forgotten.” So he rested on the word of the Lord and was at peace.
In verses 8 and 9 David gives his testimony, “Good and upright is the Lord: therefore will he teach sinners in the way. The meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way. All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies.” And he just rests upon the covenant of God. God has given His Word and we can depend on it. We can count on it. But notice how he puts the emphasis on the favor of God, “The meek will he guide in judgment.” Do you know why so many of us miss our way? It is because we are not meek enough to be guided. “Judgment” here means discernment. Do you know why so many of us blunder? It is because we are so self-sufficient. Meekness is not natural to the human heart. It is a grace communicated to those who walk in fellowship with God. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29). In one of the Minor Prophets we read, “Seek discernment, seek meekness.” If you want the mind of God, if you want to understand His will, there must be an end to self-sufficiency. God hates pride, He hates self-sufficiency. There must be a sense of brokenness and lowliness in order that we may hear His voice.
David offers a wonderful prayer in the next verse. “For thy name’s sake, O Lord, pardon mine iniquity; for it is great.” You might have expected him to have put it in the opposite way and to have said, “O Lord, pardon mine iniquity; for it is not very great. I was really entrapped into this.” A lot of people do that, they make excuses for their iniquity and hope in that way to escape the punishment due to sin but when a man takes his place honestly before God and says, “I have no excuses to make, my iniquity is great,” he finds a great Saviour. People come to me and ask me to pray with them about some failure and then they begin to explain that they did not really mean to do it and that their purpose was all right. That is not facing things honestly with God. Some one tells of a woman who went to Charles Wesley and said, “I want you to pray for me. I am really a great sinner.”
He stopped her and said, “Let us pray,” and he began to pray, “O Lord, we pray for this poor sister. She is a great sinner.”
She got so indignant and caught him by the arm and said, “Stop! Who has been telling you about me?”
“I was just saying what you yourself told me.”
People like to excuse themselves but the great Saviour delights to reveal Himself to great sinners. “O Lord, pardon mine iniquity; for it is very great.” Do not try to excuse it, do not try to minimize it. Let it appear at its worst and He is there at once to deal with you in grace.
In verses 12 to 15 you get the soul’s expression of trust and confidence, “What man is he that feareth the Lord (the one who stands in awe before God, who approaches him reverently)? Him shall he teach in the way that he shall choose. His soul shall dwell at ease; and his seed shall inherit the earth.”
And now verse 14 contains a very wonderful truth, “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him; and he will show them his covenant.” The secret of the Lord is the covenant of grace, and He says that covenant of grace is with them that fear Him. He makes known His secret to those who stand in awe in His presence. “Mine eyes are ever toward the Lord; for he shall pluck my feet out of the net.”
He closes the Psalm with another payer, beginning with verse 16, “Turn thee unto me, and have mercy upon me; for I am desolate and afflicted. The troubles of my heart are enlarged: O bring thou me out of my distresses. Look upon mine affliction and my pain; and forgive all my sins.” Just think of him fleeing from Absalom, all the pain and grief that is rending his heart, his own son having proven so unworthy. Is there anything that a father feels more than that? He pours out everything to God and does not attempt to justify himself and so pleads with God, “Forgive all my sins.” And then he puts God between the enemy and himself, “Consider mine enemies; for they are many; and they hate me with cruel hatred. O keep my soul, and deliver me: let me not be ashamed; for I put my trust in thee.” It is the expression of absolute confidence in God. “Let integrity and uprightness preserve me; for I wait on thee.” I have no one else to turn to and just wait on Thee.
“Redeem Israel, O God, out of all his troubles.” You can see how beautifully these words will fit the lips of the remnant in the days of the great tribulation as they are waiting on God for deliverance from the power of the antichrist.
The 26th Psalm continues the same subject but emphasizes separation to the Lord from the evil on every side, and so the soul calls upon God, “Judge me, O Lord; for I have walked in mine integrity: I have trusted also in the Lord; therefore I shall not slide.” There is a sense of conscious uprightness. You cannot pray with assurance unless you have that. If you go to God about something and have not a good conscience you cannot pray. “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” (Psalm 66:18). I have known what it was to go along, thinking everything was all right, and yet not have much realization of the presence of God, and suddenly I was called to a dear one in whom I was intensely interested, and who was suffering illness. The request had come, “will you go and pray with this one?” And as I would kneel to pray the thought would come, I am not in a condition to pray. I have not been living close enough to the Lord. I have been too careless about things, letting things go instead of dealing with them before God, and so I could not pray. There would have to be a facing of failure before God and only when I knew that things were dealt with could I pray with any sense of assurance. David is not boasting of any goodness but says to the One who knows all the secrets of the heart, “I have trusted in the Lord; therefore I shall not slide” and then cries, in case the Lord should see something he does not, “Examine me, O Lord, and prove me; try my reins and my heart.” In other words, “I want Thee to search me through and through and if there is anything hindering fellowship, anything keeping me from being on praying ground, make it manifest for I want to be right with Thee.”
“For thy lovingkindness is before mine eyes: and I have walked in thy truth. I have not sat with vain persons.” There has been conscious separation from the ungodly. “Neither will I go in with dissemblers. I have hated the congregation of evil doers; and will not sit with the wicked. I will wash mine hands in innocency: so will I compass thine altar, O Lord.” What offerings of praise and thanksgiving we would bring to God if every one of us, as we drew near His altar, could say, “Lord, I have washed mine hands in innocency,—I have judged everything, I have been cleansed by the washing of water by the Word so that I know of nothing in my heart or life that hinders communion with Thee.” How we could pray and work and count on God to intervene! “So will I compass thine altar, O Lord: that I may publish with the voice of thanksgiving, and tell of all thy wondrous works.”
And just as he has expressed his detestation of the evil doer he expresses his deep affection for the house of God, “Lord, I have loved the habitation of thy house, and the place where thine honor dwelleth. Gather not my soul with sinners, nor my life with bloody men.” He cannot get near the house of God and enemies are around him. “In whose hands is mischief, and their right hand is full of bribes. But as for me, I will walk in mine integrity: redeem me, and be merciful unto me. My foot standeth in an even place: in the congregation will I bless the Lord.” And he looks on in faith believing that God is indeed going to give deliverance.
In Psalm 27 we have the saint’s desire. What is it that the child of God desires above everything else? Is it not fellowship with the One who has redeemed him? And so here you have David exclaiming, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” Let the enemy rage as he will; I will confide in God. “The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked, even mine enemies and my foes came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell. Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident.” In what? That above everything else I have desired fellowship with Thee! “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after.” What is that one thing? Fellowship with God. “That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple.” What does he mean by “the beauty of the Lord?” It is His moral beauty. We have never seen the face of the Lord. We have never looked upon His countenance and yet we have seen His beauty because we have realized, as we have studied the Word, His moral and spiritual perfection.
Many years ago, on a car one day, a number of high school girls were laughing and chatting. A woman with a heavy veil over her face boarded the car and as she got on the wind blew the veil aside and one could see that she had a terribly scarred face; it had evidently been badly burned. It looked horrible and one of these girls exclaimed, “Oh, look at that fright!” Another of the girls seeing who it was about whom they were speaking wheeled around and turned to the other in flaming anger and said, “How dare you speak of my beautiful mother in that way?”
“Oh, I am so sorry, I didn’t think what I was saying. I did not mean to say anything unkind of your mother; I did not know it was your mother.”
“Yes, it is,” the other replied, “and her face is the most beautiful thing about her to me. Mother left me in my little crib when a small child and went to a store to get something. When she came back the house was on fire and my mother fought her way through the fire and flames and wrapped me all up so that the flames could not reach me but when she got outside again she fell down burned terribly but I was safe. And whenever I look at her I think what a beautiful mother I have.”
They say beauty is only skin deep. Moral beauty goes to the depths of the soul and when David says that he wants to dwell in the house of the Lord to behold the beauty of the Lord, he means, I want to be taken up with the holiness and the love and the grace and the compassion of the Lord.
“In the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion: in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me: he shall set me up upon a rock.” Notice the different figures he uses. The foe all about but hidden in God’s pavilion, in the innermost part of the tabernacle. The secret place would be the holiest of all. And then, “He shall set me up upon a rock,” and we know that the rock is Christ. “And now shall mine head be lifted up above mine enemies round about me: therefore will I offer in his tabernacle sacrifices of joy; I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto the Lord. Hear, O Lord, when I cry with my voice: have mercy also upon me, and answer me.” And now notice the heart’s exercise, “When thou sadist, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek.” What did you say when He said, “Seek ye my face”? Did you reply, “Some other time, Lord; I have too much to do now; I have my business, I have the housework to do and cannot bother with the Word now, some other time”? But David says, “When thou saidst, Seek ye my face: my heart said unto thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek.” As much as to say, Lord, I am so thankful that Thou desirest me to come into Thy presence. I am delighted to come; “Thy face, Lord, will I seek.”
“Hide not thy face far from me; put not thy servant away in anger: thou has been my help; leave me not, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation. When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.” When the dearest ones on Earth forsake me then the Lord will care for me. And so he continues to pray, “Teach me thy way, O Lord, and lead me in a plain path, because of mine enemies. Deliver me not over unto the will of mine enemies: for false witnesses are risen up against me, and such as breathe out cruelty.” Do you not see how this Psalm might be applied to the Lord Jesus Himself when He was here on Earth? He could have taken these words on His lips, He could say to the Father, “When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek.” And when before Caiaphas, He could have said, “False witnesses are risen up against me, and such as breathe out cruelty.” And He “left us an example, that we should follow His steps.”
The Psalm closes with these words. “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 of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.” God does not always do for us what we ask immediately. We are not only to wait on the Lord but we are to wait for the Lord. Wait His own time. But now notice that 13th verse, “I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” The words, “I had fainted” are in italics. There is nothing in the original to answer to them. But, you say, you would not have a complete sentence without them, you could not say, “Unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” No, you might have an exclamatory sentence like this, “Oh, if I had not believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!” What a tragedy it would have been if I had not believed, what a terrible blunder I would have made if I had not believed in these difficult days! I have had numbers of Christian businessmen say to me, “O, my brother, if it had not been for my confidence in the Lord, when my business went to pieces and when the savings of the years were swept away, I would have been like those other people who went to one of these high buildings and jumped off.” That is what David is saying, Oh, the tragedy if I had not known the Lord! But my soul was at peace and I could wait upon Him.