Psalm 119

A Servant's Plea for God's Word

July 3, 2011 Series: Scripture: Psalm 119:121-128 by Chris Strevel

121 AIN. I have done judgment and justice: leave me not to mine oppressors.

122 Be surety for thy servant for good: let not the proud oppress me.

123 Mine eyes fail for thy salvation, and for the word of thy righteousness.

124 Deal with thy servant according unto thy mercy, and teach me thy statutes.

125 I am thy servant; give me understanding, that I may know thy testimonies.

126 It is time for thee, LORD, to work: for they have made void thy law.

127 Therefore I love thy commandments above gold; yea, above fine gold.

128 Therefore I esteem all thy precepts concerning all things to be right; and I hate every false way.

To Deliver from Oppression (vv. 121-122)

God’s people will feel the oppression of the wicked deeply. It presses upon us personally as we seek to defend God’s honor and make our only boast in Christ’s cross. “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12). It may be milder or stronger, depending upon the times in which we live, God’s wise shepherding of our souls, and the state of the wicked themselves, who are often too lazy and blind to recognize Christ’s servants as their true enemies or are held back by God’s power. He may restrain them because we are too lazy and weak to maintain our profession in the midst of Satan’s ferocity or simply because he holds the wicked in derision and has set his King to reign upon Zion’s hill (Ps. 2:6). Even if God’s enemies happen not to be roaring against us, who can passively sit by when God’s word is ignored, his church unsupported by leaders who should be its “foster-fathers and nursing-mothers” (Isa. 49:23), and the church herself weakened by blind guides, itching-ear members, and doctrinal compromise? Thus, a general haze of oppression hangs over the church in almost every age. While the glorious gospel of our Savior and his true disciples will go from “strength to strength” and “glory to glory,” our wise Father leaves sufficient oppression in the world to chase us to his throne of grace, conform us to our Head, who learned obedience by the things that he suffered (Heb. 5:8), and to make us feel that we are strangers and pilgrims on the earth so that we might seek God’s eternal city (Heb. 13:14). If we are to feel the force of David’s plea in the depths of our soul, we must also understand that oppression is to be defined not as the world does – not having what we think is our right, minorities not having their way with things, or groups of angry perverts demanding to be treated as saints and victims – but as the opposition we feel because we are God’s servants. That is, biblical oppression is always God-centered and word-induced. It comes to us because we love God and his word while the world hates both. It comes to us because we speak his truth and suffer violence, in word or deed, for our boast in our Savior’s cross. If we are not seeking to live for God and are not loving his truth, any “oppression” we feel is simply the anger of children who are mad because they cannot get their way. All gospel oppression drives the soul to God as its only defender.

If we are to have God for our defender – O, what courage and hope this should inspire in us! – “judgment and justice” must be the tenor of our lives. We are not fighting God’s battles and cannot have him for our Captain and Shield unless we are practicing righteousness. This means that we are obeying his word with the help of his gracious Spirit (1 Pet. 1:2), mourning over our many failings, but nonetheless delighting in holiness of life. Practically, it means we are speaking and defending his truth, actively doing good, not merely abstaining from evil, and not rendering evil for evil, as our Savior said. Righteousness is “turning the other cheek,” praying for those who persecute us,” and overcoming evil with good (Matt. 5:39,44; Rom. 12:21). Especially when we love our enemies and do good to those that hate us, we are like our Father in heaven. Personal vengeance is the last thing on our minds. Why? When we devote ourselves to pursuing righteousness according to God’s word, we necessarily commit ourselves to his safekeeping, depending upon him to vindicate us, and waiting upon him to deliver us (1 Pet. 2:23). Then, and only then, do we have any legitimate expectation that our Father will not “leave us to our oppressors.” This is not to plead our own merits, of course, for we look to the crucified Son of God as our only righteousness before God. In union with him, however, the fruits of his righteousness will be evident in our lives (Phil. 1:11). Our lives as his devoted servants will be decidedly different from those in the world. We shall speak his truth, honor his word, and pursue justice, however violently and deceitfully men may treat us. This attitude is wholly opposed to the modern spirit that thinks first of self-defense, individually and collectively, rather than of God as our shield and protector. It is equally opposed to the idea in conservative circles that the only way to defend religious and political liberty is to play ball with the infidels and use merely human weaponry to effect the righteousness of God. His righteousness and justice is decidedly opposed to man’s pseudo- and self-oriented judgment, and we shall never defend his truth and kingdom unless we are committed to his word as the only standard of righteousness and the recognized reign of his Son as the only source of justice. We may not have many human friends if we take such a “hard line,” for compromise is the name of the game in the city of man. Turning from this blindness, however, we shall have God for our defender and may sincerely plead a pure conscience before him – that we have preferred the world’s reproach to dishonoring him, Christ’s kingdom to man’s regime of tyranny. Then, we have every assurance that he will hear and answer our pleas, that he will lift himself up for our defense, and that he will build the church and kingdom of his Son over the very gates of hell.

David’s plea – “Be surety for thy servant for good” – shows us that our involvement in the battle for God’s righteousness is intensely personal. We are God’s servants. To be God’s servant is to make his will our only guide and his pleasure our only reward. It means that we delight to be under his authority, to be directed by him as our only teacher, and to consider any day in which we have done our own will a loss, an abdication of our allegiance to him, a loss of joy and peace. It means that “zeal for his house consumes us, and the reproaches of those who reproach him fall upon us” (Ps. 69:9). Yet, we cannot plead for God to deliver us from the oppression of men unless we are his devoted servants, unless we are both filled with zeal for his honor and purity and have a deep sense of our weakness and need of his protection. Then, we may call upon his pledge to us to do us good all our days (Ps. 23:6). He is good and does good (Ps. 119:66). He delights to do good and show mercy to his servants (Mic. 7:18). His pledged goodness is our great hope. It is the food that feeds our soul as we seek to live righteously in the midst of this “crooked and perverse generation,” the light that shows us our path in dark places, and the promise that quenches despair when the road grows rugged and lonely. Are we confident in God’s goodness, or has the failure to pursue righteousness in our hearts, relations, and duties hid his face from us so that we lack assurance of his love and favor? Do we call upon him to show us good? We may think we have sufficient strength in ourselves to “make our mountain to stand strong,” but he will hide his face from us to trouble us (Ps. 30:7). He will teach us in the midst of the daily battles for purity of thought, family righteousness, and vocational integrity that he alone is our good and help. He will not allow us to trust the idols of our heart for long. He will be all our good, all our hope, all our defense. We can know if we are making any progress toward his goodness if we are calling upon him consistently, perseveringly. We are turning from the vanity of our own hearts only if we are calling upon God and giving him no rest. Can we say: “Thou are my portion” (Ps. 119:57), that he is our only goodness and happiness in this life? If he is, then whatever obstacles we face, whatever pressures the wicked exert against us, there will be an inexhaustible fountain of goodness to cheer us on our way, make us faithful in duty, grateful simply to be the servants of God, and confident that in his own time and way, he will deliver us from oppression and bring us to a wide place where “our glory may sing praise unto thee, and not be silent” (Ps. 30:12).

With Fervent Desire for God’s Word (v. 123)

The Lord will exercise our faith through oppression and adversity, as well as through the weakness of our bodies and the sinfulness of our hearts. It is not enough to pray once or twice, or even for an extended season. Our lives must be nothing but a continuous plea to the Lord to hear and help us. We must not allow the privileged knowledge of our Savior’s intercession to lull us to sleep. No, he reveals himself as our Advocate at the Father’s right hand to stir us up all the more to come to the throne of grace, pour out our soul before him, and call upon the name of the Lord without ceasing. We learn by this petition, moreover, that praying the right things is insufficient. We must be stirred up to seek the Lord with our whole heart. This comes from a sense of need, that unless the Lord helps us, we are helpless and hopeless, that we must have his help: no other helper, no other help. All right prayer is born of this fervent desire; the more we are oppressed by wicked men and vexed by our own sinfulness, the more ardently we call upon the Lord. We see this in our Savior. As earnest as were his initial pleas in the Garden, seeing as he did the awful cup of divine judgment and wrath before him, they were as nothing – though even at the first his fervor was so intense that he had to be strengthened by angels lest he expire – in comparison with the intensity he prayed the second time (Luke 22:44). Then, his pleas and tears were mingled with sweat and blood, so great was his distress and his “sorrow unto death.” While none of us will ever face such an hour of need as he did for us, he nonetheless left us this example: that our eyes must fail with longing for God’s salvation so much so that we are stirred to seek him with earnestness. If we do not, we do not feel our need as we should. We do not hunger and thirst after righteousness with a measure befitting the battle before us and the sinfulness of our own hearts. We do not desire God himself as we should. Such prayer cannot spring from cold, worldly, distracted hearts. Such prayer flows from love for God and a servant-commitment to be faithful to the death, combined with the honest realization that “in me dwelleth no good thing.” We must have God for our helper, our salvation, or we shall fail, sin, and fall.

Let the church of Jesus Christ be in earnest seeking such a praying spirit, and God will surely deliver us. His kingdom will be built. Satan’s kingdom, crumbling as it already is, will fall all the more. The church will be holy in heart and conduct. While our Father is not at all stingy with his blessings – his goodness, love, and faithfulness – he satisfies our soul with fresh supplies of his mercies when we seek him with our whole heart. He delights in showing good to us, but he will have us know from whence our salvation comes. How often does he answer a pathetic prayer of ours out of his sheer mercy to us in Christ? But then we move ahead with slight praise and scant thanks, thinking somehow that a moment or two, even an hour or two, of prayer is sufficient to defeat Satan, conquer sin, and obtain his glorious promises. Since we see the battle for Christ’s church and kingdom raging, feel our own weakness and worldliness, and see so little of hungering for righteousness in our lives, should we not be utterly convicted of our cold hearts, confess our ingratitude for being so little moved by his promises and the hope of his goodness, and seek the illumination of the Spirit that we may pray aright, pray fervently, and pray perseveringly? Longing for his salvation, for him to act to deliver us, preserve us, and help us, produces the sort of plea we see David making here. It arises as incense of heaven, where our Father owns it as his own aroma wafting back into his presence, then gathers our prayers and throws them back on the earth in the form of deliverances for his people and judgments upon the wicked (Rev. 8:3-5).

At the same time, we are not as the priests of Baal, who thought they would be heard for their violent and perverse demonstrations (1 Kings 18:28). Nor are we heard for our much speaking (Matt. 6:7). By adding, “for the word of thy righteousness,” David reminds us that all our hope of being heard, of being delivered from oppressions, of having God himself come to our defense and relief comes from his infallible promises. Being servants of God and committed to his word, we believe nothing to be more certain or more righteous than for God to fulfill his promises to us. He has sworn. His mercy and goodness are pledged. They are sealed with the blood of “the Holy One, and the Just” (Acts 3:14), who has made full atonement for our sins and brought in his everlasting righteousness by his obedience and sufferings. Hence, when our zeal fails – and not one of us is ever as fervent as he should be in calling upon the Lord – let us cling to the righteousness of God’s word. His promises cannot fail (2 Cor. 1:20). When we are not as engaged as we should be in defending God’s truth and honor , feeling our slowness in serving such a kind and loving Master – who, glory of glories, calls us his friends (John 15:15) and sons (1 John 3:1)! – let us know that it is “righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble us” (2 Thess. 1:6). Our immovable hope, the thought that floods the soul with light in the darkest place, is that “God is holy” (Ps. 22:3). Even on the cross, this was our Savior’s faith: that his Father was righteous. Being righteousness itself, he would receive the perfect sacrifice of his Son. His elect would be saved and secured. He would rise again, by his Father’s righteous promise, and rule over the heathen, gather his church unto himself, meet with her, preach to her, and sing with her. He went to the cross trusting the righteousness of God’s word. This was his plea: for his Father to fulfill all that he had written, all he had promised. Is our hope any less? We are joined to our Head; his hope is our hope, his confidence ours. The same word of righteousness that sustained him is more than able to make us steadfast in serving God. Yet, we must desire it above all. We must be willing to suffer for it. All other loves must be left behind. Our Father’s promised salvation calls to us in our distress; his righteous word is the polestar of our faith when it is besieged and tested beyond all hope of deliverance or endurance. He will come to our aid when we call upon him and plead as his adoring servants for his promised relief from oppression.

For Mercy and Understanding (vv. 124-125)

If we are to be God’s servants, our foremost plea must be for him to extend his mercy to us. Would we serve him, take his covenant word upon our lips, and enlist in his cause? Who among us can “dwell with the everlasting burnings” of God’s glory and majesty (Isa. 33:14)? Do we honestly think that we can bear our Savior’s cross, turn the other cheek, as he did, or make our only boast in him? This is wholly beyond us. So many today think that becoming a Christian is simply a personal religious decision, a little fire insurance, a few outward observances. How we trifle with the living God! He is the fearsome God, glorious in praises, doing wonders! He does not keep counsel with any but himself. Of him, to him, and for him are all things (Rom. 11:36). He dwells in unapproachable light (1 Tim. 6:16). And the glory of Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, is no less than that of the Father (John 17:5). Even in the days of his flesh when he emptied himself of the outward manifestations of his glory (Phil. 2:7), his enemies quailed before his words, could not touch him except at his own bidding, and fell back as dead men before the slightest revelation of his glory (John 7:45; 8:20; 18:6). And we would serve this God and Savior? Our only hope is his mercy, his sworn, covenanted love for us. As righteous as David was in comparison to his enemies, even truly holy before God by the indwelling of the Spirit, he was conscious of corruption within him and unworthiness. Before God, he pled only for undeserved favor. And how wondrous is this favor! Our Father has given us his own name (Matt. 28:19), adopted us as his sons and daughters (Eph. 1:5), raised up such miserable sinners to be kings and queens in his Son (Eph. 2:6), and even calls us his friends (John 15:15). Has he left anything undone that would testify more to his great love for us? That he invites us to call him “Father,” devote ourselves to his service, and have confidence in his continued mercy and good will toward us? Even so, this must be our plea: “Father, I desire to serve you; none is like unto you, O King of the saints! Who would not fear you and honor hour name? You have been so kind to me, so patient and longsuffering, so good. I would count all else loss but to know and serve you. But when I contemplate serving you, there is so much filth in me. My goodness is like the morning dew. There is no steadfastness in me. When I would pray, I fall asleep. When I would meditate in your law day and night, a thousand worthless trifles steal into my heart and mind. Help me, my Savior! Deliver me! If I am to serve you, you must uphold me by your love, encourage me by your goodness, and strengthen me by your mighty power. I must have your mercy. I have no other claim upon it than your promise to sinners who look to you. I cannot forsake my sins unless you are merciful to me. I cannot work in my calling for your pleasure unless you uphold me. I cannot be a faithful husband or wife, son or daughter, mother or father, pastor, elder, or deacon unless you show undeserved kindness to me continually. I fall upon your mercy and your promises. I would be your humbled servant, but you must make of me what you want me to be, for I am all uncleanness.”

Thus humbled, so that we are truly poor in spirit and mourn over our sins, we feel ourselves to be in as much need of his guidance as we do of his mercy. Like Paul struck down then raised up on the Damascus road, our first plea is: “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do” (Acts 9:6)? Is this not a most striking illustration that the evidence we have received mercy from the Lord is the desire to be led by him, to do his bidding? Paul knew little else at this point other than that Jesus Christ was the eternal Son of God and Savior of sinners. This regenerating light immediately brought with it the first rising of the Spirit’s presence: “Lord, teach me – your statutes, your testimonies. Give me understanding. Be my teacher. What little spark of your glory I have seen has convinced my heart that in myself I am absolutely wayward, like a child unable to govern or guide himself, like a blind man, indeed, like a dead man. You must undertake to be my guide.” When the Son of God rises in our heart with healing in his wings, he heals our broken wills – broken on the rocky shoals of self, stubbornness, and rebellion. He subdues us to himself. He begins to make our will to do his will, our meat to be his pleasure, our delight to be his word. And as we think about serving God, is it not compelling that David does not begin looking in the sky for visions, searching his own heart for understanding, or consulting others for good advice. He is led by God’s Spirit to plead to be taught God’s word, to understand his testimonies. This alone makes us servants of God – turning from our own ideas and way, we are devoted to God’s word. Instead of desiring to have Jesus Christ on our own terms, baptizing our willfulness with trite, silly moralisms or “I love Jesus” – while we are really in love with doing our own thing – we enroll ourselves in his school. We desire our Master to take us in hand and teach us his word so that we might obey it, serve him, and bear his cross. O, how we need, yea, how the entire church needs, for the Lord to pour out upon us such a spirit of supplication! We are so willful. We have tried for a long time now to have our Jesus and our own way. How little we know of: “Not my will, but thine be done!” We call ourselves his servants, but we do not do the things that he says (Luke 6:46) – in everything from our private lives, enslavement to entertainment, laziness in calling upon him, refusal to submit to him in those areas where his claims press strongest upon us. Would we know the joy of being his servants – and there is no higher joy than for a faithful servant to contemplate hearing his Master’s voice: “Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord” (Matt. 25:21,23)? Would we have him defend us because we are fully enlisted in his corps? Would we have our Father smile upon us because we are cheerfully bearing the cross of his Beloved? There is no other way than: “Teach me thy statutes.” To be devoted to God is to be devoted to his word. May the Lord give us the pleasure of being his faithful servants, of desiring to be led by him! Then, we may count upon his protection – remember the roll of those who served God and enjoyed his protection and deliverance – Joseph, Moses, Daniel, Isaiah, Peter, Paul, Tyndale, Calvin, Luther, and the innumerable company of martyrs. The living God always protects his own, for they are devoted to his will. O, may that be us! There is no greater joy than to walk with the living God and his Son, Jesus Christ, calling him Master and Lord, doing what he says, and delighting in serving him.

When Men Violate God’s Word (vv. 126-128)

Ah, but if we would be God’s servants, there is a longing that he causes to lodge immovably within our soul. It is for his honor, praise, and majesty. Our Father takes no servants outwardly under his banner that he does not inwardly renew and seal by his Spirit (Eph. 1:13-14). He puts his own life within us; John calls it “his seed,” a new nature and heart (1 John 3:9). Peter describes it as an “incorruptible seed,” even the very word of his lips (1 Pet. 2:23). This new life within us, indeed, “Christ in us, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27), yearns for God to be glorified, his word to be honored. It does not seek deliverance from oppression so that it can continue on its blissful way: undisturbed, sleepy in its dreams of life without responsibility, God without warfare. We do not find David here asking for deliverance so that he can pursue his own convenience and ease. He is far more concerned with the honor and authority of God than with his own peace in the world. When he considers his oppressors, he feels deeply that he is suffering, yes, but even more that God is being ignored, his word despised. Thus, as God’s servant, he pleads for something far higher than his own deliverance. He asks the Lord to “lift himself up,” to work, because men have “made void” his law. They have violated and broken his commandments. They have done all within their power to make it ineffectual, to frustrate God’s promises and overturn his purposes. As mighty in war as David was, he could not fight the “principalities and powers,” the prince of darkness, behind the schemes and wickedness of ungodly men. As God’s servant, he does the only thing he can do: he calls upon God to defend his own name and word, to work against the wickedness of men, and to glorify his own name by reasserting the authority of his word.

Now, if David felt this way, should we not be animated with the zeal at least of a loyal dog whose master has been attacked, bloodied, and left for dead? It is pointless to speak of the efforts of professing unbelievers to nullify the authority of God and of his Christ. They serve their master, the devil, and his cravings they fulfill (John 8:44). All their vain imaginations and evil plots would be bad enough, just cause for each of us to be roused to action to defend the honor of God, call upon the Lord to act to defend his own covenant and kingdom, and labor within our callings and spheres of influence to stand for his truth. Yet, when we see God’s professing friends – here, the litany of our crimes rises as a stench into the heavens – handling God’s word with critical contempt, combining it with pagan philosophies, histories, and anthropologies, rejecting it in favor of the findings of pseudo-science, and generally backpedalling at every hand from wolves that have invaded the fold of God, should not our hair stand up on the back of our necks! Even in more conservative circles, God’s word is rendered null and void by our silly ethic of “follow the Spirit,” “do not judge anyone,” and “sincerity is the test of acceptability with God.” This does not even touch upon all the worship abuses, the betrayal of the trust of apostolic doctrine handed down to us from our fathers, often stained with their blood and always with their vigilance and industry, and the synthesis with the world spirit we see in everything from so-called Christian public involvement to education. The church has fueled the fires of the city of man’s rebellion against God. What is needed is no new movement created by men but for each believer to seek from the Lord the spirit of this verse: “Lord, please forgive me that I have not loved your honor, your truth, and your church. I desire to be your servant again. But Lord, it seems the ungodly are having all their own way. Please work; defend your Son, his cross and crown, his covenant and church. Lift yourself up and show the nations that they are but men and that you are the most high God over all the earth (Ps. 9:20). Give me zeal for your honor and word that I might speak your truth in love – without embarrassment, reservation, or fear. I am your servant; I desire to be committed to your truth.” Such prayers need to rise up from every section of the true church, for we cannot call ourselves God’s servants if our spirits are not piqued with fiery zeal for the honor and name of God. Too many of us have simply accepted life in this sub-pagan, i.e., secular, culture, thinking there is nothing we can do but grit our teeth and bear it. No, like David, we must plead for God to work. He will. It is not so much that he is waiting upon us to pray or cannot work apart from us, but he has so joined his name, word, and even his honor to his church that he wants us to feel the reproaches of men so that we will call upon him. He will make us feel oppressed so that desire for his glory will rise again in our souls. There can be no doubt that this is one of his chief purposes for allowing the wicked to prosper, both within and without the church – so that his true people, feeling our helplessness and weakness, will be roused to humble ourselves before him, like Daniel confess our sins, and call upon him to defend his name and honor. He is doing some of this already, for the shaking of the city of man must be attributed in some measure to the prayers of the faithful remnant in this land, their zeal for his word, and their desire to serve God, whatever the cost.

Though prayers of the sort we find here are so vital and necessary that their absence must be considered presumptive evidence of sleeping disciples who have allowed their lamps to go dry, God’s servants have more responsibility than prayer. The more we see God’s word despised, the more we are to love it, esteeming it above all the gold and silver in the world (v. 127). The finest riches must be as nothing to us in comparison to the regard we have for God’s word. This is more than pious sentiment. Love for God’s word of this nature cannot exist without a heart humbled before God himself. We will never love his voice, his will, unless we love him, unless we esteem being his humble servants our greatest privilege. How warmly and strongly David’s heart beat for God’s word. And yet, he lived in the midst of oppression. Such times offer great temptation to us to lose regard and zeal for the honor of God’s word. Many do. Our race’s herd mentality is nowhere more evident than in our tendency to race away from God’s word. The masses may be plunging to temporal ruin and eternal ruin, yet since so many are leaping off the cliff, few hold back. The majority cannot be wrong. Yet, we must possess our souls in patience. We must come to God’s word continually, for it alone will sustain us. We must draw near to our Maker and Redeemer, for he alone can hold us back from taking the broad road, upon which much company may be found. It is not easy to stand relatively alone, but our Master will make us stand if we are devoted to him, pour out our hearts to him, and earnestly seek to please him in all things (Rom. 14:4). Are you seeking the only One who can preserve you from the oppression of men, which sometimes takes such a deceptive form that we feel it mainly in our “righteous soul” (2 Pet. 2:7)? Are you meditating upon his word? You will pray as David did only by giving yourself to God’s righteous word, panting after his goodness, and delighting in serving him even if the whole world is running stubbornly after the devil.

And to show that our commitment to God’s word must be deeply personal, David not only says that he considers all God’s precepts in all things to be right, but that he “hates ever false way” (v. 128). “All thy precepts” means that we are devoted to obeying God in small and large things (Matt. 23:23). Nothing that might please his master escapes the notice of the devoted servant. If this is true at a human level, how much more must it be true of those who claim to know and love the Son of God and Savior of sinners? Is there any length to which we would not go to please him? In the light of his great love for us, do we consider any obedience or hardship we might undergo in serving him a sacrifice? No, we confess: “We have never made a sacrifice.” All has been love. It is a delight to serve him. My days are too short, my strength too feeble, my zeal to cold in serving the Lamb of God. Let this thought dominate you as you fight against the sins of your heart, face domestic troubles, and bear the reproaches of Christ in the world. The more the world rages against my precious Savior, the more I shall devote myself to him. Therefore, I hate every false way – especially those in my own heart. Yes, I hate the false ways of wicked oppressors, Satan’s intrigues, and the efforts of ungodly men to create suspicion and disinterest in God’s word. I cannot deal with all of these, however, nor am I called to do so. There is an enemy closer to home, an oppression that I feel more deeply than anything the world can throw at me. It is the falseness still in my own heart. I would be his servant, yet I find myself lazy. I would love my Master, yet I find another law in my members – how I need to pray to be enlightened by God’s Spirit so that I may be able to comprehend something of the height, width, breadth, and depth of his love (Eph. 3:18-19). I need for you, Lord Jesus, to root out of me all that offends you, all that hinders my enjoyment of you, all that prevents my more cheerful, willful, and diligent service to you. I want to walk with you, speak of you naturally and winsomely, defend your honor without pride or vengefulness. I want to turn the other cheek in your name, give a cup of cold water in your name, go the extra mile in your name. All this, but again, closer to home: “Lord, please show your mercy to me that I may be a more sacrificial husband and father, giving off to my family your very fragrance. How I want to be a wife, Lord that looks like your church, a young adult that does not think rebellion a rite of passage, an employee that serves my hard boss as I would you. I need for you to lead me in the paths of righteousness for your name’s sake. Make me your servant. I know I am your friend by redemption, your brother by adoption, your queen by resurrection. Yet, how I long for you to increase while I decrease, recede into the background, pleased simply to take the lowest seat at the feast, as long as you are there, as long as you will smile at me, as long as I can be with you where you are. Lord, be merciful to me and teach me.” This is the servant’s plea.

Captive To God's Word

June 19, 2011 Series: Scripture: Psalm 119:113-120 by Chris Strevel

113 SAMECH. I hate vain thoughts: but thy law do I love.

114 Thou art my hiding place and my shield: I hope in thy word.

115 Depart from me, ye evildoers: for I will keep the commandments of my God.

116 Uphold me according unto thy word, that I may live: and let me not be ashamed of my hope.

117 Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe: and I will have respect unto thy statutes continually.

118 Thou hast trodden down all them that err from thy statutes: for their deceit is falsehood.

119 Thou puttest away all the wicked of the earth like dross: therefore I love thy testimonies.

120 My flesh trembleth for fear of thee; and I am afraid of thy judgments.

In My Thought Life (v. 113)

The content and direction of our thoughts are vital to our spiritual, mental, and emotional health. They are also indicative of the true state of our hearts (Gen. 6:5; Prov. 23:7; 24:9). What we think about is our true self: our dreams, loves, goals, motives, plans, and desires. What we think about also controls the way we speak and act, for “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34). The word for “thoughts” here means half-hearted, divided thoughts, like a crooked branch at the top of a tree. Because of sin, we no longer grow straight; we are wholly given over to vanity in our thoughts and affections. Now, we are blown about by “every wind and wave of doctrine” (Eph. 5:14); later, we rage like an uncontrollable fire toward the objects of our desire. There is no stability in us, unless it lies in the fact that “God is not in all our thoughts” (Ps. 10:4). And as long as we are enslaved to our vain thoughts, we cannot love God’s word. Corruption cannot delight in the holy voice of God, and we are corrupt in our inmost being (Ps. 51:5). In sovereign grace and mercy, our Father takes pity upon us and delivers us from our depraved desires and crooked thoughts. By his Spirit, he teaches us to hate all the destructive paths in which our thoughts and affections are prone to wander and gives us strength to love his holy truth.

As believers, we want our hearts to be fixed (Ps. 57:2), for “every thought to be brought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). Yet, we find “another law in our members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members” (Rom. 7:23). The best of us oozes with vanity. Wherever we turn, sin creeps into our soul. We close one door; hundreds fly open. Even if our thoughts are not directly evil, we love ourselves, depend upon ourselves, pamper ourselves, and generally entertain all manner of silly, low, ignoble, and foolish thoughts. David senses this in himself, which is the reason he expresses utter disgust for all thoughts that lead him away from meditation upon God’s word and covenant, truth and love. Only God can subdue us unto himself, making us teachable by his Spirit so that our thoughts tend toward the love of his word, so that it is our rejoicing and delight. Understand, however, that there are many obstacles in the way. Whether we consider our flesh, which needs no prompting to launch off into all manner of twisted thinking, Satan’s scheming against us, for he exercises a continual, deceitful war to prevent us from giving ourselves wholly to God’s thoughts, or the world’s vanity, which, despite all our efforts allures and vexes us, we see that our way is very difficult. Have we not found our minds wandering when we sat down to pray and the cares of the day pressing upon us almost as soon as we open God’s word? If the Holy Spirit brings a snippet of his truth in our mind, a legion of vain thoughts arise to choke it out before it can bear fruit. There is nothing more filthy than our hearts. This is the first step toward hating vain thoughts and loving God’s law: facing our true condition and fleeing to our God for refuge and aid. Unless we recognize the vanity of our own hearts, and are deeply humbled by our low and fallen condition, we shall never seek a remedy.

How do I know if a particular thought or train of thinking is vain, crooked? Does it lead me to or away from faith and hope in the Lord, to trust and obey or worry and fear? Am I stirred to pray or to flatter and depend upon myself? Do my thoughts lead me to seek God, setting him always before me, or do they push him away until a supposedly more convenient time? Does the condition of my heart and mind distract me from walking with God and prevent me from meditating upon his word? In my unoccupied moments, where do my thoughts turn? Do they turn to myself, to what I want, or to God and his word? If we are honest, to a man we shall have to admit that many of our thoughts are not only vain and foolish but also hurtful and dangerous. We are embarrassed by them. At the same time, we may hesitate to ask the truly important questions: “Why do I talk as I do? Why do I become angry so quickly, or sullen, incommunicative, and self-absorbed? Why cannot I speak more tenderly to those whom I profess to love? Why am I so distracted from praying, distracted by the world? Why do I find it so hard to love my husband, give myself to him, and find contentment in serving my family? Why do I rebel so against obeying my parents?” We run from such questions because we would rather blame others. We will go to any lengths, however self-deceived or irrational, to insulate ourselves from the searching candle of Scripture. We prefer to grope about for lame excuses in the dark citadel of our autonomy than to bring our true condition out into the light of day. But we must. We cannot love God’s word unless the bleak tower of our vanity is toppled. Why? Love for God’s word cannot co-exist with a vanity dominated life or bear fruit if our thoughts are given to vanity.

Therefore, the greatest battle every believer faces is in his thought life. Our Father is honest with us at this very point. Indeed, the glory of the gospel is illustrious here, for rather than prescribing outward remedies for our fallen condition – follow this path of good works, go visit this guru, wear this outfit, celebrate these holidays: as if true religion consisted primarily in external observances while leaving the inside filthy and darkened – the Lord goes straight to the source of our corruption. He tells us that our problem is that we love vanity, folly, worthless thoughts. We are wholly given over to vanity. When did our slavery begin? The moment we turned away from his blessed word in the Garden of Eden. Therefore, our salvation lies exclusively in a return to the Garden of the speaking God, when our hearts are again enraptured and satisfied to hear and follow his word. Therefore, we must seek his mercy through the Son of God, our only Mediator, to pardon our vanity, his Spirit to effect an inner renewal in us, and his grace to hate our vain thoughts. Yes, there must be a healthy self-loathing of the vanity and corruption of our hearts, which includes our affections, thoughts, and inclinations. This is the reason our Savior said that “if any man will come after me, let him deny himself” (Matt. 16:24). We are to repudiate our vanity, hate it, and fight against it all our lives by putting on the whole armor of God. When we want to covet, we must put on contentment. When we are tempted to complain, we must put on submission to God’s good will and wise providence. When our eyes wander lustfully, we must repudiate our fleshly desires and put on purity as Christ’s chaste virgins. This “putting off” and “putting on” begins with being “transformed by the renewing of our minds” (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:23). It is not that we are saved by a change of thinking; rather, God saving work penetrates to our inmost selves. By his saving grace, he changes our thoughts, the affections of our heart, the very bent of our soul.

If we have experienced this renewing work, God’s thoughts are a delight to us. “My soul breaketh for the longing that it has unto thy judgments at all times” (Ps. 119:20). We are not so likely to love the world, or the things in the world (1 John 2:15). If we are thinking upon his pure word, Satan’s lies and schemes will become clearer to us (2 Cor. 2:11). We shall rejoice in God’s grace and truth while detesting the remaining corruption within our hearts. If we love his law, all the vanities, injustices, and debaucheries of this life, far from wearing down our resolve to walk with him in obedience will increase our commitment to pursue holiness (Ps. 119:126-127). This is the reason every true, mature, and growing believer seeks to mediate upon God’s word day and night (Ps. 1:2). He does so because he is alive in Christ; he does so that he may survive and overcome in the battle. He feels that God’s word is his only shield from Satan’s attacks and only sword to thrust into the very heart of vanity: Satan’s lies, the world’s blindness, and the flesh’s corruption. Yes, we still need the strong warnings against vanity and encouragement to think only on things that are pure, noble, and of good report (Phil. 4:8), but we have undergone a fundamental change. While we feel many vain thoughts waiting to gush forth, the Holy Spirit has planted the seed of a new nature in us. We see vain thoughts for what they are – and hate them. We repudiate the “sin that dwelleth in us” (Rom. 7:20). Our true ‘I” or self is the vanity hating life of our Savior now dominating our soul (Gal. 2:20). Moreover, since we know that our Savior was crucified because of our vain thoughts, we feel repulsed and disgusted by all within us that still offends the lover of our soul. When we fall afresh into vanity – and there is not one among us who can wholly escape this poison fountain – we run back to him for cleansing. Our consciences are grieved that we have grieved him. Yet, what else can we do but to flee to him as our only refuge (Heb. 6:18)? We also “exercise ourselves unto godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7), knowing that a life dedicated to meditating upon God’s word is perhaps the most fundamental self-repudiation we make in coming to Jesus: “Lord, I hate my old thoughts, my vanity, my narcissism, my lust, pride, and covetousness. I loathe my evil demand to think my own thoughts. Yet, I can do nothing to rescue myself. I fall before you. I want to love your word. Help me to meditate upon it. Give me the ‘love of the truth that I might be saved’ (2 Thess. 2:10).”

Even so, we shall find much in us that resists hating vanity and loving God’s word. While we are no longer “old men,” the old man is not eradicated from us. We feel his cold, clammy, dying fingers groping for any handhold to lift himself up and wreak havoc in us. Loving God’s word, we must endeavor to give ourselves to it more. When I am not occupied with the daily tasks to which the Lord calls me – though even then, as I am able – I train myself to think of God’s word. I carry it with me by hiding it in my heart and bringing it to mind (Ps. 119:11). The more I think God’s thoughts after him, the safer I am. The holier I am. The readier I am to fight off vanity when it rears its ugly head. And when I groan in the conflict, feeling unable to speak, so weighed down as we often are by conflict within and troubles without (Ps. 77:4), I make my cry to the living God. I know my Savior is praying for me that my faith fail not (Luke 22:32). I know the Spirit is interceding for me with groaning that cannot be uttered (Rom. 8:26). When I feel distracted, I rejoice that my Savior is never distracted in his intercession for me, love for me, and commitment to fulfill my Father’s good word and covenant toward me. This is all my hope: that my God has put a love for his word in my heart, that he has declared war against my vanity. He will prevail. I rest in him, praying that he will help me love his word with all my heart and cling to his faithfulness as my sure anchor within the veil (Heb. 6:18).

Running to God for Protection (v. 114)

But will we ever give ourselves to the love of the truth unless we are persuaded of our Father’s love for us, that he alone is our highest good? This is the reason the Holy Spirit through David his mouthpiece declares that “God is our hiding place and shield.” God’s word is more than a book of virtues, manual of philosophy, or family handbook. It is does not contain knowledge for the sake of knowledge, which can only puff us up (1 Cor. 8:1), or “answers” for the sake of personal relief, which will lull us into complacency. No, God’s word is the voice of our Maker and Friend, God and Savior, calling us to enjoy fellowship with him, to be guided and protected by him, to bow before his majesty and make his will our pleasure. Through his word he says to us: “Look, I know you struggle with vain thoughts and can in no way preserve yourself from the weakness of the flesh or the many pitfalls Satan lays in your way. Trust my word; I will guide you and protect you. If you will give yourselves to my word, you shall be preserved from many dangers, for I hide you under my wings as you believe my promises. You are never safer than when you trust in me, whatever you may see with your eyes. Though I call you to walk through the fire, I will be with you as your shield so that trouble will not consume you. I will show you my power in your weakness, which is the very reason I allow you to be afflicted.” This is the way we must view God’s word – as his loving invitation to us to give ourselves to him, forsake all self-confidence, and give ourselves up as willing captives to his word.

When we feel ourselves to be filled with vanity, the Lord hereby calls us to fly to him. He is our hiding place in that he usually protects us from the worst dangers and calamities, even as he did Israel from the plagues that destroyed Egypt, Daniel from the lion’s mouth, his fledgling church from the roaring of Satan, and Paul from the poisonous serpent. To think: that when we trust in God’s word, we are covered by the wings of the Almighty God, who guards over us with all the jealousy and fierceness of a mother hen watching over her chicks (Ps. 91:1) or faithful husband defending his beloved wife (Isa. 54:5). And is this not so much truer and more glorious now that our lives are hidden in the Lord Jesus Christ (Col. 3:3)? The very One who is the anchor of our soul within the veil, the Captain of our salvation, the vanquisher of Satan, and the Lamb in the midst of the throne – this same Christ dwells in us by his Spirit. Could we be more secure than under his guardianship? Must not these thoughts lead us all the more to forsake our vain thoughts and seek for the word of this Christ to dwell in us, so that he himself will dwell in us with his unconquerable love and irresistible power (Col. 3:16)? And to think that this line is added after a cry of hatred for the vanity that still dwells within us! Our vanity should push the Lord Jesus away from us, for are we not completely ashamed that he was crucified for the very vanity in which we so often indulge? Yet, so great is his love for us that he invites us to run to him for help, protection, fresh cleansing, even renewal of our love to him and refreshment by tokens of his love to us. When he adds that he will be a shield to us, why else is this said but for us to be fearless in trusting him. Nothing can touch us when we dwell with the everlasting fire as our Shield. He is the Angel that protected Israel from the army of the Egyptians, leading them through the sea and drowning their enemies. He is the Angel that slew 185,000 Assyrians in one night. He is the Son of Man in the fiery furnace. He released Peter from prison. He instilled new life in Paul after he was stoned. Each of these examples reminds us that when the Lord says he will be our shield, this is not a promise that we shall pass through life unscathed. It is his pledge to be with us in every furnace of affliction, valley of dark providence, and flood of troubles. He died for our vanity that he might deliver us from vanity – both our own and the folly of unbelieving men that trouble us. Thus, when our consciences accuse us of vain thoughts, let us remember that no one can lay a charge against God’s elect, for Christ Jesus our Lord has justified us (Rom. 8:33-34). The accuser of the brethren has been cast out (Rev. 12:10). We are justified and protected if we hate our vanity, accept our Lord’s invitation to fly to him, and make his word the love of our lives.

I Cry Boldly (v. 115)

Only the firm and certain confidence that the Lord is our hiding place and shield will give us the confidence to make this bold cry: “Depart from me, ye workers of iniquity.” Having God for our hiding place and shield is never a passive affair; it requires active faith in his promises and providence, waiting upon him, and obedience to him. That he would proclaim himself to be our hiding place and shield warns us that we shall find much evil opposing us in this life. There is the overt evil that the ungodly parade before our eyes, with their immoralities, blasphemies, and vocal opposition to God and his word. There is also cunning evil, as in the liberal theologies of feminism and pluralism, which have the appearance of good by claiming the authority of Scripture but are really Satan leering at us. Evil may be indifferent – “You live as you please, and I’ll do the same. Don’t judge me, and I will not judge you.” It may be pleasant, even friendly, as the very open hearted unbeliever who is friendly, polite, and likeable, but who is decidedly opposed to God and his Christ. Whatever evil’s form, we cannot walk with God and love his word unless we separate ourselves from it. Like David, we must be vocal and active, inwardly and outwardly, in opposing it. We must watch against occasions for evil (Matt. 25:41), remembering that Satan’s best and most successful schemes are those in which he appears as an “angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14). Nevertheless, as sin is opposed to God, we must be opposed to sin in every form. It is not enough, however, to shout down evil. The reason we are so set against evil is that we are determined “to keep the commandments of my God.” “My God” is emphatic, an expression of personal commitment, steadfastness, and determination. We cannot obey God if we are tolerating evil, cozying up to it as close as we feel it to be safe, or insensible to its evil by too long exposure. In our age, evil is so common that few can blush any longer even at the worst blasphemies and sensuality. We are growing so burned out as a nation that evil men no longer feel compelled to mention God at all or interact with the Bible even to contradict it. God is not in our thoughts or words; we seem to have eradicated him from our collective consciousness. While this is not absolutely possible, as God withdraws his common grace from men and nations, evil is normalized.

Our duty in such times is clear: “Come out from among them, and be ye separate, says the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing, and I will receive you” (2 Cor. 6:17). Why is our separation from evil a condition of being accepted by the Lord? He is holy; “he is of purer eyes than to behold evil” (Heb. 1:13). He receives us as his sons and daughters on this condition, which he fulfills by the renewing and sanctifying work of the Spirit in us: that we love the good and hate the evil. We are in fellowship with him who is the Light; we cannot walk in darkness and walk with him (1 John 1:7). Such separation seems Amish-like to many in the church. How can we win sinners, they ask, if we are not part of their lives, join with them in areas of supposed neutrality or indifference, even changing our standards, practices, and attitudes to be more welcoming to them? Close association with evil in order to convert evil is sheer delusion. However cleverly we may reason otherwise, “Evil communications corrupt good manners” (1 Cor. 15:33). We are forbidden to go to them; they may only come to us (Jer. 15:9). The world is won not by the church moving as close to evil as possible, adopting its lesser trappings in the areas of worship and friendship in order to appear less formidable. Yet, the living God is formidable. His heart is open to us, but on his terms, terms he fulfills by his own sovereign grace and sets forth in his inspired word. We may please our neighbors only as far as edification allows (Rom. 15:2), which in practice means that we may carefully associate with darkness only if the relationship allows for light to control the relationship in our words, witness, and walk. If we ask, “How far may I go toward the world in order to gain the world,” we are already compromised, dangerously so. The question instead is: “How far may I separate and still fulfill my light-bearing, light-witnessing responsibilities to the world?” Any relationship with unbelievers or involvement with the world in which we find it no longer possible to speak of Jesus Christ openly or obey God wholeheartedly is an association that should likely be abandoned. The same is true of all business and political associations, for corruption and darkness cling to the world at every level. The moment we lose the ability to shine the light due to the hardness of unbelief, we are to shake the dust from our feet and move on to the next opportunity to share the gospel of our Savior (Matt. 10:14). This does not mean that “we must go out of the world” (1 Cor. 5:10), but we are in the world on the condition of being light in the world. Though we must allow for the progressive working of the Holy Spirit, our specific duty in relation to the world is clear: we are to have no fellowship with the unfruitful deeds of darkness (Eph. 5:11): no commonality, no attraction, no participation. We are to pursue holiness. The church wins the world not by hiding her light under the pleasing veneer of greater openness, tolerance, and friendliness, but by shining the light the more clearly and specifically the more she sees ungodly men walking in darkness.

Upheld by God Alone (vv. 116-117)

Do we not feel that such courageous separation is wholly beyond us? We should; remember: we are the ones struggling with the vain thoughts, calling to evildoers to depart from us all the while feeling within ourselves the deceptive draw of the flesh toward the very things we hate (Rom. 7:19). Where shall we turn since we feel the world, flesh, and devil pressing so hard against us, our old sinful nature sometimes weakening before their siren call? We must call upon the Lord to uphold us. That David repeats this twice indicates a degree of intensity that we should feel in our own hearts. “Lord, I want to depart from evil; I call out to evildoers to depart from me. But I am struggling; my flesh cleaves to the dust; my soul faints for weariness. Unless you come to my aid, holding me up by your invincible power, I shall fall.” When we call upon the Lord to establish our ways and hold us up by his mighty strength, we must pray for his protection in faith. “According to thy word” recalls all the promises the Lord has made to us for protection and guidance in the world, including his pledge to be our “hiding place and shield.” Has he not promised never to leave or forsake us (Heb. 13:5; Matt. 28:20)? That when we walk through the fire, he will be with us (Isa. 43:2)? That in the darkest place, the Angel of his presence will save us (Isa. 63:9)? Has not he provided us with a full and impenetrable armor (Eph. 6:10-18), calling upon us to be strong in him, promising that the same power that our Father exercised when he raised our Lord from the dead is now at work in us (Eph. 1:19-20)? These promises are ours for the humble asking, but we must be persuaded of our need. Does not David twice ask the Lord to uphold him because he felt that the Lord must keep him, or he would surely fall? Since the battle rages so fiercely around and within us, we must keep God’s promises firmly in our mind. His promises are more necessary for us than our next breath.

And lest we think this is nothing but exaggerated religious enthusiasm, that we do not really need so much help or the battle is not that intense, David adds: “That I may live.” True religion concerns far more than our personal emotional state or feeling better after we have struggled. “To live” assumes that I will fall unless God holds me up. It means far more than a continued heartbeat; it means that in the midst of our struggle against vanity and the pressures of the ungodly, we maintain steadfast faith and love for God’s word. This is life, after all, to know the one true God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent (John 17:4). There is no other life; everything else is an imitation of life, a pretense of life, death masquerading as life. “To live” also assumes that my living is inseparable from his faithfulness to his promises. That is, once we have hoped in God by the power of his Spirit, he will never allow our hope in his power and faithfulness to be put to shame. We may not see any way for him to deliver, protect, and provide for us, but saving faith sees and rests upon God’s very faithfulness. It “endures as seeing him who is invisible” (Heb. 11:27). It sees itself as bearing God’s name, God’s gospel, and God’s promises in the world. He cannot fail me; this would mean that his word failed. This cannot be. Of course, we are sometimes ashamed of our hope, but is this not because we disbelieve God’s promises, depend upon our own strength, and ask for him to help us only to satisfy some earthly or carnal desire that does not promote his honor and kingdom (James 4:3)? Let any thought of God failing us be put far, far from us. God has put the hope of his word in our hearts. This hope will never be disappointed. He will uphold us; he will “keep that which we have committed unto him” (2 Tim. 1:12). Therefore, let us be about believing God’s promises and loving his word, and we shall see him work marvelous deliverance for us, even delivering us from the vain thoughts that are far more dangerous and debilitating than a direct attack from Satan and all his hosts. If we build upon God’s word, if his help is all our hope and confidence, we may be certain that he will deliver and preserve us from all the attacks of the evil one and all the weakness of our flesh.

Yet, notice that it is not only safety that David desires. We would very much like for all to go well, have everything we need, and enjoy a peaceful journey through life. Is this as high as our faith mounts? Do we feel anything of this holy man’s “and I shall have respect unto thy statutes continually?” That is, the reason we desire for the Lord to establish and hold us up must be that we may obey him more. Here is a lesson that confronts us continually. The heart of the godly man does not want the many blessings promised throughout this Psalm so that he may live as he pleases, be free from affliction, or lead a trouble-free life. No, he wants to obey God more fully and love his word more fervently. How marvelous is the work of God in our souls? Can anything but the power of God ever topple the idol of our selfishness and erect in its place a sincere desire for more love and obedience to him? That the reason I want the Lord to uphold me is not so that I have what I want when I want it, but so that my heart will be devoted to him. Is not the lack of such a spirit the ultimate reason for the many failures we have experienced, the lifeless prayers and cold hearts we often feel within us? Is it that we do not really want God, to obey God, as much as we want to have his help on our own terms? This must be our pledge. “Lord, I am besieged by great vanity in my own thoughts and affections. I hate my vanity. You only are my shield and hiding place. Please hold me not so much that I have outer peace and prosperity, or be free from anxiety so that I will not feel so pressed, but that I may obey you. I promise to obey you. Deliver me now from this temptation, help me love my wife more selflessly, spend the time you give me more wisely, or speak more naturally and winsomely of my Savior and his love, so that from henceforth I may be more devoted to you. If your will is for me to suffer, if I need chastening, do what is best for me, but bring me through this season with a more humbled heart, a more dedicated heart, a heart held captive to your word. This is all my desire.” Only the Lord of glory, by his “grace unto grace” (John 1:16) and “grace abounding where sin abounded” (Rom. 5:20-21), can give us such life. Let us seek it from him, for he loves us, and would not let us know of these “exceeding precious promises” unless he fully intended to fulfill them in us for the sake of his Son.

God’s War against the Wicked (vv. 118-119)

Our hearts still quake before the menacing form of evil. When we are careful in thinking about the many enemies we shall face and perils we shall pass through on our way to God’s eternal kingdom, do we not tremble? Sometimes we do not, but this is wishful thinking. If we could but for a moment see the great host arrayed against us, if we could hear the schemes of the wicked rather than simply suspect them, we should faint dead away. Or would we? There is another sight that faith must seize upon, one granted to every humbled heart that senses its own need and believes God’s rich promises. It is not simply the firm confidence that God has a far greater host of angels that surrounds and protects us, though this should steel the nerve of the most fearful. It is our knowledge that this is God’s battle. He fired the first shot when he cursed Satan and declared war against him (Gen. 3:15). And what has been the course of that war thus far? The weakest have “put to flight the armies of aliens” (Heb. 11:34). Women have received their dead back to life (Heb. 11:35). Giants have been slain by stones. Fires have been quenched by faith. Torture has been gladly received rather than renouncing Christ. Unbelieving empires and nations – one after another – that have resisted the claims of the gospel have become ruins. And, above all, the Prince of life has swallowed up death, vanquished, defeated, and bound our chief adversary, and entered his glory. God is faithful, dear one. He has “trodden down,” tossed aside all those raised in opposition to his word: Pharaoh, Ahab and Jezebel, Nebuchadnezzar, Caiaphas, the Herods, Nero. The list of casualties is very long. And why does the Lord put them away? “They err from God’s statutes; all their deceit is falsehood.” What else does this mean but that God judges men and nations in terms of his revealed word, the very Scriptures we possess, that he will have truth and light win out over lies and darkness. We must remember his judgments; they are our comfort. We have his blueprint for governing history, determining the rise and fall of men and nations, in our hand. It is the much-maligned, much-neglected Scriptures. Is it any wonder that there is so much darkness in our land and immaturity in the church? We have God’s own testimony, his pledge; we have his statutes and judgments, his rules for life; we have his word, his own character. And now that he has enthroned his Beloved at his right hand, has he and will he not “put away all the wicked of the earth like dross?” Will he not cause every knee to bow and every tongue to confess – to him who loved us and gave himself for us? God has not spoken in vain. Yes, I know; men of the west mock and ignore God’s word, are persuaded that their Babel will survive, that they have silenced or least finally curtailed the church’s gospel witness and light in the world. But their hubris is not the final word – except for them. The Son of Man has been raised from the dead; the Lamb has ascended with a shout. All men and nations must either weep and mourn in repentance or be away and tossed away in wailing and gnashing of teeth. Yet, our whole confidence and stability lies in seeing, like Stephen, the Son of Man at the right hand of the Father. Then, we can face whatever evils confront us without flinching, for we shall know that the Lamb reigns, and he will be glorious on the earth, exalted, extolled, and very high (Ps. 72:19; Isa. 4:2; Isa. 52:13).

Afraid of Thy Judgments (v. 120)

There is only one response to be made to such glorious promises: “I love thy judgments” (v. 119). “My flesh trembleth for fear of thee; and I am afraid of thy judgments.” Rather than being amazed “by sudden fear, or by the desolation of the wicked, when it cometh” (Prov. 3:25), should we not rejoice when we see God put away his enemies? Yes, we shall feel some of the tremors of his march, especially when our lives are too intertwined with the city of man, religiously, culturally, and economically, which is impossible to escape completely but is too often the result of unthinking compromise. Have we forgotten that our citizenship is in heaven, that we are at war, and that we are to expect the city of man to tremble and fall under the weight of its pride and rebellion? Beloved, when we see God judge his enemies, we are to love his testimonies all the more. He has confirmed them. He may wait long with the sons of men, giving them room to repent and the church a season to reap the harvest he intends, for “his longsuffering is salvation” (2 Pet. 3:15). Yet, there comes a time when the cup of his wrath is full. He will pour it out. And when we see it, we should take it as a demonstration of his great faithfulness. He will not be mocked forever. He will not allow his word, covenant, and Son, our precious Savior, to be trampled in the mire of human arrogance and rebellion without there being recompense. Even if we fall asleep waiting for his coming, he will still come. He will ride upon the clouds as his chariots, with a tempest before him, to scatter his enemies. And we too, should tremble before his majesty. Now, it is certain that the Lord is “glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders” (Ex. 15:11). This is sufficient reason for us to tremble before his great glory, especially since we have eyes to see it, feel our sinfulness, and confess that his mercy is our only covering. Yet, do we not also tremble with anticipation, excitement, and adoring wonder at the faithfulness of God in defense of his honor and glory, Son and kingdom? If we do – and believer, nothing is more lacking today in the piety of God’s professing servants than a whole-hearted fear and reverence for the living God – we shall be afraid of his judgments. Here, “judgments” should be taken as it is used through this Psalm as God’s word considered as the declaration of his will. Before the least of them, we should tremble. Even the smallest matters of his word demand our careful attention and meticulous obedience (Matt. 23:23). Is God shaking our nation for the immorality of its debt? We should repent of our unnecessary debt and be content with what we have. Do most rob God of his tithe? We should tithe and commit all that we have to his church and kingdom? Is he shaking the nations for their debaucheries, filthiness, and sordid lives? We should seek greater consecration to his will. This is the way we show ourselves to be his willing captives: when he judges, we repent, trust, and obey. This is the way we love his word: when surrounded with so many vanities, we sincerely hate them, commit ourselves to God’s safekeeping, and hope in his promises. He will never disappoint us. Truth, time, and history are created and governed by him; they will vindicate his word. His willing captives will be blessed; his enemies will be burned in the fire of his wrath.

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