Psalm 119

God's Word with Us in the Deepest Anxiety

May 8, 2011 Series: Scripture: Psalm 119:81-88 by Chris Strevel

81   CAPH. My soul fainteth for thy salvation: but I hope in thy word.

82   Mine eyes fail for thy word, saying, When wilt thou comfort me?

83   For I am become like a bottle in the smoke; yet do I not forget thy statutes.

84   How many are the days of thy servant? when wilt thou execute judgment on them that persecute me?

85   The proud have digged pits for me, which are not after thy law.

86   All thy commandments are faithful: they persecute me wrongfully; help thou me.

87   They had almost consumed me upon earth; but I forsook not thy precepts.

88   Quicken me after thy lovingkindness; so shall I keep the testimony of thy mouth.

When Gasping and Fainting under Affliction (vv. 81-82)

Not every believer will feel the depths of misery David expresses in these lines. We must frankly admit that we tend to view our troubles as more severe than they actually are and have also redefined “affliction” to include those vexations and inconveniences experienced by jaundiced consumers who, trying to find their chief good and portion in this life, are constantly thwarted and disappointed, as we will always be when we look to any but God as our portion and joy (Ps. 119:57). There is, however, a more fundamental consideration. David here speaks in the person of all the godly, and especially of his greater Son, our Head and Savior, Jesus Christ. In God’s providence, David’s trials – his brothers’ early disdain, the long years of waiting for the promised kingship, many of which were spent being hounded by Saul and unjustly exiled, and those he felt later due to his own sins – are a mirror in which we movingly behold the way in which God “trieth the righteous” (Ps. 11:5). He was deeply humbled and brought low, even to the point of fainting and crying for God, so that when we are tested, we may be encouraged to hope in God’s word and feel that his love is our only true support. This we can know deeply only by being emptied of ourselves and drawn by our afflictions to call upon God with our whole heart and hope in his word as our chief comfort. Thus, we have here David’s example of faith and steadfastness under grievous trials, but even more we clearly hear the voice of our Savior, crying out to his Father in the days of his flesh. His torments are clearly anticipated, as well as his trust in his Father in the midst of his agony. He was brought into the “dust of death” for us (Ps. 22:15), for he was wounded for our transgressions, numbered among the transgressors, and suffered as no other, so much so that he resembled a worm more than a man (Ps. 22:6). Thus, while we may not experience anything approaching David’s misery, and certainly not our Lord’s, we find here a precious remedy in all our distresses and are invited to fly to him as our only refuge and consolation when we feel a portion of all his “waves and billows.”

The hope of the godly throughout the older covenant was “God’s salvation.” Jacob confessed this on his death bed: “I have waited for thy salvation, O Lord” (Gen. 49:18). David makes a similar confession at the end of his life when, speaking of God’s covenant with him, he says: “For this is all my salvation, all my desire” (2 Sam. 23:5). A millennium later, this hope was yet vibrant, for the ancient Simeon, holding up the infant Savior, rejoiced: “Lord, now lettest thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation” (Luke 2:28-30). These confessions have one thing in common: our sure hope and ardent longing is for God’s promised salvation. Nothing else will satisfy us except the Savior, for God himself to say to us: “I am thy salvation” (Ps. 35:3). Thus, when we are brought into deep distress, through the valley of darkest providences, what else will keep our soul from fainting, giving up under the weight of our troubles except this very hope in God’s word. For our troubles can sometimes be so heavy that we feel like either complaining against God or giving up. The greater suffering of God’s people, as over against the wicked who have their portion in this life (Ps. 17:14), is also troubling at times, even a great mystery. Why would God so afflict us, test us? Since we know he loves us, why does he sometimes withhold that comfortable sense of his presence that he knows is our very life? Why do the wicked, or even compromised professors, sometimes seem to have it all their own way, without any remorse of conscience and seemingly few troubles (Ps. 73:4-5)? In these feelings, we are one with God’s people in all ages: “When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me; until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end” (Ps. 73:16-17). Even more, in Christ our Head, we are one with them in faith and hope. We look to God alone to be our Savior, and nothing is more effectual to teach us this than when God removes all outward comforts, brings us to feel even a taste of the dust of death, and afflicts us with various miseries. And why? Because he loves us: strange way, we think, for him to show us love. Yet, this is only because we are so wedded to the world, in love with ourselves, and given over to vanity. Unless he exposes the folly of trust in man and riches and the insufficiency of worldly peace and victories to satisfy us, unless he causes us to feel his fatherly displeasure against our sins and makes us sense that we are “strangers in the earth” (Ps. 119:19), we shall never look to the rock that is higher than we are and make this our only plea: “Say unto my soul, I am thy salvation.” Without afflictions, we shall always have low views of his power and dangerously trust our own strength and wisdom; we shall never know his power in our weakness and his comfort in our distresses; we shall never cling to the word of his promises as we should; we shall never know him as our true Father and Savior.

And how are we upheld when he brings affliction upon us? It is when his word is our only hope. We may confess this when all is going well: like the devotional book with the cup of coffee and daisy on the cover. What about when life more resembles a voyage on an old, creaky ship, with the hull filling up with water, the main mast cracking, and the rising and falling of enormous waves threatening to swallow us in the deep at any moment? In such times – one thinks here of persecution for Christ’s sake, the “sudden fear and desolation of the wicked” when all of life seems to teeter precariously (Prov. 3:25), a close death, serious afflictions of mind, soul, and body, seasons of chastisement, a horrible disease – we shall better learn just how powerful is God’s word and that it must be our only hope. It is in the word alone that we learn that his salvation is our helmet: protection for our most vulnerable spots (Eph. 6:17). For it to protect and secure us, all our hope must be in it (1 Thess. 5:8). Such a hope inspired and sustained Abraham in all his years of waiting and wandering; he “hoped against hope” that he might become the father of many nations (Rom. 4:18). It is by hope that we are saved (Rom. 8:24), for we do not yet possess the full enjoyment of the salvation our Savior has obtained for us. It is hope that breeds patience during suffering, affliction, temptation, and chastening (1 Thess. 1:3), so that we do not complain bitterly against God or give up before we reach the end of our course. Thus, if we are to have any staying power in adversity, any joy when the clouds of suffering hide the glorious face of our Father, we must “hope to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Ps. 27:13-14). We must be confident in his promises, which we can only be if we are assured of his love and truthfulness. We measure his love and goodwill toward us not by our circumstances but by his certain promise and unchanging love. This is the reason hope and salvation are so often joined, and so often connected to Jesus Christ. Why must we not allow ourselves to be “moved away from the hope of the gospel” except that “Christ in us is the hope of glory,” and that the Father’s promise of salvation is mediated through him and enjoyed in him (Col. 1:23,27)? Why do we look for “that blessed hope and glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ” except that all our faith and hope, desire and expectation, confidence and assurance, are ultimately and securely grounded upon him (Tit. 2:13)? It is God’s faithfulness to us in Jesus Christ, his covenant and salvation, upon which we must be fixed if we are to endure patiently the storms of life without fainting. God cannot lie; all his promises are secured in Jesus Christ. It is to this hope to which we are called to flee as the very anchor of our soul (Heb. 6:18).

We ought not to think that such hope is an easy thing to have or hold, or that it makes all our troubles dissipate. Even with fervent hope in God’s word, as David was here, our “eyes can fail for thy word” (v. 82). We may be wasting away under adversity, “stung to blindness,” as Calvin said, with affliction. This is especially true when our weak faith cannot reconcile God’s providences to our circumstances, our life in the world, the difficulties with which our faith is continually besieged. All we can do is continue crying to God. This is where most of us fail, especially in an age in which easy cures to shallowly diagnosed problems are a way of life. There are many, even in the church, that would “heal slightly the wound of the daughter of Zion” (Jer. 6:14). They neither understand nor sympathize with the Lord’s dealings with the soul. The wound of sin, while not incurable, is very deep. As long as we live, our Father will continually be about purifying this wound, removing its poison, and cutting it out of us, root and branch (Mal. 4:1). Yet, it often happens that after a season of prayer, we either grow cold in our longing for God to comfort us, or, receiving some of his blessed comfort, think that the whole wound is cured. Then, when the pressure returns, we think our past crying to the Lord was ineffectual and begin pursuing some other remedy. There is no other. Our Father gives lasting comfort only as long as our cries last, only after our crying to him shows that we have learned he is our only comfort. This is the fruit of hoping in his word, believing what he has promised, and establishing our only good and happiness in him. What do we learn from the examples of Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Job, David, and Daniel, and especially our Savior, who “offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death” (Heb. 5:7), except that the Lord will not forget us if we cry out to him? We may be suffering for our own sinfulness, but we must still cry out to the Lord. We must persevere in crying, so much so that our “eyes fail for his word.” We believe and hope in it even when we do not see its fulfillment. And as we continue crying, the Lord will eventually show himself to us. It is because “we see Jesus” that our faith and hope are not overcome by the great gulf between God’s promises and his providences, his word and our earthly pilgrimage (Heb. 2:9). Like all the godly, after he “had patiently endured, he obtained the promise” (Heb. 6:15), which in his case was the fulfillment of God’s covenant, the bringing in of everlasting righteousness, and the obtaining of our redemption. Since he has been released from the “strong bulls of Bashan,” is no longer surrounded by dogs tearing him but by the angelic host worshipping him, as we look unto him as the “author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:2), we receive the “end of our faith, even the salvation of our souls” (1 Pet. 1:9). This is the single most important benefit of crying out to God continually in the midst of our afflictions: hoping in God’s word, we receive his comfort; looking unto Jesus, we receive fresh supplies of grace, so that even if our afflictions do not go away, we are more closely identified with him, see more of the glory of his cross and sufferings, and feel him carrying us in his bosom. O believer, seek from the Lord a heart that cries out to him continually. Look for no easy remedies to your afflictions, no easy resolutions of your conundrums, no lighter burdens that will only make you less diligent in seeking the Lord. Cease not night or day to call upon the Lord. He is your comfort, your hope, your salvation.

When All Dried Up with Trouble (v. 83)

Do not underestimate the depth of sin’s wound. If you do, you will waiver and wilt under the application of the cure. Why did David cry out so vehemently for comfort but because he was like a “bottle in the smoke.” That is, like the empty water skin hanging up in a smoky tent or lying under the sun, he was all dried up with weakness. Often Scripture testifies that afflictions shrivel up both body and soul, for the Lord would humble us completely under his hand (Ps. 6:2; 31:10). Our flesh cries out for him as well as our heart (Ps. 84:2). Hear our Savior’s cry from the cross: “My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws” (Ps. 22:15). And why was this except that his Father’s hand was heavy against him as he bore our curse and judgment? To be dried up with trouble – ah, after we have cried to God, if his afflictions yet remain upon us, when words even of our closest friends do not satisfy, when all hope of remedy, bodily strength, even the will to continue have fled from us – is this not to lie in the dust, like Job scraping himself with a piece of broken pottery, or as the children of Israel weeping for water in the wilderness, or as our Savior groaning upon the cross? Even so, we must not forget God’s statutes. His word is even richer today, since it is now completed, and revealed with glory through the Holy Spirit, who has written it upon our hearts. Is God’s power any diminished when ours is utterly exposed as dust in the wind? And what of the Holy Spirit, with whom we are now sealed until the day of redemption (Eph. 1:13-14)? If God’s old covenant saints died “in faith, not having received the promises” (Heb. 11:13), should not all our thoughts turn to God’s promises when we are afflicted, sorely tested, tried beyond any imagination of recovery? Should not our waiting upon the Lord for the fulfillment of his promises be marked by crying for his promises? Yes, for if we do not turn to God’s word, there can be no comfort. Without faith, not only is it impossible to please God, but it is also impossible to receive any comfort from him. Unbelief, hopelessness, and despair utterly bar the way from us receiving any help from the Lord. They make us bitter, rob of us strength and joy, and shut up God’s heaven above us as a steel curtain.

Thus, when we are dried up with afflictions, when we are brought by our Father’s hand to feel our weakness, we must think upon God’s word and give ourselves to his promises. He will not, nor cannot fail us, for he has sworn and will not repent. Is not this the very reason we “hide God’s word in our hearts,” that we may not sin against him, especially when the way is hard and the road long (Ps. 19:11)? If God’s word is written upon our hearts by the very hand of the Holy Spirit, it will be a special comfort to us in our distresses. The fires of affliction will remove the dross and reveal our only gold, God’s precious word. Thus, we must not forget it; we must cling to it, hide ourselves in God’s promises, and cry to the Lord in terms of the very promises for which our Lord Jesus was crucified to seal to us forever. And that word gives Jesus to us: personally, powerfully, permanently. What sustained him when tempted by the devil, after he had been utterly reduced by weakness by long fasting, so much so that angels had to support him? Did he not meet the devil’s temptation to despair of God’s care for him with: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). When Satan hurled his lowliness in his teeth, daring him to prove that he was the Son of God, did he not overcome by: “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God” (Matt. 4:7). And when offered a crown without the cross – and the fact that it was a false crown should remind us that all the ways to rest and victory that do not go through the humbled valley of the cross are so many lies of Satan, whether they are couched in material, political, or familial terms – did he not confess, “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve” (Matt. 4:10)? Do we not feel here, at the very lowest, for nothing David experienced ever matches the temptations and trials of the incarnate Son of God, that our only hope and comfort, our only shield and strength, is God’s holy word? Do we not see that our Lord endured these sufferings and temptations for us, to set an example for us that we must flee to God’s word, for he encountered Satan not for himself alone but for all who shall be tempted by him? And since he has been “tempted in every way like as we have been,” do we think there is any other cordial than the Balm of Gilead and Heritage of Jacob, the comforting presence of God in Jesus Christ, sympathizing with us as our high priest, interceding for us as our advocate, and coming to our aid with insuperable strength? This is the reason we must “look unto Jesus” and “consider Christ” in our trials and afflictions, for it is his presence in us by the Holy Spirit that is our main joy and strength. He is the One who lifts up our head (Ps. 3:3), lightens our eyes (Ps. 13:3), and causes us to mount up with wings as eagles (Isa. 40:31). And how does he do this? When will he comfort us? When all our hope and faith are built upon his precious word: then, we shall know that our hope is not in vain in the Lord.

“I Need Your Help Now” (v. 84)

Even when our hope is in God’s word and we look to him as our only comforter, afflictions may continue to press down upon us. How shallow is the prevailing sentiment idea that a little bit of prayer and some small peripheral changes will cure what ails us! Does this verse not strongly expose our ignorance of God’s dealings with his people? Abraham wandered for years, waiting for the promise. Job’s sufferings were extreme and lasted for some time. Moses and Joshua wandered in the wilderness with rebellious Israel for almost forty years. Daniel endured the entire seventy years of Judah’s exile. In three and one-half years, our Savior drained the full cup of the previous four millennia of his people’s sufferings and temptations, even of all the trials his people shall experience until he returns. It is sheer delusion to think that afflictions and temptations will always be of short duration. David’s troubles pressed upon him for such a period of time that he began to think that his life would be too short to exhaust them. When he asks, “How many are the days of thy servant,” he is not as concerned with the brevity of life as he is uttering from the depths a complaint to God: “Lord, will all my days be marked by such adversity?” He knew God had made promises to him and his seed. Thus, he begs for God’s speedy judgment upon his tormentors. Like our Savior, his hope is in God’s sovereign rule over the world; he believed that his enemies were in God’s hands. He throws himself upon God’s judgment of his enemies, asking for deliverance.

The dynamics of faith and hope are profound. On the one hand, though David feels his soul fainting, he continues to hope in his God’s word. This is the personal side to affliction, of whatever form. We feel God’s hand upon us deeply and are confident he intends our good through affliction. Steadfast hope in God’s promises and love are our only preservative against bitterness of spirit and utter despair. It will do no good to complain of any injustice on his part, for we know that “in faithfulness he hath afflicted me” (Ps. 119:75). So, we wait, cry, endure chastening as sons (Heb. 12:7), and trust in our Father’s mercy and tenderness. On the other side, the longer afflictions continue, the more we tend to question why God would seem to put us off and exalt his enemies when he could help us and overturn them. Yet, faith sees something larger than simply its own sufferings, even though they are very grievous. It feels that it is caught up in God’s great battle against unbelief and wickedness, that he will test the righteous so that through their humbling he may show his power in our weakness, the riches of his inheritance in the saints, and his wrath against our persecutors. Thus, even in adversity, faith and hope are zealous for his glory. Yes, David’s cry is very personal here, and he is not theologizing. But he also knows he is God’s servant, the heir of all God’s promises. God cannot abandon him, for his experiences are intimately connected with the overall establishment of God’s kingdom. The Lord is somehow using his tormentors in such a way that he is setting them up for destruction and fulfilling his larger purposes through them. Hence, his plea for judgment is not vengeance but a desire for God to fulfill his word and deliver him, the servant of God. Should not this also be our cry? Since we see even more clearly, or at least we should, that we are so joined to our Head that it is “not we who live, but Christ who lives in us,” are not our afflictions directly conforming us to Jesus Christ, at least if we patiently submit to them? Should we not rejoice that through our afflictions, our Father is not only refining us but also showing the sustaining power of his word to a watching world, as well as to the realm of angels and demons, so that “unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God” (Eph. 3:10)? For we are not living out our faith privately; there are worldwide, even cosmic implications to our sufferings. The reigning Son of God shows his power and faithfulness through enabling us to persevere and look unto him, even while we are greatly bowed down with affliction. He builds his church against the gates of hell directly through the patience and steadfastness of the saints in adversity, in waiting. He reveals the glory of his cross, the power of his resurrection, and the immediacy of his reign through upholding us, humbling us, and then trouncing those who are the human instruments of our misery. It is in this way that we complain to God against the wicked: “Father, it is a righteous thing for you to repay those who persecute us with tribulation; how long, O Lord, will you continue to make your heritage a desert and exalt the wicked? Humble us, yes, but remember your covenant promises, your eternal compassions. We know we cannot escape tribulations but use them to build your church, overthrow your enemies, and exalt your own love, faithfulness, and strength. Remember us, O Lord, for good” (1 Thess. 1:6,7; Rev. 6:9-11; Neh. 13:14,31).

When Persecuted by the Proud (vv. 85-87)

How hard it is to bear persecution patiently when we know how much the living God hates pride but often allows the wicked to have it all their own way (Ps. 73; 92)! Our hearts are stirred beyond words when we think of the depths of misery and woe to which our Savior sank himself for our salvation as compared with the continuing arrogance of the wicked, their scheming against his Bride, and their tongues parading through the earth. The pride of man knows no bounds. The Spirit says pride digs pits for the righteous. Pride forms scheming plans for his compromise and downfall, mocks his faith and hope, sometimes directly assaults God’s word, at other times uses great craftiness in disguising, like the father of lies, great evil under the cloak of good, as, for example, the idea that religious liberty is secured by secular pluralism. These pits are not “after God’s law;” they are wholly opposed to its goal, which is God’s glory alone, its standard, which is God’s holy truth, and the motives of faith and love toward Jesus Christ. All God’s commandments are faithful, wholly opposed to the scheming of the city of man to erect itself upon the foundations of Enlightenment science, philosophical autonomy, and moral relativism. Hence, those who will live for God in such an environment will, eventually, suffer persecution. Clash is unavoidable. The claims of God are absolute and uncompromising. Add to this volatile mix the church’s vital faith and vigorous proclamation of the resurrection and enthronement of the crucified Savior, unto which faith we must pray for the Spirit of God to revive us speedily, and you may expect the same kind of conflict as experienced in the early church. The preaching of “another King, one Jesus,” will not be tolerated quietly by secularism. It is coming more in line with its governing presuppositions: comprehensive, statist education, monolithic globalism, cradle to grave security under the control of a hubristic bureaucracy claiming omniscience, and intolerance toward competing claims. Most godly men think that various persecutions are inevitable for the faithful church in the west, even as some milder forms have already been experienced.

What are we to do? We must be persuaded, first, that the living God will not forsake us. He will help us if we cry to him. And notice that though David’s plea is very simple, “Help thou me,” it is uttered not as child but as a mature believer held by God’s Spirit in the tight grip of an unconquerable hope in God’s word. “Lord, I am yours; help me; Lord, you have promised; help me; Lord, you are faithful and loving; help me; Lord, I am fainting and going blind with as yet unrealized hope; help me.” Second, nothing must move us from God’s word. However great the pressure, we must not forsake his word. One of the inestimable benefits of suffering, even of living in a crooked and perverse generation, is that the Lord uses its pressures to lead his true church back to his word. It is more precious to us; we are more consecrated to it. We esteem it as our treasure, guide, shield, tower, rock, and foundation. Under the anxiety of affliction, we confess more with Paul: “I count all things loss save for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but dung, that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:8-9). And how do we gain him but, like him, by holding firmly to faith and hope in God’s word, even when nailed to the cross. “It is finished,” he cried. “I have finished your work that you gave me to do; I have brought in everlasting righteousness; I have lost none of those whom you have given to me; I have delighted to do your will.” Thus, he was “saved” by hope in God’s word, by clinging to it even when surrounded with roaring bulls, even when he looked and all his bones stared back at him. When we feel like we are almost consumed upon the earth, and, admittedly, David’s feeling must not be diminished in significance and intensity by overly dramatizing our “light afflictions,” especially in comparison to our Savior’s and even those of the godly in the past, our whole hope must be so firmly fixed to God’s word that the thought of departing from even one of his smallest commands is abhorrent to us. This is the way we overcome when tormented by the proud. We cry and obey. We are never more like our Savior when we do. We have every expectation of the crown when we “cry with strong groaning” and “delight to do his will.” This is all our righteousness when oppressed by the wicked. May God strengthen us to live as our Savior did, which he will if we seek him, for “it is not we who live, but Christ who lives in us.” Our lives are hidden with him. He is our life, and he will bring the power and vitality of his submission to his Father and zeal for his word into our inmost being, to take deep root there and to spring up unto earthly faithfulness and everlasting life.

“O Lord, Quicken Me by Your Mercy” (v. 88)

O, how we must pray for our Savior’s life and grace to spring up within us! In the midst of the valley of suffering, David does not pray so much for all his afflictions to go away as for the Lord to quicken him by his loving-kindness. Here is a marvelous thing. David does not ask for a spirit of vengeance or for the attitude of a rugged survivor. He is not cynical. He pleads to be made alive by a richer, fuller experience of God’s covenant love. We may think we need to be more hardened in times of affliction, but what we truly require is for the knowledge of God’s mercy in Jesus Christ to make us alive in faith and hope, patience and steadfastness. And is not this the very purpose of God’s afflictions: that through them we may know more of the height and depth of his love? That, feeling in ourselves such great weakness and from the world such opposition, we may fall into our Father’s arms, knowing that he cares for us and intends good for us. And how can we pray this unless we are persuaded of his love to us? Afflictions tend to make us doubt God’s love, not desire more of it. Yet, adversity rightly received, as it removes all the vain confidences upon which we normally set so much hope, leads us to our only stay and support: the knowledge that our heavenly Father loves us and the desire to experience his love more deeply. And why do we desire this, that broken of our willfulness and worldliness, we may keep the “testimony of his mouth?” Far from wanting to escape from hardships and afflictions, the hopeful soul longs to obey the Lord more steadfastly in them. And notice the connection: “Lord, quicken me in your love, so that I may obey you better.” This is not, “Lord, show me your mercy so that I may return to living as I please; or, Lord, love me the way I want to be loved.” No, the very purpose of the Lord making our “souls to faint” and our “eyes to fail” is so that we will be emptied of this kind of selfishness. It is much easier to say this than to seek it, especially if our afflictions are marked by physical pain, mental anguish, and material poverty. These can be all-consuming. But did not David face these? Our Lord? If our faith and hope are firmly set upon God’s word, our deepest anxieties do not turn us inward but outward: to God and his word. His love is such a comfort to us and comes with such power, that even in the valley of God’s darkest providences, we can say: “Lord, you are my salvation. I hope for nothing else, even now, than to know you better, love you more, and obey you more fully.”

When the Scriptures teach that it is “through many tribulations that we must enter the kingdom of heaven,” it is not consigning us to a miserable condition of gloom and despair. The Holy Spirit teaches us by all such statements that are our blessedness lies ultimately in God and his word. And since God’s gracious work is not completed in a day, we best learn that in God alone is our complete happiness by “denying ourselves, taking up our cross and following Jesus.” We usually love ourselves too much for this to be anything but words. Let hardship come, let God chasten us, let the proud dig pits for us, then we are forced to deal with our own sinfulness and set our happiness upon God alone. It is for this reason that James wrote: “Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations” (James 1:2). The trying of our faith refines our faith. Hope rises to the surface. Patience replaces complaining. It is impossible for us to bring this about in our own strength, through our own ways. God must try us. He must bring us low, so reducing us that our vain self-confidence and self-love are utterly thrown into the pit of hell. What takes their place is ardent longing for Jesus Christ, more intense crying for God, more assurance of the truth of his word. Thus, the afflictions of the righteous, which look to the world like so much wasted energy and foolish religiosity, are in fact the dawning of God’s fatherly love. Child of God, pray each day to be quickened. “Lord, bring your new creation to me. I know it is the way of the cross. I love myself too much; drive that stake through my pride. I love the world too much; crucify me to it and it to me. Father, I love my convenience, my plans, and my way of life too much; break my will and quicken me so that I may see and delight in your great love. Say unto my soul, ‘I am thy salvation.’”

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