41 VAU. Let thy mercies come also unto me, O LORD, even thy salvation, according to thy word.
42 So shall I have wherewith to answer him that reproacheth me: for I trust in thy word.
43 And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth; for I have hoped in thy judgments.
44 So shall I keep thy law continually forever and ever.
45 And I will walk at liberty: for I seek thy precepts.
46 I will speak of thy testimonies also before kings, and will not be ashamed.
47 And I will delight myself in thy commandments, which I have loved.
48 My hands also will I lift up unto thy commandments, which I have loved; and I will meditate in thy statutes.
Crying for Mercy and Salvation (v. 41)
Here we find David in a humbled state before the Lord. He strongly feels that unless God holds him up by his covenant love and strength, he will surely fail: either by not speaking God’s truth boldly (vv. 42,43), losing hope (v. 43), turning away from his commandments (vv. 44,45), or being so weighed with care that he is unable to delight in God’s word (vv. 47,48). Therefore, as all the godly do when the “floods of great waters” come upon them (Ps. 32:6), he looks up to heaven and casts himself upon the free mercy and power of God. When he pleads for mercy, he desires for the Lord to deal with him according to his promises, to fulfill them, to be to him what he has pledged in his grace and mercy to be. God’s mercy is his covenanted love and goodness. However miserable David was in himself and in his circumstances – and we are often reduced to such a state of anxiety and perplexity, trouble and grief, that that unless God himself comes to us, we feel all hope is lost – he knew that the Lord loved him, had promised good to him, and would surely hear his cry, even from the depths of his misery. When he pleads for salvation, he is not speaking primarily of justifying righteousness, though this is included, for it is presumptuous for us to ask God to be good to us without at the same time confessing our sins and seeking forgiveness through the blood of Jesus Christ. He is crying out for deliverance, safety, and even victory. He learned early in life that his only security and strength were in “the name of the Lord of hosts” (1 Sam. 17:45). Thus, David cries: “Lord, you are true; come to me with your promises; remember your word to me; I believe it; I am sorely tried and greatly reduced; I have no strength or hope but in you; please, Lord, remember me for good according to your sworn goodness and love; deliver me; I am in great, even overwhelming need of you.”
We never know who we truly are, that we really have faith, indeed, that Christ Jesus our Lord lives and reigns in us except in such times as feeling ourselves utterly beyond all hope of deliverance, we are taught by the Holy Spirit to call upon the Lord like this. It is one thing to have religious sentiments when all is going relatively well, when we are comfortable in our circumstances and feeling that we are blessed. It is truly wondrous when the Lord deals bountifully with us, and David cherished seasons of joy when “he danced before the Lord with all his might” (2 Sam. 6:14). In this life, however, the Lord is wisely pleased to bring seasons of great sifting and trouble to us. In our fallen state, we cannot otherwise learn that he is our only Deliverer and Comforter. We cannot be conformed to the image of our Savior unless we are made to feel his cross. We cannot know how light and easy his burden is, that he cares for us and carries us, until we are brought to feel our need of him (Matt. 11:28-20). Therefore, rather than being surprised by such times, we should expect them, for “whom the Lord loveth, he chasteneth” (Heb. 12:6), and “the Lord trieth the righteous” (Ps. 7:9; 11:5). We should also expect them to be a blessing to us. For why does he so try us but to release us more and more from the stranglehold of sin and worldliness, that in “losing our life in this world” we might find our life in his abiding presence, certain promises, and insuperable power (Matt. 16:24,25). He would have us be so emptied of carnal hope – in our own understanding and experiences, resources, self-confidence, and vain pretensions of goodness and strength – that we are brought to cast ourselves and our burdens upon him, to wait for him to deliver us, and to hope only in his name and word as our shield and hiding place. Therefore, it is in our weakness that we come to learn of his power (2 Cor. 12:10), that he is our only life, that he is loveliness and goodness itself – our only good and joy.
To cry like this, however, we must have faith in God’s word. David does not cry out of any sense of his own goodness and worth. He does not cry on the basis of the benefit it would be to God to deliver him, as if looking back over past victories and successes in the defense of God’s kingdom and truth, he deceives himself into thinking that the Lord somehow needs him to be strong again. No, he pleads only God’s word. This is the way we put God’s word into practice. First, when we know it, for God’s wonderful promises will not profit us if we are ignorant of them, or having known them, we allow our troubles and afflictions, as well as the cares of the world and vanity of riches, to choke them out (Mark 4:19). Then, we must actually pray with God’s promises in mind, even leading the way in our prayers. When we read that he is our “hiding place and shield” (Ps. 32:7; 119:114), why else does the Lord bind himself to us but so that we will run to him in times of trouble and hide ourselves in the cleft of the rock, his glory, faithfulness, and strength? When we read that his name is a “strong tower” (Ps. 61:3; Prov. 18:10), why does he invite us to fly unto him and open the door of his very presence to us through prayer but that when we feel the floods of great waters, when we are afflicted by temptation and overcome by feelings of guilt, we might run straight to him and turn away from all human helps? To pray like this, to seek him like this, we must be persuaded of his goodness; we must believe his word. Without faith, it is impossible to please him (Heb. 11:6); on the other hand, “all things are possible to him that believeth” (Mark 9:23). We see a notable instance of this in Peter. Seeing his Lord walking on the water, faith surged to meet him, would not wait even a moment to come to him, would go to him even upon the boisterous sea. Looking directly to his Lord and heeding his command, “Come,” Peter actually walked on the water. The moment, though, he took his eyes off the Lord, the moment the choppy seas became more real to him than the command and promise of his Savior, he began sinking. Even then, faith did not die in Peter; he cried, “Lord, save me, I am drowning.” And what did the Lord do – since Peter was his, believed his word, called upon him in his distress? He reached out his hand and raised him. “Surely in the floods of great waters they will not come nigh unto him” (Ps. 32:6).
Whatever happens to us – is happening to us – it is not happening accidentally. It is happening with far more than a general purpose, as many confess in bad times: “Well, I know this is happening for a reason.” We must move past this and be firmly persuaded that God’s purpose is for us to call upon him, plead his promises, and put his word into action. If we are besieged by sin and temptation, and here, at least, the experiences of the faithful stand upon common ground, we must plead for “mercy and grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 3:14-16), call upon our Advocate, Jesus Christ, whose blood retains its power to cleanse us from all sin (1 John 1:9; 2:1), and take up the armor that God has provided and empowered by his own promise to “quench all the fiery darts of the evil one” (Eph. 6:10-18). When we are overcome by enemies and feel the terrors of the wicked, why else does the Lord ordain and direct their assaults but to call us to himself as our “light and salvation,” that “though ten thousand fall at our right, we shall not fear, for he is with us” (Ps. 27:1-3)? But we must have a settled hope in his word, that his promises are sure, his goodness everlasting, and his love sealed with the blood of his Son. We must believe that we stand secure upon the promises of God, whatever is happening to us. He will not fail us. The word of his promise is certain.
Yet, since he has so bound himself to us through his word, since we have many examples that he hears our cries, why do we not feel the power of his promises as we should? Why is our faith so hesitant to lay hold upon our Father’s invitation? It is because we do not trust him, but ourselves. We think that we shall somehow pull ourselves up from the miry pit. We delude ourselves in this way because honest crying to God means opening ourselves up to him: confessing our sins, willing to have all our vanities and idols exposed and toppled, truly believing that we shall only find our life if we lose it by believing his promises and bearing our Savior’s cross. Above all, we do not have a lively sense of the greatness of his mercy to us in Jesus Christ, a mercy he promises to extend to us each and every time we call upon him in faith. And not feeling this as we should, we waiver in hard times, look for any other solution, cry to him only with bitterness or half-heartedness, and are not truly broken of our pride and self-trust. How we rob ourselves not only of the consolation of calling upon the living God – for this is the chief benefit of prayer, that we are seeking him – but also of his promised aid! How we dishonor his pledge to be our Defender and Deliverer! How we retard the progress of the kingdom of God in our own lives and in the world – all because we do not believe his promises and cry to him with all our hearts! He will save us. He will save his church. He has promised. His word cannot be broken. It is only our unbelief, our low and carnal aims, and our miserable pride that prevents our seeing the Spirit raise a standard when the enemy rushes in like a flood. Yet, there is our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, sitting as King above the flood, pledging to come to our aid and save us by his goodness and love. His standard has been raised; it is the old rugged cross, the empty tomb, the throne at the Father’s right hand, the outpoured Spirit. He has overcome; all who look to him will overcome, for his life is in us. His life is bound up with ours. He is our Head. He will never fail us.
“I believe, therefore have I spoken” (vv. 42-43)
Sometimes, we prefer to slip through life without having to do much confessing before men. But our Savior would not have joined our eternal salvation to confession with the mouth were it not intimately bound up with faith in the heart (Matt. 10:32,33; Rom. 10:9), were it not a very real and widespread failing and temptation among God’s people to be silent about him when they should be speaking? Sadly, we are too often goaded into defending the faith and bearing witness to the truth by guilt-laden appeals, but how can guilt motivate us when guilt is the very source of our silence? We see a better approach and motivation here. First, David must have felt himself to be in a period of “silence” (Ps. 39:2). Perhaps he was overwhelmed by the number and ferocity of his enemies. He may have been besieged by guilt for his sins (Ps. 32:1-3). Sometimes we reflect too much upon our own inner condition and immediate needs while allowing opportunities to do good by speaking the truth pass by. David was no introverted pietist, however; he was not content to work on his “personal walk with God” while the world burned. He knew he had a responsibility to answer those who reproached him, for assuming he was walking with the Lord, they were really reproaching his faith, his hope, and his God (v. 42). He did not want his own sunken state to result in having the word of truth removed from his mouth (v. 43). David realized that it is a great misery for God to deprive us of the will, the spirit and courage, to speak his truth. This is often the very opposite of our outlook. We think it is miserable to have to go out on a limb and speak of Christ. Shame and ridicule may result. Others may not like us as much. We think too much of whether or not we know all the answers, will win the argument, or will only harm the cause of Christ by our muddling attempts to “defend earnestly the faith once for all given to the saints” (Jude 3). Thus he prayed that he might be delivered from this season of silence, that he might be privileged to have God’s word in his mouth again that he might speak it. If we are persuaded that “he who wins souls is wise” (Prov. 11:30), and we at the same time sense our lack of wisdom and zeal in his area, should we not be aroused to ask the Lord to supply our lack (James 1:5), to restore unto us the honor of being his witnesses and the strength to be his ambassadors of reconciliation? Yes, it is an honor – one of our highest on earth – to be employed by God, whether in great ways or small, to sow the good seed, which is God’s own thoughts, to speak for him and give a good confession, as our Savior did (1 Tim. 6:13). This is the reason our Lord joins “confessing him before men with being confessed by him before his Father” – united to him by faith, he works in us the wisdom and grace of speaking the truth. We cannot lack this, at least in some small way, if we are truly joined to him, for he is our Head, the living Vine, the Fountain of all righteousness. It will not so much be we who speak but his Spirit that speaks through us (Matt. 10:19).
But we must rise yet higher. You will remember that David has pled for mercy and salvation (v. 41). He called upon the Lord in faith, believing his word and asking the Lord to fulfill his promises. Speaking God’s truth follows from experiencing God’s mercy and salvation in Jesus Christ. Guilt, lack of assurance, and overwhelming need prevented David from speaking. He expects to receive relief from guilt, renewed assurance, and deliverance, for the Lord always honors his promises. Yet, it is not enough for David to receive these personal blessing. He knows that in receiving fresh supplies of grace from his Savior, with these mercies will come the desire, ability, and responsibility to speak God’s truth. You see, it is when we perceive in our souls that God has been merciful to us that we “cannot but speak the things we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). The same was true in many of those whom the Lord healed. He told them not to tell anyone, but did they sin when they disobeyed him? No, I do not think so, for his command was related to his commitment not to rush ahead beyond his Father’s appointed end and will for his earthly existence, that men must not seek to interfere with his death, making him the kind of king they wanted him to be, or reduce him to simply another wonder-worker and pseudo-Messiah. But in those deeply touched by his goodness and mercy, he knew they could not keep silence. Mercy floods the heart; the tongue opens wide, proclaiming and shouting from the housetops what the ears have heard in quiet places (Matt. 10:27). And while this is more than a “let me tell you what Jesus means to me,” it will certainly be a heartfelt confession of “how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee” (Mark 5:19). That last idea – compassion – is the very mercy David sought and received by crying to the Lord. The kind of witness-bearing and truth-defending the Holy Spirit has in mind for all God’s people is that which flows not from formulas. It is certainly not a release valve for guilt. It is not a know-it-all attitude toward the lost. It is a confession of mercy received: “Look, we say to others, what God has done for me. I called upon him. I hoped in his judgments – that he would look upon me with mercy according to his word, that he would forgive my sins and rescue me from all my distress. And he has. Should you not, would you not also call him to deliver you, forgive your sins, and have mercy upon you?” As long, however, as we are filled with pride and self-reliance, we will not call upon God for mercy and, therefore, shall not receive any. And not receiving any, we cannot speak his truth, defend his honor, or be courageous in confessing him before men. Unbelief and prayerlessness, we must understand, leads to a barren soul, a wasteland of miserable, mercy-less existence, an empty, hopeless, and self-absorbed existence in which we still talk to others, but it is all about how “hard life is,” or what we have, or our other accomplishments. It will not be about mercy received in the soul. Our tongues will be nailed to the roof of our mouth with the steel pin of pride. Guilt will compound. Misery will intensify, until we call upon the Lord, as David did, confessing his sins, his need of mercy, and his desire to receive God’s goodness and salvation that he might share it with other needy souls.
Is not this exactly what our lost and dying culture requires at this very moment? What else is looking for a political solution to our problems but evidence that we will not bow before the Lord and confess our absolute, unwavering need of his mercy? What else is hiding and hording, when it is thought that these will preserve us in uncertain times, but evidence of unbelief, that we have not called upon the Lord to save us, that we think we can save ourselves from the miseries heaped on us by our very unbelief? But how shall lost men ever turn from such a miserable, blind way of life? It will only be when the Lord fills his people with a sense of his wondrous mercy in Jesus Christ, when he turns our eyes away from ourselves to his promises, when he by his Spirit gives us faith in his word and the heart to call upon him. Then, he will hear us; his mercies will come to us; he will save us. And being saved by his goodness and love, we shall confess: “I cried unto the Lord, and he heard my voice” (Ps. 3:4; 18:6; 107:13). His rich mercy will be the song of our life. Our praise will not be silent. We will speak the things we have seen and heard. It will not be someone else’s story, encounter with God, or paradigm for social change. It will be restored sinners, those who have received God’s mercy when all his waves and billows were going over them, calling other sinners to “taste and see that the Lord is good; and how blessed is the man that trusteth in him” (Ps. 34:8).
Perseverance and Liberty (vv. 44-45)
Mercy sought and received not only loosens the tongue, but is also empowers unto obedience. When the Lord breaks the chains that hold us – our sin and its guilt, our old dead lives – he sets us free to serve the living God. We cannot serve him with sufficient gratitude and joy. His law, far from being grievous, burdensome, becomes our greatest delight (Ps. 119:97). And why is this? Is it because we feel the need to repay the Lord in some way for his mercy? Perish the thought! How can we who have been forgiven a great debt, delivered from the curse of sin, and redeemed by the incomparable blood of the Son of God ever think that any of our good works could repay the love and mercy of our Father? When God hears our believing cry and delivers us from our troubles, our sole desire is to love him more. This is not a fleeting desire or impression: “So shall I keep thy law forever and ever.” David is not promising something he cannot perform; he is expressing his “I delight to do thy will, O God, and I would do it forever. Obeying you is my privilege, my passion, my set purpose.” This is the way mercy in the soul transforms us from dead, wandering men into living, settled ones. It is the fruit of calling upon God during every stage of our life, and the reason we go from “strength to strength” and receive “grace unto grace” (Ps. 84:7; John 1:16). It is because in answer to our prayer for mercy and salvation, the Lord himself comes to us through his word. He dwells with us, making us his temple. Our Savior’s life of delight in God and loving obedience begins to shape and change us, from “glory unto glory,” by the Spirit of the Lord (2 Cor. 3:18). We should sense here how unspeakably important it is for us to believe God’s promises, else we shall never call upon, never receive mercy, and never have strength to persevere in obedience to him. But in seeking mercy, we are not only forgiven but also receive fresh gifts of the Spirit’s power and light to walk in obedience to God.
This alone, as David hastens to confess, is our whole liberty: when we devote ourselves to obeying the blessed voice of our God and Father. All else is slavery; all else. Now, the world promises liberty, as do many wolves in the church who trumpet “grace, grace,” while they themselves remain slaves to sin (2 Pet. 2:19). Ours is an age that prides itself on liberation; every form of its liberation is so many additional chains, heavy chains, miserable chains that are sinking us further into moral, domestic, and financial slavery. It requires no great acumen to see that the most basic problem of our culture, when considered as a whole, is that it is a culture of slavery: to its own lusts, lifestyle, experiences, and covetousness. All other problems flow from this fundamental slavery and harsh reality: that the Lord of hosts has not seen fit to deliver us from our bondage, and being enslaved to our own carnal desires, we slip further each day into the dark dungeon of depravity. No other proof of this is required than that we think of ourselves as a free people. This is blind rebellion. Only in obedience to God’s law is there liberty of any kind. David celebrates this, and so must we. And from where does such liberty come? When recognizing our need, we call upon God to deliver us. We plead his covenant love and saving grace to deliver us from our blindness, leprosy, and brokenness. Until we do, our slavery will only increase. But for those who have tasted God’s mercy – and it is ourselves, as humble and lowly as we are, that God will effect deliverance, for he disdains the high and mighty (1 Cor. 1:26-29) – we must think and speak of liberty in terms of obedience to God’s law. It is not living as we please under the guise of the Spirit, or making our desires equivalent to God’s will; it is when we yield ourselves joyfully – with the fragrance of mercy and salvation fresh upon us – to obey him. This is the truth that frees (John 8:32): when delivered from the bondage in which we are held, the Lord shines his truth in us, shows mercy to us, saves and releases us from the dominion of our corruption, and weds our hearts to his truth so that it is our delight always “to do those things that please him” (John 8:29).
Boldness before Kings (v. 46)
David must often have been in the position of having to speak God’s truth before kings, from Saul to foreign potentates that worshipped false gods. Boldness in such settings is the fruit of faith in God’s word. Boldness in speaking God’s truth is inseparable from deep, personal commitment to God for his many mercies received. Boldness is not bluster. Boldness is humility before God that makes us fearless before men: even before kings. When the apostles were humbled, when they gave up their vanity of earthly pomp, when the Lord showed them their true selves, then they saw something of their sinfulness and the wonders of God’s mercy in Jesus Christ. Emptied of themselves and filled with God’s mercy in Christ, they spoke God’s truth before governors and kings. They were not leaders of a cause, a movement, or human organization; they were ambassadors of mercy and of judgment. Now, we shall not likely be called often before the high and mighty. It is a good thing, for we are often ashamed of the gospel before the lowly. We want to be liked, to be approved before men. Even when our words turn toward religion, they are often nebulous: political conservatism masquerading as salvation, social causes confused with true gospel initiatives, or humanitarianism pretending to be divine mercy. Mercy is clear; salvation is clear. They focus upon Christ, and him crucified (1 Cor. 1:23; 2:2). Proclaiming them is the fruit of believing in him, knowing him, feeling in one’s soul what great things he has done for us. Mercy and salvation received make us far more concerned with offending him, far more desirous of pleasing him than receiving either the world’s ridicule or accolades. They set us on high. They place us before the throne of God by faith, where we behold his glory in the face of Jesus Christ. Seeing that glory, we know that just as the lions of the field roar, so the living God has spoken. High and low must tremble, bow before him, or face his wrath. Yet we do not give this message with arrogance or meanness. No, it comes from a heart broken over its sin, and a heart that rejoices in God’s mercy. It wants both to honor the God of our salvation and be the means of seeing lost souls recovered for the Master. This spirit will animate us, even dominate us, only when we are touched and transformed by mercy.
Sheer Delight (vv. 47-48)
David ends this section exuberantly. In fact, he cannot sufficiently express his great delight in God’s word. He speaks of “delighting himself in God’s commandments, which I have loved,” and “raising his hands to God’s commandments, which I have loved.” He loves God’s commandments because he loves God. God has heard his cry. Already, as we see in his other Psalms, David moves in a very short span from a sense of his great need to feelings of great joy. By believing God’s word and calling upon him, he anticipates, indeed, he receives the very mercy and salvation God has promised. Did all his problems disappear? No, there was no need. He needed to call upon God in faith, confess his sins, and cast himself upon the promises of God. By doing so, he found what he needed: God himself. God is not a genie; calling upon him is not magic. The chief benefit of falling before him and casting ourselves upon his goodness and love is that you receive God himself. Your problems may and likely will be unchanged, but you will be changed. You cannot come into the presence of “consuming fire” and not be purified, strengthened, and quickened, especially since his presence for us is life and mercy, grace and peace, strength and hope. We come through Jesus Christ. Believing his name opens heaven to us. Seeing the glory of God in his face, we know not when the Lord may be pleased to change our circumstances, but we know that if walks with us, we shall be changed, enabled to bear whatever comes, and to do so with joy and hope, lips opened wide in his praise, and steadfastness in obeying him and waiting upon him. This is the great transformation he effects in all those in whom he dwells by his Spirit. From crying, he brings us to joy – in him. In our neediness, he shows his abundance. In our cowardice, he gives us strength so that we “mount up with wings like eagles” (Isa. 40:31) and confess him before men. His glory evaporates our fear; his mercy our guilt; his promises our anxiety; his truth our slavery. Granted, this is a process, and the work of the Spirit in us, individually and collectively, is life and history-long. It is nonetheless a certain work. When we take him at his word and believe his promises, when forsaking all other helps we rest in him, he comes to our aid. We may not even know what our true need is, but that is no obstacle for him. His truth liberates us from blindness. It makes us fruitful unto every good work. He, by his goodness and love, by his presence and power, hears and answers us, brings his salvation to us, and makes us his faithful servants. In response, can we not confess to him our many sins and needs? Find we no motivation to come to him? Can we not say with David: “Lord, I raise my hands to your commandments; I love them; I love you; I want to follow you, wait upon you, see your mighty works in my own soul so that my lips may not be silent but that I may praise you all day long. You have shown me such great mercy and love; will you not glorify your own name by using me to show compassion upon other poor sinners?” Let the church of our Lord be animated by this spirit, let us ourselves be confronted again by the mercy and love of God, and the world will look less like a tare field and more and more as our Savior’s own vineyard. He delights in such wondrous mercy. Do we delight in it? May the Lord make us beside ourselves with joy in his goodness, delight in his commandments, humility for our sins, and confident in his love and goodness to us through Jesus Christ!