There is much more method in the Psalms than is generally supposed; but I cannot enter at present into so large a subject. I would draw the reader’s attention only to four of them, and in particular to some points in the character of the last of the four, a psalm with which every reader of Scripture is familiar— the 22nd.
In Psalm 19 we have two great witnesses of the power and thoughts of God. First, from verses 1 to 6, the witness creation affords, and especially the heavens: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament sheweth his handiwork.” From verse 6 to the end, the perfection of the law is spoken of—the question of man’s keeping it is not here introduced, it is the perfectness of the law itself which is insisted on, and its value for the soul of man, wherever it brings its light, and the moral power of its instructions. These witnesses have their own unchangeable character. Man has been able to corrupt and change the face of the earth, and judgment and destruction have come upon it, death and misery. What is reached by man is alas! corrupted by man. But the heavens, and the sun in its course, proclaim with bright and unvarying witness (blessed be God, beyond the reach of man’s corrupting hand), the glory of Him that made them, and
“Soon as the evening shades prevail,
The moon takes up the wondrous tale,
And nightly to the list’ning earth
Repeats the story of her birth;
Whilst all the stars that round her burn,
And all the planets in their turn,
Confirm the tidings as they roll,
And spread the truth from pole to pole.
* * * *
For ever singing as they shine,
‘The hand that made us is divine.’”
Man may have indeed perverted these witnesses of power to idolatry; but, where man does not reach, all creation still proclaims the glory of God its Creator. So with the law; flesh under it is disobedient and perverse; the law itself, of course, changes not. It bears witness to the mind of God about man, though man under it may not keep it; and it gives no life that he may, and so obtain righteousness by it. But another witness of deeper and fuller character, One who was a witness to the nature as well as to the power of God; One who manifested the righteousness which the law claimed and taught, and, besides that, revealed and displayed God’s love in the midst of the sin and corruption in which man was, appeared amongst those who were guilty of the sin, and under the bondage of the corruption.
Christ was amongst men. It was not merely creative glory displayed in the heavens, the work of God’s hands, the moon and the stars which He had ordained, shining above, and unreached by man’s corruption; nor the law, the rule of right in man, which he could not corrupt, but which condemned him because he was disobedient to it. It was love itself; God, who is love, manifested as man in the midst of corruption; man, perfect in love to God and to his neighbour; in a word, the witness of divine love and human perfectness in the midst of corruption, passing through it, meeting it in grace, to shew that the love of God could, and did, reach to these corrupt ones; passing through it in perfect holiness and righteousness, to shew that it was God’s love which did thus visit them as indeed it alone had a tide to do so. But this blessed One came in a peculiar manner. He came according to prophecies and promises, in the midst of a people whom God had prepared for this purpose—a people to whom the promises had been given according to the flesh, amongst whom, after their redemption out of Egypt, all the prophets had appeared; who had the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the public worship, and the revelation of Jehovah, the one true God, whose law it was, and by whom the prophets were sent.
How was the promised Messiah, the Christ, received? We all know He was despised and rejected of men, a scorn of men and an outcast of the people. They saw in Him no beauty that they should desire Him. “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” The perfection of the witness He bore caused His rejection, and for His love He found hatred. The Christ found a day of trouble; scorned and rejected by the people to whom He came in love, and according to promise and prophecy.
In this state He is seen in Psalm 20, and prophetically addressed as by the little remnant whose hearts were under the influence of the Spirit of God. It is of course in Jewish terms and thoughts, but the comparison with Psalm 21 shews clearly to whom it applies. Indeed in verse 6 the person who is the subject of the psalm is said to be Jehovah’s anointed, that is, His Christ. The little residue of those who favoured His righteous cause, seeing Him rejected of men, desire in the prophetic testimony of the Psalms earnesdy His acceptance of God, help and deliverance from the sanctuary. They see the perfectness of the desire of His heart, and their own would fain behold the fulfilment of His counsels. Helpless themselves, and not here reaching to the height of God’s counsels in redemption, these witnesses of Christ’s sufferings (as Peter calls himself), as observers of His trouble, and penetrated with love to Himself, look to One who is their only resource, to look on the righteous One, and hear and grant the deliverance a Jew expected from the sanctuary in Zion.
In Psalm 21 we get the inspired answer to this godly desire, already anticipated in Psalm 20:3, 6. Hence here they celebrate, prophetically, the triumph of the Christ. He has been heard. Compare chap. 20:4; 21:2. But now we have His desires explained, His earthly sorrows opened out. Death was before Him. Compare here Heb. 5:7. He asked life of Jehovah, and He is heard. But how, after all? In length of days (as man) for ever and ever. “His glory,” they say to Jehovah, “is great in thy salvation: honour and majesty thou hast laid upon him. For thou hast made him most blessed for ever; thou hast made him exceeding glad with thy countenance.” Compare Psalm 16:10, 11. He was prevented with the blessings of goodness, a crown of pure gold set on His head. In a word, the rejected Messiah is exalted by the right hand of God, and set in glory and majesty above.
In these two psalms, therefore, we have the rejected Messiah exalted by God, honour and majesty put upon Him, and length of days given Him for ever and ever. He had suffered from men, been despised and rejected by them, and God has glorified Him as man. Mark the result. His hand finds out all His enemies, His right hand those that hate Him. He makes them as a fiery oven in the day of His anger. For they intended mischief against Him, which they were not able to perform. As He said by parable Himself: “Those mine enemies, who would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.” In the day of His anger the glorified Christ will execute judgment on His enemies. Man had despised and rejected Him, imagined mischief against Him, and judgment will be the consequence for men.
But the sufferings of Christ had a far deeper character. He suffered from the hand of God. He suffered for sin. From man He had suffered for righteousness’ sake, and had hatred for His love. From God He suffers for sin, being made sin for us. Here He is alone, none to sympathise—none to stand by, and with true, though feeble, interest, at least in spirit, take an interest in His sorrow. In Psalm 20 we have seen this. In the gospels we may find Mary anointing Him for His burial, those whom ihe Lord owns having continued with Him in His temptations, who, in spirit, would take up the words of the psalm, if trouble came on Him: “Jehovah hear thee in the day of trouble; the name of the God of Jacob defend thee.” But when He comes to suffer from God for sin, to pass through death its wages, who could go with Him there? Who could pass these waters of Jordan, when they overflowed all their banks? “As I said to the Jews, so now say I to you,” declares the Lord to His disciples, “whither I go, ye cannot follow me now.” This was true of the power of death itself as the path to glory.
But more than this, in atonement what place could the sinner have? Christ drank that cup that we might never drink it. Hence, while in Psalm 20 the saints in spirit are looking at Christ suffering with deep interest and affection, whilst they can look on and observe Him, and love Him in the midst of rejecting scorners; in Psalm 22 Christ speaks Himself and alone. None could observe with sympathy, or fathom, or express, what the suffering He there underwent was. The words are in the mouth of the sufferer who was alone, and alone could express them. He was there, no doubt, suffering from man as man. Dogs and bulls of Bashan had closed Him round, but His cry was to Jehovah, that He at least would not be far from Him. But no, the fathers had trusted and were delivered; but this blessed One must drink the cup to the dregs. Perfect and sinless, He could say, “why hast thou forsaken me?” We have learnt and can say why. It was for us. He was bearing our sins in His own body on the tree; made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.
Here then the Lord was suffering from God, the forsaking of God, that dreadful cup from the holy One, in His soul. He was suffering for sin, not as He did from man for righteousness. And now mark the blessed result. Is it judgment? He was bearing it for us. Was sin to be brought on any? It was Jehovah Himself who was bruising Him, and who put Him to grief. Sin was put away there. What is the result then? Unmingled, unhindered grace. The bar to the full outflowing of love was taken away in the putting away of sin. Till Jesus was baptised with that baptism, how was He straitened? Not surely in His own bowels of love; but God, consistently with His glory, could not exercise His love and make light of unrighteousness. Surely this was no making light of it. God could now give the fullest scope to the highest and divinest exercise of love shewn in, and indeed in its results founded on, the redemption that was there accomplished. God was glorified there, and the glory of God was the result for Him that had accomplished it, and that glory is now to us the hope of righteousness by faith. God could not endure sin, but He could put it away perfectly in grace as that which He could not endure, instead of putting the sinner away in his sins from before His face, because He could not endure them. But there is more than this: Christ was heard because He feared. His appeal was not unlistened to, though it was impossible, if we were to be saved, and God fully glorified, and man fully glorified in Christ, that the cup should not be drunk, that Christ should not undergo, not merely the fact of death, but the forsaking of God.
Now, though we see the Lord giving up His Spirit to His Father in perfect peace, yet the resurrection was the great answer of God to His demand of life. That was the power of God entering into the place and seat of death, and taking the man of His delights out from among the dead in the power of an endless life, declaring Him His Son with power, and giving Him His place according to the counsels of God. It was man set up by the power and according to the counsels of God, and by the love and glory of the Father, where, as regards Christ, He deserved to be, and the Father’s delight was to place Him.
He was placed before God and the Father as the One whom He delighted in, and as His Son in blessedness (sin being put away). This was the relationship in which Christ stood as man before God and His Father. This was the name of God towards Him. A Deliverer from death and all the consequences of sin which He had borne, and a placing Him in righteous glory and infinite delight in His presence as Son. This is the name, which as heard from the horns of the unicorns, He declares to His brethren. Such was His first thought. How sweet is it to see this! The moment He has entered into the enjoyment of this name, of this relationship with God, He must bring His brethren into the same relationship and the same joy. Previously indeed (unless in the very vague expression, “my brother, and sister, and mother”) He had never called them brethren. The corn of wheat abode alone. Now redemption was wrought out, and He could bring them into the same place of blessing as Himself: His precious love does it at once. “Thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns. I will declare thy name unto my brethren.”
And such we find to be historically the case. Speaking to Mary Magdalene, to whom He first appeared, He says, “Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.” He declares to them the name in which He rejoiced with His Father and God, saluting them as His brethren. God is our Father as well as His, our God as well as His. This is most blessed. If indeed taught by the Spirit, we enter into this love. But the place the Lord then takes shews how thoroughly He sets us in this place of perfect blessing where He is Himself. “In the midst of the congregation will I sing praise unto thee.” How sweet to see the Lord leading the praises of the congregation, the poor remnant whom He has gathered by His death and quickened unto joy by His resurrection. Alone, when it was suffering and death for sin, He gathers them all to Himself for the joy He has wrought by it.
And mark the result as to the true character of our praise. Christ, as thus risen into blessedness, having declared to His brethren the name of His God and Father, His praise must be the perfect answer and reflex of this blessing, of this blessed relationship as He enjoys it as man. And after toil and pain, after death and anguish, after wrath and the righteous forsaking of God, oh, what to Him must have been His entering, as risen from the dead, into the ineffable light and joy of God’s countenance, in the perfect place into which He had come by that path of life. “Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thy holy One to see corruption. Thou wilt shew me the path of life; in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand pleasures for evermore.” Into this He now brings His brethren. He leads the chorus of praise. Thus our praise must be according to the fulness with which Christ knows and enjoys the blessedness of the fruit of His work, and the relationship into which He is entered as man in virtue of it. It must answer to the name He declares to us as heard from the horns of the unicorn and risen, that we may join Him in praising His Father and our Father, His God and our God, or it is out of tune with Him, who leads so blessedly these praises. We must praise with Him on the ground of that blessedness in which He praises, or it is discord.
O for a heart to know and, in some measure, to rise to that place and praise, which such touching and infinite grace gives us! Nothing can give a deeper, more subduing idea of the grace, the perfect grace, into which we are brought, and of the grace of Him who brought us there; of the complete deliverance and sure relationship which we enjoy, than Christ Himself leading our praises as heard and entering into this place. What must His be? But it is in the midst of the congregation He praises. O that indeed by the Spirit our voices may be attuned to follow that praise, that leading inspiring voice of Him, who has loved and not been ashamed to call us brethren; and is gone to His Father and our Father, His God and our God! The degree of realisation of joy, the sweetness and loudness of our joining note, depends of course on our spiritual state; but no note that is not founded on the perfect peace and joy of redemption is at all in tune there.
But we have seen that Christ’s sufferings from man for righteousness brought judgment on man. His hand will find out all His enemies. But His sufferings from the hand of God for sin bring only blessing, the outflowing of grace alone. This is remarkably shewn in Psalm 22. We have seen its character in the remnant of Israel, gathered by His grace, and who formed the nucleus of the church, be they Jew or Gentile. Next, as it will be accomplished in the latter days, He turns to all Israel, that His praise may be in the great congregation (v. 23-26). Next, the word goes forth to all the ends of the world, to bring them in to this blessed circle of praise. Are they the fat of the earth? they eat and worship. Are they, be they who they may, those on whom death lies, who go down into the dust (and no man can keep alive his own soul)? they must be witnesses of this mighty deliverance by the dying and risen Saviour—that is, when the kingdom is Jehovah’s, and He is governor among the nations. The seed that shall then have been spared shall serve Him, and then it shall flow down to other generations. “They shall come, and shall declare unto a people that shall be born” this great and wondrous work of redemption; that that blessed, lowly, afflicted One “had done this.” All is the fruit of redemption and victory. Judgment has stilled its voice. That great deed of atonement, of love and righteousness upon the cross, has left it silent and gone, to make room for the voice of unmingled praise. It is not promise merely now. It is not that they shall be filled who hunger after righteousness; that the meek shall inherit. They that fear the Lord are to praise Him, the meek shall eat and be satisfied; they shall praise the Lord that fear him, their hearts will live for ever. Such is the blessed fruit of the perfect atonement for sin which that blessed One, forsaken of Jehovah—awful thought!—has accomplished for us; never so acceptable to Jehovah, never so perfect in obedience, as when, as to His soul, He suffered for us the forsaking of His wrath. Now the fruit, in unclouded light, is unmingled and unhindered praise, which He who had tasted and drunk that dreadful cup of ours first teaches us in the name of Father and God, in which He delights in righteousness and love, and then leads in the blessed chorus of praise, in which we shall adore for ever and ever, His Father and our Father, His God and our God, in, and through, and with Him. Now, it is for our hearts, through faith; hereafter Israel’s and the world’s, and the people to be born, the universal witnesses of the power of that work to reconcile and bless, when the kingdom is Jehovah’s, and He is governor among the nations—for us, though now in suffering, in a better and heavenly way, but to His just praise then in all the earth.