In the sixth Psalm David deals particularly with the judgments of God and the need of mercy upon the part of the individual saint, for strange as it may seem, paradoxical as it may appear to say it, saints are sinners. What I mean by that is that though every believer in the Lord Jesus Christ has been sanctified in the sense that he is set apart to God in all the value of the finished work and the atoning blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, and therefore he is perfected forever in His sight, yet the fact remains that the believer himself is daily conscious of failure, and the closer he walks with God the more conscious he is of the sins of his own heart and life, and the more deeply penitent he is because of those shortcomings. It is quite possible, of course, to be so utterly out of fellowship with God that one can imagine he is living a sinless life, because he judges by the standards of the world without, and if he does not curse and swear and get drunk, he thinks he is living a holy life. But as one enters the presence of God and is overwhelmed with a sense of His infinite holiness he realizes there are things in his life so opposed to the holiness of God that it breaks him down in repentance before the Lord. Then the tendency is, not to feel that His dealings are too hard, but to wonder how God can be gracious at all, and it throws one on His mercy. That is the attitude of the Psalmist
Notice the opening verses as he cries for mercy in that day of Jehovah’s wrath, “O Lord, rebuke me not in Thine anger, neither chasten me in Thy hot displeasure. Have mercy upon me, O Lord; for I am weak: O Lord, heal me; for my bones are vexed. My soul is also sore vexed: but Thou, O Lord, how long?” In reading some of these Psalms we need to remember that Old Testament saints did not have the full, clear revelation of the grace of God that we have today, and therefore it was proper for David to cry, “O Lord, rebuke me not in Thine anger, neither chasten me in Thy hot displeasure.” I do not need to pray that today. I know that “Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth” (Heb. 12:6). I know that God’s rebuke will never be in anger; His chastening will never be in hot displeasure. If He allows chastening to come upon me it is because His loving heart sees it is what I need to conform me more fully to the image of His Son. So I must learn to trust in the midst of trial, and glorify God in the fires.
In verses 4 to 7 we see the saint in the greatest distress, in such distress that he is hardly accountable for his own thoughts. He is perplexed, confused; he cannot understand God’s dealings. His case is something like Job’s. He knew that God was righteous; he knew that God was holy, and yet he knew that he had been attempting to walk with God, and so could not understand why the Lord seemed to be withdrawing Himself from him and giving him up to such deep and bitter grief and sorrow. It was the attempt to explain this that forms the problem of the book of Job. Listen to the Psalmist, “Return, O Lord, deliver my soul: oh save me for Thy mercies’ sake.” You can understand, for instance, God’s dear remnant people suffering under the hand of the antichrist, driven away from the ordinary habitations of man, persecuted, cast out, starving to death perhaps or suffering terrible tortures, crying out, “O Lord, why is it I have to go through this? Look upon me in grace, save me for Thy mercies’ sake,” and then with death before him the soul cries, “For in death there is no remembrance of Thee: in Sheol [not the grave merely but that which is deeper than the grave, the abode of disembodied spirits, the unseen world] who shall give Thee thanks?” Do not take this as a doctrinal statement. It is not that. The materialists, the Christadelphians, the Russellites delight in a statement like that and say, “Don’t you see, the Spirit of God has said, In death there is no remembrance of Thee: in Sheol who shall give Thee thanks?’ Therefore, when people die they are unconscious until the day of their resurrection. The dead know not any thing’ (Eccl. 9:5). That is what the Old Testament tells us.” But he is speaking of the dead bodies. You go out to a cemetery and look around and say, “These dead, they know not anything,” but that does not touch the question of the spirits of the dead. Here the Psalmist sees death ahead and sees one after another cut down by the enemy and says, “Lord, You cannot get any glory out of that Would You not get more glory if they were living here on earth to praise You?” We know now with New Testament revelation what the Psalmist was not able to understand clearly. Our Lord Jesus has “brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:10); and now we know that for the believer to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, and we can say, “Yes, even in the unseen world we will give Him thanks; we will praise His name.” When Paul was caught up into the third heaven he heard the praise of saints and “unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter” (2 Cor. 12:4). But do not try to read back into the Old Testament, truth that it did not please God to reveal until New Testament times. It was when the Lord Jesus came into this scene that He took the cover, as it were, from the unseen world and revealed conditions beyond the grave.
The Psalmist continues, “I am weary with my groaning; all the night make I my bed to swim; I water my couch with my tears.” Some of you think you have suffered a good deal. Have you ever wept so much that you soaked the bed clothes? David says that he did, when hunted out there by King Saul. You have not suffered as much as he; and think of what the coming remnant will have to go through. We are so inclined to self-pity. We do not remember that we “have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin” (Heb. 12:4). When I hear friends who have returned from Russia, and also during these days from China, tell of the terrible things that saints of God have had to pass through over there, the unspeakable tortures to which they have had to submit, I feel that I have never known anything of suffering, nor anything of trial. David knew much about suffering. The people of God in some of these lands I have spoken of and the people of God in the coming day will have to know much of suffering. We are living in comfort, and the little things that trouble us so much, a few years hence as we look back, will seem as nothing compared to the wonderful goodness of God. “Mine eye is consumed because of grief; it waxeth old because of all mine enemies.”
But now in the closing verses of the Psalm you see the saint rising above these troubles; dreadful as they are he is able to rise above them because he fixes his eyes upon the Lord. When his eyes were upon the troubles they seemed insurmountable, but when he looks away from them to God, he strikes a note of confidence, “Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity; for the Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping.” Here we see faith in exercise. In the earlier part of the Psalm it was a poor, troubled heart, cast down and distressed because of unbelief; but now he has his eyes on God, and his troubles seem very small after all, and he cries, “Let all mine enemies be ashamed and sore vexed: let them return and be ashamed suddenly.” It is a great thing when we have committed things to God, to say, not merely, “The Lord will undertake,” but “The Lord has undertaken.” I have put the thing in His hands, and I believe He has taken care of it. Take that beautiful word in another portion of Scripture, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me” (Psa. 50:15). I am in the day of trouble; I am distressed and say, “Dear me, I do not know what is going to happen. I am afraid everything I have counted on is going to pieces; I have no standing.” When I talk this way, I act like a man who does not know the living God at all. He has said, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me” (Psa. 50:15). This is my day of trouble, and so I turn to Him and call upon Him, and then what? I go on with my head down just the same as ever. That is not faith. God has said, “Call upon Me.” Lord, I called upon Thee; Thou hast promised and I dare to believe! That is what lifts me above the trial and enables me to triumph.
And so we pass on into the seventh Psalm and find that there is another thing we need to have before us when trouble comes. That is a clear conscience. The Apostle Paul said that he exercised himself “to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men” (Acts 24:16). If I have a bad conscience, if I have been living out of fellowship with God, if I have been doing things really wrong, when trouble comes and I want to go to God about it, I am not able to pray. David says, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” (Psa. 66:18). I try to go to Him and all the time these things come before me, and I cannot pray; so I need to be careful to keep short accounts with God, to be sure that I have a good conscience, and then I can go to Him in confidence.
In the seventh Psalm we have the Psalmist pleading for righteous judgment, and he says, “I am not conscious of deliberately and wilfully sinning against God.” He knows he has failed, as all of us do, and as he expresses himself in the fifth Psalm; but there is such a thing as knowing that the main desire of your life has been for righteousness and that the main purpose of your life is to live for God. In the opening verses he expresses his trust, “O Lord my God, in Thee do I put my trust: save me from all them that persecute me, and deliver me: Lest he tear my soul like a lion, rending it in pieces, while there is none to deliver.” And then he puts on the breastplate of righteousness. He is going to face the foe, and so looks into his own life and asks God to help him that he may look into it more carefully, and he says in verses 3 to 5: “O Lord my God, if I have done this; if there be iniquity in my hands; If I have rewarded evil unto him that was at peace with me; (yea, I have delivered him that without cause is mine enemy:) Let the enemy persecute my soul, and take it; yea, let him tread down my life upon the earth, and lay mine honour in the dust.” His enemies were reproaching him with having done evil, and he says, “If I have done these things, I deserve to be ill-treated—let my enemy tread down my life upon the earth, and lay mine honour in the dust.” But he knows as he looks into his own life that these things are not true. He has been seeking to glorify God, and so he can pray in confidence.
In verses 6 and 7 he calls on God to arise to his help: “Arise, O Lord, in Thine anger, lift up Thyself because of the rage of mine enemies: and awake for me to the judgment that Thou hast commanded”—I have put everything in Thine hand. I have put Thee between me and mine enemies, and I ask Thee to undertake, to do the things that should be done. I will trust Thee to do it. “So shall the congregation of the people compass Thee about: for their sakes therefore return Thou on high.” And then in perfect confidence he says, “The Lord shall judge the people: judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness, and according to mine integrity that is in me.” Do you say to me, “I would not like to say that to God; I would not like to say, ‘Judge me according to my righteousness’ because I really have no righteousness.” No, man has none of his own, and David recognized that, but he is speaking now of what God by His grace hath wrought in him, and he is conscious of the fact that he has sought to walk before the Lord in integrity of heart. Somebody has well said, “The strings of David’s harp were the chords of the heart of Jesus,” and through all these Psalms you can hear the voice of our Lord Jesus. We sometimes point out certain Psalms, perhaps thirty or forty of them, and say they are Messianic Psalms because there is some definite reference in the New Testament that connects them with Christ, but there is a certain sense in which the suffering Saviour, committing Himself to the Father, may be traced right through the Psalms. In this world God often seems to treat His best friends worst, and He treated His own Son worst of all, and what does that tell us? All these hard and difficult things are working out for future blessing. Our Lord Jesus “endured the cross, despising the shame” because of the joy that was set before Him, and we as believers can say, “Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:17). But let us be sure that we walk with God in uprightness of spirit. If I try to pray and all the time my heart is accusing me of a lack of integrity, there is no liberty. If there has been evil in my life it must be judged.
Then in the next section of this Psalm, verses 9 and 10, notice how blessedly the Psalmist turns to God as his defense, “Oh let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end; but establish the just: for the righteous God trieth the hearts and reins”—that is the inward part. “My defence is of God, which saveth the upright in heart.” And so no matter how the waters are rolling over him, he can count on God; he can believe that He will bring him through. Then in verses 11 to 17 he contemplates the divine government. God is still the moral Governor of the universe, and no matter what is going on it cannot get out of His hand. Only so much evil is permitted. “God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day.” And as Judge of the universe He is going to deal with wickedness. I do not have to do it. “If he turn not, He will whet His sword; He hath bent His bow, and made it ready. He hath also prepared for him the instruments of death; He ordaineth His arrows against the persecutors.” God is going to turn around some day and is going to deal with those who are afflicting His saints. And so in verses 14 to 17 you get the end of the wicked, the judgment they shall yet have to endure. All the sorrows that God’s people will ever have they know in this world. The moment they leave this scene behind there is nothing but endless blessing. On the other hand every bit of pleasure, every bit of joy, every bit of happiness of any kind that the worldling will ever know he gets down here; while for him there is nothing but sorrow beyond. You remember Abraham’s words to that one-time rich man, “Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented” (Luke 16:25).
A prize fighter who got converted had a little bit of a wife who was angry because he had become a Christian. In his unconverted days they went around to the theaters and all the worldly things, but now he would have none of it, and she would be perfectly furious and denounce his Christianity. One day she was going after him with a broom, and as he was trying to get out of her way he stumbled and fell, and she took advantage of that and pummelled him well. The door opened and an old friend of his stood there and watched the strange sight, and said, “Why, Bob, do you mean to say you would let a little woman like that pound you—you a former prize fighter!”
“Oh,” he said, “she is getting all the heaven she will ever get in this world and as long as she is enjoying it I let her have it.”
David emphasizes that in these last four verses: “Behold, he travaileth with iniquity, and hath conceived mischief, and brought forth falsehood. He made a pit, and digged it, and is fallen into the ditch which he made. His mischief shall return upon his own head, and his violent dealing shall come down upon his own pate. I will praise the Lord according to His righteousness: and will sing praise to the name of the Lord most high.”
That brings us to the end of this period of suffering, for in the next Psalm we have the appearance of the Son of Man and see Him set over all things. It is a wonderful Psalm and it is referred to again and again in the New Testament. We are no longer occupied with vain man and his ungodly ways, not even with the sufferings of the people of God, but we turn away to consider the wonders of God’s name and the glory of His creation. “O Lord our Lord, how excellent is Thy name in all the earth! who hast set Thy glory above the heavens. Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast Thou ordained strength because of Thine enemies, that Thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.”
The day has come when God arises to shake terribly the earth, to bring to an end the long ages of Satan’s rule, to still the enemy and the avenger; and the Psalmist looks up and says: “When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which Thou hast ordained; What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that Thou visitest him?” Oh, says David, I feel so small. I thought I was so important before. My own grief and distresses so pressed upon me, but now when I look at the heavens and see those galaxies of suns with their surrounding planets in the heavens, universe after universe stretching out into infinity, I wonder that God pays any attention to me at all. “What is man, that Thou art [so] mindful of him? and the son of man, that Thou visitest him?” But God has His eyes on the Second Man, and it has pleased Him to appoint a time when man is to have absolute authority over this universe. God gave this authority to Adam, but Adam was not the Son of Man and therefore this passage cannot be referring to him. It was God’s purpose that man should hold this lower creation in subjection to himself, but he failed and so the Second Man comes into the scene, and He is before the eyes of God here, “Thou hast made Him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned Him with glory and honour.” It is our Lord Jesus Christ, as we know from Hebrews, who came from Godhead’s glory and took a place lower than the angels. Do you realize that our Lord Jesus Christ is just as truly Man in glory as He was when here on earth? That is one of the most wonderful truths of Scripture for the comfort of our hearts. “There is…one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). Stephen said, “I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56)—Jesus, a Man in glory crowned with glory and honor!
“Thou madest Him to have dominion over the works of Thy hands.” Though Satan has sought to thwart God’s purpose it is going to be carried out. “Thou hast put all things under His feet.” In Hebrews we read, “Now we see not yet all things put under Him.” We have only to walk the streets of Chicago to realize that all things are not yet put under His feet; but the writer goes on to say, “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour” (Heb. 2:8, 9). Therefore, knowing that God is going to carry out His purpose we do not see everything put under Him, but we do see Him put above everything, and not only in the moral world but in the lower creation as well.
“All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.” I love to think of the time when the groaning creation that has shared in the fall through no fault of its own, is going to be delivered from the bondage of corruption in the day of the manifestation of the glory of God. We learn from passages in Isaiah that blessing is to come to the very beasts of the field and the cattle. John Wesley prepared two or three sermons to show that cattle and beasts are going to heaven, for he thought that referred to heaven and that God was going to make up for all they suffered here by taking them to heaven at last. But Scripture speaks of them as “natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed” (2 Pet. 2:12). What it does show is that when He reigns and everything is put under His feet, the lower creation will be delivered from the bondage of corruption and the very beasts will be brought into a more delightful existence than we have ever known.
And so he concludes this octave with the words, “O Lord our Lord, how excellent is Thy name in all the earth!” His heart is bubbling over with joy at the thought that God’s Man, the Man of God’s pleasure, the Son of Man whom He has made strong for Himself, is soon coming to be over all things. And so you can see what a complete picture we have of the ways of God, from the first advent of Christ to His second coming.