A Genuine Christian: His Character and Experience
A Sermon on the text Psalm 119:176
by Pastor James A. Hufstetler
"I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek Thy servant: For I do not forget Thy commandents." (Psalm 119:176)
The longer I labor in Christ's vineyard, the more I am convinced that even the most well instructed among us have much to learn experientially concerning human nature. We have much to learn about how really sinful true believers can be. And it is essential that we make progress in this knowledge, not so that we can find excuses to sin, not so that we can become more censorious of one anothers faults, but so that true believers will realize that their own personal heinous depravity is not unique to them, and so that they will not allow themselves under Satanic assault to feel disenfranchised spiritually or disowned by God and thus be backward to His praise, worship, and service. An examination of the Psalmist's closing words of Psalm 119 should give us real insight into the true character and experience of a genuinely godly man, an insight that I trust will be of genuine encouragement to spiritually sensitive saints.
The Psalmist opens this verse with a confession, "I have strayed like a lost sheep"--away from my Shepherd--away from my God. I have walked where I should not have walked. I have grazed in pastures where I should have not have grazed. I have thought, I have said, I have done what I should not have. This is clearly a confession of spiritual waywardness, and I emphasize that, because even good respectable commentators on this verse have tried to say that the Psalmist is David--which may or may not be--and that David is simply speaking of the wandering of his exile when he was being persecuted in the reign of Saul. When he talks of wandering away as a sheep we are told that he is not talking of his spiritual wandering, he is not talking about straying from his God. He is talking about being exiled away from Jerusalem, away from the tabernacle and its worship. The problem is that the language of this text is not the language that speaks of David being driven away from the worship of God in Jerusalem and from the privileges of the people of God in the land of Judah. We have here the language of spiritual deviation. It is the same language used in Isaiah 53:6 when the evangelical prophet says, "We all like sheep have gone astray." The word translated, "gone astray" in Isa. 53:6 is the same basic word translated "gone astray" in Ps. 119:176.
Now, who is the author of this confession? Well, he is a man of intense love for God's Word. Even a cursory reading of this Psalm will indicate that to us. Verse 11, "Thy word I have hidden in my heart that I might not sin against Thee." Verse 14, "I have rejoiced in the way of Thy testimonies, as much as in all riches." Verse 20, "My soul is crushed with longing after Thine ordinances at all times." Do we reach that spiritual fervor in our own experience? This is a man of intense love for God's word. Verse 24, "Thy testimonies also are my delight; they are my counselors." When I need advice, he is saying, when I want to know what to do, where do I go? I go to Your testimonies. They counsel me, they advise me, they direct me. Verse 72, "The law of Thy mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces." Verse 97, "O how I love Thy law! It is my meditation all the day." Verse 148, "My eyes anticipate the night watches." Why? Why do you rob yourself of sleep, Mr. Psalmist? Well, he tells us, "That I may meditate on Thy word." The man making this confession, "I have strayed like a lost sheep," is a man with intense love for God's Word.
Not only that, but he is a man of humble dependence and earnest supplication. He is a humble man. He is a praying man, and one who prays with earnestness and fervency. Again, we could look at many verses. Let's just limit ourselves to verses 33-40, "Teach me, O Lord, the way of Thy statutes," I need your instruction. I cannot do without it, "and I shall observe it to the end. "Give me understanding, " I am ignorant Lord. I need your help. I need your light. I need your illumination. "Give me understanding that I may observe Thy law, and keep it with all my heart. Make me..." Do not leave me to myself to wander off in paths of my own choosing. "Make me walk in the path of thy commandments, for I delight in it." He wants to be made to go in the very paths in which he delights. We are tempted to say, If you delight in the paths why do you need to be made to go in them? But, you see the Psalmist felt deeply the resistance of his remaining sin and he was begging for divine power to over-come it in him. "Incline my heart to thy testimonies..." Lord, I even need the grace to have my heart turned in the right direction. "Incline my heart to Thy testimonies, and not to dishonest gain. Turn away my eyes from looking at vanity, and revive me in Thy ways. Establish Thy word to Thy servant, as that which produces reverence for Thee. Turn away my reproach which I dread, for Thine ordinances are good. Behold, I long for Thy precepts; revive me through Thy righteousness." These are repeated calls for help. The man who is proud and arrogant does not ask for help in this manner. He is self-sufficient, needing nothing. He is capable of handling his situation all by himself. That was not the disposition of the Psalmist. He was a humble man and the tell-tale sign of any man's humility is whether he knows how to pray earnestly, and whether he feels sufficient emptiness, dependence, ignorance, and guilt to drive him to the throne of grace. It causes him to cry out that God, Who alone can meet his needs, would meet his needs. We could multiply examples through this lengthy Psalm of this Psalmist's dependence. This is a man of humility, a man who knows how to pray, a man of earnest supplication. But he is not the kind of man who goes to the throne of grace and prays earnestly and then folds his hands and waits for God to just dump out all the desired blessings on him from heaven.
He is also a man of holy resolution. He is a man who knows what it is to say, I will do this. I will not do that. I resolve to do this. I determine not to do that. Notice the evidence for this: verse 16, "I shall delight in Thy statutes; I shall not forget Thy word." Some people think that humility is never coming to the point of resolution, never expressing verbally to God and to the brethren that you are determined to follow a course of holy action. That is not humility. Humility is knowing that you can do none of these things that you determine to do unless God gives you the help and the grace, but having prayed for that, you then determine what you will and what you will not do. Verse 61, "The cords of the wicked have encircled me, but I have not forgotten Thy law." That is not a statement of self confidence. The other passages that talk about his sense of dependence and his earnest prayer contradicts that. He was the kind of man, though entirely dependent upon his God for grace and enablement, who knew that it was right, and good, and holy to then determine to do what he waited upon God to do for him. This was the kind of man who said, "I have gone astray like a lost sheep." This is the author of this confession, a man of holy resolution. You can see it again in Verse 93, "I will never forget Thy precepts ." That is a holy thing to say, though it may seem proud to some. What is your response to this resolute statement by the Psalmist? Is it, Oh my, what terrible presumption--not only to say for the moment, I will not forget your law, but to say, I will never forget your precepts! Isn't that arrogance and pride? Such a response to the Psalmist's resolution would be wrong! Those words are being spoken from the lips of a humble man, a dependent man, a praying man, but also a man of holy determination to do what is right. Psalm 119:106, "I have sworn"--this is the height of his determination and resolution-- "I have sworn, and I will confirm it, that I will keep Thy righteous ordinances." And if we rightly understand the totality of Scripture, every true believer in Jesus Christ has taken just such an oath. When you come to Christ you enter into covenant with Him, and part of a covenant relationship demands that you swear allegiance to the one true and living God in His Son Jesus Christ, and you swear that you will obey the demands of the covenant. That is all the Psalmist is doing here.
So the author of the confession, "I have gone astray like a lost sheep" is a man of intense love for God's Word, a man of humble dependence and earnest supplication, and a man of holy resolution. He knows what it is to make holy vows expressing his determination to meet the demands of the covenant which God has laid upon him all the while trusting God to help him keep his resolutions. Verse 32 brings resolution and dependence together: "I shall run the way of Thy commandments, for Thou wilt enlarge my heart." But this Psalmist was not a morbid man. For some people, making vows and resolutions seems to drain them of all spiritual joy, praise, and holy ecstasy in worship. That did not happen to the Psalmist. This man is full of joy and worship and praise. Observe verse 62," At midnight I shall rise to give thanks to Thee because of Thy righteous ordinances." That takes some dedication. He must have been bubbling over with praise and thanks to get up at midnight and express that thanks to God. Verse 108, "O accept the freewill offerings of my mouth, O Lord, and teach me Thine ordinances." So though he was a man of holy determination, he knew how to make those resolutions in a way that did not deprive him of a joyful spirit. Verse 164: "Seven times a day I praise Thee, because of Thy righteous ordinances." This man was consistently and pervasively joyful.
He was also a man of righteous zeal and tender sensitivity. Observe his righteous zeal (vv. 53, 113, 128, 158). O how this man loved righteousness and hated sin. He had burning zeal for God. But it was not a zeal that had calcified him and made him hard. Notice Verse 136, "My eyes shed streams of water, because they do not keep Thy law." He was not able to move in the society of his day and mingle with his contemporaries and see their grievous transgressions against the Law of God and remain indifferent. He was not calloused. He was not hard. He had not become desensitized by observing the repeated violations of God's law all around him. He still knew how to weep when he saw the Law being disobeyed. What a man this Psalmist was! How we would love for our churches to be filled with such zealous and yet tender hearted men!
He was also a man of steadfast obedience. He did not just make resolutions and then renig on them. He was a man who knew how to carry out those resolutions. Verse 83, "Though I have become like a wineskin in the smoke, I do not forget Thy statutes. Verse 87, "They almost destroyed me on earth, but as for me, I did not forsake Thy precepts. Verse 109, "My life is continually in my hand, yet I do not forget Thy law. Verse 110, "The wicked have laid a snare for me, yet I have not gone astray from Thy precepts." This man had grit. He was not a quitter. He did not get bitter at God and give up because of hardship. He did not say, "Well if the godly life is this hard then I've had it. I quit.' No, He remained steadfast in His obedience. Verse 141, "I am small and despised, yet I do not forget Thy precepts." Verse 143, "Trouble and anguish have come upon me; yet Thy commandments are my delight." You see, this Psalmist was not like the stony ground hearers in Jesus' day who immediately received the Word and sprang up but when tribulation and persecution came upon them they withered and dried up and bore no fruit. No. No. He could say trouble and anguish have not driven me away from you, Lord. They have not driven me back from obeying you and even delighting in your commandments.
Now this is the man, dear ones, who makes this confession: "I have gone astray like a lost sheep." It is humbling enough to read Isaiah 53:6. It is humbling enough to think about this being a description of unconverted people, of a world living without God and without Christ and without hope. It is humbling enough to have the entirety of the human race described as sheep going astray everyone turning to his own way and doing his own thing. It is even more tragic and more humbling, and more mortifying when we realize that this now is not a description of the world without God, of unconverted people, this is a description of a man of God, and of the people of God. "I have gone astray like a lost sheep."
But we have yet more to say about this eminently godly man. He is a man of great understanding and great maturity. Notice Verses 98-100. This is not some novitiate, someone newly planted in the religion of the true and living God, someone who is but a babe in spiritual things. Not at all. "Thy commandments make me wiser than my enemies"--well, we would expect that--"for they are ever mine." Now notice, "I have more insight than all my teachers, for Thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, because I have observed Thy precepts." This is an understanding that he has gained, not simply theoretically in the classroom, but practically through obedience. The more we obey, the more we put into practice what we know, the more understanding God gives us. But the point is that this man was well advanced in spiritual knowledge and experience. This was the man who makes the confession in the last verse of this Psalm. He was no spiritual dummy. He was a giant spiritually. He was mature. He was knowledgeable. He had great understanding and it was not just an intellectual, theoretical, academic knowledge, or the knowledge of a spiritual beginner. He had biblical, experiential, religious, and spiritually mature understanding. And yet he says, "I have strayed like a lost sheep." That is his confession.
One more thing. This man was a man who had gone astray before and had been chastised for it. Notice v. 67: "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Thy word." Verse 71: "It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn thy statutes." Isn't this amazing? This man has gone astray before and been chastised for it. Yet despite all his experience of the rod of God upon his back, here he is at the end of this Psalm having to confess again, "I have gone astray like a lost sheep." This is the man who authored this humbling confession.
We have seen the author of this confession. Now, to what does he liken himself in this confession? "I have gone astray like a lost sheep." He likens himself to a lost sheep. That underscores the foolishness of his sin. He has strayed away from God like a stupid animal has strayed away from its shepherd. It underscores the proneness of his heart to error. How easily sheep wander off from where they belong. It underscores the readiness of his heart to disobey the Shepherd. That is his confession. This is the man who makes it. He is man of intense love for God's word, a man of humble dependence and earnest supplication, a man of holy resolution, a man who knew the fruit of the Spirit which is love, joy, peace, and so forth. He is man of praise, and a man of righteous zeal, and tender sensitivity, who knew how to weep when he saw others disobeying God's law. He is a man of steadfast obedience. Even persecution could not drive him off the course of obedience. He is a man of mature spiritual experiential knowledge. And He is a man who had known the pain and misery of chastisement for past wanderings.
Having seen the Psalmist's confession, now notice his petition. "Seek Thy servant." Seek me Lord. This wayward man's cry indicates consciousness of several facts. "Seek Thy Servant." He was conscious even though he made this confession of sin, of an abiding relationship. He knew that God was his God and that he was God's servant. He knew that he was accountable and obligated to duty and to obedience because of this relationship. I am your servant. You are my master. You are my God. That means that I owe you allegiance. I owe you obedience. He is conscious of an abiding relationship. He is also conscious of personal helplessness. "Seek Thy servant." I am a lost sheep. Seek me Lord. It reminds us of the words of Augustine, "Domini, Errare, Potui" Lord, to err I am able. Pedire non Potui, To return I am not able. I am able to stray. That's what I have done. That is what has happened. But I am not able to return. Now, do you think, knowing that this is a man of holy resolution, that he is saying this to excuse impenitence? No. It is an indication that he is deeply conscious of personal helplessness. "Seek Thy servant." I can no more restore my own soul or find my way back to God on my own apart from God's grace than a lost sheep justify to itself can find its way back to the security and safety of its fold. This cry of helplessness implies faith not despair. He cries for help to One whom he believes will in mercy grant his petition. He has intense desire not to wander. He had deep longings not to have any distance at all between him and his great Shepherd for a minute longer. Is this what you do the moment you are aware of spiritual deviation in your own experience? The moment you feel that your thoughts, your mind, your affections, or your will are straying from God, do you cry out, "I am a lost sheep Lord, seek Thy servant, bring me back, restore my soul, renew a right spirit within me?" This is how we should respond when we detect the first signs of spiritual deviation in ourselves.
We have seen the Psalmist's confession and the Psalmist's petition. Now observe his argument. He has an argument that he uses to strengthen his petition. "I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek Thy servant, for I do not forget Thy commandments." He is not saying, my sin is not really that bad because all the while I've been wandering I have still had your commandments in my mind and consciousness. Neither is he saying, Lord what I have done isn't so bad because I also obey your commands part of the time, so would you please answer my prayer. He is not saying that. He is not mitigating the seriousness of his wandering. Neither is he saying that because he has not forgotten the Lord's commandments that somehow he deserves restoration. No. He is not saying that. He is simply underscoring the fact that he believes himself to still be in covenant relationship with God. Though he is a sinner, he is not yet a covenant breaker. Though you see he was a conscious wanderer, yet he did not forget God's commandments. He did not apostatize from the living God. God's law was still in his heart. He still loved it. He still delighted in it. He still desired to be restored to a more consistent and uniform and persevering keeping of it. It is as if he had said, In all my wandering, in all my consciousness of error with all my sense of guilt, I still do feel, and know, and believe that I love your law, I love your service, I love your commandments. They are the joy of my heart. and I desire with all of my being to be recalled from all of my wanderings. (1)
Now brethren, because this little text puts the things together that it does, it is just jam-packed with wholesome application for us. We have here first of all a corrective to sinful unbelieving reasoning. "I have sinned." Many of us are in the habit of saying, I have grieved you Lord and I have sinned so often and so seriously despite all my knowledge, despite all my resolutions, despite all my understanding, despite all my supposed maturity, my light, all I have heard, all the sermons that have been preached to me, all the tapes that I have listened to, all the books I have read, all the times I've been chastised before and still I have sinned like this. I have wandered so far I am like a lost sheep. Therefore, I must not be God's child. I thought I loved His Word. I thought I was sincere when I made those resolutions. I thought I meant business. I did not think I was crying crocodile tears when I saw others disobey God's law and wept at the sight. I must have been all wrong. I keep perpetually straying. "Prone to wander, Lord I feel it." (2) I have this awful disposition to wander. All that I thought must have been real religiously and spiritually now I see in light of my present deviation must certainly have been false fire. I thought I delighted in God's decrees but I must not really, otherwise, why am I violating them again? But don't you see what the Psalmist puts together. Lost sheep...Thy servant...I do not forget Thy commandments. These are all right together. From the same mouth, in the same experience, he is conscious of shameful sin, and of a spiritual disposition. Present at once are shameful sin, "I have gone astray like a lost sheep," and sacred relationship, "I am your servant," and a spiritual disposition, At least I have not forgotten your commandments. He puts them together. We need to learn how to do that in our spiritual self-evaluation. We need to learn how to combine these things and pray the publican's prayer every day. We must never get so spiritual we get beyond the cry, "God be merciful to me the sinner." At the same time we must be able to express Paul's confidence, "I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day." "Chief of sinners"--we have to get beyond the place where we read these phrases in the Bible, and in biographies and we simply say to ourselves, That just proves how holy they were that they would confess their sins so humbly. When this Psalmist says that he was a lost sheep, he meant exactly what he said. He was a lost sheep. When Paul said, "I am the foremost of sinners." That is what he meant--it wasn't hyperbole. That is what we are even as true believers. We tend to go to one extreme or the other. We stay in that position of smiting upon our breasts in the temple with the publican and cause that holy smiting to degenerate into despair and morbidity and crippling spiritually. Or in reaction to that we soar with confidence and soon that confidence looks down its nose at any serious confession of the heinousness of our sins and says, we are beyond that now. We've outgrown that now. We are past that now. That is the other extreme. It devastates us spiritually when we go astray again like lost sheep, and because we have not had a biblical view of ourselves we hastily conclude that because we have gone astray like lost sheep we could not possibly be His servants. That is wrong reasoning that only keeps us back from running back to our Saviour quickly when we have sinned.
We not only see here a corrective to sinful reasoning, we see here a cure for human pride. We see all of this man's resolutions, his oaths--how seemingly devout and immoveable--and yet he finds himself breaking those resolutions. We see his prayers and supplications, how fervent, how sincere, how urgent, how earnest he is, and yet he finds himself contradicting his prayers by his behavior. We see his diligence in hiding the Word in his heart for ready use so that he might not sin against God, all his memorizing, all his meditating, Where has it gotten the Psalmist now? He is still sinning. We observe his unusually mature understanding more than all the elders, more than all his teachers. Yet this did not preserve him from sinning or from wandering off again. He demonstrates viril hope and confidence and faith and boldness all through this Psalm, yet he cannot preserve himself from wandering from his shepherd. He cannot restore his own soul once he has wandered. He has to cry to the Shepherd to seek him out and bear him back to Himself on His own shoulders. Do you see what this tells us? And this is not an isolated text. You know your Bibles. This tells us that no matter how long we have been Christians, no matter how much we know, no matter how firm our resolutions to follow God with all of our heart no matter how strong our determination, no matter how diligent we are with reading, praying, memorizing and meditating--and we ought to be that way if we are going to imitate the psalmist--we cannot keep ourselves from sin for even a moment. When we have sinned we cannot produce in ourselves repentance. We cannot bring ourselves back. We are debtors to mercy alone. Beware brethren, in this age of sloppy Christianity of any form of Christianity that does not know, does not confess, and does not repeatedly confess its continuing need for mercy and grace to live every day of our Christian experience. Beware of that Christianity that is so confident that it scorns deep, sincere, heartfelt confessions of our depravity before God. It is as though somehow that is just for the Puritans. That is antiquated. We in the twentieth century know better how to have a good self-image and we know that views of our deep remaining depravity batters down self-image. You beware of anything like that. It is from the pit of hell. It is not biblical Christianity. But also beware of a kind of groveling and confession of sin that precludes joy, faith, and hope. That says, Well since all I do cannot keep me from sinning anyway I might as well not try to be the kind of person this Psalmist was. That would be devilish logic. He felt keenly his helplessness. Yet he did all he could to be a man well pleasing to God.
We also have here a call to repentance. Repent of your unbelieving patterns of thought such as, I have sinned so all my resolutions are pointless...I'm smart enough now, whatever I do I am not going to make any more resolutions. You are in spiritual trouble if you have gotten to that place. And I know what it is to be severely tempted in the same way. We fail, we get up, we fall, we get up, we fall, we determine, we fail, we resolve, we fail, so what happens? If we are not careful we become spiritual cynics. We become cynical of ourselves--cynical of our resolutions. If we resolve anything, and this is about all we will resolve now, we resolve not to make any more resolutions. Beloved, that is not thorough going biblical Christianity. We all need to repent of that pattern of thinking. I have sinned, that means that I have forgotten His commandments. No, it does not have to mean that at all. I have sinned, that means that I can not possibly be His servant. No, that is not the logic of the Psalmist. I have sinned, that must mean that I am a hypocrite. No, I say we must repent of such reasoning. Dear brother you also need to repent of your unduly high flattering opinion of other renewed men that Satan keeps using to bash you down. How often does he come to you as an angel of light, as a minister of righteousness, sounding so spiritual and say to you, You have just sinned. Godly men don't do what you just did. Truly spiritual men would never never sin like you just have. Holy men don't act this way. Spiritual men don't lose control like this--not after so much light and instruction they don't. They don't wander off in this manner. They get beyond this in their Christian lives. Who says so? That contradicts the experience of the Psalmist in our text. If you take the Bible seriously you cannot reason that way. Do not let Satan bully you into a corner with that kind of talk. He too often succeeds because of your own pride doesn't he? You want to be this spiritual "somebody" that can go maybe even for a day or for a week on your own. And you don't like the idea of staying on your face everyday pleading for mercy. It is humbling. You think you ought to be beyond that by now. So when you stumble Satan stings your conscience with this accusation, "Godly men don't do what you just did. And you cave in to the accusation because you have this wrong concept of what godly men are. You don't realize they are men who are debtors to mercy alone and who live on that mercy every waking moment. So you need to repent of an unbiblically high view of even godly men. You also need to repent of your weariness of repenting, don't you? Some of us do. We need to repent of our weariness of repenting and we need to repent of our unbelief in God's restoring grace. The Lord is the Shepherd of His people. He will restore your soul. Cry to Him to seek you, to find you out and to bring you back. He said that He would. Ezekiel's prophecy says, "Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. As a shepherd cares for his herd in the day when he is among his scattered sheep, so I will care for My sheep and will deliver them from all the places to which they were scattered on a cloudy and gloomy day." And He does not just do that initially, He does that continually. "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures: He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake" (Psalm 23). He is committed to doing that. When I wander from those paths He brings me back and leads me again in those paths of righteousness for His name's sake. He laid down His life for His sheep and He is not going to lose His claim upon them. "My sheep will never perish," He says, "None shall pluck them out of my hand."
The King of Love my shepherd is,
Whose goodness faileth never;
I nothing lack if I am His
And He is mine forever.
Where streams of living water flow
My ransomed soul He leadeth,
And where the verdant pastures grow
With food celestial feedeth.
Perverse and foolish oft I strayed;
But yet in love He sought me,
And on His shoulder gently laid,
And home rejoicing brought me.
In deaths dark vale I fear no ill,
With Thee dear God beside me;
Thy rod and staff my comfort still,
Thy cross before to guide me.
Thou spread'st a table in my sight;
Thy unction grace bestoweth;
And oh what transport of delight
From Thy pure chalice floweth!
And so through all the length of days
Thy goodness faileth never;
(You can go to Him with confidence
and say seek your servant, bring me back,
because His goodness will never fail)
Good Shepherd may I sing thy praise
Within thy house forever. (3)
Hallelujah, what a Saviour! You insult Him when you weary of repenting, when you weary of resolving, when you weary of earnest prayer to God to restore your soul. Hallelujah, what a Shepherd! My friend, if you do not know this great Shepherd, I plead with you, cry to Him and beg Him to seek you and save you from your lostness and your sin.
Finally this text gives us a dose of holy realism. Who would have expected--particularly with our tendencies towards perfectionism--this conclusion to this Psalm? Most of us would think that the Psalmist would end with a great spiritual crescendo. It is a glorious Psalm. Have you ever studied Psalm 119 or read some of Charles Bridges first rate exposition of it? It is a blessed Psalm. Why does it end like this? After all these resolutions, and these expressions of godly confidence and holy desire, and demonstrations of earnest prayer and sanctified oath taking, and much, much more, why does it end like this--"I have strayed like a lost sheep"? Throughout the Psalm, the Psalmist expresses holy desires that some of us are not even yet ready to take into our own lips. We draw back when he says, "My soul is consumed with longing for God's laws at all times." We say, O my, I don't believe that I could ever say that. That is just one of many such expressions. And this man gets up at midnight to give thanks. Did anybody do that last night? It is hard even to stay awake at midnight much less to get out a hymn book and start singing. At times the Psalmist is caught up, so to speak, on the very verge of the eternal world, on the edge of heaven. But now here he is, and it is not the first time in the Psalm. It has happened repeatedly throughout the Psalm. Here he is sinking in the dust before God under the sense of the evil of his own wandering heart. Here he is abasing himself for his perpetual tendency to wander from His God. See, dearly beloved, what this is saying to us. It is saying, This is the Christian life. This is it. This will be our experience from now until the end whether the end come at our own personal death or in the glorious return of our Saviour from Heaven. He who endures to the end shall be saved. That enduring involves both of these things at times--exaltation and abasement. If you have been a Christian for any length of time at all, you know this. Sometimes you are caught up and your soul is blessed. Tears come easily. Your heart is sensitive. Your longings for obedience and holiness are intense and deep and earnest. At other times you say, My soul cleaves to the dust--I am so dead--quicken me, or Lord, I am a lost sheep wandering away, bring me back. The highest notes of praise and holy confidence are combined with the deepest expressions of abasement. This is the Christian life. There is not a conference that you can go to in all the world where you could go to the front and make a decision of consecration which would somehow lift you onto another plane and relieve you from this kind of experience. There is not a place in the world you can go to get out from under this reality concerning the Christian life, there is no crisis experience or second work of grace that can put you beyond this. There is no secret key of the Christian life that can help you avoid these spiritual battles. As Charles Bridges says, who comments so eloquently on this last verse,
"And thus will our Christian progress be chequered until we reach the regions of mixed praise, for we shall no longer mourn over our wanderings, no longer feel any inclination to err from Him, or the difficulty of returning to Him--where we shall be eternally safe in the heavenly fold, to go out no more (Rev. 3:12). For 'He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; neither shall the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb in the center of the throne shall be their Shepherd, and shall guide them to springs of the water of life; and God shall wipe every tear from their eyes' (Rev. 7:15b-17)." (4)
Are you a realist? Does your Christianity have blood and guts to it? Is there a willingness every day to remember again that you are helpless, needy, sinful, broken, a wandering sheep, and yet at the same time have a holy confidence to believe that if you confess your sins he is faithful and just to forgive you and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness? Do you have the spiritual guts that it takes to face all your failure, and all your sin, and all your transgressions? We can say with David that these sins sometimes go over us like waves. We feel inundated by our sins. It takes great grace to face them all--the great mountain of them--and yet believe that God's grace forgives and cleanses us from them all. It takes great grace to determine that we are not going to allow the mountains of our sin to beat us back from holy resolves. Are you willing to renew your vows in the presence of God and His people, and to say again, "I will never forget your Precepts"? Some of you are crippled because you keep going around wondering when you are going to forget them. Right? When am I going to forget? Maybe this temptation is the one that will damn me. Maybe this sin is the one that will lead to my doom. Stop it and say, God, by your grace I will never forget your precepts. Never! Help me. Keep me. Preserve me. I am determined to be preserved and to be kept. May God help us never to divorce what must always go together in our experience until we see Christ face to face. A sense of shameful sin, "I have gone astray like a lost sheep", a consciousness of a sacred relationship, "Seek thy servant", and an awareness of a spiritual disposition within, "For I do not forget thy commandments."
(1) Passages such as Ps. 44:17, 20; Deut. 6:12-16; 8:11f. indicate that to forget God and His commandments was to break covenant with God to go after other gods. The Psalmist's argument is that he had not so forgotten God's commandments. He had not gone away from God and His commandments to worship and serve other gods. He makes the same claim in verse 61.
(2) From the hymn, "Come Thou Fount" by Robert Robinson.
(3) Henry W. Baker
(4) Bridges, Charles, Psalm 119, Banner of Truth Trust, 1974, p. 481.
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