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Not pity but a whipping for those staying under an unedifying ministry – Spurgeon

May 20, 2014 Comments off

Perhaps, again, you are saying, “Oh that I were as in months past!” not so much from your own fault as from the fault of your minister.There is such a thing, my dear friends, as our getting into a terribly bad condition through the ministry that we attend. Can it be expected that men should grow in grace when they are never watered with the streams that make glad the city of our God? Can they be supposed to wax strong in the Lord Jesus, when they do not feed on spiritual food? We know some who grumble, Sabbath after Sabbath, and say they cannot hear such and such a minister. Why don’t you buy an ear-trumpet then? Ah! but I mean, that I can’t hear him to my soul’s profit. Then do not go to hear him, if you have tried for a long while and don’t get any profit. I always think that a man who grumbles as he goes out of chapel ought not to be pitied, but whipped, for he can stay away if he likes, and go where he will be pleased. There are plenty of places where the sheep may feed in their own manner; and every one is bound to go where he gets the pasture most suited to his soul; but you are not bound to run away directly your minister dies, as many of you did before you came here. You should not run away from the ship directly the storm comes, and the captain is gone, and you find her not exactly sea-worthy; stand by her, begin caulking her, God will send you a captain, there will be fine weather by-and-bye, and all will be right; but very frequently a bad minister starves God’s people into walking skeletons, so that you can tell all their bones; and who wonders that they starve out their minister, when they get no food and no nutriment from his ministrations. This is a second reason why men frequently cry out, “Oh that I were as in months past!”
CH Spurgeon – Comfort for the desponding

Christ our Sweet Savour before God – Spurgeon

March 28, 2014 Comments off

“I will accept you with your sweet savour.”
– Eze_20:41

The merits of our great Redeemer are as sweet savour to the Most High. Whether we speak of the active or passive righteousness of Christ, there is an equal fragrance. There was a sweet savour in his active life by which he honoured the law of God, and made every precept to glitter like a precious jewel in the pure setting of his own person. Such, too, was his passive obedience, when he endured with unmurmuring submission, hunger and thirst, cold and nakedness, and at length sweat great drops of blood in Gethsemane, gave his back to the smiters, and his cheeks to them that plucked out the hair, and was fastened to the cruel wood, that he might suffer the wrath of God in our behalf. These two things are sweet before the Most High; and for the sake of his doing and his dying, his substitutionary sufferings and his vicarious obedience, the Lord our God accepts us. What a preciousness must there be in him to overcome our want of preciousness! What a sweet savour to put away our ill savour! What a cleansing power in his blood to take away sin such as ours! and what glory in his righteousness to make such unacceptable creatures to be accepted in the Beloved! Mark, believer, how sure and unchanging must be our acceptance, since it is in him! Take care that you never doubt your acceptance in Jesus. You cannot be accepted without Christ; but, when you have received his merit, you cannot be unaccepted. Notwithstanding all your doubts, and fears, and sins, Jehovah’s gracious eye never looks upon you in anger; though he sees sin in you, in yourself, yet when he looks at you through Christ, he sees no sin. You are always accepted in Christ, are always blessed and dear to the Father’s heart. Therefore lift up a song, and as you see the smoking incense of the merit of the Saviour coming up, this evening, before the sapphire throne, let the incense of your praise go up also.

CH Spurgeon, Morning and Evening 28 March (Evening)

Bunyan’s inward man faint, but revived by Jesus Christ – Grace abounding exerpt

March 23, 2012 Comments off

255. Upon a time I was something inclining to a consumption, wherewith about the spring I was suddenly and violently seized, with much weakness in my outward man; insomuch that I thought I could not live. Now began I afresh to give myself up to a serious examination after my state and condition for the future, and of my evidences for that blessed world to come: for it hath, I bless the name of God, been my usual course, as always, so especially in the day of affliction, to endeavour to keep my interest in the life to come, clear before mine eyes.

256. But I had no sooner began to recall to mind my former experience of the goodness of God to my soul, but there came flocking into my mind an innumerable company of my sins and transgressions; amongst which these were at this time most to my affliction; namely, my deadness, dulness, and coldness in holy duties; my wanderings of heart, of my wearisomeness in all good things, my want of love to God, His ways and people, with this at the end of all, Are these the fruits of Christianity? Are these tokens of a blessed man?

257. At the apprehensions of these things my sickness was doubled upon me; for now I was sick in my inward man, my soul was clogged with guilt; now also was my former experience of God’s goodness to me, quite taken out of my mind, and hid as if they had never been, or seen: now was my soul greatly pinched between these two considerations, Live I must not, die I dare not. Now I sunk and fell in my spirit, and was giving up all for lost; but as I was walking up and down in the house as a man in a most woeful state, that word of God took hold of my heart, Ye are justified freely by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Rom. iii. 24. But oh! what a turn it made upon me!

258. Now was I as one awaked out of some troublesome sleep and dream; and listening to this heavenly sentence, I was as if I had heard it thus expounded to me: Sinner, thou thinkest, that because thy sins and infirmities, I cannot save thy soul; but behold My Son is by me, and upon Him I look, and not on thee, and shall deal with thee according as I am pleased with Him. At this I was greatly lightened in my mind, and made to understand, that God could justify a sinner at any time; it was but His looking upon Christ, and imputing His benefits to us, and the work was forthwith done.

259. And as I was thus in a muse, that scripture also came with great power upon my spirit, Not by works of righteousness that we have done, but according to His mercy He hath saved us, etc. 2 Tim. i. 9; Tit. iii. 5. Now was I got on high, I saw myself within the arms of grace and mercy; and though I was before afraid to think of a dying hour, yet, now I cried, Let me die: Now death was lovely and beautiful in my sight, for I saw We shall never live indeed, till we be gone to the other world. Oh! methought this life is but a slumber, in comparison with that above. At this time also I saw more in these words, Heirs of God, Rom. viii. 17, than ever I shall be able to express while I live in this world: Heirs of God! God Himself is the portion of the saints. This I saw and wondered at, but cannot tell you what I saw.

Source: Grace abounding to the chief of sinners, by John Bunyan

Jesus our righteousness before God – Grace abounding excerpt

March 22, 2012 Comments off

229. But one day, as I was passing in the field, and that too with some dashes on my conscience, fearing lest yet all was not right, suddenly this sentence fell upon my soul, Thy righteousness is in heaven; and methought withal, I saw, with the eyes of my soul, Jesus Christ at God’s right hand; there, I say, is my righteousness; so that wherever I was, or whatever I was a-doing, God could not say of me, He wants my righteousness, for that was just before Him. I also saw, moreover, that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse; for my righteousness was Jesus Christ Himself, the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever (Heb. 13.8).

230. Now did my chains fall off my legs indeed, I was loosed from my affliction and irons, my temptations had fled away; so that, from that time, those dreadful scriptures of God left off to trouble me now; now went I also home rejoicing, for the grace and love of God. So when I came home, I looked to see if I could find that sentence, Thy righteousness is in heaven; but could not find such a saying, wherefore my heart began to sink again, only that was brought to my remembrance, He ‘of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption’ by this word I saw the other sentence true (1 Cor. 1.30).

231. For by this scripture, I saw that the man Christ Jesus, as He is distinct from us, as touching His bodily presence, so He is our righteousness and sanctification before God. Here, therefore, I lived for some time, very sweetly at peace with God through Christ; Oh, methought, Christ! Christ! there was nothing but Christ that was before my eyes, I was not only for looking upon this and the other benefits of Christ apart, as of His blood, burial, or resurrection, but considered Him as a whole Christ! As He in whom all these, and all other His virtues, relations, offices, and operations met together, and that as He sat on the right hand of God in heaven.

232. It was glorious to me to see His exaltation, and the worth and prevalency of all His benefits, and that because of this: now I could look from myself to Him, and should reckon that all those graces of God that now were green in me, were yet but like those cracked groats and fourpence-halfpennies that rich men carry in their purses, when their gold is in their trunks at home! Oh, I saw my gold was in my trunk at home! In Christ, my Lord and Saviour! Now Christ was all; all my wisdom, all my righteousness, all my sanctification, and all my redemption.

233. Further, the Lord did also lead me into the mystery of union with the Son of God, that I was joined to Him, that I was flesh of His flesh, and bone of His bone, and now was that a sweet word to me in Eph. 5.30. By this also was my faith in Him, as my righteousness, the more confirmed to me; for if He and I were one, then His righteousness was mine, His merits mine, His victory also mine. Now could I see myself in heaven and earth at once; in heaven by my Christ, by my head, by my righteousness and life, though on earth by my body or person.

234. Now I saw Christ Jesus was looked on of God, and should also be looked on by us, as that common or public person, in whom all the whole body of His elect are always to be considered and reckoned; that we fulfilled the law by Him, rose from the dead by Him, got the victory over sin, death, the devil, and hell, by Him; when He died, we died; and so of His resurrection. ‘Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise,’ saith he (Isa. 26.19). And again, ‘After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight’ (Hos. 6.2); which is now fulfilled by the sitting down of the Son of Man on the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens, according to that to the Ephesians, He ‘hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus’ (Eph. 2.6).

235. Ah, these blessed considerations and scriptures, with many others of a like nature, were in those days made to spangle in mine eyes, so that I have cause to say, ‘Praise ye the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary: praise him in the firmament of his power. Praise him for his mighty acts: praise him according to his excellent greatness’ (Ps. 150.1, 2).

Source: Grace abounding to the chief of sinners, by John Bunyan

Hunger – JC Philpot

March 9, 2012 Comments off

“He satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness.”

Psalm 107:9

We find the living family of God sometimes set forth under the character of the hungry. Let us see what they are hungering after. Is it pleasure, honour, promotion, respectability? O no; these toys and baubles cannot satisfy the spiritual hunger of a living soul. They cannot hunger after that on which they cannot feed. They hunger then after righteousness, as the Lord said: “Blessed are ye that hunger and thirst after righteousness.” They hunger after God himself in his blessed manifestations; they hunger after the bread of life which came down from heaven, that a man should eat thereof and not die. Christ in the letter of the word cannot satisfy their keen appetite. They must feed upon him internally, or their famine still continues. To these hungry, famishing souls, to have Christ in the letter is like a starving beggar standing outside a shop where there is plenty of provisions, and not having a farthing to buy them with. What is Christ in the letter? Will a sight of Christ in the word of God remove the burden of guilt, bring peace into the soul, purge the conscience or subdue the power of sin? Will the mere doctrine of Christ draw up the affections to him, cast out the world, dethrone self, or purify the heart? “Alas!” we say by painful experience, “not one jot, not one jot.” But the presence of Christ in the soul can at once do all these things.

Thus a hungry, famishing soul can only be pacified by Christ coming into his heart as the hope of glory.

JC Philpot

Mark 5:21-34 – Matthew Henry commentary

January 15, 2012 Comments off

Mark 5:21-34

Mar 5:21  And when Jesus was passed over again by ship unto the other side, much people gathered unto him: and he was nigh unto the sea.
Mar 5:22  And, behold, there cometh one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name; and when he saw him, he fell at his feet,
Mar 5:23  And besought him greatly, saying, My little daughter lieth at the point of death: I pray thee, come and lay thy hands on her, that she may be healed; and she shall live.
Mar 5:24  And Jesus went with him; and much people followed him, and thronged him.
Mar 5:25  And a certain woman, which had an issue of blood twelve years,
Mar 5:26  And had suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse,
Mar 5:27  When she had heard of Jesus, came in the press behind, and touched his garment.
Mar 5:28  For she said, If I may touch but his clothes, I shall be whole.
Mar 5:29  And straightway the fountain of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of that plague.
Mar 5:30  And Jesus, immediately knowing in himself that virtue had gone out of him, turned him about in the press, and said, Who touched my clothes?
Mar 5:31  And his disciples said unto him, Thou seest the multitude thronging thee, and sayest thou, Who touched me?
Mar 5:32  And he looked round about to see her that had done this thing.
Mar 5:33  But the woman fearing and trembling, knowing what was done in her, came and fell down before him, and told him all the truth.
Mar 5:34  And he said unto her, Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace, and be whole of thy plague.

The Gadarenes having desired Christ to leave their country, he did not stay to trouble them long, but presently went by water, as he came, back to the other side (Mar_5:21), and there much people gathered to him. Note, If there be some that reject Christ, yet there are others that receive him, and bid him welcome. A despised gospel will cross the water, and go where it will have better entertainment. Now among the many that applied themselves to him,
I. Here is one, that comes openly to beg a cure for a sick child; and it is no less a person than one of the rulers of the synagogue, one that presided in the synagogue-worship or, as some think, one of the judges of the consistory court, which was in every city, consisting of twenty-three. He was not named in Matthew, he is here, Jairus, or Jair, Jdg_10:3. He addressed himself to Christ, though a ruler, with great humility and reverence; When he saw him, he fell at his feet, giving honour to him as one really greater than he appeared to be; and with great importunity, he besought him greatly, as one in earnest, as one that not only valued the mercy he came for, but that knew he could obtain it no where else. The case is this, He has a little daughter, about twelve years old, the darling of the family, and she lies a dying; but he believes that if Christ will but come, and lay his hands upon her, she will return even from the gates of the grave. He said, at first, when he came, She lies a dying (so Mark); but afterward, upon fresh information sent him, he saith, She is even now dead (so Matthew); but he still prosecutes his suit; see Luk_8:42-49. Christ readily agreed, and went with him, Mar_5:24.
II. Here is another, that comes clandestinely to steal a cure (if I may so say) for herself; and she got the relief she came for. This cure was wrought by the way, as he was going to raise the ruler’s daughter, and was followed by a crowd. See how Christ improved his time, and lost none of the precious moments of it. Many of his discourses, and some of his miracles, are dates by the way-side; we should be doing good, not only when we sit in the house, but when we walk by the way, Deu_6:7. Now observe,
1. The piteous case of this poor woman. She had a constant issue of blood upon her, for twelve years, which had thrown her, no doubt, into great weakness, had embittered the comfort of her life, and threatened to be her death in a little time. She had had the best advice of physicians, that she could get, and had made use of the many medicines and methods they prescribed: as long as she had any thing to give them, they had kept her in hopes that they could cure her; but now that she had spent all she had among them, they gave her up as incurable. See here, (1.) That skin for skin, and all that a man has, will be give for life and health; she spent all she had upon physicians. (2.) It is ill with those patients whose physicians are their worst disease; who suffer by their physicians, instead of being relieved by them. (3.) Those that are not bettered by medicines, commonly grow worse, and the disease gets the more ground. (4.) It is usual with people not to apply themselves to Christ, till they have tried in vain all other helpers, and find them, as certainly they will, physicians of no value. And he will be found a sure refuge, even to those who make him their last refuge.
2. The strong faith that she had in the power of Christ to heal her; she said within herself, though it doth not appear that she was encouraged by any preceding instance to say it, If I may but touch his clothes, I shall be whole, Mar_5:28. She believed that he cured, not as a prophet, by virtue derived from God, but as the Son of God, by a virtue inherent in himself. Her case was such as she could not in modesty tell him publicly, as others did their grievances, and therefore a private cure was what she wished for, and her faith was suited to her case.
3. The wonderful effect produced by it; She came in the crowd behind him, and with much ado got to touch his garment, and immediately she felt the cure wrought, Mar_5:29. The flux of blood was dried up, and she felt herself perfectly well all over her, as well as ever she was in her life, in an instant; by this it appears that the cure was altogether miraculous; for those that in such cases are cured by natural means, recover their strength slowly and gradually, and not per saltum – all at once; but as for God, his work is perfect. Note, Those whom Christ heals of the disease of sin, that bloody issue, cannot but experience in themselves a universal change for the better.
4. Christ’s enquiry after his concealed patient, and the encouragement he gave her, upon the discovery of her; Christ knew in himself that virtue had gone out of him, Mar_5:30. He knew it not by any deficiency of spirits, through the exhausting of this virtue, but rather by an agility of spirits, in the exerting of it, and the innate and inseparable pleasure he had in doing good. And being desirous to see his patient, he asked, not in displeasure, as one affronted, but in tenderness, as one concerned, Who touched my clothes? The disciples, not without a show of rudeness and indecency, almost ridiculed his question (Mar_5:31); The multitudes throng thee, and sayest thou, Who touched me? As if it had been an improper question. Christ passed by the affront, and looks around to see her that had done this thing; not that he might blame her for her presumption, but that he might commend and encourage her faith, and by his own act and deed might warrant and confirm the cure, and ratify to her that which she had surreptitiously obtained. He needed not that any should inform him, for he had presently his eye upon her. Note, As secret acts of sin, so secret acts of faith, are known to the Lord Jesus, and are under his eye. If believers derive virtue from Christ ever so closely, he knows it, and is pleased with it. The poor woman, hereupon, presented herself to the Lord Jesus (Mar_5:33), fearing and trembling, not knowing how he would take it. Note, Christ’s patients are often trembling, when they have reason to be triumphing. She might have come boldly, knowing what was done in her; yet, knowing that, she fears and trembles. It was a surprise, and was not yet, as it should have been, a pleasing surprise. However, she fell down before him. Note, There is nothing better for those that fear and tremble, than to throw themselves at the feet of the Lord Jesus; to humble themselves before him, and refer themselves to him. And she told him all the truth. Note, We must not be ashamed to own the secret transactions between Christ and our souls; but, when called to it, mention, to his praise, and the encouragement of others, what he has done for our souls, and the experience we have had of healing virtue derived from him. And the consideration of this, that nothing can be hid from Christ, should engage us to confess all to him. See what an encouraging word he gave her (Mar_5:34); Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole. Note, Christ puts honour upon faith, because faith gives honour to Christ. But see how what is done by faith on earth is ratified in heaven; Christ saith, Be whole of thy disease. Note, If our faith sets the seal of its amen to the power and promise of God, saying, “So it is, and so let it be to me;” God’s grace will set the seal of its amen to the prayers and hopes of faith, saying, “So be it, and so it shall be, to thee.” And therefore, “Go in peace; be well satisfied that thy cure is honestly come by, is effectually wrought, and take the comfort of it.” Note, They that by faith are healed of their spiritual diseases, have reason to go in peace.

Spiritual appetite – Sinclair Ferguson

December 24, 2011 Comments off

Sinclair Ferguson

The Book of Psalms has been described as ‘an anatomy of all the parts of the soul’. It is an excellent description. For what we find in the Psalms is a description and analysis of the spiritual life. Nothing is hidden from us. ‘Highs’ and ‘lows’ are alike recorded. That is why, when we read the Psalms, we are often amazed by the way they present a mirror-image of our own experiences and condition.

In the Psalms we see a description of our own experience. But sometimes we also recognise a description of new experiences. These provide insights and guidelines for us, to teach us what to anticipate. Some psalms are really saying to us: ‘This is how God may work. Be prepared to recognise his hand in your life in similar experiences’. Such is the case with Psalms 42 and 43. They are unusually appropriate at this juncture of our thinking about spiritual growth.

These two psalms belong together. Psalm 43 is one of only two psalms in the second book of the Psalter (Ps. 42-72) which has no title. The reason probably is that at one time it was joined with Psalm 42. The theme of both psalms is the same. Indeed you will probably have noticed that there is a chorus or refrain running through both of them. (Ps. 42:5, 11; 43:5):

Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God
for I will yet praise him,
my Saviour and my God.

No wonder the message of these psalms has often been taken to be ‘counsel’ for the spiritually depressed’. They certainly provide such counsel. But that is probably not meant to be the main lesson. For it is characteristic of the Psalms to introduce the chief theme, not in the chorus, but in the opening words. Psalm begins with this statement:

As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?

Here is someone who is longing to know God! That is an essential part of all true spiritual growth. Of course growing as a Christian involves gaining more knowledge of God’s word; it implies a life of prayer and witness. But these are all the results of something more basic. Being a Christian means knowing God. Growing as a Christian means increasing in our desire to know God. This is the sum of the Christian life. Jesus himself said: ‘This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God’ (Jn. 17:3). The true men and women of faith are ‘the people who know their God’ (Dan. 11:32). That is why, in the Old Testament, one of the anticipated blessings of the new age which the Messiah would inaugurate was that then men and women would ‘know the Lord’ (Jer. 3 1:34).

This is the heart of the Christian life. It is fundamental to all spiritual growth. If we are not growing in the knowledge of God, we are not growing at all.

Does it sound churlish to suggest that our greatest weakness today as Christians (young and old) lies here? That was the complaint of Hosea about his church. God’s people were destroyed for lack of knowledge (Hos. 4:6). Similarly we tend to be a generation of Christians who major on minor matters but do not seem to possess the true measure of the gospel in the knowledge of God. We do not really know God. At best we know about him.

The man who wrote Psalms 42 and 43 may once have been content with a similar level of spiritual experience. But then God began to order his circumstances in such a way that a new desire to grow spiritually filled his horizon. He began to long to know God. He describes his experience in three stages.

LONGING TO KNOW GOD

What is it like to have a desire to know God? These Psalms indicate that it can be an exceedingly painful and disturbing thing. This man felt he was cast down. He realised that he did not know God as he needed to:

Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?

Perhaps in his earlier days he had known the presence of God in powerful ways. But now his spirit felt barren and dry. It was parched, and he was crying out for the dew of God’s presence to come to revive and restore him.

It is a great temptation, looking at this man’s condition, to say that he was simply a defeated and disobedient child of God — a backslider. Yet he makes no mention of repentance, or of any specific sin which is barring him from the presence of God. This is not a penitential psalm. Indeed, in some ways the reverse is true. For here is a man who can address God as ‘my Rock’ (v. 9). He is thinking of God as his shelter and protection — as a Crag in which he can hide to find shelter and protection from his enemies. ‘At night’, he confesses, ‘his song is with me’ (v. 8). Hardly the words of a backslider!

God had begun to break up the fallow ground in his spirit (Jer. 4:3; Hos. 10:12). He plans to bring him on to a new stage of spiritual experience. As in ordinary life, so in spiritual life, we experience not only the traumas of birth, but the struggles of growing out of one stage into another stage of life.

But what were the means God employed in his life to bring about this new state of affairs? And, correspondingly, what pattern of experiences may we anticipate he will employ in our lives to bring us into a growing knowledge of him and his ways with us?

SPIRITUAL DESIRES AWAKENED

There are three things which God began to use:

(i) Memories of the past. As he called to God in his perplexity, he said: ‘These things I remember as I pour out my soul’. What did he remember?

In his mind’s eye he was back in Jerusalem. He saw the crowds of pilgrims at one of the great festival services: ‘I used to go with the multitude’. He remembered the atmosphere: ‘shouts of joy and thanksgiving’. He himself was at the head of the procession (v. 4). It all comes flooding back to him — he even uses a rare word in the original to describe the picture of the short, careful steps it is always necessary to take in a vast crowd to avoid everyone stepping on each other. Yes, those were wonderful days!

Sometimes looking back like that can be a symptom of spiritual decay. If all our hopes, all our finest experiences lie in the past and all we do is to complain that things are no longer what they once were, it usually is a sign of personal spiritual decay. But that was not the case with this man. He was remembering the grace and power of God’s presence with his people for a specific reason: to stir up his soul to long for and anticipate it again. That is one of the things a memory is for!

When Paul was concerned about the spiritual growth of his young friend Timothy, he encouraged him to use his memory. Remember the day we laid our hands on you, Paul said. Think of that occasion when the Holy Spirit set you apart through us. Do you not recall how God sealed your calling and wonderfully blessed you? Do you not remember how you gave yourself to the Lord out of a sense of his goodness to you? Remember that hour, Timothy, and let its memory stir you up to seek and to serve God now (see 2 Tim. 1:6-7; 1 Tim. 4:14).

Many of us have similar memories of times and places of unusual blessing in our lives. George Whitefield the great 18th century evangelist used to say that when he returned to Oxford University (where he had studied) he always wanted to go to the spot where he had been converted and kiss the ground. The memory of what God had done for him had proved to be such a great source of continuing blessing that this was the only way he felt he could express his gratitude!

I remember meeting a very elderly Christian in the far north of Scotland. For many years there had been little faithful preaching of Christ in the area where he had his croft. I wondered how he had managed to keep his spiritual fervour (Rom. 12:11). He told me of an event in his teens which had made such an impression on him that he had found enormous encouragement for many years simply by remembering it. At that time the Lord’s supper was celebrated only twice each year. The congregation gathered for several days of special services. On the Sunday afternoon, he had gone out to the back of his father’s croft, and was astonished to discover the ground covered in black. Scarcely a blade of grass was to be seen. ‘It was’, he explained, ‘because the men all wore black suits, and they were kneeling and bowing together in prayer outside the house, calling on God for “the divine unction”. There had been such a sense of the Lord’s presence that he had never forgotten the occasion. Since then he had continued to long to know the Lord more and more.

Do you have a memory of meeting with God like this? Is it as clear in your mind as the memories which the psalmist was recalling? Then let your memory accomplish what God means it to: let it create in you a thirst, a longing, a fresh desire to know God and to sense his presence with you the way you did then.

(ii) Isolation in the present. Why was it that all these things were just memories? He tells us: ‘I will remember you from the land of Jordan, the heights of Hermon — from Mount Mizar’. The reason he has only recollections is that he is now far away from the scenes of his former blessing. He is miles from Jerusalem, isolated in the highlands. He is cut off from the thriving fellowship of God’s people he once knew; he no longer is able to benefit from the various ministries he had formerly enjoyed. There were few resources here to encourage his spiritual growth; few friends with whom to share fellowship with God.

The problem was magnified by another factor. There, in Jerusalem, he had been more than simply one among many. He had been a leader, perhaps the leader: ‘These things I remember . . . how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God (Ps. 42:4).

He was not the last to go through such an acute sense of isolation. How many missionaries experience this! At home they played key roles in their own Christian fellowships. They were leaders. But, removed across the face of the earth, far from being leaders they cannot even speak the language of the people. For many months they may feel they are less than members, never mind leaders. When they return home they may experience exactly the same in reverse. While they have been labouring overseas their contemporaries have moved on in life another four years or more. Returning missionaries do not ‘fit in’ quite so easily as before. Even their own church is at a different stage of development, of which they may no longer feel an integral part.

But we do not need to go overseas to experience isolation. Any major readjustment in our life-style can have this effect of making us feel distanced, disorientated, no longer fulfilling a strategic, purposeful role in our Christian lives. A change of job, of house, of neighbourhood can do this. Bereavement, children leaving home, retirement can all do the same.

What did God want to teach the psalmist? What does he want to teach us in similar situations? God wants to teach us lessons in isolation which he does not teach us, or which we cannot learn, in fellowship. In our loneliness and separation from God’s people we may learn to look to God, trust in God, desire God’s presence. We discover that in the past we have relied too much on the encouragement of others and insufficiently on the Lord himself. While before we knew God (quite legitimately) through the help of our fellow Christians, now we must learn to know him in isolation from them.

This is why the psalm is called a Maskil, that is a song of instruction. The writer is saying to us: this is what God taught me through my experience; it is what he may want to teach you too.

(iii) Hostility in the environment. He is like a deer roving over the crags and rocks in the height of summer looking for water with which to slake his thirst. But he feels more than thirsty; he feels pursued:

As pants the hart for cooling streams,
When heated in the chase,
So longs my soul, O God, for thee
And thy refreshing grace.

There are several indications of this in what he says. People say to him: ‘Where is your God?’ (v. 3). He goes about mourning, ‘oppressed by the enemy’ (v. 9). He prays to be rescued ‘from deceitful and wicked men’ (Ps. 43:1). No wonder he felt that God had cast him off (Ps. 43:2). He must have felt as though God were digging his spiritual grave. He could not stand the pressure much longer. ‘Vindicate me, O God, and plead my cause’, he cried (Ps. 43:1).

What was happening to him? There are several strands to be untangled in his experience. God was showing him how much he needed to depend on him for protection. Perhaps at an earlier stage in his experience he felt that he could hold his own with anyone who opposed his faith. Now he was discovering how vulnerable he was. Perhaps too he had taken an altogether too confident view of his own ability to stand firm against the forces of darkness. Now he was beginning to realise that belonging to the kingdom of God meant being a target for the attacks of the Devil. He goes around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Pet. 5:8). He had sent his emissaries to attack this man. He needed help!

Yet none of this lay outside the control of God himself. While the psalmist felt that God was digging his grave he was only partly right. In a sense he was. God was wanting him to come to an end of himself and his self-confidence. That is always the place where the true knowledge of God begins. But it was not really a grave God was digging at all. It was a well! For out of the depths of this experience would flow a river of spiritual blessing for him, and through him to others. Through it all he was coming to know God. No price was too great to pay for that.

Sometimes we sing:

I thirst, I sigh, I faint to prove
The greatness of redeeming love,
The love of Christ to me.

What we tend to learn all too slowly is that sometimes we do have to thirst, sigh and faint if we are to prove it.

This writer did prove it. So he shares with us one final thing:

SATISFACTION

His testimony is this. He prayed for spiritual satisfaction. In particular he focused his prayers on the twin means by which God would bring this into his life:

Send forth your light and your truth,
let them guide me;
let them bring me to your holy mountain,
to the place where you dwell.
Then will I go to the altar of God,
to God, my joy and my delight.
I will praise you with the harp,
O God, my God.

(Ps. 43:3-4)

What were the means he expected God to use in order to bring him to a deeper knowledge of him?

(i) The word of God. He prays for God’s light and truth. God’s word serves as a lamp to our feet and a light for our path (Ps. 119:105). So a later psalm confesses:

The entrance of your words gives light;
it gives understanding to the simple.
I open my mouth and pant,
longing for your commands.

(Ps. 119:130-1)

What does he mean? Of course he is missing the opportunity to read God’s word with others. He has no access to the exposition of God’s word in public. But he is wanting much more than the restoration of these lost opportunities. He is asking for God to send forth his light and truth. He is looking for ‘the entrance of your words’.

When we become Christians we are brought out of darkness into God’s marvellous light (1 Pet. 2:9). God, who at creation said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, has shined in our hearts to bring us to know him through Christ (2 Cor. 4:6). Formerly we were darkness, but now we are light in the Lord (Eph. 5:8). One of the things which accompanies this is the penetration of God’s truth into our minds, consciences and hearts. We see our lives in his light for the first time. We are brought to see the kingdom of God for the first time (Jn. 3:3), and we are given a radically new interpretation of our own lives. Illumination, enlightenment takes place (cf. Heb. 6:4).

It is common for young Christians to experience this effect of God’s word regularly. There is so much that is new to learn. I have never forgotten the first occasion on which I heard someone preach on the idea that every Christian is a ‘saint’ according to the New Testament; nor the first time that I appreciated that I was ‘in Christ’. These new truths about our lives as Christians often come to us with unforgettable force.

Accompanying this illumination of the mind there is a deliverance and cleansing in our lives. Chains which formerly bound us, habits which we could not break seem to be overwhelmed and defeated by God’s power. We are not yet perfect (far from it); but we have begun to taste the powers of the age to come (Heb. 6:5). We are new creatures:

At times with sudden glory,
He speaks, and all is done;
Without one stroke of battle
The victory is won,
While we, with joy beholding,
Can scarce believe it true
That even our kingly Jesus
Can form such hearts anew

 — Charitie Lees de Chenez

But it is not only in the lives of recent converts that God is able to do this. He can speak with unusual power whenever he pleases. He can bring fresh illumination, delivering grace, strong assurance. The psalmist was praying for this. There are times in our experience when ordinary means of growth need to be accompanied by special illumination from God if we are ever to make any significant progress. It was such a time in this man’s life. It may also be in our lives too.

(ii) The worship of God. Having prayed for God to come to him, he vows that in response he will come to God. He will climb God’s ‘holy mountain’ (v. 3); he will go to the altar of God; he will find God as ‘my joy and my delight’ (v. 4).

He has now discovered, as we shall discover, that all the experiences of life are ordered by the Lord for one great purpose. Trials and difficulties especially have this purpose in view. It is that we should be brought into the presence of God, so that we worship him with all our hearts. That is an authentic sign of spiritual growth.

There is a special significance in the order of these words: he climbs the hill; he goes to the altar; he discovers God as his great joy. He is thinking of coming to Jerusalem, where God has promised to reveal himself in his temple. He is thinking of drawing near to God at the place where sacrifice is made. He believes that at the altar, because of the sacrifice, he will meet with God in grace and in power.

The order of spiritual experience has not changed since the psalmist’s day. We too need to go to the place where God has promised to meet with us. That is no longer in Jerusalem. It is in Christ. No longer in a place, but now in a person (cf. Jn. 4:21ff). We too need to climb the hill to God — the hill of Calvary, in order to come to Christ in whom alone God makes his presence known to us.

What do we find there? We too find an altar, a place of sacrifice — the cross. We find a victim — our Lord Jesus Christ. We are called to present our bodies on the altar as thank-offerings for his sacrifice for us. This is our spiritual worship (see Rom. 12:1, 2). Only then shall we discover God as our chief joy.

God has made us to ‘glorify and enjoy him forever’. Are we afraid of the cost of glorifying him? Have we never experienced the bliss of enjoying him here and now? We need a new willingness to sacrifice our lives to him and for him, in order that we may know him fully.

We came upon the writer of Psalms 42 and 43 picturing himself as a thirsty seeker. He longed to know God. We leave him as one who has begun to discover the blessings of a promise which he never heard, but which is so familiar to us.

Jesus said: If a man is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him. (Jn. 7:37)

He said: Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life. (Jn. 4:14)

Since we have ‘better promises’ (Heb. 8:6), let us follow on to know the Lord (Heb. 6:1-3).

The first step forward in knowing God better is the awareness that you do not yet know him fully. It is ‘thirsting’ for God. It is discovering that he has water which can satisfy our deepest longings. It is saying to him: ‘Lord, give me this water’ (Jn. 4:15).

Do you know God? Do you realise how little you know him? Do you want to grow? Are you willing for all that is involved? We shall see in the next chapter just exactly what is involved in knowing God better.

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