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ACCESS TO GOD IN ORDINANCES
Psalms 43:3-4. O send out thy light and thy truth! Let them lead me; let them bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles. Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy: yea, upon the harp will I praise thee, O God, my God.
IT is supposed that David wrote both this and the preceding psalm when he was driven from Jerusalem by his rebellious son, Absalom. After briefly calling on God to judge between him and his blood-thirsty enemies, he here shews, that the being separated from divine ordinances was to him the heaviest part of his affliction. True, indeed, his faithful servants, Zadok and Abiathar, had brought him the ark; but that he sent back again to its wonted residence [Note: 2 Samuel 15:25.]; for to have the symbol of the Deity without his actual presence and favour, would afford him little consolation or benefit. To enjoy God in his ordinances, was his supreme delight. And hence he implores of God to “send forth his light and his truth,” to conduct him back to them; for who but God could devise a way for his return? or what had he to depend upon in this hour of his extremity, but the promise and protection of God himself? In the event of his being restored to God’s tabernacles, he determined that he would go with more delight than ever “to the altar of his God, even to God himself, who was his exceeding joy,” and there pay to God the vows which he had made: yes, and the harp which now hanged upon the willows should again be tuned, to sing with more devotion than ever the praises of his God. What he here promises, we find in another psalm he actually performed, as soon as the desired deliverance had been vouchsafed: “Thou hast caused men to ride over our heads: we went through fire and through water: but thou broughtest us out, into a wealthy place. I will go into thy house with burnt-offerings: I will pay thee my vows, which my lips have uttered, and my mouth hath spoken, when I was in trouble. I will offer unto thee burnt-offerings of failings, with the incense of rams: I will offer bullocks with goats [Note: Psalms 66:12-15.].”
The words of my text consist of two parts; a devout petition to God to restore him to his wonted enjoyment of divine ordinances; and a joyful anticipation of augmented zeal in the service of his God. And, in correspondence with these, we see what, under all circumstances, it becomes us chiefly to affect; namely,
An intelligent and believing access to God—
It is not sufficient that we attend divine ordinances. Many frequent them without any benefit at all. We must be “led to them by God’s light and truth,” that so we may attend upon them with intelligence and faith.
[Who but God can teach us how to approach him acceptably? Or what hope can we have in approaching him, except from the promises which he has given us in the Son of his love? In order to derive benefit to our souls, we must entreat God to “send forth his light and his truth, that they may lead us.” It is only as reconciled to us in Christ Jesus, that we can venture to draw nigh to God: for in himself, though a God of love to the penitent, he is to the impenitent “a consuming fire.” Nor could we presume to come to him in Christ Jesus, if he had not expressly declared that he would forgive our sins, and receive us to mercy for Jesus’ sake — — — “This is the new and living way which God has opened to sinful man [Note: Hebrews 10:19-20.];” (all access to the tree of life in any other way is barred for ever [Note: Genesis 3:24.];) and we should implore of God to reveal it to us, that so we may find acceptance with him, and be restored to that communion with him from which “we have been separated by our sins [Note: Isaiah 59:2.].”]
But we should look still farther to,
A life of entire devotedness to his service—
David would offer on God’s altar the sacrifices appointed by the Law. But we have a richer offering than all the cattle upon a thousand hills: yes, we ourselves are the sacrifices which God calls for; and, “as living sacrifices we must present ourselves to him,” that every faculty and power we possess may be consecrated altogether to his service [Note: Romans 12:1.].
[Truly, if God was to David “his exceeding joy,” much more must he be so to us. To David, the wonders of Redeeming Love were, comparatively, but little known. Even John the Baptist himself had but a faint insight into them, in comparison of us. “The height and depth and length and breadth of the love of Christ,” which not even an Archangel can fully comprehend, are revealed to us; and in the contemplation of them we should “rejoice in Him with joy unspeakable and glorified [Note: 1 Peter 1:8.].” Never should our harp lie still. We should be singing his praises every day, and all the day long Nor need our access to God be in the least restrained by the want of public ordinances. Doubtless they are of infinite value; for “God loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob:” but in every house, and in every heart, is an altar to the Lord, from whence the sacrifices of prayer and praise may ascend up before God continually, and be regarded by him as “offerings of a sweet-smelling savour.” In a word, to be devoted to God in heart and life is the great end of ordinances; which are no farther serviceable to us, or acceptable to God, than as they are productive of these effects. And, as it was for this end that David so earnestly implored of God a restoration to his ordinances, so it is this which, in attending upon ordinances, we, my Brethren, must continually bear in mind, and make the great object of our pursuit.]
[As for those who are strangers to spiritual religion, I forbear to address this subject to them; for to them it can appear, as the Apostle tells us, no better than “foolishness [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:14.]:” and their very ignorance of the subject is itself a sufficient condemnation to them. But to those who have been endued with somewhat of a spiritual discernment, I may say, this subject affords abundant matter for the deepest humiliation. For, who amongst us values God’s ordinances as David did, and accounts the loss of them the most bitter ingredient even in the bitterest cup which he has to drink? And, in attending upon them, what coldness and formality do we too often feel! As for “our joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” how faint is it, when compared with that which he expressed in the psalm before us, even in the midst of his heavy and accumulated afflictions! Dear Brethren, I blush for you, and for myself also: and I would propose to you to adopt, for our future imitation, that resolved purpose of the Psalmist, “O God, my heart is fixed, my heart is fixed: I will sing and give praise. Awake up my glory, awake psaltery and harp: I myself will awake early. I will praise thee, O Lord, among the people; I will sing unto thee among the nations: for thy mercy is great unto the heavens, and thy truth unto the clouds. Be thou exalted, O God, above the heavens: let thy glory be above all the earth [Note: Psalms 57:7-11.].” Happy shall we be if we attain to such a frame; for it is an anticipation and foretaste of heaven itself.]
SOURCES AND REMEDY OF DEJECTION
Psalms 43:5. Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall yet praise Him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.
IT has pleased God to suffer many of his most eminent servants to be in trouble, and to record their experience for our benefit, that we, when in similar circumstances, may know, that we are not walking in an untrodden path, and that we may see how to demean ourselves aright. The Psalmist was con versant with afflictions of every kind. In the preceding psalm, which seems to have been penned during his flight from Absalom, he gives us a very melancholy picture of his state: tears were his meat day and night, while his enemies gloried over him, and said continually, Where is now thy God [Note: Psalms 42:3; Psalms 42:10.]?” “His soul was cast down within him:” for while “the waves and billows threatened to overwhelm him, the water-spouts threatened to burst upon him: so that deep called unto deep [Note: Psalms 42:6-7. Water-spouts are very formidable to mariners, because if they burst over a ship, they will sink it instantly: and here they are represented as conspiring with the tempestuous ocean for their destruction.],” to effect his ruin; and it seemed as if all the powers of heaven and earth were combined against him. In complaining of these things, he sometimes expostulates with God, “Why hast thou forgotten me [Note: Psalms 42:9.]?” but at other times he checks himself, and, as it were, reproves his soul for its disquietude and despondency [Note: Psalms 42:5; Psalms 42:11.]. The psalm before us was evidently written on the same occasion: it contains the same complaints [Note: Compare 42:9. with 43:2.]; and ends, like the former, with a third time condemning his own impatience, and encouraging his soul to trust in God.
His words lead us to consider,
The sources of dejection—
It cannot be doubted but that temporal afflictions will produce a very great dejection of mind: for though sometimes grace will enable a person to triumph over them as of small consequence, yet more frequently our frail nature is left to feel its weakness: and the effect of grace is, to reconcile us to the dispensations of Providence, and to make them work for our good: still however, though we are saints, we cease not to be men: and it often happens, that heavy and accumulated troubles will so weaken the animal frame, as ultimately to enfeeble the mind also, and to render it susceptible of fears, to which, in its unbroken state, it was an utter stranger. The disquietude of the Psalmist himself arose in a measure from this source: and therefore we must not wonder if heavy losses, and cruel treatment from our near friends, or troubles of any other kind, should weigh down the spirits of those who have made less attainments in the divine life. But we shall confine our attention principally to spiritual troubles: and among these we shall find many fruitful sources of dejection:
Relapses into sin—
[By far the greatest part of our sorrows originates here. A close and uniform walk with God is productive of peace: but declensions from him bring guilt upon the conscience, together with many other attendant evils. And if those professors of religion who complain so much of their doubts and fears, would examine faithfully the causes of their disquietude, they might trace it up to secret neglects of duty, or to some lust harboured and indulged — — —]
The temptations of Satan—
[Doubtless this wicked fiend is an occasion of much trouble to the people of God; else his temptations had not been characterized as “fiery darts [Note: Ephesians 6:16.],” which suddenly pierce and inflame the soul. We may judge in a measure how terrible his assaults are, when we see the Apostle, who was unmoved by all that man could do against him [Note: Acts 20:24.], crying out with such agony and distress under the buffetings of Satan [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:7-8.]. We shall have a yet more formidable idea of them, if we consider that the Lord of glory himself, when conflicting with the powers of darkness, sweat great drops of blood from every pore of his body, through the agony of his soul. Can we wonder then if the saints are sometimes dejected through the agency of that subtle enemy?]
The hidings of God’s face—
[We do not think that God often hides his face from men without some immediate provocation: but we dare not to say that he never does; because he is sovereign in the disposal of his gifts; and because he withdrew the light of his countenance from Job without any flagrant transgression on the part of his servant to deserve it. It is scarcely needful to observe, how painful that must be to those who love God: our blessed Lord, who bore the cruelties of men without a complaint, was constrained to cry out bitterly under his dereliction from his heavenly Father, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” And certainly this is the most distressing of all events: “the spirit of a man, when strengthened from above, may sustain any infirmity; but a wounded spirit, wounded too by such a hand, who can bear [Note: Proverbs 18:14.]?”]
Having traced out the sources of dejection, let us inquire after,
The great remedy for every temporal or spiritual affliction is faith. This, and this alone, is adequate to our necessities. The efficacy of this principle for the space of three thousand six hundred years is declared in the 11th chapter to the Hebrews; toward the close of which, we are told what it enabled them to do [Note: Hebrews 11:33-34.], and what to suffer [Note: Hebrews 11:36-37.]. It was that which the Psalmist prescribed to himself as the cure of his disquietude:
“Hope in God”—
[We are too apt in our troubles to flee unto the creature for help [Note: Hosea 5:13.]. But it is God who sends our troubles; (“they spring not out of the dust [Note: Job 5:6.],”) and he only can remove them. We should therefore look unto him, and put our trust in him. This is the direction which God himself gives us: he reminds us of his wisdom and power to over-rule our trials for good; and exhorts us, when weary and fainting, to wait on him as our all-sufficient Helper [Note: Isaiah 40:28-31.].]
Expect deliverance from him—
[To what end has God given us such “exceeding great and precious promises,” if we do not rest upon them, and expect their accomplishment? The refiner does not put his vessels into the furnace, to leave them there; but to take them out again when they are fitted for his use. And it is to purify us as “vessels of honour,” that God subjects us to the fiery trial. We should say therefore with Job, “When he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold [Note: Job 23:10.].” It was this expectation that supported David: “I had fainted,” says he, “unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living [Note: Psalms 27:13.].” We are told that “light is sown for the righteous [Note: Psalms 97:11.].” That is sufficient for us. Between seed-time and harvest there may be a long and dreary winter; but still every day brings forward the appointed time of harvest; and the husbandman waiteth in an assured expectation of its arrival [Note: James 5:7.]. Thus must we wait, however long the promise may seem to tarry [Note: Habakkuk 2:3.]: and as those who are now in heaven were once in great tribulation like ourselves [Note: Revelation 7:14.], so shall we in due season be with them, freed from all remains of sin and sorrow. In our darkest hours we should hold fast this confidence, “I shall yet praise him [Note: Compare Psalms 118:17-18. with the text.].”]
View him in his covenant relation to you—
[It is observable, that our Lord, in the midst of his dereliction, addressed his Father, “MyGod! my God!” Now thus should we do. God is the God of all his people; yea, he dwells in them [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:16.], and is, as it were, the very life of their souls [Note: Colossians 3:4.]. However distressed then we be, we should regard him as “the health of our countenance, and our God.” What a foundation of hope did the remembrance of God’s paternal relation to them afford to the Church of old [Note: Isaiah 63:15-16.]! And what a sweet assurance does God himself teach us also to derive from the same source [Note: Isaiah 49:14-16.]! If we unfeignedly desire to be his, we have good reason to believe that we are his: and if we be his, he will never suffer any to pluck us out of his hand [Note: John 10:27-28.]. Hold fast this therefore, as an anchor of the soul; and it shall keep you steadfast amidst all the storms and tempests that can possibly assail you.]
Those who are in a drooping desponding frame—
[We cannot give you better counsel than that suggested by the example of David.
Inquire, first, into the reasons of your disquietude. If it proceed from temporal afflictions, recollect, that they are rather tokens of God’s love, than of his hatred; for “whom he loveth he chasteneth [Note: Hebrews 12:6.].” If it arise from the temptations of Satan, take not all the blame to yourselves; but cast a good measure of it at least on him from whom they proceed. If you are troubled about the hidings of God’s face, entreat him to return, and to lift up upon you once more the light of his countenance. And if, as is most probable, “your own sins have hid his face from you,” humble yourself for them, and implore his grace that you may be enabled henceforth to mortify and subdue them. At all events, having once searched out the cause, you will know the better how to apply a remedy.
But, in the nest place, it will be proper to check these desponding fears. The text is not a mere inquiry, but an expostulation; and such an expostulation as you should address to your own souls. For, what benefit can accrue from such a frame? It only weakens your hands, and discourages your heart, and dishonours your God. We do not say that there are not just occasions for disquietude: but this we say, that instead of continuing in a dejected state, you should return instantly to God, who would “give you beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness [Note: Isaiah 61:3.].”
But, above all, “encourage yourself in God.” This is what David did in the text, and on another most memorable occasion [Note: 1 Samuel 30:1-6.]. And while there is an all-sufficient God on whom to rely, you need not fear though earth and hell should be combined against you [Note: Psalms 11:1; Psalms 11:4; Psalms 27:1; Psalms 27:3; Psalms 125:1.].]
Those who are entire strangers to disquietude and dejection—
[We are far from congratulating you on your exemption from such feelings as these. On the contrary, we would propose to you, in reference to that exemption, the very same things as we recommended to others in reference to their distresses.
First, inquire into the reason of your never having experienced such feelings. “Why art thou NOT cast down, O my soul? and why art thou NOT disquieted within me?” Does it not proceed from an ignorance of your own state, and from an unconcern about that account which you must soon give of yourself at the judgment-seat of Christ? — — —
Next, expostulate with yourself; “O my soul, why art thou thus callous and insensible? Will not thy contempt of God’s judgments issue in thy ruin? — — — It must not, it shall not be: thou hast neglected thine eternal interests long enough: thou shalt, God helping thee, bend thine attention to them from this time: for if thou be summoned before thy God in thy present state, it had been better for me that I had never been born.”
But you also, no less than the disconsolate, must found your hopes on God. All your expectation must be from Him, “with whom there is mercy and plenteous redemption.” If you will but turn to him in earnest, you have nothing to fear: for his word to you is, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Psalms 43". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20