It's hard to sing that song and not go on to the fifth stanza where the resolution comes, but we’ll be able to sing that, God willing, at the end of the service tonight. I love Luther's rendition of Psalm 130. You can sense his own investment in the truth of this psalm even in the way he paraphrases it, in the way that he roots it in the glorious story of Christ's redemption of it.
Well we're in Psalm 130 tonight and when you approach this psalm you have to ask yourself a question — Is this a lament or is it a thanksgiving? And there's a translational issue. Do you render “I have cried to you, O LORD,” in verse 1, and then in verse 6, “My soul waited for the LORD,” so that this is looking back on a past experience that the psalmist has had and he's now received the Lord's answer and he's recording the story in order to give thanks to God for the deliverance that he's asked for — so is it a thanksgiving? Or is it a lament? Do we render, “I cried to You, O LORD,” and “My soul waits for the LORD,” present tense? Is it a lament? He's still waiting for the Lord to answer. So is this psalm a lament or is it a thanksgiving? And I think the answer is, “Yes.” Let me explain why.
However you render one and six it's clear, especially in verses 1 to 3, that the psalmist is setting forth a lament of his soul. His soul has been in the depths. He's recording that now for you. But there is a resolution that is found in the mercy of the Lord from verses 4 to 8 at the end of the psalm which clearly is grounds for thanksgiving. I think he is lamenting his all his way into thanksgiving. He expresses the lament of his soul, finds the mercy of the Lord, and it leads him to thanksgiving. But he doesn't want to forget the lamentation. He wants you to see both of those aspects of his spiritual experience. That's so important. The psalms are filled with this. You know, if we only had happy songs to sing we couldn't sing to God about most of our lives because our lives are filled with hard things. Godly peoples’ lives are filled with hard things, some things to hard it's hard to conceive that they could even be born they’re that unbearable. And God is so kind to put psalms in His hymnbook of the Bible so that we have something to sing to Him, something to say to Him when our hearts are in that place. And I think the psalmist, even though he ends up with thanksgiving — and we’ll sing it when we get to that glorious fifth stanza of Luther's rendering at the end of the service, we’ll get to that thanksgiving, we’ll get to that resolution — but he doesn't want to forget the lament that got him praying to the Lord in the first place.
And that's so helpful to you and me because we find ourselves in this circumstance over and over and over again in our lives and we need help because very frankly sometimes you don't have the words to pray when you get there. You just can't get anything to come out of your mouth. You can't even think of what to say. What do I say to God in this circumstance? God is so kind just to say, “Let me put the words in your mouth that you need right now.” The Lord doesn't need to know what you need; He already knows what you need, but you need to know what you need. And so He puts the words right in your mouth to say to Him, to sing to Him. And that's what we're going to look at tonight.
As we look at the psalm let me just point out a few things along the way for you to look for as we read. First of all, in verses 1 and 2, you’ll see the lament. Then in verse 3, you will see the crisis that causes this lament. Why is the psalmist lamenting? He’ll tell you why in verse 3. So there's the lament in verses 1 and 2 and the crisis in verse 3. Then, in verse 7 especially, but it's hinted at in verse 3 as well, he tells you what his hope is. He's got this lament, he's telling you what the crisis is, and in verse 7 especially he tells you where his only ray of hope is. And then looking over verses 4 to 8, that whole section of the psalm provides you with the thanksgiving. The psalmist is telling you the reason he's thankful to the Lord. So be on the lookout for those things as we read. And before we read, let's pray.
Father, this is Your Word. By Your Word, You reveal Yourself to us. By Your Word, You reveal ourselves to us because we don't know our hearts like You know our hearts. And so we don't know our needs, we don't know our wants, we don't know our sins, we don't know our struggles like we need to know them until You have spoken to us, Lord. So open Your mouth, Lord, speak to us by Your Word, and grant us hearing ears and receptive, humble hearts to receive the message that You have for us. Show us ourselves, but even more than that, show us our Savior. We ask in Jesus' name, amen.
This is the Word of God from Psalm 130. Hear it:
“A SONG OF ASCENTS.
Out of the depths I cry to You, O LORD! O Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!
If You, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with You there is forgiveness, that You may be feared.
I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in His Word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.
O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with Him is plentiful redemption. And He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
God gives us songs to sing even in our despair, yet another indication of His kindness to us. And this is one of those psalms. In the Latin, this psalm is styled, “De Profundis” — out of the depths. And that's where the psalmist is when he begins with this lament. And I want to walk from the lament to the thanksgiving and I want you to see four things.
GOD GIVES US A SONG TO SING EVEN IN OUR DESPAIR
And the first is what I've just stated. The first thing I want us to see as we look at verses 1 and 2 is that God gives us a song to sing even our despair. He even writes the lyrics for us. “Out of the depths I have cried to You, O LORD! Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication!” A few years ago a friend of mind, Carl Trueman, who is the Vice President for Academic Administration at Westminster Theological Seminary, had occasion to preach in a variety of churches from a number of different denominational backgrounds. And having been in those very, very diverse settings, he came back to report to his friends what his experience had been. And his experience had been, on the whole, quite positive in terms of the preaching of the Word. He was quite encouraged at the steady, faithful preaching of the Word that he heard in those various and diverse contexts. But one thing that struck him was that the content of all the singing was happy or celebratory of positive. There was nothing in the singing that would have helped a struggling saint if she or he had come to church with their hopes dashed. And so he wrote an article called, “What Can Miserable Christians Sing?” And he pointed out that God, in the Psalms, has given Christians who are despairing and discouraged and downcast and in the depths songs to sing back to God. And that's very important in our Christian experience because Christian experience has its depths as well as its heights. It has cries from the pit as well as shouts from the mountains.
Simpson, one of the old commentators on the Scripture, once said, “When we are in our prosperity, our prayers come from our lips, and therefore the Lord is forced to cast us down to the end that our prayers may come from our hearts.” And that's exactly where the psalmist finds himself. He finds himself in despair, in the depths, crying to the Lord, begging the Lord for rescue, begging the Lord to hear him. He doesn't feel like the Lord is hearing him and so he's pleading with the Lord to hear his petition, to hear his supplication, to pay attention to his prayers. And the psalmist puts that in this psalm. He puts that lament in this psalm. He shares his experience of that in this psalm.
Have you ever been with a friend who's said to you, and this is a friend that you admire, this is a friend that loves the Word of God, this is a friend who loves the Gospel, knows the Gospel, walks with God, and you’re with that friend and that friend says, “I can't even pray right now. I can't even open my Bible and concentrate right now. I can't read from one verse to the next without losing my concentration. I'm so burdened. I'm so cast down. I'm so in the depths. I can't think straight. I don't feel as if God is hearing my prayers.” The psalmist is speaking about that kind of experience. He's in the depths. So if you've felt yourself in that situation, if you feel yourself in that situation tonight, do not feel that you are alone. Thousands of years ago, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the psalmist wrote down precisely that kind of a personal account of His own experience. He is in the pit, he is in the depths and he is begging for God to hear him. And God gives us a song to sing even when we're there, even when we're in despair. That's the first thing that I want you to see from this psalm.
THE DEEPEST PROBLEM OUR SOULS WILL EVER FACE
The second thing is this. What's the crisis? What has gotten the psalmist here? What is this deep problem that has the psalmist in the pit? And I want you to see the answer in verse 3 because in verse 3 we see the deepest problem that our souls will ever face: “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O LORD, who should stand?” You know in other psalms the problem is persecution or oppression or ridicule or threats or sicknesses or homesickness, but not here. Here, the problem is sin. The problem is guilt. The psalmist is looking into his own heart and he's saying, “Lord, if You dealt with me the way that I deserve, I would not stand before You. I would be pronounced guilty as charged and You’d throw the book at me. If You really dealt with me in accordance with my sin, You would condemn me. You would cast me out. You would curse me. You would send me to hell.” My friends, we never have a better reason for distress than when we contemplate our own sin. The biggest, the deepest problem our souls will ever face is our own sin.
You know we had somewhat of an adventure in attempting to come up with a sermon title tonight. I submitted a title which bothered the grammarians of our staff. I was attempting to allude to a famous Walt Kelly Pogo cartoon. Any of you remember Pogo? Most of you are too young to remember Pogo, okay? Pogo, in one of his adventures, utters the words, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” And I was attempting to allude to that and put it in the singular and there were people who didn't like that. And so we came up with this conglomeration here, “I Have Met the Enemy and He is Us,” but really the psalmist is saying, “I have met the enemy and he is me.” Don't work the grammar out, folks, just go with me here for a minute, okay? (laughter) The point is, we're the enemy. It's our sins that are our deepest problems. It's our sin that separates us from God. It's our rebellion against Him that has distanced us from Him. It's not some failure on His part; it's our sin. That's why Augustine prayed, “Lord, save me from myself.” That was his prayer — “Save me from myself, O Lord. I'm my own worst enemy.”
I was with John Piper and a group of pastors a few months ago and we were going around the table talking about what we were studying, what we were reading, some things we had learned, just to encourage one another, and I had shared something from Luke 24 because we had just finished going through the gospel of Luke together and it had to do with why we can trust the Bible. You may remember me making a few comments when we worked through Luke 24 about how that passage attests to the fact that it's historically accurate. It's a historically accurate account of exactly what happened on the road to Emmaus. And I shared some of those things. And after the time of sharing was over, John Piper came up to me and he said, “You know, I have never been bothered about the truthfulness of Christianity because of the critics accusations against the Bible.” And I thought, “That is a remarkable statement.” Here's a man who did a PhD in New Testament, he would have been acquainted with all the critical assaults on the Bible, and he's telling me that not once has he ever been bothered by the critical assaults on the Bible. And then he paused and he said, “But you know what does give me doubts? My own lack of progress in sanctification.” It was his own sin, he was saying, that was the thing that caused him the most doubt.
And this psalmist is saying, “Lord, of all the problems I have, the greatest one is this — if I were to stand before You and You were to take account of my iniquities, I would not stand. You would be unjust not to declare me guilty.” And the psalmist is troubled by that. It's the deepest problem of his soul and if we are listening, if we are really reckoning with these things, it's the deepest problem that our souls ever face.
GOD’S FORGIVENESS IS NOT BASED ON OUR DESERVING
And then if you look at verse 3 and especially verse 7 you see the solution to this particular trial of the soul. God's forgiveness is not based on us or in us but it's based on Him. It flows from Him; it's source is from Him. This is the hope. The lament is in verses 1 and 2. He's in the depths. The crisis is recorded in verse 3. The hope very clearly set forth in verse 7. “O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is loving kindness.” Notice what the psalmist says here. His hope for forgiveness is not based on his deserving. He knows full well that if it's his deserving that is the cause he will not stand. His hope is not that he's not that bad or that what he's done is not that bad. His hope is not that he's been misunderstood or he's been misjudged. No, there's no hope in him.
Have you ever wondered what would happen if your deepest, darkest, secret sins were brought to light? What would people think of you? And if you were to be judged by them, what would the result be? When I was in seminary, one of the kindest, godliest men that I knew who served on the administration was a single man living with his parents, caring for them, very, very carefully. He played the organ for us in chapel. He served in various capacities in the administration. And I'd known him for four years. We’d talked about all manner of things. We had a love for music and for old hymns and we both loved Dr. Rayburn who was the president of the institution and had a great regard for his ministry of the Word; we talked about that often. After knowing him for four years, one day right before I was leaving the seminary to go to Edinburgh, Scotland, he shared with me that for all his life he had had homosexual desires. He’d never acted out on them; he’d never gotten married. He acknowledged that such behavior was wrong and that even the inclination of his heart was wrong. He had never told me because he feared that I would reject him if I knew. Truth be told, I had more respect and regard for him after he told me than I'd ever had before and I'd always had high regards for him. Here was a man who had been fighting against a deep, dark, secret sin his whole life, and by God's grace, he had not yielded to it but it was there. And yet he feared other people knowing it because he feared being rejected.
I don't know whether you followed the news a few months ago when an American military personnel in Afghanistan killed sixteen civilians. And there was a lot of discussion about how could this happen. What makes a person snap and do this kind of thing? And David Brooks wrote a very interesting article about it in The Wall Street Journal in which he ends up quoting Calvin and C.S. Lewis in order to explain human nature. I mean it's quite a remarkable thing when a secular Jew goes to Calvinism to explain things that happen in this world. It's not every day you read that in The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times. But he quotes in that article a friend of his who teaches sociology in a major university who, in the wake of that event, started exploring with his class why it is that people who on the outside look good, are able to do deep, dark, horrifying things like that.
He began to ask his class if they would share with him some of the desires and some of the impulses of their heart that they had never followed through. There were quite shocking answers. One young woman had invited her ex-boyfriend over to her apartment with the purpose of stabbing him to death. Now this was a sorority girl at a major university who was going to go off and have a nice career and get married and live a respectable life. She had planned to stab her ex-boyfriend to death. And on and on and on it went. And David Brooks, at the end of the article says, “You know the question is not why these things happen, it's why they don't happen more often because the desires are often in our hearts and we just don't follow through on them.”
And the psalmist is struck by this very thing. “Lord, if You were to deal with me the way the wicked desires of my heart deserve, I wouldn't stand.” Pastors get to bear some of those burdens with you. Sometimes you come in and talk with us about them. You know, a man comes into your office and he says, “You know, pastor, I've got to tell you, my fantasy is that my wife would die.” Could you imagine a man saying that to his wife or to his children or to his dearest friend? And yet in this room, there are an untold number of desires just like that resident in your heart. And if you were to be judged on the basis of those desires, you would not stand. That's where the psalmist is. That's what got him here. That's why he's in the depths. And so if forgiveness is based on us, there is no hope. You know one old divine used to say, “Even our repentance needs repenting of.” Have you ever thought of that? There is enough sin in our best repentance to send us to hell. No one ever hated sin excessively. It's all through us. Kim sang about it tonight in Bonar's words. Those are good words to go back and look at to see how he describes the tendencies and the sins of his heart.
Nor is this psalmist's hope that God's just going to kind of cut us all some slack. You've heard the flippant remark of pastors gone to a Rotary Club meeting and he sits down with a table filled with men that are non-churchgoers and one man who is a churchgoer introduces him to the table and one of the secular men says, “Oh it's the pastor! You’re in the forgiveness business! You know, God forgives us; that's His business.” Very flippant, sort of remark regarding the forgiveness of God. And that's not the psalmist attitude either. His hope is not based on a lack of God's justice. No, his hope of forgiveness is based on the Lord's loving kindness. Look again at verse 7. “For with the Lord there is loving kindness” – the kind of love that continues to show mercy even when it is undeserved, especially when it is undeserved. By the way, we sang about that tonight from Psalm 51. “On Thy grace I rest my plea.” Just think of it. If you had just engineered the murder of one of your most faithful friends and you had taken his wife, committing adultery with her and made her your own, and covered it all up with lies, what would you say to God when you were begging for clemency? Well it's right there in Psalm 51. “Deal with me, Lord, according to Your loving kindness. No, I deserve this. I know that You’re in the forgiveness business; You have to do this. Lord, I've only got one plea and it's Your loving kindness. Don't deal with me as I deserve. Deal with me according to Your loving kindness.”
ABUNDANT LOVINGKINDESS AND REDEMPTION
And the psalmist's thanksgiving in verses 4 and 8 is a record of that abundant loving kindness and redemption and that's the last thing I want you to see tonight. Not only does God give us a song to sing even in our despair, not only is sin the deepest problem our souls will ever face, not only do we learn that God's forgiveness is not based on us, but it's based in Him, we hear an expression of thanksgiving in this psalm of God's abundant loving kindness and redemption. “There is forgiveness with You that You may be feared. I wait for the LORD, my soul does wait, and in His Word do I hope. My soul waits for the LORD more than watchmen for the morning, indeed more than watchmen for the morning. O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is loving kindness, with Him there is abundant redemption. He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.”
Calvin says you do not know God until you know Him in His grace and mercy. You do not know God until you know Him in His grace and mercy and you cannot know Him in His grace and mercy until you know that you need His grace and mercy. You won't even see His mercy until you know that you need His mercy. And this psalmist knows His need of that mercy. And it's precisely because of this that he learns something about God that he couldn't have otherwise, that there is abundant loving kindness with the Lord. But you know even this psalmist could not have fathomed what this loving kindness would cost God's justice because God shows His loving kindness not by setting aside His justice but by fulfilling His justice on the person of His Son in your room and stead.
This was one of Luther's favorite psalms. When he was cast down, sometime around 1530, he said to his friend, Philip Malangthan, “Come Philip, let us sing ‘De Profundis’ in derision of the devil!” The next time you find yourself in despair of your sin, Psalm 130 wouldn't be a bad place to turn. Let's pray.
Our heavenly Father, we thank You that You give us the words to pray and to sing when it's so dark we can't see the page. Forgive our sins, show us Your abundant mercy and Your plenteous redemption and replace our lament with thanksgiving. We ask this in Jesus' name, amen.
Would you stand and receive God's benediction? And then we’ll sing the final stanza of “From Depths of Woe.”
Peace be to the brethren and love with faith from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ until the daybreak and the shadows flee away. Amen.