The Lord's Day Evening
March 24, 2013
Not by Bread Alone
“Back to the First Truths”
The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Psalm 119. We’re looking at the tenth section of this psalm. Each of the eight stanzas begins with the Hebrew letter “yod” which you will remember from one of Jesus’ famous saying when He said that not a jot or a tittle of the law would fail; not a yodh, He was saying — the tiniest letter of the Hebrew alphabet. And each of the stanzas begins with that yodh tonight. But psalmist is again teaching us about the Christian life in this passage, and let's look to the Lord in prayer before we read and hear His Word.
Our heavenly Father, we thank You that we can be together under Your Word in Your house with Your people tonight. This is where we want to be. Our lives swirl around us with busyness and joys and trials and pressures and we need to come aside and be with you on your day at the head of the week for the refreshing of our soul. And what a blessing it is to not only begin this day but end it with Your people. So teach us, O God, together from Your Word. Teach us of Christ and of mercy and of grace and of truth and help us to live this Christian life, for we ask it in Jesus' name, amen.
This is the Word of God. Hear it in Psalm 119 beginning in verse 73:
“Your hands have made and fashioned me; give me understanding that I may learn your commandments. Those who fear you shall see me and rejoice, because I have hoped in your word. I know, O LORD, that your rules are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me. Let your steadfast love comfort me according to your promise to your servant. Let our mercy come to me, that I may live; for your law is my delight. Let the insolent be put to shame, because they have wronged me with falsehood; as for me, I will meditate on your precepts. Let those who fear you turn to me, that they may know your testimonies. May my heart be blameless in your statues, that I may not be put to shame!”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
This psalm takes us right back to the first truth of the Christian faith and life. It asks us to remember some very, very basic things, some things that we have known from the very beginning of our Christian pilgrimage but which we need to relearn and be reminded of all the time, and grow deeper in, and draw more comfort and encouragement and strength from. And it asks us to look at those first truths and it asks us to stand and stare at them and study them and believe them and take them in and apply them in our own lives. And so I want to look at some of the truths that are set forth in this section of Psalm 119 and I’ll number them in ten points. Now don't be afraid. We’re not going to be here all night long! And I wish I could have done this with a yodh, beginning each one of these that way, but I'm going to have to go with “G.” I'm going with “G” here tonight. It has nothing to do with yodh but that's just what I came up with as I was working them through. So ten first truths of the Christian faith and life from Psalm 119 verses 73 to 80, all of them beginning with “G.”
GOD MADE ME
And you see in that very first phrase, we just sang it, we just heard it — God made me. That's the first truth of the Christian life. God made me. When we start catechizing our children here at First Presbyterian Church, what is the first question we ask them? “Who made you?” — God. “What else did God make?” — All things. “Why did God make you and everything else?” — For His own glory. Very simple. But you know, so much of the Christian life is caught up on those first three questions. If we could really believe those first three questions we would be a mighty army of witnesses to the Lord Jesus Christ and to the Gospel! God made me. You see, this is the psalmist saying — look at his words. “Your hands have made and fashioned me.” This is the psalmist acknowledging God is; God is the Creator, God is my Creator. He made me who I am.
Now that statement is so important because you’ll notice that by the time we've gotten to the second half of verse 75 we're back in affliction again. Have you noticed that? It's the third stanza in a row that brings up the subject of affliction. The psalmist is still wrestling with the issue of affliction in his life and as he reflects on affliction he goes to this first truth. And what is the first truth? “You made me, God. Now Lord, I'm in the midst of affliction, but I know You made me. You made me who I am. You didn't do this to harm me. You didn't do this to hurt me. You did this because You love me. You did this because You’re good.” So he just goes right back to the first truth — God made me. God is, God made everything that is, and He made me who I am. And if He made me who I am, He made me for this hour of affliction too and He’ll see me through. This is the first principle of the Christian faith and life that this psalm asks us to meditate upon — God made me.
GIVE ME UNDERSTANDING
The second one you’ll see in the second half of verse 73. “Give me understanding that I may learn your commandments.” Here's the psalmist, he's in the midst of affliction, he's already started meditating on the fact that God made him, now he says something else. “Lord, give me understanding.” First, God made me; second, give me understanding. Give me understanding is one of the prime prayers of the Christian life. It's a first principle of the Christian life. What we really need in every circumstance of life is more understanding of God and His purposes. What we really need in every circumstance of the Christian life is a deeper, more Biblical understanding of who God is and what He is doing in this world. I love how William Plumer puts this. “Our chief concern, even in our trials, ought to be to understand more perfectly the divine will.” And I just want to tell you right now, in my trials, that's usually way down the list. In my trials the first and chiefest concern is usually, “Lord, get me out of this! This hurts! Stop it!” But Plumer is saying, “No, no, no.” In trials, the first question is, the first issue is, “Lord, I want to understand. I want to understand who You are. I want to understand what You’re like. I want to understand Your great purposes in this world. Even if I don't know the specific purposes of this trial in my life, I know that the specific purposes of this trial, whatever they are, all ultimately are so that I will know You and Your great purposes. So even if I never know Your specific purposes, Lord, in this trial, give me divine understanding. I want to know You and I want to know what You’re doing in this world, so teach me that from Your Word.” “Give me understanding” is the prayer of the afflicted believer, not necessarily, “Lord, help me understand what You’re doing in this right now” because He may never tell you; He may never tell you. But all over His Word He has told you the big thing that He is up to, and in your trials you can learn that in a way that you can't learn it anywhere else.
YOUR GROWTH IN GRACE IS AN ENCOURAGEMENT TO BELIEVERS
Third, look at verse 74. The third great truth is this — growth in grace is an encouragement to believers. Your growth in grace is an encouragement to believers. Your growth in grace is an encouragement to believers. Let me expand that. Your growth in grace, even in affliction, is an encouragement to believers. Let me tweak that one more time. Your growth in grace, especially in affliction, is an encouragement to believers. Where's that come from? Look at verse 74. “Those who fear you shall see me and rejoice because I have hoped in your word.” He's in affliction; he's in the midst of a trial. What's he saying? “When they look at me in the middle of this trial hoping in Your Word, what's it going to do? They’re going to rejoice! They’re going to be encouraged! They’re going to see a man afflicted not disbelieving You, not doubting You, not hopeless, not bitter, not confounded, not angry with God. They’re going to see a man who's hanging onto You for dear life! And they’re going to say, ‘Thank You, Lord, because I want to hold onto You for dear life too, and that brother hanging onto You for dear life in the middle of his trial is going to help me hang onto You for dear life in mine. Thank You, Lord! I rejoice in You, that You let me see that faithful, struggling, believing brother because it's encouraged me.’” Growth in grace, even and especially through your affliction is an encouragement to believers.
You remember how, when we studied the book of Philippians together, one of the lessons we learned was your affliction doesn't belong to you. You know that's a shocking thing for me to say. Your affliction doesn't belong to you. When you, believer, when you are going through affliction, yes it is meant to grow you, but it is also meant to grow us. We need your affliction just like we need our own, and your affliction is meant to bless and encourage other believers. You see, the key to the psalmist's hope was God's Word. “I have hoped in your word.” In other words, God's promise was the basis of his hope. And believers watched him grow in his trials by trusting in God's promise and hoping in God's words. And as they watched him trust in God's promise and hope in God's words, in trial, they were encouraged and they rejoiced.
GOD IS RIGHTEOUS; WHAT HE DOES IS RIGHT
Fourth, look at verse 75, the first part of it. “I know, O LORD, that your rules are righteous.” Here's the fourth great truth of the Christian life that we learn in this passage. God is righteous; what He does is right. God is righteous; what He does is right. Isn't this a glorious confession? It's going to be the second half of this verse where the psalmist explicitly begins to talk about his affliction, but before he does, what does he say? “Lord, You’re righteous. What I've experienced is not unjust. What I'm experiencing is not an act or moral apathy on Your part where You don't care about what I'm going through. What I'm doing, what I'm going through right now, is not something that You've done wrong. It's not a lack of care, it's not a lack of love, it's not a lack of goodness, it's not a lack of righteousness, it's not a lack of justice. In fact, I know, O Lord, that Your rules are righteous.” Do you see? Do you see what the psalmist is doing? The psalmist is justifying God.
You know, if you’re a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ He's justified you. In other words, the world looks at you and the world says, “He's a sinner,” and God says, “I declare him righteous!” That's justification. And the world sometimes looks at your trials and says, “God must not be good.” And you know what the believer does? The believer justifies God. “God is good all the time!” That's what the psalmist is doing. The psalmist is justifying God! He's declaring God to be righteous even in his trials. “Oh no, my God is good all the time.” You know that's what the hymn, “What’er My God Ordains Is Right” is all about. Would you take your hymnals and turn with me there to number 108? It's one of my favorite hymns ever! This is why you need to have a hymnal, you need to own a hymnal, you need to buy a hymnal from Boopie Beard and you need to take it home and you need to study it! Do you know what Doug Kelly used to do every Sunday afternoon? After the meal, after they’d washed up, he’d go into his room and he’d open his Bible on one knee and his hymnal on another knee and he’d memorize hymns all Sunday afternoon. And here's one that's worth memorizing:
“Whatever my God ordains is right: His holy will abides. I will be still whatever he does; and follow where he guides. He is my God: though dark my road. He holds me so that I shall not fall, wherefore to him I leave it all.” — I trust you with anything, Lord.
“Whatever my God ordains is right: He never will deceive me. He leads me by the proper path; I know he will not leave me. I take, content, what he hath sent. His hand can turn my griefs away, and so patiently I wait his day.
Whatever my God ordains is right, though now this cup, in drinking, may bitter seem to my faint heart, I take it all, unshrinking. My God is true; each morn anew. Sweet comfort yet shall fill my heart, and pain and sorrow shall depart.
Whatever my God ordains is right. Here shall my stand be taken. Though sorrow, need, or death be mine, yet am I not forsaken. My Father's care is round me there” — sorrow, need, death; my Father's care is round me there! “He holds me that I shall not fall, and so to him I leave it all.”
It's not just a song of trust. Every stanza begins with the singer of the song justifying God. “You are right! You are righteous! You are good! You haven't done me wrong. You haven't abandoned me. You haven't forsaken me. You haven't let me down. Right here, I'm held in the palm of Your hand. And that's what the psalmist is teaching in verse 75. “I know, O LORD, that your rules are righteous.” So God is righteous; what He does is right. That's a first truth of the Christian life. That's a declaration of the believer, even in trials.
GOD AFFLICTS IN FAITHFULNESS
Fifth, look again at verse 75. Here's the fifth truth. God afflicts in faithfulness. Let me say that another way. God afflicts because of His faithfulness. Let me say that another way. God is faithful in our affliction. Let me say it all those ways. God afflicts us in faithfulness, He afflicts us because of His faithfulness, and He is faithful to us in His affliction of us in our affliction. And have you noticed this theme? Turn back to Psalm 119 verse 67. Remember when we met this one? “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word.” “Lord, I've seen how Your affliction worked in my life so that I keep Your Word. I was straying; You brought me back. It took affliction” — it's like my father used to say, “Son, we can do this the easy way or the hard way.” Sometimes it's the hard way. But He brings us back. And then look at verse 71, Psalm 119 verse 71. “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statues.” He's saying, “Lord, I didn't like it, it didn't feel good, I don't want to go through that again, but it was good for me!” And here, “in faithfulness, you have afflicted me.” “You've been faithful to me, Lord! In your affliction of me, in my affliction, You've been faithful to me!” You see, God afflicts in faithfulness, because of His faithfulness, and He's faithful to us in our affliction. That's one of the great, great truths of the Christian life, and if you can get your heart and your head around that, you have learned one of the grand secrets of the Christian life.
GO TO GOD TO BE COMFORTED IN YOUR TRIALS
Sixth, look at verse 76. Here's the sixth truth — Go to God to be comforted in your trials. Let me expand that. Go to God to be comforted in your trials by His promises. Look at verse 76. “Let your steadfast love comfort me according to your promise to your servant.” So it's not just that he acknowledges that the Lord is faithful to him in affliction. The Lord said, “It's okay to come to Me and ask Me for comfort. Thank you for justifying Me, believer. Thank you for saying that I'm good. Thank you for saying that I'm right. Thank you for saying that I'm righteous. Thank you for acknowledging that I'm faithful in affliction. It's okay for you to come to Me and say, ‘Lord, could you comfort me?’” “Let your steadfast love, let your lovingkindness comfort me.” And how does God comfort us? By His promises. “Let your steadfast love comfort me according to your promise to your servant.” God comforts you in your trials by His promises. Go to Him, go to Him and ask for that comfort from Him in His promises.
GOD KNOWS YOU NEED MERCY TO SURVIVE
Seventh, look at verse 77. “Let your mercies come to me, that I may live.” What's the principle of the Christian life? God knows you need His mercy to survive. God knows you need His mercy to survive. Go to Him. He’ll give it to you. I love what Plumer says about this passage. He says, “If God is our enemy, we be dead men.” That's what he says! “If God is our enemy, we be dead me.” God knows we need His mercy to survive. Go to Him! He’ll give it to you!
GOD’S HUMBLING OF THE PROUD IS NECESSARY FOR SALVATION
Eighth, look at verse 78. “Let the insolent be put to shame, because they have wronged me with falsehood.” Ah, eighth truth – God's humbling of the proud is a necessary part for their salvation and for yours. Sometimes it is the very humbling of the insolent that leads them to trust in God, that leads to their conversion. God's humbling of the proud is necessary to their salvation but get this my friends — God humbling of the proud is necessary to the salvation He's giving you. God is not going to let your oppressors triumph over you. He will not allow it. He will not save you without humbling your oppressors. They’re either going to become your friends in Christ or they are going to fall under His judgment. Those are the only two options. They’re going to be your brothers and sisters in Christ if they are humbled to conversion or they’re going to be destroyed. Now that thought oughtn't make us proud; it ought to break our hearts to pray for the insolent and proud. “Lord, God, they have no idea what they’re doing. They have no idea who they’re up against. Oh God, may Your humbling bring them to faith. If it doesn't, You’re going to bring them to destruction.” So here it is — God's humbling of the proud is a necessary part of His salvation of the saints. Another great truth of the Christian life.
STUDY THE ERRORS, THE REPENTANCE, THE AFFLICTIONS,
AND GOD’S MERCY TOWARDS GOOD MEN
Ninth, look at verse 79. I wish I could spend all sorts of time on all sorts of these but I'm trying to be good. “Let those who fear you turn to me, that they may know your testimonies.” What's he saying? Go to good men, study their errors, study their repentances, study their affliction, study God's mercy to them so that you may know God's testimonies. Go to good men, study their errors, study their repentances, study their afflictions, study God's mercy to them that you may know His testimonies are true.
GO TO GOD FOR A SINCERE HEART
Last, verse 80. Go to God for a sincere heart. That's the tenth thing – Go to God for a sincere heart. “May my heart be blameless in your statues, that I may not be put to shame!” Friends, we live in a deceitful world and our hearts are deceitful and the father of all deceits is against us. In those circumstances, we need to go to God and say, “God, give me a sincere, a sound heart. I live in a deceitful world, my own heart is deceitful and desperately wicked; who can understand it? And the father of deceit is after me, Lord. Give me a whole heart, a heart that's just for You, a heart that loves You, a heart that trusts You, a heart that believes Your Word, a sound heart. Give me that heart, Lord.” And what does the Lord say? “A new heart will I give you. A new heart will I give you.”
Oh, there's so much more to say, but you see they are such simple truths — they’re things you start learning in Vacation Bible School, you start learning them in Sunday School, you start learning them on your mother's knee, your grandmother's knee, you learn them in the Catechism. You’re three, you’re four, you’re five years old and you’re already learning these things, but when you’re fifty, sixty, seventy, eighty, ninety, you still need to go back to them to be reminded of them. Let's pray.
Lord, thank You for this word. Bless it to our hearts, we pray. In Jesus' name, amen.
Would you stand for God's blessing? 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.