The Lord's Day Evening
April 7, 2013
Not By Bread Alone
“Forever Settled in the Heavens”
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 going to be looking at verses 89 to 96 tonight. And I would remind you, that as we looked at Psalm 119 verses 81 to 88 last week we said that, in a sense, we came to the low point of the psalm in those verses where the psalmist feels outmatched and hopeless, longing for salvation, persecuted by his enemies. And there's a sense in which this octave that we're studying tonight sees him begin to come out of that pit and it's based upon his confidence in the Word of God. This portion of the psalm, right towards the center of this alphabetically organized psalm, is about the unfailing certainty of God's law and how that helps us to live the life of faith. The enduring stability of God's Word and the faithfulness of His providence are the help of the believer in affliction and persecution. And the psalmist celebrates that in the passage that we're going to study together. So let's look to God in prayer and ask for His help and blessing as we prepare to read and hear His Word.
Heavenly Father, we thank You for the Word and we thank You that it is forever settled in the heavens. We ask, O God, that You would ground us in the Word so that it is our firm foundation, so that no matter what affliction or condition or trial or persecution that we encounter, that we will stand firm and fast on the rock of Your truth. We ask that You would open our eyes to behold wonderful things in Your Word as we study it again tonight, that You would get all the glory for it and that our soul's good would be eternally served. We ask this in Jesus' name, amen.
This is the Word of God. Hear it:
“Forever, O LORD, yourword is firmly fixed in the heavens. Yourfaithfulness endures to all generations; you haveestablished the earth, and itstands fast. By yourappointment they stand this day, for all things are your servants. If your law had not been mydelight, I would have perished in my affliction. I will never forget your precepts, for by them you havegiven me life. I am yours; save me, for I have sought your precepts. The wicked lie in wait to destroy me, but I consider your testimonies. I have seen a limit to all perfection, but your commandment is exceedinglybroad.”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
We've seen the theme of affliction running through the last several stanzas of this psalm. Here tonight, an answer to affliction is found in the Word of God itself. And I want to look at five thing in particular that the psalmist tells us that helped him in the midst of affliction and persecution so that we can be helped in the midst of our own trials and tribulations and persecutions and afflictions.
THE FIRM FOUNDATION OF GOD’S WORD
And the first thing you’ll see in verse 89 where the psalmist affirms, “Forever, O LORD, your word is firmly fixed.” What he is telling us there is that God's Word is our firm foundation. God's Word is our firm foundation. God's Word shores us up in every trial and calamity. It is the thing that buttresses us. It is the thing that makes us to stand. It is our firm foundation. As we sang this morning when we sang, “How firm a foundation ye saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in His excellent Word.” And then the rest of that song is about trials. The rest of the song is about trials! The first stanza is about the Word; the rest of the song is about trials. And we stand firm in the trials of the rest of the song because of the firm foundation of the Word. David Dickson says, “God has given us His Word to bear up our faith in even the hardest conditions and it is a sure rock which will not fail us, whatsoever appear and howsoever we fail or faint. The Word of God is that which holds us up.” And so the first thing that the psalmist teaches us that God's Word itself is our firm foundation. It is His Word that shores us up in every trial and calamity.
GOD’S WORD IS ABOVE CONTRADICTION
The second thing we learn still in verse 89. Look at the rest of that verse. “Forever, O LORD, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens.” Isn't that an interesting combination? The Word is firmly fixed. That makes you think of a foundation, something planted in the earth, but the metaphor is mixed. It's firmly fixed, not down here but up there, in the heavens! What's going on with that picture? Well, we're told a second thing here. Not only is the Word our firm foundation, but God's Word is above contradiction. It's a firm foundation but it is above contradiction. God's Word is above the challenge, the contradiction, or the sullying of this earth. Again, David Dickson says this. “Albeit the effect of God's Word appears not sometimes.” Sometimes God tells us things that are true that we can't see with our eyes. Sometimes God promises us things that we don't see fulfilled. And so the truth of His Word is clouded from our eyes. But “the effect of God's Word appears not sometimes but is overclouded with trouble and temptation. Yet, it is sure and fixed by God's decree unalterable in heaven and it cannot lack its effect in due time. It always is true, it never fails. It is unalterable in the heavens above.”
This passage makes me think of a few lines in J.R.R. Tolkien's book, The Lord of the Rings. For those of you who are fans of that literature, there is a point in the story where the two companions, Sam and Frodo, have gone into a very evil country and the hero, Frodo, has been, Sam thinks, mortally wounded. And Sam is left all alone in a dark country, surrounded by his enemies, and he thinks that the quest is lost. And Tolkien says this:
“There, keeping among the cloud rack above a dark tor, high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for awhile. The beauty of it smote his heart. As he looked up out of that forsaken land, hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that, in the end, the shadow was only a small and passing thing and there was light and high beauty forever beyond its reach.”
Do you see what he's saying? He's in the midst of a story that looks dark and hopeless. Evil seems to be overrunning the earth. But when he saw that star, he saw something that that evil could not reach and could not touch and could not sully and could not extinguish. And the psalmist is telling you, God's Word is firmly fixed in the heavens. No trouble here can ultimately contradict it. No trial here can ultimately challenge it. No sin here can ever sully it. It is fixed in the heavens. And when evil is finally vanished from this world, the Word will still be here, forever firmly fixed in the heavens. And that is a thought that we must regularly take in, in this world, especially as we, as believers, face a country and a culture that has found itself a stranger to truth that has been heralded in this land before we were a nation. And as they look upon Christians as strange inter-loafers and dangerous aliens and subversive enemies because of the things that we believe, you may be tempted to think that evil has one, but it has not and it will not because God's Word is firmly fixed in the heavens. This evil will pass. Heaven and earth will pass, but His Word will never pass away. That's the second thing that we learn in this psalm. Not only is God's Word our foundation, but God's Word is above contradiction.
GOD’S WORD IS AS CERTAIN AS HIS FAITHFULNESS
There's a third thing that I want you to see as well. You begin to see it in verse 90. “Your faithfulness endures to all generations.” The psalmist here draws our attention to the faithfulness of God, and he does this in order to press home this truth – God's Word is as certain as His faithfulness. God's Word is as certain as His faithfulness. Do you remember how Billy taught the children that God's name expresses His character? God's name teaches us about who He essentially is? So when the angels in Isaiah's vision are looking upon God while veiling their faces, what do they say about Him? “Holy, holy, holy!” And in the book of Revelation, when the Lamb is seen, at one point He is called what? “Faithful and true.” That's His name. Faithful and true. The psalmist is saying, “Your God is faithful and true, and therefore you can trust His Word.”
Have you ever had a friend like that? A friend, in God's kindness, that God has put in your life and when that friend tells you so, he means it. You can count on it. When that friend says, “I will pray for you,” you know that his word is true because he is faithful. Or when that friend says to you, “We’re going to get through this thing together.” And everybody else loses interest after a while, but that friend is there with you through thick and thin. His word can be trusted because he is faithful. Well the psalmist is saying, “God's Word is as certain as His faithfulness.” And look at how he argues it in verses 90 and 91. “Your faithfulness endures to all generations.” He's pointing to God's fidelity to His covenant promises from one generation to another and he illustrates that by the way that God's providence oversees nature. Look at the end of verse 90. “You have established the earth and it stands fast. By your appointment they stand this day, for all things are your servants.” The psalmist is saying that the very stability of the world depends on God's faithfulness.
And that's a theme that goes all the way back to the story of Noah, doesn't it? After the flood has disrupted the world and the seasons of planting and harvest have been undermined by the flooding of the earth, God promises Noah and the successive generations that from that time forth until the end of the world, seedtime and harvest, summer and winter, sun and moon, season after season will not be disturbed. By God's Word He promises it. And from Noah's day until ours, He has established the seasons, He has planted the earth. He has continued the revolution of the earth and the sun and the planets in accordance with His Word. And the psalmist is saying this, “The God who, in His providence oversees this world and makes it stable and makes the seasons come and go, is the God who has made promises to you in His Word. And therefore, you can believe those promises because He who has spoken them is faithful and true.” That's the third thing that he says. Not only is God's Word our firm foundation, not only is God's Word high above contradiction, but God's Word is as certain as His own faithfulness.
GOD’S WORD IS OUR SURE HOPE IN AFFLICATION
There's a fourth thing that I want you to see as well, and you see it especially in verse 92. “If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.” We’re told here that God's Word is our sure hope in affliction. God's Word is our sure hope in affliction. I love what William Plumer said. “Such is the weight of many of our earthly sorrows that nothing but Scripture, received in faith and applied by the Holy Ghost, can sustain the sinking heart.” There are sorrows that many of us face that nothing can help except the Word of God.
This morning, a friend who used to attend this church, was back visiting. And I was surprised to see him at the door. He's now ministering in a Presbyterian church in North Carolina. And he met me at the door to encourage me about the morning service and the morning sermon and then he said, “My sister has attempted to take her life and she is at UMC and we do not expect her to live.” All your ministers went by to see the family this afternoon and pray with them and I had the privilege of going in with my friend and his wife and his parents and being in the room with his sister. And when you’re there and someone is on the verge of death, what do you have? All I had was the Word of God. That's all I had. But it's what they needed and it is all sufficient. And so we prayed, “Ye, thou I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me.” And, “Around and underneath are the everlasting arms.” And, “Neither death nor life, nor powers nor principalities, can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.” And, “God works all things for good for those who love Him and who are called according to His purpose.” And, “Jesus said, ‘Let not your hearts be troubled. You believe in God. Believe also in Me. In this world you have tribulation, but take courage. I have overcome the world.’” All I had was Scripture, and God's Word held us up. God's Word is our sure hope in affliction.
Charles Bridges says, “Each promise of God's Word is a staff. If we have but faith to lean upon it, it is able to bear our whole weight in sin, care, and trial.” And David Dickson says, “Affliction draws forth the worth of God's Word, which otherwise we might not have known. And it lets it be seen that the Word of God is able to save a sinking man in tribulation.” And though this world with devils filled should threaten to undo us, we will not fear for God has willed His truth to triumph through us. One little Word will fell him — the devil. One little Word. God's Word. And that Word is above all earthly powers and that Word is our sure hope in affliction.
GOD’S WORD IS ABOVE CONTRADICTION
And then there's one last thing that I want you to see and you’ll see it down in verse 96. “I have seen a limit to all perfection, but your commandment is exceedingly broad.” Not only is God's Word our firm foundation, not only is God's Word above contradiction, not only is God's Word as certain as His faithfulness, not only is God's Word our sure hope in affliction, God's Word is beyond perfection. It's beyond perfection. Think of these things, my friends. Have you ever, have you ever found the limits of the sufficiency of God's Word? Have you ever been in a place where God's Word was outmatched by your circumstances? Have you ever ascended to the heights of its excellency and said, “Now I know all the excellency of the Word of God. There's no more left for me to understand.” Have you ever gotten there? Have you ever even gotten close? I’ll be very disappointed if you say that you have. I've been studying this Word for forty years and I haven't seen that much of its excellency.
Can you fathom the depths of all its mysteries? Do you not come to verses where you just have to shut your mouth and pray because you can't even begin to comprehend the glory that's being revealed in just little phrases? “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The world could be filled with books just explaining those tiny little words in the prologue of the gospel of John. Have you ever plumbed the depths of its mystery? Have you ever conceived the extent of its promises? Have you ever come to the point where you say, “Yes, Lord, I know all of Your promises experientially. I understand them and I believe them. All of them.” Have you ever conceived the extent of His promises? Can you hear Jesus praying in John 17, “Father, I would that they would share the love with which You have loved Me from the beginning of the world”? Do you understand that blessing? Do you conceive that promise? Have you ever been able to take the dimensions of the love of God to sinners? Can you say, as Paul prayed, that you would do that you know the height and depth and breadth of the love of God?
Do you know the depth of the iniquity that the Word of God unfolds? So often I go to the Word of God and it teaches me things about my sin that I didn't know about my sin. Is there any other book like that in the world? That's one of the great reasons why I believe in the inspiration and the infallibility and the profitability of the Word of God, because it knows me better than I know me in my sin. I come there and sometimes I am introduced to my own sins. How can that be? How can this Book introduce me to my own sins? Because the Word of God is exceedingly broad. It is beyond perfection. It is the mind of God, inspired by His Spirit. Have you ever understood the fullness of the preciousness of the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ which the Word of God holds out as your atonement, as your propitiation? Can you say, “I know how precious the blood of Jesus is? I know its full extent?” My friends, we will never be able to say that in glory. We will know its preciousness more and more and more and we will never see an end to its perfection. The Word of God is exceedingly broad and we may have seen a limit to all human perfection, but we will never see a limit to its perfection because God's Word is beyond perfection.
The psalmist's words are to us, in time of trial and affliction, to remember that God's Word is our foundation, to remember that God's Word is beyond contradiction, to remember that God's Word is as certain as is His own faithfulness, to remember that it is our sure hope and affliction, and to remember that it is beyond perfection. Let's pray.
Our Lord and our God, help us in time of trial to run nowhere but to You and to lean on nothing but Your Word, 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.