The Lord's Day Evening
May 12, 2013
Not by Bread Alone
“My Flesh Trembles for Fear of You”
The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Psalm 119.В We’re going to be looking at the stanza that runs from verses 113 to 120 tonight. And even though the word is not found in this passage, this passage is about idolatry.В This is the psalmist's meditation on how to fight against idolatry in his own heart.В Are any of you idolaters here tonight?В All of us struggle with idolatry.В It's the great sin in the Bible.В I remember reading something that an old southern Presbyterian theologian said many years ago in another context where he was writing on the issue of the deity of Christ.В And in the course of the article, Professor Robert Louis Dabney said this.В “The Bible was written against idolatry.”В It's his summation of the spiritual counsel of the Word of God, that the Bible was there to help us resist idolatry.В The very first commandment is, “You shall have no other gods before Me.”В And this psalm begins with a declaration of the psalmist about double-mindedness, and that double-mindedness directly relates to that first commandment.В “You shall have no other gods before Me.”В Double-mindedness is to be ambiguous, on the fence, conflicted about that very first commandment.В So the psalmist, as he meditates on God's Word, as he's been doing for all the stanzas before this stanza in Psalm 119, is reflecting especially on how the Word of God helps him battle idolatry.В He never uses the word, but I think you’ll see the idea here as we work through it together tonight.В Before we read God's Word, let's pray and ask His help and blessing.
Heavenly Father, we bow before You tonight and we open our hearts up to You and we confess our own struggles with double-mindedness.В The words that we're going to study tonight are not words that You wrote for people out there, people who are different from us; You wrote these words for people in here, people just like us.В In fact, You wrote them for us. The psalmist himself was not immune from these struggles with sin.В So we ask, O God, even as we just sung in William Cowper's hymn, that the truth of Your Word would afford us sanctifying light on our souls.В In nothing, heavenly Father, that we study tonight, would I want those who struggle with assurance to be discouraged by.В And at the same time, O God, it is my prayer that all of us would take stock of our own hearts and that You would strengthen us in grace and that You would woo us back from our flirtations with anything else other than Yourself that is our supreme treasure and desire.В I ask this in Jesus' name, amen.
This is God's Word.В Hear it:
“I hate the double-minded, but I love your law.В You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in your word.В Depart from me, you evildoers, that I may keep the commandments of my God.В Uphold me according to your promise, that I may live, and let me not be put to shame in my hope!В Hold me up, that I may be safe and have regard for your statutes continually!В You spurn all who go astray from your statutes, for their cunning is in vain.В All the wicked of the earth you discard like dross, therefore I love your testimonies.В My flesh trembles for fear of you, and I am afraid of your judgments.”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word.В May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
Idolatry is a sin that we all contend with.В You may not think of that because most of us have never set up a statue of another god and bowed down before us.В Many of us have never pursued another religion.В We've never turned our backs on the Bible.В We've never discounted Jesus.В We've never denied the Gospel.В But even if we haven't done these things, we struggle with idolatry.В When we've found our deepest satisfaction in someone, something, anything else but God, we have become idolaters.В We have been double-minded, to use the language of the psalmist.В And in this psalm, the psalmist has some words of counsel for us as we fight that battle – the battle that he fought; it's the battle that he fought and lost sometimes and it is the battle that, by God's grace, he fought and won sometimes.В And I want you to see five or six things that he teaches us about fighting that fight against idolatry tonight.
WHOLE-SOULED DEVOTION TO GOD AND HIS WORD
The first one you see in the very first verse. В“I hate the double-minded, but I love your law.”В In that verse, the psalmist is telling us that whole-souled devotion to God and loyalty to His Word, is the mindset and the heart aspiration of the believer.В “I hate the double-minded.”В Now that phrase or that term, double-minded, is a term for religious ambivalence.В It is a term that indicates a divided loyalty in relation to God.В And there are a number of passages in the Old Testament that illustrate that.В One that almost uses the same language you’ll find in 1 Kings chapter 18.В Would you turn with me there?В Now 1 Kings chapter 18 is a well-known Old Testament passage.В It is the passage in which Elijah confronts the false prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel.В And if you look at 1 Kings 18:21, as Elijah prepares to defeat the prophets of Baal, he says to the people of God in verse 21, “Elijah came near to all the people and said, ‘How long will you go limping between two different opinions?В If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.’”В Now this is Elijah's ministry in the northern kingdom.В You have people who are part of the people of God, they've been planted in the land by God's kindness and goodness, and yet they are worshiping the Baals.В And he just tells them, “How long are you going to hobble on one foot and then the other, divided in your loyalty in relation to God – sometimes worshiping the Baals, sometimes worshiping God?В You've got to do one or another.”В What are they struggling with?В They’re struggling, in the language of Psalm 119 verse 113, double-mindedness.В What is that?В It's a struggle with idolatry.В They’re worshiping the Baals rather than the one, true God.
This, of course, is precisely the theme that Joshua addresses, if you turn with me to Joshua chapter 24.В In Joshua 24, in his final address to the people of God, beginning in verse 14 – Joshua 24:14 – Joshua says this.В “Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness.В Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.В And if it is evil in your ryes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the regions beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in who land you dwell.В But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”В Here's Joshua saying, “Already some of you are tempted to worship the gods of this land just like the people of God were tempted in the wilderness to go back and serve the gods of Egypt and as some of you may be tempted to go back and serve the gods that Abraham's father's family worshiped before they ever crossed in to this land hundreds of years before.В But my family and I, we're going to serve the Lord, the God of Israel.”В And what's he calling on them to do?В He's calling on them to not be double-minded.В He's calling on them to not commit the sin of idolatry.В He's calling them to be whole-sold in their devotion to God and loyal to the Word.В That is the mindset, that is the heart aspiration of the believer.В
But believers struggle with double-mindedness.В James talks about double-mindedness twice.В And he's writing his book – James 1:8, James 4:8 – he's writing that book to Christians.В He knows that double-mindedness is a sin that we struggle with.В The battlefield of this sin is the battlefield of the heart; it's the battlefield of our desires.В When you find thoughts in your heart that are worldly or carnal or proud or hateful or impure or roving, that's a warning sign.В It's a warning sign that something's wrong, that there is double-mindedness there.В And the psalmist here is stating – it's a resolve, isn't it?В “I hate the double-minded.В I don't want to be like that,” the psalmist is saying.В “I want to be loyal to the Lord.В I want to be whole-sold in my devotion to Him.В I want to believe the Word of God.В I hate double-mindedness.”В So there's the first thing the psalmist says.В Whole-souled devotion to God and loyalty to God is the mindset and heart aspiration of the believer.
GOD HIMSELF IS OUR SHELTER AND SHIELD
Now here's the second thing and it's so very important.В Look at verse 114.В “You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in your word.”В The psalmist here is telling us a second thing that's very important for this battle against idolatry, this battle against double-mindedness.В And the psalmist is telling us this.В God is Himself our shelter and our shield.В God is Himself our help and our hope.В He is the only place of safety in this sinful world.В How does idolatry work?В Idolatry always works by a lie – “There's some other place where you will find safety other than God.В There is some other place where you will find security other than God.В There's some other place where you will find satisfaction other than God.”В That's how idolatry always works.В An offer is made that is contrary to finding our safety, our security, our satisfaction in God, that is contrary to finding our help and our hope in God.В And so often we fall for it.В Eve and Adam did in the Garden.В David did in the spring in the time when kings went out to war.В Peter did out in the courtyard the night that our Lord was betrayed, even though the Lord had warned him ahead of time.В Why?В Because this thing is fought at the level of the desires.В
And just picture the scene. Someone can say, “I'm so lonely.В I'm so lonely.”В And that desire for loneliness can be overpowering, overpowering to the point that that person becomes willing to do what God said not to do in order to find a balm for that loneliness.В What is that?В It's idolatry.В It's saying, “Lord, You can't be my shield, You can't be my stay, You can't be my help, You can't be my hope.В I can only find that somewhere else, even though You told me that I should not seek it there.”В So it's so important for us to understand what David is saying there, what the psalmist is saying.В He's saying that God Himself is our shelter and our shield, our help and our hope, the only place of safety in this sinful world.В And when we look to anything, anyone else to assuage the loneliness, to fulfill our desires, to satisfy our longing, then it will fail us and we will have fallen to idolatry.
“BAD COMPANY CORRUPTS GOOD MORALS”
Third, look at verse 115.В “Depart from me, you evildoers, that I may keep the commandments of my God.”В What's the psalmist telling us here?В He's telling us that when we join with, when we make company with, when we bond in friendship with, when we enter into intimate relation with those who are worldly, those whose hearts are not with God, for God, those who are wicked, we work our own ruin.В “Depart from me, you evildoers, that I may keep the commandments of my God.”В What does the apostle Paul say, quoting another writer?В “Bad company corrupts good morals.”В When you place yourself in a company, a company characterized by idolatry, don't be surprised if you’re influenced by that company.В It's so important for us to understand that who we make league with, who we decide to fight the fight with, who we decide to walk with in this world is very important in the fight against idolatry.В I'm so glad that the Lord has given me friends right here to fight the fight with.В I need them; I need them desperately.В I could not do it without them.В But were I in the steady companionship of idolaters, I would fall, certainly!В Absolutely certainly!В
And the psalmist is just reminding us of that.В And he says, “Depart from me, you evildoers.В I want to keep the commands of God.В I'm not going to make my league with you.В I'm not going to feel at home with you.”В It's not that he's – if we had to cut ourselves off from sinners we’d have to take ourselves out of the world.В He's not saying, “I'm not going to be nice to sinners.”В He's not saying, “I'm withdrawing from the world.”В He's saying, “The place of belonging, the place of companionship, the place of my deep relations, are going to be with people who love God, people who have determined to be loyal to God, people who have that same aspiration for whole-sold devotion to God and loyalty to His Word that I want to have.”В Because when we join with, when we join in friendship with the worldly and the wicked we work our own ruin.
GOD’S WORD IS THE BELIEVER’S STRENGTH AGAINST FALLING
There's a fourth thing that I want you to see.В You’ll see it especially in verses 116 and 117.В “Uphold me according to your promise, that I may live, and let me not be put to shame in my hope!В Hold me up, that I may be safe and have regard for your statutes continually!”В Here the psalmist is telling us something very important – that God, His promise, and His Word are the hope and stay of the believer and are our strength against falling.В God, His promise, and His Word are the hope and stay of the believer and our strength against falling.В Notice his language?В “Uphold me according to your promise.”В So he focuses on the promise of God to him.В “I will never leave you or forsake you.В I will always be faithful to you.” And he focuses on God's Word.В “I have regard for your statutes continually.” But then there is an emphasis on depending upon God Himself.В “Hold me up, that I may be safe.”В This is so important for us to understand.В In the fight against idolatry, we must ultimately depend upon God Himself, upon God's own promise, and God's own Word.В
William Plumer once said, “Without God's grace, we are weak as water,” and that is so true.В The greatest weapon that we have in the fight against idolatry is God Himself – to be with Him, to know Him, to delight in Him, to treasure Him, to commune with Him, to be under His Word, to dwell on His precious promises, to believe those promises, to rehearse those promises to ourselves.В That's why we need to be under the Word week after week after week after week, because you can get to Monday and you could have forgotten the promises that you heard on Sunday.В And we need to be together week after week after week, under that Word, believing that Word, hearing that Word, memorizing that Word, rehearsing that Word back to ourselves, studying that Word, reading it more, hearing it more, because God in His promise and His Word are the hope and the stay of the believer and our strength against falling.
MEDITATE ON GOD’S JUST JUDGEMENT
AGAINST THOSE WHO WILLFULLY REBEL
Then fifth, if you look at verses 118 and 119, the psalmist goes on to warn himself against straying by contemplating the consequences of those who have strayed.В “You spurn all who go astray from your statutes, for their cunning is in vain.В All the wicked of the earth you discard like dross, therefore I love your testimonies.”В Do you see what the psalmist is doing there?В He's meditating on God's just judgment against those who willfully engage in rebellion against Him and against idolatry.В He spurns and He discards them and He bids him look at the consequences of their sin and tremble.В That language will actually be used in the very next verse.В Why doesn't that always work?В Why don't the consequences of sin – and haven't we seen ruinous consequences for sinful decisions in the lives of individuals and families?В Why doesn't that turn us away from sin sometimes?В
Well, first, because the desires are so strong to have that which you do not have that you cease to see the consequences.В Second, because the one who falls prey to that sin thinks, “Though they have faced those consequences, I will not.В It won't happen to me.”В And yet still the psalmist says, “It's important for me to look at the consequences of rebelling against God in the lives of others.”В And the Bible is filled with it, and our own experiences are filled with it.В And it's important for us from time to time to just look at that.В And remember again that God has so ordained that there is a connection between sin and misery and obedience and blessing.В It is not that we earn our salvation through our obedience, but that God has ordered this world so that misery follows sin and blessing is that which is enjoyed by those who obey His Word.В And we need to remind ourselves of that because our desires can overpower our sight of that truth.В And in fact, every time someone takes a step of sinning, they have deliberately closed their eyes to that connection.В
THE FEAR OF THE LORD IS THE ULTIMATE
PROTECTION OF THE HEART FROM IDOLATRY
One last thing.В Look at verse 120.В And this is right at the heart of what the psalmist wants to teach us.В The right fear of the Lord is the ultimate protection of the heart from idolatry.В Listen to the language.В “My flesh trembles for fear of you, and I am afraid of your judgments.”В Now the Old Testament speaks of the fear of God or the fear of the Lord as the very heart of religion.В It is the way that the essence of piety is described in the Old Testament.В And in the Old Testament, the fear of the Lord and the love of the Lord are not contradictions, they’re things that go together.В In other words, if you love the Lord you fear Him, and if you fear the Lord you love Him.В And in our minds, there may be some tension in that.В And in this verse especially, notice that the first of the two words used for “fear” in this verse is never used in a description anywhere else in the Old Testament for those who fear the Lord.В It's a word of trembling.В “My flesh trembles for fear of you.”В There's an awe.В There's a deep fear in the sight of God.В And that may seem strange to us at first, love and fear side by side, but think of how often it appears.В Think of Deuteronomy 10 verses 12 and 13.В “So now, O Israel, what does the Lord God require of you?В Only to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and to keep the commandments of the Lord your God.”В Did you notice how fear and love go there together in the service of the Lord?В
And this isn't just an Old Testament thing.В Think of Hebrews 10:31 and following, a passage that we haven't gotten to yet, but which reminds us that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.В “And our God is a consuming fire.”В This is a Biblical thing.В The fear of the Lord; the love of the Lord.
John Murray, once said this.В “The fear of God in which godliness consists, is the fear which constrains adoration and love.В It is the fear which consists in awe, reverence, honor, and worship, and all of these in the highest level of exercise.В It is the reflex in our consciousness of the transcendent majesty and holiness of God.”В Fear and love together.В Or you've heard me quote Calvin on this before.В Calvin, in various places, emphasizes that, “True godliness, true piety, consists in a sincere feeling which loves God as Father and reverences and fears Him as Lord and dreads offending Him worse than death.”В In fact in one place Calvin says, “True piety is loving God as Father and so fear Him as Lord, that even if there were no hell we would tremble to offend Him.”В There is a fear and there is a love.В And this is so important for us to remember.
David Dickson says this.В “The godly, because of the remainder of sin in them and their natural frailty are not exempt from a sense of terror of God.В In fact, it is necessary that now and then it be exercised in them so that they might be kept in their awe and their joy be tempered with fear and trembling and their prayers sharpened and they be kept watchful and their obedience furthered.”В Henry Martin, the great missionary who died as a young man because of his determination to take the Gospel to foreign lands, records this of himself in his journal.В “In prayer this evening, I had such near and terrific views of God's judgment upon sinners in hell that my flesh trembled for fear of them and I flew, trembling, to Jesus Christ, as if the flame were taking hold of me.В O Christ, save me or I perish!”В Now that's a man who had left his native land and forgone an engagement in order to share the Gospel halfway around the world.В And there is a combination in his heart of both a trembling and a love.В
“My flesh trembles for fear of you and I am afraid of your judgments.”В The right fear of the Lord is the ultimate protection of the heart from idolatry.В When you see God as your Father and you love Him and you understand that God is the Lord and you reverence Him and you hold Him in awe, only then is the heart ready to take on both the assaults of the world and the flesh and the devil to tempt us to double-mindedness.В The psalmist is again tonight reminding us of why we need the Word of God.В It's a dangerous world out there; it's an even more dangerous world in here.В We need God and His grace and His Word so that we might be whole-sold in our devotion to Him.В Let's pray.
Heavenly Father, these things frighten me even to preach about.В You know my own heart – prone to wander, Lord, I feel it.В Prone to leave the God I love.В Here's my heart, oh take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above.В Do this in all of us, O Lord.В Help us, by Your grace, to take heed of these words to us from the psalmist who knows so well this temptation and who knows so well its remedy.В We ask this 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.В Amen.