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Bible Commentaries

Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture
Psalms 34

 

 


Verse 7

Psalms

THE ENCAMPING ANGEL

Psalms 34:7.

If we accept the statement in the superscription of this psalm, it dates from one of the darkest hours in David’s life. His fortunes were never lower than when he fled from Gath, the city of Goliath, to Adullam. He never appears in a less noble light than when he feigned madness to avert the dangers which he might well dread there. How unlike the terror and self-degradation of the man who ‘scrabbled on the doors,’ and let ‘the spittle run down his beard,’ is the heroic and saintly constancy of this noble psalm! And yet the contrast is not so violent as to make the superscription improbable, and the tone of the whole well corresponds to what we should expect from a man delivered from some great peril, but still surrounded with dangers. There, in the safety of his retreat among the rocks, with the bit of level ground where he had fought Goliath just at his feet in the valley, and Gath, from which he had escaped, away down at the mouth of the glen {if Conder’s identification of Adullam be correct}, he sings his song of trust and praise; he hears the lions roar among the rocks where Samson had found them in his day; he teaches his ‘children,’ the band of broken men who there began to gather around him, the fear of the Lord; and calls upon them to help him in his praise. What a picture of the outlaw and his wild followers tamed into something like order, and lifted into something like worship, rises before us, if we follow the guidance of that old commentary contained in the superscription!

The words of our text gain especial force and vividness by thus localising the psalm. Not only ‘the clefts of the rock’ but the presence of God’s Angel is his defence; and round him is flung, not only the strength of the hills, but the garrison and guard of heaven.

It is generally supposed that the ‘Angel of the Lord’ here is to be taken collectively, and that the meaning is-the ‘bright-harnessed’ hosts of these divine messengers are as an army of protectors round them who fear God. But I see no reason for departing from the simpler and certainly grander meaning which results from taking the word in its proper force of a singular. True, Scripture does speak of the legions of ministering spirits, who in their chariots of fire were once seen by suddenly opened eyes ‘round about’ a prophet in peril, and are ever ministering to the heirs of salvation. But Scripture also speaks of One, who is in an eminent sense ‘the Angel of the Lord’; in whom, as in none other, God sets His ‘Name’; whose form, dimly seen, towers above even the ranks of the angels that ‘excel in strength’; whose offices and attributes blend in mysterious fashion with those of God Himself. There may be some little incongruity in thinking of the single Person as ‘encamping round about’ us; but that does not seem a sufficient reason for obliterating the reference to that remarkable Old Testament doctrine, the retention of which seems to me to add immensely to the power of the words.

Remember some of the places in which the ‘Angel of the Lord’ appears, in order to appreciate more fully the grandeur of this promised protection. At that supreme moment when Abraham ‘took the knife to slay his son,’ the voice that ‘called to him out of heaven’ was ‘the voice of the Angel of the Lord.’ He assumes the power of reversing a divine command. He says, ‘Thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from Me,’ and then pronounces a blessing, in the utterance of which one cannot distinguish His voice from the voice of Jehovah. In like manner it is the Angel of the Lord that speaks to Jacob, and says, ‘I am the God of Bethel.’ The dying patriarch invokes in the same breath ‘the God which fed me all my life long,’ ‘the Angel which redeemed me from all evil,’ to bless the boys that stand before him, with their wondering eyes gazing in awe on his blind face. It was that Angel’s glory that appeared to the outcast, flaming in the bush that burned unconsumed. It was He who stood before the warrior leader of Israel, sword in hand, and proclaimed Himself to be the Captain of the Lord’s host, the Leader of the armies of heaven, and the true Leader of the armies of Israel; and His commands to Joshua, His lieutenant, are the commands of ‘the Lord.’ And, to pass over other instances, Isaiah correctly sums up the spirit of the whole earlier history in words which go far to lift the conception of this Angel of the Lord out of the region of created beings-’In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the Angel of His face saved them,’ It is this lofty and mysterious Messenger, and not the hosts whom He commands, that our Psalmist sees standing ready to help, as He once stood, sword-bearing by the side of Joshua. To the warrior leader, to the warrior Psalmist, He appears, as their needs required, armoured and militant. The last of the prophets saw that dim, mysterious Figure, and proclaimed, ‘The Lord whom ye seek shall suddenly come to His temple; even the Angel of the Covenant, whom ye delight in’; and to his gaze it was wrapped in obscure majesty and terror of purifying flame. But for us the true Messenger of the Lord is His Son, whom He has sent, in whom He has put His name; who is the Angel of His face, in that we behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ; who is the Angel of the Covenant, in that He has sealed the new and everlasting covenant with His blood; and whose own parting promise, ‘Lo! I am with you always,’ is the highest fulfilment to us Christians of that ancient confidence: ‘The Angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him.’

Whatever view we adopt of the significance of the first part of the text, the force and beauty of the metaphor in the second remain the same. If this psalm were indeed the work of the fugitive in his rocky hold at Adullam, how appropriate the thought becomes that his little encampment has such a guard. It reminds one of the incident in Jacob’s life, when his timid and pacific nature was trembling at the prospect of meeting Esau, and when, as he travelled along, encumbered with his pastoral wealth, and scantily provided with means of defence, ‘the angels of God met him, and he named the place Mahanaim,’ that is, two camps-his own feeble company, mostly made up of women and children, and that heavenly host that hovered above them. David’s faith sees the same defence encircling his weakness, and though sense saw no protection for him and his men but their own strong arms and their mountain fastness, his opened eyes beheld the mountain full of the chariots of fire, and the flashing of armour and light in the darkness of his cave.

The vision of the divine presence ever takes the form which our circumstances most require. David’s then need was safety and protection. Therefore he saw the Encamping Angel; even as to Joshua the leader He appeared as the Captain of the Lord’s host; and as to Isaiah, in the year that the throne of Judah was emptied by the death of the earthly king, was given the vision of the Lord sitting on a throne, the King Eternal and Immortal. So to us all His grace shapes its expression according to our wants, and the same gift is Protean in its power of transformation; being to one man wisdom, to another strength, to the solitary companionship, to the sorrowful consolation, to the glad sobering, to the thinker truth, to the worker practical force-to each his heart’s desire, if the heart’s delight be God. So manifold are the aspects of God’s infinite sufficiency, that every soul, in every possible variety of circumstance, will find there just what will suit it. That armour fits every man who puts it on. That deep fountain is like some of those fabled springs which give forth whatsoever precious draught any thirsty lip asked. He takes the shape that our circumstances most need. Let us see that we, on our parts, use our circumstances to help us in anticipating the shapes in which God will draw near for our help.

Learn, too, from this image, in which the Psalmist appropriates to himself the experience of a past generation, how we ought to feed our confidence and enlarge our hopes by all God’s past dealings with men. David looks back to Jacob, and believes that the old fact is repeated in his own day. So every old story is true for us; though outward form may alter, inward substance remains the same. Mahanaim is still the name of every place where a man who loves God pitches his tent. We may be wandering, solitary, defenceless, but we are not alone. Our feeble encampment may lie open to assault, and we be all unfit to guard it, but the other camp is there too, and our enemies must force their way through it before they get at us. We are in its centre-as they put the cattle and the sick in the midst of the encampment on the prairies when they fear an assault from the Indians-because we are so weak. Jacob’s experience may be ours: ‘The Lord of Hosts is with us: the God of Jacob is our refuge.’

Only remember that the eye of faith alone can see that guard, and that therefore we must labour to keep our consciousness of its reality fresh and vivid. Many a man in David’s little band saw nothing but cold gray stone where David saw the flashing armour of the heavenly Warrior. To the one all the mountain blazed with fiery chariots, to the other it was a lone hillside, with the wind moaning among the rocks. We shall lose the joy and the strength of that divine protection unless we honestly and constantly try to keep our sense of it bright. Eyes that have been gazing on earthly joys, or perhaps gloating on evil sights, cannot see the Angel presence. A Christian man, on a road which he cannot travel with a clear conscience, will see no angel, not even the Angel with the drawn sword in His hand, that barred Balaam’s path among the vineyards. A man coming out of some room blazing with light cannot all at once see into the violet depths of the mighty heavens, that lie above him with all their shimmering stars. So this truth of our text is a truth of faith, and the believing eye alone beholds the Angel of the Lord.

Notice, too, that final word of deliverance. This psalm is continually recurring to that idea. The word occurs four times in it, and the thought still oftener. Whether the date is rightly given, as we have assumed it to be, or not, at all events that harping upon this one phrase indicates that some season of great trial was its birth-time, when all the writer’s thoughts were engrossed and his prayers summed up in the one thing-deliverance. He is quite sure that such deliverance must follow if the Angel presence be there. But he knows too that the encampment of the Angel of the Lord will not keep away sorrows, and trial, and sharp need. So his highest hope is not of immunity from these, but of rescue out of them. And his ground of hope is that his heavenly Ally cannot let him be overcome. That He will let him be troubled and put in peril he has found; that He will not let him be crushed he believes. Shadowed and modest hopes are the brightest we can venture to cherish. The protection which we have is protection in, and not protection from, strife and danger. It is a filter which lets the icy cold water of sorrow drop numbing upon us, but keeps back the poison that was in it. We have to fight, but He will fight with us; to sorrow, but not alone nor without hope; to pass through many a peril, but we shall get through them. Deliverance, which implies danger, need, and woe, is the best we can hope for.

It is the least we are entitled to expect if we love Him. It is the certain issue of His encamping round about us. Always with us, He will strike for us at the best moment. The Lord God is in the midst of her always; ‘the Lord will help her, and that right early.’ So like the hunted fugitive in Adullam we may lift up our confident voices even when the stress of strife and sorrow is upon us; and though Gath be in sight and Saul just over the hills, and we have no better refuge than a cave in a hillside; yet in prophecy built upon our consciousness that the Angel of the Covenant is with us now, we may antedate the deliverance that shall be, and think of it as even now accomplished. So the Apostle, when within sight of the block and the headsman’s axe, broke into the rapture of his last words: ‘The Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me to His heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.’ Was he wrong?


Verse 10

Psalms

STRUGGLING AND SEEKING

Psalms 34:10.

If we may trust the superscription of this psalm, it was written by David at one of the very darkest days of his wanderings, probably in the Cave of Adullam, where he had gathered around him a band of outlaws, and was living, to all appearance, a life uncommonly like that of a brigand chief, in the hills. One might have pardoned him if, at such a moment, some cloud of doubt or despondency had crept over his soul. But instead of that his words are running over with gladness, and the psalm begins ‘I will bless the Lord at all times, and His praise shall continually be in my mouth.’ Similarly here he avers, even at a moment when he wanted a great deal of what the world calls ‘good,’ that ‘they that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing.’ There were lions in Palestine in David’s time. He had had a fight with one of them, as you may remember, and his lurking place was probably not far off the scene of Samson’s exploits. Very likely they were prowling about the rocky mouth of the cave, and he weaves their howls into his psalm: ‘The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger: but they that seek the Lord shall not want any good.’

So, then, here are the two thoughts-the struggle that always fails and the seeking that always finds.

I. The struggle that always fails.

‘The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger.’ They are taken as the type of violent effort and struggle, as well as of supreme strength, but for all their teeth and claws, and lithe spring, ‘they lack, and suffer hunger.’ The suggestion is, that the men whose lives are one long fight to appropriate to themselves more and more of outward good, are living a kind of life that is fitter for beasts than for men. A fierce struggle for material good is the true description of the sort of life that hosts of us live. What is the meaning of all this cry that we hear about the murderous competition going on round us? What is the true character of the lives of, I am afraid, the majority of people in a city like Manchester, but a fight and a struggle, a desire to have, and a failure to obtain? Let us remember that that sort of existence is for the brutes, and that there is a better way of getting what is good; the only fit way for man. Beasts of prey, naturalists tell us, are always lean. It is the graminivorous order that meekly and peacefully crop the pastures that are well fed and in good condition-’which things are an allegory.’

‘The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger’-and that, being interpreted, just states the fact to which every man’s experience, and the observation of every man that has an eye in his head, distinctly say, ‘Amen, it is so.’ For there is no satisfaction or success ever to be won by this way of fighting and struggling and scheming and springing at the prey. For if we do not utterly fail, which is the lot of so many of us, still partial success has little power of bringing perfect satisfaction to a human spirit. One loss counterbalances any number of gains. No matter how soft is the mattress, if there is one tiny thorn sticking up through it all the softness goes for nothing. There is always a Mordecai sitting at the gate when Haman goes prancing through it on his white horse; and the presence of the unsympathetic and stiff-backed Jew, sitting stolid at the gate, takes the gilt off the gingerbread, and embitters the enjoyment. So men count up their disappointments, and forget all their fulfilled hopes, count up their losses and forget their gains. They think less of the thousands that they have gained than of the half-crown that they were cheated of.

In every way it is true that the little annoyances, like a grain of dust in the sensitive eye, take all the sweetness out of mere material good, and I suppose that there are no more bitterly disappointed men in this world than the perfectly ‘successful men,’ as the world counts them. They have been disillusionised in the process of acquisition. When they were young and lusted after earthly good things, these seemed to be all that they needed. When they are old, and have them, they find that they are feeding on ashes, and the grit breaks their teeth, and irritates their tongues. The ‘young lions do lack’ even when their roar and their spring ‘have secured the prey,’ and ‘they suffer hunger’ even when they have fed full. Ay! for if the utmost possible measure of success were granted us, in any department in which the way of getting the thing is this fighting and effort, we should be as far away from being at rest as ever we were.

You remember the old story of the Arabian Nights, about the wonderful palace that was built by magic, and all whose windows were set in precious stones, but there was one window that remained unadorned, and that spoiled all for the owner. His palace was full of treasures, but an enemy looked on all the wealth and suggested a previously unnoticed defect by saying, ‘You have not a roc’s egg.’ He had never thought about getting a roc’s egg, and did not know what it was. But the consciousness of something lacking had been roused, and it marred his enjoyment of what he had and drove him to set out on his travels to secure the missing thing. There is always something lacking, for our desires grow far faster than their satisfactions, and the more we have, the wider our longing reaches out, so that as the wise old Book has it, ‘He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver, nor he that loveth abundance with increase.’ You cannot fill a soul with the whole universe, if you do not put God in it. One of the greatest works of fiction of modern times ends, or all but ends, with a sentence something like this, ‘Ah! who of us has what he wanted, or having it, is satisfied?’ ‘The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger’-and the struggle always fails-’but they that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing.’

II. The seeking which always finds.

Now, how do we ‘seek the Lord’? It is a metaphorical expression, of course, which needs to be carefully interpreted in order not to lead us into a great mistake. We do not seek Him as if He had not sought us, or was hiding from us. But our search of Him is search after one who is near every one of us, and who delights in nothing so much as in pouring Himself into every heart and mind, and will and life, if only heart, mind, will, life, are willing to accept Him. It is a short search that the child by her mother’s skirts, or her father’s side, has to make for mother or father. It is a shorter search that we have to make for God.

We seek Him by desire. Do you want Him? A great many of us do not. We seek Him by communion, by turning our thoughts to Him, amidst all the rush of daily life, and such a turning of thought to Him, which is quite possible, will prevent our most earnest working upon things material from descending to the likeness of the lions’ fighting for it. We seek Him by desire, by communion, by obedience. And they who thus seek Him find Him in the act of seeking Him, just as certainly as if I open my eye I see the sun, or as if I dilate my lungs the atmosphere rushes into them. For He is always seeking us. That is a beautiful word of our Lord’s to which we do not always attach all its value, ‘The Father seeketh such to worship Him.’ Why put the emphasis upon the ‘such,’ as if it was a definition of the only kind of acceptable worship? It is that. But we might put more emphasis upon the ‘seeketh’ without spoiling the logic of the sentence; and thereby we should come nearer the truth of what God’s heart to us is, so that if we do seek Him, we shall surely find. In this region, and in this region only, there is no search that is vain, there is no effort that is foiled, there is no desire unaccomplished, there is no failure possible. We each of us have, accurately and precisely, as much of God as we desire to have. If there is only a very little of the Water of Life in our vessels, it is because we did not care to possess any more. ‘Seek, and ye shall find.’

We shall be sure to find everything in God. Look at the grand confidence, and the utterance of a life’s experience in these great words: ‘Shall not want any good.’ For God is everything to us, and everything else is nothing; and it is the presence of God in anything that makes it truly able to satisfy our desires. Human love, sweet and precious, dearest and best of all earthly possessions as it is, fails to fill a heart unless the love grasps God as well as the beloved dying creature. And so with regard to all other things. They are good when God is in them, and when they are ours in God. They are nought when wrenched away from Him. We are sure to find everything in Him, for this is the very property of that infinite divine nature that is waiting to impart itself to us, that, like water poured into a vessel, it will take the shape of the vessel into which it is poured. Whatever is my need, the one God will supply it all.

You remember the old Rabbinical tradition which speaks a deep truth, dressed in a fanciful shape. It says that the manna in the wilderness tasted to every man just what he desired, whatever dainty or nutriment he most wished; that the manna became like the magic cup in the old fairy legends, out of which could be poured any precious liquor at the pleasure of the man who was to drink it. The one God is everything to us all, anything that we desire, and the thing that we need; Protean in His manifestations, one in His sufficiency. With Him, as well as in Him, we are sure to have all that we require. ‘Seek ye first the Kingdom . . . and all these things shall be added unto you.’

Let us begin, dear brethren! with seeking, and then our struggling will not be violent, nor self-willed, nor will it fail. If we begin with seeking, and have God, be sure that all we need we shall get, and that what we do not get we do not need. It is hard to believe it when our vehement wishes go out to something that His serene wisdom does not send. It is hard to believe it when our bleeding hearts are being wrenched away from something around which they have clung. But it is true for all that. And he that can say, ‘Whom have I in heaven but Thee, and there is none upon earth that I desire beside Thee,’ will find that the things which he enjoys in subordination to his one supreme good are a thousand times more precious when they are regarded as second than they ever could be when our folly tried to make them first. ‘Seek first the Kingdom,’ and be contented that the ‘other things’ shall be appendices, additions, over and above the one thing that is needful.

Now, all that is very old-fashioned, threadbare truth. Dear brethren! if we believed it, and lived by it, ‘the peace of God which passes understanding’ would ‘keep our hearts and minds.’ And, instead of fighting and losing, and desiring to have and howling out because we cannot obtain, we should patiently wait before Him, submissively ask, earnestly seek, immediately find, and always possess and be satisfied with, the one good for body, soul, and spirit, which is God Himself.

‘There be many that cry, Oh! that one would show as any good.’ The wise do not cry to men, but pray to God. ‘Lord! lift Thou the light of Thy countenance upon us.’


Verse 22

Psalms

NO CONDEMNATION

Psalms 34:22.

These words are very inadequately represented in the translation of the Authorised Version. The Psalmist’s closing declaration is something very much deeper than that they who trust in God ‘shall not be desolate.’ If you look at the previous clause, you will see that we must expect something more than such a particular blessing as that:-’The Lord redeemeth the soul of His servants.’ It is a great drop from that thought, instead of being a climax, to follow it with nothing more than, ‘None of them that trust in Him shall be desolate.’ But the Revised Version accurately renders the words: ‘None of them that trust in Him shall be condemned.’ There we have something that is worthy to follow ‘The Lord redeemeth the soul of His servants,’ and we have a most striking anticipation of the clearest and most Evangelical teaching of the New Testament.

The entirely New Testament tone of these words of the psalm comes out still more clearly, if we recognise that, not only in the latter, but in the former, part of the clause, we have one of the very keynotes of New Testament teaching. When we read in the New Testament that ‘we are justified by faith,’ the meaning is precisely the same as that of our text. Thus, however it came about, here is this Psalmist, David or another, standing away back amidst the shadows and symbols and ritualisms of that Old Covenant, and rising at once above all the mists, right up into the sunshine, and seeing, as clearly as we see it nineteen centuries after Jesus Christ, that the way to escape condemnation is simple faith. Let us look at both of the parts of these great words. We consider-

I. The people that are spoken of here.

‘None of them that trust in Him’-I need not, I suppose, further dwell upon the absolute identity shown by this phrase between the Old and the New Testament conceptions; but I should like to make a remark, which I dare say I have often made before-it cannot be made too often-that, whatever be the differences between the Old and the New, this is not the difference, that they present two different ways of approaching God. There are a great many differences; the conception of the divine nature is no doubt infinitely deepened, made more tender and more lofty, by the thought of the Fatherhood of God. The contents of the revelation which our faith is to grasp are brought out far more definitely and articulately and fully in the New Testament. But in the Old, the road to God was the same as it is to-day; and from the beginning there has only been, and through all Eternity there will only be, one path by which men can have access to the Father, and that is by faith. ‘Trust’ is the Old Testament word, ‘faith’ is the New. They are absolutely identical, and there would have been a flood of light-sorely needed by a great many good people-cast upon the relations between those two complementary and harmonious halves of a consistent whole, if our translators had not been influenced by their unfortunate love for varying translations of the same word, but had contented themselves with choosing one of these two words ‘trust’ or ‘faith,’ and had used that one consistently and uniformly throughout the Old and New books. Then we should have understood, what anybody who will open his eyes can see now, that what the New Testament magnifies as ‘faith’ is identical with what the Old Testament sets forth as ‘trust.’ ‘None of them that trust in Him shall be condemned.’

But there is one more remark to make on this matter, and that is that a great flood of light, and of more than light, of encouragement and of stimulus, is cast upon that saving exercise of trust by noticing the literal meaning of the word that is rightly so rendered here. All those words, especially in the Old Testament, that express emotions or acts of the mind, originally applied to corporeal acts or material things. I suppose that is so in all language. It is very conspicuously so in the Hebrew. And the word that is here translated, rightly, ‘trust,’ means literally to fly to a refuge, or to betake oneself to some defence in order to get shelter there.

There is a trace of both meanings, the literal and the metaphorical, in another psalm, where we read, amidst the Psalmist’s rapturous heaping together of great names for God: ‘My Rock, in whom I will trust.’ Now keep to the literal meaning there, and you see how it flashes up the whole into beauty: ‘My Rock, to whom I will flee for refuge,’ and put my back against it, and stand as impregnable as it; or get myself well into the clefts of it, and then nothing can touch me.

‘Rock of Ages! cleft for me,

Let me hide myself in Thee.’

Then we find the same words, with the picture of flight and the reality of faith, used with another set of associations in another psalm, which says: ‘He shall cover thee with His feathers, and under His wings shalt thou trust.’ That grates, one gets away from the metaphor too quickly; but if we preserve the literal meaning, and read, ‘under His wings shalt thou flee for refuge,’ we have the picture of the chicken flying to the mother-bird when kites are in the sky, and huddling close to the warm breast and the soft downy feathers, and so with the spread of the great wing being sheltered from all possibility of harm. This psalm is ascribed to David when he was in hiding. The superscription says that it is ‘a psalm of David, when he changed his behaviour before Abimelech; who drove him away, and he departed.’ And where did he go? To the cave in the rock. And as he sat in the mouth of it, with the rude arch stretching above him, like the wings of some great bird, feeling himself absolutely safe, he said, ‘None of them that take refuge in Thee shall be condemned.’

Does not that metaphor teach us a great deal more of what faith is, and encourage us far more to exercise it, than much theological hair-splitting? What lies in the metaphor? Two things, the earnest eagerness of the act of flight, and the absolute security which comes when we have reached the shadow of the great Rock in a weary land.

But there is one thing more that I would notice, and that is that this designation of the persons as ‘them that trust in Him’ follows last of all in a somewhat lengthened series of designations for good people. They are these: ‘the righteous’-’them that are of a broken heart’-’such as be of a contrite spirit’-’His servants,’ and then, lastly, comes, as basis of all, as, so to speak, the keynote of all, ‘none of them that trust in Him.’ That is to say-righteousness, true and blessed pulverising of the obstinate insensibility of self alienated from God, true and blessed consciousness of sin, joyful surrender of self to loving and grateful submission to God’s will, are all connected with or flow from that act of trust in Him. And if you are trusting in Him, in anything more than the mere formal, dead way in which multitudes of nominal Christians in all our congregations are doing so, your trust will produce all these various fruits of righteousness, and lowliness, and joyful service. ‘Faith’ or ‘trust’ is the mother of all graces and virtues, and it produces them all because it directly kindles the creative flame of an answering love to Him in whom we trust. So much, then, for the first part of my remarks. Consider, next-

II. The blessing here promised.

‘None of them that trust in Him shall be condemned.’ The word which is inadequately rendered ‘desolate,’ and more accurately ‘condemned,’ includes the following varying shades of meaning, which, although they are various, are all closely connected, as you will see-to incur guilt, to feel guilty, to be condemned, to be punished. All these four are inextricably blended together. And the fact that the one word in the Old Testament covers all that ground suggests some very solemn thoughts.

First of all, it suggests this, that guilt, or sin, and condemnation and punishment, are, if not absolutely identical, inseparable. To be guilty is to be condemned. That is to say, since we live, as we do, under the continual grip of an infinitely wise and all-knowing law, and in the presence of a Judge who not only sees us as we are, but treats us as He sees us-sin and guilt go together, as every man knows that has a conscience. And sin and guilt and condemnation and punishment go together, as every man may see in the world, and experience in himself. To be separated from God, which is the immediate effect of sin, is to pass into hell here. ‘Every transgression and disobedience,’ not only ‘shall receive its just recompense,’ away out yonder, in some misty, far-off, hypothetical future, but down here to-day. All sin works automatically, and to do wrong is to be punished for doing it.

Then my text suggests another solemn thought, and that is that this judgment, this condemnation, is not only present, according to our Lord’s own great words, which perhaps are an allusion to these: ‘He that believeth not is condemned already’; but it also suggests the universality of that condemnation. Our Psalmist says that only through trusting Him can a man be taken and lifted away, as it were, from the descent of the thundercloud, and its bolt that lies above his head. ‘They that trust Him are not condemned,’ every one else is; not ‘shall be,’ but is, to-day, here and now. If there is a man or woman in my audience now who is not exercising trust in God through Jesus Christ, on that man or woman, young or old, cultivated or uncultivated, professing Christian or not, there is bound the burden of their sin, which is the crushing weight of their condemnation.

So my text suggests, that the sole deliverance from this universal pressure of the condemnatory influence of universal sin lies in that fleeing for refuge to God. And then comes in the Christian addition, ‘to God, as manifested in Jesus Christ.’ The Psalmist did not know that. All the more wonderful is it that without the knowledge he should have risen to the great thought of our text-all the more inexplicable unless you believe that ‘holy men of old spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.’

Wonderful it is still, but not unintelligible, if you believe that. But you and I know more than this singer did; for we can listen to the Master, who says, ‘He that believeth on Him is not condemned’; and to the servant who echoes-and perhaps both of them are alluding to our psalm-’There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.’ My faith, if it knits me to Jesus Christ, unties the bonds by which my sin is bound upon me, for it makes me to share in His Spirit, in His righteousness, in His glory.

And so, dear brethren! the Psalmist, though he did not know it, may point us away to the truth hidden from him, but sunlight clear for us, that by simple trust we may receive the Saviour through whom all our condemnation will pass away, and may be found in Him having the ‘righteousness which is of God by faith.’

‘Not condemned’-Is that all? Are the blessings of the Gospel all to be reduced to this mere negative expression? Certainly not. The Psalmist could have said a great deal more, and in the previous context he does say a great deal more. But to that restrained and moderate statement of the case, which is far less than the facts of the case, ‘he that trusteth is not condemned,’ let us add Paul’s expansion, ‘whom He called them He also justified, and whom He justified them He also glorified.’

 


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Bibliography Information
MacLaren, Alexander. "Commentary on Psalms 34:4". Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mac/psalms-34.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, November 29th, 2020
the First Week of Advent
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