Christian Friend vol. 14, 1887, p. 93.
To dwell in the presence of the Lord is the unequalled joy of the renewed heart, to dwell in His house its happy anticipation. Ever of old it was the blessed hope of the upright, his deliverance from the wicked, the evil and violent man. (Ps. 140.) How much more fully and excellently so is it today - the day of the Comforter's abiding presence in and with the saints on earth, giving us to dwell in the light as He is in the light, and to have the home of our souls in the heavenly sanctuary where He, our High Priest, is at the right hand of the majesty in the heavens, and our Advocate with the Father there! Yet the soul ofttimes feels in how small a measure is our portion enjoyed compared with the way that many a saint in dispensations past has realized their lesser blessing. In spirit-taught aspirations their faith ofttimes soared, as it were, on eagle pinion throughout the vast expanse of promise made to them, and descried bright glimpses, though afar off, of that, excellent grace ministered to us. But we (is it too much to say?) fail oft and sadly too in rising to the home of the Father's love, resplendent in holiness and celestial joy and beauty, where Jesus has taken our hearts because He is there. This failure on our part is sometimes caused by the superficial and perhaps defective way in which our souls receive, and that too from the moment of their birth into divine life, the revelation which our God and Father has been graciously pleased to give us of Himself in the person of His Son.
The intention of this present paper is not to pursue the subject further than the elements of that knowledge of God, true at all times and dispensations, the lack of which is the secret and unsuspected cause of spiritual dulness, depression, unsatisfied affections, and occasionally disastrous failure.
In the psalm previous to the one already quoted (Ps. 139), we find that the joyful and sustaining hope to the upright of dwelling in Jehovah's presence is preceded by deep and solemn yet blessed experiences. The psalmist is under the eye of One who is intently occupied with him, before whose penetrating and exhaustive scrutiny he must needs be bowed. If responsibility is in question, such knowledge renders human effort or ability helpless to sustain it. Yet such is the One with whom we have to do, and such is the way in which we have to do with Him; for not only is there before Him "my downsitting and mine uprising," "my thought afar off," "my path and my lying down," "all my ways," every "word in my tongue," and moreover all possibility of escape cut off; but besides all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. It is the word of God by which we are made to know His thoughts about us "Quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit . . . a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart."
Oh, may we be found with David in this psalm sitting with heart bared to the eye of God without impatience or restlessness of spirit, and confiding in that inscrutable and all-embracing wisdom! What blessed power of the Spirit do we see in him! Have our souls sounded, in feeble measure perhaps, the depths of this first and necessary experience, the patient and lowly recognition of the word of God in its divine authority and inexorable sway? The natural heart writhes beneath it, and turns aside to follow its own thoughts unrestrained; and the saint is ofttimes apt to say, as Jacob did, "Surely the Lord is in this place . . . . How dreadful is this place!" But certain it is that, however we may turn aside from any word of God, come in power to our souls because it was needed, or because it involves some special trial - to that very word shall we be brought back in the order of God's ways with us to learn its power in His presence, what it is for Him undistorted by the corrupt will of man. Thus perforce must Jacob arise and go up to Bethel, leaving the parcel of a field which be had bought at Shalem. The place he had chosen for himself to spread therein his tent and build an altar, El-elohe-Israel, must he leave, a grave for his worldly friends and strange gods. (Gen. 33:18; Gen. 35:4.)
As we have seen, the first six verses of the psalm present what I am, and God's eye upon me - a thought, apart from grace, insupportable; and, where grace is but partially known, prompting the exclamation of verse 7, "Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?" But the precious sovereign grace of God has placed us before Him, who is the Father, according to all the blessed perfections of the Son. (John 14:20.) And this, remark, not only gives us, when we know it, to rejoice in being there, but it is for the Father's delight that we are there. Already in Him it is the Father's joy to behold us, as it was ever His delight to look down upon Him. Every minutest detail of that path of perfect moral beauty - a Man's, yet possible alone to God - was ineffable delight to the Father's heart. In Him, and because He is in us, we share in the love evoked by this perfection. What unchanging peace, and sweet, restful confidence of soul, may then be ours, abiding under the Father's eye - a relationship which David never knew, and could not therefore sing of. His repose of spirit, and subjection to the holy character of Him in whom he trusted, may well be our example, remembering this, that while the holy scrutiny of God concerns ourselves, our ways, it is not to occupy us with ourselves, but, on the contrary, self is lost in the sense of the wondrous grasp and range of the mind of God. (v. 6.)
The next six verses (7-12) present to us, not what man is, and God's eye upon him; but what God is, and man in His presence. And as it was surely the Father's delight for His eye to rest abidingly upon His Son, so was it the Son's joy to dwell in the presence, yea, in the bosom, of the Father. Moreover, how blessedly this opens up our place, who are brought, in the communion of the Son, into His own joys. It was His inexpressible joy to depart out of this world unto the Father; and "if ye loved me," He says to His disciples," "ye would rejoice because I go to the Father." Again, He places us in the Father's affections, according to the power of His own name - "At that day ye shall ask in my name; and I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you, for the Father Himself loveth you." The Father's name, too, that very name which He had given the Son, should be our safeguard in that blest and holy relationship. Unutterable joy for him who knows the Father, that man's habitable scene is not the limit of His presence. Nay, that which is beyond creation - heaven and hell, and the unordered elements, and light which manifests, and darkness which annuls all creature - sight - proclaim with equal tongue the glory of His presence and His power.
It is a thought, perhaps but little realized by us, that we dwell in the light as He is in the light, continuously there where there is no darkness at all. Yet it is a joy indeed for us, full joy, who are called into fellowship with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ, to participate in the Father's delight in His beloved Son, and to receive the communications of a love that delights to tell what that Father is to Him. (John 17:26.) A thought at all times solemnizing, however blessed, but agonizing (one might almost say) to the undelivered soul not yet at peace with God, the conscience yet unpurged: A terrible thought to the unsheltered and unsaved! How precious, then, to the soul are the following six verses of the psalm! (vv. 13-18.) "Marvellous are thy works." (v. 14.) "How precious also are thy thoughts." (v. 17.)
Here, doubtless, it is His work in the old creation primarily; but the Christian can speak of a far higher and more glorious work than creation, even that of redemption itself, in which the Son of man has been glorified, and God glorified in Him. Through that rent veil the eye of God looked forth upon His slaughtered Lamb, whose last breath proclaimed, in undiminished power, that all was done. "It is finished;" - propitiation made; so that the holy name of God is vindicated, and His nature glorified in receiving sinners to Himself, according to the fulness and perfection of His own absolute self-originating love. Atonement, too, completed at the cross, and God has set Christ Jesus forth a mercy-seat through faith in His blood, for the showing forth of His righteousness . . . so that He should be just, and justify him that is of the faith of Jesus. "Eternal redemption" obtained; death and him that had the might of it annulled; law's curse exacted and absolutely spent, so that the power of sin is gone; sin in the flesh condemned (and never again to be judicially in question before God) in the cross, where Christ was made to be sin for us, and thus excluded for ever from the ground on which the believer stands with Him; sins borne and blotted out there, no more to be remembered. Thus by that precious sacrifice the heavenly sanctuary is opened - a sacrifice which purifies the heavenly things and puts sin away (though we await its accomplishment in power), consciences are purged, sins forgiven, communion given, in the holiest itself, where Jesus appears before the face of God for us. Indeed, "marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well." (v. 14.) "How precious also are thy thoughts, O God! how great is the sum of them." (v. 17.) What thoughts of blessing, choosing us in Christ before the world's foundation, that we should be before Him as He is, holy and blameless! The myriad grains of sand that girdle ocean's billows, and restrain their fury, furnish an ineffectual comparison with the thoughts of God, as many as they are precious, for His people here below. But in the heavenlies every spiritual blessing is ours. Comparison is impossible here, for the object is not merely the blessing of His saints, but "the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He hath made us accepted in the Beloved;" and, moreover, the "having predestinated us unto the adoption of children through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will."
David could say, "When I awake, I am still with thee." (v. 18.) But we know the new creation power that wrought in the Christ in raising Him up from among the dead, where we were in our offences and sins, and quickened us with Him, because of His great love wherewith He loved us, "and has raised us up together, and has made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus: that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness towards its in Christ Jesus." How blessed our portion, not only to be "still with" Him but to be seated there where He is in Christ Jesus, the objects and the occasion of the display of the surpassing riches of His grace throughout eternity!
The concluding six verses of the psalm (vv. 19-24) bring powerfully before us the result in practical holiness of being under God's eye and in His presence, the blest object of His work and purposes of grace. He separates from evil and refuses all association with the wicked - "Surely thou wilt slay the wicked, O God: depart from me therefore, ye bloody men." He desires also that every secret spring of evil in himself might be detected and judged" Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me."
That approaching day of glory, which involves the judgment of the wicked, necessitates withdrawal from that and those on whom the judgment falls. This is the evil without; but not less imperative is it that the evil within should be absolutely refused. A far more difficult matter, and one proceeding on entirely different principles; i.e. not because of the judgment coming on it, but by reason of the confidence established on the ground of God's perfect knowledge of the soul and His work on our behalf. "We know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is. And every one that has this hope in Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure." In order to do this we need the distinct sense in our souls of the blessedness there is in Him, and of His relationship with the Father. Consequent thereon, the certainty of being like Him when He appears produces in us a purifying process corresponding thereto. In addition, the disciplining hand of God is often needed to arouse our hearts. "Arise and depart, for this is not your rest," was said of old, and is a necessary word today; but our psalm has a higher aspiration - "Lead me in the way everlasting." (v. 24.) May each beloved child of God be found sitting loose from the entanglements of this poor world, and "press toward the mark for the prize of the calling on high of God in Christ Jesus." W. T. Whybrow.