"Hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe; and I will have respect unto Thy statutes continually." (Psalm 119:117)
Now, before taking the text under three or four heads, observe how these words insist on, and set before us, the fact of the entire helplessness of the sinner. No man ever more thoroughly understood this than David: he practically felt the necessity for pouring forth such a petition as this, under a deep sense of his own utter weakness, and knowing that salvation and safety were only in and of the Lord!
The people of God are such silly children, and (is it too strong a term to use?) are continually such fools, that we are only safe and only wise as we are held up, preserved, and kept by the Lord. "So foolish was I, and ignorant: I was a beast before Thee." (Ps. 73:22) In our English version it is put, "as a beast;" but this spoils the force of the passage, for it is not a simile, but it is the pointive statement of a fact, and in the Hebrew, is thus:--"So foolish was I, and ignorant: I was a beast before THEE!"
How many are there around me here, who have been schooled to know and to bewail their own depravity and vileness? The man really taught of God knows what sin is, and feels the burden of it. David had deeply fallen: he was a murderer and an adulterer; and he was also a broken-hearted penitent: he felt and he bewailed his guilt and sin, and he earnestly and sincerely was made to pray, "Hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe: and I will have respect unto Thy statutes continually."
Sin brings its own rod, and David felt and smarted under a keen and bitter sense of it: he was "sorry for his sin!" This was not mere profession: his heart cried, "Hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe: and I will have respect unto Thy statutes continually." He felt his own weakness and sinfulness, and that he was only safe as God held him up. "Hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe: and I will have respect unto Thy statutes continually."
First. I take the petition, the prayer,--"Hold Thou me up."
Second. The effect of that upholding--safety: "and I shall be safe." (And do we not all need safety and protection? Look at your enemies,--
"Mighty enemies without:
Much mightier within!"
And then the world, the flesh, the devil, and self!)
Third. That, being upheld and safe, in and by that upholding power, David declared, "I will have respect unto Thy statutes continually!"
In the last verse of this Psalm, the Psalmist confesses, "I have gone astray like a lost sheep: seek Thy servant, for I do not forget Thy commandments." (verse 176) And this is true of every child of God. We have again confessed this fact in the confession-prayer at the beginning of our service, and this refers to the elect of God!
I wonder if every professing churchman really understands that touching prayer in its true and mystic meaning! What words they are! They may be read, and they may be repeated; but a mere tongue-service will not do: it must be the heart-reality! And oh! the heart of man--the natural heart! What a picture of the heart we have in Matthew 15:19,20:--"For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: these are the things which defileth a man." And when we really know this and feel this for ourselves, and when the new heart has been given, and a new spirit put within us,--by which we realize the vileness of the carnal heart,--then this forces us to fly to Him to uphold us in the conflict. Do you feel this? Look at that passage in Psalm 119:176,--"I have gone astray like a lost sheep: seek Thy servant, for I do not forget Thy commandments." Mark the confession of sin: "I have gone astray like a lost sheep"--David had erred, and David had strayed away: and then his earnest cry,--"seek Thy servant, for I do not forget Thy commandments,"--he had broken them, he had disobeyed them; but despite all this, restoring mercy and unchanging love enabled him honestly to declare,--"For I do not forget Thy commandments." Sin made him wretched, and he was only happy when he was kept walking in God's tender fear and faith.
Someone has well said, the child of God should be transparent--that is, you must see through him: there must be no hypocrisy! In my own home-spot, when at times I have come into my church wearied and bowed down with my own sin and exercises, oh how hallowed, how precious has that confession-prayer been to me, as I have been beginning the service of the church!--"Almighty and most merciful Father; we have erred, and strayed from Thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against Thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done; and there is no health in us. But Thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare Thou them, O God, which confess their faults. Restore Thou them that are penitent; according to Thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for His sake, that we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, to the glory of Thy holy name. Amen." But, as I said before, it must be felt in and by the heart. "Hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe: and I will have respect unto Thy statutes continually."
First then, the petition, the prayer,--"Hold Thou me up." I want to be useful to you in preaching: and what does this prayer imply? Creature helplessness,--entire weakness. I think it is Philpot who has this idea,--"That before a sinner knows anything of self and the gospel, he must be made (as it were) to faint away!" We have no strength, no power of our own. "He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might, He increaseth strength." (Isa. 40:29) And in those words we have a sweet experimental test for ourselves. Are we faint? Do we want power? Have we no might? Do we need strength, and this increasingly so? Well, God giveth power and strength to such needy ones.
I believe that I have some honest souls around me here, and that the desire of your hearts is to ascertain your own interest in the love and blood of Jesus. Are you seeking a Saviour?--sorrowing and mourning for your sins? I was preaching to my home hearers last Lord's day, on these words: "Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou?" (John 20:15) Mary was weeping, and Mary was seeking for Jesus; and she wept because she could not find her Lord. What reality there is in such tears! What intense earnestness there is in such seeking! Are there any such weepers here? Any here so seeking the Lord? I take this to be one of the sweetest tests that you have been found of Him! Mary was one of the foulest of sinners! her's had been a life of sin! But He who came to seek and to save will never cast away one whom He has bought with His own precious blood! "The church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood." (Acts 20:28) And He, having purchased the church, will He suffer any to pluck that church, so purchased out of His hand? "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of My hand." (John 10:27,28)
Professors--mere professors--are the greatest enemies of the church. O yes! Here stands the Word of God! and nothing can alter, nothing can undermine that word;--"My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of My hand." Satan cannot do it; sin cannot do it; self cannot do it; nothing can do it. And if we--you and I--are only one for whom Christ died, and whom He hath bought with His own blood, nothing can ever damn such an one.
I was much exercised in the corner of that pew, and thrown between two texts, but the first hymn in the service set me free about it.
"O! for a closer walk with God!
A calm and heavenly frame;
A light to shine upon the road
That leads me to the Lamb.
"Where is the blessedness I knew,
When first I saw the Lord?
Where is the soul-refreshing view
Of Jesus and His word?
"What peaceful hours I once enjoyed!
How sweet their memory still!
But they have left an aching void
The world can never fill.
"Return, O holy Dove, return,
Sweet messenger of rest:
I hate the sins that made Thee mourn,
And drove Thee from my breast.
"The dearest idol I have known,
Whate'er that idol be,
Help me to tear it from Thy throne,
And worship only Thee.
"So shall my walk be close with God,
Calm and serene my frame:
So purer light shall mark the road
That leads me to the Lamb."
O yes! the idols must be torn away. We must have nothing to rest on here on earth!
And now, do I succeed in getting really into your hearts? Have you not felt ashamed when the Spirit has come into your souls, and when you have been really convinced of your own terrible sin, depravity, and corruption? O! has not the one cry been heard,--"Hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe: and I will have respect unto Thy statutes continually."
We are charged--but it is false--with preaching a doctrine that tends to licentiousness in practice, and viciousness in life! But the charge is false, and made in ignorance! Trouble and trial mark the Christian's pathway. "These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple: and He that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes." (Rev. 7:14-17)
We must be, day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment, upheld, or down we fall. Hence the needs-be of the prayer in the text:--"Hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe: and I will have respect unto Thy statutes continually." In Psalm 139, the last verse, we have this petition--"Lead me in the way everlasting." O that leading! that guiding! and feelingly and experimentally to know the necessity of and for it! We cannot go a step alone without falling into mischief or into some sin! We cannot go alone. Hence, when we know this experimentally; our cry must be that of the text--"Hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe: and I will have respect unto Thy statutes continually."
Now mark me; you and I know that we have each a besetting sin; and the only recipe for such is "Looking unto Jesus." O! that "Looking!" Mind, it is the present participle! There is a great deal in the grammar of the word. "Looking!" It implies a great deal. A constant look. O! to have the eye always fixed on Christ: to look at and to Him. And then another look: the look of Christ on Peter. "And the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny Me thrice. And Peter went out, and wept bitterly." (Luke 22:61,62) O! how much there is in such a look! A look of reproof! A look which strikes shame and sorrow into a poor erring Peter's soul. O! how keenly he felt it; how he trembled beneath the power of it. How much there is in the language of the eye: how powerfully, though silently, it speaks its power, stronger often than the accents of the tongue. The look! the look at Christ, and the look of Christ on His people. And also,--"They looked unto Him, and were lightened: and their faces were not ashamed." (Ps. 34:5) O! when a sinner can look to Jesus, how it lightens the heavy burden! but when He hides His face, all then is darkness! We can see no light then: it is the midnight of the believer's soul! "Hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe: and I will have respect unto Thy statutes continually."
What a mercy it is that God makes us trust in Him, and under a sense of our own weakness forces out the cry--"God be merciful to me a sinner," or as in the text--"Hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe; and I will have respect unto Thy statutes continually." The carnal professor never so cries! The more canting gossip knows nothing of this!
David knew how he needed the upholding hand of God. What a mercy feelingly to know our need of being so upheld! To feel our weakness, our dependence, our entire need of Christ! The proud professor can always walk (as he vainly boasts) in the light! "Moab hath been at ease from his youth, and he hath settled on his lees, and hath not been emptied from vessel to vessel, neither hath he gone into captivity; therefore his taste remained in him, and his scent is not changed." (Jer. 48:11) Mark these vast words: that being at ease--that settling on the lees--that not being emptied from vessel to vessel--that not going into captivity--and then the effect of all this! O! the force of that "therefore,"--"therefore his taste remained in him, and his scent is NOT changed!" But the sinner who "has been emptied from vessel to vessel," and who knows what captivity is--feelingly knows how he needs, moment by moment, the upholding power of the ETERNAL GOD, and the practical experience of--"Hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe; and I will have respect unto Thy statutes continually." What a reality it is to know the narrow pathway--"Troubled on every side, yet not distressed: perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken: cast down, but not destroyed. Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body." (2 Cor. 4:8-10)
Let me repeat again those striking words--"Moab hath been at ease from his youth, and he hath settled on his lees, and hath not been emptied from vessel to vessel, neither hath he gone into captivity; therefore his taste remained in him, and his scent is not changed." Have you and I been made to know the reality of the new birth?--the birth from above; or does the old taste remain and is the scent not changed? There is no such thing as a change of heart; but has the new heart been given, and the new spirit been put within us?--"A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you;" (Ezek. 36:26)--and hence comes the conflict between flesh and spirit--"The great temptations which thine eyes saw, and the signs, and the wonders, and the mighty hand, and the stretched out arm, whereby the Lord thy God brought thee out; so shall the Lord thy God do unto all the people of whom thou art afraid." (Deut. 7:19) Mark the great temptations, and the signs, and the wonders! and then the deliverances by the MIGHTY POWER OF GOD! What a secret is the Gospel! What a mystery! Christ thanked His Father for the revelation of this mystery in the hearts of His own people--"At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight." (Matt. 11:25,26)
Now, what do we each know of this? We may be on the very verge of eternity! Are we really seeking a Saviour? Seeking to know Him as our own Saviour? That is the point? Mary was seeking Him, and this in tears--how in earnest she was! and what must have been the feeling of her soul when she realize the power of those memorable words--"Jesus saith unto her, Mary!"--there was power then--"Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto Him, Rabboni, which to say, Master. Jesus saith unto her, Touch Me not; for I am not yet ascended to My Father: but go to My brethren, and say unto them I ascend unto My Father, and your Father; and My God, and your God. Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and He had spoken these things unto her." (John 20:16-18) Oh! see the union between Christ and His Church--"My Father and your Father, and My God and your God!" And who can tell but that it may now please the same gracious Redeemer so to reveal Himself to some seeking sinner now in this house of prayer--some weeping Mary--some seeking poor one here, and thus to give peace and comfort to your hearts! Oh! that it may now be so, and in this is the very test of the ministry, when God is graciously pleased to speak by and through us into the hearts of "His own elect," and by our feeble instrumentality to seal the truth of the glorious gospel of Christ, with power upon your souls. So much then for the first point--"Hold Thou me up."
Secondly. The effect of that upholding--"and I shall be safe." "Salvation is of the Lord!" O! to know this for ourselves!--
"Poor child, maternal love alone,
Preserves thee first and last;
Thy parent's arms, and not thy own,
Are those that hold thee fast."
It is a mercy to know our own weakness, frailty, and vileness, and also to rest upon the upholding strength and power of God. "By grace are ye saved," and grace reigns--conquering; sin--subduing self--vanquishing the devil!--"But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Cor. 15:57)
It has been well observed by a faithful young clergyman of the Church of England, that--"A Christian man may fall many times in grace, but he cannot ever fall finally from grace!" David fell, but David is in heaven!
"There David shines without a stain,
Uriah's blood can ne'er be known,
For like a millstone in the main,
Are all his black transgressions thrown.
Rehab the harlot loved by Thee,
Shall never sink to Tophet's flame;
When Jesus suffered on the tree,
The Book of Life contained her name."
And then Kent adds--and how many of us are there who can say the same--mark me!
"Then shall my soul in that great day,
Arise to life and joys divine;
And shine when worlds are fled away,
In that bright coronet of Thine!"
We are only safe in His upholding hand. We are surrounded by enemies!--the world, sin, self, Satan, carnal professors, and all those various perils of which Paul speaks, one of which is--"perils among false brethren," and then the persecution, and the trials, and the temptations, and the troubles, the deadness and often darkness of soul! and also the conflict between flesh and spirit, the old Adam and the new--surrounded by these, and sometimes all but sinking under them--our only refuge is in the strength and protection of Him who is "mighty to save." We can only struggle on as kept by the power of Him who is the captain of our salvation, and that captain who ever guards His people neither slumbers nor sleeps. But do we really know for ourselves anything of these dangers--trails--temptations? It is very easy to preach and to talk about such things; men may preach the doctrines, and people may hear the doctrines, but do we know the practical experience of the doctrines? Do we know what the temptations of the enemy really are? That great passage in Matthew 4:1, "Then was Jesus led up of the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil." Mark the words!--"Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit,"--and so to glean a thought here. We know not the temptations, nor the buffetings of the devil till the Spirit has begun the work of grace in our souls. Do you gather up a crumb in this?
And is it not a mercy, in all our temptations and conflicts with the devil, to know that in Christ we have a sympathizing Saviour, to succor and defend? for mark these precious words of Paul to the Hebrews:--"For in that He Himself hath suffered being tempted, He is able to succour them that are tempted." (Heb. 2:18) He "suffered being tempted!"
"Cold mountains and the midnight air
Witnessed the fervour of His prayer:
The desert Thy temptations knew,
Thy conflicts and Thy victories too."
And what a picture we have of our adorable and all-conquering Head, in Luke 4:13,--"And when the devil had ended all the temptation, he departed from Him for a season." Mark! departed from Him for a season." And is it not just so with His people? O! those words, "for a season." Also, as in Matthew 4:11, "Then the devil leaveth Him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto Him."
The poor exercised sinner knows well what that "departing for a season" means; and in these intervals we get a little peace and comfort, and then the enemy is allowed to come back more harassing than ever. But here is our safety:--"The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him, and delivereth them." (Ps. 34:7) "Hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe: and I will have respect unto Thy statutes continually." Who is that angel? "Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared." (Exod. 23:20) And who are the sinners round about whom the angel of the Lord encampeth? "Them that fear Him!" O! that tender fear! and to be kept walking in that fear!
Thirdly. "And I will have respect unto Thy statutes continually." Such must be the effect of God's upholding us; and as our safety consists in that, so the desire of our hearts will be "to have respect unto His statutes continually." "Hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe: and I will have respect unto Thy statutes continually."
May God bless His own word for Jesus Christ's sake. Amen.