TWO extremes meet in this Psalm: man's sinful misery, sinful helplessness, and God's rich mercy, mercy to the uttermost. And it is this meeting that so glorifies God, and comforts all who are met in their evil cases. The psalmist expresses his own painful experience. He says that his days are consumed like smoke, his bones are burned as a hearth, all moisture is gone, his spirit dried up. He has cried so loudly and so much that he is exhausted: " By reason of the voice of my groaning, my bones cleave to my skin." The idea of an extreme case of weakness and exhaustion we have before us here. Like a pelican of the wilderness, like an owl of the desert, he watches to see if God will come; he watches as a sparrow alone upon the house top. Is he unobserved? No. Enemies look at him, watch for his halting: "Mine enemies reproach me all the day, and they that are mad against me are sworn against me." Every child of God has enemies--the men of his own house, and the devil; and each one, like the psalmist, in his own measure can say that he has eaten ashes like bread, and mingled his drink with weeping. All this the psalmist refers to God's dealings with him; this is observable, and to be observed. "Because of Thine indignation and Thy wrath; for Thou hast lifted me up and cast me down." Faith will always, as strengthened by God, refer afflictions to Him. You who have faith will do this from time to time. You get past all second causes, lose sight of your enemies, of the Sabeans, the Amalekites, the destructive wind, and the consuming fire, and refer everything to God. And as realizing what sin has done in you, and is ever doing, you will find yourselves very sensible of deserving wrath to the uttermost. No excuses are left us, no accusations against God are permitted. His dealings with us are just dealings: "Thine anger, Thy wrath, these I deserve. Thou hast lifted me up in Thy mercy; Thou hast cast me down in Thy solemn dealings with me." "So my days are like a shadow that declineth, and I am withered like grass." He keeps before us, as before himself, his withered, dried up condition, so that he has to say of himself and us, "Now there is no hope of a reviving, except God display a miracle of grace, and work it in us." Can you go with him? One thing stays him evidently in the midst of all this desolation--the eternity of God: "But Thou, O Lord, shalt endure for ever." (Ps. 9:7) Did you ever feel the eternity of God a support to your sinking heart? "Thou remainest." This is more than once set forth in the Scripture. In the Hebrews the Spirit says: "The heavens are the works of Thy hands: they shall perish, but Thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment:...but Thou art the same, and Thy years shall not fail." (Heb. 1:11,12) If you get this by the Spirit into the hand of your faith, you will perceive there is somewhat to support you; more to sustain you in God than there can be to depress and dismay you in yourself and in providence.
This brings me to the point which is in the text: "Thou shalt arise"--Thou, who art unchangeable, who hast made a covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; Thou, who wilt not break Thy covenant, nor alter the thing that has gone out of Thy lips; (Ps. 89:34) Thou, whose love is the same, and cannot be affected by the unfaithfulness and the backslidings of those who are the objects of it,--Thou shalt arise and have mercy upon Zion; for the time to favour her, yea, the set time, is come." (Ps. 102:13) When God shall arise, we shall know it. When He comes to an individual, a sinful person beloved of Him, then it shall be known in the heart. When God arises, there is something seen, something done; when He speaks, there is a hearing of what He says. And this is what the Lord will do: He will arise, and have mercy. Here, then, is that other extreme that shall meet the extreme of our own evil case,--the mercy of the Lord, which "endureth for ever." One evidence of this is that the servants of God "take pleasure in her stones, and favour the dust thereof." That is, God's servants shall show a real, warm, consuming zeal for the good of the church; that there shall be in their ministry such life and unction as shall do good to all who hear them. "So the heathen shall fear the Name of the Lord, and all the kings of the earth Thy glory. When the Lord shall build up Zion, He shall appear in His glory." The church of God is the center of creation and of the world, the center of all God's interest. Happy he who is in the church of God. He has reproved kings for her sake. For her He wrought a miracle day by day and night by night for 40 years; for He was with the church in the wilderness. For her sake He gave that wondrous day of Pentecost, and gathered in thousands in one day; sent the apostles forth, and called numberless Gentiles into His church. How wonderfully fulfilled in a large measure is that chapter we were reading, (Isa. 60) of the Gentiles coming into the church of the living God! The church of God has ever been His dearest object. And we have still this great promise, that the Lord shall arise upon Zion, and His glory shall be seen upon her.
And in this glory is this great thing of the text. A destitute person, naked and hungry, hopeless and helpless, shall pray; and his prayer shall be regarded, and not despised. Never shall a sinner who is led sincerely to confess and forsake his sin, and cry to God out of his destitution, hear a reproach from Him. His conscience will reproach him, men may reproach him, his circumstances may reproach him; many things may say to him, "You have brought yourself into this condition;" and he will own it, he will own it in secret much more than in public. And yet that God to whom he is led, to whom he prays, will never utter a reproach, never despise his prayer; but graciously and tenderly regard it.
We have, then, in the first place, to notice destitution; 2nd, what the destitute does--he prays; and then, 3rd, observe what is said respecting God: "He will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise his prayer;" and what may be intended is so gracious a word.
First, there is the poor, destitute person. Destitution here means nakedness and want, absolute poverty; a person exposed to death, because he has no resource; none whatever, either in himself or in any other creature. He is, in himself and in respect of others, perfectly abject, indigent; and if help does not come, if God does not have mercy upon him, then he must lie down and die. What does this import to us? It does not import a natural, literal destitution and nakedness. Comparatively few ever come within a description of this sort literally. But it imports this, a condition of soul, a state of feeling, an experience before God. Whether we answer to it God knows. There are many fears respecting this destitution in the mind of him who is destitute, and his prayer is this, "Leave not my soul destitute."--"Leave me not naked and bare and empty of this, 'Take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.'" If we are destitute of the Spirit, we answer to that fearful word in Jude: "Sensual, having not the Spirit," simply earthly; and that, spoken of a sinful person, means everything that is bad. Do you fear being destitute of the Spirit? Is there any religion worth the having, of which He is not the Author and the Supporter? The Spirit of God is the first Person in the Trinity to come to a sinner, as to his experience; because He it is by whom the soul is born again. It is His regenerating breath that brings divine life into the soul that was dead in trespasses and sins. Therefore, if we be destitute of the Spirit, there is nothing in the whole creation that can make up that lack, or be a substitute for it, nothing. And when a child of God realizes more death than life, more motion earthward and hellward than heavenward and Christward; when he feels a lumpish, inert thing in respect of God and His things, then he may greatly fear this fearful thing,--destitution in respect of the Spirit, and so also of faith. Faith is not always in lively exercise. I wish it were, in my own soul and in your souls, you who fear God. And when faith is not in lively exercise, there is another principle at work, that is, unbelief; and this just carries the soul away from God, shuts it up to self and something base, brings leanness and barrenness, confusion and hardness of heart. It brings the person toward some carnal satisfaction; and though God allows it not to prevail, yet the tendency is in that direction.
"Destitute" of the Spirit of grace and of supplications. You may keep up the form, but O, if you have not the Spirit of prayer, you do not approach God; there is no laying of a bad case before His divine Majesty. "Destitute" of love--love, that golden chain that binds you to the cross along with faith; that makes the Lord Jesus the best of all, more precious than fine gold, more excellent than the mountains of prey, beautiful and glorious in His Person, comely and excellent in His fruitfulness; beautiful to a sinner as the only Refuge, desirable as the only Foundation. Love is a wonderful grace; it is born of God's love to a sinner. It is not something that a sinner can vamp up in his own mind, and call by the beautiful name, love. It is a grace that comes from heaven, born of the love of God: "We love Him, because He first loved us." Iniquity abounding causes this blessed grace to wax cold. Is it burning in any of you this morning? Can you say, "Jesus, I love Thy charming Name?" "Destitute" of humility. It is easier to talk humility than to live it; easier to say you are a dog, a beast, than to feel so in your experience in secret before God. Our religious talk may be no true measure of our real experience. Humbleness of mind, esteeming others better than yourself, taking gladly the lowest place, feeling that the least of all the mercies of God is bigger unspeakably than you deserve; that His hand, if heavy upon you, is exacting of you less than your iniquities deserve--O, this spirit, so beautiful in the eyes of God, is a rare thing in our experience. Yet it is desired. "Destitute" of zeal for the glory of God, zeal for the maintenance of divine truth, zeal that the Name of Christ should be exalted, and be very high above all others. "Destitute" of patience under God's dealings with you.
Well, I think I could very easily fill up the whole of our time this morning in setting out before you destitution; and I could do it out of one particular book, that is, my own experience. But let what I have said suffice.
2nd. Now it is written of the destitute, that he prays. Can he do other? Must he not do this? Must he not rise at midnight, and beg for Bread? Can he do other than pray? Though he may feel he has no spirit of prayer, yet can he do other than seek the face of God? Where is his hope? Who can give to him what he needs, and what he must have, to preserve life? Only God; therefore he prays. Necessity is on him, he must do it; it is with him, cry or die. This is the way he must go: "Call upon Me in the day of trouble." (Ps. 50:15) "Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it." "Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life." Pray for this. Is necessity on you to pray? You cannot help it, if you are a living soul with this sense of destitution upon you. There it is, a real thing; not some imaginary trouble, but a real thing in your heart. You want, you need, something to preserve life, and God only has that something; He only can give it to you; so you pray. It is a good thing that prayer can very well be without words; a good thing if we believe this, and are not too solicitous about saying something. If the heart speaks, that is enough. It is enough for every private person, though not enough, of course, when one has to speak before others. If the heart speaks, it will speak wherever you are and however engaged; when destitution presses on your soul, when it is so that you must either get bread and relief from heaven, or die in your sins.
He prays, and how? In one way only: "If ye shall ask anything in My Name." That is the way. This the apostle sets out in the Hebrews: "Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living Way, which He hath consecrated for us through the veil, that is to say, His flesh; and having an High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near." This is the way. God has opened it; a gate that shall never be shut by day or by night, because the forces of the Gentiles are to come in. This is the only way that God approves, and in which He sees, with mercy and love, a sinner. Do you so pray? It does not matter what you say, how you go else, there is no acceptance; your prayers will never enter heaven with acceptance if they are offered in any other name or way; but if in this way you go, then you are accepted, "accepted in the Beloved." The gospel plan is very beautiful and very acceptable to the heart when discovered by the Holy Spirit; namely,
The halt, the maimed, the blind, the poor, these, these are welcome. How welcome you cannot possibly express, you cannot believe. The destitute prays, and he prays honestly, does not cover up things; he confesses and forsakes his sin, confesses that he is in a wretched case; but he says, "Lord, though I have brought myself into it, Thou art able to bring me out of it." He prays with all his heart: "I beseech Thee, O Lord, send now prosperity." "Say unto my soul, I am thy Salvation."
3rd. "He will regard" this person. What is this regard? The gracious and tender reception of his prayer. It is God's wonderful way of showing Himself to a sinner, that He receives his humble prayer, receives it graciously, has no grudge against the sinner, no complaint against him, no reproach to utter against him, no frown to send him away, nothing to repel him, as he is humbly and tremblingly approaching the Throne of grace; but a kind reception. It is called lovingkindness, kindness lovingly expressed. Did you ever find this? It means that God will answer that prayer that is sent to Him out of a broken heart by a destitute person. Answered prayer is one of the best evidences that you can have of being a child of God. Answered prayer will be a jewel in your heart, a ring on your finger, a comfort in your mind, peace in your conscience; it will excite love and praise to Him who has granted you the answer. Then you will say, "Though I feared I regarded iniquity in my heart, I now know that I did not so regard it, as expressed in that word in the Psalm; because God has heard my prayer, and has not turned away His mercy from me." What a wonderful thing it is to have an answered prayer! Just for God to have said to you, "Be it unto you even as you will.--You have come to Me for pardon; behold, here it is. For justification you have prayed: I justify the ungodly. For sanctification you have come: 'Sanctify them through Thy truth; Thy Word is truth.' (John 17:17) For help, for deliverance, for supplies, for mercy, for comfort, you have come"--He gives them all out, and the sinner by faith receives them. "He will regard"--take notice of, kindly listen to--"the prayer of the destitute."
A destitute person, then, is a very favored person. He is so favored he shall not be ashamed. And when it is said that God is not ashamed to be called the God of this destitute one; that the Lord Jesus is not ashamed to call him brother; and that the Holy Ghost is not ashamed of him, but comes to him with His infallible witness, is it not a wonder of sovereign grace? Is it not a wonder of eternal love, a wonder of the efficacy of himself, and ashamed to lift up his face to God, and blushed every time he thought of approaching the divine Majesty,--that this very person receives into his heart the adorable Trinity; and that great God, subsisting in Three Persons, is not ashamed of this sinner? When you get this experience you will say that the half of God's mercy and glory had never been told you. It is passing all words.
"And not despise their prayer." To despise is to hold in contempt. You despise a person on account of some conduct that is very reprovable, much to be reprobated; you have contempt for that person. Now, how God might have this contempt for us! You cannot have read with any care the history of Israel of old, and not have observed how continually those people departed from the living God. Beginning with idolatry soon after they left Egypt, worshipping the golden calf and dancing to it, making merry and saying, "These be thy gods, O Israel, that brought thee out of Egypt;" and going on, throughout their history, idolatry was one of their grievous sins. Do you know anything about that sort of conduct, O Christian? Do you enter at all into it? Is the apostle's experience, as expressed in Romans 7, anything like yours? Can you say, "I know that too well, too painfully. I do not the good I would; I do the evil I would not." Then how often you despise yourself! What a wonder it is that God does not despise you! that He does not turn us away from the Throne of His heavenly grace, when we have been guilty of such iniquities! But He does not; nor does He despise our prayer, nor turn us away and say, "I will have no more to do with you."
The eternity of God comes in here. His eternity imports His immutability. His immutability runs into His grace, into His covenant, into His promises; and therefore He turns not away. Hence that beautiful scripture, "I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed." (Mal. 3:6) Is that your reason for being what you are today,--a sinner with a living hope in the mercy of God? Is it your experimental reason? You say, "I am always changing. I am hot and cold in half and hour. I seek the Lord, and I turn away from Him. I trust Him, and I disbelieve all He has said. I hang upon Him, and yet I lean to myself." He says, "I change not. I loved you freely, I love you still." "Thou shalt endure for ever." His covenant enters into this great matter: "I will put My law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know Me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." (Jer. 31:33,34; Heb. 8:10-12)
"And not despise their prayer." He will not turn His back on them. "They have turned unto Me the back, and not the face,--but I will not turn My back on them." And by two immutable things the Lord will give evidence of this for our consolation and confirmation; namely, His gracious promise and His oath: "Because He could swear by no greater, He sware by Himself saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee."
But has this anything to do with us today? O yes. Hence we read in the verse following the text: "This shall be written for the generation to come; and the people which shall be created shall praise the Lord." All who shall follow the psalmist, all who shall come, in the last days, to have this same mercy manifested to them,--they shall be as destitute as the church of old was, and they shall have the same mercy and the same kind reception, the same hearing of their prayers and the same full answers to them. And so we have the same. May the Lord give it to us in feeling, and may we find great encouragement in this scripture. Two extremes, as I said, meet here: an extremely wicked person, a destitute, withered creature, a soul lacking those things which it desires to possess, and lacking them through sin; so that he says of himself, "All that I am and all that I have, I am and have through sin:" and a good God, whose mercy endureth for ever. And should we be brought into destitution feelingly, and then favored with this strong crying to God, then we should find this word to be true in our experience, "He will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer."
Now one word in conclusion. It is the glory of God to do this thing, "When the Lord shall build up Zion, He will appear in His glory." Think of it. When you kneel before the Lord your Maker, when you confess your sins, when He draws you, and you go to Him, and get near to Him, then there is His glory. And what does it do? It covers you: "Thy God thy glory." How does it cover you? In an answer. You say, "I have not as yet had it." Wait for it, it must come. "They shall not be ashamed that wait for Me." They may, will be, ashamed of their weakness, because it is sinful; of their want, because it is self procured; but not ashamed of praying, not ashamed of Him on whom and for whom they wait. "They shall not be ashamed that wait for Me." And one day it will be seen and acknowledged that this is true, remarkably, beautifully true, that the glory of God really was where a sinner was found confessing his sins and humbly seeking undeserved mercy at the hands of God, who had been offended. May it please the Lord to bring us into an experience of destitution--we are destitute whether we feel it or not; and when we are in that experience, to pour upon the Spirit of grace and of supplications, and answer us. Amen.