How confidently David speaks in the words of our text, "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life." But what a difference do we find in the feelings and experience of the Psalmist. The words he utters here is a truth which he had proved to be a truth again and again. But how he differs in his language! Sometimes, he says, "LORD, by thy favour thou hast made my mountain to stand strong" so that I shall never be moved; and then again, "Thou didst hide thy face, and I was troubled." At another time, he says, "By thee have I run through a troop, and by my God have I leaped over a wall;" and then again, in deep exercise of soul, he cries out, "The enemy hath persecuted my soul; he hath smitten my life down to the ground; he hath made me to dwell in darkness, as those that have been long dead." Sometimes he says, "My lips shall praise thee, and I will bless thee while I live;" and, at another, "I am shut up, and cannot come forth."
Now what are we to say to these things? Was there any change of God? in the truth of God? in the power of God? in the mercy of God? in the goodness of God? in the faithfulness of God? No, no: but there was a great change in David. When he had not the enjoyment of these things by the sweet influence and operation of the Spirit of God in his heart, there was a great change in the feelings of his soul. And David says concerning those who know nothing of these things, "Because they have no changes, therefore they fear not God." (Ps. 55:19) Those who are without the teachings of God know nothing of their own emptiness, and of His fullness; of their own ignorance, and of Him as "the light of life;" of their own weakness, and of His power; of their own vileness, and of His preciousness: they never will, and they never can understand these changes.
But now, David says, "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life." I believe that he was under the sweet feelings and teachings of the "goodness and mercy" of God in his heart when he spake these words; and therefore, I believe they will stand for ever.
With God's help, we shall attempt tonight to say a few words, first, on the manifestation of God's goodness and mercy towards His chosen people; and secondly speak a little of its blessed effects, in enabling us to say, "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our life!"
I want to notice the "goodness and mercy" of God that has followed such of us here as have "tasted that the Lord is gracious;"--the "goodness and mercy" of God that has followed us from the days of our childhood, and in His own time and way has stopped us in our mad career of sin and folly, and has preserved us in all our wanderings, backslidings, and departures from Him to the present hour. The Apostle Peter speaks of stirring up the pure minds of God's people by way of remembrance: and God help both you and me, in looking backward and forward to see His hand in all things concerning us. God leads His people both backwards and forwards: His design in doing so is to bless His leadings and dealings with us, and bring to our remembrance His "goodness and mercy" in all His dispensations towards us. It is to humble us, and prove us, and show us what is in our hearts; and to make manifest that all His dealings with us are for our good and for His own glory.
1. What was it but "goodness and mercy" that stopped any of us from drinking in iniquity like the ox that drinketh in water?--from being swallowed up with the world, and its concerns, and at last sinking into hell? It was nothing but "goodness and mercy"--the great love of God that did it! "But God, who is rich in mercy, for the great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins." (Eph. 2:4,5) It is the "goodness and mercy" of God alone that stopped us. Are there not many of our relatives, and perhaps companions in sin, still remaining in the gall of bitterness, and in the bonds of iniquity? And why are we stopped? It is the "goodness and mercy" of God that has done it; as says the Apostle: "And such were some of you; but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified, in the name of Christ, and by the Spirit of our God." (1 Cor. 6:11) And O, when God blessedly brings this to our remembrance, and gives us to see His power, His grace, His lovingkindness and His tender mercy, we cannot but say, "By the grace of God I am what I am." (1 Cor. 15:10)
2. The "goodness and tender mercy" of God has followed us, in cutting up and putting a stop to our going about to establish a righteousness of our own. Though it may be very cutting to flesh and blood, yet it is nothing but "goodness and mercy" towards us. For such is God's love to His church and people, that they can never come with approbation into His presence but in His beloved Son. There is no access to God but in and through Christ. But our heart has tried, and our flesh and blood often tries hard still, to get something to come before God with, whereby it hopes to meet with His approbation and favor. But when the soul comes to see his own unworthiness, and feels the holiness and majesty of God, he is cut off from expecting anything whatever from himself. He is without holiness, and he feels he cannot obtain it. He tries hard to get holy thoughts and holy feelings; to be humble and free from sin; to be more watchful; to be free from everything inconsistent; to be more constant in reading and in prayer: and then, he thinks if he could but accomplish all this, he might have something to please God with, and have hope that God would be merciful to him. But, instead of this, God makes him feel the very contrary; he finds that he has no more cause or hope in and of himself than from the devil.
A child of God feels his poverty, his wretchedness, his guilt, and his misery; and when he looks in his heart, and sees these things, he says, 'What "goodness and mercy" of God can there be in this--to bring me to see and feel so much filthiness, vileness, and barrenness?' But God overrules all these things to my soul--not only to bring him to feel that he has no righteousness of his own, but that he may plead the righteousness of Christ by faith--that he may never cry to, or hope in God for any ground of mercy but in Christ. So he pants after Christ's righteousness, and longs to be clothed in it. God keeps him from trusting for acceptance to anything else but to the robe of Christ's righteousness. He puts a stop to his coming to Him in any other robe but this. Sometimes the soul thinks the righteousness of Christ will never come to him: but it will in God's own time. Hear what He says, "I bring near my righteousness; it shall not be far off, and my salvation shall not tarry; and I will place salvation in Zion for Israel my glory." (Isa. 46:13) The "goodness and mercy" of God has followed His people, and will continue to follow them until the end. He will strengthen them by giving them to feel their standing in the righteousness of Christ. They will pant after it, and long to be clothed in it; they will not want to have a righteousness of their own, but to have "the righteousness which is of God by faith." (Phil. 3:9) When the soul is blessed with a sweet apprehension of it--when he has a sweet hope in his dear Lord and Saviour, as his righteousness, peace, salvation, and glory--when he feels the Holy Spirit bearing witness to his heart that he stands complete in Christ--then how "goodness and mercy" breaks his heart, how it engages his affections, and draws up his feelings and desires in adoration and love to his God!
3. "Goodness and mercy" has followed us all the days of our lives, in delivering us from our idols. And such of us as know God have proved it to be so; and such as know him not, are ignorant concerning it. A man may come to hear and listen to what the minister says; he may be able to tell whether his speech is correct or not, and whether it will bear measuring and squaring with the letter of God's truth; and yet all the time be ignorant of the power of it in his heart. Bless you, I do not regard what people may say about me. I know God's truth will come to the hearts of His own people: it will be heart to heart, and soul to soul: for the Head and the members are united together in one spirit. The Lord will bring His people to know that His "goodness and mercy" has followed them in delivering them from their idols.
What silly fools God's people are! While there is no object that can be the center of their soul's delight, but the Lord Himself, yet such is their weakness and folly, that more than half their time they are employed in setting up some idol or other in their heart. But God will not have it so. He says, "I am a jealous God;" and "Thou shalt have no other gods but me." Sometimes the soul obeys; and finds that he wants no other object but God Himself. At other times, he is setting up idols, and raising up one idolatrous object after another in his heart; though all the while he may read his Bible with his family, go to prayer, ask God to cleanse him from all his idols, and that he may have no other object of delight but God. Yet, half his time, I say, he is setting up some idol or another--child, husband, or wife--business--or something of a fleshly nature swallows up his attention and pleases his heart. He is ready to dance around some golden calf that attracts him, like Israel of old, and concerning which he says in his heart, if not in word, "These are thy gods, O Israel!" But God will not allow this. He says, "I will cleanse you from all your idols." He empties His people from vessel to vessel; He cuts them off from every other object but Himself, one after another. And the child of God while passing through these exercises, looks at them more in wrath and anger than "goodness and mercy." He cannot think he can be brought to adore and worship God by a way that produces in him nothing but bondage and misery. I have looked at Jacob hundreds of times. Poor dear old man, when he saw the spotted coat of his darling son covered and besmeared with blood, and they wanted to take away his beloved Benjamin from him, he little thought the "goodness and mercy" of God was leading him. He says, "Joseph is not; and Simeon is not; and will ye take away Benjamin also?" He could not view the "goodness and mercy" of God in all this. But, at last, he was brought to see the wondrous mercy, goodness, and love of his covenant God! He gave him to see such riches of mercy in the hands of his Father as filled his soul with rapture and delight! He saw that "goodness and mercy" had followed him "all the days of my life!"
Come, you and I perhaps are here. We have had a good many right eyes and right arms cut off; and we may have twisted and twirled under these trying dispensations. But without them, where should we have been? We should have been manifested as nothing but presumptuous hypocrites. God will make manifest our religion. If it is of His setting up in our heart, we shall come like poor groaning prisoners, and say, "O Lord, I am oppressed; undertake thou for me!" (Isa. 38:14) But, has there ever been one idol too many cut off? Has not "goodness and mercy" brought you to say in the end that all is well! God has never suffered us to sink into despair. No; He has not, and He never will. He will bring us to renounce all our idols, and say, "Other lords have had dominion over us; but by thee only will we make mention of thy name." (Isa. 26:13) God loves His people dearly; and He brings them to love Him dearly. He loves them like the father does the child, or the husband the wife; and so they meet together, and, I had like to have said, kiss and embrace each other. When this is the case, how we can bless and praise God for His "goodness and mercy" in cleansing, purifying, and delivering us from all our idols. The Lord has brought us here again and again; and many times we have been enabled to say, "Hitherto hath the Lord helped us!" And let me tell you if you have any idol standing between God and your soul,--if you are setting your affections upon anything more than upon God Himself, God will cut it off and destroy it. He will cleanse you from all your idols, and cut them down to the earth; He will make all your gourds to wither and perish in a moment. Is it not right that He should? Shall the blessed Son of God sweat great drops of blood for sin, and shall He suffer His beloved spouse for whom He has died, to hug up and carry idols in her heart and bosom? No, no. God will not allow any other object but His own blessed self to have and keep possession of our hearts. He is the chiefest among ten thousand, and the altogether lovely. There is no love like His. We must leave husband, wife, houses, lands, and everything else in comparison with Him, and come to Christ as the supreme object of our soul's delight.
4. "Goodness and mercy" has followed us all the days of our life in supplying our needs. But, I must say, (if one may speak for the rest), it has not been for my faithfulness, for my watchfulness, for my submission, nor for my patience. God supplies our needs, spiritual and temporal, out of His "goodness and mercy." But when God as a Father, as a wise parent, is pleased to smite me, and try me in His providential dispensations,--what with carnal risings us I feel in my heart, and am ready to say, "All these things are against me!" He is as a bear lying in wait, and as a lion in secret places. He has pulled me in pieces, and laid me desolate. He has filled me with bitterness, and made me drunken with wormwood. He has broken my teeth with gavel stones, and has covered me with ashes. 'Aye,' says the devil and unbelief, 'where is your religion now? where is your faith now? where are all your testimonies of God's love--where are all your boastings of joy and peace--where are all your rejoicings in God as a Father now?' When God takes you by the collar, as Job says, and shakes you to pieces in His providential dealings, and you cannot see any way of deliverance, but everything is dark, trying, and perplexing; and whilst others are doing well, all things seem to be going against you: and at such a time a text perhaps will rise up in your mind like "Pray not for this people for their good;" and, "The prayer of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord." I say, many a time when I have felt these things my soul has nearly sunk into despair, and I have thought I should never be supplied again, either in body or soul.
But, has not the need of every day been supplied? When the soul has been sinking, and sometimes ready to give all up, a word like this may have come into the heart, "Seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened;" and yet, instead of feeling any deliverance, we may for a time have sunk deeper and deeper, yea, almost to despair. But God will appear in His own time, though it be in a way that flesh and blood could never imagine, in a way we never could have found out, and in a path we never yet have known. There is not a path that God's people have to travel, but He will open a way for them. He will make good His blessed promise, "As thy day is, so shall thy strength be." (Deut. 33:25) Have you never been here? I have, again and again, and that year after year. Bless His precious name, He does appear, and He will appear for His people; but not according to the dictates of flesh and blood. He will mortify the pride of our heart, and bring us to know that no hand but His own has supplied our wants. He will do it to the honor of His great Name. He will bring us with humility, meekness, and humbleness to His feet, to give Him all the glory. Not but what God can manage without our meekness and humbleness; but it is the humble and meek He is pleased to look on with favor; yea, He tells us that the meek and lowly in spirit are in His sight of great price.
O what "goodness and mercy" it is, that the Lord should have supplied, in His own time and way, such discontented, rebellious, and ungrateful worms as we are with everything we really need! The Lord says, "Have ye lacked anything?" No; blessed be His name, He has relieved my poor soul scores of times, my soul has been often filled with discontent and wretchedness, when I could not see how to provide for this, or provide for that; I have wanted to look forward, and see it all clear for six weeks or six months to come; and because I could not, I have found such rebellion, fretfulness, and peevishness, that I have felt myself to be the vilest sinner upon earth! But, the moment the Lord comes into my heart, and speaks powerfully within, "My grace is sufficient for thee" it humbles my soul, cuts me down, and brings me into submission to God's blessed will and pleasure. It is all well, then; my soul is lifted up with wonder and delight. And I tell you what this will do for you--and what it never does in the heart of a natural man--it will lead you to repentance, a repentance not to be repented of. The natural man will never be led to repentance by all his profession of religion; it must be God's "goodness and mercy" shining into his heart that can alone lead him to repentance. But when contrition and repentance comes into the heart of the child of God, He will no longer distrust his God--such a faithful, covenant-keeping God. He will not quarrel with the dealings of such a Father and Friend--such a merciful, kind, and gracious Father; but repentance in his heart will bring him into the mind and will of Christ. "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus." (Phil. 2:5) The "goodness and mercy" of God breaks our heart--and gives us to see how He has supplied our needs--how He has stood by us--and how He has supported us when sinking. And His "goodness and mercy" will so cleave to our hearts, and so bring us to cleave to the Lord, as to desire from our very soul to live only to His honor and glory.
5. It is the "goodness and mercy" of God which has followed us, and delivered us out of all our straits, griefs, and difficulties. The Lord deals differently with His people; some of His children are led into much deeper trials and sorrows than others; but He leads them all in a way which He sees to be right. Many a child of God is so worried by the devil, and the workings of his own heart, as often to doubt whether he has had any deliverance at all; and many have had to wait for years before they have had a full deliverance: but, in the end, "perfect love casteth out fear, because fear hath torment." Not that there is any imperfection in the love of God: the love of God is perfect; and when the love of God is shed abroad in the heart by the power of the Holy Ghost, the soul can no more doubt it than he can his own existence. No, no; he cannot doubt it then; it is all well then. It was all well before; but the weakling of God's flock not having "perfect love" in exercise to bring it out, and say, "Abba Father"--"My Lord and my God!"--he thought he had not felt a particle of God's delivering power.
You have had the delivering power of God in taking you away from under the dominion of sin, so that you can no more walk under its power and dominion as formerly. The power of God has delivered you out of this horrible pit and miry clay; and brought you, as Peter says, to "taste that the Lord is gracious." And this very tasting of the graciousness and mercy of God has caused a springing up of hope and an expectation in God which shall never be cut off. Wait upon Him, and by and by the Lord will bless you with peace and liberty and deliverance from all your bondage. The Lord loves such a waiting soul as this. "He taketh pleasure in his people; in them that hope in his mercy." Well, such a soul as this, who has tasted this rich mercy, and thought it scarcely possible that the Lord could show favor--who has had hope raised up in the mercy of God, begins now to praise, bless, adore, and admire his God for His "goodness and mercy." After this, the devil will come and harass him by telling him that his hope is cut off, and that he will perish after all. But his hope is not destroyed, it is only deferred. The grace of hope has been put into his heart by the "God of hope;" it has entered within the veil: and the anchor lies deep within out of the raging and foaming waves that surround it. And when the soul comes to see this hope hanging upon the Lord, and feels His love and glory, he knows it is from the "goodness and mercy" of God. The very effect of it shows that it comes from God. Your hope does not depend or hang upon your goodness, or what you can do; but upon the "goodness and mercy," lovingkindness and faithfulness of God.
Sometimes my wife says, 'You are a very strange man, John. I cannot tell what is the matter with you: you seem to be one thing in the pulpit, and quite another out of it. In the pulpit all seems right and straight with you: you say, God hath delivered, does deliver, and will deliver. But when Monday comes, you are so different. Has God altered since Sunday?' No, no; God has not altered; but poor old John has altered. This is the matter. Well, so it appears; you seem to think now that you have got to the end of all--that all is shut up and dark,--and no Lord to be found!
When Mary came to the sepulcher, and found the body of her dear Lord had been taken away, and laid where she knew not, she was in sorrow and distress: but when Jesus came to her, and called her by name, she was filled with joy and delight, and her sorrow soon fled away. And so it is with us, let but Jesus look on, give us to feel that He is looking on, and we can see His glory going on before, then we can joyfully say, "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life." When God speaks this in the heart, we come into the mind and will of God, and can be doers of the will of God--God working in us "to will and to do of his good pleasure." We are not afraid of doing the will of God. It is not those who say, "Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name, and in thy name done many wonderful things?" that shall enter into the kingdom, but he that doeth the will of the Father which is in heaven. Nothing is more easy when deliverance is wrought in our souls, than for us to go out to God in feelings of confidence, love, joy, and praise, and crown Him Lord of all. We can say, then, "He that hath delivered, does deliver, and we trust will yet deliver."
God says, "He will satisfy his people with good things;" yea, says the Psalmist, "The Lord is good; a strong hold in the day of trouble, and he knoweth them that put their trust in him." Ay, bless His precious name, He will never turn away from showing goodness and mercy to His people. His truth endureth continually; and "his mercy is from everlasting to everlasting." (Ps. 103:17) So that He who has begun a good work in you, will carry it on, and complete it. It is His pleasure and will to deliver you out of all your bondage, straits, and difficulties. God help you to lay at His blessed feet, and leave tomorrow's cares and trials in His hands.
Our very judgment tells us that we cannot make one hair white or black. With all our fretting and sorrow we cannot alter one of God's purposes. God enable our souls to go with our judgments; for having a knowledge of it in our judgments, will never satisfy us, unless it come with the mighty power of God into our heart. What a blessing it is to be brought to lay at God's footstool as a helpless, undeserving creature, never to lay claim to any blessing, but looking for His "goodness and mercy" in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ! If you are here, you are as sure as God is God, to be answered in His own time; for, He says, "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee." And "he shall stand at the right hand of the poor," to deliver them out of their trouble. And so He will! It is His "goodness and mercy" that has begun the work in your heart; it is His "goodness and mercy" that has brought you to see every other object full of nothingness; it is His "goodness and mercy" that has brought you to cling to the Lord; and it is His "goodness and mercy" that will not leave you to perish, but will bring you safe home to glory, to reign with Him for ever and ever!