"Blessed be the Lord my strength, which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight." (Psalm 144:1)
CAN it be possible that any soul living can, with an honest conscience, bless the Lord until the Lord has blessed him or her? There is a class of characters we read of in the scriptures who bless God with their tongues but curse him in their hearts. And although many of the Lord's people frequently feel blasphemous thoughts hurled by the devil into their hearts, yet there is a sacred something within the soul that sweetly and blessedly strives with all its power against those blasphemous thoughts, to bless the Lord inwardly with the heart and soul, as fast as those bitter, evil, and hateful thoughts arise in the mind.
The living soul whom God hath quickened, and blessed with the manifestation of his pardoning mercy and forgiving love, is compelled, by the same blessed power that comes into the heart and soul, to bless the Lord for blessing him; and it is a part of the sweetest employment that ever a poor sinner who expected to sink under the curse of the law into black despair and be damned, can be engaged in; he who can say as the poet,
And the dear soul which has been enabled to bless him once shall bless him again; and some of the sweetest moments we enjoy in our pilgrimage are those in which we are blessed with a warm heart, a flowing spirit, a tender conscience, a humble mind, and a will submissive to the sovereign will of God. But these moments that the believer is favored with are but short and few in his journey through the wilderness; but if they are short and few they are very sweet and precious; and those moments of joy and peace in the Holy Ghost cannot be forgotten by that soul which has tasted that the Lord is gracious.
The psalmist at this point was compelled to come out with it, although in the preceding psalm you will find his soul was brought into a very low state: and we further find that he was always obliged to speak as he felt; he could not put bitter for sweet, nor sweet for bitter; he could not put light for darkness, nor darkness for light; he could not say it was well with him when it was ill; he could not say Christ was precious when his soul was walking under the clouds, overwhelmed with sorrow, sin, and temptation. O no! But the Lord never leaves us there for any great length of time. We sometimes think the Lord waits a long time before he verifies and fulfils his promise to us, but the apostle Peter was led sweetly to see that "God was not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness, but he is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance, (2 Peter 3:9) and live.
The psalmist's faith was a living, not a dead faith; and you will see that as his faith rose and sank, so his soul rose and sank with it. He had no power over his own faith; for when the Holy Ghost shut it up within his heart, the psalmist's soul was shut up too; but when the Holy Ghost opened it, threw the door of faith open to the everlasting gospel, how sweetly his soul entered in, and then he cried, "Open to me the gates of righteousness, and I will go in unto them, and I will bless the Lord." (Ps. 118:19) But he frequently found himself shut up, so that he could not come forth, and in psalm 142, he cries out in this way, "Bring my soul out of prison, and I will bless thy name." It was quite evident he could not bless the Lord when he was there. He commences psalm 143 in this way; "Hear my prayer, O Lord, give ear to my supplications: in thy faithfulness answer me, and in thy righteousness. Enter not into judgment with thy servant: for in thy sight shall no man living be justified." Then he says, "For 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. I remember the days of old; I meditate on all thy works; I muse on the work of thy hands."
You will see from this what a strait his soul was in, and you will also see that David never was left to settle long upon his lees; the Lord took care to scourge and lash him; and what a mercy it is for us that the Lord will not let us alone. Yet there are times when the Lord seems to let his children alone, and when this is the case he is in one of the worst spots his soul can be left in; as Ephraim was when he was joined to idols; the Lord said, "Let him alone." What a mercy it is, child of God, whether they be stripes or kisses, what a great mercy the Lord will not let my soul and thine alone, for we well know what a dreadful state we should sink into if the Lord was to leave us to ourselves.
But the psalmist says, "Blessed be the Lord." Let us see what we know about this; for there are characters spoken of in the Word of God that are blessed and cursed, as follows: "For such as be blessed of him shall inherit the earth;" and "such as are cursed of him shall be cut off." So you see it is evident that those characters who are brought to bless the Lord are characters that have had something brought into their souls by God the Holy Ghost, which enables them to bless the Lord feelingly. This my soul felt yesterday morning for two or three hours. The Lord favored my soul in such a way that I have not felt for many a long day out of the pulpit. I was much exercised in the morning, and I found such ups and downs, such ins and outs, and such zigzag paths that the Lord leads my soul into, that I wondered what it was for, and why it should be so, and why he does not let me have a sight, and keep that sight, "of the mark of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" before me; but no. The Lord has designed that every living soul, more or less, shall come into tribulation; and when he brings them in he will also bring them through it, and deliver them out of it; but not here, at least not totally, freely, and fully; O no! Not until they have breathed their last breath into the bosom of the Lord Jesus Christ, crying, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."
If not so in words, it is the essence of the language of every redeemed soul that has been brought to know the worth and value of salvation by grace, and those that are brought to see and feel the nothingness of every thing short of Christ revealed into the heart and soul; yes, when the soul is brought into this spot it has sweet peace and joy in believing.
I was preaching about faith on Sunday last, but there is a vast deal of difference between faith living in the soul, and faith being exercised and tried; for faith to have a view of what Christ has done for the soul, then it is to have the sweet joy and peace of faith flowing into the heart and soul. Here lie the comfort, sweetness, and consolation of vital godliness, and this brings the heart to learn that "godliness, with contentment, is great gain;" yes, it is of the greatest gain and the greatest value is godliness enjoyed and embraced in the breast and soul by living faith. How sweet it is to feel the Lord's presence!
You will find this was frequently the case with the psalmist, for he said at one time, "I will bless the Lord at all times: his praise shall be continually in my mouth. My soul shall make her boast in the Lord: the humble shall hear thereof, and be glad;" and he said, "I sought the Lord, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears. They looked unto him, and were lightened; and their faces were not ashamed."
If you have known anything of this blessed spirit years gone by, you will think about it, and meditate upon it too, from time to time; and you will be obliged to say, "I will remember my song in the night, I will commune with my own heart, and my spirit will make diligent search." O what a mercy it is to be enabled to bless him! for says the psalmist, "Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name, and forget not all his benefits." How frequently we forget his benefits, and yet he crowneth us with lovingkindness and tender mercies, and satisfieth our mouth with good things;" and in the thirty-second psalm, which I read, he says, "Blessed is the man whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered; blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile." That man is a blessed man, and that woman is a blessed woman.
But some may say, "I have never yet had a kid to make merry with my friends!" Are you not watching for it from time to time? Do not you see something in it that you cannot express? And do not you feel your heart flowing in desires after it? For the Lord promises he will fulfill the desires of them that fear him and hope in his mercy; and he has promised to "satisfy the longing soul and fill the hungry soul with good things; such as sit in darkness and the shadow of death, being bound in affliction and iron."
Look and see how he brings out the character of those of you that have never been bound so firm and fast as others; but you will some day prove it for yourselves. Some of us have blessed God, in our very hearts, for binding us with those that are bound, for causing us to weep with those that weep, and for giving us the privilege of rejoicing with those that rejoice. The apostle, referring to this very point, said he went "bound in spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that would befall him there." And so it is evident, when the spirit is bound up that we are frequently brought into that condition, that everything has seemed to be gone, without feeling or desire, without appetite or thirst, without a cry or a sigh; and, says the poor dear soul, "What will the end of me be? I never was in this plight before. I am afraid I shall be a castaway, and like the chaff before the wind;" and says the dear soul, "If the Lord will do anything for me again, I will keep it to myself." I say you will not, for it is the greatest pleasure a poor sinner has, to tell what God has done for his soul; and still there are many of the Lord's dear people who are afraid to open their mouths on this subject. They have never been brought to the point; they want to know whether the Lord Jesus has put away their sins by the sacrifice of himself; and there is no way of knowing this but by having an application of pardoning blood, and this is the only way a sinner can know to a certainty that his sins are put away and cast as far from him as the east is from the west. And when the dear soul is brought here, O how sweet it is! And, soul, if ever thou hast been brought to lay hold by precious faith of the strength of the Three-One God, thou hast truly had a firm hold once in thy time.
It was said by one of the minor prophets, that "He is a stronghold in the time of trouble;" and I am sure the soul that has been brought to know this strength will say the Lord has brought him to this spot, because the Lord takes down the strength of every poor sinner who has sought for the everlasting mercy and love of the Three-One God. The Lord takes some down almost at a stroke, and others in a gradual, gentle way. They know what the psalmist means when he says, "Refuge faileth me, and no man careth for my soul." Do you know what this is? For those who have not been brought here, and who are children of the living God, must all be brought here, must all come to this point, to prove their own strength is perfect weakness; and the soul will not want to rely on anything but Emmanuel, God with us.
When the soul is brought into this state of weakness, and no strength of soul left, and heavy losses and crosses laid upon his back, and such high mountains before him that he cannot escape any way whatever, O what a mercy when it is for that soul if it is enabled to say, "Blessed be the Lord my strength." There can be no possibility of that soul falling, because there is almighty strength here; for what says the psalmist? "For God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble." Now you see he is both a refuge and strength, and it is evident the Lord brings his people to know what this strength is; and it is a strength, mark you, that is a feeling one, for "The salvation of the righteous is of the Lord; he is their strength in time of trouble;" (Ps. 37:39) for it is in times of trouble that the poor soul wants strength communicated, when no human arm can help him, nor eye can pity him, nor know his case in any way whatever. No; blessings on the Lord for ever and ever, that this is the case. So it is evident God must be his strength, and something else too; for, says the psalmist, "He is the strength of my salvation and a covert in the day of battle;" and here is yet more strength still in this salvation; for God says, "They go from strength to strength." Well, what does he mean? Why, they have to feel some weakness between, and sorrow, and afflictions, and bereavements; and when they are brought here, they will reel to and fro and stagger like a drunken man, and they know not what step to take. Then, poor soul, what a mercy it is that there are these words, "Blessed be the Lord my strength." What a supply there is for weak-hearted and weak-handed sinners. "Trust ye in the Lord for ever, for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength." "Ah," says the soul, "I know that, but I cannot come at it." Well, bless thee, this strength will come to thee, for what said one of old, when he cried unto the Lord? "Thou hast strengthened me with strength in my soul." It is the soul the Lord strengthens, and this is what you and I want; it is strength of soul and strength of heart.
The Lord has promised a blessing to those who wait on him; he says he will renew their strength. What a consolation then that there is strength for the weak; this made the psalmist say, "God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever." O what a mercy that he is the poor sinner's strength and his portion for ever! Is there one soul here that is waiting for this strength? Jacob had to know what it was to wait; for when he saw such mountains of difficulty before him, and Esau threatening to kill him, he was brought into such distress of soul that he was obliged to go and inquire of the Lord, and the angel of the Lord appeared unto him, and the Holy Ghost poured supplication into his heart, and Jacob would not let the angel go; and the angel said, "Let me go, for the day breaketh." "No," said Jacob, "I will not let thee go except thou bless me;" and therefore he had power when the day was breaking. This was just what Jacob wanted, when the day was breaking on his poor dear soul; and by and by the angel said to him, "Thou art Jacob; thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel, for as a prince hast thou power with God and with man, and hast prevailed." So you see, poor wrestling soul, he was struggling with the Lord's strength here. "O but," says the soul, "I cannot say, 'Blessed be the Lord my strength.' Is the Lord my strength?" Well, if he has once brought thee out of the horrible pit, and out of the miry clay, and set thy feet upon a rock, and established thy goings, he is thy strength. The soul may say, "He was, but I don't know whether he is now," but the Lord knows.
How many times have you and I given all up for lost, since the Lord brought salvation into our hearts! When we have been brought into these spots, and had such mountains of troubles and trials, and such lashes laid upon our backs, when we have been under the fiery darts of the devil, how blessedly the Lord has appeared for us; how he has put forth his power, and we could say with Daniel, that "he strengthened me with strength in my soul." Then Daniel got raised up on his hands and knees and he was soon raised to stand upright before the Lord. O what a consolation it is for every one interested in salvation, to know that they are loved with the same love. But the psalmist says, "that teacheth my hands to war." He could not war without the Lord teaching him. It was his hands, but not these natural hands, because these souls know something about a spiritual war.
These hands are called "clean" in the Word of God: "The righteous shall hold on his way, and he that hath clean hands shall wax stronger and stronger." So I think it is evident these spiritual hands are hope and faith; but these natural hands are flesh, bone, and sinew, vile and corrupt, for this body is sown in corruption, but it shall be raised in incorruption. You will read of these hands in the Word of God elsewhere: "lifting up holy hands," says the apostle, "without wrath and doubting;" so it is evident the soul only lifts up faith and hope. These were the hands that handled the Lord Jesus Christ, when he said to Thomas, "Reach hither thy finger and put it into my hands, and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side, and be not faithless but believing;" and faith said, "My Lord and my God!" So we find in many parts of the psalms the psalmist makes use of the word "hand"--"the hand of God," and "the finger of God." The Lord Jesus Christ tells us in the gospel, "If I by the finger of God cast out devils, etc. Then these souls are well fortified, but where does the fight lie? In the man's own soul, between Spirit and flesh, for the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary the one to the other; so the child of God cannot do the things that he would. The apostle knew this to be the case, and he gives us a sweet description in the 7th of Romans, where he clearly shows us there are two distinct principles, and he also shows us the working of the two, with the conflict of the fight.
Any one may read that; but the difference is great, between merely doing that and having the same engraved and printed upon the heart, and reading it there, being enabled to compare it with the original in this Book. So we find the Lord teaches these hands to war; and what do faith and hope war against? Why against flesh and blood, for the apostle says, "I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin that is in my members;" and then he says, "With the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin." So we daily find the Lord must teach these hands to fight, or we cannot use them; it is out of the power of any poor child of God to make use of these hands himself.
The Lord the Holy Ghost opens and guides these hands; for when they are closed there is no trading going on between God and the Soul, neither are there any real cries, and sighs, and groans in their hearts for the Lord's subduing grace and power, only when these are open, and the Lord teaches the hands to war, and fingers to fight. Then these fingers display all the graces of the Spirit, oppressing all the devilism of the human heart and the fiery darts of the devil. Sometimes the soul finds his conflicts to be so very sharp that he is almost ready to faint under them; yet if he faint he must pursue, for "What will ye see in the Shulamite? As it were the company of two armies." (Songs 6:13)
But notice our text; the psalmist says, "which teacheth my hands to war and my fingers to fight," to fight against all the depravity of the human heart. Now this war was commenced in my soul soon after the dear Lord had indulged my heart with a sense of his precious love and blood, his favor and smiles, his affection and sweet testimonies, and the manifestation of the Lord Jesus Christ to my soul; and when the Lord began to withdraw these smiles, clouds gathered over my mind, the devil was let loose, and I never shall forget entering this field of battle. No; and my soul is not out of it yet either, and never will be till death comes, and then there will be a final discharge from this war. What says the apostle upon it? He calls it "the good fight of faith." Now, dear brethren and sisters, do you know much of these troubles and fightings? Have your souls been led to say, as said the apostle, "Without were fightings, within were fears?" O how painful it is at times, when the flesh would overcome us and we fear we must utterly fall under the pursuing hand of the enemy! But blessings on the name of the Lord for ever; though sin and Satan heretofore have cut us down, yet the Lord in a moment has broken into our hearts and souls, when we could see no way; but he made a way in the wilderness, and he also made a way through the sea, for the ransomed to pass over: and, blessed be God, he will bring them through, and he will, while they are fighting, make them more than conquerors, through him who loved them.
How many of God's dear children are laid upon beds of sickness for years; yet see what depths of experience they will enter into, and how they can tell of the workings of the flesh and the Spirit. They can tell something of the frowns of the Almighty and the smiles of Jesus, and of the sweet healing balm of the blood of Emmanuel; O how precious it is!
"Which teacheth my hands to war." It wars for God and his grace, his truth and his kingdom, and against sin, the flesh, and the devil; but the poor soul will find that he will come off more than conqueror by and by. Many times the Lord has brought him to feel his feet were firm on the Rock; and shall the truth of God ever be altered? No, never! The poor election of grace, in their worst state and condition, are under the eye of almighty power. He has testified and promised, in his blessed Word, that "they shall all know him, from the least of them to the greatest;" and he further says, "he will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and iniquities he will remember no more for ever." (Heb. 8:12)
Now, dear brethren, you that know something about these inward struggles, and sinkings, and fears, and inward tremblings, and shakings in heart and soul, you know what it is to tremble under the fiery darts of the devil, and the sin that is in your heart, and you also know how Satan draws and drives, and he takes care he never will liberate one. No; but the Lion of the tribe of Judah will come to the rescue and liberate every soul that has been hunted and chased by that roaring lion, our adversary the devil.
But again. "Which teacheth my hands to war and my fingers to fight." So that the Lord the Spirit must bring up, as well as bring into the heart, faith, hope, and confidence; and also open these hands and stretch out these fingers, and lead and guide in this spiritual battle, and in and under this painful conflict; and when all the spiritual armor is put into the heart, and drawn forth out of the soul, it is on purpose to meet the enemy in the field of battle; for the Lord hath said, "Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day." (Eph. 6:13) So then, dear brethren, we greatly need this armor to be put on in the evil day of temptations, trials, and sorrows; when all the powers of lust, pride, and covetousness are stirred up by the temptations of Satan, and when we seem to obtain no strength to bear up under them, neither to stand against them, and the commands and precepts cutting us up, back stroke and fore stroke, and our poor souls trembling for fear that our faith and hope would give way, and we cry out, "Will he plead against me with his great power?" No, but he will put strength in thee. So that faith and hope, which are clean and pure, being of a supernatural kind, are the hands which the Lord calls to war and the fingers to fight.
These hands are the hands of the hidden man of the heart, the new man of grace, which the Lord the Spirit puts into the heart. The Holy Ghost makes use of them in the soul to war against all that is wrong, and to seek after all that is right. And the same blessed Spirit opens up the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, and enables these hands to lay hold upon him, as the apostle said to Timothy, "Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life." And how sure the soul is of victory, when Jesus is manifestively with him, strengthening him over all his sins, the world, the flesh, and the devil; for, said John, "This is the victory which overcometh the world, even our faith." So then, dear brother and sister, war on, for the Holy Ghost calls it a good warfare, and the Lord hath said, "Fight, for I am with thee." And sure I am that the battle is not yours, but the Lord's, for he hath said, "The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace;" for "he teacheth my hands to war and my fingers to fight." "We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, and against spiritual wickedness in high places." (Eph. 6:12)
Then these hands have some blessed fingers, and all these fingers are made use of by the teaching of God the Holy Ghost, such as patience, humility, longsuffering, forbearance, gentleness, meekness, love, peace, and joy, with many others, such as all-prayer, which is the great and grand weapon in the hand of the faith of God's elect. And taking the shield of faith, which quenches all the fiery darts of the devil, even the enemy of our souls, who skulks off into his den. So that when the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord lifts up a standard against him.
But O! how many times my soul has trembled and shaken in this field of battle, until I have felt as though all my strength was dried up and gone, and as though I was falling.
But again little-faith springs up, and hope feels its anchor firm upon the Rock, Jesus puts forth his power, and my soul gives another struggle, and the use of my hands and fingers is all given me again; so that the poor soul must and shall say with Paul, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course." And what a glorious finish there is put to this fight by the Lord Jesus Christ himself, who conquered sin, law and wrath, death and hell, and destroyed the power of the devil, so that he cannot touch one of the Lord's little ones to hurt them.
Then, poor child of God, we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. And here lies all the strength of the poor tempted child of God, in the Lord Jesus Christ; for the Lord hath said, "Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee." And now, poor doubting and fearing child of God, you will have to fight on until you draw your last breath, and then you shall live to prove the following text to be true: "My goodness and my fortress; my high tower, and my deliverer; my shield, and he in whom I trust." And happy is that people who are in such a case; yea, "happy is that people whose God is the Lord."
Now you have had this sermon just as it has come up, and I do not wish to alter it. You who know anything about this subject, know that we might go and preach for seven years; nay, every day of our lives we could preach a sermon about this conflict. Some souls feel under a dead calm, and they would like to feel the springs of life and love flowing in their hearts like a river, so that they may feel quite sure they have once been under the droppings of mercy. All will be well at last, both with the becalmed soul and the one who feels to be in the tempestuous ocean, where Jonah was, who said, "All thy waves and billows passed over me." Yes, but none of them sank him. No! "O but," says the soul, "the waves rise higher and higher." Perhaps so, but when Jesus says, "Peace, be still," there will be a spiritual calm, and ere long you will enter into your desired haven.
May God own and bless what may have been said to his honor and glory. Amen.