“The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him; and he will shew them his covenant.”
Two things stand out in the Psalm of David in the verses which precede our text, and which seem to find their ground our basis in the text itself.
In the first place, we find in the opening verses a humble confession. Difficult were the circumstances in which the psalmist found himself. He complains of surrounding enemies. And while he places his deep trust in Jehovah his God, realizing his dependence upon Him, he prays that these enemies may not triumph over him. It seems that the darker the days the more beautiful does his song become. When all appears to be against him, he casts himself upon his God and exclaims, “To Thee I lift my soul,” remembering Jehovah’s tender mercies which have been ever of old. But his plea is mixed with a sense of his utter unworthiness of that mercy because of the knowledge of his sins, which he humbly confesses. He is sensitive to the fact that all his life long he never deserved any of Jehovah’s mercies, for all that life long he had sinned against Him. “Remember not the sins of my youth . . . ” clearly indicates that now in the more mellowed and ripened period of his life when he ought to know his sin in all its hideous character with more profound spiritual insights than when he sinned in his younger days, the awful truth takes hold on him that all his live-long days he has sinned against Jehovah, even from his youth. Whoever knows the particular history through which the psalmist passed, knows also there was plenty of reason for his confession.
Secondly, we find in these verses at the same time a faithful trust in Jehovah’s mercies. A true confession of sin and the knowledge of its attending miseries, always ends in the infinite mercy of God. This cannot be otherwise, for the simple reason that both are wrought by God Himself. There is no knowledge of sin nor any confession of sin, or it is all of God. And the divine end in so humbling us, is that He may reveal to us His mercy, in order that we may learn to put all our trust and confidence in Him.
Now the ground or basis for this divine operation must be found in the words of our text. “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him; and he will shew them his covenant.” He has established a friendship relation between Himself and His people which we prefer to call: a covenant of friendship. Of this the text speaks.
Most beautiful and picturesque is the speech of the original text!
The term “secret” comes from a Hebrew word signifying a couch or cushion. We do not spoil the implication of this term when we picture before our mind’s eye a settee or a love seat on which two lovers will sit to whisper to each other their secrets. On such a couch or love seat two do not sit who are bitter enemies, but friends, who love each other most intimately and are desirous of making known to each other their love, and friendship. Consequently the translation has “secret” because one does not tell his secrets to his enemies, but to his friends. And where secrets are exchanged, there you have the most intimate bond of love and friendship.
Now picture, if you will, Jehovah, the covenant God, sitting on such a love seat with His people in Christ, and you will see the beautiful significance of our text.
The text is composed of two parts, but in such a way that the last part further explains the first. God’s covenant, therefore, is synonymous with His secret. And even as the secret of Jehovah is with them that fear Him, so also is His covenant for them whom He instructs or teaches. If, therefore, as we said, His secret is indicative of His friendship and love, then His covenant must also be a covenant of friendship. Though friendship and love are terms which may be clearly distinguished, they are nevertheless very closely related as they proceed from God. Love is the very basis of all true friendship. Where this basis is missing, friendship may be feigned, such as it was between Ahithophel and David, or between Judas and Jesus. Of Ahithophel David wrote: “Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me,” (Ps. 41:9). And Jesus said to Judas: “Friend, wherefore art thou come? (or, do that for which thou art come),” (Matt. 26:50). And just before that we learn that Judas kissed Him. In both of these examples it is plain that Ahithophel and Judas, his New Testament counterpart, feigned friendship which did not have its deepest root in love. True friendship, indeed, finds its basis in love. And love always seeks for and rejoices in the perfection of its object. Yea, Scripture denotes love as being the bond of perfectness, (Col. 3:14).
Moreover, where all true friendship subsists, there must be also an attraction of spiritual likeness. It would be most difficult indeed to think of two sitting on a love seat who were spiritual opposites. Surely one would not reveal his most intimate secrets to his enemies.
Keeping the above thoughts in mind, it is easy to see how that the covenant of friendship is, first of all, eternally perfect in God, the Triune God. Apart from any consideration of the creature, God lives eternally and perfectly the covenant of friendship within His own divine essence. Here, indeed, is the bond of perfection, the tie of spiritual likeness. All three Persons in the Godhead are essentially and spiritually alike. All three Persons seek and find in each other eternally the bond of perfectness. In this sense God in Himself may be said to be the Covenant God in Whom the friendship relation of love is most perfectly and eternally realized.
Now, in the second place, what is so remarkable and wonderful is the fact that the eternal covenant God has purposed, according to His Word, to take up into His own covenant life and fellowship the creature whom He creates and again recreates in His likeness. Adam, who was made of the dust in the image and likeness of God, was so created that in a creatural and spiritual way he reflected the very image of God. With him, we may believe, God had a most intimate friendship relation of love. In the state of rectitude God walked with him and talked with him in the cool of the garden. However, it was not the divine intention to realize the perfection of His covenant in the first Adam, made of the earth, earthy. Rather, through the disobedience and fall of the first Adam, it was His purpose to raise up that covenant relation of friendship to its highest possible and heavenly realization through the last Adam, the Lord from heaven. Through the way of sin and grace, He would establish with and realize in His chosen people in Christ the most intimate and perfect relation of friendship conceivable.
It is this that Jehovah, the covenant God, makes known!
A covenant of friendship!
The covenant must not therefore be conceived of as a pact or agreement between God and man, dependent on the will of man for its fruition. Nor must it be conceived of as consisting of two parties, God and man. Rather, as our Form for Baptism so beautifully expresses it, it is a covenant of two parts, wherein man is obliged to cleave unto the Triune God, trust in Him, and love Him with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength. He is to forsake the world, crucify his old nature, and walk in a new and holy life.
The covenant is God’s, in which He purposes to establish a relation of friendship with His chosen people in Christ, in which they are to love and serve Him with their whole being, while they stand in opposition to the world in which they are required to walk for a time. It is a covenant which He realizes with the believers and their seed in the line of succeeding generations, in which generations is found a two-fold seed, elect and reprobate, believers and unbelievers, righteous and wicked. And so it is that it is not all Israel which is called Israel, and he is not a Jew whose circumcision is only outward in the flesh, but he is a Jew who is circumcised in the heart. And so, too, it is that in the line of succeeding generations you find an Abel, but also a Cain; an Enoch, but also the godless against whom he prophesied; a Noah, but also the majority that is destroyed in the deluge; an Abraham, who is called the friend of God, who is separated from his father’s house, and to whom God revealed His covenant secrets as to none other. Out of Abraham the covenant is projected in Isaac, not Ishmael; in Jacob, not Esau. And out of the family of Judah, the lion’s whelp, proceeds the royal line of David, a man after God’s own heart; and it is he whose generation brings forth the Christ, in and through Whom God is pleased to realize His covenant of friendship with His people forever.
In Christ and through His meritorious work of redemption the covenant of friendship is realized and raised up to its highest, heavenly, and eternal perfection.
Christ is in substance the secret of Jehovah made known!
He it is Who destroys the enmity of our natural depravity, and makes peace through the blood of His cross. By His Spirit and Word He transforms us from children of darkness into children of light. He changes us from enemies to friends, from haters of God to lovers of God. He makes us by grace to fear God.
The secret of Jehovah is with them that fear Him!
It is the fear of love! Not the fear of fright!
Where once we were haters of God and of one another, we now love Him according to the love He sheds abroad in our hearts. Where once we hid our faces from Him, and turned our stiff necks in the direction of sin and iniquity, we now seek His face, and desire to dwell in His presence.
This fear causes us also to be docile, and to listen to His Word. God, Jehovah, draws us to His love seat and whispers His secret. He informs us in no uncertain terms that in Christ He is pleased to take us up into His own covenant life and fellowship. And because we have His fear in our hearts, and know that we are most unworthy to abide in His presence, we continue to say in response to His Word of love and friendship: Speak Lord, for thy servant hears!
We are Thy covenant friend-servants!