Thou hast dealt well with thy servant, O Lord, according unto thy word.
Who of God’s children is not personally acquainted with the “problem” of suffering? Who of the Lord’s servants has not at one time or another asked in his soul after the meaning of suffering, the reason and purpose of suffering, the motive of suffering?
No one, least of all the child of God, is a stranger to suffering. And whether that suffering partakes of the nature of the general sufferings of this present life, which is nothing but a continual death, or whether it is suffering for Christ’s sake, it presents its “problem” for the child of God,—a “problem” that cries insistently and incessantly for a solution.
That solution the psalmist had, and he had it as a matter of personal experience. In affliction he had been,—in this case, affliction for Christ’s sake. In the Word of his God the psalmist had had his delight and had kept his delight even in the midst of affliction. And his experience had been,—and this was and is the only real solution to the “problem” of suffering,—that the Lord had dealt well with him in that very affliction.
In this section of the psalm we find the acknowledgement of that experienced solution, an acknowledgement addressed to the, covenant Jehovah.
Thou, Lord, hast dealt well with Thy servant!
According unto Thy Word!
Thou hast dealt well!
Of the past, probably of the very recent past, the poet is speaking. He is speaking after the fact. And looking back on the fact of his recent affliction, he makes a confession before the face of Jehovah: “Thou hast dealt well with thy servant.” Hence, the objective truth taught by the text is that the Lord always deals well with His servants. For if this can be said when the child of God is in extremities, if it is true with respect to unfavorable circumstances, if it can be confessed in the worst conceivable situation, a situation of affliction and suffering, then it is always true. The Lord always deals well with His servants.
Thou hast dealt well,—in the hour of trouble, in the time of affliction. Thy dealings in the affliction itself were well dealings. Of affliction the psalmist is certainly speaking here: for more than once in this section he refers to it. “Before I was afflicted, I went astray,” he says. Of “the proud” who “forged a lie against me” he speaks, and of those whose “heart is as fat as grease.” Moreover, of the fact that it was good for him that he had been afflicted he makes his confession. And let us understand clearly that when now the poet makes his confession concerning the Lord’s well dealings, it is to those afflictions themselves that he has reference. Not merely of all the good that he had experienced in spite of and alongside of his affliction does he speak. Not even does he merely refer to the fact that he had been in affliction, but that the Lord had delivered him out of his affliction. The latter also is surely the goodness of the Lord. But after all, in this life the Lord does certainly not always deliver us out of our afflictions; eventually in the way of affliction His children go down into death.
No, the inspired poet is speaking of the affliction itself! That affliction had been the Lord’s dealing with him. And that affliction itself as the Lord’s dealing had been good. “It is good for me that I have been afflicted . . . .”
Thou, Lord, hast dealt well with Thy servant!
Squarely in the domain of God’s dealings, God’s sovereign providence, does the psalmist acknowledge all his afflictions to be. Not by accident did they come, nor through mere “happen-stance.” It was not ultimately the enemy that brought his troubles upon him, the enemy who hated him because he loved God’s precepts. Not under the control of some evil power, perhaps the devil, were his afflictions. But according to God’s all-wise counsel, by God’s divine government, and through God’s active control of things and execution of His own counsel affliction had become his portion in life. These afflictions themselves were the Lord’s dealings with him! And what comfort would there be for the tempest-tossed child of the Lord if he could not acknowledge these afflictions to be from God’s “Fatherly hand?”
Then, and then only, is it possible to acknowledge that they are good, and to say, “Thou hast dealt, well . . .”
Apparent contradiction! Seeming paradox! Good affliction!
God’s dealings are always good,—good in the objective, the absolute sense of the word. No matter what God does, He always does good, absolutely good. Even His dealings with the reprobate, whom He sets in slippery places and casts down into destruction, are absolutely good. He is the God who is good in Himself!
But the poet means something else. He confesses that the Lord has dealt well with him. It is good for me that I have been afflicted. In my very afflictions, O Lord, I have tasted Thy goodness unto me!
For do not all the facts seem to contradict it?
There is the general suffering of this present time, the suffering which the people of God must endure along with all the children of men, except, perhaps, that God’s children often have a greater share of such suffering than the children of the world. We are in the midst of death. This life is nothing but a continual death. In this world of death we are subject to sorrow, grief, bereavement, pain, suffering, agony, and death itself finally. And how, in the face of death, is it possible to say, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted?”
Besides, there is the particular suffering which the child of God must endure, suffering, whether in the old or the new dispensation, that is suffering for Christ’s sake,—the kind of suffering which comes to the children of God from their enemies, the wicked, the ungodly world. It is the suffering that is their lot exactly because they are the Lord’s servants, whom the world hates. And the simple fact is that the more they are the servants of the Lord, the more they must suffer affliction. And has not the cry of the saints always been, “For thy sake we are killed all the day long?” And does not the objective testimony of all that affliction seem to stand in flat contradiction of the truth that God deals well with us? Does it not seem to be a testimony of disfavor, of wrath? And does not the tempter, the devil, love to take advantage of that very suffering to try to make it seem to us as though the Lord deals ill?
Yet necessary this confession surely is: for God’s own glory and for our own peace of heart! For how could God be glorified in His people if they did not confess, but denied, His faithful well dealings? And bow could any child of His ever have peace of heart as long as he thought that the Lord dealt ill with him?
Necessary it is, not only to say, “Thou hast dealt well.” But necessary, too, is the confession, right in the midst of trouble, “Thou art dealing well.”
According unto Thy Word!
In comparison with that Word and in the light of that Word alone is it possible to behold God’s well dealings even in affliction. Not by looking at things, at circumstances, and then judging God’s dealings in comparison therewith is it possible to say this. But by looking at the grim realities of affliction in the light of God, in the light of His Word that is a lamp unto our feet, in the light of the eternal verities of His unfailing Word of promise, the confession is possible.
For the Word to which the poet has reference here is surely God’s Word of promise, spoken from the beginning of the world to patriarchs and prophets, centrally spoken and realized through Jesus Christ our Lord, through His cross and resurrection, witnessed by the apostles, preserved in the infallible Scriptures, and still proclaimed today. Moreover, the central testimony, the testimony that is so very necessary for His servants, in the midst, of affliction and darkness, to whom it so often seems as if the Lord is not doing them good,—the central testimony of Jehovah Himself in that Word is always: “I am dealing well with my servants!”
What belongs to this well dealing?
In the first place, Jehovah’s well dealing consists not in the bestowal of some temporal and material good; but it is His eternal purpose and the execution of that purpose to realize unto His servants the true, the eternal good, that is, deliverance from sin and death and the curse into eternal life and glory, into the heavenly inheritance, which is incorruptible and undefiled and fadeth not away, the very essence of which is the perfect fellowship with God, in the new heavens and the new earth. Secondly, Jehovah’s well dealings imply that all His dealings with His children in this present time are directed toward that purpose. In His eternal counsel He so determined all things, including all the afflictions which must befall His servants, as so many means unto the end of our eternal salvation. And in time He so directs all things, realizing His own counsel, that they are all made subservient to that final good. It makes no difference whether we can understand the immediate purpose of His dealings, whether we can see the particular reason for a certain way of affliction. The Word of His promise stands, and by faith we appropriate it in the light of the cross and resurrection: “All things work together for good!”
. . . . With Thy servant!
Only in the capacity and the position of a servant of Jehovah can this Word of promise be apprehended. For the poet knows himself to be Jehovah’s servant, and as such is conscious of His well dealings.
And a servant of Jehovah is the property of Jehovah, belongs to Him.
But how is anyone a servant of Jehovah, His property?
Not by nature,—for by nature we are servants of the devil,—but by pure sovereign grace!
By grace, sovereign grace, we are His servants from all eternity according to Jehovah’s sovereign counsel of election, His predestinating purpose in Christ Jesus! Not because we owned and acknowledged Him as our Lord, but because He chose us and owned us from eternity, we are His servants!
Still more: in time the very first of God’s well dealings with us is that He actually purchases us as His servants, as His peculiar possession, with the purchase price of the blood of His only begotten Son in our flesh, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Servant of Jehovah. He does not wait for us to become His servants, but He Himself makes us His servants. And having purchased us, He forgives us, He regenerates us, He sanctifies us, and He keeps us as His servants by His Spirit and grace.
Only thus can we understand, in the third place, the idea of this service. For to be a servant of Jehovah means that we are consciously the friend-servants of God, that we live and act as His servants, that we love Him and do His will, that our delight is in His commandments, that we hate and fight against sin. It means that we have a calling, that we consider our whole life as a calling, and that this one and only calling in the midst of the world in all our walk and conversation is to serve Jehovah. It means that we live our whole life with the question in our heart and on our lips, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?”
When thus we serve Him, affliction will surely be our portion in this world,—affliction for Christ’s sake, affliction just because we are Jehovah’s servants.
But as His servants we have His Word of promise!
And having His promise, we can say even in affliction: “Thou, Lord, hast dealt well!”