“I have set the Lord always before me; Because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.”
There is a secret. . . .
There is a secret, hidden reason why saints throughout the ages have been able to sing songs even in the night, to rejoice through their tears, and to count it all joy when they meet the severest trials and temptations.
You read that contentment on their faces when they lie on beds of anguish. You see it in their eyes when they mourn the loss of a dear one; yes, also while they themselves are passing through the final, darkest phase of the valley of shadows.
Lowly mothers, withered and bent with age, have sat with folded hands and trembling lips as they worshipfully poured out their thanks to God for the simple meal set before them. In times of severest persecutions, saints have had the courage to walk to stake or scaffold with peace in their hearts, putting their persecutors to shame.
You and I, who so often falter in the face of temptations, who grow weary and distressed under so few burdens of life’s cares, must needs ask: What is the secret of the believer’s life? What is it that makes it possible for him to face the worst of trials in quiet contentment, assured, that all is well?
The sixteenth Psalm tells us about that secret.
What immediately impresses us when we read, it, is the fact that it is a joyful Psalm that rings with praise to God.
True, in the background we discover that the composer experiences great anxieties brought on by his enemies. The Psalm opens with the bitter cry: “Preserve me, O Almighty, in Thee do I put my trust.” Toward the close of the Psalm he sees his soul in Sheol, the threat of corruption eating away his flesh. His enemy is determined to plague him until all his hope should perish forever. Yet in his darkest hour he experiences an inner peace and joy that makes it possible for him to rejoice through his tears. “The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places, yea, I have a goodly heritage.” “The Lord is the portion of my inheritance and of my cup: Thou maintainest my lot.” “For Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell: neither wilt Thou suffer Thy Holy One to see corruption.” “Thou hast shown me the paths of life: in Thy presence in fulness of joy: at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.”
I read this. I marvel at this expression of faith. I know that all that the Psalmist says is so true. In Jehovah are pleasures forevermore. I have the whole Bible to confirm this for me. But I, I have my cup often overflowing with sorrows, even to the point that I complain: “My enemy grown strong with pride would take my life away.” Darkness floods my soul, so that I ask: How can the Psalmist express such perfect contentment even in the face of death?
I remind myself that this Psalm is strongly messianic. Our Lord was taught to sing this Psalm, even as the Spirit of prophecy had prepared it especially for Him. Christ sang this Psalm over and over again as He walked among us with that heavy shadow of the cross pressing upon Him. I hear Him singing it especially during the forty days of temptation while the wind howled through the crags of rock in a waste and weary land. I recognize the plaintive cry as darkness hides His prostrate form in the dust of Gethsemane: “O my Almighty, preserve me, I have no one else in whom I can trust.” We follow Him in our thoughts as He stands before the raging foe that plots and schemes to kill Him. At the cross we hide our faces as we hear Him sing: Thou wilt not leave my soul in the grave: Thou wilt not suffer the enemy to triumph over me! Jesus saw His complete victory in heavenly perfection during that fleeting second when He cried: “It is finished.” He could do this because He certainly understood the secret of true peace and contentment that makes it possible to rejoice in the Lord always.
But I? Surely when the Psalmist wrote this he was drawing from his own experience. Although he wrote under the guidance of the Spirit of prophecy, he nevertheless gave expression to his own dark night and the joy that he realized through it. This was written and preserved in the Scriptures for our sakes, that we may learn to repeat it after him. He was a man of like passions as we are; he was taught of God to know the secret of conquering faith. We can know it also by the same God.
The secret of faith, what is it?
In one word: Jehovah!
“I have set Jehovah before me.” I have set Him in front of me with the determination to keep my eye fixed upon Him, never to lose Him from my thoughts or from my sight!
Jehovah is GOD. Let us say so in holy wonder, for He is the only true and living One. All idols are the product of man’s foolish imagination, but our God is in the heavens. He is the infinite fullness of His own dazzling holiness, and yet He is so very near to us, that we exist under His watchful eye as in the very palm of His hand. He knows all things. He even knows the end from the beginning, because He has determined that end before there was a beginning. God knows the only possible way in which He may attain His glory through every single creature that He makes. He knows how to manifest His love and mercy in His chosen people in such a way, that all eternity will praise Him for it. He loves His people as His prized possession, bestowing on them all His grace, mercy, lovingkindness and everlasting compassion. On the dark background of reprobation, sin, death, and hell, He shows the glorious brightness of His grace, choosing, redeeming and sanctifying a people unto Himself which He takes into His own bosom to enjoy covenant fellowship with Him forever.
Jehovah is our Creator. The heavens declare His glory, the firmament showeth His handiwork; day unto day it tells something new about Him, while night after night it reveals the secrets of His heart. His Name is near, so very near, in the rumbling of the thunder and in the raging of the storm, but also in the sighings of the wind, the rustle of desert sands, the humble buttercup, and the busy ant that races across our path on the sidewalk. We need but look about us and tune our ears to listen in order to hear from a thousand voices the song of creation, telling their Maker’s praise.
Jehovah is our Father. Our adoption papers are made out from all eternity, even when the world and its history was planned. These adoption papers have a seal on them, the bloody seal of Calvary, showing that the highest price that could ever be demanded has been paid to redeem us unto God. How do I know that these adoption papers bear my name? I have received the sign of baptism, which is daily sealed in my heart by the Spirit of Christ, assuring me that I am a son, teaching me to stammer: “Abba, Father.” Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God. Now we are sons, and it does not yet appear what we shall be: But we know that when it does appear, we shall be just like Father, for we shall see Him exactly as He is.
Our Father is none other than our Covenant God. He establishes His covenant with us by restoring in us the image of our elder Brother, Christ Jesus. He made us friend-servants, to love Him, to know Him in love and to serve Him in love. Ours is the privilege as well as the duty, the capability as well as the desire to serve Him with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, to crucify our old nature, and to walk in a new and holy life before Him. He is the Master Craftsman Who has skillfully formed us with our own personal gifts and talents to perform that certain task, which we only, and no one else, can perform. It is the task for which we are chosen of God, for which we were born and placed in this world, for which we are equipped by the Holy Spirit, even as God has assigned that task to us from eternity. Only when that work is done can we lay down our weary heads to sleep the sleep of death.
Our Covenant God is our Protector. As a shepherd jealously guards his sheep, as a mother shields her child with her own life, as a father has compassion upon his children, so our Heavenly Father cares for us. He cares. We are His chief concern, as written in the palms of His hands. In Him we can place our implicit trust, both as to body and soul, both in life and in death.
This Covenant God draws us to Himself in intimate communion of life as our Sovereign Friend. Enoch experienced that when he walked with God. Noah knew what that meant when he found grace in the eyes of the Lord. Abraham tasted the blessedness of being God’s friend. Moses communed with God face to face, more than any other. David could say: “I am Thy servant, Lord; my trust is in Thy Name.” We echo this in prayerful worship: “In sweet communion, Lord, with Thee I constantly abide. My hand Thou holdest in Thy own to keep me near Thy side.”
I have placed the Lord right in front of me, before my very eyes, to keep Him there always. In every circumstance of joy or sorrow, both in the pleasant hours of the day and in the weary, fearful hours of the night, I keep the Lord before me. This is the secret of my life.
Is this not a proud boast?
I keep the Lord always before me. This was certainly true of Christ. It, no doubt, was also true of David; but am I, a man of low degree, to be compared to a great saint like David?
How often the opposite is true in my life. My sinful inclination draws me to idols as metal is drawn to a magnet. I may look with scorn on the pagan who bows before a block of wood or a lifeless piece of stone, who worships a snake or a calf. Yet I find myself putting my trust in my own strength, my proud self. I feel no great need to pray for daily bread these days, because the table is always well supplied, and there is even bread to spare in the bread box. We live in an affluent time when it is said that no one need be poor. If one does have need, there is always some government agency that will come to the rescue. Mammon is a god that I can see, can touch, can hold. All this appeals to me, for the simple reason that I am evil, born in sin.
I catch myself playing the practical deist. No, theoretically I condemn deism, which holds that God created all things in such a way that they can function and operate by themselves. God is, in that instance like a machinist, who watches the machine run, sees to it that all the parts remain well-oiled, and only interferes when something goes wrong with the mechanism. Often from a practical point of view I make the same error. In case of illness, one’s first thought seems to be to call a doctor, making sure that he is well-qualified. Only as an afterthought do we resort to prayer. I ride along the highway in my car; I’m a bit in a hurry, because I am late. To my complete disgust, those red lights are all against me. I tend to ball my fist in anger, only then to be reminded that God had deliberately turned that light red in front of me. He wants to remind me that He is Lord of my life, not I. I had better slow down and remember my utter dependence on Him. How often God is not first in my thoughts.
How often I turn my back to Him, as if I would keep Him out of my affairs, to go my own willful, sinful way without Him.
Yet God is always there—right at my side!
Even when I was not aware of it, He already was there.
I did not seek Him; He sought me. I did not approach Him; He approached me. He spoke; I heard His voice as He spoke from the Scriptures. What I heard was by no means pleasant. God did not talk to me about a love for all men, also for me. God did not tell me that He ignored the fact that I was a sinner, beckoning me just to come. Quite the opposite. Proud speck of dust that I am, vaunting myself to be something in the face of the Most High; God showed me what a rebellious wretched sinner I am in His sight. God humbled me, put me to shame, pressed upon my guilty soul the burden of my sin. I stood condemned, head hanging low. I saw myself as a filthy, misshapen leper, deserving only to be cast away forever. Yet when I cried to Him, He heard me and drew me unto Himself, taking me into His everlasting arms and assuring me over and over again: Forgiven! Forgiven! through the precious blood of Jesus Christ, God’s dear Son.
Jehovah is still always at my side. This is not a mere mystical experience, as if there are times when I go to Him, sit by Him and hear Him talk to me by some mystical message in my heart. Jehovah’s presence is very real. He dwells in my heart by His Spirit. He speaks to me through His Word, particularly through the preaching of the Word in the communion of saints. I can approach Him through prayer, any time, any where. I need no appointment. I need no receptionist to invite me into His chambers. I need no instrument through which to talk. I can pray, and in praying experience communion with Him Who inhabits the High and Lofty Place. He is so very far above me, yet so very near. He even makes me God-conscious, so that I see His handiwork in all His creation; I see His handwriting, His seal of genuineness on every creature. I know that God is near; His wondrous works tell me so.
What an abiding comfort!
“With Jehovah at my side I shall not be moved!”
When my back is turned to Him, I walk in stygian darkness. Then I fear a thousand fears. Satan is always on the alert, seeking out every weak spot in my armor. The world still has a strong appeal to my flesh. My worst enemy is my own sinful self. Left alone I should certainly perish. All my will power, all my determination, all my ingenuity to resist the onslaughts of sin avail me nothing.
But Jehovah is my Rock. He took me from the miry clay, and set my feet firmly on that immovable Rock; none other than Christ Jesus, my Savior, my Lord.
Jehovah is for me a Refuge, a High Tower, even as a Rock in a weary land, a shelter in the time of storm.
Jehovah fights my battles for me by making me alert and strong against every foe. For underneath are always the everlasting arms, the arms of the mighty God of David.
I sense the lowliness and meekness of David when He sang: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the House of the Lord forever.”
Or to take up Paul’s victory cry: Nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate me from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus my Lord.
I have the Lord before me!
He was there first.
He makes His presence known.
He has promised He would never leave me nor forsake me.
For this God is our God forever and ever.