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Fainting Fits and Gosple Cures

Sermon by Derek Thomas on Nov 22, 2009

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The Lord's Day Morning

November 22, 2009

Psalm 42

“Fainting Fits and Gospel Cures”

Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas

Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made the heavens and the earth. Let us worship God.

Now turn with me to Psalm 42, to a psalm that reflects in many ways just what the choir have just sung, a prayer to God that seems to arise somewhere from the depths and from the darkness.

John Calvin once said about the Psalms that they are “an anatomy of all the parts of the soul” — an anatomy of all the parts of the soul. And by that he meant that the Psalms speak not just to our joys and our triumphs, but also to our sadness and to those times in our Christian experience when God seems to be far away.

I have a dear friend, Carl Truman, who once wrote an article with a title What Do Miserable Christians Sing? What do miserable Christians sing? And the answer of course is “the Psalms” because many of the Psalms are what we might call “Blues” — they’re singing the blues. And now that may mean for some of you with sanguine and phlegmatic temperaments, not much, but to some of you and I suspect many of you and perhaps to some degree to all of you, this psalm has a very special resonance because you do know times when God seems to be far away. And what do we do? What do we do when, in the depths of our soul, there appears to be a darkness?

Charles Haddon Spurgeon once wrote, “There are dungeons beneath the castles of despair as dreary as the abodes of the lost.” And he went on to say, “And some of us have been in them.”

“There are dungeons beneath the castles of despair as dreary as the abodes of the lost and some of us have been in them.”

Well, let's look at this psalm, because this psalm addresses that condition this morning. Before we read the psalm together, let's once again look to the Lord in prayer.

Lord, we thank You this morning even before we start looking at this psalm together that You are a God who meets us in every contingency, in every condition that we find ourselves in. We thank You this morning that even in the very depths that You are there. And we pray this morning as we read and study this particular psalm together, that You would by Your Spirit apply it to us and perhaps Lord, in Your sweet providence, this is not a psalm that meets our condition this morning, but there are undoubtedly brothers and sisters around us who are passing through great trials and great difficulties — some external and some internal. Some are part of the struggles of the very makeup and complexity of our souls and we pray this morning that the Word of God, this very psalm, might be a balm to them. And we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

This is God's holy and inerrant Word:


As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, ‘Where is your God?’ These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival.

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God.

My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember You from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. Deep calls to deep at the roar of Your waterfalls; all Your breakers and Your waves have gone over me. By day the Lord commands His steadfast love, and at night His song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life. I say to God, my rock: ‘Why have You forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?’ As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me, awhile they say to me all the day long, ‘Where is your God?”

Why are you cast own, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God.”

Amen, and may the Lord add His blessing to that reading of His holy and inerrant Word.

Now, there are some symptoms here, symptoms of a dark soul, a soul that is in the dark, a soul that's in a dark place - A believer to be sure; a member probably of the choir. It's of the Sons of Korah. He makes mention as you can see there in verse 4 having been part of a procession that sang psalms of praise and gladness in the multitude keeping festival, but that's not where he is now.

I. Symptoms of a soul that's in a dark place.

You notice in the first place in verse 3 that he talks about his tears. Here's a man who's upset. Here's a man who's crying. Here's a believer who's experiencing emotional distress. See there in verse 5 he's “cast down.” He's flat. He's well, we might say, “blah.” The spring in his step has gone. He's lethargic. These are classic symptoms of depression to be sure, but here in particular of spiritual depression. He just doesn't have that joie de vivre. He just doesn't have that sense of joy and jubilation. He's crying, he's tired, he's flat. He says in verse 5, “Why are you in turmoil within me?” His soul, his mind, his spirit, is in turmoil. In verses 5 and 6 he talks about what once was the case but that's not the case anymore.

He even mentions in one of these verses, verse 10, that his bones seem to ache. Do you know what that means? Can you identify with that? There's such a hurt and it's so inside, it's so, well, it's spiritual, but it's also physical. We are body and soul and sometimes the way we feel affects our bodies and this man, this woman, aches. And it's an internal sort of ache. Even his bones seem to ache. He says in verse 4, he's “pouring out his soul.” He pours it out before God. And in verse 7, “breakers” — “your waves; deep calls to deep.” These waves, these waters have gone over him.

You understand that for a Jew, especially, you find there's a lot in the Old Testament, the Jews just didn't seem to have great relationships with water. You know, they just didn't seem to be great swimmers. Water seemed to terrify Jews. Many of the psalms, the book of Job for example —filled with allusions to being in sorrow, being like drowning, being underneath the water, the waves are engulfing. He's being swallowed up by these waters of affliction.

Now you notice the irony here. He's thirsty in verse 2. He's looking for water, but the only water that he can find is a water that engulfs him; it's a water that's drowning him. He's overwhelmed. He's not in control. He's lost control.

And then a couple of times in the psalm, verse 3 for example, again in verse 10, enemies are saying, taunting him, mocking him, saying, “Where is your God? You came to be a believer, you identify yourself with the people of God — well where is your God?”

Can you identify with the Psalmist? You hurt — you hurt spiritually and you hurt physically, and you’re not sure which effects which, and you’re overwhelmed and you've lost control and it's as though the waters of affliction that are external and internal have overwhelmed you and you seem to be drowning in it all.

And there's no sense of God. You believe the doctrines, you could recite this morning the Apostles Creed — “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth” and so on and you could repeat that, but deep down in absolute honestly, God just seems to be far away as though He had forsaken you. You’re cast down. Those are some of the symptoms and many of us perhaps recognize those symptoms.

Let me say immediately, I'm glad this is here. Even if this morning you’re one of these extraordinary people who just never seems to have a blue day — and there are irritating folk like that! You know, they’re always on top of the world and everything is wonderful and they just never ever seem to be down. And then there are some of us, and we recognize what the Psalmist is talking about all too well, and some of us have a public face; but there's a private face. And you get the impression here that you’re eavesdropping, a personal, private journal of some kind, and it's so terribly honest.

I have to tell you I'm so glad it's here. Imagine if psalms like this weren't in the Bible - if every psalm was a psalm of joy and happiness and gladness. But here's a believer. Here's a man who believes in the Lord. Here's a man who trusts in God and there are days like this. This is part of his experience.

I want to tell you right up front, lest we miss the point, that there are aspects of this psalm that can be identified in Jesus. You understand that? Without any sin, without any transgression of God's law, Jesus was absolutely perfect. He never broke God's law. He was never ever on the wrong side of this issue; but He knew weeping. “He was a man of sorrow and acquainted with grief.” He knew what it was to cry out, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” That's sublime, isn't it, that we have a Savior who's been tempted in every point like as we are? He knew what it was to ache in His bones. He knew what it was to have enemies taunt Him. He knew what it was to struggle and really struggle with the providence of God. “Father if it be possible let this cup pass from Me.” We have a Savior who has walked in the valley of the shadow of death.

That's sublime, that the Son of God in His incarnate condition, as He took to Himself human flesh and blood with a human mind and a human spirit and a human soul, can walk this path and reflect some of these very symptoms — the feeling of being overwhelmed by circumstances, to almost lose control. What a Savior, what a Savior we have.

II. Causes of darkness…

But the psalm, the psalm reflects not just symptoms, but it reflects on some of the causes. Now it's not giving you all of the causes, it's giving you some of the causes. And the causes can be manifold and the causes can be physical and chemical to be sure and the psalm isn't denying that aspect of things — that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” and that the answer to some of these conditions can be helped through counseling and through medication and psychology and all the rest of it. It's not denying that. It's not one or the other, you understand. But it's giving us here some of the causes.

One of the causes is in the very opening verse — “As the deer pants for flowing steams, so pants my soul for You, O God. When shall I” — verse 2 — “When shall I come and appear before God?” He's far away. He talks in verse 6 of being in Jordan and of Mount Hermon. Mount Hermon you understand, Mount Hermon is north of the Sea of Galilee and over to the east. And one gets the impression from verse 4, the procession, the glad shouts, the keeping festival, the fact that this psalm is written by one of the sons of Korah — he's a choir member. Now the choir can sing about the blues and the choir I'm sure can experience the blues, but you understand this man is not in Jerusalem. He wants to be in Jerusalem. This is the Old Testament. He wants to be in Jerusalem — that's where God was present. That's where the ordinances of worship were to be seen, and for some reason he is, perhaps, physically displaced from Jerusalem. Sickness has called him home to be with his family perhaps. Who knows? Perhaps this is a psalm reflecting an exile. He can no longer worship as he once worshipped.

We have members of our church who cannot meet with us anymore. They are at home. They may well be listening to this on mp3s or whatever, and you’re just where the psalmist is — you long to be among God's people. Do you know the blessing of being in God's house on the Lord's Day? It's the best time of the week. You understand that don't you? You concur with that, that's your longing — as soon as Monday morning comes you long for Sunday morning again. There's nothing quite like it. Sitting here in the church and singing God's praise and entering into prayer with God's people and listening to His Word and being fed and nourished and guided and directed and instructed. There's absolutely nothing like it. It's the market day of the soul.

But when you can't go to church anymore, when you’re physically isolated from the means of grace and the people of God, that's one of the causes for this particular psalmist as to why he's feeling the way that he's feeling.

But you notice in verse 3 that he has enemies. He doesn't seem to be among God's people wherever he is. He's surrounded by enemies and they’re saying, “Where is your God? Where is your God? Look at you, you claim to be a believer but you seem to be discouraged. You claim to be a believer but you appear to be in the depths and you appear to be downcast. You don't appear to be in control. Where is your God?” That hurts doesn't it? It comes home to us — that taunting, that mocking.

III. Cure for darkness.

But I want to focus on the cure. I don't mean cure in the sense, in the absolute sense. I don't mean, read Psalm 42 and all your troubles will disappear. I had someone say that to me when I first became a Christian. They meant well — “Come to Jesus and all your troubles will disappear” they said to me. I came to Jesus and my mother called the doctor and he prescribed tranquilizers because he thought I was having some kind of religious breakdown, mental breakdown, some psychological disturbance. I came to Jesus and I discovered that my former friends weren't friends anymore. I shared a room in college with someone, and I went and did things that college kids do, and I became a Christian and I no longer did those things. They weren't as bad as you might imagine now, but he just wasn't a friend anymore. I would witness to him but there was always a hostility; there was a barrier.

And that's where the Psalmist is — he's surrounded by enemies. He's in a dark place. But look at what he does. This is a maskil. That's not in your every day vocabulary. You won't get up tomorrow morning and say, “I'm going to have a maskil today.” But a maskil is just a word that means instruction. This is a psalm of instruction. It's meant to help you. This is a psalm that helps us as the people of God.

You notice what he says in verse 4 — “These things I remember as I pour out my soul.” He is honest for sure, let's make that point. He doesn't engage in what we moderns call denial — as though we thought that was some sort of modern concept. The Bible knows all about that. He's absolutely honest and he's absolutely honest with God. And as he comes before God and in all honesty, declaring to God the way that he feels, he remembers, he thinks, and he deliberately remembers something. He remembers the past - I remember when I used to go along with other members of the choir and I would go to the house of God and there would be such joy and there would be such a sense of God's presence, as though I was physically lifted up from the ground. I remember that. I remember what God did for me in the past.

You know George Whitefield was converted in Oxford and whenever he would find himself back in Oxford he would go to the very spot where he was converted and he would kiss the ground. John Wesley would remember every year the day on which God saved him. He would deliberately remember that event. I have a copy of John Stott's Basic Christianity. It was the book I read in 1971 when God saved me. God saved me through this book, through reading this book. It was a night and day. It was a Damascus Road kind of experience and I keep it right next to me on my desk in my office at the seminary - the copy that I had then, the copy that I first read. And on days when I hear these doubts — do you know what I'm talking about? These doubts come into your head: “Is all of this true? Is all of this really true?” When circumstances seem to scream in your face that the very opposite is true, I remember, I remember what God did. I remember His mercies, I remember His blessings.

This is the week that all Americans do it. Now don't ask me how the British celebrate Thanksgiving. Please, you’ll reveal your lack of knowledge of history, but this is the week to do it for sure — to be thankful, to remember God's blessings, to name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done. That's the first thing.

But the second thing, and it's the most important thing of all, and it's right there at the very center of the psalm — “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God.” And you see it's repeated again in verse 11 and it's also repeated at the end of the next psalm, 43, and the next psalm might well, at one time, have been part of Psalm 42. Hope in God, trust in the God who is my salvation.

Do you understand what the psalmist is doing? He is remembering the Gospel, that's what he's doing. He's remembering the Gospel.

What is the way out of difficulty? What is the way out of this darkness? What is the way out of this impasse? What's the way out of this engulfing experience? Well it's not, do you see, “Do more. Pray more. Read more. Make more vows. Make more promises. Live better.”

No, it's “Remember the God who has saved you. Remember that it's ‘Nothing in my hands I bring. Simply to Thy cross I cling.’ Remember that with an outstretched arm God saved you and God rescued you. When enemies mock you and taunt you and cause you perhaps to think, ‘Lord, Lord, You’re supposed to be my Rock and You've abandoned me,’ remember He has saved you and it was not of your doing and it was not of your promising and it was not of your efforts.”

Lean entirely upon Him. That's what he's saying.

Do you understand what he's doing? He's applying Gospel dynamics to his spiritual condition. He's not denying the importance of the means of grace. He's not denying the importance of reading the Scripture. He's not denying the importance of prayer. He's not denying the importance of gathering together with God's people. But the cure to spiritual depression lies, the psalmist says, in casting yourself entirely upon the Lord, upon Jesus, upon this One who has been tempted in every point like as we are yet without sin.

Well my dear friend, I don't know where you are this morning. I don't know in what depths you may find yourself in this morning, but that Gospel that you once put your faith and trust in is still the same this morning.

“What can separate me from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ our Lord? “He who did not spare His own Son, but freely delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not along with Him freely give us all things?” “Who shall lay any charge to God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? It is Christ that died, who has risen, who is at the right hand of God, who ever lives to intercede for us”

I ask you again, what can separate me, what can separate me from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ our Lord? “Not death, not life, not angels, not principalities, not height, nor depth, nor anything in all of creation.” Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Not the engulfing depths that God in His extraordinary, mysterious providence may bring us in to in order, in order my dear friends, to make us lean upon Him all the more. Sometimes God takes away all the props. He takes them all away, so that in the darkness all you have is His promise. Trust it. Lean upon it with all your might and He will never ever let you down.

Father we thank You for this psalm and pray now that its truths might impinge deeply upon our hearts. For Jesus’ sake we ask it. Amen.

Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

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