The Lord’s Day Evening
February 10, 2013
Not by Bread Alone
“According to Your Promise”
The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Psalm 119. We’re going to be looking at the section which runs from verses 41 to 48 as we continue our way through this great psalm on the theme, “Not by Bread Alone.” And yet again we meet a passage here that teaches us how to live. How do you live the Christian life? Exactly how do you do it? The psalmist tells us here. Let’s pray before we read God’s Word.
Our heavenly Father, as believers it is a prime concern how we may live this life. We want to know. We want to know from Your Word. We want to know not out of curiosity but out of desperation. We want to know not in some academic and detached way but we want to know personally, out of need. There are things that come into our experience every day, some so troubling as to make us question almost everything. And in those moments, Lord, we want to know. We want to know from Your Word, ‘How does a Christian live?’ So teach us tonight from Your Word. We ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.
This is God’s Word. Hear it:
“Let your steadfast love come to me, O LORD, your salvation according to your promise; then shall I have an answer for him who taunts me, for I trust in your word. And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth, for my hope is in your rules. I will keep your law continually, forever and ever, and I shall walk in a wide place, for I have sought your precepts. I will also speak of your testimonies before kings and shall not be put to shame, for I find my delight in your commandments, which I love. I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes.”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
How do you live the Christian life? This psalm answers not only unambiguously, it answers helpfully. You live the Christian life by faith. You live the Christian life by faith in God, you live the Christian life by faith in His promises, and you live the Christian life by faith in His Word. I want to look at three things in this very rich passage. I won’t be able to touch on all the things that the psalmist says tonight but there are three things that I want us to concentrate on as we think about how the psalmist helps us live the Christian life.
OUR SALVATION IS ACCORDING TO PROMISE AND
THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS LIVED BY FAITH
And the first one is this, and you’ll see it especially in verse 41. Our salvation is from the Lord and our salvation is according to promise. It’s important for us as believers to get both of those things in our head. Our salvation is from the Lord and our salvation is according to promise. And what that means is this. It means two things. It means that our trust must be deliberately, self consciously, specifically focused on the Lord and His Word. And secondly, it means that we must live by faith. Now think about that for just a moment. Our salvation is from the Lord and our salvation is according to His promise. That means that our trust must be in Him and in His Word and that we must live by faith. Look at verse 41. “Let your steadfast love come to me, O LORD, your salvation according to your promise.” Notice where the focus of the psalmist’s trust is. “Let your steadfast love, let your lovingkindness, come to me, O LORD.” The psalmist is squarely focused on the Lord here. We’ve seen him do this even with the language that he uses about God’s Law. He won’t even speak about the Law without speaking about God. It’s God’s Law, it’s God’s Word, it’s God’s rules, it’s God’s commands, it’s God’s statues. Over and over he’s reminding himself, “This isn’t just a word. It’s not just a word about God. It’s a word from God. It’s God’s Word. It belongs to Him.” He’s focusing himself on the Word as a Word from God. And here, he focuses the hope of his salvation on the Lord.
And then he adds, “your salvation according to your promise.” Now what he’s teaching us there is that the focus of our trust in the Christian life must be deliberately on the Lord and His Word, especially His Word of promise. One of you stopped me this last week and was asking, because I’m always quoting from Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening. And I look at it almost every day. And somebody was saying, “Do you ever use his Cheque Book of the Bank of Faith?” And I said, “Oh yes, I have that in a very similar binding as I have Morning and Evening. I probably don’t look at it as often as I look at Morning and Evening but one of the things that Spurgeon does in that Cheque Book of the Bank of Faith is he piles up Bible promises to believers and he asks you to meditate on those promises. And of course that is a very important aspect of the Christian life because the focus of our trust in the Christian life is to be deliberately on the Lord and His Word, especially His promises. This is yet another passage that authorizes you to come to the Lord and plead for His salvation because He’s promised it to you! He’s promised, “Come to Me, ask for My lovingkindness; I’ll give you My salvation!” So we live by pleading those promises.
But what I want us to focus on here is just this point – that our trust must be in the Lord and in His Word. William Plumer, as he meditates on this passage, says this. “The salvation of the righteous is of the Lord. Every deliverance from peril, trial, or affliction is to be sought from Him alone.” And isn’t that often not our first instinct? When we are pressed in hard, very often the very last thing we do is call out to the Lord. The first thing we do is we try and figure it out. We try and fix the situation. We try and rescue ourselves. And here the psalmist is saying, “The first instinct of the believer in living the Christian life is to resort to the Lord, to trust in the Lord, to seek our salvation from Him and according to His Word by His promise.” So that’s the first thing that I want you to see. That our salvation is from the Lord and our salvation is according to promise teaches us that the Christian life must be lived by trust in Him and in His Word.
But the second thing that I want you to see in connection with that first point that we’re looking at in verse 1 is simply this. That means, obviously, that the way we live the Christian life is by faith. The Christian life is lived by faith. We’re not just justified by faith; we live the Christian life by faith, and the longer you go on the Christian life the more you realize you have to live the Christian life by faith. There are so many things that you cannot make sense of in this life by sight. By sight they don’t make sense. And so you have to live by faith. And that is a constant refrain from the Word of God itself. The passage that Paul quotes from Habakkuk when he’s explaining the doctrine of justification by faith says, Habakkuk 2:4, “The just shall live by faith.” And it is just as true that we are saved by the instrument of faith, receiving the grace of God offered to us in Jesus Christ as He is given to us in the Gospel, it is as true that we are justified by that instrument of faith or according to that instrument of faith but it is also true that we live the Christian life by faith. The just, those who are declared just by God, live how? By faith! Paul says the same thing in Romans chapter 1:17 — “The righteous shall live by faith.” Or think of what he says in Galatians 2:20. “The life I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Or in Hebrews 10:38 — “My righteous one shall live by faith.” Or in Hebrews 11, the whole point of the whole chapter of which is, “How do you live this life as a believer?” you live by faith! That’s why we’re called believers! But it’s hard sometimes. It’s hard sometimes.
This last Tuesday I had the privilege of preaching on the Bible at Belhaven University. And the task that I had been given by Dr. Parrott was to say why it was that we trusted the Bible, why we believe the Bible to be true. And there are many, many people who call themselves Christians and who are in fact Christians who struggle with that and they struggle with that for a variety of reasons. And so I presented my case for the truthfulness and the authority and the inerrancy of the Word of God, which ultimately rests on the fact that my Savior believes that the Bible is true. And if my Savior believes the Bible is true, it is an act of devotion on my part to believe that the Bible is true. If I’m going to put the whole of my hopes on Jesus and Jesus believes the Bible is true that pretty much does it for me. But there are thousands of questions, many of them legitimate, that can bother the hearts and minds of believers. You run across passages that run against your grain. You come to places in the Word of God where God asks you to do hard things. You come across passages that seem to pose contradictions. What do you do? You walk by faith.
After that talk, one of the professors came up to me and all he said was, “I believe. I believe.” He’s a man who’s studied the Bible for many years and I think the message that he was sending to me in those words was not just the word of encouragement to me about the message that I just presented but it was an answer to the own doubts of his own heart. He was saying, “I walk by faith. When I don’t understand, when I don’t have the answer, I walk by faith.” But that is the Christian life, my friends — walking by faith. And the psalmist is telling us here so clearly that the Christian life must be lived by faith. Again, I resort to my old friend, William Plumer, who is walking with me all the way through the Psalms. Here is what he says. “It is impossible to do well in the Christian life or to maintain any successful war against sin unless we have faith. The Word of God is powerless to help us until it is believed. Its vast treasures are unlocked by the hand of faith only. Without faith, providence is absolutely crushing in many of its dispensations, but faith makes salvation ours.” And then he ends with this sentence. “He that will not trust shall not conquer.” That’s so true. You know it to be true. The Christian life is lived by faith. And before he can get out of the very first stanza of this particular section of the psalm the psalmist is driving that point home. Our salvation is of the Lord. Our salvation is by the Word. Our salvation is according to promise. And therefore the Christian life is lived by faith in the Lord, in His Word, especially in His promise, and don’t miss that the Christian life is lived by faith. That’s the first big message that I want you to see in this psalm.
WE MUST BE PREPARED TO BEAR REPROACH
FOR THE SAKE OF THE TRUTH OF GOD’S WORD
The second one is this. And really there’s a sense in which this second point is one of the main themes of this whole section. Look at verses 42 and 46. The psalmist says that he’s going to trust in the Lord in His lovingkindness, in His salvation, in His Word, and in His promise. Why? Verse 42 — “then shall I have an answer for him who taunts me.” Ah-ha! Now we see the context in which he’s making this declaration. He’s standing for the Lord, he’s standing for the Word, and he’s expecting to be taunted, mocked, ridiculed, made fun of! And then we see it again. Look at verse 46. “I will also speak of your testimonies before kings and shall not be put to shame.” By the way, over and over as I’ve read that verse over the last two weeks I’ve wondered to myself, “I wonder if Paul meditated on Psalm 119 verse 46 after he made his determination to go before Caesar’s Supreme Court in Rome and testify to the Gospel. I wonder if that verse was one of the verses that he meditated on. “Lord, I will testify to You before kings.”
But whatever the case may be on my speculation there, clearly the context is a testimony that he fears could bring shame and reproach on him in the eyes of his enemies. And so what do we learn from this psalm? We learn that we must be prepared to bear reproach for the sake of God, the Gospel, and the truth of God’s Word. That is hugely important. It is hugely important for all of us who are alive in this day and age. It is especially important for you my younger friends. You are already living in a culture where to believe things that two thousand years of believers have believed will bring reproach on you, where to believe things that my generation and the eight generations before who have lived in this United States to have believed would have been normal, but now in the culture in which you live, to believe them will make you look crazy or wicked. And that’s the irony. Christians are used to being the ones who are making the moral judgment that someone else is wicked. You are now going to be thought of as wicked if you believe in traditional marriage, wicked if you believe that homosexuality is wrong, wicked if you believe that there is one God and only one way to heaven, wicked if you believe that the Word of God alone is true revelation from God, and I could go down the list. You will be thought morally corrupt for believing that and you will be reproached.
And already in the Christian community I’m watching it. I’m watching younger scholars that are facing this, younger pastors that are facing this, and here’s what they’re doing. They’re saying, “You know, maybe we need to rethink what Christianity has believed about these things.” What are they doing? They’re crumbling under reproach! I read one this week. He is a pastor in Minnesota saying, “You know, we Christians, maybe it’s time for us to rethink premarital sex. Maybe we’ve been wrong on this. Maybe we need to rethink the way we’re approaching it.” What is that? That’s crumbling under reproach. You know you feel yourself under the avalanche of sexual liberation and free for all and what do you do? You start trying to change the book because you don’t want to bear the reproach. Young friends, one of the things that I want to invest in you in my ministry, as long as the Lord gives it to me here, is that you sweetly but bravely bear reproach. I want you to have a face shining like sweet Stephen’s but I want you to have his backbone as well so that when you are reproached by this culture you stand with God and with His Word against the world because you love them. You will not love them well if you do not bear reproach. It will be essential to your loving them well that you bear reproach. And this whole section of the psalm is about being prepared to bear reproach.
Listen again to the wise words of my counselor, William Plumer. “If we suffer reproach and persecution nothing new has happened to us. David, David was hunted like a partridge in the mountains by Saul. Shimei cursed David as if he had been the vilest of malefactors. Christ’s murderers reviled Him. And when He was dying, they taunted Him. And the apostle Paul said in 1 Timothy 4:10, ‘We both labor and suffer reproach because we trust in the living God.’” So here’s going to be your choice, folks. You’re either going to trust in the living God and bear a reproach or you’re not going to be reproached because you don’t trust in the living God. That’s your option.
And by the way, I wonder if this section of Psalm 119 isn’t behind a fascinating passage in the book of Acts. Would you turn with me there to Acts chapter 4? I don’t have time for this but it’s just too good to miss. Look at Acts chapter 4 verse 23. This is the believers praying in the wake of the release of Peter and John. And here’s how they pray. Verse 23, Acts chapter 4 – “When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and elders had said to them. And when they had heard it they lifted their voices together to God and said, ‘Sovereign Lord, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed.’’”
So notice how they set it up. They set it up in the context of reproach. Peter and John have preached the Word and the kings of the earth have set themselves against them; they’re reproaching them. So they pray. “For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the people of Israel.” So it’s exactly the scene of Psalm 119 verse 46. “I will also speak of your testimonies before kings and shall not be put to shame.” And they go on to say this. “To do whatever your hand and your plan has predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant” — what? “They’re threatening us, Lord; they’re persecuting us, Lord; they’re reproaching us, Lord. Time for us to change our message!” Nope. “Time for us to soften our rhetoric!” No. “Grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness.” And my friends, do you see the answer to the prayer request? Just take a quick gander down at verse 31. “And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word with boldness.” They prayed, “Lord, give us the faith to continue to speak with boldness!” And the Lord answered their prayer literally, word for word! That’s what you need to pray, my dear young friends, that you will continue to believe and speak the Word with boldness, no matter the reproach. I wish I could go on with that.
THE PERFECT FREEDOM OF GOD’S LAW
Let’s go back to Psalm 119 verses 31 to 48 for one more thing. For those of us who have been saved by grace, for those of us who know that we are accepted in the Beloved, God’s Law is perfect freedom. The Law doesn’t rain on your parade. The Law doesn’t constrain you and repress you. It’s perfect freedom. And you see that in verses 44 and 45. “I will keep your law continually and forever.” It’s not contradicting what Cory just said. It’s not contradicting what The Children’s Catechism just said. He’s not claiming to have kept the Law perfectly and eternally. It’s first of all an aspiration. “It’s what I want to do, Lord.” But it’s also a declaration about something that God has done in him. Look in the very next verse. “For I find my delight in your commandments, which I love!” What’s the psalmist saying? He’s saying, “There are moments, there are moments in my life when I see the Law of God as it is and it sets me free from every bondage to which I have ever been a slave and it makes me just want to do it forever, continually.” Have you ever been in one of those moments where just the freedom of doing God’s biding according to God’s Word, no matter what the cost was for you in that particular moment was overwhelming to your soul, overwhelmed your soul? Your soul was so expansive no matter what you were experiencing because you were obeying God’s Word. You may have been losing much but the feeling of freedom was overwhelming. That’s what the psalmist is talking about.
Have you noticed the progression in this psalm? First the Word is appropriated by prayer in verse 41, then it is trusted in verses 42 and 43, then it is obeyed in verse 44, then it is sought in verse 45, then it is loved twice in verse 47 and 48. “I find my delight in your commandments, which I love! I will lift up my hands towards your commandments, which I love!” This is an echo of “How I love thy law, O LORD” and only a blood bought, saved by grace, redeemed by Christ in His work in the Gospel believer can say that, “How I love thy law, O Lord.” This is not saying, “How I love your commandments, O Lord,” because that’s how I save myself. You know, “How I love your commandments, O Lord,” because you give me the eight things that I need to do in order to make myself right with You so that maybe if I do them all the way to the end of my life You might possibly accept me before the throne of judgment. No, that’s not what the psalmist is saying here. The psalmist knows that his salvation is what? Verse 41 — “from the Lord.” It’s according to promise, and that has set him free to delight in God’s Law and that Law is perfect freedom.
Have you ever seen a dog run free? Have you ever watched a dog run free? It is one of the exhilarating things in this life, to just watch a dog run free. Even in my relatively quiet neighborhood I am scared to death to let my dogs off the leash because I am sure that they’re going to chase somebody’s cat or they’re going to chase a car or somebody texting in an SUV is going to come swerving around the corner and then I’m going to regret it for the rest of my life. But there are certain places that I can take them and I can flip the leash because I know when they’re there, they’re safe. They can’t run any place where it’s going to hurt them and I just love to watch them run free. When you’re a believer, a blood bought believer, and you know you’re accepted in the Beloved, and you’re walking in the way of God’s Law, you are as free as a Labrador Retriever running at liberty in a large field.
Again, my friend William Plumer says this to me. “It is a great mercy to have the liberty of the sons of God, tried often and terribly we may be, but He who walks at large, the truth having made him free, is far from seeing none but dark days.” And he goes on to say this, and he’s quoting Matthew Henry. “All that love God love His government and therefore love all His commandments.” And those commandments are to us freedom. Have you ever been in bondage to a sin and you’ve been set free by God’s grace, by the work of God’s Spirit in your heart, you will not see God’s commandment in the area of that sin as bondage; you will see it as freedom. You knew what slavery was. Keeping that commandment ain’t slavery; it’s freedom. And the psalmist is asking us to look at something that looks the exact opposite in the eyes of the world. In the eyes of the world, God’s Law looks narrow, but to the believer, God’s Law is broad, it’s wide, it gives us space to run with no leash or even collar on. You see the psalmist is telling us how to live the Christian life. You live it by faith, you live it by faith in the Lord, and in His promises, and by His Word, and you find freedom and boldness.
Heavenly Father, we thank You for Your Word and we ask that You would enlarge our hearts by it and You would give us faith in You and Your promises, in Jesus’ name, amen.
Would you stand for God’s blessing?
Peace be to the brethren and love with faith, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, until the daybreak and the shadows flee away.
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