The Lord’s Day Evening
February 17, 2013
Not By Bread Alone
“My Comfort in My Affliction”
The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I would invite you to turn with me to Psalm 119. We’ll be looking at verses 49 to 56 tonight. In the Christian life we are called upon to be comforted even in our affliction and to rejoice even in our sorrows. How do we do that? In the Old Testament, God’s people had to learn how to sing the Lord’s song in a strange land. In the New Testament, the apostle Paul called upon the Corinthians and you and me to learn how to sorrow with rejoicing. And he called upon the Thessalonians to grieve, but not without hope. How do you do that? This part of Psalm 119 addresses that question, a vital question for the Christian life. Let’s pray and hear God’s Word together.
Heavenly Father, we thank You how You have relentlessly pursued us in Your Word morning and evening in these last weeks, dealing with us in our hearts about things that are very practical and very deep in our experience of the Christian life. We pray that You would do so again tonight, that You would speak to us from Your Word, that You would apply it to our hearts by the work of the Holy Spirit, and that You would grant that we would understand and believe. In Jesus’ name, amen.
This is the Word of God. Hear it, beginning in Psalm 119 verse 49:
“Remember your word to your servant, in which you have made me hope. This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life. The insolent utterly deride me, but I do not turn away from your law. When I think of your rules from of old, I take comfort, O LORD. Hot indignation seizes me because of the wicked, who forsake your law. Your statutes have been my songs in the house of my sojourning. I remember your name in the night, O LORD, and keep your law. This blessing has fallen to me, that I have kept your precepts.”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
So how does this portion of Psalm 119 help us sorrow with rejoicing, grieve with hope, endure afflictions with comfort? Well there’s too much to say but let me draw your attention very briefly to seven things that we learn here for our help and hope and comfort.
HOPE IN THE WORD
The first one you’ll see in verse 49. “Remember your word to your servant, in which you have made me hope.” Do you see the two sides of that? “Remember your word to your servant,” so God speaks a word to His servant, and then, “in which you have made me hope.” So there’s the other side of it. The servant has hoped in God’s Word. In this verse we learn this. The Lord has given us a promise on which we may hope and He has wrought a hope in that promise in our hearts. The Lord has given us a promise on which we may hope and He has wrought a hope in that promise in our hearts. And that’s vital for living the Christian life. The Lord can give you promises, you know this. The Lord can give you promises and you can have a hard time laying hold of them. You can have a hard time believing them. And the psalmist says, “Lord, You’ve done both sides. You’ve given me glorious promises, but You haven’t just given me those promises. In my heart, You have allowed me to take hold of those promises and to have hope in those promises.” So how are we able to sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? How are we able to sorrow with rejoicing and grieve with hope and be comforted in our affliction? Because the Lord has made promises to us and by His Spirit He has enabled us to have hope in those promises.
Is that your testimony tonight? If it’s not, which side of it do you need to take to the Lord? “Lord, open my eyes to Your promises. I know they’re there in the Word but I’ve not taken account of them as I ought.” Or, “Lord, I know they’re there but where I am right now in my life I’m having a hard time hoping in them.” Or maybe it’s both. Well if it’s both, take that prayer to the Lord. Here’s a brother psalmist to you, three thousand years ago, saying he had seen the Lord’s promises in the Word and the Lord had given in hope in those promises in his heart and it had enabled him to live the life of a believer.
GOD’S PROMISES GIVE LIFE
Second, look at verse 50. The psalmist goes on to speak specifically of comfort in afflictions. “This is my comfort in my affliction.” Doesn’t that catch your attention? You want to know what his answer is. What is it? Tell me what it is! When you tell me, “This is my comfort and affliction,” I want to know what it is! And here he says, “Your promise gives me life.” “This is my comfort in affliction; your promise gives me life.” Do you hear what he’s saying? He is saying that God’s promises in His Word are both comforting and quickening. God’s promises in His Word are both comforting and quickening. What does that mean? It means that they are a consolation to us in our afflictions and they are the Spirit’s instrument in our sanctification. God has given those promises not only that we won’t faint when we’re under burdens, not only that we won’t give up hope when we’re in trials, but He’s also given us those promises in order to grow us up in grace, in order to sanctify us, in order to raise us to life out of the deadness of our sin. He gives the Word to us to quicken us to life and growth in grace. And so the psalmist says, “Here’s how I walk with the Lord in the midst of trial. He’s given me promises and those promises both comfort me and they quicken me.”
DETERMINED NOT TO TURN AWAY FROM GOD’S WORD
Third, look at verse 51. Now you might think that the psalmist says, “Because I believe Your Word, because I hope in Your Word, because I have received Your promises and they comfort and they quicken me, I’m not going to face opposition in this world.” No, what he says in verse 51 is this. “The insolent utterly deride me, but I do not turn away from your law.” The psalmist is saying to us here that we should expect to be jeered for our religion but that we should not be jeered out of our religion. The psalmist’s fidelity to the Word, his hope in God’s promise, does not mean that he is not derided. In fact, he tells us specifically here that he is. And he experiences derision but he is determined not to be turned away from God’s Word.
We talked a little bit about this last Lord’s Day Evening and it’s so important for us to understand in our own day and time. The things that we believe that used to seem normal and reasonable to our culture increasingly seem abnormal and unreasonable, fanatical, mean, narrow, backwards, fill in the blank with whatever description that is negative that you want to dig up. But the culture, more and more, finds the things that Christians believe and that the Bible teaches to be, well, worthy of derision, and it’s happy to oblige from time to time. And so if we are going to hold fast to the Word, we must, with the psalmist, expect derision. And our response needs to be like the psalmist’s response. “The insolent utterly deride me, but I do not turn away from your law.” In other words, the psalmist digs in and he says, “You may want to deride me but I am not letting loose of God’s Word. I believe God’s Word. I’m going to hold on to God’s Word. I’m going to turn to God’s Word. I’m going to continue in God’s Word. I’m not going to let it go.”
Matthew Henry says of this passage, “Those can bear but little for Christ that cannot bear a hard word for Him.” In other words, if you’re not willing to be derided a little bit for Jesus then there’s not much that you’re ready to bear for Jesus. And the psalmist is reminding us to be prepared for that. And that’s so important for us in this culture, especially you, my young friends who are here tonight. You will, on numerous occasions in your life, have the opportunity to either be derided for your Savior or to avoid derision by denying your Savior. And the psalmist is saying, “I will not deny God’s Word. I’ll happily accept the derision but I’m holding onto the Word of God.”
MEDITATE ON THE WORD
Fourth, look at verse 52. When derided, what does the psalmist do? Look at verse 52. “When I think of your rules from of old, I take comfort, O LORD.” When derided, the psalmist turns to the Word, he thinks on the Word, he meditates on the Word. And when we do, when we turn to the Word, we will find comfort in old words and old ways. “When I think of your rules from of old, I take comfort, O LORD.” Have you ever had that experience? The Word has been challenged, the Word has been mocked, you’ve been derided, the Word has been rejected, and yet you go to the Word and you dwell on the Word and as you dwell on the Word you suddenly realize, “This Word is wise. And the reason that this Word is derided is because it strikes at the heart of the sins of sinners and they don’t like it, and so they deride it. But this Word is wiser than they are.” And the psalmist says that he turns to the Word of God and he finds in it comfort — comfort in the old ways, the old laws, the old words of God. When derided, what do we do? We turn to the Word, we think on it, we meditate on it, and we will see its wisdom. That’s how you live in the midst of a world that doesn’t accept the Word of your Master.
And then, still in connection with this great theme, look at verse 53. “Hot indignation ceases me because of the wicked who forsake your law.” Notice how 51, 52, and 53 are grouped together. First, the insolent deride the Word of God and the psalmist says, “I won’t turn away from the law.” Then he says, “I’m going to meditate on Your law and I see it’s wisdom.” Now he says, “It makes me angry when I see the wicked publicly and openly and brazenly forsake Your law.” Now we have to be careful with this. It is a temptation, isn’t it, to be angry about others’ sin and easy on our own. And that’s not how we want to be. We want to be hard on our own sins and we want to be patient with the sins of others. But that’s not the circumstance that the psalmist is talking about. He is talking about an open, flagrant, wanton, brazen rejection of God’s law. And what he says is, it burns in his heart. Indignation is his response. “Hot indignation ceases me because of the wicked who forsake your law.” In other words, he’s saying, “Lord, my heart is lined up with You. I hate the things that You hate because I believe Your Word.” And you see, those who love God’s Word share God’s indignation against sin.
Maybe you’ve read some of the stories of Henry Martin going to India, the great missionary who died very young, burning himself out for the sake of the Savior. When he got to India, one of the things that vexed him most was his encounter with an ancient practice that was especially part of the cultural life in northern India called sati or suttee. Maybe those of you who have read a little bit of Indian history know about it. It was the practice of Indian widows self emulating. At their husbands funerals, these women would throw themselves upon the funeral pyre and be burned to death. And it was seen as a sign of love and loyalty to their husbands.
And when Henry Martin saw that, he could not believe that human beings, in the image of God, would be allowed and encouraged to do this. And on one occasion he said this, “I could not bear to go on living if I thought my Lord’s law would always be so dishonored.” As he saw the very image of God being consumed by fire in a pagan ritual that looks like something from the Valley of Hinnom that we read about in Jeremiah 19 today, it vexed his soul. He had indignation that this would go on. I’m sure it’s the same kind of thing that William Wilberforce and John Newton came to see about the Atlantic slave trade. And we could go on and on. But God’s people are vexed when they see wanton, flagrant, violations of His law, because our heart is with Him and when you love God’s Word, you share His indignation against sin.
LYRICS FOR OUR JOURNEY HOME
Sixth, look at verse 54. This is one of the most beautiful lines in the whole portion of the psalm. “Your statutes have been my songs in the house of my sojourning.” Now that’s a good one to memorize, it’s a good one to put up on your computer screen, or maybe up on your wall and remind yourself over and over. What’s the psalmist saying in this? The psalmist is saying that the Lord has supplied us the lyrics for our journey home. The Lord has supplied us with the lyrics for our journey home. Those who love the Lord and those who love His Scriptures make Him and them the theme of their pilgrim songs. We are strangers in a strange land. We are aliens in a place that is not our home. We are on a journey. We are on a pilgrimage home. We sang about that in “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah” — “pilgrim through this barren land.” What songs do we have to sing on that journey home? “My songs,” the psalmist says; “Your statutes have been my songs in the house of my sojourning.” The psalmist is singing the Lord’s songs, he’s singing about the Lord, he’s singing the Lord’s words, in the house of his sojourning on the way home.
Do you remember the story recorded in Acts 16 that Paul and Silas are in the prison at Philippi and what are they doing? They are singing hymns. Now they didn’t have Getty and Townend hymns in Philippi in the 1st century. What did they have? They had psalms. And probably those hymns that they were singing were psalms of adoration to God because hymns, as best as we can tell from the language of the early church, refer to a song that is directed in praise to God. And so most likely these came from the Psalter itself. What were they singing? Were they singing Psalm 24? “The earth belongs unto the Lord and all that it contains!” Or were they singing Psalm 90? “O God, our help in ages past!” Or were they singing Psalm 46? “A mighty fortress is our God!” I don’t know what they were singing, but they were singing the songs of our Lord. And do you remember what happened? An earthquake comes and the jailor comes and he thinks everybody has escaped. He gets ready to kill himself because when Roman jailors lost their prisoners, the penalty of the government against them was death. And so the Philippian jailor says, “I’ll take care of this right now!” And Paul cries out, “Don’t do it! We’re still here!” And the jailor, we’re told, comes in trembling, falls on his face, and immediately says, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They’re singing the Lord’s songs in prison and a pagan wants to be saved.
Do you remember what Jesus and His disciples did when they were on their way to the Garden of Burden, to the Garden of Sweat, in the hour of trial, in the Garden of Gethsemane? They sang a hymn. They sang the Lord’s song while they were on the way there. You know, I have no doubt that there are people who are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ in this church right now because you saw someone sing the Lord’s song in the hour of their trial, you saw someone grieve but with hope, you saw someone sorrow but rejoice, you saw someone afflicted but comforted, and you said, “This must be real.” I have no doubt that something like that must have been going through the Philippian jailor’s mind. “I have never seen prisoners like this! They’re singing the Lord’s song in prison and then when the gates open after the earthquake they don’t leave! There’s something different about these people! And whatever it is they have, I want it. Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” The Lord has supplied us the lyrics of our journey home. And those who love Him and the Scriptures make Him and them the theme of their pilgrim songs.
REMEMBER GOD’S NAME IN THE NIGHT
One last thing. Look at verses 55 and 56. I love these verses. “I remember your name in the night, O LORD, to keep your law. This blessing has fallen to me, that I have kept your precepts.” To remember God’s name is to know Him personally. You remember, God’s name is the representation of His character. It is the reputation of His attributes. The name of God speaks to who God is. And when he says, “I remember your name,” he’s saying, “Lord, I know what You’re like. I know who You are and I know You personally because I have Your Word. You have revealed Yourself to me in Your Word. I remember Your name in the night.”
So to remember God’s name is to know Him personally and to know Him is to want to do His Word. Listen to his words again. “I remember your name in the night, O LORD, and keep your law. This blessing has fallen to me, that I have kept your precepts.” To know God is to want to do His Word. And here’s the brilliant thing that the psalmist makes so clear in verse 56. It is not a burden to obey God’s Word; it’s a blessing. It is a blessing, not a burden, to live by God’s Word. It lifts burdens to live by God’s Word. It brings blessings to live by God’s Word. This attitude, the attitude that we meet in the words, “O how I love Your law, O Lord,” recognizes that God has not given His Word to curse us. But just as Wiley taught the children tonight, God has given us His Word to teach us how to live and to show us a need for a Savior. And those things, my friends, are blessings! They’re not curses, they’re blessings!
Now in all these things the psalmist is teaching us how to sorrow with rejoicing, how to endure the afflictions of the Christian life with comfort, how to grieve with hope, how to sing the Lord’s song in a strange land. May God bless this truth to our hearts as we do so. Let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, we bow before You again tonight and ask that You would press the truth home, deep into our hearts, that it might become such a part of us, so indelibly imprinted upon us, that we live it out almost without knowing it, 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. Amen.
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