"This I know, that God is for me." (Psalm 56:9, Am. RV)
Clovis G. Chappell: There are at present many voices clamoring for our attention. Almost every kind of huckster is crying his wares in the street. Those who have a panacea for all our ills are numerous. But they are little more so than those who despair of any remedy at all. Nor is this confused clamor confined to the affairs of the forum and the market place. It is heard also in the realm of religion. There are many who are seeking with eagerness to tell us what is wrong with the Church. Its faults are glaring, its diseases deadly. "From the sole of the feet to the crown of the head there is no soundness in it," (Isa. 1:6) they cry rather zestfully.
Meantime there are altogether too few to tell us what is right with God as he is revealed through Jesus Christ our Lord, and as they have found him in their own experiences.
Now, here is a voice to which we can afford to listen. This is true, in the first place, because it is a voice of assurance. Here is a man who speaks with a quiet certainty. There is a ringing conviction in his every accent. He knows what he is talking about. Any man who is an authority in his field, especially if his field is worth while, is worthy of our close and eager attention. Let us tune in on this man and give ourselves a chance to be gripped by his fascinating certainty. How eagerly the crowds gathered about Jesus! What a spell he cast over those with whom be came in contact! Why was this the case? One secret, I am sure, was this: He was a man who knew. "He spake as one having authority." (Matt. 7:29)
But not only should we listen to this psalmist because he knows. We should listen with greater attention because of the supreme importance of the knowledge that he has come to possess. "Knowledge is power," is a saying quite hoary with age. There is much of truth in it, too, though it is not universally true. There is a kind of knowledge born of experience that is not power, but weakness. It does not enlighten; it makes one blind. It does not bring life; it rather brings death. We have all come into possession of such knowledge here and there along the way, and we are vastly the poorer for it to this hour. Knowledge of evil never makes for power. The strongest of men was he of whom it is written, "He knew no sin." (2 Cor. 5:21)
In the city of New York a few months ago, a young man, the son of a contractor, ran away with the wife of a multimillionaire. In the eyes of some it was quite a romantic affair. But to those most intimately concerned it proved a tragic disappointment. Ten days later they were found locked in each others arms before a gas jet. On the table was a note written by the woman. It read as follows: "We have been accustomed to laugh, Fred and I, at the moral law as a lot of man-made rules to frighten timid souls into being good. But now we have learned through experience that `the wages of sin is death' - yea, many times worse than death - hell on earth."
Then there is the type of knowledge that is practically worthless. A man died in one of our larger cities some months ago whose one claim to distinction was that he was good at bridge-whist. He was an authority in that realm, but it is hard to persuade ourselves that such knowledge is really worth while. Surely it is not worthy of the devotion of a lifetime. Many of the theological questions about which we grow hot and excited are of little greater importance. How much of our energy has been squandered fighting over questions that are never really settled, in the first place, and that, if they should be settled, would prove of on practical value whatsoever!
Yet there are not a few of us who "major on minors." At present I am thinking of a certain man who enjoys somewhat of a reputation for learning. Nor am I saying that this reputation is not deserved. But I never hear him speak that he does not remind me of one of Edgar Allan Poe's quaint and curious volumes of forgotten lore. He impresses me as knowing more things that are not worth knowing than any man I have ever met. He illustrates how altogether possible it is to be abundant in certain kinds of knowledge and yet share with King James the reputation of being the wisest fool in Christendom.
Then there is a kind of knowledge that is altogether practical and worthwhile. It falls short, however, in two respects: First, it does not meet our highest needs; second, it is not permanent. "If there be knowledge," said Paul long centuries ago, "it shall vanish away." (1 Cor. 13:8) And how consistently that is being demonstrated as the years come and go! Every reputable scientist will tell you that the theories of to-day are likely to be discredited to-morrow, just as the theories of yesterday are discredited to-day. Nor is he at all ashamed to say this. He knows that the world is going forward. He is therefore ready to sing with Tennyson:
"Let knowledge grow from more to more,
But more of reverence in us dwell;
That mind and soul, according well,
May make one music as before."
But the knowledge possessed by this ancient singer is a knowledge of supreme worth. So priceless is it that, if we miss it, though, if it were possible, we might come to possess all other knowledge, life would still have a pathetic sense of incompleteness. It would still end at last in a tragedy as deep and dark as that woven out of the warp and woof of loneliness and death. If, on the other hand, we come to possess this knowledge, though, if it were possible, we might miss all other knowledge, yet life for us must be victorious in its course and victorious in its consummation.
What, then, is this knowledge that is of such supreme and abiding worth? Hear the answer from the lips of the psalmist himself: "This I know, that God is for me."
And the winsome wonder of it is that, though this is the supreme knowledge, it is within reach of every one of us. It has been said wisely that we get most of our knowledge at secondhand. What I know about the North Pole I must take on hearsay. I have never been there and never expect to go. What little I know about astronomy I must take from the astronomers. I never intend to map the heavens and thus think God's thoughts after him. In every department of science the vast majority of us must take what the scientists say.
But this highest and most worthful of all knowledge is within reach of every one of us. The most handicapped among us may have first-hand knowledge of God.
It is said that one day in London an atheist sought to make sport of an unlettered man who had been converted only a few years before. "Do you know anything about Jesus Christ?" he asked. "Yes, by the grace of God, I do," was the answer. "When was he born?" was the next question. The ignorant saint gave an incorrect answer. "How old was he when he died?" Again the answer was incorrect. Other questions were asked with the same result until the atheist said with a sneer: "See, you do not know so much about Jesus as you thought, do you?" "I know all too little," was his modest answer, "but I know this: Three years ago I was one of the worst drunkards in the East End of London. Three years ago my wife was a broken-hearted woman, and my children were as afraid of me as if I had been a wild beast. To-day I have one of the happiest homes in London, and when I come home at the close of the day my wife and children are glad to see me. Jesus Christ has done this for me. This I know."
"This I know, that God is for me." Look at the rich content of this knowledge. How much does the psalmist really know?
1. He knows that God is. Reared doubtless in a pious home, he had believed from childhood in the existence of God. But that was not enough. Then as he grew in knowledge he began to see evidences of God in the world about him. He possibly heard God saying, with Goethe:
"Before the roaring loom of time I ply
And weave the garment thou seest me by."
He had seen evidences of God in the silence of the templed hills, in the shimmering song of the brook, in the silver light of the stars. He may have reached the conclusion that earth was crammed with heaven and every common bush aflame with God. He may have found evidences of him everywhere.
But external evidences did not satisfy. They are not enough for you and me. I was brought up in a land of majestic hills and wonderful springs. There were many of these springs that were as abiding as the hills from which they flowed. Amidst the frosts of winter and the droughts of summer they sang with unabated life and gladness. But once I discovered a new spring that I had never seen before. It was in early April after an abundance of rain. The waters of this spring were beautiful and gushing. It looked as if it might flow forever. But when I sought that spring one day in the noontide hush of midsummer there was no water there. There were lovely white pebbles where the spring had once been. There was a little gravel-strewn pathway where it had made its way down the hillside toward the river. Evidences of water were obvious and abundant. But I could not drink evidences. They are a poor substitute when the day is hot and wearying and your tongue is swollen with thirst. This man passed by evidences into a first-hand knowledge of God himself.
2. Not only did he discover that God is real. He discovered that God cares. "This I know, that God is for me." He came to realize through his own personal experience that God loved him individually; that he singled him out from all those that had lived, and from all those that were then living, and from all those that were yet hidden in the bosom of centuries, to bestow his personal care upon him. What a tremendous and transforming knowledge! Life can never be the same to one who knows in his heart and realizes in the inner deeps of his soul that God loves and cares, not simply for the world, but for him personally.
"But the universe of this psalmist was a small affair," you answer wistfully, "while the bounds of the one in which I live have been pushed back to infinitude." But that does not make God smaller, but greater. That ought to help our faith rather than hinder it. Besides, Jesus has come since that far-off day. As we meet him on the pages of the New Testament we are constantly surprised and thrilled at his amazing love. And this love he gives, not simply to the crowd or to the group, but to the individual. He is incredibly interested and enthusiastic over folks that you and I would hardly have looked at. He gave himself without stint to souls that we would have considered nothing but shoddy. And as he thus squandered his precious energies upon every sort of individual, lepers, prostitutes, and nameless nobodies, he tells us that God is like that. "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father." (John 14:9)
3. Finally, the psalmist discovered, not only that God cares, but that he is working on his behalf. He is seeking in every way within his power to bring him to his finest self and to his highest possibilities. This does not mean that his road was always made soft by a carpet of flowers. God did not coddle him and pamper him. He did not protect him from every rude wind. On the contrary, his road was at times heartbreakingly rough and rugged. He knew what it was to pass sleepless nights. He had an intimate and long acquaintance with tears. But he has become convinced that God is working for his enrichment, not only in spite of all his difficulties, but even through them. His tears are being conserved. They are being kissed into jewels. His losses are being transformed into glorious gains. Thus in the face of disappointment and sorrow he can still sing, "God is for me."
What was the effect of this knowledge of God upon the psalmist's everyday life?
1. It gave him a fine high courage. "God is for me," he sings confidently. Therefore, it is only natural that he should go on to say, "What time I am afraid I will trust in thee." His life was beset by many haunting fears. This is true of the most sheltered of us. How many there are with everything in the way of material blessings that heart can wish are yet daily tortured by nagging fears. There are so many foes that can harm us. We are open to attack in so many different quarters. We can suffer in such a multitude of ways. We can suffer in our bodies and in our minds. We can suffer in the sorrows and heartaches of those whom we love. But this man, because he is so sure of God, has come to where he can look upon life with a fearless heart and quiet eyes.
You remember that dramatic story in the second book of Kings chapter 6: The servant of the prophet Elisha slips out one morning to discover that the city in which he and his master are stopping is surrounded by a hostile army. Humanly speaking there is no avenue of escape. There is nothing ahead but capture and death. He looks at the strong army with terror and then flees to his master with the despairing cry upon his lips "Alas, Master, how shall we do?" When the prophet hears the news he begins to pray. No doubt that did not surprise the young man in the least. That he had expected. But when he heard that for which he prayed he was amazed beyond words. For what did Elisha make request? He did not ask for deliverance; he did not ask that God think upon their desperate plight. This was. his prayer: "Lord, open his eyes that he may see." And when the eyes of the young man were opened he saw the horses and chariots of fire round about. He came to realize what is abidingly true "They that be with us are more than they that be against us."
2. This radiant certainty enabled the psalmist to "walk before God in the light of the living." Moffatt translates this "to walk before God in the sunshine of life." That is, this knowledge enabled the psalmist to live his life in the sunshine. How splendid! There are too many of us that live in the shadows. Our hopes have grown dim. Our expectations have withered. We are not the joyful, radiant saints that we ought to be. What a contrast between ourselves and those whom we meet upon the pages of the New Testament! How wonderfully these dwelt in the sunshine! Some of them were cast into prison, some were stoned, and some were fed to wild beasts. But nothing could rob them of their sunshine. They were somehow taller than the night. No adversity had power to dim their quenchless joy.
"As some tall cliff that lifts its awful form,
Swells from the vale and midway leaves the storm,
Though round its breast the rolling clouds are spread,
Eternal sunshine settles o'er its head."
Recently I was called back to Memphis to bury a saint who was more than eighty years of age. He had never been famous for either scholarship or ability. Yet his funeral was possibly the largest ever held in that city. Multitudes came because they had been brought under the spell of his radiant life. His last days were marked by bitter losses. His wife slipped away after a fellowship of sixty years. Then a son was killed by a reckless and drunken driver. But through it all there was a staunchness and a fine radiance about this man that simply could not be accounted for except in terms of God. He lived in the sunshine, and eager souls were drawn to him by his radiance. So may we if we are gripped by this bracing faith: "This I know, that God is for me."
from "Sermons from the Psalms" by Clovis G. Chappell, 1931
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