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A Song Hama’aloth (2)
A Song of Degrees
“But there is forgiveness with Thee, that Thou mayest be feared. I wait for the LORD, my soul doth wait, and in His Word do I hope” (Psalm 130:4&5).
Rev. J. Van Haaren (1933-1983)
It may seem strange, but the saving uncovering of guilt and sin is always coupled with hope. How different this is when Satan points to our sins. He only seeks to bring us to despair, for he wishes to cast us into the dark depths of death. He causes us to call out as Cain did, “My punishment is greater than I can bear.” With the saving uncovering, however, hope is paired; therein something is already felt of salvation, for the love of God is poured out in the heart. You can see it in the names which the poet ascribes to God. He says, “If Thou, Lord”—the covenant name which speaks of God’s grace—“shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord,”—the name Adonai, the righteous Judge—“who shall stand?” He actually wishes to say, “If Thou, gracious God, would only deal with me as a righteous Judge, then there would be no expectation, but now, Thou art, besides being just, also gracious.” That gives him hope that binds him to God’s throne. That causes him to say, “But with Thee there is forgiveness.” While he is bowing as a deeply guilty sinner before God’s throne and experiences what it is not to be able to exist before God, and acknowledges that God is just and righteous, there he may taste something of God’s grace in Christ. Although it is true that he cannot exist before God, yet that God will and can live among mankind.
Did not the temple stand in Jerusalem, God’s holy of holies? But how could the Lord live among guilty sinners? Because there the blood flowed from the sacrifices, and that blood pointed to the sacrifice of the Lamb of God that would take away the sin of the world. Oh, if the Lord would mark our transgressions, no man could stand before Him; yet, people can stand before Him because He will live among mankind. Does He then overlook sin? Does He consider the guilty to be guiltless? Oh, no! He is terribly angry towards both our actual and our original sins and will punish them with temporal and eternal punishments. Yea, so great is the anger of God towards sin that before He would let it go unpunished He has punished it in His Son with the bitter and shameful death of the cross. This “but” is, therefore, also a godly “but.” From man’s side it was hopeless, but with the Lord there were thoughts of peace. According to his eternal, free, good pleasure He wishes to have compassion upon wretched ones. That is why the poet sang, “But Thou dost pardon fully all our iniquity, that we may serve Thee truly and fear Thy majesty.”
When God extends mercy to hellworthy sinners, He does not renounce His justice. His mercy does not vacate His justice. How can He then forgive sin? Because Christ was willing to stand in the place of sinners. Oh, in what depths has He descended to give life to those who were guilty of death. Isaiah writes that the Lord has laid upon Him all their iniquities. Burdened down with the sins of His Church the Lord has closely examined Him, and what happened then? He was wounded for our transgressions, and He was bruised for our iniquities. Oh, that is why there is forgiveness with Him! Here you have the heart of the gospel. What a glad tiding this is for those who can find only unrighteousness in themselves—a tiding that forgiveness can be found by Him. Then there is no sin too great and no burden too heavy, for no matter how great the sin is, grace is more abundant. “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”
Oh, you who are ashamed because of your sins and who stand afar off, behold, see the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world. “He shall redeem His people, His chosen Israel.” Oh, sinner, then beg, “Oh, Lord, do so also for me!” God does all things for His own Name’s sake, and in the honor of God’s Name lies the salvation spoken of by the poet. When he tastes something of that forgiving grace, then he has a desire to fear God. No, such a fear is not to be afraid before God, for this fear is not servile or slavish but a childlike fear. It is to be afraid of sin because sin is dishonoring to God. To have such a fear is to fear and cherish the Lord, and that is revealed in an avoiding and fleeing from sin.
God’s pardoned people will never become Antinomians because as soon as the love of God is poured out into the heart, sin becomes death unto them, and that becomes visible in their lives. Their whole desire is then to live holily before the Lord. Oh, certainly there may be much legalism, yet it is an evangelical sanctification, for God will not take it into account. The poet does not say “because Thou mayest be feared, but “that Thou mayest be feared.” With this fear of God you cannot earn salvation, yet that fear cannot be missed because the fruit of it is the enjoyment of forgiveness. It is, therefore, impossible for those who have been engrafted in Christ by a true faith to not bring forth fruits of thankfulness.
Psalm 130 is not a superficial psalm but a song out of the depths. How did the poet end up in the depths? Well, he saw himself in the light of God’s holiness. Then he became unclean, leprous, and damnable. No, it does not concern special sins but is about his total sinful existence. Those are the depths wherein he finds himself. He cannot stand before God, and in this condition God cannot have anything to do with him. That is his sorrow. That causes him to call out, and while calling out there comes a reprieve. In the depths of his condemnable state, God’s forgiveness in Christ shines upon him. Faith is awakened so that he calls out, “But there is forgiveness with Thee.” This hope also is enlivened, for he says in our text, “I wait for the Lord.” What is it, therefore, that he awaits? Is it help, is it deliverance, is it forgiveness? No, he is active with the Person who helps, delivers, and forgives.
His hoping eye is directed upon God Himself. He is longing not only for the covenant blessing but also for the covenant God Himself. Naturally, we can never separate these two, for when God comes He brings everything with Him which will complete our salvation. There is, however, a difference if we are more active with the benefits than with the Benefactor. What is your expectation? The natural man expects it from the world, but that will only lead to disappointment. The almost Christian also has his expectation. How zealously did the five thousand who were fed so wondrously seek for the Lord Jesus. Did they really seek Him? The Lord Jesus brought their intention out into the open, saying, “Ye seek Me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled.” Then their purpose was revealed, for they said, “This is an hard saying; who can hear it?” and they left Him.
The poet’s expectation is different. He waits for the Lord. No, he does not just need something from the Lord; he needs the Lord Himself. Is that also your expectation? Ah, there are many who wait for something from God. They have a hope that He will comfort them, that He will speak a word unto them, that He would show them that He knows of them. Certainly, in and of itself those are not wrong desires, but it is so regrettable that these people are more concerned with the gifts than with the Lord, the Giver, Himself. It is a benefit if the desire is for God Himself, if you wish to enter into a reconciled relationship with Christ, if your heart longingly looks for Him whose blood cleanses from all sin. If the desire of the Greeks who said, “Sirs, we would see Jesus” is not strange to you, then the desire is for Him alone, to meet Him and to embrace Him.
There is a great difference between waiting and an attitude of “wait and see.” That waiting to see what will take place is a picture of the natural man. He does not get involved; he will see what will happen. With the poet, however, there lives an expectation. Yes, it is a living expectation; there is movement, for waiting does not mean just sitting still. It is a looking with great longing for the coming of the Lord. The poet longs for the Lord more than watchers wait for the morning. Our thoughts go out to watchers upon the wall of the city which has been surrounded by enemies. Because of the darkness they cannot see what is happening down below them. Where is the enemy, and what is he doing now? How they long for daylight. Well, that is how the poet is looking for the morning of salvation. For him it is also night; darkness surrounds him. Oh, how dark it can be in the night of uncovering, so dark that a person cannot see even his own hand before his eyes. But, in that dark night, a longing is born for the light.
How anxious and fearful it can be in that dark night. Outside of Christ, sinners lose all ground from under their feet. They end up in their lost state and can no more visualize what will become of them. Why does the Lord bring His own into that dark night? Why does He uncover and discover them to their lost state? Well, that is so that there may be desires born for Another, so that salvation may be sought for outside of self. Do you also know something of those dark nights? The nights when God hides His face are not unknown by God’s true people. Perhaps also for you it is night. Perhaps you do not know what the end will be. In former days you walked in the light, and you could experience the communion with the Lord; then you had a tender life. The Lord gave reasons for gladness and joy. Where did this all go? What has happened to the grace of former days?
Is it not in such nights that the cries out of the depths are born? Does that not lead to the cry, “I long as in the times of old, Thy power and glory to behold”? The poet longs for the Lord and yearns for His coming. No, waiting does not mean to sit still. It is not written that in sitting and trusting in our strength shall be our strength but in “quietness and trusting.” It is that trusting which explains how the soul is occupied. That is also the condition of the poet, for he says, “My soul doth wait.” He waits with an intense desire. He waits with all of his understanding, his feeling, will, heart, and all his inclination. In this waiting there is a longing of the soul because he cannot live without the Lord. His soul is cast down within him, and his heart cries out to God who lives and gives life unto his soul. Are there grounds for his expectation? We hope to hear about that in the next installment.
(To be continued)
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