THE SONG OF HOPE.
1 The King shall joy in thy strength, O Lord;
And in thy salvation how greatly shall he rejoice!
2 Thou hast given him his heart's desire,
And hast not withholden the request of his lips. Selah.
3 For thou preventest him with the blessings of goodness: Thou settest a crown of pure gold on his head.
4 He asked life of thee, and thou gavest it him, even length of days for ever
5 His glory is great in thy salvation: honour and majesty hast thou laid upon
6 For thou hast made him most blessed for ever:
Thou hast made him exceeding glad with thy countenance.
7 For the King trusteth in the Lord,
And through the mercy of the Most High he shall not be moved.
8 Thine hand shall find out all thine enemies;
Thy right hand shall find out those that hate thee.
9 Thou shalt make them as a fiery oven in the time of thine anger:
The Lord shall swallow them up in his wrath, and the fire shall devour them.
10 Their fruit shalt thou destroy from the earth, And their seed from among the children of men.
11 For they intended evil against thee:
They imagined a mischievous device, which they are not able to perform.
12 Therefore shalt thou make them turn their back,
When thou shalt make ready thine arrows upon thy strings against the face of them.
13 Be thou exalted, Lord, in thine own strength: so will we sing and praise
thy power.—Psalm Xx1.
The nearer we approach the view of Calvary (Ps. xxii.), the more distinctively Messianic do the prophetic utterances of the Psalms become. There is less of the type and more of the Antitype, till David seems lost in 'the Son of David.' Our Psalm is an application of the promise originally given 'for a great while to come :' 'Thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee; thy throne shall be established for ever.' This was alike the glory of David and of Israel, and 'the desire of all nations.' Indeed, so distinct is the reference here to 'the King,' that the Jewish Targum paraphrases the expression by 'the King Messiah,' and even later Jewish commentators apply it to Him. Here then we have a song of Christ; the establishment, exaltedness, and triumph of whose reign was faintly prefigured in, but distinctly promised to, David.
Miserable indeed would the anticipations of the ancient Church have been, had her hopes of the promise centred in the successors of David. As miserable as our hopes, were we to externalize His precious assurances concerning the Church, and to apply them to any outward or visible community. For the Church ' of the first-born' is, in this dispensation, invisible, and has not yet appeared, even as under the former dispensation her Lord had been yet unseen, and the object of hope. And all that is now said of the one and indivisible Church of Christ, must be viewed as only applying to the present and visible Church, in the same sense in which the Old Testament promises of Christ applied to the house of David. Nay, it almost seems as if the Lord had allowed the outward estate of David's line thus purposely to run low, lest the hope of Israel should rest on such earthly stays, even as He has allowed the imperfections and divisions in the present Church, in order the more fully to fix our minds and hearts upon the hope of His coming.
Yet, in a most important, and in the only true sense, are we as a Church one and perfect in Christ Jesus our Lord. 'The whole family in heaven and earth,' owns 'one Lord,' even as we cherish one faith, and have professed in one baptism. The longing anticipations of the Church in our days formed the hope of that under the old dispensation, and her songs of expectant triumph are ours also. This is specially apparent in our Psalm, which differs from others notably in that it is a song of the Church; not the prayer of David, but the praise of Israel. What in Ps. xx. was matter of faith is here subject of hope, and gladsome bursts it from the lips of those who already see its initial typical fulfilment, and in it, afar off, 'the day of Christ.' It is a singular privilege, and one of the characteristics of the Church, that she is allowed to act as God's remembrancer (Isa. xliii. 26; lxii. 7). The promises which belong to Christ we may plead, so that, wondrous to think, we may pray for Him who prays for us. This indeed is the highest glory of our identification with Christ—that we have share with Him who took share with us, and that, as He associates Himself with us in our low estate, He also associates us with Him in His exaltedness. 'This honour have all His saints,'—to place themselves by His side as 'sons of God' and 'heirs of glory.' Thus, every time we pray for the coming of the kingdom, we in reality put on our kingly robes. And the highest position which believers can here attain, is to take up the word of the Lord, and to embody it in a song of hope.
The abruptness with which the Psalm opens well befits the point of view which our faith occupies: 'Jehovah, in Thy strength the King shall rejoice; and in Thy salvation how shall he jubilee greatly!' The idea of strength here conveyed is not that of inherent but of manifested strength, and not merely for defence but for attack, as in the analogous prayer (Isa. xli. 9): 'Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of Jehovah.' The term also occurs in connexion with the result of such manifested strength or praise. The precious truth contained in the assurance that ' there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth,' is, as it were, infinitely multiplied in its application to Christ and His kingdom. 'He shall see of the travail of His soul, and be satisfied.' Most blessedly, because most pointedly, are our narrow views of the love of God here rebuked. His delight was ever with the children of men, and when the time shall come for making bare His holy arm and manifesting His salvation, how greatly shall He rejoice! To be in sympathy with Christ in this respect implies not only a believing but a joyous anticipation of our redemption. But it is impossible to rejoice in the coming of Christ without having first rejoiced that Christ has come. The Church beholds Christ as having already received the government (ver. 2). When God raised Him from the dead, He exalted Him to be ' a Prince and a Saviour.' That for which He died has been achieved; that which He asked has been granted. The finished work of Christ has been accepted. He loved us,
and gave Himself for us; and 'Thou hast given Him His heart's desire.' He interceded for us, and obtained the blessings of salvation. 'Thou hast not withholden the request of His lips.' Those who have been set free know what great deliverance theirs was, and to whom they owe it. Why should it be so difficult for us to realize the intensity of His love and the completeness of His work? Yet does assurance not spring up within our own hearts. It flows from a view of Christ on the cross. When we feel ourselves bound up with Him, and read our case in the granting of His heart's desire, we are joyous, because consciously safe. So far as the expressions (ver. 2) may be referred to our own entreaties, Luther rightly notes that the desire of the heart must ever precede the request of the lips. But it is sweeter to apply them exclusively to Christ.
The description which follows (vers. 3-6) almost reads like an account of the reception of Christ upon His ascension into heaven. In the welcome which the risen Saviour received may we read our own welcome, for it greeted Him in His capacity as Head of the Church. 'The blessings of goodness' which met Him were that fulness out of which we all have received, 'and grace for grace.' 'The crown of pure gold' was the royal diadem of our King, or His investiture with dominion over the earth, implying its final subjection to His sway. The eternal 'length of days'was the continuance of His mediatorial office, in virtue of which ' He remaineth a priest for ever.' The greatness of His glory, honour, and majesty, consisteth in this, 'that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things on earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.' The blessedness which He enjoys, and His exceeding gladness with God's countenance, is the Father's good pleasure. And all this is bound up with our salvation. The Church is therefore a most deeply interested witness of Messiah's triumphs. And entering more fully into the spirit of ver. 6, we read it, ' Thou hast set Him to be blessings for ever; Thou hast gladdened Him with joy in Thy countenance.' The Father is well pleased for His righteousness' sake. 'The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into His hands.' Thus has the promise made to Abraham been fulfilled (Gen. xii. 2): ' I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing'
There is a manifest transition in ver. 7, from the song of praise addressed to the Father in the previous verses, to that of believing anticipation, which constitutes the second half of this Psalm. Though couched in Old Testament language, and primarily viewed as applying to the son of Jesse, ver. 7 is unquestionably true of King Jesus. Unbroken trust formed the filial element in the obedience of Christ, which is expressly mentioned (Phil. ii. 7, 8; Heb. v. 8, 9; xii. 2, and in other places) as the ground of His royal exaltation, and of the establishment of His kingdom. 'For the King trusteth in Jehovah, and through the mercy of the Most High He shall not be moved.' A more precious fact than the eternal stability of the throne of David could not be conceived. As Calvin remarks, while all things in this world turn like a wheel, the kingdom of Judah, or rather its antitype, that of Christ, forms an exception. In Him all the promises are Yea and Amen. And this by 'the favour,'' grace,' ' love'—or, as rendered in our version, 'by the mercy'—' of the Most High.' The latter expression prepares us for a conflict, in which His supremacy appears in the continuance of grace, and therefore in the continuance of His kingdom. For its permanency depends on the continuous supply of His grace. And here it is, in one sense, most comforting to us to find the enemies directly called 'Thine enemies,' and 'those that hate Thee' To be thus identified with Christ argues the goodness of our cause, and gives pledge of certain victory. In truth, it is 'against the Lord and His Anointed,' and not against us, that they imagine a mischievous device. It is impossible for them to attack the cause of God otherwise than through His people. And it is always safe to place ourselves by the side of God's saints, especially in seasons of general lukewarmness or defection. With a rapidity and completeness which is awful, does judgment overtake the enemies (vers. 9, 10). Yet shall it appear that, after all, it was in their power only to 'intend evil/ and to 'imagine a mischievous device,' but that 'they are not able to perform it' (ver. 11). We are far too fearful of the haters of the Lord. Their power equals not their purpose. He holds them in rein Who at any moment can arrest them. Most of our perils exist in apprehension only. This applies both to the Church and to individual Christians. Were we content to leave the morrow till the morrow, ours were a more unbroken calm. The enemies only gape upon us ; they cannot devour. Today is light, because Christ bears it with us; the to-morrow is heavy, because it contains an immeasurable burden. The darkest periods of the Church's and of our own history have been those of such forward-looking. His Word assures us that 'all things must work together for good to them that love Him,' and it were difficult indeed to find any event not included in this universal term. To go forward in faith, not in self-confidence, but in reliance upon Jesus, upon His finished work and His immovable kingdom, with all that this implies, is not only most blessed relief, but true wisdom. The non-ability of His enemies will we call to mind whenever the cause of God, or His Word, or His ordinances are attacked. It is an attempt at impossibility. Most graphic also is the description of the utter helplessness of such enemies, almost reminding us of the prayer of despair, for rocks and hills to fall upon them and cover them from the wrath of God and of the Lamb. In this sense, ver. 12 has been most correctly paraphrased: 'But Thou wilt put them to precipitate flight, and constrain them to turn their back. They turn indeed their back, wounded by Thine arrows; but Thou meetest them when flying, and dartest in their faces deadly missiles.' How safely may we leave God's cause in God's hand, whether that cause be represented by the interests of the Church, or by the wellbeing of an individual believer! Meantime it is ours simply to look up (ver. 13). The prayer or expressed longing for Christ's exaltation in His 'own strength,' for His taking the government and reigning, is the Old Testament cry: 'Even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly.' In this 'larger hope of the Church' every individual and special manifestation of His holding 'the Key of David' and
having 'the government upon His shoulder' is included. Ours it is to ' sing and praise ' the power of King Jesus—now, and in every display of His strength, which is an initial, and, as it were, typical fulfilment of the grand hope of His Church. Thus again closes this Psalm with the hope of the Church, and with the expression of those deep feelings towards Jesus which form the essence of all spiritual religion.
1. The finished work of Jesus is the ground of our faith and joy. The Church can never weary of this theme. It is ever 'news,' and ever 'good news.' That the work which the Father has given Him has been finished, and that He has entered into His glory, is the joyous consolation of His people. 'Thou hast led captivity captive ; Thou hast received gifts for men, yea, for the rebellious also.' The facts of His passion, death, resurrection, and ascension are never really past; they are an eternal present. Let me this day turn as a weary thirsty pilgrim to these wells of water. Jesus alone can afford comfort and strength. The conviction that He has died for me, and now liveth for me, is the very essence of believing application of the gospel. Have I a right to make this application? Yes; for faith may ever make personal application; faith may whatever it can. Its limits, if such there be, are ever within, not without. Nor let me imagine that I shall ever find either peace or pardon otherwise than in the person and work of Jesus. And that whatever the circumstances of the case or my special wants may be.
2. Let me rest assured that all undertakings against Christ, whether in His flock or in His sheep, in the Church or in the souls of believers, must fail. They are, from the first,
smitten with impotence. The danger only lies in our undue interference. 'But rather give place unto wrath.' We are apt, by taking judgment into our own hands, to put obstacles in the way of, or to obstruct, His dealings. Here we feel, on the one hand, the danger of unbelief, and, on the other, that of an improper or uncharitable frame of mind towards others. Perhaps after all they are not what they seem,—His enemies. To be zealous for the truth, and not against individuals, needs much grace. Yet, what matters it what people say against the Lord, the Lord's day, the Lord's cause, the Lord's people, or the Lord's Word? Whenever I can put my Lord's name upon anything it is safe. And how sweet to think that the red cord insures safety even to Rahab's house and kindred! An anxious mind is an unbelieving mind. Full of cares is full of self. Cast over the tackling and the lading, if you are to reach the shore in safety. Where Christ is they fall backward who are sent out against Him.
3. I would not be full of cares and empty of Christ; not a ship in ballast, but holding goodly merchandise. And with this view let me seek to have more of Christ. Let me dwell with delight on what He is and on what He has done, and every lesson I learn let me store in my heart of hearts, and still ever love it better than I know it. To share in the Church's song of triumph is granted even here to our faith. And we look for His coming. Undismayed by the devices of His enemies, and unshaken by their scoffing, we wait for it, according to His promise. Nor let us imagine that the improvements upon the simplicity of the gospel attempted by half-hearted believers, who trim their sails to catch every breeze of popularity, will ever lead to any result. The gospel cannot be improved, and the world will not be improved; 'he that is righteous, let him be righteous still; and he that is filthy, let him be filthy still' The tone of the gospel cannot be lowered, and the tone of the world cannot be raised. These miserable devices will no more succeed than the attacks of open enemies. But let it be ours to stand by the gospel in all its simplicity. The cross of Christ will always be an unpopular doctrine, and the coming of the Lord will alone put an end to the present state of matters. In view of that day, let us be thoroughly earnest, honest, and upright in our Christianity. And still let us comfort ourselves in waiting, in praying, and in working, with this blessed and sure hope: 'Be Thou exalted, Jehovah-Jesus, in Thine own strength.' Both now and hereafter 'so will we sing and praise Thy power.'
Fear not, O little flock, the foe
Who madly seeks your overthrow,
Nor dread his rage and power:
What though your courage sometimes faints,
His seeming triumph o'er God's saints
Lasts but a little hour.
As true as God's own word is true,
Not earth or hell, with all their crew,
Against us shall prevail.
A jest and byword are they grown:
God is with us—we are His own—
Our victory cannot fail.
(gustavus Ado1.phus's Battle Song )