Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by thy name, O Lord God of hosts. 17I sat not in the assembly of the mockers, nor rejoiced; I sat alone, because of thy hand: for thou hast filled me with indignation.
The intrinsic value of everything is known by putting it to the proof. The dross falls off by the test to which it is subject, and there remains behind the fine gold. The present day is one that subjects everything to the crucible. Every age has its characteristics and the age in which we live has this as its prominent feature. The veneration of bygone years and the reverence bestowed by ancestral worth, the blessing of mature judgment, enlarged understanding and exalted intellect; such pleas characterized the years gone by, but are now regarded as among the littlenesses of a childhood state or the weaknesses of times that had not the courage or the manliness to speak out; all is as nothing in the estimation of our modern thought. Everything must yield to the crucible of criticism, as if it had never before been tested. We are in the age of manhood, when it is noble to doubt and manly to deny; when the imbecility of bygone years has given way to a self-proclaimed intellectual vigor, and elevated understanding, and a higher tone of religious thought.
The assumption of all this is startling. Such pretensions demand an adequate basis and credentials which cannot be gainsayed. When the age in which we live is put in contrast with every preceding one, for its superior character as to religious and intellectual thought, the least we can ask is that its claims be well supported; that it will stand the fiery ordeal of criticism in a way which no other age has stood it. With such pretensions, this demand is only fair. We shrink not from criticism when applied to God's word. If indeed it be what it claims to be, God's word, then indeed it should not shrink from impartial criticism; it should rather lay itself open to it. On every side, from every quarter, we invite it. Only let it be fair, let it be impartial; let us stop where we cannot reconcile, and instead of consigning to the region of human fallibility, let us wait for more light. Only in our criticism let us stop where reason suggests we cannot decide for want of that light. Only let us treat the book of Revelation as we treat its counterpart, the book of nature. We ask no more than this; we ask no less. To ask more would be to manifest that fear of putting forth our hand to touch the ark. To ask less would be to yield the palm to modern prejudice and partiality, to a fettered reason and a contracted heart.
How has the Bible been examined by modern critics? Its effect on the nations of the earth in civilizing, socializing, and elevating man; morally, intellectually, spiritually; its effect as manifested in every country where it has found its way and in our own country especially; in giving an exalted character to its system of education, a healthier tone to its morals, and making this country the greatest and noblest in the world. Its effect on the hearts of men, in making them real and true men, in giving them strength in the hour of trial, and above all, victory in the hour of death. All this has been forgotten; nay, ignored. The Bible, in the hands of modern critics, has had no credit for this. There are questions that have not been asked, ‘Is not a book that has produced, and is producing such effects, manifestly from God? Has not such a book marks of an origin not of man? Did ever a book speak like this book?’
How has the Bible been criticized? Have these men stated; 'There are difficulties in nature that are inexplicable, heights that are insurmountable, contradiction apparently irreconcilable; and if nature be the work of an infinite mind, it must ever be so to finite understandings; and therefore, if the Bible has for its author the God of nature, we must expect to meet with similar difficulties in it?' This would have been impartiality; it would have been justice. But where has this impartiality and this justice been shown by modern critics? Would they like their own writings to be criticized as they have criticized the writing of Heaven?
How has the Bible been criticized? Would not the scientific conclusions of modern critics provoke a smile, even from a child for the very childishness which has characterized them? Have not such conclusions been arrived at without sufficient data, been put forward hastily and rashly, and demanding imperiously the assent of mankind? Do not men speak proudly and loftily, as if the sciences were all in their manhood, instead of being in their infancy? Have impartiality, justice and honesty combined with humility, been characteristic features in modern criticism? Rather have they not been with temerity, pride and arrogance?
And what have they all done? Has there been discovered one scientific error in God's word? Has one apparent contradiction been proved to be real? Has one statement within its folds ever been discovered at variance with nature? Has there been found in the God of the Bible one feature of character not in harmony with the God of the universe? Have not all their criticisms made it emerge from the crucible with tenfold brightness, reflecting in that brightness the folly of the skeptic and scoffer?
Yes, and so it always will be. Let the night grow darker, the surges rise, and the waves beat upon the rock. Let them cover with their crested billows its loftiest peaks, till it be lost sight of in the tumultuous heavings of the sea of skepticism and unbelief; still will each crested wave break upon its sure foundation, and be compelled to subside in stillness at its base and that rock stand forth in the midst of the troubled sea in all its grandeur. The word of the Lord shall endure forever. The rock of ages shall stand fast. “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my word shall not pass away.”
But what are all these modern objections to God's word? There is not one of them new. They are all old forms in new garments. Those who have no time to examine and sift thoroughly, look at them from behind; and struck by the new and flashy exterior, are deceived. Others, more deeply learned, and bent on sifting everything, run on before, and recognize the old features under new garments. So it has been; so it will be; for man has nothing to advance against that word that has not been repeatedly and conclusively answered. It is God's word, and no foe in heaven or earth can stand against it. It can be tested by any crucible: it emerges with brightness from them all. Science, philosophy, learning, rank, and power have, in all ages, laid their trophies at its feet, and have appeared before the world lovely from the beauty, the radiance, the glory borrowed from its pages. Wherever it has gone, it has cast out the demoniac spirit in man, and made him sit down at Heaven's gate in his right mind. It has made poverty rich and weakness strong; turned defeat into victory, and the sighings of sorrow into songs of triumph. It has penetrated the dungeon darkness of our world like the sunshine of Heaven, gladdening the heart of the captive, and raising hope in the breast that nothing else could give, and nothing could extinguish. Look at the Bible from any point of view, subject it to any crucible we please, apply it to any case we like; and in each and all it shines forth as the Book for our world and has inscribed on its portals, in letters of light, “The power of God unto salvation...”
Let us examine the portion of it presented to our view in the passage we have selected for consideration. Let us see what was thought of it by prophets and kings nearly three thousand years ago. Let us see if every word of the prophet finds not an echo in our hearts, as Surely as it did far down in the ages of time. Let us see if its sweet sound from the prophet's lips does not now ring as clearly and as sweetly as though we were listening for the first time to its melody. Let us listen and learn, and praise and trust; and may God give us His Blessing.
Doubtless the word of God is precious to believers at all times and under all circumstances. But it is especially in seasons of trial that its beauty is seen and its sweetness tasted. It is the dark background that gives life and beauty to the colors of the landscape. So it is with the word of God; when its rays fall upon the dark background of a heart stricken with sorrow, then do they appear in their fairest proportions, in their loveliest outlines. The leaves of the lemon tree, the more they are wrung, the more does their fragrance come forth. The stricken heart clings to the leaves of the tree of life, wrings them out, and never till then has it known their healing virtue. We had known the Bible before, known it savingly, known it as our life, our joy, our all; but now it seems as if we had only half known it. Now it seems as if we had only been sipping at its streams. Now it comes home in a strange, inexpressible way to our hearts. Words cannot tell, tongue cannot utter, thought cannot conceive of its depth and sweetness. Experience alone knows it. The living waters, in passing through the dark valleys of trial and sorrow, impart a sweetness unknown elsewhere.
So it is in the passage before us. Mark the circumstances in which the prophet was placed, as recorded in the verse preceding the passages we have selected for consideration; “O LORD, thou knowest: remember me, and visit me, and revenge me of my persecutors; take me not away in thy longsuffering: know that for thy sake I have suffered rebuke.”,and the verse following them; “Why is my pain perpetual, and my wound incurable, which refuseth to be healed? wilt thou be altogether unto me as a liar, and as waters that fail?” It was in the midst of anxieties, troubles, and persecutions such as these that the prophet uttered these remarkable words: “Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by thy name, O LORD God of hosts.”
So long as prosperity encircles us on every side, and life, and health, and happiness are ours; so long as the sky over our heads is without a cloud, and our ship glides over the sea of life without a ripple to disturb its glassy stillness—then we can afford to be but half Christian. We become superficial, and there is little reality or depth in our religion. We are satisfied to walk at a distance from God. The world flings its unhallowed mantle over the soul, and we wear it only too readily. We are little more than half awake, and a palsy creeps over us, an earthliness of spirit, casting its malaria over every fruit and flower of God's life within us.
Thus we go on, satisfied with our state, and with a deep chasm between our souls and heaven. But when God draws near, when the sky over us becomes black with clouds; when the beauteous stillness of our glassy sea is plowed up with billows and breakers dashing rudely over our frail ship on its waters; when every blossom, flower and fruit lies seared and lifeless at our feet, and the sound of the muffled drum or the strain of the Death March is heard in the place of life's joyous music; Ah! Then we feel the hollowness of our profession, the worthlessness of all we had been so proudly clinging to. Then we feel we need a Saviour. Then we come to look to and lean upon Him as we never did before. Then we clasp that precious word to our hearts with an earnestness we never knew before. It was much to us before; it is everything now. Then we exclaim, in the language of the prophet, “Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart.” Then we feel we have found it. It had not been “found” before, in the true and deep sense of that word. Sorrow has opened our eyes, and we see with new vision.
We have “found” a treasure, oh, what a treasure! Every line is fragrant. Every word speaks to our souls with living power. On this side is persecution; on that perplexity and distress; on this side is injustice and wrong, on that side, coldness, estrangement and desertion: on this; a failing tabernacle and bright hopes dashed one by one to the ground; on that, a heart bleeding at every pore from bereavement and the bitter pangs of farewell still ringing in our ears. We turn away from them all. Weary and heavy laden, we open that word. There alone is our resting place now, there alone is peace and comfort. It leads us to the bosom of Jesus. It opens living waters to freshen our thirsty souls; it brings around the everlasting arms. What a word it is! How sweet! How precious! How full of power! Ah, we feel now that we have found His words, and that they are the joy and rejoicing of our hearts.
The Word of God has been at all times the true barometer of the Church of God, as well as of individual Christian character. By its estimate of that word both the one and the other rises or falls. Only if it holds an elevated place in the body, or exerts power over the heart, is there any real light or life of God within. Let this word be taken away, and it matters little what else remains. Let the high estimate of it be lowered, no matter in how small a degree, and that moment all living power in the Church or in the heart begins to decline.
If we want to know what made the Church of bygone years so bright, what gave it such power in persecution, such energy in the midst of corruption and superstition, let us look at the estimate in which that word was held for an answer. If we want to know what was thought of that word of old, let us ask the martyrs at the stake, or clad in pitch and bound to the iron stakes of imperial Rome to irradiate the darkness or gratify the yells of an infuriated mob. Let us go back, and see what they thought of God's word. Or let us come nearer still, cross our own narrow stream, and penetrate the wilds of Connemara or Connaught, and learn even there what is thought of that word. Many a poor convert snatched from the bonds of superstition and misery, with scarcely clothing to cover the weakened limbs, still clasps that word to the heart, and taking up the language of the prophet, exclaims: “Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart.”
O England, England, shouldest thou ever let the coverings and shadows of a gorgeous ritual, the excess of a ceremonial religion, or the exaltation of the human intellect overcloud that word, then will thy church and nation sink to rise no more. The country on whose possessions the sun never sets holds her greatness only on one condition—faithfulness to God's word. We look around now and we see clouds and darkness gathering around her on every side. Our hearts are fainting with fear; for England has been unfaithful to her God. “What is truth?” is the cry that has been uttered by her rulers time after time, as though God had never spoken, as though the mysteries of Vishnu or the idolatries of Rome were of equal weight and authority with the word of the living God. Oh that her rulers were wise, that they would not put these things from them as the fears of a weak mind or a narrow soul! We may learn these things too late! We may put these things from us, and refuse to see that the judgments abroad in the land are the result of such unfaithfulness. We may class them among second causes, and go blindly onward in the same downward path of expediency and concession to error. Be it so; but God will not be mocked. England's sun will surely set. Only one thing remains, only one way of escape from impending ruin—let, our readers think as they please, and the modern infidels indifferent smile cast derisively upon our warnings—and that is, faithfulness to God and His truth.
Let us mark the next truth brought before us in the passage. “Thy words were found, and I did eat them.” We are thus taught how to use the word of God, to eat it. That word is not to be admired, not to be criticized, not to be merely read, it is to be eaten. It is to be to the soul what food is to the body. It is to be taken in, to be thought over, meditated on and prayed over. It is to be the constant food of the soul. It is to be spread before us, morning, noon and night and regularly lived upon. Only thus can it be known. Only thus can its strengthening, sustaining, supporting qualities be discovered.
The man who uses not the word of God in this way cannot know its intrinsic value, its unutterable preciousness. It is not like other books, which may be known with the intellect merely. The Bible cannot be thus known. It is the book of the heart, and if the heart know it not, it must be an undiscovered mine. “Thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart:”—“For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness.” It is the book of the heart. It is the food of the heart. It is the joy and rejoicing of the heart. It is the word “hid in mine heart.” And if the heart knows it not, man can know nothing about it. But when the heart knows it; really knows it by eating it, there is love, joy, peace, holiness, yea, Heaven itself.
O reader, is it thus you know the word of God? Does your heart know it as having shown you your true state as a sinner before God? Do you know it as having humbled you, as having laid you very low in the dust before Him as the chief of sinners? Do you know it as having made you fly, all unclean and guilty, to His precious blood for pardon and peace? Do you know it as revealing One who has put all your guilt away, and given you peace with God through His finished work on Calvary? Do you know it in its power over your thoughts and motives, your aims and plans, your daily hourly walk through this world, bringing all within you into entire obedience to His blessed will?
Ah, dear reader, all knowledge of God's word that falls short of this is of little or no value here! It may have changed you very much outwardly, it may have raised you in the estimation of men by an outward reformation of conduct, but as to any real value to your immortal soul, as to any real influence over others, it is a dead letter. To know the Bible, and yet not to know it as “the power of God unto salvation” to our own souls, is only adding a weight of condemnation. Better never to have known it at all. It shall be more tolerable, in the day of judgment, for Tyre and Sidon, or for Sodom and Gomorrah, than for that soul who has known the word of God only to hold it in unrighteousness, or in barren familiarity.
But why is the Bible loved, prized and eaten? The prophet tells us: “Thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by thy name, O LORD God of hosts.” He was called by the name of the Lord; in other words, he was a child of God. This was why he loved the Bible. We do not wonder at the unconverted man not loving the Bible. We do not wonder at men of learning, men of science, men in high places in our church and university, trying to weaken its inspiration and ignore its authority. It is only natural. It is only the old heart showing itself in all its enmity. How can the unconverted man love the Bible? The holiness of its commands, the righteousness of its warnings, the justice of its threatenings, the solemn and impartial verdict which it passes on them in their secret consciences, is like the sword of the executioner hanging over their heads. They writhe under it. It hangs like a dark specter over every path. It condemns them in every step they take. It condemns them in their sin, condemns them in their crookedness of conduct, condemns them in their worldly schemes and selfish interests, condemns them in their covetousness after it and their heartlessness towards God.
Oh, how should unconverted man love the Bible? He does not, he cannot love it. It is not in his nature, and never will be till that nature is changed by the Spirit of God. It is the dark cloud of condemnation ever harassing the skirts of his path, and he inwardly hates it—‘We cannot meet its evidences; we cannot gainsay its truths; do what we will, we cannot resist its influences. Let us get it out of the way, any way we can; only let us get this book out of the way and then we shall have the world's jubilee!—This is the deep, unspoken language of these men now. And God is letting them try it. He is allowing the wild waves of hatred and passion, of indifference and skepticism, to lash the rock in all their unavailing fury, while He, whose omnipotent word it is, sitteth in the heavens laughing them to scorn. No wonder man does not love the Bible. How should it be otherwise? Never till he has crossed the boundary between life and death, till he is born again and has been made a new creature in Christ Jesus, can he love that word. Never till then can he know it. But when he has thus been converted, and the name of the Lord God of host is called upon him, his language is: “Thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart.”
Now, let us mark the effect of eating the word. “I sat not in the assembly of the mockers.” This is the result, the genuine evidence of what had gone before. When a man tells us that he loves the word of God, we want something more than his acknowledgment; something more than his profession. We look for some evidence of it in his life. Such a profession demands these evidences; and the profession is only self-deception where these evidences do not follow.
It is a day of wide spread profession. It is a day when men must make a profession of some kind. They cannot get on in the world without it. If it be only for making money, for climbing the ladder of fame, for advancing their own selfish interests, still they must make some profession. Men know this and they value such profession at its real worth. They will let you preach as much as you like. They will let you quote Scripture as fluently as you please. This is the fashion. This is the garment you must wear, and it serves your own ends. It makes you pass for a decent, respectable, well-meaning man. This is very creditable. Who would be without it?
Men of the world are keen, farsighted and mark all this. They want something more. They want tangible proofs, genuine evidences. They want to see them. They watch for them in your spirit, in your temper, in your words, in the little transactions of business which bring you into contact with them hour by hour, when you are off your guard, when advantages are in your way, and in order to gain your ends, what means you employ, what spirit you manifest to encompass them. They look for a holy shrinking from sin, from indirect means, from crooked plans. They expect to see no grasping disposition, no anxiety to make the best of a bargain at the expense, in however slight a degree, of others. They expect to see an unworldly spirit, amiability of temper, gentleness in word and deed. They are sensible enough to know that no man can be perfect; that there will be times when we will slip, when, in unguarded moments, something, not quite all this, may show itself. They are not unreasonable here. They make allowance for this. They think not the less of the Christian for it. We speak of sensible, unprejudiced worldly men. Still they expect uniformity of Christian character.
It is right they should expect it. They expect not too much. Men of the world should see it, ought to see it, in God’s people. They know as well as we do that all profession without it is only self-deception or hypocrisy. The badge of our holy religion is the cross of Christ, by which the world is crucified unto us, and we unto the world. It is a Divine and perpetual command that we daily take up our cross. And yet is not this just now the very thing Christians are shrinking from? They want to shift off the cross, or to make it press as lightly as possible. They like Christianity, real Christianity; but in their personal behavior, and their conduct in the world; their conduct when advantages are in their way, is there a joyful self-denying, a hearty self-sacrificing, if so be that Christ may be glorified and His truth commended? A watching world looks on and says nothing, but thinks deeply. Hour by hour we are putting stumbling blocks in their way, we are keeping them back from Christ, from heaven. We are not “hastening unto the coming of the day of God.” by drawing them to Jesus. We are preaching thus silently every hour of the day, and most powerfully when we least expect it. Eyes and hearts are taking in our lessons, that shall tell throughout eternity, to our joy or sorrow. O Lord of light, and love, and mercy, for the glory of thy dear name, write these thoughts very deeply on the heart of writer and reader!
This genuine evidence of the truth hid in the heart is what is now presented to us: “I sat not in the assembly of the mockers.” Man can no longer sit in haunts of sin or keep company with sinful companions. His own sin is now his greatest burden, and he hates it in every form. Sin was sweet before; it is bitter now. Evil habits and dispositions were no sorrow to him before; now they are a galling yoke. More and more often they wring from his secret heart, the cry, “O wretched man that I am.” His sleep is over, the slumbers of sin are broken, he dreams no longer. He is alive and wakeful. All is changed. “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” He is a new creature himself, and he views himself and everything around him in a new light. Like the prophet of old, when the light of heaven fell upon his soul, he gained a right view of himself; “I am a man of unclean lips” and also a right view of everyone around him, “I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” So is the passage before us. The word has shed light on the heart, and the prophet can no longer sit “in the assembly of the mockers.”
But though he did not sit there, he did sit somewhere. Though he could find no resting place among the mockers, he did find a resting place with God. “I sat alone” he says. Ah! There is the true resting place of the soul alone with God. This is where the word ever leads when it is indeed hid in the heart, its “joy and rejoicing.” Trials sweep over the soul like a flood, and make the word of God and God's presence inestimably precious. In that presence, how do all its riches come forth to view! There we look God in the face, and come forth with His impress upon us. Alone with God! precious shelter from every stormy wave, from every sweeping torrent, from every swelling flood. Though the storm rages wildly outside, what calmness there is there! Though midnight darkness spreads its curtain over us, what light there is there! Though sorrow rends the troubled heart, what balm there is there! Though fainting and bleeding, the heart sinking beneath its load of grief, what rest, what consolation, what a bosom there is there!—Dear refuge of our weary souls! May we ever be found near to your sure and certain hiding place, bathing our tears in the ocean fullness of your sympathy and love!
"Alone" with God! Why are we not more often there? Why need we the pruning knife, the cutting stroke, the bleeding heart, the scalding tear, to bring us to that sweet spot? Is there aught outside to attack our souls? Is there attraction in a dreary desert, in the wintry blast and deepening death shadows? Is there beauty in the withering blossom, the fading flower, the seared and lifeless stem? Is there joy in the world's mirth, or rest amid the sounds of revelry, the wailings of despair, and the cries of the lost? Lord, lead us into Thy presence and keep us there. May it be our dwelling place till Thou shalt come, and all shadows flee away forever!
“Alone” with God! Why are we not more often there? For want of this, our light is half darkness, our wakefulness half slumber, our very life more than half death. For want of this we shine not, we burn not. For want of this the palsy of the world creeps over us, we become earthly, and speak so little for Jesus. Our testimony lacks clearness and brightness, strength and vigor. Only one thing can make us what we ought to be, what God would have us always be here; that is being—“Alone” with God.
There is one more effect the word eaten and rejoiced in by the heart produces; “thou hast filled me with indignation.” It fills the soul with righteous indignation at what is going on around us. When God is dishonored, the Saviour's blood trampled on, His offers of mercy despised, His laws trodden under foot, and wickedness reigns on every side, the child of God cannot look on unmoved. He weeps in secret. The Spirit of God within him is stirred. He is filled with the indignation of the Lord, and cries, “O Lord, how long.?” Oh, come quickly and end creation's sighs and tears and blood! Creation groans and travails in pain. Your Church has waited long, and pants to see Your face. Come back, Lord, and bring with You the precious treasures You have taken to Yourself, of which death has robbed us here! Come and wipe all tears from our eyes, the serpent's trail from Your own fair world, and make it shine again with Your own matchless beauty!
Reader, remember the three golden links of the chain in the beautiful passage we have been considering. Mark them. They are first, the love of God's word; “Thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart.” Secondly, the love of holiness; “I sat not in the assembly of the mockers.” Thirdly, the love of prayer; “I sat alone.” These are the three links of Heaven in this Divine chain. Snap any of these links, and the whole chain becomes useless! God grant that each link may be strong and powerful round our own hearts! May you love that word, love holiness, love God's presence! Then will you be ready whenever the Lord shall send for you.