Psalm 32 is our reading this evening, this is a well-known Psalm to many believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, and a real blessing to us in our own personal devotions as we meditate on it and meditate upon the blessings that we receive in the Lord Jesus through the Gospel. But I'll be applying it to those who are without Christ this evening, but I'm sure everyone, hopefully, will get a blessing from the great eternal truths that are within this Psalm of David.
Verse 1: "Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile. When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long. For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer. Selah. I acknowledge my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the LORD; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Selah. For this shall every one that is godly pray unto thee in a time when thou mayest be found: surely in the floods of great waters they shall not come nigh unto him. Thou art my hiding place; thou shalt preserve me from trouble; thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance. Selah. I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye. Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee. Many sorrows shall be to the wicked: but he that trusteth in the LORD, mercy shall compass him about. Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, ye righteous: and shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart".
I want to speak to you this evening from this Psalm on 'The Nature and Attainment of Blessedness', or to put it into modern day language: what blessedness is, and how to get it. Of course, 'blessed' is the first word of this Psalm in verse 1: 'Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered'. Now 'blessedness' is a Bible word - what does it mean? Well, if you asked Tom, Dick or Harry walking down Templemore Avenue this evening, they would probably say: 'Well, it's blessed to have good health. You're blessed if you're fit and well and of sound mind', or they might say 'Well, you're blessed if you have a few pounds rubbing together in your pocket, if you have wealth that's a blessing'. Maybe you're talented, you've a great gift musically or academically, or maybe it's some other ability that you might have, and they define blessing as having good looks or intelligence or personality, or maybe it's having a family or experiencing a love relationship of some kind - that is what it is in the modern man's mind to be blessed.
Now seeing as 'blessedness' or 'blessed' is a Bible word, we do well in going to the Bible to find out its definition. Some translations, modern day translations, translate 'blessedness' as 'happiness'. I know what they're getting at, but 'happiness' is not a sufficient word in our English language to describe 'blessedness' in the biblical sense. Whilst those who are blessed are definitely, I'm sure, happy; those who are happy are not always blessed. Many people in our world find happiness in wealth and in health, and in love and in talents and intelligence, and so on. In fact, some people can be extremely happy, and testify to being such, in the most sinful and depraved lifestyles. In fact, the actual meaning of the Anglo-Saxon word 'happiness', if you split it in half it is comprised of two expressions: 'hap', 'ness'. The inference is that your disposition of joy is determined by 'happeningness', by circumstances. Therefore, the inference is that you can only be happy when circumstances are going for you.
Now that creates a real problem for every human being, because you can only be happy, therefore, when your circumstances are conducive to happiness - in other words, when things are going well for you. That adds a great responsibility upon us - why? Because we feel, therefore, that we ought to try, at least, to control our circumstances in order to find happiness: to always be healthy, to try and get wealthy, to acquire a talent or intelligence. Whilst there's nothing wrong with those things in and of themselves, if we think that we need to strive toward them, or even control our circumstances and find them, well, we're being deceived and deceiving ourselves. You see, we cannot, and therefore anyone who simply seeks happiness in the happenings and circumstances of life is destined to a life of futility, a life of frustration, and eventually - sadly for some - a life of suicidal despair.
I believe that 21st-century man's holy grail is happiness, happiness being in circumstances. Whereas what the Bible teaches as true satisfaction does not come from modern man's idea of happiness, but from blessedness. 'What's the difference?', you say. Well, blessedness, according to the Bible, is to be found in God and in God alone. It literally means 'the favour', or 'the approval' of God. This, therefore, is something, obviously, that transcends our circumstances, because God is above our circumstances and our puny lives. Therefore, if it is above us, it does not change with the winds of time and sense and circumstance. To be blessed of God means that the anchor of your soul is in the grip of the Almighty.
I wonder this evening, is your hand in the hand of God? Is your soul and your life rooted in God? Therefore, man should not be asking the question: 'Am I happy?', but rather asking 'Am I blessed?' - for it's only in being blessed that I can be truly, eternally satisfied. Now I know immediately, when I start talking like this on this particular point, I'm going to lose many listeners in our world today. Whilst it is true, as we said, that man seeks happiness almost at any cost, and arguably even one who takes his own life does it to gain an absent happiness and satisfaction that he feels he cannot attain in life, so he must look for it in death. But once you tell a man, even who is seeking, as his holy grail, happiness, that he cannot find true satisfaction in the circumstances of life, and that he cannot find it apart from God, right away he's offended - isn't that interesting? He may even object by saying: 'True happiness for me doesn't include God'. That's why, although most men think that they would like to go to heaven, they wouldn't like it if they got to heaven because they don't want anything to do with God whatsoever!
Whilst it seems that every man or woman has a perennial crusade to find happiness, the Scriptures are vindicated when they teach this truth that there is none that seeks after God, they're all gone out of the way, they are all together become unprofitable. You see very quickly how sin has warped the judgment of mankind. The very thing that he gives his life to find, he will not seek it in the very place it can be found. Why? Because it is to be found in God, and contrary to popular opinion: men and women do not want God. Oh, there's a great deal said about bigotry and prejudice in our day, and much of it is valid - yet you'll never see on BBC1 news at 10 o'clock the greatest prejudice and bigotry that mankind has, whatever colour, creed, or culture they come from - that is a bigotry and prejudice towards the eternal Almighty Living God.
If you're one of those this evening who is attempting to find happiness in sin, in self, the things of this world, even your own righteousness or a Christ-less religion - Protestant, Roman Catholic, it matters not - oh tonight, that God's Spirit would reveal to you through the written word your folly, to see as the hymnwriter has said:
'Now none but Christ can satisfy,
None other name for me;
There's love, and life, and lasting joy,
Lord Jesus, found in Thee' - and found in Christ alone!
I wonder is there one here this evening who has been brought to the awareness that the way of the transgressor is not happy, but it is hard - that true satisfaction is not to be found in the circumstances of life, but in the blessedness of God. Perhaps the Spirit of God has led you here this evening to learn how true blessedness can be achieved, what it really is, and how you can get it. We began this evening with a Bible word, 'blessed'. In the first five verses of this Psalm 32, there are six ideas that can be classified in six wonderfully descriptive words, all capturing aspects of how we can be blessed by God through the Gospel of Christ.
Now may I just address Christians in passing for a moment, because Christians in this age in which we live have dropped many of these words that are based on Biblical doctrine. But I warn you: because if you lose your language, it's not long before you lose your identity. Whilst we don't want to be a people that are continually tripping out cliches that people don't understand and we don't explain them, the fact of the matter is: if you lose your language, eventually you will lose your identity - that means you will lose who you are and what you have in Christ. I picked up a very modern translation of the Bible recently, a contemporary one, and on the back of it the little quip advertising it was: 'Finally, a Bible that is like your newspaper that you read every morning. There's no religious jargon, no theological words in this Bible, you can understand it completely'. Well, I don't want a Bible like that, like my newspaper - especially some of the newspapers people read today! I want a Bible that tells me something different. Yes, you've got to understand your Bible, that's true, but there's something different that God is telling man that is God's revealed will that you cannot find in, and it cannot read like any ordinary book.
That's why today, when you ask some Christians, especially among the young, to explain their salvation; there is not only an absence of these biblical words, but of the ideas - and that's what I fear most. So let's not lose them, always explain them and apply them, for there lies therein the secret to blessedness. What is it? Verse 1: forgiveness - there's the first word: 'Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven'. Forgiveness gives you blessedness. What is 'transgression'? 'Transgression' literally means 'a crossing over of the line', to cross over the line - we even use it as an expression today: 'You've crossed over the line, you've gone too far'. What the Psalmist is describing here is how God has given us His laws in the ten commandments, you know many of them, but David himself actually as he writes this Psalm is conscious in his own soul that he has broken three of those commandments that God has given. He committed adultery with Bathsheba. He killed off her husband Uriah in a battle by putting him on the front line, and thirdly he tried to hide his sin by deceit. Right away: 'Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not bear false witness'. He broke 'Thou shalt not covet', number 10 as well. In fact, God's word says in the book of James chapter 2 that if we keep God's whole law, yet offend in one point, we're guilty of them all. So one sin is enough to make us a transgressor.
I would love if you could put your hand up tonight, if you were able and man enough to admit that you'd never ever sinned - but right away I would tell you that you're a liar, because no man can say that he has not sinned except the Lord Jesus Christ. But forgiveness brings blessedness: 'Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven'. Another word you could use to describe what forgiveness is is 'justification'. It's a legal word, it actually means 'an act of God's free grace, wherein He pardons all sins and accepts us as righteous'. Imagine this: you're standing in God's dock, in the court of heaven, and you're accused of transgressions of God's sovereign, holy law. God is just in His condemnation of you, He is right to judge you for you have sinned, like all have sinned - but then you, a sinner, are declared righteous by God Himself; so that Paul can say in Romans 8:33: 'Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth'.
Is there anything that this world could give that could possibly compare to the sheer joy, the tranquil peace, that comes from knowing your sins forgiven? What sins are you guilty of this evening? David was guilty of murder, adultery, lying, deceit, covetousness. He had put other things and ones before God. You're guilty of sin this evening of deepest dye. Maybe you don't esteem your sin as bad as even David's, but praise God it doesn't matter how great your sin is, God's forgiveness can wipe it away. Is there someone here this evening haunted by memories, skeletons in your cupboard, things that you wish you could put the clock back to undo, but you can't? You can't forget them, they trouble you - those are the things that you remember, what about the things that you've forgotten? We've all got sins that we cannot conjure up, because there are so many in our lives, they heap up to heaven, there's a great list of offences to our name in the book of God. But what a joy to proclaim tonight the Gospel of God's forgiveness: 'Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven'.
Shelia O'Callaghan was a Belfast girl, a factory worker, and she contracted tuberculosis. She had to leave work, and so her colleagues put the hat round and raised a bit of money to send her to the Giant's Causeway to recuperate in the fresh air. But they didn't know that TB wasn't her biggest problem, because she was under the conviction of sin - she realised how guilty she was in the eyes of God for breaking His law. As she sat on one of those rocks at the Giant's Causeway, she was reading the prophecy of Micah. The problem of her sin and what she was like in the face of God troubled her, and she was asking the question: 'How can my sin be removed?', and she read in the book of Micah: 'I will cast all your sins in the depths of the sea'. What a message! She was converted, three weeks later she died, but before she died she took up her pen and wrote this poem:
'I will cast in the depths of the fathomless sea
All thy sins and transgressions, whatever they be,
Though they mount up to heaven, though they sink down to hell
They shall fall in the depths, and above them shall swell
All the waves My mercy, so boundless and free,
I will cast all your sins in the depths of the sea'.
We sang it: 'Happy day! Happy day! When Jesus washed my sins away!'. Now, for some that's too simplistic, that's unrealistic, irrational. 'If we are sinners as you say we are, how can God just justify and freely forgive?' - my friend, freely to you does not mean without cost to Him. 'Freely' does not mean 'cheaply' - what do you mean? Well, look at verse 1 again: 'Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered'. In order for a man to be justified his sin must be covered over. The word for that is the word 'atonement', that's what it literally means 'to cover over'. Where does this atonement come from? Well, we go right to the very beginning of the Bible and we find there that without the shedding of blood there is no remission, or no forgiveness of sins. It takes blood to cover over sin, but the blood of bulls and goats in the Old Testament were only pointing forward to a perfect sacrifice in the person of Christ. The book of Hebrews portrays that when it says that the blood of bulls and goats, or any other man, cannot take away sin - it had to be God's Son.
That's what the cross is all about, atonement. 'Why had it to be God's Son?', you say. Well, in order to reconcile man to God, it had to be a man that atoned for sin - for if it was not a man, he couldn't be punished for man's sins as guilty, he couldn't be man's saviour. But equally, if He was not God, He could not have borne up under the great wrath of God - you or I couldn't have endured it, and even if we could, our sufferings would not have been infinite, for He was the eternal Son of God. We could not have satisfied God, for we were not perfect in life or in death, but Hebrews tells us in a great conclusion that our God has wrought for us an eternal redemption. That is why Paul said: 'We preach Christ crucified'. Paul would have nothing else preached among the Corinthians.
In other words, whatever clergyman or preacher tells you that you can work your way to heaven with a good life, he's a liar inspired by the devil. You cannot get to heaven through good works, you cannot get to heaven through church affiliation, you cannot get to heaven through sacraments, you cannot get to heaven through your own character - something must cover your sins before the eyes of God, and the only thing worthy and able to cover them is the blood of Christ. He alone can bring you to God. You can only be satisfied and blessed with the forgiveness of sins through the work of Christ on the cross. Colossians said: 'He has made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself'. It says again: 'We have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins'.
So I ask you tonight: what are you relying on for your salvation? What are you relying on for forgiveness? Is it the word of a priest? The absolution of a vicar? Is it your own penance? Is it good works? My friend, Isaiah says all these things are as filthy rags in the sight of God. How would you like to go into God's presence covered in filthy rags? What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
I love the book of Pilgrim's Progress [PDF], I would encourage every one of you to read it. It's an allegory of the Christian experience of salvation right through to entering into heaven. He portrays this man, Christian is his name, as Pilgrim, John Bunyan is the writer. This man Pilgrim journeys from the City of Destruction to the New Jerusalem, the Celestial City. On his way he feels through guilt and conscience the burden of his sin on his back, and the whole message of the story is really following this man to a place where he can get rid of this burden, and eventually then enter into heaven. Cutting a long story short, eventually he's pointed to a hill where there is the cross of Calvary, the place of atonement. As he gets up that hill with the burden on his back, he is heard to say:
'Thus far I did come laden with my sin;
Nor could aught else ease the grief that I was in
Till I came hither: What a place is this!
Must this be the beginning of my bliss?
Must here the Burden fall from off my back?
Must here the strings that bound me crack?
Blest Cross! blest Sepulchre! blest rather be
The Man that there was put to shame for me'.
The place of atonement - but my friend, David shows us deeper into the heart of the cross, for blessedness is to be found in forgiveness that atonement brings, but it comes through imputation. Verse 2: 'Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD imputeth not iniquity'. 'What does imputation mean?', you say. Well, it's an old word for bookkeeping, for something to be put on account. You've heard children saying as they play their little games: 'Ah, well, that doesn't count any more, you're out' - that's the idea. Blessed is the man of whom God can say: 'That doesn't count any more, those sins are all gone'.
Now this is the personal aspect of Calvary to you: your sin imputed to Christ. This is the great exchange, where on Calvary's cross God is attributing to Christ your guilt, it was ascribed to Him as if it was His own, though He did no sin. God, accordingly, in those three hours of darkness punished Christ for your sin. But the great transaction is that as the account has been given to Him of your sin, His account of righteousness that He lived before God all of His life, His eternal righteousness as the Son of God, is attributed to you by faith. Glory to His name, what a glorious fact: that through faith in Him, His righteousness can be regarded as your own - so that now, when God looks on a man or woman, or a boy or a girl who has put their faith in Christ and Christ on the cross, He no longer sees your sin, He sees Christ's pure, spotless, holy righteousness. That is what gives us confidence to approach God in all His holiness.
What blessings are these! Some will maybe say: 'That's a doctrine of licence' - some people are very clever in their answers. They say: 'Aye, God forgives you, God wipes the slate clean freely, you don't have to work for it and you can live as you like' - some believe that that's what the evangelical message consists of, and I concur with you a little bit that sometimes that's what it sounds like. But Paul asks the same question in Romans chapter 6: 'What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer to sin?'. How could you live in the sins that Christ died for if you have received the salvation that comes from Calvary's cross?
But apart from that, true blessedness is not just found in forgiveness, and atonement, and imputation, but it's found in repentance. Look at verse 2: 'Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile' - no deceitfulness, in whose spirit there is an absence of sin. All of us have sinned, and none of us can get away from it, even those who are saved the longest, until we get to glory - but what David is expressing here is that true blessedness is not only found in forgiveness for past sins, but in a changed life in the present and for the future. God gives a new nature, His nature - we were singing about it at the beginning of our meeting - when God's life comes into us by the new birth, and the things that we used to love as sinners we now begin to hate and loathe. Though we get tripped up from time to time, we hate it, and we try to get away from it by the help of God's grace. We begin to love righteousness and the things that, perhaps, before we hated.
Blessedness is to be found in true repentance, a willingness to forsake and turn from sin, and turn to God and His righteousness. You might say: 'Well, I can't do that' - I'm continually saying I know you can't do that, that's the first step to realising your humility and inability before God. Realise that repentance is a gift of grace that God gives you if you come to Him and show to Him your need! There must be a willingness, a frame of mind to receive it, you must be willing to forsake the sin that damns you!
Blessedness is to be found in forgiveness, atonement, imputation, repentance, and fifthly conviction. Verses 3 and 4, David says concerning his sin: 'When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long. For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer. Selah'. Guilt is to the conscience what pain is to the body. Have you ever felt guilty for your sin, the pains of the soul? Have you experienced this? He's saying literally: 'My body wasted away through my groaning, my vitality drained away as the fervent heat of summer. Thy hand was heavy upon me'. Do you feel that God's hand is heavy on you tonight in conviction of sin? Oh, there's not too many experience this today, yet God is striving with a few - and I've had the privilege of being with some in recent days whose sins were weighing heavily upon them. They felt the weight of their sins, and the guilt was so heavy that they just wanted to get rid of it.
There's a little word after these two verses 4 and 5, 'Selah', which literally is an expression - we don't know whether it's a musical rendition in the midst, or just a pause in the Psalm - but what it is there for is in order to make us stop, and to think about what he's said. I'm asking you to think about this tonight: the guilt that is on you as a sinner without Christ, you're condemned, you're on your way to hell. Are you not feeling like this man at this moment? Groaning within, saying like Pilgrim: 'Oh, what shall I do?'. So many are apathetic, so much nonchalance in their attitude to salvation - 'What do I do?', that's what you need to say! You're in trouble!
Do what the Psalmist did if you want to be blessed by the forgiveness of sin, this is the sixth and final word - verse 5, confession: 'I acknowledge my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the LORD; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin'. Do you know what confession is? It's to agree with God, put up your hands and say: 'Lord, You're right in Your assessment of me as a sinner, in Your just decision to damn me as one. The sins that I have committed and the punishment that I deserve, I freely admit that it should all be mine' - and you don't hide anything, for God knows, you can't hide from God! He is the discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. David said: 'I did not hide my sin', are you hiding sins this evening?
What is implied within that word 'hide' is that he made an open confession of his sin, there was restitution. What does that mean? Like Zaccaheus who was a thief and a pilferer as a taxman - he, after his conversion, said that he was going to restore fourfold all that he had stolen. The Philippian jailer, after he believes in the Lord Jesus Christ, he took Paul and Silas who he had whipped to shreds, and he bathed their wounds, he cleaned them and clothed them in his own home. He made right the wrongs of his life, practically that's what happens - but that's where great blessedness is attributed from.
You might say to me tonight: 'David, I want this! I cannot find happiness in the circumstances of life, I need God's blessedness, God's favour. I need forgiveness, I need my sins atoned for, I need the righteousness of Christ imputed to me, I need to repent of my sins, I need conviction for my sins, I need to confess my sins - how do I receive this blessedness?'. Can I put it in five short points at the end of this Psalm. Verse 6: pray for it. Come to God tonight: 'This shall every one that is godly pray unto thee in a time when thou mayest be found'. Have you ever prayed to God about this? Come to Him by faith tonight and say: 'Lord, I am a sinner. Lord, I need to repent of my sin, and I haven't got the will or the power - but, Lord, help me'.
Verse 7 tells you secondly to take refuge in the Saviour: 'Thou art my hiding place; thou shalt preserve me from trouble; thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance', or salvation. Take refuge in the Saviour's bleeding side, in His wounds that He shed blood for you from. Thirdly, verses 8 and 9, surrender to His will: 'I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye. Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding'. Submit to the will of God, surrender and give Him your whole life.
But my friend, the fourth point is: beware of ignoring or neglecting this matter this evening. Verse 10 says: 'Many sorrows shall be to the wicked'. If you leave this matter aside and contemplate it another time, and procrastinate when you feel God's conviction and the necessity of the futility of your life, and the need for salvation - my friend, there's a danger if you neglect it. You will add sorrow upon sorrow upon your present condition. The simple message is in verse 11, trust and be blessed: 'Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, ye righteous: and shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart'.
What is true blessedness? Its nature is simply found in God and His Christ, and you can't get it anywhere else my friend. The sooner you come to that conclusion, the better it will be for you. How do I get it? It comes to you by the free favour of God, but if you embrace, by faith, the Gospel of Christ tonight, and say: 'Lord, I repent. Lord, I confess. Lord, I believe the Lord Jesus is the only One who can save me. Lord, take my life, I surrender to Your will and Christ as Lord. Save me and make me Your child, and give me Your new nature' - hallelujah, you will be blessed! For 'Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered'.
If God has been speaking to your soul through the word, get right with God now. Is it not a wonderful thing to you this evening that pardon and forgiveness are ready for you now, by faith, if you will have it.
Our Father, we pray this evening that men and women and boys and girls will take up the free offer of the Gospel. Lord, we pray that they would realise the price that was paid for redemption, the cost it was to Thee as God, and to Thy Son the Lord Jesus - what their sin cost Thee. But yet, still in grace, Thou art willing, able and ready to receive sinful men. O Lord, may that matchless grace be focused in peoples minds and hearts, and be received with willingness, repentance, thankfulness and faith to their eternal good and blessedness, we pray. Blessed are they that die in the Lord - O Lord, we pray that all may be ready to die in that blessedness tonight, for Jesus' sake and for His glory we pray, Amen.
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This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the recording, titled "The Nature And Attainment Of Blessedness" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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