The text I want to take, that has really been upon my heart, is Psalm 36 verses 5 and 6: "Thy mercy, O LORD, is in the heavens; and thy faithfulness reacheth unto the clouds. Thy righteousness is like the great mountains; thy judgments are a great deep: O LORD, thou preservest man and beast. How excellent is thy lovingkindness, O God! therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of thy wings".
I want to speak to you on "Getting A Glimpse Of God's Goodness", getting a glimpse of God's goodness - I don't know whether you read C.H. Spurgeon's 'Morning and Evening' daily devotions, if you don't I can commend them to you. From time to time, not every day, but from time to time I read them myself, and I've got it on the computer now so that you don't even have to pull the book down, as soon as you turn the computer on it comes up and you can read it right away first thing in the morning. This morning's reading was from Psalm 51 and verse 1 which goes like this: 'Have mercy upon me', David prays, 'Have mercy upon me, O God'. You know the Psalm, he's praying in confession concerning his sin of adultery with Bathsheba, but he pleads, due to his sin, God's mercy - the same mercy that is found in verse 5 here in Psalm 36: 'Thy mercy'.
C.H. Spurgeon, in today's reading, told us of William Carey, one of the pioneer missionaries to the modern world. He tells that in this particular time in William Carey's life he was suffering from a dangerous illness, and the inquiry was made of him: if this sickness should prove fatal, what passage would you select as the text for your funeral sermon? Carey replied: 'Well, I feel that such a poor sinful creature as unworthy as I, nothing should be said about him - but if a funeral sermon must be preached, let it be preached from these words: 'Have mercy upon me', Psalm 51 verse 1'. 'Have mercy upon me', and he finished off the verse, 'according to Thy lovingkindness, according unto the multitude of Thy tender mercies, blot out my transgressions'. In the same spirit of acknowledging God's goodness in his life, he directed within his will that the following inscription and nothing else should be cut in his gravestone, I quote: 'William Carey, born August 17th 1761, died a wretched poor and helpless worm, on Thy kind arms I fall'. Isn't that lovely? 'On Thy kind arms I fall'.
I was reading also this morning Psalm 40:17, and the particular rendering that I read said this: 'As for me, I am poor and needy' - the Authorised says 'but the Lord thinketh upon me', and this translation put it like this 'the Lord is thinking about me right now'. Isn't that lovely? I am poor and needy, but the Lord of the heavens is thinking about me right now. Now as we meet David in Psalm 36, scholars are uncertain about the circumstances and why he penned this. Some think it's probably the opposition of Saul in his life, who used to be a father figure, who turned on him. It could be also the opposition of his own son Absalom, who stabbed him in the back - but no matter what the circumstances are, David is complaining in the first four verses of this Psalm about the malice of his enemies, those who were near to him that betrayed him and were against him. Often, as is the case in this Psalm, David starts off in this awful depressive mood thinking about himself and his circumstances, but the whole crescendo of the Psalm changes as he gets his eyes off himself, off his circumstances, and gets his eyes upon the Lord.
In verses 1 to 4 you have David's complaints. He contrasts the evil of mankind around him with the goodness of God in whom his faith was. I'll show you this in just a minute, but I want you to see this before we go on any further: David is making a comparison and a contrast between the evil and depravity, the sinfulness of sinners, with the goodness of God. Some of you young people have been doing exams recently, and I remember and am haunted by this expression: 'Compare and contrast'...this, and that, and the other. That is what David is doing, he is comparing and contrasting the goodness of God with the wickedness of not only his own heart, but the hearts of his enemies. I wonder if I gave you all homework today, to go away and for a week with a pen and paper to note down a comparison and a contrast of the wickedness of sinners with the goodness of God - what would you come up with? Psalm 1 compares the godly with the godless, but this Psalm is comparing the ungodly with the goodness of God Himself. I imagine that if you tried with pen and paper, the paper wouldn't hold it, you would be exhausted in your attempts to articulate and even to imagine the gulf that there is between man's wickedness and God's inherent goodness.
This was David's problem as well, as he began to make this comparison he was led into exasperation. Words failed him to describe God's goodness, so above his own wickedness and the wickedness of his generation. Verses 1 and 2, if you look at it, we see the utter depravity of man's thoughts: 'The transgression of the wicked saith within my heart, that there is no fear of God before his eyes'. They don't think of God before their sin, God is not in any of their thoughts. Verse 2: 'He flattereth himself in his own eyes, until his iniquity be found to be hateful'. He loves himself so much that he doesn't even see the wickedness that he is doing in his own heart and to others, and the only sovereign voice that he hears and obeys is the voice of evil in his own heart.
That's the way men are living today, maybe some of you? In verses 1 and 2 we saw the utter depravity of man's thoughts, but later now he comes to talk about the utter degeneracy of man's actions. Man's thoughts are mirrored in his wicked actions, verse 3: 'The words of his mouth are iniquity and deceit' - his words are expressing the thoughts that are in his mind. Verse 4: 'He deviseth mischief upon his bed; he setteth himself in a way that is not good; he abhorreth not evil'. He lies in his bed at night, and when everyone else is asleep he hatches evil plans in his mind and heart as to how he can fulfil his evil desires and execute them in actions.
Now when you consider the wickedness of men today, how could you possibly describe it? David couldn't describe it in his own day, how could we even begin? We couldn't even mention the wickedness that goes on in our own land, and even in this part of East Belfast. Is it any wonder that when the rich young ruler came to the Lord Jesus Christ, and addressed Him as good, the Lord retorted back to him: 'Why call ye me good? There is none good but God'. He wasn't claiming not to be God, but he was pointing out to this man, who was steeped himself in self-righteousness, that there are none of us that reach God's standard - we all fall short of the glory of God, and the only supreme inherent goodness in this universe is the goodness of God.
But imagine this please, this is where I want to bring you from and to today: the unfathomable depth of man's depravity, to the unutterable heights of God's goodness - what distance is that? Is it not an infinite distance? Because of that, David was lost for words to express God's goodness in contrast to man's wickedness. This is where that verse of the hymn that we sang at the very beginning of our meeting came into our mind like a shot - Joseph Addison, he couldn't describe it, he was exasperated:
'When all Thy mercies, O my God,
My rising soul surveys,
Transported with the view, I'm lost
In wonder, love and praise' - because of the mercies of God!
Now can I ask you: have you had a glimpse of God's goodness lately that has left you speechless? Words can't articulate what's in your heart - I'll tell you, that is what all of us need if we're going to get through this world that is steeped in wickedness and depravity, if we're going to overcome the evil natures that are still within our redeemed hearts if we are saved. This is what Paul said in Hebrews chapter 12: 'Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run', Trevor was talking to the children about it, 'with patience the race that is set before us, Looking' - where? - 'Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God'. Verse 3: 'For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds' - how can you get through? You get through by dwelling upon the goodness of God, that's the only way to get through.
Now let's see this morning if, from whatever depths of despair you may be in - I don't know what the particular circumstance is - let's see if we can get a glimpse of the goodness of God that will bring you from the depths that David was in to the heights where God is. What specifically lifted David's heart to that holy height? This is all I want to leave with you today, verse 5: 'Thy mercy' - Thy mercy! That word has been translated many many different ways. It is translated at times in the Bible 'lovingkindness', it is translated 'steadfast love', 'unfailing love', 'favour'. It is the Hebrew word 'hesed', if you could put a title other than the one I've given you to the message this morning, it would be that: Hesed. You say: 'Well, what does that mean?'. It is found within the Old Testament 246 times, just over half of the times mentioned it is found in the book of Psalms. If you read Psalms again, notice this word 'mercy', 'lovingkindness', 'unfailing love', 'steadfast love' - a lot of the time it's describing the love that you can have to another human being, but on a ratio of 3:1 - three times more - it speaks of the mercy and grace of God to believers, Israel, to the church, and also to humanity in general, the whole wide world - God's love, unfailing steadfast love to us all.
If you were looking for a New Testament expression that would correlate to 'hesed' in the Old Testament, I think it probably would be the word 'mercy' perhaps, but more likely 'grace', favour that we don't deserve but that is freely lavished. It is a covenantal secure love and faithfulness that God has promised us, and therefore God must give us if He is true to His word. David thought about this mercy, this unfailing loving and kindness of God, and his heart was so overwhelmed by God's goodness that he could hardly find words to describe it, he was exasperated! Yet he did find words - if he hadn't, we wouldn't have a Psalm - although, and I say this qualified, although the words of inspired writ cannot come near to articulate the full extent of God's goodness, David tries by taking illustrations from nature round about him.
I want us to dwell upon this for a moment or two, the great attributes in nature that are a mirror of the attributes of God. I wonder have you ever dwelt upon the images of nature, they're so vivid, aren't they? I don't understand how people can believe in the theory of evolution if they open their eyes, and just look on a beautiful sunny day at their own garden - maybe not our garden, but their garden perhaps - and the wonder of creation all around. God is portrayed within scripture as the Creator of all things, in Psalm 19 David was taken up with this: 'The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge'. That means that during the day the wonder of the sun and the light that it gives speaks of God's goodness. In night-time, when you're in pitch dark without all the city lights, and you look up the constellations and the wonders of the stars and the moon that God has made, it's a language communicating to us the wonder of God's creation and His goodness to us.
I wonder do you read that? There's no speech that can articulate it quite the way nature does. Not only is God portrayed in the Scriptures as the Creator of all things, but He is seen as the sustainer of all things. Have you ever heard - and maybe it's you - unbelievers saying: 'What do I need God for? I don't need God'? You need God my friend! When you consider that our planet is 93 million miles away from the sun, and if the sun was any closer to the earth we would burn up - I would like to add to that statement, 'His faithful love endures forever, His mercy endures forever' - the Hebrew 'kheh lay o-lawm hastoh' (sp?) that was repeated right throughout Psalm 136. If we were any further away from the sun we would freeze, 'His unfailing love endures forever'. Our planet tilts exactly 23 degrees on its axis, and that is what gives us four seasons - winter, summer, autumn and spring - in the year. If it was tilted further away from the sun, our earth would freeze over in massive continents of ice - 'His mercy endures forever'. If you look at the moon tonight, think about this fact: it is at the exact distance from the earth to give us two ocean tides a day, that is why we're not all drowned. If it were any greater or lesser distance, the earth would be completely flooded - 'His unfailing love endures forever'. Even in creation, the ocean floor at its deepest depth gives us oxygen for all of us to breathe, which sustains plant life and animal life alike - but if the depth were any different, the air we breathe would actually poison us, we would not be able to live - 'His steadfast love endures forever'. The atmosphere around us is the exact density to keep meteors and space objects from hitting us so that they burn up in our atmosphere, if it were any thinner we would be constantly bombarded by objects from outer space - because 'His lovingkindness, tender mercies, unfailing love, steadfast grace endures forever'.
Have you ever thought about who keeps this universe in order? Who keeps the planets from spinning out of control, the stars from falling out of the sky? Who keeps people upright on the earth while it's turning on its axis? Have you ever thought about this? Yet even the wonders of creation and nature are inadequate to illustrate the true nature of God's hesed, His goodness, His unfailing love! David was exasperated, and do you know what he said in verse 5? 'Thy mercy, O LORD, is in the heavens', now that really should be translated like this: that His mercy is beyond the heavens - that's the sense. Let me read it to you, Psalm 36, listen to this more literally in verses 5 and 6: 'Your unfailing love, O Lord, is as vast as the heavens' - that is the sense - 'Your faithfulness reaches beyond the clouds'. He's saying the heavens that we cannot see an end to, outer space that is greater than our imagination, cannot even compare to the greatness of Your mercy, Your love, and Your unfailing favour.
He compares in this Psalm God's goodness with the earth, the sky, and the rivers and the sea, and it's all insufficient - you remember Paul said that we live and move and have our being in God, God is greater than all of this! But these are the only things that we understand: we can't see God, we can't conceive of God, but we can see nature around us. What David is saying is that God loves us as vast as the heavens, even greater than the heavens, beyond the clouds. His faithfulness is beyond what our eye can see, His righteousness is as solid as the mighty mountains of God, His judgments - verse 6 - are as full as the ocean fills the seas around us with water. This is God's mercy toward us! How vast are the heavens? Have you ever thought about it? What lies beyond the clouds? And for how far does it lie? It's mind-boggling to contemplate the vastness of the universe and our heavens, from the largest star to the smallest particle - it is so vast that astronomers tell us today that it stretches beyond what we are capable of exploring, even with the most advanced telescopes that technology can give us.
Think about this for a moment: the sun is so massive that 1.2 million planets the size of our earth could be put inside it. If you took a great giant ice cream scoop and scooped its insides out, you would get 1.2 million earths, and there would be more room for 4.3 million moons on top of all that - that's our sun! Yet our sun is the nearest star to this planet earth, the next nearest star is four times larger than our sun! Our galaxy includes more than 100 billion stars, and at the last observation it was stated that our galaxy is only one of more than 100 million galaxies! Does that not blow your mind? Listen to what David says: God's unfailing love is greater than all that! Do you get it?
Let me show you - I can't show you a perfect picture of God's unfailing love in nature, God's hesed, but I can show you it in the New Testament. I can show you it in the 'Logos', the One who was with God before the world was, and without Him nothing was made that has been made. He came into this world, He took upon Himself human flesh, He became a man - and in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ you can see a personification of God's hesed, His unfailing love. That's why Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:6: 'God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ'. Romans 5:8 says: 'God commendeth', or God has demonstrated, 'his unfailing love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us'. If you want to see God's unfailing love in perfection, you look to Calvary, and to a bloody cross where your sins were nailed upon the Lord Jesus!
Grace, in the New Testament, that saved a wretch like me - that is God's unfailing love. I never cease to be amazed at that story - you remember how Saul was the enemy of David, not chosen by David but by Saul in his jealousy. You remember that once the house of Saul was almost gone, and certainly from the annals of power it had disappeared, there David was with a united, reasonably peaceful, kingdom before any of his sins as far as I can remember, in the sense of the cursing that came into his kingdom. He's sitting at the dinner table and he turns to one of his colleagues, and he says: 'Is there not yet any of the house of Saul? Is there any relative of Saul left that I might show the kindness of God unto him?'. And Zeba said unto the King: 'Jonathan hath yet a son which is lame on his feet', who is disabled - Zeba was implying, I think, 'You're hardly going to bring him, are you, into your kingdom and into your palace, and into your very eating quarters and at the table to sit with you?'. The fact of the matter is, that's what the kindness of God is - it wasn't the kindness of David! 'Is there any yet left of the house of Saul, that I can show unto him the kindness of God?' - the kindness of God doesn't ask any questions, it is grace, it's unfailing, it's steadfast, it never changes, it's always the same! It brings you into His banqueting house, and the banner over you is love, and it hides under the tablecloth of God's grace your crippled sinful nature - just like Mephibosheth. It invites us to come to eat of God's faithfulness at the table of His unfailing grace.
Let me show you seven things in the New Testament, very very quickly, in which God is faithful, in which we see God's unfailing love. The statement 'God is faithful' is found seven times only in the New Testament - 'God is faithful'. It tells us the epitome of God's hesed - 1 John 1:9, you can quote it: 'If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness'. Do you know today that God is faithful in pardoning? Cleansing your sin, that sin that you confessed in your life, He is faithful - do you know how He is faithful? Corresponding to that statement is the signature of God's righteousness, He is the only one who can declare anyone righteous - and my friend, if you come by faith today to God, don't doubt that He has the power and the will to cleanse you of all your sin, and to look at you as if He were looking at His own Son!
He is faithful in pardoning, 2 Thessalonians 3:3: 'But the Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you, and keep you from evil' - He's faithful in protecting. He is the omnipotent God, He's got power to keep you from all your enemies, from all the shame that you fear. He can protect you and stablish you if you put your faith and trust in Him. What are you afraid of today? God is faithful to protect.
Hebrews 10:23: 'Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;)'. He is faithful in pardoning, He is faithful in protecting, but He is faithful in promising; because He is not only righteous, He is not only all-powerful, but He is the truth - and if God says it, we ought to believe it, and that should settle it. He is faithful in His promise.
Second Corinthians 1:18: 'God is true', the word is 'faithful', 'our word toward you was not yea and nay' - that means He is faithful in performing. God will accomplish what He has said in your life and in mine, because He never changes - you might change, but He doesn't change! He has divine immutability! He will pardon you if you confess your sins because He is righteous; He will protect you because He is omnipotent; He will keep his promise because He is the truth; He will perform His word and His will to you because He is unchangeable.
First Thessalonians 5:23 and 24: 'The very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it'. He is faithful in purifying - if you're struggling with sin, there's sin in your past, listen: He says He will do it! He is faithful, and one day you will stand before the throne of God without spot, wrinkle or blemish!
Faithful in pardoning and protecting, in promising and performing, in purifying and in permitting - 'Why has this come into your life?', you say. First Corinthians 10:13: 'There hath no temptation', or testing, 'taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it'. He measures your trials, and He never gives you too much - it may feel like too much, but He is faithful in permitting these things in your life, do you know why? Because He has divine wisdom.
First Corinthians 1:8 and 9: 'Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord'. He is faithful in preserving you unto the very end in His divine love. My friend, is it any wonder the hymn writer said this:
'The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
He will not, He will not, desert to his foes.
That soul, though all hell should endeavour to shake,
He'll never, no never, no never forsake!'
In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul asked three times that God would take away a problem in his life, the thorn in his flesh it's called, 'a messenger of Satan to buffet me' he said - 'Take it away Lord!'. The reply the Lord gave him was: 'My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness'. God's grace, the Old Testament equivalent, God's unfailing love, His hesed, His favour, His steadfast compassion, His lovingkindness would be enough to get him through - is your faith in God's unfailing love, in the grace of God? So often my faith is not. Do you believe it's enough to get you through, to get you home?
I read a story recently about a man, and I finish with this, who walked into a car dealership and picked out a Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud. He paid for it approximately 175,000 pounds, and then he went out and drove it home. He was absolutely fascinated by this Rolls-Royce, how the car handled on the road, and the intricate detail on the bodywork and so on. He opened the bonnet - which is not advisable to do if you know nothing about it like me - and he looked to see if he could see any indication of the horsepower that was in this machine, if it was written on the engine. He couldn't find anything, so he looked in the glove compartment at the owner's manual - no horsepower given in that either. So he picked up the phone and he rang the dealership again, and he said: 'Look, I've bought a Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud off you, and there's no indication of the horsepower of this motor that I've purchased'. The dealer apologised to him and simply said: 'Well, I'm sorry sir, but Rolls-Royce do not divulge the horsepower of their engines' - for a moment the man was speechless. He thought about all this money that he had paid out, and he didn't know what he'd got in return. When he recovered his faculties, he said in astonishment: 'Do you mean I've just purchased a car for 175,000 pounds, and yet you will not tell me the horsepower of its engine?'. The dealer affirmed that that was correct, and the new owner spluttered: 'Well, I demand to know the horsepower of this car' - and he continued that tirade until finally the dealer agreed to fax the irate customer's inquiry to Rolls-Royce headquarters in London. The fax read, I quote: 'My customer, who just bought a Silver Cloud Rolls-Royce for 175,000 pounds, wants to know the horsepower of the engine under the bonnet of his motor car'. In a short time the fax machine rang, then it began to whirr as it does, and the page came slowly through the machine - the logo at the top revealed that it was a reply from the Managing Director of Rolls-Royce, London. As the sheet continued to come out of the machine it looked blank, there seemed to be nothing on it, until the owner saw one word that was his answer: 'Adequate'. It's adequate!
What do you need today? Do you know what the Psalmist said in another place? 'Because Thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise Thee, thus will I bless Thee; I will lift up my hands unto Thy name'. It is adequate for everything.
We thank You, Lord, for Your mercy, for Your lovingkindness, for Your unfailing love towards us in every way - in our salvation and in our care, pardoning us, preserving us, protecting us, providing for us; Lord, permitting us to go through certain things, but preserving us through it unto the end. Lord, we declare today that God is faithful, so Lord help us to trust You all the more. For Jesus' sake we pray, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the tape, titled "Getting A Glimpse Of God's Goodness" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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