Now, as I said to you already, we're going to look at Psalm 38, so I would request that you turn that up because that will be the major passage that we will be studying this morning. But there's one other portion of Scripture that I want us to home in on before I begin the message, and it's found in 2 Corinthians chapter 7. So if you would turn to that for me, and remember that the title is 'Holy Misery' - that will cheer you all up after a hard week!
Second Corinthians chapter 7, and I think we'll take up the reading at verse 5. Paul writing to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 7 verse 5: "For, when we were come into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side; without were fightings, within were fears. Nevertheless God, that comforteth those that are cast down, comforted us by the coming of Titus; And not by his coming only, but by the consolation wherewith he was comforted in you, when he told us your earnest desire, your mourning, your fervent mind toward me; so that I rejoiced the more. For though I made you sorry with a letter, I do not repent, though I did repent: for I perceive that the same epistle hath made you sorry, though it were but for a season. Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter". You can turn now back to Psalm 38.
Psalm 38, of course, is a Psalm about the problem of suffering. I don't think there is any greater profound question that has faced both theological and philosophical minds than the question of suffering: why do people suffer? And often: why do seemingly good people suffer, and bad people seem to literally get away with murder? I want to say categorically, before I launch into some sort of arrogant discourse that you might feel I'm doing, there's no answers to many of those questions - and certainly no one has got all the answers to why some people suffer and others do not. The Lord Jesus Christ clearly said that He, God, causes the rain to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous, and the sun also shines on the righteous and the unrighteous - and only God understands and knows why certain people suffer and others do not. But in saying that, we must be biblical in all of our reasoning and explanations, when we look at the Scriptures we find that there are a number of reasons given as to why we may suffer as human beings, whether you're a Christian or whether you're not.
The first reason that we're encountered with - and this list is in no particular order - but the first reason we often suffer is to get to know more about God. You might think that's strange, but hopefully as we go through our study this morning it'll be made clear to you. The book of Job is basically about this, that Job suffered, and the Bible makes it very clear that Job wasn't suffering for his sin; he wasn't an unrighteous man, to the contrary, he was a righteous man, but God was bringing him through a process of suffering - as he testified himself - that he may come forth as gold. It was a purifying process whereby he would come to know God a little bit better, and we find at the end of the book that that was the result: he came to know God better. He said: 'I once heard about You with the ear, but now my eye sees you'.
The second reason for suffering is, for the Christian, it can be used as a device by God to prevent us sinning and falling into temptation. Hardships can be there to keep us humble, or to keep us away from sin, and Paul the apostle testified to this: he had what is called 'a thorn in the flesh', and theologians debate about what it was, and none of us are sure really, but whatever it was God gave it to him that he might not be puffed up, because God gave him so many revelations and visions - and we have many of the epistles in the Scriptures - that he would have been prone to pride, but God gave him this thorn in order that he would not fall into that sin. Even though he came three times and asked God to take it away, God didn't, God just said: 'My grace is sufficient for your need'.
A third reason that is given in the New Testament is found in Philippians: people, specifically Christians, often suffer for the advancement of the gospel. Paul was writing from prison, he was able to testify in Philippians 1:12 that 'the things which have fallen to me, have happened to me, have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel'. In other words, 'My suffering has enabled, in some strange way, the gospel to go further than I could have even imagined if I hadn't suffered in this way, being locked up in prison'.
So suffering can be to bring us nearer to God, suffering can be a device used to keep the Christian humble and to keep him from sin, suffering can even be used as a means and a mechanism to further the gospel - and it's interesting, isn't it, that the lands where the gospel is thriving today are lands where there is persecution against Christians and against their message. But the fourth reason, and this is not an exhaustive list, but the fourth reason I want to bring to you this morning is that suffering can be a result of sin. Now ultimately, in the big picture, we all know that we are all sinners, and we're all suffering in a general sense today because Adam and Eve, our forefather and mother in the Garden of Eden, disobeyed God - and by their one sin, because we're their progenitors and children, we're all sinners and we're suffering because of that. That's not exactly what I'm talking about, I'm talking about suffering for your personal sins.
This is a very delicate subject, but nevertheless this is the subject of the Psalm that we have before us. This is the third penitential Psalm, that means the Psalmist is praying for forgiveness, but what this Psalm reveals is that this saint of God - the equivalent of a Christian today - is suffering because of his own personal sins. You might be a believer here this morning, and you're saying: 'Well, then what happens our sins? I thought when we got saved all our sins were taken away'. That's true, and the Bible tells us in John 1:29 that He takes our sins away, 'This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world'. Hebrews 10:17 says 'God remembers our sins no more', He will not bring them up before us and cast them against us. Isaiah 1 and verse 18 says that our sins are washed away, Isaiah also says that they're blotted out. Isaiah says in chapter 43 that He wipes them out like a cloud, He pardons us. Micah says it's as if God has taken our sins and thrown them into the depths of the sea and, as Billy Graham said, He has put a sign out saying 'No Fishing'. He's not going to drag them out of the depths again, and neither should we.
But the question remains: does that mean that from our conversion God ignores believer's sins? Just because we've been forgiven our past, and the blood of Jesus Christ goes on cleansing our present and will our future, does that mean that God ignores the sins of the Christian? I say categorically, on the foundation and authority of God's word: no! Scripture does not teach that. He may not punish us in anger for our sin, Romans 8:1 says there is now no condemnation for them that are in Christ Jesus, but in His displeasure the Bible teaches us that God does chasten and discipline His children. Hebrews 12 and verse 6 tells us: 'For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth'. That means that if you're a child of God, God is not going to condemn you or punish you to hell for your sins, your sins will never be brought up in a judgment sense like that - they've been judged on Christ - but if you are presently living with some sin in your life, and we all are to some extent, God does chasten and He does discipline us.
You might think: 'Well, how does that square with the book of Job which seems to teach, as Jesus taught, that we don't suffer necessarily for the wrong we're doing in our lives?'. Well, it might seem ironic that Psalm 38 comes after Psalm 37, and the theme of Psalm 37 as we thought about it on Thursday night at our prayer meeting, at a first glance looks like what the wisdom was that Job's friends gave him. Job's friends all said: 'Job, you think you're righteous, but you're suffering because you've sinned. You mightn't realise, consciously, the sin that you have sinned against God, but only sinners suffer, righteous people don't suffer'. The theme of Psalm 37 is that eventually wicked people will get their just deserts, and the righteous, they will be rewarded. But that is not what Psalm 37 is saying, as I'll share with you later; but Psalm 38 could also be seen to be almost like the complaints of Job - like the Psalmist is saying: 'Lord, why am I suffering? What have I done to deserve this?'. It would have to be said that in Psalm 37 and Psalm 38, that both the Psalmist's use the same language as Job comforters did and as Job himself did. Let me say this Psalm 37 is not the simplistic advice of Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar that we find in the book of Job; neither is Psalm 38 the cry of Job in his innocence, because Psalm 38 is not like Psalm 22. Psalm 22 is a cry, where David is saying: 'I am suffering innocently'; and Job cried 'I'm suffering innocently, I haven't done anything to deserve this' - but Psalm 38 is the Psalmist crying: 'Lord, I deserve this! Everything that You're bringing upon me, I deserve!'.
Therefore he doesn't protest his innocence, in fact if you have an Authorised Version you'll see under Psalm 38 is the title: 'To bring to remembrance'. What he is actually doing is saying: 'Lord, You remember my sin'. He would be like, if you like, the thief on the cross who said to the other thief: 'We're getting our just deserts, we're getting what we deserve' - and then you remember later on, what was the cry from one of the thieves? 'Lord, remember me', that is just like this Psalm. The Psalmist is saying: 'Lord, I deserve everything that You're giving me, and I know it's because of my sin - but Lord, remember me!'. Have you ever cried out to God like that? This man is suffering for his sin, Warren Wiersbe has an interesting outline of it, it goes like this: 'In verses 1 to 2 we see what God does when a believer sins' - God does something. Then further on, in verses 3 to 10, we see what sin does - sin does something itself if it's resident in the life of a believer. Then in verses 11 to 14 we see what people do when there is sin in the life of a believer - it affects others around us. You might say: 'I'm not harming anybody', but you are! Then we see finally, in 15 to 22, what the sinner should do to get rid of his sin.
Let us look at the first: what God does - God does something. Martin Lloyd-Jones, I think it was, put it like this: 'If you are an unchastened Christian, you must be an unloved Christian' - which is a contradiction in terms. If you are unchastened you are unloved, because every son that God receives is chastened - so all of us, to some extent, must be going through a disciplinary process before God. What the Psalmist was experiencing was, he said that God was 'shooting His arrows', verse 2, against him. That speaks of divine judgment, that from a distance God was coming close to him with His arrows. He actually says that God was putting His hand upon him. God was displeased at what He saw in his life, and He was showing His displeasure. Could that be why some of us are suffering here today?
What does sin do, verses 3 to 10? Well, David is suffering sickness. If you look at the description, and we'll take a bit of time to do that later, but it's very evident that he's suffering physical sickness of some kind. He was carrying a heavy burden and he was crushed under it. He sighs, he pants, he's ready to give up and expire. Sin, at first, had come as a friend to entice him, just like it does to all of us - but then it has become his master, it has enslaved him, and now it's beginning to destroy him. Is that you? You think you can control sin, or at least you thought you could, and now sin is controlling you.
In verses 11 to 14, what people do. Sin actually began to put a wall between David and those who would be able to help him. Is sin putting a wall between you and someone close to you? It not only puts a wall between those who are your loved ones, but it builds a bridge between you and those who want to hurt you. His enemies took advantage of his sin and of his sickness, and when he was down they kicked him. The sum total of this Psalm is that David is miserable. He's miserable because of his sin, he's miserable because of the sickness that came from his sin, but what I want you to see this morning is this: God made him even more miserable, and God added His own weight to David's suffering. We'll look at that in a little more detail.
Another writer points out the four times the Psalmist addresses God in this Psalm, and in effect - and we'll look at these - he is saying: 'Lord', verses 1 and 2, 'Lord, You hurt me. Lord, You hurt me'. Verse 9: 'Lord, You know me'. Verse 15, 'Lord, You hear me', and verses 21 and 22: 'Lord, You save me', as eventually he cries out for mercy. Now let's follow the flow of his thought in those brief sentences. The first thing that I want you to see in this Psalm is his downward decline. The Psalm goes from worse to worse, he cries: 'Lord, You hurt me'. In verses 1 and 2 you would think the Lord was his enemy. David says: 'I'm without strength', in verses 5 to 10 he says how he is without friends, and in verses 11 and 12 his enemies plot against him and scheme to make things worse. Now, I do not and cannot enter into the complex things that are going on in David's heart, only God knew that - but what I do know very clearly from this Psalm is that these difficulties in David's life were manifesting themselves in physical sickness.
Verses 5 to 8 are clear, you look at the descriptions there. Someone has said that if you judge this illness by David's own descriptions, the patient has almost every disease in the book. He obviously didn't, and it's not that he's inventing these things, but he was so miserable because of his sin that, graphically, he is showing how sin is exacerbating his physical sufferings and his mental turmoils and perplexities. Now let me say in caution, please do not misunderstand what I'm saying: Jesus warns us - remember the case of the man born blind and the Pharisees said: 'Is it because of his sin, or his mother's sin?', and Jesus warned against assuming that someone's suffering is a result of their personal sin. We know that that's not always the case, and I'm not levelling that at anybody who's suffering sickness here this morning - but let us not go as far as to say this: that it can never be the reason for physical suffering! Because clearly in God's word it is at times, and it applies in this case in Psalm 38, it applies in 1 Corinthians 11 where they were eating and drinking damnation to themselves around the Lord's Table, doing it unworthily, some of them were sick and some of them were dying. In James 5 I believe that that's the context of the person who asks for the elders to come and anoint and pray for healing, and if they have sinned the sin will be forgiven them. They are sick because they have sinned. Sin can cause sickness - I'm not saying it's causing your sickness, but please let us not dilute God's word.
David said: 'Lord, You hurt me, and I know why You hurt me', because in verse 9 he says, 'Lord, You know me'. C.S. Lewis said these famous words: 'God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains - it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world'. Now we know from verse 1 that David wasn't enjoying what he was going through, but we know that the second thing he says in verse 9, 'Lord, You know me', is that it had shook him up. Whatever result his sickness and discipline and chastening had done to him, it roused him! Now please, I'm not saying that if you're sick you've sinned, but have you ever asked the question in your sickness, as it is a time of contemplation: 'Is my heart right with God?' - because David was prepared to accept that his discipline was from God. David sinks lower and lower under the burden of sin, and I think if we were experiencing what David was experiencing we would ask the question too: 'Is this from God?'. In verse 1 the word 'anger' and 'wrath' is mentioned, it literally means 'God's exploding rage', 'God's flaming anger'. In verse 2 'arrows' speak of how these things are coming from heaven, divine messengers of sickness, pain and abandonment. In verses 11 and 12 it talks about the opposition that he faces, and he actually says that God's own personal hand was against him and laid upon him. In verse 3 wrath was experienced by him, it literally means indignation, God's outrage was being displayed towards David. His health, in other words his wholeness, his soundness, his peace and well-being had departed. In verse 4 he expresses this in extremity: these sins of mine, my guilt has gone over my head. In other words, I'm overwhelmed, I'm drowning beneath this. In verse 5 he says his wounds stink, there is a fester, a loathsome septic fester from his sinful life. Folly, silliness literally, the corresponding noun means 'he was a downright fool' - he had sinned before God, and he's suffering because of it. In verse 6 he says he's bowed down, literally that means he is convulsed in physical and mental pain because of his sin. Verse 8 says he is feeble, numbed it means, sin has paralysed him - and he's roaring to God, literally like an angry lion. He has no words, and inarticulately he can only express himself to God from the depths of his being through a groan.
Have you ever, in a time of sickness, engaged in self-examination? Maybe you're not saved here today? Whatever you have experienced, whether you're sick or well it doesn't matter, I'm asking everybody here this morning - saved and unsaved alike - have you ever felt, really felt, your sinfulness before God? That's what David's describing here. Whatever his illness was, the main thing is this: he felt his sinfulness before God, both physically and mentally. Verse 10 speaks that he has palpitations in his heart, he is ebbing vitality, his very sight is diminishing because of his guilt before God. In verse 11 his lovers and his friends, the closest to him, his peers, his kinsmen, those who should come beside when he is in trouble are the very ones that don't come near him. In verse 12 his enemies take advantage of him and his downward decline goes down, down, down, until he hits rock bottom.
Am I speaking to someone here this morning, and you have hit rock bottom because of your sin? Well, the good news - it's not easy news and it's painful news, but it is good news - is that David went from his downward decline, and this Psalm turns in a great crescendo to an upward advance. He has said: 'Lord, You hurt me; Lord, You know me', but in verses 13 to 15 he said 'Lord, You hear me'. People are accusing him of all sorts of things, and he doesn't answer them, but he says to the Lord: 'Lord, it's You. The problem is not that I cannot answer these people, but I'm not concerned any more about those people, I'm concerned about what You think. I'm waiting on God'. In verse 14 that's what he's saying, 'Lord, it is for You I am waiting'.
My friends, this whole experience in David's life served to open his eyes to see the way things really were. That's a very profound thought. Christian: do you see things the way they really are? Do you see your own sinfulness the way it appears before God? Unsaved person, maybe you try to sweep it under the carpet and think 'That's just what we do today in our world' - but this is happening to David, he's been moved from that comfortable state to realise that 'God sees my sin like this', and it troubled him, it vexed him. The gist of verses 17 to 20 is exactly that, that he recognised that he was so prone to sin, and he'd fallen into sin, and God had stopped him dead in his tracks. That's what verse 17 is all about: 'I am ready to halt, and my sorrow is continually before me'.
I'm sure you all know Bunyan's 'Pilgrim's Progress', and it is like an allegory, a picture book of the life of the Christian, the journey as he gets saved and travels to heaven - but there's one character who Bunyan named after verse 17, and his name is Mr Ready-to-Halt...'For I am ready to halt'. It speaks of a person who learns to confess their sin, I don't mean just run to God and say: 'Sorry, I'll try not to do it again', and away you go and you do it all over. The person who is willing to stop, to confess their sin to God, to be distressed about their sin before God, and actually to continually - the tense shows it in verse 18 - to continually reassess their life before God, and deal with the problems and the sins in it.
Now this is where 2 Corinthians 7 comes in, this is a godly sorrow that works repentance. This is a sorrow that God gives you, or allows you to have, in order to bring you to the position of repentance, and turning from your sin, and leaving the things that hurt you. It's not that God wants to hurt you and make you miserable, but sometimes God - I would say all the time - needs to make us miserable about the sin that we love that is destroying us, in order to save us from it. I ask you the question: what does the modern-day Christian know of such sorrow and repentance? What even is such sorrow and repentance? Well there are instances of it in the Bible, revivals in Esther's day and Ezra's day, in Nehemiah's day, and through some of the kings where the people heard the word of God and they wept and they prayed and they consecrated themselves. You can read about it in the revivals of history, and there was great weeping, and there seems to have been involved a surprising degree of emotion and this type of sorrow and repentance - yet it seems to be more than just emotion, it's not just tears. An actor can bring on tears, but this sorrow and repentance in the Bible is something that God intends that we should have and experience. Corinthians says it's not a natural sorrow that we feel when someone is lost from us, but this is a sorrow that is accompanied by a permanent behavioural change. We are changed!
Repentance is restitution, that simply means you put things right that are wrong. One old evangelist put it like this: 'The thief has not repented while he keeps the money he stole'. You've got to set things right as far as you can set them right, if you have offended another or done something against another, but repentance is not just restitution. Repentance is more than that, repentance is even more than a complete mental knowledge of your sin, if that were possible, and how your sin displeases God - but true sorrow that brings repentance, I could define it like this, maybe inaccurately: it is a burning hatred for sin itself! Thomas Watson, the great puritan, and I think we can learn a lot from them today, tells that this fear and loathing of sin is a result of the true work of God of repentance in our hearts. He says this, I quote: 'A true penitent is a sin-loather. If a man loathe that which makes his stomach sick, much more will he loathe that which makes his conscience sick'.
Now, you might be saying: 'I've been told that repentance is a thing that I do, that's the part of salvation where I turn and change my mind about sin'. On one level that may be true, but no one has power on their own to do this type of repentance - this is a godly sorrow that works repentance, and it is only the product of the illumination of the Holy Spirit. It is seeing our sin the way God sees our sin, and it's seeing the Saviour as God lays upon our Saviour our sin. It's not just in the head, it's something that grips our heart. One writer put it like this: 'You may know the sins that you have committed, failings in observing a rule or an established order - but that does not mean that you have a sense of sin. Only the Holy Spirit can show us the kind of video of our sin that has us crying out loud for mercy. Light of that sort shatters our calm, as God imparts devastating interior illumination. We see our sins with appalling clarity. When God Himself shows us our sin, we may find our mouths dry, our hearts pounding, we may be afraid, sleepless; some people groan - but in addition God then reveals His love, and then we weep with relief and wonder and adoration that God should love a person like me'. Now is that not what David experienced here? The Lord that is offended in verses 1 and 2, whose anger is exploding in rage, whose wrath is flaming - He is the same God that David comes to and pleads for mercy and salvation.
Only the Lord's favour can deliver us from the Lord's disfavour. Have you said: 'Lord, save me' like this? From this position of godly sorrow that works repentance? My friend, the more all of us - whoever we are - grasp God's holy abhorrence of sin and detestation of iniquity, the greater our wonder of His love will become, and the more we will hate sin just like God loathes it. As Romans says: the goodness of God will lead us to repentance. The greatest knowledge that you can have of your sin is to see what your sin and my sin did to the Saviour on Calvary's cross. I wish I could sing better, for I would sing a song to you that I've been listening to all week, it's an old hymn. I'll just recite it you, but it's blessed my heart tremendously:
'What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul.
When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down,
When I was sinking down, sinking down,
When I was sinking down beneath God's awful frown,
Christ laid aside His crown for my soul, for my soul.
To God and to the Lamb, I will sing, I will sing;
To God and to the Lamb, I will sing.
To God and to the Lamb Who is the great "I Am";
While millions join the theme, I will sing, I will sing'.
Do you have that song? The wonder of how God could love a sinner like you, where you've got to know your sin and loathe your sin, to love the Saviour for dying for your sin. There are profound reasons why such repentance is necessary in the life of every Christian and every unbeliever. John White, an author, talks about the danger of producing butterflies that can't fly - butterflies that can't fly! I'll explain it, he writes: 'Moths and butterflies emerge from cocoons where they have concealed their chrysalis form. To watch their struggle to free themselves is to watch the drama of life struggling against death, trying to escape. These strands of glutinous substance hinder their emergence, attached as they are to the cocoon tomb. The battle to free their wings from similar strands looks particularly painful, and you can cut those strands to help them out - but when you do a partially formed butterfly will fly away, a butterfly that can't fly. It needs to struggle or it will never attain the full development, the full spread of its wings'.
Maybe you're a Christian this morning, and you have never allowed God by His Holy Spirit to truly bring that repentance, that Spirit-illuminated repentance in your heart. It doesn't mean that you're not necessarily saved, but was your repentance deep enough at conversion? If you're living in sin at this moment, it's questionable - but I'll tell you this, every believer is meant to live every day in a spirit of repentance, for Christ said: 'Daily take up your cross, deny yourself, and follow Me'. C. S. Lewis said: 'Repentance is the process by which we see ourselves day-by-day as we really are, sinful, needy, dependent'. It is a process where we see God as He is, awesome, majestic, holy; and also so radically alters our perspective that we begin to see the world through God's eyes, not our own. We see ourselves as God sees us! We see our sin as God sees it!
Christian, what do you know about that? Unbeliever, have you ever known that? False professor, backslider, is the reason why you're in trouble today because you've never known that? Can I say: this is where not only salvation starts, it's where revival starts, and you must start by asking God for that true repentance. You can't do it yourself, it's a gift of grace like faith is, like the whole package of salvation is - and your first step this morning could be to come and ask God to search your heart by His Spirit. As He weighs your sin heavily upon you, to acknowledge it, to confess it, and to ask Him for the strength to turn from it, and say: 'Lord, save me'.
Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: and search us with Thy fiery glance, deliver and save us from our sin 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 recording titled "Holy Misery" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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