Sermon on Psalm 130:3-4
Rev. J. Tamminga
There are three things necessary for us to know so that we, being confident, can live and die happily. First, how great our sins and our miseries are. Second, how we can be delivered from our sin and miseries. Third, how we can express our gratitude and thankfulness to God for such a deliverance. All of us know, of course, that these three things are organically bound together. The one can never be thought of or experienced without the other. They are the one work of the Holy Spirit. Therefore they must and they will always reveal themselves as a unity.
It is not in accordance with the Word of God to have, for instance, knowledge of deliverance, when there is not first of all the knowledge of our misery and of our sins. Especially in our superficial times, people speak of deliverance and of Jesus Christ as their own personal Saviour and Redeemer, when they don’t even know who they are in themselves. They do not know how they have become a sinner before God. They have never wrestled in solitude and have never come before the throne of God’s grace. They have never seen themselves as totally condemned, corrupt, and depraved. There can be no true knowledge of deliverance without a true knowledge of our state of depravity before God. Although one person may experience more knowledge of sin than another, this does not alter the fact that the work of the Holy Spirit always is and remains a unity.
He who experiences conversion enters into the school of grace. In this school one is immediately taught these three things of guilt, grace and gratitude. This instruction will continue one’s whole life long until the last breath. In this school, the child of God will never finish his education.
Never will he have entered far enough into the knowledge of his misery and sin. Often you may hear people say, “Pastor, you’re always talking about sin and misery and about the deep fall in Adam. We need a preaching of Christ.” Yes, that is indeed true. We need the preaching of Christ because the Word of God is full of Christ. It is full of who Christ is and of the necessity and the beauty of Christ. But I say again, how can I see and how can I feel, how can I have exercises as far as experiencing the necessity of Christ is concerned, if I do not first come to see who I am in myself? Therefore, I repeat, I can never see enough of my sin and misery.
I will never know enough of the way of salvation, which is in Christ Jesus. A sinner will never offer his life as a sweet smelling incense in the way that God demands, unless it is in the way of thankfulness and gratitude. The instruction of God will only be finished, when, at the last breath, God gives that man or that woman the finishing touch, so that God’s image is fully re-established with the person. When he enters into eternal bliss, he will fully know how great his sins and miseries were. Then it is the past tense. He shall then express full, total and eternal gratitude to God for such deliverance.
In this morning hour, we have a portion of Scripture that speaks of these things. We have Psalm 130 before us. It is called a Song of degrees. According to some commentators, “song of degrees” means that the Levites in the old dispensation sang this Psalm when they came out of the court of the women and then stood on the steps of the stairway that led to the court of the men. Other commentators say they are songs which were sung when the people of Israel came from the low plains of the land of Palestine and traveled up to Mount Zion, the city of the king of Israel, where the temple was. We do not know for sure what “song of degrees” means; but that is not necessary either. We also do not know who the composer of this Psalm is. We do know this: the poet was in very difficult circumstances in his life when this Psalm was borne in his soul.
The first line in this Psalm begins with, “Out of the depths have I cried unto Thee, O God.” Now what were these depths? What difficulties did he go through? We do not know. It’s very well possible that they were difficulties of an external form. At the same time, by grace, these difficulties may have become a revelation of his inner misery. Therefore the poet implores to be delivered from his distress and says, “Lord, hear my voice, let thine ear be attentive to the voice of my supplication.” Here he is in the depths of his misery and cries unto the Lord. Here in the depths, his need becomes the need of his soul and that forces him to go to the throne of God’s grace. No, it is not the difficulties as such. It is not the obstacles as such that hinder him. It is not the adversities as such that grieve him. Rather, he sees that all these difficulties are connected with the righteous hiding of God’s countenance due to his sin and his unrighteousness.
You will then understand that he is not only a miserable man, wrestling to emerge from the waters of misery, but that he has also become a guilty man. This is something else. Then, by the uncovering work of the Holy Spirit, I not only see that I am in misery, but that my misery is my own fault. I have become miserable because I have fallen away from God. At the same time, I experience that this is my guilt. God has not brought me into misery - I have done it. Then I become a guilty man before God’s face.
The psalmists greatest concern is not to be delivered out of the depths, to be delivered from all those difficulties that he had, and to be freed from those adversities, but that he may be reestablished in the right relationship with God. His concern is that he may experience that sweet communion with God again and that his sins may be taken away. He yearns to experience that God would come to him personally with His favour. Even if he would have to bend under sorrow or a burden in this life or take up the cross, it would be well - if only the Lord would again become his portion and have thoughts of peace concerning him and for him. Then songs will be born in the midst of the night.
When we take the time to listen, we hear in our day (and for centuries already) many cries arising out of wounded hearts. There is for instance, complaining about the difficulties and cares of life. There is sighing about sicknesses and disasters. There are cries of poverty and misery. But that is not the true knowledge of misery of which the psalmist is speaking.
The true knowledge of misery is the result of the knowledge of God. The knowledge of God is not only obtained with a very close and a very diligent searching of the Word of God. That is, of course, the way in which the Lord makes Himself known. Therefore it is our responsibility to use the means. Yet more is necessary. If we are to truly know God, then we are to meet Him personally. Then the Lord has to reveal Himself to our heart by His Word and by His Holy Spirit. Now here you have something that is very necessary to know. I cannot deny that many people today speak a very religious and Reformed language. We may be glad that there are people who believe these things; but at the same time, we must say that this is not sufficient to live and die happily. We must bind this upon each other’s heart. We have to know more than just how to speak some words about it. We need the applicatory work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and souls. I say these things on purpose. God has to reveal Himself for us to meet Him.
Knowing God is never a result of my seeking of Him, but it is always a fruit of God seeking me. He comes to me through His Word and reveals Himself as He is to me. The Lord says through Isaiah the prophet, “I am sought of them that asked not for me, and I am found of them that sought me not.” This is indeed true also today. We are not asking for God and are not seeking Him by nature. As you, child of God, look on yourself you must admit this right way. We may therefore never look down on the people of the world. Are we not just like the worldly people? Do we not come from a broken paradise? Are we not sons and daughters of Adam and Eve? Is it not true that we have separated ourselves from our Creator? And if, by grace, a relationship begins between God and myself, it is never the result of my seeking and my longings. That relationship can only be the result of the searching love of God.
What human being will be able to describe what it means that God meets with a sinner? Then I see the reality of life. Then I see sin not only in the midst of the world in which I am living and breathing. Then I also see sin within me and discover that the world is in my own heart. I stand naked and empty handed before God. There is an accusing conscience within me, a righteous God above me, and an eternal perdition before me. Then I am journeying to eternal perdition, if God does not interfere. There is no place to hide. There is no one to take shelter with. Do you know what the real misery in the misery is? That such a person comes to see sin in its true nature. This means, that sin becomes God dishonouring. Sin violates the attributes of the Holy One. That is what sin is. The pain of the soul will be that we have, so to speak, hurt God, by violating His perfections, and by daily trespassing against a good, merciful and loving God. We have trampled upon the love of God. In this way, the true knowledge of misery is born within us.
In this way, we come to know and understand that true misery does not first of all consist of a fear for eternal punishment (although that may not be excluded). It consists of the knowledge that I have sinned against a good doing God. This is what causes the greatest sorrow in my soul. This is what humbles me in dust and ashes before the living God. I cannot exist before Him. The cry for deliverance is then not a result of a certain sense of self-preservation, but a cry that is most of all concerned with God. That is why the psalmist says here, “If Thou, O Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord who shall stand?”
The name “Lord” here refers to the Lord of the covenant. That is the God who is my Creator. That is the One who is the Ruler of everything. That is the One who has the reins of my life. If God, who is my Maker, now marks my iniquities – if he avenges and punishes me according to what I have done…O God how can I then stand and how can I ever exist before Thee? I cannot. Then there is no light and no joy in God’s countenance. I realize that God must come to me with His wrath and that He is an angry God because of my sin. How can I stand before God with my inner corruption and my depravity? How can I lift up my heart without being consumed in the flames of His holiness? If God’s child were left on his own, it would be a lost cause. What comes out of the heart of a corrupt sinner? Jesus says it with these words, “Out of the heart proceeds evil thoughts, murders, fornication, theft, false witnesses, blasphemies, and many more things.” The more the Lord grants us grace in our souls, the more death will be admitted of and the more it will cause grief within.
Listen to Paul, who utters the fearful words in Romans, “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” If that were the only thing that the Lord brought about, then God’s people would only have a dark picture because there would only be eternal darkness and perdition. However, there is (like the psalmist says here) also deliverance.
Although the poet finds himself in the depths and although he sees his own guilt and acknowledges that if the Lord were to let him perish it would be just, he – at the same time - turns to God and says, “but there is forgiveness with Thee.” This is a great wonder beyond comprehension!
In a certain sense, it is understandable that the poet experienced it in this way. Imagine for a moment, that through the uncovering work of the Holy Spirit and the power of His Word, God would come to us with the intention of making known to us our total depravity. If all one saw was depravity, we can understand that that would be the end of such a sinner. Our forefathers have always said (and rightly so), “God uncovers us to our sins, to the same extent that He opens the way of grace for us.” In other words, when God causes a sinner to know himself, He does not open the door fully so that he comes to know Jesus Christ in all His fullness and especially as His personal Saviour and Redeemer. No, the door opens bit by bit. A certain hope is born and the soul goes out to the throne of God’s grace. God does not uncover to sin in order to destroy. That is not the intention of the uncovering work of God’s Spirit. The intention is that one comes to the place where he ought to be and that is at the feet of Jesus Christ, where he may be delivered from his sin.
For this reason the Lord pours out His love into the heart. The Lord bows down to him and in bowing down he already comes in grace to the sinner. It may not be very clear to the sinner at that moment. His eyes and his heart may be closed for it. Yet, it is indeed true that God is coming in grace already. He comes unto him in order to save him by grace alone.
This tells me that the ground, on which the forgiveness of sins can be given, can never be found in man - in whatever he may have or do. It can only be found in God alone. God is moved within Himself to forgive. His eternal good pleasure moves him to look down upon a lost sinner. That is what a lost sinner experiences as well. It is the sovereign good pleasure of the Lord Himself. The sinner never asked for God, but God came to him. Another term for this eternal good pleasure is the covenant of redemption. This means that in eternity the Father asked and required from the Son that He would give Himself. The Son presented Himself to the Father and said “Lo I come to do Thy holy will”. The Holy Spirit came to the Father and the Son and promised that as soon as the Son had finished His work, He was willing and able to apply that work of the Son to the hearts of sinners. This covenant of redemption was carried out in time. What God planned and decided from eternity, has become manifest in time. Christ came into the world and took the wrath of the Holy God upon Him. He has removed death. He has taken away the guilt of His people and reconciled the sinner with God.
But what Christ has done during His stay on earth is not enough. Because he came, there is the possibility of the forgiveness of sins. There are the riches of Jesus Christ. Everything is in Him. But I must receive it out of Him and it must become mine. Also this is the work of Jesus. That is why so many people do not understand the preaching today. It is not only necessary that Jesus was crucified and suffered, but it is also necessary that He give Himself to a sinner. That is what He does through His Holy Spirit.
We will never be able to speak of the love of God and of the forgiveness of sins if we are not first of all brought into contact with God’s justice. Can there be any forgiveness if there is no true knowledge of guilt? Can there be any consciousness of guilt without recognizing, first of all, the justice of God? Of course not. We must come to know God as a Judge. Often we hear others calling God “Father,” when they do not even know what they are really saying. We may speak to the Father and pray, “our Father, who art in heaven,” but have we come to know Him experientially as our Father? I can say it so easily with my lips, but has he become my Father in Jesus Christ? He is my Judge. Instead of a Judge, He must become my Father through the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit. I repeat, we must come to know this divine justice. The Lord says it very emphatically “acknowledge thine iniquities that thou hast transgressed against the Lord thy God!”
Jesus has shown this very clearly in the parable of the prodigal son. You all know that parable. The younger son went to a foreign country and there he came to himself. Weeping, he returns to his father. As he came to the father, he first saw the righteousness of the father: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against Thee, and I am no more worthy to be called thy son.” He is saying: “I am not worthy that Thou art my Father.” The relationship of father and son was broken. He realized this was because he had left the house of the father. As he comes back, you see the father standing outside of his house. He looks and looks and waits and waits. The father went with his love into that far country and He poured out His love into the heart of His lost son. That is why the lost son came to himself. He saw that he could not live in such a way any longer. He had to return. How did he return? He wept as he returned. He bowed deeply before the father and said that he was not worthy at all. How necessary that this is clear in our minds and hearts. A sinner learns to see himself being worthy of death.