By admin | February 20, 2009
The Treasury of David as a Help to Preachers:
Every part of the Treasury of David serves as a help to preachers. Simply reading Spurgeon’s exposition teaches us how to view the Psalms, and how to apply them to the lives of all sorts of Christian people. Let us notice a few examples—from some of the less well-known Psalms.
1. Truth always has priority; before one can preach about experience, one must preach about doctrine—all that we are is based on what God has done for us in Christ, and all that we know about the Christian life must be based in the truth we believe. Spurgeon understood this principle as well as anyone, and expressed it wonderfully in the Treasury of David. While it would be easy to notice this in Ps. 19 or 119, let us take an example or two from some less well-known psalms: Notice for example his exposition of Psalm 4:3: “But know that the LORD hath set apart him that is godly for himself: the LORD will hear when I call unto him.” [Spurgeon comments:]
“Fools will not learn, and therefore they must again and again be told the same thing, especially when it is such a bitter truth which is to be taught them, viz:—the fact that the godly are the chosen of God, and are, by distinguishing grace, set apart and separated from among men. Election is a doctrine which unrenewed men cannot endure, but nevertheless, it is a glorious and well–attested truth, and one which should comfort the tempted believer. Election is the guarantee of complete salvation, and an argument for success at the throne of grace. HE who chose us for himself will surely hear our prayers. The Lord’s elect shall not be condemned, nor shall their cry be unheard. David was king by divine decree, and we are the Lord’s people in the same manner; let us tell our enemies to their faces, that they fight against God and destiny; when they strive to overthrow our souls. O beloved, when you are on your knees, the fact of your being set apart as God’s own peculiar treasure, should give you courage and inspire you with fervency and faith. “Shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him?” Since he chose to love us he cannot but chose to hear us.”
In this case, Spurgeon treats the text fairly, explaining it in terms of the doctrine of election. It is the ground and root of all Christian blessings. But notice that Spurgeon does not leave it in the realm of the abstract. Quickly, after briefly explaining the nature of the doctrine, he speaks of the comfort it brings to the believer, and how it gives us assurance when we pray. This is exactly what the text says, the Lord’s act of setting apart the godly provides assurance of being heard. But Spurgeon’s treatment teaches the preacher how to express the beautiful practical application of this text. Prayer, that precious activity of the believer in communing with God, is blessed of the Lord, simply because he is the one who set the process in motion from the beginning. Prayer becomes all the more special, as an intimate expression of the priority of God’s love, and the assured response of the believer. Doctrine has become a wonderful source of practical blessing.
Another example of this is found in Psalm 143. The first verse is a plea for God to hear the prayer of the supplicant on the basis of his faithfulness and righteousness; the second a plea to escape judgment. Listen to his exposition of verse 2:
“[David] had entreated for audience at the mercy-seat, but he has no wish to appear before the judgment-seat. Though clear before men, he could not claim innocence before God. Even though he knew himself to be the Lord’s servant, yet he did not claim perfection, or plead merit; for even as a servant he was unprofitable. If such be the humble cry of a servant, what ought to be the pleading of a sinner? “For in thy sight shall no man living be justified.” None can stand before God upon the footing of the law. God’s sight is piercing and discriminating; the slightest flaw is seen and judged; and therefore pretence and profession cannot avail where that glance reads all the secrets of the soul. In this verse David told out the doctrine of universal condemnation by the law long before Paul had taken his pen to write the same truth. To this day it stands true even to the same extent as in David’s day, no man living even at this moment may dare to present himself for trial before the throne of the Great King on the footing of the law. This foolish age has produced specimens of a pride so rank that men have dared to claim perfection in the flesh; but these vain-glorious boasters are no exception to the rule here laid down: they are but men, and poor specimens of men. When their lives are examined they are frequently found to be more faulty than the humble penitents before whom they vaunt their superiority.”
What a great diagnosis of the day in which he lived! In this case, Spurgeon’s understanding of the doctrine of law and gospel brought direct application to the circumstances of his own day—applied to the problem of religious unbelief. Men cannot stand before God in their own merits, they need the gospel. The law condemns, the mercy seat forgives.
In these two examples, we see that doctrine—truth—is the basis for practical living. What we believe precedes what we do. This is a very important lesson for every preacher. Before we tell our people what the text expects them to do, we must tell them what the text expects them to believe.
2. The Bible is full of history—redemptive history—the record of the mighty acts of God in space and time. True religion is not about philosophy, but about the present, powerful acts of God. He is creator; he rules in providence; he brings salvation to his people and judgment to his enemies. Spurgeon understood that the historical events recorded in the Psalms must receive their due prominence. One example will suffice: Psalm 81:5
“The Passover . . . was to be a standing memorial of the redemption from Egypt; and everything about it was intended to testify to all ages, and all peoples, the glory of the Lord in the deliverance of his chosen nation. Much of Egypt was traversed by the tribes in their exodus march, and in every place the feast which they had kept during the night of Egypt’s visitation would be a testimony for the Lord, who had also himself in the midnight slaughter gone forth through the land of Egypt. The once afflicted Israelites marched over the land of bondage as victors who trample down the slain. It is no small mercy to be brought out from an ungodly world and separated unto the Lord.”
The Bible not only records sound doctrine, it records for us all of the mighty acts of God in creation and redemption. Our salvation is based in the fact that God is the one who has done these things—he has directed history for his purpose. Spurgeon traces the hand of God moving through all of the events recorded for us in God’s word—and reminds us that this is a great blessing to all of us. But, this is not just nice religious talk—it is the historical basis of all that we have as Christians. God plans, and God acts, and glorifies himself in all that he does. We share that glory as we worship him. As he said, “It is no small mercy to be brought out from an ungodly world and separated unto the Lord.”
3. Not only do the Psalms speak of doctrine and the mighty acts of God, they speak of Christian duty. Listen to his exposition of Psalm 128:2 (Verses 1-2: Blessed is everyone that feareth the LORD; that walketh in his ways. 2 For thou shalt eat the labour of thine hands; happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee.) The first verse gives the doctrine: happiness is found in the fear of the Lord; verse two provides the duty:
“The general doctrine of the first verse here receives a personal application—note the change to the second person—“thou shalt eat,” etc. This is the portion of God’s saints,—to work, and to find a reward in so doing. God is the God of labourers. We are not to leave our worldly callings because the Lord has called us by grace, we are not promised a blessing upon romantic idleness or unreasonable dreaming, but upon hard work and honest industry. Though we are in God’s hands we are to be supported by our own hands. He will give us daily bread, but it must be made our own by labour. All kinds of labour are here included; for if one toils by the sweat of his brow, and another does so by the sweat of his brain, there is no difference in the blessing; save that it is generally more healthy to work with the body than with the mind only.”
This is a wonderful and practical expression isn’t it? The Christian man is a working man—while always trusting in the Lord, he always fulfills his responsibilities. This is the practical emphasis every preacher must pursue: we want our people to walk in the fear of God, but the expression of that is as simple as diligence in employment! The Christian faith is truly wonderful in its expressions.
4. Spurgeon was a man who knew trial and sorrow. Opposition from the enemies of truth, physical affliction, and depth of grief were part of his very existence. Many of the Psalms are full of these realities, and Charles explored every facet of them. They all belong to the church, in two ways. On the one hand, the experiences of the Psalmists are the experiences of God’s people, and on the other, they are the experiences of Christ. Notice two examples: Psalm 88:6
“’Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps.’ What a collection of forcible metaphors, each one expressive of the utmost grief. Heman compared his forlorn condition to an imprisonment in a subterranean dungeon, to confinement in the realms of the dead, and to a plunge into the abyss. None of the similes are strained. The mind can descend far lower than the body, for there are bottomless pits. The flesh can bear only a certain number of wounds and no more, but the soul can bleed in ten thousand ways, and die over and over again each hour.”
In this case, our author refuses to diminish the strength of the words he reads—he gives then full weight, recognizing that the Lord sometimes allows his servants to endure the worst of experiences. Psalm 88 is not just an allegorical tale of suffering—it is the real expression of one of the Lord’s people. In this way, it can be of real benefit for our own people—because sometimes they endure the deepest and darkest moments of suffering. The common experience that we have—the fact that the Bible speaks truthfully about our lives, is a huge blessing. We need to preach like this.
But beyond this, the sorrows of the Psalms must be seen as the sorrows of Christ. As the man of sorrows, as the one acquainted with grief, the Psalms become a prophetic transcript of the emotions of our savior.
Psalm 88:18 “Lover and friend hast thou put far from me. Even when they are near me bodily, they are so unable to swim with me in such deep waters, that they stand like men far away on the shore while I am buffeted with the billows.; but, alas, they shun me, the dearest lover of all is afraid of such a distracted one, and those who took counsel with me avoid me now! The Lord Jesus knew the meaning of this in all its wormwood and gall when in his passion. In dreadful loneliness he trod the wine-press, and all his garments were distained with the red blood of those sour grapes. Lonely sorrow falls to the lot of not a few; let them not repine, but enter herein into close communion with that dearest lover and friend who is never far from his tried ones.”
Here is Jesus. The psalmist, Heman wrote the words, and they were true of his own experience. But they are also true of our savior; and because they are true of him, he is able to sympathize with us in our weaknesses. Our high priest knows by experience all of our troubles, and loves us in the midst of them. It almost seems like a mistake to draw this distinction, for Christ’s experiences are our experiences. Spurgeon understood this well.
5. Spurgeon understood how to personalize the Psalms—to bring them alive for his readers. Listen for example to his comments on Psalm 28:1
“Unto thee will I cry, O Lord my rock; be not silent to me, lest, if thou be silent to me, I become like them that go down to the pit.”—A cry is the natural expression of sorrow, and is a suitable utterance when all other modes of appeal fail us; but the cry must be alone directed to the Lord, for to cry to man is to waste our entreaties upon the air. When we consider the readiness of the Lord to hear, and his ability to aid, we shall see good reason for directing all our appeals at once to the God of our salvation, and shall use language of firm resolve like that in the text, I will cry.”
Here we find a faithful explanation of the text of Scripture, made deeply personal. In this case, the psalm begins with an exclamation. There is a genuine sense of desperation in the psalmist’s words, and he breaks into the expression of that anxiety immediately. Spurgeon’s comments are just as abrupt. Rather than build slowly to the height of emotion presented, he takes the same approach to the text. Strong desire is expressed in strong terms. The psalmist did not build to his cry; he demanded God’s attention with his cry. Understanding this kind of emotion and presenting it to God’s people can be of great help to both preacher and people. The Psalms are a book full of emotion—emotion that ought to be known and experienced by God’s people. How is it possible to proclaim these Psalms without sharing those emotions—even in our approach to the exposition of the text. If it is abrupt, it may be useful to us to be abrupt.
These 5 facets for preaching: doctrine, history, duty, experience and personal reality are extremely helpful to us all. They must become part of our own preaching.
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