A Study of Psalm 40:17
Preached at Rotherfield, Sussex, December 27th, 1953 – By Caleb Sawyer
“But I am poor and needy; yet the Lord thinketh upon me: Thou art my help and my deliverer: make no tarrying, O my God.”
Thus the Psalmist breathes out his soul Godward; and we believe that every one that is taught by the same Spirit will do likewise. The Psalmist confesses a truth that every child of God will be brought to acknowledge sooner or later, that they are poor and needy. That is the grand characteristic of the whole family of God: they are reduced to this perfect poverty; and…
“‘Tis perfect poverty alone
That sets the soul at large;
While we can call one mite our own,
We have no full discharge.”
The Lord brings His people into this condition of poverty. You cannot bring yourself there, but the Lord knows how to bring down high looks and to lay low in the dust of self-abasement. He knows how to strip off all your trappings, and bring you down upon your knees as a suppliant for mercy; and that is your mercy, for the Lord to bring you into a condition of real poverty of soul where you are brought to feel your absolute dependence upon God for every good and every blessing.
“But I am poor and needy.” In this psalm you will find that the Psalmist speaks of being in “an horrible pit,” and in “miry clay.”
“He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And He hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God.”
Whatever he means by this “horrible pit,” he may have meant just that cave of Adullam where he was shut up with those six hundred men, and some of the children of Belial; or he may have meant, in a symbolic way and manner, the state of mind that he was in, perhaps by reason of the guilt and filth of sin, to find that he was in, perhaps by reason of the guilt and filth of sin, to find that he was sinking in deep mire where there was no standing. But the fact is, the Lord brought him out of this horrible pit, and out of the miry clay, and set his feet upon the rock. May not that set forth the Person and work of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ? For we believe that all who seek salvation in the Lamb of God will ultimately find their standing in the precious things of Christ. So the Lord Jesus Christ intimates, speaking of the wise and foolish builders. The foolish builder built an house merely upon a sandy foundation; but the wise builder digged deep and founded the house upon a rock, so that when the floods came and the winds beat upon that house it fell not, for it was founded upon a rock (Matthew 7:24-27).
Well now, if this is your experience, you will be a poor person; you will be reduced to utter dependency upon the Lord for every true, spiritual motion. There are people, you know, that have a natural religion, and who can work themselves up into some sort of enthusiasm, and they are able to bring forth something that they look upon as being the grace of God, when it is nothing but the flesh from beginning to end. But there are those who have been brought down by the teaching of the Spirit who find that in themselves, that is in their flesh, dwelleth no good thing, that they have nothing that is Godward or Christward, and therefore they are absolutely dependent upon the grace of God for every right thought, every good desire, and every motion of the soul Godward. Now, that is poverty; and yet it is a blessed poverty, because these people are “rich to all the intents of bliss,” though they are made to feel their poverty. O, they are poor indeed in their own estimation, but they are brought to feel that there is a fullness in Christ that “ever abides to answer their need.”
So they are poor, and they are needy; not only poor, but they have needs, and their needs will be expressed at the throne of grace, or it may be, as the poet speaks of prayer, “uttered or unexpressed, the motion of a hidden fire, that trembles in the breast.” Well, these poor people will have needs. What are your needs today? Are you needing all that this world calls good or great? Would that satisfy the capacity of your soul, to receive plenty of this world’s good, health and strength and the things of this life? My friends, if you have a hungry need in your heart for salvation, all this world would never satisfy that need. If the Spirit of God has made you a needy person you want life, that life which is “hid with Christ in God,” (Colossians 3:3) that life of which the apostle speaks, “The wages of sin is death: but the gift of God is eternal life.” (Romans 6:23) That is what a great need will be, because you will feel exposed to death by reason of condemnation out of God’s holy law, and consequently you will say, “Lord, give me life! I know that I deserve death; I know that my sins call for eternal vengeance; but I would life. Lord, let a poor rebel live; I cannot plead except upon the ground of Sovereign mercy, but let a poor wretch who is condemned to die live before Thee!” Well, is that your need? Can you say before God that you would live, and that you would receive out of Christ’s fullness that which can give you life?
Another need will be pardon.
“Mercy through blood I make my plea;
O God, be merciful to me!”
I wonder how many here this afternoon have felt their need of pardon? have felt so guilty that they have had to get aside in secret before God and pray for God to pardon their sins for Christ’s sake? O, if there is a poor, filthy, guilty sinner here, laden with the guilt and filth of sin, there is no pardon except in that precious blood that was once shed upon Calvary’s tree; and if that flows into your heart today it will cleanse. O, it will wash away every stain. However deep the stain, the blood of Jesus Christ can cleanse from all sin, doubt it not. So that will be a need, that you may receive some intimation from God that your sins are put away for Christ’s sake. And blessed be God, it is only for the Spirit of God to whisper peace in the troubled conscience, and that can blot out the most heinous sins that ever were committed. So if that is your need today–I could wish it was the need of many people. I was thinking of an old gentleman that I visited at Crowborough, perhaps forty-five years ago, who said to me, “Mr. Sawyer, I could take you to the place where I received the pardon of my sins; but do you know,” he said, “I am often tried whether I saw enough of Christ in it.” I said to him, “Well, Mr. Wickens, that has been just my own exercise. I know the spot and place where the Lord visited me with His pardoning love and mercy, but sometimes I have wondered whether I saw enough of Christ in it.” Well, poor soul, if you are one of these poor and needy people, you may be brought into such an exercise, and it will not do you any hurt, because it may be that the Spirit of God will seal home upon your heart a special interest in the Lamb’s redeeming blood, and you will get a fresh sight, a fresh sealing testimony that your sins are pardoned for His Name’s sake.
Then again, you will need help out of the sanctuary in your troubles. You will not be able always to support yourself in the hour of trial. There will be times when you will feel to be weak, and when the Lord will weaken your strength in the way; and you will need the Spirit of God to be your helper, to bring to your remembrance, and to strengthen you, and to enable you to lay hold upon the arm of Omnipotency.
“But I am poor and needy; yet the Lord thinketh upon me.” How does the Lord think upon His people? It is not just thinking upon them without helping them in their times of trouble and difficulty. It is true, the Lord thought upon them in eternity, when He chose them in Christ, and He thinks upon them in time; and you may depend upon it, if you are in trouble He will think upon you; He will be like the refiner that sits by the furnace, and presently sees the molten mass and beholds his own image therein, and he can see pretty well that the furnace has done its work. So the Lord thinks upon His poor people. When they are in the furnace of affliction He does not let them be reduced to destruction. I suppose that if silver were not properly handled there would be the possibility of spoiling the whole, and so it is with the Lord’s people in the furnace of affliction; He does not let the furnace become too heated to their destruction, He watches over them; and presently He will bring forth a vessel fit for the Master’s use.
The Lord thinks upon His people. He thought upon poor Jacob in his exile. He may have thought, “I shall never come out of this;” but he did. So with Moses; forty years was a long time to be in Midian, but the time came when Moses was leading his sheep in the backside of the desert, and he saw that burning bush that was not consumed; and he heard the voice of God out of the bush. It was “the good will of Him that dwelt in the bush;” and He let Moses know that His thoughts had been toward His chosen people, and that His thoughts were toward him. O, the Lord will make you know that He has thoughts of love and of peace, to give you an expected end, that His thoughts are not to destroy; they are not thoughts of anger, but they are thoughts of love and of mercy and of pity; and presently He will give you an expected end.
“The Lord thinketh upon me.” He thought upon you before ever you had a being in Adam; and now He sees you in your struggles..
Between the powers of grace and sin,
And kindly listens while they tell
The bitter pangs they feel within.”
O, the Lord knoweth the way that you take, and when He hath tried you, you shall come forth as gold. But there is the trial of it, and the Lord thinks upon you in this trial; and He has promised to be your help and your deliverer. Has not the Lord helped us during this year that is nearly past? We have come pretty well to the end of a twelve-month, and we have seen many trials, perhaps many sorrows and temptations, many things that have tended to try our faith. Some of us have had affliction, sore affliction, so that we have been brought to a sense of our utter dependence upon God. Well, that has not been a bad experience for us, because in that we have proved where our help came from.
“The Lord hear thee in the day of trouble; the Name of the God of Jacob defend thee: send thee help from the sanctuary, and strengthen thee out of Zion.”
How many times the Lord has afforded us seasonable help! He has helped us in things providential; perhaps when we have needed particular help the Lord has sent that help along just in the nick of time, just according to our need. If we could write up the history of this past year, perhaps we should record many of the merciful kindnesses of God in affording to us seasonable help. It does not mean help only from a financial standpoint, but it means help in trouble. You may have been brought into some trouble out of which you could not extricate yourself, one of those strange trials, one of those difficult situations; and perhaps you could not extricate yourself from the difficulty. Well, what did you do? Say you, “I have been to the Lord a hundred times respecting it, and I have said, ‘Lord, do help me! Only Thou canst help; only Thou canst straighten out this matter; I cannot straighten it myself, but Thou canst do it for me.'” And then perhaps the time has come when the Lord has made your crooked things straight, and your rough places plain, He has straightened out your difficulties, He has made the mountain to be a plain, He has elevated the valley, so that you have experienced once more how good and kind the Lord has been to you.
Well, the Lord does afford help. “Thou hast been my help.” If the Lord is your help, it must be good help. It was in the case of the Syrophenician woman; when she came to the Lord that was the burden of her prayer, “Lord, help me.” True, the Lord tried her faith and said it was not meet to take the children’s bread and cast it to dogs. But she turned that round upon the Lord Jesus Christ, if I may so speak with reverence. She said, “Truth, Lord.” She acknowledged the truth, but she said, “Yet the dogs eat of the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” And then, “O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt.” (Matthew 15:25-28) So if you are one like this Syrophenician woman, with that prayer in your heart, and with a confidence in the ability of Jesus to save, you will find help will be afforded in your time of need. You will be helped to bear what the Lord’s wisdom sees fit to lay upon you, and you will be helped to commit your case to a throne of grace; and you will be helped to wait only upon God.
And then, “The Lord is my help and my deliverer; make no tarrying, O my God.” When you want deliverance, sometimes there is an urgency in it. You say, “Mine’s an urgent, pressing case.” You cannot trifle with it. It is one of those things in which you must have deliverance of some kind or other. O, I like a religion like that, one that wants deliverance. Do you not sometimes feel, poor child of God, that you must have a deliverance? that the nature of your case is such that you must have the Lord’s appearance in some way or the other? It is a great thing if you have been enabled thus to supplicate the throne of grace and to wait only upon God, and to find Him to be a God at hand and not afar off. Take David, for instance. It is a case that perhaps you are all familiar with, when David had gone to Ziklag and found it had been ransacked, and that his wives and the wives of his followers had been taken captive; and it looked as though all was lost. But what did David do? It is true, they talked about stoning him, but “David encouraged himself in the Lord his God”–the best thing that he could have done. So he enquired with an ephod relative to these Amalekites, and he got an answer, and presently he got a complete deliverance, so that David recovered all, we read. And if the Lord puts you into situations where you have no helper but Himself, then you will want deliverance; and as the Lord gives you deliverance, so He will get praise and honour and glory to His great Name. If the Lord bring you into the net and lay affliction upon your loins, and then grants you some help and some succour and relief, well then, the time will come when you will be able to praise Him for all that is past, and trust Him for all that’s to come.
So we hope it may be with your dear pastor, that he may be strengthened in body, and blessed in soul, and that he may see that this affliction is all in the Lord’s hand, for your good, and his good, too, and the honour and glory of His great Name.
May the Lord add His blessing. Amen.