A Study of Psalm 116:7
“Return unto thy rest, O my soul, for the LORD hath dealt bountifully with thee.”
The words of the text at the head of our remarks, are peculiarly applicable to the case of a soul delivered from a state of trials, temptations and bondage. Although in our foregoing remarks we have alluded to the first entrance of quickened souls into gospel rest, the idea of returning to one’s rest certainly implies that he has been there before.
The children of God who have been brought into the light and liberty of the gospel, experienced deliverance from the yoke of bondage, and made partakers of that rest which the gospel is to them that believe, do sometimes through their unbelief transgress the principles of the gospel Sabbath. The moment that our faith yields to unbelief we begin to do that which is not lawful for us to do on our spiritual Sabbath. When unbelief prevails, how soon the tempted, tried soul forsakes his rest, and like the dove which went from the ark, seeks throughout the broad expanse around him for something to rest upon. How vain is his research, how unavailing are all his efforts to find a sanctuary, a Sabbath, or a place of rest while absent from the ark. The spiritual Israelite cannot wander far without thinking some of his own thoughts; and he will be very much exposed to speak some of his own words. From his doubting, unbelieving heart, such thoughts as these are apt to arise: Can it be possible that I have passed from death unto life? I find myself so cold, so stupid, and so vile, that I am led to doubt that I ever knew the Lord; all my former exercises must have been imaginary; I must have mistaken my exercises and mistaken the excitement and working of my fleshy mind and feelings, for the work of the Spirit; but if I were indeed a child of grace I should feel as a christian ought to feel. Ah, I did hope that I was delivered from sin, and from sinful thoughts, but now I think there never was a time when I was so filled with depravity. I look within me for an evidence that I am born of God, and I am frightened at what I find within me. O, the corruption of my nature, the hidden depravity of my heart; all is confusion, darkness, murmuring, and unreconciliation to God. And, withal, such a torrent of wicked and blasphemous thoughts break forth, as to lead me to conclude that I am worse than I saw myself to be before I thought I had experienced a deliverance from guilt and bondage. Is there a saint on earth who has not experienced much of what is described above? Certainly they all know something about these peculiar temptations, doubts and fears; therefore of them all, we inquire if they do enjoy a Sabbath of rest while their minds are distracted with doubt and unbelief. As well might we feel comfortable upon a bed of embers as to feel our souls at rest while unbelief prevails against our hope in the Redeemer. In this state of unbelief, we not only think our own thoughts and speak our own words, but we are very apt to look about us for a few sticks to make a little fire. We feel so cold, what can be done to warm us? and in this extremity we collect every thing that looks to us like fuel; some duties look as though they would burn with a little blowing, and perhaps afford a sufficient warmth to relieve us from this freezing state that we are in; and before we are aware we find ourselves gathering sticks and kindling fires. And in some extreme cases, perhaps, we have been tempted to borrow a little fire from strange altars to kindle with. We see that our neighbors, the Philistines, and the Moabites, and the Assyrians seem to be warm and animated, and conclude there cannot be much harm in trying the experiment, just to see if we cannot get warm by their fire; for we frequently hear them saying “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire.” But they find by sad experience that the enemies’ fire cannot warm their souls; still they labor, and still they are heavy burdened, and still they find no rest to their souls. There were many ways in which the children of Israel transgressed the law of the Sabbath, and every way in which it was possible for them to do so, was figurative of the many ways in which heaven-born souls are tempted to wander from the place of their rest. No toils or labor at the works of the law, no hewing of cisterns, no gathering of sticks, no kindling of fires or any thing that the poor backsliding soul can perform will bring him back to the place of his rest. Like the Israelite in the type, he finds in bitterness of soul, that his Sabbath breaking brings bondage to his spirit, and death to his present enjoyments, until he hears the well-known voice behind him saying “This is the way; walk ye in it.” He now sees and feels that he has departed from the place of his rest, is astonished at the ingratitude, unbelief, and jealousy of his own wandering heart; is melted down in tenderness at the glorious display of boundless goodness and grace of God which he now beholds, and is led to sing:
“He brings my wandering spirit back,
When I forsake his ways;
And leads me for his mercy’s sake
In paths of truth and grace.”
And, from his very heart he says, “Return unto thy rest, O my soul, for the LORD hath dealt bountifully with thee.”
He is now fully satisfied that Christ is his only resting place, that the gospel is his only rest; that to depart from Christ, or turn away from the spirit of the gospel, is to depart from the place where he causeth his flock to rest at noon.
“For the LORD hath dealt bountifully with thee.” The goodness of God leadeth to repentance. How the poor wandering, unbelieving heart is made to repent and to dissolve in love, in grief, and in gratitude, as he now beholds new manifestations of his faithfulness and loving kindness. Return, O my soul! Earth has no charms for thee.
“Wretch that I was to wander thus,
In chase of false delight;
Let me be fastened to thy cross,
Rather than lose the sight.”
In returning to our rest, we turn away from our own ways, our own thoughts, and our own works, and from everything that conflicts with the gospel; and how sweet and heavenly the exercise, when we can rest upon Christ as our foundation, receive and trust in him, and rest upon his promises, feeling their application by the Spirit to our souls. We can then dismiss our doubts and fears, and rejoice in the sure mercies of our God. Sustained by that almighty power that bears up heaven and earth.
“How can I sink with such a prop, As my eternal God?”
“They that trust in the LORD shall be as Mount Zion, which cannot be removed.” So very different is the spirit of the gospel from that of the law, the very duties which the gospel requires of us are essentially connected with our rest. They do not fatigue the child of grace as Jewish rites fatigued the carnal Israelites. They that wait on the Lord find their strength renewed. They learn of Jesus, and bearing His yoke, or adhering to His commandments, they find rest to their souls. The institutions of the Gospel, the ordinances of the house of God, the privileges of the sanctuary, of the closet, and of communion with heaven, cannot weary the soul that rests in Jesus.
His laws are written in their hearts, His government is supreme in their souls; they love His law, they love His government, and cannot rest in anything short of them. While the way of the transgressors is hard, and the wicked are as the troubled sea that cannot rest.
“Go ye that rest upon the law,
And toil, and seek salvation there,
Look to the flame that Moses saw,
And shrink and tremble in despair.
But, I’ll retire beneath the cross,
Saviour, at thy feet I’ll lie,
And the keen sword that justice draws,
Flaming and red, shall pass me by.”
New Vernon, N.Y.,
August 15, 1845