“Thy Mercy, O LORD”
“Let thy mercy, O LORD, be upon us, according as we hope in thee.”
New Year’s morning!
Yet, there is nothing new under the sun!
Old things have not passed away, all things have not become new.
Still we move about and whirl around, with all men and all things, within the vicious circle of vanity, hemmed in on all sides by impenetrable darknesses, limited everywhere by things earthly and temporal, and there appears to be no way out.
Vanity of vanities!
It is still true, also on New Year’s morning, that our eyes open upon a scene of labor and toil that yield no profit. Generations come and go, children are brought forth with travail, men pass away in sorrow, and there is no progress from one generation to another. The sun rises and sets, and in its course through the heavens it witnesses the same scenes of fruitless activity and toil every day. All things earthly are like the wind, which “goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north, and whirleth about continually, and returneth again according to its circuits,” or like the rivers that run into the sea without ever filling it.
Many there are, on the first morning of another year, who would fain see something new, who express the hope for something new, who bless their fellowmen as if there were a basis for the expectation of something new. Men also continue to boast that their houses shall stand forever.
And yet, there is no new thing under the sun!
All things are so full of labor that man cannot alter it!
As far as eye can see, the New Year bears the same aspect as the Old. It invites us to meet the same problems, to pass through the same labor and sorrow, the same sufferings and death. Man’s days are still like the grass. Still his life flourishes as the flower of the field, with precarious tenderness, and still the winds blow and pass over it to snatch it away. And still its very place forgets that it ever was!
Ah, but how old, how frightfully old do all things appear. For, even as of old, men reveal that the picture Scripture draws of them is true, and that they are filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, deceit, malignity; that they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful; that there is none that seeketh after God, none that doeth good; that their throat is an open sepulcher, with their tongue they use deceit, poison of asps is under their lips, their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness, their feet are swift to shed blood, destruction and misery are in their ways, there is no fear of God before their eyes, they know not the way of peace….
But why say more?
The mighty trample underfoot the weak and boast of it!
The way of peace they have not known, though all profess to seek it!
Ah, but how old, how hopelessly old is the world, and are all things that present themselves to our eyes!
Ah, but how wearily and despairingly we move and whirl about in the vicious circle!
No, indeed, there is no new thing under the sun!
Vanity of vanities!
What shall we say then?
What shall be our attitude on this first morning of a new year?
Shall we just deliberately close our eyes to reality, to the woe and misery of the world, to the fact that there is, indeed, nothing new, and vainly meet one another with the blessing of a “happy new year” in the earthly sense of the word? Shall we just pull our wish-bones, and speak of wealth and prosperity, of life and health, of houses that stand for aye, of the coming glorious day of man?
Then, on New Year’s morning we join the company of the blind that lead the blind!
Shall we put our trust in the basic goodness of man, or, perhaps, in the superficial goodness of a “common grace,” and join our voice to theirs who boast of the progress of culture and civilization, of science and art, of the power and ingenuity of man, and who, in spite of the glaring fact that such horribly old things happen all about us, persist in their promise of a new day of peace and prosperity, because man’s efforts will ultimately be crowned with success?
Then, on New Year’s morning, our number is the number of mere man!
Six hundred and sixty-six!
Toil without rest! Efforts without success! The week without the sabbath!
Shall we sit down in dumb despair, confessing that there is no hope, no light anywhere in the darkness, no life in the midst of this death, no way out of our misery and woe, no victory, no peace?
Then on New Year’s morning we are of those who seek death and cannot find it!
But God forbid that we should either boast in man or despair because of him!
Rather, let the dawn of the first day of the year find us on our knees, humbly seeking the face of Him who revealed Himself in Jesus Christ our Lord!
Not to ask Him for things He will never give!
Not to seek the things that are on the earth!
But to leave all things to Him, if only we may be assured of His everlasting mercy!
Then all will be well!
For, our days may be like the grass, our life like the flower of the field. And all things may be vanity in this present world of sin. But from everlasting to everlasting is the mercy of the Lord toward them that fear Him!
Let, O Lord, Thy mercy be upon us!
According as we hope in Thee!
Thy mercy, Lord!
We hope in Thee only!
There is in this prayer, first of all, the expression of an attitude of humble dependence.
We feel helpless in ourselves, realize deeply that we can do nothing apart from Him. We are conscious of our ignorance and darkness, and we acknowledge that we do not know the way. We are like a man that travels in an utterly strange, mountainous country, intersected by hidden ravines and dangerous precipices. We cannot find our way. We are surrounded by dangers. All our self-confidence is gone. A guide we need. Someone we look for who does know the way out, upon whom we candepend, in whom we can trust. We do not care to control things ourselves. We are wholly willing to leave all things to God, to follow where He leads, to depend solely on Him.
We hope in Thee!
And we are conscious of misery. We are in trouble, in darkness and death, in the power of sin and corruption. And, what is more, we humbly acknowledge that we are even wholly unworthy of God’s favor, have nothing on which we might plead to be delivered from our wretchedness. All our pride is humbled in the dust. In the world there is such a thing as proud dependence. When we are conscious of our riches; when we can afford to reward our guide royally; when we feel that we can order him about and that we really do him a great favor by trusting in him and permitting him to lead the way — then, indeed, we are dependent, but pride is the chief characteristic of our attitude of dependence. Not so in this prayer. We hope in God; and we implore His mercy!
Dependence upon God who is God!
On Him of whose praise this psalm is full.
For He it is who made the heavens by His Word, and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth; who gathereth the waters of the sea together in an heap, and layeth up the depth in storehouses; who spake and it was done, who commanded and it stood fast. He bringeth the counsel of the heathen to nought and maketh the devices of the people of none effect. But His counsel shall stand forever, and the thoughts of His heart to all generations!
With whom shall He be compared?
He even fashioneth the hearts of men alike, and considereth all their works. But for His power all things are vain. There is no safety in the multitude of a host, in the power and invention, in the ingenuity and wisdom of man. A horse is a vain thing and he shall not deliver anyone by his great strength.
But blessed is the nation whose God is Jehovah!
And blessed is he who, in humble dependence, may look away from the creature, in order to confide solely in the Lord his God!
O Lord, we hope in Thee!
Thy mercy be upon us!
Thy everlasting mercy, which is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear Thee, be upon us!
For, if that mercy be upon us, we need nothing more, we shall ask for nought else!
There is in this prayer the expression of an attitude of childlike trust, of a confidence that commits the way wholly to Him!
Ah, how often we are lacking in that quiet trust that is confidence in God! We would trust Him, then, in part only. Oh, we do seek His face, and we do implore His help, and we desire to be the objects of His mercy; but at the same time there are a thousand other things, vain things, things of mere man, of the creature, conditions, circumstances, on which we rely, in which we seek rest, or of which we are afraid. The assurance that He guides and cares is really not sufficient. His Word of promise alone cannot satisfy our soul. We want to see. We desire to understand. And besides, we would like to explain to the Most High just how our way should be, to dictate to our Guide just in what direction He ought to lead. When there is sickness we would have health; when there is sorrow we desire joy; when adversity meets us in the way we cry for prosperity; when there is war we pray for peace; and when, presently, the dark shadows of death grow longer and steal over our soul, we want to live!
And the result is that we do not taste the joy of wholly trusting in the name of our God and of resting assured in the will of Him who assures us that all things work together for good to them that love Him, whom He has called according to His purpose.
The peace that passeth all understanding, and which is the sure fruit of committing the way to Him alone, does not set our soul at rest!
Thy mercy, O Lord!
Let it be upon us, and it sufficeth!
For, according to that mercy He loved us with an everlasting love! It is in His abundant mercy that He predestinated us to be made like unto the image of His Son, that He might be the Firstborn among many brethren; that He purposes to deliver us from all our misery and make us heirs of the glory of His heavenly and eternal tabernacle, where there shall be no night, where the former things shall be forgotten, where He shall wipe away all tears from our eyes! It is in that abundant mercy that He gave His only begotten Son, that He sent Him into our death and darkness, that we might live in the everlasting light of His countenance!
And in that same eternal mercy He determined on your and my way, which must lead all of us and each of us individually to the glory, and to our particular place in the glory, which He would have us inherit.
That way may be a way of adversity, of suffering and sorrow, the way of death. But in His mercy it is the way to eternal life and glory!
Let that mercy, then, be upon us, Lord!
And it will quite suffice!
For we hope in Thee!
And according as we hope in Thee, let Thy mercy be upon us.
There is in this prayer, finally, the expression of an attitude of calm assurance! Of the assurance that our prayer is answered, must be heard, that our petition is heard of God much more certainly than I even feel in my heart that I desire it of Him. For many things we may ask that we shall never receive, because we do not seek the things that are above but those things that are below, even in our prayers. But the prayer for His mercy, the prayer that He forgive our sins, that He deliver us from all our woe, that He lead us to His eternal glory, and that He cause all things to work together for our salvation—that prayer cannot fail!
For we hope in Him! And this hope is also the work of His grace!
Never does He forsake the work of His own hands!
Blessed assurance! According as we hope in Thee, O Lord!
So let Thy mercy be upon us!
Now and forevermore!
Herman Hoeksema – January 1st, 1940