A VERY PRESENT HELP
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Psalm 46. 1.
Concerning the first word of the text, “God”, this word will be of no benefit to those who are completely atheistic in their views. Let a person be in complete doubt as to the existence of God or antagonism to the teaching of the Bible, this word can be of no benefit to them. There must, be a complete change of the heart of a man and a woman so that they may be brought to know any benefit from this word if they have entertained atheistical notions denying the existence of God. The word of God consistently teaches that we, creatures of this earth, creatures fallen in sin, are all of us really infidels at heart. Whatever we may say about the existence of God and however ready we may be to subscribe to some confession of belief in His existence, if we should be brought into some sore trial of that faith, and the so called “Belief in God” be very sharply tested, then, if left to ourselves, we should speedily prove how little our “Confession” is worth. How greatly we need that the Lord should deal with us in mercy so that in heart and mind, so prone to rebel and object against God’s dealings with us, there may be wrought that which I believe is the outcome of the life, sufferings and death of the Lord Jesus Christ,Â—that there may be a true reconciliation to the will of the Lord in whatever way it may be manifest to us. Is not one of the greatest expressions of true prayer that can proceed from the heart of man contained in the word, “Lord, thy will be done?” What a miracle to thus pray from the heart, to so desire to lay ourselves submissively before the Lord, seeking that we may be taken by his hand and dealt with entirely as the potter deals with his clay,Â—to have no objection to whatever He may do to you or appoint for you,Â—that we might, “Fall into His arms outright and lose ourselves in Jesus quite.” Now that seems to me to be one of the most blessed places that any person, old or young, can come to under the sacred power of the Holy Spirit, as Christ is revealed to the soul.
Who is that God that is spoken of by David? Truly He is a God of great power, a God of great justice and truth, and David proved this on many occasions during his life. David’s God was not a God to be trifled with, the Lord had shewn David the truth of that. He was not a God against whom men could express all kind of enmity and charge Him unjustly with impunity. God is a God of justice and if, to a guilty sinner, there shall be exercised grace and favour, then it can be in one way and one way only. The WAY is by the provision for the guilty of that of which they are completely destitute; the provision of a righteousness and an atonement by the life and sacrifice of the Lamb of God, the Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
I would ask you this morning if, in the time of your need and, as in sympathy with others for whom you would plead with
the Lord on their behalf, there is One who bears a most blessed Name whom you would plead by faith and with hope of the acceptance of your petition? Is it the name of the Lamb of God?
So, I wish to establish this, that the man who can confidently assert on this occasion, when trouble surrounded him and the mountains were about to be carried into the midst of the sea,Â— this man who is in this sore strait and yet knows this refuge, is the man who has proved his need of sacrifice and atonement, of a salvation which is entirely of the grace of God. David was such a man, and all through the ages of human history there have been men and women taught the same solemn truth that “Against Thee, Thee only have I sinned and done this evil in Thy sight.” (Psm. 51.4). These are not the words of a stranger to David’s experience, they are the words of David himself; the words of a man who was most graciously forgiven and restored and his heart filled with the love and mercy of his God. With a confidence in the Lord, even in the midst of his troubles, he could declare that “God is our refuge and strength.”
You may suggest that the reason why this word came to my mind this morning is because it is so well known. I often wonder if it is well known. It is a passage of Scripture which may be often repeated, but that does not mean that it is really well known. We may have read the word many times, but do we know the true and real meaning of the word? David was not a novice in his knowledge of God’s dealings with him nor in his dealings with God. Here is a man who has experienced the truth of what he writes. The Lord is not “An unknown God” to David, like the god that the Greeks attempted to worship in Athens, but He was a truly KNOWN God, One who had proved His power. His wisdom and His grace to David. David, under gracious experience of God’s dealings with him, could say, “God is our refuge and strength.” Do you reply, “But I have not that ripe experience of the Lord’s dealings with me, I wish I had. I often hear others talking of the way in which the Lord has taught them and proved that He is their REFUGE but I have not had their experience.” Friend, have the words of an experienced Christian been of encouragement to you? Do you look upon them so as to covet those best gifts and almost envy their strength of faith in their God? “Surely they have proved the truth of the text”, you will say, “The Lord grant that I may.”
Yes, there is encouragement in these gracious records, especially as the Holy Spirit shall draw out your heart in desire for such Divine favour. Go, seek the Lord that you may also prove in this present trouble of soul that “God is your refuge and strength.” Perhaps you may answer, “But, the best of men are sometimes mistaken, and could David have been mistaken thus?” We all know that there have been men who have been very confident of certain events taking place, and of promises, having been made to them, being kept, but events have turned out very con-
trary to that which they had expected and planned for. Truly where trust is reposed in men and worldly organisations this has often been the outcome. But what a difference there is with our God!
Who is it that is really speaking in the word of this text? You may well answer, “It is David, the experienced man of God, the king of Israel, the sinner saved by grace, a man redeemed by precious blood. That is the man who speaks like this about His God.” But this is not all. It is God himself who speaks with and through David, for “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God”, and is profitable for our instruction. O, my friend, do you need a word of instruction this morning, so powerful, so suitable to your need with Divine application? Such a word from the Lord that you may know that it was not only a word spoken by David, spoken to David and through David, but a word that is spoken to your soul by the same Holy Spirit, who was the Author and Con-firmer of this truth in David’s heart.
Truly this God, even David’s God, is a God of justice, but I would remind you also that it is the same great God who is also the God of sovereign grace. Often, in times of great sorrow, there is a frequent looking back and anxious questioning, with many things brought to your remembrance which have occasioned you great sadness. In such an hour as that, how blessed it has been to be led to the Mercy Seat, and your confession has been, “O, what folly there was in me,Â—what sin and what trouble was occasioned thereby.” The Holy Spirit, being our teacher, in such an hour will deliver you from the so prevalent habit of blaming other people, but confession will have to be made to the Lord. Then will be a case of real need to bear before the Lord. Our burden will be the burden of OUR sins to the Mercy Seat. It will be a personal cry for mercy. We would pray for others and bear their case before the Lord, but the Lord grant us that much needed grace to go with our own deep need as a sinner to the Lord.
Whenever I read the account of David’s gross sins and of Nathan being sent to him with the powerful rebuke of the Lord, there is one thing that always has arrested my attention. When Nathan has related the narrative of the lamb and David’s indignation is stirred, Nathan says, “Thou art the man.” David replies, “I have sinned against the Lord.” (2 Samuel 12.13). It is a very short confession, so brief and yet so full. What a demonstration of the power of the Lord in the heart of a guilty man! May the Lord give us like grace; may I know it every Sabbath morning when I come to this pulpit. O, that on these Sabbath mornings we may meet with contrite hearts, most solemnly remembering our guilt with confession of our sin, seeking that the grace of the Lord may be shown to those who prove their wretchedness and great need of a Saviour’s mercy. Let not “confession” be simply words suited to a religious occasion; not merely spoken because we are confirmed Calvinists and it is part of our creed concerning human depravity. May it be the true motion of our heart before God
as it was in the case of David. What is the reply of Nathan? But it is not only the word of Nathan. David’s ear heard the voice of his friend speaking the Lord’s answer to his confession. The power of God accompanied the words, “The Lord hath put away thy sin.”
Though the mountains are ready to depart and the trouble of the soul be of such intensity as to have never been known before, yet, if the Lord shall thus speak to the heart there will be a blessed sinking in of Divine truth and forgiveness with the word, “The Lord also hath put away thy sin.”
“It is well between thee and thy God through Jesus Christ, for He hath appeared to put away your guilt by the offering of Himself.”
“Trust in Him ye tempted saints;
Tell Him all your sad complaints;
He a present help will beÂ—
Give you strength and victory.”
God grant the application of such a word so that it may be known by a guilty sorrowing heart this morning. May the great Jehovah, the living God, who determined to reveal Himself in His own dear Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, make known to your soul that the Lord hath put away thy sin, through this one great Sacrifice.
Contemplate the way that this refuge has been provided. Some may be saying in their hearts, “It is to this refuge that I need and desire to come. He is the only One who can give me strength in this hour of such great weakness. I know not how to bear this burden, I cannot even lift up my head.” Do you remember how Hezekiah spoke when he was in a similar condition? “Mine eyes fail for looking upward. Lord, I am oppressed.” You know the signs of being oppressed. Do not the shoulders drop, the back bends and the knees become so weak that collapse is in-vitable. “I am oppressed,” this is not only Hezekiah’s cry but also that of every burdened sinner, the burden is more than any can carry, how can relief come?
Remember the case of the man, related by John Bunyan, who commenced the journey from the City of Destruction. He travelled a long time before he was able to get relief from the intolerable burden upon his back. Some people have suggested that he need not have taken so long a journey before he got relief, that had he exercised a greater wisdom and been better taught in modern theology or even psychiatry there would have been no need for him to journey that long way to the Cross, to the manifestation of Christ in love and suffering to his soul. Bunyan not only describes himself in the Pilgrim’s Progress but also the experiences of many who, without a doubt, are being taught sin’s demerit and being led to Christ as their alone Refuge. All other attempts to gain relief are in vain, and Evangelist points him
consistently to hope in the mercy of God alone. The Gospel counsellor gives sound advice when he teaches, “Wait on the Lord, be of good courage.” Any turning out of the way of faith will only increase the bondage, the weight of the burden. But at last, what is seen? “He came to a place, where stood a cross, and a little below, at the bottom, a sepulchre”, and as Bunyan describes the event, “The burden loosed from off his shoulders, fell from his back and began to tumble, and continued to do so, till it came to the mouth of the sepulchre, where it fell in, and I saw it no more at all”. Sad and solemn will be the remembrance of our sins, but what a blessed truth lies in the words.
“Payment God cannot twice demand,
First at my bleeding Surety’s hand,
>br>And then again at mine.”
Let the Holy Spirit but take of this blessed Mediatorial work of the Lord Jesus Christ and make it known to the soul of the penitent sinner, then they shall know indeed that their burden has been taken from them by Jesus Christ and “Cast into the depths of the sea.”
What was the purpose of the birth of that Babe, “That Holy Thing”, at Bethlehem? He “came into the world to save sinners” that there might be found in poor troubled souls, I hope this morning, HOPE in God through Jesus Christ. Here is the One, the Eternal God, the just and holy One, who cannot look upon sin with any pleasure whatever, who should yet, in Himself, provide the refuge and strength for you in this great hour of sin’s trouble with all its attendant miseries. Well might Paul write, “We pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.” Would we not also plead with you lest you should, through the deceitfulness of sin, turn your back upon this blessed provision that has been made in Christ for needy sinners. Truly God is the ONLY refuge and strength and present help in time of trouble.
Instructed by God, Moses made provision for certain Cities of Refuge in the land of Israel, and these spaced at intervals both to east and west of the River Jordan were provided for the man-slayer who inadvertently had killed a man. There was every provision in the cities for a person who was in danger of his life. But David does not say that God is A refuge, but declares, with confidence of faith in the revelation of God, that God is OUR refuge. Have you noticed the use of the personal pronoun and not the indefinite article? Truly it would be a blessed truth that God is A refuge, but the child of God, under the blessed teaching of the Holy Spirit, is brought to know that God is OUR refuge. Let this blessed truth be applied to your soul, in the day of Divine power, and then it will not be a word unrelated to your soul’s need that ”God is”, but you shall know that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble;” something most blessedly related fo you.
It is one thing for a child to say, “That man is a father and has some children”, but it is another matter altogether when the child takes hold of the man’s hand and says, “This is my Daddy.” There is relationship. But where is the relationship spoken of in our text? “The Brother born for the day of adversity”, look there, there is the secret of this great relationship, adopted in Jesus Christ. Among our own company here we have evidence of the great love bestowed on children that have been adopted, there has been no lack of love in this legal relationship. But, O, the love of God toward His own dear children, the children of His adoption in Christ Jesus, related to Him because Christ is related to Him, because they are united to His own Eternal Son, made One in Him! That is the nature of the relationship, the Eternal God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ in His blest relationship to His dear, needy people, to those who truly cry to Him for mercy, who come seeking His favour in the time of their great trouble. To such persons, shall the “Door of His mercy” be ever closed in their faces, the entrance to this great City of Refuge barred against their admission? How impossible! The devil will pursue, guilt of sin weigh so heavily, and sorrow of heart would appear to crush them completely but,
“The door of Thy mercy stands open all day
To the poor and the needy, who knock by the way.
No sinner shall ever be empty sent back,
Who comes seeking mercy for Jesus’ sake.
Maybe some of you, in your deep sorrows, may wonder why your friends and fellow members do not attempt something for your comfort, why love and sympathy is not demonstrated in a better way than it is. We are but failing creatures, broken reeds indeed to trust in, our infirmities are many, but it is not so with the dear Son of God. God, revealed in Christ is our true and abiding refuge and strength.
Notice the two things coupled together, “refuge AND strength”. Is some person so weak that know he not how to summon strength to run to the place of refuge, will his last panting breath leave him short of the entrance and will he sink to despair without hope? So it would seem to be with the children of God on many occasions. Do you remember the words of David, “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.” Every step taken and the greater the speed required because of the danger, the more I am exhausted; shall I ever reach the One who is the alone Refuge? The position of the cities of refuge is a most illuminating geographical fact. They were so spaced that wherever the manslayer was in danger, he had less than a day’s journey to travel to a city of refuge. O, listen to the word of the Lord, “The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon Him,” and “Lo, I am with you alway, even to the end.” No long journey was entailed. Over the mountains, skipping upon the
hills, the Lord will bring His needed relief, the refuge and the strength to your burdened, troubled souls. How greatly I have enjoyed meditation upon the “NEARNESS” of Christ at times. Alas, I so often feel to be so far from Him. The darkness of the world in which our lot is cast, some dark cloud arises often of our own making, the dreadful cloud of unbelief, and by night upon our bed we are seeking Him. The greatly favoured one in the Song of Solomen, (3. 1/5), describes these dark seasons and the manner of her seeking her beloved, and adds, “It was but a little that I passed from them, but / found Him whom my soul loveth.” Yes, Christ is both refuge and strength. What do we know of renewing of strength by the grace of God? I have often come to the end of a week of labour, and felt complete dread at the thought of having to come to you on the Lord’s Day morning and to spend the whole day in the exercise of worship and ministry. But O, the wonderful reviving that I have often known from the hand of a dear Lord in answer to prayer of great need! What of the time when there was no strength to pray and hardly any will to do so, when you had no strength even to believe in Christ, and you wondered if faith in the past had been real or the fictitious thing which would die in the time of adversity? How sad a day it was when you came to the conclusion that it was useless to even read the Scriptures and lacked strength or will to read or think upon His Word. Truly it is then there is the need to prove again, by the renewings of the Holy Spirit, that God is our refuge and STRENGTH. He can restore strength not only to the body and mind but also to the soul. David declared, “He restoreth my soul, and leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” Truly the Lord will not let His children travel alone without His sweet custody. His strength and power. I have noticed when loving parents have been out with their children they have been very willing to “mend their pace” according to the child’s weakness and weariness. I used to tell my wife, when the children were very young, that I found it a most difficult thing to walk at a child’s pace. It seemed to be more exhausting to go at a child’s pace than the one which was more usual to me. Little steps are needed to keep pace with little feet. How I am reminded of the words of Christ, “Your heavenly Father knoweth that you have need of all these things”. (Matt. 6.32), Oh, how much the Lord will do for His “little children”, for “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him, for he knoweth our frame and remembereth that we are dust.”
“Flee to him, your only Saviour;
In his mighty name confide;
In the whole of your behaviour,
Own him for your sovereign guide.”
“A present help in trouble.” In this text the “trouble” is not particularised. In the word of God, the wonders of God’s grace are sometimes seen in the lack of any qualification, but in other cases the very qualifications are the expression of the wonders of
the grace of God. As I look through the word of the Lord I find how extremely varied are the troubles of the Lord’s pilgrims. There would appear to be something unique about some of the experiences of the people of God, some particular path so mysterious that no one else has ever been into, to their knowledge. Yet there is One who “was tempted in all points as we are and yet without sin” and “who is able to succour them that are tempted.” Truly a present help in trouble, and the peculiarity of your trouble does not defy the great grace and wisdom of your God.
O to draw near to this God this morning! This is the God who hath made the mountains which now would remove, the great God who, in the face of fresh discoveries of natural science and astronomy, we behold in the glorious magnitude of His being and power as we did not some years ago. This great God is the One who looks upon a poor burdened, guilty, sorrowing heart this day, shut up, not only in home or hospital, but shut up in a prison house of fear and darkness and He is their REFUGE. May the Lord grant that, by the rich grace of the Lord Jesus Christ being made known afresh to your hearts, you also may be able to declare. “God is our refuge, MY REFUGE and MY STRENGTH, MY PRESENT HELP IN TROUBLE.”
How sweet is that word to my heart this morning, “God so loved the world, that he gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3.16). This great and gracious God who hesitated not to give His only Son, to send Him upon this mission of abiding eternal mercy toward the whole of the election of grace,Â—this God is the God of David, yea, the God of all those who love and wait for His appearing and is for them their “Refuge and Strength, a present help in trouble.”
“Dear Lord, and shall thy Spirit rest
In such a wretched heart as mine?
Unworthy dwelling! glorious Guest!
Favour astonishing, divine!
When sin prevails, and gloomy fear,
And hope almost expires in night,
Lord, can thy Spirit then be here,
Great spring of comfort, life, and light?
Sure the blest Comforter is nigh;
‘Tis he sustains my fainting heart;
Else would my hopes for ever die,
And every cheering ray depart.
When some kind promise glads my soul,
Do I not find his healing voice,
The tempest of my fears control,
And bid my drooping powers rejoice?
Whene’er to call the Saviour mine,
With ardent wish my heart aspires,
Can it be less than power divine,
Which animates these strong desires?
What less than thy almighty word,
Can raise my heart from earth and dust
And bid me cleave to thee, my Lord,
My life, my treasure, and my trust?