THOU HAST BEEN MY HELP*
Preached 4th January 1970 (morning) by Stanley Delves
`Thou hast been my help; leave me not, neither forsake me, 0 God of my salvation.’
In these few words the Psalmist looks backwards, he looks forwards, and he looks upwards. He looks backwards to the past and recognizes with thankfulness that the Lord had helped him: ‘Thou hast been (in the past) my help.’ And, from that consideration he draws a plea for the future: ‘Thou hast been my help’ Â— then, Lord, in the future still be my help; Â— ‘leave me not, neither forsake me:’ as though he would say, ‘0 God of my salvation, I am as needy, as dependent upon Thee as ever; in the future I shall need Thy help quite as much, and perhaps even more, than I have needed it in the past; but Thou hast been my help and Thou art still that same gracious and unchangeable God; therefore leave me not in the future, after Thou hast been my help in the past.’ And then, he looks upward from the past and the future to that blessed God, the God of his salvation, from whom all past help has come and from whom all future blessing must come: ‘0 God of my salvation.’
And so I felt, as these words came to my mind, that it is a suitable portion for us at such a time as this. I feel it is very simple, and it is very suitable. It is the Psalmist’s plain, unadorned testimony to the Lord’s helping hand; I feel that we can give the same testimony Â— the Lord has been our help in the past. And so as we anticipate the future, not knowing what is before us in it, nor what a day may bring forth, there is one thing we can be certain about, and that is that we shall need the Lord to be with us, never to leave us nor forsake us.
So, without any further introduction to the subject, let us take it in these considerations:
`Thou hast been my help.’ I have often appreciated the simple way in which the Psalmist expresses himself in these things. He does not necessarily claim anything very great or outstanding in this matter; he says, ‘Thou hast been my help,’ and that embraces everything with us ourselves. We cannot say more than that, and it would be dishonouring to the Lord if we said less than that. We may have had, perhaps, some outstanding experiences of the Lord’s helping or delivering hand, but still we can say no more of it than that He has been our help. And if we have not had any outstanding experience to speak about, still we can say in the same sincere and thankful way that the Lord has been our help. Now as I may be enabled, I would like to enlarge upon this and set before you for your present meditation, which may the Lord make profitable, the different ways in which we feel that this has been true in
* First published in Forest Fold Pulpit, 1980, and slightly abbreviated. our past, that the Lord has been our help. You will observe that it is personal Â— the Lord does help His people in general and they are all dear to Him, Â— but this is a personal matter; ‘Thou hast been my help,’ even mine. For the eye of the Lord is not only upon His people as a whole, but upon every individual one personally. ‘The eye of the Lord is upon them that fear Him, upon them that hope in His mercy’ (Ps. 33.18).
To begin with then; many of us this morning, I should feel, could say, `Thou hast been my help’ with regard to my spiritual life. Thou hast maintained it, and that is a very great deal. The more one comes to understand and feel these spiritual things and to know more and more of oneself, the more wonderful it comes to be seen and felt that one should have spiritual life at all; for, naturally, we are so utterly, so absolutely, so entirely dead as to anything of a spiritual nature; to any spiritual feelings or affections or desires we are so utterly dead. It is a wonderful thing that being in that case there should be spiritual life in our hearts at all. It is nothing less than a miracle Â— a real miracle, and a greater miracle than any physical miracle could be Â— that our souls should be alive to God; and that we should have been quickened from that lifeless state Â— that careless, hard, unconcerned, unbelieving state Â—to fear the Lord, to walk in His truth and to believe in His name. There has never been anything more wonderful in our lives than that we should have been quickened into newness of life by the Holy Spirit, for we were quite helpless in this matter; we could never have quickened our own hearts, neither had we any real concern to be quickened until the Holy Spirit’s work began within us. And some of us can, I think, quite sincerely and honestly feel that this was many years ago, when we first began to feel a stirring of life in our otherwise so hard, so lifeless souls. We did not of course at first realise it Â— at least I did not realise what it meant when I first felt these spiritual concerns; but looking back I can see what it meant now Â— the Holy Spirit had breathed the breath of life upon my soul; and it was so with many of you. It is many years with some of you, since the Lord first bid you ‘Live,’ as we read: ‘I passed by thee and saw thee polluted in thine own blood, I said unto thee, Live; thy time, He says, was the time of love’ (Ezek. 16.6). That was a time of love, and that was many years ago now. And could we have maintained that spiritual life, if the Lord had not helped us? There is so much in us that militates against spiritual life and feeling in our hearts, and makes it such that I have sometimes said, a spiritual life is the most blessed life a man can live, but the most difficult: it is the most blessed because of its nature, the most difficult because of all that opposes it from within and from without. 0 we do need the Lord to help us by maintaining spiritual life in our hearts; we do not need any help to be carnal in our minds, to be earthly, to become centred in these passing things; we do not need any help for that, any more than a stone needs help to roll down the hill, or the water to flow down the stream; but to live to God, to rise
above this downward pull, this inward, sinful law of gravitation in us, 0 we do need help for that! Surely, my friends, if the Lord had not helped us we could never have lived spiritually all these years. And some listening to me have been more recently brought into this new life in and by the Holy Spirit; the Lord has helped you to believe in Him, repent of your sinful case; and He has helped you during this period Â— it may not have been so long, it has not been so long with some of you Â— but He has helped you, until now.
Consider also, with regard to this point of our spiritual life, how the Lord has helped us by reviving it when we have felt so low; for some of us know what it is to feel very low in our spiritual life, so low that it seems as though there is no life in us at all. A good friend called to see me recently Â— a minister, too Â— and he was very down in his mind and in his spirit; and when I had listened to his account of his low and helpless state, I said to him, ‘You are not telling me anything that I haven’t felt; I’ve touched the bottom of everything you’ve told me this morning, of inability to believe anything and of all that’; and so I have. And, how many of us here have known what it is to feel so low as though we had no spiritual life at all, and perhaps been tempted to feel we never had any, and perhaps never should have any! ‘I was brought low’ (Ps. 116.6). Many things tend to produce this low state, and especially if you consider, as I have already said, that spiritual life is not sufficient in and of itself; it needs to be continually maintained. And if we are not conscious of that often, we sink very low in our spiritual feelings, very. We become much cast down about ourselves and perhaps sometimes much tempted as to whether we have ever done right in professing any faith at all, when we feel as though we have none left in our hearts. But, my friends, the Lord has helped us, and revived us time and again when we have been brought so low in our spiritual life and feelings, and we learn by these things as we go along. In my early days of spiritual life and experience, if I felt like that, it was like death to me, as though everything was gone. But now when I get low, I reflect upon the past, how often I have been in this low state and the Lord has helped me and revived my spirit and lifted me up again; so that we come to feel, although to be in a low and cast-down state is as sad to us as ever, it is not hopeless to us, because the Lord has been our help so often in these conditions of mind.
Here is another consideration with regard to our spiritual life. The Lord helps us by nourishing our spiritual life with living Bread; and what living Bread is like His precious body broken for us! and what Drink, what spiritual Drink, like that of His precious blood! and what eating and drinking of that holy Food is like feeling the influence Â— the sacred, holy influence Â— of His dying love and atoning blood in our souls! How true that word is;
`He to the needy and the faint, His mighty aid makes known: And, when their languid life is spent,
(that is, when their spiritual life is low and languid)
Supplies it with His own’.
He renews it with His own because He gave His own life for us and He renews our life with that life that He laid down for us at Calvary: for the atonement that puts away our sin, feeds our souls; His body is meat indeed, and His blood is drink indeed. 0, He has helped us by nourishing our hearts with His own life! And so with His truth and word and gospel: how often He has made the sacred truths of the gospel refreshing and strengthening to our hearts! Our faith has been nourished by the truths we have believed as the Lord has been pleased to make them afresh, blessed truths to our hearts; and our love has been revived when we have felt some influence of the love of Jesus upon our spirit. So He has nourished us and fed us, quite as miraculously and very much more blessedly than He nourished the children of Israel for forty years in the wilderness with that manna. That was wonderful, but this is still more so. That manna was wonderful, a provision for them; but the true Manna that comes down from heaven and giveth spiritual life to the world Â— to every one in the world who has that life Â— that is more wonderful still. How often the Lord has helped us spiritually by making the word of truth precious again to our hearts! I wish we could always feel it precious, but we cannot always. I wish we could always feel its power. We cannot always feel it so, but there are times when we do, and the same truths that we believed years ago are made precious to us afresh. With me it is many years now since first I felt the preciousness of the Saviour’s love and atoning blood, since that word raised up faith and hope in my soul: ‘When I see the blood, I will pass over you’ (Ex. 12.13); and the Lord has helped me still to look to that precious blood and from time to time renewed in my heart the sense and feeling of its sacred, deep, solemn and holy nature.
`Oft feed us, Lord, beneath this Vine; Through the New Year with heavenly Bread.’
Well, my friends, it’s true, isn’t it? ‘Thou hast been my help’ in this, with regard, I mean, to my spiritual life. Thou hast maintained it. Thou hast revived it. Thou hast nourished it, and so we live.
But other considerations come into this same point; ‘Thou hast been my help.’ The Lord has been our help with regard to the conflicts and temptations of our minds with which we have from time to time been much tried. We come into conflicts often as our experience goes on. Usually our first days are much brightened Â— I mean the first days of our
spiritual life Â— and especially when the Lord has delivered us from bondage and a sense of sin and guilt, and enlarged our hearts in the liberty of the gospel. In some ways they may be felt to be our best days Â— not really Â— but with regard to this, that they were much brightened to us with the Lord’s blessing; but conflicts come, and temptations, and they can be very trying. The Apostle felt much of this, and I have sometimes felt so thankful for that seventh chapter to. the Romans where the Apostle speaks of the law of sin warring against the law of his mind, and of the bondage that it brought him into and the wretchedness that he felt in that condition. I have felt, ‘Well, I shouldn’t have felt I could be a Christian if it was not for that chapter in the Romans; if the Apostle Paul had not felt like that I should not feel I could be right.’ And it is not an easy conflict that we have with regard to the law of sin in our fallen nature; it is an unceasing conflict. But I have often been thankful, now that I have mentioned that chapter in the Romans, for the way in which it ends. After the Apostle expressed himself, in what we should have thought a surprising way, of this inner conflict, he said ‘I thank God through Jesus Christ.’
There are three things with regard to the spiritual conflicts in our hearts and minds for which we can thank God. First we can thank Him that there is such a conflict at all, because the unregenerate have no such conflicts with the law of sin and the power of grace in their hearts: they may have conflicts of a certain kind and of a moral nature, but we can thank God if we have such a conflict as shows that there are two conflicting principles in our hearts, when apart from the grace of God there would, only have been one, and that is the prevalence of sin.
Secondly, we can be thankful that though there is a conflict and though sometimes it is distressing, we have not been overcome by it. Alas, there are some who are overcome by conflicts! I cannot think that a child of God could be overcome in this way, but some professors have come into conflicts and have lost the battle. They have come into temptation and have been overcome by it, and given way to it. They have given up their faith that they professed, and their profession that they had made, and their communion that they might have been supposed to have had with the people of God, and have gone back. As Peter says, ‘And the latter end is worse with them than the beginning’ (2 Peter 2.20). But the Lord has helped us in our conflicts; we have not gone back, we have not given up. We thank God for His help in this; for as I have often said, the power of sin, and Satan in it, is the strongest power in the world except the grace of God: it is far too strong for anyone to overcome unless the grace of God prevails in his heart.
Thirdly, we can be thankful that the issue is certain, that it will be a final and eternal vanquishing of sin and all the conflict in us. ‘Thou hast been my help, Lord, when I have been in sore conflict of mind and spirit, when I have been greatly tempted to give up all, when I have said sometimes in my spirit, Lord,
But much I fear, lest in some hour, Of sore temptation I may fall;
And yielding to the tempter’s power,
Faithless may prove and give up all.’
But then looking back on these times we can say, ‘Thou hast been my help, Lord; Thou hast helped me to believe when unbelief has been so strong; Thou hast helped me to pray, when I have been tempted there was no God to pray to; Thou hast helped me to cleave to Jesus Christ midst all my darkness and temptation and confusion, Lord. Thou hast been my help; Thou hast brought me through. I am still on praying terms with Thee; still I feel my heart to be resting upon the Rock of Ages that can never move.’ I might say, ‘Lord, I have often felt shaken upon that Rock, but the Rock has never been shaken under me, never. Thou hast been my help in all the conflicts and temptations that I have come into, however sore and distressing and threatening they have been, and however hard it has seemed sometimes for me to hold my ground against them. Satan has not overcome me, death has not destroyed me, unbelief has not overcome my faith Â— though sometimes my faith has seemed so weak and feeble Â— but Thou hast helped me.’ It is no honour to ourselves that we overcome in these matters and are not vanquished; it is no honour to us Â— it is entirely because the Lord has helped us in these times of our sore trial of mind. And you must remember this, as I have said; there are no such things as easy trials; trials must needs be painful to try anything in us. A mere formal religion, or a mere presumptuous confidence will stand an easy trial; but the Lord’s people are subject to such trials as that nothing will stand except the true gold of faith in their hearts by the supporting help of God.
There are other things in my mind to set before you and I must come to them quickly. The Lord has been our help through all the external circumstances of life, as well as the inward trials and conflicts that we have felt, for some of us have been brought through, for instance, very severe times of affliction and illness. Three times in my life I have been near to the gates of death and known what it is to feel that any time Â—almost any minute Â— my life might end; or if not in that way, I was in such case as that there was little hope of my recovery. I need not dwell on these things, only to say that the Lord has helped me sometimes when I have felt too weak, too ill, even to form my mind to a prayer. Some have had much affliction to bear, and some are bearing it now; and especially, a protracted weakness is very trying to the spirit and very apt to cause heavy depression in the mind. But the Lord has helped us under our illnesses and afflictions and weaknesses; at least He has supported us so far in our spirit that we have been enabled to roll our burden upon Him. And what perplexities we have come into, in the past sometimes, so we have not known what to do, nor which way to turn, nor how to
handle our perplexing problems! We have felt somewhat as it was with Jehoshaphat, when he found himself faced with a very strong army Â—much stronger than his own Â— and his eyes were unto the Lord and he said, ‘0 Lord, we have no might against this great company that cometh against us; neither know we what to do, but our eyes are upon Thee’ (2 Chr. 20.12). ‘Neither know we what to do’ Â— we have no might to meet them, and we know not how to avoid them; no strategy seems to serve us at all in this matter; our wisdom, Lord, is swallowed up. Well, the Lord has helped us in perplexities like that; sometimes we have seen His hand appearing, or perhaps the difficulty of itself has been dealt with. Well, you know what your path has been in the past; you know what difficulties have been in the way and how the Lord has helped you with regard to them; what sorrows have come into your heart Â—overwhelming perhaps Â— but the Lord has helped you to bear them in the issue; what losses may have come, but the Lord has made up to you all things that are needful. So that if He were to say to you this morning, `Have ye lacked anything?’, you would have to say, ‘No, Lord, nothing that I really needed; Thy good hand has supplied me.’ Surely we must say of all this, ‘Thou hast been my help. Personally, I can say this: some very deep sorrows have crossed my pathway, such that perhaps have never crossed the pathway of anyone else here this morning, but the Lord has helped me.
Now let me take another consideration. The Lord has helped us with regard to whatever duties have devolved upon us in which to serve Him. These things vary greatly, but there are some of us who have been called upon to take up duties in the Lord’s cause and service; we would not have wished for it ourselves. Take the ministry. I think no-one who realised what the ministry means and their own insufficiency for it, would wish to have such a burden of the Word of the Lord laid upon them. But there must be ministers if the Word is to be preached; someone must bear this labour in the gospel, someone must bear the burden of the Word of the Lord if it is to be preached. And there are many other duties and responsibilities that have devolved upon one and another, in the way in which it is appointed for them to serve the Lord. And we are not equal to these things. No-one who realises the solemn and weighty nature of any position in the cause of God and the service of God, would feel that it is an easy responsibility to carry. But the Lord has helped me and helped you; as the time of labour has come, the Lord has never left you without some assistance in doing His sacred will. I am now entering upon the forty-seventh year of my pastoral ministry in this Church Â— it seems a very long time Â— and in a week or two it will be fifty years since I first entered this sanctuary and preached in this pulpit Â— fifty years! fifty years! Â— and I can truly say that it has been with me like it was with the widow woman and her barrel and her cruse; a handful of meal in the barrel and a drop of oil in the cruse, and that has
provided thousands of sermons for me in the Lord’s name, thousands. It is wonderful how the Lord has helped me. And you, in your sphere, the Lord has helped you, too.
One other point I would like to mention before I leave it. ‘Thou hast been my help’ with regard to the open profession Thou didst cause me to make of my faith in Jesus Christ. ‘Thou hast helped me as I have walked in the path of Thy ordinances and appointments in that way.’ How my heart shrank at first from the thought of making any kind of open profession of faith! I would rather have kept everything to myself quietly and secretly, but the Lord would not have it so, but so exercised me that I felt there was no way but for me to profess my faith in Jesus Christ and to be baptized in His Name. But it is a very solemn matter to enter upon such a path as this, and how often we have needed to pray that prayer, and do still; ‘Hold up my goings in Thy paths, that my footsteps slip not’ (Ps. 17.5). The text is personal and I seem to be speaking rather personally this morning, but still, it is my testimony before you all. One thing that used to try me before I ever ventured in this way was the fear that I should not stand Â— that I should fall and bring dishonour upon the Lord’s name and my profession of it. That was a great concern to me. But still, the exercise of my mind prevailed, and that was, of course, well over fifty years ago; and the Lord has helped me notwithstanding that I feared I might fall in some way or another and grieve His people and dishonour His Name.
And if any of you this morning should be labouring under any such feeling as that, and it should be presented to your mind that it would be better for you never to make any profession at all lest you should dishonour the Lord and fall, let me point this out to you; the Lord will help you as He has helped many of us all these years. If it depended upon us that we should maintain our profession honourably, we might fear with good reason, but He has said, ‘I will never leave thee nor forsake thee’ (Heb. 13.5), in this matter as well as in others, and He has held up our goings in His paths. Some are entering upon this sacred path; we have been favoured this year with testimonies to the Lord’s grace and mercy, and we have received friends with much affection and thankfulness; we feel thankful that they have been constrained to enter upon the paths of the Lord, and put on Jesus Christ in this way in the comparatively early years of their lives. We do pray that the Lord will be with them and that their profession may be long, useful and honouring to Him. I am sure they could feel this morning Â— you cannot speak but I can speak for you, I feel Â— the Lord helped you in this, didn’t He? The Lord helped you to break through what perhaps was your reserve and fear, to speak to His honour and His praise before us and to walk in His ordinances. Now, surely, you must say this morning, ‘Thou hast been my help in this’ And we can look back over many years to the time when we were brought to enter into this path. We can say, ‘Thou
hast been my help.’ It is a great thing to be maintained in a profession of the Lord’s name and truth. At the end of this year, it will be sixty years since a number of friends were baptized by my predecessor Mr. Littleton. Sixty years! I think there were ten or eleven. Of those, several remain with us to this day, and the Lord has helped them through sixty years to walk honourably and uprightly and stedfastly in this Church. What a good God He has been to us! How good to appear for us in our early times of anxiety and distress of soul! How good He was to hear our poor cries to Him, and deliver us out of the miry pit of our condition, and establish our feet upon that blessed Rock, and to have kept us there till this day!
And so this morning I feel we must set up another Ebenezer, another pillar, and say, ‘Hitherto hath the Lord helped us’ (1 Sam. 7.12); as a Church and people Â— pastor, deacons and members Â— we must set up another pillar and say, ‘Hitherto the Lord has helped us as a Church and people’; sorrows we have had, disappointments and anxieties, but the Lord has helped us and does still maintain us in His truth and in His way.
Jacob set up a pillar at Bethel and, if I remember rightly, he poured oil upon it. Well, have you any oil this morning Â— any oil of thankfulness, gratitude and praise to God Â— that you can pour on this pillar this morning and say, ‘Well, the Lord has been my Helper; my heart was blessed, and praise His Holy Name’? If I have only a drop of feeling, I would put it on the pillar and anoint it this morning and say,
`He who has helped me hitherto,
Will help me all my journey through;
And give me daily cause to raise, New Ebenezers to His praise.’
Therefore, blessed be the Father, and blessed be the Son, and blessed be the Holy Ghost for all the help which we have recevied. Amen.