God setteth the solitary in families: he bringeth out those which are bound with chains, but the rebellious dwell in a dry land. Ps. 68.6.
The first two verses demand our attention “Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered: let them also that hate him flee before him.. ” These striking verses, believed to have been sung at the removal of the ark with holy joy from the house of Obed-edom to the prepared place on Mount Zion, were also said to have been the battle cry of the Covenanters and the Ironsides. Coming to our own time one remembers hearing of part of this Psalm being read by General Montgomery on D-Day 6th June 1944; it was broadcast at the time of the re-invasion of Europe and published in the press. The good general was doubtless concerned that the nation from the King down and the troops should “hear the Word of the Lord” at such a critical time. The Lord in His mercy honoured faith and brought victory. Going back over the centuries the Psalmist called for songs of praise to God and for rejoicing “before him” calling our God “a father of the fatherless and a judge of the widows”.
Then comes this great word in verse 6 which naturally divides itself into three parts. I take them in order.
(1) God setteth the solitary in families.
This was literally true of the children of Israel. They were scattered in Egypt and family ties were often disregarded, but when they escaped from Pharaoh they came together again. The Lord did it – “He gathered them out of the lands, from the east, and from the west, from the north and from the south” (Ps. 107.3). So today, spiritually considered, those whom the Lord has made to feel “solitary” are brought by His grace into the fellowship and family of the Church. It cannot be denied that there are advantages in being solitary for a time if the believer is “alone with God”; but he is not
really solitary if he is favoured to commune with his best and only Friend. Whilst not belittling earthly friendships – they have their limitations – earthly friends may be anxious and willing to help one in need, but they may not be able to do so. Further in a literal sense these were the very words that were brought to the attention of Dr. Thomas John Barnardo in the founding of his famous homes for destitute children whom he sought to rescue from haunts of vice and degradation. “God setteth the solitary in families”. It gave him an idea, which was swiftly put into practice, for establishing homes with housefathers and housemothers. The Lord used the words for the literal benefit of mankind.
The Scriptures tell us of a number who were solitary for one reason or another. Naomi was one of these. Bereft of husband and both sons she stated “I went out full and the LORD hath brought me home again empty” (Ruth 1.21). David must have been solitary whilst watching the sheep as a lad, and Elijah in the wilderness would have been very solitary apart from communion with his God. Doubtless other saints of God have been solitary and lonely for long periods, as e.g. Noah, Abraham and Moses. We read that the children of Israel “wandered in the wilderness in a solitary way; they found no city to dwell in. Hungry and thirsty their soul fainted in them. Then they cried unto the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them out of their distresses. And he led them forth by the right way . . ” (Ps. 107.4-7). The striking case of Ruth is another example. Taken from the heathen country of Moab, a desolate childless widow, and brought not only into the family of Boaz in Israel but also into the Messianic line in God’s eternal purposes through His providence and grace.
Some are solitary through circumstances and would not be on their own if it could be avoided. However sometimes they cry to their best Friend as did the Psalmist when he said, “I will cry unto God most high; unto God that performeth all things for me” (Ps. 57.2). They wonder how the Lord will appear for them, and then unbelief says He cannot or will not do so. But faith in God pleads the promises – thus there is conflict.
“Say not my soul from whence, can God relieve thy care, Remember that Omnipotence, hath servants everywhere.
His method is sublime, His thought supremely kind;
God never is before His time, and never is behind.”
God makes us cry earnestly and urgently to Him, for what He is about to give us. At the other extreme some in their concern to forget God and to get away from Him, as they think, have gone literally to the ends of the earth but it is still true, as we sometimes sing-
“If I could find some cave unknown,
Where human feet had never trod,
Yet there I could not be alone,
On every side there would be God.”
The Lord may use what has been in the back of our minds for many years. So in the remarkable case of a lad in the venerable puritan John Flavel’s congregation at Dartmouth some three hundred years ago. On one occasion he preached from these words: “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema, maranatha.” The discourse was unusually solemn, particularly the explanation of the words, “anathema, maranatha” – “cursed with a curse, cursed of God, with a bitter and grievous curse.” At the conclusion of the service, when Mr. Flavel arose to pronounce the benediction, he paused, and said: “How shall I bless this whole assembly, when every person in it who loveth not the Lord Jesus Christ is anathema, maranatha?” The solemnity of this address deeply affected the audience, and one gentleman, a person of rank, was so overcome by his feelings that he fell senseless to the floor.
In the congregation was a lad named Luke Short, then about fifteen years of age, and a native of Dartmouth. Shortly after the event just narrated, he entered into the sea-faring life and sailed to America, where he passed the rest of his life, which was lengthened much beyond the usual term. When 100 years old he had sufficient strength to work on his farm, and his mental faculties were very little impaired. Hitherto he had lived in carelessness and sin; he was now “a sinner a hundred years old,” and apparently ready to die accursed. But one day, as he sat in his field, he was led to reflect on his past life. Recurring to the events of his youth, his memory was fixed on Mr. Flavel’s discourse, above alluded to, a considerable part of which he was able to recollect. The affectionate eamestness of the preacher’s manner, the important truths which he delivered, and the effects produced on the congregation, were brought afresh to his mind. The blessing of God accompanied his meditations; he felt that he had not loved the Lord Jesus Christ, and he feared the dreadful “anathema.” Conviction was followed by repentance, and at length this aged sinner obtained peace through the blood of atonement, and was found “in the way of righteousness.” He joined the Congregational church in Middlesbrough, and to the day of his death, which took place in his 116th year, gave pleasing evidence of a change of heart.
In his case, eighty-five years passed away after the seed was sown before it sprang up and brought forth fruit. Let the ministers of Christ be encouraged. In the morning let them sow the seed, and in the evening withhold not their hand; for they know not whether shall prosper, this or that.
It must be remembered that we can be lonely, or feel solitary, even in a crowd. The greatest example is that of the Lord Jesus Christ who became “solitary” for all His people who truly feel their need and call upon Him for salvation. We read Jesus “departed into a solitary place, and there prayed” (Mark 1.35). Long nights of prayer to His Father in His solitariness were frequent with the Lord Jesus, who once told His disciples “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head” (Matt. 8.20). He uttered those striking words in His agony “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken Me?” In all our solitariness we cannot be really alone as He was. May we be among those who can truly say that though He was rich yet for our sakes “He became poor that (we) through his poverty might be rich” (2 Cor. 8.9).
(2) He bringeth out those which are bound with chains
The Lord does it and goes on doing it – that is our mercy. Taking the natural sense first; the literal chains with which the apostle Peter was bound in prison fell off when an angel of the Lord delivered him in a miraculous way (Acts 12.6-10). It is interesting, though sad, to note that although the believers were praying “without ceasing” (v.5) for Peter, and their prayers were miraculously answered they were filled with unbelief, as we so often are, because they said to the damsel named Rhoda, “Thou art mad” (v.l5) when she told them Peter was at the gate!
In a spiritual sense these chains that bind the people of God can be many and various and I propose to consider a few of them. Some are so subtle that although we see them affecting others we may not see them affecting ourselves. To change the figure there may be motes in our eyes (Matt. 7.3). We sometimes sing that remarkable hymn of Dr. Watts –
How sad our state by nature is;
Our sin how deep its stains;
And Satan binds our captive minds
Fast in his slavish chains.
But there’s a voice of sovereign grace
Sounds from the sacred word;
“Ho! ye despairing sinners come,
And trust upon the Lord.”
These chains are impossible for us to break and deliver ourselves from, but the Lord can do it for us. His gracious promise is still true ‘Ask and it shall be given you; seek and ye shall find; knock and it .shall be opened unto you . . ” (Matt. 7.7). The Psalmist refers to those that “sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, being bound
in affliction and iron; because they rebelled against the words of God, and contemned the counsel of the Most High” (Ps. 107.10,11). Then he refers to the Lord’s deliverance, “He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and brake their bands in sunder” (v. 14). A chain of whatever nature it is, is a burdensome thing to us and to those round about us. In a spiritual sense these chains can only be broken by the Lord through His Spirit in whatever way it pleases Him. “He bringeth out those which are bound with chains”. In another Psalm the Psalmist prays, “Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise Thy name” (Ps. 142.7); and in another, “the Lord chooseth the prisoners: the Lord openeth the eyes of the blind: the Lord raiseth them that are bowed down; the Lord loveth the righteous” (Ps. 146.7,8).
We now refer to a few things which may be considered as chains fettering, binding, restricting or hampering the children of God. Some of these chains make us miserable and prevent us from letting our light shine before men, thus denying some of the glory due to His holy name (Matt. 5.16). May we ever remember the command of the Lord through the Psalmist, “Give unto the Lord the glory due unto His name” (Ps. 29.2). Some of these “chains” are more obvious than others at first sight and some are more important than others, but all merit our meditation and prayer to the Lord for their removal. There are, alas, many more. May we each prove in our own souls that He is able to do for us more than we can ask or think. I can only supply a few headings and give a few hints – readers will, as helped by the Lord, be able to fill in details from their own experience.
Chains of sin, our own sin, may be devastating to us when charged home to our consciences. But our mercy is that the Lord God “bringeth out those which are bound with chains”. No one else can. As Toplady so wonderfully puts it:-
“Not the labour of my hands, can fulfil thy law’s demands,
Could my zeal no respite know, could my tears for ever flow,
All for sin could not atone; Thou must save and Thou alone.”
Chains of secret sin, even more subtle, but “the heart knoweth its own bitterness”. Some 150 years ago a godly Scottish minister was walking along a lonely rocky shore when he saw an eagle fly overhead. All of a sudden it dropped like a stone to its death. He was very puzzled because there was no sound of a gun, or other reason why this should happen, so he walked along the shore determined to find out the reason. When he got to the large bird he found a ferret clutching its bosom strangling its lifeblood. Secret sins are like that.
What a blessing it is to be delivered from such chains by the rich
grace of our God.
To be continued.