PRESENT EXPERIENCE OF DIVINE GRACE AND POWER
A Sermon preached by Mr. S. Delves (Crowborough, Sussex), at Zion Chapel, Leicester.
Psalm 28, v. 7.
The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusteth in him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise him.
It is good preaching and good hearing when the word that we preach from the scripture conveys to us, revives or confirms in us those feelings, desires and affections that it expresses. This is very needful because there is so much that tends to damp and deaden all spiritual, lively feelings in our hearts. We do need something to revive them again, for there is so much that is called into question with us. How good it is to have a word that confirms us. Here is then a case especially applicable to those scriptures that are expressive of spiritual feeling, desire and affection in our hearts; and the Psalms are especially expressive in that way. Perhaps more than any other part of the scripture the Psalms are expressive of the desires and affections of godly souls, and I feel this word is especially so. Yesterday I was feeling exceedingly depressed, in some ways very frustrated and altogether I felt very low. Really I did not know how to keep on, when this word came to me, “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusteth in him, and I am helped”. In a certain way it seemed to infuse itself into my spirit. It seemed like a voice speaking inside of me, I found myself responding to it and saying, “Yes, the Lord is my strength and my shield”, and I felt sensibly and consciously uplifted in my spirit. If it should be that this word might convey that to some of you today, revive this confidence in the Lord in your spirit, confirm you in it that the Lord is your strength and your shield; well, then that would be good hearing to you. I know that this is not the sole end and purpose and preaching and hearing, but it is a purpose of it, and a very profitable one.
Let us look at this as the Psalmist’s personal testimony. I look upon it as a testimony coming out of an experience, an experience that was very confirming of the word of truth to his soul, and very encouraging to others as well. It was the Psalmist’s testimony. “The Lord”, he said, “is my strength, he is my shield. I have proved he is, because he has helped me. My heart trusteth in him, and I am not confounded. I have proved him to be to me
a stronghold in the day of trouble, a sure shield to defend me, a blessed source of strength to sustain me”.
The testimony of the Psalmist is very simple. Simple things can be very sweet, and there are times with us, and perhaps most of the time with some of the Lord’s people, when they find that simple truths, simply expressed, suit them best. It is not all that can climb to great heights in religion, nor in theology. For those who can it is well for them, but there are some who find the lower lands to afford the sweeter pastures to them; simple things seem best to feed their souls; they are more suitable to their minds and their spirit. The text is very simple; there is nothing pretentious about it; the Psalmist does not rise to great heights, he does not deal with anything very profound, he says very simply, “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusteth in him and I am helped”. I like simple testimonies, simple, sincere and obviously genuine. I have heard a good many spiritual experiences related in my now long experience as pastor, and very varied they have been; but long years have proved that those who have spoken the simplest have often worn the best; I have proved it so. There are the simple testimonies, but very savoury ones.
You will observe also that it is very personal; the Psalmist does not borrow anything from any one else, he just says plainly and simply what he has proved for himself. There is nothing egotistical about it, but it is very personal. “The Lord is my strength”, he does not deal with generalities. “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusteth in him, and I am helped; therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth”. You see it is so personal. The testimony of the Lord’s honour and glory must be personal, and what is personal carries great weight really; it is much more telling than something borrowed from some one else, or repeated from another’s words. “Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me?” (John 18, 34)Â—you might ask that of some testimonies. Is it original, or is it borrowed? is it what you feel, or what you have heard other people say they feel? Everything is personal here, “The Lord is my strength, my shield, my helper”. If it is personal, it is not exclusive: the Psalmist claims nothing here for himself exclusively: he does not look upon himself as having some interest, some particiption in the Lord that is exclusive to him. It was personal but not exclusive, for what follows?Â—”The Lord is their strength” ; theirs, the word embraces all that are truly godly. In another sense it is exclusive. It is exclusive because here is something that must not be claimed by all and sundry as such. It is exclusive to the people of God, but it is inclusive of every one of them: it is as true of one as it is of another. One may have a deeper sense of it, may feel more to rejoice in it as with their song they praise him, where another feels almost to be silent, but it is equally true of every one of these. The Lord is their strength in general, but he is my strength in particular to me.
Another feature I would mention in the Psalmist’s testimony,
is that which he gives out as to his present state and feeling. It is not a reminiscence; it is not an anticipation; it is not something he remembers of the past, or expects in the future, though of course that were true enough. The Psalmist had proved the Lord to be his strength in the past. His other remark was an experience of that, but still he does not give his testimony with regard to the past but the present. “The Lord is my strength, I feel he is now, he is my shield; my heart trusteth in him, and I feel that he is helping me now”. This again is very desirable for we can never speak of any thing with such feeling and warmth as when we are under the influence of it at the time that we are speaking. The memory of the past does not make a soul so lively as the experience of the present. The Psalmist is here expressing a present experience, and a present experience is very good. If I might introduce this point again, this is very good in giving our testimony, we will say, before the Church of God.
Sometimes friends have intimated to me that they have felt a desire towards the ordinances, and to be joined to the church, but they feel they have not much to say. Â“Well”, I have said, “say what you are feeling now. Do you feel a poor dependent creature? Say you feel that. Do you feel that you have got no hope but in the Saviour’s precious blood and His power to save? Well, say that. Do you feel his name is good and precious in your heart? Say that”. That actually did occur in my church a week or two ago. A friend came before us and she said in substance this, “All I can really say is, A Guilty, weak, and helpless worm. On thy kind arms I fall. Be thou my strength and righteousness, My Jesus, and my all”. The members said afterwards, “That is quite enough”. The Psalmist is here speaking of a present feeling in his spirit. “The Lord is my strength and my shield, my heart trusteth in him and I am helped”.
The subject does not appear to be suitable to make any formal divisions. I will take the expressions just as they stand. First, the Lord is my strength. The Lord’s people feel to be all weakness in themselves. If there is one thing they are brought to know and to feel, it is how weak they are; and it is the Lord’s will and purpose they should know this. If they feel otherwise he will weaken their strength: “He weakened my strength in the way”. As long as we have any strength independent of Him, that we can rely upon or can use, he will weaken our strength. He will weaken our strength until we feel we have no strength, and our strength is gone. Naturally people have strength, and it is surprising what strength some people have. I do not mean of course physical strength but strength of mind, vigour, resolution, self-reliance. Many seem to have that strength at their command. They can handle their matters and face up to them; their spirit does not seem to fail. They can deal with their problems, their difficulties and their responsibilities from a source of strength that is in themselves; and that is not always good either. Amongst the things that Asaph, taking him to be the author of the 73rd Psalm, marked
with amazement, with regard to the ungodly, was that their strength was firm. “Their strength is firm”. It amazed him that it could be so, yea, their strength was so firm that even death itself seemed not to appal them: “For there are no bands in their death: but their strength is firm”. (Psalm 73, 4). Mind you, this is the fatal feature of it; it was their strength. The Lord was not their strength, it was theirs; and whatever strength anyone may have in that way, still in the end it will be a broken reed to them; it will fail when they need it most, and often such strength does fail. I am thinking of that word towards the end of the 40th chapter of Isaiah, “Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall”. (Isaiah 40, 30), and he contrasts with that the case of those whose strength is in the Lord; “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isaiah 40, 31). The difference is, that with the young men and the youths their strength was in themselves, and presently it failed; with the godly their strength was in the Lord, and therefore they mounted up with wings as eagles.
“The Lord is my strength”. I understand that the Psalmist meant, and the Holy Spirit inspired him to express it like this, that the Lord is the source of my strength, it is in him. The Psalmist might well say in another place, “Happy is the man whose strength is in thee”, (Psalm 84, 5) because there is to that man an unfailing, inexhaustible source of strength, for that which has its source in the Lord can never, never, possibly fail us. If every other source fails, that never can. The Lord is the source of my strength; my strength has no source in myself. The spring of it is not in any personal ability; I am weak, so weak, but my strength comes from the Lord. The Lord is my strength in the sense that he is the source of it, and a never failing source. There flows from the Lord continual strength to his people. Sometimes they are conscious of it as the Psalmist was, and I felt I was. Sometimes they are conscious of it, not always. The Lord is a source of strength to us when we may be conscious of nothing but weakness in ourselves: but then how true this is:Â—
He to the needy and the faint
His mighty aid makes known;
And, when their languid life is spent,
Supplies it with his own. (Joseph Hart).
The Lord is my strength, but in what way? The Lord’s presence is my strength; now the Lord is with me, I am strong. If the Lord is not sensibly with me as I feel, then I am weak. Now I am sure I am speaking to others beside myself who have experience of this. You have been in trial, in affliction, in trouble; have you felt the Lord to be near you in it? Have you spiritually been conscious that he is with you? Then you felt supported; you felt you could go through it. You felt, “It is well”; if you
had died you felt it would be well; if you lived it would be well; and it was because you felt the Lord to be with you in it. “In thy presence I can suffer: in thy presence I can conquer: in thy presence I can die”; for the Lord’s presence is strength. “The Lord is my strength”.
The Lord is my strength also in that He is the strength of my spiritual life. That is. He strengthens the principles of my spiritual life. As far as I can understand and explain it, spiritual life, or at least the liveliness of it, stands very much in spiritual principles. I mean faith and hope, and love especially. Generally speaking a child of God is as strong as his faith is strong, and his hope is strong. If his faith is weak, he is weak. If his faith is strong, he is strong; but the Lord must be the strength of his faith. He is the strength of my faith, he maintains it in my soul; he is the strength of my hope. “Blessed is the man . . . whose hope the Lord is” (Jeremiah 17, 7); mark, whose hope the Lord is; it is not only the man who hopes in the Lord, but the Lord is his hope, that is to say He is the strength and the vigour of his hope, as well as its objective.
“The Lord is my strength”. Let us apply this: for truly the Lord is my strength with regard to the path that He appoints for me. We shall need strength to walk in the path that the Lord appoints, brethren. We shall need strength to walk in a path as it opens up to us, or as the Lord so overrules matters that we cannot but walk in it, and it is made to appear to us that, “This is the path He will have us to walk in”. It may be that our spirit fails at the thought of it; we might be ready to say, “Lord, I do not feel that I can walk that way, my spirit fails me”. That is true enough, but why does our spirit fail? It fails because we are looking for strength to walk that way in our own strength, which we feel we have not got. We feel we have not the strength to walk that way; and we have not, that is true enough, but we must walk there. How can we walk that way? I will tell you, if you can feel it and receive it. “I will go in the strength of the Lord God” (Psalm 71, 16). That is the way, and there is no way, however arduous, trying or unacceptable it may be to us as to our natural feeling in the matter, brethren, that we cannot walk in it, if we go in the strength of the Lord God; because He will be with us in it. He will help us under it, and guide us through it; for, “The Lord is my strength”. Oh, what mistakes good people have made in venturing into things in their own strength. “Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water”, and He said, “Come”, and when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, “Lord, save me”. (Matthew 14, 28-30). Many instances of that could be mentioned, for we sink if we venture on our strength. We are upheld if the Lord is with us in it and supports us; “The Lord is my strength”.
In the same way we might apply it to the great question of doing God’s will. That is a good prayer, I feel, “Teach me to do thy will”, but I do not think it is a prayer we could pray without the other added word, “For thou art my God” (Psalm 143. 10). I could not pray, “Teach me to do thy will”, if thou art not my God because there would be no strength in me to do it. Do you feel sometimes led to pray, “Thy will be done”, in things, whether they may be done passively or positively? Do you find it hard sometimes to say, “Thy will be done?” Jesus did not find it easy to say, “Thy will be done”, did He? Not when it came to drinking the cup. Agony of mind and spirit possessed His holy soul; not in the sense that there was any conflict with the will of God in His spirit, that could never be. But oh, what the will of the Father was to Him then. He was overwhelmed with what it was to mean to Him to do the will of God in drinking that cup. “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done”, (Luke 22, 42) and He was strengthened.
The Lord is my strength with regard to doing His holy will or bearing it. The Lord will never call us to anything in which He will leave us to our own strength; He will be our strength. The Lord is my strength with regard to the conflict that I am in; with regard to temptation, sin, and all those things that come against me with such power: those things that I feel I just have not the strength to overcome. According to the word of God and the experience of the godly a spiritual life is a conflict, and a conflict that, surprisingly perhaps, does not seem to get less as we get older. It may assume somewhat a different form, but still it seems as strong as ever; and the Apostle indicates that when he said, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6, 12). In other words, we wrestle against things that are too strong for usÂ—for one thingÂ—sin working within. How can we overcome it? But we must overcome it, or be overcome by it, remember that! We must overcome sin or sin will overcome us. There is temptation, there is our adversary the devil; if he overcomes us, we are doomed; he will drag us down to the pit of hell. If we overcome him, well, we shall be victors indeed. I have looked at that word, and thought much of it in the Revelation when I have read it, “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne”, (Revelation 3, 21). I have said, “Will that be my lot?” I seem so weak so often, in different ways, far overcome; my life and experience is not one of constant experience of victory. Is yours? “To him that overcometh”. Is self always under your feet? Is sin that rises in your heart always subdued? Does temptation never gain against you? Are you always victorious over the enemy? I know a child of God lives a victorious life as regards that, but it
is somewhat as it was said of the tribe of Gad, you know, “Gad, a troop shall overcome him; but he shall overcome at the last”, (Genesis 49, 19). Did the apostle Paul always feel victorious when he said, “For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do?” (Romans 7, 19). I believe I speak truth when I say that a spiritual life is a struggling life against enemies and opposition within and without. Shall we overcome and stand amongst that blessed number, who, with palms in their hands, and crowns on their heads, (which they cast at His dear feet), have overcome all and every foe? I believe we shall, because the Lord is our strength, and if the Lord is our strength, mine and yours, then whatever would overcome us must overcome him, and triumphantly the Apostle brings that eighth Chapter of Romans to its conclusion when he envisages all those conditions and things that come against a child of God, and some especially; what does it say? “We are conquerors,Â—we are more than conquerors”. He said, “Through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8, 38-39). That love is strong as death, and “The Lord is my strength”.