WAITING IN HOPE
Reading: Psalm 37
The Psalm which has been read in our hearing this morning contains the answer to a problem which has vexed the servants of God in all the ages of man’s history. Why is it that the wicked prosper? They seem to lead a comfortable and carefree life; they seem to have all that they want, whilst the righteous suffer and find life difficult, and are subject to all kinds of disadvantages. Why is it? The problem is less acute perhaps to us who live in these days than it was to our brethren and sisters who lived in former times. They had not the benefits of a police-protected Welfare State in which it is common decency to live at peace with your neighbours and workfellows. They lived when the few were enriched by the sweated labours of the many, when persecution was the weapon of religious tyranny, when life itself was endangered by enemies, known and unknown. David himself who penned this Psalm had enemies who sought his life. Many of his courtiers were men of intrigue and treachery. His allusions in this psalm are personal to himself. “The wicked plotteth against the just, and gnasheth upon him with his teeth.” “The wicked have drawn out the sword, and have bent their bow to cast down the poor and needy.” “The wicked watcheth the righteous, and seeketh to slay him.” That meant something to David, and helps us to appreciate the fears and dangers through which he must have passed in his life. Other servants of God had similar experiences. Jeremiah lamented in similar terms: “Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? Wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously?” Then we think of the servants of God who lived during the 1260 years of papal domination and oppression. They had reason to fret because of evildoers. The record says: “They cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, 0 Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” We can hardly imagine what life must have been like when opposition to the Catholic Church meant loss of all civil rights and liberty, making it difficult to earn a living, when one was in sudden danger of imprisonment and even death itself. By comparison with all that our lot today surely is a very easy one and we should be thankful for it. We are tolerated whatever our views, provided we do not make ourselves objectionable; and as for the risk of the righteous begging bread in these days, there is no such thing. But it was not always like that, as some of the older ones here this morning will know. There were cases of real distress, brethren suffering unemployment, families without money, and something had to be done for them. But that is now past, though we should not forget it.
Yet it is applicable in some measure even to us. We have reason even now to fret because of evildoers. The general wickedness and depravity of our times, the irreligion and lack of principle which characterises our generation, the selfishness and meanness of people with whom we come in contact, the unfair methods employed by competitors, and last and worst of all, the contemptible attitude of our contemporaries towards the Truth. All these are causes of depression, especially when we notice how comfortable and well placed and prosperous these people are. What is the explanation? There is one, and of course this Psalm helps us to understand it. The explanation has its roots in the pronouncement right away back in the days of Eden. “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed.” God put that enmity there; it was part of a pre-ordaine’d divine plan with a purpose. It was designed to produce a state of things in the earth by which the servants of God could be tried and tested in relation to the indispensable quality of obedience. Sinners and saints are implacably hostile to one another. The very words used to describe sin indicate an enmity. The devil—we know what that means; slanderer, false accuser—of whom? Of God of course primarily, charging God with injustice and doubting His word—that He does not mean what He says. But secondly in being the accuser of Christ’s brethren, charging them with heresy and self-righteousness, and a nauseating aloofness. That is the devil, false accuser and slanderer. Satan means an adversary, adversaries are in conflict, and sin and righteousness are at war, and that is why these words are used to describe the power of sin. The enmity is designed on the one hand to expose the infamy of sin, and on the other hand, to try the patience and fortitude of the righteous.
Now wherein lies the comfort? It is in the fact that there is an end; there will be an end to the wicked, to sinners, and there will be an end to the sufferings of the righteous. The wicked will cease from troubling when the righteous are exalted to inherit the land for ever. That is the theme of this 37th Psalm.
Now let us examine the Psalm a little more closely, and see how these principles are so beautifully worked out. V.1: “Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity. For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb, Trust in the Lord, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed. Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.” Now the exhortation is that we should keep and preserve a proper perspective. Present appearances are deceptive. The prosperity of the wicked cannot last. V.10: “For yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be; yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place, and it shall not be.” V.35: “T have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree. Yet he passed away, and lo, he was not; yea, I sought him, but he could not be found.” How terribly true those words will prove to be. The same sad fate awaits all who know not the Truth, whether they have been guilty of the grosser sins, or whether they have remained through ignorance, unjustified sinners before God, not having passed through the waters of baptism.
The comfort and exhortation of our Psalm is—”He shall give thee the desires of thine heart.” What was David’s desire? He tells us:
“Although my house be not so with God, yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure, for this is all my salvation and all my desire, although He make it not to grow.” David’s desire is our desire, we share it with him. We participate in his covenant, and so the exhortation of the Psalm is that we should wait for its fulfilment in patience. V.7: “Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him; fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass.” V. 9: “For evildoers shall be cut off; but those that wait upon the Lord, they shall inherit the earth.” V. 34: “Wait on the Lord, and keep his way, and he shall exalt thee to inherit the land: when the wicked are cut off, thou shalt see it.” Wait, Wait, Wait; three times does the exhortation occur in this Psalm, and that is the exhortation, reminding us of the need for patience. Not infrequently in human arrangements people have to wait, and their waiting is associated with uncertainty, anxiety, apprehension, sometimes disappointment. Perhaps we wait for news, or for the coming of a visitor, or for a desired opportunity. We cannot say whilst we are waiting, how things will turn out, as we say colloquially. If we are expecting something good, then we wait with hopeful anticipation, but that serves only to increase the trial of patience. Sometimes in human experience, waiting is associated with despair, when there seems no solution to a problem, no hope or help to hand in a difficult situation, and men say despairingly, “there is nothing we can do about it, we can only wait and see.” But that is not the waiting of which the Psalmist speaks and of which we have read this morning. Though we are called to a waiting position, it will all depend upon the degree of our faith as to how far those observations about waiting that we have expressed, will apply in our individual cases. If of course we have no faith, the waiting period will prove unbearable, and the time will come when we shall take matters into our own hands, and decide to wait no longer. That means we leave the Truth. But if we are strong in faith, the waiting period will provide just the opportunity needed to develop characters and fit ourselves for the reception of the promised blessings which lie at the end of it. There is no doubt that our waiting in the Truth is intended to produce that patience. Paul expressed the same principle when writing to the Romans: “Hope that is seen is not hope, but if we hope for that we see not then do we with patience wait for it.” We are on probation, designedly so. We are in need of time to work out characters. It is in our highest spiritual interest that we should have a season of trial in which to wait for God, to trust Him, to seek Him with the whole heart, under the sweet and purifying influence of hope blended with sorrow, and that is why in God’s wisdom it is that now we should wait upon the Lord. “Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart.” “Wait” says the Psalmist in another Psalm, “Wait, I say, on the Lord.” But in what spirit? In the spirit of confidence. V.5: “Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass.” There is no question about it, it is certain. V.23: “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord; and he delighteth in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; for the Lord upholdeth him with his hand.” David could say that. He recognised that all his experiences were over-ruled, that in the final sense nothing could go wrong with God at his right hand, notwithstanding all his vicissitudes and afflictions, and David will yet see his Son ruling in glory on his restored throne. That is all that matters in the end, and this is the perspective we must acquire and retain.
It is a wonderful thing to be called to this position. What is there in life apart from this, worth waiting for. The world today waits with uncertainty, anxiety, apprehension, and despair for its coming doom in destruction—at any rate it fears it. There is no satisfaction in the real sense for any. The hopes of youth give place to the disappointments of old age whether we like it or not. The most favoured life, humanly considered, must sustain its losses, bereavements, frustrations and failures, and in the end it waits only for death. That prospect surely is enough to make one faint. But our hope is that expressed in the Psalm; this is the spirit in which we wait. V.37: “Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright; for the end of that man is peace.” V.39: “But the salvation of the righteous is of the Lord; he is their strength in the time of trouble. And the Lord shall help them, and deliver them; he shall deliver them from the wicked, and save them, because they trust in him.” There is nothing vain, or empty, or hopeless, or despairing, or disappointing, about this waiting. It is full of promise and blessing, both for the life that now is, and for that which is to come. What a privileged invitation it is to put our trust in the “Presiding Genius of the Universe,” in the words of Bro. Roberts; in him who changes not, who doeth all things well, who is a sun and a shield to those that trust him, from whom He will withhold no good thing. Wait on Him—yet it calls for faith and patience. That implies that we may not always understand. We have said that there are problems which vex the righteous, but we must expect it. “He giveth not account of any of His matters” we read in Job, and if He had there would be no room for faith. We must trust where we cannot trace the divine hand in our lives. Many of the commandments are designed to teach us that we must wait upon God in faith and obedience. We are commanded for instance, to resist not evil, to avenge not ourselves, because it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord.” We are to wait upon God for the day of vindication, not to take the law into our own hands and secure our rights now.
Now it is written, “In the way of thy judgments have we waited for thee.” Judgments, that is a word which means laws and commandments. What have we been commanded to do? To read and study His holy Word, to give ourselves to prayer, to forsake not the assembling of ourselves together, to minister to the sick, to preach the Word, to be of one mind, to love as brethren, to be pitiful, courteous, holy and humble. Only those who manifest that disposition can truthfully say, “In the way of thy judgments have we waited for thee.” This Psalm gives a wonderful picture of a righteous man. V.30: “The mouth of the righteous speaketh wisdom, and his tongue talketh of judgment. The law of his God is in his heart; none of his steps shall slide.”
That is the lesson then, exhibited in all its perfection in the case of our dear Lord, whom we now remember. He waited upon God. If ever a man had reason to fret because of evildoers, surely it was our Lord himself. We can see his sufferings in this Psalm. “The wicked plotteth against the just.” We think of Judas, the Pharisees, the scribes and lawyers, plotting against Jesus, when he was in the garden of Gethsemane. Gnashing upon him with their teeth even when he was at the very extremity of his life. The floodgates of human wickedness and depravity and cruelty were opened upon him, but he trusted in the Lord and he waited. And his waiting was fully justified and rewarded; he could say with the Psalmist: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” That is our hope, to be with Christ in the day of glory when the meek shall inherit the earth, and delight themselves in the abundance of peace; as our Psalm says, they shall dwell in the land for evermore and they will recognise that their salvation is of the Lord. Surely then we should wait in hope. Some of us have been waiting for many years but the promise will be fulfilled, our waiting will be justified. It is written: “Since the beginning of the world, men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, 0 God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him.” Our greatest longings, our most noble aspirations, will then be realised when these things are manifest in the earth. But meanwhile, “It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of God.”
That is what we have to learn; so let us wait for it in faith and hope and patience, in daily service and sacrifice. And may we all be among those faithful children of God who will attain to these glorious things, and unite their voices in one glorious ascription of praise: “Lo, this is our Elohim, our Mighty One; we have waited for Him; we will be glad, and rejoice iii His salvation.”
—H. T. Atkinson.