by Rev. Maurice Roberts
What we have here is the Psalmist talking about an experience which he had in the course of his life. We know that man is made of two parts; there is body and soul. In that respect we are different from animals which have body but not soul. The distinguishing thing about human beings is that they not only have a body but a soul.
- "When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long.
- For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer. Selah.
- I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the LORD; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Selah."
The body is very wonderfully made. Anyone who looks at the wonderful shape of the human skeleton and then studies the muscles, the nervous system, the circulatory blood system then all the other wonderful aspects of the body, would have to say that it is marvellously made. Indeed, as the Bible says,
The soul is still more wonderfully made. The soul, like the body, has experiences. We are familiar with experiences of the body. I suppose most of us have at some time or another suffered real pain, either because you have accidentally scalded yourself with boiling water or you have put your hand on a hot bar; the body immediately screams as it were. You are in an agony of pain. Not only can the body suffer pain but the soul also suffers pain and that is what the Psalmist here is talking about. This is not an experience of the body but of the soul - that invisible spiritual part of man that dwells in the body. My interest and concern tonight is to explain to you what this experience is and why he has it. Let me give you my headings and then you will see where we are going to go.
- "I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well."
1. What This Experience Is
2. The Reasons Why He Has It
3. The Way He Got Relief And Healing From It
In those three headings I hope to cover some aspects of what he is talking about when he tells us:
- "When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long."
1. WHAT THIS EXPERIENCE IS
We begin then by looking at what this experience is. The way to understand the experience is to understand a principle of interpretation. We must begin by recognising that he speaks about his experience in the soul by referring to its effects upon his body. It wasn't physical sickness - it wasn't some disease that he had - it was some inner experience of his heart. What he does here is that he describes the experiences of his soul in terms of what we all can recognise in the experiences of our body: notice he speaks for instance about his bones. Therefore, that is the way to understand it; it is a spiritual experience. Having said that, I draw your attention to the fact that he describes this spiritual experience in three ways, or, if you like, by three different illustrations. I would like you to notice what these are.
(i) HIS BONES
In verse three, he first of all says, "When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long." The first reference therefore is to his bones. As I say it's not a physical but a spiritual thing, so what he means is this: he was in great pain in his heart and in his soul. He had tremendous pain inwardly and that's why he describes his bones. It's not as serious to have a little pain on your skin, as it is to have a pain in your bone. If it's superficial on the skin, you know you have to be patient for a few days and the pain will naturally die down. You can put a little ointment on the skin and after a week or two it will die down and be more tolerable. When the pain, however, is in the bones then it is much more serious. The Psalmist is talking here about a deep, inward pain in his soul - an agony of soul - similar to the agony that a man has when he has broken a bone, either by an accident or by some other means. He has fallen down and broken his arm or leg; the pain is intense. That is the kind of degree of agony that he feels here.
(ii) GOD'S HAND
That is not the only thing he uses by way of illustration. You notice at verse four he puts it another way:
God's hand, he says, was pressing on him. This again, is an illustration. God does not have literal hands, of course. God is a spirit, everywhere present. He is using an expression which means that God was dealing with him: God was doing something to him which gave him this pain. God was deliberately bringing pressure to bear upon his soul. This was something that the Lord was sending into his life - into his experience - and it was very hard for him to bear. You know God does send difficult experiences into our lives and here is an example of it. People, my friends, all around us are in all sorts of mental agony and anguish, far more than we might realise.
- "For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me.."
Just to take a very simple way of bringing that to your attention, let me tell you about Japan. Japan is a very wealthy, prosperous nation, probably the most prosperous nation in the world apart from America. Yet, in Japan, I was reading just the other day, round about one hundred people commit suicide every day. People don't commit suicide without being in an agony of despair. Nobody would lay hands on himself except when he was at his wits' end. The Psalmist here is indicating here that he is at his wits' end. God was, as it were, pressing down upon him. God was leaning upon him. He was conscious of this oppressive pressure upon his soul. That's the second way in which he puts it.
(iii) SOUL PARCHED
Then there is a third way in verse four at the end.
That is a different illustration. He is here referring to the hot summers in Palestine. We don't get such hot summers in the north of Britain. We get warm days and one or two hot days but in Palestine they get tremendous heat in the summer. In the hot days their water evaporates; the streams dry up into just a trickle and sometimes even the trickle dries up. Hardly anything will grow unless artificially irrigated. He is describing that as an illustration of how he felt. His soul was dried up. He was without any sense of blessing. His soul was parched, thirsty and arid like the Sahara Desert. He is describing his experience then in that way: his soul was in real trouble.
- "..my moisture is turned into the drought of summer. Selah."
A SHALLOW GENERATION
My friends, has your soul ever been in any kind of trouble? The trouble with our generation is that we are not conscious of this sort of experience. We are a very shallow generation. There are exceptions and some of them are right here in front of me. I know that. However, by and large, people don't have any kind of religious experience anymore. Who sheds tears any more in connection with God and His Gospel? Who feels anything profoundly any more? This Psalmist tells us that it is part of religious experience to have these feelings, often very painful feelings, as though a man's bones were broken; as though God were pressing down upon his head; as though it was the summer time in the desert when there was no fresh water - nothing would grow. That is the way he portrays, describes and illustrates his experience. It may very well be for all I know, that somebody came to church tonight very much at their wits' end. You very much wonder to yourself, "Where am I to turn to? What am I to do? Who can understand me? Who knows the tears I have shed in bed at night when there is no eye to see? Who understands the sighs and the groans of my soul?" There may be one or more here who feels like that. If you do, my friend, I say to you, you are only experiencing what many in the Word of God have experienced - and David, right here, is one of them.
CONVICTION OF SIN
I come now to look at the question, "What is he talking about? What is this experience?" Is it that he's got some kind of fever? Has he caught leprosy? Is this malaria? Is it a fever you catch in middle-eastern countries that dries up your spirit? No, no it is nothing to do with that. It is not a physical or bodily illness, at all. As I said at the beginning, it is a spiritual experience; it is something of the soul. Therefore, I must explain to you in plain language what it is. It is what we refer to as 'a sense of guilt in the presence of God'. A sense of guilt; how do I know? Look with me at these verses. Look at verse one. "Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven"; you see he is talking about sin. The end of verse one - "Whose sin is covered." Look at verse two: "Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile." Look at verse five: "I acknowledge my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin." We are now clear as to what this experience was. It was what we call 'conviction of sin'. It was the realisation that he had offended God and all these troubles registered in his mind and in his thinking and in his consciousness; they were things that he felt because he had sinned against God.
Somebody may say to me, "I feel sorry for that poor man who had to write these words. Whether it was David or somebody else, I feel sorry for him. I know nothing of that. I have lived all these years and I haven't the slightest acquaintance with that. I don't know what he is talking about. I understand what you mean in your sermon but I have never had that experience, nor would I want it." My friend let me just remind you: you have either got to have that experience in this life or else you will experience it eternally in the life to come. You either know something of this now and have the problem dealt with now in this life, or else, solemn thought, you must spend eternity going through this very experience in the world where there is no relief, where there is no medicine, where there is no possibility of having it cured or put right or alleviated in any way.
Before we think of this poor man David as being some religious crank who had a phenomenal experience which only a few strange folk have, let me point out again that we must either have some of that here and now in this present life where it is possible to have it dealt with and forgiven, or else we are to have it eternally. This is what the Lord Jesus Christ probably refers to when He speaks about the punishment of the wicked after death and He says, "Their worm shall never die." The worm is this conviction of sin - this terrible burning, inward sensation, which arises from a sense of guilt. You know what happens when you feel guilt; we've all felt it, you have and I have. I remember once years ago saying something that wasn't true. It came to my lips in the spur of the moment. I suppose I didn't mean to say what I said but I said what was not true. My conscience immediately told me I had said something that was not true. I felt the colour rising into my face; it must have been visible to everybody there. We have all had a similar experience. It is a shameful, sinful thing which I was ashamed of then and afterwards. We have all had something like it.
In another world, if this problem is not dealt with now, in this life, it will follow us to the next life into a condition in which we will have it irremediably and forever, where there is no solution, no medicine, no cure, no alleviation, no relief. So it is that David describes this painful experience. It was as though his bones were broken, as though God's hand was pressing down upon him, as though his soul was parched and dried up. That then is the experience. I have defined it and I hope I have described it in a way that you understand. We call it by the name 'conviction of sin': a sense of the evil of sin, a feeling of guilt before God.
2. THE REASONS WHY HE HAS IT
I come now secondly to this heading, "What are the reasons why this man has this experience?" It arises from five things and I want to briefly explain what they are. The reason why anyone has this experience is related to five different factors at work in the lives of men and women.
(i) THE CHARACTER of GOD
The first one is this: - the character of God. It is because God is holy and perfectly holy, that He is infinitely holy and spotlessly pure. That is the first reason why any man should have such an experience as this. If God were like us, if God were like the world, then no man would have this experience. It is only when men realise the character of God - His perfection, that He demands perfection in us - it is only then we begin to have a sense of the guilt of which the Psalmist here is speaking. Whenever we get a glimpse into the holiness of God we have at least a little of this feeling. We have this many times set before us in the Bible. Think for instance of Isaiah. When the prophet Isaiah saw the holiness of God and the glory of God in chapter six of his prophecy, then what do we hear next? He falls down upon his face and he says this:
That then is the first reason why anyone will have this experience of conviction of sin. It arises from some apprehension of the character of God as infinitely holy.
- "Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts."
(ii) A KNOWLEDGE of OURSELVES
The second of these five factors is this: a knowledge of ourselves. We see ourselves in the light of God and by contrast with God. Holiness is like light, indeed it is like a searchlight: it searches all the inward parts of a man's life. The holiness of God penetrates - it's like an x-ray. You know very well in an x-ray is an unusual kind of light: it can penetrate through walls, skin - you can see the skeleton on the x-ray plate but you don't see the skin. The x-ray penetrates the skin and the muscle and shows you the bone and other things. So it is with the holiness of God; it penetrates into the heart and into the soul and into the innermost parts of a man's mind and thought. When that happens we begin to see the difference between almighty God and ourselves. That is why I read from the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 16: the Philippian jailer, a well-known passage.
Why did he suddenly spring in trembling and ask,
The answer is exactly as we have it in this Psalm. It was because for the first time in his life he saw himself in the light of the being and character of God. We may not be able to explain entirely how it was that he saw this but he must have seen it through circumstances; he heard these apostles singing and he saw their spiritual mind and their holy character. In their holy character, he saw something of the irradiated glory of God; he saw himself in contrast to this. He saw how filthy his life was compared with theirs; they lived for God, he lived for himself. In the light of that, he was undone and he wanted to know the solution to his problem: "What must I do to be saved?" therefore, he cried.
- "And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"
(iii) THE NATURE OF SIN
The third factor in this is the nature of sin. The nature of sin! When we see the character of God as holy then we begin to know ourselves and sin is peculiar in this way: it is the one and only thing that God hates. He hates nothing but only sin: this is the one thing that God hates. When we are awakened and aroused to see our own lives in contrast with God's life, then this is the thing that troubles us. It is not that we are rich or that we are poor; it is not that we are educated or uneducated; it is not that we are from the east or from the west or because our skin is white or black - the thing that troubles us when we see the glory of God is that our hearts are filled with sin. That is the problem which David faces here. I have proved it to you, verse one, verse two and verse five. A continual reference to sin, transgression and guiltiness - and he felt it.
The fourth factor is this: - His conscience. Conscience is a God-given faculty within the soul, which sounds an alarm bell when we feel we have sinned against God. Conscience is something we cannot control; we can to a certain extent try to silence it, but not entirely. Even hardened criminals have on occasion been known to give themselves up to the police because they cannot face their consciences any more. They confess, "It was I who did this crime." "It was I who killed this man." "It was I who stole this money." They can't live with their conscience any more. Conscience doth make cowards of us all and it is the conscience therefore, of David in this Psalm, that causes him to have this experience of his bones broken and his soul like a dried up wilderness and the sense of God's hand pressurising him.
(v) THE WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
The fifth factor here is the gracious work of the Holy Spirit. In hell there isn't this work of the Holy Spirit. In hell, a man is left to himself and to his terror forever; that's why the worm never dies. People are left to themselves after death when they are not saved, when they are not converted, when they have no Saviour. When they don't know Christ they are left to themselves forever and the worm of conscience never dies. In this life, thank God, it is not like that. There is in this life a gracious work of the Holy Spirit. His wonderful ministry of grace is to bring our sins to our consciousness and bring them to our felt experience: not with a view to giving us all a nervous breakdown - not at all - but with a view to delivering us from our self-confidence in order to bring us to an end of our self-righteousness - in order to make us realise our true need and therefore to urge us and to press us to seek mercy from God - which as you notice here, he soon begins to do.
This experience is something which is very real in the case of those who have it. In case anyone thinks this is an easy experience to have, I point out to you the word that David uses here. What does he say about it? He says this in verse three,
Roaring! He was roaring. You know what it is to roar. It means to shout out, to call out. A person roars with pain, or they roar with anxieties, they call out.
- "When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long."
Perhaps you have heard of the name of Billy Bray, the famous Cornishman. When he had this experience in the 19th century, that wonderful man as he became, literally went about roaring. He was under this sense of the displeasure of God upon his soul, upon his life. He literally roared as he walked about. His wife said to him, "Husband, why are you roaring?" He said, "It's this burden upon my back, wife and I shall go on roaring until I get rid of this burden on my back." He meant, of course, his sense of guilt, his sense of sin, his sense of having offended God. He was seeking the Lord at that time and in that way. He was crying out for grace, mercy, and forgiveness.
It was exactly the same as the pilgrim in Pilgrim's Progress. He had precisely the same experience of roaring and trouble when his wife said to him, "Husband, what is the matter with you; you are sweating and you have gone off your food and you will not sleep?" You remember what the pilgrim said in Pilgrim's Progress. He said, "Wife, I've got this burden on my back; we're living in a city which is doomed to be destroyed at any time (meaning the whole world)." When his wife and children sought to persuade him that he was only sick and needed rest and tried to bring him back, you recall he put his fingers in his ears. He called out, "Life, life, eternal life!" and he went on his pilgrimage to the heavenly city. That is the experience that is being referred to here.
The apostle Paul had the same experience, precisely. He refers to it when he writes his epistle to the Romans in chapter 7, verse nine:
In other words, he is describing how it was that he saw his own righteousness to be nothing more than a tissue of filthiness and a handful of filthy rags. When he saw that, he cried out.
- "For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died."
Some of you know the story of the Highland kitchen maid. It took place very close to Inverness. You know that the girl was working in the Inn. When the minister - Hector MacPhail, at the Inn on his way to Edinburgh - took family worship; there was a girl who wasn't present. He wanted to know where she was. This girl slept in a sort of cupboard under the staircase. He wanted to see her. When he saw her he said words like these: "I am going to make a promise to you. If you keep the promise, when I come back I'll give you a gift." She said, "What is the promise, Sir?" He said, "If you pray this prayer I'll bring you a gift when I come back." The prayer had to be, "Lord, show me myself!" When he went to Edinburgh and came back to give her the gift, she was just weeping day upon day. The reason was that she was in the same condition as David was here in this Psalm. God was bringing His pressure to bear upon her soul - what we call 'conviction of sin'. She realised she was lost and she was needing a Saviour. She didn't know how to find one. She didn't know the whole Gospel but she knew that much.
The same is true of Muckle Kate from Lochcarron; another very famous story. When Lachlan MacKenzie the minister, taught his young people to sing the song in which all her sins were rehearsed, she heard them round about her cottage singing all about her sins and she came under this terrific conviction and she wept and wept and wept until she went blind. The old lady literally went blind under a sense of the guiltiness of her sins and because she wept and wept in repentance for her guiltiness. You may think of many other experiences of men and women: we have it in the Bible, we have it in the biographies. This is the gate that leads to heaven; it is the 'wicket' gate, the 'narrow' gate that leads to life. This is the way whereby God brings a man or a woman to an end of themselves and a realisation that they are lost: that they are undone; that they are under the wrath and curse of God. This then is the experience and these are the reasons why God gives this experience to people. He doesn't do it out of hatred; He does it because we need to be stopped in our tracks. We need to confront Him and the character of His holiness. We need to know ourselves and our true condition.
Therefore, my very dear friends who are here this evening, allow me to ask you personally, "Have you ever known anything of this experience?" I know there are Christian people here and they have had it, more or less, at one time or another. It is indeed a painful experience but it is what brings us to an end of ourselves. It is the path that leads to Christ and to glory and to heaven. I ask you therefore, if you've never known anything of this experience then allow me, my dear friends, as a minister of the Gospel to give you a prayer to pray. Say to God continually, "Oh Lord, show me myself. Oh, that I might know myself." However painful this experience proves to be, it will do you no harm; it will be the means whereby you will find the greatest pleasure and treasure that any a man can ever find. It is the field in which we find the treasure which cannot be numbered. It is the journey in which you find the pearl of great price. It is the way to Zion, the way to heaven. Don't you remember how Jeremiah puts it when he describes how converts begin their journey to heaven? They shall go to Zion with weeping and with tears and they do so because they realise their lost condition. Until men and women realise they are lost they have no use for Christ.
Don't you listen to any minister who pressurises you to become a member of a church until you are ready for it. Don't you listen to any preacher who tells you, "You should all become members next week." Don't listen to them for that is destroying your soul, that is undoing you for eternity. No man should become a member of a church until he knows at least a little of this experience. He must know at least enough of this experience to realise that he is unfit for heaven in his present condition and he longs to be quit of his sin and he longs to be clothed in the righteousness which only God in Christ can provide. Therefore, I say in the second place, these are the reasons for the experience.
3. THE WAY HE GOT RELIEF AND HEALING FROM IT
What is the way to get relief and healing from this soul sickness? What is the way out of this problem? How can a man or woman get relief from this problem? If you have never had the experience and you think that this doesn't refer to you, my dearly beloved, lay up this knowledge now in your memory because for all that you know, you may need it, and need it sooner than you think. This may be the information that will be of great value to you when God perchance in His grace begins to bring this same experience into your life. What are you to do? A negative first: what you are not to do is to fight against it; that is what many do. You are not to fight against it. You are not to think that this is just some condition of the body. No, no this is a condition of the soul. It doesn't need medicine of a human kind, it needs medicine from heaven and it needs Gospel medicine. Its only proper cure is the grace of God in the Gospel.
I say the true method of relief is this: - He tells us himself, if you notice in verse five, " I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Selah" (text). Verse five is the answer. Notice how different it is from verse three. ""When I kept silence, my bones waxed old." You see the difference? He kept silence, he said, at first. When this experience came upon him of a sense of sin and of guilt, he didn't want to acknowledge that he was guilty before God: he kept silent. That is to say, he wouldn't admit that he was wrong. That is the way many people are. They don't like this kind of talk. They wouldn't allow me on the BBC to say the things that I'm saying to you now because they would say, "That's going to upset the hearers. It's not user-friendly talk." My friends, the Bible wasn't given to be user-friendly, it was given to take us to heaven. Some of the experiences on the way to heaven are painful ones like this one. Conversion, in many ways, can be a very painful experience because it is like a man being driven through a hedge and taken into another domain entirely from the domain of this world, which he was used to before.
Therefore, the true way to get relief is that we must go on our own to God upon our knees and we must confess our sins. Here is the great secret of entering the Kingdom of God; it is confessing our sin freely as we see it said here in verse five. In verse three he wouldn't do that; he needed to be dealt with still more strongly. He was resisting this conviction of sin at first. He didn't want to admit he was guilty. He didn't want to say that he had sinned against God. That is the condition of many. Eventually he was brought to the point in which he could resist no longer.
O my dear friends, if you want this peace with God, if you want this sense of forgiveness, go into your room and tell God all about your life. Talk to God about your life: how wrong you have been; how rebellious you have been; how you have fought against conviction of sin; how unwilling you have been to give your life to God. Tell Him! Admit it all and ask for mercy. I can give you this promise from the Bible, that:
1st John 1:9
- "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
David found it; the question is, "Will you?"
- "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy."