We were in a very ably presented Bible Study yesterday morning. It was interesting to be there and provoked my thoughts a good deal. Then today I was involved in some conversation and questions around the topic considered at that Study where everything had revolved around Psalm One. As we know, that song introduces the five books of Psalms which some call the “Christian’s Songbook” or a title very similar. I would think it wiser to call it the “Hebrew Songbook” because it reflects the Old Testament throughout rather than the New. The Psalms are much more the Jewish songbook than that of the Christian. Although there are scores of allusions to the coming Messiah in the Psalms there are none that begin like that famous hymn written by Charles Wesley,
My heart is full of Christ and longs
Its glorious matter to declare!
Of Him I make my loftier song,
I cannot from His praise forebear:
My ready tongue makes haste to sing
The glories of my heavenly King.
Isn’t that a wonderful way to start a song? To have a heart “full of Christ!” We should be singing such songs in our churches, written by those who have such a testimony! Incidentally, those familiar with that hymn will know that it is, in fact, based upon Psalm forty-five! Christ is embedded there in that beautiful psalm, hidden, as He is in all the Old Testament but when we come into the New He is made plain. He has come. The Word made flesh indeed! If we develop our consideration of differences between the Old and the New we are immediately faced with some things to ponder in Psalm one as it presents us with two men. They are contrasted vividly in the poem.
These are representative men, one is ungodly, and on four occasions he is called ‘wicked’ in the ESV translation. The other man is very different and is among “the congregation of the righteous.” There is no middle ground, no, ‘grey’ man, the path of the first is fundamentally different from that of the second. This theme of two men so radically opposite to one another is continued throughout the psalms. But let me return to my remark about whether we should rightly call it “the Christian Songbook.” Observe the order of the words describing the posture of the Old Testament godly man, he (a) walks, (b) stands and (c) sits. Then contrast Paul the apostle in his description of the New Testament Christian, is it by chance that he inverts the words beginning with sit (Ephesians 2:6), then mentions walk (Ephesians 2:10) and concludes his letter with the word stand (Ephesians 6:14)?
If you read the Ephesian letter carefully you are sure to notice that Paul does use the word ‘walk’ earlier but in reference to the way we all used to “walk in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:2). When it comes to man made new through the gracious salvation the Father worked for us in His Son, it all begins with being “raised us up together with Him and seated us with Him in heavenly places” (Ephesians 2:6). Perhaps, a well-known verse to many of us but, have we really embraced what it means and do we ‘walk’ as those who live seated with Him? In the new, everything begins with sitting; walking and standing develop from rest. Indeed, we must say that, all service for the Lord emerges from the heart and life of those resting in Christ, all He is and all that He has accomplished. Just take a look at the number of times Paul continues with the theme of walking.
God has prepared beforehand good works that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10). We are to walk in humility and gentleness with patience bearing with one another in love (Ephesians 4:1-3). There is no room to continue to walk as we used to (Ephesians 4:17) but to walk in love as Christ loved us (Ephesians 5:2), walking as children of light and not darkness, discerning what is pleasing to the Lord (Ephesians 5:9) and walking wisely by maintaining our relationship with the Spirit, being filled with what He is full of (Ephesians 5:15-21). There is plenty of food for thought here, the walking flows from the sitting with Christ and we will be enabled to stand against the wiles of the enemy as we walk.
It is more than forty years ago that I read, “Sit, Walk, Stand” which had been edited by Angus Kinnear. He had taken notes when Watchman Nee had preached a series of sermons based on the Ephesian letter back in the 1930’s and they became a little book. Those three words, in that order, encapsulate the Christian life. But, someone, reading this far might ask, “So, why are you making such a big issue out of the word order?” I reply by asking, “How many folk in the churches are striving, walking, attempting to stand and know very little of the rest in Christ from which all springs?” Again and again, as we reflect on the confusions that seem to plague so many who sincerely drive themselves to live for Christ and do the will of God can we trace those difficulties to an inadequate understanding of the difference between the Old and the New Covenants? If we come back to the godly man of Psalm One we cannot fail to note that he meditates, he is a man who takes time to ponder and muse and it is the constant stance of his heart day and night.
However, upon what does he ponder so devotedly? The answer is plain, “his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:3). Beautiful words, challenging words, expressive words! I think of the man who wrote them and wonder where he would lay the stress if we heard him recite his poem. By the days of Jesus the emphasis would have been on the word ‘law’ as far as many of the teachers and Pharisees were concerned. Torah (the Hebrew word for law) to them, and strict observance of it, was the order of every daily detail to the devotee; the Lord had been eclipsed by His law! However, I am certain that if it was David who wrote Psalm one he would have laid the stress on the word ‘Lord’. Remember other occasions where love and the law are mentioned, in particular Psalm 119. “I love Your law” (Psalm 119:113), “Your testimonies are wonderful” (Psalm 119:129), “how sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth” (Psalm 119:113).
These are not the poetic expressions of a legalist but of a lover! We may conclude that in the Old Testament, those described as ‘the remnant’ were first of all lovers of the Lord and from that profound affection for Him sprung obedience to His law. HE was foremost and not conformity to a code. Have you noticed in Psalm one that the word ‘Lord’ is in the upper case? It reads ‘LORD’ and that means “Yahweh”, the God of covenant relationship. The Living One Who told Moses “I am that I am” and this is My Name. An amazing Name, a play on the Hebrew verb to be (Exodus 3:14) and upon the law of the Great I AM the godly man meditates day and night. Remember, the law of the Lord is an expression in words of the nature and character of our God! Oh the warm realities and refreshments that must have come to those godly of the Old Testament days that pondered upon the law of Yahweh! Alas, alas when the emphasis subtly and gradually altered and it became a code, the torah, and a set of rules to be slavishly obeyed. The godly man meditates, delighting in the law of THE LORD. Now fast forward to that part of the Bible we call the New Testament.
Probably you have noticed that it does not begin with the word ‘law’ any more than the Old Testament begins with that word. The Old says “In the beginning God,” we all know that, everything begins with the Being of God not a code of behavior, not an ‘it.’ The New Testament introduces its subject by saying “the Book of the generation of Jesus Christ” (Matthew 1:1). It is not the story of a code of belief and a set of doctrines, something to be strived after and obeyed, all concerns the generation of Jesus Christ. There is a tremendous progression here, transformation is not accomplished by meditation, even meditation in the law of the Lord, precious as that is, but we are to “Behold the Lamb of God”.
John the Baptist directed his hearers to set their eyes on Jesus and that word has never been rescinded. God so loved the world and gave His Son, not a book. Thank God He gave us the Book but that Book is about His Son, look away to Him! The New Testament is filled with Christ and longs its glorious matter to declare! Of Him its writers speak and bid us look unto Jesus and be saved. It does not instruct us to do more Bible reading, to pray more, to serve more diligently but to see Jesus. He Himself tells the weary and heavy-laden “Come unto Me” (Matthew 11:28). Do not be misled; to obey that word and come to Him is harder than you think. Yes, it ought to be easy, but we are so geared and orientated toward a regime of devotions and service, personal prayer times and Bible readings that we are nonplussed at the simplicity of what Jesus said. Probably, we will discover, if we are honest about ourselves that to come unto Jesus is just about the last thing we will do. We will do more reading, try this counselor, endeavor to pray more, attend more meetings, get down on our knees, strive in a multitude of ways and only when we are at the end of our tether will we come and sit at His feet and look at Him.
Transformed lives are the outcome of “beholding the glory of the Lord,” so Paul the apostle tells us (2 Corinthians 3:18) and he tells us this in the context of a discussion about the Jews who are yet diligent readers of the letter of scripture (2 Corinthians 3:14)! True, it involves an unveiling, a removal of the masks of every kind, a nakedness of the soul before Him. Sometimes I have wondered if, in its zeal for the restoration of the Bible to a place of prominence the Reformers became unduly wary of the place of contemplation of Jesus in the quiet place. Looking at and considering Him became replaced by faithfully getting our daily Bible portion read. Sitting in the Sabbath rest of His love became a reality almost unknown and busy Christian service took its place. In truth, it is quite impossible to truly rest in His love and become idle. The fire burns in His presence, the burdens of His holy love He shares with those who sit with Him and they shall walk in His ways (which include serving Him) and having done all shall continue to stand in the midst of the torrents of doubt and unbelief that surge around about.
This shift from Old to New is to be found in every place. Take the two kinds of men we see in John’s first epistle. He contrasts the wicked with the godly only there John writes of a man who abides in family fellowship with the Father and the Son. The whole atmosphere is ‘home’. Sons with their Father are the heart of it all. Discipleship and the language of disciple and teacher/master drops out of use in the New Testament. True it is an ever-present theme in the gospels and to be found in the early chapters of the Acts, but it drops out of use and is virtually absent in the epistles. Why is that? Something better has come, a better covenant, brought to us by a better Mediator, even Jesus. Moses was a servant but Jesus is the Son (Hebrews 3:5). Discipleship language and all it defines is included and engulfed in a greater relationship, sons with their Father in His family and His work is where we are and what we are about! Home with God the Son and with His Father is where we belong. We have right of entry there, to sit down with Him and look upon His face going about our Father’s business joyously at His command. There are no lazy sons of God sunning themselves in paradise, it is impossible to rest in Him and be inactive, service, though hard at times shall be sweet and the desire to please our Father in heaven will be paramount.