Online Text Sermon - Led by a Right Way, Psalm 107 v.7
|Preacher||Rev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness|
|Sermon Title||Led by a Right Way|
|Text||Psalm 107 v.7 |
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"And he led them forth by the right way, that they might go to a city of habitation" (Psalm 107, 7).
There is no doubt that this text refers to a journey. The language of the text is very evidently that of travelling. Someone is doing the leading and others are doing the following - they are on a journey. The questions confronting us in this text are: What is this journey? Who are these people? Who is leading them? To where are they travelling? In answer to the questions as to who they are and what their journey, we might well suppose it is a reference to Israel as they went from Egypt to the promised land of Canaan. After all, God had promised the Israelites that He would take them out of bondage into a city, nation and country flowing, as He said, with milk and honey. However, it is very clear on second thoughts that this cannot be the journey, nor this the people that are referred to in this Psalm and in this verse. Why not? Because we are told explicitly in verse three that He "gathered them out of the lands, from the east, and from the west, from the north, and from the south". Therefore, it is not a reference here to Egypt, nor to the journey through the desert, nor to that destination of the promised land of Canaan. Many Psalms allude to this journey but not this one specially.
A second possibility which faces us as we look at the meaning of this text is to consider that it may refer to the journey made by the Jews when they returned from their captivity in Babylon. The later parts of the prophecies of the Old Testament and books like Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther, refer explicitly to the time when the seventy years of exile for the Jewish people were over. Many thousands of the Jewish nation returned from Babylon and came back into their own land. They rebuilt Jerusalem as we see, for instance, in the book of Nehemiah. Is this then the reference which we have in verse seven, where we are told - "he led them forth by the right way, that they might go to a city of habitation," (text)? I don't think so because it is a reference in this Psalm to wandering in the wilderness, finding no city to dwell in and, indeed, gathering them out of the lands; not simply from Babylon but gathering the people from various lands of the north, south, east and west. The objection, which we looked at a moment ago to the interpretation of this being the land of Egypt, also holds good in reference to the land of Babylon. No, there is no special reference here to the exile or the return from exile.
We are, therefore, compelled to believe that the only just and true interpretation of these words is in God's gathering His elect people out of all the nations in the world: God's call, God's summons to those whose names are in the Lamb's Book of Life. He is gathering them from the lands - from the east, from the west, from the north and from the south. We find ourselves here, if we are among the people of God. The Holy Spirit may very well have made a passing allusion here to what happened in Old Testament times; however, the main point of the verse is to look forward to the end of the world: a time when all the elect of God - from north, south, east and west - will be gathered and will come to a city of habitation. We haven't all got there, even yet. Many of them have reached that heavenly place but many have not - and we, here, have not. The reference, therefore, in this verse seven, to being "led forth by the right way" and coming to "a city of habitation", exactly corresponds to the journey the Christian takes through this world and through this life until the Christian comes to heaven itself. It corresponds, therefore, with John Bunyan's famous book in which the Christian made his pilgrimage from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. Isn't it amazing that all those many centuries before Christ came, the inspired oracles of God refer to what is true today, quite literally, all over the world - that God is calling to His people, calling them out; He is calling them by name and leading them to this city referred to here? "And he led them forth by the right way, that they might go to a city of habitation" (text).
Let us look at three things in this text.
1. THE GUIDE - He led them forth
2. THE JOURNEY -They went by a right way
3. THE DESTINATION - They come to the city of habitation
1. THE GUIDE - He led them forth
The Guide is God Himself. He doesn't entrust this work entirely even to angels. God has many whom He summons in this life to help His people along. Angels are their guardians. Ministers and preachers do a little for them. Churches do something for the people of God in this world. However, the Guide, ultimately, is only and always God. It is He Who is referred to here. We mustn't therefore make too much of any creature. Even supposing the Archangel Gabriel himself, were suddenly to come down from heaven and stand here - we would not be able to make too much of him. We mustn't make too much of sermons or ministers or presbyteries or books or anything else. What really matters is that God is guiding His people on through this world. Great men have recognised this and have enshrined this thought in their famous writings. The great Welshman William Williams, in his language but translated into ours, wrote these famous words - "Guide me, O thou great Jehovah, Pilgrim through this barren land." That is precisely the thought which is here in this text: God is the Guide of His people.
Friends, He is very well qualified to this task. He is all-wise and He knows the difficulties, problems and enemies which we are to encounter on the way. Reference is made to these things in this very section: "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" (v.7-8). He redeemed them from the hand of the enemy. We are reassured here, therefore, that the Lord your God Who is guiding you through this world, is a God of perfect wisdom: He knows the journey and He knows the way; He is most wise.
I need hardly say to you Christian friends that you do not know the way to heaven. If you and I were left to ourselves to find our way to heaven, we would be undone indeed. I do not know the way in any detail any more than you do. The Lord, however, does. In every journey and every step of the journey which we are taking towards the heavenly city, we are reassured that infinite wisdom, infinite skill and eternal knowledge is with us.
Not only that, but the God Who is our guide is all powerful. It is impossible for any of His enemies to stand up and defy His will or to frustrate His purpose. Do you remember how it was when God called Abraham in Genesis 12? He called to him and said, "Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation" (Genesis 12, 1-2) - "and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed" (Genesis 12, 3). That is how the Lord calls all His people. He speaks to them secretly and silently in their own heart, mind and conscience. He draws them sweetly to Himself, out of this world and they go on pilgrimage. You will notice that Abraham went through many troubles and trials, even to the extent on one occasion in which a heathen king took away his wife. But God was with Abraham and God defended Abraham, restoring to him his wife and his possessions. God allowed no true harm to come upon him.
This Guide, I have to point out to you, as well as being wise, knowledgeable and powerful, is omni-present. That is to say He is present everywhere all the time. You and I are but a speck of dust, but the God Who leads His people leads every one of them and is equally present with them wheresoever they are at any one time. This is the great wonder about God - you cannot say about God that He is in one place but not another. His presence and essence fill heaven and earth. He is all-present to all His people so that He is a Companion to every one of them. His ability is such that He can hear all the prayers of all His children all the time. They ascend to Him, all very different one from another, yet He knows what each one needs. His wonderful omni-presence assures us that He will never leave us nor forsake us until He has brought us through and gathered us into that happy place above.
He is the Guide. Listen! "He led them forth" (text). Our lives seem to be made up of strange windings and turnings. Look back and you see how little we could see into the future when we were young. How little did we imagine that life would turn out just as it did. We sometimes unbelievingly question if we went wrong here, there or somewhere else. The answer is God had a higher and secret hand in all our wanderings. "He led them forth" (text). He took a way with them which was surprising to them but which was a way according to His own infinite wisdom and skill. I have to point out that this Guide also is most patient. If you had to lead me to heaven, or if I had to lead you to heaven, it is altogether possible that because we are so cranky in our natures and impatient with one another, we would give up the task almost as soon as we started. However, the Lord bears with all our infirmities and puts up with all our shortcomings. The Lord guides His people on, notwithstanding that they come so far short. How many times in the wilderness do we provoke Him and how many times in this life have we given Him occasion to turn His back upon us? The promise of the Lord is true and faithful - He will guide and He will lead until His children are brought to absolute perfection. "He led them forth" (text), and He is leading them still. There are no mistakes you can make which He cannot put right, no blunders He cannot heal, no experiences we go through that He cannot sweeten and make profitable to us along the way. It is for this reason my friends that the Psalmist tells us this, "O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever" (verse 1); "O h that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men" (verse 8).
2. THE JOURNEY -They went by a right way
Secondly, we have occasion to look at the journey. "He led them forth," says the Psalmist, "by the right way" (text). It wasn't any way. It wasn't a haphazard way. It wasn't one of a thousand ways which happened to fit conveniently. It was the right way! God is taking the right way with you and with me, and with all His elect. How very different, incidentally, are the ways whereby God takes His people to glory. Some have a long life and some a short. Some are very healthy, some are invalids all their days. Some have ease and others have great trouble. All of them have affliction. All of them are humbled and taught by God.
However, along this right way you will notice time and time again through this Psalm, there is reference to something I must point out to you. It is this. The first step in the journey is a step in which God brings us all to our wits' end. Every one of God's elect, more-or-less, is brought in this life at some time to their wits' end. There is indeed an exact reference to that very phrase in this Psalm at v.27. I am sure you know that this Psalm consists of a number of little pictures - all similar and yet all different. The first one is people journeying through the wilderness. The second one has to do with people getting into all sorts of problems and difficulties. The third one has to do with being at sea in a storm, and so on and so forth - various pictures and illustrations. It all teaches the same basic lesson that God carries His people through this life on a journey towards the heavenly city.
One of the great lessons God insists on teaching us all on the way is that we must cry out to Him for mercy. Every one of the elect is taught to come to his wits' end. In other words, God leads His people in such a way that they realise sooner or later they cannot get to heaven on their own. Those who were never converted - born again - are never brought to their wits' end in this sense. They always think they can manage for themselves. But those who are the elect of God, those who are truly His people, those who are genuinely taught of God, are all taught to pray; that's why the Lord brings them to their wits' end. It is so that they will not trust in themselves, so their hearts will be broken to a state in which they cry out to Him for mercy. "Hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted in them. Then they cried unto the Lord..." (v's. 5, 6). "Therefore he brought down their heart with labour; they fell down, and their was none to help. Then they cried unto the Lord..." (v's. 12, 13). A little later, "Their soul abhorreth all manner of meat; and they draw near unto the gates of death. Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he saveth them out of their distresses" (v's. 18, 19). "They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits' end. Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses" (v's. 27, 28).
My dear friend, this is the mark of being a true Christian; this is the right way - when you are so humbled and brought down in your own eyes that you see that there is only one source of hope and that is in God. If we have not learned that lesson then we are not true Christians at all. The Pharisee never comes to his wits' end; his own righteousness keeps him going. The hypocrite never comes to his wits' end; he can 'put a face on it' before men until his dying day. However, those whom God is teaching all come to this point at which they are at their wits' end. The next thing God does for them is this; having converted them and heard their prayers He assures them that He will carry them through to victory in the end.
So this is the way God is taking all His people. I draw special attention to the fact that it is a right way. Let me point out to you, dearest friends, the Psalmist does not say to you here that it is the shortest way. God could take His people to heaven as soon as He converted them - within moments of their conversion, but He doesn't normally do that. It is not the short way, nor the easy way and certainly not the most comfortable way, but it is a right way in the estimation of God. That is to say, it is the best way for your soul, the best way to teach you the spiritual life, to improve you in prayer and in grace. It is a safe way, a sure way, a certain way but a way which always keeps us on our knees.
The rightness of this way is to be judged like this - in that it compels us to rely wholly upon God. Those who backslide are the people who fail to rely wholly upon God. The rightness of the way in which He leads us when we follow Him is He will always keep us hanging on Himself for mercy. The right way? Yes! Dear friend when you get to heaven by His grace, you will look back and He will show you all the way He has taken you. You will then say, "Lord, it was a right way. However many difficulties I have to pass through, however much sadness I had along the way - Lord it was the best way. There is no possibility I could have come to heaven any other way so well as by this way". It is the best way insofar as all our problems, difficulties and painful experiences are being sanctified to us and we are being made the better for them. We are being fitted for heaven even now, here upon earth. It was said of a great man that heaven was in him before he was in heaven. That is true of all the saints of God - heaven is in them before they are in heaven. The reason is because the way that God is taking us is a right way.
Dear Christian, I point out to you if you sometimes are confused by God's dealings; if you sometimes say you cannot understand why the Lord is doing this. I say to you, you do not know now what He is doing but you will know hereafter. You must walk by faith even though you don't at the moment know where He is taking you. God often takes us blindfold through some of the passages of our journey towards heaven. As the good Martin Luther put it, "God led me on like a horse with blinkers. I did not see where I was going till I got there." He said, "If I had seen what was ahead of me I might have shied like a horse and been unwilling to go. So the Lord put blinkers upon me and he led me into the experiences in which I had to confront the whole world for the sake of God and of Truth and of Christ". God led Him on by a right way. What is true of dearest Martin Luther is true of all God's children - a right way.
3. THE DESTINATION - They come to the city of habitation
Thirdly, we are told about the destination. Nobody goes on a journey without knowing where he is going. God does tell us where we are going: "He led them forth by the right way, that they might go to a city of habitation" (text) - that is, a destination, a "city of habitation".
Why is it called by that title: "a city of habitation"? Because it is a place they shall never again leave. Heaven is a place to which we are going and from which we will never depart. All the elect of God from north, south, east and west in the entire world, at this very moment that I am speaking, they are all making this journey towards the heavenly Jerusalem. It is called the high calling of God because it is lifting them up by sanctification to the glory of God beyond. Our citizenship is in heaven, not upon earth. We are children of the heavenly King. For that reason the Christian is far, far better off than all the kings and great ones of this world. The kings, and queens and princes of this world who live in fat palaces and have a fat pasture in life are going to have to leave their palaces and pastures; they will have to say farewell to their banqueting halls, crowns, jewellery, thrones, gold, wealthy friends, feastings and joys. They will all have to say farewell. They are going to have to move on like the great Julius Caesar who conquered Gaul and then Britain many centuries ago. It seemed as though he were unstoppable, as though he could conquer anything and anyone but he was killed by his opponents in the cenotaph and rolled down the steps. All he covered was the six feet of his own length and nothing more; even the great Julius Caesar. They all come to nothing. They don't stay in their wealth. They are not conquerors for long whoever they are.
We are thinking just now, are we not, of the evacuation of our forces at Dunkirk sixty years ago today. It seemed at that hour that Hitler was unstoppable; he was going to conquer the entire world with his aeroplanes and ships, guns and bombs. Everything seemed to be working for him. Nevertheless, who today remembers Hitler apart from children at school taking examinations on the subject of World War?? He is as dead and gone as though he lived a thousand years ago. They all have to go but the city that you are going to, Christian, is a city of 'habitation'. That is to say, you will sit down there forever and enjoy the company of God's children forever. You will, I have no doubt, talk there about your journey here. I have no doubt that in heaven you will say, "Do you remember those terrible experiences we went through on earth?" These things in their remembrance of them will cause no pain. There will be no loneliness there because, my dear one, it is a city filled with the people of God. Imagine it! Every place is open to you to go. Every person is your friend; there are no enemies there. Nothing that defiles shall enter in: nothing mean, nothing small; it is a city whose streets are paved with gold. That city is full of a special, beautiful light - not the light of the sun but the light that comes from God and from Christ. Can you imagine the quality of the light that shines from the very Being of God? Can you imagine what manner of light emanates from the face of Christ Who is the King of that city? No more travelling.
Years ago in Greece in ancient times there was a very famous account of how an army lost its generals and didn't know what to do; a very famous story, well written. These soldiers being without leaders, appointed their own leaders and decided to walk over the hundreds and hundreds of miles which would take them back to their native Greece. The Greek people are a seafaring people; they love the sea. They are not used to these longs treks on land - over expansive deserts, through rivers and valleys, up mountains and on and on day after day, week after week, month after month. One day they climbed a hill and there they saw it before them and the entire army cried aloud, "The sea! The sea!" They had very nearly got home. How much more does the Christian cry, "The sea! The sea! Soon we shall be home!" You and I know many who were with us on the pilgrim journey, but now they have got home and are with their Guide and their God. You know what is said about this city, as I close: it is "a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God" (Hebrews 11:10).
Do not be disappointed with anything in this world; God knows what He is doing and He is taking you by a "right way". He knows where we came from and He knows where we are going to. Let every Christian remind Himself frequently of the happiness and joy which awaits him above.
But now my dear friends, I have to put this question to you: if you do not profess faith in Christ, are you sure you are on the way? If you are sure you are on the way, is it not time that you told everybody that you are? Is it not time that you nailed your colours decisively to the mast! Tell all the world and echo the words of my Psalm: "O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good: for his mercy endureth forever" (verse 1). "He led them forth by the right way, that they might go to a city of habitation" (text).
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