By Clovis G. Chappell
"O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together." Psalm 34:3
Clovis G. Chappell: THIS sunny singer has a wooing word upon his lips. He is not abusive. He is not undertaking to prod us. He is not setting himself to the task of driving [compelling] us out to church. He is resolved that he himself will go. He is bent upon having a praise service. In fact, the giving of thanks is to be henceforth a fixed habit with him. Every day is to be a thanksgiving day. "I will bless the Lord at all times," he sings happily. "His praise shall continually be in my mouth." He is eager that we share his gratitude; so he knocks on our doors, lays eager hands upon us, and says cheerfully, "O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together."
Why is this man so full of gratitude? Why is it that for him to open his mouth is to burst forth into spontaneous praise? It is not because his circumstances are perfect. This Psalm is thought by some to have been written by David while he was in hiding from Saul. But whether this is the case or not, the author, whoever he is, faces the fact that circumstances are often against us. "Many are the afflictions of the righteous," (Psa. 34:19) he tells us frankly. He is wise enough to know that if we wait till everything is perfectly to our liking before we give thanks, then we are likely to wait forever.
Do you remember that wonderful palace of which we read in the Arabian Nights? (trans. Sir Richard Francis Burton) It was a veritable dream of loveliness. The owner was naturally exceedingly proud of it. One day he was showing its marvelous wealth and beauty to a friend. When this friend had looked it over he said: "Yes, it is wonderful, it is almost perfect. All that is needed is a roc's egg to swing from the ceiling." But the owner of the palace did not know what a roc was, nor did he know that it laid eggs. Naturally he did not know where its eggs were if it did lay. So his friend left him in wretchedness and bitter discontent. His palace was little better than a prison without a roc's egg to swing from the ceiling and thus make it perfect.
Nor is this man grateful because of any goodness or greatness he sees in himself. He is boasting, but he is not boasting of his own achievements. We do not like boasting that is born of self-importance. Such boasting is bad taste. It is a mark of conceit. It is thoroughly offensive. But not so the boasting of this joyous singer. "My soul shall make her boast in the Lord." I could wish that we had a congregation made up of such boasters. I could wish that we might have a city full of them. I could wish that we might have a world of them. Such boasters do not offend; they delight. They do not make us sad; they make us glad.
"My soul shall make her boast in the Lord: the humble shall hear thereof and be glad." Certainly, because the humble, being poor in spirit, know that if there is to be any amazing worth in themselves it is to come from God. Therefore, when they hear one as weak as themselves boasting in the Lord, they take heart. They rejoice with a glad hopefulness and expectancy.
Gratitude Out of Experience
What, then, is the secret of the gratitude of this singer? First, his gratitude is born of his own personal experience. He claims that he has been a seeker after God. "I sought the Lord," he tells us, with beautiful candor. He has been an explorer, an investigator in the realm of the spiritual. What has he found? He ought to be especially fitted to speak to this age that is so scientifically-minded. We are concerned with facts; so is this seeker after God. Having sought, he reports his findings. I think we may listen to him with confidence. We may listen with the conviction that discoveries in the realm of the spiritual are no less valid than discoveries in the realm of the material. Having tested by experience, he has a right to speak. And mark you, it is only such who can speak with authority. This is true in every field of knowledge.
Suppose, now that Commander Byrd has returned to the United States (1930), he should make statements about the south pole and its environs that I should feel disposed to dispute. Who would take me seriously? Men would say: "This brave explorer has ventured his life to see and to map the country of which he speaks. He has been there, while this preacher has never been beyond the equator." Therefore, I should be utterly discredited, and rightly so. But when some atheistic scientist or philosopher undertakes to speak on matters of religion, we often take him seriously, even though he has confessedly never been earnest enough to test by experience that of which he speaks. The wisest scholar in the world who has lived his life in willful ignorance of God has no more right to a hearing on the validity of our faith than has a mole on the reality and beauty of the sunrise.
Delivery from Fear
"I sought the Lord," says this sunny psalmist. Then what came of it? This is his confident answer: "He heard me and delivered me from all my fears." What a declaration! He had his fears. That is no doubt the reason he began to seek. We too seldom seek with seriousness till we get desperate. He was beset by tormenting terrors. He does not tell us that of which he was afraid. He may have been afraid of the loss of his wealth or of his health or of one dearly loved. He may have been afraid of the sins of his youth. He may have been afraid of some foul habit that had taken him captive and bound him hand and foot. He may have been afraid of death or of that which might lie beyond death. But whatever his fears, they were making his blood run cold as they closed about him like wolves about a belated traveler at eventide.
Besides, he seemed utterly alone. As far as the eye could see there was no promise of help. But, at last, in sheer desperation he flung an empty, seeking hand out into the gloom, and, lo, that hand was gripped and held fast. He realized that he was no longer alone, but that a Friend was at his side, a Friend whose presence made these ghastly foes to vanish and brought in their place a sweet sense of security and peace. And joyous of heart and radiant of face he gave this testimony, "He delivered me from all my fears."
And, second, this psalmist was grateful for what God had done for others as well as for himself. For instance, he had a friend with whom he was accustomed to share his spiritual experiences. That friend had been overwhelmed by a veritable avalanche of trouble. One disaster after another had come upon the poor fellow till it seemed that he had been cheated of all that makes life worth living. In fact, he was so beaten down and trodden under foot by this besieging army of troubles that he was no longer able to pray. He could not put his agony into words. He could not voice the tragic needs of his perplexed soul. What did he do in this desperate plight? He cried, cried unto the Lord, and the outcome of that pathetic cry was this, "The Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles." (Psa. 34:6)
But this singer had other friends whose faces had for some reason lost their radiance and had come to wear the ugly mantle of a settled gloom. There were some, probably, whose faces were darkened by constant worry and care. There were some with peevish and fretful faces. There were envious faces and faces contorted with the hell of hate. There were sensual faces over which the cloven-footed demons of impurity had walked, leaving their ugly tracks at every step. There were sad faces, faces marred by sorrow and wet with tears. But to all these a marvelous change had come; the gloom and the night had passed and a glorious dawn had transfigured them. So with gratitude he sings, "They looked unto him and became radiant." (Psa. 34:5)
Learning of God Most Important
Then this psalmist is grateful for what these experiences have taught him of God. He has learned of God at first hand; he has learned also from other saints. They have shared experiences. That is always helpful. The loss of the testimony meeting is no mean loss. It is ever a benediction for those who fear the Lord to speak one with another. Out of this sharing of experiences, above all, out of his own personal dealing with God, there had come to this ancient saint certain firsthand knowledge of God that filled his soul with grateful gladness. He knew God through experience. This is the crying need of our own day and of every day.
As a country school-teacher, far in the backwoods, I boarded in the home of a woman who was one of the choicest saints that it has ever been my privilege to know. I had known her in the years when she was a most commonplace, halting church member. I knew her also after she had passed through a wonderful religious experience. Every morning, when the duties of her housekeeping had been finished, she would take her Bible and retire into a little room that was all her own. Sometimes she would be gone only a very few minutes, sometimes for more than an hour. But when she came forth there always looked out from her eyes "the peace of a great discovery."
My own faith, which was none too strong, was greatly strengthened by the fact that she "looked unto him and was radiant." That radiance has been an abiding benediction through the years.
Now what had this psalmist learned? Of what was he sure? Speaking out of his own heart-knowledge of God, he could say this: God is good.
To many to-day it seems trite to say that God is good, yet no discovery could be more gladsome. Nor could any be more revolutionary when we consider the spiritual darkness that abounded when this discovery was made. Think of the gods, cruel and lustful, of the surrounding nations. Think of the false conceptions of God that were prevalent in Israel. Think of your own conception of God. There are many experiences through which we pass even now, after Jesus has come to reveal God, that make belief in the goodness of God exceedingly difficult. But this man, in spite of his environment, in spite of the fact that he had known suffering and heartache, was absolutely sure that God is good.
He had discovered, too, that God is near. That, too, is a marvelous discovery. How distant we often feel he is as we stagger under our burden of weariness and loneliness! But this man had come to realize that God is always near, that he is constantly round about us, that he is forever within the hearing of our voices and within reach of our groping hands. This is true amidst all circumstances of our lives. It is especially true when the skies grow gray and the road stony. Listen how tenderly he puts it, "The Lord is near unto them that are of a broken heart." (Psa. 34:18)
God Is Sufficient
Finally, the psalmist has discovered that God is always adequate. "I have constantly found him sufficient," (Psa. 34:9) he says joyously. "He has never failed me; he has never once let me down. When all other sources of help have failed, I have found him abundantly adequate for every need." As he sings his song, he can hear the lions down the mountain side as they growl and snarl in search of their prey. In spite of the fact that they are king of beasts, they are hungry. They are in want. Then with fine audacity he sets their snarls to music as he sings, "The young lions do lack and suffer hunger, but they that seek the Lord shall not want any good."
If David is the author of this Psalm, he wrote it when he was a young man. He had not then had the vast experience of life that came to him through the years. But what did he have to say when youth had gone and when songful summer had changed into bleak winter? This was a song of the Maytime. What did he say amid the chills of December? He sang even more thrillingly of the sufficiency of God "The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want." (Psa. 23)
And this is the verdict of all the saints. "When I sent you forth without purse and without scrip," Jesus asked of his disciples, "lacked ye anything?" (Luke 22:35) And they answered, "Nothing." "He is always like that," says this psalmist. "He is always like that," declare those through all the centuries who have really put him to the test. They have reached this common conclusion "My God shall supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus." (Phil. 4:19)
"Now that is all well enough for this ancient saint," one says half angrily, "but he knew nothing of my situation. He did not live in this bewildering age when one support after another that we counted as secure has been knocked from under us. Assuming that he found all this in God, of what value is it to me? Certainly I would give the world for such a gloriously radiant faith, but how may I find it? Who can put me on the road that leads to this desired goal?" And this psalmist believes that he is equal to this high task. He is confident that there is a road to certainty, that what he has found all may find. And this is his direction: "Taste and see. Give God a chance, and you, too, will know that he is good, that he is ever near, that he is always sufficient."
Our Lord is abidingly eager to submit himself to the test of experience. Does he really hear prayer? There is only one way to be sure of it. Try him. Is he able to give strength in temptation? Try him. Can he really give victory over sin? Try him. Does he really comfort in sorrow? Try him. Does he indeed make all things new? Taste and see. Those who have tried him have found him sufficient.
When Dr. J. H. Jowett was on his death bed, he wrote to a fellow minister who also was suffering. He wrote out of a rich personal experience. He had in some measure tested the sufficiency of Jesus for hours of stress and strain and difficulty. Among other things he wrote this fine, bracing word: "We have preached a great gospel, but remember that Jesus Christ is greater than anything we have ever said about him." This princely preacher has spoken grandly of Jesus, but he found that the half had not, and could not, be put into words.
There is only one way to know, and that is by experience. So I close with this appeal from this ancient saint, "O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him."