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If Chapter 2 invites to pursuit of the pursuers, to find the thrust of their desire, the energy of their activation and the inspiration of their assurance, then in this Chapter, we find the simplicity of the alternatives, their depth and their poignancy which serves better than the details of vision amid the spiritual squalor of defeat, together with the stinging cry to awaken, which comes clearer when the outlines are huge in their clarity.
DIVINITY, DISASTER, MORDANT MOCKERY
AND IMPERIAL COMPASSION
THE DAWN OF INSPIRATION ARISING
Revelation trembles ready to come as the Psalmist meditates before the Lord. From realms hidden from man, there come tidings to envelop man in light, though for many the destiny be darkness.
Is there reason for sadness, ground for sorrow ? Yes, but not for the Psalmist himself. Evils yap like dogs at his heels, but though like wolves they surround him, their time comes, their superficiality is their own snare, they are powerless, puny and blind. Take the fattest, consider the fittest, their wealth may survive, but not they! Suppose now that one of them loves his brother, where his power might save, deliver him, and so comfort his own heart by successful use for the family. He cannot do it. Not a thing is his hand able to reach. Not one can so much as redeem his brother. Darkness swallows them up; longevity is but a tease.
THE PLIGHT OF MAN 6-10
Man is impotent. He may procreate many children, but he cannot create eternal life. Redemption is as unattainable by their own power as having a pet star. Pettiness looms, their travail and their trust; but doom swallows them up. Missing the main point, and their illusions create calamity. Redemption is not forever available, a slack option/ It is divine, it is necessary, and its total bypass is senseless shame, for its day closes without action, while life is moving to a superficial series of temporal reactions, plunged into illusion, content with the temper of the times. The continuity of life is broken into stark darkness, the disruption ignored like a pirate mounting the ship. The pit opens its mouth for the petulant, the impenitent, the imperturbable, those who make darkness their personal pet.
It is not the will of the Redeemer (Isaiah 48:15ff.) that His creation should be as the beast in its chosen darkness. He is averse to sin in its plunging ruin, but challenges sinners to the freedom He has created for them (Isaiah 55), and that freely. He confers freedom, and the cost of conferment is nil - to us who believe.
The entire Psalm 49 throbs with the divine astringency towards the folly of the dream, but yet teems with the rain of beauty and restoration. It looks to the end of the matters. It is not divine aversion from the lost souls, but from the shifting ground of their ultimate lostness, and the pre-occupations which prevent redemption, which is manifest. The obstruction is found in is their own false trust, impervious self-absorption, cultivated misconceptions, romance in unreality, pre-occupation with the temporal, facility with mere fashion, wilful ignorance, so remorselessly making of their lives things set aside, and kept there, that they might perish eternally. The payment from God is costly, and what redeems only God can pay for. Moreover, the payment does not pend forever.
Not only does God earnestly call to them, to any who is thirsty (Isaiah 55), but He speaks alluringly with candid desire and extravagant entreaty even to those who never come (Proverbs 1, Hebrews 6), who twitter their tweets as if these were sweets, and dither their derangements as if these were deliverance. He even mourns that they do not take opportunity when it comes like a messenger boy, knocking on their doors (Matthew 22, Matthew 23:37, Luke 19:42ff., Ezekiel 33:11, 34), and notes the drawing of His heart to prevent disaster that they might turn. Indeed, he delights as one delivered from a burden, when they do turn (Jonah 4, Luke 15:7).
His motivation for redemption is immeasurable (Coloossians 1:19ff., I John 2:1ff), the cost the same, and the consequence in value the same again! But the RESULTS of rejection remain, these also. Accordingly, in this Psalm 49, at times superficially caustic, there is the simple narrative of prognoses. One is for redemption; but the other is for its avoidance. From each flows abundance, in the darkness or the light. The simplicity is lodged in the appeal of the appointed paths; the contrast exposed shows the persistent penetration to discover hearts, if by any means, more be found.
Small wonder is this so; for what is the false vision that blinds ? Its perspective is their cultivated disregard of the free wonder of redemption as in John 15:21ff.. It is this and not any divine failure to seek them out and confront them at every level, which is focussed in Psalm 49. IF they had heeded the deeds and words which flowed from the Messiah, Jesus, then "they would have no sin," but since they did not and would not do so, "they have no excuse for their sin." In other words, had they never heard or seen such a challenge and exposure, as Jesus Christ provided in no mysterious fashion, it is not God who would in their ignorance condemn them to hell. He ENSURES that the issues are made manifest; and before time was, He has foreknown who are His and who wish to inhabit darkness, of evidence and truth regardless. In His divine mercy, there are principles and this is one, that His love may be shunted away, but the scope for salvation will not be, till all are exposed in reality as before Him who knows, foreknows and would have all to be reconciled
Imagination that He is inadequate for such things is as relevant to the issue as would be some who doubted iron could fly, and would not believe, and when it did, carried on controversy about the purity of the metal and so forth, till their rambunctious hearts evacuated empirical fact before emotional constraints and privileged presuppositions. The LAST thing to the point would be actual flying.
At times, then, and in the pursuit of light for the darkness-dwellers, in this Psalm there is at times the impact of the acidulous and the scornful, if by any means simple and stark realism might pursue some, that they might ponder, that they might come. There is no wandering in the ways of God. The highway of holiness has no road repairs; it is for those the redeemed, who cannot err here (Isaiah 35:7-10, 55).
But it is sight unseen for many!
THE LAND OF UNSHAKEABLE ILLUSION 11-14a
Though the most potent of mankind sees the pit open its mouth and imbibe the inhabitants of dissuasion, those content with the truncation of truth cast unseeing eyes, like one in a trance. Yet witless at their abandon and consequent abandonment, the many enter into their deserts before God, the dismissed God, the forsaken. Thus they do, while their thoughts dwell on such things as continuity of their heritage on earth, a dynasty, a continuity on the part of their offspring; but they themselves, they do not remain: a vacancy is their testimony, an absence their contribution.
Wilfully unremarkable in spirit, they descend like sheep to mortality, feast days for death, ready to bring on a new generation where their own errors are only repeated. They become a sort of irreligious commune, doped with delusive anaesthetic, dedicated to its continuance over the nations, wishing to inherit the generations with their projected prowess or uplifted descendants.
But what of their plight amidst the dreams, the superficiality and the outright and wilful blindness! It is to many the almost inconceivable conclusion that there is an exclusion. It is seen as a thing scarcely relevant to those absorbed in time: in the meantime,they play with time, but it is no playmate.
It is this which leaves them uncovered by what is costly, and which ceases forever (Psalm 49:7-8). It is their preference for darkness which obtrudes, their almost incredible love of this world, with its defilements, defacements and without any redemption, which executes their false expectations, like smitten nobles, while working ruin for its epoch and its end. Yet they trust in it, a world and a love as lost as the passing clouds. Grievously, their untameable waywardness transforms for them, eternity into illusions of it, simpering symbols, or martial pretensions. To this, it pays virtual worship while It invents thrones (cf. Ezekiel 21:27), but worships amiss.
But God deals with eternity as lost man with time; and He knows where each person is and will be, from eternity. Even when man forgets himself, from the heights He clutches His own (49;15), drawn and delivered from above (Psalm 18:16, 144:7). To the depths He has gone to find and to feature (I Peter 3:18-22), His triumphal journey to the cross not stopping at the world then current, but exposing salvation's wonder to and for all time: even to the nub of former judgment. the flood of devastation, He proceeds. Made alive in the Spirit, that is realm to which He went as the Apostle's Creed rightly declares.
It is not a flit back you find in I Peter 3:19,22, but a progression forwards, with Christ featured inveterate in His saving thrust, moved indeed in the immensity and intensity of His commission, andindeed, He has gone on to heaven following His circuit (I Peter 3:22), where all is subject to Him. 'Spirits in prison' is not the biblical designation for those now living: prisoners indeed, but not spirits in prison. This is the language of Jude for the lost. Such then was the inventory of His passion and compassion, that as He has foreknown, so He has proceeded to preach (I Peter 3:19).
Further, there lies an analogy. As few were saved in that ark in that earlier epoch of vast judgment to come, so few are found in the ark of Christ, thus saved from sin. It is not 'baptism' as a sacrament that saves you (cf. Isaiah 1), the apostle Peter stresses, but rather that transformation which comes from the witness of a good conscience in terms of the resurrection of Jesus Christ: I Peter - 3:21. It is this that saves, in Him who is now gone forward even to heaven - 3:22, there indeed to make intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25); and here is the safety and here the security. Symbols do not secure you: it is substance that counts (cf. Hebrews 7-10), for it is Christ the sole Master amid men, who is the secure haven (Isaiah 32:1-4, 53:12). It is not sacramentalism which saves but spirituality, His and its deeds of redemption, remission and restoration through faith by grace, and entry into that door, whether seen in maritime or pastoral depiction, this is essential (John 10:9).
It is a great vessel.
Yet its sailing schedule is now, and its contents are as wide as entry! None is omitted from consideration, for it is the world into which He came, without qualification, that is the world He did not come to judge, but rather to save! Such is the word of God (John 3). All is foreknown; nothing is excluded from His loving entreaty, be it in this form or in that, in terms of this divine principle or that, this overture or that: all that is stated being applicable, as is the way with truth. The entire universe being the scope of the divine good pleasure, that all be reconciled (Colossians 1:19ff.), there is NOTHING left alone in exclusion by divine slackness. Indeed, assiduity rules. If results in the end cannot be appealed, many are the appeals beforehand! God omits nothing.
Moreover, if it is relatively few who enter, yet the total number is large (Revelation 7), just as large is the deliverance granted and so gained.
THE CONSPICUOUS CONTRAST, THE SITUATION AT LAST
The positions are put.
How vast the contrast! In their slithery departure from hope, the sightless eyes and ravished minds go where "death shall feed on them," where no attention remains for their splendour, beauty or attainments. Worse, "the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning!" Doom is extensive, guilt is forever, shame is not dismissible, reality is not dispensable: "shame and everlasting contempt" as Daniel declared (12:2) is their portion.
It is not a social estimate but a divine assessment. Only God is good enough for God and if you do not accept His righteousness as a gift, then you are not acceptable (II Cor. 5:17-21, John 8:24, Romans 5:17, 6:23).
How remarkable the position of the upright, who are so by virtue as we shall see, of redemption not attainment (cf. Psalm 32, Genesis 12,15, Romans 4). They "will have dominion over them in the morning," Psalm 49:14. The morning ? Of what day then does the Lord speak through the Psalmist here ? It is the morning afterwards, after the superficial binge on this earth, the life of cultivated illusion or forgetfulness. This is the time when the earth is ready to depart, when the Lord measures the mighty, and all trials are at an end. No more will the cry of blatant power or illusory riches, whether of money or social notoriety or self-significance or any other dynamic of delusion, be it escapist soporiferousness or other, secure even an allayment of evil. The irrelevant is dismissed as by the red pen of a teacher.
What was formerly despised, now bears rule (Luke 16:15), and what was ready to be suffocated by the ruthless glories of this earth, through persecution, oppression, becomes its site for mastery (cf. Revelation 21:6-8, 22:3-5). How simple the cure should have been (Revelation 21:6, 22:17)!
In fact, consider the contrast. Redemption is not only available: it is to be TAKEN. The Psalmist himself is in this glorious position, delivered from deserved contempt, freed from impending disaster, awakened from intoxication in place of truth. If once a slave to convention, he is now a ransomed free man. It is not some psychological nostrum: it is GOD who redeems his soul (49:15). The thing is on offer; time for the gift passes; it is as vast in scope and significance as it is simply gone when the test is done.
It does not cease merely till the next gift session: if seeing and hearing you neglect, reject it, then its path is there for you no more (John 15:22ff., 9:26). In this situation, it is now or never (Luke 9:26). Where history exposes the truth, life is history indeed for those who neglect it (Proverbs 1), for the liberality of the offer becomes the mordancy, the bitterness of its sheer rejection! ALMOST is not enough. Trusting in your own personality, friends, social situation, hopes, dreams or illusions or in made-up gods, with or without personality, will dissipate into dust; but shame will not (49:14).
Darkness with howling dogs may seem dismal symbolism now, but redemption from the cause of man's vulnerability and the source of his sin in his dark preferences and wilful insistences leads on to no mask for the misery of exclusion.
Contrasted is the beauty in the morning, where the forces that fouled become the shadows of departure, and the wonder of the awakening day of the Lord, first on this earth and then in a new earth and a new heavens, consummates the creation (Romans 8:17ff., Matthew 24:35,II Peter 3). Now comes dawning in its splendour. It is fit for the Redeemer and His redeemed, coming like an eternal Spring, all new and with nothing more to be ruined in the pits of contention and befouling inventions. What had first dawned within (II Cor. 5:17ff.), now becomes the entire morning outside.
On the other side, there is indeed a generation, a continuity of sorts. Where generations inhabit a succession of unbelieving cultures. Then each shall "go to the generation of his fathers; they shall never see the light." Small wonder the Psalmist looks with delight at the liberty of redemption, a place reserved for him with the Redeemer (as in Job 19), where instead of never seeing the light, he will never see the darkness! To have been made man is magnificent; but poignant because of the misused remnant of energies after man made off from God. Restoration and that indeed with the commission that they live forever, test passed, payment made, pardon instituted for ever, this is the glory of God in action, the fruit of His travails and the result of His remissions.
To have been measured for shame is miserable, after so high a gift was in view. On the other hand, to be redeemed freely in the God who covers the gash in man, the sin sickness, the destiny of justice and hence judgment, and to have this eternal, so that he should "live eternally" (49:9): this is the gift of deity. Here is the salvation better than any salve, the magnificence of bliss, the tenderness of God who never plights promise at the outset, with darkness, but is lavish with light. Set alight by God, the redeemed shine forever. They moved that they might have light, and they gained it. They were loaded with liberty and have relished it; they freely delighted in redemption and it sustains them. They shall have dominion in the morning (Psalm 49:14, Revelation 22:3-5).
The invisible is the stuff of man, whether peace or understanding or joy or pardon. The visible is the agency for expression, experience of realities; but the spirit is the place of insight (cf. Job 28). When man insists that his very source of motivation does not really matter, that depth of understanding is mere chatter, then he both denies and contradicts himself. If all such things are mere chatter, so is his own word to this effect! You cannot find truth against reason. It is the wrong denial. When he awakes, on this earth, when light is received, he realises that he has been strap-hanging on the coach to hell, and other transport is needed, in an opposite direction. It involves a free pass given, and received, and a free pardon offered and accepted, and all that self-denial suggests, follows.
Once more man made by and for God is at His side, and once more communion and communication is as natural as breathing. Again, the word of the Lord rules, and the Bible of His command, covering thousands of years of unfailing testimony, proclamation and prediction, centring in the Redeemer, it comes like rays of light, casting meaning on all the territories. It is as if barbed wire fences now stand out, which had been hidden in the darkness, and the highway of holiness reveals reality (Isaiah 35). If a man slip, yet there are bandages, but to walk through fences is a work only for darkness, as a way of life.
This redemption, says Psalm 49:8, is costly. It is not like the mountains, sitting there inert for a long season. It took divine time, effort to actualise it, culminating in the cross of Jesus Christ at the date foretold (The Christian Prescription Ch. 2). There was a time before it and after it, and long was it savoured in advance in the prophets such as Psalm 2, 22, 16, Isaiah 49-56, Micah 5. There is a time for it, for its fruit, and the time passes. That time "shall cease forever." What will not cease is this, that man once redeemed shall indeed "continue to live eternally" as in Psalm 16, 21, Isaiah 61:10-11, Proverbs 12:28, Daniel 12:2, Isaiah 12, 35:9-1044:3ff., 45:23-25, 51:11 and Psalm 49:9. What man cannot do, God both can and does (Psalm 49:15).
To live eternally! this is the ambit of redemption, this the gift, this the glory, for with WHOM does one so live but with the Redeemer, not with minions or secretariats, commissioners or the boastful, the belligerent or the ranting, the unruly rulers or the sedated quasi-missionaries of this world, dynamised in dreadful dreams that ensure desolation!
This new liberty in love is the boon, and it continues eternally; for the breach is healed, the break is mended, the fixation is fixed, the flight is met and the plight is covered. The manufacture is remade, and the liberty is restored where alone it can operate, in the heart that knows its Maker, and relishes its Redeemer. In the morning, the last dregs of darkness cease to obscure, and the very memory of lordly lapses in mankind becomes as a distant dream, in the land of wakefulness, where one is alert to the Lord, and life is no longer demeaned, but redeemed.