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The Master's Bounty, and the Servant's Obedience

 

J.C. Philpot

 

Preached at Zoar Chapel, London, on August 9, 1846

 

 

"Deal bountifully with your servant, that I may live and keep your word."

Psalm 119:17

 

 

What a fund of true and vital experience is contained in Psalm 119! What simplicity and godly sincerity shine through it! What breathings after God's presence and manifested favor! What desires to live to the glory of God! What fervent pourings out of the Psalmist's heart, that he might be enabled to keep God's precepts!

 

THREE FEATURES especially seem to my mind stamped upon this blessed portion of God's word. The first is—a deep sense of the Psalmist's sinfulness and helplessness. "My soul," he cries, "cleaves to the dust; quicken me according to your word." (verse 25.) "I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant; for I do not forget your commandments." (verse 176.) And indeed, what I may call the substratum of the whole Psalm is, "creature weakness and helplessness". This feeling lies under well-near every petition; and springing out of it, and built upon it, is David's earnest cry that the Lord would supply his needs.

 

The second feature that strikes my mind as stamped upon this Psalm is—the desire of David's soul to experience the quickening and reviving teachings and testimonies of God the Spirit in his heart. Being completely weaned from creature strength, and having felt from time to time the blessed teachings, guidings, and leadings of the Lord the Comforter, he here pours out his soul after those reviving influences and quickening manifestations. The Psalm is full of them—"Quicken me after your loving-kindness." (verse 88.) "I opened my mouth, and panted." (verse 131.) "I have longed for your salvation." (verse 174.) "Make your face to shine upon your servant." (verse 135.) "My eyes fail for your salvation." (verse 123.)

 

And the third striking feature, which in fact shines through nearly every verse of the Psalm, is—the desire of David's heart to understand and keep God's word. The tender affection that he displays to the word of God; his fervent desires to have that word brought into his soul; and the breathings he pours forth, that he may speak, and act, and live in perfect conformity to its precepts—is a feature peculiarly stamped upon the whole Psalm.

 

In the text, we find, first, a petition—"Deal bountifully with your servant;" secondly, what David knew and felt would be the fruit and effect, if that petition were granted, "That I may live and keep your word."

 

I. The PETITION—"Deal bountifully with your servant."

 

A. What is man in a state of nature? We are never to forget our base original; we are continually to look to the rock whence we were hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence we were dug. Israel was ever to say, "my father was a wandering Syrian, ready to perish." (Deut. 26:5.) We are, therefore, continually to look to the fall of man; for only so far as we are acquainted with the fall, can we experimentally know the remedy that God has provided for this desperate malady. What, then, is man in a state of nature?

 

1. He is, as the Apostle so emphatically describes in Romans 6:17, "the slave of SIN." Before, therefore, he can become the servant of God, as David in the text declares himself to be, a mighty revolution must take place in his soul. By nature we are slaves to sin; as the Apostle says, "We ourselves also were once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving diverse lusts and pleasures." (Titus 3:3.) We served them eagerly, we served them greedily—they were our willing masters, and we were their willing slaves. During the time that we are thus wearing the chains of servitude to the basest lusts, to the vilest sins, we are ignorant of our state as sinners before God. We did not know that "the wages of sin is death." We were hurrying on to the chambers of destruction; yet we know not, we care not, where we are rushing to.

 

2. But we are also, the slaves of SATAN. "When the strong man armed keeps his palace, his goods are in peace." This mighty conqueror has with him a numerous train of captives; this haughty master, the 'god of this world', has in his fiendish retinue, a whole array of slaves who gladly do his behests—him they cheerfully obey, though he is leading them down to the bottomless pit; for though he amuses them while here in this world with a few toys and baubles, he will not pay them their wages until he has enticed and flattered them into that ghastly gulf of destruction, in which he himself has been weltering for ages.

 

3. Again. In our natural state, we are the slaves of the WORLD. What the world presents, we love; what the world offers, we delight in. To please the world; to get as large a portion as we can of its goods; to provide in it amply for ourselves and our children; to obtain and to maintain a respectable station in it—this is the grand bent of man's carnal heart.

 

4. And lastly, we are the slaves of SELF. Self in its various forms, proud self, lustful self, covetous self, righteous self—self in some shape or other, is the idol before whom all carnal knees bow, the master whom all carnal hearts serve.

 

See, then, the state into which every child of Adam is fallen and sunk—the slave of sin, the slave of Satan, the slave of the world, and the slave of self. He loves his master, hugs his chain, and delights in his servitude, little thinking what awful wages are to follow.

 

B. But if we look at the expression in the text, David calls himself God's servant, "Deal bountifully with your servant." If, therefore, we are to be brought off from being slaves of sin and self, it must be by some change taking place in the soul; for the Lord says, "No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one and despise the other; you cannot serve God and mammon." (Matt 6:24.) We cannot serve sin and righteousness; we cannot serve the world and God; we cannot serve Satan and the Lord; we cannot serve self and Jesus. A mighty revolution must, therefore, take place in the soul, in order to bring us into that state and posture where David was, when he said, "Deal bountifully with your servant."

 

In what way, then, are we made God's servants? It is true, that so far as the Lord has adopted us into his family, we are God's sons; "heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ." But we are not only sons of God, so far as the Lord has begotten us unto eternal life, we are servants also. The one relationship does not destroy the other. It is often so naturally; the son will often be to the father as a servant. He shall assist him in his labors; he shall take a share of his daily toils. Jacob was Laban's servant, though his son by marriage. "I served you fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your cattle" was the complaint of the aggrieved patriarch. (Gen. 31:41.) Jacob's own sons afterwards kept their father's flock. And does not the Lord call himself Master as well as Father? "A son honors his father, and a servant his master—if then I be a Father, where is my honor? and if I be a Master, where is my fear?" (Mal. 1:6)—one relationship not annulling the other.

 

No, the very angels who are called in Scripture "sons of God," (Job 1:6, 38:7), are yet called "servants of God;" as the angel said to John, "No, don't worship me. I am a servant of God, just like you and your brothers the prophets, as well as all who obey what is written in this scroll. Worship God!" (Rev. 22:9.) And thus we find the Apostles, when writing to the churches, call themselves "servants." For instance, "Paul and Timothy, servants of Jesus Christ." (Phil. 1:1.) "James, a servant of God." (James 1:1.) "Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 1:1.) As if their highest title, and their most blessed employment, was to be servants of the living Jehovah. But how are we brought into this relationship? for the Lord finds us in the chains of slavery; the slaves of sin, self, and Satan. Must, then, not some mighty change take place before we can be made the servants of the living God? There must. The change takes place in this way.

 

1. First, the Lord, by casting divine light into the mind, and bringing his holy word with quickening power into the conscience, alarms, terrifies, deeply convinces the soul of its state by nature, as "serving diverse lusts and pleasures." This is the first stroke that God usually makes to loosen the chains of slavery off the hands, and the fetters off the limbs. By piercing and penetrating the conscience through the communication of light and life, sin is felt to be sin, and its wages are known to be death.

 

2. But this is not sufficient. This does not strike the fetters off the captive's limbs. He may still clank his chains, though he clanks them in misery. Other processes are necessary before the manacles can be stricken off. One is, to make him sincerely sick of sin; not merely to arouse the soul, to awake the conscience, to alarm the mind by the convictions of the Spirit from the application of God's law, but also to make him genuinely sick of sin, sick of the world, sick of Satan, and sick of self; to make him feel such bondage, such darkness, such wretchedness, and such miserable sensations, as to loathe those lusts in which he has been so cruelly entangled, to loathe the world which he has so gladly served, to loathe Satan who has so perpetually drawn him aside, and loathe himself as the vilest and worst monster of all!

 

3 But even this is not sufficient. By these means we are brought to hate our servitude; by these means our chains and fetters are somewhat unloosened, and the links are partially struck off the limbs. But still, we need something more before we can be servants of the Lord. "Your people," we read, "shall be willing in the day of your power." We need some manifestation of the Lord's mercy, grace, and favor to our hearts; and when this is felt, we gladly leave the old servitude, and enlist ourselves, so to speak, under a better master, and yield our hearts, our affections, our bodies, our souls, our spirits, our all—we yield them all up into his hands who has made himself dear, near, and precious to our souls. This is to obey the counsel which the blessed Spirit gives the Bride, "Listen to me, O royal daughter; take to heart what I say. Forget your people and your homeland far away. For your royal husband delights in your beauty; honor him, for he is your Lord." (Psalm 45:10, 11.)

 

4. But a fourth thing is necessary to complete it—to be crucified with Christ, entering by living faith into a knowledge of the sufferings of Jesus, his blood, and his righteousness; and thus being crucified and dying with him, to be killed to sin by virtue of his death. This is the point so beautifully set forth, Romans 6:2-6, "Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin." And this was Paul's own blessed experience. "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Gal. 2:20.)

 

Thus, by these powerful operations of the Spirit of God upon the heart; first, awakening and alarming the conscience; secondly, sickening and glutting us completely with our fetters; thirdly, making Jesus dear, near, and precious by some discovery of his beauty and glory; fourthly, leading us into some fellowship with him in his sufferings, some knowledge of his death and resurrection—by these distinct operations of the Spirit of God upon the soul, are we brought to be his willing servants, to delight in serving him, to feel it to be our highest privilege and our chief pleasure to yield ourselves up unto the Lord that we may be eternally his, that he may mold us into his image here and take us to be with him in a glorious immortality hereafter.

 

David, then, was in this posture and state of soul, when he breathed forth the words, "Deal bountifully with your servant." He had been enlisted into the service of this blessed Master. He had been delivered from serving sin, the world, Satan, and self. He had been brought to yield up his heart's affections into the hands of Jesus, to be his in life and in death, for time and for eternity.

 

But, like all other children of God, he felt, deeply felt, his own sinfulness, helplessness, and inability to bring forth in his own heart that which he longed to realize there. He therefore makes use of this as a plea before the mercy-seat. As though he would say, 'I am your servant; it is my desire to live to your glory; I would serve you with singleness of eye; I would renounce everything incompatible with my service to you; I desire to be yours, yours only; and that you would "work in me to will and to do of your good pleasure." "Deal then bountifully with your servant, that I may live, and keep your word."

 

But what is it for the Lord to "deal bountifully" with the soul? All that the Lord does for his people, he does in a way of bounty. There is nothing to be gained by merit; there is nothing to be obtained by 'creature service'. The servant of the Lord does not bring his own services to the foot of his Master, and thereby lay a claim to God's goodness and favor. Whatever is communicated to him, is communicated as an act of mercy; whatever he receives, he receives as an act of grace. And yet feeling a desire after those bountiful mercies and favors which God has to bestow, he puts in his lowly plea. How earnestly and yet humbly he lays his petition at his Sovereign's footstool, "Deal bountifully with your servant!"

 

But in what way does the Lord "deal bountifully?"

 

1. When he gives a sweet manifestation of the pardon of sin, he deals bountifully; for when the Lord pardons sin, he pardons completely; he makes no reserve; he pardons sins past, sins present, and sins to come; his forgiveness is extended to every thought of the heart, every look of the eyes, every word of the lip, every action of the hand—it is a complete, irrevocable pardon. Therefore the Scriptures use such declarations as these, "You have cast all my sins behind your back." (Isa. 38:17.) "You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea." (Micah 7:19.) "I have blotted out as a thick cloud your transgressions, and as a cloud your sins." (Isaiah 44:22.) "In those days, and at that time, says the Lord, the iniquity of Israel shall be sought for, and there shall be none; and the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found—for I will pardon the remnant whom I preserve." (Jeremiah 50:20.)

 

When, then, a man's conscience has contracted guilt—when he feels himself indeed to be one of the vilest wretches that crawls upon God's earth—when temptations press his soul down—when there is little else felt but the workings of inward depravity, filth, and iniquity—does not he then long for the Lord to deal bountifully with him—freely to pardon, graciously to accept, mercifully to forgive him? to reveal this full pardon to the heart, to seal this entire forgiveness upon the conscience, and to bless the soul with a clear testimony that the Lord has put away all his iniquities and blotted out all his transgressions?

 

2. The Lord deals also bountifully when he opens up the treasures of mercy, grace, love, and salvation that are stored up in the Savior's fullness. "It has pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell;" and therefore the Apostle John says, "Of his fullness have we all received, and grace for grace." Now, the Lord unfolds, from time to time, the riches of Christ's grace to his waiting family. This is the covenant work of the blessed Spirit, "the Spirit will reveal to you whatever he receives from me." The blessed Spirit takes of the things of Jesus; and shows, at times, the glory of his justifying righteousness, and the balmy sweetness of his atoning blood and dying love. And as he unfolds these blessed things to the soul, he raises up in the heart earnest desires to experience them, to enjoy them, to realize them, and have them divinely shed abroad in the heart.

 

We are not satisfied with merely eyeing these blessings at a distance; that is but a Balaam's view, "I shall see him, but not near." We are not contented with reading of them in the word; we are not contented with knowing that Jesus has this and that blessing to bestow; nor can we be satisfied with seeing, by the eye of faith, all the grace and all the glory stored up in his inexhaustible fullness. We want something more; we desire a "communication of these blessings to the heart". When the ground is parched and dry, it does not satisfy the farmer to see the clouds rolling over his head filled with rain, unless they let fall their rich showers upon his fields. It does not satisfy a hungry man to see the table loaded with a noble banquet, unless some of that plentiful food reaches his mouth.

 

No, the sight without the enjoyment raises up jealous feelings against the guests—if we see the table richly spread, and may not approach ourselves and feast. When, therefore, the Psalmist says, "Deal bountifully with your servant," it is as though he had said, "Lord, I see such grace and glory in the blessed Jesus; I view such mercies and blessings stored up in him; I behold in him a Savior so suited to my need; he so has and is everything that my poor lost soul can desire—O deal bountifully with your servant by satisfying my desires—by pouring into my heart some of those unspeakable riches, by bringing down into it a measure of those blessings, and communicating them with your bounteous hand to my needy, naked soul." All this seems comprehended in the petition, "Deal bountifully with your servant."

 

3. Again; the super-aboundings of God's grace over the aboundings of sin, seems also implied in the petition put forth here. I am sure, if we watch the movements of our hearts—if we daily mark the various thoughts, desires, and workings that from time to time pass through our minds, we shall feel that sin indeed abounds in us. Pride, hypocrisy, covetousness, deadness in the things of God, selfishness, sensuality—a thousand evils are perpetually struggling and lifting up their heads in our souls! Who that knows himself does not feel—painfully feel—that sin is perpetually working and striving for the mastery in his heart? that evil in all its shapes, in all its subtle and various forms, is perpetually abounding in him?

 

What then does one thus taught want? Is it not to feel the super-aboundings of grace over the aboundings of these sins? Is it not to feel the superabounding grace of God freely blotting out, freely putting away, freely covering, freely justifying from, and freely spreading its divine glory over the aboundings of these inward and horrible iniquities? When, then, he says, "Deal bountifully with your servant," it is as though he said, "Lord, I sin with every breath that I draw—my eye, my hand, my tongu