The Carnality of the Sinner,
and the Prayer of the Saint
William Nicholson, 1862
"There are many who say: 'Who will show us any good?'
LORD, lift up the light of Your countenance upon us!" Psalm 4:6
It is very interesting to observe the differences between the righteous and the wicked. The Scriptures throughout mark this difference; it is seen . . .
in their spirit,
in their conduct, and
in the end of their course.
The result of this observation will ever influence an enlightened judgment to decide that the one is characterized by extreme folly — while the other is distinguished by heavenly wisdom. Both characters are engaged in the pursuit of happiness: one seeks it from the world, from the gratification of sensual appetites, and from the creature — the other expects it from God, and makes application to that unfailing source of substantial bliss.
I. The Conduct of Lost Sinners:"Who will show us any good?"
1.The object of their inquiry. "Good." That is, good in their estimation. Good, as dictated by the carnal mind — that which is adapted to gratify it.
But that which sinners seek is not true good. They are awfully deceived. They call darkness light; bitter, sweet; evil, good. Isaiah 44:20.
(1.) It is worldly good which they want. Intimated by verse 7, "You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound!" All they desired was plenty of the wealth of this world, that they might enjoy abundance of the delights of sense. And as Matthew Henry observes: "They inquire for any good — not for the chief good. All they want is outward good, present good, partial good, good food, good drink, a good trade, a good estate. But what are all these worth without a good God, and a good heart."
Some men act as if they had nothing else to live for, to work and strive for, than the possession of such worldly good.
Luxury is the idol which some worship,
intemperance is the all in all of others,
while thousands worship at the shrine of mammon.
(2.) Some seek after carnal indulgences, which they esteem as their good. The gratification of animal passions, of brutal appetites, 2 Peter 2:10; Romans 1:29.
(3.) They seek "good" from the inventions of man. What various schemes and plans have been devised for the gratification of the sensual appetites! Hence the numerous frivolous games — the tavern — the theater — gambling, etc. "God made man upright, but they have sought out many devices for evil." Ecclesiastes 7:29. "Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them!" Romans 1:32
2.Sometimes this "good" is sought to be obtained by unlawful means. As it is their idol, for the possession of which they are so enthusiastic — they rush forward to possess it, and frequently violate the principles of honesty. Hence what worldly policy, what attempts at fraud, etc. etc., in order to obtain worldly wealth!
3.This conduct is universal. "There are many who say: 'Who will show us any good?'" It is a fact, that the great majority are looking at "the things which are seen." It was so in the Psalmist's time; it is so still. Multitudes upon multitudes have lost sight of God and eternity. Look abroad and see. Crowds of devotees are rushing forth to the house of mirth and pleasure; crowds to the tavern; crowds to the theater; crowds to the exchange to obtain the means to gratify the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life.
4.This restless desire after happiness, leads to neglect of God. He is the only source of true wisdom and happiness — but they ask no counsel of him. They turn to the world, to the blind, to the infatuated, like themselves, and inquire, "Who will show us any good?" "They follow a multitude to do evil." They associate with them, becoming the "companions of fools;" they "run with them to the same excess of riot."
5.That worldly and sensual good when obtained, will disappoint their expectations. Sin never brings satisfaction, but rather pain and woe. Could a man possess the whole world, there would still be something lacking. The soul is immortal; it is infinite; therefore nothing but an infinite God can meet its aspirations!
What though you could reside in a magnificent palace, and have a large domain; be clothed in purple, and fare sumptuously every day? What though your breast should sustain a star of honor, and your brow be encircled with a golden coronet — there would still be something lacking, and your panting heart would still prompt the inquiry, "Who will show us any good?"
II. The Prayer of the Saint."LORD, lift up the light of Your countenance upon us!"
1.This prayer is uttered by a regenerated soul. A soul that has been enlightened by the Spirit to perceive the vanities of earth — and their insufficiency as a portion. The regenerated soul has sickened at them; it has been reconciled to God by faith in Christ; it has been clothed with newness of life, and directed its prayer to him, "LORD, lift up the light of Your countenance upon us!"
2.The prayer implies a full persuasion that God is an infinitely satisfying portion. He is infinite in every perfection. He is a God in covenant with all his people. "The Lord God is a sun and shield, no good thing will he withhold from those who walk uprightly." "Whom have I in Heaven but you? I desire you more than anything on earth!" Psalm 73:25
3.It is a prayer for a special gracious manifestation from God. "LORD, lift up the light of Your countenance upon us!" It is a very striking and significant expression. It is speaking after the manner of men. The countenance is an index to the mind. Hatred, grief, pride, fierceness, anger — are indicated by the countenance; Genesis 4:5; Nehemiah 2:2, 3; Psalm 10:4.
The favor of God, and the graces and influences of his Spirit, are indicated by "the light of his countenance." When faith is weakened, and sensible comfort is lessened, the Lord is represented as "hiding from the soul, the light of his countenance." Psalm 13:1
(1.) This prayer is an application for a saving interest in the friendship of God. A smile on the human countenance is indicative of friendship and love. Here, it is a desire to be accepted and approved through the sacrifice of Christ. I have been like others, seeking after earthly good. But I value the "light," etc, more. Allow me to rejoice with your chosen ones, Isaiah 12:1, etc. "Say unto my soul, I am your salvation."
(2.) This prayer is an application for God's providential regard and preservation. He is called "the preserver of his saints." "You shall guide me with your counsel, and afterward receive me into glory!"
(3.) This prayer is an application for comfort and support in the dark seasons of life. "LORD, lift up the light of Your countenance upon us" . . .
and in every trial.
(4.) This prayer is an application for communion with God. If you lift up your countenance upon me — then I shall see it and feel it — for you will be near me, present with me. Darkness will flee away — my mind will expand in knowledge, in joy, in triumph. Sweet will be the closet — the mercy-seat, the house of prayer. "Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who dwell between the cherubim, O shine forth."
(5.) This prayer is an application for final acceptance with God. Preserve me to the end — carry on the work which you have begun; and then present me faultless and blameless in your presence! Let the light of your countenance guide me to that world of which you are the "light," when I shall see you without a veil between!
1. The lost sinner has but little cause to rejoice in the possession of earthly good. It is often a snare — and it often cheats and robs the soul of infinite good!
2. The Christian is the only happy man, having the light of God's countenance — a saving interest in all the perfections of God.
3. To which of these characters do you belong?