There is a popular quotation that does the rounds on the Internet: “What other people think of you is none of your business.” Most of us care too much what others think of us. It’s possible to be so consumed with the opinion of others so that something that we cannot control comes to control us. And of course, you never know what people really think, you can only guess. The treadmill of seeking to win approval leads us nowhere. The Bible tells us that there is a snare in the fear of man (Proverbs 29:25). But indifference to the opinion of others can be just as self-obsessed as hunting approval. We should care what people think of us, and it should influence how we live in a good way. It is not about pleasing them so much as doing them good (Colossians 4:5; Matthew 5:16; 1 Peter 2:12; 2 Corinthians 8:21; 1 Timothy 3:7). But our primary concern must be God’s thoughts toward us. Here we move from the narrow focus on individuals to an infinite and eternal perspective. We wonder at the grace of a God who knows us better than ourselves and knows the worst about us and yet has such infinite mercy and patience towards His own.
We can easily be more taken up with the plans of purposes of people (influential and otherwise) than those of God. Certainly, we must take account of how they affect us, but this should not make us neglect the overarching thoughts of God. Scripture speaks frequently of God’s thoughts and David often wonders at the multitude and majesty of God’s thoughts (Psalm 139:17-18; Psalm 92:5; Psalm 40:5). In this updated extract, Alexander Henderson reflects on the fulness of David’s meditation on the mercies of God in His thoughts in Psalm 40:5.
1. Wondering at the Majestic Goodness of God’s Thoughts Towards Us
David directs his speech to the One he calls, “O Lord my God.” It is only He who is the fountain of all goodness. I would have you take very earnest heed to these two words. The first title he gives Him is “Lord.” This is a word of greatness and majesty. The second, “God,” is a word of goodness and mercy. The one declares to us the power of God; the other declares His loving kindness to all, but especially to His Church. The first name declares to us that He is able to do great things for His Church. The second declares that He is willing to do great things for her.
We should consider that this is a blessed conjunction in God, often divided in men. Some have greatness (though not an absolute greatness), but they do not have goodness also. Rather they employ their greatness for afflicting the children of God. Then there are some who are not able to do good, though they would be very willing to do it. Although they would help, yet they cannot. Greatness and goodness are therefore often divided, but even when they are joined they are not comparable to God’s greatness and goodness.
It is best, therefore, for us to make the Lord alone our refuge, both greatness and goodness in perfection are found in Him. We must run to God continually for help, who has both greatness and goodness in abundance. If we always had good men who were also great to support us we would be ready to overlook God. It is good and necessary for us that these things should be divided in others, so that we may run to God alone for help.
Whatever the thoughts and works of men towards us may be, we ought to be concerned to see what the works and thoughts of the Lord are towards us. We need to see how He who has so great and so marvellous thoughts is disposed towards us. They are far more than the thoughts and works of all people in the world. There is good reason to do so: because there is none so great as the Lord.
This name, “The Lord,” has some things added to it in Scripture so that we may see it to be the greater and see His works and thoughts toward us. He is “Jehovah-Shammah;” that is, God is always present in His Church as well as everywhere. If God is everywhere and at all times present, this should make us concerned to see what His works and thoughts towards us are. Rulers do not see us at all times and in all places. We need not, therefore, be so concerned what their works and thoughts are towards us; but rather to know how the Lord’s works and thoughts are disposed towards us.
He is called “Jehovah-Jireh,” “The Lord will provide;” that is, the Lord has a providence over all things. In comparison with that. the greatest providence that any person can have is not worthy to be mentioned. Moses calls Him “Jehovah-Nissi” that is, “The Lord is my banner.” He is a banner and a shield to His own, we should, therefore, consider what His works and thoughts are towards us. Gideon calls him “Jehovah- Shalom” that is, “The Lord send peace” and so it is the Lord only who gives peace to any.
There is much thinking and speaking about what the thoughts of such and such people are towards us. If we were to search aright into what are the thoughts of God towards us, we would trouble ourselves less with these. I grant that we should be concerned to know what the works and thoughts of others are towards us, but our principal concern should be to know God’s. Do not, therefore, be so anxious as to what the works and thoughts of the greatest on earth are towards you, as what the thoughts and works of such a great Lord are towards you.
2. Wondering at the Eternity of God’s Thoughts Towards Us
Whatever the Lord thinks before all time, He has intended to work in time, and in His eternal counsel has decreed it to be. When He is pleased to work it, He does so, for there is none who can impede or hinder Him.
God’s thinking implies His unchangeable nature. He intends a thing beforehand, and when He has intended and thought it, He does not change it again. Whatever He intends will happen, even though people work to the contrary by all their might and cunning to hinder it from happening. And therefore, do not judge God according to men, for men will work a thing, but their thought will be contrary to that which they work. And men at other times will have thoughts and purposes to do a thing, which they cannot get brought to pass. But it is not so with God. What He intends He brings to pass, and whatever He works, He has intended it before He works it. Think about this, there are many great things to be thought on in relation to this.
Strive to see what God’s thoughts are towards us, for from all eternity He has decreed such a thing, and in His own time, He makes it evident that He has decreed it. Joseph desires his brethren not to fear, “For,” he says, “your thoughts, indeed, they were evil towards me, but the Lord has turned them to good”(see Genesis 50:20). And may we not say the same also, that God has turned men’s thoughts, which they had for evil, into good thoughts towards us? Men, indeed, had thought evil thoughts against us; for they thought before now to have the face of our church changed, and the glory of religion taken away, and idolatry set up in the land [a reference to the events surrounding the National Covenant of 1638 which was the time when this sermon was preached]. These were evil thoughts, but we may see that God’s meaning and purpose in them have been good to us, and our posterity after us.
3. Wondering at the Multitude of God’s Thoughts Towards Us
In speaking of the multitude of God’s thoughts he calls them “many.” He can say no more, he says they are many, but cannot tell how many, for it is not possible for him or any other to do that. They are usually, indeed, brought under several headings, but in every one of these headings, they are so many that they become innumerable.
The first heading is the work of creation. This contains many things, for in creation the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea. Then He made all the creatures that are in these. And then if we take even one of the least of these creatures, we see how many intricate workings are contained in it.
A second heading is His providence in upholding all these creatures, caring for them, and ruling them all so wisely. See how many works of providence there are every day, (not to speak of all the days from the beginning to the end of the world). How many different providences there are during a person’s life. Then see how many particular works of providence there are towards your own body and many things that come on you. You cannot tell how they come, but all of them come by the providence of God.
The third heading is that great work of our redemption, which surpasses all the rest. Christ is promised for our redemption. How many works there are in that! How many works there are in His being sent to the world! How many great works He did while He was here on the earth. Then there are His sufferings, death, resurrection, ascending into heaven and sitting at the right hand of the Father etc.
And then in your calling by grace how many works there are. In sending the gospel for your calling and making it effectual, and in the works of your justification, repentance, comfort, sanctification etc here. And then also in your glorification hereafter.
And then, in the Lord’s work of providence for His Church, how many wonderful works are to be seen there! So that, indeed, David can well say that the works and thoughts of God are many toward us. He can not only say they are many to us, but they are many also to me. And if someone can say concerning themselves that God’s thoughts and works are many towards them what can they say concerning the whole Church? They can indeed say that they are many but they cannot tell how many.
4. Wondering at the Magnificence of God’s Thoughts Towards Us
He also speaks of the quality of these thoughts that they are “marvellous” or admirable. Every one of them is marvellous. Not that every one of them is a miracle because miracles are things that are done in an extraordinary way. Yet many of the works of God are done in an ordinary way. But all of them are marvellous in two things.
(a) No one can tell the course and manner of their production. The forming of a child in the mother’s womb is an ordinary work, yet no one but God can tell how it is formed. It is marvellous, although not a miracle. And then when the child is brought into the world, it is marvellous how it is made to grow and come to strength. And, indeed, all the works of God, are wonderful in this respect.
(b) No one can create any of them. A man cannot create so much as a fly, nor when it is dead can he put life into it. So that although each one of the works of God is not a miracle, yet all of them are marvellous: and there are some of them which surpass all the rest.
David wonders with praise and confesses his own weakness and inability to express the greatness and majesty of God according to His worth. Yet he does what he can. Even though he cannot fathom the greatness. This is what we must do and when we cannot comprehend or fully express it all, we then stand still and admire it. We ought to be concerned with God’s thoughts not only to ourselves but to others and especially to the Church. We should not live only for ourselves, but our principal aim should be to get our hearts and our thoughts enlarged to think upon God’s dealings towards others, even towards the children of men, but especially towards His Church.
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