Up until now, we have focused our attention on the pleasures that God has in himself and in his work.
He has pleasure in his Son, the exact representation of his nature and reflection of his glory.
He has pleasure in his work of creation — the great sea monsters that he made to sport in the oceans!
He has pleasure in all the works of providence that show him to be free and sovereign over all the world.
He has pleasure in the greatness of his name and the reputation of his glory.
He has pleasure in freely choosing a people for himself, and he rejoices over them to do them good.
And it pleased him to bruise his Son, because in that great act of judgment the stormy betrothal of God’s two great passions were married — his passion for the glory of his name, and the passion of his love toward sinners.
The Assumption Behind Our Focus
You may recall that our assumption behind all these messages has been the conviction expressed by Henry Scougal in his book, The Life of God in the Soul of Man, namely, that “The worth and excellency of a soul is to be measured by the object of its love.” In other words, if we love cheap and worthless things, we reveal how small and cheap our soul is.
The soul is measured by its flights
Some low and others high,
The heart is known by its delights,
And pleasures never lie.
We took as our starting point in this series the persuasion that this is also true of God, not just of man. The worth and excellency of God’s soul is measured by the objects of his love. And I think we have seen it born out again and again: the objects of God’s love are those things that are of infinite beauty and worth.
- He loves his Son;
- he loves his handiwork in creation;
- he loves the sovereignty of his providence;
- he loves the honor of his name;
- he loves the freedom of grace shown in the election and care and purchase of his people.
So God is a great example for us. He shows us what an excellent soul should love above all else. We should love
- the Son of God,
- and the handiwork of God in creation,
- and his sovereignty in governing the world,
- and the honor of his name,
- and the freedom of his grace.
If we loved them more, our souls would be the larger and better for it, and we would be more conformed to the image of our Maker.
A Turning Point in the Series
Today marks a turning point in the series, because up till now we haven’t focused on what kind of human attitudes and actions God delights in. We have focused first on God’s love for his own glory. And I believe this order is very important.
Starting with the Center of the Gospel — God
We need to see (and those we love in this world need to see!) first and foremost that God is God:
- that he is perfect and complete in himself,
- that he is overflowingly happy in the eternal fellowship of the Trinity,
- and that he does not need us and is not deficient without us.
But rather we are deficient without him; the glory of his fellowship is the stream of living water that we have thirsted for all our life.
Unless we begin with God in this way, when the gospel comes to us, we will inevitably put ourselves at the center of it. We will feel that our value rather than God’s value is the driving force in the gospel. We will trace the gospel back to God’s delight in us instead of tracing it back to the grace that makes a way for sinners to delight in him.
“The gospel is the good news that God is the all-satisfying end of all our longings.”
But the gospel is the good news that God is the all-satisfying end of all our longings, and that even though he does not need us, and is in fact estranged from us because of our God-belittling sins, he has, in the great love with which he loved us, made a way for sinners to drink at the river of his delights through Jesus Christ. And we will not be enthralled by this good news unless we feel that he was not obliged to do this.
God was not coerced or constrained by our value. He is the center of the gospel. The exaltation of his glory is the driving force of the gospel. The gospel is a gospel of grace! And grace is the will of God to magnify the worth of God by giving sinners the right to delight in God without obscuring the glory of God. And the saints of God love the centrality of God in the gospel:
They love to say with Paul, “From him and through him and to him are all things; to him be glory for ever and ever” (Romans 11:36).
They love to make their boast only in the Lord (1 Corinthians 1:31).
They love to say that God is the beginning and middle and end in this affair of salvation.
They love to say they were chosen for the glory of his grace (Ephesians 1:6), and called from darkness to light to declare the wonders of his grace (1 Peter 2:9), and justified because Christ died to vindicate the holiness of God’s grace (Romans 3:25–26), and will one day be swallowed up in life to the praise of the glory of his grace (2 Corinthians 5:4).
And so for seven weeks, we have focused on the pleasures that God has directly in himself and in the freedom of his work to make it unmistakable that God is the center of the gospel. We have only hinted at the kind of response from man that would bring God pleasure.
Moving to Our Response to the Gospel
But now we are ready. Now, Lord willing, we will be able to see why the human responses which God demands and enjoys come as good news to sinners and yet keep God at the center of his own affections.
If the gospel demands a response from sinners, then the demand itself must be good news instead of an added burden, otherwise, the gospel would not be gospel. And if the true biblical gospel always has God at the center, then the response it demands must magnify him and not us.
Now what kind of response can accomplish both of these things: good news for sinners and glory to God?
Our text provides the answer. Psalm 147:10–11:
His delight is not in the strength of the horse,
nor his pleasure in the legs of a man;
but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him,
in those who hope in his steadfast love.
Let’s begin with verse 11 and ask why God takes pleasure in those who fear him and hope in his love. Then we will turn to verse 10 and refine our answer by asking why God does not delight in the strength of the horse and the legs of a man.
Simultaneously Fearing and Hoping in God
First of all let me ask you this: Does it strike you as strange that we should be encouraged to fear and hope at the same time and in the same person? “The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.” Do you hope in the one you fear and fear the one you hope in?
It’s usually the other way around: if we fear a person, we hope that someone else will come and help us. But here we are supposed to fear the one we hope in and hope in the one we fear. What does this mean?
I think it means that we should let the experience of hope penetrate and transform the experience of fear, and let the experience of fear penetrate and transform the experience of hope. In other words, the kind of fear that we should have toward God is whatever is left of fear when we have a sure hope in the midst of it.
The Fear of a Terrible Arctic Storm
Suppose you were exploring an unknown glacier in the north of Greenland in the dead of winter. Just as you reach a sheer cliff with a spectacular view of miles and miles of jagged ice and snow mountains, a terrible storm breaks in. The wind is so strong that the fear rises that it might blow you and your party right over the cliff. But in the midst of it you discover a cleft in the ice where you can hide. Here you feel secure, but the awesome might of the storm rages on and you watch it with a kind of trembling pleasure as it surges out across the distant glaciers.
“The kind of fear that we should have toward God is whatever is left of fear when we have a sure hope in him.”
At first, there was the fear that this terrible storm and awesome terrain might claim your life. But then you found a refuge and gained the hope that you would be safe. But not everything in the feeling called fear vanished. Only the life-threatening part. There remained the trembling, the awe, the wonder, the feeling that you would never want to tangle with such a storm or be the adversary of such a power.
The Fear of God’s Power
And so it is with God. Verses 16–17 say, “He gives snow like wool; he scatters hoarfrost like ashes. He casts forth his ice like morsels; who can stand before his cold?” The cold of God is a fearful thing — who can stand against it! And verses 4–5 point to the same power of God in nature: “He determines the number of the stars, he gives to all of them their names. Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.”
In other words, God’s greatness is greater than the universe of stars and his power is behind the unendurable cold of arctic storms. Yet he cups his hand around us and says, “Take refuge in my love and let the terrors of my power become the awesome fireworks of your happy night sky.” The fear of God is what is left of the storm when you have a safe place to watch it right in the middle of it.
And in that place of refuge, you say to yourself, “This is amazing, this is terrible, this is incredible power; oh the thrill of being here in the center of the awful power of God, yet protected by God himself! Oh, what a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God without hope, without a Savior! Better to have a millstone tied around my neck and be thrown into the depths of the sea than to offend against this God! What a wonderful privilege to know the favor of this God in the midst of his power!”
And so we get an idea of how we feel both hope and fear at the same time. Hope turns fear into a happy trembling and peaceful wonder; and fear takes everything trivial out of hope and makes it serious. The terrors of God make the pleasures of his people intense. The fireside fellowship is all the sweeter when the storm is howling outside the cottage.
God’s Delight in People Who Fear and Hope in Him
Now, why does God delight in those who experience him in this way — in people who fear him and hope in his love?
Surely it is because our fear reflects the greatness of his power and our hope reflects the bounty of his grace. God delights in those responses that mirror his magnificence.
This is just what we would have expected from a God who is all-sufficient in himself and has no need of us — a God
- who will never give up the glory of being the fountain of all joy,
- who will never surrender the honor of being the source of all safety,
- who will never abdicate the throne of sovereign grace.
God has pleasure in those who hope in his love because that hope highlights the freedom of his grace. When I cry out, “God is my only hope, my rock, my refuge!” I am turning from myself and calling all attention to the boundless resources of God.
The Response That Accomplishes Two Things
Do you remember the question we asked a few moments ago: What kind of response can God demand from us so that the demand gives good news to us and glory to him? This is the answer: the demand to hope in his love.
Good News for Sinners
As a sinner with no righteousness of your own, standing before a self-sufficient and holy God, what command would you rather hear than this: “Hope in my love!” If we only knew it, every one of us is stranded on an ice face in Greenland, and the wind is blowing fiercely. Our position is so precarious that if we even inhale too deeply, our weight will shift and we will plunge to our death. God comes to us and says in that moment, “I will save you, and protect you in the storm. But there is a condition.”
Your heart sinks. Your face is flat against the ice. Your fingernails are dug in. You can feel yourself giving way. You know that if you even move your lips, you’re going to fall. You know that there is nothing you can do for God!
Then he speaks the gospel command: my requirement is that you hope in me. Is this not good news this morning? What could be easier than to hope in God when all else is giving way? And that is all he requires. That’s the gospel.
“The terrors of God make the pleasures of his people intense.”
Glory to God
But it is not only good news for us sinners. It is also the glory of God to make only this demand upon us. Why? Because when you hope in God, you show
- that he is strong and you are weak;
- that he is rich and you are poor;
- that he is full and you and you are empty.
When you hope in God, you show that you are the one who has needs, not God (Psalm 50:10–15; 71:4–6, 14).
- You are the patient, he is the doctor.
- You are the thirsty deer, he is the overflowing spring.
- You are the lost sheep, he is the Good Shepherd.
The beauty of the gospel is that in one simple demand (“Put your hope in the love of God!”) we hear good news and God gets the glory. And that is why God takes pleasure in those who hope in his love — because in this simple act of hope his grace is glorified and sinners are saved. This is the command of the gospel that keeps God at the center — the center of his affections and ours.
God’s Delight Not in Horses and Legs
Now let us ask why God does not take pleasure in horses and legs. Verse 10:
His delight is not in the strength of the horse,
nor his pleasure in the legs of a man.
Not Because He Doesn’t Delight in What He Has Made
The point here is not that strong horses and strong legs are bad. God made them. He rejoices in the strength and freedom of mighty horses. He asks Job,
Do you give the horse his might?
Do you clothe his neck with strength?
Do you make him leap like the locust? . . .
He paws in the valley, and exults in his strength;
He goes out to meet the weapons.
He laughs at fear, and is not dismayed;
he does not turn back from the sword . . .
he cannot stand still at the sound of the trumpet.
When the trumpet sounds, he says, “Aha!”
He smells the battle from afar,
the thunder of the captains, and the shouting. (Job 39:19–25)
But Because We Might Put Our Hope in Them
No, the point is not that this glorious animal is bad. The point is that in the day of battle men put their hope in horses instead of putting their hope in God. But Proverbs 21:31 says, “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord.” Therefore Psalm 20:7 says, “Some boast in chariots, and some in horses; but we boast of the name of the Lord our God.”
God is not displeased with horses’ strength and human legs. He is displeased with those who hope in their horses and their legs. He is displeased with people who put their hope in missiles or in makeup, in tanks or tans, in bombs or body-building. God takes no pleasure in corporate efficiency or balanced budgets or welfare systems or new vaccines or education or eloquence or artistic excellence or legal processes when these things are the treasure in which we hope or the achievement in which we boast.
Why? Because when we put our hope in horses and legs, horses and legs get the glory, not God. And we are lost not saved.
So I urge you this morning, for the sake of your soul and for the glory of God: bank your hope on the power and love of God, not on yourself or on anything you can achieve.
For the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him,
in those who hope in his steadfast love.