August 18, 2017

Encouragement of the Psalms

Mike Stalnaker

In the late 1800s, Rowland Prothero compiled instances of how God used the book of Psalms specifically in the lives of people. Prothero divides his book into 12 chapters covering the Psalms from the “Early Ages of Christianity” until the 1900s. His book, The Psalms in Human Life, is the result of his efforts and offers a pastor countless illustrations on the Psalms.

Prothero’s examples are especially rewarding in the section dealing with the impact that the book of Psalms had on the Puritans. He explains,

the Psalter was, to the Puritans, the book of books. Psalms were sung at Lord Mayor’s feasts and city banquets. Soldiers sang them on the march, by the camp fire, on parade, in the storm of battle. The ploughman caroled them over his furrows; the carter hummed them by the side of the wagon. They were the song-books of ladies and their lovers; and if Shakespeare is to be trusted, they were even sung to hornpipes at rustic festivals.

In the language of the Psalms, the early progress of the first colony is recorded. “The Lord,” says Johnson in his Wonder-Working Providence, “whose promises are large to His Sion, hath blest His people’s provision, and satisfied her poor with bread, in a very little space.”

The Psalms were the chief instrument of Eliot in his missionary enterprises among the Red Indians. From the Psalms Eliot’s successor, David Brainerd, drew the language in which he clothed his daily thoughts (Rowland E. Prothero, The Psalms in Human Life, 210-11).

John Hampden and Psalm 41:4

“I said, O Lord, be merciful unto me; heal my soul, for I have sinned against Thee.”

John Hampden is considered by Boreham to represent “our English Puritanism at its very best.” In The Saints’ Everlasting Rest, “Baxter enumerates the pleasures that he hopes to enjoy in the world to come; and, conspicuously among them, he mentions the delight of meeting the excellent John Hampden” (F.W. Boreham, A Faggot of Torches, 106).

His mother would teach him and his brother a verse every night. On one particular evening the verse was Psalm 41:4, “I said, O Lord, be merciful unto me; heal my soul, for I have sinned against Thee.”

He was only a boy in those days, and he learned the words with a light and merry heart. But there came stern and terrible days — days of tumult and bloodshed and imprisonment — in which those same words rushed back upon his mind and spoke to him in very different accents. In those selfsame simple words he afterwards discovered wonders that, as a boy at his mother’s knee, he never for a moment suspected (Boreham, 113).

The verse that his mother taught him years before had ministered to his heart to the very end of his life. The following words are recorded on the day of his death:

“O Lord of Hosts,” he was heard to say, “great is Thy mercy; just and holy are Thy dealings with us sinful men. Pardon, O Lord, my manifold transgressions. O Lord, save my bleeding country. Have these realms in Thy special keeping. Let the King see his error; and turn the hearts of his councilors from the malice and wickedness of their designs. Lord Jesus receive my spirit!”

There was a pause. And then in a feebler voice he continued: “O Lord, save my country; O Lord, be merciful to —.” But here speech failed him. He fell back in the bed and expired (Boreham, 117).

It truly is “one of those prayers that has been offered a thousand thousand times, and never once in vain” (Boreham, 106).

Martin Luther and Psalm 46

Luther turned to this Psalm during his trying days. He said,

When the times were dark; when the enemies of truth appeared to triumph; when disaster seemed to come over the cause in which he was engaged, and the friends of the Reformation were dispirited, disheartened, and sad, he was accustomed to say to his fellow-laborers, “Come, let us sing the 46th Psalm” (Albert Barnes’ Notes on Psalms, Psalm 46, 39).

Psalm 118 was another of Luther’s favorites. It meant so much to Luther that he had it inscribed on the wall of his study. He wrote, “This psalm has been of special service to me. It has helped me out of many great troubles, when neither emperor nor kings nor wise men nor saints could help” (J. Phillips, Exploring the Psalms, 97).

Robinson Crusoe and Psalm 50:15

“And call upon me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me.”

In Daniel Defoe’s literary masterpiece, during the years that Robinson Crusoe was stranded on an island, God used Psalm 50:15 to speak to his heart on three different occasions. Crusoe explains how he found a Bible in a chest that “up to this time, I had found neither leisure nor inclination to look into. I took up the Bible and began to read. Having opened the book casually, the first words that occurred to me were these: ‘Call upon me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me.’ The words were very apt to my case. They made a great impression upon me and I mused upon them very often … I asked God to fulfill the promise to me that if I called upon Him in the day of trouble He would deliver me” (F.W. Boreham, A Handful of Stars, 21-22).

When Crusoe first prayed this prayer, he was not asking God to deliver his soul, but to deliver him from his present crisis. God eventually used this verse to minister to Crusoe in dealing with his eternal state. Boreham writes,

When the text came to him the first time, he called for deliverance from sickness; and was in a few days well. When the text came to him the second time, he called for deliverance from sin; and was led to a crucified and exalted Saviour.

When the test came to him the third time, he called for deliverance from the savages; and the savages, so far from hurting a hair of his head, furnished him with his man Friday, the staunchest, truest friend he ever had. “Call upon Me,” said the text, not once, nor twice, but thrice. And three times over, Crusoe called, and each time was greatly and wonderfully delivered (Boreham, 24).

Mary Moffat and Psalm 99:8

“Thou answeredst them, O LORD our God …”

Mary Smith, who later became the wife of Robert Moffat, wrote concerning a time in her life when it seemed as though her prayers were not being heard. It is no wonder why God blessed their missionary service in South Africa.

The sermon was so powerfully applied that I wept the whole of the time, as he described the various workings of my mind under that particular, “thou answeredst them,” and sent me away rejoicing with an assurance that my prayers would yet be answered. Shortly after, you know how that sweet sermon of Dr. Jack’s affected me, “Faithful is he that promised”; and very shortly after this you know how wonderfully, I may say miraculously, some of my prayers were answered. This encouraged me to go on, and that passage was as powerfully applied as any ever was to my mind, “Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it” (J. S. Moffat, The Lives of Robert and Mary Moffat, page 38).

Josephine Butler and Psalm 120:1

Josephine Butler tells how she was blessed of God by having godly parents who taught her by their examples how to live a godly life. She tells about having a pastor who preached God’s Word faithfully every Sunday. In spite of the godly influence she realized that she had to trust Christ personally as her Savior. During this time she struggled about what she believed. She wrote on one occasion:

“For one long year of darkness, the trouble of heart and brain urged me to lay all this at the door of the God whose Name I had learned was Love. I dreaded Him, until grace was given me to arise and wrestle, as Jacob did … who either must slay or pronounce deliverance … For hours and days and weeks in these retreats I sought the answer to my soul’s trouble and the solutions of its dark questioning.” She felt, she tells us, like one who is leaning over a great gulf, whence none who fall into it ever return. And then — “the pride and rebellion of my heart gave way before deep and heavy sorrow; and all the sorrow gathered itself up into one great cry. In my distress I cried unto the Lord and he heard me” (F.W. Boreham, A Faggot of Torches, 73-74).

Years later, after losing her daughter in a tragic accident, Josephine Butler “resolved that all the prodigal daughters of the world should be her daughters; and she devoted the rest of her days to one of the most beautiful ministries that the world has ever seen” (Boreham, 79).

Benjamin Franklin and Psalm 127:1

“Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it.”

In 1787, the unbelieving deist Franklin realized the importance of Psalm 127 when he appealed to those who were assembled to frame a Constitution for the United States of America.

In the beginning of the contest with Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayers in this room for Divine protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a superintending Providence. To that kind Providence we owe this opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten this powerful Friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need His assistance? I have lived for a long time [eighty-one years], and the longer I live the more convincing proof I see of this truth that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this, and also believe that without His concurring aid we shall proceed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel. I therefore beg leave to move that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven and its blessing on our deliberations be held in this assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the clergy of this city be requested to officiate in that service (Prothero, 212).

These illustrations should encourage and challenge all believers. May God help us to meditate on His Word and allow it a rich dwelling in our lives.


(Originally published in FrontLine • March/April 2002 Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)


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