The Loving-kindness of God, Better than Life
William Nicholson, 1862
"Because your loving-kindness is better than life, my lips shall praise you!" Psalm 63:3
What a base opinion some men form of spiritual enjoyment! That which is delightful and enrapturing to the Christian — is dull and gloomy to the sinner. The Apostle Paul states the reason of this difference, "But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned!" 1 Corinthians 2:14
How different was the estimate which the Psalmist formed of the loving-kindness of God! "It is better than life." He entertained this opinion in the wilderness, where he wrote this Psalm, and he made the same estimate when he occupied the throne of Israel.
God's loving-kindness is better than my scepter, my crown, my throne, my kingdom, and my empire with all its honors and wealth. These will pass away, but the loving-kindness of God shall endure longer than the sun endure forever. It shall place in my hand an unfading palm, and on my head the crown of endless life, etc. "It is better than life." Hence David so frequently dwells upon this interesting subject throughout the Psalms.
I. The Loving-kindness of God.
The loving-kindness of God is that gracious affection which he manifests to his creatures, not only in the blessings of creation and providence — but especially in the covenant of grace.
There is something peculiar in the term; not merely kindness which he shows to all men, in supplying their needs, causing his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, etc., Matthew 5:45. But it is Loving-kindness, a term of endearment, borrowed from the various relationships of life — as existing between parents and children, "As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him!" Psalm 103:13.
His love is more tender and sympathetic than that of a mother, Isaiah 66:18; Isaiah 49:14-16. He is "a friend that sticks closer than a brother." He is "a brother born for adversity." It is a love greater and more tender than that existing between husbands and wives, Hosea 2:19; Ephesians 5:25-27.
It is a term expressive of kindness — unparalleled, infinite, and which no one else can manifest. See Isaiah 63:7 Consider,
1. Its Manifestation. Manifested by God. The loving-kindness of God caused him to devise and arrange the covenant of redemption — to give his Son for the life of sinners. It brought the Son of God from the Father's bosom; subjected him to tabernacle on earth; allied him to humanity, and all its sorrows; conducted him as a sacrifice to the cross, where he endured the wrath of God due to guilty man. "He who spared not his own Son," etc. "God so loved the world," etc.
Thus the loving-kindness of God, in the substitution of Christ for man, became the source of salvation, of absolution of sin, deliverance from spiritual bondage, and of a full and gracious acceptance with God.
This manifestation was marvelous indeed, if we consider . . .
the infinite dignity of the Divine Sufferer,
the total unworthiness of the objects of his love, and
the infinite and everlasting blessedness which that love purchased.
No human mind can fully conceive the riches and glory of this loving-kindness. No human tongue can describe it in its length and breadth, etc. Human language, with all its expressive figures, is insufficient here. "God SO loved the world." There is an eternity of meaning in that word SO.
2. Its powerful influence. The loving-kindness of God . . .
converts men to God,
enlightens the mind,
convinces of sin,
melts the heart,
leads to faith,
regenerates the soul,
gives a saving interest in Christ,
and consecrates a man to God.
The loving-kindness of God has converted the most obdurate — such as . . .
Saul of Tarsus,
the filthy Corinthians,
the idolatrous Ephesians,
the wicked Magdalene,
and the reviling malefactor.
The loving-kindness of God has made the worst members of society, into the most useful to the world, causing them to love the saints whom they formerly wished to murder, and to preach the faith which they sought to destroy. Hence Paul said, "God is my witness how greatly I long after you all in the affections of Christ Jesus." etc.
The loving-kindness of God is the most powerful motive to Christian zeal and activity. "For the love of Christ constrains us." It caused Apostles to labor, suffer, and die for Christ — and martyrs to give their bodies to the flames. The loving-kindness of God made dungeons pleasant, and stakes and scaffolds welcome.
3. Its rich and comprehensive import. "God is love," and this loving-kindness summons, collects, and concentrates all the attributes of the Deity — for the comfort, happiness, and sustenance of the Church. The loving-kindness of God exhibits all the purposes of Jehovah, and all the arrangements of the covenant of grace for perishing sinners.
The loving-kindness of God includes . . .
all the events of Divine Providence for the good of the saved;
all the influences of the Holy Spirit, enlightening, quickening, comforting, and sealing the soul;
all the guardianship and care of the Almighty Shepherd;
all the promises;
all the ordinances;
the hope of endless life,
and endless life itself!
His loving-kindness fills with the fullness of God.
4. Its duration. The loving-kindness of God is not confined to earth, nor bounded by time. Death cannot destroy it; the grave cannot entomb it. It will survive the disruption of all earthly ties, flourish at the resurrection of the just, and yield its immortalizing influence when time shall be swallowed up in eternity! "Your mercy, O God, is from everlasting to everlasting, upon all those that fear you."
Even in this respect, by its duration, it "is better than life." "Your effusive mercy is better than life, or lives. It is better than, and good beyond countless ages of human existence." It will survive all things. "Because I live, you shall live also." "And this is the record that God has given us, even eternal life."
II. The Glorious Property of This Loving-kindness."It is better than life."
Such a declaration cannot be made by the wicked, nor by the formalist, or mere professor of religion. With many the world is ALL — they idolize it, and dread death to end their enjoyment of it. Such an estimate as this, "better than life," can only be made by the man who is deeply experienced in the loving-kindness of God.
He is acquainted with it,
he has a saving interest in it, and
he hopes, through grace, to enjoy it forever.
Such only can say, "It is better than life!"
1. The loving-kindness of God is better than life, because it makes the life honorable, which otherwise would have been base and ignoble. It calls from darkness — to light; from the practice and defilement of sin — to the practice of piety and the beauties of holiness. It plants in the soul the graces of the Spirit, and these adorn the life. Therefore, a life of holiness is better than a life of impurity.
2. The loving-kindness of God makes the life useful and profitable, which otherwise would have been unprofitable, if not destructive. There is no profit in sin. A sinner is not a useful member of society in a moral and spiritual sense. "One sinner destroys much good." How useful is the true Christian! "I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me." Philemon 1:10-11. "It teaches us to say 'No' to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age!" Titus 2:12
3. The loving-kindness of God sanctifies and dignifies life, its possessions and property. Some have these, but they are unsanctified and misappropriated. The heart is riveted to them, and the hand holds them with a firm grasp. When they lose these, they lose their gods. But the loving-kindness of God causes the Christian to say, "These comforts, these enjoyments, this wealth, this estate, and this prosperity — are the gifts of Providence. They are not mine; they are the Lord's, and I will not abuse them. As far as I can, I will consecrate them to his glory. While I thank God for them, I will not set my heart upon them. They are fleeting things. I too must soon leave them. My hope is in God!" "Whom have I in Heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you!" Psalm 73:25
The loving-kindness of God dignifies the relationships of life, making us courteous, piteous, and kind.
The loving-kindness of God dignifies the pursuits of life. Secular transactions are characterized by honor and justice. The golden rule is observed, and the righteous in this sense is more excellent than his neighbor. If we look into society, we shall find many miserable, though surrounded with good. Some evil temper, pride, or anger, or covetousness, preys on their spirits, and renders them unhappy. They are out at sea, without rudder, or compass, or pilot. They need the loving-kindness of God to calm the troubled ocean of life, and steer their vessels safely.
4. The loving-kindness of God is an antidote to all the sorrows of life. Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward. Trouble arising . . .
from a frail and dying body,
from bereavements, the loss of some dear friend or relative,
from reverses in trade,
from the unkindness or treachery of man.
If you are not in trouble now, it will surely come. The clouds are gathering.
What must alleviate these sorrows; what must sweeten our bitter cup? The loving-kindness of God, which says, "I afflict you from necessity. I do it in love. It will yield n rich revenue of good to you. I will sweeten your bitter cup, and superintend its operation. The outcome shall be glorious." "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose!" Romans 8:28
Thus the Divine loving-kindness opens the eyes of the believer:
he sees God in the clouds;
he beholds him in the burning-bush;
he traces him in the fiery furnace.
The Divine loving-kindness opens the ears of the believer, and a soothing voice is heard by him amid the storms of adversity, saying. "It is I! Do not be afraid!" Thus the bitter becomes sweet, and the darkness light and pleasant. The bitter cup is submissively taken and drunk. "May the will of the Lord be done."
5. The loving-kindness of God makes up the deficiencies of life. Life, however prized and loved, is not perfect. It can never satisfy the cravings of an immortal soul. Whatever good there may be in the creature, in domestic life, in the pursuits of life, in science and philosophy — there will always be something lacking. For a confirmation of this let us ask KINGS.
First, DAVID. He finds something "better" — the loving-kindness of God. What, are you not happy and satisfied with . . .
the royalty and dignities of your life,
your magnificent palace,
your glorious throne,
your refulgent crown,
your mighty scepter,
your vast dominions,
your numerous subjects, and
your overflowing treasures of gold, silver, and all precious things?
No! I am not satisfied. "The Lord is my portion." "Whom have I in Heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever!" I am not satisfied with these fleeting things. "As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in your likeness."
Secondly, ask SOLOMON, his son, that man of imagination, of experiment, of philosophy, and of vast wealth. Compared with the loving-kindness of God, he casts all human things into the shade, and writes this as their epitaph, "Vanity of vanities; all is vanity and vexation of spirit!"
And such also has been the concessions made by very many distinguished people of opulence, of honor, and dignity. There is always something lacking.
And if you could emancipate yourselves from your present circumstances, and become extremely rich, noble, and honorable — you would still find something lacking.
Nay, if you could collect all the riches, honors, and enjoyments of man from the beginning of creation to the last hour on the dial of time, and concentrate them in one mass for your enjoyment — you would not be satisfied, they would pall at length upon your appetite, and you would pant after something still higher.
Could you rise from this terrestrial ball, and enter some distant planet, and then another, and another — there would still be something lacking. Material objects can never satisfy an immortal spirit!
What then is to supply this deficiency? Nothing, but the loving-kindness of God, which gives . . .
blessings that can never end,
pleasures that will never satiate,
employments that will never tire,
and companions who will never die.
And when we enter glory, that which is perfect will have come. There the loving-kindness of God shall . . .
enlighten us by a sun that shall never go down,
refresh us by a river of life always flowing, and
adorn us with a crown that will never fade away.
The loving-kindness of God shall, through eternity, maintain our felicity, and our increasing delight in it. "It is better than life."
6. The loving-kindness of God prepares the soul to surrender life at the approach of death, and to die triumphantly in the Lord. "It is appointed unto men once to die." In spite of every precaution, and all care, and skill . . .
the last attack of disease will come,
the time of parting with all earthly possessions will come,
the separating with all endeared friends will come,
the solemn moment of death will come,
the time for the utterance of the last farewell will come,
the last throbbing of the pulse, and the last groan will come,
the parting of the ethereal spirit and the material body, will come,
the shroud and the coffin will come,
the grave, and the worm, and corruption will come.
All these things, so repugnant to nature, are sure to come; for "there is no man that has power over the spirit to retain the spirit; neither has he power in the day of his death, and there is no discharge in that war."
But all wish to evade death as long as they possibly can. "Not yet, not yet!" is their constant cry. They would bribe death away; they would part with all things to prolong human existence. Hence Runjeet Singh, the Maharajah of Lahore, and the owner of the Koh-i-noor diamond, when at the point of death, verified the truth of the declaration, "All that a man has, he will give for his life." Though that diamond was worth a fortune — yet he offered to give it to his spiritual adviser, if he could, by his intercession, prolong his existence. But, alas! the earthly diamond had no power then. The poor wretch required a more precious gem, even the loving-kindness of God, to reconcile him to the loss of life.
And nothing else can do it.
Silver and gold cannot.
Rubies, still more precious, cannot do it.
Your friends and companions cannot do it.
Natural bravery cannot do it.
Human philosophy cannot do it.
Infidelity and Atheism quail then, and they cannot do it.
None of these can provide a remedy for death.
Where then, O where, shall we find a remedy for death? Only in the loving-kindness of God! The depth says, "It is not in me," and the sea says, "It is not in me." It cannot be gotten for gold, neither shall silver be weighed for the price thereof. It cannot be valued with the gold of Ophir, with the precious onyx, or the splendid sapphire. The gold and the crystal cannot equal it. No mention shall be made of coral, or of pearls, or of the topaz of Ethiopia; for the price of this loving-kindness is above rubies!
In the moment of dissolution, the Divine loving-kindness supported David, "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me! Psalm 23:4. And all the "righteous" ever since, for they "have hope in their death."
It caused Simeon to triumph, "Lord, now let your servant depart in peace!" It made Paul valiant in the prospect of martyrdom; "What mean you to weep," etc. Acts 20:22-25; 21:13. Yes, this Divine loving-kindness assures the Christian that for him . . .
that Christ has unstinged death, and deprived the grave of its power;
that Christ will be with him in death, which shall be his gain;
that angels shall transport his soul to the skies;
that his body shall be raised and glorified after the fashion of Christ's glorified body.
Thus it is "better than life," for it substitutes a better life than that of our earthly existence.
III. That This Loving-kindness Should Produce Praise."My lips shall praise you."
1. For its Source, even Christ. You gave your Son to be the life of men. He suffered death for me. Through him I am saved, and have everlasting life.
2. For the application of it to my soul. Once I knew it not. I was in darkness, dead in trespasses and sins. But the Spirit revealed this loving-kindness to my heart. I now feel it to be better than life, sweetening its bitters, etc.
3. For the hope that I entertain of realizing the benefits of this loving-kindness forever.
4. My praise shall be heartfelt and sincere.
5. It shall be private, as I think about it — and public when I hear it proclaimed. I will sing your praises with the congregations of your people.
6. My praise shall be practical. I will devote myself to your glory. I will proclaim your love. I will strive to bring others to the knowledge of it.
And when time with me shall be no more, the praises of my lips on earth will be succeeded by the praises of eternity:
I'll praise my Maker while I've breath;
And when my voice is lost in death,
Praise shall employ my nobler powers,
My days of praise shall never be past,
While life, and thought, and being last,
Or immortality endures!