Identification of the Godly

Arthur Pink, April, 1950

It is a great mistake to suppose that it is only in the Scriptures of the New Testament that we shall find the features of a Christian described: the same is equally true of the Old Testament. It would indeed be passing strange were it otherwise, for God's work of grace within His people is essentially one in all generations. As human nature and human needs have known no change since our first parents were driven out of Eden, neither has God varied His method or means in ministering unto His children. The supernatural operations of the Holy Spirit in Abel, Enoch, and Noah — did not differ from those which He put forth in Peter, Paul, and Timothy; and the spiritual fruits which He produced through them were one and the same in each instance. Thus, the marks or characteristics of the godly have been uniform in every age and climate. Antediluvian or post-diluvian, Jew or Gentile, first century or twentieth A.D. — the soul experiences of God's elect have been similar.

There has been a like realization of their sinnership and lost condition, a like longing for God's salvation and panting after holiness, a like realization of their own helplessness to improve themselves or do anything to win God's acceptance, a like looking off unto Christ for redemption, and a like peace and joy when assured of their pardon. "As in water face answers to face, so the heart of man to man" (Pro 27:19) — true both naturally and spiritually.

A striking and blessed illustration of what has been pointed out above is found in Psalm 119, which was aptly called by a writer of two hundred years ago, "The anatomy of a regenerate soul," for therein we have delineated the most secret dispositions of a godly heart. Its condition and pulsations are there fully opened to our view. The whole psalm supplies us with a complete portrait of a saint: his aspirations, his meditations, the exercises of his inner man, and his conduct. Though the circumstances through which David passed may be, in their accidental and incidental details, different from God's providential dealings with the reader — yet if he is regenerate, his inward history corresponds closely with that of the sweet Psalmist of Israel. "That which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:6), and as Charles Bridges (1794-1869) said in the introduction to his excellent exposition of Psalm 119, "The modern believer, therefore, when employed in tracing the record of Patriarchal or Mosaic experience, will mark in the infirmities of the ancient people of God — a picture of his own heart; and in comparing their gracious exercises with his own, he will be ready to acknowledge, 'All these works that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will' (1 Corinthians 12:11).

"In this view, it is the object of this work to exhibit an Old Testament believer in a New Testament garb as one 'walking in the same spirit and in the same steps' with ourselves. 'Faith which works by love' (Gal 5:6) — the fundamental distinction of the Gospel — pervading the whole man….In all the variety of Christian feelings and holy conduct, we observe its operations leading the soul into communion with God, and molding every part into a progressive conformity to His image. When we view the 'man after God's own heart' . . .
taking God for his portion (Psalm 119:57),
assembling with His people (verses 63, 79),
feeding upon His Word (verses 47, 97, 111);
when we mark . . .
his zeal for his Master's glory (verse 139),
his devotedness (verse 38), and
self-denial (verse 62) in his Master's work;
when we see him ever ready . . .
to confess His name (verses 46, 115, 172),
to bear His reproach (verses 23, 69, 87), and
caring only to answer it by a steady adherence to Him (verses 51, 78, 157)
 — do we not in those lineaments of character recognize the picture of one who in after times could turn to the churches of Christ and say, 'Wherefore I beseech you, be followers of me' (1 Corinthians 4:16)? Happy are they who are conformed to this holy man."

We may well use Psalm 119 (among other purposes) as a standard by which to determine the state of our souls. Let each reader of this article bring his inner man to this touchstone, comparing its workings and aspirations with the display there given of David's affections. If your desires correspond with His, if you find your heart has His holy longings, then you may well conclude that God has "renewed a right spirit within you" (Psalm 51:10). On the other hand, if you are unacquainted with such spiritual breathings as are here discovered and are a stranger unto such holy exercises, if its language be in your ears as an unknown tongue — then be assured that you are not a new creature in Christ.

Each lineament of this heaven-born soul should be separately and thoughtfully examined. Here we will confine ourselves unto a single one: "I have longed for your salvation, O LORD; and your law is my delight" (Psalm 119:174).

"Salvation" is here to be taken in its widest sense, and not limited to the pardon of sins, or cancellation of guilt. In its fullness, "salvation" includes all the mercies of the everlasting covenant. It is viewed here not from the judicial but the experiential side, and therefore, as an object of longing — unto a soul which is sensible of its deep needs and sees in God's salvation, a complete supply for them.

"I have longed for your salvation, O LORD" was said by David not as one who had not yet tasted that He is gracious, but who yearned for a fuller acquaintance with Him. David now sat upon the throne of Israel, yet that contented him not. Have you found every earthly possession and pleasure to be vanity? Have your eyes been opened to see your wretchedness, your heart been made to feel its deep needs? Is there a hungering and thirsting in your soul after righteousness? Then do you not exclaim, "I have longed for your salvation, O LORD"?

That longing has several degrees. At first, it may be like a smoking flax, where one can hardly discern a spark of fire, because it is choked by the prevalence of unbelief. But if it is inspired by the Holy Spirit, it will become more lively and vivid, and break forth into ardent prayers. Yes, it will eventually obtain such strength as to make its possessor say, "As the deer pants after the water brooks, so pants my soul after you, O God" (Psalm 42:1), and He has promised "the desire of the righteous shall be granted" (Pro 10:24).

Such longing marks the character of all quickened souls. It is an evidence of a work of grace, for it springs from love to its Author. But the thoughtful and discriminating reader may ask, "Do not some of the unregenerate have a longing for God's salvation — that they may be delivered from the wrath to come?" At times they think so, and perhaps say so, but their actions prove the contrary. Even so, how am I to distinguish my "longing" from theirs? By its very nature. Is your longing actuated only by a sense of dread of the everlasting burnings, or mainly by a desire to be delivered from the power and pollution of sin? Is your desire constant and persistent, something more than a passing fancy? Is it serious and earnest, and not just a superficial and fickle notion? Is it an influential one which leads to action, to diligent seeking — and not merely an idle whim? Is it a predominant one, so that all other interests are subordinated to its realization, and not one which is overcome by the opposition of the flesh and allurements of the world? If so, there is good reason to believe God is its Author.

But let the inquiry be pressed still more closely. David not only declared, "I have longed for your salvation, O LORD," but he added, "and your law is my delight." If your longing be for holiness, then it is necessarily accompanied by an approbation of God's scepter, for subjection thereto is the way unto its realization. A spiritual desire for God's salvation issues in a delight of His precepts, and such delight is the very pulse of the spiritual life. Delight in God's commandments is not found in the unregenerate, for "the carnal mind is enmity against God," and is "not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be" (Rom 8:7). But the language of one who is born of God is "I will delight myself in your commandments, which I have loved" (Psalm 119:47). The two things cannot be separated: "LORD, I have hoped for your salvation, and done your commandments" (Psalm 119:166) — not perfectly so, but with a sincere and real endeavor to conform unto them. The hearts of all God's children are in the same mold: they love what He loves — and hate what He hates. Though when they "would do good, evil is present" with them; nevertheless, each one can truthfully aver, "For I delight in the law of God after the inward man" (Rom 7:21-22).

"I have longed for your salvation, O LORD" — not "I have not fully attained unto it." Such a longing arises from a sense of insufficiency in ourselves. At the close of his eventful life, Jacob declared, "I have waited for your salvation, O LORD" (Gen 49:18). A like submissive expectation befits us. "It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD" (Lam 3:26). "We ourselves also, who have received the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves do groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption" (Rom 8:23). So long as we are in this earthly scene, our longings are unsatisfied; necessarily so, for we yearn for and press unto perfection. If you can truthfully say, "My soul thirsts for God, for the living God" (Psalm 42:2), then you need not have the slightest hesitation in declaring, "As for me, I will behold your face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with your likeness" (Psalm 17:15).