Trust and Trouble
Psalm 73:13
Truly I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocence.

The innocent suffer with the guilty, often suffer for them, that so the guilty, spared, may be led by God's goodness to repentance; to be helpful in such a ministry is an abundant recompense for all its pain. This the Gospel teaches us; it tells us that we have not "cleansed our hearts in vain, and washed our hands in innocency"; for that the fellowship of the righteous Saviour is the fellowship of the Man of Sorrows. But it brings us face to face with deeper mysteries than those which it solves. If we ask the reason of this — why God has so constituted the world as that all this is true; if we are not content with seeing how God acts, but want to know the reason, then there is no answer for us. We can do nothing but wait and trust. God is doing for us in the Gospel what He did for Asaph in the sanctuary; He is bringing us to trust in Him. He is confirming our faith, enlarging our conceptions of His righteousness, calling us to a broader view of His counsel, deepening our confidence that He is good. There is no mystery in life so dark but we can bear it, if only we are persuaded that God is pursuing His purpose in it. Let us consider, then —

I. HOW FORGETFULNESS OF GOD LEADS US TO CHAFE UNDER THE PAINFUL DISPENSATIONS OF HUMAN LIFE (ver. 8). No doubt Asaph was perfectly familiar with the pious sayings in which the experience of the godly is gathered up and afterwards repeated by others. Doubtless he could have talked as sagely as we about the prosperity of the wicked being transient, of the Lord's loving whom He chastens, and scourging every son whom He receives. But the feebleness of his hold upon these truths is seen in that he cannot bear their actual sight. When he "sees" the prosperity of the foolish; when he marks their pride and self-complacency, that seem to laugh his lowly trust in God to scorn; then he finds that his maxims do not serve him much, he gives way to envy of them. He needs more than maxims, however sage. It is the actual stress of life, contact with all its hard and trying realities, that tests our faith. We can talk well about God's favour being our chief joy. But can we bear to "see" the prosperity of the wicked while we ourselves are in adversity? That is the real test and strain. Notice, too, how envy grows into self-righteousness. "Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain." Such words suggest that the man is pretty well satisfied with himself, because he is free front blame. And verses 10-14 show deep distrust in God, as well as flippant self-satisfaction. It suggests, "We good men ought not to be treated thus, we are not being dealt with righteously." They even venture to ask, "Is there knowledge in the Most High?" Does God Almighty know what He is doing? This is what is meant. Asaph is startled when he sees where the speculation he has begun is leading him. Hence he says, "If I say, I will speak thus, behold I should offend against," etc.

II. NOTICE SOME CONSIDERATIONS WHICH MAY HELP US TO TRUST THAT GOD IS GOOD IN ORDAINING FOR US THE PAINFUL DISPENSATIONS OF HUMAN LIFE. Perhaps we could not have borne prosperity. When Asaph went into the sanctuary of God and saw the end of the wicked, he learned that they had been "set in slippery places," that the "pride" which "compassed them about as a chain," that their "having more than heart could wish," had but sealed them up against the day of "desolation," and the "terrors" that should "utterly consume" them. Because they were prosperous, they were self-confident, and their self-confidence was their destruction. And then there opens upon him an awful vision of what prosperity might have done for him. With the memory of his sinful murmuring upon him, he feared that he might have grown sinfully proud. The heart which tribulation had grieved would have been hardened by prosperity. So "foolish" was he, and "ignorant" in his adversity, "as a beast before God"; what would he have been if he had known no trouble? Then think, how hopeless would be the restoration of the wicked, which the Gospel bids us hope for, and not for their destruction, if all the sufferings of life were apportioned to them, and the righteous were never troubled. They would be consciously and irrevocably doomed, and they would sink into worse despair. It is to save them from this end that God does them good: He would "spare" them, that so "His goodness may lead them to repentance"; He would save them from the hopeless agony of seeing themselves already condemned. It is the grace of God that restores the ungodly, not His punishments. And then let us look on Christ — what a life was His! Trouble, anguish, and at the end the Cross. And yet He was God's well-beloved Son. Would we not be with Him? God has better things for His children than prosperity.

(A. Mackennal, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency.

WEB: Surely in vain I have cleansed my heart, and washed my hands in innocence,

A Right Act But a Wrong Opinion
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