Blast from the Past–Kind Of

This blog doesn’t have much of a past, I know. The blast in this case is a past writing of mine that predates Puritan Girl by just a few months. I’ve been thinking lately about the matter of human worth and the Christian’s standing before God, and I recalled a journal entry in which I reflected on the messianic implications of Psalm 45, eventually focusing on verses 10-15. What follows is that portion of the journal entry, dated 14 February 2015, with some edits and additions to make it more fitting for a public posting. I hope it’s helpful for someone.

Ps 45:10, 11: “Hear, O daughter, and consider, and incline your ear; forget your people and your father’s house, and the king will desire your beauty. Since he is your lord, bow to him.” (ESV)

The entirety of Psalm 45 was manifestly written on the occasion of a king’s wedding, but the author of Hebrews applies vv. 6 and 7 to Jesus. I accessed a handful of translations and commentaries. Some (especially in the Puritan tradition, e.g., Matthew Henry) view the whole psalm as messianic; the NKJV goes so far as to capitalize the masculine pronouns and “Lord” and “King”. Others are cautious to take it that far, preferring to focus it more in its Old Testament context. I think, however, that even people in that second group would think the points I make here are valid.

If the king in the passage is Christ, then the daughter of verse 10 must be the church, and that is exactly what those who favor the messianic interpretation contend. The body of believers is collectively referred to as the Bride of Christ or of the Lamb, whether specifically as in Rev. 19 or by implication as in Eph. 5.

Forget your people and your father’s house” is in its immediate context a command for the Bride to shift her priorities and allegiances and see herself foremost as a member of the king’s household. One might think of some of the exhortations directed at believers to the effect that they be in the world but not of it (John 17:16), that they renounce ungodliness and worldly passions (Titus 2:12). At one time we were darkness, but now that we are “light in the Lord” we are to walk as such and have nothing further to do with “the unfruitful works of darkness” (Eph. 5:8-10). In sum, by coming to Christ one joins a new household, the household of faith, and ought to leave behind—forget—the sinful deeds and habits of his past.

It is by doing that, by striving to live in obedience to God’s will, that a believer manifests the submission called for in v. 11 of the psalm. The immediate meaning of the command (rendered “bow to” in the ESV and “honor” in the NIV) is plain enough: the new wife is to submit to her husband’s headship. Likewise the church is to submit to Christ’s rule (and if that relationship is what is in view, the KJV and NKJV rendering of “worship” is fully appropriate). The obedience called for, the purity and holiness, is the beauty this King desires.

Verses 13-15 remind me of Rev. 19:7-9: “’…for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure’ –for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.” The church as Bride is dressed in a garment of holiness, having committed “righteous deeds” that are pleasing to the Bridegroom—again, the “beauty” He desires. Ps. 45:15 says “With joy and gladness they are led along as they enter the presence of the king”, and Rev. 19:9 makes it clear that in that passage, the final union of Christ and the church is in view, and its celebration.

I said I hoped this would be helpful to someone, and I’m getting to the part I had in mind. For some people, talk about obedience and living in a way to please God can be depressing. There are those who are aware of what is expected of them as children of light, and acutely aware of how much they fall short of those expectations. They may imagine that God is always displeased with them, a displeasure that ranges from disappointment to anger. And they may feel an intense self-hatred, despairing of ever getting better. Even the things they do that might be called “good” they pick apart and find some reason to see as valueless, because they weren’t enough, or didn’t come from the right motives, or some such reason. I myself have periods where I succumb to such depression and self-condemnation.

That’s why I so appreciate this psalm, particularly verses 10, 11, and 13. The Westminster Confession defines Christians’ good works as the result of their regeneration, the Spirit’s indwelling them, and their own diligent stirring up of the Spirit within them (WCF 16.3). Those works are weak and have many imperfections, but because they arise from regenerate people with sincere motives and pass through the mediating work of Christ, they are pleasing to God (16.6). One of the scriptural supports for this is Hebrews 13:20-21. As it says in v. 21, God equips “us to do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Christ Jesus.” I’m grateful for the WCF’s directing me to that verse. I’m grateful for the reassurance, to know that I really can please God, though only by His grace.

The way this connects to Ps. 45 should be somewhat obvious: the church is accepted as Bride by Christ. She is attired in the holy garment He provided. She belongs to Him and worships Him, and He actually finds her desirable, beautiful. The church and the individual sinners that make it up—including me and everyone else who has that struggle with guilt and condemnation. We’re still works in progress and the wedding feast hasn’t happened yet, but it’s not like He hates us or even loves us any less for our lingering impurity.

In May of 2014 I realized that despair at my continuing to sin was itself sinful because it expressed lack of faith in God’s ability to sanctify me. Several months later, it occurred to me that such despair also insults God because it betrays lack of appreciation for what He’s already done in me, the changes He’s already wrought in my character and heart. I ought not hate the person He has chosen to love, even if that person is my own self. Hate my sin, yes, definitely. But hate my person, who has been justified, is being sanctified, is loved by God and even pleasing, beautiful to Him—no, definitely not.

That’s what I hope is helpful. Even now, having articulated all of that, I still need to be reminded of it at times. I still have very low days, when I look at the little petty, selfish things I do, or consider how proud I am, and think, I’m such a worm, how can God love me when I can barely live with myself? But if I’m going to take Him at His word, then I have to believe He does, and for the reasons He gives—He has formed and is forming me into a thing that is more to His liking. And though my cooperation is faltering and woefully meager, Jesus completes and perfects it, makes it acceptable.

Thinking of that truth should be an effective antidote to unhealthy levels of guilt and despair. There is a place for self-examination and all too often is it neglected (antinomianism runs rampant in some “Christian” circles these days), to be sure. But there is such a thing as going too far. And those of us who do go too far at times would do well to contemplate often the Lord’s faithfulness and affection for His children. The Bride may not be pure and spotless yet, but we are still a thing of beauty to the Bridegroom. And He will see to it that we are pure when it’s time for the feast.