HH, Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div
“I will be glad and rejoice in thy mercy: for thou hast considered my trouble; thou hast known my soul in adversities;” Psalm 31:7
One great comfort of assurance in this verse is that such knowledge is always very thorough. When someone has known us in adversities, then he has known us as we really are.
There is a sonnet by Blanco White, familiar to all the lovers of the beautiful, in which he develops the thought that but for the night, we should never know the stars. And so there is a very real sense in which we may say we never know a life till we have seen it in the darkness of adversity. When the sun is warm and all the leaves are green, you can scarcely see the cottage in the forest. But when the storm of winter sweeps the leaves away, then, at last, you see it as it is. It may be stronger than you ever thought, or it may be more battered and decayed, but always the winter shows it as it is.
Indeed, the revealing power of adversity strips the summer covering away. It shows us not in the setting of our circumstance, but as we are in naked reality. And therefore one who has known us in adversities, and been at our side in sorrow and calamity, knows us with an intimacy that probably nothing else can ever give. That is why the knowledge of a doctor is often more searching than that of any friend. That is why the knowledge of a wife often reaches to an unrivalled intimacy, for she has known her husband not only when all was well with him and when the sun was shining on his head, but when his heart was wary and his body sick and all his hopes seemed crumbled into dust.
It was a great comfort to the psalmist also that the Lord had pierced through every disguise. That is why he uses the word soul: “Thou hast known my soul in adversities.” To the Hebrew, more simply than to us, that word “soul” just meant the real self. There was nothing theological about it. It was a common word in common use. And what the psalmist deeply felt was this: the knowledge of God had pierced through all disguises and known him in the secret of his being.
There are few things more beautiful in life than the way in which men and women hide their sorrows. On the street and in the shops there is quiet heroism as great as any on the battlefield. You may meet a person in frequent conversation, yet all the time and unknown to you, some sorrow may be lying at his heart. How often a mother, when she is worn and ill, struggles bravely to hide it from her family. How often a husband, deep in business difficulties, struggles to keep it hidden from those at home. How often a minister, called from a scene of death which may mean for him the end of a friendship, has to go to a marriage and be happy there as if there were not a sorrow in the world. Talk of the disguises of hypocrisy! They are nothing to the disguises of the brave–those cheerful looks, that quiet and patient work when the heart within is heavy as a stone. That Spartan youth who kept a smiling face while the fox was gnawing away at him has his fellows in every community.
But Thou hast known my soul in adversity. That was the joy and comfort of the psalmist. There was one eye that pierced through all concealment, and that was the eye of an all-pitying God. Others had known his outward behaviour for in trials there are many eyes upon us. Others had heard his words and seen his actions and wondered at the courage in his bearing. But only God had read the secret story and seen how utterly desolate he was and known how often, in spite of all appearances, he had been plunged into profound despair.
There is a point where human knowledge ceases and beyond which human sympathy is powerless. It pierces deep if it is genuine, but there are depths to which it cannot pierce. And it was just there, in the region of his soul, that the psalmist felt that there was One who knew him and would never leave him nor forsake him. He felt it in the sustainment he received. He felt it in the strength that was bestowed upon him. He felt it in the peace that rested on him, peace such as a world could never give. And so when the sun shone on him again, as sooner or later it does on all of us, he took his pen and wrote in gratitude, “Thou hast known my soul in adversities.”
The Condescension of God’s Love
There was one other comfort for the psalmist at which our text hints unobscured. He had been awakened through the knowledge that he speaks of to the infinite condescension of God’s love.
A well-known German religious writer who has brought comfort to multitudes of mourners tells us how once he had a visit from a friend who was in great distress. This friend had once been a very wealthy man, and now he had fallen upon evil days, and that very morning one of his old companions had passed him without recognition on the street. Then Gotthold, for such was the writer’s name, took him by the hand and, pointing upward, said, “Thou hast known my soul in adversities.”
It is one of the sayings of the moralist that the world courts prosperity and shuns adversity. There are rats in every circle of society who all hasten to leave the sinking ship. But what the psalmist had awakened to was this: the eternal God, who was his refuge, had known him and acknowledged him and talked with him when his fortunes were at their very blackest. Nothing but love could explain the condescension. He had found in God a friend who was unfailing. “If I ascend into heaven thou art there; if I make my bed in hell thou art there.” So was the world made ready for the Saviour who, when other helpers fail and comforts flee, never deserts us, never is ashamed of us, never leaves us to face the worst alone.