So far in our treatment of the Psalms versus common grace, we have looked at Psalms 5 and 11, both penned by David. Now we turn to Psalm 73, a Psalm of Asaph.
Asaph observed "the prosperity of the wicked" (3). They enjoy good health (4), experience little hardship in life (5), "increase in riches" (12) and "have more than heart could wish" (7). Yet they are draped with pride and clothed with violence (6) and they "speak loftily" (8) and "set their mouth against the heavens" (9), asking "How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the most High?" (11).
Asaph was jealous of them: "I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked" (3). Listen to his lament: "Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency. For all the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning" (13-14). "I seek to follow the Lord," reasoned Asaph, "but all I receive is daily chastening. Why don’t I prosper and grow wealthy? Why should I bother living a godly life?" He nearly apostatized: "But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped" (2)!
What was Asaph’s problem? He believed in common grace. Asaph thought that the material prosperity of the wicked meant that God loved them and blessed them, and, since he was not wealthy like them, he was not loved or blessed by God—at least not as much as he should be.
Notice where Asaph’s problem was resolved: "I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end" (17). He began to think straight again when he met with the Holy One in His dwelling place. This happens today when foolish Christians envious at the prosperous wicked and/or confused by the false doctrine of common grace come to believe the teaching of faithful churches concerning God’s uncommon grace—His sovereign, particular and irresistible grace in the cross of Jesus Christ alone.
What was it that Asaph came to understand? "their end" (17), where they were headed: eternal punishment in hell. "Surely thou didst set them in slippery places: thou castedst them down into destruction. How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! they are utterly consumed with terrors" (18-19). The ungodly are like men walking on ice or "slippery places" (18). All the good things that they receive from God in His providence (health, money, well-paying jobs, big cars, fine houses) are so many weights that they carry on the ice, making it all the easier to slip and fall into destruction. Notice too that it is God Himself who pushes them over and throws them into hell: "thou castedst them down into destruction" (18). It all happens "in a moment!" (19). How fearful!
Asaph now understood that their earthly prosperity did not prove that God loves them and blesses them. Instead, Jehovah "despises" them (20)! The Most High sets them in slippery places until He shoves them and they fall into the bottomless pit. "How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! they are utterly consumed with terrors" (19).
When Asaph came to his senses, he felt ashamed of his former unbelief and stupidity: "Thus my heart was grieved, and I was pricked in my reins. So foolish was I, and ignorant: I was as a beast before thee" (21-22).
Asaph’s faith is renewed and he testifies of God’s goodness to him. No matter if he is rich or poor, God is graciously present with him (23). This is Asaph’s living hope: "Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory" (24). Listen to his wonderful confession of trust and hope in the Lord: "Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever" (25-26).
The opening verse of the Psalm sums it all up: "Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart" (1). Jehovah’s goodness to Israel is His love, favour and grace towards them in Jesus Christ, irrespective of worldly wealth or poverty. Israel is further defined as those who "are of a clean heart" (1) and not the prosperous wicked in Israel who "perish" (27) and whom Asaph used to envy (3). Christian ministers and all Jehovah’s people should emulate Asaph by drawing near to God in order to "declare all [His] works" (28), including His work of providence in His justice (not grace) towards the prosperous wicked and His righteous destruction of them (27).
For more on Psalm 73, I would strongly recommend Prof. David Engelsma’s fine book, Prosperous Wicked and Plagued Saints (available from the CPRC Bookstore for £6.60, inc. P & P), as the best and most thorough exposition of Psalm 73 that I have read.
The same point made in Psalm 73 is stated more briefly in Psalm 92:5-9. The wicked are flourishing, springing up like grass (7): growing tall and green; growing fast; filled with life and vitality; healthy, beautiful and secure. Surely, common grace reckons, this is a proof and demonstration of God’s love for the ungodly: "When the wicked spring as the grass, and when all the workers of iniquity do flourish; it is because God loves them and is gracious to them and is blessing them."
But what saith the Scripture? "When the wicked spring as the grass, and when all the workers of iniquity do flourish; it is that they shall be destroyed for ever" (7). This is God’s intention and purpose and goal when He gives his enemies material prosperity. He is preparing them for hell: "it is that they shall be destroyed for ever" (7). "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Heb. 10:31). Tremble before Him! "For, lo, thine enemies, O Lord, for, lo, thine enemies shall perish; all the workers of iniquity shall be scattered" (Ps. 92:9). You who are unbelieving, turn to Jesus Christ or you will perish everlastingly!
Those who do not see God’s purpose and intention in giving good things to the wicked—namely, their eternal destruction—are spiritually senseless and ignorant: "A brutish man knoweth not; neither doth a fool understand this" (6; cf. Ps. 73:22).
But the righteous who believe God’s Word, praise Him for His wisdom in destroying the wicked through their earthly prosperity: "O Lord, how great are thy works! and thy thoughts are very deep" (Ps. 92:5). In rejecting the false explanation of the prosperity of the wicked that is offered by the theory of common grace (7), we justify the omnipotent, righteous, wise and eternal God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: "But thou, Lord, art most high for evermore" (8).
- Volume: 12
- Issue: 5
Rev. Angust Stewart (Wife: Mary)
Ordained - 2001
Pastorates: Covenant Protestant Reformed Church of Ballymena, Northern Ireland - 2001Website: www.cprf.co.uk/
Address7 Lislunnan Road
State or ProvinceCo.Antrim
Zip CodeBT42 3NR
Telephone(01144) 28 25 891851