16 Why do you look with hatred, O many-peaked mountain,
at the mount that God desired for his abode,
yes, where the LORD will dwell forever?
17 The chariots of God are twice ten thousand, thousands upon thousands;
the Lord is among them; Sinai is now in the sanctuary.
18 You ascended on high,
leading a host of captives in your train and receiving gifts among men.
Yes, even the rebellious live in your presence, O LORD my God.
19 Blessed be the Lord,
who daily bears us up;
God is our salvation.
20 Our God is a God of salvation,
and to GOD, the Lord, belong deliverances from death.
21 But God will strike the heads of his enemies …
No position is more seriously disappointing and more sadly disavowed in its outcome than the opinion that people can be divided into the unconverted, who rise up against God in rebellion, and the converted, who walk behind their Shepherd as obediently and submissively as sheep.
That was never the case! It’s never been like that! And it never will be!
Just ask yourself who is more persistent in asking for the forgiveness of sins. Who does so from the depths of their soul and in spirit and truth? Who consistently feels deeply sorry? Who continually lies in dust and ashes before their God, brokenhearted and with psalms of penitence on their lips?
Do you think this is happening with the unconverted? Do you suppose it’s the unconverted that resonate with an expression such as “How everyone laments, complaining about their sins?” If you do, you’d be sadly mistaken!
No, we do not question the fact that even the most defiant people now and then experience twinges of conscience and are unsettled. They have some impression of God’s terrible anger. We know that even outside Golgotha’s cross people can be shocked by their own wickedness. There can even be a tearful search for relief from sorrow without a tormented soul ever finding such a place.
The actual, steady, and increasing thirst for the forgiveness of sins you don’t find with the children of the world. Nor do you find pleas for mercy there. Rather, these you find precisely with those that you would think rise far above the need for them. You find them only with the children of God. And you find them there not only at the time of their conversion or shortly afterward but until the day that they die.
They were rebellious. But because they are bound to the horns of the altar with cords of everlasting mercy despite themselves, they are always convinced in their heart of hearts that they are capable of fleeing that altar should their High Priest whom they confess ever cut those cords. But they are definitely no longer what they once were! On the contrary! They have become changed people! Earlier they would have found it horrible if they had thought that Jesus could capture their rebellious heart. But now, by way of contrast, they would find it horrible to think that Jesus would ever let go of their rebellious soul. Despite that being so, they remain rebellious people who are tied to Jesus with strength far stronger than their own.
To be sure, the stronger force with which they are bound to Jesus is no external force. It’s not like the rope that a Levite used to force a bull or ram to lower its head before the altar. No, Jesus uses inner bonds. You can’t see them. This is spiritual work. He binds you, and you don’t understand how. He holds you securely, and you don’t notice what he’s using. Jesus even gets to the point of using that stronger force to keep your will in check, so far, in fact, that your will finally desires what at first it did not want.
But whatever is used to achieve that inner submission, the child of God here on earth retains the feeling until the day they die that something else keeps tugging at their soul. A power is working on it! The sense remains that if that power ever stopped working, they would snap loose like the stave of a barrel or like a rubber band released and that they would regress, far away from Jesus.
In actuality, things are going far better than that child perceives. But inwardly they feel deeper forces at work within that pull them away from Jesus. They want to follow along when Jesus leads with his tether. But even in that desire to go with him, a resistance is tugging and pulling in a different direction. It’s as though the doorposts and window frames of a person’s soul are sagging and crooked! The depths of their heart are exposed. And the pool bubbling up within is frightening. With brighter light, all the filthy splattering it produces can be seen. In the end, the self-conscious child of God sinks into deeper dejection that doesn’t weaken but becomes stronger as time passes. They complain: “O Lord, how could my miserable heart be so terribly ungodly?”
That’s what gives rise to the appeal “Cleanse me with hyssop!” And to the complaint “Lord, Lord, hear my prayer!” And when they hear from others who claim that they can no longer pray the fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, they don’t understand them. But they don’t condemn them either; they simply say that they live by a different gospel than he does. They admit that they would be lying to God if they suggested otherwise.
Yes, God’s children are rebellious until the day they die. But when they first recognize that Jesus is tugging at them, they know by that tugging that they are rebellious people who must live in God’s presence. Living with God! Above! In the Father’s house! Willingly! In one of the many rooms that Jesus will have already prepared!
But for now they are still living in that hidden Zion, in the house of God that constitutes the church. In sweet communion! Enfolded in that secret fellowship of the redeemed! No longer living along with the world, but dwelling with God!
In such a way that the Lord of the house could freely throw open all the doors, could dismiss the watchmen, and could loosen all ties to it! But look, if the Lord God did that, as terrible as it is to admit this, then all God’s children who had not yet walked through the gates of death would scamper their way out of God’s holy dwelling and fall into ruin. They know they would!
And just because they know that, and because they find it so horrifying should they lose touch with their God, they don’t say: “O my Lord, I love you so much and am so confident of my situation that I know that you are capable of overlooking everything and that I will still dwell in your presence!” No, they say just the opposite: “O my God and Father continue to uphold me. Let your watchmen stay alert so that I do not slip away. Don’t loosen the bands of your everlasting love, for things are good only in your presence. Only with you are things wonderful! Glorious! But my own heart would mislead me and my fleshly appetites would kill me. Like a sheep, I have so often wandered off and looked around instead of staying with you as your child. Show me your favor. In your grace, favor me by living in my heart.”
The Savior hears that prayer!
And when he sees that we are rebellious and would like to flee from God but still want to live in fellowship with him, he comes with his reassuring comfort in the words of this unwavering promise:
I have determined for the people’s comfort
that even my conflicted children
will always live near to God.
Then he accomplishes it. He does what he promises. The outcome is that your rebellious soul is still living and keeps on living in the presence of your God.
Abraham Kuyper, Ever in Thy Sight: 31 Devotions on the Psalms