Let thy mercies come also unto me, O LORD,
Even thy salvation, according to thy word (Psa 119.41).
“Lord, save me—again!” This title may indeed sound like heresy to some, an outbreak of the inevitable Arminian error that true believers may lose their salvation because of their free will, and then they may regain it, and that this process could conceivably be repeated. Our wills are so naturally fickle, that this would mean “ye must be [not only] born again, [but also] again, and again, and again.” But our title is not implying that at all. Rather, it reflects a very prevalent biblical doctrine that salvation is not merely a sinner’s once-in-a-lifetime need, but an ongoing need of saints. We who believe the gospel have been saved. We are being saved. And we shall yet be saved.
Discomfort with the notion of a repeated salvation may spring from a singularly-shallow understanding of what biblical salvation is.
Our salvation includes more than pardon from sin, deliverance from hell, and a ticket to heaven. It includes all that we shall need on our journey (Vance Havner).
All that we shall need on our journey through this world to heaven is included. In other words, the Bible uses the word “salvation” to refer to all kinds of deliverances from God, both temporal and spiritual, both in mundane things and in heavenly. Salvation is an escape from persecutors, a provision of daily bread, a spiritual strengthening against temptation, the power to forgive those who have injured us, and an assurance of God’s special love to me. It is all these things and more. Salvation is an exceedingly broad term and encompasses all the blessings purchased for Christ’s elect at the cost of His bloody sacrifice on the cross. Salvation is the application of Christ’s once-for-all redeeming work in all its fullness to particular sinners. And this comprehensive sphere of salvation is vast indeed!
SALVATION IS AN EXERCISE OF GOD’S LOVING-KINDNESSES
As is the case in so much of the OT poetry and wisdom literature, the structure of Hebrew parallelism contributes much to our understanding. Here, the second line reinforces and adds to the first, and the first fills in the thought of the second. The sense could be stated as follows:
Let thy mercies come also unto me, O LORD,
[That is,] thy salvation, [let it come unto me,]
according to thy word [the added thought].
Mercies and salvation are parallel. The Hebrew word for “mercies” is hesed, and it has gained much attention among Bible students, with competing scholars trying to make a definitive statement of its precise meaning. The AV often chooses “mercy” (149 times) for translation into English evidently because the LXX typically uses the Greek word for mercy. But the AV also uses “kindness” (40 times), “lovingkindness” (30 times), and “goodness” (12 times). Here is a sensible summary statement that expresses a scholarly consensus:
God’s “mercies,” “kindnesses,” or “faithfulnesses” are His specific, concrete acts of redemption in fulfillment of His promise.1
Modern translations have rendered the word as “unfailing love” (NIV), “steadfast love” (ESV), and “loyal love” (NET). To be precise, God’s hesed seems to be the disposition and expression of His benevolent commitment to His people’s ultimate good.
The godly psalmist appeals for salvation on the basis of God’s mercies, as Calvin argued.
There can be no doubt, that, in mentioning the mercy of God first, and afterwards his salvation, the Psalmist, according to the natural order, puts the cause before the effect. By adopting this arrangement, he acknowledges that there is no salvation for him but in the pure mercy of God.2
God is free to show mercy to whomever He will, and this gift to particular individuals may rescue them from temporal harm, and certainly, from eternal harm. So the first thing we must clearly grasp from this text is that salvation, whatever form it takes, is a gift of God’s merciful love to His elect.
SALVATION IS A FULFILLMENT OF GOD’S GOSPEL PROMISES
The added thought of the second line is, “according to thy word.” The psalmist is only asking what God has already promised to His covenant people. All the good we can possibly desire is contained in those promises. There is no true blessing that might come to anyone in this world that is outside the bounds of what God has voluntarily committed Himself to do towards the objects of His faithful love.
Our spiritual performance is not the measure or limit of what we can expect God to do for us. Woe to us if it were, because even if we could do all that He ever commanded us to do, we would still only be “unprofitable servants” to Him (Luke 17.10). And we not only fall far short of such perfection in this life, but are guilty of many omissions, slips, stumblings, falls, and failures (Eccl 7.20; cf. Jas 3.2). But this humiliating reality should not dampen our enthusiasm to ask for great deliverances from God, because His bountiful and glorious gospel promises are the measure of His commitment to save His people. Remember the sacred logic:
He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things (Rom 8.32)?
As Christ suffered all the miseries which His elect people deserved on account of their identify as God’s enemies and guilt for their sins, even so the Christian believer is destined to inherit all that Christ Himself deserved on account of His royal Person and perfect righteousness. That explains why Paul could glory as he did in God’s power to bless us far beyond all our expectations.
Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen (Eph 3.20-21).
This stupendous display of God’s grace which will only fully be seen in His eternal kindnesses to us comes as the fulfillment of His gospel promises. Thus we may and should pray with them in view.
SALVATION IS A FREQUENT PETITION OF GOD’S HOLY PEOPLE
The whole verse is, of course, expressed in the form of a prayer directed to God. It is in God’s power to send His steadfast love, like a so many servants, to the psalmist’s salvation, and the psalmist is begging God that it may be so.
But is not the psalmist already saved? Is not he a godly man, full of the Spirit, even as this prayer is written for the edification of God’s people? Yes, all that is true, and more. Yet the saint cries out to God for salvation nonetheless.
In this he expresses his felt need for more of God’s grace, for further experiences of divine mercy, for fresh deliverances from all kinds of peril, both physical and spiritual. He was painfully aware that much misery remained, both inside and out, which diminished and threatened his well-being, and it is in the fullness of this realization that he is pressed to cry out for help.
In this the psalmist remains a pattern of faith for all God’s people until the consummation of our redemption. Prayerlessness is proof of spiritual stupidity—a gross insensibility of our remaining needs which only divine grace can supply.
In some religious circles there is such a lopsided emphasis on “getting saved” as the be-all and end-all of spiritual concern that once one thinks he has been converted, all his anxiety for spiritual things is forever gone, and thus he ceases to pray with any significant sense of need and hope. Jonathan Edwards described this as nothing less than the experience of a man who is spiritually lost:
When a hypocrite hath had his false conversion, his wants are in his sense of things already supplied, his desires are already answered; and so he finds no further business at the throne of grace. He never was sensible that he had any other needs, but a need of being safe from hell. And now that he is converted, as he thinks, that need is supplied. Why then should he still go on to resort to the throne of grace with earnest requests? He is out of danger. All that he was afraid of is removed. He hath got enough to carry him to heaven, and what more should he desire?
That is the way a hypocrite thinks, and that is why he ceases praying for salvation. Conversely, perseverance in prayer for fresh and new deliveries from various evils is, in itself, an evidence of true faith in one who has already been saved for all time and eternally secure. That is, real Christians join the psalmist in this petition: “Lord, save me again!,” without any belief that one of God’s elect could actually be forever lost.3
So let us be warned of a Christian’s ongoing need for saving mercy, encouraged to expect it according to God’s promise, and emboldened to give Him no rest day nor night from ceaseless petitioners crowding His courts. Amen.
2. Calvin, in loc.
3. A sermon entitled, “Hypocrites Deficient in the Duty of Secret Prayer,” June 1740.
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