The earth, O LORD, is full of thy mercy:
Teach me thy statutes (Psa 119.64).
The airwaves are full of commentary on the earth—its origin, state, and end. Thoughts on the earth convey a “worldview” and ultimately, one’s religious beliefs, often even if the particular topic seems completely unrelated. Popular ideas today include evolution as a theory of origin, “the fragile earth” with man having alleged power to keep it going or ruin it as a theory of environmentalism, and for a prediction of final disaster, a nuclear holocaust or gradual “extinction of man.” These views all fundamental reject of a biblical worldview and espouse an anti-Christian secularism, even though many who hold them are professing Christians who strenuously deny the religious implications. What Paul wrote of God-dishonoring pagans also applies to modern secularists.
They knew God, [but] they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools . . . (Rom 1.21-22).
Because “earth topics” are so intensely interesting to many of our contemporaries, we can use them as a springboard to deeper, spiritual conversation with them and overt evangelism. But first we must be sure that we have embraced a thoroughly Scriptural perspective so that we will not misrepresent our God, the God of the Bible.
The psalmist, having mused upon the earth in the light of biblical truth, makes a very suggestive declaration about it, and lets that truth prompt him to prayer for a specific blessing from God. The connection he made is far from intuitive and we can learn much from it.
THE EARTH IS THE LORD’S
Scripture itself begins most logically and satisfyingly with the origin of all things. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1.1). This is not a scientific but a religious statement. It is a theological truth, revealed from heaven, which we accept by faith alone. “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear” (Heb 11.3). Because there were no human witnesses to God’s creation, it is impossible that we could know it in any other way than that God simply reveals it to us and we choose to accept His infallible testimony.
This is a point more Christians need to accept, because many seem embarrassed to admit their adherence to “creationism” is fundamentally based on the Bible, not science, and then they scurry about trying to “prove” the biblical doctrine of creation by science—an ill-fated endeavor to be sure. While a believer can reasonably interpret the scientific data in a manner perfectly consistent with the biblical explanation of origins, this is a presuppositional grid that rightly colors his entire way of looking at things. Let’s admit it. We are creationists because we are believers, and we approach science from a biblical worldview. It is no reason whatsoever for shame!
Because God created the heavens and the earth, that is, everything outside Himself, it all belongs to Him. “The earth is the LORD’S, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein” (Psa 24.1). “The heavens are thine, the earth also is thine: as for the world and the fullness thereof, thou hast founded them” (Psa 89.11). Divine ownership follows from creation ex nihilo, out of nothing.
Thus a biblical worldview embraces what is celebrated in a beautiful Christian hymn that not only implies something about the past, but also makes observations about the present and draws conclusions about the future:
This is my Father’s world, / And to my listening ears, / All nature sings, and round me rings / The music of the spheres. / This is my Father’s world, / I rest me in the thought / Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas; / His hand the wonders wrought.
This is my Father’s world, / The birds their carols raise; / The morning light, the lily white / Declare their Maker’s praise. / This is my Father’s world, / He shines in all that’s fair; / In the rustling grass I hear Him pass, / He speaks to me everywhere.
This is my Father’s world, / O let me ne’er forget / That though the wrong seems oft so strong, / God is the Ruler yet. / This is my Father’s world, / The battle is not done; / Jesus who died shall be satisfied, / And earth and heaven be one.
The psalmist notes one thing in particular about his Father’s world.
THE EARTH ABOUNDS WITH HIS MERCY
“The earth, O Lord, is full of thy mercy.” First of all, notice he is addressing God in prayer as “Yahweh,” the unique name of the only true and living God, the God of Scripture. The ungodly author of that famous poem “Invictus” thanks “whatever gods may be” for his allegedly “unconquerable soul,”1 but whether unbeliever or not, he should have known that the Lord our God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is his Creator. Henley was an Englishman well-aware of the biblical testimony, but rejecting it.
Second, as the Lord Himself is full of mercy (see Exod 34.6-7; Neh 9.17), so it is reflected in His creation. The whole creation, proceeding from God, expresses the abundance and treasure of His heart (cf. Luke 6.45). The Hebrew for “mercy” here is a rich and beautiful word with many connotations: love, kindness, steadfast loyalty, faithfulness, devotion, and even beauty (ESV renderings).
God first created a paradise for the only creature made in His image—man. The whole creation account shows how the things God made did not only proclaim His glory but also was suited to man’s every need that created things could answer. Despite the fact that there was only one prohibition—and that a reasonable one of Adam’s benevolent and sovereign Creator—yet our first parents transgressed God’s law and voluntarily revolted from Him. Instead of justly obliterating the ungrateful wretches as we might crush an ant underfoot, the Lord came to them with much mercy. Yes, He did pronounce a curse, but it was less than our sin deserved. The Lord continued to sustain the lives of the rebels, giving them what they needed to survive. From that day to this, all the richness and continuance of this earth is a testimony that it is full of God’s mercy, His generous love and enduring kindness.
One of the most striking examples of this is the divine patience toward and provision for His remaining enemies. Every one of them is no better than Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, whom the earth opened up to swallow alive into hell (Num 16.23-34). If we had any sense as sinners, we would be like the Israelites on that occasion, afraid that the earth would swallow us too! That fact that it continues to support billions of sinners day after day is proof that the earth is full of the Lord’s mercy. The thieves and murderers, the liars and religious hypocrites, the homosexuals and lesbians keep breathing God’s air and eating God’s food while His wrath burns! As Jonathan Edwards wrote:
They deserve to be cast into hell, so that divine justice never stands in the way. It makes no objection against God’s using His power at any moment to destroy them. Yea, on the contrary, justice calls aloud for an infinite punishment of their sins. Divine justice says of the tree that brings forth such grapes of Sodom, “Cut it down, why cumbereth it the ground?” (Luke 13.7). The sword of divine justice is every moment brandished over their heads, and it is nothing but the hand of arbitrary mercy, and God’s mere will, that holds it back.2
The context suggests that by “arbitrary,” he evidently meant mercy that is extended by the mere good pleasure of God and nothing else besides.
THE EARTH POINTS TO ITS CREATOR AND HIS LAW
It may seem a non sequitur that the psalmist concludes his couplet with the petition, “Teach me thy statutes,” but what Plumer said (in loc.) is true,
True piety loves to contemplate the riches of God’s goodness and mercy in creation and providence, as well as the riches of His grace in redemption. Whoever has a zest for spiritual things, and gets a taste for them, will long to know more and more, and enjoy more and more of their fullness and excellence. Calvin: “It is an evidence that we have given ourselves up to the most shameful sloth, when, contented with a superficial knowledge of divine truth, we are, in a great measure, indifferent about making further progress.”
We may be excused if we remain more than a little skeptical of people who say they “worship God in nature” but will not worship God in Scripture, for He is the Author of the Bible no less than He is the Author of creation, and the glories of the gospel of Jesus Christ revealed in the holy pages possess more luster than the most spectacular snow-covered mountain peaks and more profound depths than the greatest ocean! And
when the heart is duly affected by saving grace, it seems as if all nature were, for good cause, praising the Most High. Proofs of His mercy appear on every hand (Plumer, in loc.).
The Lord give us, as He did the psalmist, a mind to perceive that the earth indeed is full of His mercy, and a will to crave a more precise and thorough knowledge of Him in the Scriptures. Amen.
1. William E. Henley. His poem continues a spirit of defiance against God in its last words, “It matters not how strait the gate, / How charged with punishments the scroll, / I am the master of
my fate: / I am the captain of my soul.”
2. “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”
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