“Make Thy face to shine upon Thy servant”.
The poet is speaking here to a Person, and he had the privilege that it was given to him to know to Whom he was speaking. He was speaking to the high and lofty One, to the Lord, Who remembereth his covenant for ever, the word which He commanded (Ps. 105:8), to Him Who is immutable and keepeth truth for ever” (Ps. 146:6). Such a prayer and approaching to the Lord in this manner, presupposes a few things. What does it presuppose?
Knowledge, in the first place self-knowledge. Because when man has not learned to know his lost state in Adam, he does not understand that, and wherefore, he needs the Lord. Prayer would then amount to beating the air, and not to be taking hold of the Lord.
It also presupposes the knowledge of God, knowledge of the Supreme Being, not acquired by reading or hearing, but received by revelation. Man – I have already said it to you very often during my lifetime – does not know God, unless God did come to him, or rather, unless it is shown to him that this has taken place. If it is given to someone to understand that the Lord is knocking at the door of his heart, then he starts calling upon the Lord. We find such a prayer in the well-known parable: “God be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13). In order to be able to express a prayer such as we have in our text, man has to approve to the way the Supreme Being has devised, laid and consecrated in order to be able to approach sinners and to make the sinner approach to Him.
Prayer expresses confidence. Without confidence there is no faith, and without faith no answer to prayer. Confidence, confidence in the righteousness of the Lord Jesus, and in the mercy of God, revealed in the Person and the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. In short, the prayer of our text presupposes faith. And we know what the apostle Paul says: “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23).
“Make Thy face to shine.” Now, God is a Spirit and He has no face. When there is discussion of God’s face, this is in a figurative sense; God’s face does then mean His presence. This presence is terrifying or lovely. The 16th verse of Psalm 34 reads: “The face of the LORD is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.” In this case God’s face is terrifying. Man flees from this face. Cain, and also Adam, yea, the whole world flees from the presence of God. And its worship, insofar as it is taking place beyond the Lord Jesus Christ, is also fleeing, or rather, an attempt to flee from God’s presence.
If you have learned to know yourself, you are acquainted with it that when God stops someone and sounds the alarm over him about his guilt, such person sees that he is constantly turning his back on God. And so it is by irresistible grace that a change comes to pass is this situation.
In Numbers 6 we find: “The LORD lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace” (verse 26). Here the countenance of God is lovely, and this countenance is being sought. Psalm 27:8: “When Thou saidst, Seek ye my face, my heart said unto Thee: Thy face, LORD, will I seek.” God’s face is lovely in Christ and terrifying beyond Him. Hebrews 12:29: “For our God is a consuming fire.” In his Son He is a merciful and friendly Father, from Whom man can expect and may expect all good things.
Man can be recognized by his face, and so it is here. God is known in Christ. You can argue about God as a philosopher, and this has really been done, but in this way man has never learned to know God. He has remained an unknown Person. God is seen in Christ. The Lord Jesus Himself said it: “He that has seen Me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9).
It is highly remarkable and it leads to worship and amazement that when the Lord Jesus Christ reveals Himself in our heart, we then behold in Him the Triune God. Yet He is only one Person of the Godhead, but if He becomes known, we see the three Persons of the Godhead. In brief, we see in Him God!
The Son of God is God, manifested, manifest in the flesh. When we see Him, we behold all God’s virtues. The apostle Paul has said this so unsurpassed beautifully in 2 Corinthians 4, the 6th verse: “For God, Who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, has shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
And now the poet of the 119th Psalm asks the Lord to make His face to shine upon him. When this happens, what is then really taking place? When the Lord makes His face to shine upon us, then He extends grace unto us. A religious person really speaks about grace, but yet he does not know what grace is, and nobody knows it before God’s face is shining upon him. Because when this happens, then through Christ we look into God’s heart. Well, it is written that God is love. So, we see love, the love of the Father, and we understand and believe that God is love.
When He makes His face to shine upon us, then He demonstrates to us the evidences of his grace. For it is nothing to say: this and that is grace; it must be seen through Godly light. Now, when the Lord makes His face to shine, than we see what grace is; let me say it this way: then we see what true grace and what false grace is.
When the Lord makes His face to shine upon us, then He demonstrates to us that the evidences of grace can be found in our heart. To say it briefly: If the Lord makes His face to shine upon us, then He gives us the boldness to approach unto Him through the Lord Jesus Christ as to a Father: “Father; Abba, Father!” (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6). We need not say that much more could be put forward here.
And what was the poet’s position in this respect. Well, the poet had grace. God had convinced him of sin, had made him know his powerlessness and had given him faith, and through this faith he had passed into the Lord Jesus and had learned to understand all things I have mentioned and still many other things. But this was not enough for the poet. He wanted more than that. He wanted more light, more light in God. And his desire was that it would be given to him more to taste the love and the goodness of God, to be enabled to put more heartily his trust in the Lord. And from there came that prayer: “Make Thy face to shine upon Thy servant.”
Hearers, a man, a Christian, can get into a lot of trouble. It can happen that he is tempted by Satan. Well, this is very heavy. People do talk very easily about Satan, but it is to be feared that they do not know much about him. It is possible that a man is challenged by people, and this really happens, for the truth as it is in Jesus, is everywhere denied. And they, who adhere to this truth, are called a sect which everywhere is spoken against. A man may find himself in a way wherein he does not know what to do. A man can be in all kinds of difficulties.
If now the Lord makes His face to shine upon us in such circumstances, what is then taking place? Everything is then becoming well, and in whatever circumstances one may be, he is in heartfelt agreement with the words: “Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). Then one is amazed! In heaven amazement will be to all eternity, but it begins here! He who has never been amazed at God, will not go to heaven. Then one is also ashamed, ashamed about his unbelief, and one is enabled – and this the objective and the consequence of the Lord’s gracious act – to place himself and all what is his in God’s hand. And what is greater than to get rid of oneself and to be able to believe that God has taken care of everything?
When the poet is praying: “Make Thy face to shine upon Thy servant”, then he points out the Covenant to God. For each true prayer is nothing else than using the Covenant of God as a pleading ground. He who does not keep his eye on the Covenant of God, has not his eye on God either. He points out to the Lord His Covenant, and at the same time he utters that he does expect it from the Lord. Therefore, that man or that woman, that boy, that girl, that child is standing there alone, alone with God. He is here in the right manner a lonely person. Now, you ought to know, and I hope it is known to you, that man is never happier than when he is alone – taken in this sense – alone with God.
(From: Sermon on Psalm 119:135, 8 August 1951 in The Hague.)