THERE is no crime and there is no credit in being poor. Everything depends upon the occasion of the poverty. Some men are poor and are greatly to be pitied, for their poverty has come upon them without any fault of their own. God has been pleased to lay this burden upon them and therefore, they may expect to experience divine help, and ought to be tenderly considered by their brethren in Christ. Occasionally poverty has been the result of integrity or religion, and here the poor man is to be admired and honored. At the same time, it will be observed by all who watch with an impartial eye, that very much of the poverty about us is the direct result of idleness, intemperance, improvidence and sin. There would probably not be one-tenth of the poverty there now is upon the face of the earth if the drinking shops were less frequented, if debauchery were less common, if idleness were banished and extravagance abandoned. Lovers of pleasure, (alas! that such a word should be so degraded), are great impoverishers of themselves. It is clear that there is not, of necessity, either vice or virtue in being poor, and a man’s poverty cannot be judged of by itself, but its causes and circumstances must be taken into consideration.
The poverty, however, to which the text relates is a poverty which I desire to cultivate in my own heart, and it is one upon which our divine Lord has pronounced a blessing. When He sat down upon the mountain and poured forth His famous series of beatitudes, He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” The poor in pocket may be blessed, or may not be blessed, as the case may be; but the poor in spirit are always blessed and we have Christ’s authority for so saying. Theirs is a poverty which is better than wealth; in fact, it is a poverty which indicates the possession of the truest of all riches.
It was mainly in this sense that David said, “I am poor and needy; yet the Lord thinks upon me:” certainly, in any other sense there are vast multitudes who are “poor and needy,” but who neither think upon God, nor rejoice that God thinks upon them. Those who are spiritually “poor and needy” - the sacred beggars at mercy’s gate, the elect mendicants of heaven, these are the people who may say, with humble confidence, “Yet the Lord thinks upon me.”
Two things are noteworthy in the text. First, here, is a frank acknowledgment “I am poor and needy;” but, secondly, here is a comfortable confidence “yet the Lord thinks upon me.”
1. First, here is A FRANK ACKNOWLEDGMENT.
Some men do not object to confess that they are poor in worldly goods. In fact, they are rather fond of pleading poverty when there is a collection coming, or a subscription list in dangerous proximity. Men have even gloried in history in the name of, “The Beggars;” and, “silver and gold have I none,” has been exalted into a boast! But
spiritually, it is little less than a miracle to bring men to feel, first, and then to confess their poverty, for naked, and poor, and miserable as we are by nature, we are all apt enough to say, “I am rich and increased with goods.” We cannot dig and to beg we are ashamed. If we did not inherit a penny of virtue from father Adam, we certainly inherited plenty of pride! Poor and proud we all are. We will not, if we can help it, take our seat in the lowest room, though that is our proper place. Grace alone can bring us to see ourselves in the glass of truth. To have nothing is natural to us, but to confess that we have nothing is more than we will come to until the Holy Spirit has worked self-abasement in us. The emptiers must come up upon us for, though naturally as empty as Hagar’s bottle, yet we boast ourselves to be as full as a fountain! The Spirit of God must take from us our goodly Babylonian garment, or we shall never consent to be dressed in the fair white linen of the righteousness of saints. What Paul flung away as dross and dung, we poor rag-collectors prize and hoard up as long as ever we can! “I am poor and needy,” is a confession which only He who is the Truth of God can teach us to offer. If you are saying it, my Brother, you need not be afraid that you are under a desponding delusion. But, true as it is, and plain to every Grace-taught child of God, yet only Grace will make a man confess the obnoxious fact. It is not in public that we can or should confess our soul-poverty as we do in the chamber when we bow our knees secretly before God. But many of us, in secret, have been compelled, with many tears and sighs, to feel as well as to say, “I am poor and needy.” We have searched through and through, looked from the top to the bottom of our humanity and we could not find a single piece of good money in the house, so greatly reduced were we. We had not a shekel of merit, nor a penny of hope in ourselves! And we were constrained to fall flat on our face before God and confess our inability to meet His claims. And we found no comfort till, by faith, we learned to present our Lord Jesus as the Surety for His servants for good. We could not pay even the poorest composition and, therefore, cast ourselves upon the forbearance of God.
The Psalmist is doubly humble, for first he says he is poor, and then adds that he is needy, and there is a difference between these two things.
He acknowledges that he is poor, and you and I, if taught of God, will say the same. We may well be poor for we came of a poor father. Our father Adam had at first a great estate enough at first, but he soon lost it. He violated the trust on which he held his property, and he was cast out of the inheritance and turned adrift into the world to earn his bread as a day laborer by tilling the ground which he was taken. His eldest son was a vagabond; the firstborn of our race was a convict upon ticket-of-leave [parole]. If any suppose that we have inherited some good thing by natural descent, they go very contrary to what David tells us, when he declares, “Behold, I was shaped in iniquity and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Our first parents were utter bankrupts. They left us nothing but a heritage of old debts, and a propensity to accumulate yet more personal obligations. Well may we be poor who come into this world “heirs of wrath,” with a decayed estate and tainted blood!
Moreover, since the time when we came into the world, we have followed a very miserable trade. I recollect when I was a spinner and weaver of the poorest sort, I dreamed that I would be able by my own spinning to make a garment to cover myself withal. This was the trade of father Adam and mother Eve when they first lost their innocence; they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons. It is a very laborious business and has worn out the lives of many with bitter bondage, but its worst feature is that the Lord has declared concerning all who followed this self-righteous craft, “their webs shall not become garments, neither shall they cover themselves with their works.” Even those who have best attired themselves, and have for awhile gloried in their fair apparel, have had to feel the truth of the Lord’s words by Isaiah, “I will take away the changeable suits of apparel, and the mantles, and the wimples, and the fine linen, and the hoods, and the vail, and instead of a girdle there shall be a rent; and instead of a stomacher a girding of sackcloth.” Vain is it to spend our labour on that which profiteth not, yet to this business are we early put apprentice, and we work at it with mighty pains.
We are miserably poor, for we have become bankrupt even in our wretched trade. Some of us had, once, a comfortable competence laid by in the Bank of Self-Righteousness, and we meant to draw it out when we came to die, and thought we should even have a little spending money for our old age out of the interest which was paid us in the coin of Self-Conceit; but the bank broke [failed] long ago and now we have not so much as a farthing of our own merits left us, no, nor a chance of ever having any; and, what is worse, we are deep in debt and we have nothing to pay. Instead of having anything like a balance on our account, behold, we are insolvent debtors to the justice of God, without a single farthing of assets, and unless we are freely forgiven, we must be cast into prison and lie there forever. Job described us well when he said, “for want and famine they are solitary, fleeing into the wilderness, in former time desolate and waste. They have no covering in the cold, and embrace the rock for want of a shelter.” See, then, what poverty-stricken creatures we are - of a poor stock, following a starving trade and made bankrupts even in that.
What is still worse, poor human nature has no power left to retrieve itself. As long as a man has a stout pair of arms, he is not without a hope of rising from the dunghill. We once thought that we were equal to any task, but now Paul’s description suits us well - “without strength.” Our Lord’s words, too, are deeply true, “Without Me you can do nothing.” Unable so much as to think a good thought, or to lift our hearts heavenward of ourselves- this is poverty indeed! We are wrecked and the whole vessel has gone to pieces. We have destroyed ourselves. Ah, my fellow man, may God make you feel this! Many know nothing about it and would be very angry if we were to say that this is their condition; and yet this is the condition of every man born into the world until the Spirit of God brings him into communion with Christ, and endows him with the riches of the covenant of grace. “I am poor,” this is my confession: is it yours? Is it a confession extorted from you by a clear perception that it is really so? I will recommend you, if it is so, to take to a trade which is the best trade in the world
to live by, not for the body, but for the soul, and that is the profession of a beggar, certainly a suitable one for you and me! I took to it long ago and began to beg for mercy from God; I have been constrained to continue begging every day of the same kind Benefactor, and I hope to die begging. Many of the saints have grown rich upon this holy mendicancy; they have indeed spoken of being daily loaded with benefits. The noblest of the peers of heaven were here below daily pensioners upon God’s love; they were fed, and clothed, and housed by the charity of the Lord, and they delighted to have it so. How clear is it from all this that none of us can have anything of which to glory! boasting is excluded, for let the beggar get what he may he is but a beggar still; and the child of God, notwithstanding the bounty of his Heavenly Father, is still in himself a penniless vagrant!
The Psalmist also said, “I am needy.” There are poor people who are not needy. Diogenes was very poor, but he was not needy; he had made up his mind that he would not need anything, so he lived in a tub; he had but one drinking vessel, and when he saw a boy drinking out of his hand he broke that, for he said he would not possess anything superfluous. He was poor enough, but he was not needy; for when Alexander said, “What can I do for you?” he answered, “Stand out of my sunshine.” So it is clear a man may be very poor, and yet he may not be burdened with need; but David was conscious of extreme need, and in this many of us can join him.
Brethren, we confess that we need ten thousand things, in fact, we need everything. By nature, the sinner needs healing, for he is sick unto death; he needs washing, for he is foul with sin; he needs clothing, for he is naked before God; he needs preserving after he is saved, he needs the bread of heaven, he needs the water out of the rock; he is all needs and nothing but needs. Not one thing that his soul needs can he of himself supply. He needs to be kept from even the most common sins. He needs to be instructed as to even the first elements of the faith; he needs to be taught to walk in the ways of God’s plainest commandments. Our needs are so great that they comprise the whole range of covenant supplies, and all the fullness treasured up in Christ Jesus.
We are needy in every condition. We are soldiers, and we need that grace should find us both shield and sword. We are pilgrims, and we need that love should give us both a staff and a guide. We are sailing over the sea of life, and we need that the wind of the Spirit shall fill our sails, and that Christ shall be our pilot. There is no figure under which the Christian life can be represented in which our need is not a very conspicuous part of the image. In all aspects we are poor and needy.
We are needy in every exercise. If we are called to preach, we have to cry, “Lord, open thou my lips.” If we pray, we are needy at the mercy-seat, for we know not what we should pray for as we ought. If we go out into the world to wrestle with temptation, we need supernatural help, lest we fall before the enemy. If we are alone in meditation, we need the Holy Spirit to quicken our devotion. We are needy in suffering and laboring, in watching and in fighting. Every spiritual engagement does but discover another phase of our need.
And, brethren, we are needy at all times. We never wake up in the morning but we need strength for the day, and we never go to bed at night without needing grace to cover the sins of the past. We are needy at all periods of life; when we begin with Christ in our young days, we need to be kept from the follies and passions which are so strong in giddy youth; in middle life our needs are still greater, lest the cares of this world should eat as does a canker; and in old age we are needy still and need perserving grace to bear us onward to the end. So needy are we that even in lying down to die we need our last bed to be made for us by mercy, and our last hour to be cheered by grace. So needy are we that if Jesus had not prepared a mansion for us in eternity we should have no place to dwell in. We are as full of needs as the sea is full of water. We cannot stay at home and say, “I have much goods laid up for many years,” for the wolf is at the door, and we must go out a begging again. Our clamorous necessities follow us every moment and dog our heels in every place. We must take the two adjectives and keep them close together in our confession- “I am poor and needy.”
II. The second part of the subject is much more cheering. It is A COMFORTABLE CONFIDENCE - “Yet the Lord thinks upon me.”
A poor man is always pleased to remember that he has a rich relative, especially if that rich relative is very thoughtful towards him, and finds out his distress and cheerfully and abundantly relieves his wants.
Observe, that the Christian does not find comfort in himself. “I am poor and needy.” That is the top and bottom of my case. I have searched myself through and through and have found in my flesh no good thing. Notwithstanding the grace which the believer possesses, and the hope which he cherishes, he still sees a sentence of death written upon the creature and he cries, “I am poor and needy.” His joy is found in another. He looks away from self, to the consolations which the eternal purpose has prepared for him.
Note well who it is that gives the comfort. “The Lord thinketh upon me.” By the term, “the Lord,” we are accustomed to understand the glorious Trinity. “The Lord thinks upon me,” i.e., Jehovah, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. O beloved believer in Christ, if you have rested in Jesus, then the Father thinks upon thee. Thy person was in His thoughts –
“Long ere the sun’s effulgent ray,
Primeval shades of darkness drove.”
He regarded you with thoughts of boundless love before He had fashioned the world, or wrapped it up in swaddling bands of ocean and of cloud. Eternal thoughts of love went forth of old towards all the chosen, and these have never changed. Not for a single instant has the Father ever ceased to love His people. As our Lord said, “The Father Himself loveth you.” Never has He grown cold in His affections towards thee, O poor and needy one. He has seen you in His Son. He has loved you in the Beloved. He has seen thee –
“Not as you stood in Adam’s fall,
When sin and ruin covered all,
But as thou’lt stand another day,
Brighter than sun’s meridian ray.”
He saw thee in the glass of His eternal purpose, saw you as united to His dear Son and, therefore, looked upon you with eyes of complacency. He thought upon thee and He still thinks upon thee still. When the Father thinks of His children, He thinks of thee. When the Great Judge of all thinks of the justified ones, He thinks of thee. O Christian, can you grasp the thought? The Eternal Father thinks of you! You are so inconsiderable that if the mind of God were not infinite, it would not be possible that He should remember your existence! And yet He thinks upon you! How precious ought His thoughts be to you! The sum of them is great, let your gratitude for them be great, too.
Forget not that the great Son of God, to whom you owe your hope, also thinks of you. It was for you that He entered into suretyship engagements or ever the earth was. It was for you, O heir of heaven, that He took upon Himself a mortal body and was born of the virgin. It was for you that He lived those thirty years of immaculate purity, that He might weave for you a robe of righteousness. For you the bloody sweat in the garden; He thought of you, He prayed for you in Gethsemane. For you were the flagellations in Pilate’s hall, and the mockeries before Herod and the blasphemous accusations at the judgment seat of Caiaphas. For you the nails, the spear, the vinegar and the, “Eloi, Eloi, lama Sabachthani.” Jesus thought of you and died for you with as direct an aim for your salvation as though there had not been another soul to be redeemed by His blood. And now, though He reigns exalted high, and you are “poor and needy,” yet He still thinks upon you still. The glory of His present condition does not distract His thoughts from His beloved. He is lovingly thoughtful of you. When He stands up to intercede, your name glitters on His priestly breastplate with the rest of the chosen. He thinks of you when He prepares mansions for those whom His Father has blessed. He looks forward to the time when He shall gather together in one all things in heaven and in earth that are in Him, and He counts you among them. Christian, will not this comfort you, that the Son of God is constantly thinking upon you?
We must not forget the love of the Spirit, to whom we are so wondrously indebted, He cannot do otherwise than think upon us, for He dwelleth in us and shall be with us. As He dwells in us He cannot be unmindful of us. It is His office to be the Comforter, to help our infirmities, to make intercession for us according to the will of God. So let us take the three thoughts and bind them together. “I am poor and needy, but I have a part in the thoughts of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.” What fuller cause for comfort could we conceive?
We have answered the question “who?” “ let us now turn to “what?” “The Lord thinketh upon me. He does not say, “The Lord will uphold me, provide for me, defend me.” The declaration that He “thinketh upon me” is quite enough. “Your Heavenly Father knoweth that you have need of these things,” says our Lord, as if it was quite clear that for our Heavenly Father to know, is for Him to act. We poor short-sighted and short-armed creatures often know the needs of others and would help if we could, but we are quite unable; it is never so with God, His thoughts always ripen into deeds. Perhaps, O tried believer, you have been thinking a great deal about yourself of late, about
your many trials, so that you lie awake nights, mourning over your heavy cares. “Alas,” you think, “I have no one to advise me and sympathize with me.” Let this text come to you as a whisper, and you paraphrase it into a soliloquy, “I am poor and needy, this is true, and I cannot plan a method for supplying my needs, but a mightier mind than mine is cogitating for me; the Infinite Jehovah thinketh upon me; He sees my circumstances, He knows the bitterness of my heart, He knows me altogether, and His consideration of me is wise, tender and gracious. His thoughts are wisdom itself. When I think, it is a poor, little, weak, empty head that is thinking, but when God thinks, the gigantic mind which framed the universe is thinking upon me!” Have you attained to the idea of what the thoughts of God must be? That pure Spirit who cannot make mistakes, who is too wise to err, too good to be unkind, thinkrth upon us; He does not act without deliberation, does not come to our help in inconsiderate haste, does not do as we do with a poor man when we throw him a penny to be rid of him, but He thoughtfully deals with us. “Blessed is he that considereth the poor,” says the psalmist - those who take up the case of the poor, weigh it and remember it, are blessed. That is what the Lord does for us: “Yet the Lord thinketh upon me, considers my case, judges when, and how, and after what sort, it will be most fitting to grant me relief. “The Lord thinks upon me.” Beloved, the shadow of this thought seems to me like the wells of Elim, full of refreshment, with the seventy palm trees yielding their ripe fruit. You may sit down here and drink to your full, and then go on your way rejoicing. However poor and needy you may be, the Lord thinketh at the present moment upon you.
We have spoken upon who and what, and now we will answer the inquiry - How do we know that the Lord thinks upon us? “Oh!” say the ungodly, “how do you know?” They are very apt to put posing questions to us. We talk of what we know experimentally, and again they cry, “How do you know?” I will tell you how we know that God thinks upon us. We knew it, first of all, when we had a view of the Redeemer by faith, when we saw the Lord Jesus Christ hanging upon a tree for us, and made a curse for us. We saw that He so exactly suited and fitted our case that we were clear that the Lord must have thought and well considered it. If a man were to send you tomorrow a sum of money, exactly the amount you owe, you would be sure that some one had been thinking upon you. And when we see the Saviour, we are compelled to cry out, “O my Lord, thou hast given me the very Saviour I wanted; this is the hope which my despairing soul required, and this the anchorage which my tempest-tossed boat was seeking after.” The Lord must have thought upon us, or He would not have provided so suitable a salvation for us.
We learn anew that the Lord thinks upon us when we go up to the house of God. I have heard many of you say, “We listen to the preacher and he seems to know what we have been saying on the road; the Word comes so home to our case that surely God has been hearing our very thoughts and putting into the mind of the preacher a word in season for us.” Does not this show how the preacher’s Master has been
thinking of you? Then sit down and open the Bible, and you will frequently feel the words to be as much adapted to your case as if the Lord had written them for you alone! If instead of the Bible having been penned many hundreds of years ago, it were actually written piecemeal to suit the circumstances of the Lord’s people as they occur, it could not have been written more to the point. Our eyes have filled with tears when we have read such words as these, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” “Fear not, you worm Jacob, and ye men of Israel; I will help thee, saith the Lord.” “In six troubles I will be with thee, in seven there shall no evil touch thee.” “Trust in the Lord, and do good; so shall thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed,” and such like, which we could quote by the hundreds. We feel that the Lord must have thought about us, or He would not have sent us such promises. Best of all, when we sit quietly at the feet of Jesus, in the power of the Spirit of God, in solemn silence of the mind, then we know that the Lord thinks upon us, for thoughts come bubbling up, one after another, delightful thoughts, such as only the Holy Spirit could inspire. Then the things of Christ are sweetly taken by the Spirit and laid home to our hearts. We become calm and still, though before we were distracted. A sweet savor fills our heart, like ointment poured forth, it diffuses its fragrance through every secret corner of our spirit. Sometimes our soul has seemed as though it were a peal of bells and every power and passion has been set a ringing with holy joy because the Lord was there. Our whole nature has been as a harp well-tuned, and the Spirit has laid His fingers among the strings, and filled our entire manhood with music. When we have been the subjects of these marvelous influences and gracious operations, if any had said to us that the Lord did not think of us, we should have told them that they lied, even to their face, for the Lord had not only thought of us, but spoken to us and enabled us by His grace to receive His thoughts and to speak again to Him.
The Lord not think of us! Why, we have proof upon proof. He has very remarkably thought upon us in providence. Should some of us relate the memorable interferences of providence on our behalf they would not be believed; but they are facts for all that. William Huntington wrote a book called, “The Bank of Faith,” which contains in it a great many very strange things, no doubt, but I believe hundreds and thousands of God’s tried people could write “Banks of Faith” too, if it came to that, for God has often appeared for His saints in such a way that if the mercy sent had been stamped with the seal of God, visible to their eyes, they could not have been more sure of its coming from Him than they were when they received it. Yes, answered prayers, applied promises, sweet communings, and blessed deliverances in providence, all go to make us feel safe in saying, “yet the Lord thinketh upon me.”
At this point we will close our meditation, when we have remarked that those who are not poor and needy may well envy in their hearts those who are. You who have abounding riches, who feel yourselves to be wealthy in goodness, you who feel as if you could afford to look down upon most people in the world, you who are so respectable, and
decorous and deserving, I beseech you, note well that the text does not say a word about you. You are not poor, and you are not needy, and you do not think upon the Lord, and the Lord does not think upon you. Why should He? “The whole have no need of a physician.” Christ did not come to call you. He said He came to call not the righteous, but sinners to repentance. Shall I tell you that it is your worst calamity that you have such an elevated idea of your own goodness? Whereas you say, “We see,” you are blindest of all; and whereas you boast that you are righteous, there is in that self-righteousness of yours the very worst form of sin, for there is no sin that can be greater than that of setting up your own works in competition with the righteousness of Christ. I bear you witness that you have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge, for you, being ignorant of the righteousness of Christ, go about to establish your own righteousness, and your efforts will end in terrible disappointment. I pray you to cast away all reliance upon your own works. Tear up, once and for all, all that you have been spinning for these many years. Your tears, your prayers, your church-goings, your chapel-goings, your confirmation, your baptism, your sacraments - have done with the whole rotten mass as a ground of confidence. It is all quicksand which will swallow you up if you rest upon it. The only rock upon which you must build, whoever you may be, is the rock of the finished work of Jesus. Come, now, and rest upon God’s appointed Saviour, the Son of God, even though you may not have felt your own poverty and need. If you mourn that you do not mourn as you should, you are one of the poor and needy, and are bidden to turn your eyes to the Lamb of God and live.
I would to God that all of us were poor and needy in ourselves and that we were rich in faith in Christ Jesus! O that we had done both with sin and with self-righteousness, that we had laid both those traitors with their heads on the block for execution! Come, you penniless sinners, come and receive the bounty of heaven. Come, you who mourn your want of penitence, come and receive repentance and every other heavenly gift from Him who is the Sinner’s Friend, exalted on high to give repentance and remission of sins. But you must come empty handed, and sue as the lawyers say, in forma pauperis, for in no other form will the Lord give ear to you. “He has put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree; He has filled the hungry with good things; and the rich He has sent away.”
“Tis perfect poverty alone
That sets the soul at large;
While we can call one mite our own,
We have no full discharge.
But let our debts be what they may,
However great or small,
As soon as we have nothing to pay,
Our Lord forgives us all.”
[From The Sword and the Trowel, 1871; reprint, Pilgrim Publications, 1977, pp. 5-13. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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