Soul Waits

Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.
~ Psalm 27:14

Remember the word unto thy servant, upon which thou hast caused me to hope.
~ Psalm 119:49

When I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches.
~ Psalm 63:6

Behold, bless ye the LORD, all ye servants of the LORD, which by night stand in the house of the LORD.
~ Psalm 134:1

And he cried, A lion: My lord, I stand continually upon the watchtower in the daytime, and I am set in my ward whole nights:
~ Isaiah 21:8

I Wait for the Lord, My Soul Waits, by John Owen. The following contains an excerpt from his work, “The Forgiveness of Sin: An Exposition of Psalm 130”.

I wait for the LORD, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope. My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for the morning.
~ Psalm 130:5-6

Verses Fifth and Sixth

Thus, “I have waited,” is as much as, “I have diligently, with intension of soul, mind, will, and affections, looked unto God, in earnest expectation of that from him that I stand in need of, and which must come forth from the forgiveness that is with him.”

2. “I have,” saith he, “waited for, or expected Jehovah.” He uses the same name of God in his expectation that he first fixed on in his application to him.

And it is not this or that means, not this or that assistance, but it is Jehovah himself that he expects and waits for. It is Jehovah himself that must satisfy the soul,—his favour and loving-kindness, and what flows from them; if he come not himself, if he give not himself, nothing else will relieve.

3. “My soul doth wait,” or expect;—”It is no outward duty that I am at, no lip-labour, no bodily work, no formal, cold, careless performance of a duty. No; ‘my soul doth wait.’ It is soul-work, heart-work I am at. I wait, I wait with my whole soul.”

4. “In his word do I hope,” or “wait.” There is not any thing of difficulty in these words. The word used, הוֹ ָח ְל ִּתי, is from ָי ַחל , “sunt qui, quod affine sit verbo ‘ָח ַלל ,’ velint anxietatem et nisum includere, ut significet anxiè, seu enixè expectare, sustinere, et sperare;”—It signifies to hope, expect, endure, and sustain with care, solicitousness, and endeavours. Hence the LXX. have rendered the word by ὑπέμεινεν, and the Vulgar Latin “sustinui;”—”I have sustained and waited with patience.”

And this on the word; or, he sustained his soul with the word of promise that it should not utterly faint, seeing he had made a discovery of grace and forgiveness, though yet at a great distance; he had a sight of land, though he was yet in a storm at sea; and therefore encourageth himself, or his soul, that it doth not despond.

But yet all this that we have spoken reaches not the intenseness of the soul of the psalmist, in this his expectation of Jehovah. The earnest engagement of his soul in this duty riseth up above what he can express. Therefore he proceeds, verse 6: “My soul,” saith he, “for the Lord” (that is, expects him, looks for him, waits for him, waits for his coming to me in love and with forgiveness), “more than the watchers for the morning, the watchers for the morning.”

These latter words are variously rendered, and variously expounded. The LXX. and Vulgar Latin render them, “From the morning watch until night;” others, “From those that keep the morning watch, unto those that keep the evening watch;” “More than the watchers in the morning, more than the watchers in the morning.”

The words also are variously expounded. Austin would have it to signify the placing of our hopes on the morning of Christ’s resurrection, and continuing in them until the night of our own death.

Jerome, who renders the words, “From the morning watch to the morning watch,” expounds them of continuing our hopes and expectations from the morning that we are called into the Lord’s vineyard to the morning when we shall receive our reward; as much to the sense of the place as the former. And so Chrysostom interprets it of our whole life.It cannot be denied but that they were led into these mistakes by the translation of the LXX. and that of the Vulgar Latin, who both of them have divided these words quite contrary to their proper dependence, and read them thus, “My soul expected the Lord. From the morning watch to the night watch, let Israel trust in the Lord;” so making the words to belong to the following exhortation unto others, which are plainly a part of the expression of his own duty.

The words, then, are a comparison, and an allusion unto watchmen, and may be taken in one of these two senses:—

1. In things civil, As those who keep the watch of the night do look, and long for, and expect the morning, when, being dismissed from their guard, they may take that sleep that they need and desire; which expresses a very earnest expectation, inquiry, and desire. Or,

2. In things sacred, with the Chaldee paraphrast, which renders the words, “More than they that look for the morning watch,” which they carefully observe, that they may offer the morning sacrifice. In this sense, “As,” saith he, “the warders and watchers in the temple do look diligently after the appearance of the morning, that they may with joy offer the morning sacrifice in the appointed season; so, and with more diligence, doth my soul wait for Jehovah.”

You see the reading of the words, and how far the sense of them opens itself unto us by that consideration.

Let us, then, next see briefly the several parts of them, as they stand in relation one to another. We have, then,—

1. The expression of the duty wherein he was exercised; and that is, earnest waiting for Jehovah.

2. The bottom and foundation of that his waiting and expectation; that is, the word of God, the word of promise,—he diligently hoped in the word.

3. The frame of his spirit in, and the manner of his performance of, this duty; expressed,—(1.) In the words themselves that he uses, according as we opened them before. (2.) In the emphatical reduplication, yea, triplication of his expression of it: “I wait for the LORD;” “My soul waiteth for God;” “My soul waiteth for the Lord.” (3.) In the comparison instituted between his discharge of his duty and others’ performances of a corporal watch,—with the greatest care and diligence: “More than they that watch for the morning.” So that we have,—

1. The duty he performed,—earnest waiting and expectation.

2. The object of his waiting,—Jehovah himself.

3. His supportment in that duty,—the word of promise.

4. The manner of his performance of it:—(1.) With earnestness and diligence. (2.) With perseverance. Let us, then, now consider the words as they contain the frame and working of a sin-entangled soul.

Having been raised out of his depths by the discovery of forgiveness in God, as was before declared, yet not being immediately made partaker of that forgiveness, as to a comforting sense of it, he gathers up his soul from wandering from God, and supports it from sinking under his present condition.

“It is,” saith he, “Jehovah alone, with whom is forgiveness, that can relieve and do me good. His favour, his loving-kindness, his communication of mercy and grace from thence, is that which I stand in need of. On him, therefore, do I with all heedfulness attend; on him do I wait. My soul is filled with expectation from him. Surely he will come to me, he will come and refresh me. Though he seem as yet to be afar off, and to leave me in these depths, yet I have his word of promise to support and stay my soul; on which I will lean until I obtain the enjoyment of him, and his kindness which is better than life.”

And this is the frame of a sin-entangled soul who hath really by faith discovered forgiveness in God, but is not yet made partaker of a comforting, refreshing sense of it. And we may represent it in the ensuing observations:—

Obs. 1. The first proper fruit of faith’s discovery of forgiveness in God, unto a sin-distressed soul, is waiting in patience and expectation.

Obs. 2. The proper object of a sin-distressed soul’s waiting and expecting is God himself, as reconciled in Christ: “I have waited for Jehovah.”

Obs. 3. The word of promise is the soul’s great supportment in waiting for God: “In thy word do I hope.”

Obs. 4. Sin-distressed souls wait for God with earnest intension of mind, diligence, and expectation,— from the redoubling of the expression.

Obs. 5. Continuance in waiting until God appears to the soul is necessary and prevailing;—necessary, as that without which we cannot attain assistance; and prevailing, as that wherein we shall never fail.

Obs. 6. Establishment in waiting, when there is no present sense of forgiveness, yet gives the soul much secret rest and comfort. This observation ariseth from the influence that these verses have unto those that follow. The psalmist, having attained thus far, can now look about him and begin to deal with others, and exhort them to an expectation of grace and mercy.

And thus, though the soul be not absolutely in the haven of consolation where it would be, yet it hath cast out an anchor that gives it establishment and security. Though it be yet tossed, yet it is secured from shipwreck, and is rather sick than in danger. A waiting condition is a condition of safety.

Hence it is that he now turns himself to others; and upon the experience of the discovery that he had made of forgiveness in God, and the establishment and consolation he found in waiting on him, he calls upon, and encourageth others to the same duty, verses 7, 8.

The propositions laid down I shall briefly pass through, still with respect unto the state and condition of the soul represented in the psalm. Many things that might justly be insisted on in the improvement of these truths have been anticipated in our former general rules. To them we must therefore sometimes have recourse, because they must not be again repeated. On this account, I say, we shall pass through them with all briefness possible; yet so as not wholly to omit any directions that are here tendered unto us as to the guidance of the soul, whose condition, and the working of whose faith, is here described. This, therefore, in the first place is proposed:—

The first proper fruit of faith’s discovery of forgiveness in God, unto a sin-distressed soul, is waiting in patience and expectation.

This the psalmist openly and directly applies himself unto, and expresseth to have been as his duty, so his practice. And he doth it so emphatically, as was manifested in the opening of the words, that I know not that any duty is anywhere in the Scripture so recommended and lively represented unto us.

You must, therefore, for the right understanding of it, call to mind what hath been spoken concerning the state of the soul inquired into,—its depths, entanglements, and sense of sin, with its application unto God about those things; as also remember what hath been delivered about the nature of forgiveness, with the revelation that is made of it unto the faith of believers, and that this may be done where the soul hath no refreshing sense of its own interest therein. It knows not that its own sins are forgiven, although it believes that there is forgiveness with God. Now, the principal duty that is incumbent on such a soul is that laid down in the proposition,—namely, patient waiting and expectation.

Two things must be done in reference hereunto:—First, The nature of the duty itself is to be declared; and, secondly, The necessity and usefulness of its practice is to be evinced and demonstrated.

For the nature of it, something hath been intimated giving light into it, in the opening of the words here used by the psalmist to express it by. But we may observe, that these duties, as required of us, do not consist in any particular acting of the soul, but in the whole spiritual frame and deportment of it, in reference unto the end aimed at in and by them. And this waiting, as here and elsewhere commended unto us, and which is comprehensive of the especial duties of the soul, in the case insisted on and described, comprehends these three things:—1. Quietness, in opposition to haste and tumultuating of spirit. 2. Diligence, in opposition to spiritual sloth, despondency, and neglect of means. 3. Expectation, in opposition to despair, distrust, and other proper immediate actings of unbelief.

1. Quietness. Hence this waiting itself is sometimes expressed by silence. To wait is to be silent: Lam. 3:26, “It is good both to hope ְודוּ ַמם , and to be silent for the salvation of the LORD;” that is, to “wait quietly,” as we have rendered the word. And the same word we render sometimes “to rest:” as Ps. 37:7, “Rest on the LORD, דוּם ַלי ָהוֹה, be silent unto him,” where it is joined with hoping or waiting, as that which belongs unto the nature of it; and so in sundry other places. And this God, in an especial manner, calleth souls unto in straits and distresses. “In quietness and confidence,” saith he, “shall be your strength,” Isa. 30:15. And the effect of the righteousness of God by Christ is said to be “quietness and assurance for ever,” Isa. 32:17;—first quietness, and then assurance. Now, this silence and quietness which accompanieth waiting, yea, which is an essential part of it, is opposed, first, to haste; and haste is the soul’s undue lifting up itself, proceeding from a weariness of its condition, to press after an end of its troubles not according to the conduct of the Spirit of God. Thus, when God calleth his people to waiting, he expresseth the contrary acting unto this duty by the lifting up of the soul: Hab. 2:3, 4, “Though the vision tarry, wait for it. Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith.” God hath given unto the soul a vision of peace, through the discovery of that forgiveness which is with him; but he will have us wait for an actual participation of it unto rest and comfort. He that will not do so, but lifts up his soul,—that is, in making haste beyond the rule and method of the Spirit of God in this matter,—his heart is not upright in him, nor will he know what it is to live by faith. This ruins and disappoints many a soul in its attempts for forgiveness. The prophet, speaking of this matter, tells us that “he that believeth shall not,” nor will not, “make haste,” Isa. 28:16;—which words the apostle twice making use of, Rom. 9:33, 10:11, in both places renders them, “Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed,” or confounded; and that because this haste turns men off from believing, and so disappoints their hopes, and leaves them unto shame and confusion. Men with a sense of the guilt of sin, having some discovery made to them of the rest, ease, and peace which they may obtain to their souls by forgiveness, are ready to catch greedily at it, and to make false, unsound, undue applications of it unto themselves. They cannot bear the yoke that the Lord hath put upon them, but grow impatient under it, and cry with Rachel, “Give me children, or else I die.” Any way they would obtain it. Now, as the first duty of such a soul is to apply itself untowaiting, so the first entrance into waiting consists in this silence and quietness of heart and spirit. This is the soul’s endeavour to keep itself humble, satisfied with the sovereign pleasure of God in its condition, and refusing all ways and means of rest and peace but what it is guided and directed unto by the word and Spirit. Secondly, As it is opposed unto haste, so it is unto tumultuating thoughts and vexatious disquietments. The soul is silent. Ps. 39:9, “I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; because thou didst it.” He redoubles the expression, whereby he sets out his endeavour to quiet and still his soul in the will of God. In the condition discoursed of, the soul is apt to have many tumultuating thoughts, or a multitude of perplexing thoughts, of no use or advantage unto it. How they are to be watched against and rejected was before declared in our general rules. This quietness in waiting will prevent them. And this is the first thing in the duty prescribed.

2. Diligence, in opposition unto spiritual sloth, is included in it also Diligence is the activity of the mind, in the regular use of means, for the pursuit of any end proposed. The end aimed at by the soul is a comforting, refreshing interest in that forgiveness that is with God. For the attaining thereof, there are sundry means instituted and blessed of God. A neglect of them, through regardlessness or sloth, will certainly disappoint the soul from attaining that end. It is confessedly so in things natural. He that soweth not must not think to reap; he that clotheth not himself will not be warm; nor he enjoy health who neglects the means of it. Men understand this as to their outward concerns; and although they have a due respect unto the blessing of God, yet they expect not to be rich without industry in their ways. It is so also in things spiritual. God hath appointed one thing to be the means of obtaining another; in the use of them doth he bless us, and from the use of them doth his glory arise, because they are his own appointments. And this diligence wholly respecteth practice, or the regular use of means. A man is said to be diligent in business, to have a diligent hand; though it be an affection of the mind, yet it simply respects practice and operation. This diligence in his waiting David expresseth, Ps. ,We render it, “I have waited patiently,” that is, “Waiting I have waited;” that is . ִּק ִּוּי ִּתי ַק ֹוּה ,40:1 diligently, earnestly, in the use of means. So he describes this duty by an elegant similitude, Ps. 123:2, “Behold, as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress; so our eyes wait upon the LORD our God, until that he have mercy upon us.” Servants that wait on their masters and look to their hands, it is to expect an intimation of their minds as to what they would have them do, that they may address themselves unto it. “So,” saith he, “do we wait for mercy;”—not in a slothful neglect of duties, but in a constant readiness to observe the will of God in all his commands. An instance hereof we have in the spouse when she was in the condition here described, Cant. 3:1, 2. She wanted the presence of her Beloved; which amounts to the same state which we have under consideration; for where the presence of Christ is not, there can be no sense of forgiveness. At first she seeks him upon her bed: “By night upon my bed I sought him whom my soul loveth: I sought him, but I found him not.” She seems herein to have gone no farther than desires, for she was in her bed, where she could do no more; and the issue is, she found him not. But doth she so satisfy herself, and lie still, waiting until he should come there unto her? No; she says, “I will rise now, and go about the city in the streets, and in the broad ways I will seek him whom my soul loveth.” She resolves to put herself into the use of all means whereby one may be sought that is wanting. In the city, streets, and fields, she would inquire after him. And the blessed success she had herein is reported, verse 4; she “found him, she held him, she would not let him go.” This, then, belongs unto the waiting of the soul: diligence in the use of means, whereby God is pleased ordinarily to communicate a sense of pardon and forgiveness, is a principal part of it. What these means are is known. Prayer, meditation, reading, hearing of the word, dispensation of the sacraments, they are all appointed to this purpose; they are all means of communicating love and grace to the soul. Be not, then, heartless or slothful: up and be doing; attend with diligence to the word of grace; be fervent in prayer, assiduous in the use of all ordinances of the church; in one or other of them, at one time or other, thou wilt meet with Him whom thy soul loveth, and God through Him will speak peace unto thee.

3. There is expectation in it, which lies in a direct opposition to all the actings of unbelief in this matter, and is the very life and soul of the duty under consideration. So the psalmist declares it, Ps.62:5, “My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is only from him.” The soul will not, cannot, in a due manner wait upon God, unless it has expectations from him,—unless, as James speaks, he looks to receive somewhat from him, chap. 1:7. The soul in this condition regards forgiveness not only as by itself it is desired, but principally as it is by God promised. Thence they expect it. This is expressed in the fourth proposition before laid down,—namely, that sin-distressed souls wait for God with earnestness, intension of mind, and expectation. As this ariseth from the redoubling of the expression, so principally from the nature of the comparison that he makes on himself in his waiting with them that watch for the morning. Those that watch for the morning do not only desire it and prepare for it, but they expect it, and know assuredly that it will come. Though darkness may for a time be troublesome, and continue longer than they would desire, yet they know that the morning hath its appointed time of return, beyond which it will not tarry; and, therefore, they look out for its appearance on all occasions. So it is with the soul in this matter. So says David, Ps. 5:3, “I will direct my prayer unto thee ַו ֲא ַצ ֶׂפה , and look up:” so we. The words before are defective: ֹב ֶׂקר ֶׂא ֱע ָרךְ ְלךָ , “In the morning,” or rather every morning, “I will order unto thee.” We restrain this unto prayer: “I will direct my prayer unto thee.” But this was expressed directly in the words foregoing: “In the morning thou shalt hear my voice;” that is, “the voice of my prayer and supplications,” as it is often supplied. And although the psalmist doth sometimes repeat the same thing in different expressions, yet here he seemeth not so to do, but rather proceeds to declare the general frame of his spirit in walking with God. “I will,” saith he, , ַו ֲא ַצ ָפה ,order all things towards God, so as that I may wait upon him in the ways of his appointment” and will look up.” It seems in our translation to express his posture in his prayer; but the word is of another importance. It is diligently to look out after that which is coming towards us, and looking out after the accomplishment of our expectation. This is a part of our waiting for God; yea, as was said, the life of it, that which is principally intended in it. The prophet calls it his “standing upon his watch tower, and watching to see what God would speak unto him,” Hab. 2:3,—namely, in answer unto that prayer which he put up in his trouble. He is now waiting in expectation of an answer from God. And this is that which poor, weak, trembling sinners are so encouraged unto, Isa. 35:3, 4, “Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees. Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come.” Weakness and discouragements are the effects of unbelief. These he would have removed, with an expectation of the coming of God unto the soul, according to the promise. And this, I say, belongs unto the waiting of the soul in the condition described. Such a one doth expect and hope that God will in his season manifest himself and his love unto him, and give him an experimental sense of a blessed interest in forgiveness. And the accomplishment of this purpose and promise of God, it looks out after continually. It will not despond and be heartless, but stir up and strengthen itself unto a full expectation to have the desires of his soul satisfied in due time: as we find David doing in places almost innumerable.

This is the duty that, in the first place, is recommended unto the soul who is persuaded that there is forgiveness with God, but sees not his own interest therein:—Wait on, or for, the Lord. And it hath two properties when it is performed in a due manner,—namely, patience and perseverance. By the one men are kept to the length of God’s time; by the other they are preserved in a due length of their own duty.