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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

Psalms 137

Verses 1-9

Psalms 137:1

There are many causes which may well bring the Psalmist's sad words to our lips, 'By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept when we remembered Thee, O Zion'.

I. The present condition of the Christian Church is a spectacle which must arouse sad thoughts as we contrast what is with what was. Is there any greater obstacle to the triumph of Christianity at the present day than the miserable fact that Christians are not agreed among themselves as to what Christianity means? As we think of the loss of spiritual power consequent on this loss of unity, we can but cry with the Psalmist, 'By the waters of Babylon we sit down and weep when we remember Thee, O Zion'. We hear a great deal about the Reunion of Christendom, and many laments are made over the disunion that we see. If reunion is ever to be attained by the Church Militant here on earth, it must be preceded by the penitence of the Christian world. Until we have sorrowed for the sins which have caused and do cause it, until we realize the spiritual force which we have lost by our divisions, until we sorrow for schism as not only an unfortunate inconvenience but as a sin, we cannot expect God will grant the unity for which we pray.

II. Worship, Work, Submission these are the steps to the assurance of personal protection, of present deliverance from evil. Personal penitence really draws us away from ourselves, and suggests to us worship, work, submission as the primary duties of the penitent life. But the penitence must be personal to begin with. It is our own shortcomings, not those of other people with which we are concerned.

J. H. Bernard, Via Domini, p. 72.

Reference. CXXXVII. 1. E. Blencowe, Plain Sermons to a Country Congregation (2nd Series), p. 484.

The Songs of Zion

Psalms 137:3

Various kinds of song may be classed as songs of Zion.

I. First there is the song of the pardoned penitent. Mark that he does not attempt to praise God until he has asked for the fullest absolution of his foul crimes; and he then declares that if God will wash him, if God will create in him a clean heart, then will be the opening of his lips. In one single sentence this song of Zion is to be sung by the pardoned and the justified believer.

II. Another of the songs of Zion is the song of the adoring creature. And here I am reminded that one of our English divines has drawn a distinction, of which I would not make much, but still which seems to have some element of truth in it, namely, that there is some difference a difference well worthy at any rate to be noticed, between thanksgiving and praise. When we are thanking God we are directly acknowledging mercies which we, or others for whom we are giving thanks, have received. But in the case of praise we are not necessarily to connect it with a special gift. Look, for instance, at the Psalms of David, the great manual of devotion for believers, both under the New and Old Testament. We find there in the early chapters, but notably in the concluding Psalms, that there is praise rendered to God not simply for mercies that we have received, but for His great acts for His past acts in the Church, for His past acts in the world, for the laws of nature, for all those marvellous exhibitions of His power and wisdom which are before our eyes; and even the very inanimate creation and the irrational creation are called upon to praise God.

III. Then again we have, as one of the songs of Zion, the song of the recipient of mercy. And here I am speaking, not only of those great mercies which throw into the shade even all the other mercies of God for awhile, but I am speaking of the most ordinary mercies which we receive at God's hands. Do not forget the giver when the freshness of the enjoyment of the mercy is past. It will be well for us to recollect that every mercy, as it is renewed to us day by day, is not to be taken as a matter of course.

IV. Again, there is the song as we read in Scripture of the heaven-bound pilgrims, how they shall come to Zion with songs upon their heads, the redeemed of the Lord. 'Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage;' what does that mean? It means to say that while we are journeying to heaven if we are indeed God's people in Christ Jesus, if we have received and are by humble faith realizing His salvation, and are delivered from the bondage of sin as well as from its burdens, and if we have the blessed gift of the Comforter, the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, that we are not to go onward toward heaven as if every Christian man were the most gloomy being in the world. The joy of the Lord is not only our privilege but our strength.

V. Again, to come closer home there is the song of the sanctuary. When we turn to the Saviour's own example, we find that when He instituted the Holy Sacrament, in which I believe we are not only to commemorate His death, but by living faith are to have spiritual communion with Him, He followed the custom of the festal supper, and gave us an example by singing a hymn before they went from that table.

VI. Lastly, there is one more of the songs of Zion. There is the song of Zion which is to be sung by the glorified above, that song which is to be the utterance the ceaseless utterance of their gratitude and praise for all the eternal love wherewith they were loved, for the grace by which they were redeemed, the grace which gave the Saviour, and the grace which brought the Saviour, and the grace which gave the Spirit, and the grace which educated and kept them and brought them home. That will be the song in which they will find that even angels will join them. J. C. Miller, Penny Pulpit, vol. XCI No. 911, p. 9.

References. CXXXVII. 4. C. Bradley, Faithful Teaching, p. 40. T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. iv. p. 221. H. P. Liddon, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvi. p. 197.

Christian Patriotism

Psalms 137:5

There is a blustering and hectoring and noisy patriotism with which religion can have nothing whatever to do. If a man be bad his patriotism never can be good. No sentiment is more human than true patriotism and none is more Divine. It takes the dearest memories of earth and links them with the august purposes of heaven.

I. Now, of course, we will be ready to admit that patriotism is not exclusively a Christian virtue. Much of the noblest patriotism that the world has known has been witnessed in countries that knew nothing of Christ Jesus; the love of country like a mother's love for her children, blossomed and fruited long before Christ was born. Patriotism, then, is not a Christian virtue only. But just as the love of the mother for her child has been ennobled and transfigured by Christ Jesus, so the love of one's country, that is a common heritage implanted in the natural heart by God, has been touched into new glory by Christ Jesus. What are the features then of a distinctive Christian patriotism? To answer that, I shall ask you to think for a moment of the patriotism of Jesus Christ Himself.

II. What then distinguished the patriotism of Jesus? Two features, and ( a ) first the absence of contempt. There was no scorn of other nationalities, nor was there any disdain of outlanders, in the deep-seated patriotism of Jesus Christ. He never preached beyond the boundaries of His Israel, yet He foresaw the day of a universal Gospel. So for the first time in human history the claims of the whole wide world were recognized, and the disdain that had been part and parcel of true patriotism once, was banished from that Christian grace for ever. ( b ) The second feature of Christ's patriotism was His recognition that the worst enemies of a people are their sins. To the average Jew the great enemy was Rome, for Rome had enslaved Palestine. To the average Jew the first task of a true patriot was to hurl defiance at that intruding power. It is very significant and very strange that no such defiance fell from the lips of Jesus. He never cried, 'Woe unto you, ye Romans'. He cried 'Woe unto ye, ye Scribes and Pharisees'; and that, too, was the cry of a patriot, only it brought the patriot to Calvary. In the long run, if a nation perishes, it is not another's guns, it is its own sins that ruin it. And so you see that what we call Christian patriotism is a far wider and larger thing than the world knew of once. Wherever men are fighting against evil in their own hearts, in their own village or town, wherever there is a brave and steady effort to give us a purer, a better, and a soberer land, there, there is Christian patriotism just as surely as in the heroic daring of the field of war.

G. H. Morrison, The Unlighted Lustre, p. 93.

Reference. CXXXVII. 5. J. Percival, Some Helps for School Life, p. 254.

Imperial Patriotism

Psalms 137:5-6

I. It has been urged that whilst our faith revived virtues which were languishing unto death under the former civilization, and called into existence others unknown, Christianity has been a cruel stepmother to one of the noblest qualities of Paganism. Chastity and pity have come to their full height under the inspiration of Christ, humility and self-sacrifice have been vindicated by His example; but patriotism has been starved. One is haunted with the feeling that in proportion as people become spiritual they cease to be national, and the more they think of the world which is to come, the less they are concerned about the world which is, and especially about that portion which God has given them for a habitation. Let us lay it to heart that if the Church be of God, so also is the State, and that if anyone imagines that religion has loosed him from those civic duties which were a law of love to the Pagan conscience, he really holds that religion is in conflict with the order of God. As a matter of fact the most intensely Christian nations have been the most national witness the Irish and the Scots, two extremes of rigorous and unbending faith.

II. What Jesus did for patriotism was not to abrogate it, which would have been sorry work for one sprung from the loins of the royal house of Judah, or to depreciate it and set His Church against the State in every century, but to cleanse it from impurities and give it a noble direction. Jesus rendered two services to patriotism and one was to inspire it with a noble mind. Patriotism must labour for the good of all and the injury of none, to build up a nation in faith towards God, and love towards man. Jesus has also taught us by His charity to believe that men of different views may have an equally good intention, and that there may be politics which will rise above parties. If indeed any party should claim to have the monopoly of honesty it is self-condemned; it is the party not of nationalism but of Pharisaism. Nothing can be more unworthy than to impute bad motives to fellow-citizens who attempt the good of the commonwealth by other means than ours, nothing more ungrateful than to belittle the labour of any who serve the State with a true heart.

III. One infers from the spirit of Christianity that the Church as represented by her ministers ought not to meddle with the machinery of politics. It is not for the Church of Christ to play upon the ambition of parties, offering and receiving bribes which are not less binding because they do not happen to be pecuniary, or to agitate the State for the passing of laws. But surely it is within her commission to feed the spirit of nationality in the hearts of the English people, teaching them that as God trained the Jews apart, that they might give His law to the world, so has He placed us in our island home that we may dispense justice to distant nations.

John Watson, The Inspiration of Our Faith, p. 249.

References. CXXXVII. 5, 6. C. D. Bell, The Power of God, p. 277. CXXXVII. B. F. Westcott, The Incarnation and Common Life, p. 41. International Critical Commentary, vol. ii. p. 484. Expositor (1st Series), vol. iv. p. 232. CXXXVIII. 5. Spurgeon, Morning by Morning, p. 32.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Psalms 137". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. 1910.