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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

Psalms 77

Verses 1-20

The Portal of a New Period: A New Year's Sermon

Psalms 77:10

The New Year admonishes with a triple exhortation. It bids us think of three tenses and of a threefold progression. We are bidden to reflect on the good old time, to give thanks for the new and better time, and to work for the future time, the best of all.

I. Think of the days of old and of the wonders of the Most High. Gratitude demands such meditation. But such thankfulness for the mercies of the past does not involve discouragement of the conditions of the present. Where should we be today if the philosophy of the old pessimists were true? Noble souls of the older times were ever apt to work mournfully on the world of their own day. Bernard of Clairvaux looks back wistfully to the olden time 'when the Apostles cast their nets to catch men, not as we do, to gain gold and silver'. And all sections have thus looked back aspiring to regain the purity of the old days of Christendom.

II. Think devoutly on all the goodness of the grace of God manifested from the days of the Apostles down to the days of your youth, but give thanks for the new, better time which God accords to us. In many an aspect is this indeed the better time. Today men have begun to realize that Christianity, rightly understood, is the noblest socialism, that is to say, it is the fellowship of love. Men now begin at last to comprehend that humanity is a whole, a corporate unity, a body, and that the unruly, the destitute, yes, even the criminals are members sick and sad members indeed, but nevertheless members needing care and protection.

III. Thank God for the better, brought about by the grace of Christ, but let us lift up our eyes and our hearts to greet the better time that is still to come. The past, that panorama in which progress and retrogression are alike portrayed, reveals that as the doctrines and teachings of the Divine Man have spread so mankind has been the better, the brighter, the purer, the more humane and thoughtful. It is the sign of the times it is the happy portent for the future. Work for the future, the best time! It still remains for us to struggle towards that best and to conquer it for our successors, for this better present age is deformed by blots that are dark and saddening. Truly something better than present conditions must be achieved, and let each of us resolve, by word and example, to bring about the desired confirmation. For each individual life great tasks are in prospect.

Paul von Zimmerman, Homiletic Review, 1909, vol. LXII. p. 64.

Reference. LXXVII. 10. S. Cox, Expositions (3rd Series), p. 152.

The Spell of Christ

Psalms 77:10-11

The Gospels in their narrative simplicity do not as a rule pause to analyse motives, still less to debate and comment upon the fascinations and qualities of Him whom they present. The simple but vivid brevity of the notices will compel from us the thought necessary to interpret them: and in pressing past the excited and thronging multitudes to see how hearts were truly won, we shall be saved from fancying that the main and central strength of the Gospel then lay in anything but what it lies in now.

I. Among the causes of that strength we shall be both right and reverent if we assign a chief place to what, in other case, we call personal influence, or the ascendancy of character. At the outset there is record of it usually expressed: 'Jesus increased in favour with man'. With His ministry this became a more definite attraction. The bidding to John and James, to Andrew and Peter, to Philip, to Matthew, to leave all and follow Him implies for its success a strong spell of personal influence, to which the eager, impulsive offers to follow Him whithersoever He went bear a voluntary witness.

II. From the personal influence of a preacher we turn naturally to the influence of His message. In Him the word and the character were not only harmonious: they were one in their effect. Surely nothing was more unique alike in Christ and His teaching than the truth, adequacy, and tenderness of His treatment of sin. In every epistle of the Apostles, in every word of their preaching, and in the convictions of the believers, there appears that intense and vivid conception of the contrast between good and evil, which almost invented for itself a new vocabulary in such words as 'sin' and 'holiness'.

III. It is sometimes alleged that the prominence thus given to sin is an artificial and conventional thing. To such a challenge Christian teaching can, I think, give no answer but a direct contradiction, and an appeal to fact, as such fact, inward and moral, can be interpreted by the sincere and humble-hearted, and by them alone. The motto of the school of Christ is written by the Master Himself across its portal: 'He that hath ears to hear, let him hear'.

Bishop Talbot, Oxford University Sermons, p. 16.

The Sanctuary of God

Psalms 77:13

The sanctuary is the place in which God is known and His truth honoured and spoken.

I. The Enthroned Bible. There is in Paris an old picture which represents an early Christian assembly, and above it a throne, but on that throne is seated neither king nor bishop. There rests simply an open Bible. In the sanctuary the Word of God is enthroned the Word written, the Word spoken. In the sanctuary God's nature, character, and creative power are made known.

II. God's Way of Creation. We hear a great deal about the discoveries of modern science; but the first verse of the Bible, the Book of the sanctuary, outweighs them all. The favourite theory of the day, though it is getting some hard knocks from some of your scientific men, is the theory of evolution; but that theory affirms not the cause, but simply the method of creation. The creative power remains the same whether by a direct act or by the slower process of evolution or development. Of course we are speaking of theistic evolution, for there is an atheistic form which would get life out of matter, instinct out of life, mind out of instinct, and free will out of necessity. There are atheistic evolutionists who will swallow all theories, anything but the sublime declaration of the sanctuary, 'In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth'.

III. God's Way of Providence. By providence is meant His affectionate care over all that He has made. The universe is a cradle, and the hand of the Father the Mother God rocks it and all things here are to serve His children. He has placed all things under laws, and these laws are cruel only to those who are too ignorant or too careless to obey them. You say these laws are immutable, that they roll along relentlessly. But we should remember that these laws are also controllable. Who is the wise man? Why the man who subjugates these laws not by violating them, but by harvesting them and using them.

IV. The Indwelling Spirit. There is also the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The holy man must be followed by the Holy Ghost. He is the great revealer. He is within our hearts directing the current of our thoughts towards the pure, the spiritual, the heavenly. He so pure yet seeing our impurity dwelling within, moulding and fashioning that He may behold in us His fruits of purity and love. Thus we have in the sanctuary God's way made known as the Creator, Preserver, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. The Church exists to promote man's welfare everywhere. It is the way of the highest instruction, it is the way of consolation.

Hugh Johnston, Christian World Pulpit, No. 1868, p. 120.

Reference. LXXVII. 13. H. Melvill, Sermons, vol. ii. p. 297.

The Highway in the Sea

Psalms 77:19

Doubtless when the Psalmist penned our text his first thought was the crossing of the Red Sea. He was seeking to revive his drooping heart by recalling the saving power of God in Israel's past. Thy way is the sea were there not glimpses in that of truths which the Exodus never could exhaust? So did the writer feel so must we all feel and it is on some of these suggestions that I wish to speak.

I. First, then, think of the sea as an object of dread. There were two places above all others dreaded by the Jews. The one was the desert and the other was the sea. The desert for it was across the desert that these armies came which besieged Jerusalem and pillaged it. And the sea because it was full of storm and treachery in Jewish eyes; it was the hungry, cruel, insatiable deep. Now comes the voice of the great Jewish singer and says to the people, 'God's way is in the sea'. In the very sphere and element they dread is the path and purpose of divinity. I think we should all do well to learn that lesson God's way is in the very thing we dread. We love the energy and glow of life; but we dread the silence of death and the cold grave but the way of the Lord of heaven is in the sea.

II. Again, the sea is the abiding home of mystery. There is a twofold mystery about the sea illimitable distance and unfathomed depths. Do you think it is profitless and idle dreaming to see in that a parable of life? The commonest life in the heart of the common crowd is more mysterious than any ocean, and it is its distance and its depths that make it so. It is not the achievements of man which are mysterious: it is the things which man never can achieve, and which he yet longs and hopes and hungers for, through century after century of failure. It is the reach of it through death into eternity that encircles with mystery the life of man.

III. Once more, the sea is the element of restlessness. We are not here to be satisfied and rounded. We are here to strive and yearn and toil and pray for things that are too large for threescore years. And in that distressing and yet Divine unrest there is the way and ordering of God. God's way is never in the stagnant pool; His way is ever in the restless sea.

IV. Lastly, I would have you note this about the sea; it is the meeting-place of all the waters. It is not in the things that isolate and part us that the way of God is preeminently seen; it is the things that draw us heart to heart; it is in the meeting-place of all the waters. In our sorrows and joys, our hopes and aspirations we are blended like the waters in the sea. And it is there, where we mingle in a common brotherhood, that the seeing eye will find the way of God.

G. H. Morrison, The Unlighted Lustre, p. 83.

The Secrecy of God

Psalms 77:19

Men tell us that there are few more impressive sights than that of a burial at sea. It is even more solemn and arresting than the last rites beside an earthly grave. There is the ceasing of the throbbing engines; the gathering of the hushed crowd upon the deck. There is the simple service; the lifting of the body; and then the plunge into the deep. And it is this element of silent secrecy, this hiding in unfathomable depths, which thrills and solemnizes and subdues. Something like that was in the poet's mind when he said of God, 'Thy way is in the sea'. Mingling with all his other thoughts was this, that God has His unfathomable secrets.

I. Note first some of the spheres in which the Divine secrecy is notable, and we shall think, to begin with, of God's gifts.

1. Think, for example, of the gift of love. In the darkest spot of earth some love is found. There is no man so brutal and so base but some one loves him and thrills at his approach. And yet how silent and how secret love is, hiding itself away from human eye, chary of uttering its depths in language, and speaking in a momentary glance. It is so always with the love of God. God's love is here, bedewing every thorn, shining on every hedge around the home. And yet how secret and hidden it all is how meaningless to blind or holden eyes till Christ has come, and showed His wounded side, and led us to the glory of the cross.

2. The same thing also is true of the gift of life. Life is the one impenetrable secret. We have it, and we thank God for it to-night, and yet the wisest knows not what it is.

3. Then once again this element of secrecy is evident in the providence of life. Not with the sound of bell does God arrive, when the feet are at the turning of the ways. Over the silent sea the boat approaches, with some one in it predestined to be ours; but the oars are muffled and we hear it not, as it comes from the haven of the far away. Decked with the broidery of common moments, the moments which are not common reach us. Wearing the aspect of our usual hours, our great hours of destiny arrive.

4. Note the element of secrecy in God's approaching to the soul in grace.

II. The secrecy of God is meant to be a spur to drive us on.

1. There are things that we are better not to hear, and God has the gracious strength to keep a secret. How often have we said in conversation, 'Ah, how I wish you had never told me that!' We can never look with the same eyes again since that one word was whispered in our ear. And we put it from us, and it comes again, and it rises from the dead when we least wish it; and we are meaner, and we are ashamed, just because some one could not keep a secret. There are times when there is strength in speech. There are times when there is strength in silence.

2. The secrecy of God should give us hope. There is hope for the world, and there is hope for men when we can say 'God's footsteps are not known'.

3. The secrecy of God is meant by God to keep us faithful. It is the pattern for our common life. It is given to help us on our daily round. Rarely are we summoned to great deeds. To many of us they never come at all. We are not beckoned along the shining road to anything that might arrest the world. We make our journey by a quiet way, with crosses that are very commonplace, with duties that are ordinary duties, nnlustred by any sparkle as of dew. There are blessings in a life like that. When a man is famous his footsteps are well known. He is not the nearer God on that account. From the tiniest violet up to Jesus Christ God moves in quiet and unobtrusive paths. And if it is thus He lavishes His beauty, and makes His infinite sacrifice of love, we can be very near Him in our calling.

G. H. Morrison, The Return of the Angels, p. 45.

References. LXXVII. 19. A. P. Stanley, Sermons on Special Occasions, p. 340. C. J. Vaughan, Memorials of Harrow Sundays, p. 116. LXXVII. International Critical Commentary, vol. ii. p. 172. LXXVII I. 5-7. H. M. Butler, Harrow School Sermons (2nd Series), p. 238.

Memory, Hope, and Effort (a New Year's Sermon)

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These files are public domain.
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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Psalms 77". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. 1910.