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God's Inner Circle
This wonderful Psalm has always been a favourite with the mystic and quietist. For it expresses what we may call the Beatitude of the Inner Circle. Most religions have distinguished carefully between the rank and file of the faithful, and that select company of initiates who taste the hidden wisdom and have access to the secret shrine. From the nature of the case some such distinction exists even in the kingdom of heaven. Christ Himself allowed a difference between 'His own friends' and those many disciples who are servants still. Only we must never forget on what this difference depends.... The Father who is Lord of heaven and earth has seen good to hide His secrets from the wise and prudent, and to reveal them unto babes.
I. As we recognize the reality of this Inner Circle of souls enlightened and initiated, these verses suggest some signs and tokens which characterize those who not merely wear their Lord's livery, but are actual courtiers in the palace of the Great King. We may say that they are more at home with God than other Christians, and they are also more alone with God. These dwellers in the secret place of the Most High are like children at home there, who have received the Spirit whereby they say always, 'Abba that is, Father'.
II. Such spiritual intimacy requires a spiritual privacy as well. To come close to God means not merely to be withdrawn from the noise and glare of the world, but also to be embraced in that shadow with which the uncreated height softens His glory to our eyes. For those who are thus brought near to their Father in heaven, there rises a strange delight in remembering the Divine Omnipotence. They exult in His power and might, His majesty and dominion.
III. And thus it comes to pass that the self-same attributes of God which daunt and repel us at a distance, are transformed into our very shelter and joy when once He covers us with His feathers. 'Thou shalt not be afraid.' No promise is oftener repeated and ratified to the childlike soul. Those who belong to God's Inner Circle bear on their countenances the seal that they are quiet from fear of evil, that they have gained the victory over terror and dismay.
IV. In God's Inner Circle the childlike spirit is made one with the will and the love of the Almighty Father. And herein lies our security and refuge against whatsoever may await us in this world or in any other.
T. H. Darlow, The Upward Galling, p. 38.
References. XCI. 1. J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons (9th Series), p. 134. W. L. Watkinson, The Ashes of Roses, p. 114. XCI. 1, 2. R. S. Candlish, The Gospel of Forgiveness, p. 227. XCI. 1, 16. E. H. Bickersteth, Thoughts in Past Years, p. 247. XCI. 2. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxii. No. 1297. XCI. 3. Ibid. vol. iii. No. 124. XCI. 3. Spurgeon, Morning by Morning, p. 24. XCI. 4. C. Bosanquet, Tender Grass for the Lambs, p. 16. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xv. No. 902. XCI. 5. Ibid. Evening by Evening, p. 113. XCI. International Critical Commentary, vol. ii. p. 278.
The Perils of the Middle-aged
The noonday of life is the time of middle age, when the morning freshness of youth has passed away. And so the destruction that wasteth at the noonday may be referred to the peculiar temptations of the period.
I. One of the features of middle age is this that by that time a man has found his life-work. Now with this settlement into a single task there generally comes a certain happiness. But just here arises one danger of that period it lies in the contraction of the manhood to the one groove in which the life-work runs. Absorbed in the business on which his living hangs a man contracts into a business man. No matter how successful a man be, if he is impoverished and contracted by success, then in the sight of God he is in peril of the destruction that wasteth at noonday. Faced then by that peril how may we hope to overcome it? One way is to have some lively interest out of the single line of the career. But there is something better. It is the thought that there once moved on earth a man who was perfect in the whole range of manhood. That is the value of fellowship with Christ in an age when specialism is inevitable.
II. One of the perils of the noonday is the deadening of faith. In middle age there is neither the stimulus of youth nor of age to lead a man to trust in the unseen. Youth has its dangers, but the sins of the middle age, though not so patent, may be more deadly, for they lead to that encrustation of the spirit which the Bible calls the hardening of the heart.
III. But not only is middle age the time when we are in peril of losing faith in God. It is also very notably the time when we are in danger of losing faith in man. We see how different men are from our dreams. The vision we had of them is rudely shattered, and with the shattering there goes our faith. Some men it makes utterly hard-hearted; others it makes tolerantly cynical. There is but one help in that temptation it is to remember that though He knew the worst, Christ never for one hour lost faith in man.
G. H. Morrison, The Wings of the Morning, p. 131.
The Refuge of the Devout Soul
I. We have here the cry of the devout soul. This cry of the soul recognizing God as its asylum and home comes in response to a revelation of God's blessing and to large words of promise. So the words of my text, 'Thou art my refuge' are the best answer of the devout soul to the plain words of Divine promise. This cry of the devout soul suggests to me that our response ought to be the establishment of a clear personal relation between us and God. We must isolate ourselves and stand, God and we alone together at heart grips, we grasping His hand and He giving Himself to us.
II. Note how this cry of the devout soul recognizes God as He to Whom we must go because we need refuge. It is only when we know our dangers and defencelessness that God as the refuge of our souls becomes precious to us. So underlying and an essential part of all our confidence in God is the clear recognition of our own necessity. In all regions the consciousness of human want must go before the recognition of the Divine supply.
III. Note the still more abundant answer which that cry evokes. There may be observed a certain distinction of tone between those promises which precede and those which follow the cry. Those which follow have a certain elevation and completeness and fullness beyond those that precede. They who store in patient and thankful hearts the faithful promises of God, have taken a sure way to make the gifts still larger and His promise still sweeter, and their fulfilment more faithful and precious. By the body we are brought into connexion with this frail outer world, and we try to make our homes out of shifting cloud-wrack, and dream that we may dwell secure. But we need a better dwelling-place than earth and that which holds to earth. We have God Himself for our true home. The secret of exemption from every evil lies in no peculiar providence, ordering in some especial manner our outward circumstances, but in the submission of our wills to that which the good hand of the Lord our God sends us for our good; and in cleaving close to Him as our refuge.
A. Maclaren, The God of the Amen, p. 158.
Reference. XCI. 9. Spurgeon, Morning by Morning, p. 58.
The Ministry of Angels
The ministry of angels is too clearly written in Holy Scripture for any of us to doubt it, even if we had not the evidence of our own experience. The work of the angels is
I. To Guide us. It is a great mystery, yet who can question that we may be led by them? The Gospel for today's service tells us of the angels of little children always beholding the face of the Father in heaven. It is impossible to suppose that their work ceases when we pass from childhood's state; and it is a comfort to think that our angels, receiving their inspiration in heaven, will lead us in the right way, if only we will submit ourselves to them.
II. To Guard us; or, as the text has it, 'to keep' us. Years ago, when one, who is now a bishop, was curate in a rural parish, he was sent for after midnight to visit a distant house where there was said to be serious illness. He went there, passing through a lonely road, only to find that he had been hoaxed. Years passed, and the incident was never explained until the bishop was sent for to visit in prison a man condemned to death. The prisoner recalled the incident, and explained that it was he who had sought to lure the curate out that he might rob him. 'And why did you not do so?' asked the bishop. 'Because,' came the reply, 'another man joined you just when I was going to attack you.' There had been no man; who can doubt but that it was the bishop's guardian angel?
III. But Notice the Limitation. 'To keep thee,' but only in all thy ways, and the story of our Lord's temptation shows us that the guidance and guardianship is given only when we are in the right way.
Reference. XCI. 11. J. Keble, Sermons for the Saints' Days, p. 372.
Let Nothing You Dismay
The whole of this Psalm is an unfolding of the certain outcome of fellowship with God. The man who dwells in the secret place of the Most High finds there a Divine power of protection and defence which lifts him into a place of safety in all the assaults of the enemy. As a hen covers her brood with her feathers, so is he covered by the Lord. He is defended as with a shield; he is upheld by angel ministrants so that his unwary footsteps do not slip. It is indeed a Psalm of the joy-bells which ring over the union of weakness with strength, of human need with Divine fullness. It tells with clear simplicity of the completeness of the provisions of grace for the life of the believer, and rings out, as though in defiance of the adversary, the clear note of certain victory in the inevitable conflicts of life.
I. The lion strongest and fiercest of beasts may well stand for a man's besetting sin, the temptation which is always nearest to him and from which there seems no available way of escape. And just as lions do not frequent the haunts of mankind, but are met in lonely and desert lands, so is this temptation met in the unshared solitudes of life. As in the days of Nero, Christians are always antagonizing lions, but the arena of their conflict is not open to the public. The struggle is waged without human spectators, and the victory when realized is unapplauded save in the courts of conscience and of heaven. Or, again, the lion may stand for the open opposition which every man meets as he pursues the pathway of God's revealed will.
II. The adder hidden in the grass or rocky crevices of the pathway, ready to dart out upon the unsuspecting pilgrim, with the power of death in its sting, well expresses the swiftness and unexpectedness with which temptation often assails men. The lion roars and gives warning of his approach, but the adder is most frequently encountered without any warning whatever of its presence. Suddenly the attack is delivered, and only he whose feet are Divinely shod can tread down the unlooked-for enemy. Who has not known temptation of this sort? It is of such that most defeat is recorded. Paradoxical though it sounds, such temptation usually finds its point of least resistance in a man's strongest part.
III. The dragon stands for temptation of an entirely different order, for no such beast is known to man, except as the creation of his own imaginations. The dragon is but the fierce creature of mythical story, the terror of earlier ages, and the dread of childhood. As such it stands here for those temptations which are largely the result of uncontrolled thought, those creatures whose existence is the projection of a disordered mind on the soul's vision. Though but imaginary, they are none the less strong to destroy those who do not in the courage of faith resolutely 'trample them underfoot,' and no Gospel promise of victory would be adequate which took no account of them. A man's strongest foes are not only of his own household but frequently of his own heart where the dragon has its birth. Evil desires, enmities, ambitions, jealousies, hot passions, are all the product of an unchecked imagination, and going forth from out the heart they assume mysterious strength to leap upon and overcome their own parent. Of the same origin, though of different form, is the dragon of dark pessimism, most frequently concerning the future.
J. Stuart Holden, The Pre-Eminent Lord, p. 29.
God's Answer to Man's Trust
These words seem to me to carry two thoughts: the first what God delights to find in a man; and the second what God delights to give to the man in whom He finds it.
I. There are two things that the great Father's heart seeks, and wheresoever it finds them He is glad and lavishes upon such a one the most precious things in His possession. Now the word rendered 'set his love' includes more than is suggested by that rendering, beautiful as it is. It is not my love only that I am to fasten upon God, but my whole self that I am to bind to Him. God delights in us when we cling to Him. Let us cling to Him in our thoughts, hour by hour, moment by moment, amidst all the distractions of daily life. Let us cleave to Him still further by the obedient contact of our wills with His, receiving all our instructions from our Father in heaven. There is another thing in the text which, as I take it, is a consequence of that close union between man in his whole nature and God. You have to become acquainted with Him and be very familiar with Him that is to say, to fix your whole self on Him before you 'know' Him; and it is only the knowledge which is born of love and familiarity that is worth calling knowledge at all. Only he knows God to whom the commonplaces of religion have turned into facts which he verifies by his own experiences.
II. Note secondly what God gives to the man in whom He finds such things. 'I will deliver him,' says the promise. God's promise is not that no evil shall come to the man who trusts him, but that he shall be delivered out of the evil that does come, and that it will not be truly evil. Still further we have another great promise: 'I will set him on high because he hath known My name'. That is more than lifting a man up above the reach of the storm of life by means of external deliverance. There is a better thing than that namely, that our whole inward life be lived loftily. Then perhaps there is a hint in the words, on an elevation even higher than that, when, life ended and earth done, He shall receive into His glory those whom He hath guided by His counsel.
A. Maclaren, The God of the Amen, p. 167.
What God Will Do for Us
The words which we have now to consider cover the whole range of human life and need, and may be regarded as being a picture of the sure and blessed consequence of keeping our hearts fixed upon our Father, God. The verses of the text fall into three portions: there are promises for the suppliant, promises for the troubled, promises for mortals. Now let us look at these three.
I. The promise to the suppliant. If a man's heart is set upon God, his very life-breath will be a cry to His Father. Any man who has learned to love God will live in the exercise and habit of prayer, and it will be his instinct to cry to God in all changing circumstances. True prayer is the cry of the soul for the living God in Whom is all that it needs, and out of Whom is nothing that will do it good.
II. ( a ) Further, here we have a promise for suppliants, 'I will be with him in time of trouble'. The promise is not only that, when trials fall upon us, we shall become more conscious, if we take them rightly, of God's presence, but that all which is meant by God's presence shall really be more fully ours, and that He is actually nearer us. ( b ) Then there follows the next stage, deliverance from trouble, 'I will deliver him'. He will deliver us not only by taking the burden off our backs, but by making us strong to carry it, and the sorrow which has changed into calm submission is sorrow from which we have been delivered. ( c ) Lastly, there is the third of these promises for the troubled, 'I will honour him'. Is not that the end of a trouble which has been borne in company with Him; and from which, because it has been so borne, a man may be delivered even whilst it lasts? Is that not God's way of glorifying us before heaven's glory?
III. Last of all we have the promise for mortals, 'With long life will I satisfy him, and show him My salvation'. The idea contained in this promise may be fully illustrated by the expression which is used in reference to a select few of the Old Testament saints, of whom it is recorded that they died 'full of days'. They had got all out of the world which it could give, and were contented to have done with it all. The heart that lives near God will find in life all that life is capable of giving, but will be satisfied to have lived, and be contented to die.
A. Maclaren, The God of the Amen, p. 177.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Psalms 91". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany