Book Overview - Psalms
by Joseph Parker
I am strenuously endeavouring to compress The People"s Bible within twenty-five volumes, and therefore I must leave the Psalter almost untouched; I say "almost untouched," for even this volume, with all its closely-printed pages, hardly begins the work of expounding or amplifying the poetry of the Book of Psalm. This book alone would afford ample materials for the whole twenty-five volumes which I proposed to issue when I conceived the idea of The People"s Bible, so abundant and so rich are its immortal songs. This is emphatically the heart"s own book, which Isaiah, indeed, at once a reason for expansion and condensation. Who would wish to expand the twenty-third psalm? Is it not full to overflow of all sacred emotion and all noble thought concerning God who is the Shepherd of the universe? Yet the twenty-third psalm could be sung in a hundred different ways, care being taken that the very variety of its adaptations might not be perverted into a weakness. We should take care how we try to vary the music of heaven. All my life long have I revelled in the Book of Psalm. What can I say about it now? It grows in tenderness. Its thunders were never so solemn and majestic; its minor strains never so delicate and comforting. Every psalm bears its own marks of inspiration. Human experience has been anticipated in all its innumerable phases. Is it nothing to have a book which knows the soul through and through, and can express all its sorrow and all its rapture? How mountain-like is the sublime old Hebrew among the languages of earth! and how noble its billow-like swell amid the waves of meaner speech! David knew me. Asaph is my bosom friend. Solomon is my confidant. All the unnamed minstrels are bringing me music from heaven. I would they might all tarry with me for ever, for in their society I can know nothing of weariness and nothing of pain. Under the spell of their genius, oratory becomes poetry, and the rains of grief are turned into the rainbows of hope. We know what a great lake is among the mountains. How it redoubles the scene! how it softens all rocks, and makes the shadowed mountains quiver as with reverent joy! It is the mirror of the landscape. So is this Book of Psalm among the books of the Bible. All the other parts of the Bible are in the Psalm. There creation is repeated; there the wilderness is remembered; there the Church is outlined; there Christ is born; there the wail of Calvary sanctifies all other agony. There, too, is Sinai interpreted in righteousness, and there the Cross gives welcome to contrition. The Psalmists were not content to lift up their own voices in the worship of the Eternal God. Those voices in the estimation of the Psalmists were too feeble for the occasion. They must be accompanied—accompanied by thunders and billows, by organs and trumpets, by harps and cymbals. It seems as if the Psalmists could never have accompaniment enough. They would call all nature to their aid. Whatsoever had a voice or could make a sound was to be impressed into the holy service. Yet some amongst us, even at this late day, object to musical instruments in the sanctuary! Such objection is valid, if we never get beyond the instrument: if we are fascinated by the sound of brass, or the quiver of prepared chords; but if the instrument is used to multiply ourselves, to give us a larger personality, to find for us a vaster, grander, and tenderer expression, then is the musical instrument not our master, but our servant. Pitiable is the objection to musical instruments in aiding the public worship of God. To object to them is to show an utter ignorance of their scope and purpose. God has so constructed the universe that every star and every flower, every hill and every stream, shall contribute to swell the anthem of his praise.
I can picture a wonderful assembly around the Psalter. There are the saints who love the Lord, and are in quest of speech fit for the expression of all that belongs to him in the way of adoration and praise. Nowhere else can they find similar expression. All that is noble and all that is tender can be found here. Every name by which the Lord was ever known to ancient history is repeated in this solemn and impressive music. The English cannot do without the Hebrew: the Gentile is dependent on the Jew. In every particular, salvation is of the Jews; in our sublimest moods we flee to the Hebrew Scriptures for the only language that can give fit utterance to our noble and saintly rapture. Not only are the saints gathered around the Book of Psalm, but sinners also congregate with tears and sighs, that they may seek the Lord, and find words fit for the expression of broken-heartedness. The fifty-first psalm is the prodigal"s highway back to pardon, to heaven, to God. How far soever human speech may go in the invention of expressions designed to set forth the depth and agony of contrition, it can never get beyond what we find in this wail of the heart,—this solemn outburst of sorrow and bitterness of soul on account of individual transgression. With the saints and the sinners there come a whole multitude of sorrowful souls; each knowing its own bitterness, and feeling the weight of its own burden; each feeling that the Psalm were written for his particular case, so exquisite is their thought, so tender their expression, so complete and soul-subduing their conception and vision of God. Add to all this host those who are dumb in soul, men who are speechless on account of grief, and you will complete the host of readers and inquirers gathered in eagerness and gratitude around this music of the heart. It is along this line that I find proofs of the true unity of the race. What unity may be established by merely physical considerations it is open to science to determine. The spiritual student discovers lines of unity in the moral region which can never be destroyed. To think that thousands of years ago our deepest experiences were uttered for us! To think that in all countries the heart has felt the same agonies, borne the same burdens, wept the same tears, and cried out in various accents for the same deliverance! In the Psalm we find the real meaning of inspiration. This question does not turn upon dates, localities, mere personalities of a transient kind, but upon instruction which covers the whole breadth of human ignorance, and upon consolation which touches every quivering fibre of human sorrow. All this accounts for the Bible"s growing influence. Not because the Bible tells men about distant lands and now archaic habits, but because it addresses the soul in all its sorrows, aspirations, desires, and bitternesses, because the Bible, or the Psalter in particular, brings messages to those who have lost all light and all hope, the Bible will remain for ever the supreme book and the supreme influence in literature.
The whole Bible may be said to be condensed into the Book of Psalm. Everything is related in poetry. All the plainest and least poetical works are turned into music. The Book of Job is repeated in the Book of Psalm In Job we find the concrete and the personal, the intensely dramatic and realistic; yet in the Psalm we find the same personalities represented, the same devil, the same upright souls, the same temptations, the same fears, and the same ultimate deliverance. Whether we read Job or the Psalm, we are in reality reading the same book. This observation holds good even of the Book of Proverbs. The Psalter is set between Job and the Proverbs in our canon; and account for it as we may, that would seem to be the best place for it. Nearly all the Proverbs are in some form in the Psalter. It seems to be the function and prerogative of poetry to take up all history, all Proverbs, all moral maxims, and all commonplaces of human intercourse, and magnify and sublimate them into poetical expression. Can such singers be dead? Were they but so many songsters, like nightingales in the darkness, singing to human sorrow? and are they now dead, extinct, annihilated? It is impossible to believe this. To such singers, music was no mere enjoyment. It was an instrument by which they communicated divine revelation to human listeners. It was the soul in its highest raptures. It was the intensest enjoyment which the human can hold with the divine. Other music comes and goes, changing its fickle fashion without reason and without defence, but this solemn, glorious, booming music rolls on night and day, through all the centuries of human evolution. The men who sang such songs must be living; their immortality cannot be limited to their music. Would we could live in this Psalter all the rest of our days! We need it every word, and we need every word every hour. By various figures could our enjoyment be represented. We should be as men called to reap the largest harvest ever grown in the vineyards of earth. We should be as those privileged to hear spiritual music stealing down upon us from the hidden places of the sky. We should be as prodigals to whom the word of pardon and of love is being spoken in ever-varying tones, yet with such definiteness that the heart can never miss the sweet and healing message. In the Psalm we need find no controversy. In the music of the Church all controversy should be hushed. When men lecture, or preach, or discourse in any form, they provoke more or less intellectual indignation on the part of those who listen to them; but when the noble psalm or sweet hymn is being sung all controversy is silenced, and alienation is forgotten in brotherhood. When we are puzzled, therefore, by other portions of Scripture, and are inclined to high debate, and even to furious contention, let us suspend the angry combat, and go into the Psalter, that we may find a music which will reconcile us and unite us in holiest love. Blessed be God for the Psalter. It seems to have been written in our mother tongue. It is a calendar which we can consult every day in the year, and for every day of the year find some bright motto, some gentle speech, some anticipative gospel.
Almighty God, surely thou hast laid up for us in thy law a store of good things: give us the hearing ear, the seeing eye, the understanding heart, that none of thy treasures be wasted upon us. We have heard the words of the wise, and behold they are as nails fastened in a sure place: may we receive the same and order our life according to them, that being found in the way of wisdom we may also walk in the paths of pleasantness and find enjoyment and peace as we advance from step to step. We have heard also the words of thy dear Song of Solomon, our only Saviour: we beseech thee to make a highway to our feet for the progress of his kingdom, that it may be set up there in all its grandeur, strength, and infinite graciousness and beauty. May we be the subjects of his crown, citizens of his kingdom, followers of his captaincy, and may the royalty of his strength and grace rule us with a sweet and welcome compulsion. We rejoice that, though he was equal with the Father, he was found in fashion as a man; and being found in fashion as a Prayer of Manasseh, he opened his mouth in parables and revealed the ancient secrets, and set up the kingdom of heaven upon the earth. We bless thee for its largeness; we thank thee that we all may find a place within the enclosure of thy sanctuary; may none be left outside, may the citizenship of heaven include every one of us—so shall there be in our heart a spring of joy which can never fail.
Great are the riches of thy house, and wondrous the lights which play upon our life as we wait upon thee in the sanctuary. We see afar, we are no longer bounded by things visible, we are not prisoners of time and space, we are called by an emancipating voice into infinite liberty—yea, the freedom of thy children is glorious freedom—enable us to walk in it, without licence, enjoying thy Revelation, living upon thy grace, eating thy word with a devouring appetite, and finding all our strength and rest and deep content in thy holy word.
We have come to bless thee for all thy care: we will not restrain our speech before thee, but let our hearts run out after thy mercy in grateful and ardent appreciation. Pardon all our sin. If our sin is great thy grace is greater, and thou dost not grudgingly but abundantly pardon. Thou wilt magnify the Cross in our forgiveness; yea, thou wilt make glad the heart of Christ by the overflowing pardon with which thou wilt answer our cry for pity and release. Chasten the strong, encourage the weak, sanctify those of us who are struggling after better experience; save the young from temptation, and by the way of the Cross do thou bring us all to thy dwelling-place on high, even to thy holy Jerusalem, whose streets are of pure gold, the gates whereof shall not be shut at all by day: for there shall be no night there Amen.
The following material was presented at the end of Psalm in the printed edition:
Notes on the Psalter
"My voice is unto God, and I will cry" ( Psalm 77:1), might well stand as a motto to the whole of the Psalter; for, whether immersed in the depths, or whether blessed with greatness and comfort on every side, it is to God that the Psalmist"s voice seems ever to soar spontaneously aloft. Alike in the welcome of present deliverance or in the contemplation of past mercies, he addresses himself straight to God as the object of his praise. Alike in the persecutions of his enemies and the desertions of his friends, in wretchedness of body and in the agonies of inward repentance, in the hour of impending danger and in the hour of apparent despair, it is direct to God that he utters forth his supplications. Despair, we say; for such, as far as the description goes, is the Psalmist"s state in Ps. lxxxviii. But meanwhile he is praying; the apparent impossibility of deliverance cannot restrain his God-ward voice; and so the very force of communion with God carries him, almost unawares to himself, through the trial.
Connected with this is the faith by which he everywhere lives in God rather than in himself. God"s mercies, God"s greatness, form the sphere in which his thoughts are ever moving: even when through excess of affliction reason is rendered powerless, the naked contemplation of God"s wonders of old forms his effectual support ( Psalm 77).
It is of the essence of such faith that the Psalmist"s view of the perfections of God should be true and vivid. The Psalter describes God as he is: it glows with testimonies to his power and providence, his love and faithfulness, his holiness and righteousness. Correspondingly it testifies against every form of idol which men would substitute in the living God"s place: whether it be the outward image, the work of men"s hands ( Psalm 115), or whether it be the inward vanity of earthly comfort or prosperity, to be purchased at the cost of the honour which cometh from God alone ( Psalm 4) The solemn "See that there is no idol-way (דדך עצב) in me" of Psalm 139, the striving of the heart after the very truth and nought beside, is the exact anticipation of the "Little children, keep yourselves from idols," of the loved Apostle in the N. T.
The Psalm not only set forth the perfections of God: they proclaim also the duty of worshipping him by the acknowledgment and adoration of his perfections. They encourage all outward rites and means of worship: new Song of Solomon, use of musical instruments of all kinds, appearance in God"s courts, lifting up of hands, prostration at his footstool, holy apparel (A.V. "beauty of holiness"). Among these they recognise the ordinance of sacrifice ( Psalm 4, Psalm 5, Psalm 27, Psalm 41) as an expression of the worshipper"s consecration of himself to God"s service. But not the less do they repudiate the outward rite when separated from that which it was designed to express ( Psalm 40, Psalm 69): a broken and contrite heart Isaiah, from erring Prayer of Manasseh, the genuine sacrifice which God requires ( Psalm 51).
Similar depth is observable in the view taken by the Psalmists of human sin. It is to be traced not only in its outward manifestations, but also in the inward workings of the heart ( Psalm 36), and is to be primarily ascribed to man"s innate corruption ( Psalm 51, Psalm 58). It shows itself alike in deeds, in words ( Psalm 17, Psalm 141), and in thoughts ( Psalm 139); nor is even the believer able to discern all its various ramifications ( Psalm 19). Connected with this view of sin Isaiah, on the one hand, the picture of the utter corruption of the ungodly world ( Psalm 114); on the other, the encouragement to genuine repentance, the assurance of divine forgiveness ( Psalm 32), and the trust in God as the source of complete redemption ( Psalm 130).
In regard of the law, the Psalmist, while warmly acknowledging its excellence, feels yet that it cannot so effectually guide his own unassisted exertions as to preserve him from error ( Psalm 19). He needs an additional grace from above, the grace of God"s Holy Spirit ( Psalm 51). But God"s Spirit is also a free spirit (ib.): led by this he will discern the law, with all its precepts, to be no arbitrary rule of bondage, but rather a charter and instrument of liberty ( Psalm 119).
The Psalm bear repeated testimony to the duty of instructing others in the ways of holiness ( Psalm 32, Psalm 34, Psalm 51). They also indirectly enforce the duty of love, even to our enemies ( Psalm 7:4, Psalm 35:13, Psalm 109:4). On the other hand, they imprecate, in the strongest terms, the judgments of God on transgressors. Such imprecations are levelled at transgressors as a body, and are uniformly uttered on the hypothesis of their wilful persistence in evil, in which case the overthrow of the sinner becomes a necessary part of the uprooting of sin. They are in nowise inconsistent with any efforts to lead sinners individually to repentance.
This brings us to notice, lastly, the faith of the Psalmists in a righteous recompense to all men according to their deeds ( Psalm 37, etc.). They generally expected that men would receive such recompense in great measure during their own lifetime. Yet they felt withal that it was not then complete: it perpetuated itself to their children ( Psalm 37:25, Psalm 109:12, etc.); and thus we find set forth in the Psalm, with sufficient distinctness, though in an immatured and consequently imperfect form, the doctrine of a retribution after death.—Smith"s Dictionary of the Bible.
The following is a list of the chief passages in the Psalm which are in anywise quoted or embodied in the N. T.:— Psalm 2:1-2, Psalm 2:7-8, Psalm 2:9; Psalm 4:4; Psalm 5:9; Psalm 6:3, Psalm 6:8; Psalm 8:2, Psalm 8:4-6; Psalm 10:7; Psalm 14:1-3; Psalm 16:8-11; Psalm 18:4, Psalm 18:49; Psalm 19:4; Psalm 22:1, Psalm 22:8, Psalm 22:18, Psalm 22:22; Psalm 23:6; Psalm 24:1; Psalm 31:5; Psalm 32:1-2; Psalm 34:8, Psalm 34:12-16, Psalm 34:20; Psalm 35:9; Psalm 36:1; Psalm 37:11; Psalm 40:6-8; Psalm 41:9; Psalm 44:22; Psalm 45:6-7; Psalm 48:2; Psalm 51:4; Psalm 55:22; Psalm 68:18; Psalm 69:4, Psalm 69:9, Psalm 69:22-23, Psalm 69:25; Psalm 75:8, Psalm 78:2, Psalm 78:24; Psalm 82:6; Psalm 86:9; Psalm 89:20; Psalm 90:4; Psalm 91:11-12; Psalm 92:7; Psalm 94:11; Psalm 95:7-11; Psalm 102:25-27; Psalm 104:4; Psalm 109:8; Psalm 110:1, Psalm 110:4; Psalm 112:9; Psalm 116:10; Psalm 117:1; Psalm 118:6, Psalm 118:22-23, Psalm 118:25-26; Psalm 125:5; Psalm 140:3.—Ibid.
The following material was presented after Psalm 119 in the printed edition:
The Character of God As Revealed In the Psalm.
What is the conception of God as revealed in the Psalter? We hear a great many musical instruments, and voices of many qualities and tones; we hear the sea commanded to roar, and the fulness thereof; and the clouds praise the Most High as they pour their gentle and gracious rains upon the thirsty ground. Who is the God to whom all this praise is ascribed? We are moved by the enthusiasm of the actors in this great pageant of Song of Solomon, but whom do they worship? What is his name? In order to join their songs intelligently, we should wish to know the God of the Psalmists and the conception of his nature formed by those who adore him. Excluding, therefore, all the rest of the Bible from our purview, the question we have to ask Isaiah, What is the conception of God as revealed in the Psalm of David and his fellow-singers?
The first conception would seem to be concerning the kingliness, the majesty of God. There is a pomp about the expression that is in harmony with the finest ideas which the human mind can form respecting royalty. The mind is thus elevated by the very quality of the thought. There is nothing in all the conception of God revealed in the Psalter that depresses the mind, or limits the thought, or chides the efforts and darings of imagination: on the contrary, everything in the Psalm relating to the Divine Being says, Stand up in all the fulness of your manhood, for you are called to worship the Great God, the King above all gods. Surely no small intellectual benefit accrues from a challenge like this. Worship is not an easy effort—a mere breathing, a state of intellectual indifference, a sighing of sentiment, an assenting to propositions which some other men have formed: worship is a sacrifice—an expression of pain, self-surrender, profound obeisance, and an assurance that all words are too poor to express the praise due to the Great King. We are not now asking whether the conception is right or wrong: our one concern is to make ourselves clear as to what the conception is. Hear, then, some such words as these:—"The Lord is king for ever and ever" ( Psalm 10:16); "The kingdom is the Lord"s: and he is the governor among the nations" ( Psalm 22:28); "The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory" ( Psalm 24:10); "The Lord most high is terrible; he is a great king over all the earth" ( Psalm 47:2). The men who formed these conceptions were not little men; they were great men, and they were all on fire! There was no coldness in the ancient worship as it is revealed in the Psalm: all was ardour, passion, sacrifice; every temptation was blown away by the tempest of this noble enthusiasm. Probably this is the very first idea that ought to be formed respecting God, namely, that he is a great King—Sovereign—King of kings—Lord of lords. Not the first idea in the sense of being the elementary idea, but the very first that challenges and satisfies the imagination when most inspired and most reverently audacious. We must have a conception of God that fits the universe. To attach a small name to so infinite a quantity would be an irony which the feeblest mind might despise. What, then, will do for circumstances which in themselves are so grand—an immeasurable firmament; universe beyond universe; innumerable millions of worlds whose velocity never can be stated in figures; white day, pure light; starry night ablaze with jewels; pomp, uniformity, vastness, minuteness, regularity, fruitfulness? Who owns it? Here we cannot be content with a little or trivial answer; here words may be piled without hyperbole; here eloquence may thunder without approaching the vulgarity of noise. This universe was never made by a being less than itself—than what it is in size, bulk, splendour, resource. When, therefore, the Psalmists come down into the church, saying, Wake the harp, sound the trumpet, let the sea roar and the fulness thereof! we say, Why?—Because we are praising him who made all heaven and earth, and all that in them is: "He is the King of glory." The answer satisfies us intellectually. We find no disharmony between a practically infinite universe and a really infinite Sovereign. We are not committing ourselves to any theory: we are rather asking concerning one, and then we are to proceed to consider how far it fits the facts which are patent to every observer.
Granted, however, that God is King, what are some of the inferences which flow from this conception of the divine royalty? The idea is that God is seated upon the circle of the earth; that high above all things is the ever-glowing, ever-dazzling Shekinah; that God"s throne is on the apex of the universe. Granting that all this is true, what inferences ought to flow from an appropriation of that spiritual doctrine? Look at the Psalm for an answer. We will ask the Psalmists if they were faithful to their own conception. What did they teach, and to what responsibilities did they expose themselves by their teaching? That is a fair inquiry. By this means we shall discover the practical effect of the conception of God"s nature formed by the Psalmists. If it end in mere Song of Solomon, however melodious—in acclaims, however piercing and noble—it will be no concern of ours to meddle further with its transitory worship; but if the conception of God formed by the Psalmists enabled them to hold life with a kingliness all their own; if their conception of God made themselves but a little lower than God, because they were formed in his image and likeness; if their conception of God enabled them to move about all the lines of life with dignity and intelligence, and beneficence and peacefulness, it ought to be the Concern of a troubled world to know what that conception was, and to attempt its immediate and perfect realisation. So this is no barren inquiry in religious archaeology.
One of the first inferences which the Psalmists drew from the royalty of God was the fact of a complete National Providence—a divine handling of nations. It is possible to be so critically minute as only to see the one Prayer of Manasseh, or the individual men, and not to aggregate them into a new and larger identity, called society or nationality. It was a singular thing that the Psalmists seized the idea of confederation, commonwealth, human unity. They were not content to know that God was the providential guide of this particular man or that: they brought men together in their supreme aggregation, and spoke of them as families, tribes, nations, peoples, kindreds, and tongues. Hear these words: "He is the governor among the nations" ( Psalm 22:28); "He is terrible to the kings of the earth" ( Psalm 76:12). Here is statesmanlike grasp of things in the very midst of singing, and what to some minds would seem to be sentimental worship. A fearful expression is this, and yet full of gladsomeness when rightly apprehended—"He is terrible to the kings of the earth." From great men he expects great things: where there are thrones there should be personal majesty, moral sovereignty, monarchical grandeur of character. He will plunge the kings of the earth into deeper depths than common men can ever reach, if they be not faithful to their stewardship, if they sacrifice to their presumption and their vanity. But the whole idea of national providence accrues from this conception. Whole peoples are watched. A marvellous mystery this, that there should be personal government on the part of God, so that each man is treated as if he were an only child, and yet that there should be national government on the part of heaven. A beautiful idea, too—a bringing together of men into a living commonwealth; a writing across the forehead of the nations: Ye are not your own; ye that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak; no map liveth unto himself. Then, on the other side—namely, the penal—how awful is the thought as revealed in the Book of Psalm that God punishes nations in their totality! He locks up the nations within their own boundaries until they go mad with exasperation and despair. They say they will burst their bands: and, lo! they are tugging at wrought-iron which they cannot break; they will go forth: and, behold! their caparisoned steeds fall dead beneath them; they will blaspheme the Most High, and take affairs into their own hands: and they stagger, and rot, for they defied the heavens. The history of nations is before us, accessible to every intelligent student: see if it be not true that whole nations have been thus handled, that over the neck of nations have been thrown invisible reins held by invisible hands.
Following this first thought, the Psalmists were not slow to recognise the fact of universal judgment as a necessity of universal kingship:—"Say among the heathen that the Lord reigneth: the world also shall be established that it shall not be moved: he shall judge the people righteously" ( Psalm 96:10). And again:—"He is the Lord our God: his judgments are in all the earth" ( Psalm 105:7). This gives a sense of security to things. We are not living upon a cloud; we are not condemned to nourish ourselves upon the foam of the waters: we are called to conceive of righteousness at the centre of things, righteousness at the head of things, the spirit of judgment in the whole circle of things. That is the conception of the sweet singers of Israel. So they were more than singers: they were philosophers; and philosophy is incomplete until it becomes a psalmist, a singer. Truth is but struggling with its burden until it so far conquers that it must of necessity sing. Music is the completion of philosophy. We are called to accept this doctrine of the divine judgments. The acceptance of it relieves us from the necessity of personal criticism in many directions. We are delivered from the exasperation consequent upon judging one another. We commit our way unto the Lord. We say: God will judge—why should we trouble to criticise? We shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ, and every man shall receive according to the deeds done in the body, whether they be good or whether they be evil; seeing therefore that we are to be judged ourselves, why should we judge one another? Thus we are enabled to look tranquilly upon some scenes which otherwise would dispossess us of all religion and drive us wild with ungovernable excitement. What otherwise could we do in the presence of slavery, oppression, tyranny, cruelty? We exclaim against them, but make no impression; we plead for the down-trodden, and are answered with scorn: what refuge is there for us but in the thought that a great process, requiring long time for its evolution, is being conducted, and that not a single oppressor, tyrant or cruel heart can escape without record in heaven? We are charged to speak comfortably to those who are prison-bound, in distress, in sorrow of heart—saying, Sorrow endureth but for a night, joy cometh in the morning. There is a fearful awakening for the unrighteous, the untrue, and the unjust! If you are sure of being right, suffer on, knowing that Christ also suffered wrongfully; bear up bravely, endure patiently: yours will be a short night, and no sooner will the morning light shine upon you than you shall forget its darkness, and thank God for its discipline. So out of these singing philosophies, these musical religions of the Psalmists" time, there come great thoughts assuring us that, God being King, he ruleth the nations, and conducts an infinite economy of a providential kind.
Following this thought of the kingliness of God, we are not surprised to find that the Psalmists associated with it appropriate emotions on the part of the people. The emotions were not all of one kind. Emotion expresses the character of the singer or the sufferer. We have these words in proof:—"The Lord reigneth; let the earth rejoice" ( Psalm 97:1). Is that all? It is a true declaration, and evidently rational, strong in thought as well as musical in expression; but is it all? No. "The Lord reigneth; let the people tremble" ( Psalm 99:1). That is all! Observe the moral completeness of this emotional expression. We understand both the texts if we look within ourselves and trust to the inspiration of our own consciousness. The response will be according to the quality of the character. "The Lord reigneth; let the earth rejoice"—in so far as it has been obedient, truthful, responsive, keeping its way in the heavens, for ever singing as it shines concerning the Hand that made it. "The Lord reigneth; let the people tremble"—in so far as they have been untrue, unthankful, vicious, selfish, degraded, endeavouring to conceal themselves from God, attempting independence of his providence: for when he cometh he cometh to judge the earth. Stripping all this of the poetry of the immediate occasion, what remains? A solid truth, a grand eternal truth, a sweet satisfaction. This is a pillar whose capital is gold, this a solid column of iron at the head of which is lily-work. The poetry is but the crown of the reason. "He ruleth by his power for ever; his eyes behold the nations: let not the rebellious exalt themselves" ( Psalm 66:7). This is comforting Song of Solomon, and this is song rising out of doctrine, as the golden grain rises in answer to the sun out of the solid earth.
Supposing that we really accept the doctrine of the divine kingship and majesty of God, what ought the effect to be upon our own selves? Put the question in this way: We have perused the Psalm, and we observe how they magnify God as King and Lord alone; if we accept this doctrine, how ought we to prove our acceptance of it in our own life? We do not want intellectual assent, but moral consent and affection. One of the first results will be absolute fearlessness: "Perfect love casteth out fear." If we really believe in the kingship of God, we shall be without distress or apprehension:—
"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early. The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved: he uttered his voice, the earth melted. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Come, behold the works of the Lord, what desolations he hath made in the earth. He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; he burneth the chariot in the fire. Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge" ( Psalm 46).
Find one black line of fear in all that picture! Find one halting note in all that noble song! This being our conception, this should also be our experience. "The beloved of the Lord shall dwell in safety by him; and the Lord shall cover him all the day long, and he shall dwell between his shoulders," is a lesson which we have seen even in the book of Deuteronomy. This should be our proof that we have accepted the kingship of God. To get at us, the enemy must get through the king first: we dwell in the king"s house: we bear the king"s bond: our covenant is sealed with the seal of heaven"s court.
Absolute fearlessness will be followed by absolute trust: "The Lord will command his lovingkindness in the daytime" ( Psalm 42:8). "This God is our God for ever and ever: he will be our guide even unto death" ( Psalm 48:14). Can the New Testament go further?—the arms of God are completely round about us; he has given his angels charge concerning us. We should call this poetry if it were found in a poetry-book, but it is found in a book which is full of reason, solid thinking, practical experience; and a book which justifies its poetry by the very severity of its actual life. "Comfort one another with these words." God being king, we will put our trust under the shadow of his throne. He is a king who takes account of his subjects, who numbers his jewels, who makes inquest into the economy of his universe. Let us confidently and lovingly trust in the Lord, and wait patiently for him. He is worth waiting for. Patience is a proof of our faith. A faith that has no patience is a tree that has no fruit—an organ that has no music—a bird that has no wings; a complete contradiction in terms.
Then, following fearlessness and trust, comes the assurance of continual support:—"Every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are mine.... The world is mine, and the fulness thereof" ( Psalm 50:10-12). If every beast of the forest is the Lord"s, will he suffer his children to die of hunger? If he owns the cattle upon a thousand hills, shall his children wander desolate and helpless in the wilderness? If the world is God"s and the fulness thereof, our bread shall be given us and our water shall not fail. To this high faith we are called, and it is indeed difficult to obey the vocation. Why? Because we are loaded with senses. We have so many points of contact with the outer and lower world. Our feet touch the earth, and our wings are not yet strong enough to beat the air and bear us away to the gate of heaven. Still, the promise of support is there:—" I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread." If we could live on this divine promise we should be happy all the day long, blow the wind how it might, darken the clouds as they please. "Lord, increase our faith." Are we the sons of a king? Then we must not crouch through the earth, but stand up in dignity. The son owes something to the king: the son represents the sovereign. If the son is lame, halt, blind, poor, narrow of mind, bigoted in thought, selfish in sentiment, he is no king"s Song of Solomon, he has no claim to royal descent and association. The son of a king should be magnanimous: he should take large views; he should be benignant even towards human infirmity and sin. See how Christ lived! He went in to eat with publicans and sinners, and turned the feast into a sacrament He said: "Woman, neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more." He called one son—"a son of Abraham." The sons of the king should not be petty critics, small censurers, pedantic Judges, forming disheartening estimates of their fellow-men; they should look benignant, there should be a blessing in their smile, there should be deliverance in their grasp, there should be nobleness in their whole port and bearing. We cannot profess to be the followers of a king, and yet degrade that king by servility on our part. We should be majestic in modesty, noble in trust, magnanimous in all things, but especially in forgiveness.
Almighty God, teach us so to number our days that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. Thou hast; made our days fruitful of suggestion from heaven, so that we need not stumble if we will but look at thy providence, and listen to thy law, and make thy book the man of our counsel. Thy word is a lamp unto our feet:: if any man stumble in the darkness, the responsibility thou hast placed upon himself. That is the true light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. May we comprehend the light, receive it, reproduce it, enjoy it as heaven"s richest gift, and show ourselves in some degree worthy of it, by causing others to come and rejoice in its brightness and warmth. Thou hast set our days in an uncertain place; we cannot number them; we cannot say where they will end; thou hast not revealed the conclusion; thou hast said thou art always coming, and our duty is to wait and watch and serve, that so we may be ready. Thou ridest forth in the chariot of noonday to take thy children home; thou dost set forth on thy journey in the chariot of midnight, and ere the sun be risen thou hast removed many to the mansions that are above. In such an hour as we think not the Son of man cometh. Even Song of Solomon, Lord Jesus, come quickly! Thy coming is emancipation, is rest, is heaven. Blessed are they that die in the Lord: for they shall rest, they shall enter into peace; there shall be no more sin, no night, no pain, no death. Thou hast set our days before us, therefore, as so many opportunities, which we are called upon to enjoy, to turn to fruitful account, that we may know thy will more perfectly, and do thy bidding more obediently. We thank thee for life, notwithstanding its pain, its shadows, its disappointments,—yea, notwithstanding it is a daily struggle with death, and in its most beauteous forms it runs along the valley which is full of graves. Yet is life a great privilege, a keen joy, a splendid call to upward behaviour and noble conduct; a challenge to the self to become enlarged, ennobled, and glorified. May we receive life in this spirit. When we are stung by its pains and blighted by its disappointments, may we rest our little griefs upon the infinite sorrow of the Son of God. We find in the Cross thine answer to our sin, thy measure of the value of our life, thy reverence for law. May we look to the Cross, and be lightened; may we stand around the Cross, and never leave it, looking towards it with the eagerness of love, with the expectation of unshaken confidence; and may the answers coming from it from day to day comfort us, bless us, and cause us to magnify thy name in praise. We rejoice to think of the mystery of thy being, the mystery of thy love, the mystery of the Cross, when our heart muses, it burns, and we speak with our tongue, and say, Great is the mystery of godliness—the spirit of eternity—the marvellous meaning of God. Help us to dwell upon great thoughts until all petty ambitions are destroyed; help us to remember the greatness and goodness of God, and to revel in them with religious delight; then shall the objector have no power against us, and Satan shall find nothing in our hearts which he can turn to evil account. Fill us with thy Spirit Grant unto us such knowledge of thy word as shall amount to safety and protection invincible at every point of life; then shall we grow, and be fruitful, and God shall be pleased, and Christ shall be satisfied. We commend one another to thy gentle love. Let none be omitted from thy blessing; let the oldest feel that he is not beyond the scope of intercession, and the little one feel that youngest life is precious unto the Father. Send messages of comfort to the sick, the distressed, those who suppose themselves to be abandoned; and comfort those who are disconsolate. The Lord help us to render acceptable worship before him, that the very oblation we offer may be unto us as an answer to prayer. May the sacrifice be accepted, may the gift be taken up, may all our life be turned into sacramental uses; and when the eventide comes and the day closes, may we, through the blood of the everlasting Covenant, be called to walk with the saints in white. Amen.
The Character of God As Revealed In the Psalm.
So far, then, God has been revealed in the Psalm in his kingly or majestic attributes and qualities. We have wondered; we have been dazzled; we have been satisfied. The terms which have been applied to God by the Psalmists are worthy of God, as to their grandeur, nobility; and by so much our imagination is satisfied, our reverence is also satisfied with infinite satisfaction. But are we to pause at the point of majesty? Is there nothing more? Is the God of the Psalm but an infinite Light, an infinite King, far away, enthroned, and if looking on at all, looking on with indifference if not contempt? We cannot be satisfied with God as a King; and yet we could not be satisfied if God were less than monarch. Now something must be added; other features must be disclosed if they exist, for we soon tire in looking upon majesty, and mere grandeur, of an abstract kind, that never touches us with a friendly hand, or beams upon us with a complacent smile.
What further, then, have the Psalmists to say of God? Truly, they magnify his goodness: "Thy marvellous lovingkindness" ( Psalm 17:7) is one expression which they use; "The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord" ( Psalm 33:5); "O taste and see that the Lord is good" ( Psalm 34:8); "Truly God is good to Israel" ( Psalm 73:1); "Goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life" ( Psalm 23:6). How the tone changes! We have just heard the great trumpets and the infinite thunderings celebrating the majesty of God: now, with softer tones, with the music of the heart, with the pathos of love, the same great singers sing of the goodness of God. If good, what then? Draw near to him. Have no fear. He does not wish to be worshipped afar off; he desires us to come quite close to him, to whisper to him, as if in confidential interview—to "rest in the Lord;" to recline, as it were, our heads upon his bosom, and there weep out our penitence, there tell the tale of our sin, that we may be interrupted and stopped for ever by the assurances of his mercy. So we have two aspects of God: the great King, and the gentle and good one. If good, continually trust the outcome of things. With intermediate points and developments we have next to nothing to do. Things do look crooked, unmanageable, confused, quite tumultuous indeed, as if disorder had displaced the spirit of harmony, and terror ruled over all. The Christian fixes his attention upon the last outcome. He says: All things work together for good, but during the working together they are not to be analysed or subjected to torture: they are to be simply waited for, and watched, and prayed over, and nothing is to be done in a spirit of disobedience, which would imperil the final grace and harmony. At that point we stand still. We hear the mocker, and acknowledge that if in this life only we have hope, there is point in many of his gibes, and his brutality is not ill-displayed in reference to things which look like cross-providences and miscarriages of divine justice; for when the wicked reign, and the unrighteous are rich, and all things seem to be given over to the cruel and strong Prayer of Manasseh, there is some superficial reason for mocking and taunting those who pray. If good, be like him. The worshipper should always be like his God, and must be in proportion as his worship is sincere, intelligent, complete. We grow like what we love. We become similar to that which we worship. The idolater is like his idol. Find any tribe worshipping an ugly or deformed or ghastly image of deity, and you find the worshippers like that which they adore. But if good, we are to be good—good in every sense: in the moral and spiritual sense, which relates to character, spirituality of mind, and the general uplifting and coronation of all the faculties, but good also in the other sense, of beneficence,—that is to say; in the sense of kindheartedness, compassion, pity, gentleness, regard for the weal, solicitude about those who have gone astray: this is goodness. We are not to be satisfied with an inward goodness, which is mistakenly so called—a kind of abstract quality; but that which is within is to be translated into beautiful action, beneficent service, the kindness which kills enemies, the love which overcomes opposition.
So far, then, God is good as well as great, and our song shall be of mercy and judgment. In the Psalm God is revealed in many gracious aspects. In particular he is called by two names, which must always endear him to human nature in its best moods and its deepest necessities. "The Lord is my Shepherd" ( Psalm 23:1). That is one of the names. Then "Like as a father" ( Psalm 103:13). That is the other name. The Psalmists have discovered that not only is God a great King above all gods, but that he is Shepherd and Father. How did such ideas occur to the minds of Israel"s poets? But do we not limit the terms, and really dispossess ourselves of many spiritual advantages, by not fully considering the meaning of such words as "Shepherd," and "Father"? They are not altogether sentimental terms. Has a shepherd a mere office to fulfil? Does he watch the flock from an hour that is given to an hour that is specified, and is he paid for his services? Is his watchfulness bought? Is his kindness the arithmetical result of a calculation? Is he not stern as well as good,—nay, is he not sometimes severe simply because he is good? And a "father"—is he one who exercises no discipline? Is he made simply to give every child his own way? and does he retain the name of father without fulfilling the functions thereby designated, and discharge the sometimes heavy duties thereby implied? Is a father all smiles? Is there no rod in the house? Is there no tone of rebuke in all the paternal administration? There may be no rod, there may be no judgment, there may be no rebuke, there may be no criticism; but if so the man is no father: he does but sustain certain physical relations to his offspring; their father he is not. So these terms must be taken in their fullest signification. We must banish that which is merely sentimental, and get at that which is real, substantial, and abiding. Thus God is described in tender and endearing terms. The pastures into which he leads his flock are "green pastures;" the waters by which he conducts his flock are waters of comfort—"still waters." He maketh his flock to lie down at noon, saying, The sun is too hot for the sheep and the lambs; they must be taken where the shadow abides that within its coolness they may rest awhile.
What view did the Psalmists take of God"s relation to this world? Is he an absentee owner? Is he never here? Has he but left some writing, signed regally, sealed solemnly, but is he himself never present? What is his relation to this earth?—active, contemplative, disdainful, complacent? What is it according to the conception of the Psalmists? Hear their own words: "God is in the generation of the righteous" ( Psalm 14:5). He knows every link and loop in the living chain; nothing is added but by his permission, nothing is taken away that he does not know of. "Thou wilt save the afflicted people" ( Psalm 18:27). This brings him very near to every one of us: though a king, he is a physician; though mighty, he can walk into the places where sorrow weeps, where weakness throbs out its last little energy, where pain waits dumbly some solution or mitigation of its agony. "O love the Lord, all ye his saints: for the Lord preserveth the faithful" ( Psalm 31:23). So he is not absent, but present; he is the active force now ruling all things—now drying the tears of grief, now standing by the banner of the true. "The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry."
So God is not a king only, seated immeasurably beyond the reach of his creatures, enthroned in pomp and state and circumstance, and unmindful of the little, the perishing, the feeble, and those who but dimly represent himself. He identifies himself with them; he looks upon no other object; he listens to the prayer of the earth, the continual intercession of pain and weakness and helplessness. Observe, we are simply dwelling now upon the conception of God formed by the Psalmists; whether we can verify that idea or not, is not the immediate question; first of all, let us get hold of the conception itself, and then address ourselves as to its value and application to our own conditions.
"The Lord will deliver him in time of trouble; the Lord will preserve him, and keep him alive; and he shall be blessed upon the earth: and thou wilt not deliver him unto the will of his enemies" ( Psalm 41:1-2). This reads like the testimony of men who were eye-witnesses. There is nothing abstract about such a deliverance. One would say, judging from the tone, that the men who said all this were only repeating what they themselves had experienced. On such ground men have a right to be heard. We may be impatient in listening to mere opinion, surmise, or declaration; but when men arise to say they will tell us their own religious experience, and certify the same by their personal signature, they have a right to be heard—the right which fact always has in human history. We want to hear what Fact has to say: what has really been done; who testifies. Let every speaker be heard in his own personality and in his own name, and let him sign his testimony in the presence of witnesses. This is precisely what is done throughout the whole Bible. Men do not come with dreams and visions and new fancies, but with autobiography, personal experience, facts which they have seen, felt, known, and handled. "Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me" ( Psalm 50:15); "From heaven did the Lord behold the earth; to hear the groaning of the prisoner; to loose those that are appointed to death" ( Psalm 102:19). Again we see how true it is that the Psalmists did not think of God in any merely regal capacity. He was also father, shepherd, mother, nurse, physician, visitor, friend: nearer to men than men were to themselves,—the very mystery of life.
Taking this conception into view, what then? Evidently, first, life is watched. There is nothing too minute for God to see. "His eyes behold, his eyelids try, the children of men" ( Psalm 11:4); "Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising" ( Psalm 139:2). There is not a word in my tongue, there is not a thought in my heart, but, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether. We asked: What is God"s relation to this world? This is the tender and solemn reply: a relation of watchfulness, criticism, care, judgment And then, secondly, because life is watched we are entitled to infer that life is precious. The Lord would not watch that which is of no value. Even a sparrow falleth not to the ground without God. The reasoning of Christ is an upward and cumulative reasoning: he says, If God so clothe the grass of the field, will he not much more clothe you? If a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without your Father, can a man die without heaven taking notice of the event? Christ always reasons so. If he can get us to admit that God cares for bird, or flower, or little thing, he carries up the admission to its fullest extent, and binds us to accept a theology of Providence, and to assent to the doctrine that God rules over all, and his tender mercy is over all his works. We cannot tell the preciousness of one life. "Whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea." "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." Nowhere in the Psalm, or in any other part of the Bible, is human life spoken of in a tone of disparagement, or disdain, or disregard; the whole tone in relation to man is that the sinner must be saved, though he be but one in number. "If a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray?" Even so the Shepherd of men has come to seek the wanderer, and restore the prodigal to his Father"s love. Not only is life watched, and precious because watched, but life is evidently under training. It is not to be judged within the limits of any one day or any one generation. It will grow, it will be refined, little by little; sometimes almost imperceptibly, so far as the immediate sequence of moments can detect, but given days and months and years, and the progress of the refinement will be very definite. God is now creating Prayer of Manasseh, and making man in his own image. We shall dispossess ourselves of great spiritual riches if we limit the creation of man to any one point of time: it is the one concern of time; it is the one business of the ages. We are now, therefore, being chastened, impoverished, that we may be enriched, untaught that we may be taught, rebuked that we may obey. The whole process of life is probationary, educational, helpful. Judge not yourselves or others by any single day.
Gathering all these passages into one view, how do they impress us? We cannot but be impressed with the noble completeness of the conception. There is nothing wanting. Say we are in a high mood of intellectual enthusiasm, imagination alive, burning, and the whole mental structure is excited to its highest intensity: then the Psalmists meet us and satisfy us by the grandeur of their spiritual words. When they have finished they ask us to find one word indicative of grandeur, majesty, and true pomp, which they have not first discovered and applied. Or, say, we are brokenhearted, blind with tears, sitting in the darkness of despair, and the Psalmists come to us with whisperings that are as balms, with sentiments which are medicinal, with words which soothe without ever becoming burdensome, with figures which quicken our fancy, and make it a broad open gate through which judgment comes to reap a harvest of rational and glorious consolation. Where can we go for tender terms if not to a Psalm like the103rd, where God does everything for man that man can need in his lowest and weakest estate, restoring, comforting, forgiving, chastening, soothing, removing iniquities away as far as the east is from the west? Where else is God represented as numbering our days, and remembering what we are, and pitying us after great sins? Where but in the107th Psalm does God come back after every apostasy with a new redemption, giving us hope in the nighttime, and an opportunity even in the densest darkness to return and be restored? Now this noble completeness of the conception begins an argument: how did such men at such a time acquire such a conception of God? It is impossible to believe that the singers were not inspired. This is God"s revelation of himself. There is no other revelation like it in all the sacred books of the world. In other sacred books we can find pomp of expression, and some reference to possible pity—but the reference is very small and indistinct; nowhere do we find this conception on the same lines, of the. same magnitude, the same clearness, of the same reverent audacity. What other religion but the religion of the Bible could describe its God as Shepherd, Father, Healer, Nurse? It Isaiah, therefore, simply impossible to some to believe that the Psalmists conceived their God, having regard to the completeness of the conception, its boldness and fulness and satisfactoriness. Thus the Bible must become its own witness evermore. If any man can improve this conception of God, let him do so. He has yet to do it. Even Christ and the Apostles when they come will work on the same lines, recognise the same God, and but add some point of illumination; they will never utter a word sweeter than "Shepherd," tenderer than "Father," nor can they make a word fuller in sacred meaning than "lovingkindness" or "tender mercy."
Nor are we less impressed with the adaptation of this conception to universal conditions. This God is not confined to the Psalm, nor is the Bible God confined to Hebrew or other eastern lands. How did the people of one nation conceive a God for all nations? All the nations accept these designations and attributes and relations, and never attempt to change one of them. The Psalm deal with universal conditions when they deal with the poor, the oppressed, the weary, the troubled, the persecuted. This universality of the conception is a conclusive argument in favour of its divine origin. Not a word of limitation can be found here; there is no hint that other nations must make gods for themselves if they want them; there is no suggestion that this is the God of the Jew or the Hebrew, or the God of Israel only: he is universal as the sun, he is as impartial as the rain; the figures by which he is represented to the race are all figures which every child can see and every man can partially understand. He is the God of the whole earth, the God reigning over all people, the God saving all nations. It is something to have such a conception, and something to be able to say that after all literature, history, education, experience, we can add nothing to it: the pillar bears a capital which none can heighten and none can glorify. When we are in our noblest moods of mind we take most easily to the biblical expression of our thought; when we are in greatest need of succour, no words can so precisely express our pain and want as words which are found in the sacred volume. For these reasons, in addition to many others, we believe the Psalm to have been first sung in heaven, and the whole Bible to be not the word or work of Prayer of Manasseh, but the revelation and writing and testimony of the living God.
Almighty God, one look from thine eye will be as morning to us and as the beginning of heaven. Thou wilt not withhold that look of kindness from us, seeing we are before thee in the name of Jesus Christ thy Song of Solomon, and that for his sake alone we beg the giving of every favour. Our hope is in the Cross. We dare not pray in our own name, or ply thee with arguments of our own making, for they would but aggravate the sin we cannot obliterate; but we will point to the Cross, we will stand before thy Son our Saviour, we will interpret the meaning of his flowing blood, and we know that from, him we shall receive all things good for us in this life and in all the worlds to come. He is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. We live in him our new life; we breathe eternally because of his eternity. We bless thee for thine house: it is a sure resting-place, a window from which we can see heaven, a height standing on which we can overhear sweet music from other worlds. Meet us at the altar, and let the rising of our song unto thee be a challenge to which thou wilt reply with further revelation of love. Thou hast been mindful of us with infinite tenderness. We have heard of thine anger, but whilst we have been listening to the marvellous revelation of thy wrath, we have also heard that it is but for a moment. We have heard of thy mercy, whilst we have been amazed at thy tenderness: behold, all the houses of history have said, His mercy endureth for ever. Thus we are made glad; yea, we are made astonished with an infinite astonishment, because our God is pitiful, his eyes are full of tears, his heart melts with tenderness; he lifts the thunder to let it drop again, lest the poor victim, the criminal before him, should be crushed never to rise again. Thy way is full of wonder. Nothing occurs as we expected it to happen. We look in this direction for light, and behold it is flaming behind us, coming from a quarter unexpected and uncalculated by our perverted minds. We say, The Lord will do this; and behold whilst we are shaping out a way for thee thou art walking upon the wings of the wind, and the clouds are the dust of thy feet; thy way is in the whirlwind, and thy place of rest is in the tabernacles of thunder. Who can understand thy way? Who can comprehend thy meaning? Who shall say, This is the Lord, and this is not? Thy chariots are twenty thousand, and all calculation is baffled by the movements of God. We will stand still; we will close our lips in reverent silence; we will say in our heart, whispering the sweet Gospel to ourselves, lest we should lose its music by loud utterance, The Lord will come; yea, he will come quickly, and thousands of his angels will come with him; then the crooked shall be made straight, and the high places shall be made low, and that which is lacking shall be numbered. The first shall be last, and the last shall be first We bless thee for thy Book—a Book without beginning and without end; high as the firmament, inaccessible yet radiant as the morning horizon. Help us to read it with clear eyes, to receive it into honest hearts, and to embody it in obedient lives. A wondrous Book having in it all light, all truth, all wisdom; a marvellous Book, a golden gate falling back upon all heaven, admitting us into the city, and giving us to know what they are doing there who have gone before and have been robed in the white linen of the saints. We pray for one another. We are always within a touch of death. There is but a step between us and the end, wherever we may be on the journey. We give thee thanks for all safe deliverance and all protection, and for all the success with which thou hast crowned our labours. Thou hast been with us in our going out and in our coming in again, and there has not been a day which has not been brightened by thy presence, nor a night that has not been sealed with the blessing of thy sleep. We, therefore, praise thee, and hail one another in the name of the Lord, and say, It is well with those with whom the Lord is well pleased. Thou hast delivered us from terrors by night and by day, from perils on the land, and from perils on the sea, and we know not from what perils until we see others involved in their tremendous dangers. The Lord bless the house, the family gathering-place and sleeping-place, the sweet home where the fire is the: fireside of hospitality, security, affection; the Lord grant that the house may become a home, and the home a church, and the church be just outside heaven"s own gate. As for those who are troubled and perplexed, dashed back in life when they meant to go forward, give such the true view of life: show them the falseness of all earthly calculations; show them that not a fountain plays on all the earth whose waters will not be drained off; and show them also that the living fountain is in the heavens, and say unto them: Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Sanctify our afflictions, sanctify our disappointments, turn to uses of spiritual health all the things which we supposed to be against us. If any man is looking round, and seeing the enemy gathering around him a thousand strong, say unto him: When a man"s ways please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him. Thus may we live and move and have our being in God, and rest in the nest of the divine love, and abide constantly in the sanctuary of the divine protection. Amen.
Divine Providence As Revealed In the Psalm
We have inquired what relation the God of the Psalm is pleased to sustain towards the affairs of men. We have endeavoured to answer the question—Was it contemplative, indifferent, disdainful? Or active, complacent, redemptive? We have now to enlarge the inquiry, and ask, What was the conception of divine providence held by the Psalmists, and how did it sustain, inspire, and comfort them in their manifold and anxious experience? The providence which is revealed in the Psalm is a providence marked by fulness of mystery. The cloud was as dark as midnight. We read, "Thy judgments are far above out of sight" ( Psalm 10:5). The men were standing, as it were, looking upward strainingly, as if by stretching their stature they could reach unto God, as if by fixing their eyes attentively upon heaven they might at least discover the footholds of the throne. But nothing came of all the straining, except the assurance that God"s judgments were out of sight, far beyond the line accessible to human vision. Then again we read, "Clouds and darkness are round about him" ( Psalm 97:2). That is discouraging. How does that experience correspond with our own? It so far corresponds that we would not change the utterance in a solitary tone. Even now when we want to describe our view of God"s rule of this world, we cannot find truer or nobler terms than these, "Clouds and darkness are round about him." Language is thousands of years older now than it was at the time in which the psalms were sung. Learning has grown upon every hand; the power of expression has been carried to its very highest point; and now even in its maturity and perfection language is only too thankful to borrow the sublime strains of the Hebrew Song of Solomon, and to say concerning God, "Clouds and darkness are round about him." All this is natural. The other view would have been altogether untenable. A God that could be comprehended would not have satisfied every faculty of the mind. Nay, a God who could have been measured, comprehended, and understood, would have gone down from that point, and have gradually sunk into moral contempt His way would be patent; all his reasons would be upon the surface; the lightest-minded person could have said, We know what he will do to-morrow, and we read his plan down to the very last line and title; so now we can take our own course, and fit in our ways where we please, and depart from the line providential where we like. But God cannot be anticipated. We know not what he will do on the morrow. That mysterious point of time is under the divine control; within the scope of that to-morrow God has dug so many graves, turned back so many ambitions, inflicted so many disappointments, and sent out so many consolations, and adjusted so many controversies, and has not communicated the secret to any finite intelligence. Here, then, comes up all that is best in worship. Here reverence takes its stand, and, uncovered, awaits before God to know what is the next thing to be done, and asks for power to accomplish it. This is not only natural, but it is widely and profoundly educational. We are trained by a right use of our ignorance, and a right realisation of the boundaries which enclose us. At first we suppose there are no stakes or cords but that our dwelling-place is boundless; then we begin to find that we are shut in, that beyond a certain point we cannot advance a solitary step, that our boasted liberty is only a liberty to obey. That is the beginning of the soul"s deepest education. The soul comes back from its survey, which it supposed to be boundless, and says in effect, Seeing that I am not gifted with infinite and uncontrolled liberty, amounting to irresponsibility, let me quietly consider what is my position, what am I, what forces have I at my disposal, what is my limit, and in how far, and according to what quality have I to answer at the last for the little day I spend under the sun. Thus, too, patience is trained. Nothing refines the soul so much as the exercise of willing, uncomplaining, rejoicing patience—to be prepared that to-morrow should be as monotonous as today, and to know that for the next year there will be no change in our solitariness and weakness, but that we shall still be living under the same grey sky, and be blown upon by the same cold cruel wind; and yet to say, Seeing this is God"s doing, it is best; he will turn this pain to sacramental uses; we will make this weariness an opportunity for deepening our spiritual knowledge, and encouraging and sustaining our spiritual vitality. Thus, too, faith grows: not to know God, and yet to believe God; to have no information extending beyond the immediate moment, and yet to be sure that all will be right at the last, is to grow in faith, to be solid at the centre, to be sound at the core. The larger view is always the right one. Within given limits, we think we are talking according to the suggestion of facts, whilst all the time we are misinterpreting the very facts which we suppose ourselves to know. Once let that assurance take possession of the heart, and at once the whole life becomes chastened, and the whole spirit puts on the beauty of modesty. We see nothing as it really is. Again and again we have had occasion to say, Seeing may be believing, but what is seeing? We play fast and loose with the terms on which we build great theories. We know as little about seeing as we know about believing. No man sees. He can but discover appearances, and he looks upon them even imperfectly, and the things which he dignifies by the name of facts will play him false to-morrow—vanish as fictions; the only right spirit, therefore, in relation to divine providence is to acknowledge the mystery, to bow before it, to wait patiently for God. What does the child say about the snow? The child thinks that the snow steals a march upon the sun, and that if the sun would but shine in all his heat there would be no snow. The child is right within given limits, and yet if the sun were diminished in heat we should have no Alpine snow, no great glacier-ribs of ice that seem to make the very earth cold at the heart These great ice-formations are creations of the sun: diminish his heat, and you destroy these fields of ice. The sun"s heat is the mystery of all things. Diminish it, and you shut out the distillery of creation, and that which you never imagined possible will prove itself to be the unwelcome and ghastly fact.
But not only was providence covered with what may be termed intellectual mystery, puzzling and bewildering the understanding and the imagination,—providence as known by the Psalmists was full of moral perplexity. That was the great difficulty. Men can put up with intellectual riddles, but when they fancy they see conscience and right outraged they almost cease to pray.
"My feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped. For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For there are no bands in their death: but their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men. Therefore pride compasseth them about as a chain; violence covereth them as a garment. Their eyes stand out with fatness: they have more than heart could wish" ( Psalm 73:2-7).
So long as the mystery was intellectual, it was rather matter of entertainment than otherwise: for who does not like some kind of metaphysical puzzle that he can trifle with, and speculate upon, and put in various lights, so as to enchain the attention and entrance the imagination of other men? But the intellectual has become moral: now it seems as if vice were patronised of heaven, and virtue discouraged, as though wickedness were the one way to the divine complacency. What wonder if Asaph"s feet were almost gone? Asaph says: I saw it; this is not a matter I have heard about, nor especially is it a matter concerning which there are conflicting rumours; I have seen the eyes of the wicked, and they stand out with fatness; I have gone over their estates, and they are marked by redundant luxuries; this is patent; I would not have thrown away my harp if I had only heard by way of rumour that some wicked man was rich and well, but I have seen it, and now my harp-strings have lost their tension, and these poor fingers that used to play with such skill and verve fall palsied by my side. That is so. Here again, within given limits, the case is precisely as Asaph saw it and as Asaph wrote it. But beware! what have you seen? Tell me under what circumstances this tragedy, or that, occurred. You reply: The sun was immediately overhead when the tragedy happened. I say—No; the sun is never overhead in England. But I saw it. Never! Do you mean to tell me that the sun is not immediately overhead at a certain moment of the clay? I do; the sun cannot be overhead directly in England, or anywhere, but at one line, and at two assignable points measured from that line. Then have I to disbelieve my own eyes? Yes—instantly! Would God you were blind on some occasions, for then would you see! Let me hold imaginatively before you a beam of light. Do you see it? Yes. I can deliver that beam to you in two parcels: I can sift or filter it so as to send the light without the heat, and in a more imperfect manner, but a manner which may presently be matured; I can send the heat, as it were, by another parcels" delivery. Have you seen it done? You have never seen it done, but that does not prove that it is not done. Again and again we have seen that it is impossible for all the boiling water in creation to clean a vessel. You have scalded the vessel, but you have not cleaned it; you have made it clean enough for practical purposes, but no chemist could use it. It is one thing to be mechanically clean, and another to be chemically pure. In science we call these "fine distinctions," but when the great moralists and apostles stand up and say, You can wash the hands but you cannot wash the heart: "Ye must be born again," we call it "fanaticism" or "rhapsody." We must not, therefore, judge too much by appearances. Asaph did not occupy the right point of view. He himself says so: for when he went into the sanctuary of God, he understood the end of the wicked; then he took back his harp, and never played it as he did the moment after he saw the real situation of the ungodly. But we might take this in another point of view. Why not say when the wicked are in great prosperity, Surely their wickedness is not so great as I imagined it to be. Or: Surely my goodness is not so certain as I once thought it was. Who betakes himself to that line of searching criticism? Who does not find it easier and more convenient to say that he is right, and that if any one prospers who is not of his opinions or policy of conduct, that prosperous man is an alien and an infidel?
Out of this two-fold mysteriousness of providence there would almost necessarily come a provocation of the worst spirit of criticism. As a matter of fact this provocation did take place in the Psalmists; so one of them exclaims, "Wherefore hast thou made all men in vain?" ( Psalm 89:47.) Think of it! That a man who cannot tell what will be on the morrow should thus criticise and challenge the divine scheme! How difficult to suppress oneself, and to divest oneself of unavowed but not wholly unconscious infallibility! Every man is a pope. Every man believes himself practically to be infallible. It may be an easy protestantism that fulminates against a distant dignity but forgets that the human heart is papal, and that to be a man is to be a pope. Another Psalmist says, "Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain" ( Psalm 73:13). Think of it! A man so reading the facts of creation and human history as to suppose that his personal hand-washing is of the slightest consequence in the universe! "I have become Pharisee for nothing; I might have been eating and drinking with the publicans to-night to my heart"s content; and, lo, I have got nothing in exchange for the soap and the nitre I have expended in cleansing my hands!" A man who can so talk about his hands has never cleansed them; he has performed a mechanical ablution, but the true catharism he has never undergone.
Now the tone changes, and providence is represented in the next place as sovereign and final. Hear the truth, "He putteth down one, and setteth up another" ( Psalm 75:7); "Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain" ( Psalm 76:10); "He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth the needy out of the dunghill; that he may set him with princes, even with the princes of his people" ( Psalm 113:7-8) This is the right tone: God handling the universe with imperial power; God making disposition of angels and men as it pleaseth him; God fixing the bounds of our habitation, and drawing the line within which the foam of our fury dies in pallid weakness. God is thus put in his right position as King. "The Lord reigneth." This quiets us also in the presence of elevations which might distress us. Why should any man be superior to me? Why should not I stand first in the ranks, and be admitted first to see the king? and why should not others hear of the king through me? Why should I be poor and my rival rich? We started together; nay, we were children of the same mother, and behold he is wealthy and famous, and looked up to and will be renowned for many a day, and I have no lot or portion or inheritance in the land. Thus speaks the spirit of fretfulness, discontent, and peevishness. But let a man say in his soul, "God putteth down one, and setteth up another; God raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and setteth among princes, even amongst the princes of his people, whom he will; to live is honour enough for me, to be permitted to pray is next to being permitted to sing with the angels; even I, poor, disdained, have some lot in this great estate." "O rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him." We cannot amend the sentences concerning Providence which are found in the Psalm. To-day men live by their proclamation. To-day singers make their fortunes by singing the ideas of Hebrew poetry. The words of the Psalmists in describing God"s ways are words which breathe through all the ages, and cannot be displaced by the invention of man. Song of Solomon, amid all difficulties, contradictions; amid all mysteries, intellectual, spiritual, moral, we will pray for patience, love, faith; we will ask that we may be enabled to wait until the time of solution; we will trust in the living God, which stilleth the noise of the seas, the noise of their waves and the tumult of the people. This is Christian obedience. Anything other than this is impertinence,—yea, is blasphemy.
Almighty God, we come on the Sabbath day that we may be healed. It is the healing day. It is made sacred to healing. We come on no other day: for this is the day the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it. Redeem us from our iniquities, heal our diseases, and let our backsliding be for ever forgotten. We would that this day might be memorable because of the healing we receive from heaven. Send none unhealed away; we rejoice in thy name, O living Christ, as the healer of men. Thou art the great Physician; thou knowest our frame, thou rememberest that we are dust; there is nothing in us that thou didst not thyself set in its place and in its order: grant unto us, then, thy healing grace, O thou loving Saviour of the world. We cannot heal ourselves, though we are self-destroyed: it is easy to work out destruction, but in the Lord alone is salvation. When there was no eye to pity, when there was no arm to save, thine own eye pitied, and thine own arm brought salvation. This is the day on which we hear these things,—the day of heaven"s own light and heaven"s own music; we will answer the dawn, and spring in glad response to the music, and will be found in the house of the Lord with a new song upon our lips. Great is thy goodness, tender is thy mercy, and as for thy lovingkindness we know not how to express it: it is higher than heaven, wider than all space. We have come to hear the living Word, which is as the bread of life and the water sent down from heaven for the satisfaction of men"s burning thirst. Give us the hearing ear, the understanding heart, and the obedient will; then shall thy word run, have free course, and be magnified, and all people shall rejoice as those who have been long in darkness, but have now seen the rising of a great light. All our necessities are known to thee: some are too deep for words; others may not be expressed, for we could not ourselves bear the utterance of them; but all we need thou knowest, for thou dost not only hear our speech, thou readest the motions of our heart: they are toward thyself, they beat heavenward, they are motions of aspiration, and they are significant of trust and love and hope; answer them as thou alone canst answer with all the benevolence and all the tenderness of the Cross. Our life is made up of days that are few and evil; our days are swifter than a post, our life is swifter than a weaver"s shuttle, flying to and fro, working out its web of thought and purpose and meaning. We are hardly young until, behold, age is advancing upon us; whilst talking of today, to-morrow is giving promise of its coming. We bless thee therefore for all that fills up the void, and makes the little great, and turns the insignificant into sublimity. This is done by thy gospel; this is the miracle of the Christian"s faith. May we find that the water of this life is turned into the wine of the next, that all common things are now invested with uncommon and celestial meaning. Come into our hearts as we are able to receive thee. Plead not against us with thy great power; let our weakness be an attraction to thee; let our very poverty draw thee closely to our souls: then shall we know thee as the good Lord, and the Giver of Good, the Father of Lights, and the Fountain of Blessings. Regard with special love those who are in great sorrow, loss, pain, extremity, and with still added tenderness regard those who are leaving the world—some sorrowfully, some joyfully, some eagerly, because they would be away joining the sons of light and the children of song in the land that is all summer. The Lord grant unto all who wait upon the sick and the weary, patience, a hopeful spirit, a tender heart, facility in loving invention, that they may double their attention by the fertility of their care and industry. The Lord bless the nations of the earth: they are all thine, all equally thine; and if we are still narrow enough to pray for one land we would pray for our own: but thou hast taught us that the earth is thine, that all the nations belong to one another because they belong to Christ. Enable us, therefore, to rest in providence, to trust in the great sovereignty of God, in the lofty and eternal rule of Christ; then we shall be at rest, though the mountains tremble and the seas would empty themselves out of their channels because of their tumult. Enable us to stand fast in the eternal truth that the Lord reigneth. And as for those who are playing with empires and nations, and turning greatest human questions their own way, this or that: the Lord grant unto us all the wisdom of patience, the confidence of great principles, assured that, let man do what he may, or leave undone what he will, the universe is under God"s keeping, and will be shaped according to God"s thought. The Lord hear us when we pray. May our prayers grow upon us until they become as replies; may our hearts feel their hunger, and utter it, until the very utterance of their desire shall itself become a satisfaction. Wash us in the precious blood shed before the foundation of the world—the mysterious blood, the everlasting sacrifice, the all-blessing and all-cleansing blood of Christ; then shall we be accepted in the Beloved, here we shall be free men, and presently we shall be as the angels of God. Amen.
The Destiny of the Wicked As Revealed In the Psalm
We do not expect to hear much about the wicked in the book of music. The subject would seem to be out of place amid the utterance of praise and thanksgiving and adoration. We may be the more affected in consequence of the very surprise which is excited by the presence of so repelling a subject under circumstances otherwise so fascinating and attractive. We are taught by contrasts. God uses the element of surprise in our education. He does not allow us to see all the line at once, but meets us at corners, with things we never dreamed of; he shows us pictures in the darkness; he startles us by lightning at midnight: in many ways he uses what may be called the element of surprise or amazement for the purpose of educating us in the deepest spiritual truths. Surely this is the case in an instance like the present. The Book of Psalm will be all music and dancing and mirthfulness, delight, heavenliness; there will be nothing about hell in a book consecrated to harmony. So we should say, and therefore our wonder will be the keener if even in this Psalm -book we come upon expressions appalling as lightning and terrible as uncalculated and unexpected thunder.
It is beautiful to observe how gradually, so to say, the revelation of the destiny of the wicked is made in the Book of Psalm. We come upon the fact very early in the Psalter that there are ungodly persons. Even in the very first psalm the destiny of the wicked is indicated:—"The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away" ( Psalm 1:4). This is comparatively nothing. The wicked man might bear this. Still, we begin to see how the line is pointing. This is only contempt; it is not perdition. The wicked man is willing to be for the moment as chaff which the wind driveth away: there is no destruction in that driving; there may be upset and tumult and somewhat of perplexity and difficulty in being thus treated and opposed, but there is no hell in this opposition of the wind. It is something to mark the very first point. When we meet contempt in the Bible we meet it under circumstances which invest it with tremendous significance. The Bible is not a book which is contemptuous towards man without some reason which will be vindicated. There is no scorn in the divine revelation merely for scorn"s own sake. God does not judge merely because he would vary the monotony of his eternity by treating with contempt the creatures of his own hand. When he looks contemptuous he means judgment—hell! At first, therefore, the wicked meet with no complacence in the Holy Scriptures which are written in the language of music. The moment the wicked man appears even in the Psalm he is driven away like chaff. Note the time and note the beginning of the divine displeasure.
Let us advance a step:—"Thou hast smitten all mine enemies upon the cheek bone; thou hast broken the teeth of the ungodly" ( Psalm 3:7). So even thus early the Psalmists do not intend to give much hospitality to the wicked; even in the singing-house the wicked man shall not sit down at ease, as if he had a right to be where the heavenly music is. Now compare the figures: "the chaff which the wind driveth away;" and then a cheek bone which is smitten and teeth which are broken. This is humiliation. There is no grandeur in the punishment. There is nothing heroic in such endurance as this. It is but a higher kind of contempt, a more active scorn. But notice that it is indeed the scorn of God. Are they not worthy of being smitten otherwhere than on the cheek bone, or to have aught broken but their sharp teeth? The punishment is not yet internal or spiritual. Still, the figures seem to belong to one another. Not to be regarded with dignified indignation, but to be treated with contempt, to be smitten upon the cheek bone and to have the teeth broken, is to be subjected to humiliation of the deepest kind.
Now advance one step further:—"Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest" ( Psalm 11:6). Thus the figure changes violently. But still there is no peace to the wicked. He does not grow upon our acquaintance. He has not discovered to us unsuspected beauties or disclosed unimagined fascinations. The contempt has now grown into anger, and the anger into judgment, and the judgment into perdition. God cannot rest in heaven whilst there is one wicked thing in all the universe. Yet we find these statements in the Book of Psalm—in the tune book, in the book of harps and psalteries and instruments of ten strings. Is there not even here something significant? Shall not the wrath of man be made to praise God? Shall there not be strange voices introduced into the great choir at last, that shall even by their harshness and their hoarseness contribute somewhat to the praise of a government that never paltered with the wicked and that never accommodated itself to unrighteousness? Now we have come to the element of fire, and still it burns, as thus:—"Thou shalt make them as a fiery oven in the time of thine anger: the Lord shall swallow them up in his wrath, and the fire shall devour them" ( Psalm 21:9). Why trifle with such words? why endeavour by some grammatical jugglery to wriggle out of them as though they meant something comparatively trivial? Language cannot be clearer, words cannot be stronger; God would be trifling with men if he said all this about burning, swallowing up, and destruction, and simply meant something superficial, evanescent, and inconsiderable. "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." "Our God is a consuming fire." Why not be afraid of him in his relations to sin, and exclaim penitently and rationally, It is right that God should be thus angry with the wicked every day, for if he were otherwise virtue would have no security and heaven would be an impossibility? Why try to reduce the figure to meaninglessness? The figure itself is less than the language which it signifies when it is applied for divine purposes in relation to eternal facts. We show but the foolish side of our nature when we ask whether literal fire can be meant, and a local hell can be intended by the expressions which are used concerning it We are not in a right mood of mind when we ask such foolish questions; the thing to be asked is this: What is God"s relation to sin? and the answer Isaiah, It is a relation of judgment, hatred; it is the abominable thing which God hateth, and no literal fire can be so hot and so destructive as the disapprobation of God.
We now come to another style of treatment, but still pointing to the same solemn issue. Thus:—"Many sorrows shall be to the wicked" ( Psalm 32:10). Note the environment: sorrows of many kinds. God is not limited to one class of sorrow or penalty. The wicked man shall be mocked, tripped up, disappointed; he shall seize an egg, and find it a scorpion; he shall set his teeth in bread, and have those teeth broken by a stone. "Many sorrows,"—many kinds of sorrows; sorrows of every quality, and every hue, and every range, and every name; nay, more, new sorrows, unexpected penalties, inflictions never dreamed of by the imagination of men. God has set the universe against the wicked man: the stars will not light him home, the summer will grow only poison for his hunger; he has not a friend in all the starry firmament: to not one of these bright, all-but-living planets can he look, saying; That is mine: see how it smiles upon me, and would talk to me if it could: no; heaven"s great firmament of stars is as an embattled army against all wicked men. Whatever the wicked man enjoys he steals. He is a felon in his heart. If successful, he is a successful knave. Creation disowns him; heaven will not acknowledge his name. The prayers of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord, and are sent back in showers of burning sparks.
The wicked man has no easy time of it in the Book of Psalm. "The face of the Lord is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.... Evil shall slay the wicked" ( Psalm 34:16, Psalm 34:21). The wickedness of the wicked man is the sword by which he kills himself: his very success is his failure; his very fattening is for the slaughter. "The face of the Lord"—where is it? what is it? Is it symbolised by the heavens and the earth, by all space and all magnitude? Can it burn? Can it scorch men who look upon it? Is it a face all eyes? Is it a face red with anger? Is it a face terrible with ghostliness? Is it a spectral power that makes the darkness light, and then shuts it up again as with a seal that cannot be broken? This is how the wicked man lives according to the revelation of the Book of Psalm. The "face of the Lord" is against him: so is the face of beauty, the face of light, the face of childhood; no little child will caress the wicked Prayer of Manasseh, or in the midst of a caress will recoil from him as if a serpent had been touched. "There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked." He cannot sit down but on a stolen seat; he dare not look up, for heaven"s righteousness is against him. These declarations are not made in a book of judgments, in a collection of moral sentences pronounced upon moral crime; they are brought into the great harmonies and musical expressions of the universe; they are there used up, as it were, as fuel by which is lighted the very altar of God.
Even in the Psalm we alight upon texts which come down upon us like showers in a tempest:—"The wicked shall perish" ( Psalm 37:20); "The transgressors shall be destroyed together" ( Psalm 37:38); "Thou with rebukes dost correct man for iniquity, thou makest his beauty to consume away like a moth" ( Psalm 39:11). Dare the wicked man read the Psalm? Has he any one of the hundred and fifty which he can call his own, and which he can read in the morning light before going out to renew his iniquity? Is there not one line left for the poor wretch? Has he not one string in all the infinite harp? Can he not quote one verse, saying, This encourages me to do the best I can for myself, to perpetrate mischief, to outwit my fellow-creatures, to keep false weights and measures; this will enable me to give licence to every desire of my heart? In all the Book of Psalm not one little line can be claimed by the bad man. Here is a fate: who dare encounter it? "In the hand of the Lord there is a cup, and the wine is red; it is full of mixture; and he poureth out of the same: but the dregs thereof, all the wicked of the earth shall wring them out, and drink them" ( Psalm 75:8). Who is equal to that occasion? In whose hand is there a cup? In the Lord"s hand. Then it may be large and heavy. What is the colour of the wine? It is the colour of fire, for it is "red." What is in the cup? A "mixture." Who can explain that word? Who knows what is brought together in that vessel—what various elements, what strange constituents, what an unimaginable compound? Who shall take of the dregs thereof? All the wicked of the earth shall live upon them, shall drink them; their throats will be suffocated; their whole nature will burn as with the fire of poison. Why not? they set themselves against the Lord, and against his Anointed: let the battle be fair, let the contest be fought out to its legitimate and tremendous end, and let him who is right win at last. We cannot live a lifetime of opposition to God, and then be friends with him at the very last as if nothing had occurred. They who appeal to Cæsar must to Cæsar go: they who defy God must enter the lists solitarily with him, and if they can fight Omnipotence, let them do so.
But the wicked sometimes prosper:—"Their eyes stand out with fatness: they have more than heart could wish;" they seem to have all the earth as their pasture:—"Thou didst set them in slippery places: thou castedst them down into destruction How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! they are utterly consumed with terrors" ( Psalm 73:18-19); and again:—"When the wicked spring as the grass, and when all the workers of iniquity do flourish; it is that they shall be destroyed for ever" ( Psalm 92:7). They dance around their own graves; they jibe across the poison they are about to drink. Their flourishing is but superficial and evanescent; there is no stay in it, or lasting quality: there is no blessing in their lot. Who then will choose the position of the wicked, and pursue the career of those whose hearts are at enmity with God? Note, they will have apparent success; they will be released from much discipline, they will escape into what for the moment may appear to be liberty; they can curse, and fume, and blaspheme, and cheat, and forge, and lie, and take short cuts to what they call their fortune: all this they can do, but the shorter the cut the nearer the hell.
Truly the Psalm are not all music; there is a sound of judgment in all this holy praise:—"A fire goeth before him, and burneth up his enemies round about" ( Psalm 97:3); "They... were brought low for their iniquity" ( Psalm 106:43); "Fools because of their transgression, and because of their iniquities, are afflicted" ( Psalm 107:17); "He hath cut asunder the cords of the wicked" ( Psalm 129:4); "Surely thou wilt slay the wicked, O God" ( Psalm 139:19); "He casteth the wicked down to the ground" ( Psalm 147:6). Not in some one particular psalm are the wicked denounced, as if by a kind of accident, or as if to express a momentary mood of the mind, or as if to exhaust the vengeance of one particular poet: but from the first psalm right away on to the very end, God"s policy, so to say, against the wicked is one and the same—a policy of hatred, detestation, judgment, and everlasting destruction. There is not one word of relief; there is nothing to trust to; there is not one friend to flee to: and we acknowledge this to be right. Is it not our own course, in so far as we ourselves are really in earnest about anything that is vital or delightful or true? There is nothing arbitrary in the treatment of the wicked as described in the Book of Psalm. This is what society itself is doing on its own plane and according to its own degree and quality. Take an occasion devoted to solemn and noble music, and there Isaiah, according to our imagined state of affairs, one man in the assembly who persists in throwing discord into that music, in uttering hoarse, harsh sounds, in marring the tender beauty of the whole occasion,—what is done with that man by the very society that will not call itself religious? Is that man allowed to remain and to continue his persistent disturbance? Does not the heart of the assembly rise and say, "Eject him—cast him out"? Let any man reply who knows human nature. What is that in its own degree but exactly the doctrine of the Bible in relation to wickedness? Many shall come and say, "Lord, Lord, open unto us; thou hast taught us in our streets, we have eaten and drunk in thy presence, we have done some wonderful works in thy name,—Lord, Lord, open unto us." But he will answer them and say, "I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity." Iniquity in heaven would be heaven without heavenliness. It cannot be. It is a disorder against which the spirit of righteousness utters its indignant and destructive judgment. Is it not the same in other conditions and in other places? An assembly is called for the purpose of solemnly considering some great question, and one man persists in turning aside the spirit of order; he is determined upon unruliness and ill-nature, and he is evidently not in harmony or accord with the purpose of the gathering; and, observe, that assembly is not a church: it may be a meeting of politicians who know nothing about heaven or hell in their then capacity: what do they do? They use the same language which has already been employed—"Eject him—cast him out, for he is not of the spirit and order of this assembly." Song of Solomon, then, if we consider the whole matter from end to end, we shall find that even in society there is precisely the same indignation against that which is wicked in relation to itself which we find in the Bible as in relation to the living God. We ask questions about the destiny of the wicked: why turn that destiny into a speculative inquiry? Take what view we may of the language of Scripture (and there we must not be uncharitable) there remains the awful fact, that to be wicked is to be without peace; to be wicked is to be for ever at enmity with God; that to be at enmity with God is to provoke the judgment of the Most High; that to live under the judgment of God is hell beyond all that human imagination can conceive. We must not ask too many questions about these unrevealed mysteries, but, judging by the policy of society, by the instincts of the heart when it is in its best moods, we can but say that it is right that any spirit that is opposed to the spirit of purity, order, peace, righteousness, music, must be destroyed if the universe is ever to be at rest.
The words quoted from the Psalm indicate—indistinctly enough, as all words must do—the state of the world when Christ came into it. In the Psalm there is not one word said of the sinner that is not full of judgment. "Let the sinners be consumed out of the earth" we find at the close of one of the noblest compositions in the whole Psalter, namely, the104th Psalm—a great psalm of nature, a marvellous contemplation of all the glories and beauties of nature; and the Psalmist at last says, "Let the sinners be consumed out of the earth, and let the wicked be no more," as if to say, Only let this be accomplished, and the universe will be complete in its music and beauty. How does Christ speak when he comes into a world so described? He calls to repentance. He says, "The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost." While we were yet enemies, Christ died for us: herein is love: last of all God sent his Son. "Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature;" "He that believeth shall be saved." We cannot understand that message until we are deeply affected with the thoughts which are written in the Book of Psalm and in other portions of Holy Scripture. The mountain was very great, but Jesus Christ said he would level it with the earth; the darkness was a darkness terrible, a sevenfold midnight, but he said he would set a star in the midst of it that would dissolve the gloom, and a sun that should drive every shadow away. He said, The whole head is sick, the whole heart is faint: from the crown of the head to the sole of the feet there is no health, but I will restore soundness and health to the soul of man. He came to do no little work. He did not enter into a small battlefield where the foes were few and feeble; he came to wrestle with the very spirit of evil, to cast out Satan, to bruise the serpent"s head. O thou blessed mighty Son of God, go on to conquer—"win and conquer, never cease!" He has promised not to surrender the contest. It is in his hands. He must reign till he hath put all enemies under his feet. We believe this word, for we call it the Word of God.
Almighty God, help us to search the Scriptures, for in them we know we have eternal life, and they are charged in every line with the meaning of the incarnation of thy Son; they testify of Christ; they tell of his coming; they reveal his person and his character; they contain the sweet words of his ministry; they speak of all his pain and agony, and of his death and resurrection, of his ascension and priesthood. May we therefore understand the Scriptures and find comfort in them every day. We bless thee for a book that is now written in our mother tongue which explains to us the way of eternal life. This is the Book of God.; this is the voice of Heaven; we cannot mistake it; we need not misunderstand it; save us evermore from misapplying it. Thy Word is full of life; thy Word is light; thy Word is music. We mourn that we have not acquainted ourselves more deeply with thy Word, for then should we have had an answer to every temptation, a defence against every assault, and a sanctuary inviolable in the time of winter and tempest. May we now begin to read thy Word with the spirit and with the understanding, and may we open our hearts to receive it with all simplicity and gratitude. Behold, thou dost make us men in Christ Jesus as we acquaint ourselves with thy testimony. There is no book like the Book of God: it is the bread sent down from heaven, of which if a man eat he shall never hunger. Thy Book is as a fountain of water in the wilderness; we drink thereof, lift up our heads, and are glad. We pray that the inspiring Spirit may inspire the readers of thy Book, so that thy Word may be read in the right temper and in the right tone, and may be accepted with all humility, and that the spirit of the readers may be a spirit of teachableness. Walk with us, thou Son of God, and beginning at Moses and all the prophets and in all the Psalm expound unto us the things which belong unto thyself, and our hearts shall burn within us, and behold at eventide there shall be a great light. Forgive our neglect of the holy testimonies. We have turned aside from them when they were difficult; we have disobeyed them when they rebuked the passion of our hearts; we have done despite unto the spirit of thy counsel: but from this day forth, by the mighty energy of God the Holy Ghost, we would read the Book with a new feeling, a new love, and a new hope, assured that we shall be made glad with a new satisfaction. Now help us to bear the burden of life. Enable us to smile amid the clouds as if we had caught the great light shining far beyond them and had known its meaning. Permit us to exemplify in our life how good a thing it is to trust in the living God and have bread to eat that the world knoweth not of. Thus shall we interpret thy Word to others, and men who cannot understand its hard letter will see somewhat of its benign and gracious spirit in our noble temper, in our self-sacrifice, in our great, sweet charity. Pardon our sin, for it is great; wash us in the holy sacrificial blood of Jesus Christ thy Son: accept us in him, and may we at last be clothed with his righteousness. Amen.
The Scope of Revelation As Shown In the Psalm
We need hardly remind ourselves that the Psalmists had not so large a Bible as we have. Yet in saying so perhaps some modification of that assurance might be allowed; because where there is one verse of the Bible there seems to be the whole Bible. It would be difficult to say where the Bible begins and where it ends; for as we grow in intimacy with its spirit and meaning we seem to feel that it has no beginning and no ending; it comes down from immeasurable heights to commune with us and help us in manifold ways without giving much account of its own origin and leaving us very largely to determine its scope by our own experience of it. In mere pages in and mere bulk the Psalmists had not so much Bible as we have. Yet in another sense they had all the Bible. He who has one word of Jesus Christ"s has, if he knew how to use it, the whole gospel that lived in his heart and expressed itself in his Priesthood. When, therefore, we say the Psalmists had not so large a Bible as we have, it must be understood with these explanations.
The Psalmists regarded revelation as a storehouse of wonders. They do not hesitate to apply the words "wonderful" and "wondrous" to what they see in the scroll of revelation:—"Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law" ( Psalm 119:18). The reader would be surprised by what he saw. He would be startled by new beauties, charmed by new music, lured on the righteous way by new persuasives. Notice the double action of the Spirit in this very exclamation. The Spirit inspired the law, dictated its letter, set it in its place; did not, then, the Holy Spirit do all that was required to be done? According to the desire of this prayer there remained something yet to be accomplished, and that something is expressed in the opening words:—"Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold." It is not enough to have an inspired writer, we must have also inspired readers. We see next to nothing of the mere letter. Looking at the letter is like looking at the outside of a king"s palace; its scope, its wealth, its hospitality, its warmth are all within. So if we know the letter only, we know nothing; we must know the genius, the spirit, the inner thought; we must see what is to the naked eye now invisible. Here, then, is a double action of the Spirit: he inspired the writer, and he must now inspire the reader; he first revealed the mystery to him who wrote these words, and now he must open the eyes of those who would that they may see, not the framework only and the elaborate mechanism, but the internal meaning, the spiritual thought, and feel the eternal force. The Psalmist again exclaims "Thy testimonies are wonderful" ( Psalm 119:129). How is it that we say about this Book, the more we read it the less we seem to have read it? Because it grows upon us. In the springtide men say to one another, as the showers fall and the sunshine gleams, we can almost see the hedges and the trees growing: the growth is so quick as to be almost measurable by the eye whilst the observer stands and looks upon the green beauty. So in the springtide of the soul, when we are made aright by the action of the Holy Spirit, as we read the inspired Book we seem to see it expand, enlarge, beautify, and we exclaim—"Thy testimonies are wonderful": they touch the imagination at its highest point; they give satisfaction to the keenest hunger; they leave no aspiration of the soul without its appropriate reply.
The question that is now forced upon us Isaiah, Have we read the Scriptures so as to have seen in them "wondrous things"? Have we read them with the microscopic eye that sees minuteness, detail, beautiful finish even in the least and remotest things, as if nothing had been done off-handedly, carelessly, or hastily? Have we read them with the telescopic eye that sees how great they are, how planetary, how full of widest and most vital influence? Have we caught the meaning of their elevation and nobleness? Have we been struck with the way in which the testimonies of God have anticipated all time, so that no new Bible is needed but only a new reading of the old Bible? What event has escaped attention? For what set of circumstances is no provision made? What rocks in that life-sea are unmapped? What wildernesses have been left unnoticed by the divine guide of life? These are questions which force from us at once a literary and a spiritual judgment. Men who are not prepared to enter into the spirit of the Bible have yet been struck by the marvellousness of its contents, by its reach of thought, by its political audacity, by its ardent and noble statesmanship. Men who have not prayed its prayers have been subdued by its poetry and amazed by its forecasts. What wonder, then, that we ourselves should speak of God"s Book as no commonplace literature, but as sparkling with wonder, as gleaming with celestial lights? Herein imagination plays an important part in our religious culture. We must be caught at the point of our highest mental elevation again and again, so as to feel that we are in the hands of a Master Teacher, who has been on pinnacles which we have not yet climbed, on heights that as yet do not come within the sweep of the naked eye. Such influence is exerted upon us as we peruse the testimonies which are "wonderful."
We cannot read the Psalm without feeling how revelation is treated as a practical guide and defence:—"Thou through thy commandments hast made me wiser than mine enemies" ( Psalm 119:98). The Bible makes sagacious men. If any man has so deported himself as to have acquired a character for weakness, he must not ascribe his imbecility to his Bible. The Bible makes statesmen, business-men, philosophers, critics. The best business book in the world is the Bible. The corner-stone of empire is the Bible. The inspiration and sanctification of law must be looked for in the Bible. Here the witness says that through study of the divine commandments he was able to outwit his enemies, outrun them, outmatch them in every contest; his wit was keener, his vision was wider, his grasp of all things was more masterly; study of the divine Word had enabled him to set his feet on the neck of his enemies, and tell them that they only lived on his mercy. "Through thy precepts I get understanding" ( Psalm 119:104). The witness felt the action of revelation upon the mind pure and simple: it quickens the faculties; it clears and enlarges the judgments; it sets the observer at a right angle of observation; it puts all things in their right light and perspective. The wise Bible-reader becomes wiser by his reading. He grows intellectually. To his own surprise he handles difficulties as he never handled them before; he has leverage, and sense of vantage, and can deport himself as one who is well instructed even in regard to mysteries. "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path" ( Psalm 119:105). It is not only an astronomical wonder, far up among the dark clouds, only to be searched out by telescopes; it is a lamp unto the feet, and a light unto the particular path which the pilgrim travels. So to say, the Bible accommodates itself to personal and domestic uses; it can be just what we need it to be,—a light along a dark country lane, a lamp gleaming upon a forest path to show us our course through all the entanglement and labyrinth of the thick wood; or it can blaze as the sun never shone even at its fullest strength. "The entrance of thy word giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple" ( Psalm 119:130). These may be called tributes to the intellectual working of Holy Scripture,—its operation upon the understanding, its illumination of the mind in all its secret places. Observe how comprehensive are these claims, and how useful in the common duties of life. We all may have enemies: if we would be more than a match for the strongest of our foes we must feed upon the bread of life sent down from heaven. We all have need of intellectual quickening and illumination: if we would enjoy inspiration and light we must make ourselves familiar with the profound disclosures of divine revelation. So the Bible is not a mere ghost in the life, it is not a centre of superstition, it is not something that must be deferred to because of a great name, or an unknown history, or an immeasurable influence: it is something that is to be actually applied to the hard questions in life, it is as bread that must be eaten, it is as medicine that must be taken now and again for the heart"s bitterness and sickness, it is a light that must be used for the immediate necessity. Do not let us lose the Bible by a pretended and superstitious reverence for it. We must revere the Bible and signify our acceptance of it by turning it all into practical life, by living the commandments, and by showing, whether by the shining of the countenance, the charitableness of the spirit, or the liberality of the hand, that we have entered into all the significance of the beatitudes.
This reminds us that revelation is looked upon in the Psalm as harmonising with human experience:—"The word of the Lord is tried" ( Psalm 18:30). It is not a word which has not been put to the test. It is a rock upon which men have ventured to build the greatest houses. It is as a hand which men have grasped in the time of peril and perplexity. It is an assurance that has been put to the severest test in the sick-chamber, the marketplace, in the perils of solitude and in the perils of society. "Thy testimonies are very sure" ( Psalm 93:5). May they be compared to a long chain? then every link is strong, and every link is equally strong. May they be regarded as spoken counsels addressed to urgent needs? then every word comes with an assurance of solidity; it is not a fleck of foam, it is not a mere noise, it is not even a piece of detached music; it is solid, rock-like, most substantial, will bear to be pressed upon, and the more it is pressed upon the surer it will prove itself to be. "I esteem all thy precepts concerning all things to be right" ( Psalm 119:128). That is a noble testimony. It deserves to be repeated again and again—"I esteem all thy precepts concerning all things to be right." Perhaps those who have hitherto considered that the Bible has not touched upon many points may be surprised that all the while it has had those very points in view, and has kept the answer to many a secret until the world was prepared to receive it. There is more in the Bible than has yet been discovered. But the witness confines himself to what he himself has known. This man has tried the precepts—in the palace, in the dens and caves of the earth, in plentifulness, in hunger, in high noon, and in deep midnight, and wherever he has tested the precepts he has said, In all things they are right; they meet the case, they have a marvellous adaptation, their resources are unquestionable. What wonder that the same Psalmist exclaims in another verse "Thy word is true from the beginning" ( Psalm 119:160). Who can define the expression "the beginning"? What is the beginning of Truth? As well ask what is the beginning of God! But the Psalmist has found that from end to end the word is true—true in the alphabet, true in the complex literature, true in the philosophy, true in the poetry, true in the spiritual worship. This, after all, is the great test of Scripture and of faith. We are bound to ask, How does the Scripture come down into the marketplace? it is beautiful on the wing; it flies well: how does it walk? aloft in the morning air it sings like a bird: but what does it do for men when they are laid low, when they walk in darkness, when they cry for very pain, when they seek water and there is none, when they die for help and there is no hand to touch them,—what is the Bible then? what then do all its testimonies, precepts, statutes, and songs amount to? By that inquiry we are willing that the claims of the Bible should be judged. And all formulated faith must come to the same test. The faith looks well as it is outlined in the catechism or in the book of theology; it reads fluently; there is no break in its broad and noble flow: but how does it answer in the battle? how does it stand fire? what is its colour when the storm rages and the infinite tempest tries the strength of all? A faith that will not walk as well as fly, fight as well as sing, sit up all night with the sufferer as well as go out all day with the traveller, is a faith not to be trusted, however pompous its expression, however ecclesiastically guarded its dignity, however ostentatious and solemn and exacting its sanctions; We are willing that the Scripture and that Christian faith should be subjected to the test of experience. How does the Bible wear? Let the old man speak. How does the Bible reply to the wear and tear of life? Let the most aged student reply; those who have yet to put on the armour may now be silent, and let the old soldiers stand well to the front, and tell what they have seen of the testimonies, precepts, and commandments of God.
Now the point of view changes, and the Scripture is regarded as contributing to the highest spiritual enjoyment. This is not a prison-house this Bible of God. Nor is it a school of simple and pure discipline. There is pleasure as well as duty. Hear the words: "I delight to do thy will, O my God" ( Psalm 40:8); and again: "I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies, as much as in all riches" ( Psalm 119:14); and again: "I will delight myself in thy statutes" ( Psalm 119:16); and again still: "Thy testimonies also are my delight and my counsellers" ( Psalm 119:24); and finally: "I will delight myself in thy commandments, which I have loved" ( Psalm 119:47). It is surely something to have the witness of such men plainly written before us. There is an unquestionably solemn side of the revelation. When we listen to the law, we are terrified by its sternness. As the Ten Commandments fall upon us like ten thunders from the angry clouds we say, Who can carry out all this penal discipline? Again and again we are humbled and made to feel how helpless we are in responding to the commandments of God. But we work, by the grace of heaven, patiently; we toil lovingly and hopefully, and presently the statutes of the Lord become our songs in the house of our pilgrimage, law is beaten into music, and discipline becomes the root out of which fair flowers spring. We must continue at the work before we can enter into the fruition of joy. We must do the will with loving patience, expecting the reward and living in the assurance of its realisation. The joy does not come at first; it is not a bubble on the water, a moment seen and gone for ever; the joy comes last, so that after difficult reading, after many a puzzled inquiry, after lighting many a midnight lamp and sitting up with the prophets and the minstrels of Israel, the evangelists and the apostles of Christ, we come at last to say Eureka! and then no man can take that spoil out of the hand that has wrought for it, and has been successful in obtaining it by the comfort and benediction of God.
The Psalmists never hesitated to say that the Bible, as they had it, met all life"s deepest necessities: "This is my comfort in my affliction: for thy word hath quickened me" ( Psalm 119:50); "I remembered thy judgments of old, O Lord; and have comforted myself" ( Psalm 119:52); "Unless thy law had been my delights, I should then have perished in mine affliction" ( Psalm 119:92); "Trouble and anguish have taken hold on me: yet thy commandments are my delights" ( Psalm 119:143). A Book of which all this can be said the world will not willingly let die. Whatever is held by the heart is held longest. The friend that will sit up all night when we are in pain and weariness is not a friend we can easily cast off. Many a summer-holiday acquaintance we can well dismiss, but the friend that knows us, that sticketh closer than a brother, that is the same in winter and in summer, that is tenderer in affliction even than in joy, is a friend whose name will stand at the top, and will survive the going-away of many whose affection was superficial, and whose relation to us, though ostentatious, was flimsy.
If the Psalmists could say all this, what can we say? If the dawn was so beautiful, what of the midday? If the spring was so trim, what of the harvest? If I were in an accusatory mood, I should charge the Church with neglecting the systematic and thorough study of the Bible. It is not enough to dip into the Bible here and there. Such promiscuous reading is little better than an insult. Congregations do not like a regular and systematic and thorough Biblical exposition. They like to be surprised as so many children by the novelty of the text. They do not bend themselves strongly and lovingly to the study of the Book, saying, Let us have Bible, nothing but Bible, for the Word of the Lord alone endureth for ever. And I would also accuse the pulpit of yielding to the foolish desire of congregations in this matter. The use of texts has been most disastrous in Christian history. I know of nothing more perilous, sometimes more wicked, than to take a text, to detach a line from the current of its meaning, to make a motto of a Revelation, to tear a limb from a body and speak of it as a unity. In these matters we have much to answer for. On the other hand, never was the Bible so elucidated as it is today; never was it so pictorially illustrated as it is now; never was it so cheap as it is at this moment. The best commentary upon the Bible is experience. The man who can stand up and say: I have been in affliction, sorrow, darkness, weakness, poverty, and the Bible has proved itself to be counsellor, and light, and guide, and friend, is one of the best annotators the Bible can have. As for those who wish to understand the Book, let me say, Begin where you can: begin at a parable, begin at a beatitude, begin at any accessible point, and work your way from the known to the unknown—not fitfully and spasmodically, but steadily, constantly, patiently. Blessed Book, bright as heaven when the sun has dissolved the clouds: beautiful as earth when the summer has clothed it with flowers: wondrous Book,—now all music, now all judgment,—a fountain in the wilderness, a shade as of a great rock in a weary land,—an infinite provision for the soul"s infinite hunger,—not a Prayer of Manasseh -made Book at all, but quite full of God, throbbing with God, burning with God, awful, solemn, sublime with God. Other books come and go, but this Book stands for ever, because the world for ever needs it.
In a great many instances in the Psalm we meet with the expression "I will." Let us take these words as indicating purpose, resolution, solemn determination on the part of the writers, and learn in what direction their best thoughts moved. The instances in which the expression "I will" occurs are practically innumerable; so we must be content with specimens, and not aim at exhaustion.
What is the signification of "I will" as used by the Psalmists? Does the expression relate to mere impulse? or is it founded upon reason? Everything will depend upon the reply we are able to give to that inquiry. The "I will" itself may be as often wrong as right. Everything depends upon its association. Happily in the case of the Psalmists there is no difficulty in finding out the real measure and intent of this formula of determination. First of all, it is evident that the Psalmists had a good reason, and that on account of the solidity and richness of their spiritual reason they were able to say "I will" with a distinctness and firmness amounting in themselves to an argument. Hear the proof: "I will extol thee, O Lord" ( Psalm 30:1); that may be mere religious passion. The heart might cry out so in some mood of pleasurable excitement; or this might be a mere musician"s resolution. A musician may write music without heeding the words which that music expresses. Men may write poetry without feeling its inmost spiritual meaning. Does the Psalmist, therefore, mean to gratify himself? That is perfectly possible. A man may go to church for no other reason; yea, a man may open God"s own Book and read it for the sake of the English—the liquid, tender, strong, beauteous, tuneful English; saying, There is nothing like it: how it rolls and flows, and with what grace it returns, and then proceeds again to fuller expression of some noble thought; pausing, therefore, at the words, "I will extol thee, O Lord," we say, Does he call for harmony? Is the spirit of music strong upon him? Is he going to delight himself vocally, saying, at the close of his praise, That is fine music; that is rich in tuneful expression; there is quite a novelty in the turn of that music? These inquiries must be answered before we can establish our fundamental point, that the "I will" of the Psalm was not an expression of a vehement desire of a selfish kind, but was based upon solid and useful reasoning. The proof is in this very quotation, "I will extol thee, O Lord; for [because]"—this is my reason: this is not a song without logic as a song without words—" for thou hast lifted me up, and hast not made my foes to rejoice over me." A man who is in that condition has a right to extol God; nay, he is bound by every honourable obligation to extol the Lord. But whilst we are so talking about an ancient Psalmist, are we not involving ourselves in a corresponding responsibility? If the Lord is to be extolled because of lifting-up and deliverance from danger and difficulty, who amongst us can be silent? The Lord"s house should vibrate with praise; the very stones should be made to take part in the sacrifice of thanksgiving. Enough, however, that in this case we have a reason for the song.
Again: "I will freely sacrifice unto thee: I will praise thy name, O Lord" ( Psalm 54:6). So far we have nothing; we must await the final term. In some languages we are bound to listen until the very end, because the whole meaning of the longest sentence may be in the final word. There is one language notably in which the interlocutor cannot interrupt the speaker, because he knows not until the last word what the speaker is talking about A blessed thing to speak in that language—a language that cannot be broken in upon with rude remarks: for the speaker, in the long and involved sentence, may agree with, or differ from you vitally, but until you have heard the last word you can make no remark upon the speech. So it is in this instance, "I will freely sacrifice unto thee: I will praise thy name, O Lord"—why? "For [because] it is good." Here then is a song of gratitude—a song of decency. Religion has its higher grounds and its lower levels. We may regard this for the moment as one of the inferior levels. Here is a man who has seen that the name of God is good; instead of passing by it, even in respectful silence, he says, I will sing here; here I will build an altar, and offer freely the sacrifice of praise: it is but decent, it is but just, that I should do so. But again, if this be the case with a historical psalmist, are we not thereby drawn into similar obligations? Have we not proved the name of God to be good? Are we not in a position to say, His providence is kind and large? Is there a man whose own life would not witness against him if he ventured to say that God was other than richly and eternally good? If we have the reason we should proceed to the expression of the praise. Who has any respect for ingratitude? To believe a man to have done you good, and yet to ignore him, make no sign to him, never to grasp him by the hand, never to say, God bless you for your goodness to me, that would be condemned as base unthankfulness. Ingratitude is not the less because it is shown towards our Father in heaven.
Take another and closing instance: "I will sing a new song unto thee, O God" ( Psalm 144:9-10). Why? "Who delivereth David his servant from the hurtful sword." It would be a difficult thing for David to sing a new song: has he not already sung a thousand songs? How can he find another? Herein is the mystery of religious music: it always opens a way for itself, and creates its own opportunities. Herein is the mystery of true religious speech: the divinely inspired religious teacher is never at a loss for further argument, richer illustration, nobler appeal. Sometimes he says, I cannot go further, for there is a great stone wall in front of me, and not one inch beyond it can I get; and, lo! when he has slept awhile, and God has subtly comforted him in his spirit, he goes forward to the said stone wall, and behold it is but yellow mist, and he passes through it to see sights richer than he ever yet gazed upon! David sang his new song for personal mercies. And we cannot really sing a song unto the Lord unless we have gone through all the experience which it tunefully expresses. We cannot sing another man"s song. We say of this Song of Solomon, or that, It was composed for such and such a singer. What is the meaning? The meaning is that such is the quality of the Prayer of Manasseh, and such the quality of his voice, that the sentiment and the tune will suit him supremely. We have a higher reason in the Church. Every man sings what he himself has felt; then he sings with all his powers: he himself is a living song. Until we have some such relation to our music we shall be but mechanical performers—neither inspired artistes nor true worshippers. These instances, then, will show that we are not dealing with mere impulse. This is music coming out of logic, as blossoms in the springtime come out of hidden roots: the blossoms are not showered upon the tree from the blue heavens, they are brought all the way up from the black, tangled, hidden roots—these touches of colour, these flushes of life, these mysteries of the interaction of creation. So with the songs of the sanctuary: they come out of hard thinking, hard living, secret communion, deep, vital connection with the earth and with the sun. It is even so the little blossoms show their bannerets to the spring light. They come out of the tree, the tree comes out of the earth, the earth comes out of the sun, and the sun holds on by some higher flame,—and up and up the concatenation goes till it touches the infinite Hand—the gracious throne.
Take another view. We shall now see how the praise of God offered by good men expresses the necessity of the heart. They must pray. Suddenly their voices are lifted up in holy Song of Solomon, and are borne away in high rapture and upon strong wings. Now we come to expressions, without which the religious life would not be complete. Yet they are expressions condemned by some thinkers who falsely suppose themselves to be religious. Let us take some instances: "Unto thee will I cry, O Lord my rock" ( Psalm 28:1). Must a man "cry"? Yes, if in earnest. There is no coldness in true religion. Exclamation has its place as certainly as logic. There is no reason to withdraw confidence from those Christian communions which are distinguished by much ejaculation and exclamatory address to heaven. We may not need such methods of worship; to us indeed they may mean something that is not wholly agreeable: but who are we? Did any man ever seriously stand still and say, Who am I that I should have any opinion about any other man? Men must work according to their capacity, and the quality of their nature, and the circumstances by which they have been surrounded;; therefore, when a man says in the Church, "Unto thee will I cry, O Lord my rock," he may be offering as acceptable worship as if he were arguing upon something that was never disputed, and proving something that the best of the world does not really need to know. We must allow for individual characteristics in this ministry of worship.
"I will bless the Lord at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth" ( Psalm 34:1). What good can a man do by uttering such words? He can do much good: he can rouse, excite, stimulate, call attention; and who knows but that in his crying and exclamation he may touch some answering chord in those who are suddenly arrested by his voice? There is a mystery in music we have not yet fathomed in the Church. If we were anything but a church we should put music into a higher position. She, God"s daughter, is allowed to go where she likes, and find a home where she may: whereas she ought to be presiding at the Church"s table, and ministering to the Church"s need. Who can hear the blare of trumpet, the throb of drum, the high exclamation of a spiritual faith, without answering, and claiming kinship, and acknowledging that the nature is touched into new emotion and lifted into higher experiences?
"I will give thee thanks in the great congregation: I will praise thee among much people" ( Psalm 35:18). So he would not sing his song alone, behind the green hedge, or under the white-blossomed pear-tree; he would not seek a solitary place in the wilderness, or wait until he was far out upon the sea, before he began the divine sacrifice. He would rather say, Where are the people assembled? Where is the largest representation of the human family accessible to me? I will no sooner go into the great congregation than I will begin to sing and to praise God. When a man preaches he excites contradiction. There is no living fool that cannot find fault with a preacher. But when we sing God"s praise we are brought more and more nearly together by some secret spiritual action When we pray we seldom contradict one another. We need, therefore, to be united at some point in the service. The Psalmist says he will praise God in the great congregation—and make a congregation of it, weld it together, unite it, consolidate it, fire it with one grand passion. As the army marches past we seem to hear but one footfall—a thousand men marching together in perfect time; so when the Church is singing its hymn, though it be ten thousand strong in number, it should be but one voice, that voice being like the voice of many waters.
Now change the point of view, and see how the "I will" is sometimes associated with a negative form of expression. We have heard the Psalmist say, "I will," now let us hear him say, "I will not": "I will not fear what flesh can do unto me... I will not be afraid what man can do unto me" ( Psalm 56:4, Psalm 56:11). This comes of true singing; this is the result of intelligent, full, rich, spiritual praise. We get courage in the sanctuary. We may come to it coldly, despondingly, as broken men, hardly able to put one foot before another; but as the holy process develops, as heart is brought into harmony with heart, and all hearts are conscious of the near and all-blessing presence of God, courage returns, the hands that had fallen by the side are lifted up again, and men are prepared to go out into the world boldly, fearing no Prayer of Manasseh, because always fearing God only. But the Psalmist has to be brought into a deeper experience than this—the very last experience into which men pass in spiritual education, especially such men as the Psalmist—sons of the mountain, children born in danger, and living all their lifetime amidst storms and tempests; men who are called upon to be always on the defensive, to be watching for the enemy, and to be repulsing the advancing foe. This is the experience to which the Psalmist is now brought, and to which every man must be brought if he would see God in all the fulness of his beauty, and realise God in all the comfortableness of his presence and grace.
"I will not trust in my bow, neither shall my sword save me" ( Psalm 44:6). Now he will be a son of God. So long as he held that bow in his hand we said, He is still proud, self-confident; watch how the fire comes and goes in his eye; see how he trembles with conscious strength; that hand never missed; when it drew the bow the arrow went straight to the mark; and he still has his bow in his hand, but now he lays it down he may begin to pray. So long as he keeps his sword by his side, we say, He is trusting to that sword; it is good steel; it has often been used to great advantage in the field; it is long, strong, sharp; it is historical steel—see how he handles it, with the familiarity of love. The work of grace is not yet complete in him. In a moment he feels for the sword, and having touched it he says, I am all right, I have got my friend by my side. His education is not complete. But now, presently, he takes out sword and sheath, and lays them both down, and says, "I will not trust in my bow, neither shall my sword save me."
Can we join the Psalmist in all these determinations, positive and negative? Perhaps we may have some difficulty in choosing the point of union. But there is one point now to be named at which we must unite with him, heart and soul, or there is no hope for us. Here comes the beginning of the gospel: here is the publican before the time; here is the New Testament written in Old Testament ink: "I will declare mine iniquity; I will be sorry for my sin" ( Psalm 38:18). Now the king comes very near to us. We are not all musicians; we cannot discourse to God upon an instrument of ten strings; but here, when he says, "I will be sorry for my sin," we can say, each for himself, "And so will I: God be merciful to me a sinner." Not, I will be sorry for the sin of the world, I will lament the spread of public iniquity, I will grieve for the debasement and corruption of nations and governments, and the prostitution of sovereignties and rulerships; but, "I will be sorry for my sin"—a personal confession, a personal sorrow. He who would be sorry for his own sin has no sorrow to spend on account of the sin of others. When his own sins are forgiven, and he rises up a pardoned Prayer of Manasseh, he will show his sorrow for the sins of others by preaching to them, sweetly and lovingly, with all the emphasis of gratitude, the gospel of forgiveness through the Son of God.
It is good to keep companionship, then, with this man of the strong "I will." Such a man will do us no harm. He never proposes a mean device. We never hear him say, I will gratify myself; I will do some mean thing; I will sneer at the poor; I will trample upon the weak; I will take advantage of the helpless; I will wait until the man can hold up no longer, and then when he has come to the point of extremity I will have the property at my price, and he may go to ruin. He says, I will praise the Lord; I will extol the Lord; I will bless the Lord; I will offer sacrifices unto the Lord. It is good to keep the society of such a man. The very utterance of his vows, with so clear an emphasis, may have an educational effect upon those who follow him. Would God we had more courage! Sometimes when a man has said, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord," the whole neighbourhood seems to have turned in with one consent, saying, "And God helping us, so will we." We must get the will right; we must have the purpose set in the heavenly direction; then all the rest will come in due order. But how is the will to be made right? What a mystery is the will! Men write great books upon it, and then regret they ever began them. Men are lost in the metaphysics of the will. One generation of metaphysicians contradicts another, but the will abideth for ever,—secret, spiritual, immeasurable, apparently but not really accessible, capable of telling lies, capable of putting on features and characteristics which are but happy yet knavish simulations. The will! Who can reach it but the Creator? Who can cleanse it but the Saviour? Who can inspire it but the Regenerator—God the Holy Ghost? There is an "I will" of pride; there is an "I will" of the lips; there is an "I will" of momentary, evanescent, and selfish desire; but the "I will" which we ought to pray for is the "I will" of the man who said, "I will arise, and go to my father."
Almighty God, we bless thee that the Son of man did come to send a fire upon the earth. We rejoice that he also sent a sword abroad. We are grateful for the spirit of revolution that is in the Cross; we rejoice that we cannot sink into indifference when we are under the inspiration of the love of God: we must awake with the morning, and toil all day, and pray in the night season, and return to the battle as men who are conscious and assured of victory, because the Lord is the truth, and is with the truth, and will bring the truth to the throne in his own time. We bless thee for all that Christianity has done for men, in uniting men, in creating a new heart in men: this also cometh forth from the Lord of hosts, wonderful in counsel and excellent in working; this; is the Lord"s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes. We rejoice that thou dost take all things into thine own hands, that what treasure we have is of God, and is held in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be thine and not ours. We know that in due time thou wilt cause this saying to be true—Behold the stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the headstone of the corner. Work thou who hast all power, and all the light, and to whom time has no secret, and eternity no mystery: use whom thou wilt, put forth thine own labourers and preachers and toilers in every department of Christian service; renew their hope, rekindle their zeal and their enthusiasm, and may they know themselves to be the servants of men only because they are first the servants of God. Hear us in our domestic petitions and personal desires: where there is sickness do thou send the Comforter; where there is weariness do thou give rest and hope; where eyes are blind with tears do thou drive them all away; and upon the shadowed house let fall some beams from heaven"s noonday. Guide the perplexed, deliver the embarrassed from their difficulties, and lead the blind by a way they know not; and at last through the blood of the everlasting covenant may we stand before thee in the full light, thanking God for the joy and the sorrow, the night and the day of human life. Amen.
Sometimes we are told that "God is unknowable," and there Isaiah, as we have often said, a sense in which that statement is a sound biblical doctrine. God is a thought too great for the created mind, but the sun is alike too great for the created house: no house can hold all the light of the sun: is there then no sun because no dwelling-place can accommodate the whole wealth of his glory? Does not the house receive just so much as it can hold and use? and is it not glorified by that adaptation of the light? It is the same also with the garden: no garden can absorb all the light of the sun: is there, therefore, no light to be absorbed? and does the mystery of the excess destroy the benefit of that which is available? Suppose a garden to have consciousness, what reasoning could be more absurd on its part than for it to say that because it cannot entertain the whole hospitality of the sun as shown in its streaming light, therefore the sun is beyond recognition; or if there is a sun at all nothing can be known about it or done with it? That is precisely what the created mind sometimes does with the thought which is best known to us by the Holy Name GOD. The mind cannot receive all that thought, but it may be filled with as much of the glory as is possible to its conception. The Psalmist says, "I know that the Lord is great" ( Psalm 135:5); "I know, O Lord, that thy judgments are right" ( Psalm 119:75); "I know that the Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted" ( Psalm 140:12). It is as if a house should say, I know that the sun is great: I know that the sun is necessary to health; I know that the sun gladdens with impartial warmth the rich and the poor. This kind of practical knowledge may be acquired by persons who know absolutely nothing about solar physics or the mystery of light. It is precisely so with the idea which we represent by the term God. We may know that he is great, that his judgments are right, and that he espouses the cause of the afflicted, and yet may know nothing of his essence or of the mystery of deity. The little child plays gladly in the gladdening sunshine, and yet knows nothing of the sun as it is known to the astronomer; so the heart may rise to noble emotion, and bow down itself in adoring homage to God without comprehending all that is involved in that holy and appalling Name. The joy of my religion is in what I do understand, and the solemnity of my religion is not only in that, but also in what has yet to be revealed.
"I know that the Lord is great." That is the elementary idea. To be God at all is to be great. The dignity of this idea is in its simplicity. The word "great" is a word of one syllable; yet no extension of letters could increase its meaning. The idea that is to do the mind good must never be so small that the mind can trifle with it. This is true of books. So long as the reader can keep ahead of the author, anticipating him, and standing above him in intellectual dignity and force, the book is of no use, and after the perusal of a few pages is laid aside as altogether unworthy of serious notice; but given a book which is more than itself, in which there is abundant reading between the lines, in which every word has a colour which comes and goes as the reader is able to discern the spirit of the author"s thought, the student is beguiled from page to page, and on concluding the reading of the whole work, he feels that he has rather begun the study of a library than completed the perusal of a single volume. The same thought holds good of sermons. A sermon is not to be a mere gathering up of words and phrases and sentences which savour, however strongly, of religion: a sermon is to be an appeal which the heart will answer, at least in some of its parts, and is not less a sermon inspired by the Holy Ghost, because it has a background and a foreground, not wholly comprehensible on the first hearing of the discourse. The earth is not less a place of gardens and wheatfields because of the firmament which is above it; without that firmament, indeed, the earth could have neither fruit nor bread for the satisfaction of those who inhabit it. It is even so with the sermon: there are whole paragraphs which can be appropriated as the hungry appropriate bread, and yet there are mysteries of thought and possibilities of evolution which can be best symbolised by the firmament which lifts itself infinitely above the earth on which men live and toil, and prepare for other worlds. But the idea is supremely true of God. To understand God would be in reality to be equal with God. When God simply covers the breadth of the intellect, and has nothing beyond it in the way of mystery, then may man truly say that he has wholly conquered the idea of divinity, and therefore is prepared to receive higher Revelation, and to go into deeper studies than any which can be covered by a name so exalted. God must always be greater than any conception of greatness we have ever formed. We must set down, when writing out our faith in firm lines and vivid expressions, the solemn truth that there is no searching of God"s understanding. It is by this undiscovered and undiscoverable greatness that we are drawn onward and upward in religious contemplation and study, and are ennobled by the thought of the very greatness which we can never fully comprehend. In our spiritual training the sense of wonder must always be struck. Imagination must veil its face with its wings before the sudden blaze which burns in all the width of the firmament, and makes the very planets dim by its ineffable light. That is the mood in which reverence begins. Without that sense of Infinitude the mind may become flippant and self-idolatrous, may make its work a trifle, and cripple its prayer into a wish that need not be answered. We are kept to the level of our work by the inspiration of our wonder. We are never inspired by that which is mean: the mountain, not the molehill, makes men stop and breathe almost religiously. Why? Because the mountain is great: it climbs high; it aims to be at the very sky; it is more than a mountain—it is a suggestion, a poem, an altar. Yet what is that mountain when taken in detail? What ten feet of it can inspire any reverence or ennoble any thought? It is in its accumulation that it rises from one degree to another until it actually appeals to the imagination with commanding authority. We must, therefore, protest against such a Song of Solomon -called simplicity of religion as makes the worshipper almost equal with God. The word "simplicity" must itself be redefined. Simplicity must not be confounded with shallowness; simplicity is the last result of complication, of mystery, and of majesty of thought; it is the flower which expresses all the astronomical forces which have been necessary for its creation and completion. There are those who imagine that prayer is simple because it is limited to the offering of mere requests, as who should say, Give me health, give me bread, give me success, give me wealth, give me deliverance from this awful disease or impending calamity: all these words may be true, and yet the soul may not have entered into the mystery and blessedness of the meaning of prayer. There can be no true prayer apart from deep communion with God—a reverent and humble approach towards the recognition of his nature as infinite, wise, holy, fatherly: when we come to put our requests into sentences, the sentences themselves may be concise, almost abrupt, and certainly urgent in their tone; but they must come up not as gathered flowers which are plucked only to die, but as living flowers which are laying hold of the root, while the root is clinging to an earth, which itself is holding fast by the sun.
"I know, O Lord, that thy judgments are right." Without this consciousness there can be no enlightened religion. A dark superstition might be possible, but not a religion of moral confidence and rational joy. We must know of a surety that righteousness is at the heart of things: in other words, that whoever is ruler of this world he is irreconcilably opposed to everything that is perverted, untrue, corrupt, selfish, or base in any degree. Conscience must never be troubled by the character of God. Given the conception—yea, the deep and unchangeable conviction—that God"s judgments are right, then the soul can patiently wait for their complete and final development. If a soul could for a moment entertain the thought that God"s ways are not right, a great and darkening cloud would settle upon the whole economy of providence, and it would be impossible for the soul to pray. Who could pray to a God who might possibly make a mistake, or confound moral terms, or regard the right hand as the left, or make no distinction between light and darkness? Where conscience is sound in its persuasion, absolutely unchangeable in its conviction, that at the centre of things there is a spirit of righteousness and judgment, imagination and every other gift and faculty of the mind may reverently await disclosures which will confirm the conviction of conscience. It is this which makes us quiet amid tumult. We are prepared to say to those who look on in an irreligious spirit, Yes, the tumult is very great, the uproar is indeed deafening, a great and terrible confusion seems to have seized upon every department of life, and the very foundations of society are apparently out of course; but all that we see is on the surface, all that we observe is part of a great process which is not yet made clear; what we have to do is to trust in the righteousness of God, and to aver that, come or go what may, at eventide there shall be light, and in the summing up of things a perfect justification of all the processes through which God has conducted the world. Thinking of this kind widens our knowledge of what is actually right We cannot be truly anxious as to the rightness of God and his government, and yet we ourselves be doing that which is wrong, and doing it with zest and gratification. Conscience will not act in this double manner when it is honourably treated. Conscience may turn upon a man and say, You are most anxious that the Judge of the whole earth should do right, you stop in the reading of your Bible, and inquire, Is this just, is this fair, is this right? Now, seeing that you have made yourself into such a judge of righteousness, and have displayed your fertile criticism in scrutinising the purpose and the way of God, you are bound to turn to your own life to rectify its courses, and to live as one who is responsible to eternal rectitude. Here is the rock on which we stand. Successful though vice may seem to be, its mouth shall be filled with gravel, and all its teeth shall be broken. Point to the carnival of evil, hear its loud song of lewdness and passion, watch its whirling dance of defiant godlessness, listen to its unholy speech, behold its open throat, hot with fire that cannot be quenched, and you see the make-believe of true joy—a false light that shall be put out—an excitement that being unrestrained by reason, and uninspired by reverence, shall perish in a reaction that shall involve the soul in the horrors of self-contempt. Right alone is eternal. Virtue alone has no painful recoil. Sweet prayer, always brings back sweet answers. At the last, vice biteth like a serpent and stingeth like an adder; at the last virtue blooms into a larger summer, and enters the enjoyment of a broader heaven.
"I know that the Lord, will maintain the cause of the afflicted." Not will prevent affliction overtaking me, and reducing me to the last point of humiliation, but will see that however great may be my affliction it shall in no degree interfere with my integrity. The text is thus morally stronger than at first sight it would seem to be. Our first impression is that God is interested in a man simply because the man is afflicted; that is to say, God is very pitiful and kind, and seeing a poor wayfarer overborne by the fatigues of the day, takes notice of him, and cheers him by some kind word of sympathy and stimulus. However true that doctrine may be in itself, it is not the immediate doctrine of Psalm 140:12. The Psalmist is still talking about right; in this very verse he brings in the poor saying, "I know that the Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted and the right of the poor."
In another Psalm ( Psalm 9:4) we read, "Thou hast maintained my right and my cause; thou satest in the throne judging right." So we are not dealing with instances of mere pity and sympathy; we are in the presence of a man who has been overpowered, impoverished, and in every way ill-treated and afflicted; and yet God will not judge the man by the circumstances in which he is placed, saying, Surely this must be a bad Prayer of Manasseh, or these afflictions would not have overtaken him. God will search into the case, and understand the man"s character; and according as that character has been sound in its purpose and aim, God will vindicate the Prayer of Manasseh, though he have no other friend in all creation. The man himself shall be brought into liberty, and in his blessed freedom shall lift up his voice in holy Song of Solomon, saying, "This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles." We may, however, turn from this sterner aspect of the truth, and regard God as deeply interested in the afflictions of his people. "Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth." We are to account it all joy when we fall into divers trials, knowing this, that the trying of our faith worketh patience. Jesus Christ himself taught the same soothing and encouraging doctrine, saying, "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake." The Apostle Paul, gathering all his afflictions together until they became quite an agony, said in the midst of his intensest suffering, "We glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience." An ancient witness stands up before the ages, and says, "Before I was afflicted I went astray;" and the universal testimony on the part of those who have accepted suffering as discipline imposed by heaven is that it was good for them to be afflicted. Without affliction we become haughty, self-dependent, unsympathetic, selfish; instead of being grateful for our own health we use it for the purpose of taunting men who are weak, and we tell them in bitter reproach that if they had done as we have done their robustness would have been equal to our own. Very merciful and gracious is the way of God in the dispensation of affliction. Blessed be his name; he knows exactly what affliction we can endure, how much we need, at what times it ought to give us the severest pain; if we accept our afflictions in this spirit we shall almost welcome them, knowing that however bitter the process the end is to consolidate our faith, to brighten our hope, and to prepare us for the infinitely glorious revelations with which God intends to enrich us. Then the Psalmist tells us that he knows God is great, and that God is right; we accept the terms as indispensable to what we may describe as the completeness of deity. But there are senses in which these words are very hard, We acknowledge their sublimity; but who could live upon that which is sublime? God must be more than sublime, he must be tender; he must visit us in the darkness, and his voice towards us must be accommodated to our weakness, not being a display of his majesty or a proof of his power to thunder in the universe, but a sign of his knowledge that our infirmity is very great, and our distress almost intolerable. Here, then, we may take our stand boldly and firmly. We acknowledge that God is unknowable in any intellectual sense that is self-satisfying: the Bible, as we have said before, is continually declaring this doctrine, and insisting upon its importance; but now we stand upon these three truths, which in reality are one—God is great, God is right, God is pitiful. These doctrines are sufficient for all the purposes of this life; when we are prepared to receive broader revelations of the divine essence and majesty they will not be withheld from us. Meanwhile let us keep the commandments; cling lovingly and with growing intelligence to Jesus Christ and all the solemn truths involved in his priesthood, and let us feel how blessed is that servant who is found ready to receive his Lord whenever his Lord may come, and to enter upon the enjoyment of fuller light, and discharge the duties of wider service. Let us write upon our houses, our churches, our literature, our whole life, the sublime and ennobling motto, God is great, God is right, God is good.
Almighty God, our hearts cry out for thy heart as for a place of sweet and secure rest. Open the door and bid us come! The sin which we thought was dead was but asleep, and it has stirred up its cruel power more mightily than ever, and has thrown us down in the face of the sun and mocked us in our vain resistance. This cruel sin will get the better of us, not wounding us only and filling our own soul with pain, but will utterly destroy us, if thou dost not come and save us. But thou wilt come; even now thou art at the door; even now the angels of God are round about us. Thou surely lovest us, yea even his sins seem to endear the sinner to thee, if but his heart know its own bitterness, and there be one word of repentance on his tongue. We repent and then we sin again; we renounce the enemy and then we fly into his arms. What can reach such guilt but the blood of Christ? It is in vain that we tarry at the rivers of earth, we hasten, impelled by fear and hope to the great Cross, the Cross of Christ, the mighty, the infinite, the only Saviour of mankind. Why dost thou spare us? Is there yet upon us some broken image of thyself? Amid all this ruin dost thou see one line of beauty? Surely thine own eye alone can see it, for it is an eye of most piteous compassion. Speak to us some comfortable word, and leave us not without one token of thy love. We want to know more fully the riches of thy truth. What is truth? Who can tell what is hidden in that glowing mystery? May our ignorance make us modest; may thy promise make us hopeful. Oh for clearer insight, for keener sympathy, for more constant love. Lord, hear us; blessed Saviour, send us answers that shall make us glad. Look upon us all as the sun looks upon the whole earth; let the cloud of thy blessing gather thickly and fall upon us according to our several need, and we shall be made glad with pure and exulting joy. Spare us yet a little longer; yet, Lord, why should we pray thus? Were it not better to pass on, to stand in the light, and to be clothed with the liberty of a perfected redemption? We call this desire to remain our love of life, only because we do not know what life is; it may not be our love of life, it may be but our fear of death. Lord abolish death in us; let it have no place in our outlook and forecast; may we be so filled with Christ that we can see nothing but our immortality. Lord hear us. Lord keep us. Lord abide with us till this night-life be gone, and the morning be fully come. Amen.
the Second Week after Epiphany