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It is impossible to determine on what occasion and by whom this Psalm was composed. Prof. Alexander and Hengstenberg regard it as a composition of David. But from internal evidence, especially in Psalms 102:13-22, we should conclude that it was written during the Babylonian exile, and probably near its close, when the faithful were animated by hopes of returning shortly to their own land. It has been attributed to Nehemiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, and others of the prophets of the period of the captivity. But attempts to determine the authorship of the Psalm are vain. Perowne points out that the “Psalm is clearly individual, not national, and must have been intended for private rather than liturgical use, as the inscription seems designed to inform us. This inscription is peculiar; it stands quite alone among the titles prefixed to the Psalms, and marks the circumstances under which it should be used. In all other instances the inscriptions are either musical or historical.” In the Epistle to the Hebrews, Psalms 102:25-27 of this Psalm are quoted as addressed to the Messiah.
THE AFFLICTIONS OF LIFE AND THE RESOURCE OF THE GODLY
The superscription to this Psalm suggests the following observations,—
I. Human life is characterised by great afflictions. The text speaks of “the afflicted, when he is overwhelmed.” We are sometimes sorely distressed—
1. In ourselves, by reason of physical disease and suffering, mental depression and conflict, &c.
2. In our families, by the sinful lives of some of its members, e.g., the prodigal son; by sorely straitened circumstances, by the bereavements of death, &c.
3. In our social circle, by the unfaithfulness of professed friends, &c.
4. In the Church, when its vitality and power seem to decline, &c.
5. In the nation, by reason of national sins, or calamities, or judgments, e.g., the Jews in Babylon.
We do not speak of ordinary or trifling afflictions, but of exceptional and severe ones. The Psalmist speaks of himself as “overwhelmed.” He was, as it were, “covered with darkness, affliction, grief. His soul was enshrouded in gloom and sorrow.” From such sufferings the true and good are not exempt. Job, David, Paul, et al., are examples.
II. Great afflictions are characterised by great needs. The Psalmist in his sufferings felt a great need of utterance of his trouble. He indicates this by the words: “poureth out his complaint.” His soul was full of affliction, like “vessel overcharged with new wine or strong liquor, that bursts for vent.” Great sorrows must find expression, or the brain would reel into madness, and the heart would break or sink into despair. The prayer of the Poet was the cry of a bursting heart. In great affliction we have need of patience, of trust in God, of sustaining grace, &c. We obtain these by prayer.
“My ending is despair,
Unless I be relieved by prayer;
Which pierces so, that it assaults
Mercy itself, and frees all faults.”
III. In great afflictions the godly man has a great resource. He pours out his complaint before the Lord in prayer.
1. The Lord hears the complaint of His people (Psalms 4:3; Psalms 34:4).
2. The Lord hears the complaint of His people sympathetically. “The Lord is very pitiful and of tender mercy.”
3. The Lord graciously responds to the complaint of His people. “Call upon Me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee,” &c. His ear is ever open; His heart always sympathetic; His grace always all-sufficient. Therefore, “Trust in Him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before Him God is a refuge for us.”
THE LAMENT OF A DISTRESSED PATRIOT
In these verses we have the wail of a sadly troubled soul. Let us consider the miseries of the Poet as they are expressed in this bitter cry to the Lord.
I. His distress was very great. This appears throughout the whole of the lamentation. Every feature of the distress makes manifest its intensity. The more prominent of these features we shall call attention to. In the superscription he speaks of himself as “overwhelmed” with trouble, and in Psalms 102:9, he says, “I have eaten ashes like bread, and mingled my drink with weeping.” He is smitten down to the ground by the greatness of his grief, or, like Job in his sore afflictions, he prostrates himself in dust and ashes by reason of his great distress, and as an expression of that distress. Persons in great grief are frequently represented as seated or prostrate on the ground.
“My grief’s so great,
That no supporter but the huge firm earth
Can hold it up: here I and sorrow sit.”
He uses another figure to express the intensity of his misery. So full was his heart of sorrow that his tears fell copiously and constantly, so that they were mingled with his drink. By his posture and his tears he expresses the depth of his distress.
II. His distress was absorbing. “I forget to eat my bread.” Many are the recorded instances of persons in great grief being altogether oblivious of mealtime or of hunger. Grief takes away the appetite for food. But that is not the meaning of the Psalmist here. He was so absorbed in grief, his distress so completely engrossed his attention, that everything else was forgotten (1 Samuel 1:7-8; 1 Samuel 20:34; Job 33:20; Psalms 107:18; Daniel 6:18). His “sorrow is so intentive to that it sorrows for, that it cannot intend to think anything else.” Great sorrows are so absorbing as to cause those who are experiencing them to be forgetful even of the needs of life.
III. His distress was consuming. The Psalmist expresses this by several figures. “My days are consumed like smoke, and my bones are burned as an hearth.” Hengstenberg and Perowne: “As a firebrand.” “The point of comparison with the smoke is the fleeing past, the disappearing.” The bones are mentioned as the most substantial part of the body, and they were being consumed as the brand is when placed on the fire. “My heart is smitten and withered like grass.” Adam Clarke: “The metaphor here is taken from grass cut down in the meadow. It is first ‘smitten’ with the scythe, and then ‘withered’ by the sun. Thus the Jews were smitten with the judgments of God; and they are now withered under the fire of the Chaldeans.” “By reason of the voice of my groaning, my bones cleave to my skin.” Hengstenberg and Perowne, literally: “My bone cleaveth to my flesh.” The expression describes a state of weakness and relaxation of the bones, brought on by severe pain, in which they lose their force and power of vigorous motion (Job 19:20). The Psalmist uses one other expression to set forth the consuming nature of his distress. “My days are like a shadow that declineth.” His time of life seemed to him like the lengthening shades of evening, which show the near approach of night. The figure beautifully and pathetically suggests the nearness of advancing death. To the Poet it seemed that life was fast passing away under his heavy afflictions.
IV. His distress was isolating. “I am like a pelican of the wilderness, I am like an owl of the desert,” &c. (Psalms 102:6-7). The pelican is a bird which dwells in solitude far from the habitations of men; it is most sombre and austere in disposition, and is a most expressive illustration of solitude and melancholy. The “owl of the ruins” is also a striking emblem of desolation.
“From yonder ivy-mantled tower,
The moping owl does to the moon complain
Of such as, wand’ring near her secret bower,
Molest her ancient solitary reign.”—Gray.
“Sparrow” is not in this place a good rendering of צִפּוֹר. The sparrow is not a solitary melancholy bird. Naturalists state that the Blue Thrush is the particular צִפּוֹר, which sits alone on the house-top. This bird is of a dark blue colour. More than a pair of them are scarcely ever seen together. It is fond of sitting alone upon the house-top, uttering its note, which to a human ear is monotonous and melancholy. Thus the Poet represents the isolating power of his miseries. Deep-rooted sorrow is naturally reserved. “A small grievance makes us beside ourselves; a great sorrow makes us retire within ourselves.”—Richter.
V. His distress occasioned reproaches from his enemies. “Mine enemies reproach me all the day,” &c. On the reproaches of the enemies, see remarks on Psalms 42:3. Perowne: “ ‘Made their oaths by me,’ i.e., when they curse, choose me as an example of misery, and imprecate upon themselves or others my misfortunes—say, ‘God do to me, to thee, as He has done to this man.’ ” And Hengstenberg: “ ‘They swear by me,’ inasmuch as they say, ‘May God let it go with you as it does with that miserable man’ ” (comp. Numbers 5:21-27; Jeremiah 29:22; Isaiah 65:15; Psalms 44:14). The distresses of the godly are greatly aggravated when they are made the occasion of revilings from their foes.
VI. His distress was regarded as an expression of the Divine anger. “Because of Thine indignation and Thy wrath; for Thou hast lifted me up and cast me down.” The figure of the second clause is taken from a storm of wind, which seizes and carries upward its object, and then hurls it to the ground. So God in wrath seemed to have seized the Psalmist, borne him aloft, and then dashed him down. In the opinion of the Psalmist, it is sin which has thus provoked the Lord to anger. It is noteworthy, as Delitzsch points out, that the two nouns “indignation” and “wrath” are in the Hebrew the strongest which the language possesses. It is true that the Chaldean captivity was permitted by God, because His people by their heinous and oft-repeated sins had provoked Him to anger. The Chaldeans were unconsciously the instruments by which He effected His purpose to chastise His faithless people. But we are not to suppose that in individual cases the measure of suffering indicates the measure of sin and ill-desert. The bitterest ingredient in the miseries of the Poet arose from his impression that those miseries were the expression of the Divine anger.
VII. His distress was not hopeless. He lifted his troubled soul to God in prayer (Psalms 102:1-2). He prays for,—
1. Divine audience. “Hear my prayer, O Lord, and let my cry come unto Thee.… Incline Thine ear unto me.” (See remarks on Psalms 88:2).
2. Divine acceptance. “Hide not Thy face from me.” (See remarks on Psalms 27:9; Psalms 69:17.) It is a request that God would look favourably upon him, and regard his supplications.
3. Divine and speedy answer. “In the day when I call answer me speedily.” The Psalmist believed in answers to prayer, and immediate ones too. Such urgency of prayer, when united with humility and patience, is well pleasing to God.
The patriotic Poet was sore troubled and distressed; but he was neither destroyed nor despairing. The night was dark, but the stars were not all quenched.
VIII. His distress was patriotic. If we understand the Psalm aright, the Psalmist does not lament his own woes merely, but the woes of his people, the desolation of his country, and the ruins of their temple.
“Fallen is thy throne, O Israel!
Silence is o’er thy plains;
Thy dwellings all lie desolate,
Thy children weep in chains!
Where are the dews that fed thee
On Etham’s barren shore!
That fire from heaven which led thee
Now lights thy path no more.
“Lord! Thou didst love Jerusalem—
Once she was all Thy own;
Her love Thy fairest heritage
Her power Thy glory’s throne,
Till evil came and blighted
Thy long-loved olive-tree;
And Salem’s shrines were lighted
For other gods than Thee.”—Moore.
These were the woes which distressed the Psalmist. His was no selfish grief; but the sorrow of a patriotic, philanthropic, and godly soul.
CONCLUSION.—While God continues to hear and answer prayer, we may hope for deliverance even from the deepest distresses.
THE HOPE OF A DISTRESSED PATRIOT
I. The object of his hope. What is it that the troubled and patriotic Poet hopes for?
1. For the rebuilding of the Temple. “Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion. When the Lord shall build up Zion, He shall appear in His glory.” The Temple which had stood upon Zion was now in ruins. To the pious and patriotic Jew, of all places in his Fatherland, Jerusalem was the most highly esteemed, and of all places in Jerusalem the Temple upon Zion was the holiest and dearest. Hence the great longing for the rebuilding of the Temple and the restoration of its services.
2. For the emancipation of the captives. “To hear the groaning of the prisoner; to loose those that are appointed unto death.” By “the prisoner” we understand the whole nation, whose captivity is looked upon as an imprisonment. “Those that are appointed unto death,” or “the sons of death,” “may mean either those who were sentenced to death; those who were sick and ready to die; or those who, in their captivity, were in such a state of privation and suffering that death appeared inevitable.”—Barnes. The verse clearly points out the emancipation of the captives as one of the great objects desired and hoped for.
3. The restoration of the people to their own land and worship. They longed to “declare the name of the Lord in Zion, and His praise in Jerusalem,” and to “gather together to serve the Lord.” The pious Jews longed to assemble again in the city of their fathers, and there celebrate the worship of the Lord their God as in former days.
To the truly religious man the loss of national independence is great, subjection to foreign rule is a galling yoke; but the loss of religious privileges is felt to be far greater, and the desire for their recovery will be more intense than for the recovery of national independence.
II. The ground of his hope. In whom does the troubled and patriotic Poet hope? Has he a good reason for his hope?
1. It is directed to God. Psalms 102:12-13; Psalms 102:16; Psalms 102:19. He hopes that God will interpose on behalf of His captive and afflicted people. For a long time it had seemed as though God regarded them not, but the Psalmist is confident that He is now interested in their welfare. From His holy height He was intently viewing them; and speedily He would arise and have mercy upon them. When our hope in all others fail, we may yet hope in God.
2. It rests in His character and perfections.
(1) In His eternal and unchangeable sovereignty. “Thou, O Lord, shalt endure for ever; and Thy remembrance unto all generations.” Hengstenberg: “Thou, O Lord, art enthroned for ever, and Thy memorial from generation to generation.” “The sitting,” he says, “is no empty remaining, but a sitting as king, a sitting on a throne” (comp. Psalms 9:7; Psalms 29:10). And Perowne: “Thou, O Jehovah, sittest throned for ever, and Thy memorial is to all generations.” In this thought the Psalmist found his great consolation. His own life might pass away, generations of men might pass away; but the Lord would never pass away. Man and his fortunes may change, and all earthly things may appear unstable; but the Lord changes not, and His throne is stable and permanent. He is eternally and unchangeably supreme, and the covenanted God and helper of His people.
(2) In His mercy. “Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion; for it is time to favour her.” The hope of deliverance is built upon the grace of God. The misery of their condition would move the mercy of His disposition.
(3) In His regard for prayer “He will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer.” Perowne: “He hath turned to the prayer of the poor-destitute.” He adopts the rendering of the P. B. V., “poor-destitute,” “because the word expresses utter nakedness and destitution.” The Psalmist represents himself and others as entirely destitute of all human means of help, and expresses his confidence that God would graciously attend to the prayer of such suppliants. “Whomsoever God neglects, He will listen to the cry of those who are forsaken and destitute.” He will not only “not despise their prayer,” He will favourably receive and answer it. In all these respects the confident hope of the Psalmist was certainly well founded. He who thus trusts in the Lord shall never be put to shame.
III. The strength of his hope. He speaks of the interposition of the Lord on their behalf in accents of steady confidence. The strength of his hope is manifest in—
1. His assured declarations of Divine favour toward them. “Thou shalt arise and have mercy,” &c. He utters no perchance or peradventure.
2. His declaration of the nearness of that favour. “The time to favour her, yea, the set time, is come.” There may be a reference here to the seventy years of captivity prophesied by Jeremiah. The Psalmist himself states one reason upon which his conclusion, that the set time for the manifestation of the Divine favour had come, was based, viz., the deep interest manifested by the people in the state of Zion. “Thy servants take pleasure in her stones, and favour the dust thereof.” Even the ruins of the Temple were dear to them, and its very dust was sacred. This affectionate interest the Psalmist regarded as a token that the time of deliverance and restoration was at hand. “There are usually some previous intimations or indications of what God is about to do. ‘Coming events cast their shadows before.’ Even the Divine purposes are accomplished usually in connection with human agency, and in the regular course of events; and it is frequently possible to anticipate that God is about to appear for the fulfilment of His promises. So it was in the coming of the Saviour. So it was in the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans.”—Barnes.
(3.) His declaration of it as even then present. Psalms 102:16-17. “ ‘Shall build,’ ‘shall appear,’ ‘will regard,’ ‘and will not despise.’ These futures, in the original, are all present; ‘buildeth, appeareth, regardeth, and despiseth not.’ The Psalmist, in his confidence of the event, speaks of it as doing.”—Horsley. His confidence is so great as to annihilate time and make the future present to him, and coming events accomplished realities.
IV. The results anticipated from the fulfilment of his. hope.
1. Grateful joy to His people. Their reverence and love for the holy city and Temple, manifested by their interest even in its ruins, would be gratified, and they would “declare the name of the Lord in Zion, and His praise in Jerusalem.” “When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion … our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing … The Lord hath done great things for us; we are glad.”
2. Fear to the nations. “So the heathen shall fear the name of the Lord, and all the kings of the earth Thy glory.” “When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion … then said they among the heathen, The Lord hath done great things for them.”
3. Instruction and encouragement to posterity. “This shall be written for the generation to come; and the people which shall be created shall praise the Lord.” The Divine deliverance and blessing should be recorded, and future ages should derive instruction therefrom. The manifestations of the faithfulness and mercy of God in one age are helpful to the faith of all succeeding ages. As the evidence to His truth and grace grows more voluminous and irresistibly conclusive, His praise also should grow in fulness and resonance and heartiness.
4. Glory to God. In the restoration of His people His glory would be manifest to all,—both to His people and to all the nations,—observed by all, respected by all, and celebrated by His people. The restoration of His people and the rebuilding of His Temple would be the glorifying of His name.
1. When the Church is in the lowest condition, it may be revived by the Lord.
2. When the Church is in a low condition, the faithful should care for her the more solicitously, and pray for her the more earnestly. Psalms 102:14 to Psalms 17:3. When the faithful are thus solicitous and prayerful, the Lord will speedily arise for the revival of His Church. Psalms 102:13; Psalms 14:4. The revival of the Church will be followed by the most blessed results.
A REVIVAL OF THE CHURCH, AND SYMPTOMS WHICH PRECEDE IT
By unanimous consent, Zion is considered a type of the Christian Church, which is a body of Christly men; and if we take these words as the Psalmist’s statement with regard to the revival of the Christian Church, we propose to make two statements.
I. There is a favourable time to promote the revival of the Church. The revival of religion, important at all times, is especially so at this period.
1. The source to which the Church must look for a revival. “Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion.” At a suitable time, and in a wonderful manner, God did arise and deliver His people. “The Lord,” said they, “hath done great things for us.” The teachings of the Bible, which relate to this theme, are regular and uninterrupted in setting forth this grand principle, that the Lord alone can revive the Church, and add to her such as shall be saved. (Psalms 80:1-3; Psalms 85:6; Isaiah 51:3; Habakkuk 3:2; Zechariah 4:6).
2. The nature of that revival which the Church may expect. The words “mercy” and “favour” suggest—
(1) Deliverance. Though the character of the Church is of such transcendent excellence that it ought to win the admiration of every beholder, yet, alas! such is the depravity of the heart, that opposition, violence, and blood, have marked her progress; but to the present the Almighty hath been her helper.
(2) Union. There may be unity of effors with a great variety of name, method, and form. The union of which God is the Author is frequently spoken of in the Bible (Psalms 133:0; John 13:34-35; John 17:21).
(3) Prosperity. The conversion of sinners. That Church is happy which is favoured with deliverance, union, and prosperity.
3. The time when the revival of the Church may be expected. The text speaks of a set or appointed season for the salvation of Zion. “The time to favour her, yea, the set time, is come.” The deliverance of the Jews from their captivity was foretold (Isaiah 14:1-2; Jeremiah 25:11-12; Jeremiah 32:36-39). How wonderfully Jehovah brought about the deliverance of His people from Babylon at the set time! He influenced Cyrus and Darius, heathen princes, to forward it. He raised up Ezra and Nehemiah, &c.
II. That the revival of the Church is always preceded by certain infallible signs. “For Thy servants take pleasure in her stones, and favour the dust thereof.”
1. Solemn humiliation before God. Before the Jews were delivered from the Babylonish captivity, they were humbled before God on account of their transgressions. The nation was ashamed and cured of its idolatry, and never since then has it bent its knees at an idol’s shrine (Ezra 9:6-7; Ezra 10:1; Daniel 9:7-11). Is there this spirit of humiliation before God in modern churches?
2. Special, importunate, believing prayer. What beautiful instructions and examples we have in the Bible of the value of such prayer (Isaiah 62:1; Ezekiel 36:37; Luke 11:5-10).
3. Affection for the ordinances of God’s House. The principal evidence we have that the Almighty was about to visit His people in Babylon was the deep interest they had in Zion. They loved the very stones, and even the dust of their beloved, though dilapidated Zion (Psalms 137:5-6). So it is in a revival of religion. When God is about to visit His people in mercy, everything in regard to the Church is loved.
4. Activity and self-denying efforts in God’s cause. The Jews showed their love to Jerusalem in a practical manner. (Nehemiah 4:6.) They work despite the scorn of their foes.
Let these signs exist in any church, and the fruit will soon appear. She shall increase in purity and influence. “Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree,” &c. (Isaiah 55:13).—J. Wileman, in “The Study.”
A SUNDAY SCHOOL SERMON—OUR RESPONSIBILITY TOWARDS THE YOUNG
“This shall be written for the generations to come.”
The antecedent to the word “this” are the truths contained in the verses from 1 to 13.
1. That the Lord will have mercy upon Zion.
2. That the heathen shall fear the name of the Lord.
3. That He will build up Zion.
4. That He will regard the prayer of the destitute.
These were the promises that were to be written for the generations to come. Why written? That they might be preserved and handed down.
Tradition is uncertain, imperfect, &c. The New Testament declares that these things were written for our instruction.
We have the fulfilment of this text to-day. Nearly nine hundred years before the coming of Christ an Assyrian monarch conceived the idea of a national library of books or tablets of burnt clay. Hundreds of years afterward the library was destroyed. Recently a London newspaper, three thousand years after the establishment of the library, and many centuries after its destruction, has explorations made, and many tablets, and fragments of tablets, are recovered and translated, and in them the Book of Genesis has corroboration. That which is written is permanent. Had those past ages known of our paper and ink, what a wonderful preservation of knowledge we would have had!
I. What has been written?
1. Observe the nature of this knowledge of God which was written. It concerns God’s faithfulness and ability in the performance of all He has promised. We cannot bear testimony to faithfulness until we have tested it. When we have tested God, we can bear testimony. Faithfulness implies obligation. He who makes a promise comes under obligation. In this God differs from man. He was under no obligation to come under obligation; but having promised, He has come under obligation, and Christians everywhere bear testimony to His faithfulness and His ability to perform fully all He has freely promised.
2. What God has promised. The great thing is the salvation worked out through atonement; the establishment of a Church; that this salvation should be made known unto the ends of the world; that the heathen people should come to know Him. Salvation can be wrought out only through this atonement. It is loose thinking that makes men imagine that education, culture, political economy, can lift up the world. The fear of the Lord lifts up man. Christ made little or nothing of the culture of the Pharisee, but much of righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. He builds up His Zion even as He has promised.
II. Our duty.
What shall we, who have received so much, do for the generations to come—for the generation now coming? Fathers, members of Churches, what record are you making for the generation coming? The special work of the Sunday-school is to take care of the children of the nation.
1. Let us be faithful to our own children. They are the jewels of the Church. We draw the children into Sabbath-school, not to render needless the home instruction, but to supplement this instruction, by bringing the weight of the personal influence of others upon your children.
2. We want to take care of the children grown up into youth. The most critical period in the life of man is when he is breaking away from home. How many of the children at this age become vagrants among the churches, wandering here and there, receiving but little benefit and giving none. The class most largely reached are the children of believing parents.
3. We have a great work to do among the children near us, those who are to be our fellow-citizens. There is enough of ignorance and criminality around us. These evils must be restrained by knowledge, by virtue, or social ruin is inevitable.
4. We must do all possible for the children of the entire country. If we would have the nation Christian, we must work and bear the burdens. We have the opportunity.
One practical additional word. How many of you who are giving your money, year by year, to the cause of Christ, are giving yourselves, your love, your time? You who are young, I beseech you dedicate the energies of your youth to this service. When you are passing from earth, what then will be of value save what Christ is to you?—John Hall, D.D.
A GREAT CONTRAST AND CONSOLATION
We have in this section of the Psalm—
I. A great contrast. On the one hand, we have the weakness and shortness of human life upon earth, and the changefulness and transitoriness of nature itself; and on the other, we have the eternity and immutability of God.
First: Let us look at man and nature. And—
1. At man’s life upon earth. It is here represented as—
(1) Weak. “He weakened my strength in the way.” In the journey of life the strength even of the most robust in course of time is diminished until it is superseded by weakness. While others by reason of afflictions are speedily brought low. Probably the Psalmist speaks here in the name of the chosen people. God had weakened their strength, had reduced them by afflictions, &c. How frail is human life upon earth!
(2) Brief. “He shortened my days.” It seemed to the Poet that God was about to cut off his life speedily. (On the brevity of human life upon earth, see Homily on Psalms 90:1-6.)
2. Let us look at nature.
(1) It is changeful. “Thou shalt change them, and they shall be changed.” The heavens and the earth seem unchangeable and permanent. Sometimes they are so represented in Scripture. “He hath also stablished them for ever.” “The everlasting mountains and the perpetual hills.” Yet from the testimony of geology and astronomy we know that they change. And as compared with the Lord, the most unchangeable and abiding things are changeable and transient. In the future a stupendous change awaits the entire material creation.
(2) It is transitory. “They shall perish.” (Comp. 2 Peter 3:10.)
“Melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palacess.
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve;
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind.”—Shakespeare.
Second: Let us look at the Divine Being,
1. He existed before the world. This is clearly implied in Psalms 102:25.
2. He created the world. “Of old hast Thou laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Thy hands.”
3. He is eternal. “Thou shalt endure.” “This” (says Stuart, on Hebrews 1:12) “would be true, if it was spoken merely with reference to the future, and should be construed as having respect only to eternity a parte post, as it is technically called, i.e., eternity to come. But as it stands here, in connection with having created the heavens and the earth κατʼ αρχὰς, it can hardly be understood to mean less than absolute eternity, or eternity a parte ante et a parte post.” (On each of these points concerning “the Divine Being,” see Homily on Psalms 90:1-6.)
4. He is unchangeable. “Thou art the same.” From everlasting to everlasting there is no variation in God. His vesture, that in which He manifests Himself, may be changed by Him, but He changes not. “Thou art the same in essence and nature, the same in will and purpose, Thou dost change all other things as Thou pleasest: but Thou art immutable in every respect, and receivest no shadow of change, though never so light and small.”—Charnock. Here, then, is a tremendous contrast—
“Great God, how infinite art Thou!
What worthless worms are we!”
II. A great consolation
1. As regards himself. “O my God, take me not away in the midst of my days; Thy years are throughout all generations.” It is the lot of the wicked to be cut off in the midst of their days. “Bloody and deceitful men shall not live out half their days.” With such men the Poet desired to have no part either living or dying. He seems also to long to be spared to witness the restoration of his people. And he finds consolation in the eternity of God, which he pleads. That eternity is introduced “here for two reasons:
(1) As a ground of consolation, that God was ever the same; that whatever might happen to men, to the Psalmist himself, or to any other man, God was unchanged, and that His great plans would be carried forward and accomplished.
(2) As a reason for the prayer. God was eternal. He could not die. He knew in its perfection the blessedness of life—life as such; life continued; life unending. The Psalmist appeals to what God Himself enjoyed as a reason why life—so great a blessing—should be granted to him a little longer. By all that there was of blessedness in the life of God, the Psalmist prays that that which was in itself—even in the case of God—so valuable, might yet a little longer be continued to him.”—Barnes.
2. As regards the Church. “The children of Thy servants shall continue, and their seed shall be established before Thee.” Because God is unchangeable and eternal His purposes cannot be frustrated, and His Church shall abide, the witness and the monument of His love. “From the eternity of the Head we may infer the perpetuity of the body.” The stability and welfare of the Church are guaranteed by the eternity and immutability of the Lord. So the Poet finds strength in his weakness; he rests in the Everlasting Arms.
1. To us personally let the greatness of God be both awe-inspiring and trust-inspiring. Let us not only fear, but hope in Him.
2. Let us rejoice in the security of the Church of Christ. “Because I live ye shall live also.”
GOD IN NATURE
This passage directly opposes two popular errors:—
First: That matter is self-originated, “Thou,”—all material forms are traced to a spiritual creative agency.
Second: That matter is eternal “They shall perish.” The destruction of the material universe is placed as the antithesis of the Divine duration—“but Thou remainest;” as surely, therefore, as God shall continue to “remain,” the heavens and the earth shall perish.
This passage I regard as presenting the Divine Being in four sublime and impressive aspects—
I. The Divine Being as intimately acquainted with all portions of the universe. I take the words “foundation” and “heavens” as representative terms. The lowest depth and the loftiest height are signified. There is not a shadow in the caverns of solitude which He has not projected, nor is there a curve in the heavens which owes not its gracefulness to His touch. Not only is God acquainted with places, but with the most subtle laws which operate in the minutest fibres of the stupendous fabric.
God’s perfect acquaintance with the universe supplies:—
First: A guarantee of the perfect safety of the good. They can never pass beyond the sweep of His beneficent influence. He knows how every change will affect them, and they know that all agencies will be controlled with a view to their final security and happiness. (Psalms 91:5-7.)
Second: An unutterable terror to the evil. They can never pass beyond the scrutiny of God’s blazing eye.
The great practical deduction of the argument is this, viz.:—The supreme importance of being RIGHT with this dread Spirit. You cannot escape Him. If you are to spend eternity with any being, mutual sympathy is essential to enjoyment. You must spend eternity under the eye of God, &c.
II. The Divine Being as the sovereign Proprietor of the universe. He who created has a right to the possession. Four deductions are obvious:—
First: That our possession is a mere stewardship. Yours is a representative ownership.
Second: That our possession involves corresponding responsibility. Our five talents are bestowed that they may be self-multiplied.
Third: That our possession forms no ground of arrogance. “What hast thou that thou hast not received?”
Fourth: That our possession should awaken earnest solicitude. “Why hast God trusted me with so much?” should be the rich man’s anxious inquiry.
Seeing, therefore, that God is the one Proprietor of all things, we should remember two great facts:—
First: That we are only tenants-at-will. We have no lease of life or property.
Second: That God may justly remind man of the Divine claim. Can you wonder that the true Proprietor should occasionally assert His right by sending the hail-storm or the lightning to smite the earth? Were the Divine Being never to assert His claim, man might indulge the thought that he was the terminating centre of all things.
III. God as the all-transforming Spirit of the universe. “As a vesture shalt Thou change them, and they shall be changed.” You have marked the spring as it has unfolded its mantle, and hung it gracefully on the shoulders of the hills, and spread its gift of flowers on the lap of the grateful earth; that is a manifestation of God’s all-transforming power! You have marked the blustering winter, as it has torn off that verdant robe, and blown out the floral lights; that, too, is a display of God’s all-changing power. This same Spirit is also the heart-transforming agent. He who garnishes the heavens beautifies the soul.… As no human skill could beautify the earth with the treasures of spring, so no mortal power could have provided the robe of righteousness with which every soul must be clad ere it enter heaven.
IV. The Divine Being as the all-surviving Spirit of the universe. “They shall perish, but Thou shalt endure; Thou art the same, and Thy years shall have no end.”
From this assurance we may draw two lessons—
First: That matter is not a necessary condition of spiritual existence. All we know of spirit now is associated with matter. If we speak of the “divinity stirring within us,” it stirs within a tenement of clay. If we speak of God, it is in connection with the material forms of the outer universe; but the plain meaning of our text is that spirit may exist independent of such expression. Matter is dependent on spirit, but spirit may survive the total annihilation of the heavens and the earth.
Second: That the Divine existence is incapable of change. “Thou art the same.” Simple words these, and yet there is only one Being in the universe to whom they are applicable. To GOD alone can we truthfully say, “THOU ART THE SAME!” Other beings are not the same in knowledge; you are continually increasing your information, but to the Divine knowledge no contribution can be added. Other beings are not the same in affection; your affection deepens or withdraws according to the current of circumstances, but the Divine love knows no mutation. Other beings are not the same in enjoyment; your joys are fickle as an April day, but the ever-blessed God can know neither increase nor diminution of felicity.
He who made the atonement for human guilt is the Being of whom our text speaks: CHRIST is the all-renewing and all-surviving Spirit!
Have I those before me who profess to worship God in nature? Let me assure you that admiration of nature will not atone for the neglect of Christ. God knows those only who have a living faith in the merits of the Saviour’s sacrifice—Joseph Parker, D.D. Abridged from the “Cavendish Pulpit.”
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 102". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany