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1. Date and authorship uncertain. Has been ascribed to the immediate post exilie psalmists, and to the poets of the time of the Maccabees.
2. Characteristics. Allusion to or quotation of Isaiah. The iterations (Psalms 115:9-13) suggest Temple service.
3. Ewald conjectures that the Psalm was sung while the sacrifice was offered, and that Psalms 115:12-15 were spoken by the priest declaring the acceptance of it; Psalms 115:1-11; Psalms 115:16-18 sung by the congregation.
THE SOLE GLORY OF GOD, AND THE ABNEGATION OF MAN
The Bible everywhere gives bold prominence to the glory of God. That glory is said to be the end of all the divine works and ways. “The heavens declare the glory of God.” “The whole earth is filled with His glory.” Says the Old Testament Psalmist: “Give unto the Lord, ye kindreds of the people, give unto the Lord glory and strength; give unto the Lord the glory due unto His name.” Says the New Testament Apostle: “Now unto God and our Father be glory for ever and ever.” Notice—
I. That God’s glory consists in His own supreme and solitary perfection. “Thy name.” שֵׁם denoting internal essence, authority, rank, and dignity. When Moses inquired, “What is Thy name?” the reply was, “I AM THAT I AM.” The divine glory consists in God being Himself. There is no glory in imitation. The glory of man consists in his being a man. When he becomes a child or a beast he loses his glory. So God’s glory consists in His being what He is and nothing else; perfect and incapable of improvement in dignity, by time or through the homage of His creatures.
II. That God’s glory is expressed in the mercy and truthfulness of His works and ways. These two expressions sum up the divine perfections, and illustrate two sides of the divine character. Their harmony in action—forgiving, yet not so as to violate the law of righteousness; truthful, yet not so as to deprive the guilty of hope—is God’s glory, revealed to and manifested towards His creatures. This receives its full expression only in Christ, who is the “brightness of His glory,” &c. in His ministry and death.
III. That God’s glory should he apprehended and acknowledged by man. It must be apprehended before it can be acknowledged. No man can glorify God till he has some sense of His perfections as revealed in Jesus Christ. He must see the King in His beauty before he can admire Him. He must feel, in penitence and faith, that God is “just and the Justifier,” “a just God and a Saviour,” before he can adore Him. Then the honour due unto God’s name will be a thankful and spontaneous tribute, and herein will God “be glorified that we bear much fruit.”
IV. That God’s glory is not the object of God’s solicitude, but man’s.
1. God has no need to seek His own glory. That comes in the nature of things. Even evil in some mysterious way subserves this end.
2. When God is spoken of as doing this or that for His name’s sake and for His glory, it means that He is not indifferent to what we think of Him, and that it is only by our right thoughts and actions towards Him that our well-being can be secured.
3. When man it solicitous to promote God’s glory, God’s object is secured.
4. Man’s blessedness. “The glory which thou gavest Me I have given them,” &c. (Revelation 7:9-12.)
V. That God’s glory removes all ground of boasting on the part of man. “Not unto us.” Boasting is here for ever excluded.… All the good we do is done by the power of His grace, and all the good we have is the gift of His mercy, and therefore He must have all the praise.… All our songs must be sung to this humble tune.… All our crowns must be cast at the feet of Him that sitteth on the throne.”—M. Henry.
A GODLESS INQUIRY AND A GODLY RESPONSE
This is an everyday question, asked by various people and on various grounds, and should be met every day with its all-sufficient answer. While a Christian man should not court controversy for its own sake, he should be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in him.
I. The question, “Where is now their God?”
1. Why is it asked?
(1.) Because of the spirituality of God. God is invisible, and beyond the reach of man’s physical sense.
(2.) Because of the fancied independence and power of man. Pharaoh in his vain pride asked a similar question. So did Sennacherib. Surrounded by marshalled hosts, or protected by material forces, man sees no need of God; hence this question.
(3.) Because of the disinclination of depraved humanity to serve God (Job 21:14-15). Man is a sinner, and feels if there be a God that God must have vengeance on his crimes, and that that God has strong claims upon his gratitude and service.
(4.) Because of the folly of the human heart. If the evidences written on the heavens above and in the earth beneath are not enough, the question of our text must be regarded as the outcome of mental incapacity or moral obliquity.
(5.) Because of the apparent inequalities of God’s providential rule. (See Asaph’s mournful wail, Psalms 73:0.)
2. By whom is it asked? By
(1) The Atheist who, as the Antetheist, dogmatically denies the divine existence; or, as the Agnostic and Positivist, maintains that God is unknown and unknowable.
(2) The Pantheist, who denies the divine personality, and if God be impersonal He must be unintelligent and unconscious, and therefore virtually non-existent.
(3) The Deist, who would acknowledge the existence of God as an hypothesis to account for the universe, but would deny his power to interfere with His works or the laws by which they are controlled. As Sir I. Newton remarked: “A God without dominion, providence, and final causes, is nothing but fate and nature.”
(4) Unitarian; for the only God we know of is He whom Christ reveals.
(5) By the Idolater. All these sections of modern heathenism are asking the question to-day.
II. To this question there is an all-sufficient answer (Psalms 115:3). The answer to the taunt of the heathen, who, seeing no image of Jehovah, mocked at His existence, is “
(1) He is heaven, invisible indeed, yet thence ruling the universe;
(2) He doeth what He will, in fine contrast to the utter impotence of the idols of the heathen.
(3) God’s almighty power and absolute freedom. This, truthfully accepted, does away with all à prioriobjections to miracles.”—Perowne.
1. God exists; as against the non-existence of idols. The world is full of thought and beauty and design which bespeak an intelligent mind and a powerful will. The universe is without a rational explanation on any other theory; and the human heart and mind are vacant without the thought of God.
2. God exists in the heavens. That accounts for His spiritual invisibility. God’s being is too great to be within the comprehension of our poor faculties, and too holy to be perfectly manifested to our sinfulness. It is irrational to question the unseen because it is unseen.
3. God does according to HIS pleasure, not according to MAN’S. This accounts for
(1) the fact that men question His existence. He permits it that He may ultimately show its vanity, and confirm His people’s faith. “A grand old Methodist preacher, called John Nelson, was obliged to become a soldier, and as he was arrayed, a mocking, bad woman came to him and said, ‘Nelson, where is now thy God? Thou didst say at Shent’s door that thou hadst no more fear of all His promises failing than thou hadst of falling through the centre of the earth. Where is now thy God?’ Nelson, in whom the Word of God dwelt richly, said, ‘You will find the answer in Micah 7:8-10 : “Rejoice,” ’ &c. I have some reason to believe that the answer was literally fulfilled.”—Dr. J. Parker.
(2) For the apparent inequalities of His providential government. God bears with tyrants, hoping that their repentance may avert His vengeance (Luke 17:1, &c). God permits the suffering of His people as the chastisement for their sin, the trial of their faith, or because His just designs for the whole of mankind could not be otherwise fulfilled.
“IDOLS AND THE LIVING AND TRUE GOD”
The Psalmist having replied to objectors now carries the war into the heart of their camp. Nothing can exceed the contempt which the old Hebrew prophets poured on the various systems of idolatry. (Deuteronomy 4:28; 1 Kings 18:27-29; Isaiah 37:19; Isaiah 40:19-24; Isaiah 44:9-20; Jeremiah 10:3-5, &c.) The irony of Juvenal is very fine: “Dost thou hear, O Jupiter, these things? Nor move thy lips when thou oughtest to speak out, whether thou art of marble or of bronze! Or why do we put the sacred incense on thy altar from the opened paper, and the extracted liver of a calf, and the white caul of a hog? As far as I can discern there is no difference between thy statue and that of Bathyllus.” Bathyllus was a fiddler.
I. Idols vary in every age and among various nations. God remains the same. The inhabitants of the old Pantheon grew in number with the years. First the elements, then deceased heroes, then good things, then evil things, and finally everything. Idolatry still lives on. Men worship themselves, their friends, wealth, pleasure, power, &c. But all fluctuate and die. Only God lives on.
II. Idols are numerous and conflicting; God is one and in harmony with Himself. Olympus was a house divided against itself. The great Jove was supreme only in name. The suggestions of the patrons of all the virtues were met by the counter suggestions of the patrons of all the vices. The decrees of the goddess of wisdom were neutralised by the passions of the god of war; and so with the idols of modern England. The living and true God, on the other hand, is one, and eternally self-consistent.
III. Idols are the work of men’s hands; God is eternal and uncreated. The same power which could make an idol can unmake it. An image can be worshipped one moment, used as a footstool the next, and destroyed the next. The living and true God is untouched by His creatures, and from everlasting to everlasting is God.
IV. Idols at best can occupy only “temples made with hands.” “God is in the heavens.” Men may erect their splendid temples and fashion their golden shrines. They may adorn them with the magnificent conceptions of human genius, with breathing canvas and speaking marble, and celebrate their worship with grand and costly ritual. But all is of the earth, earthy. The living God from His high and holy place looks down with pity and contempt on all.
V. Idols are senseless (5–7); but God is keenly sensitive of the wants of His creatures, and kindly attentive to their prayers.
“Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”
THE MORAL CONSEQUENCES OF IDOLATRY
Men read into nature their own imperfect views of the supernatural, and thus their gods were like themselves; with the same bodies, parts, and passions. The gods again found their reflection in the hearts of their devotees. Both gradually grew worse and worse, till no passion was too vile for a god to feel, and no vice too bestial to be in some measure sanctified (Romans 1:0). And now a man’s character is formed by the god he worships. “Those that make them, and trust in them, are like unto them:”—
I. In mental incapacity. It would be hard to conceive the utter blindness of the idolater to the utter blindness of his god if it were not too sadly true. Wealth, personal appearance, pleasure, &c., are worshipped, in spite of the universal fact that they can of themselves do nothing for man; and yet man continues his mad and stupid idolatry. This worship blinds man to the inevitable result. He goes on till some rude shock wakens his mind into activity, and sometimes that shock comes too late.
II. In moral insensibility. The miser is as hard against moral impressions as his gold. The Midas fable is only too true. The self-worshipper is hardened in his conceit. The power-worshipper is encased in an ambition which few things can pierce. This insensibility is not of sudden, but gradual growth. The miser may have been tender at one time, but by degrees his love of gold has destroyed it all. Beware lest any of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
III. In deep degradation. All mythologies have deities which are the proper object of execration rather than worship. In the elegant (?) classical mythology the father of the gods was a buffoon and a sensualist, his father devoured his offspring; the god of valour was an example of domestic treason; and the patron of commerce was the special favourite of thieves. The Egyptian and Oriental gods are even worse. Their worship is consistent with their character, and makes their votaries like themselves. What degradation does the worship of Isis, Bacchus, Venus, Vishnu, Baal, and Astarte, &c., reveal. And so with the idols of a mis-called Christian civilisation. Gold and pleasure are hardly less animalising.
IV. In malign harmfulness. Idols can of course do nothing of themselves. But the influence of their supposed example can have but one effect. What the effect is heathenism in all ages abundantly shows. Bloody, impure, and implacable deities have produced men who rivalled them in debauchery and crime. And the influence of the lust of power, pleasure, or gain, is to wither the affections, blight the intellect, and blast the soul.
V. In spiritual death. Idols having no life cannot nourish or sustain it. The soul goes to them in vain for pardon and purity. The mind finds no base for its operation, no satisfaction for its craving; the life no authoritative rule, no guide in perplexity, no encouragement in duty. Everything upon which this Upas casts its shadow, dies. Learn—
(i.) The danger of idolatry. In itself and in the condemnation that rests upon it “Ephraim is joined to his idois, LET HIM ALONE.” (ii.) The missionary duty of the Churches towards heathenism abroad and at home.
I. The nature of trust בָּטַח is need in two senses.
(1.) To hang upon something, to rely, to trust.
(2.) To live secure, careless, and calm.
1. The believer depends fully on the help and protection which God affords, and avails himself of them at all times and everywhere. He feels that there is no other security or strength but in the power and goodness of God.
2. Consequently he abandons all other refuges, and fearlessly casts himself on God’s care, and lives calmly in the midst of all his foes.
II. The grounds of trust. “He is their help and their shield.”
1. The divine help is omnipotent, and therefore sufficient; wisely made, and therefore to be depended upon; ever present, and therefore available; willingly vouchsafed, and therefore fearlessly accepted. This help is offered when wanted, and therefore never superfluously; in sin, to pardon it; in perplexity, to remove it; in physical distress, to alleviate it; in trials, to safely conduct us through.
2. The divine protection. This was specially God’s covenant character (Genesis 15:1; Deuteronomy 33:29).
(1.) The believer wants provision for his safety in his warfare, and not simply help. The mightiest warrior is at the mercy of his weakest foe without a shield. So while the Christian wields the “sword of the Spirit,” he wears other accoutrements, and “over all” the “shield of faith.”
(2.) The believer needs protection in time of exhaustion. The strength of the stoutest warrior must give way in time, and woe to him if the fortified camp or citadel is not within reach. So, for the exhausted believer, “the name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous runneth into it and is safe.”
III. Those who trust. “Israel.” “House of Aaron.” “Ye that fear the Lord.”
1. The whole body of God’s people. Because
(1) they are warranted in their trust.
(2) It is their duty to trust.
(3) Their trust is necessary to their safety.
2. God’s ministers. In whatever sphere, let those who are working for God
(1) Trust in the help of God, in the study and proclamation of His word; in their contest with infidelity; in their conflict with sin.
(2) Trust in the protection of God against temptations, spiritual monotony, indolence, doubt, and fear.
IV. The consequences of trust.
1. The believer is confident. “He knows whom he has believed,” &c.
2. The believer is TRUSTY. He is faithful; full of faith. Fulness of faith means full reliance on God, which guarantees fulness of sufficiency, hence fidelity.
IN CONCLUSION.—(i.) A warrant. “The Lord God is a sun and shield.” (ii.) A command. “Trust ye in the Lord forever,” &c. (iii.) A promise. “Be thou faithful unto death,” &c. (iv.) A prayer. “Lord, increase our faith.”
GOD MINDFUL OF MAN
This is a continuation of the controversy between the believer and the idolater. In answer to the question, “Where is now your God?” the Psalmist replies, “In heaven, where yours is not. Your gods are silver and gold, articles of human manufacture, devoid of both sympathy and sense; but our God has been mindful of us, and will bless us.”
This is one of the many proofs that the Hebrew faith was not an abstract monotheism, and that the Incarnation was its logical development. Jehovah was not some grand inaccessible power. He was their Father, brought into familiar contact with them, careful of their wants, and joyful when they were glad. This doctrine is followed by the revelation of Him who is the great expression of the mindfulness of God.
I. Why is God mindful of man? Scepticism scoffs at the idea as it did of old. Religious men sometimes wonder at it. The vastness of the universe, the enormity of man’s guilt, the apparent insignificance of his age, size, actions, ever suggest the question, “What is man, that Thou art mindful of him,” &c. God is mindful of man—
1. Because He is God.
(1.) He is the Father of man, and naturally solicitous of the interests of His children.
(2.) He is the ruler of men, and it therefore behoves Him to protect and regulate His subjects.
(3.) He is the creator of man, and it is but natural that He should care for that which He was at the trouble to make.
2. Because of man’s dignity. When He created him He pronounced him to be very good. Alas! it is not so now. Nevertheless, compared with the rest of the universe, he is still “crowned with glory and honour.” “There is but one object greater than the soul, and that one is its Creator.”—Augustine. “Man is a feeble reed trembling in the midst of creation.… It does not need the universe to arm for his destruction. A breath of wind, a drop of water, would suffice to kill him. But, though the universe were to fall on man and crush him, he would be greater in his death than the universe in its victory; for he would be conscious of his defeat, and it would not be conscious of its triumph.”—Pascal.
3. Because of man’s sinfulness. Sin is the disturbance of the moral order of the universe. The moral governor cannot be indifferent to this disturbance, and must as such endeavour to restore harmony.
4. Because of man’s needs. Man comes into existence and continues a creature with wants which Omnipotence only can satisfy.
II. When and how is God mindful of man?
1. In need. This indeed covers the whole of his life. From the moment of his birth to that of his death. God provides for helpless infancy by natural love and paternal strength; for nakedness by the skins of animals, and the flax and cotton of the field; and for his food, drink, habitation, sickness, &c., all creation seems to have reference.
2. In sin. He has come so near to him as to be born of a woman. He has given His Son to be a sacrifice for his guilt; His Spirit to regenerate his heart; and His means of grace to support and strengthen the new spiritual life, so that he may resist sin and triumph over it.
3. In His moral capacity. Man cries out for the living God. God has given a revelation of Himself in His Word. Man needs laws, hopes, guidances, and God’s Word is revealed as a lamp unto his feet and a light unto his path.
4. In trouble. God has given him the Comforter and the consolations and promises of His Word.
5. For ever. “O Lord, Thou hast been our dwelling-place,” &c. “This God is our God for ever and for ever,” &c.
III. For what purpose is God mindful of man? That man may be mindful of Him. “I have created thee for Myself.”
The Psalmist, drawing upon past experience, looks forward into the future and sees it luminous with the presence and blessing of God. So may the believer. God has been mindful of him; he may expect that God will bless him
I. The subjects of the blessing.
1. His covenant people as a whole. That is God’s part of the covenant. The Church undertakes to fulfil the divine commands, and God undertakes to crown that fulfilment with success and benediction.
2. His chosen ministers. Those whom He has called to arduous duty.
3. The great among His people. Those distinguished by extraordinary talent may expect that blessing without which all their talents are vain.
4. The small among His people. The weak. The lambs of the flock.
II The characteristics of the blessing.
I. It is a blessing. The pure, spontaneous gift of God, which can neither be merited, purchased, nor earned.
It is a suitable blessing. Given with exact references to need. His ministers may expect blessings which will help them in their work; enlarged views of truth, deep insight into the Word, power and success in its proclamation, strength in weariness, comfort in depression, and the crown of righteousness at the close. His people may expect spiritual enrichment and establishment; power to resist sin, subdue it, and triumph over it. The great among His people may expect special consecration for special talents, and special help in putting them to accent. The small among His flock may expect help in their weakness; and as for the lambs, did He not “take them up in His arms, and bless them”? He does so still.
3. It is an increasing blessing.
(1.) It increases those and theirs upon whom it falls. It enlarges every capacity, and widens every sphere of influence and usefulness.
(2.) It increases in proportion to the enlargement of their capacity.
It is grace upon grace, blessing upon blessing, until the whole nature is filled with the fulness of God.
4. It is a personal blessing. “He will bless.” All mediatory benedictions, except in His name and declaratory of His promise, are an impertinence. The blessings fall direct from God’s hands.
5. It is an hereditary blessing. “Your children.”
III. The conditions of the blessing. “Them that fear Him.” The God-fearing man is the God-blessed man, and as long as he fears God, and no longer, is he warranted in expecting the divine blessing.
THE CREATOR, THE CREATION, AND THE CREATURE
A leading tenet of Jewish belief was the creatorship of God. This, too, is a foundation article of the Christian creed. All the blessings that man has enjoyed under all the dispensations may be traced to this
I. The Creator. “The Lord.”
1. The Creator is One. The dualistic theory is here answered by anticipation. “God saw everything that He had made, and behold it was very good.” The evil that is in the world has been introduced by the creature, and not by an equal or subordinate deity.
2. The Creator is yet the Divine Trinity. “Lord, Thou art God which hast made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that therein is.” “One Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things.” “The Spirit of God moved on the face of the waters.”
II. The creation. “Which made heaven and earth.”
1. Everything, Himself only excepted (1 Corinthians 15:27; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 3:4; Exodus 31:17, &c). “Whatsoever hath any being is either made or not made; whatsoever is not made is God; whatsoever is not God is made. One independent, uncreated essence, all others depending on, and created by it; one of eternal and necessary existence; all others indifferent either to be or not to be, and that indifferency determined by the free and voluntary act of the first cause.”—Pearson.
2. “The action by which the heaven and the earth were made was the production of their total being, so that whatsoever entity they had when made, had no real existence before they were so made, a manner of production we usually term Creation, as excluding all concurrence of any material cause, and all dependence on any kind of subject, as presupposing no privation, as including no motion, as signifying a production out of nothing.”—Pearson. (Romans 4:17; Hebrews 11:3.)
3. The manner of creation.
(1.) Absolute (Genesis 1:1).
(2.) The adaptation of existing materials to special ends (Genesis 1:11-12; Genesis 2:7).
III. The Creator’s benediction on the creature. “Ye are blessed of the Lord.” God’s end in creation was the enjoyment of the creature. “The earth hath He made for the children of men.” There is no natural gift from which man is debarred, and none but will in some way promote his wellbeing. It is nature’s gifts polluted and perverted that are the cause of misery. “To the Christly man nature becomes a wonderful organ, and the opening of every stop can yield some tone of joy. The beauty of the wild flowers, the stars—‘the forget-me-nots of the angels,’ the loveliness of the butterfly’s wing, the glory of the forest foliage, the music of the bee as it hums, of the birds as they warble, of the wind as it sings among the trees and hills, or of the sea, in ‘the everlasting thunder of the long Atlantic swell,’ will make him feel that all that beauty, all that music, is the gift and revelation of ‘God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth;’ and, overborne by emotions utterly unknown to others, he will—
“Lift to heaven an unpresumptuous eye,
And, joyful, say, My Father made them all.”
THE DIVINE DWELLING-PLACE
(Psalms 115:16, clause 1)
NOTE.—“The heavens (are) heavens (i.e., a dwelling-place) for the Lord” (Acts 17:24).
I. The divine dwelling-place is exalted. The exact locality of heaven the Bible has nowhere chosen to reveal. The expressions “high,” “lifted up,” &c., are probably to be interpreted morally. God dwells at an infinite remove from the constant mutations and moral imperfections of the children of men.
II. The divine dwelling-place is holy. It is emphatically the “holy place.” Nothing that is defiled can enter there. Those who enter there have either never sinned, or have been purged from sin, and share the holiness of Deity.
III. The divine dwelling-place is to be the dwelling-place of man.
1. Now spiritually. “Set your affections on things above,” &c.
2. Hereafter perfectly. “In My Father’s house are many mansions,” &c. “Father, I will that them which Thou hast given Me be where I am,” &c.
THE EARTH: GOD’ S GIFT, AND MAN’S INHERITANCE
(Psalms 115:16, clause 2)
The earth is man’s inheritance. No one disputes this. But how and why he came by it has been fiercely contested. He did not have it always, and science seems to prophesy a time when it will be no longer his. Why is earth his more than the heavens! And how? Most property has been either purchased or won by conflict. But how did it become theirs who had neither money, strength, nor arms? The Bible affords the only solution. God made man out of the dust of the earth, and therefore earth, and not heaven, became his sphere. God then gave him that with which he had so much in common, and told him to replenish and subdue it.
I. The earth, then, is God’s gift to man.
1. It is an equitable gift. Belonging to God by the right of creation, God could do as He chose with His own. In doing this the right of no other creature was invaded. No other creature had the capacity for this possession. Birds and beasts can enjoy the harvests, but they cannot till the soil or sow the seed. Upon man’s possession of it, therefore, largely depends the good of the inferior creation.
2. It is a magnificent gift. Compared with the largest planet and the universe, the earth may be very small. But with his faculties, it is all that he can enjoy, and God has given him that all. If he cannot enjoy the fruits of other worlds, yet this earth is a platform upon which he can enjoy the warmth and splendour of the sun, the light of the stars, and the influence of the moon, and his mind can be uplifted and enlarged by all that astronomy reveals. But in and of itself it is a magnificent gift. It affords science for his mind, beauty for his taste, trade for his practical instincts, material produce for his a wants; yes, and if he has eyes to see it, religion for his heart.
3. It is a prepared gift. “They were necessary those enormous stretches of time, during which matter was consolidating into worlds; those vast geologic periods of fire and flood, of volcanic fury, of awful convulsion, of slow subsidence, of slow upheaval; those dark mysterious epochs of conflict between the inferior types of life;—in order that at last I might have a clear heaven above my head, a firm earth beneath my feet; that I might have an atmosphere to breathe; that I might have rivers to fish, and fields to plough; that I might have wood and iron for use, and flowers and precious stones for beauty.”—R. W. Dale.
4. It is an universal gift. “To the children of men.” Not to the children of the noble, &c. Nowhere more than in this sphere has man been robbed of his natural rights. Sometimes he has robbed himself, and by a succession of degenerate descendants the wide acres which thrift has gained, have been drunk, gambled, or idled away. Sometimes others have plundered him, or outwitted him. But all the inequalities introduced by sin will be re-adjusted in that new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness.
II. The earth is God’s gift to man for certain definite uses. Man is not the absolute owner of the earth. True, within certain limits, he may do what he likes with it, but he is morally bound to consider the ends for which it was given. It is let to him on lease. That lease expires with life; and then he will have to render an account of his stewardship.
1. The world has been given to promote religious ends. “The invisible things of God are clearly seen,” &c, and thus the soil which man treads is holy ground.
2. The earth has been given for the enlargement and education of his mind. “The Astronomer has learned the thoughts that are written in that starry universe. The Geologist goes down and reads many thoughts in the rocky crust of the earth. The Botanist unveils the structures of flowers, and explains the actions and peculiarities of living plants; but all these things were written before he examined them. So with the Anatomist: he has discovered volumes of thought in this body which is fearfully and wonderfully made; but every thought was there before ever man looked within.… This vast universe exhibits thoughts in every leaf and every grain of sand, in every drop of water, in the mountains and in the heavens. Whence came those thoughts?”—Alex. Stewart.
3. The earth has been given for man’s use and enjoyment. The air for his lungs; food to supply his bones with strength and his veins with blood; occupation for his exercise; stones, metals, wood, for the necessities and elegancies of life, &c.
4. The earth has been given to be evangelised for Christ. Since the original donation man has become marred by sin. But Christ has died for him, and now He says, “Go ye into all the world,” &c.
LIFE AS THE SPHERE OF DIVINE SERVICE
A part of this text has been quoted to support the opinion that the Old Testament saints were in the dark on the subject of immortality. The whole text goes to prove the very opposite. The Psalmist contemplates man in his material sphere. The earth has been given him; and on that earth it is his duty to serve the only living and true God. That ministry is over when he dies. “Nothing is more impressive than the utter silence of the grave. Not a voice, not a sound is heard there—of bards or men, of SONG or conversation, of the roaring of the sea, the sighing of the breeze, the fury of the storm, the tumult of the battle. Perfect stillness reigns there; the first sound that shall be heard will be the archangel’s trump.”—Barnes. The dead, as such, do not praise God. But who are the dead? The physical organs, limbs &c. These cannot praise God, because they have no object to praise. “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” But worship may go in with different organs, and in a different sphere. The Psalmist goes on to say, “But we will praise the Lord from this time forth and for evermore.” עוֹלָם is a word of very frequent use and has but one meaning, and that meaning is Eternity. When our Lord said, “I must work,” &c., He did not imply surely that He had no work to do beyond the grave. Notice—
I. The characteristic features of divine service. “Praise.” “Bless.”
1. Praise. הָלַל throws light on the moral character of this service; to be bright, to shine. This splendour is borrowed from Him in whom is no darkness at all. Those who worship “walk in the light as He is in the light,” &c. Hence (again true to the original) the Christian boasts not of his own excellences, but of the divine excellence which illuminates him (2 Corinthians 12:1-21). Through them his soul makes her boast in God: “God forbid that I should glory,” &c. The Piel of our text יָהַלְלוּ means
(1) to diffuse brightness. The beauty of Christian holiness, and the splendour of Christian life and worship, are so that we may be “lights of the world” and “show forth the praises of Him who hath called us,” &c.
(2) Hence a large portion of worship consists in the most beautiful art; viz., music, the only art as far as is revealed to us in the upper and better world.
2. Blessing, נְבָרֵךְ Piel of בָרַךְ. To bow, to do homage, to utter blessing.
(1.) Our blessing must be based upon our homage. Religious rhapsody is often profane. To bless God is a very solemn thing. A benediction on the King of kings and Lord of lords should be pronounced with bared head and on bended knee, and should not degenerate into mere ejaculation.
(2.) Our homage should be acknowledged by joyous gratitude. Solemnity is not inconsistent with joy. As we acknowledge God’s sovereignty we may remember that that sovereignty is the basis of all our blessings.
II. The sphere of divine service. Life. “The dead praise not the Lord.” With the occupation of their glorified spirits the Psalmist has here nothing to do. His ministry is for living men, and suggests that the sphere of religious activity is—
1. The whole of the man. His living entity. The aim of the Bible is to bring all the faculties of man into subordination to the will of God, and into full consecration to His service (1 Thessalonians 5:23, Mark 12:29, &c.). And what is worship but the harmonious action of all man’s powers. Music is harmony. One note by itself, or clashing with another note, the treble only, or the bass only, is not perfect music. So intellectual, or ethical, or emotional religion exclusively, is not perfect, much less so when the mental belief clashes with the ethical action.
“Let Knowledge grow from more to more,
But more of reverence in us dwell,
That mind and soul, according well,
May make one music as before.”
2. The whole of man’s time. Every moment there are reasons and opportunities for service.
(1.) “This time.” Here and now God supplies our need; here and now the fact should be acknowledged.
(2.) To eternity.
III. Exceptions to divine service. (Psalms 115:17.) The exact reference is not to the morally dead, yet the whole Bible is full of the doctrine that spiritual life is necessary to spiritual service. The morally dead are incapable of divine service for ever. Now they lack the motive, the will, and the power. And no new faculties, and no stronger desires, and no brighter opportunities will be vouchsafed beyond the grave. Our text may be used as (i.) a plea for deliverance, (ii.) a call to instant decision, (iii.) an expression of full consecration, (iv.) an expectation of future blessedness.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 115". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13