"The Psalmist prays God to deliver him from present as from past distresses (Psa ).
1. He assures the haters of his regal dignity that God bestowed it, and will certainly protect it (Psa ). 2,
3. He exhorts them to quiet submission, righteousness, and trust in God (Psa ). 4,
5. He contrasts his own satisfaction, springing from such trust, with the hopeless disquietude of others, even in the midst of their enjoyments (Psa ). 6,
7. He closes with an exquisite proof of his tranquillity by falling asleep, as it were, before us, under the Divine protection (Psa ).
8. The third psalm may be described as a morning and this fourth as an evening psalm."—Alexander.
MAN APPEALING TO GOD
In the midst of trials and perils the Psalmist seeketh audience with God.
He first appeals to God. He does not go to God when all human inventions have been tried and failed, but his first cry is to Heaven. It is a good thing to take life's questions to Him "straightway." Before you go to the doctor, go to God; before you go to the lawyer, go to God; before you go to your friend, to your minister, go to God. Go directly from your trouble, with your trouble, to God. We often suffer loss by keeping back our burdens. Consult Heaven at first, and you will feel after that that you have little to ask from human counsellors and comforters.
I. He appeals to the Divine righteousness.
"O God of my righteousness." He recognises the fact of God's righteousness. Man is unjust, the world often seems to be full of injustice; but David recognises the justice of the Divine character and government. And not only so, but he recognises his personal relation to the righteous God. "O God of my righteousness." "O God! who art righteous Thyself, and art the patron of my righteousness, of my righteous cause, and of my righteous life."—Leighton. The Psalmist claims to be righteous, but acknowledges God as the author of his righteousness. "A celebrated heathen said, ‘I wrap myself up in my own virtue.' A true believer has something infinitely better to wrap himself in. When Satan says, Thou hast yielded to my suggestions; when Conscience says, Thou hast turned a deaf ear to my admonitions; when the Law of God says, Thou has broken me; when the Gospel says, Thou hast neglected me; when Justice says, Thou hast insulted me; when Mercy says, Thou hast slighted me; Faith can say, All this is too true! but I wrap myself up in the righteousness of Jesus Christ."—Toplady. God cannot hear our appeal except we recognise His righteousness, and except through His grace we are righteous ourselves.
II. He appeals to the Divine faithfulness.
"Thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress." The Psalmist had truly a good memory. He did not forget God's help and mercies in days past; his memory was full of sun-pictures; and with faultless logic he inferred that still God would deliver him. Our memory is often bad, and we forget God's mercies; our reasoning is often bad, and we argue from past deliverances to future desertions and disasters. May God mend our memories and our logic! In the day of trouble and persecution, remember how God has ever stood by His people, and remember that His faithfulness faileth not.
III. He appeals to the Divine mercy.
"Have mercy upon me." However just we way feel our cause to be, we have always need to feel how much there is about us which needs to be forgiven, and that we must crave help on the ground of mercy, not demand it in the name of justice.
1. The blessedness of appealing to God. How grand it is thus to open the heart to God in dark and trying days! "The life of man upon earth is a war fare; and it is much better, in the midst of enemies and dangers, to be acquainted with one fortress than with many inns. He that knows how to pray may be pressed, but cannot be overwhelmed."—Leighton. "Hear me when I call." In the very hour and article of trouble. The other day there was a great storm, and the electric wires were all broken, and messages could not be transmitted; but the direst storms interrupt not our intercourse with Heaven; nay, then the lines of communication act best, and we no sooner cry than He answers.
2. The conditions of appealing to God. It is the prerogative only of the just and believing man. We must remember the rectitude of God's nature and rule. "David asks nothing inconsistent with God's holiness, and the same rule should govern all our prayers."—Alexander. And we must live in a right relation to the just and gracious God. "Righteousness and grace are not opposed to one another in God, but man must not forget that he must enter into positive and active relations with reference to both of these attributes of God, if he would obtain and retain righteousness, peace, and joy."—Moll.
The Psalmist here addresses his enemies.
I. He reminds them of the vanity of their opposition to himself.
Psa . "How long will ye turn my glory into shame?"—i.e., my personal and official honour and character. "How long will ye utter slanders against me, and trail my honour in the dust?"—Delitzsch. The Psalmist declares their conduct to be vain, their hostility to be fruitless.
(1.) Because he was Divinely elected. Psa . "How long will ye deem lightly of my Divine election, which is the sole cause of my occupying so high a dignity."—Kay. He felt that God had chosen him, and had not rejected him.
(2.) Because he was Divinely protected. "The Lord will hear when I call unto Him" (Psa ). He is still my glory and refuge.
1. There is warning here for the enemies of Christ. David was a type of the Messiah; and Horne well observes: "If the Israelitish monarch conceived he had just cause to expostulate with his enemies for despising the royal majesty with which Jehovah had invested His anointed, of how much severer reproof shall they be thought worthy who blaspheme the essential ‘glory' of King Messiah, which shines forth by his Gospel in the Church? Thou, O Christ, art everlasting truth; all is ‘vanity and falsehood,' transient and fallacious, but the love of Thee!" God hath set forth Jesus Christ; He hears Him always; and he who contends against the Lord Jesus fights against God. How vain such a rebellion!
2. There is comfort here for the disciples of Christ. The "word here used, ‘godly,' commonly denotes one who loves God."—Kay. And there is great comfort here for the lovers of God. "The Lord hath set apart him that is godly for Himself." God knows those who fear Him; He prizes them; He watches over them with loving jealousy. "What rare persons the godly are! ‘The righteous is more excellent than his neighbour' (Pro ). As the flower of the sun, as the wine of Lebanon, as the sparkling upon Aaron's breastplate, such is the orient splendour of a person embellished with godliness.… The godly are precious, therefore they are set apart for God. We set apart things that are precious; the godly are set apart as God's peculiar treasure (Psa 135:4); as His garden of delight (Son 4:12); as His royal diadem (Isa 43:3); the godly are the excellent of the earth (Psa 16:3); comparable to fine gold (Lam 4:2); double refined (Zec 13:9). They are the glory of the creation (Isa 46:13). Origen compares the saints to sapphires and crystals. God calls them jewels (Mal 3:17)."—Thomas Watson, quoted by Spurgeon. And God will preserve His jewels. We often read now-a-days of great ‘jewel-robberies;' but if we will be faithful to God, "none shall pluck us out of His hand." In the second place the Psalmist.
II. Exhorts his enemies to repentance and amity.
Psa . Here the Psalmist rises to a great height. He has forgotten himself and his apparent peril, and is solicitous only about his enemies. He is anxious, but it is on their account; they are in the greatest danger who are found fighting against God. Sublimely self-forgetful, he admonishes his adversaries. "He passes on to wise and loving counsels."—Perowne.
1. He exhorts them to solemn reflection. Psa . "In your secret chambers." "Let the still hours of the night bring calmer and wiser thoughts with them."—Perowne. It is a good thing to talk with ourselves in the silence of the soul, in the secrecy of our chambers. "Unless a man takes himself sometimes out of the world by retirement and self-reflection, he will be in danger of losing himself in the world."—Whichcote. And as Trapp quaintly says: "As it is a sign that there are great distempers in that family where husband and wife go divers days together and speak not the one to the other, so in that soul that flieth from itself, and can go long without self-examination."
2. He exhorts them to practical piety. Psa . "Sacrifices accompanied by uprightness of intention and innocency of life."—Kay. "Fruits meet for repentance." All sacrifices wanting in sincerity and righteousness are but provocations of God.
It is the duty of all Christian people thus to expostulate earnestly and affectionately with the enemies of Christ. Oh! that the enemies of the Church of God would listen to His heralds, improve the truce of God, and lay down the weapons of rebellion.
THE CHIEF GOOD
I. The grand question.
"Who shall show us any good?" (Psa ).
1. It is the universal question. "There be many that say," &c. Men of all ranks, gifts, ages, are thus crying. There is within them a strange void, a great discontent; they want something which they have not.
2. It is a passionate, imperative question. "Who shall?" Who can? With what restless avidity men seek to find the grand remedy for their profound discontent!
3. Is it not a despairing question? "Who shall?" as if in mockery. There is no such thing, seems to be implied.
"Arts, superstition, arms, philosophy.
Have each in turn possessed, betrayed, and mocked us;"
and men lose faith in the chief good, and cynically ask, Who shall declare it? As in Noel Paton's great picture, the vast multitude is pursuing a shadowy shape, which seems to promise them ineffable satisfaction, but which ever eludes their eager grasp.
II. The true answer.
"Lord, lift Thou up the light of Thy countenance upon us" (Psa ).
There is a true answer to this question, and here we have it. The smile of God is the essential good. Mark:
1. The spirituality of the supreme blessing.
Here the world errs in imagining the chief good to be natural, sensible. "Who shall show us any good?" "Through all their life, with an unstable pace, they catch at flying forms of good; and after all their falls and their bruises, they cry out again and again, Who will show us any good? And when they behold any new species or shadow of it, they immediately run to it."—Leighton. In opposition to this, the Psalmist avers that the supreme blessing is the light of God's countenance. Observe:
(1.) Natural things will not atone for the absence of God. Nothing will take the place of God. Chemistry alleges that it has discovered a means of producing artificial sunlight. From natural elements a flame is to be evolved which shall equal in quality and intensity the light emitted from the sun. Wonderful things, no doubt, have come from the brains of chemists, but it will be a long time, nevertheless, before they make us independent of the sun. It will be a long time before "artificial sunshine" melts the snows of winter, paints the flowers of summer, ripens the fruits of autumn, shoots life through the swelling year. So we may try to find in natural things substitutes for the light of God's face, but they must all prove in vain. Oh! cease your vain attempts to create light and joy out of merely worldly elements; look up, and in the light of God's countenance find the vital sunshine of the soul.
"Mark what is good in the creatures you behold, in the song of birds, in the beauty of flowers, in the wealth of metals, in the sweetness of meats; these are but rills proceeding from God, the abounding Fount; all these utter the things which are in God; for all creatures are but voices manifesting Him. Yet we must not rest in them. It has happened that painters have pictured fruit with such accuracy, that birds have come out of the sky, thinking them real, in order to feed upon them; but finding them to be painted, and that there is no food in them, they fly away to seek their true sustenance. The Divine painter has traced with His brush in His creatures the beauties which live in Himself, and in them they seem to live. Yet are they but figures, not verities, for the fashion of this world passeth away. Would you know how to act, knowing that these are but pictures and not realities? Act as the bird, which, finding no food in the painting, seeks its real meat elsewhere. Mark this, you will find in creation no true food, no satiety, no repose; mark this and fly away to your God. He is very good, He is true food, in Him alone is repose."—John Osorius, 1558.
(2.) The blessing of God is the sweetness of all natural things. So far from natural things atoning for the absence of God, they have no power to satisfy except by virtue of the Divine blessing. "As with manna there fell a dew, so to a good soul, together with corn and wine there is a secret influence of God, which the carnal heart is not acquainted with."—Trapp.
(3.) The blessing of God is enough in the absence of all natural gifts and ecclesiastical privileges. Without natural gifts. He can satisfy the soul directly without the corn and wine at all. "He is enough without the creature, but the creature is not anything without Him. It is, therefore, better to enjoy Him without anything else, than to enjoy everything else without Him. It is better to be a wooden vessel filled with wine than a golden one filled with water."—Secker, quoted by Spurgeon. Without ecclesiastical agencies. David was at a distance from the tabernacle, and he had sent back the ark to Jerusalem, but he felt that God put joy into his heart all the same. He and his friends rejoice, although cut off from the Tabernacle, to feel God near and precious. "We cannot now, it is true, offer the sacrifices of victims before the ark at Jerusalem, but we may offer the sacrifice of the spirit. We have not access to the Urim and Thummim, on the high priest's breastplate in the sanctuary; but God will lift up the light of His countenance upon us. That is the true Urim and Thummim. We cannot now receive the benediction of the priests, ‘The Lord bless thee, and keep thee;' but the Lord Himself is ever present with us to bless us, and He lifts up the light of His countenance upon us. There is our true good. There is our genuine gladness."—Wordsworth. So, if God take away from us material good and deprive us, or permit us to be deprived, of ecclesiastical ceremonies and services, He can come into our soul and fill it with sublime delights. Ah! God sometimes takes away proprieties and ceremonies that we may realise more richly and fully the spiritual blessedness which those agents sometimes veil and limit.
2. The sufficiency of the supreme blessing. "More than in the time," &c. (Psa ). "David's enemies have at their command all earthly means of support and enjoyment. He finds it difficult to collect supplies for himself and his army, yet God has given him a better joy than that of harvest or vintage."—Perowne. "The joy of godliness is infinitely greater than that of worldliness. There is as much difference between heavenly comforts and earthly, as between a banquet that is eaten and one that is painted on the wall."—Watson, quoted by Spurgeon. The delight of the saint is—
"What nothing earthly gives or can destroy,
The soul's calm sunshine and the heart-felt joy."—POPE.
3. The fruits of this blessing:
(1.) The consciousness of peace. "I will both lay me down and sleep" (Psa ). "At once, as soon as I lie down, I sleep, not harassed by disturbing and anxious thoughts."—Phillips. In the drama the sleepless king wonders that sleep—
"Upon the high and giddy mast
Seals up the ship-boy's eyes, and rocks his brains
In cradle of the rude imperious surge;
And in the visitation of the winds,
Who take the ruffian billows by the top,
Curling their monstrous heads, and hanging them
With deaf'ning clamours in the slippery clouds,
That, with the hurly, death itself awakes.
Canst thou, O partial sleep! give thy repose
To the wet sea-boy in an hour so rude?"
But in those storms of life which are stronger, wilder than fiercest sea-storm, "God giveth His beloved sleep."
(2.) The consciousness of safety. To "dwell in safety." "He needs no guards, for he is guarded round about by Jehovah, and kept in safety."—Delitzsch.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany