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Superscription.—“Maschil,” an instruction, a didactic poem. “Of Ethan the Ezrahite,” “one of the four sons of Mahol, whose wisdom was excelled by Solomon (1 Kings 4:31). There is little doubt that this is the same person who, in 1 Chronicles 2:6, is mentioned—with the same brothers as before—as a son of Zerah, the son of Judah.” See on “Heman the Ezrahite” in the Introduction to Psalms 88:0. “There can be little doubt,” says Perowne, “that this Psalm was written in the latter days of the Jewish monarchy, when the throne of David had fallen or was already tottering to its fall, and when the prospect for the future was so dark that it seemed as if God had forgotten His covenant and His promise.… The Psalm opens by a reference to the Promise given to David (2 Samuel 7:8, &c). This Promise, and the attributes of God on which the Promise rests, and which are the great pledge of its fulfilment, form the subject of the Poet’s grateful acknowledgment, before he passes to the mournful contrast presented by the “ruin of the house of David, and the blighting of his people’s hopes. He turns to the glorious past, that by its aid he may rise out of the grief and discouragement of the present. He takes the Promise, and turns it into a song. He dwells upon it, and lingers over it. He dwells on that which is the ground and pillar of the Promise—the faithfulness of God—and then he first lifts his loud lament over the disasters which have befallen his king and people, speaking out his disappointment, till his words sound like a reproach; and next pleads earnestly with God that He would not suffer his enemies to triumph.”
A NOBLE CELEBRATION OF THE FAITHFULNESS AND MERCY OF THE LORD
In this paragraph the Psalmist announces his determination to praise God eternally because of His mercy and faithfulness, which were promised to David and to his seed for ever. Looking at this announcement as indicating, in brief, the praise itself, we take as our subject, A noble celebration of the faithfulness and mercy of the Lord. The nobility of this celebration appears,
I. In the view of these attributes which is presented. Two prominent features are set forth by the Poet.
1. Perpetuity. “Mercy shall be built up for ever: Thy faithfulness shalt Thou establish in the very heavens.” The mercy and faithfulness of God are thus presented to us as abiding things. Look at the heavens and the heavenly bodies,—how stable and enduring, how orderly and regular they are! The sun with unvarying regularity and absolutely perfect punctuality sets forth on his course and runs his race; from the creation to the present hour the moon has held on her appointed way and performed her appointed rounds without a shadow of turning, and with the most perfect accuracy; the stars pursue their appointed orbits with undeviating precision, and with the utmost exactness keep their appointed seasons. The heavens and the heavenly hosts appear now as they did in the beginning of the world; they present no signs of weariness or decay or change; they are a fit emblem of the eternal and unchangeable. The Psalmist pictures the faithfulness of God as a part of the very heavens in order graphically to set forth its perpetuity and perfection. But God’s faithfulness shall outlast the heavens themselves “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away.” “God is not a man, that He should lie,” &c. (Numbers 23:19). In reference to His covenant with David, the Lord said, by Jeremiah, “If ye can break My covenant of the day,” &c. (Jeremiah 33:20-21). God’s faithfulness is perfect and eternal. “With Him is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” “The word of our God shall stand for ever.” His mercy also is perpetual. “The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting,” &c.
2. Increase, or growth. “Mercy shall be built up for ever.” “Mercy appears here,” says Hengstenberg, “under the figure of a building in continual progression, in opposition to one which, when still unfinished, falls into ruins.” And John Howe well says: “Former mercies are fundamental to later ones. The mercies that we enjoy this day are founded on the mercies of former days, such as we ought joyfully and thankfully to recount with delight and praise; remembering the years of the right hand of the Most High.” And we may carry the idea further. The mercies that we enjoy this day will become the foundation for the mercies of future days, and so onward in endless progression. The purposes of God concerning our race are advancing to perfect and splendid completion. The edifice which was founded in mercy shall in mercy be gloriously finished. Thus “the multitude of His mercies” is ever growing more multitudinous. Every hour, ay, every minute, new mercies are being added to the unspeakable and countless mercies of former days.
II. In the way in which they are celebrated.
1. Confidently. “I have said.” By these words he indicates that the statement he is about to make is his clear and fixed opinion. He believes; and therefore speaks. There is the unmistakable accent of conviction in his utterance.
2. Publicly. Not in his heart merely does he celebrate the mercy and faithfulness of God, but “with his mouth” he “sings” them. He will sing to others and for others; in words which others may use as their own. He cannot speak their praise; for prose is all too hard and cold for such a theme. He will “sing” them; and even poetry and music seem poor for this rich and glorious theme.
3. Perpetually. “To all generations.” When his voice was silent in death he would still celebrate the Divine mercy and faithfulness. He would make a record of his praise; he would write his Psalm, so that the Church should continue the strain through all ages. Surely this is a worthy spirit in which to celebrate the Divine praises. There is a heartiness, a confidence, and an enthusiasm in the utterance of the Psalmist which are well worthy of admiration and imitation.
III. In the basis on which the celebration rests. The praise of the Psalmist springs from his faith in the covenant of God. The faithfulness of God is both the ground and the object of his praise. His faith is rooted in that faithfulness, and his praise celebrates it. His praise rests on the word of God as its basis. The Lord is the speaker in Psalms 89:3-4. Consider:
1. The covenant itself. “I have made a covenant,” &c. This covenant is recorded in 2 Samuel 7:10-17. Its grand feature was the perpetuation of David’s family and kingdom. “Thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever.” The family, the kingdom, the throne should be established eternally. The throne would be built up, i.e., the sovereignty would be stable and increasing to all generations. We know that this covenant did not receive a material and temporal fulfilment. The material crown has long passed from the house of David; the temporal kingdom has long ceased to be. Yet the covenant abides, and is being splendidly fulfilled. “Jesus Christ, our Lord, was made of the seed of David, according to the flesh.” “Of this man’s seed hath God, according to promise, raised unto Israel a Saviour, Jesus.” He is at once “the Root and the Offspring of David;” David’s Son, and David’s Lord. In Him and in His kingdom the promise is being accomplished, the covenant is being fulfilled. Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end.” His kingdom is ever extending and increasing. His spiritual seed ever grows more numerous.
2. The origin of the covenant. It originated in the sovereign favour of God. David was His “chosen.” How completely was David’s elevation to the throne a thing of Divine sovereignty! David was the youngest son of Jesse; and Jesse’s was not the senior house of the tribe of Judah (Ruth 4:18-22; 1 Chronicles 2:5-12), and Judah was not the eldest son of Jacob; yet God chose the king from the tribe of Judah, from the house of Jesse, and the youngest son of that house. “He chose David also His servant, and took him from the sheepfolds,” &c. (Psalms 78:70-71). In like manner our Lord is spoken of as the chosen Servant of God. “Behold, my Servant, whom I uphold; Mine Elect, in whom My soul delighteth.” The gift of Christ to our race was entirely of the sovereign mercy of God. We may well praise God for His spiritual covenant, for the gift of His Son Jesus Christ to save and reign over men, for the promise to Him of universal dominion, and for the way in which that promise is being fulfilled.
IV. In the circumstances under which the celebration is made. When the poet chanted this Psalm one might have thought, judging from its first and greater portion, that the kingdom was prosperous, the throne firm and unmenaced, the royal house numerous and united, the future bright and full of promise. But widely different was the case, as we may see by reading Psalms 89:38-45. The covenant seemed to be on the very verge of failure; the country was invaded, their armies were beaten in battle, the crown was profaned, the throne was cast down to the ground, ruin was imminent. Yet at such a time the Poet sang this bright, confident, triumphant celebration of the faithfulness and mercy of the Lord. Brave, trustful Poet! Let us catch his spirit, and imitate his example. When sense is silent in consternation, let faith be songful in the Lord. To the believing soul, “God gives songs in the night.” Even the mourner’s heart when turned to Him He tunes to music. When all things appear to deny the faithfulness and mercy of God, let us still believe them, and, believing them, let us sing them. Let us walk by faith, and we shall find matter for praise, and a heart to praise even in the midst of outward trouble. “As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.”
Conclusion. Let the character and covenant of God inspire us with confidence, even in the most trying circumstances. Believe in Him, praise Him. Trust and sing.
THE INCOMPARABLENESS OF GOD
Hengstenberg heads these verses thus: “The omnipotence and faithfulness of God are devoutly praised even by the angels, His heavenly congregation.” The incomparableness of God manifested by the relation of the heavenly hosts to Him. We shall endeavour to set forth the ideas of the Poet on this subject in the following manner:—
I. Heavenly beings are mighty. “The sons of the mighty.” In another Psalm we read, “Bless the Lord, ye His angels, that excel in strength.” The angels are always represented in the Scriptures as “far superior to us, as possessing powers to which, as it regards their extent, we can make no pretensions, and as able to perform operations which may well fill us with astonishment, and which are far above the reach of our ability.” For illustrations of the great power of angelic beings, see Exodus 33:2, where God promises to send an angel before the Israelites to drive out the seven nations of Canaan; 2 Samuel 24:0 and 1 Chronicles 21:0, where an angel is represented as smiting to death by means of pestilence seventy thousand men, and as having power to destroy Jerusalem; 2 Kings 19:35, where an angel is said to have destroyed an hundred and eighty-five thousand Assyrians in one night. (See also Psalms 34:7; Daniel 6:22; Acts 5:19; Acts 12:7-10; Revelation 18:1; and Revelation 22:8.) “They are said to ‘excel in strength;’ and it is evident that the Psalmist has in view chiefly intellectual and moral strength, which qualifies them for the service of God; for ‘they do His commandments, hearkening unto the voice of His Word;’ though it does not exclude what is equivalent to physical energy, or power over matter, to mould, and influence, and render it subservient to their will. They are also denominated “mighty angels,” 2 Thessalonians 1:7, where the Apostle has in view an occasion on which their might will be put in requisition and manifested in the most striking manner; for the great probability is, that they will be employed to effect many of the changes that will take place, and to exhibit many of the wonderful scenes that will be manifested at the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ; and we are assured that, at the end of the world, ‘The reapers are the angels,’ and that, ‘the angels shall come forth, and shall sever the wicked from among the just’ (Matthew 13:39; Matthew 13:49). And it is evident from all the accounts which are given us of them in the Bible, that they excel in wisdom as much as in strength; or, rather that their strength is principally the power of wisdom and knowledge; and that in these they are far superior to men is plainly implied in the language of the Saviour (Matthew 24:36). The same fact is evident from Psalms 104:4, and Hebrews 1:7.”—Walter Scott.
II. Heavenly beings are holy. They are here spoken of as “saints.” They are designated by way of eminence “holy angels” (Matthew 25:31). They are entirely free from sin, have never known sin. All their thoughts are true, all their sympathies are pure, all their principles are righteous, all their activities are blessed, all their services are sacred, all their being is God’s. “We are sure that their moral purity must be complete, without the least imperfection or stain, for they dwell in the immediate blissful presence of God, they are the constant inhabitants of those glorious regions into which nothing that defileth can possibly enter. Some of them may have been for millions of ages employed in contemplating the glories of God, and in realising intellectual improvement; and still eternity is before them.” “The dignity, the powers, of these celestial beings are also plainly implied in the names and epithets which are given to them in the Scriptures. They are denominated not only angels, or messengers, by way of eminence, but also cherubim and seraphim, thrones, authorities, dominions, principalities, and powers.” Yet great and glorious, mighty and holy as they are, these
III. Heavenly beings worship God. “The heavens shall praise Thy wonders, O Lord,” &c. These holy angels—
1. Stand in awe of God “God is greatly feared” by them. Hengstenberg: “God is very terrible in the confidence of the holy ones.” And he gives, what we regard as the true explanation of the clause: “ ‘The confidence of the holy ones’ denotes the confidential community to whom God vouchsafes to entrust His secrets (Job 1:6; Job 2:1); though not His deepest ones (1 Peter 1:12). Notwith standing this, there always remains an infinite distance between Him and them (comp. Job 4:18; Job 15:15). God does not cease to be even to His holy ones the object of fear.” Any one who approaches God thoughtfully must be awed in so doing. We cannot rightly contemplate Him without very solemn thought. The expressions of familiarity and endearment which some men use in their approaches to God in worship stand condemned by the reverence of the Holy angels. The seraphim worship with veiled faces, crying, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.” “God is very terrible in the confidence of the holy ones, and dreadful for all who are round about Him.” If such are the regards which are paid to Him by these high and holy beings, surely unholy men should regard Him with humble awe and solemn reverence! These holy angels—
2. Praise God. “The heavens praise Thy wonders, O Lord; Thy faithfulness also in the congregation of the saints.”
(1) They praise Him for the wonders of His power. They are deeply interested in His mighty works. They sang the anthem which celebrated the creation of the world. “When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.” They are represented in Scripture as being deeply interested in God’s work in Providence, and as taking part in carrying out its great scheme. They are devoutly and admiringly interested in God’s great work in human redemption. At the time of the Saviour’s advent, there appeared “a multitude of the heavenly host praising God,” &c. After the conflict between the Saviour and the seducer of men in the wilderness, angels ministered to the triumphant Saviour. During the agony in Gethsemane, “there appeared an angel unto Him from heaven, strengthening Him.” Angels are represented as taking part in the resurrection of our Lord. They are represented by St. Peter as “desiring to look into” the things of human salvation. Our Lord Himself says, “There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.” Yes, angels praise God for His wondrous works. They are acquainted with His mighty and glorious deeds, they admire them, they celebrate them in the worship which they pay to Him.
(2) They praise Him for the truth of His Word. “Thy faithfulness also,” &c. The idea of the Psalmist is that the angels would praise God for the fulfilment of His promises made unto David. Doubtless, by the heavenly host God is constantly and heartily praised for His truth and faithfulness. There are times when it seems to us as though God’s faithfulness were about to fail; but even at its best our vision is dim, while the angels see clearly; our range of vision is extremely small, while that of the angels is so vast as to admit of no comparison with ours; and they, with their clear vision and wide range, praise God for His faithfulness. “He keepeth covenant and mercy with His servants.” “He keepeth truth for ever.”
1. How great is God! The most ancient and most mighty of angels cannot be brought into comparison with Him. Angels are great, holy, glorious, yet “the first-born sons of light” pay to Him profoundest homage, worship Him with deepest humility.
2. How reverently should we regard Him. All our thought of Him should be humble and reverent. We should never speak of Him except with profound veneration. We should worship Him with holy awe.
“The more THY glories strike mine eyes
The humbler I shall lie.”
“Who in heaven can be compared unto the Lord?” Mark—
I. The doctrine to which these words point. God incomparable; and He is so—
1. In the glory He possesses. There is in Him a glory of wisdom (Ephesians 3:10), power (Genesis 17:1), love (Romans 5:8), majesty (Psalms 104:1), and grace (2 Corinthians 9:8; 2 Corinthians 9:11), before which every created glory sinks into obscurity.
2. In the dominion He exercises. Created beings have only a limited and confined sway, but God’s kingdom ruleth over all, and extends itself over the most distant places as well as the most exalted personages.
3. In the blessings He bestows. The obedient believer has a peace that passeth all understanding (Philippians 4:7), his faith is accompanied with joy unspeakable (1 Peter 1:8), he abounds in hope (Romans 15:13), and the glory reserved for him is unrevealed (1 John 3:2).
II. The sentiments it should excite in us. If God be incomparable, so that none is like Him, a holy reverential fear becomes us in His presence (Psalms 89:7). With this reverential fear we should also feel in our hearts, and express in every possible way, a fervent attachment to Him (Psalms 18:1). Trust, too, must be confidently reposed in Him, whatever difficulties we have to encounter, and though the dangers which encompass us are great and imminent (Psalms 46:1-7).—W. Sleigh.
THE HIGHEST WORSHIP
“God is greatly to be feared in the assembly,” &c.
I. The highest worship is offered to God. Not unto saints, or angels, or the Virgin Mary, but unto God. He is Supreme. “There is one God.”
II. The highest worship is offered by saints. Angels are called saints in the text. The redeemed in heaven are also called saints (1 Thessalonians 3:13). The term is frequently applied to the people of God upon earth. When so applied it indicates those who are,
1. Spiritually regenerated.
2. Consecrated to God.
3. Imitators of Christ.
III. The highest worship is reverent in spirit. “God is greatly to be feared, … and to be had in reverence.” This reverence is opposed,
1. To all thoughtlessness in worship (Ecclesiastes 5:1-2).
2. To all formality in worship (John 4:23-24).
3. To all unbecoming familiarity in worship. In the prayers and praises which are recorded in the Holy Book we find no trace of that irreverent and gushing manner of addressing God, which is so prevalent with some sentimental religionists of to-day.
IV. In the highest worship the presence of God is consciously realised. The worshippers feel that they are “about Him.” They realise the fact that God is present to accept the worship and bless the worshippers who worship Him in spirit and in truth.
1. God is present everywhere.
2. His presense is realised only by those who are spiritual and reverent.
3. He is specially present, and His presence is specially realised in the gatherings of saints for worship (Exodus 20:24; Matthew 18:20).
THE STRENGTH OF GOD AN ENCOURAGEMENT TO HIS PEOPLE TO TRUST IN HIM
The Psalmist does not in these verses lose sight of the faithfulness or truth of God in respect to His covenant; but he gives the greater prominence to the might of God. He is not only a God of truth, but also a God of power. He is able as well as willing to keep His covenant. The text teaches us that,—
I. The Strength of God is manifested in His complete control over nature. “Thou rules the raging,” &c.
1. God rules over the sea. There are times when the sea seems utterly beyond control. Yet when it foams and thunders in anger, when its waves, mountains high, chase each other with awful rapidity and fury, and destroy everything that is at their mercy, when it breaks with terrific violence upon the shore, and when it seems to mock at and spurn all control; God can subdue its angry ragings into calmness and repose at once. Our Lord when He stilled the tempest gave to us an illustration of the Divine sovereignty over the sea. “He arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm.” The Psalmist seems to have regarded the tempestuous sea as a symbol of the powerful foes who were arrayed against them. David in one of his Psalms speaks of “the floods of ungodly men.” God has complete control over the most proud and angry people. He maketh the wrath of man to praise Him, and the remainder of wrath He restrains. To the mightiest and most furious of peoples or nations God can impose limits, saying, “Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further: and here shall thy proud waves be stayed.”
2. God rules over the heavens and the earth. “The heavens are Thine, the earth also is Thine,” &c. God is here set forth as the Creator and Sustainer of the heavens and the earth. “All things were made by Him.” “By Him all things subsist.” Therefore the heavens and the earth are His. Creatorship gives the most indefeasible right to possession. If any person can create anything, it is of all things preeminently his own property. “The highest conception of property is that which is derived from creation.” The idea in the mind of the Psalmist seems to be that as the Creator, Sustainer, and Proprietor of all things, God has the power and the right to control all things. “He doeth according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth: and none can stay His hand, or say unto Him, What doest Thou?” And therefore He was able to keep His covenant which He made with David and his seed. Notice the completeness of God’s rule over nature. The Psalmist mentions “the sea, the heavens, the earth, the world.” Then he mentions “the north and the south, Tabor and Hermon.” Tabor lying on the western side of Jordan, and Hermon on the eastern, are representative of east and west. God rules over all nature in heaven above and on the earth beneath, from east to west, and from north to south. There is no province of nature which is not under His control. God’s sovereignty over nature is frequently asserted in the Bible. He is at work in all its departments. He is the Force of all its forces. (See Psalms 65:8-11; Psalms 104:1-30; Isaiah 40:26.) The doctrine of God’s sovereignty over and agency in nature is philosophic. It is unsatisfactory to explain the changes in the phenomena of nature by “laws of nature,” “nature’s forces,” “attraction,” “gravitation.” Such explanations do not satisfy my reason. A law of nature is simply a “generalisation of phenomena.” When such a generalisation has been made and named we have frequently gained little more than a resting-place for ignorance rather than a large increase of knowledge. What are “nature’s forces”? What is the secret of her forces? By naming a process or a phenomenon you do not remove the mystery of the thing, even though the name applied be ever so polysyllabic and obscure. But when I am told that the changing phenomena of nature are the result of the agency of the omnipotent Creator and Sustainer of nature, working through the wondrous arrangements and means which He has ordained, my reason accepts the statement as intelligent and satisfactory. Moreover, this recognition of God’s agency in and sovereignty over nature is religious. The intelligent and devout man sees the signs of the Divine presence and working in every department and object of nature. “The heavens declare the glory of God,” &c.
II. The strength of God is manifested in His subjugation of His foes. “Thou hast broken Rahab in pieces as one that is slain; Thou hast scattered Thine enemies with Thy strong arm.” The name Rahab is used to set forth Egypt the ancient foe of Israel. The reference is to the emancipation of Israel from bondage, and the plaguing and destruction of their oppressors. On that occasion, God’s sovereignty of the sea was employed to secure the safety of His people and the destruction of their foes. When God makes bare His arm, the proudest and mightiest nations fall before Him. The remembrance of what He had done to Egypt on behalf of His people would be especially encouraging to the poet and the people at this time. His arm had lost none of its ancient might. He was able at this time to break their enemies in pieces as one that is slain, or to scatter them, and so destroy their power. God is supreme over the proudest and mightiest nations. “His kingdom ruleth over all.”
III. The strength of God is ever exercised in harmony with righteousness, mercy, and truth. “Justice and judgment are the habitation of Thy throne: mercy and truth shall go before Thy face.” Justice and judgment are the ground on which the throne of God stands. The Divine government is founded on righteousness. As its basis, it rests neither on force nor on fraud, but on truth and on right. “Even omnipotent power could not maintain permanently a throne founded on injustice and wrong. Such an administration would sooner or later make its own destruction sure.” But God’s power is never employed for unrighteous ends. His justice is as great as His strength. The exercise of God’s great power is also in keeping with His “mercy.” Even when it is employed in destroying violent oppressors such as Rahab, it is employed in mercy. Such destructions are a kindness not simply to the oppressed who are set free, but to mankind at large, who are thereby delivered from a tyrant and a curse. God’s great power is acting beneficially, mercifully. It is also exercised in harmony with His “truth.” What His Word promises His power performs. He is strong to execute His threatenings, and to make good His promises. God’s power and righteousness, mercy and faithfulness, are all exercised in beautiful harmony and beneficence, so that an afflicted people looking to Him for help may take encouragement from them.
IV. The strength of God thus exercised is an encouragement to trust Him. So the Psalmist evidently thought as he celebrated its praise in connection with the faithfulness of God. We cannot intelligently trust in God without including His “power as a concurrent foundation with His truth. It is the mainground of trust, and so set forth in the prophet (Isaiah 26:4): ‘Trust ye in the Lord for ever, for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength.’ … How could His mercy succour us without His arm, or His wisdom guide us without His hand, or His truth perform promises to us without His strength?… Though we value the kindness men may express to us in our distresses, yet we make them not the objects of our confidence, unless they have an ability to act what they express. There can be no trust in God without an eye to His power.” So said Charnock in one of his great discourses; and so the Psalmist seems to have thought as he penned this portion of the Psalm; and as he called to mind God’s great power in ruling the raging of the sea and subduing the foes of His people, he must have felt confident that He had power to keep His covenant with His people.
1. Let the ungodly take warning. You may resist His grace and the order of His laws; but when He makes bare His arm for judgment, you will find that you cannot resist His power. “Acquaint now thyself with Him and be at peace: thereby good shall come unto thee.”
2. Let the anxious Christian be encouraged. Our evils can never be so great to distress us, as His power is great to deliver us. He is able to perform all the great and gracious things which He has promised.
3. Let all men fear God. As Charnock says: “How should we adore that power which can preserve us, when devils and men conspire to destroy us! How should we stand in awe of that power which can destroy us, though angels and men should combine to preserve us!”
THE BLESSEDNESS OF THE PEOPLE OF GOD
In the preceding portion of the Psalm the Poet has celebrated the faithfulness, almightiness, and righteousness of the Lord. And now he celebrates the blessedness of the people who had such a God; for He would surely deliver and save them. He sets forth the blessedness of the people of God as found in their relations to Him, and mentions several of these relations. He speaks of them—
I. As worshippers of God. “Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound.” We believe that by “the joyful sound” we are to understand the call to the religious festivals. In celebrating the great festivals trumpets were joyously blown, and there was great rejoicing (Leviticus 23:24; Numbers 10:10; Numbers 29:1). To know the joyful sound is to know and esteem the worship of God. So the meaning of this clause appears to us to be—“Happy is that people whose God is the Lord.” They who are the worshippers of the only living and true God are indeed blessed.
1. Their confidence in Him shall be honoured and rewarded. A man’s god is that in which his supreme affection and trust are reposed. Idolatry is really rife amongst us to-day. Men worship possessions and property, position and power, honour and fame, relatives and friends. Now any of these or all of them must inevitably fail those who trust in them. They are insecure and transient: they are inadequate to meet the needs of the soul. There is but one Being in whom we may safely place unbounded confidence. “He that believeth in Him shall not be confounded.” “O Lord of hosts, blessed is the man that trusteth in Thee.” He will make good His every promise. He is sufficient to help us in all the needs of life. In Him the soul may find satisfaction for its deepest longings and its highest aspirations. Trust in Him will be amply rewarded.
2. Their worship of Him is in itself blessed. Much of the worship of heathen deities was debasing and corrupting. Many of the idolatries of our own age are degrading the noblest powers of our nature, dwarfing our manhood, ruining souls. But the worship of God is the worship of supreme and infinite Perfection. His worship is joyous. We do not approach Him with terror, but with humble confidence; not with mourning and dirges, but with gladness and psalms. “Let us come into His presence with thanksgiving,” &c. His worship is transforming. As we worship Him in spirit and in truth we become like Him, we “are changed into the same image from glory to glory as by the Lord the Spirit.” Blessed indeed are they whose God is the Lord.
II. As conscious of His favour. “They shall walk, O Lord, in the light of Thy countenance.” They possess the favour of God, and they know it, and rejoice in it. The lovingkindness of God they realise as their portion. The figure is a beautiful one. Who does not know the joy of looking into the face of one whom we love when no cloud of anxiety or sorrow or anger darkens it, but when it beams with affection for us? So the people of God live in His smile. “In His favour is life.” His “lovingkindness is better than life.” They who walk in the light of His countenance enjoy His favour; their life is crowned with His lovingkindness. Their life is marked by activity and progress. The consciousness of His favour does not produce indolence, but it leads to exertion; it does not lull the soul into slothful security, but stimulates it to diligent activity. “They shall walk, O Lord,” &c. Walking is progressive motion from place to place. So the godly soul advances in the Divine life. “They go from strength to strength,” from conquest to conquest, from grace to grace, from glory to glory. They “press toward the mark,” &c.
III. As rejoicing in Him. “In Thy name shall they rejoice all the day.”
1. Their joy is religious. They rejoice in God’s name, i.e., in Himself as made known to them. The good man has ample reason for joy in the being and perfections of God and His relation to him. When we reflect upon His wisdom, and goodness, and power, and holiness, and truth, and love, and upon the fact that they are “all engaged to make us blessed,”—have we not reason for joy? When we call to mind our privileges in the present, and our prospects for the future, have we not cause for rejoicing? “Now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be,” &c. Let no one regard a godly life as gloomy and sad. Men may be gloomy for want of religion, but not because of it. A truly godly life is a bright and joyous thing.
2. Their joy is constant. “All the day.” There is no reason why the people of God may not rejoice continually in God. Circumstances may be changeful, trial may overtake us, sorrow may be our portion, and happiness may abandon us; but even then we may have a deep and holy joy in God. He is unchangeable. His promises cannot fail. Having Him for our portion it is both our privilege and our duty to rejoice in Him always. “Rejoice in the Lord alway again I say, Rejoice.”
IV. As exalted by Him. “In Thy righteousness shall they be exalted.” “The righteousness of God,” says Hengstenberg, “is here that property by which He gives to every one his own, salvation to His people.” We regard the clause as intended by the Poet to set forth the idea that under the righteous government of God they would find salvation and honour. He would deliver them from their enemies and their dangers. He would exalt them to honour. It certainly is true that the people of God are exalted by Him. They are exalted now in their character and relations. “Now are we the sons of God.” They are like God in character. They will be exalted hereafter to heavenly glory and dignity. “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me in My throne,” &c. “Before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple.” “Kings and priests unto God.”
V. As strengthened by Him. “Thou art the glory of their strength: and in Thy favour our horn shall be exalted.” The glory of the strength of the people of God is here set forth as consisting in the fact that it is derived from God. The “horn” is a symbol of power. To exalt the horn is to display the power. The meaning of the verse is, that they derived all their strength from God.
1. The strength of God is all-sufficient. “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” It is sufficient to support us under the heaviest trial; and to empower us for the most arduous duty.
2. The strength of God is always available. Whenever we ask for it sincerely and believingly it will be given to us.
3. The strength of God is our only sufficient support. No one else is adequate to sustain us in life’s trials, and strengthen us for life’s duties. The wise, the great, the powerful, the loving amongst men are not sufficient to our need. “Apart from me,” said Christ, “ye can do nothing.” If we draw our strength from Him, we shall not fail in life’s duties, or faint beneath its burdens. “As thy days so shall thy strength be.”
VI. As governed and protected by God. “For the Lord is our defence; and the Holy One of Israel is our King.” The marginal reading is, “For our shield is of the Lord, and our King is of the Holy One of Israel.” “The true construction of this verse,” says Barnes, “is, ‘For to Jehovah (belongs) our shield, and to the Holy One of Israel our King.’ That is, all that they had, and all that they relied on as a defence, belonged to God, or was of God; in other words, their very protectors were themselves protected by Jehovah.” Undoubtedly, the main idea of the verse is, that they were protected by God. He was their shield and defender. He was their sovereign, and would therefore guard their interests. We have three ideas involved here—
1. The people of God are exposed to danger. Their “adversary, the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” They are also in danger from “fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.” And by reason of temptation from the world.
2. The people of God are not able to protect themselves from danger. They are not, of themselves, wise enough to baffle the deep designs of their enemies; neither are they strong enough to successfully resist their power.
3. The people of God are securely protected by Him from all danger. (See Psalms 91:0; Psalms 121:0; Psalms 125:1-2; 1 Peter 1:5.) They are inviolably and eternally secure.
1. How great, then, is the blessedness of the people of God! “There is none like unto the God of Jeshurun,” &c. (Deuteronomy 33:26-29).
2. How important that we should be found among them! Are we of the people of God? If so, let us rejoice in our privileges. If not, in the strength of Divine grace “first give your own selves to the Lord,” and thus seek union with His people.
BLESSEDNESS OF KNOWING THE JOYFUL SOUND
“Blessed are the people, &c.
Whatever these words in their literal sense refer to, they have undoubtedly an ultimate reference to the gospel; and there are three particulars for our consideration respecting it.
I. What it is. It is a joyful sound. And why is it so? Because it proclaims—
1. Pardon to the condemned. And this pardon is complete, reaching to all past offences, however aggravated or multiplied they may be. It is free—free of all obligation to and of all price from the creature.
2. Freedom to the enslaved. Man by nature is in a state of vassalage; he is far removed from his original condition; bound with the chains of his sins, and yields to the requirements of Satan (2 Timothy 2:26). In this state he was born; but the sound of liberty has not ceased to be heard since it first saluted the ears of Adam and Eve.
3. Victory to the oppressed. The sorrows of man are many; but the gospel offers to rescue him, bringing to him a full and sufficient remedy for them, so that he may have peace within; the reality, and not the shadow merely.
II. What it demands. We must “know the joyful sound.” What is implied in this? It includes three things—
1. A proper apprehension of it. Many content themselves with hearing it; but its import must be understood.
2. A sense of being personally interested in it. We know it not aright, if we do not know it experimentally and savingly.
3. A life and conversation suited to it. Before we conclude too confidently that we know the joyful sound, we should ask ourselves: how our knowledge operates? To possess knowledge will be of little avail unless it produce a practical effect (1 John 1:6-7).
III. What it ensures. Blessedness. The Psalmist’s testimony respecting this is delightful, and shows how peculiar and distinguished the felicity of such people as know the gospel is.
1. They possess tranquillity of mind. In their journey heavenward, they have the light of God’s countenance to encourage them in their distresses and difficulties.
2. They have continual joy. “In Thy name shall they rejoice all the day.” His name comprehends those infinite perfections by which He has revealed Himself to us in His works, and in His Word. These being all theirs, on their side, united for their advantages, cannot but afford them unspeakable enjoyment.
3. They are greatly dignified. “In Thy righteousness shall they be exalted.” By relying on the atonement, made by the death of God’s only Son, they are arrayed in His righteousness, and are consequently justified and accepted.
Have we a saving knowledge of the Gospel? If so, how exalted is our privilege. But those who are strangers to the heavenly message, whether they be more or less wicked in respect of gross sins, are in a truly awful state.—W. Sleigh.
GOD’S COVENANT WITH DAVID
“There follows,” says Hengstenberg, “in prosecution of the subject entered on in Psalms 89:3-4, a more full development in two sections, of the glorious promise made to the anointed, and in him to the people (Psalms 89:19-38).
First (in Psalms 89:19-28), it is represented that God had promised perpetual deliverance to the people in him, perpetual victory over its enemies,” and “perpetual dominion.” The covenant undoubtedly looks beyond David to the Anointed Saviour and King of men, as will be seen as we proceed with our exposition. The leading teachings of the paragraph may be indicated under two main “heads.”
I. The Election of David. The word “then” with which the paragraph begins connects it with Psalms 89:3-4. In those verses the covenant is mentioned; in this paragraph it is more fully stated. We prefer the reading, “Thy holy ones” in Psalms 89:19 to “Thy holy one.” “All the old translators, many MSS. and editions,” have “thy holy ones.” “The singular,” says Hengstenberg, “owes its existence, as in Psalms 16:10, to an exegetical incapacity. It was felt to be impossible to reconcile the plural with the application to David or Nathan; and to one or other of these, all interpreters, without exception, down even to modern times, have applied the expression, without observing that in the following part of the Psalm it is the people that complain that God does not appear to be keeping His promise, and that it is the people that pray that He would fulfil His promise.… The address cannot be made to David, for he is never addressed throughout the remaining portion of the Psalm.” And it is incorrect to say that Nathan is referred to as the “holy one,” for historically the address was not directed to him, but to David through him. The promises, though originally directed to David, are intended for all the people of Israel. They are the “holy ones.”
But respecting the election of David we are taught—
1. That he was elected from the people. “Chosen out of the people.” David had not descended from great kings or heroic warriors; he was not of exalted rank; he had grown up in humble life among the people, and had lived in lowliness and obscurity. Our Lord Jesus Christ also was “chosen out of the people.” He was “in all things made like unto His brethren.” He, too, was born into humble circumstances, and so far as this world is concerned He lived a lowly life of labour. He was bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh. He had true human sympathies. He endured most really severe human sufferings. He was and is a true man.
2. That he was elected to sovereignty. “I have exalted one chosen out of the people. I have found David my servant,” &c. David was thrice anointed king. Once by Samuel in his father’s house at Bethlehem; once at Hebron as king over Judah; and once again, after seven years, as king over all Israel. God called him from the sheepfolds to the throne. Our Lord is called to universal sovereignty. He is “King of kings, and Lord of lords.” “On His head are many crowns.” “He made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men,” &c. (Philippians 2:7-11).
3. That he was elected to service. “I have laid help upon one that is mighty.” David was chosen by God for a great work. God had invested him with power that he might deliver Israel out of the hand of her enemies. Hengstenberg translates, “I have laid help upon a man of war.” And Alexander says that the word “chosen” has “allusion to its specific use as signifying a young warrior.” David was elected of God as the champion of Israel to lead her armies to battle and to victory. We know how successful he was in this respect. At the beginning of his career the people cried, “Saul hath slain his thousands, but David his tens of thousands.” And at the close of his career Israel was victorious over all her enemies, and was at peace. So Jesus Christ was elected by God to save mankind. He is the mighty One upon whom our help is laid. He is “mighty to save.” “He is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him.”
4. That he was elected by God. “I have laid help, … I have exalted, … I have found, … I have anointed.” In the fullest and strictest sense David was chosen by God for his high position and his great work. This accounts for his pre-eminent fitness for his place and mission. God knew his great qualifications, his courage, strength, wisdom, faith, piety; and chose him to fill the throne and subdue the foes of Israel. David was indeed “king by the grace of God.” Our Lord was chosen by God for His great work. “Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth.” He is the Anointed, the Christ of God.
II. The promises made to David. Here is a promise of
1. Constant support. “With whom My hand shall be established: Mine arm also shall strengthen him.” De Wette translates the first clause, “With him My hand shall be continually.” The idea of the verse is that God would grant unto David constant support. His hand would be ever present to aid him, and His strong arm would be ever outstretched to strengthen him. This promise was remarkably fulfilled in the case of David. Many were the trials of his life, yet in all of them he was supported by God. Many and arduous were his undertakings, yet he was enabled to bring them to a successful issue. The people now plead this promise for themselves. In their prostrate and perilous condition they plead for a fulfilment of this promise of the covenant. The promise was also fulfilled in the Saviour. He was ever upheld by God. The Father was ever with Him in fellowship, and ever with Him to aid Him. He overcame all His difficulties, He meekly and triumphantly bore all His trials, because God was ever present with Him. The great want of the Christian Church to-day is spiritual power. Here we have the covenant promise of the constant help of God. Let us plead it in faith, and the life and power that we need shall be given unto us.
2. Victory over His foes. This promise is twofold.
(1) His foes should be restrained. “The enemy shall not exact upon him, nor the son of wickedness afflict him.” The allusion, in the first clause, is to a harsh and unjust creditor, who, regardless of the ability of his debtor, exacts not only the just debt, but an exaggerated demand. The second clause is taken literally from the words of the covenant as recorded in 2 Samuel 7:10. For some time David suffered much from the persecutions of Saul. Notwithstanding his oftrepeated manifestations of affection and loyalty, Saul was never satisfied. But those persecutions came to an end, those exactions all ceased. For many years after the making of the covenant, the enemies of Israel did not dare attempt to oppress or exact upon them in any way.
(2) His foes should be vanquished. “I will beat down his foes before his face, and plague them that hate him.” Here is complete victory from the hand of God promised to David and to the people. We know how it was fulfilled. The reign of David closed in peace, and that of Solomon was peaceful. These promises were fulfilled in our Lord. The malice and power of men and devils against Him were curbed by God. Satan could only bruise the heel of the Saviour, while his head was bruised by the Saviour. What Christ said to Pilate was true of all His enemies, “Thou couldest have no power against me, except it were given thee from above.” All the enemies of our Lord shall be destroyed. Ignorance, sin, suffering, death, and the grave, shall all be destroyed. His victory will be complete and glorious. Every child of God may claim these promises as his own. Our foes are restrained. God ever imposes upon Satan His, “Thus far shalt thou go, but no further.” (See Job 1:12; Job 2:6.) And He will vanquish all our foes for us. Through faith in Him we shall come out of life’s battle “more than conquerors.” Here is a promise of—
3. Conspicuous power through the faithfulness and mercy of God. “My faithfulness and my mercy shall be with him, and in My name shall his horn be exalted.” In the commencement of the Psalm the poet celebrated the mercy and faithfulness of God, and here he recurs again to them. They were clearly displayed in the covenant, and now that the covenant seems about to fail, the hope of the Psalmist and the people is in them. Mercy and faithfulness were granted to David, and to his seed; and though, by reason of their sin, the temporal sovereignty passed away and the kingdom was destroyed, yet the line of David continued in un-broken succession until Christ came, and the spiritual and eternal kingdom was established in Him. Through God’s blessing the power of the kingdom was conspicuous in the time of David, and it was especially so in the time of Solomon. But the power of the kingdom of our Lord is growing more and more conspicuous daily. “The stone that was cut out of the mountain without hands” is fast filling the whole earth. Here is a promise of—
4. Enlarged dominion. “I will set His hand also in the sea, and His right hand in the rivers.” The sea which is here mentioned is the Mediterranean, and the rivers are the Tigris and the Euphrates. These were the boundaries of the promised land as stated to Abram (Genesis 15:18). The kingdom of David was of this extent. The promise made to Abram was fulfilled in his time and in the time of Solomon. But “David’s greater Son” “shall have dominion from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth.” His kingdom is ever increasing, and ever shall increase, until the whole world bows to His sway. Here is a promise of—
5. Intimate and exalted relationship. “He shall cry unto Me, Thou art my Father, my God, and the rock of my salvation. Also I will make Him My firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth.” David looked to God as “the rock of his salvation,” but we have no evidence to show that he regarded God as a “Father.” Mr. Molyneux justly inquires, “When did David call God his Father? It is striking that we do not find anywhere in the Old Testament that the patriarchs or prophets called God their Father. They did not know Him as such. This verse is unintelligible in reference to David, but in regard to the True David it is exactly what He did say—‘My Father, and your Father; my God, and your God.’ Never until Christ uttered these words, never until He appeared on earth in humanity as the Son of God, did any man or any child of humanity address God in this endearing character.” The 27th verse was partly fulfilled in David, but only in a very small degree. It is true that he is pre-eminent among kings “alike in his own personal character and his reign; in his relation to God; and in the fact that he was the ancestor of the Messiah.” Yet it was only a feeble type of the fulfilment of this promise that was witnessed in David. Our Lord Jesus Christ is “the firstborn of every creature.” He is “appointed heir of all things.” “All kings shall fall down before Him: all nations shall serve Him.” He “is on the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto Him.” But it is the privilege of every member of the seed of Christ to address God as “My Father, my God, and the rock of my salvation.” If by faith “we are made partakers of Christ,” then is God our Father, and we may with confidence draw near to Him, and rest in Him.
6. Perpetual establishment of the covenant. “My mercy will I keep for him for evermore, and My covenant shall stand fast with him.” This promise also looks onward to the Christ. In Him the covenant is sure and lasting. But in what way can God be said to keep His mercy for Christ for evermore? Excellently Matthew Henry elucidates the point. “My mercy will I keep for Him, to be disposed of by Him, for evermore; in the channel of Christ’s mediation all the streams of Divine goodness will for ever run. Therefore it is the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ which we look for unto eternal life. And as the mercy of God flows to us through Him, so the promise of God is, through Him, firm to us: My covenant shall stand fast with Him, both the covenant of redemption made with Him, and the covenant of grace made with us in Him.” His covenant made with Christ and His seed cannot fail. His word abideth for ever. The treasures of His grace are inexhaustible. He will fulfil His promises to Christ. And His mercy and grace toward us shall be more richly imparted and more conspicuously displayed to all eternity.
1. Let all who by faith in Christ are interested in this covenant rejoice in the rich blessings it secures unto them. “All things are ours, and we are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.”
2. Let all who are not by faith savingly interested in this covenant believe in Christ, and so share its blessings. “Incline your ear, and come unto Me,” saith the Lord; “hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.”
THE MIGHTY HELPER OF MAN
This assurance points first to David, afterwards to Jesus Christ. In Him on whom God hath “laid help” for the restoration of humanity it receives its complete fulfilment. The text expresses this truth, that man’s great need as a sinner is met by Christ’s great power as a Saviour. Consider,
I. Man’s Great Need as a Sinner. The text teaches by implication that none but a mighty Saviour was equal to the work of human redemption; that man had fallen so low and sunk so deeply in sin and misery that no arm but that of the mighty One was able to raise him. That we may obtain a clear and correct impression of the greatness of man’s necessity as a fallen being, let us consider—
1. The greatness of the being that fell. Much has been written and spoken of the physical majesty of man when contrasted with other animals. There is much of both truth and beauty in the well-known words of our greatest dramatist: “What a piece of work is man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculties! in form and moving, how express and admirable! in action, how like an angel! in apprehension, how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals!” And a more ancient poet exclaimed, “I will praise Thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” But the physical is not the man, it is but the “earthly house,” the costume of the spiritual. “There is a spirit in man, and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding.” This spirit is the man; and as the inhabitant is greater than the house, as the jewel is more precious than the casket, so the soul is incomparably greater and more precious than the body.… Think of the greatness of man’s mind, as seen in its astonishing achievements. Mention briefly the wondrous triumphs of the human mind.… Now if man has done all this, and much more than this, in his fallen degenerate state, what could he not have done had he not fallen? What could he not have done had his arm never been paralysed by sin, his mental vision never been beclouded, and his constant access to the Great Source of wisdom and power never been interrupted? Moreover, if man has done all this when he is but in his infancy, in the mere “bud of being,” what will he not be capable of accomplishing when he is freed entirely from the impediments of sin and in the unfolding of powers much more mature? The exceeding majesty of the human mind in heaven far surpasses our conceptions. “It doth not yet appear what we shall be.” When we think of man as an immortal intelligence, we are struck into amazement at his greatness. He is capable of companionship with angels and communion with the Father of spirits, and is destined for perpetual growth in all that is true, holy, and beautiful.
2. The greatness of the Fall. Man’s greatness made his fall the more disastrous and terrible. The fall of man was not as the wreck of some small boat which is quickly destroyed and lost sight of, but as the wreck of a great and majestic vessel,—so great that even now the vast ocean is strewed with its shattered fragments. A once glorious angel fell from his high position, and with him multitudes of high and holy ones rebelled, and lost their purity, their happiness, their God; and now the world is led captive at his will. Man, who was made only “a little lower than the angels,” fell from his God-given sphere, and with him fell all the race, and the power which should have been exercised for the true and good is arrayed in antagonism against them. And, when all the powers of man’s being are thus exercised for evil, who can measure the extent and enormity of their evildoing? St. Paul has graphically depicted the enormities wrought by the mighty but sadly perverted powers of man (Romans 3:13-18). Man’s greatness has aggravated the terrible character of his fall. His mind is mighty to devise evil, and his arm to execute it. And this state of things is not partial but race-wide (Romans 3:10-12). Wherever upon earth you find man you find sin, and wherever you find sin you find misery and death (Romans 5:12). We may picture man as a once splendid temple now lying in ruins. Who shall restore him? shall education? shall science? shall schemes of social re-organisation? shall systems of political economy? These have been tried and found lamentably deficient. None but God can restore man. Rejoice, for God hath “laid help upon One that is mighty,” &c.
II. Christ’s great power as a Saviour. “I have laid help upon One that is mighty,” &c. Notice—
1. Christ’s identification with humanity. “Chosen out of the people”—one of ourselves. Christ was a true man, although not a mere man. “God manifest in the flesh.” “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself.” While bowing reverently before His Godhood, we remember gratefully His manhood. As a man we see in Him our Example. “Learn of Me,” He saith to us. (1 Peter 2:21). Our sympathetic Friend and Brother. (Hebrews 2:11; Hebrews 2:14-18; Hebrews 4:15-16).
2. Christ’s exaltation above humanity. “I have exalted One.” Mention the spiritual exaltation of the whole earthly life of Christ. Even while His feet trod this earth He was “the Son of man which is in heaven.” There was the sublime exaltation of the cross. In that voluntary self-sacrifice we have the most glorious manifestation of the Godlike in human life that the world has ever seen. But the exaltation referred to in the Messianic application of the text is probably that of His resurrection, and His ascension to heaven. In His resurrection we have Divine honour conferred upon Him, and the attestation of His Messianic claims. In His ascension He resumed the glory which He had with the Father before the world was, and also entered upon the glories of Mediator. “For the joy that was set before Him,” &c. (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 2:8-12).
3. Christ’s power to save humanity. “I have laid help upon One that is mighty.” Because Jesus was “chosen out of the people” He possesses that sympathy with us which is requisite to render His help efficient, and to assure us that it will be imparted. And the exaltation of His miracles, resurrection, and ascension declare Him to be “the Son of God with power” to save man. His manhood is evidence of His willingness to save man; His Godhood is evidence of His power to save man. “The Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins.” He is “mighty to save.” “He is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him,” &c.
1. If you have availed yourself of the help of the Mighty One, cleave to Him until you are entirely freed from sin, and all your being is holy to the Lord.
2. If you have not availed yourself of the help of the great Redeemer, do so at once. He waits to save you. Trust His almighty power and infinite love, and so rise to holiness and God.
THE COVENANT OF GOD AND THE SINS OF MEN
May the covenant of God be made of none effect by the sin of man? Shall God’s covenant with David and his seed be nullified by reason of their transgression? May man frustrate the purpose of God? This question is answered in the paragraph before us.
I. The sins of men are opposed to the covenant of God. All the arrangements of God are utterly opposed to sin.
1. His laws are against it. The laws of the material universe are against it. “Whoso breaketh an hedge a serpent shall bite him.” God has annexed inevitable and stern penalties to every breach of His laws in the material realm. The laws of the moral universe are all against sin. On all the dreary region of evil the Divine “Thou shalt not” is inscribed in letters of flame. And on all the sunny realm of righteousness the Divine “Thou shalt” is clearly written.
2. His judgments are against it. Think of the stern judgments recorded in the Bible which were inflicted by reason of sin: the expulsion of our first parents from Eden, the deluge in the days of Noah, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by fire, the plague of the fiery flying serpents in the wilderness, the terrible overthrow of Jerusalem.
3. His redemption is against it. “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested that He might destroy the works of the devil.” “He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” His great mission is “to save sinners.” The covenant of God has no complicity with evil. The goodness and mercy of God are an encouragement to penitence, but they are hostile to sin. God regards sin with unutterable abhorrence. “Oh, do not this abominable thing that I hate.” His ideas, His feelings, His purposes, His arrangements, His operations, are all against it.
II. Yet men who in the covenant of God are richly blessed may sin grievously against Him. “If his children forsake My law, and walk not in My judgments; if they break My statutes, and keep not My commandments.” Here are sins of commission. “If his children forsake My law, … if they break,” or profane, “My statutes.” Here are sins of omission. “Walk not in My judgments, keep not My commandments.” These sins may be committed by men who are enjoying many blessings of the Divine covenant.
1. Such was the case with the Jews. Ancient Israel sadly forsook God and wickedly rebelled against Him. Some members even of the seed of David sinned grievously against Him.
2. Such is the case with many who are in the enjoyment of Gospel privileges. What multitudes in this land of religious light and liberty and abounding spiritual privileges, are living in utter disregard of the Will of God!
3. Such is the case even with true Christians. Even after we have tasted that God is gracious, we may sadly sin against Him. Nay, who is there of us that is not sensible of frequent sins both of omission and commission, and especially of the former? “Sins of commission may not, perhaps, shock the retrospect of conscience. Large and obtrusive to view, we have confessed, mourned, repented of them. Sins of omission, so veiled amidst our hourly emotions—blent, confused, unseen in the conventional routine of existence;—alas! could these suddenly emerge from their shadow, group together in serried mass and accusing order, would not the best of us then start in dismay, and would not the proudest humble himself at the throne of mercy?” The fact that even good men may and do thus sin against God—
(1.) Reveals man’s moral freedom. Saint and sinner are alike morally free. God will not compel any one to obey Him.
(2.) The importance of watchfulness. “Watch and pray that ye enter not into temptation.”
(3.) The necessity of trust in God. “Hold up my goings in Thy paths, that my footsteps slip not.” “Hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe.”
III. The sins of men will be punished by God. “I will visit their transgression with the rod and their iniquity with stripes.” If the people of God sin against Him, they will be most surely punished by Him.
1. The rod is used for their correction, not for their destruction. God sometimes inflicts upon His people pain of body, or losses in business, or family afflictions, or distressing bereavements, as a chastisement for their sins. He would thereby impress them with the heinousness of evil, that they may fear to sin. The Divine hatred of evil is too intense for sin to go unpunished. God’s love of His people is too great for Him to allow them to sin and not chastise them for it. He visits them with the rod of correction that He may reclaim them from their evil ways, and establish their goings in holiness.
2. The correction is administered by God. “I will visit their transgressions,” &c. “Visitation implies oversight and paternal care. The metaphor is taken from those who undertake to watch over the sick, or train up children, or tend sheep.” God, who is wise and gracious, bears the rod and inflicts the chastisement; we may, therefore, rest assured that He will inflict that only which is for our good.
IV. The sins of men cannot frustrate the covenant of God. “Nevertheless My lovingkindness will I not utterly take from him,” &c., Psalms 89:33-37. Human sin cannot defeat the Divine purposes. This is evident, for—
1. They are the purposes of an omniscient Being. No circumstance can arise to disarrange them which has not been foreseen and provided for by Him. His plans are formed with a perfect knowledge of all events in all worlds and in all ages.
2. They are the purposes of an omnipotent Being. Man’s purposes may be defeated, or he may fail to carry them out for want of power, but God is almighty. He can subdue all opposition. He can accomplish all that He may please. “With God all things are possible.”
3. They are the purposes of an immutable Being. In Himself He is unchangeable. Man varies, as life advances, and he grows in knowledge and wisdom and holiness; his views of things often change, and he may alter his plans or his methods of action. But it is not so with God. His purposes are eternal and immutable, and He, being immutable, omnipotent, and omniscient, we may justly conclude that His covenant arrangements cannot be made void by man’s sin. But let us ascertain the teaching of the text on this point. Hengstenberg’s note on the 37th verse appears to us excellent. “The alleviating limitation is here first given in Psalms 89:33, as it is in the fundamental passage in Psalms 89:15. The alleviation, however, is not to be misunderstood, as if it referred to individuals contrary to the nature of the thing, and contrary to the history, according to which annihilating judgments did descend upon the rebellious members of the family of David; but the opposition is of the punishment of sin in the individual, and of grace continually remaining to the family. We must not fail to notice that in Psalms 89:33 it is not said: I will not withdraw My mercy from them, the sinners, but from him, the family as such. Now that the kingdom has passed from the sinful to the holy seed of David, the direct application of this paragraph has ceased. The case provided for in the promise cannot again occur. Still there exists between Christ and His Church a case analogous to that between David and his seed. As David’s family was chosen in him (Comp. 1 Kings 11:36; 2 Kings 8:19; Isaiah 37:35), so that it always remained in possession of the favour of God, notwithstanding the fall and rejection of many of its individual members, in like manner the Church is chosen in Christ, and the sins of its members may hurt themselves but cannot injure it. Notwithstanding the fall of a whole generation, it always flourishes again; and under the most inexorable judgments which are not removed by the appearance of Christ, but rendered more severe, compassionate grace is always concealed.” Individual members of David’s family transgressed, and were visited with the rod, but the mercy was not removed from the family. Individual Christians may fall into sin and forsake God and be visited with stripes, but “the new covenant” shall not fail; the kingdom of Christ shall flourish and increase. Man’s sin shall not frustrate God’s purposes. “If,” saith the Lord, “they profane My statutes, nevertheless My covenant will I not profane.” Two things more remain to be noticed.
1. God is again represented as declaring the stability and perpetuity of the covenant. The sun and moon are stable, orderly. Generations of men come and go, but they remain. Incessant and sometimes great changes take place upon earth, but the ordinances of heaven remain unchanged, the sun and moon are the same. So they are used as symbols of the unchangeable and permanent. And so the covenant of God is immutable and eternal. (See remarks on Psalms 89:1-4.)
2. The solemn declaration of the perpetuity of the covenant. “One thing have I sworn by My holiness, that I will not lie unto David.” God, as it were, pledges His own holiness for the fulfilment of the word which He spake unto David. That attribute which seems most precious to Him He here stakes on the fulfilment of His promise to them. This one thing, that He will keep His word to His servant David, He thus solemnly asseverates. “He abideth faithful: He cannot deny Himself.”
CONCLUSION.—Our subject urges,
1. Confidence as to God’s covenant. Neither the unfaithfulness and sin of man, nor the malice and rage of hell, can frustrate the glorious purposes of God.
2. Caution as to our conduct. “If his children forsake My law,” &c. Though “you cannot break God’s covenant you may violate your own interest therein.” “Take heed lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.” “Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.”
LAMENTATION AND EXPOSTULATION BY REASON OF THE APPARENT FAILURE OF THE COVENANT OF GOD
Confident proclamation or the firmness of the covenant is here succeeded by bitter lamentation of its seeming failure, and upon the lamentation an earnest expostulation with God is founded. Consider,
I. The lamentation. The general complaint of the Psalmist is that the covenant has failed. “Thou hast made void the covenant of Thy servant.” In his complaint the Psalmist mentions several particulars in which it seemed to be failing, or to have already failed. Let us briefly glance at them:—
1. The king was dethroned. “Thou hast profaned his crown to the ground; … and cast his throne down to the ground.” Complaints like these show that, if the king was not actually dethroned, his sovereignty was mutilated, his throne tottering to its fall. The crown, which had always been regarded as sacred, the poet represents as having been treated as though it were an unclean or despised thing to be contemptuously cast to the ground. And the kingdom had come, or was speedily and painfully coming, to a ruinous end.
2. Their defences were destroyed. “Thou hast broken down all his hedges; Thou hast brought his strongholds to ruin.” In the former clause the king and people are compared to a vineyard, the fences of which were thrown down, and which was open to the ravages of wild beasts and to the depredations of every intrusive passer-by. In the latter clause, they are compared to a city whose fortifications were destroyed. The idea is, that they were left defenceless and helpless, and were completely powerless before their enemies.
3. They were made the prey and reproach of their neighbours. “All that pass by the way spoil him; he is a reproach to his neighbours.” By the “passers-by,” the Psalmist probably meant “the nations of the Asiatic kings who visited Judah in marching through against the king of Egypt;” and by “the ‘neighbours,’ the surrounding nations who, on a former occasion, approached David and Solomon with reverence and paid tribute (comp. 2 Samuel 8:2; 1 Kings 5:1). Now they despise the anointed of the Lord in his disgracefully degraded condition (comp. Psalms 80:6; Psalms 88:8).”
4. They were defeated in battle and their enemies exulted over them. “Thou hast set up the right hand of his adversaries,” &c. (Psalms 89:42-43.) Their sword seemed to have lost its ancient sharpness, as though its edge were turned. Their weapons failed them in the day of battle. And, which was much worse, their spirit failed them in the day of battle. They did “not stand in the battle.” A courageous spirit will achieve victories even with a blunt sword; but a coward spirit will “not stand in the battle” even though his weapons be of the finest. They had been driven before their enemies like craven-hearted weaklings; while those enemies had by their victories over them increased and made firmer their own power, and exulted proudly in their triumphs. “O Lord, what shall I say, when Israel turneth their backs before their enemies?”
5. Their vigour and glory had ceased. “The days of his youth hast Thou shortened.” Youth is the season of strength. Old age is marked by feebleness and decay. So the period of their prosperity and power had been brought to an unexpected and early close. Premature old age had come upon them. Troubles, calamities, reverses, and, above all, their sins, had cut off their youthful successes and triumphs, and left them weak and decrepit. Their glory had ceased; they were covered with shame. The glory of their sovereign was gone; their splendour and might as a nation had passed away; their circumstances and condition were such as put them to shame. If the Poet and the people contrasted their present state with their state under David, and yet more under Solomon, they must have bitterly felt the change, and may well have bitterly bewailed it. What a difference there was between the then and the now! and all to the disadvantage of the now.
6. They attributed their sad condition entirely to their angry rejection by God. “Thou hast cast off and abhorred, Thou hast been wroth with Thine anointed.” They attribute all their calamities to Him. He had wrought all their evils. In His anger He had rejected both the king and the people, as if they had been regarded by Him with contempt or loathing. Now, is this feature of the lamentation true and right? It is true that their calamities came not without the permission of God. He had withdrawn His protection from them, or their enemies would have been powerless against them, and their own power and glory would have remained unimpaired. So far, at least, the Psalmist is right. But why did God withdraw His protection from them! Was it not because they had “forsaken His law and walked not in His judgments, had profaned His statutes, and kept not His commandments?” Their calamities were the natural result of their crimes. They had sown the seed of sin, and were reaping a harvest of shame and suffering. Yet in their complaint there is no confession. They bewail their sufferings, not their sins. Herein they were wrong. Their sins had landed them in their present miseries. And, in complaining to God, they should have humbly confessed and repented of their sins. As it is, there is too much reason for the remark: “The complainings of the saints are so exaggerated, that carnal feeling makes itself more apparent in them than faith.” Is there not a lesson here for Christian believers and churches? Are there not churches today in a reduced, feeble, inglorious condition, which are bewailing their depressed state, as though it were entirely of the Lord’s doing? Let such churches search for the sins, of omission or commission, which is the root of their failure and misery. Let them put forth every accursed thing from amongst them, and God will invigorate them with power, enrich them with success, and crown them with honour; and if any Christian finds feebleness and failure coming upon him as an individual, let him not blame God, but examine his own life, and renounce the secret sin or the questionable practice, or take up the neglected duty, which has caused the spiritual loss and decline.
II. The Expostulation. “How long, Lord? wilt Thou hide Thyself for ever? shall Thy wrath burn like fire?” &c. In his expostulation with God the Psalmist takes up several things and turns them into effective pleas.
1. The duration of their distresses. “How long, Lord?” This verse teaches—
(1) That their distresses were very great. The gracious presence of God was quite hidden from them. All was darkness; and His wrath seemed to be consuming them.
(2) Their distresses had long continued. So long had God’s countenance been hidden from them, that the Poet inquires if it is always to be so. It seemed as though their night would never be succeeded by morning; their winter never pass into spring.
(3) Their distresses threatened their utter extinction. It seemed to them as though God’s wrath, like fire, would burn on until they were utterly consumed; that their miseries would continue until their national existence was clean gone. But the main thought in the mind of the Poet in this verse seems to be the long duration of their distresses. For some time they had pressed heavily upon them. No sign of relief for them could they discover anywhere.
2. The brevity of their life. “Remember how short my time is.” The brevity of life is frequently stated in the Sacred Scriptures. Human life upon earth is compared to a flower, to grass, to a shadow, to “a vapour which appeareth for a little time and then vanisheth away.” The Psalmist here brings in the brevity of life as an argument for the speedy interposition of God. If the distresses were not speedily removed life itself would be gone. If the Divine mercy were to be manifested, it must be manifested speedily, or it would be too late for them. Must their brief life be all spent in misery? We may surely derive a hint from the Psalmist here. If life be so brief, let us seek the favour of God at once. If life be so brief, let us discharge its duties as they arise. If life be so brief, let us improve its opportunities and privileges as they arise.
3. The vanity of their life. “Wherefore hast Thou made all men in vain?” The idea in the mind of the Psalmist seems to be, that if their distresses were continued their life itself would be vain. He seems to have had no clear idea of a blessed life beyond death. That was not clearly revealed until our Lord Jesus Christ poured a flood of light upon it. And, in his present troubled mood, the Psalmist was not able to make the most of the light which he possessed upon the subject, and so the future appears dark and cheerless to him. In fact, he writes as if he knew no future; as if all his hopes were bounded by the grave. So man seems to him to have been made in vain. Life seemed altogether shadowy, unreal, worthless. He urges this characteristic of life as a reason why God should grant them speedy relief. His plea seems to amount to this: Consider how worthless the life of man is, and relieve its darkness and vanity by sending us prosperity, and by sending it quickly.
4. The certainty of death. “What man is he that liveth, and shall not see death? shall he deliver his soul from the hand of the grave?” “There is no man that hath power over the spirit to retain the spirit; neither hath he power in the day of death; and there is no discharge in that war.” Death is no respecter of persons or of characters. The rich and the poor, the distinguished and the unknown, the strong and the weak, the beautiful and the deformed, the wise and the foolish, the holy and the sinful, the useful and the baneful are alike swept away by death. The argument of the Psalmist seems to be this: As all men, even the strongest, even the king himself, must die, deliver us speedily from the miseries which now oppress us, and grant us prosperity before we pass into dark Sheol.
5. The lovingkindness promised by God. “Lord, where are Thy former lovingkindnesses which Thou swarest unto David in Thy truth?” The former lovingkindnesses are those which God had granted in earlier and prosperous times, and which were regarded as pledges of future mercies. And God had promised to David a continuance of these mercies to his seed. The Psalmist asks God: Where are Thy promises? Art Thou not the Unchangeable? Wilt Thou not make good that which Thou hast spoken? Thus may we in our distresses plead the former mercies and the promises of God, and we shall never plead them in vain. What God has done, He will do again. What He has promised, He will perform.
6. The reproaches which fell upon them. “Remember, Lord, the reproach of Thy servants,” &c. (Psalms 89:50-51). Their enemies mocked them because of their sore distresses; and they pray God to end their distresses, and so remove their reproach. The Psalmist pleads powerfully in these two verses. They were His “servants” who were reproached, and they were reproached for trusting and serving Him; and would He not roll back the reproach from them? This reproach was a great sorrow to the Psalmist, and to all who were concerned for the welfare of the people and the honour of God. The reproach of all the people, their troubles, their complaints, the scoffs of their enemies, all pressed upon the heart of the Psalmist as a burden of deep grief. Should he feel these things so deeply, and would God be unmindful of them? Would not God remove the reproaches, and so relieve the heart of His servant? The reproaches came from the “enemies” of God. They were not only foes and mockers of the covenant people, they were enemies of the covenant God, would He not remember and silence them? They reproached the “anointed” of God. “They have reproached the footsteps of Thine anointed.” They, as it were, followed the king, and wherever he went and whatever he did they reproached him. Would the Most High allow His enemies thus to deride the anointed king of His own people? Thus the Psalmist amidst the national distresses, when the covenant seemed on the very eve of utter failure, pleads with God for His saving interposition. His pleading is not perfect. As we have already indicated, there is no recognition of the fact that their distresses arose from their sins; there is no confession of the gross violation of the covenant on the part of the people. It was their sufferings and not their sins that they bewailed before God. Yet we may learn some useful lessons from the pleadings of the Psalmist. In present distresses we shall do well to plead
(1) Our weakness and the shortness of our life. God is strong and merciful, and will help and pity us.
(2) We should take encouragement from and plead God’s former mercies. He is unchangeable. Past deliverances are reasons for hope and confidence in present distresses.
(3) We should plead His faithfulness. By relying upon His word we honour Him.
(4) We should plead our relation to Him. We are His servants. His enemies are also ours. Will He not protect and save His own?
1. Learn the exceeding sinfulness of sin. It was sin that had profaned the crown to the ground, &c. Let suffering deter from sin.
2. Learn not to judge by appearances. “Things are not what they seem.” The covenant seemed to be utterly failing, yet God was all the time fulfilling it, carrying it forward to deeper, diviner, more glorious issues than the people imagined when this Psalm was written. God’s word cannot fail. His promises cannot be broken. He may fulfil them in ways unexpected by and strange to us; but He will fulfil them gloriously. Christ and His seed shall be eternally blessed. “His seed shall endure for ever, and His throne as the sun before Me.”
THE VANITY OF MAN APART FROM HIS IMMORTALITY
I purpose to show that, considered merely in this present state, apart from any reference to eternity and the prospect disclosed by revelation, man is made in vain.
I. The first thing that strikes us in such a survey of our being is the shortness of its duration. “Remember how short my time is.” The transient nature of his existence stamps an inexpressible meanness on man, if we confine our view to the present life; and forces us to confess that, laying aside the hope of immortality, “Every man at his best estate is altogether vanity.”
II. The same reflection must have occurred to most persons of a thoughtful character, when they have contemplated the general state of that world in which we are placed: the mischief and misery that pervade it; the disorder and desolation which the unruly passions of men perpetually introduce; the wantonness with which they rush to deeds of violence and injustice; the almost incessant national contentions, in which the destruction of one part of the human race seems to become the business and sport of the other.… Viewed, therefore, merely as they are here, and excluding the supposition of a future state, all men will appear to be made in vain.
III. When we recollect how many thousands of our species are born the subjects of some inherent, incurable disease, or imperfection of body, such as may be said to render their life a protracted malady,—when we call to mind how many are constitutionally the victims of dejected spirits and a morbid melancholy, such as cast a gloom over every surrounding object, and dim their perceptions to the fairest scenes of life and nature, we are compelled to acknowledge, of the multitude so circumstanced, that—if we consider them merely as existing in that hypothetical state which terminates with death—they also are made in vain.
IV. When we take into the account those millions of mankind who are condemned, through the whole of life, to manual and mechanical labours; whose day after day is consumed in a constant round of the same unvaried employment, … who that limits his view of man to this sublunary scene can forbear to sympathise with the desponding Psalmist in the text? In labours like these millions of beings are employed, who are created with a mind capable of looking backward and forward with endless activity of thought, capable of comprehending truth and advancing in knowledge, capable of enjoying a happiness commensurate with its own vast desires. The inheritors of such faculties are employed in labours in which the mind is altogether passive and dormant, nor is any exercise afforded to the reason or the affections.… Without blaming the existing organization of society, I ask whether, if men are condemned to terminate their existence in these pursuits, and are not reserved for another and higher state of being, the great majority of mankind are not made in vain?
V. But there are those, it may be said, who do not fall under this melancholy representation; men of wealth, whose circumstances seem to be formed by their will, and who appropriate whatever they desire. Surely, you will say, such “men of this world, have their portion in this life;” surely an existence like theirs, even if we suppose it confined to earth, apart from any ulterior consideration, has a sufficient end in itself; and, though their existence is short, they are exempt from a charge of having been made in vain. Now there is a delusion in this view; and if we examine the advantages which men of wealth possess over others, we shall find that nearly all the pleasures peculiar to superfluous opulence are reducible to two classes; the class of sensual gratifications and that of ambitious distinctions.
1. How little the gratifications of sense which the rich have at their command, can be said to redeem their possessors from the lot of a vain existence, will appear by the following considerations—
(1) The pleasures of sense can never be proposed as an adequate end of our creation; because, in pursuing them, we always regard them as subordinate to something of superior importance, our regard to which is allowed to be the just rule of sensual indulgence. A wise man advises a proper abstinence from such pleasures for the sake of health; a good man for the sake of virtue; either of which is justly regarded as an object superior to that which it ought to regulate. But the true end of existence must be something beyond which nothing can be proposed of superior magnitude, &c.
(2) The pleasures of sense pursued beyond a certain limit, so far from tending to create happiness, tend to destroy it, by the very construction of those organs which are the instruments of sensual enjoyment. That craving after happiness which every bosom feels, and the satisfaction of which involves the perfection of our existence, cannot be supposed to attain its proper object in any of those animal pleasures, of which the pursuit (unless kept in continual check) leads to the extinction of happiness and existence itself.
(3) The enjoyment of the senses cannot present to human beings the appropriate and distinguishing end of their extinction, because they are only enjoyed by man in common with the lower animals. That, whatever it be, which forms the true end of human existence, must be something which is adapted to the great peculiarities of our nature as rational and moral beings; but sensual fruition is received in an equal, perhaps a greater, degree, by the brutes.… He who should abandon himself, in the gratification of animal propensities, to the neglect of every higher aim, would be universally allowed to have lived “in vain.”
2. But there is another class of pleasures with the command of which wealth supplies us—the pleasures of ambition—the respect and homage which are paid to high station and splendid circumstances. Now, in an examination of these pleasures, it will be found that they are unreal and imaginary; that they consist of nothing more than a fiction of the imagination by which we may be said to identify ourselves, or to be identified by others, with all those varied instrument of pleasure which affluence commands, by which we diffuse ourselves as it were over the whole sphere in which we preside.… Men of wealth are not, more than others, exempt from the mournful charge of the Psalmist.
VI. Neither can we exempt from the same condition men of knowledge, who pass life in the cultivation of intellect and the pursuit of truth, an object better suited to the nature, and better proportioned to the dignity of man as a rational being than those before-mentioned. That the pleasures of knowledge and intellect are noble in their nature, exquisite in their degree, and permanent in their continuance, will not be denied by those who are competent to estimate them.
1. But to how few are these pleasures confined? Not one person in a thousand has either the abilities or the opportunities requisite to their high enjoyment; while to the rest, to the great bulk of mankind, they are the hidden treasures of a sealed book. And can that be supposed the final object of our being, which can be enjoyed but by a small proportion of those who inherit that being?
2. Of the few who make knowledge the aim of their engagements, none can secure himself from the intrusion of disturbing passions or distressing accidents. The lights of philosophy are liable to be broken by the waves of adversity and darkened by the clouds of grief, &c.
3. We have it, on the testimony of one of the greatest proficients in knowledge that ever appeared among men, that “increase of knowledge,” far from being increase of happiness, is “increase of sorrow.” Certain is it that the mere knowledge of things is something extremely different from the enjoyment of things. Knowledge has its abode in the understanding, while happiness is seated in the heart. Knowledge cannot be supposed to constitute that proper happiness of man without which he is “made in vain.”
VII. There yet remains another and a yet more elevated order of men, who place the grand object of their being in religion; who think of God, trust in God, and, on all occasions, devote themselves to do the will of God, &c.… What shall we say of such men? If this were the only state of being ordained for man, they, like others, would be made in vain. “Verily, they have cleansed their hearts in vain,” &c. “If in this life only they have hope, they are of all men most miserable,” most worthy to be commiserated. For, according to this supposition, they are the only persons who are utterly disappointed in their object; the only persons who (by a fatal and irreparable mistake), expecting an imaginary happiness in an imaginary world, lose their only opportunity of enjoying those present pleasures of which others avail themselves.…
But that supposition is not, for a moment, to be believed: these men are not thus deluded; they are not thus to be disappointed; it is impossible to conceive that they are. The perplexity, the inconsistency, the palpable absurdity into which those are driven who argue upon the non-existence of immortality, the falsehood of revelation, proves, as far as proof can be expected, that theirs is a false hypothesis! Upon their hypothesis, man is the greatest enigma in the universe; that universe itself is a problem not to be solved: all is mystery, confusion, and despair. Bring in the light of revelation and immortality, the clouds and thick darkness in which the scene was enveloped disperse, and all is clear and harmonious. We learn at once the cause and the cure of that vanity, in subjection to which “the whole creation groans,” together with man. The origin of our misery and death, the recovery of life and immortality, are alike brought to light.
To attain a share in this salvation, to recover the true end and perfection of our existence, in the resemblance and the favour of “the only happy God;” this is the great object of desire and pursuit to those whose eyes are opened to their real situation, and whose hearts are awakened to a sense of their real want. And “remembering how short their time is,” they are the more in earnest that, by a glorious reverse of their naturally ruined state, they may prove at last to have not been “made in vain.”
I infer the extreme folly and misery of those who persist in the neglect of this salvation, this immortality. What must be our emotion should we discover, at the last judgment, that we have lived in vain; that, so far as our own interest is concerned, we have been made in vain; that we have received the grace of God in vain; that, having neglected the one salvation, we are lost, lost in the scale of being; immortal creatures, lost to the great purpose for which our Maker gave us existence; lost to happiness; irrecoverably and for ever lost!… “Now is the accepted time,” &c.—Robert Hall. Abridged.
This verse, says Hengstenberg, “does not at all belong to the Psalm, but contains the doxology which concludes the third book.”
I. God is blessed in Himself. All distracting and distressing elements are entirely absent from His nature. Man suffers much from guilt, from uncontrolled passions, and from dark forebodings. Conscience accuses and condemns him, evil passions lash his soul into fury, the dread of suffering, and death, and hell afflicts him. All these things are utterly alien from the Divine nature; while all those things which contribute to the blessedness of spiritual being are found in Him in infinite perfection. Truth, holiness, and love essentially inhere in Him in full perfection and infinite degree. In terms such as these He is represented to us in the Scriptures:—“God is light,” “God is good,” “God is love,” “A God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is He,” “the God of peace,” “the God of hope,” &c. Such a Being must be blessed by virtue of His own character. God is an infinite ocean of life, love, and blessedness. “God blessed for ever.” “The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is blessed for evermore.”
II. God is blessed by His creatures. God blesses man by the impartation of benefits; man blesses God by the ascription of praise.
1. God is praised by His works. “All Thy works shall praise Thee, O Lord.” Nature in her beauty and bounty praises Him. The birds and beasts also, when unoppressed by man, seem in many ways to praise God. Moreover, as God’s works answer the beneficent ends for which they were created, they speak forth the praise of His wisdom, power, and goodness.
2. God is praised by His people upon earth. They praise Him for what He is in Himself; for His truth, purity, power, mercy, love, spiritual beauty. They praise Him for what He has done, and is ever doing for them (Psalms 103:1-12). But we must remember that this doxology belongs to every Psalm of this third book. And in this book there are Psalms of the doubting and of the distressed as well as of the believing and rejoicing; there are cries of misery and complaints of suffering as well as songs of gladness and hymns of praise. Thus the people of God would praise Him in the varying scenes and circumstances of life. In all circumstances He is good. Even in times of darkness and distress faith will enable the godly man to say, “Blessed be the Lord for evermore.” “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” The godly soul is earnestly resolved thus to bless God. The seal of faith is added twice to this doxology, “Amen and Amen.” “Here is a double Amen,” says Matthew Henry, “according to the double signification. Amen—so it is, God is blessed for ever. Amen—be it so, let God be blessed for ever.”
3. God is praised by redeemed men and angels in heaven. By angels (Isaiah 6:1-3; Revelation 7:11-12). By the redeemed in heaven (Revelation 5:9-10; Revelation 7:9-10; et al.)
4. God is praised by all His creatures everywhere (Revelation 5:9-14).
III. God is blessed for ever. “For evermore.” His worship will occupy His creatures through all eternity. In heaven all our work will be worship, and all our life praise, and all will be perpetual.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 89". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter