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Bible Commentaries

Sermon Bible Commentary

Psalms 39

Verse 1

Psalms 39:1

I. How important it is that we should seek to order our speech aright, seeing that our words are the outcoming of our inmost heart, the revelation of the deepest, most hidden things which are there.

II. How important it is that we should order our speech aright, seeing that words reach so far, exercise so vast an influence. They have sometimes been called "winged," and so they are, travelling far and fast by paths of their own.

III. We might well pray this prayer, having regard to the difficulty of the duty which we here propose to ourselves: a difficulty so great that St. James could say, "If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body."

IV. Consider the strict judgment and account to which God will call us for our use of this excellent talent of speech. "By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned;" and from other sayings of Christ our Lord it is to be feared that many a light word, as it seems now, will prove heavy enough at the day of judgment: many a word lightly spoken now will have to be heavily accounted for then.

R. C. Trench, Sermons in Westminster Abbey, p. 114.

References: Psalms 39:1 . R. Duckworth, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xx., p. 200; C. Wordsworth, Sermons at Harrow School, p. 198; Spurgeon, Evening by Evening, p. 74; J. E. Vaux, Sermon Notes, 3rd series, p. 60.

Verses 1-2

Psalms 39:1-2

The unspoken judgment of mankind.

Scripture speaks in two different ways about judging others. On the one hand, it says, "Judge nothing before the time, till the day of the Lord come;" on the other hand, it says, "He that is spiritual judgeth all things:" and we are told to regard the Holy Spirit, of which we partake, as a Spirit of discernment. Goodness as such has a wisdom in it; it knows that which attracts and draws it to itself, and that which does not; it knows the character with which it is in sympathy and agreement, and that with which it is not.

I. What then is meant by our being told that we are to "judge nothing before the time, till the day of the Lord come," etc.? These texts mean (1) that we are not to judge hastily, not to judge others for small and doubtful things; they unquestionably limit and put checks on us in judging others. (2) But perhaps the great law with respect to judging which is laid down in these texts is that judgment in this world, when it is upon the critical point of men's goodness or badness, is suspended with respect to its delivery; that it is not allowed full expression and manifestation. Openness is the very characteristic of the last judgment. But and this is the great distinction between the two the tongue of intermediate judgment is tied. We are not at liberty to say openly what we think about others, even though it may be true.

II. In the temper of the Psalmist we observe a greater strength than belongs to the other temper of impetuous and premature expression strength not only of self-control, but of actual feeling and passion. To attempt the exposure of the bad in this world would be to fight with all the conditions of our state in this world for another reason. It would be found that the charge could not keep pace with the explanation, but that the explanation would, by the laws of society, overcome it, because by these very laws what society as such requires and is contented with is different from that which satisfies the individual. A thing is true, most true, until you say it; but if you say it, if it goes out of your lips, if it is once spoken, oh, how false it becomes. The floodgates of explanation open. It is crushed, and cannot stand a moment against the full resources of a conventional defence.

III. This judgment, which is hidden at the bottom of human hearts this is the real judgment, though at present only mute and expectant. Fear this hidden adversary; and if it be not too late, deal with him quickly while thou art in the way with him.

J. B. Mozley, University Sermons, p. 223.

References: Psalms 39:1-7 . J. L. Adamson, Dundee Pulpit, March 2nd, 1872.Psalms 39:3 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. x., No. 576; J. B. Aitken, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiv., p. 113.Psalms 39:4 . J. Budgen, Parochial Sermons, vol. i., p. 157. Psalms 39:5 . W. Lindsay Alexander, Christian Thought and Work, p. 106. Psalms 39:6 . A. C. Tait, Lessons for School Life, p. 209.

Verse 6

Psalms 39:6 , Psalms 39:12

I. Observe the very forcible expression which is given here to the thought of life common to both verses. (1) "Every man walketh in a vain show." The force of the expression which the Psalmist employs is correctly given in the margin, "in an image," or "in a shadow." The phrase is equivalent to saying, he walks in the character or likeness of a shadow, or, as we should say, he walks as a shadow. That is to say, the whole outward life and activity of every man is represented as fleeting and unsubstantial, like the reflection of a cloud, which darkens leagues of the mountain's side in a moment, and ere a man can say, Behold! is gone again for ever. (2) Look at the other image employed in the other clause of our text to express the same idea: "I am a stranger and sojourner, as all my fathers were." The phrase has a history. In that most pathetic narrative of an old-world sorrow long since calmed and consoled, when "Abraham stood up from before his dead" and craved a burying-place for his Sarah from the sons of Heth, his first plea was, "I am a stranger and a sojourner with you." He was a foreigner, not naturalised. And such is our relation to all this visible frame of things in which we dwell.

II. Let me point, in the second place, to the gloomy, aimless hollowness which that thought apart from God infuses into life. Shadow is opposed to substance, to that which is real, as well as that which is enduring. No matter how you may get on in the world, though you may fulfil every dream with which you began in your youth, you will certainly find that without Christ for your Brother and Saviour, God for your Friend, and heaven for your hope, life, with all its fulness, is empty. The crested waves seem heaped together as they recede from the eye till they reach the horizon, where miles of storm are seen but as a line of spray. So when a man looks back upon his life, if it have been a godless one, be sure of this, that it will be a dark and cheerless retrospect over a tossing waste, with a white rim of wandering, barren foam vexed by tempest.

III. Note, finally, how our other text in its significant words gives us the blessedness which springs from this same thought when it is looked at in connection with God: "I am a stranger with Thee, and a sojourner." (1) A stranger with Thee then we are the guests of the King. (2) A stranger with Thee then we have a constant Companion and an abiding presence. (3) Strangers with Thee then we may carry our thoughts forward to the time when we shall go to our true home, nor wander any longer in the land that is not ours.

A. Maclaren, Sermons Preached in Manchester , 3rd series, p. 15.

Verses 6-7

Psalms 39:6-7

I. The central superficialness of this age, and of what calls itself its theology, is that it is so occupied with things of sense or intellect which do not bear on man's inner nature, that it forgets itself and its relation to God. It treats with God, not with the tender familiarity of reverential love, but with the calm complacency of one whose rights God is bound to respect, and who is, on the whole, on good terms with God; and therefore it is false and hollow to God and to itself.

II. These two objects of knowledge, unlike as they are, of God and of ourselves, mutually condition one another, and that in part because God has revealed Himself to us chiefly in reference to ourselves. The soul which knows not itself, and has not, by the grace of God, purified itself, will not see clearly the image of God, which it has deformed in itself.

III. Set God before thee, and the Pharisee religion of the day will not be thine. Thou shalt walk, not in a shadowy being, as this life would in itself be, but up and down with God; in God thou shalt take thy rest, with God converse; His wisdom shall be thy wisdom, His truth thy light, His love thy joy. And if this be the mirror, what is the "face to face"? "And now, Lord, what have I ever longed for? My longing expectation is for Thee."

E. B. Pusey, Lenten Sermons, p. 278.

Verse 9

Psalms 39:9

I. "Thou didst it." It is something to have got firm hold of a fact. A great deal is gained when the sorrow has been traced up to God.

II. "Thou didst it" has some treasures of knowledge for us. As we go round it we begin to make discoveries. (1) God did it; then I know that infinite wisdom did it. (2) God did it; then I know that infinite power did it. (3) God did it, and therefore I know that infinite love did it.

M. R. Vincent, God and Bread, p. 207.

References: Psalms 39:12 . R. D. B. Rawnsley, Sermons in Country Churches, 1st series, p. 175; Expositor, 3rd series, vol. iv., p. 7; J. Budgen, Parochial Sermons, vol. i., p. 166; Spurgeon, Morning by Morning, p. 76. Psalms 39:13 . Sermons for Boys and Girls, p. 77.

Verse 12

Psalms 39:6 , Psalms 39:12

I. Observe the very forcible expression which is given here to the thought of life common to both verses. (1) "Every man walketh in a vain show." The force of the expression which the Psalmist employs is correctly given in the margin, "in an image," or "in a shadow." The phrase is equivalent to saying, he walks in the character or likeness of a shadow, or, as we should say, he walks as a shadow. That is to say, the whole outward life and activity of every man is represented as fleeting and unsubstantial, like the reflection of a cloud, which darkens leagues of the mountain's side in a moment, and ere a man can say, Behold! is gone again for ever. (2) Look at the other image employed in the other clause of our text to express the same idea: "I am a stranger and sojourner, as all my fathers were." The phrase has a history. In that most pathetic narrative of an old-world sorrow long since calmed and consoled, when "Abraham stood up from before his dead" and craved a burying-place for his Sarah from the sons of Heth, his first plea was, "I am a stranger and a sojourner with you." He was a foreigner, not naturalised. And such is our relation to all this visible frame of things in which we dwell.

II. Let me point, in the second place, to the gloomy, aimless hollowness which that thought apart from God infuses into life. Shadow is opposed to substance, to that which is real, as well as that which is enduring. No matter how you may get on in the world, though you may fulfil every dream with which you began in your youth, you will certainly find that without Christ for your Brother and Saviour, God for your Friend, and heaven for your hope, life, with all its fulness, is empty. The crested waves seem heaped together as they recede from the eye till they reach the horizon, where miles of storm are seen but as a line of spray. So when a man looks back upon his life, if it have been a godless one, be sure of this, that it will be a dark and cheerless retrospect over a tossing waste, with a white rim of wandering, barren foam vexed by tempest.

III. Note, finally, how our other text in its significant words gives us the blessedness which springs from this same thought when it is looked at in connection with God: "I am a stranger with Thee, and a sojourner." (1) A stranger with Thee then we are the guests of the King. (2) A stranger with Thee then we have a constant Companion and an abiding presence. (3) Strangers with Thee then we may carry our thoughts forward to the time when we shall go to our true home, nor wander any longer in the land that is not ours.

A. Maclaren, Sermons Preached in Manchester , 3rd series, p. 15.

Verse 13

Psalms 39:13

These are the closing words of the most beautiful of sacred elegies. It is the pathetic utterance of a heart not yet subdued to perfect resignation, yet jealous with a holy jealousy lest it should bring dishonour upon its God. The thought which haunted the Psalmist with such cruel persistence and suggested doubt of the reality of a loving Providence was the thought which from time immemorial has tried the faith of thousands of true hearts the thought of the frailty and insignificance of human life. "Surely every man walketh in a vain show," he cries; "he heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gather them."

I. Across the dividing ages we are drawn to the very heart of that nameless wrestler whose conflicts we identify with our own. For if we have a refuge to flee into which was unknown to the authors of these old-world laments, if we can look up, as they could not, with almost open vision, to a Divine Protector, Who has Himself come among us and given us in Christ our Lord the sure pledge of His loving foresight and the earnest of a perfect redress, on the other hand, how the very advance which the world makes brings out the mocking incompleteness of the part we have to play in it.

II. In the text we have a witness to that deep, universal conviction that life and strength are good things. When we thank God for our creation and preservation, we are true to an instinct which is rarely overpowered. That which makes recovery of strength so welcome a thing if once we know what issues depend upon our use of it is the prospect of a new probation, a new chance of employing aright God's wondrous endowment of life. The Christian prays to be spared above all that he may do more for God, for his fellow-men. He knows that lengthened days, unless they serve these ends, can be no boon at all.

R. Duckworth, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xx., p. 200.

References: Psalms 39:13 . J. Keble, Sundays after Trinity, Part II., p. 485.Psalms 39:0 A. Maclaren, Life of David, p. 236. Psalms 40:1 . S. Martin, Westminster Chapel Pulpit, 4th series, No. 15; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. xx., p. 21.Psalms 40:1-3 . J. West, Penny Pulpit, Nos. 3886 and 3887; Spurgeon, vol. xxviii., No. 1674; R. M. McCheyne, Additional Remains, p. 25; G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 135.Psalms 40:2 , Psalms 40:3 . G. Matheson, Moments on the Mount, p. 216.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Psalms 39". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/sbc/psalms-39.html.