THE PRIVILEGES OF THE GODLY
Psalms 4:3. Know that the Lord hath set apart him that is godly for himself.
RELIGION has in all ages been an object of derision to an ungodly world. There never have been wanting those who resembled Cain and Ishmael [Note: Galatians 4:29.]. God however has far other thoughts of those who serve him: the recollection of this is a comfort to the godly under their persecutions; the consideration of it too might be of great advantage to the ungodly. The Psalmist seems to be reproving the wicked for their contempt of God, and their injurious treatment of his people: he therefore, in a way of triumphant exultation, suggests the thought in the text.
I. Shew who are the objects of the divine favour—
The world is divided into two descriptions of men, godly, and ungodly. The godly are to be distinguished by a great variety of marks—
They fear God—
[The generality sin without any shame or remorse [Note: Ephesians 4:18-19.]. But the godly can no longer proceed in such an evil course [Note: 1 Peter 4:2-3.]. They humble themselves before God for their past offences. They guard against offending him, even in thought [Note: 2 Corinthians 10:5.].]
They love God—
[They are not actuated by a merely slavish fear. They have the spirit of adoption given to them [Note: Galatians 4:5.]. They unfeignedly delight to do their Father’s will [Note: Romans 7:22.]. They account the enjoyment of his favour to be their highest happiness [Note: Psalms 4:6-7.].]
They serve God—
[Their religion does not consist in mere inefficacious feelings. They make it appear to the world that they are God’s servants. They perform even their civil and social duties with a reference to him [Note: Romans 13:5-6.]. They do every thing with a view to his glory [Note: 1 Corinthians 10:31.].]
They are despised indeed by the world, but approved by their God—
This will appear while we,
II. Declare the peculiar honour conferred upon them—
God has testified, in the strongest terms, his approbation of the godly. He has moreover “set them apart,” as distinct from those that perish—
This he did secretly in his eternal purpose—
[His regard for them did not commence after they became godly. Their godliness is the fruit and not the cause of his love [Note: Jeremiah 31:3. See also 2 Timothy 1:9 and Romans 8:29-30.]. He loved them, and set his heart upon them, from eternity [Note: Ephesians 1:4.].]
He did it also openly, when he called them by his grace—
[These two periods of their separation are mentioned by St. Paul [Note: Galatians 1:15.]. In conversion, God sets apart sinners for himself. He inclines and enables them to come out from the world [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:17-18.]. He causes them to devote themselves entirely to his service [Note: 1 Peter 2:9.].]
He has set them apart too “for himself”—
[He makes their souls his own habitation [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:16.]. He sheds abroad his love in their hearts by his Holy Spirit. He preserves them as living monuments of his power and grace. He regards them as his own peculiar treasure [Note: Psalms 135:4.].]
This being a point wherein all are deeply interested, we shall,
III. Commend the subject to your solemn attention—
This is not a matter of doubtful disputation—
[In every period of the world, God has had a peculiar people. They have been distinguished with special tokens of his love [Note: Abel, Genesis 4:4. Enoch, Noah, &c. Hebrews 11:5; Hebrews 11:7. Paul, Acts 9:15.]; and though they were not set apart for their holiness, they have invariably been made holy; moreover, when they were holy, God delighted in them as holy [Note: 1 Peter 3:4.].]
Nor is it a matter of trifling concern—
[The Psalmist evidently speaks of it as deserving deep attention; and if it related only to this present state, it were worthy of notice. But the present separation of God’s people for himself is a pledge and earnest of a future separation: in the day of judgment, God will complete what he here began [Note: Matthew 25:32-33.]. What distinguished honour will he then confer upon the godly [Note: Malachi 3:17.]! Then he will be their joy, and they his glory, for over [Note: Revelation 22:3-4.].]
Let the ungodly therefore know this to their shame—
[The Psalmist suggests the thought peculiarly in this view; and well may they be ashamed who despise what God loves. In vain do any hope to be God’s hereafter, who are not his now. Let the ungodly therefore be ashamed of their false confidences. Let them set themselves apart for God, if they would have God set them apart for himself. Let them learn to live the life of the righteous, if they would die his death.]
But let the godly know it, to their unspeakable consolation—
[They who are beloved of God, have little reason to regard the contempt of men. God would have them assured of his superintending care. He would have them know their security, who take him for their God [Note: Romans 8:31.]. Let the godly then rejoice in the honour conferred upon them. Let them look forward with joy to the final completion of God’s gracious purposes towards them, and let them devote themselves more than ever to his service.]
A PRACTICAL EXHORTATION
Psalms 4:4-5. Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still. Offer the sacrifices of righteousness and put your trust in the Lord.
IN the Psalms of David there is a great diversity; some being expressive of his own experience, and abounding in petitions or thanksgivings, as the occasion required; others being simply historical, for the information of the Church; others prophetic of Christ and his kingdom in the world; and others again being merely instructive, for the benefit of mankind. Of this last kind is the psalm before us; in which, after declaring the comfort he had found in God, and offering a petition for the continuance of it (v. 1.), he reproves those who derided religion, and sought happiness in the world (v. 2.). He assures them, that God is the friend and portion of all who seek him (v. 3.); and recommends them to seek him in a becoming manner (v. 4, 5.); and from his own experience attests, that no increase of worldly prosperity can ever afford them so rich a recompence as His presence (v. 6, 7.), in which all who enjoy it find perfect rest (v. 8.).
As there is no certainty respecting the occasion on which it was written, we may take the text in a general view, and found upon it a general exhortation. Nor will there be any occasion for an artificial arrangement of it, because the different parts of the exhortation lie in an easy and natural order, and may be most profitably noticed as they arise in the text.
Beware, then, of sin; or, as the text expresses it, “Stand in awe, and sin not”—
[The words “Stand in awe” are, in the Septuagint Translation, rendered, “Be ye angry.” and it seems that the Apostle Paul referred to them, when he said, “Be ye angry, and sin not [Note: Ephesians 4:26.].” The original imports a violent commotion of the mind; and Bishop Home translates it, “tremble.” Certainly sin ought to be an object of extreme fear and dread: we can never “stand in awe” of it too much. See what it has done in the world, how it has deformed the whole face of nature, and more especially the soul of man, which was originally made in the image of God himself! See what was necessary for the expiation of it! Could nothing but the blood of God’s co-equal, co-eternal Son make an atonement for it, and shall it appear a light matter in our eyes? Go, take a new of the Saviour in Gethsemane and on the cross; and then say, whether sin be not a formidable evil: or go down to those regions where myriads of our unhappy fellow-creatures are suffering the penalty due to it, and then announce to us your sentiments respecting it. One glimpse of it, in its true character, would be abundantly sufficient to convince you, that death, in its most terrific shapes, has no terror in comparison of sin.
How, then, should you “stand in awe of it,” even when presented to you in its most flattering dress! What if men tell you that it is harmless, and will bring with it no painful consequences? Will you listen to their delusions? Will you, through fear of their derision, or from a hope of their favour, give way to sin, and subject yourselves thereby to the wrath of an offended God? O! sin not, either in a way of commission, or of omission: and if a fiery furnace, or a den of lions, be set before you as the only alternative with sin, hesitate not to choose death in its most tremendous forms, rather than accept deliverance on the condition of committing any wilful transgression.]
That you may not be unwittingly offending God, be careful to live in habits of daily self-examination—
[”Commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still.” Persons, at the moment that they are acting, are not always able to form a correct estimate of their conduct: they are blinded by self-love, and deceived by a partial view of the things in which they are engaged: and often find, on reflection, that they have reason to be ashamed of actions which, at the time of doing them, they conceived to be right. Not only did Paul, in his unconverted state, err, when “he thought he ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus,” but all the Apostles of our Lord erred in matters which, at the time, appeared to them to be highly commendable. Who can doubt but that Peter, when he dissuaded his Lord from submitting to his approaching sufferings, and when he cut off the ear of Malchus, took to himself credit for his zeal and love? and that afterwards, when accommodating himself to the wishes of his Jewish brethren, in requiring from the Gentiles the observance of the Law, he supposed himself to be actuated by a condescending regard to the prejudices of his less-instructed brethren? Yet, on all these occasions he acted a part most displeasing to God, and was no other than an agent of the devil himself. In like manner, when James and John would have called fire from heaven, to consume a Samaritan village, they “little knew what spirit they were of.” And all the Apostles, when they joined with Judas in condemning the extravagance of her who poured a box of ointment on their Master’s feet, imagined that their regard for the poor was highly seasonable and praise-worthy. And at is probable that Thomas, too, considered his pertinacity, in requiring more substantial proofs of his Lord’s resurrection, far preferable to the less cautious credulity of his fellow Apostles.
Thus it is, more or less, with all of us: we need reflection; we need instruction; we need to have the film removed from before our eyes: we need a more thorough knowledge of the motives and principles by which we are actuated. Things may be substantially right, yet wrong in the time and manner in which they are carried into effect: or they may be essentially wrong, and yet, through the blindness of our minds, appear to us highly commendable. This is particularly the case with many who spend their time in prosecuting offices which do not belong to them, whilst they overlook and neglect the duties which are proper to their calling. We are not to set one table of the Law against the other; or to trample upon acknowledged duties for the purpose of augmenting what we may fancy to be our religious advantages. Doubtless, where unreasonable men reduce us to the alternative of offending God or man, we must make our stand against the usurped authority, and be content to bear the consequences: but if we were more willing to exercise self-denial for the Lord’s sake, we should find that the path of duty would in many instances be more clear, and that we should on many occasions have less ground for self-reproach.
Let us, then, at the close of every day, review with candour the events in which we have been engaged, and the dispositions we have exercised: and, not content with examining ourselves, let us beg of God to search and try us, and to shew us whatever there has been in our conduct that was sinful, or erroneous, or defective; that so we may be humbled for the past, and be more observant of our duty for the future.]
Yet must we not so lean to the side of contemplation as to become remiss in action—
[We are to “offer,” and that with ever-increasing diligence, “the sacrifices of righteousness.” We are all “a holy priesthood, who are to offer up spiritual sacrifices, which are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Under the Law, there was a great variety of sacrifices; some for humiliation and others for thanksgiving. But, under the Gospel, every thing becomes a sacrifice, when it is done for God, and presented to him in the name of his dear Son. Doubtless the first offering which we are to present to God is our own heart [Note: 2 Corinthians 8:5.]. Without that, no other can come up with acceptance before him. But, when we have presented ourselves to him as “a living sacrifice [Note: Romans 12:1.],” there is not any service which we can offer, which will not be pleasing in his sight. Let us then abound in every good work, and seek to “be filled with all the fruits of righteousness, which are, by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” The duties of the closet demand our attention in the first place: for, if they be neglected, nothing can go well: the soul will be left to its own resources, and will of necessity fall a prey to sin and Satan. Then come the duties of our place and station, whether in social or civil life. To neglect these, is to sin grievously against God, and to bring great disgrace upon religion. Every person in the family has his proper office, which he is bound to fill, not from necessity only, but for the honour of his God. Whilst the head of it is prosecuting his proper business, the mistress is to be superintending the concerns of her family; and, whether occupied with her children or domestics, is to be discharging her duties with care and diligence; whilst the servants, each in his proper place, are to be executing their part with fidelity and zeal. The time that can be spared from these more appropriate avocations may well be devoted to the service of the public, in any line that may be thought most conducive to the welfare of mankind. But it is possible for men to be so engaged in cultivating the vineyards of others as to neglect their own. And this, in the present day especially, when so much time is consecrated to the maintenance of religious or benevolent societies, is a danger to which many are exposed. Care must be taken, that none who are entitled to our services be neglected; and that, whilst some rejoice in what we do, none have reason to complain of what we leave undone. The public assemblies, too, must not be neglected: they are the appointed means of honouring God, and of bringing his blessing on our own souls. In a word, our duties both to God and man are to be harmoniously and diligently performed: and it must be the labour of all, according to their respective abilities, to “abound in every good word and work.”]
But, in whatever way our own efforts are directed, we must “put our trust in the Lord”—
[It is to his grace alone that we must be indebted for strength; to his mercy must we look for acceptance before him; and on his truth and faithfulness must we rely for our ultimate reward.
Of ourselves we can do nothing. In vain will be all our efforts to escape from sin, or to fulfil our duty, if God do not “strengthen us with might by his Spirit in our inward man.”
We must look to God to “work all our works in us:” “all our fresh springs must be in him.” To rely simply on God is the only way of being really strong; as the Apostle says, “When I am weak, then am I strong;” and the more entire our reliance is on him, the more will his strength be perfected in our weakness.
At the same time, we must bear in mind how exceedingly defective our best services are; and must renounce all hope in “our own righteousness, as being in itself no better than filthy rags.” If St. Paul, with all his transcendent excellencies, “desired to be found in Christ, not having his own righteousness, but that which is of God by faith in Christ,” much more must we do so, whose righteousness falls so far short of his. Our constant and grateful acknowledgment must be, “In the Lord have I righteousness and strength.” Yes; “in the Lord must all the seed of Israel be justified, and in him alone must they glory.”
Yet we must not imagine that our services shall go unrewarded: for, though our works shall not go before us to heaven, to supersede the office of a Saviour, “they shall follow us, to attest our love to him, and shall be acknowledged by him as worthy of a gracious recompence.” Not even a cup of cold water given to one of his disciples shall lose its reward. God would even consider himself as “unrighteous, if he were to forget our works and labours of love, which we have shewed towards his name.” Be assured, therefore, that he will bring forth, at the last day, whatever you have done for him, and will both applaud and recompense it before the assembled universe.
Here, then, you have abundant encouragement to exercise yourselves with all diligence in the preceding duties of fear and vigilance, of piety and affiance. And know, that the more you endeavour to approve yourselves to God, the more shall you be approved by him in the day of judgment.]
GOD’S FAVOUR THE ONLY SUBSTANTIAL GOOD
Psalms 4:6. There be many that say, Who will shew us any good? Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us!
SELF-SUFFICIENCY pertains to God alone: he alone is not dependent on any other for his own happiness. The creature must of necessity be dependent, and must derive its happiness from some other source. The angels around the throne are blessed only in the fruition of their God. Man, of course, is subject to the same necessity of seeking happiness in something extraneous to himself: and unhappily, through the blindness of his understanding, the perverseness of his will, and the corruptness of his affections, he seeks it in the creature rather than in the Creator. Hence the universal inquiry spoken of in our text, “Who will shew us any good?” But there are some whose minds are enlightened, and whose desires centre in their proper object; and who, in answer to the proposed inquiry, reply, “Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us!”
To illustrate the wisdom of their choice, we will consider more at large,
I. The world’s inquiry—
A desire of good being natural, it is of necessity universal—
[From infancy to youth, from youth to manhood, from manhood to old age, the inquiry is continued, Who will shew us any good? who will shew us any thing wherein our minds may repose, and find the largest measure of satisfaction? Agreeably to this universal sentiment, all prosecute the same object, in the ways wherein they think themselves most likely to attain it. The merchant seeks it in his business, and hopes that in due time he shall find it in the acquisition of wealth. The soldier looks for it in the dangers and fatigues of war, and trusts that he shall find it in the laurels of victory, the acquisition of rank, and the applause of men. The traveller searches for it in foreign climes, in expectation that he shall possess it in an expansion of mind, and in those elegant acquirements, which shall render him the admiration of the circle in which he moves. The statesman conceives he shall find it in the possession of power, the exertion of influence, and the success of his plans. The philosopher imagines that it must surely be found in his diversified and laborious researches; whilst the devotee follows after it with confidence in cloistered seclusion, in religious contemplation, and in the observance of ceremonies of man’s invention. Others pursue a widely different course. The voluptuary follows after his object in a way of sensual gratification, and in the unrestrained indulgence of all his appetites. The gamester affects rather the excitement of his feelings in another way; and hopes, that, in the exultation arising from successful hazard, and from sudden gain, he shall enjoy the happiness which his soul panteth after. The miser, on the other hand, will neither risk, nor spend more than he can avoid; but seeks his good in an accumulation of riches, and a conceit that he possesses what shall abundantly suffice for the supply of all his future wants. We might pursue the subject through all the different departments of life; but sufficient has been said to shew, that all are inquiring after good. True indeed it is, that many seek their happiness in evil, as the drunkard, the robber, and all other transgressors of God’s laws. But no man seeks evil as evil; he seeks it under the idea of good, and from the expectation that, circumstanced as he is, the thing which he does will, on the whole, most contribute to his happiness.]
This inquiry after good is in itself commendable, and proper to be indulged—
[The brute creation are directed by instinct to things which are conducive to their welfare: but man must have his pursuits regulated by the wisdom and experience of others, to whom therefore he must look up for instruction. But it is much to be regretted that the generality inquire rather of the ignorant than of the well-instructed, and follow their passions rather than their reason. If men would but go to the Holy Scriptures, and take counsel of their God, they would soon have their views rectified, and their paths directed into the way of peace.]
To such inquiries we proceed to state,
II. The believer’s answer—
The believer’s answer comes not from his head merely, but from his heart. There he has a fixed and rooted principle, which tells him, that happiness is to be found in God alone: so that, despising in comparison all other objects, he says, “Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon me!” “In thy favour is life,” and “thy loving-kindness is better to me than life itself.”
That a sense of the Divine favour is the best and greatest good, will appear from the following considerations:
1. It gives a zest to all other good—
[Let a man possess all that the world can bestow, the greatest opulence, the highest honours, the kindest friends, the dearest connexions, his happiness will after all be very contracted, if he have not also the light of God’s countenance lifted up upon him. But let him be favoured with the Divine presence, he will taste, not the comfort merely that is in the creature, but God’s love in the creature. This will be like the sun shining on a beautiful prospect, every object of which receives a ten-fold beauty from his rays; whilst the spectator himself, revived with its cheering influence, has his enjoyment of them exceedingly enhanced. Here David, amidst all his elevation to dignity and power, found his happiness [Note: Psalms 21:1-6.]: and here alone, whatever else we may enjoy, can it be truly found [Note: Psalms 144.; in the close of which, David corrects, as it were, what he had said in the two preceding verses.].]
2. It supplies the place of all other good—
[Let a person be destitute, not only of the fore-mentioned comforts, but also of health, and liberty, and ease, yet will he, in the light of God’s countenance, find all that his soul can desire. Behold Paul and Silas in prison, with their feet in the stocks, and their backs torn with scourges! Are they unhappy? No; they sing; they sing aloud at midnight: and what is it that thus enables them to rise above all the feelings of humanity? It is their sense of the Divine presence, and of his blessing upon their souls. And in like manner may the poorest and most destitute of all the human race exult, if only the love of God be shed abroad in his heart: he may adopt the language of St. Paul, and speak of himself “as having nothing, and yet possessing all things [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:10.].”]
3. It paves the way to all other good—
[Earthly blessings may come alone: but the favour of God brings along with it every other blessing that God can bestow. Even earthly things, as far as they are needful, “are added to those who seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness:” and we need scarcely say what peace, and joy, and love, and holiness in all its branches, are brought into the soul in communion with a reconciled God. We may confidently say with Paul, “All things are yours, if ye are Christ’s [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:21-23.].”]
4. It will never cloy—
[There is no earthly gratification which may not be enjoyed to satiety: but who was ever weary of the Divine presence? In whom did a sense of God’s pardoning love ever excite disgust? A man “in a fulness of earthly sufficiency may be in straits [Note: Job 20:22. Proverbs 14:13.]:” and it not unfrequently happens, that the rich have less comfort in their abundance than the poor in their meaner and more scanty pittance. But “the blessing of the Lord maketh rich, and addeth no sorrow with it [Note: Proverbs 10:22.]:” the man who possesses it has not his enjoyment lessened by repetition or repletion; but, on the contrary, has his capacities enlarged, in proportion as the communications of God’s favour are enlarged towards him.]
5. It will never end—
[Whatever we possess here, we must soon bid farewell to it: whether our enjoyment be intellectual or corporeal, it must soon come to an end. But the favour of God will last for ever, and will then be enjoyed in all its inconceivable fulness, when death shall have deprived us of every other enjoyment. “In God’s presence there is a fulness of joy; and at his right hand there are pleasures for evermore [Note: Psalms 16:11.].”]
1. Those who are seeking happiness in the things of time and sense—
[We ask the votaries of this world, Whether they have ever found that permanent satisfaction in earthly things which they once hoped for? Has not the creature proved itself to be “a broken cistern that can hold no water?” and is not Solomon’s testimony confirmed by universal experience, that “all is vanity and vexation of spirit?” If this then be true, why will ye not avail yourselves of that information, and go for all your comforts to the fountain-head? “Wherefore do ye spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which satisfieth not? Hearken diligently unto me; and eat ye that which is good; and let your soul delight itself in fatness [Note: Isaiah 55:2.].” O let the blessing which the priests of old were authorized to pronounce, be the one object of your desires [Note: Numbers 6:24-26.]! and we will venture beforehand to assure you, that you shall never seek for it in vain. After other things you may inquire, and labour in vain: but the man that looks to God, as reconciled to him in Christ Jesus, and desires above all things his favour, shall never be disappointed of his hope.]
2. Those who are seeking their happiness in God—
[Professing, as you do, that God is a sufficient portion, the world will expect to find that you are superior to it; and that you live as citizens and expectants of a better country. Thus it was that the saints of old lived [Note: Hebrews 11:9-10.]; and thus must we live, even as our blessed Lord himself set us an example. If the world hear you inquiring, Who will shew me any good? and see you seeking it in the vanities of time and sense, will they not say, that religion is an empty name, and that it can no more satisfy the soul than their vanities can do? O give not reason for any such sentiment as this! but let it be seen, that in having God for your portion, you have a good, which none can estimate but those who possess it, and which the whole world are unable either to diminish or augment [Note: Psalms 73:25.].]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Psalms 4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany