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Why standest Thou afar off, O Lord?
A theological difficulty, a haughty impiety, an earnest prayer
I. A theological difficulty.
“Why standest Thou afar off, O Lord?” Some great enormity was now under the eyes of David. We know not what. He had witnessed many such scenes. They have a tendency to suggest that God is indifferent. Even Christ felt this. “Why hast Thou forsaken Me?” Why does not God interfere? We cannot fully answer the question, but we may consider--
1. That God respects that freedom of action with which He has endowed man.
2. The sufferings which the wicked inflict upon the good are often disciplinary. Faith rests itself deeper.
3. There will be a period of retribution, “For all these things God will bring thee into judgment.”
II. A haughty impiety. “The wicked in his pride doth persecute the poor. See this impiety--
1. In its conduct towards men. It is cruel--“persecutes.” It is fraudulent--“his mouth is full of deceit and fraud,” both in speech--“under his tongue,” etc., and practice--“he sitteth in the lurking places,” etc.
2. In its conduct towards God.
There is here--
1. An expressed contempt for the Eternal. “For the wicked boasteth of his heart’s desire,” etc.
2. A practical disregard for the Eternal, “God is not in all his thoughts.” He is without God.
3. An awful calumny on the Eternal. “He hath said in his heart, God hath forgotten me.” Haughty impiety indeed.
III. An earnest prayer. Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up Thine hand. He desires--
1. A merciful interposition on behalf of the good. “Forget not the humble.” Piety ever breathes its prayers to heaven for such.
2. A righteous interposition against the wicked. “Break Thou the arm,” etc. “Seek out his wickedness,” etc. We cannot justify this part of David’s prayers, which were often as imperfect as many parts of his conduct.
IV. An exultant faith. “The Lord is King forever and ever.” David believed--
1. In the perpetuity of God’s Kingdom.
2. In His attention to human entreaties. “Lord, Thou hast heard the desire of the humble.”
3. In His vindication of the right. “To judge the fatherless,” etc. The wicked man is in an especial sense “the man of the earth.” Sprung from, living by and for it, and it only. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Man’s cry for a solution of the felt distance of his Maker
There are many other passages which express the same sentiment (Jeremiah 14:8). This cry implies--
1. That the distance is unnatural; and
2. Undesirable. Hence the question, How can this distance be explained? There are three sources to which alone we can look for light.
I. Human philosophy. It may theorise thus--
1. That God is too great to allow of close connection with Him. This is the Epicurean view. But no true thinker can accept it.
2. That the cause of the felt distance is God’s method of agency. This is mediatory and uniform; not direct, but indirect. He stands concealed behind the machinery of the universe. But this no satisfactory explanation. He acts mediatorially in heaven, and yet all there feel His presence. And there is uniformity in heaven also, but neither does that hinder the realisation of His presence.
II. Speculative theology. This says that man by sin has offended God, and hence God has in anger withdrawn from men, and will not return until His wrath is appeased by sacrifice. But this explanation fails--
1. Because inconsistent with the immutability of the Divine character. He cannot pass from love to anger, from the placid to the furious. It is impossible.
2. And inconsistent also with the moral excellence of God. Can what is unamiable with man be right with God? I trow not.
III. Divine revelation. It teaches that we by our sin have departed from God. The sinner is the prodigal son. Now,
1. This is a satisfactory solution. When we have sinned we feel God distant from us, and, moreover, indignant with us. So He appears to the sinful mind. In reality God is near him and loves him infinitely. But the Bible often presents God as He appears to the mind, as it speaks of natural objects as they appear to our senses. And
2. It is a vital solution. Knowing the cause is indispensable to its removal. And this the Bible teaches. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God.
The wicked, from pride, refuse to seek God
In this Psalm we have a full-length portrait of a careless, unawakened sinner, drawn by the unerring pencil of truth. Two of the features which compose this portrait are delineated in our text.
1. An unwillingness to seek after God.
2. Pride, which causes that unwillingness.
I. The wicked will not seek after God. They do not, because they will not. To this purpose they obstinately and unalterably adhere, unless their wills are subdued by Divine grace.
1. The wicked will not seek after the knowledge of God. This is evident from Scripture statement, and from the experience of all ages. The wicked will not pray for the knowledge of God, nor improve their opportunities for acquiring the knowledge of God.
2. The wicked will not seek the favour of God. Knowing nothing experimentally of His excellence and perfections, and ignorant of their entire dependence on Him for happiness, they cannot of course realise that the favour of God is life, and His loving kindness is better than life.
3. The wicked will not seek after the likeness of God. That they do not at all resemble Him is certain. They do not wish or endeavour to resemble Him. There is, indeed, in their view, no reason why they should. There are but two motives which can make any being wish to resemble another. A wish to obtain the approbation of the person imitated; or admiration of something in his character, and a consequent desire to inscribe it into our own. But the wicked can be influenced by neither of these motives to seek after conformity to God.
4. The wicked will not seek after communion with God. Communion supposes some degree of resemblance to the being whose communion is sought, and a participation of the same nature, views, and feelings.
II. The reason why the wicked will not seek God.
1. Pride renders God a disagreeable object of contemplation to the wicked, and a knowledge of Him as undesirable. Pride consists in an unduly exalted opinion of one’s self. It is therefore impatient of a rival, hates a superior, and cannot endure a master.
2. The pride of the wicked prevents them from seeking the knowledge of God, by rendering them unwilling to be taught. Pride is almost as impatient of a teacher as of a master.
3. Pride renders the wicked unwilling to use the means by which alone the knowledge of God can be acquired. It renders them unwilling to study the Bible in a proper manner. Pride also renders the man unwilling to pray. And it prevents him from improving public and private opportunities for acquiring religious instruction. The pride of the wicked will not allow them to seek after the favour or the likeness of God. It makes them unwilling to seek after communion with God.
1. How evident it is that salvation is wholly of grace, and that all the wicked, if left to themselves, will certainly perish.
2. How depraved, how infatuated, how unreasonable do the wicked appear!
3. How foolish, absurd, ruinous, blindly destructive of its own object does pride appear! The subject may be applied for purposes of self-examination. (E. Payson, D. D.)
The pride of man restrains seeking after God
Christianity made but few converts amongst the disciples of Zeno. Why should it have been so? With their simple and self-denying habits, why were they not attracted by the purer morals of the Gospel? and with their superiority to the surrounding superstitions, why did they not hail that unknown God whom Cleanthus had sung, and whom Paul now preached? The answer we fear is to be found in that little word pride--that little word which is still so great a hindrance to many wise men after the flesh. Amongst the Greeks and Romans the Stoics occupied the same place as the Pharisees amongst the Jews. The very foundation of their theory was to make the virtuous man self-sufficing, and usually they got so far as to make him self-sufficient. In cutting off all other vices the Stoic, like the cynic before him, fostered to enormous magnitude pride or self-complacency, and, as Archer Butler says in his Ancient Philosophy, sought not so much to please the Deity as to be His equal. (J. Hamilton, D. D.)
God is not in all his thoughts.
The sinfulness of forgetting God
A characteristic mark of the ungodly man. Forgetfulness of God is the concealed spring from which the evil and bitter streams of outward wickedness derive their origin.
I. What is intended by having God in all our thoughts. It is not meant that we should have our meditations constantly and invariably fixed upon God. Nor that the most pious and spiritual state of mind will disqualify a man for transacting the proper business of his station. We are here reminded of the necessity of an abiding and habitual impression of our obligations and accountableness to God. The text implies that we should take God as our portion, and expect our highest and best happiness from Him. Whatever it be from which a man expects his chief good, to that his thoughts naturally revert whenever he is not compelled to fix them upon some other object. It will be the favourite topic of his meditations.
II. The consequence of the want of this principle. The man described here is one who lives in a state of habitual forgetfulness of God; acts without an abiding sense of his obligation and accountableness to Him; lives to please himself, rather than Him who made him. This state of mind is the very thing that leads to every act of gross outward sin. Conclusion:
1. Learn not to be satisfied with ourselves, because men approve of us. They cannot at all look at our motives.
2. If, in order to our being approved of God, it is necessary that we should have such a constant regard to Him, is it not clear that the retrospect of our lives will show us that we have been lamentably defective in His sight? Our subject may remind us of our exceeding sinfulness, and of our need of the mercy and grace of God as revealed in the Gospel of His Son. (T. Scott, MA.)
Who are the wicked
The text says that God is not in their thoughts.
1. This is because of practical atheism. God is put out of the way by various theories. One makes the world ten thousand years old, and another ten million. The Bible is sneered at as an old, antiquated book.
2. Ignorance of God’s character is another reason why God is not in men’s thoughts. We, as sinful and blinded creatures, cannot justly comprehend a holy God. Even Christ’s disciples but poorly comprehended God’s character as revealed in Christ. Much more in the case of the sinner is it true that God is not in his thoughts on account of the blindness of sin. Justice and holiness are obscured.
3. A misconception of their own moral condition follows. They lose sight of God because they are not awake to their own ill-desert.
4. Another reason why God is not in the wicked man’s thought is because of absorption in the things of the world. The demands of business should be met, but those of God are not to be forgotten. Men know that there is a future life, though some may argue against it. The Sabbath is given as one preparative. (J. H. Hamilton, M. D.)
The place where God is not
God is everywhere, and yet the verse tells us where He is not--in the thoughts of wicked men. This is--
1. A notorious fact. Millions live day by day as if God were not.
2. An astounding fact. It is unnatural, impious, calamitous. Why, then, is God not in their thoughts?
1. It is not because there can be any doubt as to the importance of thinking of God.
2. Nor because there is any lack of means to remind men of Him. All things are full of Him.
3. Nor because of the unbroken regularity of the material world. In heaven, where there is the same regularity, their minds ever delight in Him.
4. Nor because man has no consciousness of restraint in action. But all holy souls are equally free.
II. Positively. The cause is in the heart.
1. Fear--the guilty conscience.
2. Dislike; hence men exclude God from their thoughts. Learn, the appalling wickedness of man, and his need of Christ. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
A searching description of the wicked
The heart of the wicked is the only place in the creation of God whence, if we may so speak, the Creator is banished. Inquire--
I. Into the causes of such a state of mind. They penetrate deeper than may at first sight appear. It is nothing temporary or accidental that causes the forgetfulness of which the Psalmist complains; the evil is general and radical. It has its source in our original apostasy; it extends to us all by nature; no man is free from its influence. Subordinate to this primary and leading cause there are individual causes which, though but results of the former, become in their turn new and fruitful causes of the same effect. The constant pressure of worldly concerns, even when lawful, tends to banish God from our thoughts. But mere inattention is not the whole cause why God is not more in the hearts of men. They wilfully and deliberately banish Him from their thoughts. They are anxious to forget Him. And the reason is that they do not truly love God. What we love is always welcome to our thoughts.
II. Into the evils resulting therefrom. In fact, all the vice that exists among mankind arises from their not having God in their thoughts. Did men seriously think upon God they would not dare to sin as they too often do.
III. Into the method of overcoming this unhappy state of character.
1. Learn to contemplate the Almighty in the magnitude of His terrors,
2. Let us view God in the abundance of His love. (Christian Observer.)
A discourse on habitual devotion
It is characteristic of a good man that he “sets the Lord always before him,” whereas it is said of the wicked, “God is not in all their thoughts.” This seems to furnish a pretty good test of the state of a man’s mind with respect to virtue and vice. The wicked man is a practical atheist. The good man sees God in everything, and everything in God. An habitual regard of God is the most effectual means of advancing us from the more imperfect to the more perfect state. Recommend this duty by an enumeration of its happy effects.
1. An habitual regard to God in our actions tends greatly to keep us firm in our adherence to our duty. It has pleased Divine Providence to place man in a state of trial and probation. This world is strictly such. God has placed us under laws. We are certainly less liable to forget these laws, and our obligation to observe them, when we keep up an habitual regard to our great Lawgiver and Judge, when we consider Him as present with us.
2. An habitual regard to God promotes an uniform cheerfulness of mind. It tends to dissipate melancholy and anxiety.
3. Fits a man for the business of this life, giving a peculiar presence and intrepidity of mind, and is therefore the best support in difficult enterprises of any kind. Consider the most proper and effectual methods of promoting this temper of mind.
(1) Endeavour to divest your minds of too great a multiplicity of the cares of this world;
(2) Do not omit stated times of worshipping God by prayer, public and private;
(3) Omit no opportunity of turning your thoughts to God;
(4) Never fail to have recourse to God upon every occasion of strong emotion of mind;
(5) Labour to free your minds of all consciousness of guilt and self-reproach;
(6) Cultivate in your minds just ideas of God. (J. Priestley, LL. D.)
Thy judgments are far above, out of his sight.
Man’s judgment at variance with God’s
There is an obtuseness and impenetrability that attach to the mind of man respecting the character of moral obligation that prove absolutely invincible to all his powers of meditation and research. This inability is of a moral, not of a natural kind, having its origin not in his natural constitution, but in his adventitious circumstances. The powers of the human mind receive a wrong direction. Reason turns renegade, and to escape a hated conclusion flings itself incontinently into the arms of delusion. It is thus that the stoutest intellect becomes the most impregnable. Numberless are the subterfuges, speculative as well as practical, that are continually held in play by the human mind in order to elude the embarrassment of its untoward circumstances; for there is no middle road to peace once the soul has begun to grapple with the momentous investigation. This obliquity of mind, that likes not to retain the knowledge of God, is the true and only source of all the difficulty that attaches to the reception of religious truth. Truth of this description lies no way more remote from our apprehension than any truth of natural science, till it begins to molest us with the sense of moral obligation, and to make its demands on our acquiescence in the form of duty. Men have not generally disputed much about what is virtue, their approbation of it being required only in the form of encomium. They willingly unite in applauding exemplary specimens of justice, disinterestedness, and generosity, and in the condemnation of their contraries . . . Our consciences ought not to sit so easy under the sins of our country, or even of mankind. That character in man which separates betwixt him and his Maker, and provokes the Divine judgment, also renders the Divine proceeding in judgment more obscure and unintelligible to him. Conclusion: See the indubitable equity, harmony, and consistency of the Divine administration in judgment. (H. Grey, M. A.)
The unseen avengers
On the whole and in the rough, unquestionably sin in this world does not remain unavenged. This is true when society is looked at in the mass; yet in the history of individuals it is constantly found that no such obvious sequence of crime and punishment can be traced. There are plenty of cases in which offenders against the moral law have seemed to get off scot-free. It even almost appears at times as if they were specially favoured in the struggle for existence. Is there some hidden explanation of cases of this kind? The text says, “Thy judgments are far above.” They are there, unerring in their action, unslumbering in their determination, but they are too great, too solemn and awful for the Psalmist’s sin-dulled eyes to behold. God has many ways of avenging sin. It may in reality be far worse for a man when he is left for a long while to delight in his sins, when they grow round him and in him, like some choking creeper, some deathly parasite that sucks out the vitality from that which it encircles, leaving at last only the mere semblance of life. Trace the action of these unseen avengers.
I. After the commission of downright, unmistakable sin. There are many sins of the flesh that ought to meet with open punishment from the Divine laws which they violate. Yet obviously ill deeds are often not so chastised. Take the case of secret drinking. There may be exposure. Or the habit grows more dominant. Even if its physical consequences are delayed, a degeneration of spiritual faculties sets in. It becomes increasingly difficult for such persons to see any goodness in their fellow creatures. Tell me not that sin is unavenged when the whole character becomes deteriorated, when the will becomes paralysed, when all impulses for good are rendered impotent and sterile, when blindness has come upon the eyes to all that is fair and glorious and uplifting in the world.
II. Take another instance, that of hypocrisy. The Chadbands and Pecksniffs of humanity, the religious and moral humbugs of the world, how do they fare? Are they always discovered? Hypocrisy is of various degrees. It commences in the bud by timid fear of speaking the truth, and it ends in the full-blown flower of brazen dishonesty and imposture. In this necessary development it is ever finding its dreadful reward. Here, again, the sinner may be unable to understand the doom which has fallen upon him. It is supposed that in past generations the blind fishes of subterranean lakes in America found their organs of sight not required, so nature dropped them out. They may be happy in their blindness, but who would exchange conditions with them? We cannot be untrue to what we know to be right without bringing upon ourselves a like Nemesis. The inevitable punishment of doing a false action is the increased difficulty of either doing or seeing what is true.
III. Worldliness. For the most part the consequences are obvious enough of devotion to the fancies and fashions of a luxurious, indolent society. Folk become weary and jaded. The upper-class world has, too, its seamy side. There are not often open exposures. The decorum of advancing age smooths over everything. In those cynical words, “We are all respectable after seventy.” The wrong is not done with when forgotten. What if the fires of passion and emulation are only banked in temporarily by the worn-out crust of mortality? They may be ready to flare up in another world. Anyway, their effects ever remain. All that might have been--all wasted, misused, handed over to the powers of evil! How terrible would these pitiable failures show if seen by eyes purged to discover things in their true reality! Worse thought still, may not this deplorable vision of life’s wasted opportunities be forced, branded upon the soul for ever hereafter? (G. Gardner, M. A.)
Judgments of life
In this Psalm David gives one of his emphatic descriptions of the wicked man, and the fate that awaits him. We in our day are apt to think of every bad man as partly good, and of every good man as partly bad; that character is always mingled. Hence good and bad characters do not stand out so clearly before us as they did before David and, I think I may say, as they stood out before Christ. But whilst our perception of the weakness in every man’s character is very good, David’s thought is, no doubt, the true one--that there is, after all, in every character determination for right or wrong. The wicked man is he whose face is not away from righteousness and is content with unrighteousness. Now one thing about this man David affirms. Verse 5: “Thy judgments are far above, out of his sight.” It is so. There are regions of which men never think, in which they are being judged every day. A man’s life depends much upon the judgments passed upon him. And if he be content with the lower judgments` relating to his earthly condition, be will pass by all the higher ones, and which are judging all his life. In the heavens there is a long series of thrones, growing whiter and whiter, until the great white throne stands above them all. And the richness and sacredness of a man’s life depend on his consciousness of these judgments. The condemnation of the wicked is that he has no such consciousness that God’s judgments are “out of his sight.” How many of us live in the lower judgments--that of pleasure, or profit, or reputation. And all the time there tower above us these great judgment seats of God. Think of some of them.
I. The universe. As to whether we have found or are finding our own true place in it. There is such place. Are we filling it?
II. Absolute righteousness. That calm abstraction which we call the right, which makes itself known so really in all the operations of the world. It casts us aside for our perversity or it takes us into its embrace.
III. All the pure and noble men. They are forever judging us, not malignantly condemning us, but deciding as each one of us comes into their presence, whether there is any use in us. And above all there is--
IV. The judgment of God. He, knowing us altogether, is judging whether we are capable of receiving Him. He ever seeking us, and we ever either inviting or rejecting His love. That love which beats at the door of our nature is judging us, the judgment of the soul being in the refusal of the offer of God. How dreadful, then, to live with all these judgments out of our sight. Sometimes you see a man, once content, now full of discontent. The world satisfies him no more. He is seeking the higher judgments. Jesus ever sought the judgment of God--to please Him. (Phillips Brooks, D. D.)
The wicked hath said in his heart, I shall not be moved.
Godless confidence--its mad arrogance
The wicked man said a good many wrong things “in his heart.” The tacit assumptions on which a life is based, though they may never come to consciousness, and still less to utterance, are the really important things. I daresay this “wicked man” with his lips was a good Jew, and said his prayers all properly, but in his heart he had two working beliefs. One is thus expressed, “As for all his enemies, he puffeth at them. He hath said in his heart, I shall not be moved.” The other is put into words thus, “He hath said in his heart, God hath forgotten, He hideth His face, He will never see it.” That is to say, the only explanation of a godless life, unless the man is an idiot, is that there lie beneath it, as formative principles and unspoken assumptions, guiding and shaping it, one or both of these two thoughts--either “There is no God,” or “He does not care what I do, and I am safe to go on for evermore in the present fashion.” It might seem as if a man, with the facts of human life before him, could not, even in the insanest arrogance, say, “I shall not be moved, for I shall never be in adversity.” But we have an awful power--and the fact that we exercise, and choose to exercise, it is one of the strange riddles of our enigmatical existence and characters--of ignoring unwelcome facts, and going cheerily on as though we had annihilated them, because we do not reflect upon them. So this man, in the midst of a world in which there is no stay, and whilst he saw all around him the most startling and tragical instances of sudden change and complete collapse, stands quietly and says, “Ah! I shall never be moved”; “God doth not require it.” That absurdity is the basis of every life that is not a life of consecration and devotion--so far as it has a basis of conviction at all. The “wicked” man’s true faith is this, absurd as it may sound when you drag it out into clear distinct utterance, whatever may be his professions. I wonder if there are any of us whose life can only be acquitted of being utterly unreasonable and ridiculous, by the assumption, “I shall never be moved.” Have you a lease of your goods? Do you think you are tenants at will, or owners? Which? Is there any reason why any of us should escape, as some of us live as if we believed we should escape, the certain fate of all others? If there is not, what about the sanity of the man whose whole life is built upon a blunder? He is convicted of the grossest folly, unless he be assured that either there is no God, or that He does not care one rush about what we do, and that consequently we are certain of a continuance in our present state. Do you say in your heart, “I shall never be moved”? Then you must be strong enough to resist every tempest that beats against you. Is that so? “I shall never be moved.” Then nothing that contributes to your well-being will ever slip from your grasp, but you will be able to hold it tight. Is that so? “I shall never be moved.” Then there is no grave waiting for you. Is that so? Unless these three assumptions be warranted, every godless man is making a hideous blunder, and his character is the sentence pronounced by the loving lips of incarnate truth on the rich man who thought that he had “much goods laid up for many years,” and had only to be merry--“Thou fool! Thou fool!” If an engineer builds a bridge across a river without due calculation of the force of the winds that blow down the gorge, the bridge will be at the bottom of the stream some stormy night, and the train piled on the fragments of it in hideous ruin. And with equal certainty the end of the first utterer of this speech can be calculated, and is foretold in this Psalm, “The Lord is King forever and ever. The godless are perished out of the land.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The false security of the wicked
Carnal security opens the door for all impiety to enter into the soul. Pompey, when he had in vain assaulted a city and could not take it by: force, devised this stratagem in way of agreement; he told them he would leave the siege and make peace with them, upon condition that they would let in a few weak, sick, and wounded soldiers among them to be cured. They let in the soldiers, and when the city was secure the soldiers let in Pompey’s army. A carnal settled security will let in a whole army of lusts into the soul. (Thomas Brooks.)
His mouth is full of cursing.
A missionary from Polynesia brought home a “soul trap.” It was a series of rings twisted in cocoanut fibre. If a native should commit a great offence, or offend a sorcerer, he proceeds to make a new ring in his chain, so as to form a trap to catch the poor man’s spirit. Soon the sorcerer asserts that the soul of the culprit, assuming this form, has passed into the trap. It is immediately known throughout the tribe that a certain man has lost his soul. As a matter of fact, it invariably happens that the soulless man shortly afterwards dies, of course through sheer mental distress at having had his soul thus entrapped. We smile at such traps, but we are all familiar with soul traps of a far more subtle and dangerous character. In the verses before us the Psalmist vividly pictures the crafty schemes of the wicked in order to entrap their victims. They seek by most subtle arts to entangle and destroy.
I. It is thus that selfish men set wraps for the young and inexperienced. With lies and enticements the covetous seek to entrap and destroy the young. Soul traps for the young! How numerous they are! How cleverly contrived! The utmost artifice and plausibility. How successful they are (Psalms 10:10). “Crouching down as low as possible, he lies on the watch, and the feeble and defenceless fall into his strong ones, i.e. claws.”--Delitzsch. How many thus fall! Our cities are full of fallen young men and women. We have thousands of heartless men in society answering to the vile robber pictured in these verses. For the sake of gain they set traps in which the health, honour, happiness, soul of the youthful perish. The whole civilised world was shocked the other day by the discovery that, by means of an infernal machine, a villain sent ships and their crews to the bottom of the sea for the sake of the insurance money; but thousands of atheistical, covetous men, for the sake of gain, are ingeniously seeking to sink the souls of the people in the gulf of hell.
II. It is thus that the world contrives traps for the godly. The world does not like the godly, and in various subtle methods it seeks to worst them.
1. It has traps for their reputation. “His mouth is full of perjury and deceit.” He sets a net of cunningly devised speech, that he may be able to bring their good name into discredit.
2. It has traps for their fortune. It will “privily seek” to damage their circumstances. It will adroitly circulate reports, frame laws, to bring them into financial trouble.
3. It has traps for their character. They know the natural weaknesses of a Christian, and they bait their hook, set their net, accordingly. He is short tempered, and they contrive to put in his way occasions of auger; he is given to levity, and they provoke his mirth; he has strong appetites, and they put drink to his lips; he is feeble in faith, and they press him with scepticisms. The world hates the righteous, and when it cannot injure them openly it will secretly. The devil is a wily destroyer, and his children imitate his tactics and seek to murder the innocent.
III. It is thus that Satan sets traps for us all. He is the great bandit pictured in the text; he is the great sorcerer whose soul traps beset us at every turn. What a clever fowler is he! what a politic huntsman! what a subtle angler! The devil hides himself, he disguises his movements, and in an evil hour men are drawn “into the net.” Here he betrays by pleasure. Bates tells us of a spider in South America which looks like a blossom, and insects alighting on it for sweetness find death. So the great foe, under the aspect of pleasure, betrays thousands. Here he betrays by honour. One of the Roman emperors used to fish with a net of purple and gold; the devil has used this net largely and taken great prey. And by many other devices does he destroy the unwary. Beware! Beware of those soul traps made of flowers, called pleasure; of those purple-lined ones called greatness; of those gay-painted ones called fashion; of those scientific ones called philosophy; of those jewelled ones called honour; of those golden ones called wealth; of those most plausible ones called morality. “Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.” The devil will lie, fawn, flatter, and do this patiently for years to ruin us.
1. Let the innocent put their trust in God, and walk circumspectly. The afflicted committeth himself unto Thee; Thou art the helper of the fatherless” (Psalms 10:14). Alas for us if we attempt to stand in our own strength, and take our defence into our own hands! “He that takes himself out of God’s hands into his own, by and by will not know what to do with himself.”--Whichcote. And in our darkest hours of temptation and trial we may have the fullest, assurance that God has not forgotten us. The wicked say, “God will never see it” (Psalms 10:11). But the Psalmist replies, “Thou hast seen it; for Thou beholdest mischief and spite to requite it with Thy hand” (Psalms 10:14). “The Psalmist means to say, so far from the assertion of the wicked man being true, that God is forgetful of the poor, He is, on the contrary, observant of their trouble and vexation; and in order not to forget their calamities He places a memorial of them on His hands” (Isaiah 49:26).
2. Let the wicked be assured that God’s eye is upon them, and that justice must overtake them (Psalms 10:15). “Because the Lord continues to spare them, therefore they go on to provoke Him. As He adds to their lives, so they add to their lusts. Because justice seems to wink, men suppose her blind; because she delays punishment, they imagine she denies to punish them; because she does not always reprove them for their sins, they suppose she always approves of their sins. But let such know that the silent arrow can destroy as well as the roaring cannon. Though the patience of God be lasting, yet it is not everlasting.”--Spurgeon. (W. L. Watkinson.)
turns princes into roaring lions, and judges into ravening wolves. It is an unnatural sin, against the light of nature. No creatures do oppress them of their own kind. Look upon the birds of prey as upon eagles, vultures, hawks, and you shall never find them preying upon their own kind. Look upon the beasts of the forest as upon the lion, the tiger, the wolf, the bear, and you shall ever find them favourable to their own kind; and yet men unnaturally prey upon one another, like the fish in the sea, the great swallowing up the small. (Thomas Brooks.)
Wherefore do the wicked contemn God?
On the unprincipled contempt of religion
How astonishing that any should be guilty of this. Excellence and station and authority shield men from contempt. But yet the wicked contemn God. Notwithstanding He is unspeakably glorious and great, the blessed and only Potentate possessing vast dominions, sustaining His creatures and glorified in all His works. And all things depend upon Him. Some, allured by His grace, with cheerfulness adore Him; others, constrained by His power, reluctantly Submit; but others are wicked enough to contemn Him. Their conduct and temper--
I. Toward Him show this. They have no delight in Him, they put the world far before Him, they deliberately disobey Him.
II. Towards things relating to Him. His ordinances they count weariness, His word they disregard, His people they scorn, His ministers they despise, His day they neglect.
III. Why do they thus act? Not from superior wisdom, but from depravity of the will, and encouraged by inconsistent Christians and by the strifes amongst such. But what an awful sin it is. Amazing madness! (John Erskine, D. D.)
The wicked contemners of God
Let us examine our hearts, our lives, and the Scriptures of truth.
1. Look at your mind and you will be forced to acknowledge that you seldom think of God.
2. Pass to an examination of your words.
3. Consider your actions.
4. The manner in which you treat the threatenings of God.
5. The regard you pay to the promises of God.
6. Your contempt of God is manifested in your disobedience to His commandments.
7. The declarations of One who perfectly knows you place this matter beyond a doubt. (H. Rollock, D. D.)
Expostulation with contemners of God
I. A question propounded.
1. Somewhat is here implied, something is laid as a charge. The wicked does contemn God. Take the word “wicked” collectively. Three ways wherein wicked men may be said to contemn God: In His ordinances, in His providences, in His servants. Whence does this proceed from them? Partly from pride, partly from ignorance.
2. Somewhat is expressed. The absurdity of such a temper is seen in this, that no good account can be given of it. See the inequality of it in reference to God. He does not deserve it. See the danger of it. Those that contemn Him, He will contemn them again. And His contemning is followed by His condemning; those whom He despises, He destroys.
II. The ground or occasion of this question. “He hath said in his heart, Thou wilt not require it.” According to the absolute sense, this is a declaration of the temper of wicked men. According to the relative sense of them, they seem to he either a proof or an account of what was said before concerning such persons, as to their contemning of God. This is a proof that they do so, and this is a reason also why they do so. “They say in their heart, God will not require it.” (T. Horton, D. D.)
Retribution--the world’s old age in sin
It has been a puzzle to some good men, and a pretext for unbelief to many wicked men, that the sinner, a moral and responsible being, could rest unconcerned in his sins. Why do not wicked men repent? This can only be resolved on the ground suggested in the text, the practical infidelity of wicked men. They do not believe in God as a just and inflexible moral governor. They do not accept the ideal of an exact and certain retribution. A carelessness of retribution. Moral law is held as an abstraction, and the reality, the extent, the terribleness of its sanctions are actually forgotten. Till this general sense of security be assailed, till this general indifference be shown to be causeless, the instances of awakening and conversion among sinners will be few.
I. Explain and illustrate the carelessness of retribution prevalent in the world.
1. The world’s old age in sin. Sin has been producing its appropriate results, modified mainly, and almost alone, by the fact that men exist in successive generations, and not in an uninterrupted, individual life. But as the generations of men all overlap each other, so that everyone includes some members both of preceding and succeeding ones, it follows that each new generation is not cast entirely back to the starting point of its predecessor, but gains a little upon it. It will be found that whatever has characterised one age morally, intellectually, or socially, also has characterised in a less or greater degree the following one. Sin is not an institution peculiar to any age or country. The same corrupt principle is more corrupt in the sons than it was in the fathers. Is not the world wicked now as it never has been before?
II. The world’s prosperity in sin. Existence is in itself a blessing, and an element of prosperity. Man’s existence at every period has had much to make it pleasant and desirable. God, as Sovereign and Judge, has benefited the subject and sinner. In this age the world still sins and prospers. Everybody, almost everybody, boasts of a prosperous world. But the world sins as well as prospers. Is not the world, with all its pomp and pride, a wicked world? Individualise the sinner. He has, in these days, so high an idea of personal dignity and independence and irresponsibility to any power that is not a reflection of his own will, as to have become very thoughtless of the Divine law, and very careless of its sanctions. We may examine the growth of this idea, and illustrate its prevalence. When the sinner is thus individualised and made to think so much of his own happiness and rights, is he not apt to forget God? Consider now the judicial hardening of the world. The powers of darkness and the powers of holiness are at enmity with each other by Divine appointment. There is such a thing as a judicial permission and even encouragement to wickedness, whereby God asserts His sovereignty over free moral agents, and makes them ready, and makes all things ready, for the final manifestation of His glory at the coming of the Lord. One great reason why the world is so careless of approaching retribution is, that it is judicially hardened, rendered insensible to the proofs of its coming, and the fear that ought thereby to be awakened. (John H. Lord.)
The day of no judgment dreaded
Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil. Pitt said, ‘“I have no fear for England; she will stand till the day of judgment.” Burke answered, “It is the day of no judgment that I dread.” (The Quiver.)
The reckoning will come to the sinner
The wicked contemn God. Why? “Because they say He will not require it.” Ah! They forget that it is as true of God’s threatenings as of His promises,, that although He delays He does not deny them. A reprieve is not a pardon. It defers the execution, but does not necessarily cancel the sentence. And how many men in business, hard pressed for money and tottering on the edge of bankruptcy, have known too well that the bill which they had got the money lender to renew was not thereby paid; that, however often renewed, it has still to be paid, and that the oftener, indeed, it is renewed with interest added to the capital the debt but grows the larger, the payment the heavier. Just so will it be with you if you persist in rejecting the Saviour. Every day of mercy here will but aggravate the misery of hereafter, and the reckoning, by being long of coming, will be the more terrible when it comes--as that storm roars with the loudest thunder which has been the longest gathering. (T. Guthrie.)
The heathen are perished out of His land.
An encouragement to prayer
Does this sentence point back to the great instance of exterminating justice in the destruction of the Canaanite? It may do so, but it is rather to be taken as referring to the victories celebrated in the previous and companion Psalm. Note the recurrence of the words “nations” and “perished,” which are drawn from it. The connection between the two Psalms is thus witnessed, and the deliverance from foreign enemies, which is the theme of Psalms 9:1-20, is urged as a plea with God, and taken as a ground of confidence by the Psalmist himself for the completion of the deliverance by making domestic oppressors powerless. This lofty height of faith is preserved in the closing stanza, in which the agitation of the first part and the yearning of the second are calmed into serene assurance that the Ecclesia pressa has not cried, and never can cry, in vain. Into the praying, trusting heart “the peace of God which passeth understanding” steals, and the answer is certified to faith long before it is manifest to sense. To pray and immediately to feel the thrilling consciousness “Thou hast heard,” is given to those who pray in faith. The wicked makes a boast of his “desire”; the humble makes a prayer of it, and so has it fulfilled. Desires which can be translated into petitions will be converted into fruition . . . The prayer of the humble, like a whisper amid the avalanches, has power to start the swift, white destruction on its downward path; and when once that gliding mass has way on it, nothing which it smites can stand. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Thou hast hoard the desire of the humble.
The desire of the humble encouraged
I. The characters here spoken of. Though there be great difference between man and man with regard to natural character, yet the truly humble before God are those only whom He has humbled. The humble are those whom God doth teach the plague of their own hearts. He humbles them by discoveries of themselves.
II. The desires here spoken of. The soul of man is a restless principle. The souls of the humble ones do desire. The humble soul wants a clearer inward witness of his adoption; a renewed application of the blood of Christ to his conscience; a deeper sense of his acceptance in the Beloved; a closer walk with God.
III. The encouragements here spoken of. Three expressed in the text--
1. “Thou hast heard the desire of the humble.”
2. “Thou wilt prepare their heart.”
3. “Thou wilt cause Thine ear to hear. (J. Evans.)
The desire of the humble
I. Here is a character described--“the humble.” It is a characteristic of all Christians. Humility befits us if we regard--
1. The meanness of our origin--“dust”
2. Our sinfulness.
3. That pride is hateful in the sight of God. What evil it has wrought; how unwarrantable it is.
4. But God hears the desire of the humble. What is that desire? It is to know the want of Himself. To have an interest in Christ. To think highly of others. To adore the goodness of God, and to be obedient to His will.
II. God prepares such a heart.
1. By giving conviction of sin.
2. By encouraging trust in Christ.
3. By giving desire after holiness.
4. By emptying him of self.
III. God hears and answers prayer.
1. Because they come in Christ’s name. Because--
2. He is their Father.
3. He Himself has bidden us pray; and
4. Prepared their hearts to do so. He who will not pray has no excuse. (T. Scott, M. A.)
I. The lowliest form of prayer may be most true and acceptable. “The desire of the humble.” It is only a desire. It may not be uttered. Many prayers are very prettily expressed, in fact, so grandly that their tawdry fineries will not be tolerated in heaven. God will say, “They were meant for men, let men hear them.” The desire of the humble may not be recommended by any conscious attainments, if your stock-in-trade is made up of empty vessels, and little else, the Lord can deal with you as He did with the prophet’s widow, “who had empty vessels not a few.” Your little oil of grace He can multiply till every vessel is filled; and you may have no confident expectation. I would chide your unbelief, but I would encourage your desires, for that desire which God hears is not to be despised. Note that it is “the desire of the humble.” It has this advantage about it that it is free from pride. Now, to be humble is a sweet thing; there is no lovelier spot on the road to the Celestial City than the Valley of Humiliation: he that dwells in it dwells among flowers and birds, and may sing all day long. The desire of the humble is saturated with a gospel spirit, and therefore is acceptable to God.
II. And he is quick to heal it. “Thou hast heard the desire.” This must be a Divine science. We hear much about thought reading now. Whatever this may be, here is a wonderful instance of it with the Lord. It is an act which God has exercised in all ages. “Thou hast heard,” etc. It is a matter of frequent fact, the record of a deed.
III. The heart is the main matter in prayer. Desires are the fruit of the heart. “Thou wilt prepare their heart.” When a fair wind fills the sails of desire, then make all possible headway.
IV. God Himself prepares the hearts of His people. “Thou wilt prepare their heart.” I am rejoiced at this statement, because preparation is such an important business. And it is often difficult as it is important. Surely none but the Lord can prepare the heart for prayer. One old writer says it is far harder work to raise the big bell into the steeple than to ring it when it is there. This witness is true. In that uplifting of the heart lies the work and the labour. Now, God prepares the heart by restraining wandering thought by giving us deep sense of need, and by working in us strong faith.
V. Prayer from prepared hearts must be heard. “Thou wilt cause Thine ear to hear.” He will, for if God had love enough to prepare your heart He has grace enough to give you the blessing. His goodness and faithfulness ensure that He will. Where God leads you to pray, He means you to receive. Be comforted, therefore, you beginners in prayer. God is inclining His ear to catch the faintest moan of your spirit. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The gracious desires and prayers of the humble
Lord Bolingbroke once asked Lady Huntingdon how she reconciled prayer to God for particular blessings with absolute resignation to the Divine will. “Very easy,” answered her ladyship; “just as if I were to offer a petition to a monarch of whose kindness and wisdom I have the highest opinion In such a case my language would be ‘I wish you to bestow on me such a favour; but your majesty knows better than I how far it would be agreeable to you or right in itself to grant my desire. I therefore content myself with humbly presenting my petition, and leave the event of it entirely to you.’”.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 10". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12