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Hear my prayer, O Lord, and let my cry come unto Thee.
Thoughts of comfort and complaint
I. Thoughts of complaint (Psalms 102:1-11).
1. Concerning bodily sufferings.
(1) The physical anguish of life (verse 3).
(2) The terrible brevity of life (verse 11).
2. Concerning mental sufferings. “I am in trouble.” “My heart is smitten,” etc. His mental anguish destroyed his appetite for food, made his bones “cleave” to his “skin,” and to mingle his drink with tears. Such is the connection between the mind and the body that a suffering mind will soon bring the body to decay and death. One dark thought has often struck down a stalwart frame.
3. Concerning social sufferings (verse 8). The coldness, the calumny, the envy and jealousy of our fellow-men cannot fail to strike anguish into the heart.
4. Concerning religious sufferings (verse 10). Moral suffering is the soul of all suffering. “A wounded spirit who can bear?”
II. Thoughts of comfort (Psalms 102:12-28). These thoughts refer to God.
1. His existence amidst all the changes of earth (verse 12).
2. His anticipated interposition on behalf of mankind (Psalms 102:13-18).
(1) It is fixed--a “set time.”
(2) It is conditional (verse 14). “Seek, and ye shall find,” etc.
(3) It is glorious (verse 15).
(4) It is prayer-answering (verse 19).
(5) It is always rememberable (verse 18).
3. His past kindness towards the suffering (Psalms 102:19-22).
4. His unchangeableness amidst all the mutations of the universe.
(1) Men change, but He remains the same (verses23, 24).
(2) The universe changes, but He remains the same (Psalms 102:25-27).
The universe had an origin and is destined to have a dissolution. It had an origin. “Of old hast Thou laid,” etc. This account of the origin of the universe contradicts atheistic eternalists and sceptical evolutionists. It will have a dissolution. “It shall perish.” Dissolution, in fact, is a law of the organized universe. Both the origin and dissolution of the universe are attributable to One Personality. “Of old hast Thou laid.” The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews applies this to Christ, therefore to him Christ was Eternal God. One Being created all, one Being will dissolve all. This One Personality remains unalterable from the origin to the dissolution of the universe. (Homilist.)
The conditions of acceptable prayer
1. There must be a holy respect for the character and ways of God. We must come looking at all His attributes. They must fill all the eye, and ravish all the heart.
2. As we are social beings, the mode of our approach must show that we are not praying alone, that we belong to a praying family; and we should wish to get near to His presence, and not pray at a distance. The child would choose to come where the father was, if he could speak to him, and not stand at a distance, as if he were praying by proxy to an absent father.
3. Our prayers must go up with sincerity before him, and with that open frankness that love is accustomed to generate. And we should really desire the blessing we need, and not some other that we are afraid to ask for, as if we were held in the attitude of foreigners, who were supplicating mercies which we not only did not deserve, but had no reason to expect.
4. We must have our eyes filled with the precious Mediator: He must be to us “the chief among ten thousands, and altogether lovely.”
5. We must approach Him with a spirit of submission. This, however, will not imply indifference. There can be no resignation, unless the heart desires earnestly the blessing it supplicates.
6. We must come with a spirit of humility and penitence. The suppliant who can for one single moment forget that he is a suppliant will deserve to be repulsed in the very prayer he makes.
7. It would be natural and indispensable that we remember that we have received blessings from the same hand before, and there is no part of our plea that is more efficacious than where we tell of the mercies received in days gone by. (D. A. Clark.)
Earnest prayer alone succeeds
“Not very long ago I was staying at Matlock, and some one in Manchester wanted to call me up on the telephone. Speaking through the telephone is a thing to which I am unaccustomed. I could hear the voice at the other end asking me if I were there. I shouted that I was, I bellowed that I was, but still I heard the question, ‘Are you there?’ In despair I put the instrument-down and went to the porter. With a pitying smile be took the instrument, and spoke through it as quietly as possible. He was heard. I said, ‘Why can’t I make him hear?’ ‘Because,’ he said, ‘you forget one very simple thing. You do not take hold of the receiver firmly.’” Oh, how often in our appeals to high Heaven we ask and receive not because we forget to take a firm hold. (R. J. Campbell, M. A.)
God will hear my prayer
There is Christ, as most of us, I suppose, believe, Lord of all creatures, administering the affairs of the universe; the steps of His throne and the precincts of His court are thronged with dependents whose eyes wait upon Him, who are fed from His stores; and yet my poor voice may steal through that chorus-shout of petition and praise, and His ear will detect its lowest note, and will separate the thin stream of my prayer from the great sea of supplication which rolls to His seat, and will answer me. (A. Maclaren, D.D.)
Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion: for the time to favour her, yea, the set time, is come.
A revival of the Church, and symptoms which precede it
I. There is a favourable time to promote the revival of the Church.
1. The source to which the Church must look for a revival. The Lord alone can revive the Church, and add to her such as shall be saved (Psalms 80:1-3; Psalms 85:6; Isaiah 51:3; Habakkuk 3:2; Zechariah 4:6).
2. The nature of that revival which the Church may expect. The words “mercy” and “favour” suggest--
(2) Union. There may be unity of effort with a great variety of name, method, and form. The union of which God is the Author is frequently spoken of in the Bible (Psalms 133:1-3.; John 13:34-35; John 17:21).
(3) Prosperity. The conversion of sinners.
3. The time when the revival of the Church may be expected. The deliverance of the Jews from their captivity was foretold (Isaiah 14:1-2; Jeremiah 25:11-12; Jeremiah 32:36-39). How wonderfully Jehovah brought about the deliverance of His people from Babylon at the set time! He influenced Cyrus and Darius, heathen princes, to forward it. He raised up Ezra and Nehemiah, etc.
II. The revival of the Church is always preceded by certain infallible signs.
1. Solemn humiliation before God. Before the Jews were delivered from the Babylonish captivity, they were humbled before God on account of their transgressions. The nation was ashamed and cured of its idolatry, and never since then has it bent its knees at an idol’s shrine (Ezra 9:6-7; Ezra 10:1; Daniel 9:7-11). Is there this spirit of humiliation before God in modern churches?
2. Special, importunate, believing prayer. What beautiful instructions and examples we have in the Bible of the value of such prayer (Isaiah 62:1; Ezekiel 36:37; Luke 11:5-10).
3. Affection for the ordinances of God’s house. They loved the very stones, and even the dust of their dilapidated Zion (Psalms 137:5-6). So it is in a revival of religion. When God is about to visit His people in mercy, everything in regard to the Church is loved.
4. Activity and self-denying efforts in God’s cause. The Jews showed their love to Jerusalem in a practical manner (Nehemiah 4:6). They work despite the scorn of their foes. Let these signs exist in any Church, and the fruit will soon appear. She shall increase in purity and influence. (J. Wileman.)
Zion is in captivity; but the psalmist is confident that God will deliver and revive His people.
I. Grounds for expecting a revival.
1. God’s unchangeable character (verse 12).
2. God’s memory (verse 12).
3. God’s mercy (verse 13).
4. God’s purpose (verse 13).
II. Signs of approaching revival.
1. The Church’s increased attention to all that pertains to its welfare and success (verse 14).
2. Its affectionate desire for such a revival (verse 14).
3. Its compassionate concern on account of prevailing desolations (verse 14).
4. Its manifest pleasure in service (verse 14).
III. The effects of such revival.
1. The ungodly shall fear the Lord (verse 15).
2. The great of earth will recognize our God, abiding in and working through His Church. (Anon.)
The set time to favour Zion
I. whenever God afflicts His Church He has good reasons for doing so.
1. The purification of the Church. Before the last great persecution, under Diocletian, the Church had sunk into a state of declension from the truth and vital piety through the continuance of a long season of comparative tranquillity. The same remarks will apply even to a yet earlier persecution, under Decius. During this last calamity Cyprian, of Carthage, bore the following testimony:--“It must be owned and confessed that this calamity has happened to us because of our sins. Christ, our Lord, fulfilled the will of His Father, but we neglect the will of Christ. Our main study is to get money and to raise estates. We follow after pride; we are at leisure for nothing but emulation and quarrelling, and have neglected the simplicity of the faith. We have renounced the world in words only, and not in deed.”
2. The trial and development of the graces of the saints. Adversity tries the mettle of our faith. It shows whether or not we are really walking under the influence of that principle which is the substance of things hoped for--the evidence of things not seen. It tests the quality of our zeal, demonstrating whether it be the mere result of the excitement produced by a crowd, or whether it has its foundation sufficiently deep in principle and affection to sustain it in being and activity when it has to work, as did Elijah, almost alone; whether it be like the flower, which blooms in summer and dies in winter; or like the hardy evergreen, which lifts its head and wears its foliage amid the severest cold. Every Christian grace is, more or less, tried, and the whole character of the man of God is tested by adversity--just as the qualities of the ship are proved by the fury of the billows on which she rides, and the might of the tempest with which she is assailed. And as a time of adversity tries, so it strengthens and matures the virtues of the Church. It imparts a robustness to the faith of believers, and an energy to their patience and zeal. It brings them into frequent and protracted communion with their God, and imparts an agonizing earnestness to their addresses to the throne of grace.
3. The display of the Divine power to deliver. It is manifest that if the Church had no trials, she could have no deliverances. God permits her to be led into straits, that He may show her how He can save, and that the recollection of past deliverances may fortify her mind against all future difficulties.
II. God has a set time for the deliverance of the Church.
1. This time is unalterably fixed by the Divine wisdom and mercy.
2. It is selected as being most conducive to the Divine glory. He commonly selects the time when He sees that “the power of His people is gone, and that there is none shut up nor left “ for their deliverance. Then the creature can arrogate none of the praise to himself, and it is evident that all the honour must be laid at the feet of the Almighty. The pride of all human glorying “is stained,” and “the Lord alone is exalted.”
3. The arrival of this time is promoted by the whole course of Providence. How admirably does the history of the Reformation in Europe in the sixteenth century illustrate this sentiment. The rising up of such men as Luther, Melanchthon, Zuingle, Calvin, Knox, and their coadjutors, and their appearance almost simultaneously upon the theatre of Europe; the extraordinary political convulsions of the times, which repeatedly served to divert the attention of the enemies of the Church from their designs upon her; the conversion to the faith of some of the potentates of Germany, and other countries, who screened most opportunely the lives of the reformers from the fury of the papists; the recent invention of the art of printing; and the revival of literature under the auspices of Erasmus, all served to aid in shaking the ponderous pillars of the papal power! The pages of general ecclesiastical history, and of particular religious communities, abound with examples of a similar character, proving that the course of Providence, and the riches of universal nature, are ever subservient to the Mediator’s sceptre.
III. The near approach of the time to favour zion is always indicated by certain infallible signs. It is preceded by--
1. The sanctification to the Church of her trials. When God’s design in the affliction of His Church is answered, the chastisement ceases.
2. The prevalence of great affection for the ordinances and people of God. One principal evidence that the Lord was about to restore the Jews to their native land, was the ardour of their reviving affection for the city and Temple of their God.
3. Faith in the Divine promises. Faith is to God’s mercies what the tone of the digestive organs is to the aliment of which we partake. It enables us so to receive them as to convert them into nourishment for our spiritual life; whereas without faith they would only produce sluggishness and disease. (John Stock.)
I. The nature of the prosperity of the Christian Church. We do not conceive it necessarily to be a sign of a church’s prosperity when the congregation is large or rich, or the minister eloquent. We must consider for what purposes the Church was formed; and if it be not accomplishing that particular object, it is not prospering. The Church is established for two objects: first, for bringing God’s wandering sheep back to the fold of Christ; and, secondly, for fostering those sheep that are brought within the fold.
II. The necessity for tee prosperity of the Church. I trust that some of you have a regard for the Church’s prosperity; if not, you ought to have. Let me remind you why; even selfish as we may be, we ought to care for the success of the Church.
1. For our own sakes. If we do not, by Divine grace, live and labour for our fellow-creatures, their decline will have a deleterious influence upon our own piety.
2. Your families, too, are deeply interested in the prosperity of the Church. What is good for the parent is good for the child, and what is good for the child is good for the parent.
3. Also, for the sake of the neighbourhood in which you live, labour for God, seeking His blessing, that your Church may prosper.
4. Again, for the sake of our nation, seek the prosperity of Zion. If we are to be a prosperous nation, we shall not accomplish that result by our commerce, or by the force of arms, but by our Christianity. The flag of old England is nailed to the mast, not by our sailors, but by our God. But, most of all, we want to see the Church prosper for Christ’s sake.
III. The only means of revival in God’s Church. What is it? We may hear of some great evangelist going through the land; surely he will revive the Churches. We will hold a convocation of the clergy, and they shall devise means of reviving the Churches. Not so thinks the psalmist; he says, “Thou shalt arise,” as if God had nothing to do but to arise, and then His Church would arise, too; for, when God arises, Zion begins to prosper. How easy are the methods by which God accomplishes His great works!
IV. The signs that God’s Church is being blessed (verse 14). What are the “stones” of Zion?
1. The Church of God is built of living stones,--that is, the children of God; and it is a good sign when God’s servants take pleasure in one another, and “favour the dust,”--that is, not the ministers, nor the deacons, but the poor members.
2. The next translation we will give of this word “stones” is, the doctrines of the Bible. You say, “I do not see so much in doctrines, after all.” Then you will not see much prosperity. I love so much what I believe to be true, that I would fight for every grain of it; not for the “stones” only, but for the very “dust thereof.” I hold that we ought not to say that any truth is non-essential; it may be non-essential to salvation, but it is essential for something else.
3. The stones of Christ’s Church are the ordinances, and God’s people ought to take care that they love her “stones,” and favour her “dust.”
4. It is a good sign of the Church’s prosperity when the ministry of the Word and the prayer-meeting are well attended;--especially the latter. If you say, “It is only a prayer-meeting,” even that is the “dust “ of Zion, and God’s people “take pleasure in her stones, and favour the dust thereof,”--the little services as well as the great services. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Zion’s ruin and Zion’s hope
I. Zion’s state of ruin and desolation.
1. The enemies of vital godliness triumph.
2. Iniquity abounds, and the love of many cools.
5. Darkness. Zion is under a cloud. The world asks: “Where is thy God?”
II. Zion’s friends.
1. They love its ruins and dust.
2. The very mournful state of Zion produced a gracious effect upon the hearts of its friends.
III. Zion’s hope.
1. Zion’s hope is in God.
2. God’s time to work deliverance is when His people are ready.
3. God’s time, yea, God’s set time, has come, when hopeful signs appear among God’s people.
It would be presumption to expect God to work for us if we were inactive. The love of God’s people for Zion prompts their prayers; their knowledge of God inspires hope. (E. Compton.)
For Thy servants take pleasure in her stones, and favour the dust thereof.
The secret of the stones
Stones and dust! Stones that have fallen out of place and lie scattered on the ground; dust that flies on every wind and drops back again into crevice and heap. Stones that are chipped and stained with smoke and fire and blood; dust, the final form of great things, the last remainder of vanished glories. There is nothing specially interesting or attractive about these things; you would not go out of the way to view them. Yet to a certain few they are beautiful with a beauty neither nature nor art can give. They are the stones of a temple that once smoked with sacrifice and rang with resounding psalms. It is the dust of a shrine that once reared its head into the sky, and centred in itself the national pride and worship.
I. Bricks and stones and mortar are neither interesting nor impressive materials. Scattered about over yards and fields, they have no attraction for any one except the boys of the neighbourhood. But bring them together, combine them, and their condition is at once altered, and the commonplace things become a force whose power all men must acknowledge. Weld them into the monument of some illustrious statesman, and crowds will gather round it and garland it with flowers. Build them into some cathedral of vast proportions, and the effect is overwhelming; you sink into insignificance, and feel like an ant crawling over its floor. Fashion them into some mighty sepulchre to hold the dust of some uncrowned king, and pilgrims from the far places of the earth will come to gaze upon it.
II. The temple stones have a power over us, but the secret of their power is not so much in them as in that with which they are identified. It may be found partly in the memories which cluster about them. Round those stones of the Temple there hung for the Jew memories of his two great kings, David and Solomon--memories of the full tide of national prosperity and the zenith of their power as an empire; of the great priests and prophets who had ruled them; of the oracles and revelations in national need; of great days of festival; and of sacrifice, confession, and pardon. And our less ancient and less historic fanes are full of memories, less splendid, but equally dear. There is the memory of one long since dead, who first guided our little feet up the aisle. There is the memory of the saintly men who first taught us how sweet and strong and beautiful human character could be. There is the memory of friendships formed there and loves born there which have been woven into our lives, and are part of our lives for ever. There is the memory of that great hour when we first discovered Christ was real and living, and knew what it was to believe and be saved.
III. It is customary for some to look upon this affection with scarcely veiled contempt. They call it love for bricks and mortar, and dub it superstition and sentiment. Instead of being a superstition or sentiment, this attachment to God’s house is one of the great forces which make for the building of character. Love of the temple is love of the best and highest, and its harvest is nobility of character and righteousness of life. Let us use our wisdom, our intellects, our energy, and our wealth to make the temple increasingly dear. Let us make it so beautiful, its service so attractive, its ministry so strong, its power so Christlike that the love for the stones of His house--which is one of the strongest formative and conserving forces in the lives of men and nations--may be the common and binding sentiment of all classes of men. (C. E. Stone.)
When the Lord shall build up Zion, He shall appear in His glory.
The building up of Zion
I. When may Zion, or the Christian Church, be said to be built up?
1. When sinners are converted to God.
2. When Christian converts grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour.
3. When pure and undefiled religion spreads to the ends of the earth.
II. The building of Zion is God’s own work.
1. He is the Author, Cause, and Fountain of all blessedness.
2. He has promised prosperity, success, and extension to the Christian Church.
III. In the building up of the Christian Church, there is an extraordinary display of the glory of God. Conclusion:--
1. Christians may see how much reason they have to be confident and joyful under the most discouraging circumstance which occur, both with respect to themselves and the Church.
2. The duty of Christians to observe, with habitual attention, the course of Providence, and diligently to compare it with the designs announced in prophecy.
3. Reproof to those who are saying that the time is not yet come for the friends of Zion to exert themselves with diligence and zeal for her building up, extension, and glory.
4. The extreme folly, impiety, and danger of those who ridicule our hopes, and attempt to oppose the progress of the gospel
5. This subject is eminently fitted to illuminate our path, and direct our steps, in the present situation of the world.
6. Our subject affords great encouragement to missionary plans and exerstions. (W. B. Browne.)
The glory of God displayed in the building up of Zion
I. The building up of Zion is wholly the work of God. In affecting this work, indeed, it pleaseth God to employ and to honour mortal men, and other creatures, visible and invisible. He calls “pastors and teachers for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,” by publishing and enforcing the doctrine of salvation. He raises up kings and queens, and princes and nobles, to be “nursing fathers and nursing mothers” to His Church. He gives a Paul to plant, and an Apollos to water. This He does, however, not because He stands in absolute need of them, nor because of any fitness they possess in themselves to accomplish the end. All their motions and operations and success depend entirely upon God.
II. When it pleaseth God to build up zion, He appears in His glory.
1. Consider the materials of which the Church is built. When a building of strength, of beauty, and of magnificence, is to be erected, men collect the most excellent materials that can be procured. But here, materials are chosen and employed which are in themselves the most worthless, and the most unlikely to answer the purpose.
2. Consider the instruments which God employs for accomplishing this great object (1 Corinthians 1:27-28; Matthew 21:16; 2 Corinthians 12:9).
3. Consider the circumstances of the times in which Zion is most remarkably built up; times the most unlikely for her revival. Such was her condition at the close of the seventy years’ captivity, when she was like “a valley of dry bones.” Such was her condition when “the Word was made flesh, and tabernacled” on earth; and when the apostles of Jesus were sent forth to propagate the Gospel among the nations, “blinded by the god of this world, sitting in darkness, and in the region and shadow of death.”
III. What the particular glories are which He then displays.
1. His unsearchable wisdom. The plots and combinations of avowed enemies, their strength, their artful policy, their cruelty, their persecutions, nay, the very imperfections, faults, and corruptions of sincere friends (like the contention between Paul and Barnabas), all contribute to the building of the Church, though all of them seem to have a quite contrary tendency.
2. His almighty power. So eminently is this Divine excellence manifested in this work, that it is not unusually represented in prophecy, as a new creation (Isaiah 65:17-18).
3. His holiness.
4. His benignity.
5. His faithfulness.
6. His justice. (T. Davidson, D.D.)
God’s glory in the building up of Zion
I remember to have seen, close by the side of the Alps, a house which had upon its front words to this effect: “This house was built entirely by the skill, wealth, and industry of its inhabitants.” It struck me as not being a very modest thing to put in front of one’s house, for after all the structure was not very marvellous; but when we look at the glorious architecture of the Church of God, it would be no mean part of its lustre that it may fittingly bear such an inscription as this--“This house was built entirely by the wisdom, the munificence, and the power of the infinite Jehovah.”
I. Zion built up.
1. One essential to the building up of Zion is practical conversion. As we see our sons converted, and the great miracle of regeneration still being performed, we take heart and are of good courage to go on in the work of the Lord.
2. A public confession of faith must follow conversion. It is the duty of every Christian--nay, it is the instinct of his spiritual life--to avow the faith which he has received, and avowing it, he finds himself associated with others who have made the same profession, and he assists them in holy labour. When he is strong he ministers of his strength to the weak, and when he is himself weak, he borrows strength from those who just then may happen to be strong in the faith.
3. We cannot build without union. A house must have its doors, and its windows, its foundation, its rafters, and its ceiling. So, a church must be organized; it must have its distinct offices and officers; it must have its departments of labour, and proper men must be found, according to Christ’s own appointment, to preside over those departments.
4. There must also be edification and instruction in the faith. No neglect of an appeal to the passions, certainly; no forgetfulness as to what is popular and exciting; but with this we must have the solid bread-corn of the kingdom, without which God’s children will faint in the weary way of this wilderness.
5. It does not strike me, however, that I have yet given a full picture of the building up of a church, for a church such as I have described would not yet answer the end for which Christ ordained it. Christ ordained His Church to be His great aggressive agency in combating with six, and with the world that lieth in the wicked one.
6. After a church has become all that I have been describing, the next thing it ought to do should be to think of the formation of other churches. The building up of an empire must often be by colonization; and it is the same with the Church.
II. The building up of Zion is, according to the text, connected with Jehovah’s being glorified.
1. God often appears in glory to me as one of His builders, and I will tell you in what respect. When I have been sitting to see inquirers, I have sometimes found that God has blessed to the conversion of souls some of my worst sermons--those which I thought I could weep over, which seemed more than ordinarily weak, and lacking in all the elements likely to make them blessed, except that they were sincerely spoken.
2. Persons have been brought up and educated under sermons that are as hostile to spiritual life as the plague is to natural life. The case of Luther is one instance of this, and in all such cases God appears in His glory.
3. Think, too, of the agencies which are abroad hostile to the Church of God. What a splendid thing was that--may we see it repeated in our own day!--when the twelve fishermen first attacked Roman idolatry. The prestige of ages made the idolatry of Rome venerable; it had an imperial Caesar and all his legions at its back, and every favourable auspice to defend it. Those twelve men, with no patronage but the patronage of the King of kings, with no learning except that which they had learned at the feet of Jesus, with weapons as simple as David’s sling and stone, went forth to the fight; and you know how the grisly head of the monstrous idolatry was by and by in the hands of the Christian champion as he returned rejoicing from the fray. So shall it be yet again, and then, amidst the acclamation of myriad witnesses, shall God appear in His glory.
III. The hope excited. If God be glorified by the building up of Zion, then most certainly Zion will be built. If He is glorified by the conversion, and by the banding together of converted men and women, then it seems but natural to hope, yea, with certainty we may conclude that the zeal of the Lord of Hosts will perform it. I like the spirit in which Luther used to say, that when he could get God into his quarrels he felt safe. When it was Luther alone, he did not know which way it would go; but when he felt that his God would be compromised and dishonoured if such a thing were not done, and would be glorified if it were done, then he felt safe enough. So in the great crusade of truth is not God with us beyond a doubt? The honour of the Church is intertwisted with the honour and glory of Christ; if she shall pass away, if she be deserted, then where is her Captain, her Head, her Husband?
IV. Our whole subject suggests an inquiry. Have I any part or lot in this work which is to bring glory to God? I may have to do with it in two ways, as a builded one, or as a builder. I can have nothing to do with it in the latter capacity, unless I have had to do with it in the former. God will be glorified in the building up of Zion: shall I minister to His glory by being part of the Zion that is to be built up? If thou wouldst glorify God, humble thyself, and receive salvation from the Lord Jesus Christ: and then, being built upon this foundation, thou shall glorify God. The inquiry shapes itself afresh. Hast thou anything to do with glorifying God in respect of being thyself a builder up of Zion? Did you ever win a soul to Christ? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Zion built--the glory of the Lord
I. Zion may lie for a time in a somewhat ruinous condition.
1. When but few are converted--when a preached Gospel does not reach the heart--and when pardon, grace, and salvation are not seen, and acknowledged, to be the most important objects that can be attended to or pursued.
2. When many of the professors of religion draw back, and the enemy of souls hath so far prevailed as to lessen their number. When a worldly and carnal, proud or contentious spirit, or any other proceeding from the same corrupt source, makes inroads among Christians, carries them off from those societies to which they belonged, and from that allegiance they owed and professed to Christ; her walls are broken.
3. When the religious character of those who compose the Church of God is low. When those who belong to Christ are weak in faith, and inconstant in their affections; when they are so immersed in the cares and concerns of this world as that they move but slowly on the road to that for which they were born, and to which they ought ever to aspire; when they do not attend the house of God with that constancy, pleasure, and profit they once did; when they read not the Word of God with that relish and self-appreciation which they formerly experienced--and when the warmth of their holy zeal and devotion is abated, the Church is in an unhappy state.
II. To build up zion is the work and province of God.
1. This will appear from His own Word, which is the highest authority (Psalms 147:2-4; Ezekiel 36:26-28; Ezekiel 36:36; Matthew 16:16-17; Ephesians 2:10; 1 Corinthians 6:2; 1 Corinthians 3:9).
2. When I consider what the Christian is, the principles by which he is actuated, the spirit he possesses, the attainments he makes, the calm fortitude and dignity with which he meets affliction and death, and that unparalleled heroism which multitudes have displayed in persecuting times; I can be at no loss to know, independent of the Word of God, whose work and province it must be to build up Zion at large, the Church in Britain, or those Christian societies to which we belong.
3. When we consider the blindness of men, the hardness of the human heart, the very affecting contrariety there is in us to the holy nature and righteous law of God, the state of things in the world, in a religious view, when the Saviour appeared, and what is the real state of the unconverted in these times; does it not appear that the grace and power of God are requisite to raise a Church out of such materials?
III. It is a wok in which He will certainly engage. From the perfections of Jehovah--from the personal dignity and glory of the Redeemer, the scenes he passed through, and the characters he now sustains--from the preparation that was made for His appearing among men--from Christianity’s having nothing of a local nature, but being equally suited to the state and condition of all men--and also from the circumstance of the Gospel’s having stood the test of the strictest inquiry for so many years; and the strongest objections that have been made to it only serving to clear and illustrate its evidence; it appears exceedingly probable, that the kingdom of Christ will more fully come, and His religion have a more splendid and glorious triumph. But the main pillar of our hope, with respect to this delightful subject, are the promises and declarations of Him, to whom nothing is impossible (Psalms 2:8; Isaiah 11:9; Psalms 36:9; Daniel 7:18; Malachi 1:2).
IV. Then the Lord will appear in His glory.
1. When faith and holiness prevail among men, the Lord will appear in the glory of His wisdom. This perfection shines whenever a single soul is converted: how much more when the glorious fruits and effects of the Redeemer’s undertaking, death, and intercession shall be abundantly visible!
2. When Zion is built in the world at large, or in any particular place, the Lord will appear in the glory of His power. What display can there be of this Divine attribute, at once so honourable to God, and happy to man, as “quickening the dead in trespasses and sins”; causing the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the insensible to feel, and changing the corrupt and sinful bias of the human heart?
3. When Zion is built, God will appear in the glory of His grace and love.
4. When the Lord shall build up Zion, He will appear in the glory of His truth and faithfulness. God will appear to be faithful to every engagement into which he entered with His Son, and to every promise which His Word contains.
On a review of what hath been advanced--
1. Let us rejoice in, and be grateful to God for what He hath done, and is still doing, towards building up Zion.
2. Let us rejoice in that great prosperity which awaits the Christian cause; and let the Church encourage herself under all her troubles.
3. Let us all cherish an ardent desire of seeing the Church of God in a more prosperous state, and manifest that desire by our utmost exertions in its favour. (N. Hill.)
He will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer.
Good news for the destitute
Trumpets are sounding, banners are displayed, princes and nobles glitter in their array, and the King appears in His glory. But who is this whose mournful wail disturbs the harmony? Whence comes this ragged mendicant who bows before the Prince? Surely he will be dragged away by the soldiery, or cast into prison by the warders, for daring to pollute so grand a ceremonial by sash wretched presumption! But see, the King hears him, the sound of the trumpet has not drowned the voice of the destitute. His Majesty listens to him while he asks an alms, and in matchless compassion pities all his groans. Who is this King but Jehovah?
I. The spiritual pauper. The spiritual pauper is, in our text, described as “destitute,” and you may take the word in its extreme sense--the spiritually poor man is not only positively but utterly, thoroughly, terribly destitute. He is destitute of all wealth of merit or possession of righteousness. He is so far from claiming anything like merit that he loathes the very thought of self-righteousness, feeling himself to be guilty, undeserving, ill-deserving, and hell-deserving, meriting only to be banished from the presence of God for ever. There is a kind of destitution which is bearable. A man may be quite penniless, but he may be so accustomed to it that he does not care; he may even be more happy in rags and filth than in any other condition. Have you ever seen the lazzaroni of Naples’? Notwithstanding all their attempts to move your compassion, they generally fail after you have once seen them lying on their backs in the sun, amusing themselves the livelong day. You feel sure that beggary is their natural element; they are perfectly satisfied to be mendicants like their fathers, and to bring up their sons to the profession. The ease of poverty suits their constitutions. But the spiritual pauper is not a member of this free and easy lazzaroni club by any manner of means, he is destitute of content. The poverty which is upon him is one which he cannot endure, or for a moment rest under; it is a heavy yoke to him, he sighs and cries under it. He is hungering and thirsting after righteousness.
II. His suitable occupation. He has taken to begging, and it is a very fitting occupation for him, indeed there is nothing else he can do. Blessed is that soul which is shut up to prayer. When you stand as a condemned criminal at the bar, and plead “Guilty, guilty, guilty,” then you stand where God can look upon you with an eye of pity, and can save you. The trade of begging is one which is most suitable for a spiritual pauper, because, if he cannot do anything else, I warrant you be can do this right well. They say in London that many of our beggars are mere actors, they mimic distress; if so they do it uncommonly well, and are splendid imitations. But I will venture to say this, that nobody will ask help so well as the man whose distress is real; he needs no one to teach him, starvation is his tutor. Take away his diffidence, and give him courage enough, and his distress will make him eloquent. Still, perhaps, there will be some here who say, “I do not feel in a fit state to ask for mercy.” It is your unfitness that is your fitness. Your poverty fits you for alms, your sickness fits you for the physician, your being nothing fits you to have Christ made all in all to you; your emptiness is all He wants, that He may fill it with all the fulness of His grace. Take to begging; that is the way to be rich towards God.
III. The mendicant’s very natural fear. He is afraid that the great King will despise his prayer, or will not regard it, and he is afraid of this, first, from the greatness and holiness of God to whom he addresses himself. Can He look on worthless me? Infinite, and yet listen to my sigh; eternal, and yet catch my tears? Can it be? Many are a long while in distress of soul, because they do not remember that there is a Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus. God is thus glorious, but he is not far from any of us; for there is one who is God, and at the same time a man like ourselves, even Jesus, who has compassion on the ignorant, and on those that are out of the way. Cease ye then to fear, for the gulf is bridged. You may approach the Lord, for Jesus has paved the way The same fear takes another shape. Trembling souls are afraid that God can never look upon them in love, because their prayer itself is so unworthy of notice. Ah, yes; but the Lord looketh at the heart, and he does not regard the eloquence nor the style of prayer after the manner of man. Cry on, and look away to Jesus, and you shall find all your destitute soul wants, and one of these days you who have learned to pray shall learn to praise and bless the prayer-answering God who did not suffer the soul of the destitute to perish. The Lord visit you at this moment and give you peace!
IV. Our text affords to the destitute beggar a most comfortable assurance. “He will regard the prayer of the destitute.” God, in order that destitute sinners should never doubt His willingness to hear their prayers, has left this on record, with a very special note appended to it: “This shall be written for the generation to come, and the people which shall be created shall praise the Lord.” You see the Lord not only said that He would regard the prayer of the destitute, but He added, “This shall be written,” because, when a poor soul is in doubt and fear, there is nothing like having it in black and white. God has said it, but, says He, they shall not merely go by their ears, they shall see with their eyes. “This shall be written.” When a man brings my own handwriting to me and says, “You promised me, and there is the writing,” I cannot get away from it; and how shall the Lord draw back from what He has said, “This shall be written for the generation to come”? Oh, it must stand true. Be of good courage, poor seeking sinner, God will hear you. Remember, too, that when the Lord Jesus Christ was on earth, He used to choose for His associates the destitute. “This man receiveth sinners,” said they, “and eateth with them.” “Then drew near unto Him all the publicans and sinners for to hear Him.” Jesus cast out none when He was here; He will cast out none that come to Him now. Remember, in the matter of praying, that God loves to hear sinners pray. We may be quite sure of that, because He teaches them how to pray. Do not be afraid, therefore, to pour out those broken sentences which God the Holy Spirit has taught you. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
This shall he written for the generation to come.
Our responsibility towards the young
The antecedent to the word “this” are the truths contained in Psalms 102:1-13 :--
1. That the Lord will have mercy upon Zion.
2. That the heathen shall fear the name of the Lord.
3. That He will build up Zion.
4. That He will regard the prayer of the destitute.
These were the promises that were to be written for the generations to come. Why written? That they might be preserved and handed down. Tradition is uncertain, imperfect, often fails wholly, cannot command credence. The New Testament declares that these things were written for our instruction.
I. What has been written?
1. Observe the nature of this knowledge of God which was written. It concerns God’s faithfulness and ability in the performance of all He has promised. He who makes a promise comes under obligation. In this God differs from man. He was under no obligation to come under obligation. Having promised, He has come under obligation, and Christians everywhere bear testimony to His faithfulness and His ability to perform fully all He has freely promised.
2. What God has promised. The great thing is the reconciliation of Himself to man; the salvation worked out through atonement; the establishment of a Church--a family that bears the name of Jesus. Salvation can be wrought only through this atonement. It is loose thinking that makes men imagine that education, culture, political economy, philosophy can lift up the world. The fear of the Lord lifts up man.
II. Our duty.
1. Let us be faithful to our own children. We want more men and women to tell to the generation coming of God’s promises and faithfulness.
2. We want to take care of the children grown up into youth. The most critical period in the life of man is when he is breaking away from home. How many of the children at this age become vagrants among the Churches, wandering here and there, receiving but little benefit and giving none. The class most largely reached are the children of believing parents.
3. Then we have a great work to do among the children near us, those who are to be our fellow-citizens. A great work is there to be done. God knows there is enough of ignorance and criminality around us. These evils must be restrained by knowledge, by virtue. Ignorance and crime must be restrained, or social ruin is inevitable.
4. We must do all possible for the children of the entire country. If we would have the nation Christian, we must work and bear the burdens. We have the opportunity. (John Hall, D.D.)
I said, O my God, take me not away in the midst of my days: Thy years are throughout all generations.
The death of good men, in the midst of their days, considered and improved
I. The reasons of this dispensation.
1. The sovereignty of the Divine will, which is--
(2) Uncontrollable. But the will of God is always reasonable.
2. It is a point of wisdom. We are born mortal, and under a sentence of death. When any, therefore, are removed in early life, as there is nothing uncommon and extraordinary, so it is nothing but what He has a right to do by the constitution of His law, and has reserved the judgment of to Himself. But more particularly still--
3. It is a display of His all-sufficiency, and to show that He needs not the best instruments, and the most fitted for His service, but that He can do without them, or raise up others in their room.
4. It is in great mercy to themselves. It is a great kindness to them, though it is a grief and loss to us.
(1) He sometimes removes them from the evil of the world, and impending calamities coming upon it (Isaiah 47:1).
(2) Or they may be taken from the snares of life, and the temptations of sin, which might prove a great disadvantage to them; and from all the conflicts and hazards of the Christian life, which they are sure to be exercised with.
(3) Besides, it is a great instance of Divine mercy that He takes them the sooner to heaven, and gives them their reward betimes. They are not only the sooner out of danger, but the sooner happy.
5. It may be considered as an act of justice, and as the punishment of sin.
(1) God may remove useful persons in the midst of their days, in rebuke for their own sin. He may see fit to contend with them for former offences (Deuteronomy 32:40).
(2) Or else they may be removed for the sins of others. God may take them away for our over-indulgence, and too great opinion and expectation from them. Gustavus Adolphus, the great patron of the Reformation, is reported to have said in the midst of his remarkable victories and success, “That he believed God was about to lay him aside, because the eyes of all Europe were drawn upon him, and their expectations raised to so great a height.”
(3) Or else, it may be on the other hand, when they are neglected and slighted. God sometimes punishes the ungrateful world by removing early eminent persons, whom they did not know how to value or treat with kindness.
6. It is for the good of others, and to exercise the graces and virtues of those who survive. What so proper as the thoughts of death, to inspire our sluggish souls with life and vigour, and makes us more fervent in spirit and zealous of good works, to keep up a lively sense of religion in the world, and a constant care to please God? Hereupon--
7. To be a standing monument of human frailty, and to give warning to all about them.
8. Perhaps it may be considered as an instance of our conformity to Christ. As the servant must not be above his lord, and we must not expect kinder usage from the world than He met with; so we must not wonder if we are suffered to stay no longer in it than He did.
9. It is to make heaven more desirable to us, and raise our hearts more powerfully thither.
II. Improvement of the subject.
1. We should reverence and adore the Divine sovereignty and wisdom. Does He do us any wrong when He takes away what is His, and calls back again what we first received from Him, and enjoyed so long by His leave?
2. Let us look more to God, and live more entirely upon Him.
3. Let us comfort ourselves in their loss by the consideration of the mercy it is to them. Let not us be uneasy that they are happy, and repine at that which is the matter of their joy.
4. Yet we should be humbled under the sense of their loss, and lament it as a great affliction.
5. It should teach us to value useful men while they live, and make the best use of them we can. Labour to be better for them, and get some good by them, while you have them.
6. The reasonableness of early religion, and being in good earnest in it. And here let me caution you against dangerous delays, and reckoning upon long life, and neglecting present duty.
7. What reason of thankfulness for longer life and opportunity! How great is the mercy of continued life in a view of further usefulness, and better preparation for heaven. (W. Harris, D.D.)
The year past
1. Time is a sacred deposit, entrusted to them who sometimes think they have no one talent for which they must give account at last.
2. Let us ask what new principles we have gained, or what old principles have been confirmed and strengthened in that space of time. The question I have really in sight is this--Have you been leaving the first rudiments of the faith, and going on unto perfection?
3. With regard to our habits, what use have we made of the closing year? Have evil habits loosened their hold; have good ones been grafted in their place?
4. Inquire how the year has been employed with respect to the society we have sought, the connections we have made, the friendships we have cemented. Have you been prudent? Have you never sat in the seat of the scornful; nor stood in the way of sinners? (J. B. Marsden, M. A.)
The year to come
In all undertakings, success very much depends upon the plan we have laid down to guide our conduct. What, then, are the plans by which your course is to be steered throughout the coming year? Life’s voyage will lie among hidden rocks, as well as over stormy seas. Of the dangers you will meet with, some are evident, but some cannot yet be known. How, then, do you propose to conduct the frail bark in which your all is ventured? On what principles, in what direction, do you purpose to proceed?
I. Some events may be foreseen.
1. The duties which our station will demand.
2. The difficulties with which our station in life is usually connected. We should foresee, in order to resist and conquer them. Shall we pass on as heretofore? No fresh precautions! Such indifference is the prelude to destruction.
3. What facilities our condition in life will afford for spiritual improvement. Is not the Lord’s Day such an one?
II. Some events are contingent as regards ourselves, though not so in the sight of God. The preparation they demand is that which events call for that may come soon, and of which some at least must come at last.
1. Unexpected sorrow may surprise us; and how soon we cannot tell, for we know not what a day may bring forth.
2. Sudden prosperity may await you. “In all time of our wealth, good Lord, deliver us.”
3. There is another trial which may overtake us lengthened sickness.
4. Death itself may appear within the limits of the present year. Should not a great seriousness mark our deportment? Should not the world be less, and heaven far more, in our thoughts? (J. B. Marsden, M. A.)
Fear in the prospect of death
Here a pious Israelite, whether Nehemiah, or some other, for self and for the afflicted Church; elsewhere, David, Job, Hezekiah, and others, in like manner cast into gloom and great grief at the prospect.
I. If even Christians themselves had tormenting fear, let us by God’s help seek out some of the causes of this distemper, that we may be guided to its cure.
1. Christians shrink from the prospect of death as long as there remains any uncertainty as to their real state in the sight of God. The very light of the Gospel, where it is unaccompanied by the fulness of its felt comforts, intensifies the dread of the awful judgment. And what originates and fosters so much this morbid, melancholy foreboding and doubt in the matter that above all others is of most vital concern to you? What but not taking God at His word? You do not receive the record He has given concerning His Son.
2. Another hindrance to the tranquil prospect of death is the spiritual declension or backsliding to which Christians are liable. Love and zeal do not always burn with a steadfast flame, nor does this present world ever hold the child of God by such slender attachment, that like Job, Elijah, or Peter, he can pray for an instant summons hence.
3. There is sometimes a need-be, a gracious necessity in the sovereign purpose of God, that the valley that leads down to death should be shadowed with clouds and thick darkness. You know that all believers suffer chastisement in this present life for their sins; this is in God’s infinite wisdom and love, and not in anger. Thus it is that strong natural passions are curbed, and thus, too, even amiable and pious persons, who follow the guidance of God’s eye and lean on Christ, are taught that they too, like others, owe an infinite debt to the sovereign mercy; that they are infinitely unworthy, and God infinitely gracious and long-suffering; the fire is made to burn that they may meditate on love Divine and free.
4. It is sometimes a keen disappointment to a godly man to be summoned away in the midst of active usefulness.
II. Suggestions that may be helpful to Christians in preserving a tranquil and cheerful prospect of death. For though dying grace must not be expected till the dying hour, the prospect and preparation for that dying hour is one of the highest duties of our lifetime.
1. Remember, if you would welcome death without fear, your only standing ground, and refuge, and comfort, must be in the redeeming work of Christ.
2. If so, grace is begun; and as grace grows wherever it lives, seek the growth of grace if you would have a comfortable prospect of death. All who lean on Christ grow like Christ; and all who grow like Christ are fitting for heaven; and death is the happy portal that ushers them into His blissful presence, and the work and the joy of heaven differ more in measure than in character from the work and joy of the Christian life below. (G. B. Blake, M.A.)
Death in the midst of life
I. Those who are in the midst of their days are generally the most unwilling to die. Generally, I say, because there may be exceptions to this opinion. There are so many changes in the outward and inward statue of mankind, that some in the earlier, and some in the later period of life, may be the most unwilling to die.
1. Those in the midst of their days have the strongest expectations of living. They have often been visibly exposed to accidents; but have always escaped those that are fatal. They have often been sick, and sometimes dangerously so; but have always happily recovered. All these recoveries from sickness, and escapes from danger, have had a natural tendency to create hopes and expectations of living, and still escaping future dangers and diseases.
2. Those in the midst of their days often wish to do a great deal more good in the world before they die. Nature and grace unite in giving them a peculiar reluctance to leaving the stage of action, before they have gratified their benevolent feelings.
3. Those in the meridian of life very often wish, not only to do more good, but to get more good in the world before they die. Mankind generally have the most promising prospects of worldly prosperity in the midst of their days. It is, therefore, in this fascinating season, that they most sensibly dread the approach of death, which must necessarily lay all their promising hopes and prospects in the dust.
4. Those in the meridian of life are the most intimately and extensively connected with their fellow-men. These connections are the principal source of human happiness in the present life, and render it the most pleasant and agreeable.
5. Those in the meridian of life are often very unwilling to leave the world, because they have not accomplished the designs they have formed, nor obtained the purposes which they have long pursued.
6. Those in the midst of their days are more unwilling to die than others, because they are more unfit. This is commonly the case, whether they are saints or sinners. We find that the meridian of life is often very different from the beginning and close of it, both in good and bad men. Christians frequently brighten up in the decline of life, who had been cold and lifeless in the days of their vigour and prosperity. And on the other side, those who had been stupid sinners in their early days, sometimes become more serious and disposed to think about death and eternity, in the decline of life.
II. God does take away some in this period of life. It is true, indeed, He more seldom takes away the middle-aged, than either those who have not reached, or those who have passed, the meridian of life. Much the largest portion of the human race die before they have arrived at thirty years of age, and the next largest portion die after they have arrived at fifty. And between these two periods the smallest number of mankind go off the stage of action and return to dust. This may be owing to both natural and moral causes. In the meridian of life the bodily constitution is generally the most firm and robust, and least exposed to fatal accidents and disorders. The moral cause may be, that God has the most occasion for the exertion of mankind, while they are in the vigour of their mental and corporeal powers and faculties. He employs human agents in carrying on most of His providential designs. He has occasion for strong men, bold men, wise men, and enterprising men, to carry into execution His wise and holy purposes. Improvement:--
1. If those in the meridian of life are so unwilling to die, then those who have been preserved through that period have peculiar reason to be thankful that they are still among the living.
2. If those in the meridian of life are so unwilling to die, and so desirous of living, then they have been greatly favoured and distinguished. Distinguishing goodness calls for distinguishing love, gratitude and obedience.
3. If those in the meridian of life are the most unwilling to die, then they are the most unwilling to hear and obey the voice of God in His Word and providence.
4. If those who are in the midst of their days are the most fond of living, and the most unwilling to die, then we may see one reason why God does actually take away some in that period of life. He may do this for the benefit or hurt of the dying, or for the benefit or hurt of the living. He knows that the deaths of those in the midst of their days are more alarming, and make a deeper impression upon the human mind, than the deaths of the young, or of the old. He knows how painful and distressing it will be to the dying, to have all their earthly desires and hopes destroyed; and He knows how distressing it will he to the living, to have those taken away on whom they had placed peculiar hopes and dependence. But He may see it best to disappoint all such mutual hopes and expectations, to teach them and others the vanity of the world, the uncertainty of life, and the infinite importance of being habitually and practically ready to go the way of all the earth.
5. If those in the midst of their days are the most unwilling to die, then those in this stage of life, in this place, are in a very dangerous situation. How few are either habitually or practically prepared to leave the world! How many are entirely absorbed in the cares and concerns of the world, and are too busy to think, to read, to hear, to meditate, or pray! They are standing all the day idle, and refusing to enter into the vineyard of Christ. They neither worship God in secret, nor in private, nor in public. Is it safe to stand, and live, and act in such a manner, while God has need of you, and calls you into His service? Are you willing to live in this manner; are you willing to die in this manner? (N. Emmons, D.D.)
Prayer for a complete life, and its plea
This is a prayer which springs from the bosom of the Old Testament, and it bears the impress of its time. Life and immortality had not yet been brought to light; and long life in the land which the Lord their God had given them was a special promise made to these ancient saints. The prayer looks to that promise. It is thus the request for a complete life.
I. When is it that a life may be said to be complete? While length of life in this world is not the chief blessing of the New Testament, there is nothing wrong in desiring it, and that, when well used, it may have on it special marks of God’s wisdom and kindness. It is necessary, then, in speaking of a complete life, to find those elements that will suit either him who has come to his grave in a full age, or the young who have been taken away in the beginning of their days. We thank God that in His Word we can find a goal where the old and the young may meet in a complete and perfect life.
1. The first thing needed to gain this is that a man should have lived long enough to secure God’s favour. Until he has found this he has not attained the great end for which life has been given to an intelligent and responsible creature.
2. A complete life has this in it still further, that it has done God and His world some service. We are here not merely to find God’s favour, but to do God’s work (John 9:4). Stephen’s Christian life was short, and yet what ends it gained! The dying thief’s was still shorter, but how many sermons his words have preached to dying men!
3. The next thing we mention in a complete life is that it should close with submission to the call of God.
4. It should look forward to a continual life with God.
II. The plea for a complete life which this prayer contains. The psalmist contrasts his days with God’s years, his being cut off in the midst of his days with those years that are throughout all generations. There is deep pathos in it, a sense of his own utter frailty and evanescence. And yet in the heart of it there is faith and hope. It is an appeal to God as the possessor of a complete life in the most absolute sense, the inhabitant and owner of eternity.
1. The eternal life of God suggests the thought of His power to grant this request. He is the possessor of independent and everlasting existence, and can share it with His creatures as seems good to Him.
2. The eternal being of God suggests the thought of His immutability to secure the request. We may have the confidence of this if we realize the thought of an ever-living God, who not only gave being to our souls, but holds them in His hand, and puts into them desires after Himself. All the changes, whether of life or death, cannot affect our relation to Him, except in bringing us nearer. Without an eternal God, what refuge would there be for troubled souls?
3. The thought of God’s eternal being suggests His Divine consistency as an encouragement to this request. He has done so much that we may infer He will, if we ask Him, do still more. When I contemplate Him, I see that His eternity is the enclosing zone, the compact and mighty girdle of all His attributes, without which they would be scattered, conflicting forces, aimless and chaotic and fruitless. And what eternity is to God, immortality is to man. It is the indispensable requisite to the unity and completeness of His being. If, then, God has made Himself my highest standard, His unalterable truth and righteousness and goodness the goal towards which I should press, may I not expect that the course will be opened which leads to the goal?
4. God’s eternal being is a plea for this request, because it suggests His Divine compassion for us. Great natures are made not more limited by their greatness, but more comprehensive; and the eternity of God does not shut out the thoughts and trials of human lives, but brings them more within His merciful regard. When we feel a touch of tenderness to the feeble creatures around us, to the bird or butterfly that sings its song, and flutters its hour, and dies, let us not imagine that we are more compassionate than God. Every spark of mercy is from His hearth. And when He has put into our souls a sense of a higher life, and a cry for its fulness in Himself, let us not believe He will treat us worse than the beasts that perish, that He will meet their wants in His great liberality and leave ours in endless disappointment. (John Ker, D. D.)
They shall perish, but Thou shalt endure.
A perishing world and an immutable God
The great practical lesson which we are being daily taught is this, to withdraw our hearts from a changing and decaying world; and fix our hopes, and seek our happiness, in an unchanging and eternal God. This is the secret of real and permanent happiness to the soul of man.
I. The description which the text gives of the material world--the heavens and the earth. They are described as--
1. The effect of Divine operation. The contemplation of God’s creative wisdom and power, as displayed in the works of His hands, should deepen the feeling of awe and reverence, with which we regard His sacred majesty.
2. Mutable, perishable, and destined to destruction.
II. The contrast which it presents in the perfections of the world’s Creator and man’s Redeemer. Thus the shifting scenes and dissolving frame of nature may be improved by the children of God to their own comfort, by giving the force of a most advantageous contrast to the perfections of God their Saviour.
III. The conclusion which it draws from this view of the Divine character. God our Redeemer will maintain His cause in this mutable world, as long as the world shall continue. Conclusion:--
1. How utterly unsuitable the world and the things of the world are to be the chief objects of man’s solicitude and pursuit.
2. How preeminently secure and blest are they, whose dependence and hopes are fixed in the eternal God. (Essex Remembrancer.)
Things which grow not old
1. The love and mercy of God as shown in our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life, never grow old or wear out.
2. The salvation of Jesus has not grown old.
3. The sympathy of Jesus never grows old or worn out.
4. Heaven never changes nor wears out. And yet how old Heaven is! (H. J. Wilmot Buxton, M.A.)
But Thou art the same, and Thy years shall have no end.
The immutability of God
God is unchangeable in His essence, nature, and perfections. This unchangeableness of God was anciently represented by the figure of a cube, a piece of metal or wood framed four square; when every side is exactly of the same equality, cast it which way you will, it will always be in the same posture, because it is equal to itself in all its dimensions. He was therefore said to be the centre of all things, and other things the circumference; the centre is never moved, while the circumference is; it remains immovable in the midst of the circle. Shadows and variations have no place in the eternal Father of lights; He hath not the least spot or diminution of brightness; nothing can cloud Him or eclipse Him.
I. In what respects God is unchangeable.
1. God is unchangeable in His essence. He is unalterably fixed in His being, that not a particle of it can be lost from it, nor a mite added to it. God is the first being, an independent being; He was not produced of Himself, or of any other, but by nature always hath been, and therefore cannot by Himself, or by any other, be changed from what He is in His own nature: that which is not may as well assume to itself a being as He who hath and is all being have the least change from what He is. Again, because He is a Spirit, He is not subject to those mutations which are found in corporeal and bodily natures; because He is an absolutely simple Spirit, not having the least particle of composition, He is not capable of those changes which may be in created spirits.
2. God is immutable in regard of knowledge. God hath known from all eternity all that which He can know, so that nothing is hid from Him; He knows not at present any more than He hath known from eternity, and that which He knows now He always knows (Hebrews 4:13).
3. God is unchangeable in regard of His will and purpose (Isaiah 55:11; Isaiah 46:11; Numbers 23:19).
4. God is unchangeable in regard of place. Therefore observe, that when God is said to “draw near to us” when “we draw near to Him” (James 4:8), it is not by local motion or change of place, but by special and spiritual influences, by exciting and supporting grace.
II. The reasons to prove God immutable.
1. The name Jehovah signifies this attribute (Exodus 3:14). ]f we say not of Him He was, nor He will be, but only He is, whence should any change arrive?
2. If God were changeable, He could not be the most perfect being. God is the most perfect being, and possesses in Himself infinite and essential goodness (Matthew 5:48). If He could change from that perfection, He were not the highest exemplar and copy for us to write after.
3. God were not the most simple being if He were not immutable. But God is the most simple being; for that which is first in nature, having nothing beyond it, cannot by any means be thought to be compounded; for whatsoever is so depends upon the parts whereof it is compounded, and so is not the first being. Now, God being infinitely simple, hath nothing in Himself which is not Himself, and therefore cannot will any change in Himself, He being His own essence and existence.
4. God were not eternal if He were mutable. God cannot be eternally what He was; that is, He cannot have a true eternity, if He had a new knowledge, new purpose, a new essence; if He were sometimes this and sometimes that, sometimes know this and sometimes know that, sometimes purpose this and afterwards hath a new purpose, He would be partly temporary and partly eternal, not truly and universally eternal. All changeableness implies a corruptibility.
5. If God were changeable, He were not infinite and almighty. All change ends in addition or diminution; if anything be added, He was not infinite before; if anything be diminished, He is not infinite after. All change implies bounds and limits to that which is changed; but God is infinite, “His greatness is unsearchable” (Psalms 145:3).
III. Immutability is proper to God, and incommunicable to any creature.
1. The changeableness of all creatures is evident.
(1) Of corporeal creatures it is evident to sense. All plants and animals, as they have their duration bounded in certain limits, so while they do exist they proceed from their rise to their fall; they pass through many sensible alterations, from one degree of growth to another, from buds to blossoms, from blossoms to flowers and fruits; they come to their pitch that nature hath set them, and are torn back to the state from whence they sprung; there is not a clay but they make some acquisition, or suffer some loss; they die and spring up every day; nothing in them more certain than their inconstancy (Romans 8:20). The heavenly bodies are changing their place; the sun every day is running his race, and stays not in the same point; and though they are not changed in their essence, yet they are in their place; some indeed say there is a continual generation of light in the sun, as there is a loss of light by the casting out its beams, as in a fountain there is a flowing out of the streams, and a continual generation of supply. But in man the change is perpetually visible; every day there is a change from ignorance to knowledge, from one will to another, from passion to passion, sometimes sad, and sometimes cheerful, sometimes craving this and presently nauseating it. His body changes from health to sickness, or from weakness to strength; some alteration there is either in body or mind.
(2) Spiritual natures, as angels. They change not in their being, but that is from the indulgence of God; they change not in their goodness, but that is not from their nature, but Divine grace in their confirmation; but they change in their knowledge, they know more by Christ than they did by creation (1 Timothy 3:16).
2. No creature can be unchangeable in its nature.
(1) Because every creature rose from nothing. As they rose from nothing, so they bend to nothing, unless they are preserved by God.
(2) Because every creature depends purely upon the will of God. He that created them by a word, can by a word destroy them.
(3) Because no creature is absolutely perfect. The perfections of all creatures are searchable, the perfection of God only is unsearchable (Job 11:6), and therefore He only immutable.
IV. Some propositions to clear this unchanceableness of God from anything that seems contrary to it.
1. There was no change in God when He began to create the world in time. The creation was a real change, but the change was not subjectively in God, but in the creature; the creature began to be what it was not before.
2. There was no change in the Divine nature of the Son when He assumed human nature. There was an union of the two natures, but no change of the Deity into the humanity, or of the humanity into the Deity, both preserved their peculiar properties.
3. Repentance and other affections ascribed to God in Scripture argue no change in God.
4. The not fulfilling of some predictions in Scripture, which seem to imply a changeableness of the Divine will, do not argue any change in it. God declared what would follow by natural causes, or by the demerit of man, not what He would absolutely Himself do; and in many of those predictions, though the condition be not expressed, yet it is to be understood; so the promises of God are to be understood with the condition of perseverance in well-doing, and threatenings with a clause of revocation annexed to them, provided that men repent. And this God lays down as a general case, always to be remembered as a rule for the interpreting His threatenings against a nation, and the same reason will hold in threatenings against a particular person (Jeremiah 18:7-10).
5. God is not changed, when of loving to any creatures He becomes angry with them, or of angry He becomes appeased. The change in these cases is in the creature; there is a change in the dispensation of God, as there is a change in the creature, making Himself capable of such dispensations.
6. A change of laws by God argues no change in God, when God abrogates some laws which He had settled in the Church, and enacts others. God commanded one thing to the Jews, when the Church was in an infant state, and removed those laws when the Church came to growth (Galatians 4:3). A mother feeds not the infant with the same diet as she doth when it is grown up. Our Saviour acquainted not His disciples with some things at one time which He did at another, because they were not able to bear them. (S. Charnock.)
I. It is an undoubted fact. This is clear--
1. From reason. Immutability enters into the essence of our idea of Deity.
2. From nature, which in its essence seems immovable.
3. From the Bible.
II. It is peculiar to Himself. Mutation is the law of the material universe, so far as its laws are concerned. Geology shows that the history of the earth is the history of revolutions. “The mountains falling come to nought,” etc. Astronomy tells of planets that once shone in the heavens, that are gone, and of new ones that appear. The vegetable and animal systems of the earth are changing every hour. Mutation is also the law of the spiritual universe. Human minds are constantly changing in thoughts, feelings, purposes, character. Angels changed. Some have fallen from heaven to hell. But God sits enthroned above all these changes, more fixed than the sun above the shifting clouds, or the rock amidst the surging waters. God alone is unchangeable.
III. It is a blessing to the universe. Were God unholy, untruthful, malevolent, the universe might well pray for a change in Him. But He is eternally opposite to all this. He is infinitely holy, true, and loving, and a change in Him would be a terrible calamity. We would not have Him change. We rejoice that we can look up to Him midst all the false and morally foul and infernally malignant, and feel that there is One who is ever pure, ever true, ever merciful and good. (Homilist.)
A revelation of the immutability of God
The chemist in his laboratory, as he questions Nature, may be almost said to put her to the torture when, tried in his hottest furnace, or probed by his searching analysis to her innermost arcana, she by a spark or an explosion, or an effervescence, or an evolving substance, makes her distinct replies to his investigations. And . . . in every quarter of the globe her answer is the same--so that, let the experiment, though a thousand times repeated, only be alike in all its circumstances, the result which cometh forth is as rigidly alike, without deficiency, and without deviation . . . But there is a God who liveth and sitteth there, and these unvarying responses of Nature are all prompted by Himself, and are but the utterances of His immutability. They are the replies of a God who never changes, and who hath adapted the whole materialism of creation to the demonstration of it. The certainties of Nature and of science are, in fact, the vocables by which God announces His truth to the world; and when told how impossible it is that Nature can fluctuate, we are only told how impossible it is that the God of Nature can deceive us. (T. Chalmers, D.D.)
The children of Thy servants shall continue, and their seed shall be established before Thee.
God’s care for the posterity of His servants
I. How far a blessing cometh on the posterity of God’s servants.
1. Good men do convey many temporal mercies to their relations; that is the least. God cannot satisfy Himself with doing good to the persons of His children, but He must do good to their relations; all about them fare the better for their sakes. A land fareth the better for them (2 Kings 2:12).
2. Where the parent is in visible covenant, the children also are in visible covenant with him as soon as born.
3. If they die in infancy, we need not trouble ourselves about their salvation. God is their God (Genesis 17:1); and that is all the best of us has to show for his right to heaven.
4. If they live, and betray the corruption of their natures, there is more hope of them than of others. The grace of the covenant runneth most kindly in the channel of the covenant (Romans 11:24).
5. Among them salvation is most ordinary, though God leaveth himself a liberty to take men of an evil stock. A rose may grow upon a thorn; a slip of an ill stock may be grafted into the tree of life.
6. They are not cast off till they do even wrest themselves out of the arms of mercy. Cain excommunicated himself (Genesis 4:16).
II. The reasons.
1. That He may show the riches of His grace, which reacheth not only to the persons, but to the families of those that love Him and serve Him. Grace, like a mighty river, will be pent within no banks, but overfloweth all that a man hath, all his relations.
2. Out of an indulgence to natural affection. God hath a son of His own, and He knoweth how He loveth Him, and is acquainted with the heart of a father, and he hath planted an affection in parents to their children. Love, like a river, is descensive.
III. How can we reconcile the promise with experience, since the children of the servants of the Lord are reduced to great extremities, and are as naught and bad as others? I answer, The blessing is invisible for a great measure, and we want faith to interpret this privilege, as well as any other mentioned in the covenant. Sometimes their outward portion may be small, but, however, they are a holy seed unto God. We see the providence of God by pieces; for the present they may be in their natural condition, and the blessing doth not as yet break out in effects of grace, as it doth afterwards. We must leave the Lord to His own seasons.
IV. To whom the promise will re most eminently fulfilled. There are some qualifications mentioned. All God’s servants have their blessings, but these especially; as, namely--
1. The strict, and such as dare not offend Him (Psalms 103:17).
2. The just and upright. They abridge themselves of many advantages of gain which others hunt after. It is not lost (Psalms 112:2).
3. The merciful and charitable (Psalms 37:26). When we are urged to giving, you may object, What shall wife and children do? l answer, Give the rather; do something the more for every child, that the blessing may be entailed upon them; it is lent to the Lord, and it will be paid to your posterity: your children will not have a whit the less.
4. Those that are tender of God’s institutions: the second commandment, that provideth for God’s instituted worship, the sanction of it speaketh of blessings and punishments in the posterity, and deservedly. (T. Manton, D.D.)
The perpetuity and establishment of God’s servants
How blessed the assurance contained in this text; and if it might be understood literally, what encouragement would it afford to godly parents. But, alas! it is a lamentable fact that not a few of God’s servants have to mourn, as Abraham once did, “Oh! that Ishmael might live before God.” Those who are children of God by a second birth, and consequently the posterity of Zion, shall continue for ever, and their seed be established before God.
I. The births in succession. There is no real religion in existence but that which commences with the new birth. These births, which are in constant succession, conduct to grace privileges and to a glorious inheritance.
II. The establishment of which the text speaks. The first thing which I would press upon your attention here is, that the true Church of God must continue on earth, “despite all the rage.” We pass on just to remark of this establishment and perpetuity that the holy seed cannot die. Observe, further, that the experience of these established ones, and their establishment too, is supernatural. “Shall be established before Thee.” Now, I wish to bring my own establishment,--for I claim to be an established Christian--to this test. Will it bear being brought before God? (J. Irons.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 102". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16