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O Lord my God, Thou art very great.
A hymn of praise to God in Nature
I. The universality of God’s workings in Nature.
1. In the domain of dead matter. He is operating in the waters as they sail in the clouds, come down in the showers, etc. He is operating on the crusted earth, laying its “foundations,” touching its soil into verdure, and shaking it by volcanic fires. “He looketh on the earth and it trembleth,” etc.
2. In the domain of living matter,
(1) He works in all vegetable life--in the smallest blade as well as in the mightiest monarchs of the forest.
(2) He works in all sentient life--feeds every beast of the field, etc.
3. In the domain of rational existence. God works in all moral minds, from the highest angel to the humblest soul on earth.
II. The personality of God’s workings in Nature.
1. He works sublimely. If we take the telescope, we are struck with mute amazement at the vastness and splendour of the stellar systems; if we take the microscope and look at the wing of the smallest insect, or even at an atom of metallic dust, what brilliancy and perfection we discover. He paints His beauty on an insect’s wing, and wheels His throne upon the rolling worlds.
2. He works incessantly. There is no pause in His exertions; He neither slumbers nor sleeps, always at work, and at work everywhere and in everything. “It takes as much life,” says Emerson, “to conserve as to create the universe.”
3. He works benevolently. His desire to communicate His blessedness to other beings is the philosophy of the universe.
4. He works wisely. The Great Author never revises His books, the Great Architect never alters His plans.
5. He works in nature morally.
(1) The inspiring of the human soul with rapturous worship (verse 34). There is no true happiness without true worship; and God so appears in Nature as to awaken all souls into an anthem of praise.
(2) To clear from the soul all moral wrong (verse 35). God’s purpose, in all His operations on the earth as well as in the truths of His Gospel, is to make this world morally better and happier. (Homilist.)
A psalm of Providence
This and the psalm immediately foregoing are closely connected. The one sings of God in salvation, the other of God in creation. The first is a hymn; the second, a poem. The first is the peculiar song of the Church; the second, of all His manifold works. The opening of the psalm conveys a sense of being bowed down with the greatness of the Divine Majesty. No description of God is attempted. Only His robe is seen. Light is the robe of God, with which He has covered Himself. And water is the robe of earth, with which God has covered it. This thought governs the chief part of the poem. It might be called the water psalm. For physical life, as we know it, water is essential. God may have creatures formed of fire and living in the fierce stars. God has, we believe, beings of a spiritual nature. But in the natural universe it is only in that small region where water can exist that vegetable, animal, and human life are found. We can but live in earth’s water robe. And grandly the psalmist describes it. In clouds the waters gather above the mountains, and await the Divine bidding. Then they hasten to their appointed work. Some roll up the hill sides in mists, some stream down in rivulets; all go to the place God has appointed them. In the deep seas they dance in waves, and roar on the beach, but keep their bounds. With splendid vivacity the poet then describes the water at work in sustaining life. The wild ass drinks, and his strength is renewed. The cedars of Lebanon have their draughts. The great trees, water sustained, provide homes for the singing birds. In them the stork has her house. Grass for cattle, bread and wine and oil for men, supplying varied needs, are produced. In the far-stretching sea there is vigorous life in many and varied forms. And as thus the waters are seen to obey their first command, to bring forth abundantly, there comes the beautiful remark, “These all wait upon Thee, O God,” etc. The 104th psalm is very evidently a paraphrase of the 1st chapter of the Book of Genesis. There is this great difference, the psalm before us is rather a song of Providence than of creation. It does not speak of God as completing the machinery of earth and then setting it in motion and retiring for rest. It is God ever living, ever watching, ever at work. This psalm is the necessary supplement to Genesis. In the panorama at the opening of Holy Scripture there is calm and restfulness, but in the picture here all is movement. In the one God looks, and again and again pronounces all to be good. But here there are signs of the entrance of some element of restlessness and disorder. The mountain streams suffer rebuke--they are chased by thunder to their appointed place. When night comes the young lions are heard roaring after their prey. When the sun leads in the dawn man has to go to his toil and labour until the evening. There is something wrong. Signs of manifold wisdom are apparent, but there are darkness, want, toil, trouble, and death. A discord has evidently entered, and the perfect harmony is gone. Here then is a great mystery. Looking abroad upon nature, the prospect is that of a glorious creation, but with something wrong. It has been compared to a perfect chronometer into the works of which a pin has fallen. Science cannot but see much that is mysterious, and at times seem baffled. Creation tells of marvellous wisdom, but all is not right. It shows vast arrangements for happiness which something has marred. This world is a vase of exceeding loveliness, but it has fallen and lies shattered with jagged edges and points. The study of nature ever leads to the conclusion that it is the work of infinite wisdom, but spoiled in some mysterious manner. Everywhere are there signs of the handiwork of One who wrought for purity and peace and love, and everywhere is foulness and disorder and war. Fact or poem, Genesis gives the only solution. Sin has entered, and the splendid work is shattered. With a truer science than many of those who profess to study nature, the psalmist recognizes this and breathes the prayer, “May sinners pass away from the earth and evil-doers be no more. Bless the Lord, O my soul. Hallelujah.” St. Augustine of Hippo, in his very remarkable series of sermons on this psalm, comes to the conclusion that a spiritual meaning must be sought. He will have water here to allude to “the love of God which is shed abroad on our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given us.” By the world which He hath so founded “that it shall not be moved for ever and ever,” he says “I understand the Church.” As light is the garment of God, and water the garment of earth, so is love the garment of the Church. It is only as she is robed in this that she is attired with beauty. It is her wedding garment, for he that loveth not is not in Christ. It is in love that God lays the beams of the chambers of His home where there are many mansions. It is love that flows up over the lofty mountains and down in cascades to the humble valleys, sometimes in rushing torrents, and sometimes in hidden springs. It is love that gives verdure and refreshment, and through which souls find a home. Love which is like a mighty sea wherein live creatures innumerable. In God’s works in nature are seen His glory and majesty. In the Church is manifest His love. And it is as we consider this, that with sweetest notes we sing, “My meditations of Him shall be sweet, I will be glad in the Lord.” (J. H. Cooke.)
The greatness of God
I. In comparison with the kings of the earth. We read of Alexander the Great, of Constantine the Great, and Frederick the Great, but, verily, in comparison with the God of heaven, their greatness dwindles into insignificance--dwindles into nothing! Have they thrones? Their thrones are upon the earth; God’s throne is in the heavens, “high above all height.” Have they robes? God’s robes are robes of light and majesty. Have they pavilions? He stretcheth forth the heavens as His pavilion, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in. Have they chariots? He maketh the clouds His chariot--He walketh upon the wings of the wind. Have they kingdoms? The whole universe is God’s kingdom, and literally He ruleth over all.
II. In certain passages of Scripture which speak sublimely of Him (Habakkuk 3:3-35.3.6; Psalms 18:6-19.18.15; Isaiah 40:12; Isaiah 40:15-23.40.17; Revelation 20:11-66.20.12).
III. In certain attributes ascribed to Him.
1. He is uncreated and eternal.
IV. In the mighty work of creation. We have spoken of His omnipotence as an attribute; here we have its sublime demonstration. How vast is this creation, and how wonderful in all its parts!
V. In the world of redemption. This exhibits His moral grandeur; and it is this which makes Him emphatically and supremely great indeed. Infinitely great in goodness as He is infinitely great in power; infinitely great in all His moral as in all His natural perfections; so that, in the sublimest sense, it may be said of Him that “He is a God, all o’er consummate, absolute, full orbed, in His whole round of rays complete.” Inferences.
1. How reasonable it is that we should worship and serve this only living and true God.
2. How dreadful a thing it must be to have this great God for an enemy.
3. How blessed it is to have God upon our side. (D. Baker, D.D.)
Nature has two great revelations,--that of use and that of beauty; and the first thing we observe about these two characteristics of her is, that they are bound together, and tied to each other. The beauty of nature is not, as it were, a fortunate accident, which can be separated from her use; there is no difference in the tenure upon which these two characteristics stand; the beauty is just as much a part of nature as the use; they are only different aspects of the self-same facts. It is worth observing, in the history of the mind of this country, the formation of a kind of passion for scenery and natural beauty. Though it might sometimes appear that there is nothing particularly serious in the current fashion, still the general sentiment shows a serious passion existing in the poetry and thought of the age, which it follows and copies. What is the religious bearing, then, of this modern passion for nature in its pictorial aspect? First, then, with respect to the place which the beauty of nature has in the argument of Design from nature. When the materialist has exhausted himself in efforts to explain utility in nature, it would appear to be the peculiar office of beauty to rise up suddenly as a confounding and baffling extra, which was not even formally provided for in his scheme. Nature goes off at a tangent which carries her farther than ever from the head under which he places her, and shows the utter inadequacy of that head to include all that has to be included in it. The secret of nature is farther off than ever from what he thinks of it. Physical science goes back and back into nature, but it is the aspect and front of nature which gives the challenge; and it is a challenge which no backward train of physical causes can meet. But again, nature is partly a curtain and partly a disclosure, partly a veil and partly a revelation; and here we come to her faculty of symbolism, which is so strong an aid to, and has so immensely affected, the principles of worship. It is natural for us to regard the beauty and grandeur of nature as not stopping with itself, but bearing a relation to something moral, of which it is the similitude and type. Certainly no person has a right to fasten his own fancies upon the visible creation, and say that its various features mean this and that, resemble this or that in the moral world; but if the association is universal, if we cannot even describe nature without the help of moral terms--solemn, tender, awful, and the like--it is evidence of a natural and real similitude of physical things to moral. Nature is sometimes spoken of in a pantheistic corporeal manner; as if it were a kind of bodily manifestation of the Divine Being, analogous to that garment of the flesh which encircles the human soul, and is the instrument of expression to it. But the manifestation of the Deity which takes place in the beauty of nature rests upon the ground and the principle of language. It is the revelation of the character of God in the way a material type or similitude can be. But a type is a kind of distinct language--the language of oblique and indirect expression, as contrasted with direct. While we do not worship the material created sign, for that would be idolatry, we still repose on it as the true language of the Deity. In this peculiar view of nature there are two points in striking concurrence with the vision-language of Scripture. First, Scripture has specially consecrated the faculty of sight, and has partly put forth, and has promised in a still more complete form, a manifestation of the Deity to mankind, through the medium of a great sight. This view only breaks out in fragments in the Old Testament. It emerges into light when nature is spoken of as the garment and robe of the Deity, when the glory of the Lord covers the tabernacle; when Moses is permitted to behold from the cleft in the rock the skirts of the Divine glory. Especially does the idea of a visible manifestation come out in the prophetic visions, where the splendid gleams and colours of nature, sapphire and amber, rainbow and flame, are collected together, and combined in an emblematic figure and shape, in order to make “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.” “And when I saw,” says the Prophet, “I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one that spake.” But the scattered rays of pictorial representation which only occasionally pierce through the clouds of the Old Testament, are gathered into one focus in the New, they converge and are absorbed into an ineffable, eternal appearance, in which God will ever be seen as He is, and they issue in the doctrine of the Visio Dei. Secondly, it must be remarked, as another principle in the Scriptural representation, that the act of seeing a perfectly glorious sight or object is what constitutes the spectator’s and beholder’s own glory. The future life is called a state of glory in Scripture, and it is called such not only in reference to the world in which it will be enjoyed, which is a glorious world, but also with regard to those who enjoy it; who attain to glory as a personal state. This personal state is enjoyed by them on this principle, that they are glorified as spectators of glory, that beholding Majesty is their own exaltation, and adoration their own ascent. But this latter is certainly the principle of nature and it is inculcated by all who vindicate the place and office of nature as a spectacle. No one was ever struck with wonder and admiration in beholding the works of God, no one was ever impressed strongly by the beauty and majesty of the visible creation, without at the same time feeling an accession of rank and elevation to himself from the act. (J. B. Mozley, D.D.)
Nothing is more obvious than that the writers of the Psalms were attracted by the beauty, influence, and fecundity of the earth. Now beauty, apart from all else, is something which must for ever attract us. Beauty is something so subtle, so incomprehensible, that there is no language we can employ or discover which can in any way enable us to understand what is the common root and ground out of which all the beauty springs. And this particular view of nature is very highly important in this materialistic age, when men are so disposed to teach that there is nothing beyond what we see; and so lead our minds to the contemplation of what is material, to give an explanation of all the wonders of nature, the causes of their wonderful operations, and the secret of their power. Wherever you travel with a man of science, and you draw his attention to something in the universe, he will have ready to hand an explanation of what you have pointed out, and a ready answer to the difficulties in your mind. If you are travelling, for instance, in Switzerland, and you point out the grandeur and glory of the mountain range, he will at once begin to explain to you how they arose and got their present configuration, and be extremely learned with regard to the properties of which they consist. After he has dilated at great length, with all learning and profundity, on these aspects of nature, you suddenly turn to him and say, “All you tell me may be very true; your explanation may be very profound, and your science may be very subtle, but I would like to ask you one question. Can you tell me what the beauty of the mountains is? Is it the height, or the depth; is it the light or the shade? Is it the cloud above, or the earth beneath, which constitutes its beauty?” He looks at you and says, “That is beyond me.” For what is beauty? No man can describe it, or tell us what it is. It has no real existence apart from intelligence; for you must recollect that the beauty of nature is as much open and exposed to the brute as it is to you and to me. I am, therefore, left to draw a single inference, and that is this--The beauty of nature is not a mere accident; the beauty of nature is not something painted on the surface of nature. The beauty of nature is some integral part of its whole working; and while it is working as a machine it is sleeping as a picture. In the Bible you always find the writer draws the attention of the reader to the soul. The psalmist, after contemplating the glory of God, and that spectacle of light, felt there was a mystery beyond all explanation; and he called on his higher nature to rejoice. (Canon Barker.)
Who maketh the clouds His chariot.
The cloudy equipage
To understand the psalmist’s meaning, you must know that the chariot of old was sometimes a sculptured brilliancy, made out of ivory, sometimes of solid’ silver, and rolled on two wheels, which were fastened to the axle by stout pins, and the defeat of OEnomaus by Pelops was caused by the fact that a traitorous charioteer had inserted a linch-pin of wax instead of a linch-pin of iron. All of the six hundred chariots of Pharaoh lost their linch-pins in the Red Sea: “The Lord took off their wheels.” Look at the long flash of Solomon’s fourteen hundred chariots, and the thirty thousand chariots of the Philistines. But my text puts all such occasions into insignificance, as it represents the King of the Universe coming to the door of His palace, and the gilded vapours of heaven rolling up to His feet, and He, stepping in and taking the reins of the galloping winds in His hand, starts in triumphal ride under the arches of sapphire, and over the atmospheric highways of opal and chrysolite, “the clouds His chariot.” He has His morning-cloud chariot and His evening-cloud chariot--the cloud chariot in which He rode down to Sinai to open the law, and the cloud chariot in which He rode down to Tabor to honour the Gospel, and the cloud chariot in which He will come to judgment. When He rides out in His morning chariot at this season, He puts golden coronets on the dome of cities, and silvers the rivers, and out of the dew makes a diamond ring for the fingers of every grass blade, and bids good cheer to invalids who in the night said, “Would God it were morning!” From this morning-cloud chariot He distributes light--light for the earth and light for the heavens, light for the land and light for the sea, great bars of it, great wreaths of it, great columns of it, a world full of it. What a mighty thing the King throws from His chariot when He throws us the morning! Yea; He has also His evening-cloud chariot. It is made out of the saffron and the gold and the purple and the orange and the vermilion and upshot flame of the sunset. That is the place where the splendours that have marched through the day, having ended the procession, throw down their torches and set the heavens on fire. Oh, what a rich God we have that He can put on one evening sky pictures that excel Michael Angelo’s “Last Judgment,” and Ghirlandajo’s “Adoration of the Magi,” and whole galleries of Madonnas, and for only an hour, and throw them away, and the next evening put on the same sky something that excels all that the Raphaels and Titians and Rembrandts ever executed, and then draw a curtain of mist over them never again to be exhibited! How rich God must be to have a new chariot of clouds every evening! But the Bible tells us that our King also has His black chariot, for we are told that “Clouds and darkness are round about Him.” That chariot is cloven out of night, and that night is trouble. When He rides forth in that black chariot, pesitilence and earthquake and famine and hurricane and woe attend Him. Then let the earth tremble. Then let nations pray. Mark you, the ancient chariot which David uses as a symbol in my text, had only two wheels, and that was that they might turn quickly, two wheels taking less than half the time to turn than four wheels would have taken. And our Lord’s chariot has only two wheels, and that means instant reversal, and instant help, and instant deliverance. While the combined forces of the universe in battle array could not stop His black chariot a second, or diverge it an inch, the driver of that chariot says, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee.” “While they are yet speaking I will hear.” His two-wheeled chariot, one wheel justice, and the other wheel mercy. Aye, they are swift wheels. A cloud, whether it belongs to the cirrhus, the clouds that float the highest; or belongs to the stratus, the central ranges; or to the cumulus, the lowest ranges--seems to move slowly along the sky if it moves at all. But many of the clouds go at such a speed that even a limited lightning express train would seem lethargic, so swift is the chariot of our God; yea, swifter than the storm, swifter than the light. Yet a child ten years old has been known to reach up, and with the hand of prayer take the courser of that chariot by the bit and slow it up, or stop it, or turn it aside, or turn it back. Notice that these old-time chariots, which nay text uses for symbol, had what we would call a high dashboard at the front, but were open behind. And the king would stand at the dashboard and drive with his own hands. And I am glad that He whose chariot the clouds are, drives Himself. He does not let natural law drive, for natural law is deaf. He does not let fate drive, for fate is merciless. But our Father King Himself drives, and He puts His loving hand on the reins of the flying coursers, and He has a loving ear open to the cry of all who want to catch His attention. But there are clouds that touch the earth and discharge their rain; and, though the clouds out of which God’s chariot is made may sometimes be far away, often they are close by, and they touch our shoulders, and our homes, and they touch us all over. I have read of two rides that the Lord took in two different chariots of clouds, and of another that He will take. One day, in a chariot of clouds that were a mingling of fog and smoke and fire, God drove down to the top of a terrible crag fifteen hundred feet high, now called Jebel-Musa, then called Mount Sinai, and He stepped out of His chariot among the split shelvings of rock. The mountain shook as with an ague, and there were ten volleys of thunder, each of the ten emphasizing a tremendous “Thou shalt” or “Thou shalt not.” Then the Lord resumed His chariot of cloud, and drove up the hills of heaven. They were dark and portentous clouds that made that chariot at the giving of the law. But one day He took another ride, and this time down to Mount Tabor; the clouds out of which His chariot was made, bright clouds, roseate clouds, illumined clouds, and music rained from all of them, and the music was a mingling of carol and chant and triumphal march: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Transfiguration chariot! “Oh,” say you, “I wish I could have seen those chariots--the black one that brought the Lord to Jebel-Musa, at the giving of the law, and the white one that brought Him down to Tabor!” Never mind, you will see something grander than that, and it will be a mightier mingling of the sombre and the radiant, and the pomp of it will be such that the chariots in which Trajan and Diocletian and Zenobia and Caesar and Alexander and all the conquerors of all the ages rode will be unworthy of mention; and what stirs me most is, that when He comes in that chariot of cloud and goes back, He will ask you and me to ride with Him both ways. How do I know that the judgment chariot will be made out of clouds? Read Revelation 1:7. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
Who maketh His angels spirits.--
The powers of Nature
1. What a number of beautiful and wonderful objects does Nature present on every side of us! and how little we know concerning them! In some indeed we see symptoms of intelligence, and we get to form some idea of what they are. For instance, about brute animals we know little, but still we see they have sense, and we understand that their bodily form which meets the eye is but the index, the outside token of something we do not see. Much more in the case of men: we see them move, speak, and act, and we know that all we see takes place in consequence of their will, because they have a spirit within them, though we do not see it. But why do rivers flow? Why does rain fall? Why does the sun warm us? And the wind, why does it blow? Here our natural reason is at fault; we know, I say, that it is the spirit in man and in beast that makes man and beast move, but reason tells us of no spirit abiding in what is commonly called the natural world, to make it perform its ordinary duties. Of course, it is God’s will which sustains it all; so does God’s will enable us to move also, yet this does not hinder, but, in one sense, we may be truly said to move ourselves: but how do the wind and water, earth and fire, move? Now, here Scripture interposes, and seems to tell us that all this wonderful harmony is the work of angels. Those events which we ascribe to chance as the weather, or to nature as the seasons, are duties done to that God who maketh His angels to be winds, and His ministers a flame of fire (John 5:4; Exodus 19:16-2.19.18; Galatians 3:19; Acts 7:53; Revelation 7:1; Genesis 19:13; 2 Kings 19:35; 2 Samuel 24:15-10.24.17; Matthew 28:2; Revelation 8:1-66.8.13; Revelation 9:1-66.9.21; Revelation 16:1-66.16.21). Thus, whenever we look abroad, we are reminded of those most gracious and holy beings, the servants of the Holiest, who deign to minister to the heirs of salvation. Every breath of air and ray of light and heat, every beautiful prospect, is, as it were, the skirts of their garments, the waving of the robes of those whose faces see God in heaven. And I put it to any one, whether it is not as philosophical, and as full of intellectual enjoyment, to refer the movements of the natural world to them, as to attempt to explain them by certain theories of science, useful as these theories certainly are for particular purposes, and capable (in subordination to that higher view) of a religious application.
2. Vain man would be wise, and he curiously examines the works of Nature, as if they were lifeless and senseless; as if he alone had intelligence, and they were base inert matter, however curiously contrived at the first. So he goes on, tracing the order of things, seeking for causes in that order, giving names to the wonders he meets with, and thinking he understands what he has given a name to. At length he forms a theory, and recommends it in writing, and calls himself a philosopher. Now, all these theories of science, which I speak of, are useful, as classifying, and so assisting us to recollect, the works and ways of God and of His ministering angels. And again, they are ever most useful, in enabling us to apply the course of His providence, and the ordinances of His will, to the benefit of man. Thus we are enabled to enjoy God’s gifts; and let us thank Him for the knowledge which enables us to do so, and honour those who are His instruments in communicating it. When then we walk abroad, and “meditate in the field at the eventide,” how much has every herb and flower in it to surprise and overwhelm us! For, even did we know as much about them as the wisest of men, yet there are those around us, though unseen, to whom our greatest knowledge is as ignorance; and, when we converse on subjects of nature scientifically, repeating the names of plants and earths, and describing their properties, we should do so religiously, as in the hearing of the great servants of God, with the sort of diffidence which we always feel when speaking before the learned and wise of our own mortal race, as poor beginners in intellectual knowledge, as well as in moral attainments.
3. Lastly, it is a motive to our exertions in doing the will of God, to think that, if we attain to heaven, we shall become the fellows of the blessed angels. Indeed, what do we know of the courts of heaven, but as peopled by them? and therefore doubtless they are revealed to us, that we may have something to fix our thoughts on, when we look heavenwards. (J. H. Newman, B.D.)
The author of this psalm is deeply impressed with the manifestation of God’s presence in nature. Everything reminds him of God. And the wonderful fact about his language is, that it not only conceives of material things in spiritual phraseology, but that it ascends higher than this, and describes spiritual things in the wording of material symbols.
I. The truest ministries in God’s service are the spiritual ones. We, in our earthliness and sense-satisfied lives, wrapped about continually with the demands of the flesh, crave creaturely ministries; we want prosperity, success, and pleasure; we want material food, and physical delights, and social honour; we run after the trumpet-blare of fame, and bite at the dangling hook of influence and power. And who can wonder, when nerves and brain, and soul itself, are all enwrapped in matter, so that the touch of the senses is over all that we do? Yet right in the face of all this material and creaturely drift of our natures, we need to hear these far-off words of inspiration and command, “He maketh His angels spirits.” Who does not know and feel the power and the truthfulness of this thought?
II. God’s truest servants are those whose characters are an inspiration to others. This it is which gives to history its interest and its highest meaning; it is the charm which always comes from bringing forward new men and new issues to take the place of worn-out men and times. This touch of God’s inspiration is like a new incarnation of Divine power in every strong, brave, true life. Then we feel that we can conquer, because others have conquered; then we feel that we, too, can rise above self and those miserable infirmities of our existence which seem, at times, to hedge our lives into a land-locked inland sea of mediocrity of living, simply because others have threaded their way through similar narrow places, and have escaped from their moral captivity altogether. This is what makes a good piece of honest biography such attractive reading: we get bird’s-eye views of this common life of ours; we get an insight into the secret working of causes which have their home in the souls of us all. (W. W. Newton.)
Ardency required of ministers
It is true that a man may hold out a light to others who himself does not see it. It is true that, as a concave speculum cut from a block of ice, by its power of concentrating the rays of the sun, may kindle touchwood or explode gunpowder, so a preacher may set others on fire, when his own heart is cold as frost. It is true that he may stand like a lifeless finger-post, pointing the way along the road where he neither leads nor follows. It is true that God in His sovereign mercy may thus bless others by one who is himself unblessed. Yet commonly it happens, that it is that which proceeds from the heart of preachers that penetrates and affects the hearts of hearers, like a ball red-hot from the cannon’s mouth, he must burn himself who would set others on fire. (T. Guthrie, D.D.)
Who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not he removed for ever.
Stability of Nature essential to prosperity
Earthquakes alone are sufficient to destroy the prosperity of any country. If beneath England the now inert subterranean forces should exert those powers which most assuredly in former geological ages they have exerted, how completely would the entire condition of the country be changed! What would become of the lofty houses, thickly packed cities, great manufactories, the beautiful public and private edifices? If the new period of disturbance were first to commence by some great earthquake in the dead of the night, how terrific would be the carnage! England would at once be bankrupt; all papers, records, and accounts would from that moment be lost. Government being unable to collect the taxes, and failing to maintain its authority, the hand of violence and rapine would remain uncontrolled. In every large town famine would go forth, pestilence and death following in its train. (Charles Darwin.)
The stability of the earth
The stability of the earth is of God as much as the being and existence of it. There have been many earthquakes or movings of the earth in several parts of it, but the whole body of the earth was never removed so much as one hair’s breadth out of its place, since the foundations thereof were laid. Archimedes, the great mathematician, said, “If you will give me a place to set my engine on, I will remove the earth.” It was a great brag, but the Lord hath laid it too fast for man’s removing. He hath laid the foundations of the earth that it shall not be removed, nor can it be at all moved, but at His pleasure; and when it moves at any time, it is to mind the sons of men, that they by their sins have moved Him to displeasure. (Joseph Caryl.)
The waters stood above the mountains.--
Land from beneath the waters
It results from the simplest methods of interpretation that, leaving out of view certain patches of metamorphosed rocks and certain volcanic products, all that is now dry land has once been at the bottom of the waters. It is perfectly certain that at a comparatively recent period of the world’s history--the Cretaceous epoch--none of the great physical features which at present mark the surface of the globe existed. It is certain that the Rocky Mountains were not. It is certain that the Himalaya Mountains were not. It is certain that the Alps and the Pyrenees had no existence. The evidence is of the plainest possible character, and is simply this: We find raised up on the flanks of these mountains, elevated by the forces of upheaval which have given rise to them, masses of cretaceous rock which formed the bottom of the sea before those mountains existed. It is therefore clear that the elevatory forces which gave rise to the mountains operated subsequently to the Cretaceous epoch, and that the mountains themselves are largely made up of the materials deposited in the sea which once occupied their place. (Huxley.)
Geology the Divine record
To me it seems that to look on the first land that was ever lifted above the waste of waters, to follow the shore where the earliest animals and plants were created when the thought of God first expressed itself in organic forms, to hold in one’s hand a bit of stone from an old sea-beach, hardened into rock thousands of centuries ago, and studded with the beings that once crept upon its surface or were stranded there by some retreating wave, is even of deeper interest to men than the relics of their own race, for these things tell more directly of the thoughts and creative acts of God. (Agassiz.)
At Thy rebuke they fled.--
God’s command over the elements
The famous description of Virgil comes to mind, who introduces Neptune as sternly rebuking the winds for daring without his consent to embroil earth and heaven, and raise such huge mountain waves: then, swifter than the word is spoken, he calms the swollen seas, scatters the gathered clouds, and brings back the sun. (Lorinus.)
Thou hast set a bound that they may not pass over.--
Restraint imposed upon the sea
The Baltic Sea, in our own time, inundated large tracts of land, and did great damage to the Flemish people and other neighbouring nations. By an instance of this kind we are warned what would be the consequences were the restraint imposed upon the sea by the hand of God removed. Although the natural tendency of the waters is to cover the earth, yet this will not happen, because God has established, by His Word, a counteracting law, and as His truth is eternal, this law must remain steadfast. (J. Calvin.)
He seneth the springs into the valleys.
The furnishing of the earth
1. Because the use of fresh waters was necessary for man, and necessary it was that man should have it nigh at hand unto him, for the more commodious use, the Lord broke up wells of water in several places, and made brooks and waters, and rivers and floods, like veins in a man’s body, to carry from them water along to all habitable places of the earth, where God had appointed men to dwell (verse 10).
2. Not only where men do dwell, but also where men’s ordinary resort is not, the Lord hath set drinking vessels full of water, for the use of travelling men and other creatures, appointed to attend man, and some way to serve his use.
3. For the furnishing of man’s house on earth, God hath provided him with parks for beasts to feed in, and trees for fowls and birds to live in, and ponds for fishes, as we will hear afterward; and these beasts and fowls, and singing birds, have their drinking vessels set for them (verse 11).
4. The Lord hath adorned the habitation of man, with trees growing beside the waters; not only for his own proper use, but also for the use of fowls and singing birds (verse 12).
5. Where wells and rivers are not, as in hills and high places, it is seen for the most part; there the Lord supplieth the lack of waters, by rain from the clouds. “He watereth the hills from His chambers,” that is, from the clouds, wherein as in chambers He hath stored up great waters.
6. The Lord doth not dissolve the clouds all at once, but by little and little maketh them distil smaller or greater drops only.
7. There is no part of the earth, whereupon God bestoweth not so much of the fruit of His operation, as may fill it full of His glory (verse 13).
8. The grass and herbs, and the divers sorts of them, serving for the use of beasts and men, are worthy of a room in our meditation of God’s provident care for man and beast (verse 14).
9. The Lord’s allowance upon man is very large, not only for necessity, but also for delectation (verse 15).
10. The right use of God’s creatures is not to surfeit, and bury the memory of God and of the excellency of man above beasts, in gluttony and drunkenness, but to give him strength and gladness in such a measure as may encourage him cheerfully to serve his Maker.
11. God will have His excellency taken notice of in everything which is great, notable, excellent: upon which ground, great trees are called here, “The trees of the Lord.”
12. The Lord hath furnished trees, not only with so much sap as might make them grow; but also with so much sap as might serve man for meat and drink and medicine, and other uses.
13. Among the trees the Lord will have us take notice of the cedars, as of a special plant of His husbandry on the earth, for their height and greatness, and durableness of the timber, and namely of those of Lebanon, designed for the use of His people.
14. It is worthy of our marking, that for the nests of birds He hath provided high trees, where they might breed and lodge, and bring forth their young more safely and securely (verse 17).
15. It is worthy of our observation for glorifying of God, that God hath taught weak creatures naturally to draw themselves to strong defences; and sundry sorts of them to have their several sorts of refuge (verse 18). (D. Dickson.)
My little girl gazing one day upon the brown freckled ripples of a streamlet, suddenly said to me, “Why does the water always run?” This is a question that is apt to puzzle many older minds. It seems a great mystery why hour after hour the stream should continue to flow without any diminution. You sit beside it a whole forenoon and watch a stone in its bed, and you see that the water keeps the same level along its sides. Day after day its voice is as full-toned and its sparkle as bright as ever; and you wonder from what perennial fountain comes the inexhaustible supply. Let us ascend to the source of the stream, and we shall obtain an explanation of the mystery. We see in the cushions of moss around its source the explanation of the ceaseless flow of the streamlet down in the valley. Nearly all our mountain tops have large spaces covered with dense carpets of moss. On these the snow appears early and lingers late; and during the rest of the year the clouds and mists are constantly distilling their moisture into them. They are therefore thoroughly charged with water, and give rise, wherever the ground forms a sloping hollow, to tiny rills, which drain the mossy sides of the hill, and nourish large quantities of moss along their course; and these in their turn imbibe more moisture from the clouds and mists, and conserve the gathering waters, until at last they acquire some volume, and in well-defined channels flow down to the valley in a series of snowy cascades and sparkling pools. Moss serves on our mountains which are below the snow-line the same purpose which the glacier serves on the mountains of other lands that are above the snow-line. They each afford one of the most striking examples of those marvellous adjustments which pervade the whole economy of nature. Without the intervention of the glacier and the moss the moisture that falls on the mountain summits would speedily run off in raging torrents, inundating the plains, scattering over the cultivated fields the barren debris of the mountains, and leaving behind after their subsidence a dry white wilderness of stones and mud. But the moss and the glacier retain the moisture of the clouds, and part with it gradually and safely, allowing it to descend to the plains so gently and continuously that, instead of destroying, it imparts beauty and fertility to the fields. Associated with the glacier and the moss in the formation of the springs that run among the hills, is the tree. The Chinese have a proverb that the grandest rivers are cradled in the leaves of the pine. Artificial springs may be created among the foldings of the hills by simply digging a hole in the ground, and sheltering it from the sun’s rays by planting around it trees and bushes, when the rain that falls will drain towards this hole, and in a short time make it a source of living water. The rod of Moses, smiting the rock and producing the miraculous water from it, is thus in a line with the natural way in which the growth of the tree on the arid rock gives birth to a fountain. Periodical rains, however abundant they may be, speedily pass away and descend into the valleys with unrestrained violence, doing infinite harm. But the alpine woods retain the fallen moisture long after the storm has abated, and the surface of the hill is dried up under the scorching sun. The continued existence of moisture in these woods, and the constant evaporation from them, produce a cooler atmosphere, which in its turn attracts and condenses the vapour of the clouds and thus replenishes the springs. Nor must we omit from this wonderful partnership in the circulation of the vital fluid of the earth, the agency of rocks. Layers of sand alternating with rocky strata imbibe and retain an immense quantity of water, which supplies the source of springs. Ordinary building stones contain a large percentage of moisture. Granite and marble are highly absorbent. Limestone contains two pints of water in every cubic foot, and as it is more pierced and more easily dissolved by the carbonic acid which the rain-water holds in solution, it forms the best of all mediums for the formation of springs and wells. Hence the abundance of fountains in the Holy Land, whose geological structure is almost entirely limestone. Even the driest rock has its pores filled with moisture like a sponge. Mountain rocks are thus vast storehouses of water, which husband and equalize the supply, and replenish the springs with unfailing regularity, independently of the varying rainfall. Very mysterious seems the origin of a spring as it sparkles up from the bosom of the mountain, from the heart of the rock into the sunshine. We do not wonder that in ancient times it should be regarded as the local haunt of some Divine presence, the sites of the Grecian oracles were always beside springs, whose water gushing up from the dark depths of the earth expressively symbolized the Divine voice speaking from the unseen world. And in harmony with the same idea, the Hebrew name of a prophet was derived from the bubbling forth of the waters of a spring, implying that his utterances were the irresistible overflowings of the Divine fountain of inspiration in his soul. Beside the well of Sychar, incarnate in human form, in visible manifestation to the eyes of men, was the great Reality to whom all these myths and symbols pointed, who thirsted Himself that He might give us to drink. And if our eyes be purged with spiritual eye-salve, we too shall see beside every spring the True Oracle, the Great Prophet, the Divinity of the waters who “sendeth the springs into the valleys which run among the hills.” (H. Macmillan, D.D.)
He causeth the grass to grow.
In the hayfield
I. Grass is in itself instructive.
1. As the symbol of our mortality. The whole history of man may be seen in the meadow. He springs up green and tender, subject to the frosts of infancy, which imperil his young life; he grows, he comes to maturity, he puts on beauty even as the grass is adorned with flowers; but after a while his strength departs and his beauty is wrinkled, even as the grass withers and is followed by a fresh generation, which withers in its turn.
2. As an emblem of the wicked. As the Eastern husbandman gathers up the green herb, and, despite its former beauty, casts it into the furnace, such must be your lot, O vainglorious sinners!
3. As a picture of the elect of God. How like the grass are God’s people for this reason, that they are absolutely dependent upon the influences of heaven! Our fields are parched if vernal showers and gentle dews are witheld, and what are our souls without the gracious visitations of the Spirit? Sometimes through severe trials our wounded hearts are like the mown grass, and then we have the promise, “He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass: as showers that water the earth.” Thank God for that old saying, which is a gracious doctrine as well as a true proverb, “Each blade of grass has its own drop of dew.”
4. As comparable to the food wherewith the Lord supplies the necessities of His chosen ones (Psalms 23:1-19.23.6).
II. God is seen in the growing of the grass.
1. As a Worker. The simple production of grass is not the result of natural law apart from the actual work of God; mere law would be inoperative unless the great Master Himself sent a thrill of power through the matter which is regulated by the law--unless, like the steam-engine, which puts force into all the spinning-jennies and wheels of a cotton-mill, God Himself were the motive power to make every wheel revolve. How I could fall down, and find rest on the grass as on a royal couch, now that I know that my God is there at work for His creatures!
2. As a great Caretaker. He gives grass to the cattle, and He will give grace to you.
III. God’s working in the grass for the cattle gives us illustrations concerning grace.
1. Preventing grace may here be seen in a symbol. Grass grew before cattle were made. And what a mercy that covenant supplies, for God’s people were prepared before they were born. Long before sin came into the world the everlasting mercy of God foresaw the ruin of sin, and provided a refuge for every elect soul.
2. Then I perceive an illustration of free grace, for wherever the ox comes into the field, he brings no money with him. There is the food ready for him, but he brings nothing with which to purchase it. So I, poor needy sinner, having nothing, come, and receive Christ without money and without price.
3. And why is it that God gives the cattle the grass? The reason is because they belong to Him. “The silver and the gold are mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills.” How is it that Christ is provided for God’s people? Because “the Lord’s portion is His people; Jacob is the lot of His inheritance.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
God’s care for the lonely and obscure
Grass does not merely grow where men take care of it, but up there on the side of the lone Alp, where no traveller has ever passed. Where only the eye of the wild bird has beheld their lonely verdure, moss and grass display their beauty; for God’s works are fair to other eyes than those of mortals. And you, solitary child of God, dwelling unknown and obscure, in a remote hamlet, you are not forgotten by the love of Heaven. He maketh the grass to grow all alone, and shall He not make you flourish despite your loneliness? He can bring forth your graces, and educate you for the skies, in solitude and neglect. The grass, you know, is a thing we tread upon, nobody thinks of its being crushed by the foot, and yet God makes it grow. Perhaps you are oppressed and down-trodden, but let not this depress your spirit, for God executeth righteousness for all those that are oppressed: He maketh the grass to grow, and He can make your heart to flourish under all the oppressions and afflictions of life, so that you shall still be happy and holy, though all the world marches over you; still living in the immortal life which God Himself bestows upon you, though hell itself set its heel upon you. Poor and needy one, unknown, unobserved, oppressed and downtrodden, God makes the grass to grow, and He will take care of you. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The trees of the Lord are full of sap.
The trees of the Lord
The cedars are amongst the most beautiful of the trees--majestic in appearance, towering in stature, and enormous as to girth. Being indigenous to Palestine, they are fitly called trees of the Lord’s planting, for no human hand has fixed them on their heights. Moreover, it must be God who waters them, from the river that is always full. Despite their exposed position, they are ever green, and always fragrant: they never shed their leaves, and from every branch and spine exudes a sweet aroma. “The trees of the Lord are full of sap.” And that sap is sweetly scented. “The smell of Lebanon” is most delightful, and the cedars themselves are the noblest and the royalest amongst the trees of the forest. Let us give glory to God, as we view every object of His cure, every token of His power. The cedars are a fitting type of the people of God.
I. The first likeness that I trace is as to ownership and possession. The cedars are “the trees of the Lord.” They are His peculiar property; His mark is on them, if I may so speak. We own no proprietorship but that of God Most High. His we are, and Him we ought to serve. “The Lord’s portion is His people.” The Lord has planted the cedars and His Saints; therefore He owns both. If there is any beauty in us, any blossom on us, any promise of fruit, any shadow or shelter for our fellows, it is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes if we are members of Christ’s Church through faith in Him, it was His Spirit that planted us upon the hills of God.
II. God’s people resemble cedars because of their beauty and majesty. I associate those two adjectives, for it takes at least two to describe the peculiar charm of the cedar tree. It is possessed alike of grace and grandeur. So should it be with Christians. There should be about every lover of the Lord a tender spirit, a loving disposition, the beauty of holiness, the charm of grace: and there should be withal a sacred dignity, a laudable ambition, a holy audacity, high up-holding of the head--not in selfish pride, but in simple trust.
III. The feature of these trees to which our text specially directs us is their vitality. They are full of sap. The sap of the tree is as the blood of the body--and “the blood is the life thereof.” It is this same sap which is the secret of its growth from the sapling stage to the full maturity of which we have been speaking; and it is the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the power of this blessed Book, and the influence of the good Spirit in our hearts, which make us to grow. Oh, that all my powers of heart, and head, and thought, and wish, and feeling, felt the blessed influence of the Divine life. I cannot bring forth fruit, I cannot hope to be fresh and green, unless I also am thus full of sap.
IV. We shall also do well to seek to be like the cedars as to their utility. I venture to class under this head their ornamental character. We get into a habit of dissociating these two qualities--ornament and usefulness. I cannot at all see why a thing cannot be both ornamental and useful. If it can be only one, I know which I prefer. Away with the mere ornamental, and let us have what is practical and serviceable. But if we can combine the two, so much the better: what say you? The cedars are both ornamental and useful. We have spoken of their charm and grace, and I put that down as one of their uses. Do you not think God designed that some eye should be gratified by a look at His cedars? You know that wherever trees are, the adjoining country is rendered much more fertile through their presence. Some lands have been quite transformed by the patient planting of trees. Oh, where the Church exists, if the members are often of this sort, there will be blessing all around. The wide-spreading cedars gave grateful shade. This was the beauty of their branches, that ‘twixt them the sunshine could scarcely filter through; and in those hot lands it was gratifying indeed to get beneath those boughs. Have you shaded anybody? Have you tried to help the sick, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, and to teach the ignorant? That is your work. Do it for Jesus, and your reward is sure. The cedar trees were useful, too, for building purposes. The woodwork of the House of the Lord was of cedar-beams. You know what this meant for the cedars--the axe had to be plied upon them. They must needs he cut and planed and squared, that they might have their place in the Sanctuary, the Lord make us content even for this. If we can serve Thee better, let Thine axe come upon us; let us know the sharp edge of sorrow, and the heavy tool of trial. What matters it if we by so suffering can take honourable place in the building of God, and help to glorify the Name of Jesus! (T. Spurgeon.)
The trees o/ the Lord
I. As the sap is the vital principle of vegetation, so is the holy spirit the Lord and Giver of life--of all life in every realm where living things move and have their being. But the life of man is the highest outcome of His vital force, revealing itself in his physical, mental, and emotional energy. From Him and from Him alone has come that most wonderful of all forces, which can arrest the moral decay within the souls of men and transform them into living trees of the Lord’s right-hand planting.
1. The creation of the Christian Church was an evidence of this Divine energy.
2. Another evidence of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the Church is its imperishable vitality. He has enabled it to grow through all these centuries, to survive the wear and tear of years, the storms of persecution--still clothed with foliage, and laden with fruit for the healing of the nations.
3. If the presence of the indwelling Spirit accounts for the existence and indestructible vitality of the Church, it also explains the marvellous variety of its forms of life.
II. The movements of the sap are suggestive of the methods by which the Holy Spirit conveys His life to men.
1. There is a mystery in His operations. Nature in all her works for ever “half reveals and half conceals the soul within.” So is it with the energy of the Lord and Giver of Life. His ways are past tracing out, nor can it be otherwise. He is a Spirit, moving with absolute freedom whensoever He listeth on whomsoever He pleaseth, in whatever manner He may choose.
2. A second analogy between the movement of the sap and the energy of this spiritual life lies in its gentleness.
3. The impartiality of the Holy Spirit’s influence. The sap leaves no part of the tree unvisited. The unseen network of roots and fibres, the pillared stem and its bark, the branches and their twigs, with the innumerable leaves--all receive their supply. It is so with the individual--the mind, will, and affections, aye and the body also, are penetrated by the Divine influence. It is so when the Divine grace descends upon a congregation--it reaches the richest and the poorest, the youngest and the oldest, the learned and the illiterate. It will be so when it enters the open heart of the habitable world--for we may perceive by the very trees of the wood that God is no respecter of persons!
III. Returning once more to the trees of the Lord, we see in their abounding fulness the response they give to the spring life imparted. They are filled--they are satisfied. The human heart is not like the three things of the wise man--the grave, the thirsty earth, the flame of fire--insatiable. It longs and craves and seeks, but there is a supply. “We cannot hope from outward forms to win the passion and the life whose fountains are within,” but the Holy Spirit brings to the soul that inward stream of life to fill it with all the fulness of God. Then are we satisfied, as the trees are, and for similar reasons. Their yearnings are appeased--the impulse to unfold themselves in form, colour, movement, is met, and that mysterious ecstasy of travail to bear fruit is abundantly fulfilled. (E. J. Brailsford.)
The trees of the Lord
(a Spring discourse):--They are “trees of the Lord.”
I. On account of the peculiarities of their structure. They reveal a new idea of the creative mind. They are neither Phaenogams, or flowering plants, nor Cryptogams, or flowerless, and have many points of alliance with club-moss. They combine the highest appearance with the lowest structure, and are thus links binding together the two great orders of vegetation. In them we have an example among plants of a common principle in God’s moral procedure towards His creatures, choosing the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty, and giving more abundant honour to that which lacked. Into the earthen vessel of the humble organization of the cedars He has poured the glory of the highest development, that the glory may be seen to be all His own. And in this wondrous combination of types in the “trees of the Lord” we have a dim foreshadowing of “Him who dwelt in the bush”; who united in Himself the highest and the lowest, God and man, in one person for ever; and who still, though in the midst of the throne, dwells with the man that is of an humble and contrite heart. The cedars are “trees of the Lord.”
II. On account of the antiquity of their type. Of this class Preadamite forests were principally composed. In every stratum in which arborescent fossils occur we can trace this antique tree pattern. We burn the relics of extinct cedars in our household fires, as the microscopic investigation of the coal formation reveals. They form the evergreen link between the ages and the zones, growing now as they grew in the remote past, inhabiting the same latitudes, and preserving the same appearances in bulk and figure. Universal in space and universal in time they are monuments of the unchangeableness of the Ancient of Days--proofs indisputable that the vegetable kingdom did not commence as monads, or vital points, but as organisms so noble and complicated that even the most bigoted advocate of the development theory must admit that they could not have been formed by the agency of physical force. During untold ages the cedars were the sole examples of forest vegetation. They afford an illustration of a general law of the deepest philosophic import, namely, that the first introduced animals or plants of any class have been combining types. From the side, as it were, of those Preadamite cedars God took the ribs, of which He made the graceful palm-tree to yield its welcome shade and fruit in the thirsty desert, and the beautiful apple-tree to clothe itself with its bridal dress of blossoms under the smiling, tearful skies of the northern spring. Thus is illustrated that the ceaseless working of the Creator hitherto has been exercised only in the eternal unfolding of the original conception. The cedars are “trees of the Lord.”
III. On account of the majesty of their appearance. Religion and poetry have sounded so loudly the praise of the cedar that it has become the most renowned natural monument in the world. At an elevation of six thousand feet, with their roots firmly planted in the moraines of extinct glaciers, with their trunks riven and furrowed by lightning, with the snows of Lebanon gleaming white through their dusky foliage, who can fail to feet the force of the psalmist’s words, “The trees of the Lord are full of sap,” etc. (H. Macmillan, D.D.)
The abundance of the trees
In A.V. the words “of sap” are added by the translator; in R.V. the translation is, “The trees of the Lord are satisfied.” I think that the true meaning is indicated by A.V. without the addition of the words “of sap,” which the translators added. It is not contentment which the trees suggest to the writer; it is not merely abundance of moisture or sap in their veins; vegetation suggests fulness, abundance. The trees of the Lord are full of everything--full of sap, full of leaves, full of blossoms, full of fruit, full of shade, full of singing-birds, full of seeds for new trees. It is very strange that men should not understand the message which the abundant provision of God in nature has for them. If this teeming earth were cultivated, and all that she offers in her palm were freely distributed, there would be no hungry men in all this globe of ours. But if God thus provides for the body which to-day is and to-morrow is not, does He make only niggardly provision for the soul? No, no. The trees of the Lord are full--always full (2 Corinthians 9:8).
1. The grace of God is like the vegetation of the earth, in all places. Climb the Alp, and far up on its side you pluck the edelweiss. God was here before you. Go out upon the desert, and far out in that sterile plain you find the waving palm growing beside the spring. God was there before you. Go with your message of cheer to some down-town ward where men are crowded together thicker than corpses in a cemetery, and between the chinks in the pavement are seen blades of grass. God was there before you. As in nature, so in grace. God’s prophets are not all confined to Judaism; God’s grace is not all confined to Christendom. Wherever a man has been found bowing the knee and lifting up the heart, there God’s grace has been responding; for God’s grace reaches unto all them that call upon Him, by whatever name, through whatever form, in whatever service.
2. As God’s grace is everywhere, like the trees, God’s grace is freely offered unto all, as the forest offers its shade alike to the wild beast and to the domestic animal, and its shelter for nests alike to the large and the little, and drops its fruit alike into the hands of the good and the evil.
3. The grace of God, like the trees of God, is everywhere, and for every one; and it is clothed with a great, great power. Ask the child what is the greatest manifestation of force in the world. Perhaps he will summon you to the battlefield. “Listen,” he will say, “to all these cannon belching out their thunderous tones; what power there is.” Perhaps he will carry you to the factory. “See,” he will say, “this ponderous engine driving its great wheels, and stirring all thin factory with its vibrating life.” But when he is wiser he will go to the forest, where there is no sound of hammer or of saw, no buzz or bustle of wheel, no bang as of cannon; but in one great forest more power is wrought, it is said, than in all the factories in the world put together. The power of God is the power of a silent love. The still, small voice is more than the fire, the tempest, or the earthquake. Not in Sinai, but in Calvary; not in deluge of water or destroying flame, but in the manger and the cross, is the power of God witnessed.
4. “My God shall supply all your need.” There is scarce any physical need of man which the carpeted and sheltering earth does not provide. And this is what the abundant trees whisper, bending their leaves to you, to repeat the message: “God is able to make all grace, abound toward you, that you at all times, having all sufficiency in all things, may abound unto all good works.” We need not wait for the great transition, but here and now we may walk by the river of the water of life, we may walk under the shade of those trees whose leaves are for the healing of the nations, and we may pluck the fruit of that only tree that bears its fruit every month. Other trees lie bare and sere through the long winter; other trees drop their fruit only in the autumn time; but this tree of life, of which they are, after all, but a poor symbol, gives forth its fruit in every month, and every manner of fruit for every manner of need; and here and now we may harvest them, fed on food more life-giving and sheltered by shade more comforting than the Garden of Eden ever knew. (Lyman Abbot, D.D.)
The cedars of Lebanon, which He hath planted.--
The cedars of Lebanon
If Solomon were here, who spoke of all trees, from the hyssop on the wall to the cedar that is in Lebanon, he would greatly instruct us in the natural history of the cedar; and, at the same time, uttering similitudes and proverbs of wisdom, he would give us apples of gold in baskets of silver. But since Christ, according to His promise, is with us, one greater than Solomon is here, and we trust He will speak to our hearts concerning those who are “planted in the courts of the Lord,” and, therefore, flourish like cedars. Let the venerable cedars of Lebanon serve as witnesses concerning them. And these reveal--
I. The absence of all human culture. For--
1. They owe their planting entirely to the Lord. No human hand had any part in this work, neither delving the soil nor dropping in the fruitful cone. How those giants of the grove came to be where they are, none can tell. The early planting of these mighty trees is among the secrets which belong unto God. And this is quite true of every child of God. We are not self-planted, but God-planted.
2. Nor are they dependent upon man for their watering. The trees in the plain are fertilized by little canals running at their roots, and therefore are they green: but these, on the top of Lebanon, who shall find a stream for them? And so is it with the Christian who has learned to live by faith. He sings, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” And--
3. No mortal might protects them. They are planted on a mountain ridge no loss than six thousand feet above the level of the sea. The snow frequently lies upon their branches in enormous masses. They are in the most exposed position conceivable. Deadly dangers have threatened them from the very first. They are left unprotected, and yet the veterans survive. It is precisely the same with the Christian. He is not a hot-house plant, sheltered from temptation; he, too, stands in most exposed positions, and innumerable perils compass him about. But still he is able to say, “In all these things we are more than conquerors.”
4. And they are utterly indifferent to human gaze. For thousands of years no human eye may have looked upon them. Moses desired to see them. David sang of them. But they heed not. And so with the Christian: he cares nothing for the smiles of men, and he cares as little for their frowns. He walks not before them, but “before the Lord.” He leans not upon any arm of flesh, but understands how to stand upright. Out upon the piety which depends upon the public eye. I am not to have a religion like a dog-collar, which I may slip off and on, and be glad to be rid of it; it must be part and parcel of my being. It must not be the Pharisee’s paint and tinsel which he puts on in the public place, and privately laughs at when he gets alone.
5. Their exultation is all for God and not for man. In vine and other fruit trees man has had some share in the product: not so here. It is all of God. The cedars have not a green leaf to magnify man with, nor a single cone with which to make him proud. And so in the Christian: there is nothing in you that can magnify man. All your thanks are due to God. You are the Lord’s trees from first to last.
6. The cedar is independent of man in its expectations. They never expect man to care for them or to help them. Arab and Turk do their best to ruin the whole grove, but yet there they stand, expecting as little help from man as, in fact, they get. That is your case, O Christian. You are to depend on God alone. God is ever seeking to strike away from us all our human props and buttresses upon which we are so apt to lean. He would wean us from the world.
II. The cedars of lebanon are a glorious display of Divine care.
1. In the abundance of their supply. “The trees of the Lord are full.” They are saturated with moisture.
2. They are always green.
3. See their grandeur and size. In “The Land and the Book “ it is said that some of them measure forty-one feet in girth, and are a hundred feet high. Supply direct from God is better than all else.
4. Their fragrance.
5. Their perpetuity.
6. How venerable they are.
III. They have fulness of living principles. “They are full of sap.” Now this is--
1. Vitally necessary.
2. Essentially mysterious.
3. Radically secret.
4. Permanently active.
5. Externally operative.
6. Greatly to be desired. Think, what glory to God a full-grown Christian brings to God Let us have this fulness of life. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The cedars of Lebanon
The cedar is the tree par excellence of the Bible--the type of all forest vegetation. Religion and poetry have sounded its praises so loudly and repeatedly that it has become the most renowned natural monument in the woods. For untold ages it covered the rugged slopes of Lebanon with one continuous forest of verdure and fragrance, and formed its crowning “glory.” The ravages of man, carried on century after century, in the most ruthless manner, laid its proud honours low; and now only a few scattered groves survive amid the fastnesses of the highest valleys to tell of the splendour that had perished. But what a magnificent relic the one grove of Kadisha is! Each huge trunk, scarred and hoary with the elemental strife of hundreds of years, still spreads out its great gnarled boughs laden with emerald foliage and exquisite cones, “full of sap” in the freshness of undying youth, so that we cannot wonder at the superstition of the awe-struck Arabs, who attribute to the cedars not only a vegetative power, which enables them to live eternally, but also a wise instinct, an intelligent foresight, by means of which they understand the changes of the weather, and provide accordingly. No temple of Nature can be grander than the interior of that grove, where the natives of the neighbouring villages celebrate mass annually in June. It is a spot unique on earth. The sacred associations of thousands of years crowd around one there. In the fragrance of the cedars comes up the richness of Bible memories; each sight and sound suggest some incident alluded to by psalmist or prophet, and a feeling of awe and reverence, such as few other scenes can inspire, fills the soul to overflowing. There, at an elevation of six thousand feet, with their roots firmly planted in the moraines of extinct glaciers, with their trunks riven and furrowed by lightnings, with the snows of Lebanon gleaming white through their dusky foliage, with the stillness of earth’s mightiest powers asleep around them, who can fail to feel the force of the psalmist’s words, “The trees of the Lord are full of sap; the cedars of Lebanon which He hath planted.” (H. Macmillan, D.D.)
Graciousness of a devout soul
A traveller tells us that in the wood, bark, and even the cones of the cedar there is an abundance of resin. They are saturated with it, so that he says he can scarcely touch one of the cedars of Lebanon without having the turpentine or resin of them upon his hands. That is always the way with a truly healthy Christian, his grace is externally manifested. There is the inner life within, it is active, and by and by when it is in a right state it saturates everything. You talk with the gracious man, he cannot help talking about Christ; you go into his house, you will soon see that a Christian lives there; you notice his actions and you will see he has been with Jesus. He is so full of sap that the sap must come out. He has so much of the Divine life within, that the holy oil and Divine balsam must flow from him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Where the birds make their nests.--
Little birds and cedars
John Ruskin makes bold to say that “every real triumph of natural science is anticipated” in this, the 104th, psalm. By which he means that the Hebrew poet has found out the “bright shoots of everlastingness” that flash for ever behind the veil of nature, while physical students of our day are too much absorbed in examining and admiring the veil itself. “The cedars of Lebanon” show more than the pretty playfulness of blind force; they are parts of a living whole. “Little birds”--such the word signifies--prove more than the skilfulness of mechanical adjustment; they prove that God likes a pretty little thing, and cares for it well. These tiny, roving minstrels of the air find a happy home in the venerable trees of God’s planting. The little and the great are fitted for each other: the great give the home, the little give the song. Wings and flowers, feathers and leaves, are adjusted to meet mutual wants and cultivate mutual trade. So God wills.
I. No greatness is self-complete. The spirit of the angels has been given largely to the forces of nature--“are they not all ministering spirits?” Is not the sea a servant, the wind a servant, and the sun a servant to the needs of man? Does he not count the lightning and the breeze and the moon among his maidservants? Had God created a larger sun than that which lights us now; had He made its face more clear, its heart more fiery, but had not given it a ministering spirit, that would be a worthless sun. If the sun we now have had been more independent, rising and setting according to its fancy, making winter in a fit of bad humour, and making summer after coming to itself again; if it burned its fires without caring anything for the comfort of the worlds under its government, there would be no longer any Cosmic life. But the sun knoweth its going down; and its light and heat have been blessed with the spirit of the angels--the spirit of generous service. The best minds of the world do not gather knowledge to keep it for themselves, but to share it with all. The best thinker that ever trod the earth was the young teacher of Nazareth, who was not ashamed to publish the highest truths of heaven in a common and popular language. His parables are meek and gentle enough to come in as the door of the poorest cottage. Had Christ been less a servant He would have been less a God. His generosity of intellect has made Him the Teacher of the ages the best disciples of God are the best teachers of men.
II. A true Christian life delights in the service of others. To the religious idler the chapter of excuses is a very interesting chapter; and there are many in the Church to-day who know every verse of it by heart. What could the cedars of Lebanon say if they wanted to refuse shelter to the little birds?
1. They might say that they were too venerable to serve such poor little things. Is there not a murmur like this on the lips of the Church? saying under its breath that it is too venerable “to go out into the highways and hedges” to search for the wounded poor? the way is too rugged and too far to go after the lost sheep. That is not the speech of God. Eternity was not too far away for Him to think of saving man. No Church can live on its past history. When it gives itself too much to the reading of “the genealogies of the family,” its decay is beginning.
2. They might say that there were other trees in plenty who could serve the little birds. One of the chartered texts of Carlyle was that the world had made the value of a soul to be notching. And his severe way of putting the truth calls for the solemn thought of the Church. “Souls” are lost in the “congregation”; and we forget that the salvation of one soul is worth a life of toil and weariness and sacrifice. “You have laboured for twenty years and have made only one convert yet,” said a man unmercifully to a quiet, hard-working minister. “Have I made one convert?” was the noble answer; “here are twenty years for the next one.” One pearl won by thee for the Redeemer’s crown will shine through all heaven!
3. They might say that the little birds often went away to sing. Many a village church teaches its children well, and then the glitter of city life takes them away from it before they have paid anything in return. Many a father and mother have placed the noblest sacrifices on the altar to give their boys to the world. There is a sound of loss in every home and in every church--the birds gone away from the nests. The teachers of our Sunday schools have to change their scholars often; the old leaving and the new coming. Is there not a moaning among the cedars of Lebanon for the music that is lost, the sweet carollings that have been hushed there for ever, the morning hymn and evening song silent, and the little homes empty and cold? When shall they return? This only teaches every honest workman in Zion to leave the harvest unreaped until he has reached home. The creation has been too skilfully fitted together for any good to get lost in it. If the song has forsaken the cedar where the young soul was nursed, the music of the world is richer somewhere. The hymn learned on the hallowed hearth keeps a longing in the mind for heaven. There the songsters, separated and scattered here, will meet again; and to hear them sing among the branches of the tree of life in Paradise will more than repay for the grief and distress of the parents, and the teacher, and the minister who lost them here. (H. E. Lewis.)
Lesson, s Item nature
This psalm is all through a song of nature, the adoration of God in the great outward temple of the universe. Some in these modern times have thought it to be a mark of high spirituality never to obscure nature; and I remember sorrowfully reading the expressions of a godly person, who, in sailing down one of the most famous rivers in the world, closed his eyes, lest the beauties of the scene should divert his mind from scriptural topics. There may be persons who think they have grown in grace when they have attained to this; it seems to me that they are growing out of their senses. “What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common,” and nature, unlike ourselves, hath been clean from the beginning. And it is a mark not of strength but of weakness in the Divine life to forbear the study of nature. As it was a sign of weakness and not of strength for monks and hermits to shut themselves out from the world in which God had placed them. Now, let us learn from the psalmist’s contemplation of nature as given in our text--
I. That for each place God has prepared a suitable form of life. For the fir trees, the stork; for the high hills, the wild goat, and so on. Now, the teaching of this is clear.
1. Each age has its saints. So has it been, and so it ever will be.
2. And every position. From the palace to the poor-house, the Christian religion is adapted to all conditions.
3. In every Church.
4. In every city. God has an elect people everywhere.
II. Each creature has its appropriate place. They look wretched enough out of their place. See the animals in the Zoological Gardens. Each creature looks best in his own place. So we each one are best in the position where God has placed us.
1. Providentially. We think otherwise, oftentimes; we say, “Oh, if we were only in such a position, how much better it would be.”
2. Experimentally. God has not made two creatures precisely alike. No two leaves are: and it is so in Christian experience. Many distress themselves because they have not the experience of certain good people of whom they have read. “Have I felt precisely thus? Have I felt exactly that? If not, I am lost.” But how vain all this is.
3. The same holds good as to individuality of character. God gives to one man one temperament: to another man another. As Luther and Melanchthon; Peter and John. Let no man wish to be what another is. Be yourselves in your religion.
III. Every creature that God has made is provided with shelter. See the declarations of the text. If, then, He has so cared for the lesser creatures, can He have left man’s soul without shelter?
IV. For each creature the shelter is appropriate. And--
V. Each creature uses its shelter. I never heard of a stork that when it met with a fir tree demurred as to its right to build its nest there, and I never heard of a coney yet that questioned whether it had a right to run into the rock. Yet the sinner does not recognize the provisions of his Saviour. He asks, “May I?” and “I am afraid it is not for me.” O sinner, come, believe in Jesus and find salvation now. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Man goeth forth unto his work, and to his labour, until the evening.
The day’s work
The psalm from which our text is taken is one of the most complete and impressive pictures of the universe to be found in ancient literature, and it breathes the very spirit of the Hebrew race. It has been called the Psalm of the Cosmos. It moves through all creation, and begins and ends with praise. In our psalm until we reach the text, the Deity is represented as working alone, causing the grass to grow and giving to the wild beasts their food; but man goeth forth--goeth forth a self-conscious, self-acting being, a distinct person, a sovereign soul with power to shape the course of his own life and activity. And this going forth of man is not only the summing up and end of a creation, but the beginning of a new creation. Marvellous as is the material universe, in man is hidden a glory beyond that of all things visible. Because he thinks and wills, and loves, he is kindred to the Infinite Mind and Will and Heart--kindred to God; not only a creature formed and sustained by the Creator’s power, but a Son of God, begotten not made, and therefore more to God than vast worlds and burning suns. He has his origin and home in the Eternal Fatherhood with all its thought and labour and sacrifice.
I. Why are we here in this world and what for? Has the question never occurred to you? Rather has it not come up often in your experience? It has been at times only a vague and fleeting curiosity. Why are we here and what for? He is a little man in a little world who thinks that he can give a complete answer to this question. Why did the Creative power send forth man into this world at all? What if he were not and never had been? Can his work and labour in his brief mortal day count for much or anything in the universal plan? The mystery is great, but it is plainly the purpose of the mystery to challenge our courage and to lead the human mind onward step by step to the conquest of the unknown. We have not drifted to the place where we now find ourselves. We are not accidents, chance appearances in the world, a mass of solitary creatures unrelated to anything truly great and significant beyond and above ourselves. Of one thing we may be certain, that the whole purpose and order of the world must have some relation to our lives, and our lives some relation to the whole purpose and order of the world. We are here, must it not be? as parts of this great creation, to fill our place in it as faithfully as we can. In childhood many of us were taught that the chief end of man is to glorify God. It is a sublime answer to our question, and cannot be improved upon, if we only put the true meaning into it. We glorify God when we give ourselves to His purpose in the world and in our human life, to His will and work. St. Paul describes himself and his companions in service and sacrifice as fellow-workers with God. In his controversy with John Stuart Mill, the French philosopher Comte said, “My Deity (Humanity) has at least one advantage over yours--he needs help, and can be helped.” Mill met the charge by saying that the theist’s God is not omnipotent, “He can be helped, Great Worker though He be.” But we are not compelled to doubt or deny the omnipotence of Deity before we can believe that our part in the Divine movement of the world is not a passive one, that we are not simple recipients and blind instruments, but allies and helpers of the Eternal Power. There prevails here and there a kind of belief in the power of God which makes all human effort appear to be unnecessary and superfluous, and which if acted on would deaden the sense of duty and be the paralysis of energy. On the other hand, what the philosopher described as the feeling of helping God, has always been cherished by the most sincere and earnest believers in the power of God over all. No one believed in the sovereignty of that power more than St. Paul, but his belief in it did not prevent him from putting forward the claim again and again, to be a fellow-worker with God. To be a fellow-worker with God may appear to be too vast and impossible an idea of the purpose of human life in this world; yet nothing is clearer and more certain than that He who made and meant man and sent him here to work and to labour until the evening has left many things for man to do in fulfilling His plans and completing His works. The Divine power in the world is not an abstract, impersonal energy, not an unembodied and wandering spirit. God in the world creating and perfecting it means His power and spirit dwelling in and working through industrious, righteous, faithful, beneficent lives. The unit of power in the world is not God isolated from man and not man isolated from God; but God and man united, working purposely and continuously together; God quickening and inspiring man and man opening his life to be a part of the Divine life of the world. How we have lost sight of this truth! And what confessions and miseries have come of our searching and effort to field God in the world outside of and apart from man; from placing God and man over and against each other as though their spheres of activity were separated by the chasm of an infinite difference! Deity has been conceived as a majestic Being dwelling apart from the universe, over-seeing it and intervening now and again by special acts, but working as a rule in profound and mighty isolation, outside of and apart from the world, outside of and apart from His children. Men have sometimes wrought and fought against the evil of the world as if they had no Divine companion at their side, and felt no need of any other help than their own. Again, at other times, they have imagined that God would do it all, that they had no place in the Divine work, that it was their place to stand by and wait and pray. In this vast order of things we often count ourselves of little worth and significance. But our littleness is only seeming. We can think the Creator’s thoughts, be conscious of His purpose, and take some intelligent part in fulfilling that purpose. It must surely be more honouring and pleasing to Him who made us to pray and strive to be something. Our unreal and morbid self-depreciation cannot be acceptable to Him. We were not made to be nonentities, and the pietistic cry to be “nothing, nothing,” must be hateful in the ear of Him who created us in His own image and sent us forth to work and to labour until the evening.
II. We are here to share the work of God in creating the world--called not only to subdue and control, but to create. “God made the heavens and the earth,” said the ancient seer; but when God made the world He did not finish it. Creation is not finished, but is always proceeding. We stand in the midst of an unending Genesis. We do right to expand the six days of the Hebrew story into the whole life of the world. “My Father,” says Jesus, “works continuously, and I work.” And in this continuous and never-ceasing work of creation man can help or hinder, develop or retard, the creative purpose and process. Things have been made possible, but man has to make the possible into the actual. The world into which he is born has all the raw material prepared to his hand, but he is here to work it into new and nobler forms. Nature is a wilderness; he must work and labour to make it a garden. Some of you are familiar with the pathetic picture which Plutarch draws of a man of the earlier period addressing the men of a later ago: “O how you are cherished of the gods, you who live now! How fortunate is your time! All Nature is engaged in giving you delights. But our birth-time was mournful and barren. The world was so new that we were in want of everything. The air was not pure, the sun was obscured, the rivers overflowed their banks, all was marsh and thicket and forest; we had neither inventions nor inventors, our misery was extreme.” The immense change which has taken place in the environment of man since the time Plutarch recalled has been due entirely to the co-operation of successive generations of mankind with God. What we behold as we look back is God creating through man, improving and completing His world, making it more habitable and home-like, less rude and barren, fairer and more fruitful. The one great teaching of modern knowledge is that not anything above a certain low level of excellence comes by natural law unaided by man; that all best things in the world of Nature to-day are the result of his thought and toil. An eminent geologist has written a book that bears the title, “The Earth as Modified by Human Action,” and one has only to read it to see the wide range of human power and to discover how closely man is in partnership with God in carrying out and completing the creative process which is still going forward on a vast scale. True! he can do nothing without God; he can create no new force; neither sun nor soil, nor plant nor seed are of his making; all the material with which lie works Nature has furnished him; but what can he not do with that material, and what has tie not done? He has modified climate, made the rivers change their course, the ocean its shore, made forests grow and made new ground for them to grow in, made the parched ground a pool and the thirsty land springs of water, changed useless ore into iron and sand into glass clearer than Nature’s crystals. Eight hundred years ago, for example, there was no such country as the Holland of our day; God had made it possible, but men had to give it frame and form. The map of Holland now is not even what it was at the beginning of last century. It has about 120,000 more acres of land than it had then. Thus does man work with God, thus does God work along the lines of human life, thus is the ancient miracle of creation repeated--“The waters under the earth were gathered together and the dry land appeared.” Man is not only a factor in evolution but an instrument. Not without him does Nature evolve. He has his contribution to make towards the finishing and perfecting of the material universe. The message of evolution to man is, “Thou art God’s fellow-worker.” Through the animal world we see him working with creative touch, carrying out the Creator’s purpose, improving the type and elevating in the scale of being the creatures God has made. To bring flowers and fruits to their perfection the labour of man must be joined to the labour of God, and man must improve and finish what God begins.
III. In his own making and saving, in the development of personal faculty and character, man is called to work and to labour until the evening. What he can do for the earth and for the creatures and things which live upon it, he can do for himself--fulfil and finish the Creator’s purpose and plan. God makes nothing right-away and perfect at once. Like the rest of His work man was left unfinished that man himself might complete what God began. All creation moved by steady gradation up to man, and from age to age man has been moving upward, slowly finding himself, becoming more and more an intellectual and moral being, more and more a son of God able to know the truth, to discern and do the right, and to love and serve the Infinite God. Not alone and not out of nothing has he created language, literature, art, science, society, religion; but with the help of God and out of capacities which were hidden in him from the beginning and which contained the promise and potency of his future development. Faith in man, in what he can do and achieve, and in his power to create character, does not exclude but include God as the ground of all power, the giver of all good, and the helper of all endeavour. Our knowledge is knowledge of His ways in those laws which to the religious mind are His will. We can do nothing for ourselves without God, but God can do nothing with us, cannot bring us to ourselves, without our cooperation. To an extent practically unlimited we can make or mar ourselves. “Work out your salvation,” says the apostle. We cannot be passive recipients of the divinest blessings of life. But the work of God for and with man is identified not only with the salvation of individual souls and lives, but with all work we respect, honour, and rejoice in; with art, science, literature, politics, trade, with every activity that makes for the good of the community and the civilization of nations. We must not think of Him with whom we have to do as if we only had to do with Him in parts of our life and not in the whole of it; as if He were only interested in ministers of religion, missionaries, itinerant evangelists, in supplying theological colleges with students, in starting revivals, in the size of congregations and the amount of collections. His kingdom ruleth over all. Not long ago I read in the biography of an eminent business man that he would never engage in any commercial enterprise which he did not think to be beneficial to the community. That is what it means to work with God in the ways of common life. It is working in accordance with His will. The great duties, believe me, are never at the ends of the earth. Let us idealize our daily tasks and put them on the side of the Power who is working for righteousness and love in human society.
IV. In the saving of the world God seeks to join men with Himself and His Christ, and calls them to work and labour with him until the evening. In the New Testament the work of reconciliation or atonement is spoken of as in a peculiar sense the work of God in our human world. We cannot conceive of the Eternal Goodness ever being insensate and passive, or as other than ceaselessly compassionate and helpful. The life of sacrifice is the law of love for heaven as for earth. It was not a new and strange work which His beloved Son came to do, but the work which He knew His Father was doing continuously. It is the Father’s work into which the Son enters. In redeeming the world, even more than in creating it, God works through men and in human ways. God the Saviour must be helped even more than God the Creator. And we--if we have the spirit of sonship to God and live in the fellowship of Jesus Christ,--cannot help sharing in the ministry of reconciliation and in the sorrow and sacrifice of that cross in the heart and life of God, which was shadowed forth in space and time in the crucifixion on Calvary. God needs strong men. His Kingdom will never come in this world without them. Men and women! what are we doing in the way of helping God to create and redeem His world? Fellow-workers with God! This is what you and I are here for in this world; this is why we are endowed with various gifts and why we ought to train them to the utmost and make the best of them; this is why we are placed in different spheres and stations, with different opportunities and duties. Fellow-workers with God! This is a vision of life at its prophetic best and when one realizes its meaning it becomes his greatest inspiration. There is no dead line in that man’s work and no slackening of effort. He keeps his faith, his freshness of spirit, his enthusiasm unto the end. (J. Hunter, D.D.)
This psalm was a favourite with Humboldt. In his “Cosmos,” after speaking of the views of nature given in the Old Testament, as the living expression of the omnipresence of God, he says of this psalm, “We are astonished to find in a lyrical form of such limited compass the whole universe, the heavens and the earth, sketched with a few bold touches.” The section of the psalm with which our text is connected begins with the nineteenth verse and ends with the text. It is occupied with the uses of the seasons, of night and day, and the preciousness of time. These natural divisions of time fulfil high moral ends.
I. “Man goes forth unto his work and to his labour until the evening”--in the first place because the very existence of God makes work a universal and eternal ordinance. The first chapter of George Gilfillan’s “Alpha and Omega” is entitled, “The Solitary God Inhabiting Eternity.” But that is unthinkable. The first essential conception of God is activity. “My Father worketh even until now, and I work,” said Christ. And in my conception of God work must be a universal and eternal law. He is the God of the tiniest mote dancing in the sunbeam, as much as of the archangel standing in His presence; and in the creative design each was meant for the other, and all meet in and answer to something in man. God’s plan is one, and unity is the reigning idea. Thus all existence is in indissoluble connection with Eternal Being: and the law of work is stamped upon mineral, vegetable, animal, man, and angel--all work, led on by the great Eternal Father who is for ever working with all the ceaseless energy of almighty and unslumbering love.
II. “Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labour until the evening,” because not to work is sin. Idleness, indeed, often makes a business for itself. But the first blush of eternity will turn this seriousness about trifles into shame and contempt. Paul speaks of some who were “learning to be idle.” They were learning to be fussy about nothing--to be talkers and busybodies. For idleness is not mere inaction. Every life without power and effect is an idle life, and every work is an idle work in proportion as it is not done as well as we can do it. The idler sins at once against himself, the creation, his fellows, and his God.
III. “Man goeth forth to his work and to his labour until the evening,” and is blest in and by his work. There is a close connection between the habit of industry in secular and in spiritual things; and when our daily work is performed in the spirit of love to God and man it becomes the business of eternity. All faculties are given to be cultivated for ever, and all powers to be used at their best; therefore let your best to-day be but the starting-point for something better to-morrow. Sir Joshua Reynolds sat at one time thirty-six hours before the canvas that he might bring out in beauty “the human face divine.” You are doing more and greater than painting a human face; you are “putting on Christ,” making an immortal soul divine, and therefore you are under obligation to “Adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things.” He who does this finds his very creed steeped in love.
IV. “Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labour until the evening.” This ordinance finds its highest development in the spiritual life. There could be no saving religion without duties to perform, powers to develop, sacrifices to make, and a personal God to love and obey. One of the greatest preachers of the past century is reported to have said that “Salvation could be secured between two ticks of the clock.” Now, while that is true, it requires so much explanation to guard it from misconception that perhaps it were better it never had been said. Salvation in the sense of the pardon of sin is a free gift bestowed the moment the sinner believes in Jesus Christ. But it is one thing to get into the way that leads to heaven, and another to pass through life’s dangers, fulfil life’s duties, and accomplish life’s work, so that the verdict of the God of Truth shall be, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” True success only comes with all-round endeavour of head, hand, and heart. Half-heartedness is wasted power. Only at the Cross do we obtain motive power enough to do our work well. But here being is more than doing. “If,” says one, “you do a great thing and lose your temper in doing it, you are like a man who toils up a hill to find a shilling and loses a sovereign on the way.” If we would do more, we must be more. Do you know this high and holy meaning of life? The Kingdom of God has come nigh unto you, but have you entered into that Kingdom? Our opportunities are great and precious, but the better the opportunities the worse the waste. The prodigal was ruined by the portion of goods falling to him. God’s gift of time is sufficient; there is plenty of time for work, but not an hour for waste.
V. “Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labour until the evening.” Yes, man. “More than men,” says John Pulsford, “you cannot be; and if you are less, your own nature will never forgive you.” And forget not that the greatest thing we shall ever see in earth or heaven is a man--“a Man upon the Throne.” “Until the evening,” for after all no man is given to see his work through. Until the evening bell call the worker home. Soon, and sudden as a tropical night, may the shades of the evening fall. Then, I would rather be found working than resting. (Hugh M’Gahie.)
I. Work is a duty. “Six days shalt thou labour,” is as much a Divine ordinance as is the command to do no work on the seventh. He who is idle seven days is as out of harmony with God’s law as is he who toils without a break. Paul’s command, “That if any man would not work neither should he eat,” represents the ideal to which society, as it grows perfect, will tend. The idle man is neither happy nor healthy. Says Carlyle, “To make some nook of God’s creation a little fruitfuller, better, more worthy of God; to make some human hearts a little wiser, manfuller, happier,--more blessed, less accursed! It is work for a God.”
II. Work is a right. While some will not work, many who would cannot get it to do. And men and women are in poverty, and near to starvation, who would gladly toil had they the chance. We need to have the teaching of Christ applied more broadly to this than it has ever yet been. No employer has a right to think simply of getting all he can out of his men, and then to discharge them when trade is slack, while he himself is living luxuriously on the fruit of their toil.
III. Work has, or ought to have, a limit. “Until the evening.” “Come ye apart,” said Christ, “and rest awhile.” That is a need of life. No labour is right that does not allow it. No man does himself justice or gives God His due service when he lets his work monopolize his life.
IV. Work must have a termination. Just as the hours hastening on limit opportunity, and the shadows lengthen until the evening comes and work is ended; so life’s days go, carrying with them openings that can never be ours again, and the shadows draw out, and the sun sets, and the day is at an end, and its work is done--good or bad it must stand for ever. How man will toil when he knows that on it depends home with its rest and happiness. And shall not we toil earnestly in the Master’s service when we know that on our faithful labour depends the home beyond with its bliss. (F. Smith.)
Non-working and over-working the curse of modern England
I. Human labour is a Divine institution; and therefore non-working is an evil.
1. Nature does not supply man with what he requires, independent of his own agency.
(1) As a mere physical existence, does he not require food, raiment, and a dwelling? But does nature yield these to him as he requires them, either for his physical well-being, or his physical preservation, without his effort? No.
(2) As an intellectual being, it is the same. Man must work for the knowledge he requires.
(3) As a moral being, having obligations to discharge, spiritual powers to develop, a God to love and serve, he must inevitably perish without labour--agonizing labour.
2. Man is endowed with working powers admirably fitted to get from nature whatever he requires. There is the investigating and planning intellect; and there is the executive hand; and there is the varied impulse of animal appetite; social affections, and progressive aspirations, rising every moment like a tidal force in the soul, pressing the faculties of the mind, and the members of the frame, into action. He is made for the work required.
3. The Bible teaches that human labour is the ordination of Heaven.
(1) Non-working is a moral wrong. Inaction, where there is the power of action, is a crime.
(2) Non-working is a positive injury. To the individual himself. Muscular inactivity enfeebles the body, mental the intellect, moral the soul. To others. The idle person is a social thief.
II. Man’s labour has its proper limitations, and therefore excessive work is an evil.
1. Overwork involves an infringement of the laws of health. The spring will bear so much pressure and no more without danger or ruin. Too much weight will bend the lever and strain the engine.
2. Overwork involves a violation of the claims of mind. Over the door of every room, office, shop, warehouse, manufactory, where excessive labour and long hours prevail, you may write, “Within, are intellects fitted to tread in the footsteps of illustrious sages, explore new regions of truth, and enrich posterity by their discoveries, losing their vision and their vigour;--within, are hearts containing germs of sentiment and wells of sympathy, the sublimest gifts of Heaven, undergoing the terrible process of ossification;--within, are souls that must outlive the stars and yet be young; sacrificed to matter and to mammon.”
3. Over-work involves a wrong to humanity in general. The advancement of the race depends upon each individual contributing his part to the general intelligence and virtue--the two great uplifting forces. Society advances by the increase of these Divine elements, and in no other way. Every true thought from every brain, every noble sentiment from every heart, every honest word and deed, serve to augment these elevating forces of the world. But what opportunity have the over-worked men and women of England to do their part in a mission so indispensable and glorious? (Homilist.)
“Man goeth forth.” And thus tents and ships have, from time immemorial, charmed the attention of young and lively minds. The ocean and the desert have ever been the pathways along which the most adventurous spirits of our race have travelled; and the most romantic and imaginative have transported their thoughts over the same mysterious fields--hailing any means of escape from the present monotony. We are the subjects of Divine, or of merely natural, sometimes infernal, restlessness; and, in truth, we do not much prize the lymphatic and indifferent beings who sit still in their chimney-nook, and take no interest in the great world roaring around them.
I. Work is the true sacrament of life. It has been truly said, “a man cultivates himself by working.” Very plainly God has put us into such a universe that He only can shape us by,--destiny only Spins its purpose out of us by,--work. Every toil may be the platform for a higher toil; and all toils point to the consummation and perfection of the worker, the invisible, but living, personal soul. Work! it never ends with its act; it has a great beyond, and there is a great beyond to thee. It is from brave labour that life rises, “rises the God-like force, the sacred life-essence breathed by God. It is by labour, by work you rise to all nobleness--you rise to all knowledge.” This is the Work of nature, to which, man goes forth. In the kingdom of grace there is work too. Understand, as has been said, the Gospel does not abrogate works, but it provides for them. Man goeth forth to his work and labour from the morning of the world to its evening.
II. I turn from the thought of the work as a fact, to the spirit in which it should be engaged. A nobleness of soul looks out from the words, “go forth!” The view of labour is not only great objectively, it is subjectively also. Some men’s souls are like a French drawing-room, all looking-glass, whichever way they look they see themselves. It is not so with noble souls; they see their work, and not merely the little piece which lies before them, they see its end. So man goeth forth. The blessed glow of labour spreads over the man. “He goeth forth”; and it means that he calls to patience, courage, perseverance, and to that simple, weak-looking little faculty, good temper, to wait upon him. “He goeth forth”; then what to him are the doubts and difficulties that beset him? “Doubt of any kind--it is extinguished by action,” and difficulties retreat as the man goeth forth. As the ploughman drives his team through the stubble, and knows it is for the harvest,--the sailor waves a farewell to the shore, and knows it is for the freightage,--as the builder rears the scaffolding and knows it is for the building, so man goeth forth; so the Christian goeth forth, refreshed by prayer; “the crooked becomes straight” before him, “the rough places plain,” “the valleys are exalted,” “the mountains brought low.” Have you not heard in some of those old wild legends of the Middle Ages, how, while men slept, some of the old church towers and spires rose in the night--invisible builders working in the air: so rise the towers and the spires of our life--a mystic building: so it is also with our life. Or, say it is like a building, the design of the architect hidden behind the scaffolding; but, at last, the building is complete, the scaffolding falls, and all stands revealed. (E. P. Hood.)
This psalm is the creation-story of Genesis, set to music and brought down to our own day and our own doors. As in Genesis, so here, the crown and master of creation is man. We must never let go either the dignity or the responsibility of this. Since the Incarnation, when the Infinite Worker Himself stepped forth into the midst of human affairs, creation itself, with our own place and part in it, has a new meaning for us--a tenderness, a livingness, a sacredness, which nothing else we can conceive could have given it.
I. Human labour is universal. Let a tribe be just clear of the grade of savagism: you find the men, with fishing-net, or fowling-gear or rude implements of husbandry, earning a regular livelihood by labour, while the women fill up the blanks in the daily toil by the lighter occupations which befit them. Let a people be rising in civilization: you find fewer idlers, less of wandering, less of mere sport or mere fetching of food, and more of settled labour. And let a people be standing high in the ranks of humankind: you note that labour has become general, varied, skilful, steady, honourable, more evidently a thing which speaks of manhood at its best. “Man goeth forth unto his work.”
II. Human labour belongs to the regular system of things. Man was made for work; he did not fall into it. He fell into sin, and sin has cast its shadow upon his work as upon all else that concerns him. “The curse of labour,” then, means no more than that particular part of the shadow of the general curse of sin which lies upon labour, as one of the most important and essential and radical elements in human existence. For labour, work, belongs to humanity as humanity, and not to merely sinful humanity or to human sin. We may be tempted often to sigh for a life that has no labour in it. But do not permit your work to overbear and oppress you thus. In the best sense of the words, you must keep above your work, and must keep your work beneath you. You must never feel it a thing you have to endure, to put up with, to slave to or to serve. Do not degrade your work to task-work. Let it be work to you still--a thing honourable, a thing appointed, a thing human, a thing amid which you are able to lift up your head in God’s creation as a being who is thus, and now, claiming and affirming your likeness to the Divine.
III. Human labour has upon it God’s eye and God’s smile. He sets our work for us, and He looks on continually while we do it, with no indifferent gaze, but with His great fatherly approval when we do it well. He would have us to seek His help in it, and His blessing upon it. Every day, it is certain, He knows well what we are doing, what we have done, and how we have done it. His interest in our work, in ourselves as workers, is deep and unwearied. We wrong Him and ourselves if we think of our daily work as being of no account to Him--if we cut it off from Him because we deem it too lowly, too secular, too common, too much our own needful affair, for Him to trouble Himself, or to be troubled by us, concerning it. It is the balsam of a labouring life--it is oil to every wheel in our daily round of toil--this felt interest of God in it all, and this unearthly geniality touching it all with a holy sweetness of dignity and peace.
IV. Human labour is man’s ordinary method of serving and glorifying God. Men speak of doing “God’s work” when they are doing work which bears closely upon the spiritual welfare of their fellow-men; and worthy work it is, and momentous, when done in wisdom and love and humility. Men talk of “Christian work” when they mean the definite doing of good around them upon plans and motives that recognize the kingdom of Christ in the world; and all success to every one who puts his hand to it thoughtfully for the Lord’s sake. But really, ought not all our work to be made “God’s work”? “Christian work”? It shall be just this if it be done for God and for Christ. Let us “go forth unto our work” when the morrow breaks, let us stay our labour when the morrow closes, let us go forth and return as morning and evening pursue each other along our little life, making each day a day of Gospel work, of evangelic labour, “until the evening” of our earthly sojourn itself closes in, and we “go forth” into our Lord’s eternity, at our Lord’s bidding still--go forth to “our work,” our true life-work, which has so little of “labour” in it, and so much of rest--the work of the day which shall always be brightening in its happy perfectness, and always be fresh in its cloudless peace. (J. A. Kerr Bain, M.A.)
Our labour and God’s order
1. The world in its peace and gladness is a compound of many activities set in motion by God: the seasons, night and day, sun and rain, and the labour of man.
2. Our labour, springing from our free choice, is most closely connected with the moral order, for which the physical order was established.
3. This daily toil may include, as a part of it, a direct attempt to join hands with God in His moral and providential work.
4. This was meant to bring out our humane and religious character. (F. Noble, D.D.)
The grammarian will tell you that work means prolonged exertion of body or of mind, to attain some desired end. It implies conscious efforts;--the strain and stretch of mind or body. Even the most slothful are sometimes constrained to work; and very many human beings do very little else than work, through all their waking hours, to earn food and clothing and shelter for themselves and their children. We wrest our livelihood from the elements and from society by labour. It has been well said that labour is at once the symbol of man’s punishment and the secret of man’s happiness. And it has been well said, too, that the Gospel does not abolish labour, but gives it a new and nobler aspect. “The Gospel abolishes labour much in the same way as it abolished death: it leaves the thing, but it changes its nature.”
1. One good end served by work, and served most effectually when work is felt most hard and painful, is this: it all goes to keep us in mind that we are fallen creatures,--to keep us in mind of the evil of sin. Man was at first intended for work; and afterwards, when he fell, doomed to work. The distorted form of the miner, labouring in peril and darkness that we may have our cheerful fires; the stiffened limbs of the sailor, drenched with the wintry spray; the lined face, the grey hair, the frail unmuscular body, which speaks of the over-driven brain; what do all these remind us of, but that sin is bitterly hateful in the sight of God? Sin brought all suffering, and all suffering should remind us of the evil of sin.
2. A second reason why our Saviour has set “to every man his work,” doubtless is, that in so doing He provided effectually for the health and sound estate of our bodies and our minds. We cannot be happy when we are idle. The machine, body and soul, is made for working, and in a little, the appetite for occupation revives again. Many of us would be lazy enough if we had it in our power: let us thank God that He has saved us from that temptation. Where is it that we shall find the grossest forms of vice and folly, but among those who by their circumstances are freed from the necessity of labour?
3. A third advantage to the Christian of having suitable work to do is this: that in faithfully doing his work, and doing it in a right spirit, he is doing what tends to make him grow in grace: he is working out his salvation all the while. Our Redeemer has appointed us to labour as we do: and so labour must be the right thing. It has its temptations, like everything on earth: but the Holy Ghost wilt help us through them, if we do but earnestly ask His blessed guidance. (A. K. H. Boyd, D.D.)
Work and leisure
The great God of Nature who has appointed, as this psalm tells us, a season, a use, a function, a duty, for every created thing, has ordained for man the day wherein to labour, and the evening wherein to rest. Work and leisure alternately are His ordinance.
I. Work. Wise men, such as Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero taught that it was unworthy of a free-born citizen to engage in trade or commerce; and agriculture which, with the sanction of Socrates, held longest an honourable place among civic avocations, came also at last to be regarded with contempt. Any profession that exchanged its products for money was despised. Even intellectual work, done for money, was counted unworthy of respect. “The freeman was degraded by acting as tutor or schoolmaster. Only the liberal arts, such as medicine, philosophy, architecture, commerce on a large scale, were regarded as honourable and suitable to the position of citizen.” But, in contradistinction to this pagan teaching, our Bible puts the highest dignity on work. Our first parents, even in their innocency, were “to dress and keep” the garden. The Lord of Glory Himself worked as a carpenter. St. Paul--the free-born Roman citizen--deigned to soil his hands at tent-making. In his epistles he again and again comes down, as with a shattering sledge-hammer, on the idleness of some professing Christians. “If any will not work, neither let him eat.” The law of work is, moreover, stamped on our being. The anatomy of our body shows that work is a necessity for its health and vigour. “It is not work,” says Beecher, “that kills men; it is worry. Work is healthy; you can hardly put more upon a man than he can bear.” Work is not only a negative good, saving us from the “mischief” which “Satan finds for idle hands to do,” but it is also a positive good. Besides keeping us physically healthy, it also calls out our intelligence; and when done honestly, it strengthens us in many a virtue such as patience, courage, endurance, fidelity. These moral gains we may find as readily in sweeping the street or performing trivial household duties as in sowing our grain or in attending to a piece of delicate machinery.
II. Leisure. By many a voice God says to each of us in the words of the poet, “Work like a man, but don’t be worked to death!”
1. The leisure of the evening is appointed for rest. The machinery of our body is such that it soon wears out under too lengthened physical toil; and the balance of our mind is such that it is liable to give way under the monotony and overstrain of too many hours of application.
2. The leisure of the evening is appointed for wholesale recreation. The bent mind, like the bow, needs to be occasionally unbent for a while. And innocent amusement for the man who has been working hard is as a strengthening medicine. But alas for the recreations of some! It is more killing than their work.
3. The leisure of evening is appointed for spiritual improvement. Were we only physical beings, then it were right that we should only live to eat--to secure the comforts and luxuries which are dear to our animal appetites. Or were we only the social creatures of a day, then it were pardonable that we should give the great bulk of our leisure hours to gratify our selfish taste for exciting amusements and companionships. But if it be true that we are undying souls in need of salvation, and of that sanctified fitness which must be acquired for the heavenly state, then surely there ought also to be daily leisure for spiritual meditation and private prayer. (T. Young, M.A.)
Work and labour contrasted
Work and labour are not the same. Work is the operation of body or spirit but labour is not simply work, but work attended by fatigue, weariness, and pain. It is said that man goeth forth to his work and to his labour, because, for us, work and labour run into each other; we cannot have the former without the latter; what we do in this world, from the morning of our days until the evening, is done with toil and care, and amid difficulties and vexations. But it was not so from the beginning, and it shall not be so, with us, for ever (Revelation 14:18). Now, it is not necessary to prove that the Christian, as such, has a work to do. But it is, perhaps, a less familiar thought, that the Christian’s work, being that of man here in this world, is not a work only, but a labour also; that it is not easy nor light; that it is hard to do, and costs, like all labour, much toil and fatigue, and weariness of heart and flesh; not because the service of our Master is, in itself, intrinsically, a hard and painful one, but because we make it such, and cannot help making it such, by that native opposition to it, and reluctance to do it, which every life exhibits. If any one finds it sweet, delightful and easy, to bear the Cross, and mortify the flesh, to resist temptation and school himself in silence and submission, to practice self-denial, and feel the burden and heat of the day, to go and come in season and out of season, where good is to be done; let him be thankful; but, with most of us, it is not so. In all our work, whatever intention hallow it, we find labour; and it seems hard, in certain respects, and sometimes so very hard, that we are all but ready to give out; and this is so whether we be working for ourselves or for others. And yet we dare not rest, or cease from work, until the end come: because the work is to live and to be imputed to us, eternally, for weal or woe. We must endure the pain and weariness, as knowing that without these, as accompaniments, the work cannot be done; and that, unless the work be done, we shall have nothing to follow us at the last, nothing to show when we are called to account, and therefore nothing to reward. For the sake of the work that shall remain, we must sustain the labour which is to end. This is, of course, the practical conclusion, which they should be urged to consider who find it a great effort to do their duty, and who think perhaps that they will never improve. To them we say: You ought to know, that it is of the nature of things that your struggle is what it is. Labour, pain, toil, and everything most repugnant to your self-indulgent spirit, attend upon, and are inseparably united to the work which is set before you to accomplish. It is so, it must be so, it always will be so. We must accept our lot, and do what we can, and wait for the hour when the labour and the work shall be separated, and the former shall cease and be forgotten, and the latter shall remain with us, the proof of our fidelity and the guarantee of an eternal reward. (Morgan Dix, D.D.)
Occupation a blessing
Physical occupation is an excellent aid to a happy and contented mind. I have seen a stage coach driven by a man of L10,000 a year, because he was wretched without regular muscular exertion. I have heard of a nobleman who, for the same reason, bargained with the cutler of the village to be allowed for a certain time every day to turn his grinding wheel. If you visit the Louvre in Paris you may see with your own eyes the anvil at which Louis XVI was in the habit, with a smith’s apron on, of making locks, in order to divert his mind. (J. Thain Davidson, D.D.)
Working hours of a man’s life
Did you ever calculate that the number of working hours in the mature part of life is only 135,000? Rest a moment on that thought. Between twenty-five years, which pass in the early part of life without much fruit, and the seventieth year of life, there are forty-five years of life which we call mature. Now, suppose that a man throw away in every year fifty-two days for Sundays, thirteen days for illness, vacation, and other interruptions; and suppose that for forty-five consecutive years he works 300 days a year--a large average--that would give a man in the mature part of life, 13,500 days. Supposing that a man have health and industry enough to work ten hours in each of these 13,500 days, he will have 185,000 mature working hours. A man who is forty, however, has but 90,000 hours left; a man who is sixty has so few hours left that I don’t want to shock you by mentioning their number. (Joseph Cook.)
The daily round
Life to every one is a common round of continual beginnings and endings. Each day is a little circle returning where it began. Each year is a wider circle linking on its last day to its first. We lived within the same limited, circumscribed horizon. We have to perform, day after day, the same actions, to repeat the same duties, to go round and round in the same routine of daily tasks. Our range is as narrow as that of the ox that treadeth out the corn among the heap of sheaves. And all this is apt to become monotonous and wearisome. Some are so consumed by ennui that life has lost all relish for them; and some have grown so tired of pacing the irksome daily round that they have put an end to it by violent means. But surely it gives a new zest to life if we realize that all this constant doing of the same things, this constant going round and round the same little circle of daily duties, is not a treadmill penance, a profitless labour like weaving ropes of sand, but is designed to bring out and educate to the utmost perfection of which we are capable all that is best and most enduring in us. And surely it heightens the interest immeasurably to be assured that God has not merely ordained this long ago as part of His great providential plan for the world, but that He is daily and hourly superintending the process of our discipline and education by His personal presence, compassing our path, going round with us in the circle of life’s toils and duties, and causing all our experiences, by His blessing, to work together for our good. (H. Macmillan, D.D.)
One’s special work
There is a work for all of us. And there is special work for each, work which I cannot do in a crowd or as one of a mass, but as one man, acting singly, according to my own gifts, and under a sense of my personal responsibility. There is, no doubt, associated work for me to do; I must do my work as part of the world’s great whole, or as a member of some body. But I have a special work to do as an individual who, by God’s plan and appointment, has a separate position, separate responsibilities, and a separate work; if I do not do it, it must be left undone. No one of my fellows can do that special work for me which I have come into the world to do; he may do a higher work, a greater work, but he cannot do my work. I cannot hand my work over to him any more than I can hand over my responsibilities or my gifts. Nor can I delegate my work to any association of men, however well-ordered or powerful. They have their own work to do, and it may he a very noble one. But they cannot do my work for me. I must do it with these hands or with these lips which God has given me. I may do little, or I may do much. That matters not. It must be my own work. And, by doing my own work, poor as it may seem to some, I shall better fulfil God’s end in making me what I am, and more truly glorify His name, than if I were either going out of my own sphere to do the work of another, or calling in another into my sphere to do my proper work for me. (John Ruskin.)
A celebrated divine has said, “If it were not for industry, men would be neither so healthful nor so useful, so strong nor so patient, so noble nor so untempted. There is no greater tediousness in the world than want of employment. Time passes over the active man lightly like a dream, or the feathers of a bird; but the idler is like a long sleepless night to himself, and a load to his country.” (Christian Weekly.)
O Lord, how manifold are Thy works.
The spiritual significance of the universe
I. The Divine existence should constitute the central fact in all contemplations of the universe. This reflection serves--
1. To disprove the speculations of Pantheism.
2. To annihilate the materialistic theory. Materialism recognizes no mind in the universe.
3. To invest the universe with a mystic sanctity. It is His handiwork. The grand and the simple, the sublime and the beautiful, will awaken corresponding emotions in the heart of the true worshipper.
II. The principle of dependence is everywhere developed in the universe. “These wait all upon Thee.” From this we infer--
1. That there exists an absolutely self-existent Power. We cannot comprehend the modus existendi, but there is the fact.
2. That each part of the universe has its own mission. God made nothing in vain.
3. That profound humility becomes every intelligent agent. “What hast thou that thou hast not received?”
III. An intelligent contemplation of the universe is calculated to increase man’s hatred of sin. “Let the sinners be consumed,” etc.
1. Because sin mars the harmony of law. Unity is broken.
2. Because God, in having made so wondrous a universe, has proved Himself too good a Being to be disobeyed. Sin is not only a violation of law, but an insult to Goodness. What is the voice of this psalm to my heart?
(1) God must occupy the supreme place in thought.
(2) That I sustain intimate relationships to God. There is one relationship I must sustain; that of a dependant. But mere animals do so. The worm beneath my foot is a dependant. Am I not a son?
(3) This beneficent Creator has also revealed Himself as man’s Saviour. Do I love the Saviour?
(4) The extinction of sin should form a prominent object in the life of the good. The greatest benefactor is he who does most to purify spiritual life, by the means which the Lord Jesus has appointed. (J. Parker, D.D.)
A threefold aspect of the work of creation
I. As the platform or theatre for the display of the Divine glory. It is evident that God Himself so designed it see how the account of creation closes (Genesis 1:31). But good for what? Why, good for the display of His own glory; good for the making His name illustrious to the highest orders of created intelligence; good for the satisfying of those beneficent and joy-diffusing agencies which seem to be the very necessity of the Divine nature. We cannot conceive of God but as an energy, nor yet of His operations but as directed to one end, and that end must be the one by which His own glory is illustrated, by which He will attract to Himself the homage of every responsible spirit, by which angels, and principalities, and thrones, and powers shall both partake of His happiness, and as they stand within the circling radiance of the everlasting throne, exclaim (Revelation 15:3).
II. Throughout creation God has preserved a clear and legible inscription to his eternal power and Godhead. The Almighty foresaw that His Word would not have free course in the earth--some would hide it under a bushel, some would overlay it with human traditions, some would confine it to their own shores. And since its diffusion was to rest upon these human agencies, more than half the population of the globe would for centuries walk on still in darkness, and man’s faithlessness and neglect might seem to put a stop to the work of God. Still, not utterly was it thus (Acts 14:17). The world is so constructed that it must be accepted as the product of supreme and all-directing intelligence. The ear of the untutored savage, as he is startled by the roaring thunder, fails not to recognize an emblem of the mighty power of God; the thoughtless mariner, as he plies his business on the great waters, sees a Providence in his safety, and the presence of God in the storm. Observe, too, that it is a first instinct with us to connect God and goodness. The mind’s normal type of the ruling Divinity is beneficence. Evil, of whatever kind, is always an extraneous accident, its origin unsearchable, its agents unknown, its toleration the problem of all time; but, certainly, is not God, nor yet of God.
III. Our admiration of this created system was to be called forth by the contemplation of man himself, with all the abounding provisions made for his comfort and happiness. The earth is full of provisions for man’s material comforts. If our world were made for angels to admire, it seems also to have been made for men to enjoy. Man found himself placed, as it were, on the throne of this lower world. Every element in nature ministered to his wants; every department of creation was commanded to do him service. He could not touch or look upon a single object around him, of which the design was not to minister to his happiness,--to refresh the body with food, to regale the sense with beauty, to fill the mind with pure imaginings, to draw forth from the heart the same daily song of praise, “O Lord, how manifold are Thy works! in wisdom hast Thou made them all.” “All,”--without execptions;--and yet one work is there in which, more than all this wisdom of the great Creator has ever been conspicuous. And that work is man, in his creation, preservation, moral history, mighty endowments, in his lifting up from the lowest abyss of being, and in his designation to endless life. Mystery of mysteries is he in his creation. Contemplate him as a thing of reason and intelligence--a being that can reflect upon himself and his actions,--and to what a pitch of elevation have you raised him above the manifold works of God. Or contemplate him, again, in his moral relations; in his participation of the Divine nature; in his possession of that, which, by its resemblance to God, and by its community of mental character, connects him with an Infinite Mind; qualifies him to become an object of the Divine regard; fits him to discourse and hold thoughts with God. (D. Moore, M.A.)
The wonderful works of God in Nature
It is our privilege and duty to meditate upon the works of God.
1. Our privilege: as we alone of all the mundane creation are able to do this. To us alone the universe as such exists. God who makes everything beautiful in its season, takes pleasure in His works, and in that pleasure we may suppose the angels join. And we are also permitted to join, if we will, and thus become sharers with the angels in the Divine happiness.
2. Our duty: for the possession of the power carries with it responsibility for its exercise: we who are men ought not to be thoughtless as the brutes.
(1) It is a duty which we owe to ourselves, for though it will not feed the body, it stimulates and feeds our higher nature.
(2) It is a duty which we owe to God; he who slights the works, slights the Worker. In meditating upon the works of God, notice--
I. How manifold they are, even if like the psalmist we keep to man’s world.
1. The earth itself, with its mighty mountain ranges and ocean depths, its lakes and rivers, its ancient garment of rock strata, rent and folded, worn and renewed, recording in its present condition the history of its experiences in ages past, its rich stores of metals and minerals, furnishes a theme for lifelong meditation.
2. How pleasing and varied are the forms of vegetable life which adorn its surface from the humble lichen which discolours yet adorns the face of the rock to the lofty fir tree which overhangs it.
3. How infinitely manifold are the manifestations of animal life from the mere dot of living albumen to the specialist in biology who is investigating its chemical and vital characteristics!
4. If with the telescope we search the heavens, or with the microscope pry into the marvels of minute structures, we shall find further illustrations of the wonderful unity joined with endless diversity manifested in the works of God.
II. The wisdom manifested in them all.
1. This wisdom is apparent not only in the contrivance, formation, and management of the whole, but in the adaptation of each to its element and to its place in the scale of being. The fish is perfectly adapted for the water, and the swallow for the air. The marvellous instincts of the bee and ant are out of all proportion to the development of their nervous system, but are essential to them in the struggle for existence. The strength of the horse makes him a useful servant to us, but if he excelled us as much in intellect as he does in strength, he would be our servant no longer!
2. This wisdom is further manifest in the perfection of workmanship, finish and colouring even in the most minute of the works of God. The microscope shows that the wing of the moth is as perfectly feathered as that of the bird, that the joints of an insect’s limbs are as perfect as those of the horse, that the sting of the bee is pointed with a smoothness impossible to the art of man.
III. They are all the works of God. “My Father made them all.” Cowper well says, “Nature is but the name for an effect whose cause is God.” If the scientific theory of evolution were proved completely true, which at present it is very far from being, it would only unveil to us the process by which in the ages of the past our Father wrought so as by degrees to bring about the present condition of things; and the power possessed by many creatures to adapt themselves within certain limits to changes in their surroundings, only places in clearer light the wisdom of God in imparting to those creatures a power without which they must soon fall out of the ranks of the living. It was our Father’s mind that planned, and His the hand that wrought. Heaven and earth are full of the majesty of His glory.
IV. They all belong, to Him. “The earth is full of Thy riches.” Divine ownership is not like human, acquired by inheritance, conquest, or purchase. It is original and essential, grounded upon the absolute dependence of all things upon the great First Cause. Without Him there had been no universe, and without His continued support and providential care all things would sink into their primitive nothingness. His ownership is absolute and eternal grounded in the nature of things, they must ever be dependent. He must ever be the Fountain of good to all His works. (C. O. Eldridge, B.A.)
God in Nature
This psalm has well been called “the Hymn of Creation.” It is, indeed, an anthem of praise inspired by Genesis 1:1-1.1.31; for the writer, whoever he was, must have had that birth of the history of the world before him, and he follows it throughout. It suggests to him his adoring thoughts of the wisdom, the majesty, the beneficence of God. This is his chief conviction, his overwhelming impression, that justifies his song of praise to God. In the succession of the seasons, in the springs that rise in the hills and course through the valleys, in the showers that make the grass to grow for the cattle and herb for the service of man, even in the fierce instincts and the struggle of the weaker creatures who roar after their prey and seek their meat from God, in the teeming life of the great deep, in the sails that stud its bosom, in the whole order of man’s existence, in his daily round of labour, even in the mysterious successions of life, in the periodical convulsions which sweep the earth and prepare it for other tenants, the psalmist sees the work of one and the same mind bestowing or revoking at will the wondrous gift of Being. And not only is the world, in the psalmist’s eyes, the handiwork of a Divine Creator, but of a Creator who never ceases to work. He who made, renews the face of the earth, in Him we live, and move, and have our being. He not only has given, but He never ceases to give. From day to day, from hour to hour, He presides over all existence. He giveth to all life and breath and all things. Now, there are two opposite extremes into which our conceptions on this point may fall. We may merge God in nature, or we may isolate nature from God. I say, first of all, we may merge God in nature. And this is what a great many people continually do. They personify nature, they speak of it as if it originated its own processes, as if it aimed at certain things, as if it were conscious of its own plan. Nature, men say, does this or does that. It is not wise to allow ourselves to drop into this current laxity of language. It may easily lead us astray, and vitiate our own belief, and from a poetical personification it is easy to go on to a virtual deification of the physical universe. One corrective lies in this spiritual idea of creation as an act of will on the part of One who is outside all material being. Philosophy traces all phenomena to the action of a living will. By no mental effort can we conceive it otherwise. The attributes and personality of the Person whose will has determined that nature should be what it is demand that He must be a Person who is not Himself included in His work; He must be outside of, and above, His own creation. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” On the other hand, we may fall into the error of isolating the workmanship from the worker, of looking at nature apart from God. This is what men do when they conceive of the universe and treat it as though it taught us nothing of God, as though it were a succession of changes without meaning, or a machine supplied with a certain storage of force to keep it going, or as if it had no spiritual purpose, no one far off end towards which it was always moving, and separate the Worker from the work. But this confusion is hardly scientific, and it is most certainly irreligious. “The heavens declare,” not only perfect processes of mechanism, but “the glory of God, and the firmament showeth His handiwork.” We know that the word of a person has two functions. It is the organ of command conveying an act of will; it is also an organ of expression, it reveals the nature of the speaker. Now, in the creation of the universe the Word of the Lord exercises both these functions. It is absolutely inconceivable to our faculties, this genesis of matter without a Divine act of creation. Yet in this account of it there is that which accords with the experience of our own human consciousness. For I know that within the little spheres in which I too am an originator, a sort of creator, it is in my will that the primary force resides. And so that sublime succession of edicts, “Let there be light,” “Let the earth bring forth,” etc. And, on the other hand, the word of a speaker, while it utters his will, must at the same time reveal his mind, it must reflect more or less consciously his inner self, his real nature. Words are the medium through which we convey to another our feelings and our thoughts, and the Word of God must be a manifestation of His nature. If He breaks silence it is to make Himself known; He cannot speak without unveiling what He is, He cannot speak but truth and beauty and goodness must be expressed. But now this revelation of God through the things that are made, great and glorious as it is, does not suffice to accomplish the grand purpose towards man--man the crowning work of His hands, the being whom He has endowed with that sublime mysterious faculty of knowing and loving and imitating Him. It is not enough to draw man into communion with Him. And this is what God seeks. He can be satisfied with nothing less. Over and above the great advertisement of deity in nature, a moral revelation was required, and a moral revelation has been given. And it is of surpassing interest to note how, up to a certain point, the new revelation proceeds upon the lines of the old. First of all, that absolute unity of plan of which science is continually perfecting the demonstration--a unity which is now known to extend as far as the planets in their spheres--bears witness that the Creator is one. More and more clearly we are learning to read the action of one and the same mind through the whole range of created things. Is not this truth in complete accordance with the voice of Scripture? The Bible proceeds from its first utterance to its last on the unity of God. Again, throughout all nature, we find a will at work whose method is to bind itself by an orderly plan of fixed law. Now, what is the revelation of the Divine will in the Bible? It is the revelation of a law and its chief end is the redemption of moral anarchy and deviation from moral order. In the God of the Decalogue, in the God of the Sermon on the Mount, we recognize the God of law intolerant of all that is arbitrary, eccentric, lawless, the God of system and obedience. And, once more, we are daily learning how patiently, and through what a long process the physical universe has been built up, as though to this eternal work a thousand years were not of any more account than a single day so long as the results are achieved by method and evolution rather than by sudden shocks and intervention. Look at the structure of our own dwelling-place. Sir Charles Lyell has even estimated the time at two hundred millions of years. The mind faints in the effort to take in these stupendous figures. But do we not find that He works in the realm of grace as in the realm of nature with equal tenacity and patience? Through long millenniums He has kept in hand the same task. He has carried on His moral creation. The education of the race has been spread over ages. By divers manners God has imparted to man the knowledge of His will, and shown him his own destiny as the heir of immortality. And yet, again, the God of nature vindicates the sacredness of the physical law by penalty for transgression of it on the part of a sentient creature. God does not interpose in nature between the cause and its consequence, and the Bible pictures God to us as equally intolerant of any breach of His moral order. He cannot connive at disobedience. “He will by no means clear the guilty.” “Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap.” “He that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done, and there is no respect of persons.” Thus far it may be said that the two revelations walk abreast and proclaim one and the same message. But, thanks be to God, the second revelation goes on while the first stops. God commendeth His love to us His erring, rebellious, fallen creatures, in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us; when we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son. In this marvellous revelation of redeeming love we clearly mount a great step above nature, we are lifted to a new and loftier plane of thought, we are passed behind the veil, we enter the inner circumference of the Divine nature. Nature does indeed declare the glory of God. But here is the more excellent glory, here the display of a higher tribute than nature can interpret. What tidings so joyful as that of the new creation, the new heaven and the new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness? (Canon Duckworth.)
When we read such psalms as this, we connot help seeing a great difference between them and any hymns or religious poetry which are commonly written or read in these days. The hymns which are most liked now, and the psalms which people most willingly choose out of the Bible, are those which speak, or seem to speak, about God’s dealings with people’s own souls, while such psalms as this are overlooked. David looked on the earth as God’s earth; we look on it as man’s earth, or nobody’s earth. We know that we are here, with trees and grass, and beasts and birds, round us. And we know that we did not put them here; and that, after we are dead and gone, they will go on just as they went on before we were born,--each tree, and flower, and animal, after its kind: but we know nothing more. The earth is here, and we on it; but who put it there, and why it is there, and why we are on it, instead of being anywhere else, few ever think. But to David the earth looked very different; it had quite another meaning; it spoke to him of God who made it. By seeing what this earth is like, he saw what God who made it is like: and we see no such thing. The earth?--we can eat the corn and cattle on it, we can earn money by farming it, and ploughing and digging it; and that is all most men know about it. But David knew something more--something which made him feel himself very weak, and yet very safe; very ignorant and stupid, and yet honoured with glorious knowledge from God,--something which made him feel that he belonged to this world, and must not forget it or neglect it; namely, that this earth was his lesson-book--this earth was his work-field; and yet those same thoughts which showed him how he was made for the land round him, and the land round him was made for him, showed him also that he belonged to another world--a spirit-world; showed him that when this world passed away, he should live for ever; showed him that though his home and business were here on earth, yet that, for that very reason, his home and business were in heaven, with God who made the earth, with that blessed One of whom he said, “Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth,” etc. Think, when you are at your work, how all things may put you in mind of God, if you do but choose. The trees which shelter you from the wind, God planted them there for your sakes, in His love. The birds which you drive off the corn--who gave them the sense to keep together and profit by each other’s wit and keen eyesight? Who but God, who feeds the young birds when they call on Him? The sheep whom you follow--who ordered the warm wool to grow on them, from which your clothes are made? Who but the Spirit of God above, who clothes the grass of the field, and the silly sheep, and who clothes you, too, and thinks of you when you do not think of yourselves? The feeble lambs in spring, they ought to remind you surely of the Lamb of God, who died for you upon the cruel cross, who was led as a lamb to the slaughter; and like a sheep that lies dumb and patient under the shearer’s hand, so He opened not His mouth. Oh, that I could make you see God in everything, and everything in God. (C. Kingsley, M.A.)
In wisdom hast Thou made them all--
The wisdom and holiness of God
(with Isaiah 6:3):--Every mental quality is subordinate and inferior to wisdom, in the same sense as the mason who lays the bricks and stones in a building is inferior to the architect who drew the plan and superintends the work. Wisdom should determine when we are to act and when to cease; when to disclose a matter and when to hide it; when to give and when to receive; and to provide the means to be pursued in every deliberate course of action. The wisdom which essentially and necessarily belongs to an eternal and self-existent Being, differs as to its character and extent from what He gives to man. The essential differences are as to extent, certitude, and the Divine power associated with them in the eternal God. We can perceive, both by our organs of vision and by our minds, what we specially turn our attention to; but God is everywhere, sees and knows all things everywhere, every atom of matter, every movement of mind, and hence of His knowledge and wisdom we say they are infinite, and without limit. Man has the power of reasoning upon means to an end; the reasoning may be wise or foolish; and he has the power of aiming at an end by the means he can command; but he has neither sufficient wisdom nor power to command the end he desires. The absolute and perfect knowledge of God, of all causes, and of all effects, is necessarily associated with His wisdom and power in creation, and development of all His wonderful works. To arrange and fit together the many parts of a vast and comprehensive design, so that they shall accomplish the contemplated end, is an operation demanding much wisdom; and when we apply this remark to the wide range of all God’s works, comprehended by us under the term Universe, surely, if anywhere we can find proofs of perfect, of infinite wisdom, it must be here. The infinite mind knows how to combine perfect wisdom with intricacy of execution, while the marvellous range of objects in the seas, on the dry land, in the stellar system, the ruling of the day by the sun, and of the night by the moon, exhibit to man what is nothing less than wisdom without limit. I take but one illustration, and it is of a practical character, and intimately connected with our comfort at this season of cold and rain. Our means of warmth, our coal: we throw it on the fire and burn it, but bow little de we think of it! It is the produce of the destruction of plants preserved from former worlds long anterior to the existence of man. It is the result of mortality. Primarily it is the product of a fecundity exceeding all the other uses which animals could have derived from it; and, we may safely infer, directed to the end for which it is now employed. Peat and coal are the most striking cases, independently of food, for our uses derived from the fecundity and mortality of plants. Even the globe itself, with others that in the progress of ages may succeed it, has been ordained to depend in part in its very structure and materials on the succession and destruction of animal and vegetable lives, as its surface has been committed to the labour of man, chiefly for its modification and improvement. The beauty and glory of man, of woman, and their marvellous adaptation for the happiness of one another, when their moral natures are educated and controlled, and their daily will is to promote each other’s happiness, is worthy of the infinite wisdom of God; thus blessing one of the races of His creatures with a happiness which to a large extent He has put within their own power. Of the holiness of God who can speak with sufficient diffidence and reverence? we learn nothing of it from His works. It has been a necessary conclusion in the minds even of Pagans, that an intelligent Creator must be good, pure, and holy. The Scriptures everywhere proclaim it. It is to us a consolatory thought that the God we worship is holy, just, merciful, of longsuffering and compassion, and full of pity and love to the children of men. (R. Ainslie.)
The apparent intentions of Divine wisdom
I. The production and preservation of life. Wherever there is a proper receptacle or habitation, there we find suitable inhabitants; and in many states and conditions, in which we should think it impossible for living creatures to subsist, did we not find them actually subsisting. These all draw their support from the world around them, fill up their place and time, till others succeed in their room.
II. The pleasure and felicity of His creatures in the enjoyment of that life. Even the lowest creatures have their enjoyments, and show more symptoms of ease and delight, than of pain and trouble.
III. The acquisition of knowledge.
IV. The attainment of virtue and religion. (S. Bourn.)
Perfection in God’s work
The ordinary daisy of the field is not the simple thing it at first appears. Seen under a powerful microscope it is really a small bouquet of flowers, each petal being a separate bloom, whilst the yellow eye is another posy massed together in the centre. God has touched with His own perfect skill and finish this homely blossom. (H. O. Mackey.)
Wisdom displayed in all God’s works
Think of a wisdom that was able to form, without any suggestion or any model to work by, the eye, the ear, the hand, the foot, the vocal organs. No wonder that Galen, the most celebrated of medical authors among the ancients, fell on his knees at the overwhelming wisdom of God in the constitution of the human frame. Our libraries are filled with the wisdom of the great thinkers of all time. Have you considered the far superior wisdom which fashioned the brain for all those thoughts, of the Infinite Mind that built those intellects? But it is only the millionth part of that wisdom that has come to mortal appreciation. Close next to every discovery is a wonder that has not been discovered. We see only one specimen among ten thousand specimens. What we know is overwhelmed by what we do not know. What the botanist knows about the flower is not more wonderful than the things he does not know about the flower. What the geologist knows about the rocks is not more amazing than the things which he does not know about them. The worlds that have been counted are only a small regiment of the armies of light, the Hosts of Heaven, which have never passed in review before mortal vision. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
The wisdom of God
The works of God everywhere show perfect wisdom in their Author. Take the air for example. If this were a few miles less in height than it is, men would soon be suffocated; if it were a few miles more, it would be unendurably hot wherever the sun’s rays penetrated. Take land and water for another example. If the land were harder or softer than it is, it could not be cultivated; if softer, nothing could be made firm on the surface. If the water of the sea were heavier, the fishes would rise to the surface, and could not swim; if it were lighter, the fish would sink to the bottom, and die. Another example is the proportionate size and weight of man and the globe. If a man were conveyed to the moon, he would weigh five times less than on the earth: he might bound up like a grasshopper, and would be easily upset. If the earth were as large as Jupiter, and otherwise as now, our weight would be increased eleven times, and none of us could walk or stand upright. (L. Gaussen.)
The earth is full of Thy riches.--
The munificence of Nature’s God
The earth is God’s treasure-house assigned supply the temporal needs of man.
1. This treasure-house is full. God is not niggardly in the bestowment of His gifts. His supplies are immeasurably greater than the necessities of the human population can possibly require.
2. This treasure-house is filled with varied gifts. There is something to gratify every taste and meet every want. They stream from the heavens, flow in the atmosphere, abound in the land, burrow in the mountains, sparkle in the river. These gifts show the versatility of God’s power and the wisdom of God’s mind.
3. These riches are all God’s property. Man is only the beneficiary, the recipient, the steward. All God’s riches, of which the earth is full, should be used only as God designed they should. All abuse and waste of these riches by man is a spoiling and robbing of God. God will one day say to all guilty of malfeasance, “Give an account of thy stewardship.” (Homiletic Review.)
The manifoldness of beauty
To those who have eyes to see, the works of God are instinct with delicate and intensest beauty, and the subtlest blasphemy against high Heaven is that which speaks of God’s world as “a waste howling wilderness.” Whether it be in the infinitely great or the infinitely little, this is one of the outstanding characteristics of nature, this the one thing that puts an arrest upon human thought and challenges human admiration. Before the gorgeous splendour of midnight stars, and the fastidious delicacy of a pencilled butterfly’s wing, before the majesty of a planet’s orbit and the graceful curve of a sea-gull’s flight, before the infinite grandeur of tumultuous waters and the rare grace of a sensitive flower, the mind of man, with a stoop which is uplifting, bows as in the presence of beauty, whose face is unveiled and whose glory is discovered. That is the one arrestive splendour, that the continually insistent note. And our conception of this beauty is enhanced and its profound suggestiveness increased by a consideration of its manifoldness, the almost bewildering variety of its fascinating forms. Nowhere in the wide realm of beauty is this infinite variety more obvious, more pleasing, more full of subtle power than among the flowers. There is a beauty in the pomp of crowded rose-bush, as well as in the snowdrop, the first frail prophecy of coming spring. Sweet violets, fit symbols of virtues that are not noisy and aggressive, touch our hearts with the same power as the opulent wealth of the “laburnum’s dropping gold.” Delicate daffodils, bending like sweet nuns in breathless adoration, hold our hearts with the same magic strength as stately lilies robed in a glory which surpasses that of kings. Beauty is everywhere, but it is beauty wrought into infinite diversity of lovely forms, and by its very manifoldness widening and deepening its appeal, giving to its voice a deeper note, and to its splendour a more ravishing charm. And this great fact not only holds rare suggestions for character, but is full of vast implications--it is instinct with noble teachings for life. In the world of soul God is not a God of uniformity. Each man has his own temperament and tastes and dispositions, each has had his own cross and temptation and conflict, each has his own grace and combination of graces, and every true man is himself, and no other. In all that there is a profound suggestion of individuality. Every good man, by the tender grace of God, is to develop his life into the beauty of Jesus, according to its kind. Let not the violet quarrel with the rose, nor the rich peony mock the whiteness of the narcissus: each has its own grace, its own power, and its own appeal. (G. B. Austin.)
So is this great and wide sea, wherein are things creeping innumerable.
The sea’s inhabitants
Since the psalmist’s days our knowledge of the grandeur of the seas, and of their marvellous fulness of life, has been vastly extended. The discovery of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans made the Mediterranean, that seemed to him a “great and wide sea,” a little inland lake. Modern science has explored all the waters of the earth, and revealed to us the wonderful forms that exist even at the most enormous depths in the sunless abysses. The last great “Challenger” Expedition round the globe brought home treasures of knowledge, and opened up new fields of speculation, which have engaged the profound interest of naturalists ever since. Recent years have made us almost as familiar with the productions of the deep as with those of the dry land, and have taught us that there is no field so rich in illustrations of the Divine wisdom and power as the “great and wide sea.” Fishes as a class partake of the grace of the waters. They are adapted to its motions. They are moulded by its requirements. A ship is built to suit the conditions of its home on the mighty deep, and is therefore the most compact and well ordered of man’s works. And so a fish has the most exquisite adaptation and concentration. Fishes are in the sea what birds are in the air, amongst the most elegant of God’s creatures. They have similar beauty of colour and shape, and exhibit the same wonderful provisions and contrivances of Divine skill. (H. Macmillan, D.D.)
Life in ocean depths
It used to be an axiom that there was no life in the sea beyond a certain limit of a few hundred feet. It was learnedly and conclusively demonstrated that pressure and absence of light, and I know not what beside, made life at greater depths impossible. It was proved that in such conditions creatures could not live. And then, when that was settled, the “Challenger” put down her dredge five miles, and brought up healthy and good-sized living things with eyes in their heads, from that enormous depth. So, then the savant had to ask, how can there be life? instead of asserting there cannot be; and, no doubt, the answer will be forthcoming some day. We have all been too much accustomed to draw arbitrary limits to the diffusion of the life of Christ among men. Let us rather rejoice when we see forms of beauty, which bear the mark of His hand, drawn from depths that we deemed waste, and thankfully confess that the bounds of our expectation, and the framework of our institutions, do not confine the breadth of His working, nor the sweep of His grace. (A. Maclaren, D.D.)
There go the ships.
I was walking the other day by the side of the sea looking out upon the English Channel. It so happened that there was a bad wind for the vessels going down the Channel, and they were lying in great numbers between the shore and the Goodwins. I should think I counted more than a hundred, all waiting for a change of wind. On a sudden it came, and the vessels at once hoisted sail and went on their way. It was a sight worth travelling a hundred miles to gaze upon to see them all sail like a gallant squadron, and disappear southward on their voyages. “There go the ships,” was the exclamation that naturally rose to one’s lips. The psalmist thought it worth his while, though he had probably never seen such number of vessels as pass our coast, to make note of the fact the text declares, and we will learn now some of the lessons which the ships and the sea teach us. And, first, they teach that every part of the earth is made with some design. The land certainly is, but what about the broad acres of the sea? Assuredly it is not waste. “No,” says David, and so say we--“There go the ships.” Innumerable are the uses of the sea. It seems to be a grievous separation of lovers and friends, but it really unites them, for it is the highway of nations. But we would speak rather of the ships than of the sea. And
I. We see that the ships go.
1. They are made to go. So are Christians, but many of them don’t go; they have no activity in them. Now, I wish we could launch some of you. Brunel had less trouble in launching the “Great Eastern” than we have in trying to make you go. Would that you would “launch out into the deep.”
2. In going, the ships at last disappear from view. So shall we: our life is short.
3. They are going, mostly, upon business. Some few are for pleasure, but the most part have serious business in view. Have you? Have you any worthy object in life?
4. They sail upon a changeful sea. So do we. Terra firma is not in this world.
II. How go the ships? Well--
1. They must go according to the wind. We leave steamships out of the question. And if our port be heaven, there is no getting there except by the blessed Spirit’s blessing upon us.
2. But the mariner must nevertheless exert himself. The sails must be spread and managed so that the wind may be utilized. Hence the ships are no scene of idleness, but of great industry. Some Christians think they have nothing to do; “God will save His own people.” Yes, He will; but will He save them? His own people do not talk as they do.
3. The ships have to be guided and steered by the helm. Love is our helm: what we love, after that we go. Let love to God rule us, and let Christ have the tiller, and He will steer you to the haven of perfect peace.
4. Direction must be sought from charts and lights. So must we he guided by the chart of God’s Word and the light that Heaven has kindled. The voyage of a ship on the main ocean seems to me to be an admirable picture of the life of faith. The sailor does not see a road before him, or any land mark or sea mark, yet is sure of his course. He relies upon fixed lights in heaven, for far out he can see no beacon or light on the sea, and no keel ever leaves a furrow to mark the way. The late Captain Basil Hall tells the following interesting incident. He once sailed from San Bias, on the west coast of Mexico; and after a voyage of eight thousand miles, occupying eighty-nine days, he arrived off Rio de Janeiro, having in this interval passed through the Pacific Ocean, rounded Cape Horn, and crossed the South Atlantic, without making land or seeing a single sail except an American whaler. When within a week’s sail of Rio, he set seriously about determining by lunar observations the position of his ship, and then steered his course by those common principles of navigation which may be safely employed for short distances between one known station and another. Having arrived within what he considered from his computations fifteen or twenty miles of the coast, he hove to, at four o’clock in the morning, to await the break of day, and then bore up, proceeding cautiously, on account of a thick fog. As this cleared away, the crew had the satisfaction of seeing the great Sugar Loaf Rock, which stands on one side of the harbour’s mouth, so nearly right ahead, that they had not to alter their course above a point in order to hit the entrance of the port. This was the first land they had seen for nearly three months, after crossing so many seas, and being set backwards and forwards by innumerable currents and foul winds. The effect upon all on beard was electric, and, giving way to their admiration, the sailors greeted their commander with a hearty cheer. And what a cheer will we give when, after many years sailing by faith, we at last see the pearly gates straight ahead, and enter into the fair haven without needing to shift a point. Glory be to the Captain of our salvation, it will be all well with us when the fog of this life’s cares shall lift, and we shall see in the light of heaven. Then--
5. Ships will go well or ill, according to their build. With the same amount of wind, one makes more way than another. Now, there are some Church members who are so queerly shaped that somehow they never seem to cut the water, and even the Holy Spirit does not make much of them. They will get into harbour at last, but they will need a world of tugging. The snail got into the ark: I often wonder how he did it; and so there are many Christian people who will get to heaven, but Heaven alone knows how. I suspect that many of them have by degrees become like the “Great Eastern”--foul under water. They cannot go because they are covered with barnacles. They want laying up and cleaning a bit, so as to get some of the barnacles off. It is a rough process, but it has to be done. When I saw those ships go I happened to be near a station of Lloyd’s, and I noticed that they ran up flags as the vessels went by. I suppose they were asking questions, as to their names, cargo, destination, and so on. So, then--
III. Let us signal the ships. And--
1. Who is your owner? Some, in spite of all their profession, belong to Satan: their names are such as these: Self-Righteousness, Pride, from the port of Self-Conceit, Captain Ignorance. They belong not to Christ.
2. What is your cargo? Some high-sailing craft prove by that fact that they carry nothing. Big men, very important individuals, who float high, are common enough, but there is nothing in them. If there were they would sink deeper in the water. Some are in ballast; they have a deal of trouble, and they always tell you about it. Some carry a cargo of powder. You never know when an explosion may take place. But it is well to be loaded with good things. Some are emigrant ships. They have a cargo of blessed souls on board who have been brought to Christ by some faithful ministry. Thank God, I have sometimes had my decks crowded with passengers who have from my ministry received the Gospel.
3. Where go the ships? Some of you are bound for the port of peace, the Lord be praised. But alas! some ships which bid fair for heaven are lost on the rocks, or on the sands: others founder; others become derelict. Where will you all go? It is a fine fleet I am looking upon. I hope all will be found in the great harbour of heaven. Give me a hail when you get into port. But it is a dreadful supposition, and it may be worse than a supposition, that some of you will have to cast anchor for ever in the Dead Sea, whose waves are fire, and where every passenger feels a hell. Let it not be so; pull down the black flag, and run up the red flag of the Cross, and be Christ’s for evermore. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
What a noble thing is a ship! In bearing how majestic, in mechanism how wonderful! Have you ever thought as you have seen it lying quietly at its moorings, or sailing gallantly across the mighty deep, how much of art and science there were needed to produce such a complicated piece of mechanism? Have you ever thought how much of our Lord’s ministry was associated with the sea and with those who go down to the sea in ships? A few illiterate fishermen were the companions of our Lord’s ministry and the founders of that religion which has revolutionized the world.
1. Both in voyaging over the sea and on the ocean of life, how important it is to keep ever before our minds to what haven we are bound, to what port we are bearing on. It is this want of fixed and definite purpose and thought of the end that makes shipwreck of so many lives that would otherwise sail bravely and brightly over life’s ocean. What may be called our sailing or steering orders are plain, direct, explicit. “Strive to enter in,” the onward movement. “Set your affections on things that are above,” the upward or heavenward movement.
2. Not only must we know whither we are bound in the great voyage over the ocean of life, we must continue sailing, we must persevere in our work with our eyes steadily fixed on the pole star--fixed on “Hope’s beaming star.” If the sails are to be unfurled, we must be at our post, whatever betide; if the rigging has become tangled we must never think it too much trouble to go aloft and set it right. We must have the lamps trimmed, though the oil be difficult to get, and the lights burning, though the trimming may soil our fingers. We must constantly be advancing, sailing onwards over life’s ocean. For if we do not attend to this onward movement the tide will carry us back, and, it may be, dash both ourselves and our craft on the rocks of indolence.
3. We must not only know whither we are bound, we must not only keep in constant activity and show unflagging zeal, but we must make for the haven, Heaven is our haven. We are voyaging still. To that port and haven is our vessel bound. Oh! let our lives be conformable to the great, momentous, and immortal destiny before us. And, amid all the changes and chances of life, let us ever remember whose we are, and whom we serve. Once upon a time, there was a great storm at sea--the ocean was rolling mountains high, and the vessel was in imminent danger of shipwreck. The passengers were rushing wildly over the deck, or sitting clothed with despair in their cabins. Nothing but disorder and terror prevailed. Only one little boy was quiet and calm and unconcerned, and when an agitated and affrighted spectator asked how in such a storm he could be so calm, he quietly replied, “Father is at the helm.” This fact we have ever to bear us up. “Our Father is at the helm.” (J. B. S. Watson, M.A.)
“There go the ships”
That is not a bad text for a seamen’s society. “There go the ships.” Yes; that is quite true, but ships do not go of themselves. The ship implies its builder, its captain and a crew. Sailors, then, are necessarily connected in our minds with the ships.
1. Sailors have a claim upon our gratitude. What should we do without them? Think what our island would be if there were no ships, or if none were allowed to enter our ports. If we are to be thankful to any class of men--I believe in being thankful to all who do good work--we should specially be so to sailors, for among all those whose labour contributes to the wealth and prosperity of our country, there is no class more deserving our gratitude than seamen.
2. They also deserve our sympathy. The life of sailors is not a pleasant one. A ship is not a home, nor has it the comforts of home. And then there are the perils of the sea. The sailor’s life is a dangerous one, for he has a treacherous element to deal with. There are the winds and the waves to control if possible, or to battle with their rage. Danger may arise at any moment, and when he is least prepared for it. If there is any class of men who carry their lives in their hands it is the seamen. But the sailor is exposed to perils of a more serious kind. He has his own special forms of temptation. Not so much on the sea, but, shut up as he is in uncongenial society, he is the more prone to give way to those perils besetting his path when he lands. He finds himself in possession of means of indulgence, and solicitations to vice pressed upon him.
3. Sailors deserve our help. Sympathy is of no use, or very little, unless it takes a practical character. Pity itself is pitiful unless it extends the helping hand. If we feel grateful to the sailor, and sympathy for him, we must show it by trying to help the seaman to realize his position in God’s universe, to become a true and faithful man, and a true and living child of God. We ought to make his surroundings better than they have been. (J. D. Burns, D.D.)
What boy is not fond of hearing and reading about ships? I am not, however, going to talk about any wonderful discovery, but wish to compare my young friends to three different kinds of ships.
I. A man-of-war. This is for fighting purposes, and speaks both of the defensive and of the offensive, not the fighting some boys like to indulge in, either with tongues or fists; but I want every one of my readers to be fighting for the Lord Jesus. Many are unknowingly fighting against Him--they resist the strivings of the Spirit; they admire Him, and like to hear about His deeds, and to know of Him; but they do not know Him (John 17:3) or receive Him (John 1:12). Now, first you must be able to say, “The Lord is on my side,” etc. You will then need strength to stand your ground, and, though helpless of yourself (John 15:5), yet with Him, note your power (Philippians 4:13). A man-of-war ship must be properly armed: it is not built to play at soldiers, but to defend the country from invaders. Notice on chart, how it is armed, and for what purpose. Try to bring others into submission (read 2 Chronicles 30:8).
II. Merchant ships. A merchant ship is used for bringing cargoes, etc., from one port to another, sometimes many miles. The cargo, however, has to be stored away in the hold. Show how, if we have God’s Word (which speaks of Life, Light, Pardon, Peace, and Power) stored into our hearts, at whatever port we may land in our life, we shall have blessings to leave. Sometimes we cannot ourselves go abroad, but, by the pennies we raise, we are enabled to send missionaries to take the Gospel to the heathen.
III. Passenger ships. The passenger ship would be for passengers. Let us remember what has been done for us: how it has been all of grace. The fare has been paid: so then let us seek to lead others to the Haven of Perfect Peace. Andrew brought Peter (John 1:42). Little is said about the former, but never mind though your name does not appear, if Christ be glorified. In Matthew 9:2, four brought the one to Christ. Be more occupied in the One to whom you bring the sinner than in the method adopted. (Newton Jones.)
The voyage of life
“There go the ships.” Each of them has got a name of its own. Each has a starting-place where it began its life; each an end to which it is going. It may be a tragedy. Each has a different register. It is not every one that is “A1 at Lloyd’s.” When a ship is first built, and has been surveyed, and certified to be equal to all the emergencies which a ship ought to be fitted for, it is registered as “A1” And when it has made some voyages it is inspected again; and next time it goes out it will have to be registered again. This time it may be “A2,” or lower still, and as the ship gets older she becomes of less value and a greater risk. That is so with a ship, but it need not be the case with men. There are men who began twenty years ago as “A1 at Lloyd’s,” and they stand the same to-day. Instead of falling, there is nothing to prevent us from rising in value as we get grey hairs. “There go the ships.” We see that all of them have a different tonnage. The one of two hundred cannot carry as much as the two thousand, but she can venture where the other dare not follow her. And there are different ways of usefulness that men can get out of littleness. A great preacher has a glorious history, but it takes a great deal to make him what he is, and it takes more to keep him right. The more water the ship draws the greater is the danger if she gets into shallow water. Some of us are little ones, and we shall never be anything else all our lives. But we can go where the big ones dare not. And if you subtract from the total work done for the Truth all the work that is done by small people you will sink the total very much. “There go the ships.” Every one has got a cargo. They all carry something: some of them carry precious freight; some of them carry that which enriches the world. Look at that ship going with a cargo of cotton. It means work for nimble fingers and bread for hungry children. And after it has been spun, woven, and worn, it will make rags that will be used for paper that will make Bibles and books. She carries something valuable, does that ship. What cargo are you carrying then? Are you a ship in ballast? A ship must carry something. She must be a certain weight or they cannot sail or steer her. And if they cannot get a cargo they fill up with stones and clay. And up in Sunderland yonder, there is many a hill made of ballast brought by ships that have taken out cargoes of coal, and had nothing else to bring back. And it costs just as much to sail her with ballast as with a cargo. It costs God Almighty just as much to keep a useless man as to keep a useful one. Have you been carrying ballast? There is no need. You may be filled with a cargo, if you will come alongside this wharf--a cargo that shall bring pleasure and blessing wherever you go. Where go the ships? To fortune or to failure; to harbour or to ruin? Ah! you need not go many miles to find these wrecks of manhood. You can remember some; I can remember others. Some ships have foundered because they have set out before they were ready for a voyage. We need all of us to remember, “Lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.” But there are some vessels lost by striking hidden rocks, and others by striking rocks that may easily be seen. How many have gone down and become wrecks through the rock we call Drink! And what numbers are ruined by gambling! Wrecks! How are we to be delivered from such things? There are other things we might have said about these wrecks, but how are we to be delivered from them? First, we must take care who the skipper is. Make sure that you get hold of Captain Credence. If you want to see what voyages he has made look in the Epistle to the Hebrews; and there you will read: “By faith . . . By faith . . . By faith . . . ” Captain Credence will take charge of you, and always bring his own hands aboard, and he will place them in every part of the ship. At the helm stands Obedience, an able-bodied seaman is he. He takes his orders here. You want to have Obedience, who always works by the words of the Chart. And then, like Joseph, when tempted, you will hear him say, “I cannot. Helm hard-a-port! Do you think I am going to the other side?” Captain Credence always brings with him Conscience, and puts him as the look-out. He has keen sight; he needs no spectacles. He can see the land before any one else sees it; he can see the sand-banks before anybody else sees them, and the rocks. If you only put Captain Credence aboard, he will bring all the hands with him who have sworn obedience to Jesus. Some day, if only you hold on by Christ, your ship will reach the good land. If is a land within reach of every one of us, a land that is fairer than day. (T. Champness.)
These wait all upon Thee; that Thou mayest give them their meat in due season.
The waiting world supplied
Often the poet, rather than the scientist, is the true interpreter of nature. Mystic links which the scientist kens not, bind the universe to God. The devout poet hears God in the thunder; sees His touch on the smoking volcano; beholds His glory in sun and stars; hears the trees clapping their hands before Him: and, listening to the sounds of want and woe rising from a travailing creation, catches the accents of a universal prayer; while, in the provision made for every living thing he sees the bountiful answer from the opened hand of Deity.
I. Universal dependence. “These all wait upon Thee,” etc. We are dependent for life and all the good of life upon circumstances beyond our control. Earth, air, water, warmth, light, all so necessary, may all become destructive. They are all under law; but God Himself made and enforces their laws. The universe is an embodied thought of Deity, the product of His will: it runs its course sustained by the power which called it into being. The Creator is the Sustainer; the Alpha is the Omega of existence.
II. Universal prayer. “The eyes of all wait upon Thee,” etc. Want looks up into the face of fulness. The sight of want and woe is a prayer to the bountiful. A drooping plant, a pining cat, or a crying babe, appeals to us all the more powerfully, because the appeal is inarticulate. Now, God is intimately connected with all forms of life, and perfectly understands the language of all His creatures. He sees the thirsty earth pining for rain; He hears the cry of the young ravens and roar of the lions (John 3:7-43.3.8; John 4:11). But it is reserved to man as the high priest of Nature, to understand both his own wants and those of the lower creation; and to voice those needs in the heaven-taught prayer, “Our Father, give us this day our daily bread.”
III. Universal supply. Thou openest Thy hand--the hand of infinite power, wisdom, benevolence, love--and the rain falls, the sun shines, the earth yields her fruit, “the pastures are clothed with flocks; the valleys also are covered over with corn,” and the desire of every living thing is satisfied. How pleasantly He prepares the table in our sight. He spreads His cloth of green: He decks it with the bloom of innumerable flowers: He permits us to watch, while His servants, the Laws of Nature, gather out of the dewdrop, the sunbeam, the atmosphere and the earth, the raw material which they compound into living food. Gradually earth is laden with the bounty of heaven. Food and decoration are here in rich profusion and golden glory. Man and beast alike are satisfied with the hospitality dispensed by the great Father of all. So also has He spread and richly furnished the Gospel table in our sight; so that we may in His Word trace the whole process of preparation: and now, for our soul’s needs it is our privilege to gather what He has given. (C. O. EIdridge, B.A.)
The bountifulness of God in His providence
I. His munificence to His creatures is general. Consider--
1. How large a family He provides for.
2. The variety of the provisions which He makes.
3. The regularity with which all is provided.
4. The abundance which He provides for all.
5. The ease with which tie distributes the provisions.
6. He does all this gratuitously.
II. His special generosity to man. This is seen--
1. In His preparing the earth to bring forth fruit to the service of man.
2. In His unremitting supervision of the earth.
3. In that all the gifts bestowed upon others are intended for man’s benefit.
4. In that He makes provision for man’s soul. (D. Roberts, D.D.)
How the lower creatures are fed
On the pampas, whenever grasshoppers, mice, frogs, or crickets become excessively abundant, we confidently look for the appearance of multitudes of the birds that prey on them . . . It is plain that these birds have been drawn from over an immense area to one spot; and the question is how have they been drawn? Many large birds possessing great powers of flight are, when not occupied with the business of propagation, incessantly wandering from place to place in search of food. They are not, as a rule, regular migrants, for their wanderings begin and end irrespective of seasons, and where they find abundance they remain the whole year. They fly at a very great height, and traverse immense distances. When the favourite food of any one of these species is plentiful in any particular region all the individuals that discover it remain, and attract to them all of their kind passing overhead. This happens on the pampas with the stork, the short-eared owl, the hooded gull, and the dominican or black-backed gull--the leading species among the feathered nomads: a few first appear like harbingers; these are presently joined by newcomers in considerable numbers, and before long they are in myriads. (Hudson.)
After a world of hungry men have fed upon Christ, He remains inexhaustible as at the beginning; like the bread in His own miracles, of which the pieces that were broken and ready to be given to the eaters were more than the original stock as it appeared when the meal began. Or like the fabled meal in the Norse Walhalla, which the gods sat down to to-day, and to-morrow there it is, all on the board, as abundant and full as ever. (A. Maclaren, D.D.)
Sufficiency for all varieties of experience
So manifold are the aspects of God’s infinite sufficiency, that every soul, in every possible variety of circumstance, will find there just what will suit it. That deep fountain is like some of those fabled springs which gave forth whatsoever precious draught any thirsty lips asked. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
That Thou givest them they gather.
God’s giving and man’s gathering
I. God alone gives; we only gather. He is the Sole Proprietor in the universe, and of it. We can have nothing but by His bestowal. Our industry, perseverance, skill, are only methods that we employ in gathering. We have nothing that we have not received.
II. What God gives we ought to gather.
1. In the world of nature. The fields must be cultivated, harvests reaped, etc.
2. In the realm of grace. Truth must be apprehended, Christ believed, the Holy Ghost received. (U. R. Thomas.)
Gathering God’s gifts
This text refers to the animals mentioned in the preceding verses. The birds and beasts are set forth by our Lord as examples of the providence of God. “Your Heavenly Father feedeth them.” And perhaps to our minds they supply the most perfect illustration of dependence. God supplies their wants; He gives them everything; and if He did not feed them they would perish. Yet, though He gives all, they have to gather all. Not a mouthful does one of them get which it has not worked for. Now, there is a great principle of the Divine procedure here, which God observes not only in providence, but in grace. He gives, but we must gather. He is able to make His grace abound to us, so that we, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound unto every good work. It is this fulness of the Divine grace, accessible and available to us, that we must think of first when we are speaking about the deepening of the spiritual life. But the other side is not to be forgotten, or the good of it all may be lost--that which He giveth we must gather. Take even the illustration of the steam-engine. You say, What would the engine be without the steam? Yes; but what would the steam be without the engine? There was plenty of steam in the world before James Watt was born. But it was not gathered. Take another illustration. Here is a rifle, exquisitely constructed beautifully grooved inside, and with it cartridges made on the most scientific principles. You might look at it and moralize in this way: What a heavy thing; what a cold thing; how useless it would be to hit anything without the powder; it is the little thimbleful of gunpowder and the flash of fire by which everything is done. Now, this is perfectly true, and it illustrates a grand spiritual truth. It is the flash of fire from heaven that does all the execution in the wars of the Lord. Yet how important also is the other side of the truth. What would the powder be if it were not for the gun? Why, the puff of it would hardly singe a fly. It is when its force is gathered and packed close in the cartridge, and when the ball is directed on its course by the finely-grooved barrel, that it brings down the object at a thousand yards. God’s power, I say, is often there; but we are not in a position to use it and to retain it. He gives, but we do not gather. This is a principle in Christian work of every kind. Mr. Moody has been going from town to town over Scotland. Now, if you meet the ministers of some of these towns a year hence, they may tell you that the meetings were very successful, the district was stirred, the churches were filled, and there were hundreds of inquirers. But it has not come to much. The results that have lasted are small. This may be true, but what is the reason of it? In many cases the reason, I believe, is this: God has given, but His servants have not gathered. It is the same with His work in our own souls. He blesses us, but we lose the blessing. For example, I hear a Christian complaining that he is cold and not growing in grace. But I take up his Bible and turn over its leaves. They are as clean as when they came from the printer, and here and there they are actually sticking together. The man might as well construct a zinc covering over the flower-bed in his garden, and then complain that the flowers are dying for want of rain. There is plenty of rain, but he has kept it away from the plants. Or I meet a young man or woman who is at that period of life when the mind is all awake and alive, reading books, acquiring scientific methods of research, and entering into the glorious heritage of the knowledge of the past. The man complains that he is not enjoying his Bible; and the fact is his Bible is distressing him. I ask him how he reads it, and he says, “Oh, just as I have always done.” “That is,” I say, “you read a chapter a day, and you give five minutes to it?” “Yes.” “You never spend the time on it that you do on an ode of Horace or a paragraph of Thucydides; you never study a book of it as you would a play of Shakespeare?” “Oh no, I never thought of such a thing.” “Then no wonder you are getting no good out of your Bible. God’s manna is there, but you are not gathering it.” (J. Stalker, D.D.)
Thou hidest Thy face, they are troubled: Thou takest away their breath, they die.
Views of death
I. Death disorganizes and destroys our corporeal frame. The words of the text merely announce the execution of the original sentence, “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”
II. Death puts an end to all worldly distinctions. Sometimes, indeed, they may appear to remain. One man is honoured with a splendid and imposing burial. Another has a blazoned monument erected over him. A third may have historians to record his name, and poets to sing his praise. And in contrast to all these, a fourth may be laid in the base earth, and have not even a stone to tell where he lies, and fade from the remembrance, almost as soon as he passes from the sight of that world, in which he did little more than toil, and weep, and suffer. But let your eye penetrate through those showy forms which custom, or affection, or vanity has thrown over the graves of departed mortals, and behold how the mightiest and the meanest lie side by side in one common undistinguished ruin. Receive, then, and practise the lesson which all this inculcates. It speaks to you who occupy distinguished situations in the world; and it says, Behold the nothingness of earthly grandeur, and power, and riches. Though elevated in station, be humble in spirit. The same fact speaks to you who are moving in the humble walks of life; to you it says, Why repine that you are not invested with the insignia of worldly greatness?
III. Death terminates all labour and all pleasure under the sun. “There is no work, nor wisdom, nor device, in the grave;” and “as the tree falleth, so must it lie.” Let no good action be unnecessarily delayed, or carelessly performed.
IV. Death dissolves the dearest and tenderest ties.
V. Death blasts the fairest prospects of individuals, of families, and of nations. He teaches us to put no confidence in our own life, or in that of any of the sons or daughters of men. He teaches us to recollect how feeble are all our efforts, and how short-sighted are all our best-laid schemes, and how perishable are all our most sanguine hopes.
VI. Death introduces us to judgment and to eternity. This is the most important view which we can take of it. (A. Thomson, D.D.)
The death of animals
Pain, suffering, and death, we know, may be of use to human beings. It may make them happier and better in this life, or in the life to come; if they are the Christians which they ought to be. But it seems, in the case of animals, to be only so much superfluous misery thrown away. Of the millions on millions of living creatures in the earth, the air, the sea, full one-half live by eating each other. In the sea, indeed, almost every kind of creature feeds on some other creature: and what an amount of pain, of terror, of violent death that means, or seems to mean! The Book of Genesis does not say that the animals began to devour each other at Adam’s fall. It does not even say that the ground is cursed for man’s sake now, much less the animals. For we read (Genesis 9:21). Neither do the psalmists and prophets give the least hint of any such doctrine. Surely, if we found it anywhere, we should find it in this psalm. But so far from saying that God has cursed His own works, or looks on them as cursed it says, “The Lord shall rejoice in His works.” Consider, with respect and admiration, the manful, cheerful view of pain and death, and indeed of the whole creation, which the psalmist has, because he has faith. There is in him no sentimentalism, no complaining of God, no impious, or at least weak and peevish, cry of “Why hast Thou made things thus?” He sees the mystery of pain and death. He does not attempt to explain it: but he faces it; faces it cheerfully and manfully, in the strength of his faith, saying--This too, mysterious, painful, terrible as it may seem, is as it should be; for it is of the law and will of God, from whom come all good things; of the God in whom is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. Therefore to the psalmist the earth is a noble sight; filled, to his eyes, with the fruit of God’s works. And so is the great and wide sea likewise. He looks upon it; “full of things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts,” for ever dying, for ever devouring each other. And yet it does not seem to him a dreadful and a shocking place. What impresses his mind is just what would impress the mind of a modern poet, a modern man of science; namely, the wonderful variety, richness, and strangeness of its living things. Their natures and their names he knows not. It was not given to his race to know. It is enough for him that known unto God are all His works from the foundation of the world. But one thing more important than their natures and their names he does know; for he perceives it with the instinct of a true poet and a true philosopher--“These all wait upon Thee,” etc. (C. Kingsley, M.A.)
Life by respiration
It has always been supposed that man’s power to breathe lay primarily in the united action of heart, lungs and blood. But a recent scientist of recognized authority declares that this is not altogether the case. He asserts, and apparently proves it to the satisfaction of many scientific minds, that although heart, lungs and blood assist the act of breathing, and constitutes man’s physical safeguard against suffocation, the actual breathing--i.e., the taking in of the oxygen and hydrogen of the atmosphere, is done by the living substance of the human body. Practically we breathe, so to speak, at every pore, and not simply by the elaborate parts hitherto looked upon as the only human agents of respiration. Plants and animals as well as men thus breathe through the living substances which severally compose them. And what is equally wonderful, perhaps, is that, as this authority declares, “the mutual action of plants, animals and men upon the atmosphere in respiration is one of the most beautiful harmonies in nature.” What one gives off as waste product is taken up and utilized by the other. Truly “we are fearfully and wonderfully made”! (Homiletic Review.)
Thou sendest forth Thy Spirit, they are created.
The breath of the Most High God
The Holy Spirit is called the Breath of God, as being breathed out in a mysterious and marvellous way over His whole creation, but especially into the souls of reasonable beings, to make all in their several measure partakers of God and of happiness. The Holy Spirit is God secretly present, encompassing us about, entering into us, piercing even to the very depths of our being, like the air we breathe, unseen, but known by its effects. If this parable of Breath be well considered, it may seem to account for other like parables, so to call them, by which Holy Scripture teaches us how to think of this our most Holy Comforter. For instance, the Holy Spirit is sometimes compared to the wind, as in the discourse of our Saviour to Nicodemus: “The wind bloweth where it listeth,” etc. Thus the wind, when we hear or feel it, may remind us of the Breath of Almighty God; and the effects of the wind, the clouds which it brings over the earth, the moisture which the air takes up, the dews which descend, the rains which pour down, the springs which gush out, the waters which flow over the earth; all these are in Scripture tokens of the same Spirit, showing Himself in gifts and sanctifying graces, and communicating spiritual life to His people. The Holy Ghost, one with the Father and the Son, as He is present in all His works, so is He ever in a peculiar manner abiding in those whom He has regenerated and made members of Jesus Christ,--out of sight, out of hearing, beyond all feeling or any outward sense, yet infinitely nearer and closer to every one of us than any of the things we do see, hear, or feel, or can make out by reasoning; ready at hand to all His faithful ones, at every moment of their dangerous and trying pilgrimage, to guide and comfort, to purify and refresll them. “By Him we live, and move, and have our being,” as people of God. (Plain Sermons by Contributors to the Tracts for the Times.)
Thou renewest the face of the earth.--
The Hebrew genius and the spring season
There is a deep religious undertone in all the descriptions of nature which we owe to the Hebrew poets; there is little dwelling on the beauty of nature as it appeals to the imagination. With our modern poets the scenery is everything; the manifestation of the power, or presence, or goodness of God is nothing, or next to nothing. The Hebrew nature was too moral, too possessed with the idea of duty; of a great power overshadowing the life of man, putting His voice and mandate in the conscience within, aiding and abetting the good and destroying the evil, to give itself over wholly to the power of the beauty of the material world, to the enjoyment of purely scenic effects, to the indulgence of the imaginative or artistic faculties. It made imagination subordinate to conscience, a handmaid to wait upon and describe its intuitions, feelings, and voices; not a power that exists for its own ends or for its own self-indulgence. It is in harmony with this great characteristic of Hebrew poetry that the psalmist carries up the thought of the fertility and beauty of the spring season to the thought of God. There is no brooding on the singing birds, the bursting buds, the opening blossoms, the returning grass, the intermittent sunshine, the vernal showers, as if they had any satisfying charm in themselves. He sees them all in God, and prefers rather to look at them in and through the medium of the religious emotion, than as objects to be gazed at directly. The thought is not one of quiet resting upon the smiles in which the face of nature is wreathed, which is certainly that on which the genius of a modern poet would trove lingered; but rather that He who is the joy of the soul, the restorer of righteousness, the strength and stay of the upright, has been the great cause of this wonderful transformation from desolation to loveliness; and, therefore, that He and not it should be rejoiced in and thought of. And so we find that after a description of God’s wonderful doings in the world the poet concludes,--as if that was what his review should lead up to (verses 33, 34). (James Forfar.)
The parable of Spring
Nature is God’s mirror, in which the “invisible things of Him” can be “clearly seen.” Spring is God’s parable, in which He speaks as the Saviour did when He turned our attention to the lilies of the field.
I. In the world around, and in the world within, there is a change which only the Creator’s power can bring about. Nature apart from God is but a name. The truth may be used as an instrument, the chances and changes of life may be pressed into service, and the ministries of pastors, teachers, and parents may be employed; but after all we have to say, “Thou renewest.” It is only “He that “sitteth” upon the throne that can say, “Behold, I make all things new.”
II. Like the renewal of the face of the earth, the spiritual renewal is often gradual and without clearly marked stages. We do not trouble about the almanack when we see the bursting blossoms and hear the song of birds. And you need not trouble as to how the “beauty of holiness” came to you, or when the “new song” was put into your mouth; it is enough that you sing and make melody in your heart unto the Lord, and that the new life is yours.
III. In both cases God’s renewing work seems oft retarded by hindrances, and proceeds by way of removing things unsuitable. Buds of promise may be nipped, flowers of grace may be withered, fruits of holiness may be retarded in their ripening; but He who worketh hitherto will work, He will not “fail nor be discouraged,” for the fulness of the Spirit is with Him. (T. Hind.)
Voices of the spring
I. The Divine existence and presence with us in His works. “All His works praise Him,” but the works He is now working in such profusion around us sing to Him the sweetest song of all the year. They sing it not only to Him, but to us. They tell us He is near; that the living earth is a fair new robe of the living present God.
II. The Divine faithfulness. Every spring is with God the keeping of covenant (Genesis 8:22). That is the general promise, and how true He is in the keeping of it! He is, as it were, conducting an argument as to His own fidelity. The argument is increscent and cumulative. It grows in length and strength year by year. The green fields to-day make it stronger than ever it was before. It will be stronger next year than it is to-day, although to-day it is strong enough for the trust of all the world.
III. God’s great goodness. It is not merely that He made a certain promise four thousand years ago, and must keep it. It is that He made the promise and loves to keep it.
IV. Divine tenderness. Did God raise with His own hand that flower on its stem, with all those rich minglings of colour? Then He must love beauty. Did He call out in the grass and buds and flowers that exceeding delicacy of texture, that softness almost ethereal, which will vanish if you touch it, which seems to quiver almost if you draw near? Then God must be very tender Himself. The tenderest and dearest things we have we can bring to Him--our wounded feelings, our trembling hopes, our brightest joys, our children when they are sick, or when they are seeking salvation, our own souls when they are all sensibility--all these we may bring to Him whose mercy is “tender” mercy, whose kindness is “loving” kindness, who “pitieth” them that fear Him, and who gives new proof of His tenderness, love, and pity every spring.
V. A voice of good cheer to all who are serving God faithfully, and seeking good ends for themselves or for others, although as yet with little apparent result. For when does it come? Immediately after the winter. The darkest, bleakest, deadest season of all the year is followed by the freshest and most reviving, as if to show us every year anew that nothing is impossible with God.
VI. A voice winch sounds away into the far future, and foretells “the time of the restitution of all things.” God, in renewing the face of the earth, seems to give us a visible picture and bright image of that blessed moral renovation which is coming in the fulness of the time. If you were in the country you could not fail to be struck with the universality of the vegetative power, and with its resistlessness. You would see it everywhere--climbing up to highest places, and blooming down in lowly dells, invading the most hidden spots, embracing with its green arms the roughest rocks, healing the scars of winter. A type, I say, of the universality of the springtime of the world, when it comes. It will be everywhere.
VII. Another voice--giving announcement of the general resurrection from the dead.
VIII. Another voice tells us that all our earthly time is the spring season of our existence. Every day we are sowing. And we must sow on to the end. To a certain extent we are reapers too, but summer prime and harvest wealth are not here. (A. Raleigh, D.D.)
I. Let us go forth into the field to meditate: meditation is often better than books. Our own thoughts will do us much more good than the opinions of others. Danger often attends our perusal of the works of men; but there is no hazard in pursuing knowledge among the works of God.
II. It becomes us not only to observe nature, but to observe it devotionally, and as Christians. There is a difference between our studying them as mere admirers and philosophers, and applying them as men formed by Divine grace for a life of communion with God. See a Christian among the works of nature. He looks after God in all--for He needs Him in all: and be is enabled to find Him. Though familiar with the effect, he does not disregard the cause. He also makes them images to remind him of better things. The rising sun brings to his thoughts “the Sun of Righteousness arising with healing under His wings”; a flowing spring, the influence of the Holy Ghost; the rain and the dew, the doctrine of the Gospel. Thus, by a holy chemistry, he extracts heaven from earth.
III. Let us observe and adore this wonder-working God in renewing the face of the earth. How many times has He done this since the creation! He does it every year. Let us remember, that He who renews the face of the earth, can renew the Church. Think of any particular cause--however depressed, He can revive it; however small, He can increase it. He can also renew the soul. We read of the “renewing of the Holy Ghost”; and of being “renewed in the spirit of our minds.” Thus “God beautifies the meek with salvation”; and the change in nature is an imperfect representation of the change made in the soul by Divine grace. (W. Jay.)
Spring a symbol of spiritual renewal
The seasons have a moral contagion in them. The autumn breathes upon us a spirit of pensiveness, producing a sweet sadness because of the spirit of change add decay that rests upon all beautiful things. The spring, however, breathes upon us the spirit of hope and promise. There is the influence of new beginnings, new energies, and new efforts.
I. The springtide is a period of restored vital energy. Life is starting from every pore of Nature. The whole face of the earth heaves and throbs with an exhaustless tide of life. Every spot teems with new existence. We are impressed with the infinite affluence of the “Fountain of life.” Spring is really a new display of God’s presence and power--a renewal which comes from the putting forth of Divine energy. And what He does in the natural world He also does in the spiritual realm. There are times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord--veritable springtimes--which come both to the Church and to the individual soul. For such times we should pray, and expect them to come. A time of depression and barrenness should be succeeded by a time of new life and new spiritual energy.
II. The springtide is a period of renewed and buoyant activity. Restored vitality must put on new forms of activity. It is only natural that where there is real life there should be vigorous effort.
III. The springtide is a period of restored beauty. The beauty of the Lord is upon the face of nature, and that beauty is as fresh and full as if there had never been a springtide before. The minutest form of life has its wonder and beauty in structure, form, and hue. Beautiful, too, is the boundless variety and distribution of the whole. “The earth is full of Thy riches,” and these are true riches, because they bring a wealth of life; they minister energy, beauty and joy to every living creature. What is the Gospel of Christ but the intention of God to impart to our life and character the beauty of holiness, the beauty of God’s own being? The work of the Spirit is to produce in us meekness, gentleness, patience, charity--all of which go to form real loveliness of life. The springtime should have a message and influence for us on this part of our life.
IV. The springtide is a period of renewed joy and hope. (G. Avery.)
I. Hidden life.
II. Quiet life. As we pass out of the striving town, with its trampling feet and rumbling vehicles, ringing hammers and roaring machinery, into the country, what a contrast we find! We hear the buzz of many insects, the music of many birds, and the occasional bleat of sheep and low of cattle; but this only serves to emphasize the prevalent stillness. The trees, grass and flowers do their work in absolute silence. But what a change is wrought in a few weeks or even a few days. There is life in a factory, where men are hurrying about with bared arms and spindles are flying and wheels are whirring, but the life is just as deep and full in the quietly springing grass and the noiselessly opening flowers. So applying this thought to spiritual things--there may be life in the Salvation Army barracks, but there may be life also in a Quakers’ meeting. Noise, fire, smoke, are not the only signs of life: as life is strong and rich, it tends to become subdued. The brook babbles and makes a great noise, but it is very shallow, and there are only little minnows in it; the river sweeps along in silence, but it is deep and full of varied life.
III. Beautiful life. It goes without saying that the spring life is beautiful. Firm Christian principles are a good stout trunk, stern moral qualities are good sturdy branches, Christian graces are the leaves, and blossoms, and fruit, which adorn life’s tree with beauty.
IV. Constant life. The origin of life is an insoluble problem for science. If you give the scientific man a bit of protoplasm, he will build you up any creature whatever in an astonishing manner, but he cannot bridge over the gulf between life and no life. Years since, however, the psalmist could account for the origin of life, “Thou sendest forth Thy Spirit,” etc. The corn which waved in the fields last autumn is gathered in and consumed or soon will be, so the fruit; the winter has killed off thousands of birds and animals, human creatures are continually ending their days. You see where this would soon lead us. But presently the blade will shoot through the ground and again the fields will be laden with golden corn, and the trees with fruit. Young birds will come from their nests to take the place of those dead. The human family is not only maintained but increases. Life is like a lake with an outflow at one end, but at the other end there is a stream continually flowing in. The life of the world is continually renewed. The trees which yielded you apples last year, have come under the sleep of winter, but they will yield you apples this year; the bush from which you gathered roses last year will yield you roses this year. And as spring after spring, the face of the earth is renewed, so is it in God’s Church. (T. Pitt.)
Lessons from the spring
1. It bids us be content and patient, and believe that God has never forgotten any of our need; that His care and providence girdle our lives everywhere.
2. It fills us with joy and gladness, and bids us break away from the spell of dark moods and rejoice with all nature when “the mountains and hills break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field clap their hands.”
3. It teaches us, by the objects of tenderness and beauty which it places everywhere before our eye, to make our own lives beautiful, and to excite nobler tastes and simpler emotions in the minds of our fellow-creatures.
4. But the one I would most impress upon you is reverence for the buds. Cherish your worthiest purposes and impulses as most sacred things. Do not think lightly of even your loftiest dreams and imaginings of a perfect and holy life. They will come to fruitage. They will be presently realities. Here on earth you will see many of them translated into fact, and you have a hope beyond earth. (A. J. Griffith.)
The lessons of spring
I. A proof of our entire dependence upon God. By a suspension of His power He might in a moment stop the varied mechanism of nature; or, by applying that power in a different way, He might produce the very opposite of the expected and desired results. Now let us only reflect how fatal would be the consequences should spring altogether cease, or should it even for any length of time delay its coming. Let the frost of winter continue to bind the earth in its iron fetters: let its snows continue to fall, its cold to blast, and its feeble sun to struggle in vain with the ice-bound fields; and then the seed which was intended to produce a future harvest must remain unscattered; the hopes of the husbandman must give place to despair; plenty must soon be exchanged for famine.
II. Spring as emblematic of misery followed by happiness. It is but a very limited experience any of us can have of the progress of the cause of righteousness during our stay upon the earth; but when we look back on the centuries which are past, and consider the advancement which has undoubtedly been made, we see enough to persuade us that the world’s winter is surely, though slowly, passing away, and that even now we may be treading on the confines of its promised and expected spring.
III. Spring as emblematic of a coming resurrection. IV spring as emblematic of youth. The husbandman, we know, is fully alive to the duty and necessity of diligently employing the days, and even the hours, of spring. If he trifle or loiter in spring, it will be vain that he is active and industrious in summer. Now, the point of analogy in this respect between youth and spring is plain, and it should suggest a most important lesson both to parents and children. It warns all parents that if they neglect their children when young, no future efforts will compensate for the loss. (A. Roberts, D.D.)
I. Spring, in the simple fact of its return, proclaims to the world God’s faithfulness. Our tendency is to forget this. Because we know something of the way God gathers the rain into the chambers of the clouds, we are apt to forget that it is the gift of God; because we have learnt something about the growth of corn in the furrows, we almost forget that the harvest is from God; because we have heard that the earth revolves upon an axis, and that spring, like everything else, is produced by adequate means, we are in danger of saying, It is no gift; it is nothing to be thankful for. There is no benevolence in it whatever. Let us not thus deny the great Father’s love, but as we mark that God’s method is orderly, let us the more adore His wisdom, and bless His faithful, fatherly care.
II. Spring instructs us as to the manner of God’s working. God works not as man works. Man must display his power, must blow a trumpet before him when about to perform some great work. Not so God. With the quietness that belongs to strength; with the gentleness, the noiselessness, the secrecy that pertains to mightiest power, He has wrought the wondrous change. His working has been silent as the fall of dew, it has been gradual as the dawn, it has been tender, yet mighty, as the light.
III. Spring proclaims that God is a lover of beauty.
IV. Spring teaches us by its profusion the infinite wealth of God’s resources. Power, wisdom, beneficence, seem to have spent themselves upon the earth’s teeming life. No ocean tide has ever rolled in upon its shore so proudly, so grandly, so full in volume, as the tide of life that has now touched our world. No thoughtful mind can watch it without awe! (H. Wonnacott.)
Springtime: Divine renewal
I. God in the renewal of nature. Canon Mozley bids us think of nature both as labouring as a machine, and as sleeping as a picture--to regard its uses, and its impressions. In both these aspects we may regard the Divine renewal of the earth.
1. As working secret causes of change in the revolution both of the earth and of the whole solar system that has its effect in making one primrose blow.
2. As effecting a change in the appearance of things making the earth’s “face” express Life, Love, and Joy.
II. God in the renewal of man. His work here is illustrated by His work in nature.
1. There is secret work at hidden causes--repentance, regeneration.
2. There is the effecting of change in outward appearance, the character, like the spring, has Life, Love. Joy. For illustration of this look--
(1) At the individual. Natural childhood and youth is a renewal of the face of the earth. The buddings of childhood’s intellect, the bursting forth of youthful love. The beginnings of spiritual life. The glory of God seen by any soul in the face of Jesus Christ awakens new life in that soul. In raising to immortal life after death. That is the renewal of which spring sings to us in graveyards and cemeteries.
(2) At the race. As flowers and fields seek the sun, we may all say to Christ, “All men seek for Thee.” In the time of the restitution of all things it may be said literally, sung gloriously, “Thou renewest the face of the earth.” (U. R. Thomas.)
I. The power of God. What power there is displayed in making the trees and plants grow forth from the ground! So little is this power within the power of man that, until he saw it, he could not suspect such a thing. And not only in growth itself, but in the shape and feature of the growth, there are equal marks of the power of God. When the seed grows, it grows according to certain fixed laws, and those laws cannot be changed. They may be enlarged, but not altered. This power is none the less apparent in the variety in each species. How weak, how powerless is man in this sphere again! Even if he had creative power, could he create? Would he not have to copy servilely from what he saw? Could he make a blade of grass or a leaf of a tree so distinct that there should be no other blade of grass, no other leaf of a tree exactly like it? Could he even imagine how it should be done, much less do it?
II. The goodness of God. God foresees for us. He is never in a hurry; He is never after His time. God begins His provision in spring, that we may have it in due time in the autumn. And how richly does He provide! How ungrudgingly! How equally! He sends the sun to flood the whole world with its life-giving beams. And He gives not only necessary food, but enjoyment and luxury He gives not only bread to strengthen man’s heart, but wine to make his heart glad, and oil to make him a cheerful countenance. He scatters enjoyments in every sphere; for every sense He finds delight.
III. The beauty of God. When we look into the face of nature, now all renewed, do we not trace some of the Divine features of the great Creator arid Renewer? And oh, if this beauty can be traced in this fallen nature, how much more could it be traced in unfallen Eden! (E. Browne, M.A.)
Contemplations in the spring of the year
I. What a diversity of animation surrounds me! What a stirring and bustling! Everything in motion, above, below, in the air and on the ground! How powerfully everything is at work, within itself and without, through all and upon all! Yes, the vivifying energy of nature, or rather of the Author of nature, is ever new, ever active, is inexhaustible! Oh let us adore this eternal, never-failing source of life! Thence we may draw eternal life and the fulness of joy! If. The order of nature is invariable. It is therefore a constant, speaking witness to the being of God, His superintendence over all, His providential care for all, His vital influence in all. He is and works on all sides; in the scarcely visible moss as in the tall and stately cedar, in the mite as in the eagle, in the creeping worm as in the spirit that worships before the throne of His glory. And where He is and works, there is order, connection, harmony, beauty, perfection; there is the most accurate correspondence between ends and means.
III. Joy and happiness is the final aim of all the revolutions and phenomena in nature, of all the regulations which God has established. Whichever way ye turn, do ye not now walk in a paradise of delights? And what salutes your ear on all sides but sounds of mirth and exultation, the celebration of the grand festival of nature?
IV. Innocent, sedate enjoyment of nature, and profound inward adoration of the God of nature are the most honourable and pleasing occupations. Yes, this is enjoyment, unalloyed, truly worthy of the man, which never draws after it either surfeit or repentance. Thou art the priest of nature, O man, and the temple of thy God, the gorgeous fabric of the universe is everywhere filled with votaries, who ask thy ministration.
V. The renovation and embellishment of the face of the earth, the resuscitation of the life of nature is a glorious type of the future renovation and perfection of the human race, Of the general resurrection of the dead to the superior life. What a scene of most astonishing revolutions and transformations! What diversity of life and enjoyment of life, of thoughts never yet conceived and emotions never yet imagined! What a harvest from the sowing of all ages, of all the thousands of years that have elapsed since the first to the last of mortals! What a glorious unravelment of all that appears to us now mysterious and incomprehensible in the ways of Providence and the fortunes of mankind! (G. J. Zollikofer, D. D.)
A spring homily
I. Spring is an awakening. So is the turning of a soul to God. It was a soul asleep; it is a soul awake. It is opening its eye on a new world, a new time, new thoughts, new possibilities, a blessed new life.
II. Spring is a manifestation of life. How full, how manifold is this new life in a converted soul! Thoughts which came and went without God before, are now alive with God. Hear how the birds are singing in the actual woods! That is nothing to the song of a soul on whom the spring of a new life has descended. See how the verdure hastens to clothe the naked branches of the trees! That is nothing to the glory which decks the hitherto bare and dead powers of a converted soul. See how the fields are aglow with flowers! That is nothing to the beauties of holiness in a regenerated soul. Oh, the joy of spring! Oh, the better joys of conversion! Oh, the newness, the freshness, the deliciousness of the hum of the singing of birds! Oh, the more blessed newness, freshness, and deliciousness of a soul attuned by grace to God! The summer which follows spring is not more truly a natural sequence of spring, than holiness, trust, love, righteousness, prayer, joy in the Holy Ghost are natural outcomes of the awakening we name conversion. Why is this not always experienced? Because we will not believe the truth of God, and will not taste and see that God is good: because we refuse to be filled with the Spirit, and are slack to go in and possess the land.
III. Spring is a gateway. It is the gateway to the harvest--seedtime first, then harvest. At the gateway of the year, a promise; at the end, fulfilment. A gateway!--A way into the King’s highway; a way to bread and wine, and milk and honey; a way to joy and wealth, and labour and the reward of labour. Wordsworth speaks of “the harvest of a quiet eye.” But every new-born faculty in the life of the converted gathers a harvest for itself. The life becomes fruitful; and the several powers of life bring forth fruit to God. In every form, and along every line by which it comes, we owe to Christ the renewal of life, which leads to these harvests of the soul. His blood was the price He paid for our joys. The death that was ours, He took upon Himself, that we might become the heirs of the life that is His. (A. Macleod, D.D.)
The spiritual aspects of spring
I. As a revelation of God.
1. The profuseness of His vital energy.
2. His wonderful tastefulness.
3. The calm ease with which He carries on His work.
4. The regularity of His procedure.
II. As the emblem of human life. Both in spring and in human life--
1. There are vast capabilities of improvement.
2. There is remarkable changeability.
3. There are many fallacious promises.
4. There is nothing that can substitute for the present.
III. As a symbol of moral renovation. The new spiritual life is like the spring--
1. In the season from which it has emerged.
2. In the tenacity with which the past seeks to maintain its hold.
3. In that it tends to a perfect future.
IV. As a type of the general resurrection.
1. A resuscitation.
2. A resuscitation from apparently extinct life.
3. A resuscitation against which many antecedent objections might have been raised. (Homilist.)
The message of the springtime
From the dawn of literature, poets have sung the praises of the spring. Chaucer, the earliest of the great English poets, tells us that nothing could take him from his studies
“Save certeynly whan that the monethe of May
Is comen, and that I here the foules synge,
And that the floures gynnen for to sprynge,
Fairewel my boke and my devocioun.”
So also Wordsworth sings--
“To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.”
But whether we are poets or not we may yield ourselves to the gentle influences of the spring. How welcome it is after the ice-bound winter. You may see the welcome on many a pale face and in the weary eyes of the invalid to whom it will be the coining of a new life. You may hear it in the happy laughter of children who can now go out to play in the meadows and to gather cowslips by the river’s brim. Spring has the peculiar charm of anticipation. It is like the rosebud to the rose. Not the tired dusty veteran laying his weapons down, but the young and ardent soldier buckling on his armour for the war. Spring is the truest emblem of childhood, and childhood is a springtime which is always with us if we look for it. There is always a new world in the cradle and in the playground. A new generation travels across the planet every thirty years. It is the merciful provision of God by which He stirs up the stagnant pool of our thought and interest. It would be sad indeed if we saw around us the evidences of the mighty power of God in nature, if we felt that sinful and guilty men were like dead branches which nettling could renew. But the Word we preach is a gospel of infinite hope. The infinite love of God, the mercy of a Saviour, and the power of the Spirit hover around the hardest heart and the most deified life seeking to renew and cleanse and to impart the Eternal and Heavenly Life. “Thou renewest the face of the earth,” but it is only a renewal and a repetition of those forms of life which have appeared year after year and age after age. They seem new to us and no doubt culture does introduce some fresh varieties, but practically we look upon the same world as the psalmist did when he wrote these words. And to apply the analogy to human life, we find that there is no new thing under the sun.” They were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage in the days of Noah when the flood came upon the earth, and so will it be when the Son of Man shall come. “Thou renewest the face of the earth,” but it is only the face. The earth itself remains the same. The ripples pass over the face of the great deep. It may even roll in great billows, but beneath is the undisturbed ocean. So while there are processes wrought by raging fires in the heart of the earth which we know little about, while a lonely rock is upheaved or sunk suddenly here and there in some lonely sea, the general configuration of mountain and plain, land and water is unchanged. Or if we go down through the earth’s crust we find that the geological strata were formed long before the historic period. Granite was still granite, coal was still coal chalk was chalk, and the old red sandstone was still there. Or to carry it further back, the ultimate elements of matter wore the same as now and subject to the same laws. In exactly the same way, while the face of human life is renewed, in its depths it is very old. If we measure it intellectually, it has never varied. None of our inventions can add a single ounce to the human brain, or a single capacity to the human mind. We know better how to use the forces of light and heat and electricity, but if we go back to the age which knew none of these things we find teachers as wise, thinkers as subtle, and poets as sublime as those of to-day. The moral and spiritual needs of man are unchanged. Sin and sorrow and death cast their shadow on his path; he is a victim to the same fears; he is facing the religious problems of 3,000 years ago; he lives in the same wonderful relation to the unseen; his most urgent cry is still for God. Therefore the world can never outgrow the answer which Christ offers to its cry. Every age, every condition and period of life may rest upon the rock, which is Christ, just as the wintry ice and the spring flowers rest upon the same substratum of earth. (J. H. Shakespeare, M.A.)
The feeling for nature
In experiencing the rapture of spring, not a few of the excellent rejoice with trembling. They are hardly sure if those who desire to walk close with God should permit themselves to delight in nature. Indifference to earthly beauty has so long been regarded as an almost indispensable condition of viewing the heavenly glory that their hesitation is hardly surprising. The monk who on his journey down the Rhine shut his eyes lest the beauty of the scene should steal away his heart from God was by no means singular in his strange notion. Our Puritan forefathers are charged with holding a somewhat similar view. Possibly by their prohibition of the celebrations of May-day and other festivals of the seasons they may have done something to impair the feeling for nature. Though, truly, if the price to be paid for its cultivation is the restoration of the unrestrained and licentious revels of the Middle Ages, we had better continue without it. But more is due to the attitude which their ideal of the religious life caused them to assume. It is enshrined in Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress.” This world lies in the wicked one. In it the Christian is a stranger and a pilgrim. To participate in the joys and pleasures of this world is to delay his progress to the loved eternal city, and even to jeopardize his final entrance into it. Even though nature should display parts of God’s ways, there was the clearer and fuller revelation of the Scripture and in Christ. Seeing then that that which is perfect is come, where is the wisdom of troubling about that which is in part? A yet more considerable factor is to be found in the philosophic view of God then current. Deism held the field. God was practically outside His universe. Creation displayed the skill of the Creator in the mechanical adaptation of means to end. Design was utilitarian, the design of a carpenter making a tool. Against this hard and unsympathetic presentation of God, those who loved Nature for her own sake, and felt that she was not a machine, but was throbbing with life, revolted with their whole heart; the notion of such a God they flung away, and, like Shelley, proclaimed themselves Atheists. Thereupon also rose a new school of investigation of nature, the standpoint and earlier conclusions of which seemed to run counter to the current interpretation of Scripture. So it came to pass that in earnest Christian circles research into nature was deprecated as likely to result in the abandonment of the Evangelical faith and the denial of God. But times are changing. Denizens of the crowded cities, with their restricted field of vision, their unpleasing and unnatural objects of sight, and their unwholesome atmosphere, begin to cry out against such cruel bondage of their elemental feeling, and to long for open spaces and green swards, for woodland and hill, for stream and valley, for singing birds and the sounds of the country. On grounds of both tradition and tendency, therefore, a somewhat timid and tepid enthusiasm for nature would seem the path of discretion. But is there really sufficient cause for such a position? Indifference to nature is not, and never has been, of itself a sign of spirituality, neither is a quickened pulse in the spring the proof of total depravity. Surely, of all men in the world, the people of God should be most sensitive to the works of God. Those who know Him most intimately should be in closest accord with all that He has created and made. The children of the Old Covenant, as well as the nation that knew not Israel’s God, celebrated the great epochs of the year with festival and sacrifice. They waved the firstfruits of the earth’s increase, and gave thanks for the completed harvest, rejoicing before the Lord in their feast. Search the literature of any nation or any period, and you will find it hard even to equal the appreciation of the majesty, the beauty and the manifold wonder of the works of God as shown in many of the Psalms. I say it reverently--What a Child of Nature was the Lord Jesus Christ. How He delighted in the country and loved the fresh air. His discourses are redolent of the open field. Is it not indeed truer to say that to understand nature you must be a learner of Christ? The more fully you know Him and the power of His resurrection, the more fully nature will yield to you her secrets and increase your pure delight in her companionship. To an inconsiderable degree the new feeling for nature is itself the outcome of the Evangelical Revival. That is the true order. See God in Christ, and you have the key that unlocks the mystery of God everywhere. Already the Christian lives in a new heaven and a new earth; not merely in anticipation, but in experience. “If any man be in Christ, there is a new creation, old things pass away, behold all things become new,” the old world along with them. The world on which he now looks forth all speaks to him of the Father. Despite the sin and the darkness, he obtains joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing flee away. (F. L. Wiseman.)
The message of the spring
One need not be a nature student to be conscious of the charm of spring. The town dweller misses much of its glory, but no less than the more fortunate countryman he feels its genial and irresistible spell. Nevertheless, in springtime the country draws. The restriction of one’s vision by the long and tedious rows of houses is never so irksome as then; nor the roar of the traffic, the clang of the bell, and the vulgar hoot of the motor-car ever so irritating. One longs for a wide and uninterrupted prospect, and the rich colours of the young grass and the bursting foliage. But the Christian, while he delights in the spring for what it is in itself, delights in it still more for what it suggests. He looks beyond the picture to the painter, through the music to the composer, through the work to the worker, through nature to nature’s God, and his attitude is one not of mere sensual enjoyment, or even of intelligent appreciation of wondrous wisdom and skill, bug of adoring gratitude, and glad and thankful worship. “All Thy works praise Thee, O God, and Thy saints give thanks unto Thee.” It is no part of my present business to discuss how far nature witnesses to the existence of God, or what is the character of the God whom it reveals. To these questions the Christian has found the answer elsewhere. In the Gospel he has learnt to trust and rejoice in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. To him, therefore, the witness of nature is not evidential, however clearly it may pronounce upon the great ultimate facts, nor even corroborative, although such might, at times, be highly serviceable, but rather is illustrative. He has seen God in Jesus Christ, and that same God he now sees everywhere present and active. Like the Gospel, the spring is always new. It is a somewhat saddening reflection, but as true as it may be disheartening, that novelty quickly wears away. There is nothing to which we do not get accustomed by use and repetition. But spring, though it never fails to appear at the set time, retains its freshness. Previous experiences, far from removing its charm, seem only to heighten the wonder of its appearance. This very year they have found more gladness in the blossoming trees, in the primroses and daffodils, in the song of the birds and the gambols of the lambs, than ever before! How like the Gospel of the grace of God! That, too, is always fresh. Again, how suggestively spring reminds us of the great saving truths of the Gospel, every year setting before us the great Gospel facts of birth into a new environment, death, resurrection, and glorification. I am not contending that the analogy is perfect, or that it “proves” anything. There is no death, hints the spring, but re-birth, resurrection, abundant life. Christ hath abolished death and brought life and immortality to light. Think once more how the spring sets its seal to the Christian doctrine of God as Father. I do not say that it reveals the Father--Christ does that. But when you have learnt the fact from Christ, you see therein, also, the attributes of a Father. What Fidelity is here, what Power, what Bounty, what Beauty! The God of the spring-tide is a Covenant-keeping God. Seedtime and harvest have never failed. He cannot lie. He abideth faithful. And what power is here! Brother Laurence goes into the field in the winter, and, “seeing a tree stripped of its leaves, and considering that within a little time its leaves would be renewed, and after that the flowers and fruit appear, received a high view of the providence and power of God, which has never since been effaced from his soul.” Which brings me to my last thought, the peculiarly Christian qualities inspired by the spring. It is preeminently the season of joy and gladness, that sentiment so characteristic of “the spring of souls.” It strongly inculcates the abiding Christian qualities, faith, hope, love. Who but finds his faith reinforced through contemplating the works of this covenant-keeping God of grace? (F. L. Wiseman.)
Spring an image of youth
The newness, liveliness, fair appearance, exuberance of the vital principle, rapid growth--such are the flattering points of likeness. But there are also less pleasing resemblances--the frailty and susceptibility, so peculiarly liable to fatal injury from inauspicious influences, blights and diseases. Those who have to watch over infancy, childhood, and early youth, can often see, in smitten plants and flowers, the emblems of what they have to fear for their charge. As in spring, the weeds, the useless and noxious vegetables, the offensive or venomous animals thrive as well as the useful and salutary productions; and that too, not only without attention to assist them, but in spite of efforts to repress or extirpate them. How many a rich bloom of the trees comes to nothing! How many a field of corn promising in the blade, disappoints in the harvest! Under this point of the analogy, the vernal human beings are a subject for pensive, for almost melancholy contemplation. There is one specially instructive point of resemblance. Spring is the season for diligent cultivation; so is youth. What if the spring were suffered to go past without any cares or labours of husbandry! But see how the parallel season of human life is, in numberless instances, consumed away under a destitution of the discipline requisite to form a rational being to wisdom, goodness, and happiness. It may be added, as one more point in this parallel, that the rapid passing away of the peculiar beauty of spring gives an emblem of the transient continuance of the lively and joyous period of human life. (J. Foster.)
The Holy Spirit’s continuous energy
Here we learn that, while death is incessantly destroying the numerous forms of animal and vegetable life, and decomposition reducing them to unorganized matter, the Holy Spirit is constantly supplying a power which replenishes the wastes of nature, and thus renews the face of the earth with successive generations. This vital energy, though, like gravitation, it is unseen, is everywhere present, everywhere active and efficient. Without it all animal existence would soon perish, and be reduced to unorganized matter; but it is the Divine idea and purpose that the ravages of death and dissolution should be counteracted by a perpetual reviviscence of dead matter, and the Holy Spirit’s vitalizing energy, everywhere present and everywhere active, doth accomplish this, and thereby He perpetually “reneweth the face of the earth.” Without the Spirit’s reproductive energy, death would bring universal ruin in a single generation; but the Spirit’s reviving energy arresteth death and disorder, replenishing the earth with continuous life, and clothing it with endless forms of animation and beauty. Moreover, the Spirit’s vitalizing and reproducing energy, in thus neutralizing the ravages of death and disorder, is accompanied by a conserving power which displays His presence and agency in all organized existence. I select one evidence of this--that of instinct. It is evidence of mind, yea, of a high order of mind, and of one presiding and directing mind, everywhere present and everywhere active, pervading every creature, great or small, in earth, air, or ocean. What, then, is this invisible, intangible, inaudible, and ubiquitous presence? If not in the creatures themselves as an attribute of their own nature, it must be in the all-wise beneficent Creator; and their Creator is, as we have seen before, God the Holy Spirit. It is He who in the beginning moved upon the dark chaotic mass of matter and formed it into order and beauty; it is He who hath garnished the heavens and preserved them in constant harmony and grandeur; it is He who continually “reneweth the face of the earth” by His vitalizing energy; and it is He who thus conserves the creatures He has made, by unerringly directing them to perform those remarkable functions which indicate a wisdom not in themselves, and which therefore directs the thoughtful observer to a source higher than the creatures, to that Infinite Source from which all good is derived. (W. Cooke, D. D.)
The Lord shall rejoice in His works.
God’s joy in His works
With the spirit in which the psalmist penned these words, it may be, we have too infrequent and imperfect familiarity. Compelled to frequent acquaintance with grief, we may find the avenues of joy not sufficiently opened up to us.
I. Consider then these “works of the Lord” which rejoice Him. Some of them rejoice us, when we see their use, their beauty, their perfectness. There is a treasure of satisfaction in some of the commonest works of God: they need little interpreting, they speak their own and their Maker’s praise. How they transcend in perfectness all the exactness of art; how orderly are all their encircling movements, rebuking the waywardness of our fickle endeavours; how unselfish is their aim; how lavish their bounty. Nothing purposeless, however incomprehensible to us; nothing without some special mission to accomplish; all depending upon the one loving Will by which they were called into being.
II. But nature’s glory and meaning need interpreting. It may be said that this is the poet’s office. Not quite so, although we justly celebrate our Hebrew bards. Theirs was a real inspiration. The creations of the poet differ in character from the visions of the spiritual seer. And it is not alone to the gifted that this insight comes. Not as the songs written out of the soul of the age do I regard the various rhapsodies of inspired penmen. There must be some deep underlying basis of authority for the pledges their words give us. We are charged by them to believe that the works of God are all tending to some grand issues; that God has given to man to be nature’s lord, so that we must take into our thought what God is doing for him, to read rightly the purpose of all creation. And, to know the secret of nature, we must know the mystery of human life and its apparent failures. The groans of creation await the glory to be revealed in the sons of God. As the ages revolve, they bring all created life nearer to its goal. The throes of the past and the present need to be read in conjunction with the final development and harmony, when the many “works” shall be as one grand work of the Divine Artificer. Faith is not only a struggle against appearances; faith is also a broad generalization, which looks to the ultimate end of all things, and can sing in sympathy with the spirit of the psalmist: “The Lord shall rejoice in His works.” Must we not look to manhood if we would understand infancy?
III. What about the glory and the joy of God in relation to those works and ways which it is the special function of the Christian teacher to unfold and illustrate? Before His presence shall stand dove-like peace, gentle charity, chaste innocence, meek faith, and patient hope, in all the lovely forms they have assumed; here, in maiden modesty and sweetness; there, in martyred truth and righteousness; here, in youthful consecration caught up with its dews flesh upon it; there, in mature devoutness sprinkled over with the snows of venerable age; here, childlike lives, mere buds of moral loveliness taken to blossom amid winterless scenes; there, lives of quiet beauty, readily passed by amid the loud cry for sensational piety. All these form but part of His manifold works, over which, as treasures safely gathered, He will breathe the eternal spirit of unutterable peace; and in which, discerning His reflected image, He will rejoice. Fruits these of His redeeming grace, trophies of His all-conquering mercy, for eternal rejoicing. (G. J. Proctor.)
He looketh on the earth, and it trembleth.
God can shake the world
Earthquakes certainly teach us that human existence in this world is entirely dependent upon God. Probably no natural experience impresses the mind as completely with the sense of utter insecurity. A traveller in South America gives a graphic account of his own helplessness during one of these terrible convulsions. He was in the street when the ground began to rock under his feet. His first impulse was to seek refuge inside a house, and it tumbled into ruins before him. He turned toward the shore, and there was the sea tossing and foaming as if in a storm. He glanced at the hills, but even they were shaken like trees with the wind. All he could do was to stand still, and look towards heaven, which alone was unmoved amidst the upheavings of the globe. He did well, for in God only is perfect safety. All other refuges save His mercy and power are refuges of lies. But none need fear whom He protects. One gladly recalls the remark of the good old lady mentioned by Mr. Spurgeon in a sermon. When her neighbours were in mortal terror, owing to certain vibrations of the ground,, she remained quite calm. “Are you not afraid?” they asked her. “Afraid? No!” was her answer; “I rejoice to know I have a God who can shake the world.” (Sunday Companion.)
I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live.
A joyous faith
The Oriental life differed in a very marked degree from our modern life. For one thing, it was spent more in the open air than is possible in these colder climates; it was a simpler life, coming into contact with nature, open to the influences which nature is sure to have upon the sensitive mind. We gain something, possibly, by living in great cities, but we certainly forfeit something also; we know man better, we are brought more into contact with our fellow-men, but we lose sight of a great deal which might speak, and which does speak to us of the wonderful works of God the frame of mind in which we live habitually, as well as our surroundings, will have much to do with the spirit of our worship. We may be in the condition of men who are overwhelmed by the thought of man and his works, or of money and its influences, immersed in the noise and smoke until the very heavens themselves are hidden from us, and then the charm of creation is gone, or we may do, what some men never seem to do, possess our souls in the midst of it all. It is something to have seen the works of God, to have taken note of them, even if it be only a glance on a starry night at the wonders of the firmament above. And when we look at the world and at life in this way, with eyes of devotion, and see the Lord there, realized as having a personal existence and share in it all, having to do with its being and its well-being, then it becomes impossible to be silent in His praise. The psalmist has not to reason himself into a right feeling about God; the right feeling is there, and so the psalm begins with an outburst of praise. He is a singer because he is a seer. And because he sees, he is full of devoutness and adoration, and sings as easily and naturally as birds sing when they have entered into the gladness and joy of coming spring. “When I think of God,” said Haydn, “my heart is full of joy, the notes dance and leap. I write according to the thoughts I feel.” And Handel, when he wrote his “Hallelujah Chorus,” said he almost saw heaven opening before him. Devout and joyous worship, then, can only arise from a conception of a world and of a Deity like this. Absence of it in men is fatal; to them, as Hazlitt once expressed it, “the heavens have gone farther off, and become astronomical.” The ladder that linked heaven and earth has disappeared; they are not likely to say with David, “The earth is satisfied with the fruit of Thy works,” or, with Jacob, “How wonderful, how dreadful is this place!” And yet the duty of man remains. If he understands his true position he will worship, he must worship. But only in right thoughts and devout meditations will be found the secret of a lifelong praise such as the psalmist promises. “Even so, Father, for so it seemeth good in Thy sight.” A spirit like that may rejoice even in a world like this, and He rejoiced in spirit, for it is the soul which makes the music of life; and therefore fitly and properly this psalm begins and ends, as many another psalm, with: “Bless the Lord, O my soul!” (W. Baxendale.)
Singing to the Lord
I. The psalmist’s determination.
1. That he will sing. He felt that God had given him a voice capable of singing as well as of speaking; that the power to utter sweet sounds in song, and the ear to delight in sweet sounds in song, was a noble faculty of his nature, and that this faculty was to be used in the Divine service.
2. That he will sing to the Lord--not for his own gratification and pleasure merely, nor to amuse his friends. He believed God heard his voice in song as much as He heard his voice in prayer.
3. That he will sing to the Lord as long as he lives.
II. It is instructive to observe how often, and in how many different ways singing is mentioned and enjoined in the Scriptures.
1. It is enjoined by Scripture command and precept. Moses and Miriam, David and Asaph, all unite in similar precepts,--“Sing unto the Lord all the earth, sing unto Him, sing psalms unto Him,” is the burden of their frequent utterance. Gospel precept accords with Old Testament command. The apostles are careful to exhort to the practice (Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:19).
2. Singing is enforced by Scripture argument. We always find this duty of singing to the Lord linked to and connected with other moral duties. The psalmist unites singing and prayer together. In the same psalm we read, “O come, let us sing unto the Lord,” “O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.” Here singing and prayer are conjoined (James 5:13).
3. Singing is enjoined by Scripture example. Moses both pens a psalm, viz. the 90th, and sings a holy song. Miriam led a number of Israelitish women in a joyful song of triumph to the Lord. David earned for himself the title of the Sweet Psalmist of Israel, alike for the psalms he composed and sung. Asaph and Heman, Jeduthun and Ethan, were eminent for the service they rendered to the psalmody of the Temple-worship. Turning to the New Testament, we find the singing of sacred hymns enjoined by the highest example of all (Matthew 26:30). The apostles were addicted to the same practice (Acts 16:25). (J. Shillito.)
1. Singing is the music of nature. The Scriptures tell us “the mountains sing,” “the valleys sing,” “the trees of the wood sing before the Lord.” The air of summer is filled with melody of birds.
2. Singing is the music of the Ancient Church. Pliny makes mention in a letter he wrote to the Emperor Trajan, that the Christians of those times being gathered together before day, sang hymns and praises to Christ as God. Paulinus testifies that this practice overspread every province of the Western Church. Justin Martyr tells us that in his time they sang and sent up prayers to God. Beza confesses that at his first entrance into the congregation, hearing them sing the 91st Psalm, he felt himself exceedingly comforted, and did retain the sound of it afterwards upon his heart. St. Augustine reports of himself, that when he came to Milan and heard the people sing, it was the occasion of his conversion. His words in his Confessions are, “When I remember my tears at my conversion under the melody of Thy Church.”
3. Coming to more modern times, we find the same practice not only in vogue, but also of greater practical advantage. The reformation in Germany, under Martin Luther, was greatly promoted by singing. Luther taught the children to sing hymns, expressing the great truths of the Gospel. The children went about the streets singing these Gospel hymns, and thus conveying the truth on every hand. The Romanists said “Luther has done us more harm by his songs than by his sermons.” The followers of Wickliffe and Huss were named psalm-singers. In later times the great religious movements and revivals, which have greatly aided the spread of religion, have been more or less connected with singing to the Lord.
4. Singing is the music of heaven. The glorious saints and angels express their praises in this way, and make one harmony in their state of blessedness. This is set forth in many passages of the Book of Revelation. (J. Shillito. )
The soul on the wing
Birds are seldom taken in their flight; the more we are upon the wing of heavenly thoughts the more we escape snares. (T. Manton.)
“Clocks converted to chiming”--such were the words that caught the writer’s eye in an advertisement of a watchmaker’s wares. “Conversion to chiming“ is precisely what many need now-a-days. In the midst of gloom and worry, what a call there is for bright Christians who can advertise the grace of God, which is able to dispel all sorrow and care! Many are converted who yet are far from chiming, and they require the change which can fill their lives with a music never dying, ever singing. Then there is a thought in the chime which may stimulate us. Chimes are striking constantly--often every quarter of an hour, always every hour. How about our testimony for Christ? Is that as frequent as it ought to be? Are we not often silent instead of chiming Christians? (Signal.)
My meditation of Him shall be sweet.
Meditation upon God
I. The meditations of a pious man--he meditates on God. Meditation is the action of the thoughts upon subjects which present themselves to the mind. As man is by nature, the quality of his thoughts is said to be evil. The Redeemer, when on earth, pointed out the connection existing between the heart and the deportment of life (Matthew 12:34).
1. The pious man meditates upon the excellency of the Divine character. His holiness, His justice, His truth, His love, His mercy, His grace, His faithfulness, are all great parts in His infinite goodness.
2. The pious man meditates upon the works of God as they are seen in creation. Here every object has the mark of Divine power stamped upon it. These wonderful mountains, whose tops point to the clouds; these vales, these fields, and majestic forests; the whole of this earth which is beneath our feet, and the whole of yonder heavens which are above our heads, declare the glory of God, and show forth His handiwork. Now, a good man does not pass through the world without observing these things; and, in all these works, the Christian can behold his God.
3. The pious man meditates upon the goodness and wisdom of a Divine providence in the wonderful and ample provisions which He has made. Though there are mysteries deep and dark in the dispensations of Divine providence, yet the goodness of its character is evident.
4. The pious man meditates upon the love, the grace, the mercy, and the wisdom of God as they are manifested in the glorious plan of human redemption. This is the principal feature, the grand bearing of Scripture: to reveal God, to reveal Him in that lovely character, the God of grace--yea, the God of all grace.
II. The character of the pious man’s meditation. “My meditation of Him shall be sweet.”
1. To meditate upon the Lord gives strength to the mind. The more we know of God the more will we trust in Him; the greater will be our spiritual courage, and the more feeble will be our own fears.
2. Meditation of a pious nature upon God will give pleasure. Indeed, there is nothing that gives pleasures of an immortal nature but religious meditations. The very poorest of individuals, straitened in circumstances and despised by men, yet, if he loves God and meditates upon the Most High, he has more real pleasure of soul than the greatest of impious monarchs upon earth.
3. Religious meditation in a pious frame of mind will enable the Christian to forget his other cares--not to forget them so as to be carelessly unmindful of the necessary duties and lawful concerns of life, but he forgets them so as not to be spiritually injurious to his soul. (D. V. Phillips.)
The sweetness of meditation
Meditation is the calm and quiet dwelling of the mind upon a great fact, till the fact has time to get into the mind and pervade it with its influence. It is the quiet thinking on single truths; the dwelling of the mind upon them; the steady setting of attentive thought, drawn away from other things, and concentrated on this alone.
I. The text implies a personal relationship--that is, the relation of the human person who thinks towards a Divine Person on whom he meditates. All through the psalm, from end to end, it is not a thing, nor an abstract truth, but a living being who is presented. The psalmist speaks of things indeed. The objects from which he derives illustrations of the glory of God are taken from the realm of nature, although it is evident to a sanctified intellect that the writer uses the wonders of nature to express the yet deeper wonders of grace. He speaks of the glories of the sky; but it is God who covereth Himself with light, who maketh the clouds His chariot and walketh upon the wings of the wind. Sweeter yet should our meditation be, in proportion as our knowledge is greater, and the acts of love on which we have to dwell are more marvellous. But the ground of joy must be the same to us as it was to the psalmist. We see God not only as Creator, but as Redeemer. Not the doctrine, but Himself; not the Book, but the august Jesus, whose grand figure fills it from Genesis to Revelation; not the Church, but He in whom the Church believes--Jesus Himself, with none between the soul and Him; Jesus is our all in all.
II. Whence comes the sweetness of this exercise? It is sweet to think of the love of Christ, and especially to realize that we, with all our conscious unworthiness, are the objects of it. That love is wonderful in itself, wonderful in its freedom and spontaneity, wonderful in its eternal duration, wonderful in the depth of suffering it led our Lord to endure, wonderful in the tenderness and affectionate sympathies of His heart towards the wants and weaknesses of His people. Again, it is sweet to dwell on the love-tokens of our absent Saviour. If a loved one be far parted from us, have we not pleasure in the letters which tell us of constant love and undying affection? Yet what are they to the actual intercourse, daily maintained between Christ and His people? Can we not tell Him of our love in prayer and praise? What are the sacraments but meeting-places with Christ, the salutations of His mercy and His love? Is it not sweet to think of the bonds which knit us together with Him in a union indissoluble as His immutable promises? Lastly, is it not sweet to anticipate the time when we shall meet Him, “whom, not having seen, we love,” etc.? We shall see Him face to face in the reality of His presence, and dwell with Him for ever. (E. Garbett, M.A.)
The sweetness and profitableness of Divine meditation
I. What this meditation is. In Scripture it is called a thinking upon God (Psalms 48:9), a remembering of God (Psalms 63:6), a musing on God (Psalms 143:5). Meditation is the work of the whole soul. The mind acts, and the memory acts, and the affections act. “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart:” it is an intense and a vehement application of the soul unto truth.
II. How and in what respects may a man be said to meditate on God?
1. When a man doth meditate on the name, nature, titles and attributes of God, then he is said to meditate on God.
2. When a man doth meditate on Christ the Son of God, then he is said to meditate on God, for Christ is God; and therefore saith the apostle (Hebrews 3:1).
3. When a man doth meditate on the Word of God, the law and statutes of God, then he is said to meditate on God (Psalms 1:2).
4. When a man doth meditate on the works and concernments of God (Psalms 77:11-19.77.12).
III. How may it appear that it is a sweet thing to meditate on God? Is it not a sweet thing to enjoy God? Enjoyment of God is the life of our lives. And how do we enjoy God? Sometimes God doth come down into our souls; sometimes there is an ascent of the soul unto God. And what is the ladder whereby we ascend unto God, and take our turns in heaven with God, but believing meditation? It is a sweet thing for a good and gracious man to meditate on God and the things of God, because it is natural to him. Natural works are pleasant works. It is a help to knowledge, thereby your knowledge is raised. Thereby your memory is strengthened. Thereby your hearts are warmed. Thereby you will be freed from sinful thoughts. Thereby your hearts will be tuned to every duty. Thereby you will grow in grace. Thereby you will fill up all the chinks and crevices of your lives, and know how to spend your spare time, and improve that for God. Thereby you will draw good out of evil. And thereby you will converse with God and enjoy God. And I pray, is not here profit enough to sweeten the voyage of your thoughts in meditation? But hard work, you say, and therefore how can it be delightful? The harder the nut is to crack, the sweeter the meat when it is cracked; the harder the Scripture is that is to be opened, the sweeter is the kernel, the truth when it is opened. Would you meditate on God and the things of God with sweetness? When you are most fearful, put your thoughts upon that in God which is most cheerful; when you are most cheerful, put your thoughts upon that in God which is most dreadful; evermore divide your thoughts if you be to meditate on God, and the name, and nature, and attributes of God. In case you would meditate on Christ the Son of God, be sure of this, that you think on Christ, and meditate on Christ as your great example as well as your gift, and your gift as well as your example. In case you would meditate on the works of God, be sure of this, that you look upon all the works of God as enamelled and embroidered with so many attributes of God; for the more you see the attributes of God shining forth upon His works, the more sweetness you will take in the meditating thereof. (W. Bridge, M. A.)
The work and way of meditation
I. It is our work and duty to meditate on God and the things of God. Wicked men are blamed that God is not in all their thoughts (Psalms 10:4). Good and holy men are commended and rewarded for this (Malachi 16, 17). It is our duty to praise the Lord. Not only to be thankful to God upon the account of benefits received, but to praise the Lord upon the account of His own excellencies. And how should the heart be tuned and framed unto this praising of God, but by meditation on the name and nature and titles of God? (Psalms 48:1). How doth he tune his heart to this praise? “We have thought of Thy lovingkindness, O God.”
II. This work of meditation is every man’s work, it is every day’s work, and it is that work that is consistent with every business and condition.
1. It is every man’s work.
(1) It is the work of the wicked, for it is their first step to conversion.
(2) It is the work of the godly. For, either he is weak or strong. If weak, he has need of it that he may be strengthened; if strong, that he may be quickened. If a beginner, he ought to meditate, that he may proceed; if a proficient, that he may be perfect; if perfect with Gospel perfection, that he may hold on his perfection.
2. It is every day’s work. Is the Sabbath Day unfit for it? No; there is a prayer for the Sabbath (Psalms 92:1-19.92.15), to meditate on the works of God. Is the week day unfit for this work of meditation? No. The Sabbath Day is our market day; and then after we have bought our market on the Sabbath, we should roast it by meditation on the week. We do not go to the market on the market day, to buy meat into the house only for the market day, but for all the time until the market day comes about again.
3. As it is every day’s work, so it is that work that is consistent with every business and with every condition: a garment that will fit the back of every condition. What dunghill condition, but this flower of meditation may grow thereupon?
III. What help or what means to this work of meditation?
1. Be very sensible of your want, and of your neglect herein.
2. Labour more and more for a serious spirit.
3. A fixed spirit.
4. Intenseness of affection.
5. If you would indeed meditate on God and the things of God, be sure that you lay out such objects as may give entertainment to your thoughts. For if there be no corn in the quern, what grinding will there be?
6. If you would meditate on God and the things of God, strengthen your love and delight; for meditation grows upon the stalk of love and delight: and the more a man doth love God and the things of God, the more he meditates thereon.
7. Labour to get a deep impression of the things of God upon your heart and souls.
8. Take heed that your hearts and your hands be not too full of the world, and the employments thereof.
9. Go to God for this skill of meditation.
IV. How should this work of meditation be carried on with sweetness and success?
1. In all your retirements be sure that you retire into God Himself.
2. Take heed that you be not legal in this work.
3. Be sure of this, that nothing fall within the compass of your meditation, but what falls within the compass of the Scripture.
4. In all your settled meditation, begin with reading or hearing. Go on with meditation; end in prayer. For as Mr. Greenham saith well: Reading without meditation is unfruitful; meditation without reading is hurtful; to meditate and to read without prayer upon both, is without blessing.
5. If you would have this work of meditation carried on with profit and sweetness, join with your meditation the examination of your own souls.
6. Observe what those times and seasons are that are most fit for meditation, and be sure you lay hold thereon.
7. Though there is a great deal of profit and sweetness to be found in this work of meditation, and it is every day’s work, yet take heed that you do not so meditate on one of God’s excellencies as to neglect another; nor so spend your whole time in the work of meditation, that this work of meditation should eat up other duties: God would have us rise from this work of meditation, as from any other duty, with a hungry appetite. (W. Bridge, M. A.)
I. The proper objects of it. The truths revealed in the Word of God, the doctrines and precepts, the invitations and warnings, the promises and threatenings of the Gospel, in all their bearings and relations to the temporal and eternal concerns of mankind, and more especially with reference to our own spiritual state.
II. The benefits resulting from it. It is by reflecting often and earnestly upon holy things that the affections become excited, and the heart filled with a sense of their unspeakable importance.
III. The best method of promoting and conducting it.
1. Meditation should be regular and frequent,.
2. To make our meditations profitable, we should pray and strive to be enabled to conduct them with holy and devout affections.
3. We should cultivate all the powers of the spiritual understanding, and all the graces of the renewed heart.
4. We should learn to reflect upon the blessings treasured in the Gospel in connection with our own wants, and should endeavour so to ascertain the reality of our religious character as to feel that we are not uninterested spectators, but real inheritors of all that we survey. (Anon.)
On meditation as a means of grace
Meditation is much neglected. And perhaps to that change in the manners and habits of religious people, which has brought family instruction comparatively into disuse, is it to be attributed that meditation is so little practised. Owing to a variety of causes, the Christian has been drawn of late years more into public life; and time has been occupied in forwarding the spiritual good of others, which, in former days, would have been devoted to reading, meditation, and prayer.
I. The nature of meditation. Meditation may be set, and at regular times, or habitual and unprepared. And doubtless those Christians who are favoured with a contemplative habit of mind, have much enjoyment in its exercise, and find it very profitable. While engaged in the ordinary business of life, they can maintain the recollection of spiritual things in the mind. And where persons are so constituted as to possess, in a considerable degree, the power of abstracting themselves from other things, there is never a want of time, place, or subject for meditation. But meditation, in the usual sense of the word, means deep, clone, and steady thinking:--retired and secret contemplation. It is not self-examination nor self-communion, though intimately, if not necessarily, connected with both. It is the settled, quiet, serious thinking over any point or subject;--ruminating upon it;--pondering it in the mind. It is in the beautiful language of the psalmist “musing”: “I remember the days of old; I meditate on all Thy works; I muse on the works of Thy hands.” In considering meditation as subservient to the best interests of the soul, the subject on which it is employed must be spiritual; some of the “things by which men live, and in which is the life of the Spirit.” The state of our own souls,--our past lives,--the dealings of God with us,--and the various truths of God revealed to us in the Scripture, may well form subjects for profitable meditation. And by meditation on truths, we would understand the remembering, and retracing, and dwelling on such in our minds, as we have been previously taught, and made acquainted with, rather than the investigation of points which as yet we are but feeling after.
II. The usefulness of meditation.
1. The practical influence of the truth can only be known and felt, when it is habitually present to the mind. A truth absent from the mind is for the time of no more influence than if it were altogether unknown, or disbelieved. Whatever be the direct tendency of any truth,--whatever be the effect which it is calculated to produce,--whether peace in the conscience,--joy in the heart,--mortification of sin,--the raising of the affections to high and heavenly things,--love to God and Christ,--the patient suffering and cheerful doing of the Lord’s will,--it cannot have that tendency in us,--it cannot produce that effect in us, if it be as a forgotten thing. But it is not possible that any truth should be thus habitually present to us, unless it be more or less the subject of meditation. The mind does not otherwise become fully imbued with it: though we do understand it, and acknowledge it, and believe it; we are not leavened with it; it is not become a part and parcel of our own minds. If the acquisition of knowledge be compared to the reception of food, then meditation is as digestion, which alone converts it into the means of sustenance and vigour. It is thus also, in no slight measure, by the mind dwelling upon spiritual things, that men become more and more spiritual. The contemplation of the character of our Lord, as revealed in the Word of God, is the ordained means of conforming His people to His likeness (2 Corinthians 3:18).
2. Again, it is by meditation that we apply to our own cases the things which we hear and read. Great excitement, or impression and conviction, may be produced by preaching, and yet, unless recalled and revived by meditation, may very soon entirely pass away. Who has not been a wonder to himself, that he should remember so little of a discourse which, at the time, pleased and interested him; and yet in a week scarcely any traces are retained;--a dim, indistinct, general notion is all that remains floating in the memory. The simple reason is, because it was never digested; never by subsequent meditation made our own. Like a language imperfectly learned, it is soon forgotten.
3. Meditation is useful, and a means of grace, as it is a medium of holding communion with God. The psalmist said, “My mediation of Him shall be sweet; I will be glad in the Lord.” And though, doubtless, the love of meditation has, in some instances, degenerated into the error of those who make the whole of religion to consist in a meditative habit of mind--in quiet contemplation--still we must not forget that it is a means of grace, and that the people of God often enjoy much blessed intercourse with Him in thought, in solitude and in silence.
4. Meditation is also useful, as preparatory to other duties; for instance, prayer. We should consider beforehand our object in prayer, and what we intend to make the subject of our requests.
III. Hints on meditation.
1. It is difficult. Scarcely is any duty more repugnant to the natural man. He cannot bear to shut himself up to commune with his own spirit, and with God alone. And at this we need not be surprised; though it is not to our present purpose to show, that in his ignorance and unbelief, regarding God as his enemy, “he therefore likes not to retain God in his knowledge.” But whence the difficulty to the Christian believer? Meditation is difficult to many persons, because it is with them almost an impossibility to think steadily, and intently, and continuously on any subject, for any length of time. They cannot control and concentrate their minds. They have thoughts, but they cannot think. The mind flies off, and will not be fixed down to one point. And besides, it is difficult to meditate on spiritual things, because of the sad reluctance of even the renewed mind, through the influence of remaining evil, to be occupied with what has more immediate reference to the soul, to God, and to eternity. Hence it is, that time, which was sincerely intended to be passed in meditation, is to our sorrow and shame not unfrequently frittered and trifled away in vagaries, vain and profitless.
2. As to the most suitable time for meditation, that depends altogether on circumstances. They who cannot command opportunities, will be enabled at those intervals, which even the busiest can create, to settle their thoughts in pious meditation; and in the wakeful hours of the night to revolve in their minds the words and the works of God. “I remember Thee on my bed, I meditate on Thee in the night-watches.” Those, whose time is at their own disposal, should choose that portion of it which, by experience, they find most advantageous. Bishop Hall and Mr. Baxter loved the tranquil evening-hour, the twilight stillness; and the latter speaks thus on the subject: “I have always found the fittest time for myself is the evening, from the sun-setting to the twilight.” And, lastly, let us never forget, that if meditation is to be a means of grace, it must be made effectual to that end by the power of the Holy Spirit. In common with all other means, it is entirely dependent on His grace and blessing. (Christian Observer.)
I. Meditation upon God is a high and elevating mental act, because of the immensity of the object. “Behold the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee,” said the awe-struck Solomon. Meditation upon that which is immense produces a lofty mood of mind. Says the thoughtful and moral Schiller: “The vision of unlimited distances and immeasurable heights, of the great ocean at his feet and the still greater ocean above him, draws man’s spirit away from the narrow sphere of sense, and from the oppressive stricture of physical existence. A grander rule of measurement is held out to him in the simple majesty of nature, and environed by her great forms he can no longer endure a little and narrow way of thinking. Who knows how many a bright thought and heroic resolve, which the student’s chamber or the academic hall never would have originated, has been started out by this lofty struggle of the soul with the great spirit of nature; who knows whether it is not in part to be ascribed to a less frequent intercourse with the grandeur of the material world, that the mind of man in cities more readily stoops to trifles, and is crippled and weak, while the mind of the dweller beneath the broad sky remains open and free as the firmament under which it lives.” But if this is true of the immensity of nature, much more is it of the immensity of God. For the immensity of God is the immensity of mind. The infinity of God is an infinity of truth, of purity, of justice, of mercy, of love, and of glory.
II. Meditation upon God is a sanctifying act, because God is holy and perfect in His nature and attributes. The meditation of which the psalmist speaks in the text is not that of the schoolman, or the poet, but of the devout, saintly, and adoring mind. That meditation upon God which is “sweeter than honey and the honey-comb” is not speculative, but practical. That which is speculative and scholastic springs from curiosity. That which is practical flows from love. All merely speculative thinking is inquisitive, acute, and wholly destitute of affection for the object. But all practical thinking is affectionate, sympathetic, and in harmony with the object. When I meditate upon God because I love Him, my reflection is practical. True meditation, thus proceeding from filial love and sympathy, brings the soul into intercourse and communion with its object. Such a soul shall know God as the natural man does not, and cannot. True meditation, then, being practical, and thereby bringing the subject of it into communion with the object of it, is of necessity sanctifying. For the object is Infinite Holiness and purity. It is He in whom is centred and gathered and crowded all possible perfections. And can our minds muse upon such a Being and not become purer and better?
III. Meditation upon God is a blessed act of the mind, because God Himself is an infinitely blessed being, and communicates of His fulness of joy to all who contemplate it. Mere thinking, in and of itself, is not sufficient to secure happiness. Everything depends upon the quality of the thought, and this again upon the nature of the object, upon which it is expended. There are various kinds and degrees of mental enjoyment, each produced by a particular species of mental reflection; but there is no thinking that gives rest and satisfaction and joy to the soul, but thinking upon the glorious and blessed God. There is a strange unearthly joy, when a pure and spiritual mind is granted a clear view of the Divine perfections. I rejoices with a joy unspeakable and full of glorying. All finite beauty, all created glory, is but a shadow in comparison. (G. T. Shedd, D.D.)
Meditation on God
I. The exalted, incomprehensible nature of Him who is the object of our meditation.
1. The source of being, the author and parent of all that exists. If the acts of almighty power should produce reverence and awe--if the displays of unerring wisdom should excite admiration and esteem--if the exertions of unbounded goodness should command gratitude and love--devout meditation on the Source of being should be attended with feelings of pure delight.
2. The source of all moral excellence. What beauty is, in material objects, moral excellence is, among rational beings: it is that which renders them at all attractive, and to the reflecting, and cultivated mind, is the direct object of esteem and love.
3. Let us recollect that these excellencies exist in One with whom we are most intimately connected, and that they are all continually exercised in our belief.
4. In surveying the circumstances of ourselves or others, we cannot shut our eyes on the painful and trying situations in which, by the providence of God, men may at times be placed. But this presents another most amiable view of the Supreme Being as attending to the different circumstances of His creatures, and accommodating His dealings to their respective characters, and situations.
5. There is yet another character in which He appears, that claims our most attentive regards, and which must call up our most ardent affections. And this is--As the Saviour of His offending and wretched creatures. Doomed to death, and destined to return to dust, He is to raise us from the grave, free us from all imperfections, place us beyond the reach of sorrow or the possibility of suffering, enlarge our powers, extend our knowledge, perfect our characters, introduce us into the society of angels, and crown all His gifts with everlasting life.
II. In all these characters our meditation of Him should delight the soul; because all that is great, and excellent, and glorious, and good, and attractive, passes before our minds in contemplating the character, the works, the ways, and the purposes of God; objects, the contemplation of which, not only gives scope for the exercise of its noblest powers, but excites all the most pleasing affections of the soul; reverence, esteem, love, gratitude, faith and hope. (R. Bogg, D.D.)
Meditation on God, the pleasure of a saint
I. How we should meditate on God.
1. We should meditate upon the perfections of God: His immensity and eternity, to fill us with fear and reverence; His power, as our protection and defence; His wisdom, to fill us with praise and admiration; His holiness, to excite us to imitate Him, and to abhor sin; His truth, to encourage our belief in His promises; His justice, to make us dread being obnoxious to His wrath, and to magnify His judgments to ourselves and others; His goodness, which is the sweetest theme to employ our thoughts upon, it being His most amiable perfection. Well might David say (Psalms 48:9).
2. Upon His works.
(1) His works of creation. Thus we read: “The works of the Lord are great,” etc. (Psalms 111:2; Psalms 8:3; Job 36:24-18.36.25).
(2) His works of providence. How wisely and graciously God governs, preserves, and provides for His creatures, and upholds the world He has formed, and His special providences towards ourselves, and keep a memorial of them!
(3) The work of redemption. Herein the perfections of God are wonderfully displayed.
3. Upon His Word. Christ requires it (John 5:39). In this is the godly man’s delight (Psalms 119:11; Psalms 119:92). Moses recommended it to the children of Israel (Deuteronomy 11:18; Deuteronomy 6:6-5.6.7). The Word of God should dwell in us richly: it should be often in our hands, but oftener in our hearts.
4. Upon the future glory of God. If heaven were more in our thoughts, we should lead a more heavenly life.
II. At what special times we should meditate on God. He desires to be in all our thoughts, and the continual companion of our minds, and the delight of our souls. But we should meditate upon Him more especially--
1. In our seasons of private retirement: then the mind enjoys itself most, and then it may enjoy God most (Genesis 24:63).
2. In the time of trouble and affliction (John 2:7; Hosea 5:15). This is a time when we can think more impartially of God, of the things that are above, and of the true interest of our souls. On a bed of sickness, it gives delight and refreshment, strengthens the weak heart, and sweetens the bitterest pains.
3. By night on our beds (Psalms 42:8; Psalms 63:6). Paul and Silas (Acts 16:25). We should endeavour to close our eyes in the love of God, and in peace with Him, that our slumbers may be sweet.
III. The happiness arising from such meditations. The soul is insensibly warmed with love to God, while it views Him, and runs over his adorable perfections. The thoughts of His power establish and strengthen him. The thoughts of His wisdom resign him to all His providences. And the thought of His eternal love and goodness fill him with triumph in hope and joy. The more we are with God, the more shall we have of God and of His image in us. Moses came down from the mount with a heavenly brightness on his countenance. Holy meditation will prepare our hearts for every duty and ordinance. Finally, it will help us to live above the world, and be a means for fitting us for death and eternity. (T. Hannam.)
I. The performance implied--Divine meditation. God’s servants are much employed and taken up in the thought of God, in holy and Divine meditation. Reasons--
1. The gracious and heavenly frame and temper of a Christian soul, being sanctified and renewed by grace.
2. The servants of God are much in thoughts and meditations of Him, because as their hearts are made like unto Him, so (which also follows thereupon) fastened upon Him.
3. They are much employed in Divine exercises, prayer, reading and hearing the Word, etc.; and these performances suggest holy thoughts and meditations.
4. From the Spirit of God dwelling in them.
II. The qualifications expressed--pleasantness or sweetness.
1. The attributes of God, there’s a great deal of delight in thinking upon them in their several kinds.
(1) The power of God, how much sweetness is there in that to a Christian that shall seriously consider it and think upon it, that God is almighty, and all-sufficient, and can do whatsoever He pleases both in heaven and earth, as the Scripture represents Him.
(2) The goodness and mercy of God, there’s a great deal of sweetness in that also to be sucked out by us in meditation, that the Lord is gracious, and merciful, and long-suffering, and pitiful; there is very much contentment in it.
(3) The wisdom of God, to meditate on that also, that He is great in counsel, etc., and the Scripture proclaims Him, that He can foresee all events, and discern all hearts, and search into the secret corners of the soul.
(4) The truth and faithfulness of God, the God that keeps covenant and mercy, that is true to all His promises, and that performs whatever He undertakes.
2. The Word of God which is a part of Himself, the meditation on that is sweet also. If we look into Scripture we shall find variety of gracious intimations suited to particular conditions; now, these cannot but be very comfortable to those that are in them, in sickness, in poverty, in captivity, in temptation, and the like, and we cannot better provide for our own comfort, and contentation in them, than by thinking and meditating upon them in our own minds; and where we are not furnished with particulars, yet at least to close with the generals, which have a miraculous sweetness in them also: I mean such promises as are made to God’s children at large; that God will give His Spirit to them that ask it. That no good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly, that He will never leave them, nor forsake them. That all things shall work together for good to them that love Him.
3. The works of God, the meditation on them also, it is very sweet, and that in all kinds.
(1) His works of creation, to consider of them, as they are all very good and beautiful considered in their nature and kind, so the contemplation on them is also remarkable (Psalms 8:1, etc.).
(2) The works of Providence, how sweet it is to meditate on these also, to reflect upon all ages, and to consider what great things God has done for His Church and people in them. What mercies He has bestowed upon them, what deliverances He has wrought for them; and that also sometimes after what a strange and miraculous manner: it is very delightful to think of it.
(3) The works of redemption, how sweet is it likewise to meditate on these: to meditate upon God in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:18). This is the sweet meditation of all, and without which we cannot meditate upon God without any true comfort or contentment.
III. The qualifications required.
1. A savouriness and heavenliness of spirit, as it is this which must put men upon such meditations, so it is this only which must make them relish and take delight in them.
2. A special love to God.
3. A persuasion of the love of God to him.
4. A special sense of a man’s own wants. (T. Horton, D. D.)
The sweetness of meditation on God
The Hebrew word which is here used signifies three things especially, and each of them very considerable of us. First, meditation; secondly, prayer; thirdly, discourse. According to the former notion, it signifies the sweetness which is in Divine and spiritual contemplation, and the musing on heavenly matters; according to the second motion, it signifies the sweetness which is in Divine and spiritual communion and converse with God in prayer. According to the third notion, it signifies the sweetness which is in holy and religious conference, and the speaking of God one to another. All of them very useful and profitable duties, and such as are to be practised by us.
I. First, take it in the first sense: meditation on God is sweet. And the sweetness of it should stir us up to the putting of it in practice. We have very great cause to be careful what we meditate and pitch upon in our thoughts, which are of great importance to us, and that as they are a very great discovery of the frame and temper of our hearts. There’s nothing which does more show what men like, than their meditations. Flittering and transitory thoughts, which do pass through the mind, but do not stick, they are not such an infallible discovery, because they may not have that tincture and impression of the soul upon them. But meditations they have much of the will in them, and are carried with more deliberation attending upon them. And therefore it concerns us to look to them, and to see what they be in us; and of this nature that we now speak of, we should cherish in ourselves as much as may be these holy and heavenly meditations which are of God, and things belonging to Him, as being such as He takes special notice and observation of in us (1 Timothy 4:13-54.4.14). First, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine, and then meditate upon these things. And so much of the first notion of this word, which is here used in the text, as it denotes Divine contemplation, and meditation on the things of God, there’s a great deal of sweetness in this.
II. The second is, as it denotes, converse and communion with God in prayer. There’s no friends that have such mutual complacency and contentment in one another’s society as God and His servants have in One another; it is pleasing to them to think of God, but to speak to Him, and He to them is a great deal more comfortable; when the heart opens itself at any time to God, and He again returns upon it, there’s most unspeakable contentment in it.
III. The third notion of this word in this text is discourse, which refers to the communion of saints, and the converse of Christians one with another. Christians find a great deal of contentment in holy and religious communication; not only when they think upon Him within themselves, which is meditation, not only when they speak unto Him, which is done in prayer, but also when they speak of Him, and about Him in converse, and Christian discourse. (T. Horton, D. D.)
Meditation on God
I. A very profitable exercise--meditation. Do not imagine that the meditative man is necessarily lazy; contrariwise, he lays the best foundation for useful works. He is not the best student who reads the most books, but he who meditates the most upon them! he shall not learn most of divinity who hears the greatest number of sermons, but he who meditates the most devoutly upon what he does hear; nor shall he be so profound a scholar who takes down ponderous volumes one after the other, as he who, reading little by little, precept upon precept, and line upon line, digests what he reads, and assimilates each sentiment to his heart by meditation,--receiving the word first into his understanding, and afterwards receiving the spirit of it into his own soul.
1. Meditation is the couch of the soul, the rest of the spirit.
2. Meditation is the machine in which the raw material of knowledge is converted to the best uses.
3. Meditation is to the soul what oil was to the body of the wrestlers. Who are the authors to write your books, and keep up the constant supply of literature? They are meditative men. They keep their bones supple and their limbs fit for exercise by continually bathing themselves in the oil of meditation. How important, therefore, is meditation as a mental exercise, to have our minds in constant readiness for any Service!
II. A very precious subject. “My meditation of Him shall be sweet.” To whom does that word “Him” refer? I suppose it may refer to all the three Persons of the glorious Trinity: “My meditation upon Jehovah shall be sweet.” And, verily, if you sit down to meditate upon God the Father, and muse upon His sovereign, immutable, unchangeable love towards His elect people,--if you think of God the Father as the great Author and Originator of the plan of salvation,--if you think of Him as the mighty Being who, by two immutable things, wherein it is impossible for Him to lie, hath given us strong consolation who have fled for refuge to Christ Jesus,--if you look to Him as the Giver of His only-begotten Son, and who, for the sake of that Son, His best gift, will, with Him also, freely give us all things,--if you consider Him as having ratified the covenant, and pledged Himself ultimately to complete all His stipulations, in the ingathering of every chosen, ransomed soul, you will perceive that there is enough to engross your meditation for ever, even were your attention limited to the manifestation of the Father’s love. Or, if you choose to do so, you may meditate upon God the Holy Spirit. Consider His marvellous operations on your own heart,--how He quickened it when you were dead in trespasses and sins,--how He brought you nigh to Jesus when you were a lost sheep, wandering far from the fold,--how He called you, with such a mighty efficacy,--how He drew you with the bands of love which would not let you go. But I prefer rather to confine this word “Him” to the person of our adorable Saviour: “My meditation of Him shall be sweet.” Ah! if it be possible that the meditation upon one Person of the Trinity can excel the meditation upon another, it is meditation upon Jesus Christ. Jesus may be compared to some of those lenses which you may take up, and hold in one way, and you see one light; you hold them in another way, and you see another light; and whichever way you turn them, you will always see some precious sparkling of light, and some new colours starting up to your view. Ah! take Jesus for the theme of your meditation, sit down and consider Him, think of His relation to your own soul, and you will never get to the end of that one subject.
III. A very blessed result. “My meditation of Him shall be sweet.” What a mercy that there is something sweet in this world for us! We need it, I am sure; for, as for most other things in the world, they are very, very bitter. “My meditation of Him shall be sweet;” so sweet, that all the other bitters are quite swallowed up in its sweetness. Have I not seen the widow, when her husband has been called away, and he who was her strength, the stay and sustenance of her life, has been laid in the grave,--have I not seen her hold up her hands, and say, “Ah! though he is gone, still my Maker is my Husband; ‘The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away;’ blessed be His holy name”? What was the reason of her patient submission to the will of God? Because she had a sweet meditation to neutralize the bitterness of her reflections. And do I not remember, even now, seeing a man, whose property had been washed away by the tide, and whose lands had been swallowed up, and become quicksands, instead of being any longer profitable to him? Beggared and bankrupt, with streaming eyes, he held up his hands, and repeated Habakkuk’s words: “Although the fig tree shall not blossom,” etc. Was it not because his meditation on Christ was so sweet, that it absorbed the bitterness of his trouble? And oh! how many, when they have come to the dark waters of death, have found that surely their bitterness was past, for they perceived that death was swallowed up in victory, through their meditation upon Jesus Christ! (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The sweet and the sweetener
I. First let us talk about the sweet: “My meditation of Him shall be sweet.” “Of Him”--that is, of the Well-beloved of the Father, of the Well-beloved of the Church, of the Well-beloved of my own soul; of Him who loved me, in whose blood I have washed my robes, and made them white;--it is meditation “of Him” that is sweet; not merely of doctrine about Him, but of Him, of Himself; “my meditation of Him”--not merely of His offices, and His work, and all that concerns Him, but of His own dear self. There lies the sweetness; and the closer we come to His blessed person, the more truly we have approached the very centre of bliss. But let me dwell a minute on that first word: “My.” Not another man’s meditation, which is afterwards related to me, but my own meditation of Him shall be sweet. Make meditation of Christ to be your own personal act and deed; grasp Him for yourself, and hold Him by the feet.
II. Now let us turn to the second part of the subject, the sweet as a sweetener: “My meditation of Him shall be sweet.” That is to say, first, it shall sweeten all my other sweetnesses. If thou hast honey, and thy hands are full of it, be cautious how thou eatest of it, for thou mayest eat honey till thou art sick of it; but if thou hast a great store of honey, put something sweeter than honey with it, and then it will not harm thee. I mean, if God has given thee joy in thy youth, if thou art prospered in business, if thy house is full of happiness, if thy children sing about thy knee, if thou hast health and wealth, and thy spirit danceth with joy, all this by itself may curdle and spoil. Add to it a sweet meditation of thy Lord, and all will be well; for it is safe to enjoy temporal things when we still more enjoy eternal things. If thou wilt put Christ upon the throne, to rule over these good things of thine, then all shall be well. But I need not say much about this point, because, at least to some of us, our very sweet days are not very long or very many. The comfort is, that this sweetness can sweeten all our bitters. There was never yet a bitter in the cup of life but what a meditation upon Christ would overcome that bitterness, and turn it into sweetness. If thou art poor, get thee to Him who had not where to lay His head, and thou wilt even seem to be rich as thou comest back to thy place in the world. Hast thou been despised and rejected? Do but look on Him on whom men spat, whom they cast out, saying that it was not fit that He should live, and you will feel as if you never had true honour except when you were, for Christ’s sake, despised and dishonoured. You will almost feel as if it was too great an honour for you to have been contemned for His dear sake, who bore the shame and the spitting and the cruel cross for your sake. Yes, the best sweetener of all temporal troubles is a meditation upon Christ Jesus our Lord. One thought more. Our text might be read thus, “My meditation shall be sweet to Him.” We are going to uncover the table of communion directly; you will have nothing to think of but the body and the blood of Him by whose death you live. That meditation will, I trust, be very sweet to you; but this fact ought to help to make it so, that it will be “sweet to Him.” Jesus loves you to love Him, and he loves you to think of Him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
There are reflective moments in all lives, but set times for meditation are not as frequent as they might be.
I. Meditation in general. It is not the pressing act of mind, as when pursuing knowledge, or seeking to unravel some mystery, but the mind, in its own seclusion, dwelling calmly and seriously on matters affecting life and death.
1. Retrospect. We have a wonderful grasp of the past in spite of the ravages of time. Sometimes meditation produces a profounder impression than the event itself. The lesson which this teaches is our sense of responsibility. We cannot wipe out the past. Inasmuch as there is a possibility of the present becoming past, care should be taken that its memories shall be sweet.
2. Introspect. To dwell on things around us in a cool moment is of great value to life. Men who live by rushes often make mistakes. The busiest man would facilitate his work by reflection on the nature of things immediately affecting life. The true estimate comes after a calm examination.
3. Prospect. In nature the future is the sequence of the present,--summer follows winter. Human life is built on the same plan, therefore the acts of to-day ought to be considered in relation to the morrow.
II. Religious meditation in particular. God can only be known to us through His works. Certain portions of the work are beautiful, and they lead us to a contemplation of God, as the consummation of every attraction. Some translate the words,--“My meditation shall be acceptable to Him.”
1. When centred upon Himself. It is not an uncommon thing that children who have left home, after a while forgetting to write. After the lapse of years they have need to write, and how acceptable to the parents to hear from them. The Divine Father delights to see the wandering heart coming home again. To think upon, when reconciled to Him, is the sweetest thought that can enter the human breast. “Call upon Me, and I will answer thee.”
2. When we think according to His own will. Meditation may take a wrong turn, and dwell upon matters in the wrong spirit. Many people brood over their cares, and make their lives miserable. The train of thought which brings sweetness to the breast is the fact that by every step He draws us nearer to Himself. The nearer the fountain the clearer the water. The highest joy of the soul is communion with God.
3. When our meditation ends in a closer walk with Himself. There can be no virtue in recalling matters, or causing the mind to dwell on objects which have neither an intrinsic nor a relational value. Let us meditate upon one Jesus Christ--our Prophet, Priest, and King. The theme is endless. Nothing can surpass the beauty of the Rose of Sharon. In eternity the soul shall dwell on the glory of His person, and join in the anthem of His praise. (Weekly Pulpit.)
1. Let there be greater solicitude cherished, so to meditate on the presence of Christ as to make us conscious that we are with Him. Then the thought of His presence will be connected with a subduing power and friendly influence.
2. To meditate, and so to meditate on the character of the Shepherd of Israel, until we are sensible that He is leading us in the paths of righteousness, for His name’s sake. To protect and sustain, are views of Him eminently calculated to impart the feelings of safety and supply.
3. Meditate, and so meditate on the power of subduing grace, until it is felt that the dominion of sin is becoming increasingly weak.
4. Meditate, and so meditate on the ability and qualifications of Christ aa the great Teacher, until the soul feels at home with His instructions. What a teacher, and what instructions! One who is infinite in knowledge teaching the ignorant. How patient and compassionate is the great and loving Instructor! How ready to open the understanding and the heart!
5. Meditate, and so meditate on the love of Christ until that love is felt in the heart,--felt as a heavenly impulse bearing the soul onward and upwards,--felt in its hallowed and stirring emotions, as a heavenly fire kindled upon the altar of the broken and contrite heart, and burning there night and day.
6. Meditate, and so meditate on the promised Spirit of Christ, that there may be now the earnest of what is to come. Meditation on the work and office of the Spirit of Christ, is to find that there has been not only a work finished on Calvary, but that there is a work also going on in the believing heart. It is to know that there is not only wealth and light in Him, but to have that wealth and light within. (Anon.)
Meditation on God a delight
Foster, the essayist’s natural tendency to solitary meditation never showed itself more strikingly than in his last hours. Aware of the near approach of death, he requested to be left entirely alone, and was found, shortly after he had expired, in a composed and contemplative attitude, as if he had thought his way to the mysteries of another world.
I will he glad in the Lord.--
The province of the will in Christian experience
The Christian, in common with the great majority of men, recognizes the force of the will in the realm of circumstances. We cannot say, I will be rich, I will be great, I will be successful--this would be presumptuous and vain; yet in the realm of circumstances we allow the reality and significance of willing. We can hope to be little or to do little without firm purpose and resolution. So far as character is concerned, the Christian maintains the sovereignty of the will. In fierce and bitter temptation we are bound to interpose our resolution and keep ourselves pure. The sanctified will is equivalent to all practical righteousness But as Christians we do not sufficiently recognize the force of will in regulating the soul’s moods. We sit down as perfectly helpless, and permit sentiments of coldness, fear, and melancholy to rule us in the most despotic fashion. “I will be glad in the Lord.” Often we resign ourselves to sadness and gloom; we feel that to fight with melancholy is to smite with a sword the fluid air. But the psalmist thought otherwise: he felt that he could command the sunshine. We too may vanquish these moods of the night and walk in the day. We acknowledge, as I say, the dominion of the will in all questions of conduct; we have power to speak what is true, to do what is kind, to act in consistency with wisdom and righteousness. But we must not forget that there is a morality of feeling as well as of conduct. In a true sense coldness of heart is a sin equally with a lapse in action, fear is a sin as well as dishonesty, and sadness is a sin as well as selfishness. The will has a wider dominion than we sometimes think, and we are responsible for our moods as well as for our doings.
1. To will aright gives the mind the right attitude. How important this is! We fail to secure various blessings because we have not the proper attitude and bias of soul. To will aright is to put the soul in position to see great truths, to receive precious gifts. It is part of the preparation of the heart, without which we cannot receive the answer of the tongue.
2. To will aright fixes the mind on the right objects. In coldness think of God’s love and beauty; in fear sing of His faithfulness; in every sorrow remember the word of grace strong as that which built the skies, the hope of glory which shall not make us ashamed. Your miserable moods will vanish then as ghosts before the morning lights.
3. To will aright gives to the mind the right impetus. The will is a cause, a master cause. What amazing vigour a resolute volition shoots through the whole of Christian life and experience! (W. L. Watkinson.)
O my soul
The soul (to children)
You have a soul. A stone can be seen and felt, weighed and measured; but it has no life. A flower is superior to a stone, because it has a certain kind of life. A dog is more valuable than a flower, because he possesses a higher form of life. He has all the five senses which you have. He has also instinct and sagacity, by which he does a great many wonderful things. Now, your bodies are not so hard as the stone; they are not so beautiful as the flower; and there is no little boy here who could run as swiftly as the dog. Nevertheless, you are far more valuable than the stone, the flowers, and the dog; yea, you rise above everything that is material, vegetable, and animal, because you have souls within your bodies. It is your duty to care for both. Try to preserve your bodies from everything that would injure them. Be very anxious about the salvation of your soul.
II. Your soul is full of life. This life is not to be compared to that which is either in the flowers or in the animals; it does not depend for its continuance, as they do, upon such things as light and heat, wind and rain. The soul, under the blessing of God, moves itself, and the body too in which it dwells. It is your souls which cause your eyes to see, your ears to hear, your tongues to speak, your hands to work, and your feet to walk. Now, you all know that everything in which there is life requires food. Our bodies could not live unless they were nourished from day to day. As it is with all these things, so is it with the soul. Unless it is strengthened with food it must become exceedingly weak. You also know that the same kind of food will not suit everything in which there is life. What kind of food, then, does the soul require? The truth as it is in Jesus, and the truth about Jesus, is the food for the soul.
III. Your soul is distinct from and independent of your body. When the Spaniards went first among the Indians they were on horses. And what do you suppose the poor, ignorant Indians thought? They thought that there was no difference between the horse and the rider, but that both were the same person. Even so, there are many men who have the conviction that there is not any distinction between the soul and the body. They believe that both are composed of the same material, and that both are buried in the same grave. This is a dangerous error. You have all heard of the telescope. The astronomer looks through it to the sun, the moon, and the stars. If the telescope were taken from the astronomer and destroyed he would no doubt be grieved, but that would not destroy him. Well, the body is the telescope through which the soul looks out upon men and things. It is, as Dr. Watts has said, “the harp of a thousand strings, which keeps in tune so long.” It is, as Eliphaz said many years ago, the house in which the soul lives. When death comes, and takes away the beauty, the strength, and the life of the body, that does not interfere with the soul. During that hour the soul goes away, like the Arab from his tent, or the bird from the cage, to the place in eternity for which it has been prepared.
IV. Your soul has a number of wonderful powers.
1. There is the understanding. As it is with the eyes of the body that we see the things by which we are surrounded, so it is with the understanding that we perceive truth and error. The two disciples who were walking towards Emmaus with Jesus had their understandings opened by Him. This enabled them to comprehend the meaning of the Scriptures as they had never done before. If you pray to Jesus for the same blessing, He will grant it, for--“Ask and ye shall receive.”
2. There is the judgment. As it is with the hand that the farmer sometimes separates the chaff from the wheat, so it is by the judgment that we distinguish right from wrong. A good judgment is most invaluable in a world such as this is. In order to secure it, be close observers of all you see and hear; think for yourselves upon every subject which comes before you, and keep the company of those who are older and wiser than yourselves.
3. There is the memory. We might compare it to a museum, for we have hung up around it the pictures of the places we have seen and admired, and the portraits of the persons we have known and loved. We might also compare it to a book, for we write upon it the figures and the names, the facts and the truths, which we wish to retain. Trust your memories as much as possible. By this means you will strengthen them, and in after years they will be to you faithful and useful servants.
4. There are the affections. You have seen the ivy. It is deeply rooted in the soil; it entwines itself around the old tree or the old cottage, and adds considerably to their beauty. Your affections resemble the ivy. With these you can grasp persons, places, and books. “Set your affections on things above.” Love to be truthful, honest, benevolent, and pure, in thought, word, and deed.
5. There is the conscience. A judge in a court of law sits calmly upon the bench. He watches all that is done, he listens to all that is said, and then he pronounces the verdict either by setting the accused person free, or by sending him to prison for a certain time. Conscience is very much like the judge. It observes all your thoughts, words, and actions; and while it smiles upon the good, it frowns upon the bad. Listen to the voice of your conscience. It is a good guide; keep on good terms with your conscience by hating every wrong thing, and only doing that which is right. This will contribute largely to your peace of mind.
6. There is the will. The will is the commander-in-chief, both of the body and the soul. Learn to obey your parents cheerfully, promptly, and continuously. Tips will prepare you to obey others with pleasure who shall be over you when you go out into life.
V. Your soul will never die. Abel’s soul is still living, and so is Cain’s. There was a time when your souls were not in existence, but the time will never come when they shall cease to be. Prepare, therefore, to meet God, by giving your hearts and lives to Christ, that you may be perfectly happy in eternity.
VI. When your soul leaves the body at death, it will go to see Jesus the Judge. Time does not dim the eyes of the soul, affliction does not touch them, and over them death will have no power. How soon after death will you see Jesus? In a very short time. He said to the penitent thief upon the Cross, “To-day shalt thou be with Me in paradise.” (A. McAuslane, D.D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 104". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent