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I love the Lord, because He hath heard my voice and my supplications.
Christian experience and its results
I. The psalm opens with a general declaration of gratitude to God, as the hearer of prayer (verse 1).
I. The true believer is a man of prayer.
2. Another feature of the child of God is conviction of sin (verse 3).
3. He is one who can testify that the Lord has answered his prayers: one who has tasted the sweetness of Divine mercy (verses 5, 6, 8).
4. He seeks his happiness from God, and looks to the bosom of God as the only resting-place for his soul (verse 7).
II. The results of Christian experience.
1. A deep sense of gratitude, and a desire of manifesting the same (verse 12).
2. A special resolve to manifest his gratitude, by a devout attendance on ordinances, appointed of God as the public and solemn expression of thanksgiving and self-dedication (verses 13, 14). (W. Hancock, B. D.)
The religion of gratitude
We trace this religious gratitude--
I. In a profound impression of God’s relative kindness. His relative kindness is shown in two ways.
1. In delivering from distress. The distress seemed to have consisted
(1) In bodily suffering.
(2) In mental sorrow.
2. In delivering from great distress in answer to prayer.
II. In an earnest confession of God’s relative kindness.
1. His general kindness (verse 5).
2. His personal kindness (verse 6).
III. In a determination to live a better life in consequence of God’s relative kindness. Here is a determination--
1. To rest in God (verse 7).
(1) The soul wants rest. Like Noah’s dove it has forsaken its home, and is fluttering in the storms of external circumstances.
(2) Its only rest is God. It is so constituted that it can only rest where it can find unbounded faith for its intellect, and supreme love for its heart. And who but God, the supremely good and supremely true, can supply these conditions?
(3) To this rest it must return by its own effort. “Return unto thy rest, O my soul.” The soul cannot be carried to this rest. As you steer the sea-tossed bark into harbour, so it must go itself into the spheres of serenity and peace.
(4) A sense of God’s relative kindness tends to stimulate this effort. “The Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee.” “The goodness of God shall lead to repentance.”
2. To walk before God. “I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.” “I will set the Lord always before me.” Whoever else I may lose sight of, ignore, or forget, His presence shall always be before my eye.
IV. In a public acknowledgment of God’s relative kindness. (Homilist.)
Prayer answered, love nourished
The particular objects which you are now to look back upon are the manifold and manifest answers to prayer, which God has given you.
I. The first thing I would have you recollect is, your own prayers. If you look at them with an honest eye, you will be struck with wonder that ever God should have heard them. Look back now, Christian, upon thy prayers, and remember what cold things they have been. Thy desires have been but faint, and they have been expressed in such sorry language, that the desire itself seemed to freeze upon the lips that uttered it. And yet, strange to say, God has heard those cold prayers, and has answered them too, though they have been such that we have come out of our closets and have wept over them. Then, again, believer, how unfrequent and few are your prayers, and yet how numerous and how great have God’s blessings been. Ye have prayed in times of difficulty very earnestly, but when God has delivered you, where was your former fervency? Look at your prayers, again, in another aspect. How unbelieving have they often been! You and I have gone to the mercy-seat, and we have asked God to bless us, but we have not believed that He would do so. How small, too, the faith of our most faithful prayers! When we believe the most, how little do we trust; how full of doubting is our heart, even when our faith has grown to its greatest extent! I am sure we shall find much reason to love God, if we only think of those pitiful abortions of prayer, those unripe figs, those stringless bows, those headless arrows, which we call prayers, and which He has borne with in His long-suffering. The fact is, that sincere prayer may often be very feeble to us, but it is always acceptable to God. It is like some of those one-pound notes, which they use in Scotland--dirty, ragged bits of paper; one would hardly look at them, one seems always glad to get rid of them for something that looks a little more like money. But still, when they are taken to the bank, they are always acknowledged and accepted as being genuine, however rotten and old they may be. So with our prayers: they are foul with unbelief, decayed with imbecility, and worm-eaten with wandering thoughts; but, nevertheless, God accepts them at heaven’s own bank, and gives us rich and ready blessings, in return for our supplications.
II. Again: I hope we shall be led to love God for having heard our prayers, if we consider the great variety of mercies which we have asked in prayer, and the long list of answers which we have received. It is impossible for me to depict thine experience as well as thou canst read it thyself. What multitudes of prayers have you and I put up from the first moment when we learnt to pray! You have asked for blessings in your going out and your coming in; blessings of the day and of the night, and of the sun and of the moon; and all these have been vouchsafed to you. Your prayers were innumerable; you asked for countless mercies, and they have all been given. Only look at yourself: are not you adorned and bejewelled with mercies as thickly as the sky with stars?
III. Let us note again the frequency of His answers to our frequent prayers. If a beggar comes to your house, and you give him alms, you will be greatly annoyed if within a month he shall come again; and if you then discover that he has made it a rule to wait upon you monthly for a contribution, you will say to him, “I gave you something once, but I did not mean to establish it as a rule.” Suppose, however, that the beggar should be so impudent and impertinent that he should say, “But I intend, sir, to wait upon you every morning and every evening:” then you would say, “I intend to keep my gate locked that you shall not trouble me.” And suppose he should then look you in the face and add still more, “Sir, I intend waiting upon you every hour, nor can I promise that I won’t come to you sixty times in an hour; but I just vow and declare that as often as I want anything so often will I come to you: if I only have a wish I will come and tell it to you; the least thing and the greatest thing shall drive me to you; I will always be at the post of your door.” You would soon be tired of such importunity as that, and wish the beggar anywhere, rather than that he should come and tease you so. Yet recollect, this is just what you have done to God, and He has never complained of you for doing it; but rather He has complained of you the other way. He has said, “Thou hast not called upon Me, O Jacob.” He has never murmured at the frequency of your prayers, but has complained that you have not come to Him enough.
IV. Think of the greatness of the mercy for which you have often asked him, We never know the greatness of our mercies till we get into trouble and want them. God’s mercies are so great that they cannot be magnified; they are so numerous they cannot be multiplied, so precious they cannot be over-estimated. I say, look back to-day upon these great mercies with which the Lord has favoured thee in answer to thy great desires, and wilt thou not say, “I love the Lord because He has heard my voice and my supplications”?
V. How trivial have been the things which we have often taken before God, and yet how kindly has He condescended to hear our prayers. In looking back, my unbelief compels me to wonder at myself, that I should have prayed for such little things. My gratitude compels me to say, “I love the Lord, because He has heard those little prayers, and answered my little supplications, and made me blessed, even in little things which, after all, make up the life of man.”
VI. Let me remind you of the timely answers which God has given you to your prayers, and this should compel you to love Him. God’s answers have never come too soon nor yet too late. If the Lord had given you His blessing one day before it did come, it might have been a curse, and there have been times when if He had withheld it an hour longer it would have been quite useless, because it would have come too late.
VII. Will you not love the Lord, when you recollect the special and great instances of His mercy to you? You have had seasons of special prayer and of special answer. What shall I say then? God has heard my voice in my prayer. The first lesson, then, is this--He shall hear my voice in my praise. If He heard me pray, He shall hear me sing; if He listened to me when the tear was in mine eye, He shall listen to me when my eye is sparkling with delight. My piety shall not be that of the dungeon and sick-bed; it shall be that also of deliverance and of health. Another lesson. Has God heard my voice? Then I will hear His voice. If He heard me, I will hear Him. Tell me, Lord, what wouldst Thou have Thy servant do, and I will do it. The last lesson is, Lord, hast Thou heard my voice? then I will tell others that Thou wilt hear their voice too. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Reality of answer to prayer
A prayer is an appeal from helplessness to power. No wonder that prayer in its prompting and incentiveness is always attributed to the Holy Spirit. David says, “He has heard my cry and my supplications.” All the language is not on one side. I sent a letter to a certain city across the Atlantic, believing that the mail would carry my missive, that the British flag under which the mail ship sailed would protect her in safety across the Atlantic, and that thus my epistle would reach its destination. In due course a reply comes, showing that my expectations were fulfilled. You could not reason me out of my belief; you might go into discussion about the mighty leagues of ocean that separate Glasgow from Chicago, but you could not reason me out of my belief when I had that reply in my hand. There are men who as literally and as definitely have had a reply from God to their cry. They can say with David, “God has heard my voice and my supplication;” they have got the proof; they have received the reply. (J. Robertson.)
Love of God in the heart
“I love the Lord.” Can you say that? There is a bell in Moscow that never was hung and never was rung. It is one of the largest bells in the world, but its clapper has never swung against its great echoing sides. There is many a human heart that was placed where it is to beat with love to God; but, like the bell, it has never been hung and never been rung. Dead, lost soul, your heart was made to love God. Will you let it lie there, as they let the Moscow bell lie in the courtyard amid the dust and rubbish and daily defilement of the palace? Would you not rather pray, and strive, and agonize that your heart should be hung, and that it should be rung in a melody of love to God? (J. Robertson.)
Because He hath inclined His ear unto me, therefore will I call upon Him as long as I live.
Answers to prayer confirm habits of prayer
Philip Henry, after he had been engaged in prayer for two of his children that were dangerously ill, remarked, “If the Lord will be pleased to grant me this my request concerning my children, I will not say, as the beggars at our door used to do, I’ll never ask anything of Him again;” but, on the contrary, “He shall hear oftener from me than ever;” and I will love God the better, and love prayer the better, as long as I live.”
The sorrows of death compassed me.
To souls in agony
I. First, here is the wretched condition into which many a poor awakened soul has been brought.
1. Many a troubled conscience feels the sorrows of death; that is to say, he is the subject of griefs similar to those which beset sinners on their dying beds. They are all around him--these sorrows of the past, and the present, and the future.
2. Awakened sinners sometimes feel what they describe as the pains of hell: not that any living man does endure the pains of hell to the extent which they are suffered in hell, but still a dreadful foretaste of those pains may he experienced by an awakened conscience. What are these pains of hell? Remorse; a sense of condemnation; a terrible despair; a crushing sense of misery.
3. But the case was worse than this, for the poor soul felt no alleviation and knew of no escape. These things were by themselves, unsoftened, left in all their terror, the gall was unmixed, the vinegar undiluted. Notice the language. “The sorrows of death compassed me.” It is a very strong word. When the hunters seek their prey they form a cordon around the poor animal that is to be destroyed. The poor panting creature looks to the right, but a man with a spear is there, he looks to the left and there are the dogs. Before and behind him are more spearmen, more hounds, more hunters; there is no way of escape. So does an awakened soul discern no rescue, no loophole by which it may be delivered. The text says, “The pangs of hell gat hold upon me.” “Gat hold,” as if the jaws of the lion had really gripped the lamb, or the paws of the bear were hugging the poor defenceless sheep. “Gat hold upon me,” as though God’s terrible sergeant from the court of justice had laid his band upon his shoulder, and said, “I arrest thee in the name of God to lie in hell’s prison, and perish for ever.” Many a soul has felt that, and felt also that it could not get away from the terrible grip.
4. Once more, the psalmist felt no comfort from any exertion that he made. That takes in the last sentence of the text’s description. “I found trouble and sorrow;” so that he looked for something, but the only result of his search was that he found trouble and sorrow. Do you remember, in the days when you were under bondage on account of sin, how you bound yourself apprentice to Moses to work out your own salvation by your own goodness? What did you get? Surely you found trouble in the work, and sorrow as its wages. You found trouble and sorrow. Perhaps you went to Mr. Legality, and he and his son, Mr. Morality, did what they could for you; but if you were really awakened all that you got from them was trouble and sorrow. That was the whole result of it.
II. The awakened sinner’s course of action. What did he do? First, he called--called upon God’s name, lifted up his heart, and lifted up his voice, and called as a man might do who is lost in a fog and calls to a neighbour, hoping to hear a voice that will guide him; or as one who is far away in the bush of Australia and gives a call in the hope that some human voice may respond to it. This call is often described as a cry--a natural, simple, inartificial, unpleasant, but most effectual style of expressing our distress. Oh, sinner, if God has really been at work with you, and put you where I have been describing, you will call to God now. Now, notice, he says, “Then called I upon the name of the Lord.” The sinner had forgotten the Lord till then, and now the Lord came to his remembrance. When did he call? That is the important point in this text. “Then called I upon the name of the Lord.” Then. Was that the first time in his life? Perhaps it was. Begin at once, O sinner. When his condition was at its very worst, then he called upon God. Why did he not stop till he became better? He knew that delays are dangerous. And now for his prayer. Here it is--“O Lord, I beseech Thee, deliver my soul.” A very natural prayer, was it not? He just said what he meant, and meant what he said, and that is the way to pray. It is a very short prayer. Many a prayer is too long by twenty times. It is smothered under a bed-full of words. It was a humble prayer: “O Lord, I beseech Thee.” It is the language of one who is bowed into the dust. It was an intense prayer: “O Lord, I beseech Thee, deliver my soul.” But I want you most of all to notice that it was a scriptural prayer. There are three great little prayers in Scripture,--’O Lord, I beseech Thee, deliver my soul;” “God, be merciful to me a sinner;” and, “Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom.” These are all contained in the Lord’s Prayer. “O Lord, I beseech Thee, deliver my soul,” is “Deliver us from evil.” “God be merciful to me a sinner,”--what is that but “Forgive us our trespasses”? And what is the prayer, “Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom,” but that grand petition, “Thy kingdom come”? How wonderfully comprehensive is that prayer which our Lord Jesus has given us for a model. All prayers may be condensed into it, or distilled from it.
III. Deliverance (verse 8). He gained a great deal more than he asked for. He prayed, “O Lord, I beseech Thee, deliver my soul,” and God delivered his soul from death, his eyes from tears, and his feet from falling. He asked for one thing, and he obtained it, and two other things besides; for it is our Heavenly Father’s way to do exceedingly abundantly above what we ask or even think. He gained deliverance from death; for souls can die though they cannot cease to exist. They die when separated from God; all souls are dead until by union to God they are quickened into spiritual life. His eyes were also cleared from tears. Who is not free from sorrow when he is free from the fear of the death-penalty? Forgiveness brings joy at its heel wherever it comes. And then, having gained salvation and joy, the Lord gave him stability. Those feet that were so apt to slide were set fast, and the fear of future apostasy was removed by the gracious securities which God gave to him that He would never leave him. Thus he had a blessing for his soul, his eyes, and his feet--salvation, joy, and stability. The last word to be said is this--these same blessings can be had by others. “Gracious is the Lord and righteous; yea, our God is merciful.” That is why the Lord heard David’s prayer--because He is gracious, and He loves to show grace to sinners. It was also because He is righteous, and therefore keeps His promise. Remember, too, that if your distresses are like David’s you may use the same prayer, because you have the same promises. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I was brought low and He helped me.
God’s method of helping
Thousands of times has this experience of the psalmist been repeated. It is the Divine method. Bring low and then help. Cast down and then lift up. There are some diseases of the human system which the skilful physician thus treats. He begins at once to deplete and bring down the patient, reducing him little by little till the unskilled observer trembles lest life itself will depart. But at the right moment when the disease has been expelled the restoratives are applied, and a new life enters into the system. And there is a rapid and healthy building up. Brought low he has been helped. So in all God’s gracious dealings with human souls, this is His method. Take the process in conversion. First comes the terrible conviction. The soul discovers depth after depth of the evil within it, till it seems as though its condition were absolutely hopeless. And when this process is complete, and the soul is thoroughly cast down, brought low, then the Infinite Helper stretches forth His hand. Then power from on high comes. And thus through all the stages of the Christian life. The soul is brought low, pride is humbled, lofty looks are brought down, and then the help comes. Was is not thus with poor sinning Peter? He had grown self-reliant. He could even boast of his resolution and firmness. But when the trial came he was weaker than weakness itself, and fell; terribly, disgracefully fell. He wept bitterly. But just when the humiliation was complete he was reinstated in his office, and commissioned to feed Christ’s sheep. He was brought low and he was helped. Ask the aged and experienced disciple of to-day how it had been with him in the long years of his pilgrimage. He will tell you that he has many times been laid low, even in the dust, and just then he has been helped. Divine help is neither welcomed nor appreciated till the soul is taught its need of it in the stern school of experience. The process may not be pleasant at the time, but an infallible, Physician superintends it. (Anon.)
Return unto thy rest, O my soul, for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee.
The gate to rest
The psalmist exhorts his soul to return unto its rest; not because it has heard of God, or has seen His power in nature; not because He recognizes Divine order in the universe, not because his poetical feeling is kindled by the thought of Divine majesty and glory, but because he has had personal dealings with God. “Return unto thy rest, O my soul, for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee.” I supplicated Him, He “heard” my supplication, I was brought low, He “helped” me: He “delivered my soul from death.” He wiped the tears from my eyes and gave His angels charge to keep my feet from falling. Therefore, on my side, I too, will deal with Him. I will “call” upon Him: I will “rest” in Him: I will “walk before” Him: I will “believe” in Him: I will “pay my vows” to Him. We really need get back to the old Hebrew conception of God’s relation to man. But we never can do so through any conception of God which makes Him less than a personal Father in heaven. Now, let us look at three questions in the light of this thought of the soul’s rest, all of them practical questions which every thoughtful man asks. “Whence do I come? How shall my life be ordered? Whither am I going?” No soul is at rest until it can answer these three questions; and no soul will ever find rest until it shall have found its answer in God.
1. As to the first of these questions--“Whence did I come?” Modern thought is seeking rest for itself, not in God, but in scientific theories of the origin of man. We have no fault to find with such researches. All I say now is that the scientist does not give you anything restful, even if he succeeds in proving that God had no hand in your creation. You go on craving a leather in heaven just the same. You are restless as ever, no less restless than the child who knows his mother is in her grave, but who, nevertheless, cries for her unceasingly. You want the truth, but may not your filial instinct be truthful? May not your sense of sonship be a sense of a stupendous truth?
2. How shall I live? How make the most and best of life? What guides shall I follow? Here again we find a point of rest only in a personal God, a God of providence, who interferes (I am not afraid of the term) in our affairs. You may prove, if you can, that your life moves on under the guidance of mere, settled, mechanical order. That conclusion will not give you rest. If this world of men which we see and of which we are a part, with all its clashing and contradiction, its triumph of evil and its struggle of good, is uncontrolled by a Supreme Will, if men like grains of sand, merely fly before the wind that drives them against the rocks and against each other, if change, and sickness, and ruin, and death come just as the water shoots the precipice, just as two and two make four,--it is but mockery to point our souls to such a conception of life and say, “Return unto thy rest, O my soul.” We can obtain a calm, restful outlook upon life, a tranquil, cheerful participation in life only as we get back to God. We find these only when Christ leads us as He led the disciples of old to the market, and points to the little dead sparrow, and says “Your Father marked its fall; fear not, ye are of more value than many sparrows.” We shall not be frightened at a mystery, provided we know God is behind it.
3. And, once more, the soul finds no rest as regards the question of destiny, until it finds it in God. Whatever restful thought of heaven we have, whatever knowledge of its conditions we have, comes entirely from the moral quality of heaven, and therefore from the thought of God; for, take out God from the universe, and no determinate moral quality is left anywhere, in heaven or in earth. Heaven is heaven to us because God is there; because God’s law rules there absolutely; because its happiness is the happiness of perfect moral order. (M. R. Vincent, D.D.)
The soul’s rest
“There would seem,” says James Martineau, “to be an incurable variance between the life which men covet for themselves and that which they admire in others; nay, between the lot which they would choose beforehand and that in which they glory afterwards. In prospect, nothing appears so attractive as ease and licensed comfort; in retrospect, nothing so delightful as toil and strenuous service.” The truth of this remark is being repeatedly impressed upon us both by public and private circumstance. It does seem as if Providence had conditioned us to a lot of labour and struggle,--nay, forced it upon us,--while our first aim is to smooth our path and prepare the way for an after happiness which consists in rest and passive pleasure. Born for contest, we ask for repose. We would skip, if possible, the drill and the discipline, and clutch at once the prizes of victory. How many of us go through life like complaining school-children,--doing our tasks, it may be, but longing for the time when books shall be put aside and all lessons come to an end! But, notwithstanding the prevailing extent of this desire for repose and the fallacious arguments with which we attempt to cover our own delinquencies in the matter, human nature, in its inmost heart, is sound, and honours no repose which is not honourably achieved by contest and victory. Human nature is to be judged, not by the standard which individual men live by, or even set for themselves, but by that which they most admire in others; and that must be regarded as the aim of humanity at large, which, though exhibited in the attainment of but a single individual, gathers about it the greatest number who applaud and revere it. Who but the brave, who but those who against all obstacles have contended manfully and unflinchingly and kept their integrity to the bitter end, have ever been adopted as the models or worshipped as the heroes of mankind? How immeasurably more has the world admired the character of Socrates for refusing to avail himself of the plan of his jailer, who had been bribed to aid his escape! These two points, then, seem to be clearly established: first, in the midst of the toil, trials, and struggles of our lot there is an instinctive craving within us for rest; and yet, secondly, the standard of life which we also instinctively place the highest, and which, at the bottom of our hearts, we do most really admire, is that in which there is the least of rest. Solve this seeming paradox, and we shall answer the question of what the soul’s rest is. We crave for rest, it is true; and the desire is so universal that it must be regarded as instinctive. But, like all our instincts, the desire is blind. Instinct does not see and consciously choose its end, but gives only direction toward a certain satisfaction which human nature requires in order to fulfil its destiny. What is the extent and character of that satisfaction, not any one instinct or desire, but the whole nature, must determine. What, then, is the kind of rest which the human soul demands, and which alone can satisfy its desires? The rest that our natures crave is not the repose of passivity, of listlessness, of sleep, but the rest of healthy spiritual life,--of life in accordance with the laws of our being, which are laws of progressive activity, and, if obeyed, put us into harmony with the spirit and peace of God. The rest that we want is like the rest of the heavenly bodies, which, though all may be in rapid and varied movement, are yet at peace with regard to each other, because moving according to the harmony of a Divine law. And such rest as this we can have, though in the midst of labour and trial and conflict. It is the rest to which Jesus invited the “weary and heavy-laden”; the rest, not of those who have thrown their burdens off or would impose them upon others, but of those who would have taken upon them the yoke of God’s law, and find the “yoke easy” and the “burden light,” because, through obedience to this law, a mighty strength and a mighty peace have come into their being. (W. J. Potter.)
The Christian’s disposition under a sense of mercies received
I. The state of those with whom the Lord hath dealt bountifully.
1. The Lord hath dealt bountifully with those from whom He hath removed any affliction under which they groaned, and for deliverance from which they prayed.
2. The Lord hath dealt bountifully with you, if you can observe a particular mark and signature of His providence in your mercies.
(1) When the means by which any mercy is brought about are extraordinary, and far beyond the reach of human wisdom, it serves to show that God Himself hath been their help.
(2) Sometimes the providence of God is seen in the season of the mercy. It is bestowed when it is most needed, or when it may be of greatest use.
(3) The signature of providence is sometimes seen in the nature of the mercy, when it is exactly suited to the state and character of the person concerned.
3. The Lord deals bountifully with His people, when He gives them a clear and satisfying view of the salutary end, and enables them to make a sanctified use both of their trials and mercies.
4. The Lord hath dealt bountifully with those whom He hath admitted to the most intimate and spiritual communion with Himself; those whom He hath carried above the sphere of temptation, filled them with sensible joy in the Holy Ghost here, and earnest desires after the complete and perpetual enjoyment of His presence in heaven.
II. The import of the psalmist’s resolution.
1. Return and give the praise where it is due; and humbly acknowledge God as the author of thy mercies.
2. This expression may imply returning to God, and delighting in Him as our reconciled God, and supreme portion and happiness.
3. This expression implies a confidence and reliance on God for protection and security against future dangers.
III. Practical improvement.
1. Observe one great branch of the sinfulness of the world in general--forgetfulness of God, and unthankfulness for His mercies.
2. Let me beseech every serious person to consider how far he hath sinned against God and his own comfort by forgetting the goodness of God, both in common and special mercies.
3. Directions to those who are truly sensible of the goodness of God.
(1) Be circumspect and watchful; though a thankful frame of spirit is of great advantage, both for your sanctification and peace, yet it is not out of the reach of temptation; let it not produce pride, security, or self-sufficiency.
(2) Be public-spirited and useful; if the Lord hath dealt bountifully with you, commend His service, and speak to His praise.
(3) Be frequent and diligent in secret prayer. This is the way to preserve your watchfulness, and to increase your usefulness. (J. Witherspoon, D.D.)
I. As an original inheritance. “Return unto thy rest.” There is no rest for souls in places, however fair, beautiful, or grand; not in any externalisms, however calm and sunny. It is nowhere but in their own moral states. But what are the moral states that constitute soul rest?
1. Unquestioning trust.
2. Satisfying love.
3. Conscious rightness.
4. Congenial pursuits.
II. As a lost inheritance. The whole world is in disquiet. Men are trusting, but their trust is not unquestioning. The foundations of their hopes prove to be sand. The staff they grasp for support proves to be a reed that breaks beneath their weight. Everything they rest on fails them. Men are loving, but their love is unsatisfying. They are loving the imperfect, and the discovery of their imperfections distress them. They are loving the unreciprocating, and their indifference fills them with painful solicitude. They are loving the inconstant, and their inconstancy tosses them as timbers on the billows. They love the unhappy, and the sorrows they discern bring a shivering shadow over themselves. Men want righteousness; their deep cry is, “Oh! wretched man that I am.” They see the right, they reach after it, but it eludes their grasp. Men are active, but the pursuits they follow are uncongenial wish their nature, and felt to be unworthy of their lofty powers and destiny.
III. As a recoverable inheritance. The text implies the possibility of regaining the rest. How can this soul-rest be recovered? The Gospel and the Gospel alone returns the satisfactory answer. “Come unto me all ye that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” How does He give rest? By supplying man with the necessary conditions. He presents the only object for unquestioning trust. One that is all-wise, all-kind, all-powerful, the unchangeable and eternal God. And He bids man to trust in Him that liveth for ever. He presents to man the only object for a satisfying-love. One who is all perfect, who is light, in whom is no darkness at all. One who returns in an infinite degree all the love that is given. One who is constant, who will never leave and never forsake. One who is happy--the “ever blessed God.” He supplies man with the means of becoming consciously right. He presents congenial pursuits--pursuits connected with the advancement of holiness, the promotion of human happiness, and the glory of God. (Homilist.)
The soul’s rest
1. From vain endeavours to relieve a burdened conscience, return unto thy rest, O my soul, in the perfected redemption and pardoning grace of Jesus.
2. From the distress and disquiet of inconsistent conduct, return unto thy rest, O my soul, in unreserved obedience to Christ. Cease that opposition; forsake that evil path: cast from thee the accursed thing; cease to do evil; and thus return unto thy rest.
3. From the fretting anxieties and disappointments of pride, return unto thy rest, O my soul, in the humility of Christ.
4. Disappointed in thy search for happiness elsewhere, return unto thy rest, O my soul, in the love of Jesus, and the peace the world cannot give. As the dove flew to and fro, finding no rest for the sole of her foot till she returned to the ark, so the believer cannot repose away from Christ, our true and only refuge.
5. From vain speculations and sceptical doubts, return unto thy rest, O my soul, by childlike faith in Christ.
6. From the sorrow caused by afflictions, return unto thy rest, O my soul, in the sure mercies of a God of Love. Rest in His wisdom; He knows what is most needful for thee. Rest in His love; He will not withhold what is good. Rest in His power; He is able to do what His love prompts and His wisdom plans. Rest in His tenderness; for as a father pitieth his children, so He pitieth thee. Rest in His faithfulness; He cannot deny Himself. Gratefully remember past deliverances, and thus “Return unto thy rest,” etc.
7. From all the trials of the present life, return unto thy rest, O my soul, in the home which is preparing for thee above. Every step of the journey brings us nearer. Every care, every conflict, every grief helps us onward. There is rest yonder. Let us even now enjoy it by anticipation. (Newman Hall, LL.B.)
The rest of the soul
I. God is the rest of the soul.
1. As the light of the intellect.
2. As the refuge from the charges of our consciences.
3. As our chief good.
4. As our almighty protector.
5. As our great and ultimate end.
II. The circumstances under which we are more especially called to return to God our rest.
1. When we are too much affected by the cares of ordinary life.
2. When we are pressed with uneasy fears as to our spiritual safety.
3. When we have vainly perplexed ourselves with difficulties.
4. When we have experienced special deliverance.
Having obtained from God pardon, a revival of piety, restoration from affliction, deliverance from temptation and sorrow; then we ought to summon the spirit to “cleave with purpose of heart to the Lord,” and to rest more fully in Him, who is the strength of our heart, our portion, our exceeding great reward. (R. Watson.)
“Return unto thy rest”
I. The believer has his rest. While trying to think how I should describe it, nothing seemed to strike me as a more full and accurate description of the believer’s rest than the apostolic benediction with which we are accustomed to dismiss our assemblies. If you have these three things,--the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost,--I am sure I need not stay to prove to you that, in your experience, you have realized what it is to enjoy rest for your soul.
II. Sometimes the believer leaves that rest.
1. Through affliction.
2. Through a want of submission to the Divine will.
3. Through want of contentment.
4. Through the world’s joys.
5. Through allowing some conscious sin.
III. The believer, when he has gone away from his rest, should return to it; and the sooner he does so, the better. As Noah’s dove came back to him, so fly back to Christ, who is your Noah, your rest, for that is the meaning of the name.
1. It is quite certain that you can never rest anywhere else.
2. This unrest puts you out of order for everything.
3. Your want of rest is putting you into a state in which you are very liable to be tempted and overcome.
4. This unrest can do no possible good.
IV. The believer has one excellent encouragement to return: “Return unto thy rest, O my soul; for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee.” The psalmist tells us in detail what the Lord had done for him; or, rather, he tells the Lord. “Thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling.” Now, believer, you ought to come back, and rest in God, because you hays received from Him these three marks of His Divine favour. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
In reconciliation to God through Christ Jesus the soul regains its lost equilibrium, finds again the centre of repose for which it had been sighing in vain. What sensual pleasure, wealth, ease, honour, power, the applause of men--what even intellectual pursuits, and the domestic and social charities of life, fail to bestow, or bestow for the moment only to stimulate the thirst they seem to quench, in the ineffable sense of union with God the soul finds at lasts--rest, satisfaction, perfect peace.
1. This “rest” not bodily or physical, but mental or spiritual rest. When doubt and disbelief are gone, when the object of life is found in Christ, when God becomes the sure portion and sweetest joy of the heart, and the spirit within us, hitherto, it may be, groping bewildered amidst earthly hopes and pleasures, like one in the dark for the friendly hand, feels itself at last embraced in the sure grasp of strong and changeless love--then is the true rest of man, the stillness of the weary spirit in the everlasting arms. This is the only repose which is independent of outward circumstances. Even amidst the outer toil and distraction of the world, it is “the peace of God which keepeth the heart and mind.” Nor does death, which disunites and disturbs all else, for a moment interrupt its continuity: for the rest of the soul in Christ is identical with the rest of heaven--“the rest which remaineth for the people of God.”
2. It is the rest, not of immobility, but of equipoise. The rise of religion in the heart may be indicated by the bitter pangs of an awakened conscience, and by the painful struggle of spirit with sense, of the reviving element of moral freedom with the old and inveterate tyranny of sin in the soul. And it may only be by a long-protracted process of holy discipline that the soul attains at last to the complete mastery over self, the perfect inward harmony of a spirit in which every thought and feeling and desire are “brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” But when that glorious end is gained, then the “weary strife of frail humanity” is at an end, and a repose--oh how deep, how tranquil, how sublime!--diffuses itself throughout the spirit--a repose in which there is at once calmness and power, the sweet serenity of an infant’s slumbers, yet the strength of an angel of God.
3. The true “rest” of the soul is that, not of inactivity, but of congenial exertion. As love to Christ deepens in the soul that is truly given to Him, the work which it prompts us to do for Him loses the feeling of effort, and passes into pleasure. Less and less of set purpose do we need to constrain the mind to think of Him, or to approach Him in the formal attitude of devotion. The idea of Christ in the holy mind becomes gradually blended with all the actions of its daily life; thought goes out to Him as by a divine instinct; an ever-acting attraction draws the heart upwards to its great and first object, and life becomes an unconscious yet continuous prayer. The transition from motive to act, from holy intention and design to holy doing, becomes less and less marked, until at last the will acquires an almost mechanical certainty, an almost unconscious smoothness and rapidity of action. And so, with the unfettered ease of one “who playeth well upon an instrument,” from the many-stringed harp of life the soul renders up to God the sweet melody of holy deeds. Then indeed has it “returned into its rest.” (J. Caird, D.D.)
The soul’s resting-place
It seemed scarcely a stone’s throw from the busy streets, almost in the centre of the city’s crowding and rushing, that we found the quaint little park with its grass and trees, its flowers, its quiet resting-places and playing children. “How strange it seems to find such a garden spot in the heart of all the city’s din and traffic, its restless comings and goings!” we said, dropping down upon one of the rustic seats. “Yet how hard it would be to endure all the strain and turmoil if there were no such places!” “It is like life,” said a friend thoughtfully. “Our days are full of care and toil, of eager pursuit and feverish ambition. The demands of business, of civic duty, and of social life crowd and press upon each other; but deep in the heart of each of us, if life is what it should be, lies some quiet little garden spot, fenced about and protected. Our religious life has its roots there; it holds our holiest ties and friendships, and something from out our childhood which never grows old or dies. The world may fill our outward lives with the city’s roar and tumult, but the soul holds ever amid it all its garden of flowers and rest.” (W. L. Watkinson.)
For Thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling.
On recovery from sickness
I. The blessing conferred. Why was the psalmist so transported with joy, on being delivered from death? As if a mariner were to give thanks that he is not arrived in port; a traveller that he has not reached the end of his tedious journey; a banished man that he is not restored to his country; or a man groaning under a heavy burden that he is not relieved from it. Let us not hastily blame this emotion of the psalmist. For although death, through God’s favour, be a benefit to pious and holy persons; yet in itself, abstracted from those considerations, it is fearful and terrible. It is the sentence of our condemnation; the punishment of our rebellion; the bitter fruit of our corruption. But the text suggests to us, on this subject, two particular reflections.
1. David was not a mere private person; for he held two very important public stations. He was a king, and a prophet. As a king, his life was highly important to the state; as a prophet, it was a singular utility to the Church of God. And in each of these distinguished relations David was an extraordinary personage. He was a signally brave, wise and pious king, and he was a prophet of unequalled vigour and comprehension of mind. David, therefore, might wish for life, and be thankful on his deliverance from death, not only for his own sake, or chiefly, but for that of his people; for the good of his subjects, and the service of God’s Church, to which he was so useful and necessary.
2. There are actually occasions on which even good persons may fear death, and feel a most lively joy in being delivered from it. And those are when their sickness and sufferings are the immediate effect of their sins. For although their peace may be made with God, by the blood of the everlasting covenant, yet God may send upon them very sharp corrections, when they have offended Him by criminal acts and provocations. And they may wish and pray not to die in this state; death, presenting itself in such junctures, being more than commonly formidable.
II. The grateful acknowledgment (verse 9). When we read in Scripture of “walking before the Lord,” we often find other expressions joined with this, such as prove that it means piety in general, the whole duty of a religious and godly person. One of the Grecian sages having said, “All things are full of God, and He seeth all our actions,” another great man judged this maxim to be so beautiful and important that he pronounced it to comprehend the whole philosophy of virtue.” And with great reason: for, in truth, the conviction and feeling of having God over present with us is the grand security of all good morals. The promise and vow, therefore, of David in the text is--a pure and holy life: “I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.” (S. Partridge, M.A.)
Experience, resolve and hope
This is a quotation from an earlier psalm, with variations which are interesting, whether we suppose that the psalmist was quoting from memory and made them unconsciously, or whether, as is more probable, he did so deliberately and for a purpose.
1. The words in the original psalm (56) read, “Thou hast delivered my soul from death; hast Thou not delivered my feet from falling?” The writer of this psalm felt that that did not say all, so he put in another clause--“mine eyes from tears.” It is not enough to keep a man alive and upright. God will wipe away his tears; and will often keep him from shedding them.
2. The original psalm goes on: “Thou hast delivered . . . my feet from falling, that I may walk before God.” But the later psalmist goes a step further than his original. The first singer had seen what it is always a blessing to see--what God meant by all the varieties of His providences, viz. that the recipient might walk as in His presence. But the later poet not only discerns, but accords with, God’s purpose, yields himself to the Divine intention, and instead of simply saying, “That was what God meant,” he says, “That is what I am going to do--I will walk before the Lord.”
3. The original psalm says, “in the light of the living”; the other uses another word, a little more intelligible, perhaps, to an ordinary reader, and says, “in the land of the living.” Now, noting these significant variations, I would draw attention to this expression of the psalmist’s acceptance of the Divine purpose, and the vision that it gave him of his future. It is hard to say whether he means “I will walk,” or “I shall walk”; whether he is expressing a hope or giving utterance to a fixed resolve. I think there is an element of both in the words.
I. A sure anticipation. “Thou hast”--“I will.” The past is for this psalmist a mirror in which he sees reflected the approaching form of the veiled future. God’s past is the guarantee of God’s future. What God has done, He will keep on doing. Our experience yields fuel for our faith. We have been near death many a time; we have never fallen into it. Our eyes have been wet many a time; God has dried them. Our feet have been ready to fall many a time, and if at the moment when we were tottering on the edge of the precipice, we have cried to Him and said, “My feet have well-nigh slipped,” a strong hand has been held out to us. “The Lord upholdeth them that are in the act of failing.” And if we have pushed aside His hand, and gone down, then the next clause of the same verse applies, for He “raiseth up those that have fallen,” and are lying prostrate. As it has been, so it will be. “Thou hast been with me in six troubles,” therefore “in the seventh Thou wilt not forsake me.” We can wear out men; and we cannot argue that because a man has had long patience with some unworthy recipient of his goodness, his patience will never give out. But it is safe to argue thus about God.
II. A firm resolve. “I will walk before the Lord.” What does “walking before the Lord” mean? It means the habitual--I do not say unbroken, but habitual--effort to feel in our conscious hearts that we are in His sight; not only that we are with Him, but that we are “naked and open to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” And that is to be the result, says our psalm, as it is the intention, of all that God has been doing with us in His merciful providence, in His quickening, sustaining, and comforting influences in the past. He sent all these varying conditions, kept the man alive, kept him from weeping, or dried his tears, kept him from falling, with the intention that he should be continually blessed in the continuous sunshine of God’s presence, and should open out his heart in it and for it, like a flower when the sunbeams strike it. Oh, how different life would look if we habitually took hold of all its incidents by that handle, and thought about them, not as we are accustomed to do, according to whether they tended to make us glad or sorry, to disappoint or fulfil our hopes and purposes, but looked upon them all as stages in our education, and as intended, if I might so say, to force us, when the tempests blow, close up against God; and, when the sunshine came, to woo us to His side. Would not all life change its aspect if we carried that thought right into it, and did not only keep it for Sundays, or for the crises of our lives, but looked at all the trifles as so many magnest brought into action by Him to attract us to Himself? But there has to be something more. There have to be a firm resolve, and effort without which the firmest resolve will all come to water, and be one more paving stone for the road that is “paved with good intentions.” That firm resolve finds utterance in the not vain vow, “I will”--in spite of all opposition and difficulties--“I will walk before the Lord,” and keep ever bright in my mind the thought, “Thou God seest me.” Aye! and just in the measure in which we do that shall we have joy. If we are right with God, then the gladdest of thoughts is, “Thou knowest me altogether, and Thou hast beset me behind and before.” If we are right with God, “Thou hast laid Thine hand upon me” will mean for us support and blessing. If we are wrong, it will mean a weight that crushes to the earth. And if we are right with Him, that same thought brings with it security and companionship. Ah! we do not need ever to say, “I am alone,” if we are walking before God. It brings with it, of course, an armour against temptation. That thought, of the present God, draws the teeth of all the raging lions, and takes the sting out of all the serpents, and paralyses and reduces to absolute nothingness every temptation. Clasp God’s hand, and we shall not fall.
III. A far-reaching hope. When we read, “I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living,” we cannot but think of the true and perfect deliverance, when it shall be said, with a depth and a fulness of meaning with which it is never said here, “Thou hast delivered my soul from death,” and the black dread that towered so high, and closed the vista of all human expectation of the future, is now away back in the past, hull-down on the horizon, as they say about ships scarcely visible, and no more to be feared. We cannot but think of the perfect deliverance of “mine eyes from tears,” when “God shall wipe away the tears from off all faces, and the rebuke of His people from off all the earth.” We cannot but think of the perfect deliverance of “my feet from falling” when the redeemed of the Lord shall stand firm, and walk at liberty on the golden pavements, and no more dread the stumbling-blocks of earth. We cannot but think of the perfect presence of God, the perfect consciousness that we are near Him, when He shall “present us faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy.” We cannot but think of the perfect activity of that future state when we “shall walk with Him in white,” and “follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth.” And one guarantee for all that far-reaching hope is the tiny experiences of the present; for He who hath delivered our souls from death, our eyes from tears, and our feet from falling, is not going to expose Himself to the scoff; “This ‘God‘ began to build, and was not able to finish.” But He will complete that which He has begun, and will not stay His hand until all His children are perfectly redeemed and perfectly conscious of His perfect presence. (A. Maclaren, D.D.)
A series of great deliverances
Lo, here a deliverance, not from one, but many dangers--“death,” “tears, falling.” Single deliverances are as threads; but, when multiplied, they become as a cord twisted of many threads, more potent to draw us to God. Any one mercy is as a link, but many favours are as a chain consisting of several links, to bind us the closer to our duty. Frequent droppings of the rain cannot but make an impression even on the stone, and renewed mercies may well prevail with the stony heart. Parisiensis related a story of a man whom (notwithstanding his vicious courses) God was pleased to accumulate favours upon, so that at last he cried out, “Most gracious God, Thy unwearied goodness hath overcome my obstinate wickedness,” and from that time devoted himself to God’s service. No wonder, then, if David, upon deliverance from such numerous and grievous afflictions, maketh this his resolve, “to walk before the Lord in the land of the living.” (N. Hardy.)
I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.
The nature and necessity of good works
1. The matter of the duty in which the psalmist promiseth to engage--“I will walk.” It signifies the practice of what is good and lovely, as the words following intimate.
2. The manner in which he purposed to walk before the Lord, that is, in such a manner, that God, the searcher of hearts, would be pleased with it, and approve of it.
3. The place and time: while he continued on earth, and remained among the living.
I. Confirm the proposition, that inward affection to God must be declared by our outward conversation.
1. The one cannot be without the other.
2. This duty is frequently pressed in Scripture. Abraham; Noah; Zacharias; and Elizabeth.
3. Walking before the Lord has been abundantly rewarded. Enoch.
II. Show why our inward affection to God must be declared by our outward conversation.
1. In this way God is glorified.
2. Others are benefited.
3. Our own good is promoted. It is by a good conversation, that the security of our hearts, the integrity of our consciences, the soundness of our faith, and, in a word, the truth of all graces are clearly manifested, cherished, and increased.
III. Consider the necessity of good works.
1. They are commanded and expressly required by God Himself.
2. They are the way to the Kingdom of God.
3. They are an evidence or demonstration of our faith.
4. The not doing of them merits eternal death.
5. They are necessary as expressions of our gratitude.
1. This subject teacheth us that those who walk not in God’s ways cannot be esteemed His affectionate people.
2. The knowledge, affection and profession of persons who walk not before the Lord are all in vain.
3. Walking with God, in the external duties of religion, will best stop the mouths of the adversaries of the truth.
4. Those who walk not before the Lord in the land of the living are exposed to the most dreadful ruin. (G. Faitoute, M.A.)
The Christian’s walk before God
I. To walk before the Lord in the land of the living includes reconciliation with God as a pardoned sinner.
II. To walk before God in the land of the living requires a realizing sense of His presence and perfections.
III. To walk before God in the land of the living comprehends a supreme regard to the authority and the requirements of His Word.
IV. That we may walk before the Lord in the land of the living, we must have respect unto the recompense of reward. (J. Smyth, D.D.)
Walking before the Lord
I. To walk before the Lord is a style of speaking made use of to represent that manner of life peculiar to good men. It may be considered as including in it--
1. That men live under a lively impression of the presence of God.
2. The exercise of a sincere love to Him, and such friendly intercourse with Him as this imperfect state admits.
3. To live in dutiful and constant subjection to His will.
II. The excellence of such a course of life.
1. There is joy in it. If you are really desirous to know whether it be so, go and consult the words of Him who cannot lie. They say that “gladness is sown for the upright in heart”; that “the voice of rejoicing is in the tabernacles of the righteous”; that “great peace have they who love God’s law”; that “everlasting joy shall be upon them.” If you ask, again, how these things are so, they will reply, that the righteous rejoice before God; that their hearts rejoice in Him, because they have trusted in His holy name; that their rejoicing is this, the testimony of their conscience, that, “in simplicity and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God,” they have their conversation in the world.
2. There is honour in it. There is a dignity connected with walking before the Lord superior to everything celebrated by that name among men. “I will,” says the Almighty, “guide them with Mine eye. I will never leave them nor forsake them. I will be to them a God, and they shall be to Me a people.”
3. There is a preparation for heaven in it. Every step they take in walking “before the Lord in the land of the living” is just so much progress in the path of life--every temptation overcome is a new advance to glory--every good disposition acquired will increase their happiness in the paradise of God. (W. F. Ireland, D.D.)
I believed, therefore have I spoken: I was greatly afflicted.
Opinions and convictions
There is sincerity, intensity, reality, in every line of this song. Nobody doubts the psalmist when he says, “I believed, and therefore do I sing my song of trust in God, and thankfulness to Him for a great salvation.” I know few portions of the: Bible more fitted than this psalm to bind our hearts with the bands of faith and gratitude to truth, and duty, and God, and to make us turn away from mere opinions and empty speculations on the high affairs of religion. While it is very desirable, for many reasons, that we should take broad views of the bearings of the Divine government, and especially of the plan of redemption, on the whole world of men, and while it may be very profitable that we even study the religions of the race, and see the points of contrast and comparison between these religions and the truth as it is in Christ, it is imperative that we, first of all, fix our attention on the personal necessities of our own nature, and character, and circumstances, and on the Divine methods of meeting these necessities. We must begin at home, not in the spirit of selfishness, but because that is the natural order of things, and because if we do not see how our own necessities can be compassed, we can only find in the regions outside of us matter for barren talk about religion, and for opinions changeable as the weather. If we cannot get to facts in our own capacities and circumstances, and in the Divine dealings with ourselves, we can never come within sight of facts in the spiritual condition of the world, and in God’s methods of working for the weal of mankind. Mark the prominence of the “I,” and the “me,” and “my,” in this psalm, and yet there is not the semblance of egotism. God’s Spirit deals with your spirit. Yourself cleave to Christ with full purpose of heart, and then you will speak because you believe, really believe. Although, if we are to have convictions and not mere opinions on the high affairs of religion, we must begin with ourselves, and a God and Saviour for ourselves, the spirit of faith in us must travel out over our neighbour, and the world, and out over a gospel adequate to meet the wants of the race. The gospel for ourselves is the gospel for the race, and if we are taught aright the truth to be believed, we get a glimpse of its adaptations for man everywhere, when we get a glimpse of its adaptations for our own selves. We can believe only for ourselves. We cannot by proxy believe for others. But our creed can compass a Christ, a complete Christ for every man. That confession of faith we can make, because we believe it. And it is a great confession of faith,--a real Saviour for the real wants of every man. When believed as a vast and blessed spiritual reality, it makes a man speak. (W. Bathgate, D.D.)
Conviction is the spring of all action
Tozer says, “Conviction lies at the root of all consistent action. A mechanical genius conceives an idea. It is as clear as noon-day in his mind, but ere that idea is embodied in a wheel, a spring or lever, he must believe in the possibility of its embodiment: and just in proportion to the strength of his conviction as to the practicability and probable success of his idea, will he be consistent and earnest in working it out. The mind must conceive and believe before the hand or foot will move. Columbus conceived the existence of a continent; the conception grew into a conviction; the conviction was followed by consistent action, and that action was crowned with success, by the discovery of America. A man believes that an observance of certain physical laws is conducive to health, and he acts accordingly. Another believes that obedience to certain moral laws is necessary to a good moral character, self-respect, and peace of conscience, and he obeys these laws. Christianity, then, by making man’s pardon and happiness to hinge upon faith, acts in accordance with the laws of his mental and moral being. It is no arbitrary requirement; it is as necessary to holy obedience as any cause is to an effect. A man, for instance, must believe in God, or he will never serve Him; in law, or he will never obey it; in sin, or he will never see the necessity of a Mediator.” (The Weekly Pulpit.)
I said in my haste, All men are liars.
The dangers of pessimism
Pessimism is a sin, and those who yield to it cripple themselves for the war, on one side of which are all the forces of darkness, led on by Apollyon, and on the other side of which are all the forces of light led on by the Omnipotent. I risk the statement that the vast majority of the people are doing the best they can. Nine hundred and ninety-nine out of a thousand of the officials of the municipal and the United States Governments are honest. Out of a thousand bank presidents and cashiers, nine hundred, and ninety-nine are worthy the position they occupy. Out of a thousand merchants, mechanics and professional men, nine hundred and ninety-nine are doing their duty as they understand it. Out of one thousand engineers, and conductors, and switchmen, nine hundred and ninety-nine are true to their responsible positions. It is seldom that people arrive at positions of responsibility until they have been tested over and over again. It is a mean thing in human nature that men and women are not praised for doing well, but only excoriated when they do wrong. By Divine arrangement the most of the families of the earth are at peace, and the most of those united in marriage have for each other affinity and affection. You hear nothing of the quietude and happiness of such homes, though nothing but death will them part. But one sound of marital discord makes the ears of a continent, and perhaps of a hemisphere, alert. The one letter that ought never to have been written, printed in a newspaper, makes more talk than the millions of letters that crowd the post-offices, and weigh down the mail-carriers, with expressions of honest love. We need a more cheerful front in all our religious work. People have enough trouble already, and do not want to ship another cargo of trouble in the shape of religiosity. If religion has been to you a peace, a defence, an inspiration and a joy, say so. Say it by word of mouth; by pen in your right hand; by face illumined with a divine satisfaction. If this world is ever to be taken for God, it will not be by groans, but by hallelujahs. If we could present the Christian religion as it really is, in its true attractiveness, all the people would accept it, and accept it right away. Exemplify it in the life of a good man or a good woman, and no one can help but like it. A city missionary visited a house in London and found a sick and dying boy. There was an orange lying on his bed, and the missionary said, “Where did you get that orange?” He said, “A man brought it to me. He comes here often, and reads the Bible to me, and prays with me, and brings me nice things to eat.” “What is his name?” said the city missionary. “I forget his name,” said the sick boy, “but he makes great speeches over in that great building,” pointing to the Parliament House of London. The missionary asked, “Was his name Mr. Gladstone?” “Oh yes,” said the boy, “that is his name; Mr. Gladstone.” Do you tell me a man can see religion like that and not like it? Why do you not get this bright, and beautiful, and radiant, and blissful, and triumphant thing for yourselves; then go home telling all your neighbours that they may have it, too; have it for the asking; have it now? Mind you, I do not start from the pessimistic standpoint that David did, when he got mad and said in his haste, “All men are liars!” or from the creed of others that every man is as bad as he can be. I rather think from your looks that you are doing about as well as you can in the circumstances in which you are placed, but I want to invite you up into the heights of safety, and satisfaction, and holiness, as much higher than those which the world affords as Everest, the highest mountain in all the earth, is higher than your front doorstep. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
The spirit of cynicism
The Cynics were a sect of philosophers among the Greeks, founded by Antisthenes, who, on account of his snappish, snarling propensities, was frequently called “The Dog”; and probably enough it may have been on account of this that his school of philosophy was called the “Cynic” or “Dog” school. He was stern, proud, and unsympathetic. He taught that all human pleasure was to be despised. He was ostentatiously careless as to the opinions, the feelings, and the esteem of others. He used to appear in a threadbare dress, so that Socrates once exclaimed, “I see your pride, Antisthenes, peeping through the holes in your cloak!” His temper was morose, and his language was coarse and indecent. His disciple, Diogenes, even “bettered the instruction,” living, it is said, in a tub, and peering about the streets with a lantern in the daytime, in search, as he alleged, of a man! It was part of his system to outrage common decency, and he snarled and growled even more bitterly and insolently than his predecessor. It is from this old school of philosophy that we derive the term cynicism; and we commonly apply it, now-a-days, to that mood or habit of mind which looks out upon mankind with cold and bitter feeling, which finds little or nothing to admire in human character and action, which systematically depreciates human motives, which rejoices to catch men tripping, which sneers where others reverence, and dissects where others admire, and is hard where others pity, and suspects where others praise. It would appear, then, to have been some such mood as this through which the psalmist had been passing. With him, however, the mood seems to have been but transient. For a time his soul was darkened by its baleful shadow--all human goodness eclipsed for him, and his own human sympathies and affections frozen. But only for a time. He does not seem to have cherished this cynical mood. On the contrary, he seems to have been conscious of its wretchedness, and to have retained the power to pray against it. When you are tempted to “say in your haste, All men are liars,” then cry with the psalmist, “O Lord, I beseech Thee, deliver my soul!” And now let me mention further one or two practical safeguards against the attitude or habit of cynicism.
I. Let us cherish a modest estimate of our own abilities and our own importance. A vain man is naturally exacting. He expects from others recognition, admiration, and deference; and if he does not secure the appreciation which he fancies is due to his abilities or merits, he may begin to rail at the blindness and stupidity of the world. An exacting nature, also, is apt to suspect the genuineness of an affection or friendship which is not always showing the amount of attention demanded and expected. The “milk of human kindness”--curdled somewhat at the outset by a selfish vanity--is still further soured when that vanity is wounded. A selfish ambition, too, when disappointed, is apt to leave the spirit embittered. Some of the most snarling and carping critics are men who have failed to reach the fame they coveted. And then, again, even the ordinary calamities of life, coming upon an intense egotism, will sometimes plunge a man into the cynical mood. That mankind in general should be subject to disease or to misfortune is not so strange to him; but that he himself should be thus visited surprises and chafes him. Nay, but let us cherish a modest estimate of ourselves--this is a grand safeguard against cynicism, and helps to preserve the sweetness of the spirit in times of disappointment and affliction. A humble recognition, too, of our own defects and faults will tend to keep us from harsh and censorious judgments of our brethren, and from all scornful and bitter railing at the weaknesses of humanity.
II. Let us cultivate the habit of looking out for human excellences, and of putting the most generous construction on human actions, The man who finds nothing to admire in others thereby reveals the shallowness of his own nature. A soul--and especially a young soul--that has no “hero-worship” in it, of some sort or other, thereby writes itself down as ignoble. The cynic who is constantly depreciating the actions and suspecting the motives of others is certainly paying no compliment to himself. A man does some deed that has a noble and worthy look about it. You know nothing whatever of the man; but you must, forsooth, begin with bitterness to insinuate that his action may not be so disinterested as it looks--that it springs, probably, from some selfish or sinister motive! What does all this mean but that you find it hard to believe in nobleness? And what does this, again, mean but that you yourself are incapable of such disinterested conduct? Nobleness believes in the possibility of nobleness, and delights to recognize it. Get into the habit, then, of looking out for excellences of character instead of picking out flaws and magnifying faults. “Charity rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth.” Cultivate also the habit of putting the most generous construction on human actions. If an action can be ascribed to two possible motives, why should you ascribe it to the lower? “Charity believeth all things, and hopeth all things.”
III. Let us seek to look at all men as through the eyes of Christ. This is the grand antidote to the cynical spirit. Christ is our Lord; Christ is our Saviour; it is our safety and blessedness to cling to Him, and to receive His Spirit into our hearts. And the grand secret of loving and caring for and bearing with others lies in looking at them through the eyes of Him who is their Redeemer and ours. Christ “tasted death for every man.” He so loved even the unworthy that He was willing to shed His blood for them. They tell us that “Love is blind”; but be sure that hatred, or even indifference, is far blinder. Love may sometimes be blind to faults, but it has a quick eye for excellences. (T. C. Finlayson.)
Faith in God and man
It has been left to a pitiful cynicism and to a threadbare wit to remind us, especially of late, that if David had lived in our days the words which he once uttered in haste he might now have spoken with utmost deliberation. Is it true? Is falsehood the invariable characteristic of the dealings and the speech of men? I will not trifle with your intelligence by seriously discussing the question. We may not blink or belittle the crimes that are done in high places or in low ones--least; of all may we deny the essential evils from which those crimes have sprung; but to own the power of evil in the world, to be afraid of it, to hate it, to frown upon its exhibitions when they flower into personal transgression--that is one thing. It is quite another to be precipitated by these things into that blunder of hasty generalization which David no sooner detected in himself than he so simply and manfully disowned and repented of it. Have we ever realized that, if we seriously believed as some of us are willing to affirm, that all men are liars, life would be simply unendurable? After all, the foundations of human society are laid in the cement of mutual trust, not of mutual suspicion. It paralyzes effort, it deadens aspiration, it destroys hope when we find that our own confidence in others evokes no answering trust in them. We do not realize, I think, how readily distrust begets its echo in those who are distrusted. To be doubted and suspected,--this with the young is often a short road to ultimate recklessness. “What is the good of it,” cries the young and sensitive nature, which has not yet learned to appeal from the judgment of its fellows, to the verdict of its unseen Master--“what is the good of any effort after right, if one is met at the threshold with a sneer and a suspicion? Is there no such thing as truth, after all? is all life hollow and false and unreal? Well, then, why should I try to be true and to hate what is false? Why should I revere what is good, and despise what is base and mean? No one believes in goodness any more. It must all be a game--this life that I am living, and cleverness, not righteousness, the aim of it.” And thus is born the cynic and the sceptic--the unbeliever in truth and the scoffer at faith. And if there is any life more wretched and any character more unlovable, the world has yet to reveal it. In the phraseology of science, there is what is known as a good working hypothesis. It is a probability assumed for the time to be true, as a means of reaching conclusions which lie beyond. Now, in our dealings with our fellow-men, which is the better working hypothesis: to assume with David in his haste, that all men are liars, or to prefer to believe that on the whole all men are not liars? Which will best serve to redeem the fallen, and steady the tempted, and inspire the timid? Give your brother man your confidence. Provoke him to love and to good works by the good which you look to see in him. And you that are fathers and mothers, ennoble the child whom you are training by appealing to that which is noble in him. Amid all his faults and waywardness, strive to love him with an unextinguishable hope and trust. Believe me, what your suspicions, your scorn, your lurking distrust of him can never do, your loving confidence will far oftener and far more surely accomplish. (Bishop H. C. Potter.)
What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits toward me?
Giving thanks by taking more
There is a wonderful ministry of contrast in this varied psalm. A diamond resting upon black plush or velvet shines with a more dazzling lustre. And so it is with the bright patches in this psalm, they are lifted into a still whiter radiance by their surroundings. Take this bit of black environment: “The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow.” And now take this gracious bit of light lying just upon the very fringe of the dark country: “Gracious is the Lord and righteous; yea, our God is merciful! The Lord preserveth the simple.” And here, again, is a similar contrast: “I was greatly afflicted; I said in my haste, All men are liars.” How sweet is the music that follows! “What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits toward me?” My text is therefore born of the brighter season, when the storm is dying and rumbling away in the distance, and the sun is out again. We find him overwhelmed in the contemplation of Divine benefits. “All His benefits toward me.” He is amazed at the richness and the multitude of the favours which surround him. He is engirt by the vast crowd of Divine guests! Into whatever room of his house he enters, the guests are there. In highway and byway they throng his steps! Now, here is a very matured attainment of the spiritual man. To perceive and appreciate our benefits necessitates a very refined soul. That is so upon the merely human plane. There are some men who cannot appreciate kindness. They either never see them or they misconstrue them. They are the victims either of dulness or pride, and both these foul spirits make this kind of appreciation impossible. But this spiritual numbness is even more apparent in our relationship to the Divine. We receive multitudes of benefits, but we do not see the Divine mark upon their foreheads. We take them in, but they are not revealed to us as the King’s bounty. It is amazing how fine is the perception of other souls! They never open their eyes without seeing the presence of the hosts of God. “The mountains are full of horses and chariots.” “Having nothing,” they yet possess all things. Now, this is a fine perception which can be cultivated by continual exercise. We can have our “senses exercised to discern.” It is amazing how we can cultivate even a bodily perception. We can train it so as to discover even more minute distinctions. And it is the same with the senses by which we realize the presence of the Divine. But the exercise must be deliberate. We must set about in dead-set purpose to discern the mercies of the Lord. We must just be on the look-out for them as a botanist is on the look-out for wild flowers as he walks the country lanes. You must sit down to-night, for instance, and range over your life to-day, and seek out with eager eyes the mercies which have been about your path. Get hold of Frances Ridley Havergal’s “Journal of Mercies,” and she will help you in the cultivation of the finer sight. And then the happy issue is this, that what begins in deliberate exercise becomes an instinctive habit. Our souls can become habituated to the perception. Day after day your life would appear more and more filled with the bountiful guests of the Lord. What is the issue of such contemplation? The fountains of desire are unsealed. Love awakes, and yearns to make some return unto the Lord who has poured His benefits upon us. “What shall I render unto the Lord?” Have I ever used that word? If such phrase has never leapt to my lips it is because I have never gazed upon the mercies of the King. What return can I make? Now, mark this; the first answer which comes from a soul that has attained to fine spiritual perception is this--“I will take the cup of salvation.” How exceedingly strange it all is! He asks what he can render, and he answers that he will further take! And this is the very essence of true gratitude. The best return we can make for a gift of God is to take a higher gift. Have you thanked Him for your daily bread? Then the best return you can make is to take the bread of life. Have you thanked Him for your sleep? Then the best return you can make is to take His gift of rest and peace. Have you thanked Him for your health? Then the best return you can make is to seek His gift of holiness. “I will take the cup of salvation.” I will take the finest thing upon the Lord’s table! He has given me this gift, now I will take a bigger gift! But that is not the only return the psalmist makes. “I will pay my vows unto the Lord now.” When the cords of death compassed him he had made a strong and secret vow. He said to himself, “If I get over this I will live a more pronounced life unto the Lord! If I get my strength back, I will use it for the King.” “If I get out of this darkness, I will take a lamp and light the feet of other men!” And now he is better again, and he sets about to redeem his vow. The midnight vow was redeemed in the morning! As soon as he was out of the peril he remembered his covenant. “Now!” There must be no delay. In this sphere delays are attended with infinite peril. Aye, and he will surround the redemption of his vow with publicity. “In the presence of all His people.” He will do something publicly which will strongly proclaim him on God’s side, and tell to all men that he has given his devotion to Him. And that must be our way. The vow we made in secret must be performed openly. We must do something to indicate that we have passed through a great experience, and that we are remembering the benefits of the Lord. We can speak His name to another. We can write some gracious letter to a friend. We can attach ourselves publicly to the Master’s Church. We can commit ourselves openly and outwardly as professed followers of the King. (J. H. Jowett, M.A.)
Awake, sweet gratitude
I. A very suitable inquiry. It contains--
1. A remembrance of all His benefits.
2. A recognition of the Lord’s consequent claim.
3. A desire appropriately to acknowledge these benefits.
4. An overwhelming sense of inability to acknowledge God’s mercy.
II. A truly remarkable reply.
1. Thank God for the cup of communion, and the cup of consolation. The best way to praise Him for mercies past is to accept mercies present, and to anticipate the mercies that are still in store.
2. True prayer is worship, homage. As a sickly flower pent within the cottage window turns itself towards the sun, and by drinking in its beams worships it, so you who have nothing to give to the collection, so you who have no talents for Sunday school teaching, so you whose lives seem to be one dull round, one common task, do worship God in most spiritual fashion by just breathing His air, imbibing His beams, meditating on His mercy, and asking still for more.
3. Praise and prayer are acceptable to God, and better sacrifices could hardly be, but with praising and praying the psalmist links paying. Do not divorce one from the other. Do not rob God. Have you never read of one who, being brought to the place of martyrdom, kneeled down in the mire at Smithfield, and, lifting up his eyes to heaven, said, “I will pay my vows now in the midst of thee, O Smithfield”? The place was red with the blood of saints, and brown with the burning of fires! Ah me! the lines are fallen to us in pleasant places; we have a goodly heritage. Will you pay your vows unto the Lord in the basement of the tabernacle? Smithfield’s fires are out, thank God. It should be easier for us to be consecrated, and devoted, and whole-hearted here and now. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The importance of gratitude in the heart of man cannot be over-estimated. This is true, even viewing it as an item in the economy of human things. But the sin and the shame of not possessing it are surely greatest when men are found unthankful to their God. “What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits?” It is a practical question, for God does not expect any reward from us which we cannot give.
1. And, first, might we not have a full appreciation of God’s goodness? This would please Him. There are times certainly when we should practise abstinence, but to say this is very far from teaching that it is sinful to appreciate and use to the full the means of sustenance and enjoyment which God has given. A full appreciation of the beauty of the world in which we live,--of the warmth of its sunshine and the fragrance of its flowers, of the strength and healing in its kindly fruits,--is one of the least rewards God merits and expects. A lack of due appreciation is one of the seeds of ingratitude.
2. And then, too, let us be patient in all the circumstances of our life. This also will please God. There may be some who are in want. What shall we say to such as these? Shall we be content to tell them of a better land? Let us tell them of that country, and lead them thither, but let us also tell them to be patient here. Tell them that Jesus, who laid their burden upon them, will help them to bear its weight. “Sweet are the uses of adversity” if it leads us to trust more in Him. I once heard of a man who was rich, and happy in his wealth. Suddenly a reverse in fortune came, and he lost all. Yet, even in misfortune, he was still happy. On being asked the reason why he was happy in all circumstances of life, he answered, “When I was rich, I saw God in all things. Now that I am poor, I have all things in God.” Brethren, “in your patience possess ye your souls.”
3. And God expects us to be kind. That will surely please Him, for He has said, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto Me.” The very existence of the poor (and we have them with us always) is an opportunity for good works. May all of us in time “learn the luxury of doing good.” We have kept the grandest lesson of harvest till the last.
4. It leads our thoughts on from carnal food to Jesus, who is the Bread of Life. As food is necessary for the sustenance of the body, so is Jesus necessary for the life of the soul. Therefore, like David, let us “take the cup of salvation, and call on the name of the Lord.” (F. St. John Corbett.)
How may each Christian best glorify God?
I. The benefits which we Have received from God. The catalogue is endless. It stretches into eternity. Converting mercy--pardoning mercy--renewing mercy--justifying mercy--restoring mercy--supporting mercy;--where shall I close the enumeration?
II. The return of gratitude and love which God requires at your hand.
1. There are methods of glorifying God common to every Christian. Every Christian must dedicate his body to God as His temple. Surrender to Him the key of every apartment. Lay open to Him every chamber of your heart. Let your spirit bow before Him as He enters in, and hail Him Lord of all that it contains.
2. By employing your talents in His service. If you are the property of God, then all the powers of the mind, as well as the members of the body, are individually his right. (T. Raffles, D. D.)
What shall I give to Him?
I. The desire that prompts the question.
1. It seems to be a law of nature that some return should be made for benefits received.
2. Gratitude can only be shown by making some return.
3. Thanksgiving is the peculiar privilege of the saint.
4. How may we know when we are truly thankful?
(1) When we are quick to see and slow to forget our mercies.
(2) When our heart is in our praises.
(3) When there is an absence of all thought of human merit.
II. Some thoughts suggested by the question.
1. The possessions of God.
2. Our own poverty.
III. The only answer that can be given. The heart’s gratitude is all the saint can give in return for mercies that are fresh with every hour, and as numerous as the seconds in the day. Do not niggardly withhold the only thing you can render. Praise Him, it costs nothing, it is all that you can do, and it is just what He is willing to accept. Not to do so is disloyalty to heaven’s throne. But if thanksgiving be good, remember thanksliving is better, therefore let thy whole life join in the harmony. (A. G. Brown.)
What will you do
The text is the language of a man who sees religion in its true light.
I. The benefits received.
1. The benefit of answered prayer. The ancient Romans had many gods, some of which they regarded as their especial deities; but they were so much afraid of some other nation stealing or enticing their gods away that they never mentioned their names; and in one instance the marble image of a god was actually chained in the temple, to prevent his leaving them or being spirited away to some other place. Being fickle themselves, they believed their gods were also fickle. The blessedness of true religion, based upon Divine revelation, is that is clearly shows that our God will never leave us. He has promised, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” God careth for us because He is our Creator and our Redeemer. He is a prayer-hearing and prayer-answering God.
2. The Lord had redeemed his soul from death. Then, because He has redeemed your soul from death on the cross, what will you render unto the Lord? Will you not take the cup of salvation? Will you not be the Lord’s servant and pay your vows in the presence of His people?
II. The return made for these benefits. “I will take the cup of salvation.” Jesus spoke of His body as bread and of His blood as wine; and when He told His disciples that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood, it is evident He meant that we must get our spiritual nourishment from believing in the truth and love of His Gospel, and our strength from practising that truth and love in our lives. It is considered doubly treacherous to injure or betray a man of whose bread and wine you have partaken. The Arabs say that if you eat bread with them or taste their salt, they can never injure you; everlastingly they are your friends. Now, when you take the cup at what is called the Lord’s Supper, it means, likewise, that you publicly testify that you are a friend of Jesus who died for you; and when you eat the bread, you mean that you earnestly desire to receive the truth, which the bread represents. Partaking of this cup also means that we trust our Lord. Alexander of Greece was warned by a friend that his physician was seeking an opportunity of poisoning him; but, when the physician next time presented the cup, Alexander looked in his face steadfastly, and then, taking it in his hand, said, “I drink to show my trust in thee!” (W. Birch.)
I will take the cup of salvation.--
Taking from God the best giving to God
It is a most natural thing, as all languages show, to talk of a man’s lot, either of sorrow or of joy, as the cup which he has to drink; and there are plenty of instances of the metaphor in the psalms, such as “Thou art the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup, Thou maintainest my lot.” “My cup runneth over.” That familiar emblem is all that is wanted here. “The cup of salvation” expresses, by its plural form, the fulness and variety of the manifold and multiform deliverances which God had wrought and was working for the psalmist His whole lot in life appears to him as a cup-full of tender goodness, loving faithfulness, delivering grace. It runs over with Divine acts of help and sustenance. As his grateful heart thinks of all God’s benefits to him, he feels at once the impulse to requite and the impossibility of doing it. The great thought, then, which lies here is that we best requite God by thankfully taking what He gives.
I. Now, I note how deep that thought goes into the heart of God. Why is it that we honour God most by taking, not by giving? The first answer that occurs to you, no doubt, is--because of His all-sufficiency and our emptiness. No doubt that is quite true; and, rightly understood, that is a strengthening and a glad truth. But is that all which can be said in explanation of this principle? The principle of our text reposes at last on “God is love and wishes our hearts,” and not merely on “God has all and does not need our gifts.” He delights in no recompense, but only in the payment of a heart won to His love and melted by His mercies.
II. But now let us look at the elements which make up this requital of God in which He delights. And, first, let us be sure that we recognize the real contents of our cup. It is a cup of salvation, however hard it is sometimes to believe it. How much blessing and happiness we all rob ourselves of by our slowness to feel that! Then, again, another of the elements of this requital of God is--be sure that you take what God gives. There can be no greater slight and dishonour to a giver than to have his gifts neglected. Do not complain of your thirsty lips till you are sure that you have emptied the cup of salvation which God gives. One more element of this requital of God has still to be named--the thankful recognition of Him in all our feasting,--“call on the name of the Lord.” Without this, the preceding precept would be a piece of pure selfish epicureanism--and without this it would be impossible. Only he who enjoys life in God enjoys it worthily. Only he who enjoys life in God enjoys it at all. This is the true infusion which gives sweetness to whatever of bitter, and more of sweetness to whatever of sweet, the cup may contain, when the name of the Lord is pronounced above it. If we carried that spirit with us into all our small duties, sorrows, and gladnesses, how different they would all seem! We should not then find that God’s gifts hid Him from us. Nothing would be too great for us to attempt, nothing too small for us to put our strength into. There is an old legend of an enchanted cup filled with poison, and put treacherously into a king’s hand. He signed the sign of the cross and named the name of God over it--and it shivered in his grasp. Do you take this name of the Lord as a test. Name Him over many a cup which you are eager to drink of, and the glittering fragments will lie at your feet, and the poison be spilled on the ground. What you cannot lift before His pure eyes and think of Him while you enjoy, is not for you. Friendships, schemes, plans, ambitions, amusements, speculations, studies, loves, businesses--can you call on the name of the Lord while you put these cups to your lips? If not, fling them behind you--for they are full of poison which, for all its sugared sweetness, at the last will bite like a serpent and sting like an adder. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Taking in giving
“What shall I render?” “Take!” Why, the whole essence of Christianity is in that antithesis, if you think about it. For what does the doctrine that a man is saved by faith mean, if it does not mean that the one thing that we all have to do is to accept what God bestows? And the same attitude of reception which we have to assume at the beginning of our Christian life must be maintained all through it. Depend upon it, we shall make far more progress in the Divine life if we learn that each step of it must begin with the acceptance of a gift from God, than if we toil, and moil, and wear ourselves with vain efforts in our own strength. I do not mean that a Christian man is not to put forth such efforts, but I do mean that the basis of all profitable discipline, and self-control, and reaching out towards higher attainments, either in knowledge or in practical conformity to Jesus Christ, which he puts forth, must be laid in fuller acceptance of God’s gift, on which must follow building on the foundation, by resolute efforts to work God’s gift into our characters, and to work it out in our lives. All around you, Christian men, there lie infinite possibilities. God does not wait to be asked to give; He has given once for all; and continuously as the result of that once-for-all giving, just as preservation is but the prolongation of the act of creation. He has given, once for all, and continuously, all that every man, and all men, need, for their being made perfectly like Himself. We hear people praying for “larger bestowments of grace.” Let them take the bestowments that they have, and they will find them enough for their need. God communicated His whole fulness to the Church for ever when He sent His Son, and when His Son sent His Spirit. “Open thy mouth wide and I will fill it.” Take what you have and you will find that you have all that you need. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Receiving and rendering
The two component parts of true religion are receiving and rendering. As to the first disciples, so to each one of us, according to the several providential gifts and spiritual graces bestowed upon each, the Master still says, “Freely ye have received, freely give.” And I doubt not many a financial loss that has overtaken wealthy or well-to-do members of the Church has been visited upon them because while they “received” they failed to “render.” The true record of the bankruptcy of many a Christian merchant might be written thus:--First, he failed to render to his God; then, and therefore, he failed to receive from God (for God could no longer give where no adequate return was made), and then, lastly and consequently, he failed to pay his fellows. But whether or not such retribution overtakes the unjust steward in this life, there can be no doubt that when the Lord returns He will require the balance-sheet to be presented--a balance-sheet in which the receiving and the rendering alike will he faithfully chronicled; and then the Lord “will render unto every man according to his work.”
I. The psalmist refers to the great benefit of personal salvation (verse 16). It is true that as you “were not redeemed with” such “corruptible things as silver and gold,” so such things as silver and gold can never make adequate repayment to your Redeemer. He claims your love, your life; not yours, but you. And yet shall we refuse these “corruptible things” when by them we may bring honour to our Saviour and help to extend His kingdom?
II. The psalmist refers, again, to the great benefit of pious parentage. “The son of Thine handmaid”--how great a blessing is acknowledged in those simple words! Through this small loophole we can see the inestimable advantages of a religious home. The psalmist makes no reference to his father, but his mother’s pre-eminent piety stands before him still, and he recognizes it as one of his choicest blessings when he says, “I am Thy servant and the son of Thine handmaid.” How many of us have to thank God for this priceless benefit--the benefit of a pious parentage and religious training!
III. The psalmist also refers--and, as it is the occasion of the psalm, refers at length--to the benefit of restored health and prolonged life. Through pain and weakness he had been “brought low.” Disease held him fast in its fierce grip, so that he “found trouble and sorrow.” “The sorrows of death compassed him”--came crowding round him on every side, till there seemed to be no escape; and the “pains of hell”--the mysteries of the unseen world and the darkness of the grave--“got hold upon him.” Then in his pain and misery he cried unto the Lord, and God heard his voice and his supplication. “Precious in the sight of the Lord was the death of His saint;” i.e. it was not lightly regarded by God that His servant should perish. He rebuked the destroyer, made “Death ungrasp his fainting prey.” He “delivered his soul from death,” his “eyes from tears,” his “feet from falling.” And now, with health restored and life prolonged, the psalmist cries, “What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits towards me?” And he answers, “I will walk before God in the land of the living”; “I will pay my vows unto the Lord”; “I will offer to Thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving.” (J. H. Grooves.)
The cup of salvation
In the Bible “the cup” is used to represent the condition of a man, his circumstances, and his portion (Psalms 11:6; Psalms 16:5; Psalms 23:5; Psalms 60:3; Psalms 75:8). The cup of salvation is the condition of deliverance, which this psalm celebrates, not the drink-offering appointed by the law, not the cup of blessing. Noah’s deliverance was a cup of salvation. “To call upon the name of the Lord” is a phrase of greater power than to call upon the Lord. There is a reference, in the use of the word “name,” to the manifestations of God, to historical Divine manifestations (Exodus 3:13-15).
I. God giving.
1. A personal God.
2. Something which the personal God has provided and arranged, held out to His creatures.
3. A recognition of a relation with us upon God’s part, and of dependence upon our part.
4. Kindness shown. The cup of blessing is a revelation of love.
II. Man taking. Here it may be said, Will he not invariably take? Must he not take? The taking here is not a simple laying hold of that which God gives, but the use and enjoyment of what God bestows. To “take the cup of salvation” is to receive a blessing in all its fulness, to the utmost limit of our receptive capacity, and of our power to accept and to enjoy.
III. God’s servant seeing God in what he takes. There is a name of God on every cup and in each act of offering a cup. The words, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, represent the God who is to be seen in the lives of these men. But God is as really in the lives of Robinson, and Smith, and Jones, as in the lives of the patriarchs. God is in health and in healing, in wealth and in extrication from poverty, in prosperity and in lifting up out of adversity. In His giving and working and ministering and protecting, God is ever writing His name. One point of difference between the godly and ungodly is that the former see God in connection with their cup, and that the latter see Him not. As far as a landscape without sunshine is inferior to a landscape upon which the sun sheds his rays, is the appearance of blessings when separated from God, to the same blessings when regarded as the gift of His hand.
IV. Worship, the fruit of what we receive and see. “And will call upon the name of the Lord.” Past and present gifts on the part of God should encourage us in three things--prayer, praise, and thanksgiving. (S. Martin.)
Taking all God offers
How much more happy we should all be, if we only received all that God offers and accepted more cordially that which we do take! A writer in “The Reader,” in an admirable article on Thermo-electrical Science, observes, “Like windmills, thermo-electric batteries might be erected over the country, and entrap, finally converting into mechanical motion, and thus into money, gleams of sunshine, which would be as wind to the sails of the mill. What stores of fabulous wealth are, as far as our earth is concerned, constantly wasted by the non-retention of solar rays poured on the desert of Sahara. Nature here refuses to use her wonderful radiation net, for we cannot cover the desert sands with trees, and man is left alone to try his skill in retaining solar energy. Hitherto helpless, we need not be so much longer, and the force of a Sahara sun may be carried through wires to Cairo, and thence irrigate the desert, or possibly, if need be, it could pulsate under our streets, and be made to burn in Greenland.” Take up your neglected mercies, my brethren. Take the cup which you have overlooked and despised. Take the cup entirely, which you have taken but partially, and with the taking of every cup call upon the name of the Lord. (S. Martin.)
The cup of life
The whole lot in life of the psalmist appears to him like a cup full of tender, good, loving faithfulness and delivering grace. And why is it that the best return for God’s goodness is by further taking, not by giving? The principle upon which this text rests ultimately is that God is love, and wants our hearts, and not merely that God has everything and does not need our gifts. Take the illustration of our own case. Do we not feel that all the bloom and beauty are gone from a gift if the giver hopes to receive anything in return? Love gives because it delights to give. It gives to express itself, and to bless the giver. If there be any thought of return, it is only the return of love. And that is how God gives. As St. James expresses it, He is the giving God. “I will take the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord.” The Jewish father at the head of his family on the old Passover day, at a certain period in the family feast, solemnly lifted the wine cup and breathed a thanksgiving to God, and then drank of it with all around him. This word here “I will take” we may fairly translate as “I will raise.” Perhaps it is intended that there should be preserved for us within the sacred word that old picture as emblematic of the consecration that should rest upon all our happiness and upon all our life--the remembrance of God, the calling upon the name of the Lord. Christ gave us not merely the ritual of an ordinance, but the pattern of all our life, when He took the cup and gave thanks. And so common joys become sacraments, and enjoyments in our homes and in our innocent pleasures become worship, and the cup of mingled bitter and sweet that is provided for each of us by our loving Father becomes a cup of blessing and of salvation over which and by reason of which we can come more fully to recognize and praise the goodness of God. (M. Hartley.)
The cup of salvation
This cup of salvation is standing on the table of infinite love, filled to the brim with the wine of the Kingdom; all heaven is there in solution, all joy, peace, comfort, security, for the word salvation covers all. How came it there? Ages back man was tempted and drank of a forbidden cup; it wrought madness in the brain, enmity in the heart, and the poison spread into all parts of his being, and as the result of the first draught he had to drink of another, the cup of sorrow. But over and beyond there is a third cup of God’s holy anger against sin, deep and filled with wormwood and gall. The Man Christ Jesus comes in a body like our own, He looks on the cup of Divine anger, He takes and begins, to drink, and finds it a cup of trembling and amazement, but never a moment’s pause or hesitation till He came to the dregs, and His anguished soul cried, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” and He puts it down and says, “It is finished.” He rises again; and now the cup which He had drained is as full of blessing as it was of woe. It is the cup of God’s salvation. “Take” the cup of salvation, not make. So many are wanting to tread out grapes of their own good works and put them into the cup, but that is filled with the wine which comes from Jesus Himself, having been trodden in the winepress. “Take,” not admire and wonder. “Take,” not only hold it in a trembling hand, but drink, put it to thy lips and say, “I will take the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.” All believers may take a fresh and a deeper draught, and the more you drink of this wine the more sober you become, and the deeper and sweeter, for there is more in Christ than was ever dreamed of, and a delight in God’s salvation that could never be thought possible. (A. G. Brown.)
I will pay my vows unto the Lord now in the presence of all His people.
Whether well-composed religious vows do not exceedingly promote religion
Whoso doth engage himself by a well-ordered vow, doth set his religion in the whole, or in some particular part of it, in very good forwardness. Religion is a gainer by this bargain well made; the bond is to God, but religion receives the interest at least: well-composed vows are religion’s engines, able to move the weightier burdens and loads, and fit to be only employed in them.
I. What a vow is.
1. A promise.
3. Made to God alone.
II. Whether it be lawful, in any case, for us now to make a vow.
1. What is not evil in itself, nor evil by accident, unless made evil by the undue ordering of it through our fault, may lawfully be done by us.
2. Vows may be lawfully made now by us Christians, because what was lawful to the Jew on moral considerations, and not on any ceremonial considerations, that is also lawful now unto us Christians.
3. Vows may lawfully be made by us Christians; for it is a kind of thankfulness and acknowledgment made to God, with the universal approbation and consent of men.
4. Unless such vows may be accounted lawful to us, I cannot see how we have any way of making free, voluntary, and extraordinary acknowledgments unto God.
5. But that is lawful to us Christians which doth most certainly ensure our duty to God, yet doth not ensnare us in the ensuring of it.
III. When vows are well-composed, and so consequently for the advantage on religion.
1. If you would duly and well compose your vows, you must wait a fit season; not vow on every occasion.
2. When the extraordinary case warrants thee to this extraordinary obliging of thyself, then be sure to proceed deliberately, and with advice. Consider what thou doest: every one condemns rash vows; and, I am sure, inconsiderate vows are rash ones. Here Jephthah failed. Consider--
(1) Whether that thou vowest to do be lawful.
(2) Whether acceptable to God.
(3) Whether that thing which thou vowest bear a proportion to that thou didst expect and pray for when thou vowedst, or to that thou hadst received, for which thou dost now make thy vow.
3. Thou must vow cheerfully, and with a ready mind.
4. Vow sincerely and uprightly.
IV. How well-composed vows promote religion.
1. Religion hath its concernment in the credit and reputation which it hath in the world. Religion hath a name to look after, so well as you or I; and it loseth or gaineth, as it is either honoured or reproached by the professors of it. Now, when times of extraordinary danger drive us to our prayers and vows to the true God, and we resolve to have mercy from Him, or to choose to fall into His hand, this sets the credit and honour of religion, that it can have recourse to God, who, we know, can deliver us. This is somewhat; but the making a vow doth not so much honour religion as the performing of it doth, when it is hereby declared to the world,--that religion is the thing that makes men the same in their mercies which they were in their distresses; that the God whom they worship is the true God, able to require their vows, if they should neglect to pay them.
2. By setting forward the growth of religions in the midst of those who profess it.
3. Vows well made, and kept well, very much improve And promote religion in the heart and life of him who so voweth and keepeth his vow.
V. Whence these well-composed vows have such influence on religion, what have they in them more than ordinary thus to promote it? To this I will answer as briefly as I may: There is in such vows a most notable awakening and quickening power, which sets all a man’s care, wisdom, truth, and strength on work, to do the things whereby religion is so much promoted.
1. If well-composed vows do indeed much promote religion, it will teach us how careful we should be in making our vows to the greatest advantage of religion.
2. Do well advised and composed vows so much promote religion when well and faithfully kept? Are they also such sacred and inviolable bonds? Then look what vows you are under, look how you have performed them. (H. Hurst, M.A.)
I. The elements of which religious decision consists.
1. A settled faith in the principles of Christian truth.
2. A self-denying conformity to the precepts of Christian holiness.
3. A public dedication to the interests of the Christian cause.
II. The arguments by which religious decision is commended.
1. It is a due and proper return for the mercies you have received.
2. It must greatly elevate your own character.
1. It is the source of the purest and highest happiness.
III. The practical result which our contemplation of religious decision and the arguments commending it ought invariably and universally to answer.
1. It is that you should thus be decided and devoted for yourselves.
2. Resolve upon it without delay.
(1) By hesitation you lose time.
(2) By hesitation you diminish the probabilities of devotedness at a future time.
(3) By hesitation you presume guiltily upon the probabilities of future life. (J. Parsons.)
The sanctity of vows
I. A vow is a distinct and conscious assertion of our religious nature. It is made with the most perfect consciousness of personal responsibility, in the presence and under the authority of that august Being to whom all obedience and worship are due. And it is void of all significance and solemnity if the whole religiousness of man’s nature does not find expression in it.
II. A vow Is the acknowledgment of moral responsibility, and a confession of guilt before God. In this vow it is confessed that God holds man responsible for what he does. There is no significance in the vow if it is not based upon the recognition of his individual responsibility before the law. And as this springs from a conscience under the pressure of guilt, it is a confession of judgment identical in character with that which will be made by the sinner at the bar of God in the last day.
III. The vow is a voluntary act of the will, and is, therefore, of the nature of a covenant with Almighty God. It cannot be broken, therefore, without the guilt of perjury.
IV. Every proper vow is in the direction of original duty, as well as in the direction of offered grace. A vow is, therefore, doubly binding. It has absorbed into itself an obligation that existed before. It has embodied a duty which was in itself binding, and by its form ratifies, endorses and strengthens that obligation under the sanction of an oath. A voluntary pledge to perform that which is in itself a duty, rivets the obligation upon the conscience, and leaves no loophole for escape. But the vow is also in the direction of offered grace. Being made to Almighty God, with entire reliance upon Divine aid in its fulfilment, it is clearly in the line of the grace which is offered to man.
V. The vow is made under the sanction of the eternal world. For a moment the spiritual eye has been opened to catch a partial glimpse of all that is blessed in heaven, of all that is dreadful in hell, of all that is awful in the judgment-day, of all that is sublime in the vastness of the silent eternity to which we are hastening. How solemn the obligation becomes under the pressure of such a sanction as this! (B. M. Palmer, D. D.)
Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.
As we see death, it means decay, removal, absence--things which we do not prize. But as God sees death, He beholds something really precious to Him and, we may justly infer, precious to us, for whatever is against us cannot be precious to our Father. We are looking at the wrong side of the tapestry, where all is tangle and confusion. God sees the right side, where the design is intelligent and the colours harmonious. We are without the veil, and see but the dim light through the curtain; within is the Shechinah glory. We stand in the dark, believing and hoping; God is in the light, seeing and knowing.
I. To God death means the opportunity to supply every need of His child. Health means conscious strength. While we are well, we may feel that we are equal to taking care of ourselves. Dying means absolute helplessness. Such is God’s opportunity. When physicians give up the case, He takes it up. After human help has failed, the Lord delights to be to us all that we need.
II. To God death means the most intimate communion. He rejoices to have all to Himself those whom He loves. He said of Israel, “I will allure her and bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably unto her.” No one else can help us die. Through the valley we must go alone--yet not alone, for Jesus accompanies.
III. To God death means rest. Jesus said, “Come unto Me,” etc. It was His delight to quiet the heart and give rest to the weary mind. The voice from heaven said, “Blessed are the dead,” etc. “There remaineth a rest,” etc. To us death looks like a rest of the body--the lifeless form no longer suffers; it sleeps until the waking on the resurrection morning. God sees the rest of soul, and the event which introduces His children into this restful state is precious to Him.
IV. To God death means larger life. Christ came to give life, and to give it more abundantly. Whatever imparts and increases the life of God’s people is of great value. While to us death seems to be the cessation of life, to God it is an increase of life. The last words of Drummond Burns were, “I have been dying for years, now I shall begin to live.” It is passing from the land of the dying into the land of the living.
V. To God death means joy. All through the Bible we are exhorted to “Rejoice, rejoice evermore!” The joy of His children is precious to God. Dying, Rutherford exclaimed, “I feed on manna; oh, for arms to embrace Him!” President Wingate, of Wake Forest College, whispered to his wife with his last breath, “I thought it would be sweet, but I did not think it would be so sweet as this.” It is passing from shadow into sunshine; from the discords of earth into the music of the celestial harps; from contraction into everlasting expansion.
VI. To God death means ministry to the living. Through death Jesus entered the family of the Jewish ruler, and the death of our friends often leads us to invite the Man of Sorrows to our homes. The departure of loved ones opens a window of heaven, and gives us a glimpse into the beyond; and in leaving us, they, in a very true sense, come to us. We appreciate them as we never did before; we see their virtues and forget their faults; they are to us transfigured, while everything about them shines with a peculiar glory. (A. C. Dixon, D.D.)
I. The statement here made implies a view of death of a peculiar kind. Death in itself is terrible. But to the saint death is by no means such a thing as happens unto the unregenerate. The change lies mainly in the fact that it is no more the infliction of a penalty for sin upon the believer. To him it is a privilege to die. The Head has traversed the valley of death-shade, and let the members rejoice to follow. We know that to die is not to renounce existence; we understand that death is but a passage into a higher and a nobler existence. The soul emancipated from all sinfulness passes the Jordan, and is presented without fault before the throne of God.
II. The statement here made is of a most unlimited kind.
1. There is no limit here as to whom. Provided that the dying one be a saint, his death is precious. He may be the greatest in the Church, he may be the least: he may be the boldest confessor, he may be the most timid trembler; but if a saint, his death is precious in God’s sight.
2. There is no limit as to when. What, shall the hero fall when the battle wants him most? Shall the reaper be sent home and made to lay down his sickle just when the harvest is heaviest, and the day requires every worker? To us it seemeth strange, but to God it is precious. Oh, could we lift the veil, could we understand what now we see not, we should perceive that it was better for the saints to die when they died, than it would have been for them to have lived longer lives.
3. There is no limitation as to where. Up in the lonely garret where there are none of the appliances of comfort, but all the marks of the deepest penury, up there where the dying work-girl or the crossing-sweeper dies--there is a sight most precious unto God; or yonder, in the long corridor of the hospital, where many are too engrossed in their own griefs to be able to shed a tear of sympathy, there passes away a triumphant spirit, and precious is that death in God’s sight. Alone, utterly alone in the dead of night, surprised, unable to call in a helper, saintly life often has passed away; but in that form also precious is the death in God’s sight.
4. There is no limit as to how. Their deaths may happen suddenly; they may be alive, and active, and in a moment fall down dead, but their death is precious.
III. The statement of the text may be fully sustained and accounted for. “Precious in the eight of the Lord is the death of His saints,” is a most sober and truthful declaration.
1. Because their persons were, and always will be, precious unto God. His saints! These are they whose names are borne on Jesus’ breast, and engraven upon the palms of His hands; these are His bride, His spouse; therefore everything that concerns them must be precious.
2. Because precious graces are in death very frequently tested, and as frequently revealed and perfected. You cannot tell what is in a man to the fulness of him till he is tried to the full, and therefore the last trial, inasmuch as it strippeth off earth-born imperfections and develops in us that which is of God, and brings to the front the real and the true, and throws to the back the superficial and the pretentious, is precious in God’s sight.
3. Because precious attributes are in dying moments gloriously illustrated. I refer now to the Divine attributes. In life and in death we prove the attribute of God’s righteousness, we find that He does not lie, but is faithful to His word. We learn the attribute of mercy, He is gentle and pitiful to us in the time of our weakness. We prove the attribute of His immutability, we find Him “the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.”
4. Because it is a precious sheep folded, a precious sheaf harvested, a precious vessel which had been long at sea brought into harbour, a precious child which had been long at school to finish his training brought home to dwell in the Father’s house for ever. God the Father sees the fruit of His eternal love at last ingathered: Jesus sees the purchase of His passion at last secured: the Holy Spirit sees the object of His continual workmanship at last perfected. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The preciousness in God’s sight of the death of saints
I. As the supreme crisis of human experience. This life is a life of changes, of pains, of destructions. But all are dwarfed by that change, that pain, that destruction.
II. As affixing the seal to human character.
III. As the entrance into new fellowship with God (Ecclesiastes 12:7; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:2-3). To the wicked, such nearness of the soul to God, with all disguises stripped away, must be an embrace of fire; but to those that are the saved of the Lord, an ineffable blessedness. The children are at school now, and the time is often a time of weary waiting; but there shall be the homecoming then!
IV. As the beginning of a boundless life. The intermediate waiting, be it what it may, shall be but “as a watch in the night.” And then? Then a perfect manhood, a perfect world, a perfect progress for ever! The long waiting is all for this crowning joy; the many hindrances and oppositions are but a discipline to prepare for this consummate blessedness; the great salvation finds its full completion in the all-perfect life whose beauty dawns immortal at last. (T. F. Lockyer, B.A.)
The preciousness of the saints in life and in death
I. The Lord has His saints--His holy ones. This imports--
1. Appropriation. They are “His” saints--saints through Him and in Him, saints of His making and modelling and establishing.
2. Devotedness. They are holy unto the Lord, sanctified or set apart to His service, self-surrendered to the adorable Redeemer.
3. Resemblance. Such characters are emphatically Godlike, holy and pure; children of their Father which is in heaven; certifying to all around their filial relationship to Him, by their manifest participation of His nature, by their reflection of His image and likeness.
II. They enjoy no immunity from bodily death. Waiving whatever is occasional, arising out of circumstances peculiar to individuals, it is easy to see that, though this is so painful for the time being to God’s dear children, it is well adapted to promote such important ends as these;--the trial and improvement of their present grace,--the consequent heightening of their happiness in the future state ,--the arresting of the sinner’s attention,--the encouragement of many feeble and wavering believers through their dying testimony,--the illustration, in a stronger light, of the awful evil of sin,--the demonstration, too, of the spiritual and superior nature of Christian joy, and its absolute independency on artificial circumstances, and its true character, the joy of the Holy Ghost,--and the complete, eventual display, in the sight of heaven, and earth, and hell, of the conquest of Christ, and of His religion, over suffering, and death, and hell.
III. Yet, even in death they are the continued objects of God’s complacent regard.
1. He watches over, and sets a high value upon the holy and useful lives of His people, and will not lightly allow those lives to be abbreviated or destroyed.
2. He exercises control over the circumstances of their death.
3. When they are dying, He looks upon them and is merciful unto them.
4. He attaches great importance to their deathbed itself. The close of a Christian’s career on earth, his defiance, in the strength of his Saviour, of his direst enemy, the good confession which he acknowledges when he is enabled to witness before those around his dying bed, all these are precious and important in the sight of the Lord, and ought to be so in our view, and redound, not only to his own advantage, but to the benefit of survivors, “to the praise and glory of His grace.”
5. He evinces his estimation of their character, and of their circumstances, by providing for their recovery from the grave, and their enjoyment of a glorious immortality. (W. M. Bunting.)
The preciousness of the death of believers
I. The death of the saints is a great and momentous event in the sight of God.
II. It affords supreme gratification to His paternal love. O believers, it is precious to the Father to see your trials close, to see you entering on the glories of the spotless bride of Christ, to see all tears wiped from your eyes and your voices tuned to the song of Moses and the Lamb, to see you lay aside the cross and take up the crown.
III. It exerts a powerful influence on the salvation of others. Can you forget the prayers breathed out for you amid uttered longings to depart and be with Christ?
IV. The place it occupies in the salvation of the saint himself. The time of death is a most precious time for God to work. It is the time when all pride is laid in the dust, and the soul, emptied of itself, is ready to be filled with the fulness of Christ. It is a time when lusts and passions have lost their power, and the poor sinner is ready to acquiesce in salvation by free grace. It is the time of man’s extremity which is God’s opportunity; a time when all human help fails, and Jehovah comes in mercy to aid.
V. The saint’s death is so precious to the Lord that He takes care to order all things respecting it for the saint’s good and for His own glory. (J. Walken, D. D.)
The death of good men dear to God
I. Whence it is that the death of the saints is dear to God.
1. Because then they are delivered from all their sufferings.
2. Because an end is then put to all their labours.
3. That He may approve their conduct, and confer upon them a glorious recompense.
4. Because they are then made capable of serving Him better than in this present world.
II. The practical influence which the consideration of the death of the saints being dear to God should have upon us.
1. It should make us ambitious to attain their character.
2. It teaches us that none are exempted from mortality. All the ingenuity of the sons of men hath not been able to discover an antidote against mortality, and the saints must submit to it as well as others. What, then, remains for us to do? Surely to live the life of the righteous, that we may have our last end like his,
3. The death of the saints should fill us with the deepest regret. I may call them the pillars of the earth, which preserve it from destruction. When these are removed, there is reason to apprehend approaching desolation. (D. Johnston, D.D.)
Death of saints
I. Consider why God claims saints as His own.
1. He has set them apart for Himself, in His original purpose of redemption.
2. He has enstamped His moral image upon them.
3. They have freely and sincerely given themselves away to Him.
II. Show that God takes peculiar care of the death of His Saints.
1. He always takes care when His saints shall die.
2. He takes care that they shall die, not only at the best time, but under the best circumstances.
3. God takes care of His saints, when their pure and immortal spirits leave their clayey tabernacle, and take their course to the world of light. He knows that death is a great and solemn change, and He will not forsake them while passing through it.
1. If God treats His saints in such a manner as has been said, then we may learn the extent of His sovereignty towards all mankind.
2. In the view of this subject, we may see that real saints have a permanent source of comfort, to which all who disbelieve and reject the Gospel are entire strangers.
3. Since God claims all real Christians as His own, and always takes a gracious care of them, they ought to make their calling and election sure to themselves. They are absolutely secure in His view, and they ought to be absolutely secure in their own view.
4. If the death of saints be precious in the sight of the Lord, then it ought to be precious and desirable in their own sight. They ought to live in hope, and not in fear of death.
5. Since God claims saints as His own, and takes peculiar care of them both living and dying, it infinitely concerns sinners to become saints, and live a holy and devout life.
6. If God takes peculiar care of saints in life, and often gives them a peaceful death, then their death ought to be peculiarly regarded as very precious and instructive.
7. If God claims all real saints as His own, and takes peculiar care of their death, which is precious in His sight, then pious mourners have ground of support and consolation under the bereavement of their pious relatives and friends. (N. Emmons, D.D.)
The importance which God attaches to the death of His saints
I. He will not permit it to take place at the will of His enemies, or whenever they in their malice may seek to compass it. He who turned the hearts of Joseph’s brethren rather to sell him into slavery than to slay him and conceal his blood; He who preserved the three Hebrew children in the midst of the fiery furnace, and brought Daniel unhurt out of the lions’ den; He who sent His angel and delivered Peter out of the hand of Herod, and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews; He who, when His servant Paul was pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that he despaired even of life, but had the sentence of death in himself, delivered him from so great a death as that which he feared, has still the hearts of all men in His hands, and all events at His disposal. He knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptation, and to reserve the unjust to the day of judgment to be punished.
II. He will not permit the death of His saints to take place but for purposes worthy of being gained even by such a price.
1. The impression it may make on others who remain for a time behind those who are taken away.
2. The acceptable homage which God may purpose to derive to Himself from the death of His saints.
3. The purpose of their death to the saints themselves, which is to usher them into a blessed immortality. (J. Henderson, D.D.)
The death of His saints precious to God
I. Precious, therefore, in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints, because it brings them nearer to God. How strange, indeed how absurd, this life would be if death ended all! Think of a man like Gladstone, who lived under a high sense of duty, whose life was one of prayer, who sang “Praise to the Holiest in the height” amid the sufferings of his last days;--just imagine all this ending in nothingness! Why, it reminds one of the famous Amblongus pie of the nonsense book. It was a pie of most elaborate construction. Particular directions were given as to the making of it, what was to be put in, and in what quantities. It was to be very carefully compounded, and most scientifically baked, and then the final instructions were to “open the window and pitch it out as fast as possible.” Just as laughable, so to speak, is the idea of a man, trained to high thought and holy feeling and submissive will, being, at the last, simply “cast as rubbish to the void.” But Christ hath brought life and immortality to light.
II. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints, because it ends their struggle. There is no surer thing about life here than that it is a struggle. The road is uphill all the way, and you must wrestle on towards heaven. But it is just this struggling that makes us, and gives us a character worth taking into the next world. It is told of the mother of Mr. Balfour that, on one occasion, when her sons were going to play in a football match, some friend advised her to keep them from going because of the danger. “Would you have me spoil a character?” was the mother’s reply. She herself was anxious about them, and didn’t like their playing; but to keep them back from joining their comrades merely because of any risk, she felt, would do more harm than good. All the same, you may be sure, it would be a relief to her to see them safe home again after it was all over. And so God does not separate us from the need for struggle here, and the risks attending it. We have to face them all. He wants us to gain and acquire character through a well-fought fight. But will not He too be pleased,--relieved, might we say?--when all the struggle is safely over, and death brings His children home?
III. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints, because it ends their ignorance. It is said, and with a good deal of truth, that most people who do any good in the world die without knowing it. That is very hard. Surely such, above all, deserve to know at least the good they have done. But often not till they are gone is the value of their work realized. They may have thought they were failures, they may have longed to be taken away as useless; and yet, when they are gone, others rise up and call them blessed. “Ah!” we say, “if they had only known, if they had only had the satisfaction of knowing that while they were with us!” But do you not think they know now? We may be sure that death ends their ignorance as to that, and as to many of the things that men here have for ages desired to look into. (J. S. Maver, M. A.)
The death of the righteous precious in the sight of God
You might have thought that it would have been their life which was declared “precious”; for what are they but the army of the Lord? Are they not those who maintain His cause against a wicked and rebellious generation? And when withdrawn from earth, are they not comparatively withdrawn from all opportunity of witnessing for the truth, and upholding Christ’s kingdom against the powers of darkness? Oh, it does but show more clearly how much of danger surrounds the saints during their sojourning below, that their death should be counted so valuable, notwithstanding that it interrupts their usefulness, removes them from the scene where alone they can wage the war with the enemies of God. Was the death of Paul precious, though his death was as when a standard-bearer fell, and there have arisen none since to take up his mantle as a champion of Christ? Then does not the very preciousness of his death give additional meaning and emphasis to his own words--“I keep Under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway”? The death is precious because the life is perilous; and God rejoices over His saints when He has gathered them into the separate state, because then they can be no more tempted to the forsaking His law, no more exposed to the assaults of the evil one, no more challenged to a battle in which if victory be glorious there is all the risk of a shameful defeat. And though it may seem to you that the usefulness of life must after all detract from the preciousness of death, so that you can hardly see how that is to be thought of great worth which transplants the believer from activity to quietude, from the maintenance of God’s cause to the deep recesses of the separate state, yet reflect for a moment on the power of a saint’s death, and you may believe that, even as a weapon against the unrighteous, death must be precious. It was in dying that Christ conquered. What was so precious as His death, forasmuch as through death He destroyed “him that had the power of death, that is, the devil”? It is in dying that saints often achieve their greatest victory, or do most for the cause of God or the truth. There is a power in their memory which makes them survive dissolution. The death of the righteous is often effectual in convincing those who were not moved by their life. The piety which can smile at the grim tyrant, more persuades men of its truth, and more urges to imitation, than piety under lesser trial and demonstration, as it was not in the pulpit, nor in the study, but at the stake, that martyrs lighted the candle which yet sheds over nations so rich an illumination. Let us not, then, speak of death as necessarily the termination of usefulness. It may often be only that which carries usefulness to its height, and gives it perpetuity, Having put off their armour, they may still be in the fight, their example remaining to incite others to constancy, their memory descending to lead on successors in the championship of truth. Housed, then, by death, so that everlasting blessedness is made theirs beyond every possible contingency; removed from a scene where every hour in danger of dishonouring and denying God, to one where they are certain to love Him and adore Him without the slightest interruption, the dissolution moreover of this framework of flesh being often but a process through which righteousness takes a higher stand in the witnessing for the Gospel, and in the advancement of the kingdom of Christ--oh, tell me not that death can be other than valuable in the eyes of the Almighty; valuable as securing those whom He loves and promoting that which He designs. (H. Melvill, B.D.)
The death of God’s saints
The word here rendered “saints” means those that are saved by grace, to use the New Testament language, and are now endeavouring to live soberly, righteously, and godly in the world, because they are taught or trained so to do by the grace of God which has brought them salvation. Now, all through their lives God watches over these, His saints. Precious are their lives in His sight. He hears their supplications, and when they are brought low He helps them; He makes all things work together for their good; precious to Him are their prayers and their praises. Their very tears and cries and the sobs of their hearts are known to Him. Precious is their daily service, whether rendered in silence and obscurity or under the stimulus of publicity and the responsibility of a high position. Precious to the Lord is their walk before Him. In their going out and their coming in, their rising up and lying down, the Lord knoweth them that are His, and the Lord careth for them. He will not let them die at any such time or in any such way as may do them hurt. They may die early or late (God appoints the time)--early with much promise unfulfilled or just in the midst of a very useful life; or in old age, after years of helplessness. No one can tell you why. But God knows, and the death of His saints, at what time and in what manner soever it occurs, is always watched over by His unsleeping eye, engaging the tender pity and lovingkindness of Him who is Lord both of the Lead and of the living, for these have fought a fight of faith, and their Master calls them to peace. Peace, at last: no enemies any more; no enemies within; no enemies without; no more wounds from false tongues or blows from hands unjust; no more conflict in the heart; no more temptation of the world, or of the flesh, or of the devil. They have finished their work, and their Master calls them to rest. Their bodies rest in the tomb, but their spirits rest in the light of God. Oh, happy release to those that have laboured and not fainted! Absent from the body, they are present with the Lord, and it is far better. (D. Fraser, D.D.)
Death culminates God’s designs for saints
The death of His saints is the climax and culmination of all God’s works on their behalf; therefore does He rejoice in it. As fathers welcome home their boys and girls when holiday-time arrives--as the shepherd looks with joy upon the sheep gathered in the fold, and welcomes the late-comer with special gladness--as they who stand upon the pier look on with pleasure when the sails are furled and the anchor dropped and the voyage over--as the husbandman gazes with delight upon the sheaves ingathered, and hears with delight the cries of harvest home,--so does our Father stand with rapture at His gate to welcome home the children for their eternal holiday; so does our Shepherd gather to His side in heaven the sheep for whom He bled; so do the heavenly watchers on the quays in glory look with glistening eyes upon those who have an abundant entrance into the kingdom of His dear Son, like ships that have sailed from far, and weathered many a storm, arriving safely in the harbour with their precious freight; so does the Lord God, the Husbandman of our souls, look on with great delight when shocks of corn that are fully ripe fall beneath the sickle and are gathered into His garner. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints,” for it is the fulfilment of all God’s designs of life; and, when the topstones are brought on with shouting, they shall pass from sonnets of His grace to singing of His glory, which He has made to be theirs as well. (T. Spurgeon.)
O Lord, truly I am Thy servant.
This, with the following verses, may be thus paraphrased: Blessed Lord, from the sense of what Thou hast done for me, I cannot but declare myself infinitely obliged to Thee; no servant bought with a price, or born in a house, can be more engaged to his Master than I am to Thee, who by Thy providence hast rescued me from the utmost dangers; what remains but that I should return the humblest offerings of praise and prayer, that I should spend my whole life as a vowed oblation to Thy service, and render Thee all possible praise in the public assembly, in the most solemn manner? I will own and endeavour to approve myself Thy servant.
I. Reasons why such a service should be chosen by us.
1. It is a just service.
(1) He has a right of creation, for He hath made us, and not we ourselves (Isaiah 44:1).
(2) He has a right of redemption. We are His by purchase (Exodus 12:44; 1 Peter 1:18; 1 Corinthians 6:20).
(3) He has a right to us by conquest (Luk 7:54).
2. It is a most necessary service.
(1) Because we are born to serve.
(2) If we withdraw our service from Him, we perish in our rebellion (Isaiah 60:12).
(3) It is necessary by our own voluntary act. For we bound ourselves by a solemn promise and vow, in the face of the congregation at our baptism, to continue Christ’s faithful servants and soldiers to our lives’ end.
3. God’s service is easy. What He commands us to do, He helps us to perform, so that “His commandments are not grievous.”
4. God’s service is the most honourable. No man ever truly served God that did not gain incredibly by it. These things the servants of God may depend upon as the certain perquisites and benefits of His service, protection, maintenance and reward.
II. How we should demean ourselves in God’s service.
1. With reverence. This is accompanied with--
(2) Fear of offending (Malachi 1:6; Psalms 2:11; Hebrews 12:28).
(3) A care of desire and pleasure (Colossians 1:10).
2. With obedience.
(1) Active obedience to God consisteth in keeping His commandments and doing His will.
(2) Passive obedience consists in contenting ourselves with the allowances of our supreme Master, and submitting ourselves to His corrections.
3. Fidelity. This is shown in--
(1) The sincerity and heartiness of our service.
(2) Zeal in His behalf.
(3) Diligence. (E. Lake, D.D.)
The delight of God’s service
(to young men):--
I. I commend the service of God to you.
1. I have never regretted that I entered it. All sorts of enticement have assailed me, and siren voices have often tried to lure me; but never since the day in which I enlisted in Christ’s service have I said to myself, “I am sorry that I am a Christian; I am vexed that I serve the Lord.” I think that I may, therefore, honestly, heartily, and experimentally recommend to you the service which I have found so good. I have been a bad enough servant, but never had a servant so lovable a Master or so blessed a service.
2. I have great delight in seeing my children in the same service. When a man finds that a business is a bad one, you will not find him bringing up his boys to it. Now, the greatest desire of my heart for my sons was that they might become the servants of God. I never wished for them that they might be great or rich, but, oh, if they would but give their young hearts to Jesus!
3. So blessed is the service of God, that I would like to die in it. David Brainerd, when he was very old and could not preach to the Indians, was found sitting up in bed, teaching a little Indian boy his letters, that he might read the Bible, and he said, “If I cannot serve God one way, I will another; I will never leave off this blessed service.”
(1) To serve God is the most reasonable thing in the world. It was He that made you. Should not our Creator have our service?
(2) This is the most honourable service that ever can be.
(3) This service is full of beneficence. It is good for yourself, and it is good for your fellow-men; for what does God ask in His service but that we should love Him with all our heart, and that we love our neighbour as ourselves? He who does this is truly serving God by the help of His Spirit, and he is also greatly blessing men.
(4) It is the most remunerative work under heaven. A quiet conscience is better than gold. To wear in your button-hole that little flower called “heart’s-ease,” and to have the jewel of contentment in your bosom--this is heaven begun below: godliness is great gain to him that hath it.
II. A word of caution. David said, “O Lord, truly I am Thy servant.” “Truly.”
1. If you become the servant of God, become the servant of God truly. God is not mocked. It is the curse of our Churches that we have so many merely nominal Christians in them. It is the plague of this age that so many put on Christ’s livery, and yet never do Him a hand’s turn. Oh, if you serve God, mean it!
2. If you would be God’s servant, then count the cost. You must leave all others. “Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” Ye cannot serve Christ and Belial. He is not God’s who is not God’s only.
3. You must enter upon God’s service also for life; not to be sometimes God’s servant and sometimes not--off and on.
III. I want now to offer counsel in the matter of distinct confession if you become the servant of Christ. “I am Thy servant,” says David, and I want every young man here who is a Christian to say so, that there may not be one among us who follows the Lord Jesus in a kind of mean, sneaking way. It has become a custom with some to try to be Christians and never say anything about it; but I urge the true servants of Christ to out with it, and never to be ashamed, because, if ever the declaration was required, it is required now.
IV. I close by congratulating some of you who are God’s servants upon your freedom, for that is the last part of the text. “Thou hast loosed my bonds.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Devotedness to God
I. The import of the psalmist’s declaration and purpose.
1. A very humble sense of his distance from, and dependence upon, God as His creature.
2. A confession of it is being bound by particular covenant and consent unto God, and a repetition of the same by a new adherence.
3. An expression of his peculiar and special relation to God.
4. A sense of gratitude for signal mercies.
5. A solemn dedication and surrender of himself to God and His service for the time to come.
II. Practical improvement.
1. Plead with every one the right of his Maker to his service.
2. Warp such as are living in open and avowed profanity. They are so far from being the servants of God that they are His enemies, his confederated enemies, and the enemies of everything that stands in a visible relation to Him. (J. Witherspoon, D.D.)
The divine servant
I. The Divine servant. He should be--
1. A voluntary one, willing in every sense of the word to do the bidding of his Master, even when it is opposed to the wishes of men.
5. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, who dwells within him.
II. Divine service. Cathedrals and chapels may be likened to spiritual stables, where divine servants are born and fed and rested; but our workshops, our families, our school-rooms, our editorial chairs are the places where we should do our divine service. (W. Birch.)
The Lord’s servant
A servant is one who obeys the will of another. The will of a person may be obeyed consciously or unconsciously. Hence servants are of two kinds ,--those that obey consciously, and those that obey unconsciously. The latter--such as obey unconsciously--may be called instruments of the master’s will; and the former--such as obey consciously--may be called agents of it. All believers are God’s servants in the best and noblest sense of the word. They do His will because they know it, and because it is their delight; they obey His law, because they know it, and because they have it within their heart. They are not the blind instruments of His power; they are the conscious and willing agents of a service in which they glory.
I. How the believer becomes a servant of the Lord.
1. By birth. It must not be confounded with that birth which the believer has experienced in common with all the race, and which brought him into a world of sin, and sorrow, and death. This is his second birth. This is his new birth. It is a birth which is peculiar to the believer. He is born of water, figuratively, symbolically; of the Word, instrumentally; of the Spirit, efficiently.
2. By purchase. Christ gave Himself for you, that He might redeem you from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.
3. By conquest.
4. By voluntary engagement. He will have nothing more to do with his old master. He desires that his ears may be bored, and that he may be the servant of Christ for ever.
II. The state of mind which the believer, as a servant of God, should cultivate.
1. He ought to remember that he is a servant of God. It will be easy to do this in heaven. The difficulty would be to forget it for an instant amid the fellowships of that glorious place. But there are strong temptations to forget it here. The service of God is unpopular. It is unfashionable. And it is inconsistent with many practices which are pleasant to the flesh.
2. He should remember how he became the Lord’s servant.
3. He should keep his duty as a servant of God always in view. We conjoin these two--the obeying of God’s commandments with the doing of God’s work--because it is not enough, and does not come up to the full idea of what a servant should be, that he be zealous in his master’s cause, and devote himself to his master’s interests; for it is necessary also that he be guided implicitly by the master’s will, and that he do God’s work in God’s way. (A. Gray.)
Self-dedication to God
I. The old bonds loosed. No sooner is a man united to the Crucified One by living faith, than the sentence, borne by the Surety, falls from off him (as it is written, “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us”), and, with that sentence, all the other bonds together--sin, Satan, the world.
II. The new bonds which have come in place of the old for ever.
1. The nature of the new bonds. As they consist in the service of God, so that service is, as to the character of it, first, true; second, entire; and third, hearty and free.
2. The spring and source of the new bonds. It is taught here as to this, that it is the loosing of the old bonds which is the source and spring of the new.
(1) The loosing of the old bonds is the source and spring of the new, in that it is indispensable to the whole formation of them. So long as the old are not loosed, the new cannot exist.
(2) The loosing of the old bonds is the source and spring of the new, inasmuch as it fixes the new, many ways, sweetly and strongly on the soul,--enhances many ways the obligation of God’s service on the soul.
(3) The loosing of the old bonds is the source and spring of the new, in that God’s express purpose and design in the loosing of the old was to fix the new for ever upon the soul,--to set the soul free in order to its serving and glorifying Him for ever.
(4) The loosing of the old bonds is the source and spring of the new, in that it brings into the soul a Divine power and strength,--the power of the Holy Ghost, effectually to persuade, enable, constrain, the soul to the service of God.
(5) The loosing of the old bonds is the source and spring of the new, in that, besides the power, it brings into the soul all manner of inducements, persuasives, motives, to the service of God; and specially among these, the motive of an overpowering gratitude and love, under whose blessed influence it comes to pass that, whereas we could not serve God before, now we cannot but serve Him, as David sings in this psalm, “What shall I render unto the Lord,” etc. (C. J. Brown, D. D.)
The religion of Jesus is the religion of liberty. The true believer can say, when his soul is in a healthy state, “Thou hast loosed my bonds. The penal fetters with which my soul was once bound are all dashed to shivers; I am free!” “There is now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus,” etc. The burdensome bonds of ceremonials are all cast to the winds. Henceforth the beggarly elements are trodden under foot; shadows have yielded to substance, and the type and the symbol cease to oppress; the true light now shineth, and the torches are quenched. “Thou hast loosed my bonds”--that is to say, Thou hast not only saved me from the penal consequences of my sin and from the heavy burden of the old Mosaic ceremonial law, but Thou hast moreover delivered me from the spirit of bondage which once led me to serve Thee with the fear of an unwilling slave. Thou hast made me Thy freedman. No more do I crouch at Thy feet or go to Thy footstool cowering like a slave; but I come to Thee with privilege of access, up to Thy very throne. By the Spirit of adoption I cry, Abba, Father. Thou dost own the kindred. For by the selfsame Spirit I am sealed to the day of redemption. Thus, O Lord, “Thou hast loosed my bonds.” Nor, if religion has had its full sway in us, is this all. Thou hast loosed me from the bonds of worldly maxims; Thou hast delivered me from the fear of man; Thou hast rescued me from the stooping and fawning which made me once the slave of every tyrant who laid claim to my allegiance, and Thou hast made me now the servant of but one Master, whose service is perfect liberty.
I. The nature of personal service. Let me explain it by a contrast. The service of God among us has grown more and more a service by proxy. Do we not observe, even in the outward worship of God, at times a great attempt towards worship by proxy? Do we not often hear singing the praises of God confined to some five or six or more trained men and women who are to praise God for us? Do we not sometimes have the dreary thought when we are in our churches and chapels that even the prayer is said and prayed by the minister for us? We shall never see great things in the world till we have all roused ourselves to our personal responsibilities. God will not give the honour of saving the world to His ministers. He meant it for His Church; and until His Church is prepared to grasp it, God will withhold the crown which He has prepared for her brow, and for hers alone, and which none but she can ever win.
II. Its reasonableness. Heir of heaven, blood-bought and blood-washed, Jesus did not save thee by another. But, again, have you not a personal religion? You live, if you be a true Christian--you live upon the personal realization of your interest in the covenant of grace. What more reasonable than that you should give personal service? Further, this personal service is reasonable from the fact that personal service is the only kind of service at all available. I scarcely know whether you can serve God except by individual consecration.
III. Its excellence. This excellence is manifold. Among the first of its charms, personal service is the main argument of the Christian religion against the sceptic. Let every private man have his mission; let every man and woman begin to build nearest to their own house, and from that day scepticism begins to lose, at least, one of its arguments; and, with it, it loses one of its most formidable elements--one of its deadliest weapons with which it has attacked the Church. But, further, I am persuaded that while it would be a grand argument against sceptics, it would be one of the greatest means of deciding that class of waverers who, although they are not sceptical, are negligent of the things of the Kingdom. There is no way to make another man earnest like being earnest oneself. But, further, excellency of personal service, it strikes me, is not confined to the good we do, but should be argued from the good we get. We have in our Churches men and women who are always looking for an opportunity for finding fault. They are never consistent in anything but in their inconsistent grumbling. The mightiest cure for the Church is to set them to work. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
It would ofttimes help us to bear our trials were we to reflect we are all God’s servants rather than His guests. This does not degrade us, for the work of all the world is carried forward by underlings. No monarch saves a state, no commander wins a battle, no captain sails a ship, no trader amasses a fortune, but by the fidelity of his servants. To be God’s servants, if faithful, is to be the world’s co-redeemers. (Christian Weekly.)
It is told of Socrates and his servant, that the servant gave himself to his master on his birthday, and that the master loaded his faithful servant with presents, and said, “Now I give thee thyself back richer than before.” Then the servant replied, “But now, my master, I am more than ever thy servant still.” (Quiver.)
In the courts of the Lord’s house.
The duty and blessing of public worship
I. An urgent duty. That God should receive the adoration of His creatures is the first dictate of all theology. We are told, in the earliest periods of sacred history, of altars erected and sacrifices offered. It was not until natural religion degenerated into idolatry that the manner of their service was specially revealed. The light of nature had led them together into God’s presence. The throne of grace, the song of praise, the Word of God--by means like these His people find Him, and they can come even to His seat. They are to us the patriarch’s ladder, connecting earth and heaven; and if ours is the true spirit of devotion, we too shall be encompassed with messages of Divine approval, and shall leave its scenes of gracious manifestation, exclaiming, “It was none other than the house of God; it was the gate of heaven.”
II. An invaluable privilege. The truth, that all duty is privilege, applies here with special force. The holy city drew forth the desires of the pious Hebrew, because it was the place of the visible presence of the Most High, where His favour was to be obtained. Within the gates of Jerusalem He was to be found; and the psalmist therefore “longed, yea, even fainted for the courts of the Lord.” Surely the Christian cannot lag behind the Jew, when he reckons up the benefits that flow from united approach to the place where prayer is wont to be made. What are all the ordinances of Christian faith, its simple sacraments, the Sabbath institution, the house of God, our perpetual access to the Throne--what are all these but our Jerusalem?
III. A scene of hallowed enjoyment. It is impossible to read this psalm without being struck with its cheerful, happy tone. It expresses feelings very unlike the repulsive gloom with which some have invested the sanctuary and its services. God’s worship inspired those who of old engaged in it with most enviable dispositions, if one may judge of them by their record here. How comprehensive its sympathies! How tender its affections! Love to God and man, to His Word, and to His people, breathes through every verse; and whenever God is worshipped in truth, the same experience is realized. Our feet stand on holy ground. Far hence be banished all profane thoughts and ungenial tempers, with the dark crowd of lusts that war against the soul. Here contrition mourns over sin; humility owns unworthiness; trustfulness casts herself on sovereign mercy; and love awakens love, as devotion enkindles her sacred fires. Let such feelings be in our hearts on one day of the week, and every other will own their influence; while the communion of saints is deepened in the place where the rich and poor meet together, and the Lord is the Maker of them all. Let it be something to us to belong to the company of those who worship God. Let our brethren be to us co-heirs of the grace of life, with whose joys and sorrows we seek to sympathize; and let our fellow-worshippers have a place in our kind regards and unfailing prayers. Let the very church we worship in be dear to us as the scene of sacred fellowship. (A. MacEwen, D.D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 116". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the <>Sixth Sunday after Easter