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Praise ye the Lord.
I. The grandest resolution (verses 1, 2).
1. The author’s belief in the existence of his soul. When this conviction comes, the whole universe is transfigured, and God is brought down from the region of debate and speculation into the realm of consciousness as the Reality of realities.
2. His belief in the duty of his soul to worship. This is to have the whole soul transported with the sense of His immeasurable love and the transcendent loveliness of His character,--to have the soul following Him as the planets follow the sun, drawing from Him harmony of movement, radiance, and life. The words imply--
3. His conviction that he must rouse himself to the work. “O my soul.” No soul can worship unless it rouses. Man has the power of self-motion and self-resolve. We cannot be carried up the lofty heights of true devotion; we must climb the rugged slopes ourselves. Ten thousand voices from above are constantly saying to us, “Come up hither.”
II. The unreliability of mankind (verses 3, 4).
1. Men’s bodies are dying.
2. Men’s purposes are perishing. The great shores of destiny are crowded with the wrecks of purposes that have been broken, unfulfilled hopes, unrealized plans, etc. Wherefore, then, “put trust in princes” or in mankind? Sooner a house built on the sand, and in defiance of the laws of gravitation, to shelter you from the tempest, or the most fragile canoe to bear you in safety over the Atlantic billows.
III. The happiest condition (Psalms 146:5-9).
1. The “God of Jacob” is--
(1) All powerful.
(2) Absolutely truthful.
(3) Infinitely merciful.
2. Here, then, is an Object on which to rely, “Trust in Him who liveth for ever.”
IV. The wrongdoer’s destiny (verse 9). “The way of the wicked He turneth aside.”
1. From what? From all that can render their existence worth having,--from pure friendship, from peace of conscience, from pure loves, from bright and unquenchable hopes. “He turns them aside.”
2. How? Not by His will, not by the force of circumstances, not by the influence He exerts, no; but by their own free agency they turn themselves “upside down,” they go of their own accord on the broad way that leads to destruction. (David Thomas, D. D.)
I am sorry to see that great word, Hallelujah, Hallelu-Jah, praise to Jah, Jehovah, become so hackneyed as it is, by talk about “Hallelujah lasses,” and Hallelujah--I know not what. The Jews will not even pronounce the word Jab, or write it; it seems a great pity that it should be thus draggled in the dirt by Gentiles. “Praise ye the Lord.” Whenever you make use of the word Hallelujah, let it be with the due reverence which should be given to that blessed name, for remember, “the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
His last song
A touching story is told of an old Methodist, a singer of no mean order, who was afflicted with a cancer on his tongue. He went to a hospital for an operation, and there this pathetic incident occurred. Holding up his hand, he said, “Wait a bit, doctor; I have something to say to you.” The operator waited, and the patient continued, “When this is over, doctor, shall I ever sing again?” The doctor could not speak; there was a big lump in his own throat. He simply shook his head, while the tears streamed down the poor fellow’s face, and he trembled convulsively. The sick man then appealed to the doctor to lift him up, with which request the physician complied. He said, “I have had many a good time singing God’s praises, and you tell me, doctor, I can never sing any more after this. I have one song to sing, which will be the last. It will be a song of gratitude and praise to God as well.” Then, from the operator’s table, the poor man sang one of Dr. Watts’ hymns, so familiar to many:--
“I’ll praise my Maker while I’ve breath.”
Put not your trust in princes.
Dependence on man forbidden
I. Mankind are naturally disposed to do this. The young depend upon the old, and the old upon the young. The poor depend upon the rich, and the rich upon the poor. The servant depends upon his master, and the master upon the servant. The subject depends upon the ruler, and the ruler upon the subject. The child depends upon its parents, and the parent on the child. Is it strange, therefore, that such creatures as we are, in our present state, should depend too much upon each other? We early form this habit, which is constantly strengthening through all the changes and periods of life, and which God originally intended we should form and cultivate. But He never meant that our dependence upon each other should be a just ground of our renouncing our supreme dependence upon Himself.
II. God has forbidden them to do this.
1. He has required them to place their own supreme dependence upon Himself.
2. He has forbidden them to trust in themselves.
III. Why He has forbidden it.
1. Because mankind are so very unfit objects upon which to place supreme dependence.
(4) Absolutely dependent on God.
2. To preserve them from the numerous dangers and disappointments to which such undue confidence exposes them.
3. Because it tends to alienate them from Himself, and fix them down in ease and security, upon a false and fallible foundation.
4. To prevent their ruining themselves for ever. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
The forbidding of carnal confidence
1. What a man doth most trust in, that he esteemeth most of, and praiseth in his heart most; therefore doth the psalmist set us upon God, as on the right object of trust, and diverteth us from the wrong, that he may teach us to make God the only object of praise.
2. Because the main object of our carnal confidence naturally is man in power, who seemeth able to do for us, able to promote us to dignity and riches, and to keep us up in some state in the world; therefore must we throw down this idol in particular, that we may place our confidence in God the better.
3. To cut off carnal confidence in man, that neither mean men may trust in great men, nor great men may trust in the multitude of mean men, we must remember that no man is naturally better than his progenitors, but such as his fathers were, such is he--that is, a sinful, weak, and unconstant creature.
4. The reason why we should not put trust in man is because he can neither help himself nor the man that trusteth in him when there is most need.
5. He that cannot deliver himself from death is not to be trusted in, because it is uncertain how soon death shall seize upon him.
6. Whatsoever the good will, or purpose, or promise of any man can give assurance of, all doth vanish when the man dieth. (D. Dickson.)
Man too frail for our support
We may lean on the creature without falling for a time, even as one doth against a crazy fence; but eventually the prop giveth way, and injury if not death ensues. God alone is safely to be trusted. (Anon.)
His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth.
The philosophy of death
The text refers to--
I. The destiny of all.
1. A special day--the day of death.
2. A striking view of death.
3. Man’s last earthly home.
4. The cessation of mental activity.
II. The peculiar privileges and happiness of a certain description of character.
1. Sustained by the God of Jacob.
2. Expecting all good in and from God.
3. The blessedness of this character. (J. Burns, D. D.)
The mortality of human thought
I. All hypothetical thoughts are mortal. They are like the leaves of the forest, whilst some of them begin to wither and fall ere autumnal winds have touched them, they all fall dead at last. The heaps of dead leaves which the gardener every day in autumn sweeps up from the well-wooded swards under his care are emblems of these hypothetical thoughts. Do I undervalue such thoughts? No! Each of these rotting leaves had its charm and has its use. At first it quivered with life and sparkled in the sun; and its decay, no doubt, plays a useful part in the economy of nature. Hypothetical thoughts! Do not despise them. Who can tell the quickening impulses, the beneficent sciences and arts that have come out of them, and will come again? Albeit they must all perish as they touch reality. As the grandest billow, when it breaks on the rocky shore, falls to pieces, so the most majestic hypotheses of men are wrecked as the mind touches the stern realities of eternity.
II. All sensuous thoughts are mortal. In the Scriptures we read of the “fleshly mind,” “fleshly wisdom,” and of those who “judge after the flesh.” How much of human thought is started, shaped, and swayed by the senses! Their springs of movement are in the senses. Their horizon is bounded by the sensuous. Now, such thoughts are mortal. They must perish. They are dying by millions every moment, and they must all die at death. “In that very day his thoughts perish.”
III. All mercenary thoughts are mortal. I mean those thoughts that are taken up with the question, “What shall I eat, what shall I drink, and wherewithal shall I be clothed?” Thoughts that are concerned entirely with man’s material interest in this world, and are limited entirely to time. The worldly schemes and plans of men are all perishing and perishable. Were all the wrecked purposes of all the business men in London for one day fully registered, we could almost say the world itself would not contain the books. (David Thomas, D. D.)
At death a man sees all those thoughts which were not spent upon God to be fruitless. A Scythian captain having, for a draught of water, yielded up a city, cried out, “What have I lost? What have I betrayed?” So will it be with that man when he comes to die who hath spent all his meditations upon the world; he will say, “What have I lost? What have I betrayed? I have lost heaven, I have betrayed my soul.” Should not the consideration of this fix our minds upon the thoughts of God and glory? All other meditations are fruitless; like a piece of ground which hath much cost laid out upon it, but it yields no crop. (I. Watson.)
Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help.
The God of Jacob
Few of God’s names are more suggestive than the one in the verse before us--the God of Jacob. It is very instructive, for example, and very comforting too, to find that God is willing to have His name so closely associated with that of a human being. The vastness of the material universe, with all its myriad hosts of suns and stars, sometimes staggers our faith, and makes us wonder if human life can really be the object of the Almighty care and love. To all such questionings we find an answer in this beautiful name. The God of unfathomable Space and immeasurable time is not unmindful of the life of man, The Lord of all those starry hosts--He also is the God of Jacob. And then this name shows, still further, that God cares not only for human beings, but for individual souls. The God of Jacob must be--
I. One who loves great sinners and pardons great transgressions. Sometimes a man feels as if he were too far gone in trespasses and sins to lift up his head in the presence of God, too full of utter selfishness and worldliness to dream of ever becoming a child of God at all. To such a man I would say, Just look at Jacob. If God became that man’s God, surely He may become your God also. And sometimes one who has begun the Christian life, but has been overtaken in a fault, or in some other way has been backsliding in the path on which he started, loses heart and cries, It’s useless for me to try to begin afresh; my nature is so weak, and the world around me is so strong. Again I would say, Look at Jacob! Bethel was Jacob’s trysting-place with God; but long after Bethel was past Jacob sinned, and sinned again. And yet God did not forsake him or cast him away, but kept His hand upon him and carried him through, until, at last, He set his feet upon a rock and established his goings.
II. One who hears a sinner’s prayer. It is these prayers of Jacob which form the great redeeming feature of his character, and which, eventually, work out the man’s salvation. With all his earthliness and selfishness he was a man who believed in God, and who believed also in prayer. The fact that he had a very sinful heart is no proof that his prayers were hypocritical. It teaches us, rather, that we must not wait untill we are saints before we begin to pray, for it is only by praying that we shall ever rise to any kind of sainthood.
III. One who purifies His sons by painful trial. Jacob has been called “a Janus, with two faces, one turned upwards to heaven, the other downwards to hell.” But Jacob was more than a Janus, for Janus only had two faces, while Jacob had two hearts. His two names point to his two natures--Jacob and Israel, the natural man and the spiritual man, the supplanter of his brother and the prince of God. Now, here was the problem of Jacob’s life: How is the natural man to be spiritualized; how is the sinner to become a saint; how is the Jacob nature to be cast out, and the Israel nature to prevail? And this was the answer which God gave on every page of Jacob’s history, It can only be done by sore and bitter trial. As a refiner of silver or gold deals with the impure but precious metal, so did God deal with this wayward child of His love. He sent him sorrow upon sorrow, until all the earthiness and dross was purged out of his heart, and Jacob became, not only in name, but in very nature, Israel, the Prince of God. (J. C,. Lambert, B. D.)
I. Happiness in a worldly sense is an impossible attainment. This is proved--
1. By the wants, calamities, passions, and weaknesses of human nature. Each of these would prevent the attainment of happiness.
2. By the changing, transitory nature of the world and its contents. That pleasure which can be dashed away in a moment cannot be happiness.
3. By the fact that all here are under the dominion of sin. Sin blights all things, sin embitters all things, sin brings a curse on all things.
II. Happiness in a spiritual sense is a possible and a blessed reality. The reasons for this, given in our text, are two-fold--assistance in the present and hope in the future.
1. Assistance in the present. The God of Jacob is his help. Notice that a man may have difficulties and yet be happy. God is his help. Oh, what a help! His power, greatness, goodness, all exercised on the Christian’s behalf.
2. Hope for the future--“Whose hope is in the Lord.” Hope, even in the present, can give happiness. But this hope will one day be realized and its fruition will be perfect joy. It is in the Lord our God that perfect happiness is only to be found. May we seek Him for our help and make Him our hope. (Homilist.)
Which keepeth truth for ever.
Truth as an attribute of God
He “keepeth truth for ever”--
I. In nature (Psalms 19:1-14.; Job 37:1-24.).
II. In the region of moral being and life. He keepeth the truth of them for ever. In all ages, in all worlds, these impalpable things, truth, honour, purity, righteousness, charity, are one and are the same. He who has learnt to love them here has eternal kindred; he who has knit his soul to them here has eternal communion; he who has dared to die for them here has eternal renown. The Greek sage was right. The sisters of the unseen realities, which have the rule of us here, await us behind the veil. In vain shall we betray them here, if they affront us there with their retributions, and exact their penalties through eternity. If truth, honour, duty, be transitory and mundane things, the temptation is terrible to shirk them. They cost much, and to him who holds them in slight honour they bring slight rewards. But if “He keepeth their truth for ever”; if He who is eternal lives by them, works by them, and will so live and work for ever, it lends an awful force to the man who is ready on earth to live for them and die for them; and it blasts with an awful eternal desolation the life which dishonours them and treads them in the dust.
III. In the covenant of redemption.
I. The truth of reconciliation. He declares that He is absolutely reconciled to us in Christ Jesus. That truth He keepeth for ever. Meet Him in Christ. Your sin has for ever vanished from before His face. Your soul is for ever under the heaven of His smiles (Colossians 1:19; Romans 5:1-11; Ephesians 1:3-12; Galatians 3:21; Galatians 4:7). That truth He keepeth for ever.
2. The truth of regeneration (Galatians 4:4-5). If your life is built on this rock, God’s calling of you as a son in Christ, if your hope is rested in this sovereign purpose of the Lord God Almighty, to present you complete in Christ in the day of the manifestation of the Son of God, then there is nothing in the universe which is stronger; nothing on earth, heaven or hell, nothing out of yourself can tear you away. And this is the end which God is pursuing through the whole of your discipline (Hebrews 12:1-12). He keeps the truth of this purpose for ever. To bring out the filial character, to enable you to comprehend His paternal character, is the great end of all you are called to endure.
3. The truth of His covenant engagement concerning man and the universe with His Son. We have His purpose and His love to trust to; but both grounds of assurance assume their strongest form and convey the surest hope when we contemplate the covenant which was established with the God-man when He finished the work which the Father had given Him to do. We are ever haunted in our endeavours to realize God’s faithfulness by the thought of our own unfaithfulness, our utter unworthiness of such fidelity, such love. That we may have strong assurance God established His covenant with us as a covenant with the God-man, the well-beloved Son. Not what we are before the Father but what He is, our advocate, representative, and living head, is then the question. The building up of the spiritual universe under Him as its head, the redemption of the creature, all created things from the bondage of corruption, the realization of the ideal beauty, purity, and splendour, which has haunted like a dim dream in all ages the imagination of mankind, the completion of the New Jerusalem, the filling up of the muster-roll of its citizens, the gathering of the crowned victors of the spiritual battle around the throne of the Captain, to shine and reign with Him in the palaces of eternity,--these are assured to Christ by the terms of the everlasting covenant. And these the God “who keepeth truth for ever” will evermore secure. (J. B. Brown, B. A.)
The Lord looseth the prisoners.
The Lord’s famous titles
There are five famous titles of God here.
I. Emancipator. He looseth those in mental, moral, and spiritual bondage.
II. Illuminator. The Lord has opened the eyes of many a man who could not see himself, and so proved how blind he was; and could not see the Lord, and so showed still more how blind he was. The Lord has given the inner sight to many a man who was without spiritual understanding, to whom the Gospel seemed a great mystery, of which he could make neither head nor tail.
III. Comforter. He “raiseth them that are bowed down” with--
2. The burdens of life.
3. Inward distress.
4. A sense of sin.
IV. Rewarder. He “loveth the righteous”--with a love of complacency, communion, favour, and honour.
1. He “preserveth the strangers.” Father is dead, mother is dead, friends are all gone, and even in the very village where you were born you are a stranger; come along, your God is not dead, your Saviour liveth: “The Lord preserveth the stangers.”
2. “He relieveth the fatherless and widow.” If you turn to the first books of the Bible, you will see there God’s great care of the fatherless and the widow. Who had the tithes? Well, the Levites; but also the poor, and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow (Deuteronomy 14:28; Deuteronomy 26:12). Now, then, you who feel like widows, you who have lost your joy and earthly comfort, you who feel like the fatherless, and cry, “No man careth for my soul,” oh, may the sweet Spirit of the Lord entice you to come to Him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Liberty--a free country! Those are words dear to us all. We love and honour the memory of those who in the old days fought for England’s freedom, We read with pride of the Swiss hero who flung himself upon the Austrian spears and made a way for liberty. But what shall we say of Jesus, who gives us the truest liberty, whose service is perfect freedom, who loosest men out of prison? There are few words which have been more misused than that word liberty. Well might the French woman, victim of the Revolution, point to the Statue of Freedom, as she came to die upon the scaffold, and say, “O Liberty, how many crimes have been committed in thy name!” “Truly,” says one of our great preachers, “there are two freedoms--the false, where a man is free to do what he likes; the true, where a man is free to do what he ought.” “The Lord looseth men out of prison.” He looseth out of the hard prison of the ancient law, and setteth our feet in the large room of grace, and bringeth us into a wealthy place. He looseth out of the prison of sin and death, the prison of the curse. He who went down into Hades, and preached to the spirits of the fathers in prison, hath broken for us the gates of brass, and smitten the bars of iron in sunder. Are there none of us who are prisoners--captives and slaves to our own bad passions, our own undisciplined will, evil habits of our own making? If so, and if we have the will to be free, Jesus, the Liberator, will loose us, even though we be in the innermost prison of sin, and our feet made fast in the stocks of evil habits. But we shall never be free till we know that we are in prison, till we feel the chain. The young man following his own lusts and pleasures, walking in his own way, talks to us of his freedom; he knows not that he is a prisoner, and so he will not cry to the Lord to set him free. (H. J. Wilmot Buxton, M. A.)
He relieveth the fatherless.
The fatherless relieved
The Lord “relieveth the fatherless”--
I. By exciting the compassion of others in their behalf. The feeling of sympathy is one of the noblest affections of our rational nature. To be without compassion for the miserable and the helpless is a strong indication of deep moral depravity. That all are not thus depraved must be owing to the distinguishing goodness and grace of God.
1. Even among those who are still in an unregenerate state we find many who are easily affected with the calamities of others, and who listen with eagerness, as well as with deep concern, to the tale of woe.
2. When Christians behold others around them in poverty and affliction they ascribe it to undeserved mercy that they themselves are not in similar, or even in worse, circumstances. This thought moves their compassion.
II. By exciting the liberality of others towards their support.
1. Even those who are strangers to the power of His grace are often led by a natural principle of benevolence, or perhaps of self-gratification, to abound in alms-deeds. But more especially the Lord endows many of His own servants with a kind and liberal spirit. Being conscious that they have nothing but what they have received, they consider themselves as stewards, who are bound to be faithful. They endeavour, therefore, to honour the Lord with their substance, and with the first-fruits of their increase.
III. By stirring up others to active exertions in their behalf.
IV. By rendering the exertions of others, and especially of His own servants, effectual for this end.
V. More especially by bringing them to an acquaintance with Himself, and sometimes by placing them in stations of usefulness, and even of eminence in the world. (D. Dickson.)
The Lord shall reign for ever.
The eternal reign of Zion’s King
I. The King to be proclaimed--Jehovah, the Triune God.
1. The Three Persons of the Deity are included and pointed out as the joint-covenanters for Zion’s salvation.
2. He is the avenger of Zion, and the judge of their cause.
3. He is endeared to Zion by His signify.
4. The union is eternal. I want a Christianity that not only brings me to heaven at last, but that brings heaven down to my soul now, that I may gain the foretaste of eternal bliss even in a world of sorrows. Blessed be God, I know something about it.
II. The interests of His kingdom.
1. The safety of all His subjects, because they are His own peculiar care.
2. The undivided allegiance of His subjects.
3. The statutes and laws of His kingdom are inimitable and immutable.
III. Its never-ending duration. The King eternal, immortal, hatch spoiled death, and taken away his sting; and He has removed its terrors, and for ever put away the second death, so that none of His subjects can by any possibility enter upon it; for on such the second death hath no power. They are blessed and holy, having been made partakers of the first resurrection from the death of sin to a life of righteousness. And because our King is immortal, and dieth no more, and lives for ever--cannot grow old--without beginning of days, or end of years, so are all His subjects; for I hear Him thus proclaim for their encouragement, “Because I live, ye shall live also.”
IV. Hallelujah. Oh for more exalted strains! Oh for stronger language! Oh for a fuller vocabulary, and boundless ideas to be thrown forth as with a cataract, and without reserve, to glorify, and honour, and exalt the precious name of Jesus; for all the voices in heaven are thus employed. And how should this encourage the subjects of His grace on earth! (J. Irons.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 146". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany