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Praise ye the Lord.
Genuine worship: -
I. The transcendent excellence of true worship (verse 1).
1. It is good.
(1) It accords with the constitution of the human soul.
(2) It accords with the Divine command.
(3) It agrees with the genius of the universe.
2. It is pleasant. It is the grand end of our being, the paradise of our nature; worship is not a means to an end, it is the grandest end, there is nothing higher, it is heaven.
3. It is “comely.” Is it not a fitting and a beautiful thing that the greatest Being in the universe should be the most earnestly thanked, that the best Being should be the most profoundly reverenced, that the kindest Being should be the most enthusiastically adored?
II. The supreme object of true worship.
1. What He is in Himself. “Great.”
2. In relation to His creatures.
(1) To the human family.
(a) Building up useful institutions (verse 2). Schools for the ignorant, hospitals for the diseased, asylums for the poor, etc.
(b) Uniting scattered peoples (verse 2). By the promotion of one language, by the extension of free trade, by the abolition of political and religious difficulties, and by the advancement of one creed--Christ, and one code-His example.
(c) Healing broken hearts (verse 3).
(d) Rectifying human conditions (verse 6).
(e) Disregarding martial force (verse 10).
(f) Interested in saintly men (verse 11).
(2) In relation to inanimate nature. He is at work--
(a) In the stellar universe (verse 4).
(b) In the atmosphere (verse 8).
(3) In relation to mundane life (verses 8, 9). (David Thomas, D. D.)
Master motives to praise
The psalms of David, like Christian experience, begin with the blessing of the separated life, and they end with a torrent of praise. The final four psalms each commence and finish with Hallelujah! We may all share in Christ’s coronation; none are too weak to bring their praises, none so mighty but He is mightier. The motives I would urge upon you are very simple.
I. Because of what God is.
1. His character is seen in His works. His understanding is infinite, there is no limit to His power. He is in all things that He has created. The same power made a world and moulds a raindrop. The same wisdom names the stars and knows each blade of grass on the mountain-side. If our spirit be not warped we shall never lack cause for praise. A friend of mine tells me that the way to be always thankful for the weather is to keep a garden; if it is fine you can enjoy the flowers; if it is wet you can stay indoors and say how good the rain is for the garden. If our soul be like a watered garden and we recognize that the Lord cares for us, trial and sunshine will alike bring praise, and we shall ever be able to say, as an old man I know always begins his public prayers, “Lord, we thank Thee for our being and for our well-being.”
2. The motive of all His works God finds in Himself. Learn more of Him. Live more with Him and you will praise Him more, until perhaps you will find language, even the language of the Psalms, too unworthy of what He has taught you of Himself, and you will sometimes just be silent and adore.
II. Because of what praise is.
1. It is good.
(1) If we praise God as we ought we shall be kept from praising ourselves. Surely that is good. I have heard that most self-made men are very apt to praise their maker; indeed we are all liable to sing the praises of self. The sure way of escaping this danger is to fill your heart and mouth with praise to God.
(2) Praise leads us to value truly what we receive. The goodness becomes great when the memory of it is abundantly uttered. Praise is the plural of pray.
2. It is pleasant. A Puritan writer says there are some things good and not pleasant, and there are some things pleasant and not good, but there is one thing both good and pleasant, and that is for brethren to dwell together in unity. To which I would only add they should unite in praise. Praise is the instinct of the regenerate soul. What is natural is always pleasant. If your joys abound, praise God. It will shed a glow on the mountain, put a bloom on the grape, add moss to your rose. If sorrow is your portion, praise; however ill your lot you can find something to evoke thanksgiving.
3. It is comely. What can we do but praise? Gifts are bountifully given to us, and we have nothing to offer in return but thanks. We can only give Christ our sins and our praises, if He take the one shall we withhold the other? Nay, let Him have all. We shall see that praise on our part is comely if we lay hold of the marvellous truth that by and by God will praise us (1 Corinthians 4:5). (W. T. Fullerton.)
I. What is praising? As applied to men, it has a limited use, differing in degree, rather than in kind, from that which is employed in devotion. It is the expression of pleasure, of approval, of gratification in an action, in a course of action, or in the contemplation of one’s disposition. All men are limited by manifold imperfections, and therefore it is that praise, as applied to men, must always be partial, and must be but occasional. Applied to God, praise is the experience and the utterance of the soul’s admiration and joy in view of the Divine character, or its exhibitions in His moral government, in His providence, and in His grace. Praise always implies admiration and joy, and a disposition to make them known. What dispositions are implied, then, in the act of praising God? It implies, first, a knowledge of Divine manifestations. That is, praise is not merely the utterance of a feeling of pleasure or of gladness that wells up in the heart. Praise is something that is excited in our mind by the knowledge, or the supposed knowledge, of God. The act of praising implies, also, a moral taste that feels and enjoys the noble attributes of God, and the development of them. That is, it implies a moral sensibility to Divine element. It implies, likewise, gratitude, love, joy in the Lord. It is not an act of mere reason, nor of mere will, although both reason and wilt may be implicated in it. It is an overflow of feeling. It may take place consciously. It may take place with preparation through thought and instruction. But the highest forms of praise are spontaneous, irresistible, full of interjections. Such is the praise of the heavenly host. It is that utterance of the soul in its rarer moments, when before it passes, in sublime order, the Divine character, the Divine nature, the Divine government, and the soul is kindled with the prospect, and it gives forth, in language, or with feeling manifested, its own gladness and admiration. The Christian exercise of praising implies a degree of continuity. It is a disposition. It springs from a soul that is always seeing, more or less, the admirableness of God’s nature and government, in grace and in providence. Moreover, the act of praising implies faith. That is, those who come to God with praise, as with prayer, must believe that He is. It is impossible to kindle the soul and to pour it forth toward a shadow; toward any being that stands in doubt in our convictions. Besides, the act of praising implies enthusiasm, soul-glow. But it is lyrical. It may dwell in the thoughts, but it is very apt to overflow the rim of thought, and to spill out in words and expressions.
II. In what is it to be distinguished from prayer? Why sometimes it is prayer. Prayer is the generic of which praise is only a specific element. Every address made consciously to God, whether of supplication, of confession, of simple communion, or of ecstatic praise, is prayer. Prayer, comprehensively, is the soul’s communion with God. Praising, then, as one of the elements of prayer, and as distinguished from the other forms of prayer, is not supplication: it is asking nothing. It is not confession: it is not pouring out what we are. It is the soul’s expression of admiration in view of the Divine excellence. It is gladness expressed; it is gratitude expressed; it is joy expressed--and all with reference to the manifestations of God Himself. (Henry Ward Beecher.)
A praiseful spirit
It is related that Beethoven had his piano carried to the middle of a beautiful field, and there, sunbeams and cloud shadows playing together on the grass, and birds performing their impromptu oratorios, he composed some of his great pieces. We are to come beneath the broad canopy of God’s love, and, encompassed by innumerable mercies, we are to make music--the music of thankfulness for tokens of Divine goodness abounding in our lives.
The Lord doth build up Jerusalem.
The greatness and gentleness of God
The text reveals the constructive side of the Divine government.
I. As shown in the building of the Church.
1. “The Lord doth build up Jerusalem,” etc. That He should do so shows--
(1) That the Church is self-demolished.
(2) That it is self-helpless.
(3) That God is the Gatherer, the Redeemer, and the Builder of the Church.
2. It is not God’s purpose to destroy. It is His very nature to preserve, extend, complete, and glorify. He does destroy, but never willingly. His arm does not become terrible until His heart has been grieved, until His patience has been exhausted, and until the vital interests of the universe have been put in peril.
II. As seen in the gentle care of human hearts. “He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.” Still, you see how constructive and preservative is God. His work is edification, not destruction. Who cares for broken-hearted men? Who has patience with the weak and faint? The greater the nature, the greater the compassion.
1. The personality of God’s knowledge. He knows every bruised reed. Hears suffer in secret; there is nothing hidden from God!
2. The infinite adaptations of Divine grace. Every heart, whatever its grief, may be healed. There is “a sovereign balm for every wound.”
3. The perfectness of Divine healing. Other healers say, “Peace, peace, when there is no peace.” Others “heal the hurt of the daughter of My people slightly.” We are not healed until God heals us. God offers to heal us; our disease and our sorrow are challenges to prove His grace. What of the responsibility of refusal?
III. As seen in the order, the regularity, and the stability of creation.
1. Creation is a volume open to all eyes. Read it, and see the might and gentleness, the wisdom and patience of God. Jesus Christ taught us to reason from the natural to the spiritual: “Consider the lilies,” etc; “Behold the fowls of the air,” etc.
(1) God takes care of the great universe, may I not trust Him with my life?
(2) Where God’s will is unquestioned, the result is light, beauty, music: why should I oppose myself to its gracious dominion?
2. Let the Church be of good courage. “When the Lord shall build up Zion, He shall appear in His glory.” “The gates of hell shall not prevail.” (J. Parker, D. D.)
He gathereth together the outcasts of Israel.--
Good cheer for outcasts
Does not this showy us the great gentleness and infinite mercy of God? And as we know most of God in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, should it not charm us to remember that when He came on earth He did not visit kings and princes, but He came unto the humble and simple folk. I think you may judge of a man’s character by the persons whose affection he seeks. If you find a man seeking only the affection of those who are great, depend upon it he is ambitious and self-seeking; but when you observe that a man seeks the affection of those who can do nothing for him, but for whom he must do everything, you know that he is not seeking himself, but that pure benevolence sways his heart (Matthew 11:29). I also see here an illustration of His love to men, as men. If you seek only after rich men the suspicion arises, and it is more than a suspicion that you rather seek their wealth than them. If you aim only at the benefit of wise men, it is probably true that it is their wisdom which attracts you, and not their manhood: but the Lord Jesus Christ did not love men because of any advantageous circumstances, or any commendable incidents of their condition: His love was to manhood. Another thing is also clear. If Jesus gathers together the outcasts el Israel, it proves His power over the hearts of men.
I. To whom may this text apply?
1. The very poorest and most despised among men. The Lord Jesus Christ looks with love on those whom others look down upon with scorn.
2. Those who have made themselves outcasts by their wickedness, and are deservedly cast out of society.
3. Those who judge themselves to be outcasts, though as to outward actions they certainly do not deserve the character. Now, listen, thou who hast condemned thyself. The Lord absolves thee. Thou who hast shut thyself out as an outcast, thou shalt be gathered; for whereas they call thee an outcast, whom no man seeket, h after, thou shalt be called Hephzibah, for the Lord’s delight is in thee. Only believe thou in Jesus Christ, and cast thyself upon Him.
5. Depressed Christians.
6. Those who suffer for righteousness’ sake, till they are regarded as the offscouring of all things. Blessed are those who are outcasts for Christi Rich are those who are so honoured as to be permitted to become poor for Him l Happy they who have had this grace given them to be permitted to lay life itself down for Jesus Christ’s sake!
II. In what sense the Lord Jesus gathers together these outcasts of different classes.
1. He gathers them to hear the Gospel.
2. He gathers them to Himself--to blessedness and peace through reconciliation with the Father.
3. He gathers them into the Divine family--makes them children of God--heirs with Himself.
4. In due time He gathers them into His visible Church, and He gathers them into His work.
5. He gathers them into heaven.
1. Encouragement to those who are unworthy, or who think themselves so, to go to Jesus Christ to-night.
2. If Jesus Christ received some of us when we felt ourselves to be outcasts, how we ought to love Him!
3. Let us always feel that if the Lord Jesus Christ took us up when we were not worth having, we will never be ashamed to try and pick up others who are in a like condition. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
He healeth the broken in heart.
God’s relation to sorrowing souls and to starry systems
I. His relation to sorrowing souls. “He healeth the broken in heart.” There are broken hearts and wounded souls in this world. The whole human creation is groaning. God works here to heal and restore. Christianity is the restorative element He applies--the Balm of Gilead--the tree whose fruit is for the healing of the nations.
II. His relation to starry systems. “He telleth the number of the stars.”
1. Those who deny God’s active relation to both souls and stars. These comprehend those who deny the existence of God altogether, and those who admit His existence, but deny His superintendence in the universe; the latter regard all the phenomena and changes of nature as taking place not by the agency of God, but by the principles or laws which He impressed upon it at first. The universe is to them like a plant,: all the vital forces of action are in itself, and it will go on until they exhaust and die.
2. Those who admit God’s active relation to stars, but, deny it to souls. They say that it is derogatory to Infinite Majesty to suppose His taking any notice of broken hearts. He has to do with the great, but not with the little. There are two or three thoughts which make this objection appear very childish.
(1) One is that man’s great and small are but notions. When I say that a thing is great, all I mean is that it is great to me. To God there is nothing great nor small
(2) Another is that what we consider small are influential parts of the whole. Science proves that the motion of an atom must propagate an influence to remotest orbs; that all created being is but one great chain, of which the corpuscle is a link, which, if touched, will send its vibration to the ultimate points. In the moral system facts show that the solitary thought of an obscure man can shake empires, produce revolutions, and reform society.
(3) Another thought is that--even on the assumption of our conception of magnitudes being correct--we have as much evidence to believe that God is as truly at work in the Small as the great.
(4) Human souls, though in suffering, are greater than the stars in all their splendour.
(5) There is higher evidence to believe that God restores souls than that He takes care of stars. The highest proof is consciousness. I infer, from my understanding, that God governs the heavenly bodies, but I feel that “He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.” This thought gives to its objection a contemptible insignificance.
3. Those who profess faith in God’s active relation to both, but who are destitute of the suitable spiritual feeling. Antecedently, we should infer that, wherever there could be found a thinking moral nature like man’s fully believing in this twofold relation of God--His connection with the heavenly bodies, and with all pertaining to the history of itself--there would be developed in that nature, as the necessary consequence of that faith, life, humility, and devotion. It is said that “an undevout astronomer is mad”; but an undevout believer in God’s connection with the universe and man is impossible. Wherever, then, we find apathetic, proud, undevout men professing this belief, we find hypocrites.
4. To what class, in relation to this subject, dost thou belong? Thou wouldst probably revolt at the idea of belonging to either of the former two; but the latter, for many reasons, is worse than either: it is to play the hypocrite, and disgrace religion. Get, then, the true faith in the subject--the faith that will produce this true quickening, humbling, devotionalizing effect--and thou shalt catch the true meaning of life. (Homilist.)
Healing for the wounded
I. A great ill--a broken heart. The heart broken not by distress or disappointment, but on account of sin, is the heart which God peculiarly delights to heal. All other sufferings may find a fearful centre in one breast, and yet the subject of them may be unpardoned and unsaved; but if the heart be broken by the Holy Ghost for sin, salvation will be ire ultimate issue, and heaven its result. A broken heart implies--
1. A very deep and poignant sorrow on account of sin.
2. Utter inability to get rid of it.
II. A great mercy. “He healeth The broken in heart.”
1. He alone does it.
2. He alone can do it.
3. He alone may do it.
4. He will do it. Did Saul of Tarsus rejoice after three days of blindness?
Yes, and you shall be delivered also. Oh, it is a theme for eternal gratitude, that the same God who in His loftiness and omnipotence stooped down in olden times to soothe, cherish, relieve, and bless the mourner, is even now taking His journeys of mercy among the penitent sons of men. Oh, I beseech Him to come where thou art sitting, and put His hand inside thy soul, and, if He finds there a broken heart, to bind it up. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. The patients and their sickness.
1. Those whose hearts are broken through sorrow. The text does not say “the spiritually broken in heart,” therefore I will not insert an adverb where there is none in the passage. Come hither, ye that are burdened, all ye that labour and are heavy laden; come hither, all ye that sorrow, be your sorrow what it may; come hither, all ye whose hearts are broken, be the heart-break what it may, for He healeth the broken in heart.
2. Those whose hearts are broken for sin.
3. Hearts that are broken from sin. When you and sin have quarrelled, never let the quarrel be made up again.
II. The Physician and His medicine.
1. Jesus was anointed of God for this work.
2. Jesus was sent of God on purpose to do this work.
3. He was educated for this work. He had a broken heart Himself.
4. He is experienced in this work.
5. His medicine is His own flesh and blood. There is no cure like it.
III. The testimonial to the Great Physician which is emblazoned in the text. I understand it to mean this.
1. He does it effectually.
2. He does it constantly.
3. He does it invariably.
4. He glories in doing it.
IV. What we ought to do.
1. Resort to Him.
2. Trust Him.
3. Praise Him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Power and tenderness
A great deal of what we call the scepticism of the present day is merely the protest of the human mind for unity. The spiritual world has so often been described as being so utterly unlike this, its laws have been so persistently spoken of as contradictory to the laws of this; warring continually against it, that you could almost think sometimes that if these two worlds are governed at all they must be governed by two different, contradictory, and even antagonistic deities. Man does not like this. It perplexes him. His allegiance becomes divided. He does not like to feel that he belongs to one world, and that he lives with one set of facts, whilst he is working and thinking and studying, and that he is in another world and with another set of facts when he worships and prays. Now, these words start from the fullest recognition of both. The reality of both is implied.
I. The same God holds sway in both worlds. “He healeth the broken in heart. He telleth the number of the stars.” The revelation of God is twofold. There is the revelation that He gives in the spirits of men--the revelation that comes to us of God’s handling of the souls of men; and there is the revelation which God gives in this material creation outside. Now, let me ask you, shall we not understand God better by keeping the two together? Is it not a loss to separate them? Let me say that the best commentary upon the Bible is science, and the best commentary upon science is the Bible. There are scientific questions being discussed in England at this present moment that never will be settled until people approach them from the spiritual standpoint. And, let me add, our religious conceptions would be strengthened, would rest upon a firmer foundation, and would be healthier and sweeter, if we always remembered the things that have come to us through the physiologist, through the biologist, through the geologist, and through all the men of science. The complete, true understanding of God comes through remembering that He who telleth the stars is also the same who healeth the broken in heart.
II. There are certain great principles that prevail in both worlds. Oh, there is a difference! There is plenty of difference. Why, I have only to read my text again. Broken hearts belong only to one sphere. The shadow of a great disaster is upon our souls. There is nothing like it elsewhere. “The sunshine has a heart of care,” said the great English novelist who tried to write poetry and failed; but the care was in her own heart. “The whole creation groaneth and travaileth together in pain until now,” said the Apostle Paul. The song of creation is set in the minor key. There is a little bit of something there besides poetry. Suffering is everywhere. Ask the doctor, and he will tell you that pathology is as broad as physiology. One is the shadow of the other. But let us steady our hearts. The same hand that keeps and helps and soothes the poor, bewildered, sorrowing creature, is the Hand that keeps the stars. If we could impress upon ourselves that the soul is as much under law as the body, that the well-being of the soul is determined by conditions as fixed and inexorable as the conditions that determine the well-being of the body, we could command spiritual influences with the same absolute certainty that we could command physical influences. “There is a law of gravitation,” you say; “there is a law of the combination of chemical elements.” Do not talk nonsense in a church. There is a law of pardon, there is a law of prayer, there is a law of spiritual health and sanctification. In an instant this morning you can, if you like, bring yourself into the current of help which will carry you up to the feet of God. Oh, if we but believed that all spiritual felicity is as much within our reach as the nearest law of nature! “Wilt thou be made whole?” I saw a young boy, the other day, making experiments with an electric battery. The place was full of electricity; but the connection was not established. Just one thing, and the current was complete. “Wilt thou be made whole?” “Yes.” Then the current is complete. Cast yourself on the promises of God like a strong man casting himself into the tide. As truly as God leads the stars, can He, will He, heal the brokenhearted. (J. Morlais Jones.)
He telleth the number of the stars.
The stars and the Cross
As the best, known constellation in our northern hemisphere is Ursa Major (sometimes called “the Plough”), so the best known, probably, in the southern hemisphere is Cruz Australis, or “the Southern Cross.” Each side of our globe has, therefore, its own most conspicuous sign, or group of shining stars. But it is the privilege of those who reside at or near the Equator to command a view of both of these beautiful constellations. Standing within the vicinity of the Line, and looking up, the eye can sweep a wide celestial dome, which includes the Northern Plough on the one side, and the Southern Cross upon the other. Now, it is of extreme importance that intelligent Christians should be able to behold at the same time the two hemispheres of nature and of grace. In the same field of vision we should embrace the Plough and the Cross, and intelligently identify the God of nature with the God of grace. The psalmist David always did so, and notably does so in the passage before us. What particularly strikes me here is the marvellous combination of Divine act. I find three statements, each of which commands our admiring thought, but the union of which--for they are closely bracketed together--is positively startling. Slightly varying the order, for the sake of convenience, I would take the whole as a descending climax, a diminuendo bar, of which the three steps are these:
1. God in the heavens: “He tolleth the number of the stars: He calleth them all by their names.”
2. God in the Church: “The Lord doth build up Jerusalem; He gathereth together the outcasts of Israel.”
3. God in the home of the afflicted: “He healeth the broken in heart; He bindeth up their wounds.”
I. God in the heavens. Do we not well from time to time to turn away from the distractions of this lower world, from the petty interests of this mere grain of sand on which we dwell, and, lifting up our eyes in intelligent contemplation to the glorious canopy overhead, to muse on the magnificent empire of Him “who alone spreadeth out the heavens, and treadeth on the waves of the sea; who maketh Arcturus, Orion, and the Pleiades, and the chambers of the south; who doeth great things past finding out: yea, and wonders without number”? Oh! it will deepen our sense of the condescending love of God shown towards His Church and towards His afflicted people, when we behold His stately and majestic march over the fields of immensity, and see His own hand kindling and trimming every one of those innumerable lamps of heaven!
II. God in the Church There is, as we all know, a literal sense in which the scattered tribes of Abraham’s family shall yet be gathered in. “He that scattered Israel shall gather him as a shepherd doth his flock.” Not more certain is the fact of his dispersion than is the decree of his restoration. A day is coming when Jacob’s captivity shall be turned. But the words have also a wider meaning. Blessed be God, He hath devised means whereby His banished of all nations may be brought back; and He is daily, by those means and in all lands where the Gospel is proclaimed, gathering in the outcasts to His fold; and let me say that never have we better evidence that God is in any particular locality building up His Jerusalem than when the outcasts are being gathered in. The surest token of a prosperous Church is zealous and unwearied effort on the part of its members to win the lost and the lapsed around it to Christ. Oh! let us be stirred by the view of the Divine condescension, by the thought that He who sitteth on the circle of the universe, whose arm swings the solar system round yonder star Alcyone, and who holds in His hand the reins of all those stellar steeds that bound around the circuit of immensity, stoops down to this little planet on which we dwell, not only to build up upon it a Church of ransomed men, but even to go out after those who have been poor outcasts from His fold.
III. God in the chamber of the stricken heart. Oh! is it not a marvellous conception: away from the Bible, man never entertained the shadow of such a thought: the Mighty and Eternal One, from whose hand worlds upon worlds are sent forth like sparks from the blacksmith’s anvil, or like chaff from the summer threshing-floor, bending to the humblest ministry of mercy, and putting liniments round the wounded heart! Ah! it is only the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ that can make the text intelligible. Only in New Testament light can we interpret this mystery; but the person and the mission of the Divine Redeemer make all plain. His mediatorial arms stretch “from the highest throne in heaven to the place of deepest woe.” In Him the majesty of Divine Omnipotence comes down to the door of human poverty and sorrow. (J. T. Davidson, D. D.)
“He telleth the number of the stars”
Sir Robert Ball says, “The number of the stars visible in England without a telescope may be estimated at about three thousand. Argelander has given to the world a well-known catalogue of the stars in the northern hemisphere, accompanied by a series of charts on which these stars are depicted. All the stars of the first nine magnitudes are included, as well as a very large number of stars lying between the ninth and the tenth magnitude. The total number of these stars is three hundred and twenty-four thousand one hundred and eighty-eight, and yet they are all within reach of a telescope of three inches in aperture. It almost invites us to the belief that the universe which we behold bears but a very small ratio to the far larger part which is invisible in the sombre shades of night.” Sir Robert Ball himself estimates the number of the stars at no less than one hundred millions, and an even higher estimate still is given by some astronomers. (R. Brewin.)
The geometry of God
It was truly said by the famous astronomer Kepler that “God is the great arithmetician.” He counts everything that He has made. He makes all things in fixed numbers. He forms the flowers according to certain numerical relations, so fixed and precise that the Linnaean system of classification was based upon them. The roses have five divisions, the lilies three, the seaweeds, lichens and mushrooms two or four, and every other part of their structure is arranged in fives or threes or twos, or by multiplying these figures. Even the little fringe around the mouth of the seed-vessel of a moss growing on the wayside wall, which you can hardly see with your naked eye, if you magnify it with a lens you will find it arranged in exact numbers--four, eight, sixteen, thirty-two--a series in which every number is the double of the preceding one. The leaves of plants are all arranged around the stem on the same principle, and a fir-cone is one of the most beautiful illustrations of it. Crystals are constructed with mathematical regularity. You cannot unite the chemical elements of Nature to form a compound body by chance or in any proportion you please. (H. Macmillan, D. D.)
Geometry of God
God counts the number of the stars, and He arranges them in the heaven-s not by chance, but according to a fixed system. In the Solar system, for example, the intervals between the orbits of the planets go on doubling as we recede from the sun. Thus Venus is twice as far from Mercury as Mercury is from the sun; the earth is twice as far from Venus as Venus is from Mercury; Mars is twice as far from the earth as the earth is from Venus, and so on. In this way the planets are arranged in the sky around the sun in the same numerical order as the leaves are arranged around the stem of a plant or the scales around a pine-cone, or the teeth around the edge of the seed-vessel of a microscopic moss. And that extraordinary law, the most universal of all laws, which everything throughout the universe obeys--the law of gravitation--is also expressed by a numerical formula: the force of an object thrown into the air decreases just in proportion as the distance is increased; it decreases according to the square of the number expressing the distance; so that at twice the distance the force of gravitation is not twice less, but four times less; at thrice the distance nine times, and so on. (H. Macmillan, D. D.)
Human mind fails to grasp the number of stars
In one of the most recent, standard works upon astronomy it is stated that in Great Britain the number of stars visible to the naked eye does not exceed three thousand. So accurate are the charts of the heavens that are now prepared that every individual star is there; the disappearance of one or the arrival of another would be at once discovered and recorded. Three thousand probably strikes you as being a small figure; but stay a moment. If you make use of a common binocular field-glass you will at once discern ten times as many as with the unaided eye, and if, laying aside the field-glass, you look through a good ordinary telescope, the tens will immediately become hundreds; while if you should have the rare privilege of beholding the celestial dome through one of the great astronomical instruments, the hundreds will become thousands, and you will be fairly bewildered at the sight. Our great telescopes can show at least fifty millions of stars; nor is this all, for, through the recent wonderful development of celestial photography, millions more are discovered registering their existence upon the sensitive plate. (J. T. Davidson, D. D.)
Who covereth the heaven with clouds.
It is a strange thing how little in general people know about the sky. There is not a moment of any day of our lives when Nature is not producing scene after scene, picture after picture, glory after glory, and working still upon such exquisite and constant principles of the most perfect beauty that it is quite certain that, it is all done for us, and intended for our perpetual pleasure. And every man, wherever placed, however far from other sources of interest, or of beauty, has this doing for him constantly. The noblest scenes of the earth can be seen and known but by few; it is not intended that men should live always in the midst of them; he injures them by his presence; he ceases to feel them if he be always with them. But the sky is for all; bright as it is, it is not, too bright nor good for human nature’s daily food; it is fitted in all its functions for the perpetual comfort and exalting of the heart; for soothing it and purifying it from its dross and dust. Sometimes gentle, sometimes capricious, sometimes awful; never the same for two moments together; almost human in its passions, almost spiritual in its tenderness, almost Divine in its infinity, its appeal to what is immortal in us is as distinct as its ministry of chastisement or of blessing to what is mortal is essential. And yet we never attend to it, we never make it a subject of thought, but as it has to do with our animal sensations; we look upon it all by which it speaks to us more clearly than to brutes, upon all which bears witness to the intention of the Supreme, that we are to receive more from the covering vault than the light and the dew which we share with the weed and the worm, only as a succession of meaningless and monotonous accidents, too common and too vain to be worthy of a moment of watchfulness, or a glance of admiration. If, in our moments of utter idleness and insipidity, we turn to the sky as a last resource, which of its phenomena do we speak of? One says it has been wet, and another it has been windy, and another it has been warm. Who among the whole chattering crowd can tell me of the forms and precipices of the chain of tall white mountains that gilded the horizon at noon yesterday? Who saw the narrow sunbeam that came out of the south, and smote upon their summits until they melted and mouldered away in a dust of blue rain? Who saw the dance of the dead clouds when the sunlight left them last night, and the west wind blew them before it like withered leaves? All has passed unregretted or unseen; or, if the apathy be ever shaken off, even for an instant, it is only by what is gross or what is extraordinary; and yet it is not in the broad and fierce manifestations of the elemental energies, not in the clash of the hail, nor the drift of the whirlwind that the highest characters of the sublime are developed. God is not in the earthquake nor in the fire, hut in the still small voice. They are but the blunt and the low faculties of our nature, which can only be addressed through lamp-black and lightning. It is in quiet and subdued passages of unobtrusive majesty; the deep and the calm and the perpetual; that which must be sought ere it is seen, and loved ere it is understood; things which the angels work out for us daily, and yet vary eternally; which are never wanting and never repeated; which are to be found always, yet each found but once. It is through these that the lesson of devotion is chiefly taught, and the blessing of beauty given. (John Ruskin.)
Who maketh grass to grow.--
Every spring there is repeated before our eyes a phenomenon which in the beginning was a miracle. Let us, in imagination, view the scene where, on the first sand beach that was heaved up from the water-covered globe, the grass came forth to prepare the way for the subsequent spread of life. To one whose world showed nothing but sand and water, what a miracle the first appearance of sprouting grass! Here is something wonderfully new, moving of itself amid motionless particles, and by some hidden power of its own thrusting them aside and mysteriously increasing in body and bulk, while they remain as they were. Such a thing of life entering such a world without life is plainly supernatural be that world. Mark here that all the subsequent stages of advancing life have likewise been successively supernatural, each to its predecessor. As the grass is supernatural to the sand, so is the ox to the grass, so is the man to the ox, so also is the spiritual Christ to the natural man. Here is a lesson in the grass for those who fancy that science has eliminated the supernatural, and put miracles out of the audience-room of reason. There was, once at least, an indisputable miracle. It was when life first broke the dead uniformity of an inanimate world. Life is the thing most unaccountable in origin, but most manifest in fact, most common in form, most mysterious in power, the thing most natural, but also most supernatural, being the producer of nature, not its product. Life, says the scientist, can come only from life. The world which has it not can have it only from beyond the world. Thus the living grass was the primeval witness to the living God. “Through every star, through every grass-blade,” said Carlyle, “the glory of a present God still beams.” And so this ancient psalm of praise to the Author of the humblest of living things reads to us its primitive lessen of God as the all-originating Life of all that lives, whom to know is life eternal, whom to forsake is death indeed. Let us, then, further contemplate that primeval sea-beach, where life has begun its everlasting process. We there see the grass first by its strong roots fortifying the shore, as one may observe to-day where the beach-grass aids to build the dunes; then by its annual decay forming a soil in which nobler forms of life may root. “Time and I,” said a statesman, “are enough.” So might the feeble but persevering power of the grass say. As the land slowly rose above the sea, the grass went on with its spreading preparations for the further advance of life, making the soft for edible grains and fruits to grow from, till at length the animal tribes came forth and found their sustenance secure. Thus is the grass a parable of the way of God, which we have ever to imitate. Every good thing we bring to pass has first to wait for the period of grass to do its work, slowly preparing the conditions of a permanent advance. Wearisome sometimes is this humble method of patience, the creeping which precedes running, gaining each day an atom of goodwill, a grain of influence, a trifle of experience and education. To our impatience at such slow gain the grass reads its lesson, “Despise not the clay of small things.” The small thing is the beginning of the large thing. The grains and fruits will grow when the grass has made the soil for them. In the grass is the first glimpse of the coming cedars. The great reform which frees a race of slaves must wait till the beginnings of humane sentiment have risen in a humble band of protestants against legalized iniquity, the agitators whom society trod under foot like the grass, but who kept on growing and making soil for the edict of emancipation. Such is the quiet work that no record is made of till its results appear in the better life of succeeding times. The Christian family is doing it; the school, the Church is doing it; the germinating power of ideas is doing it in little circles of reformers everywhere, ridiculed, perhaps, because at present so powerless, but educating the fundamental sentiment from which better and stronger institutions are to spring. (J. M. Whiten, Ph. D.)
Consider what we owe merely to the meadow grass, to the covering of the dark ground by that glorious enamel, by the companies of those soft and countless and peaceful spears! The field! Follow but just for a little time the thoughts of all that we ought to recognize in those words. All spring and summer is in them, the walks by the silent, scented paths, the rests in noonday heat, the joy of herds and flocks, the power of all shepherd life and meditation, the sunlight upon the world, falling in emerald streaks and falling in soft blue shadows where else it would have struck upon the dark mould or scorching dust, pastures beside the pacing brooks, soft banks and knolls of lowly hills, thymy slopes of down overlooked by the blue line of lifted sea, crisp lawns all dim with early dew, or smooth in evening warmth of varied sunshine, dinted by happy feet, and softening in their fall the sound of loving voices, all these are summed up in those simple words--the fields--and these are not all. We may not measure to the full the depth of this heavenly gift in our own land; though still as we think of it longer, the infinite of that meadow sweetness--Shakespeare’s peculiar joy--would open on us more and more, yet we have it but in part. Go out in the spring-time among the meadows that slope from the shores of the Swiss lakes to the roots of their lower mountains, there, mingled with their taller gentians and the white narcissus, the grass grows deep and free; and as you follow the winding mountain paths beneath arching boughs all veiled and dim with blossom--paths that for ever droop and rise over the green banks and mounds, sweeping clown in scented undulation steep to the blue water, studded here and there with new-mown heaps, filling all the air with fainter sweetness; look up towards the higher hills, where the waves of everlasting green roll silently into their long inlets among the shadows of the pines, and we may, perhaps, at last know the meaning of those quiet words, “He maketh the grass to grow upon the mountains.” (John Ruskin.)
To the young ravens which cry.
The ravens’ cry
“Naturalists tell us,” says Caryl, “that when the raven hath fed his young in the nest till they are well fledged and able to fly abroad, then he thrusts them out of the nest, and will not let them abide there, but puts them to get their own living. Now, when these young ones are upon their first flight from their nest, and are little acquainted with means how to help themselves with food, then the Lord provides food for them. It is said by credible authorities, that the raven is marvellously strict and severe in this; for as soon as his young ones are able to provide for themselves, he will not fetch any more food for them; yea, some affirm the old ones will not suffer them to stay in the same country where they were bred; and, if so, then they must needs wander. We say proverbially, ‘Need makes the old wife trot’; we may say, and ‘the young ones too.’ It hath been, and possibly is, the practice of some parents towards their children, who, as soon as they can shift for themselves, and are fit in any competency to get their bread, they turn them out of doors, as the raven doth his young ones out of the nest. Now, saith the Lord in the text, when the young ones of the raven are at this pinch, that they are turned off, and wander for lack of meat, who then provides for them? Do not I, the Lord? Do not I, who provide for the old raven, provide for his young ones, both while they abide in the nest and when they wander for lack of meat?”
I. God hears the young ravens; will He not hear you?
1. I argue that He will, first, when I remember that it is only a raven that cries, and that you, in some senses, are much better than a raven. The raven is but a poor, unclean bird, whoso instant death would make no sort of grievous gap in creation. If thousands of ravens had their necks wrung to-morrow, I do not know that there would be any vehement grief and sorrow in the universe about them; it would simply be a number of poor birds dead, and that would be all. But you are an immortal soul, formed in God’s own image. True, the raven is not sinful, as you are. But what does this prove? Why, that you are a creature capable of sinning, and, consequently, that you are an intelligent spirit living in a sense in which a raven does not live. You are a creature moving in the spirit-world; you belong to the world of souls, in which the raven has no portion. Doth God care for flesh, and blood, and bones, and black feathers, and will He not care for your reason, your will, your judgment, your conscience, your immortal soul? Oh, if you will but think of it, you must see that it is not possible for a raven’s cry to gain an audience of the ear of Divine benevolence, and yet for your prayer to be despised and disregarded by the Most High.
2. There is a great deal of difference between your cry and the cry of a raven. When the young ravens cry, I suppose they scarcely know what they want. They have a natural instinct which makes them cry for food, but their cry does not in itself express their want. They have no articulate speech. But you do know what you want. Few as your words are, your heart knows its own bitterness and dire distress. Moreover, you have a multitude of arguments ready to hand, and you have an understanding with which to set them in array and marshal them to besiege the throne of grace.
3. Remember, that the matter of your prayer is more congenial to the ear of God than the raven’s cry for meat. All that the young ravens cry for is food; give them a little carrion and they have done. Your cry must be much more pleasing to God’s ear, for you entreat for forgiveness through the blood of His dear Son. It is a nobler occupation for the Most High to be bestowing spiritual than natural gifts.
4. The ravens are nowhere commanded to cry. When they cry their petition is unwarranted by any specific exhortation from the Divine mouth, while you have a warrant derived from Divine exhortations to approach the throne of God in prayer.
5. The cry of a young raven is nothing but the natural cry of a creature, but your cry, if it be sincere, is the result of a work of grace in your heart. When the raven cries to heaven it is nothing but the raven’s own self that cries; but when you cry, “God be merciful to me a sinner,”--it is God the Holy Spirit crying in you.
6. When the young ravens cry they cry alone, but when you pray you have a mightier one than you praying with you. Hear that sinner crying, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” Hark! Do you hear that other cry which goes up with his? No, you do not hear it, because your ears are dull and heavy, but God hears it. There is another voice, far louder and sweeter than the first, and far more prevalent, mounting up at the same moment and pleading, “Father, forgive them through My precious blood.”
II. If you have cried unsuccessfully, still cry on. “Go again seven times,” aye, and seventy times seven. Remember that the mercy of God in Christ Jesus is your only hope; cling to it, then, as a drowning man clings to the only rope within reach. If you perish praying for mercy through the precious blood, you will be the first that ever perished so. Cry on; just cry on; but, oh! believe, too; for believing brings the morning star and the day-dawn. But stay a while, I have something else to say. Is it possible that you may have already obtained the very blessing you are crying after? “Oh,” say you, “I would not ask for a thing which I had already got; if I knew I had it, I would leave off crying, and begin praising and blessing God.” Now, I do not know whether all of you seekers are in so safe a state, but I am persuaded that there are some seeking souls who have received the mercy for which they are asking. The Lord instead of saying to them to-night, “Seek ye My face,” is saying, “Why criest thou unto Me? I have heard thee in an acceptable hour, and in an acceptable time have I succoured thee; I have blotted out thy sins like a cloud, and like a thick cloud thine iniquities; I have saved thee; thou art Mine; I have cleansed thee from all thy sins; go thy way and rejoice.” In such a case believing praise is more suitable than agonizing prayer. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear Him, in those that hope in His mercy.
Fearing and hoping
Great kings are wont to have their favourite objects, in which they delight with a peculiar pleasure. Many monarchs have gloried in “the strength of a horse.” Their squadrons of cavalry have been their confidence. Others have taken more delight in “the legs of a man.” The thews and sinews of their soldiery have been their boast. You must have noticed in the Assyrian sculptures the importance that was attached by the workmen and by the monarch also to “the legs of a man.” They represent the warriors as brawny and strong, swift in running, and firm in holding their place in the day of battle. But our God takes no delight in cavalry or infantry, no armies of horse or foot soldiers give him any gladness; the Lord takes pleasure in very different persons from these. His delight, His joy, His solace,--if we may use such a word,--are found in other company than that which is martial, He turns His eyes quite another way.
I. The objects of Divine favour as here distinguished. They are distinguished--
1. From physical strength.
2. From mental vigour.
3. From self-reliance.
4. From any mere capacity for service which exists in any of us, whoever we may be.
II. The objects of Divine favour as they are here described.
1. These are things which relate to God. God’s favour is displayed to those who fear Him, and who hope in His mercy. Thou art truly what thou art towards God; and God regards thee according to what thou art in reference to Himself.
2. This description of character applies to true servants of God in their earliest and weakest form.
3. It comprises the noblest form of religion in the very highest degree of it. Let us grow as we may, we shall always fear God. Perfect love casteth out the fear that hath torment, but not that filial fear which is here meant, that child-like reverence and holy awe of the Most High; that shall grow and shall deepen, world without end. And as to hope, why, we had hope when we began our spiritual life; but we have hope still, and that hope will continue with us,--I will not say in heaven, though I think it will, for there is something to hope for in the disembodied state, we shall hope for the day of resurrection; and there will be something to hope for even in the resurrection, for, throughout the ages we shall have a good hope that still we shall be “for ever with the Lord.”
4. The persons favoured of God are represented as a sort of sacred blending of different characters. These two things, fear of God and hope in His mercy, go well together, and what God hath joined, let no man put asunder.
III. The blessings implied in this Divine favour. If you fear the Lord, and hope in His mercy, God takes as much delight in you as you do in your dear child; and far more, because God’s is an infinite mind, and from it there comes infinite delight, so that He views you with infinite complacency. Can you believe it? You do not view yourself so; I hope that you do not, but God sees you in Christ. He sees that in you that is yet to be in you. He sees in you that which will make you to grow into a heavenly being, and therefore He takes delight in you. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Man’s pleasure and God’s pleasure
(with Psalms 103:2):--Man’s pleasure in God’s works, God’s pleasure in man’s renewed spirit--these are the two themes suggested by these words.
1. That men have an instinctive pleasure in looking on the beauties spread before their eyes in the visible world is sometimes disputed, and yet this enjoyment shows itself in very unlikely places, and among classes that have had no special training. The poor, ragged, ill washed child of a London court finds a pleasure it takes no pains to conceal in flowers (when it sees them), in the bright, fresh, green leaves of the early spring, in the meadow dappled with daisies, and in the field ablaze with buttercups. The rudest and most untrained minds are not insensible to the beauties of a summer’s sunset, to the flashing mirror of the sea, or to the hoary grandeur of mountains. The same feeling exists, in a greater or less degree, among uncivilized peoples; and some of them have expressed their motions in rude poetic outbursts, as striking as they are spontaneous. It does, however, greatly add to the devout man’s delight in all visible things to think of them as the visible words and thoughts of God. In this view of things the Hebrew bards far surpass the sweet singers of all time. To the devout Hebrew God was in all things, and all things spoke of Him. This was their great charm to him, that they helped him to see something of the Lord his God. And to any man who so looks on the visible creation there will never be wanting ladders by which he may climb up to higher and purer thoughts of Him who made all things. That the study of God’s works deepens our pleasure in them is the testimony of every student. The more these works are “sought out,” so much the more will our delight in them increase. The objects themselves, animate and inanimate, are so manifold that their wonders seem to open before us as we advance. In all we may see God’s “excellence in working.” That it is possible to educate the eye in looking upon these various works of God, and so of intensifying the delight in them, is obvious. If we never look upon the objects of interest and beauty around us save in a dreamy way, or with a half-shut eye, we miss much of the pleasure which comes from minute, careful, and accurate observation. It surely ought not to be thought a waste of time to consider attentively that which God has thought no waste of His almighty energies to create; and the power of seeing, which alone comes of careful seeing, will bring before us new pleasures with every new revelation. Our very love of our Father who made them all should surely stir us to look at the things around us, and to look with open and patient eyes, until our sight becomes trained by looking, and no touch of the Divine Artist escapes our eager and loving eye.
2. But when I speak of man’s pleasure in God’s works, I do not forget that God Himself has pleasure in them. The song of the redeemed in heaven proclaims this joy (Revelation 4:11). The song of creation tells us also that as each part of the work appeared before the eye of the Divine Worker, He pronounced it “very good.” But God’s greatest pleasure is in man’s renewed spirit. “The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear Him, and in those that hope in His mercy.” The pleasure which men feel in beautiful flowers, in spreading landscapes, in hoary hills, in flashing lakes, and in the great expanse of the outstretched sky or open sea, has no regenerative power. It is felt by men who say that they have no rest in God. They are not insensible to the glories spread before them; they say that they are insensible to that which gives God the greatest pleasure--the renewed heart. Their delight is with the glory which fades before their eyes; God’s with that which endureth for ever. To the great Former of all things, beautiful as the earth is, and sky, and sea, one unselfish deed, one sincere and devout prayer, one soul pouring out its holy trust into His ear, gives Him a higher and deeper joy. Nay, “There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.” Two elements in man’s changed nature are spoken of by the psalmist as producing God’s pleasure. One is fear, the other is hope. But fear and hope are not opposed to each other. They are one; they spring from the same root; they yield the same flower; they are, in other words, but two sides of the same truth. There is no true fear of God unless you hope in His mercy; there is no true hope in His mercy unless you fear God. The fear and the hope alike give pleasure to Him. (J. G. Goadby.)
God takes pleasure in them that fear and hope in Him
I. A general description of God’s people.
1. He takes pleasure in their persons (Daniel 8:23; Ephesians 1:6).
2. He takes pleasure in their graces, and those heavenly qualifications which are in them.
(1) As they are His children, regenerated and born again to Himself (Hebrews 12:10; 2 Peter 1:4).
(2) As they are His workmanship, created by Him in Christ Jesus to good works (Ephesians 2:10).
3. He takes pleasure in their prayers (Job 42:8; Acts 10:3; Proverbs 15:8).
4. He takes pleasure in their services.
II. Upon what account especially God does indeed delight in them. 1, Their fear of Him. Fear is the aweband of the soul, which restrains it, and keeps it in good order, and preserves it from miscarriage. It is the spur of the soul, which quickens it, and excites it, and provokes it to the doing of good: so much fear of God, so much innocency and uprightness.
2. The second is the grace of hope, or faith, of those that hope in His mercy. As the Lord takes pleasure in the former, so in this likewise. He delights in His servants more especially, as they give greater testimonies of their faith and dependence upon Him. The more that any cleave unto Him, the more doth He take care of them, and pleasure in them (Psalms 33:18). (T. Horton, D. D.)
Hope and fear balanced
A holy fear of God must be a check upon our hope, to keep that from swelling into presumption; and a pious hope in God must be a check upon our fear, to keep that from sinking into despondency.
I. As to the concerns of our souls, and our spiritual and eternal state.
1. We must keep up both a holy dread of God and a humble delight in Him; both a reverence of His majesty, with a fear of incurring His displeasure, and at the same time a joy in His love and grace, and an entire complacency in His beauty and bounty, and that benignity of His which is better than life.
2. We must keep up both a trembling for sin, and a triumphing in Christ, as the propitiation for sin.
3. We must keep up both a jealousy of ourselves, and of our own sincerity; and a grateful thankful sense of God’s grace in us, and the workings of that grace.
4. We must keep up both a constant caution over our goings, and a constant confidence in the grace of God.
5. We must keep up both a holy fear lest we come short, and a good hope that through grace we shall persevere.
II. As to our outward concerns relating to the body, and the life that now is.
1. When the world smiles upon us, and our affairs in it prosper, yet then we must keep up a holy fear, and not be too confident in our pleasing prospects; not flatter ourselves with hopes of the great advancement and long continuance of our peace and prosperity; but balance the hopes which sense suggests with the fears which reason and religion will suggest.
2. When the world frowns upon us, and we are crossed, and disappointed, and perplexed in our affairs, then we must keep up a good hope, and not be inordinately cast down, no, not in our melancholy prospects, about our health, our safety, our name, our relations, and our effects in the world.
(1) Hope in God’s power: be fully assured of this, that how imminent soever the danger is, He can prevent it; how great soever the straits are, He can extricate us out of them, can find out a way for us in an untracked wilderness, and open springs of water to us in a dry and barren land: for with Him nothing is impossible, nor is His arm ever shortened, nor His wisdom nonplussed.
(2) Hope in His providence; and believe not only that He can do anything, but that He does do everything, and whatever the event is, God does therein perform the thing flirt is appointed for us, and takes cognizance of us and our affairs, how mean and despicable soever we are.
(3) Hope in His pity and tender compassions; which, in the day of your grief and fear, you are to look upon yourselves as the proper objects of.
(4) Hope in His promise; that word of His upon which He hath caused us to hope, and which we have all the reason in the world to build upon, for not one iota or tittle of it shall fall to the ground. Though he has not promised to deliver us from that particular evil we have a dread of, or to give us that particular comfort and success we are desirous of, yet He has promised that nothing shall harm them who are followers of Him; nay, that all things shall “work together for good,” etc.
III. As to the public concerns of the Church of God, and our own land and nation.
1. We have always reason to keep up a holy fear as to public affairs, and to be apprehensive of trouble before us, even when things look most promising.
(1) We are a provoking people. Atheism, vice, etc.
(2) We are a divided people; and what can be expected, but that a kingdom divided against itself should be brought to desolation?
(3) God has told us that in the world we shall have tribulation; all the disciples of Christ must count upon it, and not flatter ourselves with hopes of an uninterrupted tranquillity anywhere on this side heaven.
2. There are three things which may encourage our hope, and keep the balance even against all our fears, as to the concerns both of the Protestant Churches abroad and our own nation.
(1) The word which God has spoken to us; which (whatever other props our hopes may be supported with) is the great foundation on which they must be built, and then they are fixed.
(2) The work which God has begun among us.
(3) The wonders which He has wrought for us. (Matthew Henry.)
Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem.
Crowning Christ in city life
Some time ago, in one of the reviews, a writer gave a picture of the London of the future, when all sanitary and political improvements shall have been perfected. No dust in the streets, no smoke in the air, no noise, no fog, spaces everywhere for flowers and sunlight, the sky above always pure, the Thames running below a tide of silver; but think of the city of the future in whose life, laws, institutions, trade, politics, pleasure, the righteousness of Christ shall find full and final manifestation. Where is the poet, the painter, who shall paint for us that golden city, so holy and clean? It is painted for us in the Book of Revelation, in the “Holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God,” etc. (W. L. Watkinson.)
He hath strengthened the bars of thy gates.
Piety exulting in Divine goodness
I. In the general prosperity of society. He recognizes the good hand of God--
1. In the rebuilding of the city (verse 13).
2. In the restoration of peace and prosperity (verse 14).
II. In the beneficent mutations of the weather (Psalms 147:16-18). Men are in the habit of complaining of the weather as too hot or too cold, too wet or too dry, too stormy or too calm, but in these very changes there is mercy. They are required in order to make the earth fertile and fruitful, and to stimulate humanity to a thousand industries. Whilst men of science ascribe meteorological changes to what they call laws, and the multitudes are ever grumbling with the weather, true philosophy ascribes all not only to the agency of God, but to the benevolence of that agency.
III. In the moral revelations to mankind (verse 19).
1. God’s word not only acts on material nature, originates, fashions, sustains and controls it, but on human souls. In the one case it conveys His resistless energy, in the other His moral reason and influence.
2. He reveals His moral laws to men--
(1) By the retribution of history,
(2) By the intuitions of conscience,
(3) By His written Word, and
(4) By His blessed Son. To some His moral revelations are fuller than to others. (David Thomas, D. D.)
He maketh peace in thy borders.
Peace at home and prosperity abroad: a Missionary Sermon
The prosperity of the Church is described in this psalm.
I. What are the points which constitute the healthiness of the Church at home? To begin with the most important--the true piety of all her members. If we could to-morrow bring into the Church a sufficient number of ungodly but moral men to double our numbers, our subscriptions, our places of worship and our missionaries, it would be a curse and not a blessing. Next, the soundness of that Gospel which we proclaim and preach. When I have read the conflict between the mighty man who made these walls echo with his voice, Mr. Whitefield, and that other mighty man, equally useful in his day, Mr. Wesley, I have felt that they contended for the same truths, and that the vitality of godliness was not at issue in the controversy. But there are vital truths, and for these we must contend even to the death. The spirit of union. We must needs have divers communions, because we cannot see eye to eye in discipline, while nevertheless we are really and vitally one. I am sure the more we come to know each other, the better we love one another. Constant activity. The Church gets dull, listless and heavy at times. Abundant prayer.
II. The connection between a healthy home Church and the spread of Christ’s Kingdom abroad. It is clear enough. The whole missionary enterprise will fall to pieces, bit by bit, if we be not in spiritual health. There is a well of water springing up, and the people of the district flock to it. Suddenly the secret spring begins to fail; by some means or another the water is gone to another place, and the spring is no more there. Soon would it come to pass that where multitudes of men and women were wont to drink with joy and gladness there is not a single person to be seen. So with our missionary success should the Church at home degenerate. The inconsistencies of English Christians have proved one of the greatest barriers to Christ’s Kingdom in other lands.
III. Then if all this be true, then let us remember that it must also have a connection with our own personal standing in the sight of God. If one member be unhealthy in the body, the unhealthiness of that member does to a degree taint the whole. If every man mended one all would be mended. Responsibility to God for the souls of men is cast on each one of us. When you stand by the grave of some neighbour, can you look down into the grave and say, “I did all that was in the power of mortal man for that soul’s salvation”? No, you cannot. I am afraid that none of us, or but very few, when we hear of the death of friends, can say, “If that man perish, I did not leave a stone unturned.” Who has done all he might? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Divine efficiency illustrated in the blessing of peace
I. The peace of nations.
1. A blessing.
2. A promised blessing.
3. A blessing for the improvement of which nations are accountable.
4. A blessing in which the Church hath interest (Jeremiah 29:7; James 4:1).
II. The efficiency of the Lord our God in the peace of nations.
1. The peace of nations is within His all-comprehending purpose. The time in which the peace is concluded, the articles, the nations comprehended in it, and, in a word, every circumstance is according to the pleasure and purpose of the will of God, who hath foreordained whatsoever cometh to pass.
2. The Lord disposes the events of war in such a manner as to open the way to a peace. Victories and conquests on the one side, and losses and defeats on the other, are balanced by His wisdom and justice, and overruled for hastening and facilitating accommodations between the belligerent and contending powers.
3. Inclinations to peace, formed by His invisible and unperceived efficiency in the minds of princes and cabinet ministers, are called into exercise and motion by the operations of His providence.
4. Negotiations for peace are begun, and carried on, and con-eluded under His eye.
5. The conditions of peace are settled by His efficiency.
6. The success of negotiations for peace is of the Lord.
III. Praise the Lord’s efficiency in the peace of nations.
1. Believe His efficiency.
2. Confess it.
3. Rejoice in it. (A. Shanks.)
Filleth thee with the finest of the wheat.
The blessing of plenty
I. The good mentioned. “The finest of the wheat” is--
1. A blessing (Zechariah 9:17).
2. A promised blessing (Joel 2:23-24).
3. A blessing which, without impeaching the goodness and faithfulness of the promiser, may be denied, confiscated, and cursed.
4. A blessing for which they who receive it are accountable. The Lord is our judge as well as our benefactor.
5. A blessing in which the Church hath interest. In the members of this holy society there is a bodily and a spiritual part. The Lord is the former and nourisher of them both.
II. The efficiency of the Lord our God in filling us with the finest of the wheat.
1. The discretion which prepareth the land for sowing the wheat is inspired and taught by the Lord.
2. The dying of the wheat under the clod.
3. The revival of the wheat.
4. The springing and growth of the wheat.
5. Wheat-harvest is of the Lord. He appointeth the weeks, and by His power in the atmosphere disposeth winds and clouds and rain to keep it back, or bring it forward, to make it prosperous or calamitous, according to His counsel and pleasure.
III. Conclusion. Use the finest of the wheat, and all the goods of the season--
2. Wisely and discreetly.
5. Believingly. (A. Shanks.)
His Word runneth very swiftly.
The swiftly-running Word
A word is the expression of the mind, the manifestation of the man. “peak,” said the old philosopher, “that I may see thee.” More of a man is seen in his words than in anything else belonging to him. You may look into his face and be mistaken; you may visit his house and not discern him; you may scan his business and misunderstand him; but if you hear his daily conversation you shall soon know him. And this is so with the Lord our God. If you wish to know God you must know His Word. That Word takes several forms. At first it came forth as a fiat: “Let it be,” and it was. Then as a command, giving statutes to men. Then as teaching, promise, threatening. But chief of all is the Word, of whom it is said, “In the beginning was the Word.” Now, by that Word God most of all speaks out His heart. But to all forms of God’s Word the truth of the text applies.
I. The lessons it teaches.
1. That the Divine Word still works. All things continue by virtue of it. Else had they long since ceased to be.
2. And with the same degree of force His Word “runneth,” that is to say, it keeps its ancient pace.
3. But silently.
4. Effectually. Nought can set it aside.
5. And all this in the realm of grace as well as nature.
II. Some particular instances of it. Creation; providence; mercy. But especially is this seen in Christ, the eternal Word. How diligent He was. See this truth, again, in the matters of grace. Conviction of sin; regeneration; justification. And so the individual heart can be speedily revived and quickened, and Churches likewise.
III. What should we learn from all this?
1. The seeking sinner can be saved now.
2. The Word can overtake those who run away from it. Sheep never run so fast after the shepherd as away from him.
3. The Lord can at once give us light and peace. “I have a great trouble,” say you; “and if I do not get help by Monday night I do not know what will become of me.” Well, God can deliver you by Monday night, for His Word runneth very swiftly. He can cause your dry rod to bud and blossom and bear fruit in an hour. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Word of God
We may take the Word of God to mean any expression of the will of God. Such an expression may be the text of a language or the execution of an act. It is the mind of God coming into form, within our apprehension and beyond it. There are two kinds of testimony by which the Deity is revealed to us. There is a message from God which is brought to us very swiftly from afar, and proclaimed in a speech without words; and there is a witness also nearer home, delivered in the same silence within the human heart and addressed to the human consciousness. They are both described in this psalm (verses 3, 4). Here is a witness speaking to us of God; and here is God His own witness speaking within the human soul. Let us speak of this second testimony, God’s witness of Himself.
I. In the teachings of men. We acknowledge with thankfulness that God has selected channels for the conveyance of His mind to men, outside the acknowledged authorities of Christian truth. God draws near to the prayer of a heathen, and permits Himself to be touched by the eager apprehension of the seeker. There are times when the God nature within man moves him to seek a power above himself. In those terrible conflicts, common to most men, where passion and judgment contend for the mastery, there are certain perturbations of thought and feeling which are inexplicable on any other supposition than the nearness of a great Presence; and men feel after it if, haply, they may find it. Some of the finest compositions in the literature of the classical world describe these searchings after God. The attitude of the mind in this warfare is to the last degree pathetic. There is within it a feeling that it has a right to that which it cannot find, and it wanders through a wilderness of anxious conjecture, crying out in the desert, “Where is the way, and the truth, and the life?” This partial revelation, even when not supplemented by Christian truths has in every age accomplished a great mission. And we cannot praise too generously those noble students of life who have taken the rudiments of this law and framed systems of morality for the conduct of men and the government of states.
II. God’s witness of Himself in the person and revelation of Christ. Every preceding revelation, in whatever form presented and wherever found, points to Jesus Christ. Whatever men were prompted to inquire after in respect of their origin, in respect of the limitations of their knowledge, in respect of the destiny of their intellectual powers, in respect of the design of their creation, is answered in Christ either in exact terms or in affirmative events. The feeling of men after God is expressed in two ways: by thinkers in abstract reasonings and speculations, and by the common people in embodying their hopes and fears in the imageries of worship. Both these forms of search touchingly represent a common humanity. The philosopher cannot rest in abstract ideas; the idolater can find no satisfaction in the incarnations of his own passions. They start from remote points; they meet together in the region of despair. They are both men, and there are depths of want in each of them which neither science nor superstition can reach. But in the person and teaching of Christ both these typical forms of search are anticipated and satisfied. Here is a revelation from the lips of the great Teacher Himself in which the most subtle and exacting demands of metaphysical thought are met, and the sublimest ideal of the imagination is surpassed, “God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” A kindred revelation is the answer to the cry of the peoples of the earth. The problems of human suffering and sorrow which from the first have perplexed and defied the wisdom of the wise are not only unravelled in the light of Christ’s doctrine, but their very springs are explored, and exhausted in the consummation of His work; and the death to which they lead is a new birth of life from which they are shut out. It is the love of God in its aspect of pity and sympathy for the sufferings of men which is destined to conquer the world. This new attribute of tenderness, new outside Christianity, invests the Christ of the Gospel with a strange power, which Buddha never possessed, to attract and charm the races of the East. Here is the distinction between him and the Man of Sorrows. Christ is not for Himself, but for us. It is this contrast which is just now awakening the curiosity of the educated and stimulating the hope of the masses in India. This unselfish love, which is the master-spirit of the Gospel, is the regenerating force of personal and national life. Every nation has its special need, some want made conspicuous by the ruling condition of the people. It may be truth, it may be righteousness where truth is known, it may be freedom, it may be a pure and strong family life, it may be the reign of kindness, but whatever it be, in personal or national demand, a Gospel of universal love meets the condition equally of every people. I want no other evidence of the divinity of its mission. This Gospel is God’s witness of Himself. It is the Word of God, and the Christ of these Scriptures is its central light, a light that brings within our sight and interprets the remotest past, and its illimitable ray pierces the unfolding destinies of the future. The scope of the transit of this Word is all time, and it runs very swiftly from age to age. But we must not interpret swiftness to mean merely or chiefly the rate of apparent transit, or the distance popularly covered between two periods. We must bring into the account the obstacles removed, the revolutions accomplished, the victories achieved. And these in their nature do not admit of exact calculation. Many of them belong to a sphere of which we have no present knowledge. When in making our estimate of the progress attained we have arrived at a certain figure, we have the right to extend the record and bring in unseen results. In this sense of transit God’s Word always runs swiftly because His Word is His Will. It goes straight to its object. There can be no resistance even to check it, for the opposition it meets is made the instrument of its advancement. But there is another element of meaning in the idea of swiftness as applied to the movement of the Word of God. It is running to reach an end: the goal it is destined to win is the accomplishment of a purpose, which I have no hesitation in saying has been the dreaming prophecy of all times, of all history, and of all races. The purpose is not to make the Word a mere literary factor in the education of mankind, but a spiritual power to change the nations--first to give individual man a new soul, then to rebuild the fallen structure of family life, then to change the aims and policy of governments, to make a new earth wherein shall dwell righteousness. The progress of this advancing change was never so rapid as it is this day. The world has been prepared for it by a series of unprecedented occurrences, under the influence of which change is inevitable and becomes not a temporary innovation, but a tide of deep and irresistible current. Take this example, which has been furnished within the period of my public life--the nations fifty years ago and the nations to-day. Then--how well I remember it! throughout the great non-Christian world there was rest--the rest of immemorial usage, the rest of torpor, the rest of insensibility. India was asleep, and China and Japan. There had been in the mind of these vast empires an almost unbroken slumber for ages. Now, thank God! there is unrest; instead of that fatal peace, a sword, not the military weapon, but the dividing edge of truth, the unrest of awakened intelligence, the unrest of a disturbed faith, and that is unrest; of doubt, of suspicion, of uncertainty; the unrest of an eager search for new foundations of belief, and for new principles of society and of life. If I ask which of the active forces of thought and change has had most influence in bringing this about, the educationist will point to the achievements of science, and the amazing triumphs of modern education, the statesman will attribute it to the political knowledge which has quickened and informed the public opinion of nations, resulting in the displacement of effete institutions, and in broader, more enlightened, and more enterprising methods of government. Without disputing the contributions of these immense agencies, and omitting for the present the pervasive influence and activities of the great Churches, I wilt venture to place beyond any single institution, both in the range of its power and in the ever-expanding effects of its operations, the British and Foreign Bible Society. Nothing is easier than to point out that these newly Christianized peoples are living far below the religion of the Bible which has made them what they are. I am afraid that we are in the same condemnation. But there is the standard to rebuke them; and to live under its rebuke is to have a constant incentive to recover what they have lost. Use it or misuse it, believe it or reject it, attach it to myth, parable, or picture, the indestructible power is there, a savour of life or a savour of death. When we consider that the Bible Society is the angel of the, Churches, in going before them to lodge this Word in the languages of the earth and make straight the missionary’s path to the intelligence of the nations, we are bound, as the disciples of Jesus, whose Gospel it is the province of the Word to reveal, to sanctify this glorious institution by our prayers, to strengthen it by our co-operation, and to support it by our gifts. (E. E. Jenkins, LL. D.)
He giveth snow like wool.
Frost and thaw
Looking out of our window one morning we saw the earth robed in a white mantle; for in a few short bourn the earth had been covered to a considerable depth with snow. We looked out again in a few hours and saw the fields as green as ever, and the ploughed fields as bare as if no single flake had fallen. It is no uncommon thing for a heavy fall of snow to be followed by a rapid thaw. These interesting changes are wrought by God, not only with a purpose toward the outward world, but with some design toward the spiritual realm.
I. The operations of nature.
1. The directness of the Lord’s work. When we can look upon every hailstone as God’s hail, and upon every floating fragment of ice as His ice, how precious the watery diamonds become! When we feel the cold nipping our limbs and penetrating through every garment, it somewhat consoles us, and makes us willing to endure its hardness, when we remember that it is His cold. When the thaw comes, see how the text speaks of it--“He sendeth out His Word.” He does not leave it to certain supposed independent forces of nature, but, like a king, “He sendeth out His Word and melteth them: He causeth His wind to blow.” He has a special property in every wind; whether it comes from the north to freeze, or from the south to melt, it is His wind.
2. The ease of Divine working. A man puts his hand into a wool-pack and throws out the wool; God giveth snow as easily as that: “He giveth snow like wool.” A man takes up a handful of ashes, and throws them into the air, so that they fall around: “He scattereth the hoar-frost like ashes.” Rime and snow are marvels of nature: those who have observed the extraordinary beauty of the ice-crystals have been enraptured, and yet they are easily formed by the Lord. “He casteth forth His ice like morsels”--just as easily as we east crumbs of bread outside the window to the robins during the wintry days.
3. The variety of the Divine operations in nature. When the Lord is at work with frost as His tool He creates snow, a wonderful production, every crystal being a marvel of art; but then He is not content with snow--from the same water He makes another form of beauty which we call hoar-frost, and yet a third lustrous sparkling substance, namely glittering ice; and all these by the one agency of cold.
4. Consider the works of God in nature in their swiftness. It was thought a wonderful thing in the days of Ahasuerus when letters were sent out by post upon swift dromedaries--it was a new invention when one man upon a dromedary travelled till the animal’s speed began to fail, and then passed the mail bags to the next messenger, who, similarly mounted, bore them onward in hot haste. In our country we thought we had arrived at the age of miracles when the axles of stage coaches glowed with speed, but now that the telegraph is at work we dream of stretching out our hands into infinity; but what is all the rapidity of anything we can ever attain to compared with the rapidity of God’s operations?
5. Consider the goodness of God in all the operations of nature and providence.
(1) Think of that goodness negatively. “Who can stand before His cold?” You cannot help thinking of the poor in a hard winter--only a hard heart can forget them when you see the snow lying deep. But suppose that snow continued to fall! What is there to hinder it? The same God who sends us snow for one day could do the like for fifty days if He pleased. Why not? And when the frost pinches us so severely, why should it not be continued month after month? We can only thank the goodness which does not send “His cold” to such an extent that our spirits expire.
(2) Not only negatively, but positively there is mercy in the snow. Is not that a suggestive metaphor? “He giveth snow like wool.” The snow is said to warm the earth; it protects those little plants which have just begun be peep above ground, and might otherwise be frost-bitten: as with a garment of down the snow protects them from the extreme severity of cold.
II. Those operations of grace of which frost and thaw are the outward symbols.
1. There is a period with God’s own people when He comes to deal with them with the frost of the law. The law is to the soul as the cutting north wind. Faith can see love in it, but the carnal eye of sense cannot. It is a cold, terrible, comfortless blast. This cold makes the sinner feel how ragged his garments are. He could strut about when it was summer weather with him, and think his rags right royal robes, but now the cold frost finds out every rent in his garment, and in the hands of the terrible law he shivers like the leaves upon the aspen. The north wind of judgment searches the man through and through.
2. When the Lord has wrought by the frost of the law, He sends the thaw of the Gospel; and when the south wind blows from the quarter called “promise,” bringing precious remembrances of God’s fatherly pity and tender lovingkindness, then straightway the heart begins to soften, and a sense of blood-bought pardon soon dissolves the heart of stone; the eyes fill with tears, the heart dissolves in tenderness, rivers of pleasure flow freely, and buds of hope open in the cheerful air. Oh, happy day! Miriam’s joy at the Red Sea, when she led forth the damsels, exclaiming, “Sing unto the Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously!” was all outdone in our case. Our strain was more jubilant, our notes more full of joy, and our hearts more exulting when we sang, “He is my God, and I will extol Him; He is my father’s God, and I will exalt Him.” Praise ye the Lord, my brethren, and my sisters, as ye recollect that “He sent His Word, and melted all their fears: He caused His wind to blow, and made the waters of your joy to flow, and our soul was saved in film.” (C. H. Spurgeon)
The Lessons of the snow
This is a very striking picture of winter. It would be difficult to find one more vivid. It is worthy of a Greenland or Esquimaux poet, if poetry can flourish in such regions. It is at first sight a strange thing that such words should have come to us from an Eastern land--a land of heat--in which it is more difficult to ward off the sun’s rays than to grapple with cold. No one can read these words, however, without feeling that they come from one who had seen with his own eyes that of which he speaks. How is this to be accounted for? It may be said that Mount Hermon, which is visible from wide tracts of the Holy Land, is often covered with snow. Doubtless this is so. But no vision of snow on a far-off mountain-top could have given an idea of cold powerful enough to have produced this description. Multitudes of Hindoos can lift their eyes and see in the far distance the snow on the Himalayas, but they get from it no notion whatever of frost, or ice, or cold. The snow of a far-off mountain adds a new beauty to the scene, but scarcely suggests to one who had never felt it the idea of cold or frost. The explanation must be sought in other directions, and chiefly here, that the climate of Palestine is much colder than its geographical position would lead us to expect. I have heard travellers in Palestine say that in the early months of the year they suffered far more from the cold than the heat. Whilst it is the opinions of some careful observers that the changes which have been made in the country have rendered the winters less severe than they were in the olden time. An incidental proof of this occurs in Scripture: when the manna fell in the wilderness, to what was it compared? To a round thing as small as the hoar-frost; whilst we hear in the 78th Psalm that even the sycamore trees were destroyed by frost. So that there must have been times when the cold was really severe; not, it may be, every year, but occasionally taking the people by surprise, awakening their astonishment. To this is, perhaps, due the vividness of the description before us. Think of the snow as--
I. A witness to the Divine power. Any worthy thought of God must include this. We often speak of the power of God. But how utterly faint and weak are all our efforts to realize it. It is high, we cannot attain unto it. When our thoughts of it are the largest, they fall infinitely below the great reality. It is well, therefore, to use all aids which come in our way that may enlarge our conceptions of this power. We hear much--too much--in our day of the power of man. There is an abundance of human glorification. I will not deny that man-has done much; but how has it been accomplished? Simply by directing the mighty forces which God has called into being. Man is a director, not a maker. He can guide, not create. Let the men of science do their best to devise, and the men of action their best to carry out, their plans; give there time and space to any extent, and could they cover with snow the land, or bind with ice the waters in a single county--to say nothing of the whole kingdom, or the continent of Europe? They would not attempt such an enterprise; they would not risk the failure they know would follow. If we saw things as they are, and not as they seem, if we judged a righteous judgment, we should talk less of the power of man, and more of the power of God. “Only God is great” (Mahomet).
II. A witness to the quietness of the Divine working. The method is almost as wonderful as the result, both are in the deepest sense Divine. If men have a great work to be done, how much stir and noise and tumult are found l Go to the place where great locomotives are made, and the noise is enough to deafen you, the heat will almost blind you, the tumult will be distracting to you. Go even to the place where instruments of music are made, and it will be found a Babel of discord rather than a temple of harmony. God changes the aspect of a country or a continent, robes it in purest white; but no workers are seen scattering the snow, or binding the waters, or unloosing the wind. There is no stir, or tumult, or noise. If we could trace the snow and ice back to their source, we should find them due to some subtle atmospheric change utterly invisible, utterly intangible to men. The great factory would be found in the heavens, no mighty machinery, no great array of workmen. More subtle--more spiritual I had almost said, would the process be found to be. It is so in far higher matters. We are tempted in these days to trust to great organizations and societies for the bringing in of the Kingdom of God;--“we worship our net and burn incense to our drag”;--we occupy ourselves with our implements; we fancy that success depends on these. It is not so. The highest work is done by more spiritual methods. It is almost independent of machinery. It lies in a higher realm (John 3:8). The greatest results follow not when men are trying to perfect their machinery, or arrange their organization, but when their eyes are lifted to the hills from whence cometh their help.
III. A witness to the beauty of the Divine working. Think of the purity of the whiteness of the snow. Think of the loveliness of the frost-patterns on window and tree. Think of the delicate grace with which it clings to all things. Think of the soft lines and lovely surface of the newly-fallen snow. It might have been otherwise. The snow might have come and covered the earth in sable blackness, the frost might have hung the earth as in garments of gloom, the clouds might have made the sky hideous to look upon. Beauty might have been only in the completed work of nature--aye, not even there. The beauty of the world is too much taken for granted, and so it fails of its true purpose in our hearts and lives. It has a meaning and mission. The great Father was bound to provide a dwelling-place for His children--a place in which they could live. He has made it a very palace of beauty. It is surely the height of ingratitude to take it all for granted and look upon it with dull or unthankful eyes.
IV. A witness to the defiling influence of men. The snow comes to us as a thing of utter purity, but how soon it is defiled, not so much by the earth as by men. Where nature has full sway it retains its purity, but where men do congregate how soon does its glory depart. So, too, often we defile God’s fair gifts--so we, too, often mar His works. Purity, beauty, grace too often flee before man’s approach. It is folly to deny all this. He that covereth his sin shall not prosper, but he that confesseth and forsaketh it shall find mercy.
V. A revelation of purity. The snow makes even things we call white to look utterly unclean. We dare scarcely call them white in its presence. It is thus when we stand near to Him who is the pure image of God, in whom was no sin. We may think ourselves pure as we move among men; the feelings of the Pharisee may, in many subtle ways, creep over us; we may credit ourselves with a holiness we do not possess, but when the Divine purity is revealed in Jesus Christ, when He comes to us an image of perfect holiness as the snow is of perfect whiteness, then how black we seem--how our sin is brought to light! “God, I thank Thee that I am not as other men” becomes “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” How poor even our virtues seem in His light. We may think ourselves rich and increased with goods, and that we have need of nothing; but in His presence we shall know that we are poor and blind, and miserable and hated, and from the deepest depths of our natures will rise the cry, “Create in us clean hearts, O God, and renew right spirits within us.” (W. G. Horder.)
There can be no doubt that winter, as well as the other seasons, speaks to us of God and of His ways. Now, to some of the voices of the winter let us listen a while.
I. Who can resist His will?
1. Nature cannot. The tremendous power of “His cold” the winter makes sternly manifest to men.
2. Man cannot. When Napoleon, in his madness, invaded Russia, the roll of his cannon, the tramp of his legions, the squadrons of his cavalry, and the long train of his military array, seemed so endless that it looked as if the land he had invaded must yield to such irresistible might. But God sent the winter. Softly, silently, relentlessly, day after day, the snow came down. Keen was the cold northern blast, and beneath the might of the winter that vast army crumbled away and perished. “The best generals in my army,” said the Russian Emperor, “are Generals January and February.”
II. “be ye also ready.” On the heads of many of us the hoar-frost of the winter of life is very visible. Have we harvested in our hearts the love and faith and fear of God? Is all ready for the last long winter that must surely and speedily come?
III. Behold God in all winters. Men now are apt to talk overmuch of the laws of nature, of force, of eternal order; and other such phrases are plentiful enough. But they serve, too often, to shut out from men’s minds the thought of God. Practically they come to look upon the universe as if it were a great machine, working on and on and on, but without heart or soul or will in it. And we are much exposed to the influence of such thought. Well, therefore, is it to be reminded--as in such simple but august words as these of this psalm we are reminded--that God is the Author of all. “Thou hast made winter” (Psalms 74:17). And what it is so well to recognize in regard to the natural winter is even more important to us to remember in regard to the winter of the heart. For there are moral and spiritual conditions, caused generally by providential circumstances in our lives, which are aptly symbolized by the natural winter. There are such, and they settle down upon the soul with a drear and desolating power. The home bereaved; health failing; our riches making to themselves wings and flying away; poverty threatening, etc. Remember, these are all sent by God. They are in-eluded in His covenant of grace. “Be not afraid; only believe.”
IV. “it is good for me that i have been afflicted.” God never tears love out of any severity that He sends. The sternness of God--and He can be stern, as winter shows--is ever a merciful sternness (Romans 11:22). See in history of Manasseh, David, Israel, and in histories manifold, proof that the goodness of God is in the winter as well as elsewhere. “Our light afflictions which . . . work out for us,” etc.
V. “i can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me.” “Who can stand before His cold?” asks our text. “I can,” and “I can,” and “I can,” reply a multitude of voices. See the speakers. Look at them, how they leap and play; they are ruddy, and comely, and strong; how their merry laughter and joyous shout ring all down the ice over which they are wildly careering. Yes; they can stand the cold, and will, it is likely, be very sorry when the thaw sets in. Now, why is this? It is because they are full of life. Their blood courses healthily through their bodies. They brim over with a joyful vitality. What a lesson this is. Only let us have life--the life Christ gives--and the cold of poverty, trial, sorrow, death--“His cold,” in whatever form it comes, as in some form it will come, we shall be able to bear, and to this last voice of the winter we shall be able to add our “Amen.” (S. Conway, B. A.)
The frost and the snow and the ice serve a great purpose in the physical economy, so that without the cold of winter we would have no spring bursting with renewed life, no summer with its warmth and invigorating growth, and no autumn with its rich fruit. In the same way there is a Divine purpose in those harder and more stern experiences of our human life. Like the snow, the frost, and the ice, trials and difficulties and sufferings come from the hand of God, and are the greatest of blessings in the formation, correction, and development of our character, if they are rightly used. God produces and controls, and uses them for His own purposes in us, and by their means He disciplines our character, and induces in us greater spirituality of heart. He holds in His hands all things and all trials and all sufferings; and when He is spiritually recognized by us, He imparts to our souls power to bear them, just as the blade of grass holds the hoar-frost, or the water bears the ice, or the earth the snow. As the earth is richer and more productive by the processes of winter, so the right endurance and the right use of sufferings and difficulties and trials make us nobler and greater, and more Christian in feeling and spirit and life, and give us a greater inheritance of blessing and joy for ever. We must not, however, regard winter from a mere utilitarian point of view. In its greatest severity it is a scene of beauty most sublime and ennobling. The frost and the ice and the snow clothe the earth with a robe richer and more attractive and magnificent than the most splendid pageant or brilliant display of kings or kingdoms. The scenes of winter are capable of exercising a powerful influence over our imagination in ministering to its wealth, and also over our heart and judgment, and the emotions and habits of our life. In the wisdom and power necessary to create and put into form such a scene as has been described we have a manifestation of God’s glory. The creative power displayed in a snow-storm taxes the highest flights of imagination, it gives action to the noblest powers of mind, and it is a source of joy to the heart which recognizes the Divine Father in it all. It affords occasion for the exercise of holy admiration and devout gratitude to the beneficent Creator, who not only weighs the mountains in scales, pours the rivers into the oceans, and rolls planet upon planet through immeasurable space; but who also forms the smallest flakes of snow, and straightens the rivers of water with ice, and beautifies the earth with hoar-frost. And the study of such a Divine glory as this is intended by God to exert a salutary influence upon our character, both social and religious, Hence the profusion of wonders and attractive beauty with which God has crowded this world, in order that we may examine and admire them, and by them may rise from the admiration of nature to the admiration and love of God, who is both the God of nature and the God of redemption. That we may really admire, we must carefully examine and study the works of God; for without study the novelty and brilliancy which lie on the surface will soon cease to interest us. In order to interest our minds and benefit our hearts, and so to have a moral and spiritual effect upon us, we must devoutly look into the inner nature and forms of things, and acquire a relish for research and study. In this way we became possessed of a source of happiness of which nothing can rob us--a sweet voice from the works of God falls upon our souls with blessed power--there is unfolded to us a marvellous display of Divine skill and benevolence which, during our earthly pilgrimage, impart to our hearts confidence in God, and make us hope for higher developments and nobler enjoyments in the world of spirits. Our spiritual nature, too, finds in the snow Divine comfort and encouragement. Snow has been employed by the sacred writers to symbolize that purity and spiritual excellence which God offers to all men in the Gospel of His Son, Jesus Christ. Snow-water is peculiarly fitted for washing all impurities of the hands, and making them white and clean. The washing of the soul by the power of God effects a spiritual purity whiter than snow. The words of pardon to guilty men, made known in the Gospel, will melt their hardened and ice-bound hearts to repentance and newness of life. And when this Gospel of forgiveness is heartily believed and practically received into the life, God, who gives snow like wool, scatters the hoar-frost like ashes, casts forth His ice like morsels, and by His Word melts them again, and makes the waters to flow, is able by the Word and power of His Son to restore warmth and energy to cold and weak hearts, and to impart purity and grace to sinful and corrupt souls, until they become whiter than snow, brighter than hoar-frost, and purer than ice. (W. Simpson.)
The benefits of snow
This comparison expressly indicates one of the most important purposes which the snow serves in the economy of nature. It covers the earth like a blanket during that period of winter sleep which is necessary to recruit its exhausted energies, and prepare it for fresh efforts in the spring; and being, like wool, a bad conductor, it conserves the latent heat of the soil, and protects the dormant life of plant and animal hid under it from the frosty rigour of the outside air. Winter-sown wheat, when defended by this covering, whoso under-surface seldom falls much below 32° Fahr., can thrive, even though the temperature of the air above may be many degrees below the freezing point. Some districts, enjoying an equable climate, seldom require this protection; but in northern climates, where the winter is severe and prolonged, its beneficial effects are most marked. The scanty vegetation which blooms with such sudden and marvellous loveliness in the height of summer in the Arctic regions and on mountain summits would perish utterly were it not for the protection of the snow that lies on it for three-quarters of the year. But it is not only to Alpine plants and hibernating, animals that God gives snow like wool. The Esquimaux take advantage of its curious protective property, and ingeniously build their winter huts of blocks of hardened snow; thus, strangely enough, by a homoepathic law, protecting themselves against cold by the effects of cold. The Arctic navigator has been indebted to walls of snow banked up around his ship for the comparative comfort of his winter quarters, when the temperature without has fallen so low that even chloric ether became solid. And many a precious life has been saved by the timely shelter which the snowstorm itself has provided against its own violence. But while snow thus warms in cold regions, it also cools in warm regions. It sends down from the white summits of equatorial mountains its cool breath to revive and brace the drooping life of lands sweltering under a tropic sun; and from its inexhaustible reservoirs it feeds perennial rivers that water the plains when all the wells and streams are white and silent in the baking heat. Without the perpetual snow of mountainous regions the earth would be reduced to a lifeless desert. God giveth snow like wool, and chill and blighting as is the touch of snow, it has protective influences which guard against greater evils. (H. Macmillan, D. D.)
Who can stand before His cold?
In former days religious people were too much given to introducing the Deity directly into the workings of nature and the movements of history. The consequence was, that our forefathers made the Creator responsible for details, rather than for great leading principles and modes of action. In these last days there has been a marked recoil among thoughtful people from the old ideal. In certain intellectual quarters some have even gone to the other extreme; and, as usually happens in extremes, these cultured people of to-day have dropped into as great errors as their less cultured predecessors. As they represent Deity oftentimes, it would seem as if they had divorced Him from both nature and history; so that it is impossible to discover where His operation comes in, if it comes in at all. In the rich religious light of to-day it ought to be possible surely to bow before a God walking in the dignity of infinitely wise laws, and working in the silent majesty of infinite power; but also thinking, feeling, loving, in the interest of creatures on whom He has conferred a dignity first among living things.
I. His cold as a symbol of power. The power that can, in a few hours, bridge over the mightiest rivers with a pavement secure and stable, in strength and smoothness surpassing far the grandest of engineering feats; the power that can split up the rocks of the mountains, like cordwood under the axe of the feller; the power that can laugh at all known human powers, or forces arrayed against it; that must surely be a fit emblem of Him who sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and before whom the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers--Him who weigheth the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance. May we have the true religious vision to see Him, and the ear to hear His voice.
II. The wisdom displayed in “His cold.” Water alone among bodies expands under cold. That anomaly explains how a small quantity of water getting deep down into the crevices of a mountain will, on freezing, split up its adamantine rocks as easily as a child sunders the petals of a buttercup. It explains why ice floats and does not sink; why the clayey soils so retentive of moisture are pulverized in winter, and made ready for the harrow in spring; why myriads of insects secreted in the soil are killed off in the torpid state where their parents thought they had found a secure nest for them against the rigours of the cold; and why cold is the best disinfectant if it be intense enough--destroying instantly the germs of disease as they appear in decaying vegetation, or foul garbage, or in impure drainage. What foul and hurtful thing “can stand before His cold”? The greatest blessing of all, however, is to be seen in the freezing of the flowing river. Because water expands under cold its specific gravity diminishes in the process of freezing, and so frozen water floats upon the unfrozen and heavier water below. By that means the ice-pavement is formed, which, on the one hand, is of immense value both to animals and man, and, on the other, preserves for the finny tribes their natural habitat intact.
III. The goodness of “His cold.” That standing exception of water alone expanding under cold, while other bodies contract, is not the least of many clear tokens of our almighty, all-wise Father’s care and goodness in the operation of His cold. Indeed, we might call it the greatest material blessing we can enjoy in that connection, for it is essential to our very existence. Still, after all, it is in the spiritual blessings which the material blessings suggest that the best blessing lies for devout souls. What stimulus to our spiritual nature in the contemplation of the Deity putting forth His mighty power and exercising His mighty mind to protect and provide for His creatures, as well as to expand and elevate their thoughts by the grandeur of His power in the works of His providence.
III. The method of “His cold.” Silently in the stilly night, under the jewelled canopy of heaven, a giant’s hand is laid upon” rippling stream and solid land. Then, without the slightest sound of contending forces, or cry of pain, the vastest display of power under the mighty heaven is presented to thoughtful mortals, when the morning breaks, and eager life, awaking to its daily toil, finds the throne of the ice-king set up once again. What need we more impressive to inform us of a present divinity than such a feat of Divine workmanship? What a sublime consistency in work proclaiming abroad the sublime worker! All silent might; resistless power revelling in silence. What a lesson here also of the Divine majesty! No noisy demonstration in His grandest works; no straining after effect; no giant-like effort to secure success. In all His wide dominion self-confident, self-possessed, and modest, the great God marches silently through all the seasons working wonders as He goes. (J. E. Hill, B. D.)
“Who can stand before His cold?”
“Not we,” say the frozen lips of Sir John Franklin and his men, dying in Arctic exploration. “Not we,” answer Schwatka and his crew, falling back from the fortresses of ice which they had tried in vain to capture. “Not we,” say the abandoned and crushed decks of the “Intrepid,” the “Resistance,” and the “Jeannette.” The highest pillars of the earth are pillars of ice--Mont Blanc, Jungfrau, the Matterhorn. The largest galleries of the world are galleries of ice. Some of the mighty rivers are at this moment lying in captivity of ice. The greatest sculptors of the ages are the glaciers, with their arm and hand and chisel and hammer of ice. The cold is imperial, and has a crown of glittering crystal and is seated on a throne of ice, with a footstool of ice and sceptre of ice. One-half of the industries of our day are employed in battling the inclemency of the weather. The furs of the North, the cotton of the South, the flax of our own fields, the wool of our own flocks, the coal from our own mines, the wood from our own forests, all employed in battling these inclemencies, and still every January, with blue lips and chattering teeth, answers, “None of us can stand before His cold.” I am glad that the God of the frosts is the God of the heat; that the God of the snow is the God of the white blossoms; that the God of January is the God of June. The question as to how shall we warm this world up is a question of immense and all-encompassing practicality. In this zone and weather there are so many fireless hearths, so many broken window panes, so many defective roofs that sift the snow. Coal and wood and flannels and thick coats are better for warming up such a place than tracts and Bibles and creeds. Kindle that fire where it has gone out. Wrap something around those shivering limbs. Shoe those bare feet. Hat that bare head. Coat that bare back. Sleeve that bare arm. It is useless to preach to bare feet, and to empty stomachs, and to gaunt visages. Christ gave the world a lesson in common sense when, before preaching the Gospel to the multitude in the wilderness, He gave them a good dinner. It is the powerful heater--is the glorious furnace of Christian sympathy. The question ought to be, instead of how much heat can we absorb? how much beat can we throw out? Warm greeting, warm prayers, warm smiles, warm Christian influence. There are such persons. We bless God for them. We rejoice in their companionship. I have been for twenty-seven years studying how to make the Church warmer. Warmer architecture, warmer hymnology, warmer Christian salutation. All outside Siberian winter, we must have it a prince’s hothouse. The only institution on earth to-day that proposes to make the world warmer. Universities and observatories, they all have their work. They propose to make the world light, but they do not propose to make the world warm. Geology informs us, but it is as cold as the rock it hammers. The telescope shows where the other worlds are, but an astronomer is chilled while looking through it. Chemistry tells us of strange combinations, and how inferior affinity may be overcome by superior affinity; but it cannot tell how all things work together for good. Worldly philosophy has a great splendour, but it is the splendour of moonlight on an iceberg. The Church of God proposes warmth and hope--warmth for the expectations, warmth for the sympathies. Oh, I am so glad these great altar fires have been kindled I Come in out of the cold. Come in, and have your sins pardoned. Come in by the great Gospel fire-place. That is the way the cold world is going to be warmed up by the great Gospel fire-place. All nations will come and sit down at that banquet. While I was musing the fire burned. “Come in out of the cold, come in out of the cold!” (T. De Witt Talmage.)
His statutes and His judgments unto Israel.
The Law of Moses
That Law which God delivered to His own people, and for which just returns of praise are here made to Him, shall be the subject of our present inquiries, particularly the end and design of it, and its perfections, and also some defects in it which the Christian revelation hath enabled us to discover.
1. From the Scriptures we learn that God chose the children of Israel, as He had promised to Abraham, to be His peculiar people; that He miraculously rescued them from slavery; that He gave them the quiet possession of a fruitful country; that He wrought many wonders for their preservation; that He delivered precepts to them, the observance of which necessarily separated them from other people; that He raised up a succession of prophets to instruct them or correct them; that He ruled over them Himself in a singular manner. After He had preserved them a distinct people for more than fourteen hundred years, He sent His Son to them, who was born amongst them, and came to make a new and a better covenant, to which both they and all other nations should be invited, and to teach a more pure and spiritual religion. This Messias was obscurely represented in their religious ceremonies, and promised in the Law and the prophets; and as the time of His coming approached, the predictions concerning Him were more full and clear. If We consider the Law as intended to instruct the Jews in moral truths, and to keep up the worship of God in the world, we may observe that these ends were sufficiently secured. From the Law and the prophets the Jews might learn that God did not so much delight in ceremonial observances, as in piety, justice, and charity; from many expressions in them they might suppose and hope that a quiet possession of the land of Canaan was not the only reward of well-doing, but that God reserved for these who loved Him a better recompense in a better world. In those books they might find descriptions of God’s goodness and mercy proper to raise their trust in Him, and to encourage them to amendment and repentance, gracious promises of pardon, and a promise of future blessings, of which the Messias should be the author and dispenser; which may be said to belong rather to the Gospel than to the Law, and to be founded upon all that Christ did and suffered for mankind. And as good laws naturally tend to make good subjects, and a good religion to make good men, so the lives and behaviour of some worthies recorded in Scripture are witnesses to the excellence of the religion which they had received, and by which they were guided. They were remarkable for piety to God, and for a disinterested love of their country, they preferred their duty to all worldly advantages, and endured with patience cruel persecutions, even to death, for the sake of a good conscience. Another end of the Law was to preserve the people of Israel distinct and separated from all nations. Many precepts were appointed for this very purpose: “I am the Lord your God, who hath separated you from other people: ye shall therefore put difference between beasts clean and unclean.” That having a diet peculiar to themselves, they might be restrained from eating with the Gentiles, and so from learning their idolatrous and vicious customs. Another end of the Law was to set up a form of government differing from all others, in which God Himself should be the King, and rule over the people in a most remarkable and wonderful manner. Another end for which we may suppose the Law to have been given was that it might be in some measure a light to enlighten the Gentiles, to spread the knowledge of one God, and so to preserve it that it might not be quite obliterated by idolatry.
2. I shall now make some remarks on the defects and imperfections of the Law. Though that part of the Law which was ceremonial served for good and wise purposes, yet, considered in itself, and compared with the Gospel, it was a weak and imperfect institution, fitted only for children in knowledge, and also a burthensome and severe ordinance, as the apostles testify. St. Paul hath represented the state of the Jews as a state of infants and slaves. He says that whilst they continued under the Law they were children, and that their rites and ceremonies were rudiments adapted to the low capacities of children, and designed to train them up and prepare them for the Gospel; he says also that they were slaves, that they had received the spirit of bondage to fear, because they were obliged to the performance of external services which in themselves had no goodness, and compelled to the observance of them chiefly by servile motives, by the fear of punishment. The Law was defective, also, in that it was not a general revelation of God’s will to mankind, nor indeed of its own nature fitted for universal use. It seems confined to the people to whom it was delivered, in its promises, in its threats, in its rewards and punishments, in several duties and conditions which it required, in the ceremonies, sacrifices, feasts, and customs which it appointed. It admitted proselytes indeed; but it could not have been the religion of any other nation; and the number of the proselytes, though considerable enough sometimes, when compared with the number of the Israelites, or Jews, yet when compared with the Gentile world, was so small, that the psalmist might well say in the text, God hath not so dealt with any nation, neither have the heathen knowledge of his laws. From the defects of the Law it seems reasonable to suppose that it was not designed to continue always. Therefore God, by the prophets, added from time to time new revelations to the Law, removing some of its obscurity, and allaying some of its severity, and also promised greater discoveries to be made in His appointed time. Thus was the Law a preceptor to the Jews, as the apostle speaks, to bring them to Christ; a dispensation appointed, in condescension to the weakness of that people, to train them up and fit them by degrees for the reception of the Gospel.
3. I shall now proceed to vindicate the Law of Moses and the Jewish religion from some objections which have been raised against them, both in ancient and in modern times. First, sacrifices were disliked by some learned and respectable philosophers; and for this and other reasons Judaism appeared to them an injudicious and a superstitious religion. We must therefore observe that sacrifices were not appointed as the most excellent way of serving God, or even as a practice good in itself, but partly in condescension to the weakness of a stubborn people, partly by way of fine and punishment for their transgressions, partly as emblematic ceremonies showing the heinous and dangerous nature of sin which deserved death, and partly as a figurative representation of the atonement to be made by the Lamb of God who should take away the sins of the world. Secondly, God never commanded sacrifice as a thing of its own nature right and fit, but only as useful or necessary by way of consequence. It was usually a rite by which men renewed a covenant with God, and it supposed some transgression, so that if men had never sinned it would have had no place. When God accepted it, He approved it only as it was a testimony of contrition, a humble acknowledgment of unworthiness, a desire to honour Him with a present, and to be received again into favour and alliance with Him. Another objection to the Jewish religion is taken from the bloody wars which the Israelites waged with some nations, and with some cities, by Divine command, and in which they were directed to give no quarter to their enemies, but to put them all to the sword. But it is strange that any one who believes in God should think this to be an insuperable objection, a difficulty not to be removed, and a full confutation of the Jewish religion, because such sort of reasoning will overset natural as much as revealed religion. It will prove, if it proves anything, that God cannot suffer diseases and calamities to destroy so many of His creatures every day; for diseases and calamities are in some sense of His appointment, and arise from the constitution and the nature of the things which He hath created. Another objection to the Old Testament is that Moses and the Prophets had not just notions of the Divine perfections, and ascribe to God things unworthy of Him. Thus, for example, they represent God as punishing the children for the faults of the parents, as being the author of evil, and as obnoxious to human infirmities, and to the passions of grief, anger, and jealousy. As to God’s visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children--First, this threatening being annexed to the commandment against idolatry, is not properly personal, but rather national. Secondly, God still reserved to Himself a power, by a particular providence, to show favour to particular persons who should distinguish themselves by their good behaviour, and carefully avoid the vices and iniquities of their forefathers. Thirdly, when the nation was degenerated, and was punished for it, and the righteous and the wicked were involved in the same public calamities, God was able to make a compensation to the least guilty and the more innocent, partly in this world, and fully in another world. As to the objection that they represent God as the Author of evil--by this way of speaking they never meant to remove the guilt of wicked actions from men and to lay it upon God; they only intended to acknowledge the superintending providence of God, and to declare that no event took place without His knowledge and permission. In this sense they held that He created both good and evil, and that there were not two Gods, two Principles, or First Causes, but only one Author of all, of all those powers and qualities which the righteous employ to good purposes, and of which sinners make a bad use. As to those passages of Scripture in which God is clothed with human infirmities, and subject to human passions, these things are spoken in condescension to our capacities, and arise from the imperfection of human language, and the necessity of representing things spiritual in a way suitable to our conceptions. Another and a common objection to the Old Testament is taken from the behaviour of those illustrious persons who are represented as holy men and servants of God, and some of whose actions are not condemned in Scripture, and yet are not justifiable. First, we must remember that the doctrines of morality in those ancient times were not so perfect as those of the Gospel; and, therefore, proper allowances must be made upon that account. Secondly, the history of the Old Testament is often vary short and concise; and as we know not all the circumstances, we should rather incline to judge too favour-ably than too severely of the actions of good men which are of an ambiguous nature, and to admit of any candid apology which may be suggested for them; at least, we should suspend our judgment in such eases, and not decide too hastily. (J. Jortin, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 147". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26