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Praise ye the Lord from the heavens.
The great, the greater, and the greatest: -
I. The great. Sun, moon, stars, etc.
1. How boundless in variety.
2. How immeasurable in extent.
II. The greater.
1. Rational and responsible existences.
(1) Angelic existences.
(2) Human existences.
2. This moral universe is greater than the non-moral.
(1) It reflects more of God. It mirrors His spirituality, His freedom, His conscience, etc. There is more of God seen in one holy soul than in the whole stellar universe. This moral universe is greater because--
(2) The non-moral is but the symbol, the instrument, the tenement, the garment of the moral. Great as is the non-moral universe, what is it without moral mind? A theatre without a spectator, a school without a pupil, a temple without a worshipper, a house without a tenant.
III. The greatest. What is the greatest? “The Lord.” “His name alone is excellent; His glory is above the earth and heaven.” Greatest because--
1. He is the Author of all.
2. He is the stability of all.
3. He is the law of all. The whole universe is His will in action. (David Thomas, D. D.)
Praise Him, all ye stars of light.
Lessons of the stars
1. One of the most impressive lessons we learn from a study of the stars is the immensity of creation. As they crowd the sky on a clear, bright night we see the beauty and force of the words employed of old to express the increase of Israel--“God hath made thee as the stars of heaven for multitude.” The distance between the furthest planet and the nearest star is twenty-one billions of miles. If we could travel as fast as light travels, we should go round the world four hundred and eighty times a minute; and yet, travelling at the same rate, it would take us three years and seven months to get to that nearest star. The distance of Sirius is so great that it would require a journey of twenty-one years to reach it. There is another star, visible by the naked eye, so far away that we could not cover the distance in less than seventy-two years. Travelling at the same rate, it would take seven hundred thousand years to visit the group, remote and cloudlike, which Sir William Herschell discovered with his telescope.
2. We learn from the stars the existence of abiding law and order in creation. The celestial bodies perform their revolutions in fixed periods; and though some seem an exception to this rule, yet they only exemplify it the more strikingly, for their irregularities, occurring at stated times, have as much method as their uniform movements. Byron sings of--
“A pathless comet and a curse,
The menace of the universe.”
But now it is known of some, and may be inferred of all, that they are as obedient to law as the planets themselves. Another illustration of law we have in the elliptic movements of the planetary bodies. We owe to Kepler the discovery of the fact that they all move in elliptic orbits--that if you draw a line from the planet to the sun, the areas described by that line in its motion round the sun are proportional to the times employed in the motion, and that the squares of the periodic times are as the cubes of the distance. The first of these is a law of forms, the other two are laws of numbers. By their mutual attractions the planets sometimes produce disturbance among themselves. Through observing the irregular movements of Uranus the astronomers discovered Neptune; yet even at such times order reigns. The primal law of gravitation, discovered by Sir Isaac Newton--that law which keeps all the stars in their places and regulates the descent of a snowflake--abides for ever. Law and order are seen in the motions of the double stars. In many parts of the heavens two or more stars are seen, apparently near each other, and mutually connected as part of a system. In some cases these companion stars revolve round each other; in other cases two or more revolve round a common centre. They are at a much greater distance from each other than the furthest planet of our system is from the sun. The period of their revolution varies from thirty to upward of seven hundred years. Yet they all travel according to fixed law. And this reign of law is observable in the most remote part of the heavens as much as in the nearer. Every fresh discovery reveals its existence and operation.
3. The stars remind us of the beauty and grandeur of creation. In the spheroid shape of the planets and their satellites we have beauty of form. Then we have degrees of magnitude and brightness. It requires the light of a hundred stars of the sixth magnitude to make that of one of the first magnitude. One star differeth from another star in glory. There is a variety of colour as well as of size and lustre. “Through the clear, transparent atmosphere of a Syrian night, without any optical aid whatever, one star is seen to shine like an emerald, another like a ruby, a third like a sapphire, and a fourth like a topaz--the whole nocturnal heavens appearing to sparkle with a blaze of jewels.” There are individual stars, each shining in a splendour all its own. There are starry clusters which hang in the heavens like fruit in the tree. Some are extremely irregular in shape, while others show regular forms of a round, spiral, or other tendency. The Great Bear is a grand and striking constellation. Pleiades glitters and quivers with radiance like a breastplate of jewels. Orion, with his brazen girdle, is not only the most glorious constellation in the heavens--he is also one of the few visible in all parts of the habitable globe.
4. The stars witness for God. An atheistic leader of the French Revolution said one day to a Christian villager: “We are going to pull your church-tower down, so that you may have nothing left to remind you of God, or religion.” “You will not only have to pull down the church-tower,” said the man, “you will also have to blot out the stars before you can destroy all that reminds us of God. They speak to us of Him.”
(1) They speak of His living, all-pervading presence; and so illustrate Christ’s words, “My Father worketh hitherto.” He upholds them by the constant acting of His power.
(2) They bear witness to God’s condescension and care. While they speak of His majesty and power, they speak at the same time of our littleness. Yet the power that made and upholds the stars made and upholds man. (W, Walters.)
Snow and vapours.
The glaciers as prophets
From the visible we divine the invisible. In what is physical we find parables concerning the spiritual, and even discern natural law in the spiritual world. The Teacher of teachers took often His texts from the freer Bible of Nature when He would expound either the constitution of His Kingdom or the attributes of Deity. To-day let us “enter into the treasuries of the snow,” and remind ourselves of some precious lessons therein. Snow is the vapour of water crystallized. The atoms of which all matter is compounded tend, when free, to assume the crystalline form, and by water, which is a solvent of nearly all substances, atoms are generally set free, and in their freedom they combine. So we get rock crystal from the resolution of flint, Iceland-spar as a crystalline form of the atoms of chalk, diamonds from carbon, and snow-crystals from the moisture aggregated in clouds directly the temperature is low enough to freeze that moisture. When the air is calm six-rayed stars are produced, as we can see with the naked eye when they are caught on a cold surface. Their being driven together by currents of air causes their beauty and their individuality to be lost in the shapeless snowflake. The colder the air, the smaller the crystal. Can we doubt that their geometrical form is an evidence of the active presence and action in nature of an orderly mind? That the structure of all crystals being based on mathematical laws and relations shows the handiwork of a grand Geometrician of the Universe? Catch some snow-crystals. So ordered in beauty are they, that we feel that to them also has been whispered, “Be ye perfect, even as your Father is perfect.” Tiny is each, but perfect in beauty of form. On our microscopes we may have learned to inscribe, Maximus in mini-mis es--Immeasurably great art Thou in Thy least, O God! The lovely sculpture of diatoms in the vegetable kingdom, of the tests of infusoria in the base of animal life, and the remembrance that only the most infinitesimal number of their inconceivable hosts can ever be seen by the eye of man, that only their Maker can delight in their absolute perfection, bids us burst out with a creed that is a commandment. We can, we must, aim at perfection, for nothing short of perfection expresses and imitates the quality of the Divine mind and work. So beautiful is each, and yet how varying. Over a thousand forms of snow crystals have been noted, albeit all have the necessary unity of being six-rayed. There is no act of uniformity here, or anywhere in Nature, for uniformity is man’s ignorant parody of the unity which alone God desires and creates. But now let us trace these crystals and these flakes, not backwards but forwards, as one might who saw them falling softly on a mountain top. Into quite other thoughts than those of beauty and goodness will they lead, and what has been as a guiding star may now become a beacon of warning. Tiny is each, and well nigh without weight. Can such as they have had relation to the valleys from which we have ascended, the ravines we have clambered up? Have they anything to do with the hard blue ice of the glacier, its crevasses, and its graving of even the granite rocks? Light, and falling noiselessly; white from the entangled air of the flakes and from the blending of the prismatic colours in their reflection from the minute faces of the crystals; yet in their multitude causing pressure as they lie sheet upon sheet; and this pressure gradually eliminating the air until neve, half snow and half ice, is formed. But still the pressure increases by fresh falls of snow above, and at last the neve becomes the blue, airless ice of the glacier. But this mighty field of ice remains not level or at rest; surely, and without pause, it is moving downwards, although imperceptibly to the eye. Nor is it without effect on all it touches. It chisels out with its imbedded stones grooves in the cliffs that bound it and form its bed; it smoothes, as with a vast plain, the hardest rocks over which it crawls, and leaves these testimonies graven in the rock to be read in ages far in the future when and where the glacier itself has ceased to be. Now in all this we may see a parable of the usual course of moral evil, from its beginning in the almost unnoticed venial sin which is unresisted as being considered unimportant, continuing by repetition and aggregation to gather force and destructive power, until at last there is the fixity of evil that mightily affects its surroundings. So light is each snow-crystal as it falls; so trivial it seems that little bit of self-love, or self-will, or self-confidence, the slight exaggeration, the only momentary harbouring of an evil thought; that questionable additional one per cent of profit; the pride that is little more than the consciousness of success; the resentment which seems justified, that, considering each one by one, and forgetting the cumulative weight of numbers, the sense of sin is as yet unroused, and watchfulness appears unneeded while still it is the day of small things. And even the snowflake, formed when crystals have been blown together, is felt only when falling on the uncovered and uplifted face, and then but as a touch--no bruise, and certainly no wound resulting, no burden felt; and so white still from the entangled air. So together with the venial sins there is yet so much of the atmosphere of habitual grace, such spiritual vitality still, such activity in good works, that there seems no prospect of the elimination of the air of heaven that may in time turn the snowdrift that a wind may move into the ponderous and crushing, dark and airless ice of the glacier. Yet the process is natural when once begun. The multitude of imponderable crystals causes weight. The superimposition of small forces creates the power that hardly can be resisted. Gradually the snow-beds change into neve as their pressure forces out the air; and gradually, unnoticed and unresisted, little sine chill the heart, dull the sensitiveness of the conscience, and form first the tendency and then the habit of coldness and apathy towards the interests, and invitations, and even the commands of duty towards one’s higher life-duty towards one’s neighbour, and duty to God. Not that overt evil is as yet apparent: neve to the casual glance is not so very different from snow. Respectability remains, morality is not apparently lost: the hardness of the airless ice is not yet produced. But it is only a question of time and of the continuance of increasing pressure as snowstorm upon snowstorm and winter after winter thickens the superincumbent mass. At last the ice is formed--airless, hard, and ready to destroy. To the eye, at any given moment, there seems no motion, and only by minute and scientific observation is the downward flow noted and calculated. Is it not so in the moral decadence of the human spirit? One day brings no obvious deterioration of character. The lethargic and frozen spirit thinks and avows that it is much as usual from year to year, and yet all the while, visibly enough to the grieving eye of its Creator, its Redeemer, and its Sanctifier, the continued downward course is rendering any arrest of this deathward progress less easy. Acts create habit, and habit forms permanent character assuredly, though perhaps as unobservedly, as snow changes into neve, and neve into the glacier. But, again, we observe the dead, descending stream of ice not merely in itself, but as it affects all it touches. No man liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself is an axiom true in the economic, the social, the natural, and the spiritual order of things. How absolutely impossible is the existence of any trust in the common saying, “He is no man’s enemy but his own,” and still more in the popular excuse, “If I do it, I injure no one but myself.” The cold heart must chill other hearts. Not only the fervour of zeal, but the paralysis of indifference and inaction is contagious. Our friends, our associates, and the greater number who, unknown to us, yet must be and are influenced for good or evil by what we say, or write, or do, and by the greater eloquence of what we are, form, as it were, the banks of the river of our life, and each atom of that bank is thrilled by our motion. Do they seem of sterner stuff than we? Yet even the granite cliffs are planed by the softer ice of the passing glacier, and scored by the fragments of rock it has absorbed. And, lastly, the scars remain when the glacier has disappeared, melted away by a kindlier climate. Glaciers in England passed away ages before historic or even traditional memory, but their effects remain. Not only “the actions of the just smell sweet and blossom in the dust,” but equally are unrighteous deeds a source of infection long after the doers are forgotten. These thoughts have been solemn--sombre if you will--but nature is a school-room, not simply a playground, and it is by enduring hardness, intellectually and spiritually, that one becomes the soldier of Christ, the prophet of God. Our mountain rambles derive their charm from the mixture of what is ever terrible with that which is lovely; black precipices linger in our mind as well as the wealth of flowers in the meadows; the startling roar of an avalanche echoes in our memory as well as the soft harmony of bells and rivulets below; and so, while mostly we are noting with thankful glee all things that seem sparkling ripples on the stream of a Maker’s love, the undertone of warning may well be heard--Be wooed to life; be scared from death. Sing thy Eucharist at the evidences of the love; chant also thy Litany at the reminder of the necessary justice of God. (J. W. Horsley, M. A.)
Stormy wind fulfilling His word.--
The Divine use of destructive forces
Some of us may remember a walk through a park on the day after a hurricane: leaves, twigs, branches wrenched violently from their trunks strew the soil in every direction; oaks which have stood erect perhaps since the days of the Plantagenets now lie prostrate. Nor is vegetable life the only sufferer. The eye rests on what may remain of a nest of young birds dashed from their shattered home upon the ground; or perhaps here and there the carcase of an animal which had run for shelter beneath the cover of a tree already tottering to its fall. Or we are on the sea coast, the angry waves are subsiding, and as we watch them they presently lay at our feet the timbers of what we know a few hours ago must have been the home of human beings; and then one and another fragment of a ship’s furniture is floated up, and then, perhaps, at last, a human body, so bruised and gashed by its rude contact with the rocks as to be scarcely recognizable. “Fulfilling His word.” Somehow or other, then, His word is fulfilled in this devastation and disfigurement of that which His own hands have made; and the agent which inflicts it obeys some law as regular as that which governs the motion of the planet, although with more complex conditions. In its early history this earth seems to have been the scene of a series of catastrophes, each of them the product of existing law, each of them the preparation for some higher forms of life. As we pass from the physical and inanimate world and enter the human, the spiritual, and the moral, we find new and rich applications of the words before us. Here the wind and the storm become metaphorical expressions, having, however, real counterparts in the passions and the agency of man. Here, too, as elsewhere, we watch them fulfilling God’s word.
I. Let us begin with the State. Every reflecting person must know how intimately the well-being of mankind is bound up with the maintenance of social order, and the stability and vigour of existing institutions with good government, with the due security of life and property: It is the State which organizes and combines the conditions of well-ordered human life. The State answers in the social life of man to physical nature in man’s animal life. Its strength and unvarying order are the guarantee of man’s well-being; and yet the State is exposed to destructive storms which rival in their sphere the most violent catastrophes of nature: and the question is how such storms are fulfilling God’s word.
1. There is, for instance, the storm of invasion, the extreme and most dreaded result of the storm of war. Never, probably, before the establishment of the Roman Empire were such blessings as well-ordered government can secure secured for so large a proportion of the human family as was then the case. Upon the subjugation of a number of petty States continually at war with each other, the Romans established a vast system of law and police, which was almost conterminous with the civilized world. It extended from the Euphrates to the Straits of Gibraltar, from the Grampian Hills far into the deserts of Africa. This wonderful political edifice, which was begun by the soldiers of Rome, which was built up and completed by her lawyers and her administrators, was such that its seeming strength and its compactness and its practical wisdom made men believe that it would last for ever. But the centuries passed, and moral corruptions, imported chiefly from the East, ate out the very heart and fibre of Roman strength; and then there came the storm of the barbarian invasions. On they came, Goths, and Huns, and Vandals; on they came, wave after wave, breaking upon the enfeebled defences of decaying civilization; on they came, wrecking cities, devastating provinces, breaking up altogether the old fabric of society, and establishing in its place a state of things from which Rome had delivered the world, a number of petty States constantly at war with each other, and lacking in not a few instances the primary conditions of social order. And yet this wind and storm, we can see it, fulfilled God’s word. Rome had done its work, and the evil which festered under its ordered splendour at last greatly outweighed the good that could be secured by its longer continuance. It left to the world its great conceptions of law and rule that were never better appreciated than in our own day; it had to make room for new and vigorous nations instinct with a healthier spirit, guided from the infancy of their existence by a Divine religion; and the scenes of ruin in which it perished had a sanction which has been justified by the event.
2. There is the storm of revolution, more dreadful in its extreme phases than the storm of invasion or the storm of war, just as cruelty or wrong at the hands of relations is more unendurable than at the hands of strangers. Such a storm was that which burst upon France in the closing years of the eighteenth century. We may go far, indeed, to find a parallel to the Jacobin terror in point of deliberate ferocity perpetrated in the name and in the midst of an advanced civilization. The brutalities of the Committee of Public Safety are the more revolting from the contrast which they present with the lofty professions of a sensitive philanthropy amid which the Revolution was ushered into being. And yet, as we look back on those terrible years which occupied the whole attention of our grandfathers, we can trace in them, too, the wind and storm fulfilling God’s word. The old society which was thus destroyed was inconsistent with the well-being of the greater part of the French people; and the agonies of the Revolution have been counterbalanced by the exchange which millions have made of a life of great hardship and oppression for a life in which all men are equal before the law. He who makes the clouds of human passion His chariots, He who walks upon the wings of the wind of human violence, He permitted a company of pedantic ruffians, who for the moment controlled the destinies of France, to work its miserable will, because He had in view a larger future which would show that, however unconsciously, they were fulfilling His high purposes of benevolence and justice.
II. In the Church, the Divine society, we trace the operations of the same law. The Church is exposed to storms which in her higher life correspond to the storms of invasion and the storms of revolution in the life of the State.
1. Thus there is the storm of persecution which in Scripture is distinctly ascribed to the agency of Satan. It might well have seemed to the first Christians hard and almost unintelligible that the almighty and loving Father should have called out from among mankind into existence the society of His true children and worshippers only to expose it to the fierce trial which beat on it with such pitiless, with such well-nigh incessant fury during the first three centuries of its existence; and yet as we look back we can see that this education in the school of suffering was neither needless nor thrown away. If the Head of the new society had been crowned with thorns, the members could not expect to be crowned with roses, and withal to be in true correspondence and communion with the Head. If the storm of persecution swept round the cradle of Bethlehem when the holy innocents were sent to their appointed thrones by the sword of Herod; if it beat with relentless fury upon that cross where He hung, the Infinite and the Eternal, expiating human sin, it could not but be that His members would be perfected through suffering.
2. And there is the storm of controversy. Between the sacredness of Divine truths, and the angry passions which rage around them when the floodgates of controversy have been opened, there is the hideous contrast which we all feel most deeply in our best moments; and yet the wind and the storm of controversy have their place and use in God’s providential government of His Church. If St. Paul had not withstood St. Peter to his face at Antioch, it seems probable that, humanly speaking, the Church of Christ would never have exceeded the dimensions of a Jewish sect. If Athanasius had not opposed Arius at Alexandria, it is difficult to see how, but for a miraculous intervention, the Church would have continued to teach the Divinity of Jesus Christ. If Augustine had allowed Pelagius and his coadjutors to pass uncontradicted, Western Christendom at least would have ceased to believe that we are saved by grace. The controversies of the sixteenth century plunged a large part of Europe into spiritual anarchy; but at the same time they cleared away mists which else must have hung in ever-thickening corruption over the face of Christendom. Our own age has not been wanting in its full share of religious disputes, and we have not escaped the heart-burnings and the other evils which always accompany them. But those winds and storms of controversy have in their measure fulfilled God’s word by rescuing from oblivion almost-forgotten truths; by reminding Christians of a truer and higher standard of life and practice which they had well-nigh forgotten; by bringing out into the sunlight the agreement which often underlies apparent differences, as well as the deep differences which often traverse a specious agreement; by persuading men of goodwill to combine courage in defence of truth with a chivalrous and charitable bearing towards its opponents; by deepening our sense of the preciousness of that well of truth of God which is itself attested by our misunderstandings, by our struggles, by our faults of conduct and of temper which accompany the effort that is made to recognize and to proclaim it. Yes, even controversy may have its blessings.
III. And not less applicable are the words to the experience of individual life which is assailed by storms that in their various ways fulfil the will or word of God. There are the outward troubles of life; loss of means, loss of friends, loss of reputation, the misconduct of children, the inroads of bad health, the slow decay of hopes that once were bright and promising; these things are what men only mean when they use the metaphor in their common talk. The storms of life also represent disasters and failures of a more or less external kind. And no doubt when they fall upon us in quick accumulation they do break down nerve and spirit, they do lay us low, as the psalmist says, “even to the dust.” But these storms most assuredly are not seldom our best friends if we only knew it. They break up the class of alliance which the soul, despite her higher origin and destiny, is ever too ready to make with the outward world of sense. They throw us back from the realm of shadows upon the other kingdom which is so close to us, which we forget so easily, but where all is life. Life is full of illustrations of the truth that these storms are meant to fulfil and do fulfil God’s word by promoting the conversion and the sanctification of souls. There are, for instance, souls who are exposed to fierce intellectual trials, because in no other way, as it seems, would they or could they learn the patience, the courage, the humility, the self-distrust which are so essential to the Christian’s character. There is no doubt a dreadful risk lest the violence of the storm should wear them out and they should sink disheartened and lie down and die. But the struggle need not be given up in any case; and God’s grace is sufficient for all who will seek it, since “His strength is made perfect in weakness.” (Canon Liddon.)
God’s word fulfilled in Nature
We are apt to think and speak as if everything had been made for us--as if the sun and moon and stars, the mountains and hills, the fruitful trees and all cedars, beasts and all cattle, creeping things and flying fowl had had no other object but our pleasure and comfort. Whereas, in truth, all these were designed to praise God. First, then, each of these glorifies the Lord by obeying its Maker’s will. The fulfilment of His design in making them is, according to His own appointment, the proof that He has wrought them well, and therefore that He is worthy to be praised. They also praise Him by accomplishing His work. Sometimes He entrusts them with special commissions. The fire which came, at Elijah’s prayer, to decide the people’s choice between Baal and the Lord, fulfilled a distinct word of God; so did the hail which destroyed the crops of the Egyptians; so did the cloud which received our ascending Lord; and the mighty wind which raged around Jonah’s ship; and the great rain which began in the little cloud of promise granted to the kneeling prophet. And so, again, the glory of God is subserved by these, when they awaken the minds of His sons and daughters to consider in these material forces the operations of His hands. How good it is, what honour is rendered to the Lord of all things, when we are taught by those sights and sounds of nature which are the instruments of God, to discern even Him the Lord Himself, in the snow-storm, and the ocean tempest, and the prairie fire, and the great hailstones, and the impenetrable mists! How gloriously, too, all of these may extol Him by suggesting analogies to us--teachings of that spiritual world, whereof we find so many pictures and parables around us on all sides. These are not fanciful--God forbid that we should think so. They are employed again and again by our blessed Lord, in His Gospel doctrine, when He is showing the heavenly meaning of earthly scenes. And as the Everlasting Son, so also the Eternal Father, does, in Gospel prophecy, use just this imagery (Isaiah 55:10-11).
1. One of the very first lessons to be learnt from such visitations is our utter dependence upon God. Look at the way in which the complex machinery of this great country has been suddenly put out of gear by a few hours’ snow--how our postal service, our telegraphs, our common business, our markets, our trade, our schools, our mutual intercourse have been interrupted as in a moment by the tiniest particles of snow joining together against us in irresistible masses--a great army of the Lord, as mighty as the locusts of His sending. Here is, indeed, a disclosing to us of the power of God to hold us down, and to show us His great strength at any time.
2. Since we are entirely dependent on Him ourselves, we should remember, with a self-denying charity, those whom He has suffered to be smitten by the rushing waters, or the raging wind, or the cutting frost and snow. There must not only be,--though He does desire this,--the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His Name: besides this, we must not forget to do good and to distribute, for it is with such sacrifices that God is well pleased.
3. Though the heart is the seat of holy gratitude, the lips are the gates through which it passes to the throne of the heavenly grace. Should net our prayer be this, the familiar petition which yet is too little our own: “O Lord, open Thou our lips; and our mouth shall show forth Thy praise”? (G. E. Jelf, M. A.)
God’s hand in the wind and storm
God’s hand is in the wind and storm. He raises it, He directs and rules it, and He stilleth it again.
I. God employs the stormy wind to fulfil His threatened judgments. I do not say or suppose that men who perish in the storm are sinners above others, more than were the men on whom the tower of Siloam fell, or the men whose blood Pilate mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. We are forbidden to judge of any man’s eternal state by the manner of his death. But we know and are assured that death is never an accident--that in every case, and as the common effect of sin, it is always a judgment; and that, so often as it is brought to pass by the stormy wind, this is the minister of the judgment which God has decreed and threatened.
II. The stormy wind fulfils God’s word of promised mercy. Directly, and by its proper effect, it is the executioner of judgment; indirectly God makes use of it for the very opposite result. For need I tell you that God pursues a plan of mercy on behalf of our world, as well as judgment, which in His wonderful working doth in part accomplish it by the very judgment which He sends abroad on the earth? The same events in providence, you know, work to the most opposite ends in regard to different individuals--as the pillar of cloud, which threw fear and confusion into the host of Pharaoh, animated the camp of Israel with courage and confidence. And who of you all, that are careful to mark God’s dealings with you, but has, in connection with the storm, reason to sing of mercy as well as of judgment--that, amid your frequent exposures, you have been preserved--that you have been delivered from those dangers in which this and that other of your messmates have perished? This surely demands of you, at the least, that you acknowledge the riches of God’s goodness and forbearance and longsuffering to you-ward, as not willing you should perish, but that ye should come to repentance.
III. The stormy wind fulfils God’s word as serving in many ways to promote the great end of moral discipline.
1. To recall men to the sense of a forgotten God.
2. To rebuke and chastise men.
3. To try the grace of God’s people, to explore its weakness, or to manifest its strength. (J. Henderson, D. D.)
Mountains and all hills.
Mountain pictures in Scripture
In Scripture mountains are used to set forth--
I. The place of special communion with God. The Bible often refers to mountains as if, in a special sense, they belonged to God. Actually all things are God’s--valleys as well as hills, plains as well as mountains. But I believe you never meet with God speaking of these other things as He does of mountains. He doesn’t say, “My valleys,” “My rivers,” but He does say, “My mountains.” And when we stand and look at a mountain, with its top piercing the clouds, the thought may well come to us, If the valleys and plains have been given to man, God has reserved the mountains for Himself. If man is able to scale them he is unable to live upon them. And there are some whose summits can never be reached. Yes, if we want to banish little earth-born thoughts, and cares, and troubles, if we would exclude them by the entrance of greater thoughts, then climb the mountain, go to its summit if you can, and you are likely to come back another man. It is in accord with all this that our Saviour, when He wanted His three disciples to lose sight of earth while they beheld His heavenly glory, took them away to a mountain-top. And whenever He Himself wanted to leave the world behind Him, and to find a place where He could feel His Father to be very near, and have intimate communion with Him, “He went up into a mountain to pray.”
II. God’s great power. The old Hebrew teachers, when they wanted to show the people how strong the arm of Jehovah was, used, in effect, to point to the mountains, and say, “Let me tell you what Jehovah can do with them.” Isaiah is rich in imagery of this sort. At one time the prophet wished to make the people feel the immense disparity between themselves and God, and he asks them the significant question, “Who hath weighed the mountains in scales?” When the prophet again wishes to tell us what mighty things God has done, and especially to call attention to the quiet, easy, noiseless way that God can bring about marvellous events, how splendidly he effects this by saying, “The mountains flowed down at Thy presence”! When Jeremiah wished vividly to picture to the people the terrible judgments which his prophetic eye could see that God was about to bring upon their land because they had been rebellious, among other things he says: “I beheld the mountains, and, lo! they trembled.” When Nahum seeks to make the impenitent sinner sensible of the terrors of the Lord, even though He is slow to anger, he says, “The mountains quake at Him, the hills melt, and the earth is burned at His presence.” And Habakkuk shows that Jehovah’s power is not to be trifled with when, more than once he says, “The mountains saw Thee, and they trembled.” Yes, these immovable hills tremble when they see God; and what, then, will impenitent sinners do--men who take no notice of what God has to say to them; who keep their thoughts bound down to earthly things, and never acknowledge God in any of His ways?
III. Great antiquity and unchangeableness (Habakkuk 3:6; Psalms 90:2; Isaiah 54:10).
IV. Symbols of immense obstacles and difficulties (Matthew 17:20; 1 Corinthians 13:2).
1. The pathway of every individual life has its obstacles. Not only do we pass through cloud and sunshine, and along rough places and smooth, but sometimes we have to confront obstacles which seem to be as much beyond our power to move aside as the high mountain would be. But take courage, friend! for if you can’t remove it, if you can’t get it out of your way in an instant--as most of us in our impatience would like to do with all our mountain-difficulties--yet by steady and persistent effort you may master the mountain and get the right side of it by and by.
2. But mountains are put, too, in Scripture as symbols of difficulties which lie in the way of Christ’s conquest of the world. The Alps lay in the way of Hannibal and Napoleon when they were seeking to conquer Italy; and vaster mountains still seem to lie in the way of Christ’s conquest of the world. The unwillingness of the people to listen to the message of reconciliation is a mighty mountain in the way of the victorious march of the Saviour; and even when they listen the unbelief and cold indifference of men stand out like a vast mountain with snowy summit and ice-bound sides. We might well believe that these difficulties would never be overcome if God had not said they should be. But God can make even these icy mountains shake and tremble and melt away. The thing that is impossible with men is possible with God. Out of these very mountains God can make a way. He can convert a Saul, the persecutor and unbeliever, into Paul, the persuasive preacher. And if we have faith we shall not only climb mountains by an incessant effort, but we shall be able to put some of them out of the way (Isaiah 40:4-5). (J. Clarke, B. A.)
Mountains declare the majesty of God’s handiwork
The majesty of the Creator is set forth anew in the recent classification of nature’s vast work of what Warren Upham, of the United States Geological Survey, terms “mountain-building.” Mr. Upham says that he finds six modes of mountain construction throughout the western hemisphere; namely: folded, arched, domed, tilted, erupted, and eroded. The Appalachian-Laurentian systems are specimens of the folded mountain range; parts of the Cordilleran belt in Western United States, of the arched construction; the Henry Mountains in southern Utah, of the domed; the Sierra Nevadas, of the tilted; the Andes range, of the erupted as seen in the traces of grand volcanic-action throughout the entire extent; and lastly, the remnants of vast areas once uplifted, specimens of the eroded mode of mountain architecture. (Homiletic Review.)
Both young men and maidens.
Happy work for everybody
I. What it is to praise the Lord. Praise is the heart singing. We want the heart that sees and feels how kind our heavenly Father is, and loves Him for everything. One day as I was going along the road I saw a large coil of telegraph wire lying in a heap. There keeping itself all to itself, dull and heavy, it was the very last thing that you would ever expect to get any music out of. Soon afterwards, as we were going that way again, my little girl said to me, “Hark! what is that playing?” I pointed up to the wire--the same wire that lay coiled up in heavy silence. Now it was stretched along from post to post, and was making music the whole day through. And so it is with us. We keep our love in to ourselves and wrapped around ourselves, and then there is no music. But when our love stretches away to Jesus, then it makes the constant music of praise--at home or at school, at work or at play.
II. Reasons why we should praise the Lord.
1. Because He has loved us, and given Himself for us.
2. We are the only creatures in the world that can praise Him. After all, the dragons and great deeps can’t really praise Him, nor the sun or stars. It is like the telegraph wire again. When the wind has come to the wire, then the music comes. The air that is in this chapel is blown into the organ, but it has no sound until it comes through the organ pipes. So all things in God’s great world are dumb until they come to us. We are the harp and the organ by which their praise is to go up to heaven.
3. Praise is the only thing that we can give to the Lord.
4. Loving praise is the only thing that can satisfy our loving Lord.
5. It is the happy work that we shall do in heaven. Let us practise it down here. (M. G. Pearse.)
Let them praise the name of the Lord.
Universal praise due to God
I. The goodness of God to the irrational creatures. Although Nature is out of joint, yet even in its disruption I am surprised to find the almost universal happiness of the animal creation. On a summer day, when the air and the grass are most populous with life, you will not hear a sound of distress unless, perchance, a heartless schoolboy has robbed a bird’s nest, or a hunter has broken a bird’s wing, or a pasture has been robbed of a lamb, and there goes up a bleating from the flocks. The whole earth is filled with animal delight--joy feathered, and scaled, and horned, and hoofed. The bee hums it; the frog croaks it; the squirrel chatters it; the quail whistles it; the lark carols it; the whale spouts it. The snail, the rhinoceros, the grizzly bear, the toad, the wasp, the spider, the shell-fish have their homely delights--joy as great to them as our joy is to us. Goat climbing the rocks; anaconda crawling through the jungle; buffalo plunging across the prairie; crocodile basking in tropical sun; seal puffing on the ice, ostrich striding across the desert, are so many bundles of joy; they do not go moping or melancholy; they are not only half supplied; God says they are filled with good. The worms squirming through the sod upturned of ploughshare, and the ants racing up and down the hillock, are happy by day and happy by night. Take up a drop of water under the microscope, and you find that within it there are millions of creatures that swim in a hallelujah of gladness. The sounds in Nature that are repulsive to our ears are often only utterances of joy--the growl, the croak, the bark, the howl. The good God made these creatures, thinks of them ever, and will not let a ploughshare turn up a mole’s nest, or fisherman’s hooks transfix a worm, until, by Eternal decree, its time has come. God’s hand feeds all these broods, and shepherds all these flocks, and tends all these herds. The sea anemone, half animal, half flower, clinging to the rock in mid-ocean, with its tentacles spread to catch its food, has the Owner of the universe to provide for it. We are repulsed at the hideousness of the elephant, but God, for the comfort and convenience of the monster, puts forty thousand distinct muscles in its proboscis. I go down on the barren seashore and say, “No animal can live in this place of desolation,” but all through the sands are myriads of little insects that leap with happy life. I go down by the marsh and say, “In this damp place, and in these loathsome pools of stagnant water there will be the quietness of death”; but lo! I see the turtles on the rotten log sunning themselves, and hear the bogs quake with multitudinous life. When the unfledged robins are hungry, God shows the old robin where she can get food to put into their open mouths. Winter is not allowed to come until the ants have granaried their harvest and the squirrels have filled their cellar with nuts. God shows the hungry ichneumon where it may find the crocodile’s eggs; and in Arctic climes there are animals that God so lavishly clothes that they can afford to walk through snowstorms in the finest sable, and ermine, and chinchilla, and no sooner is one set of furs worn out than God gives them a new one. He helps the spider in its architecture of its gossamer bridge, and takes care of the colour of the butterfly’s wing, and tinges the cochineal, and helps the moth out of the chrysalis. The animal creation also has its army and navy. The most insignificant has its means of defence--the wasp its sting, the reptile its tooth, the bear its paw, the dog its muzzle, the elephant its tusk, the fish its scale, the bird its swift wing, the reindeer its antlers, the roe its fleet foot. We are repelled at the thought of sting, and tusk, and hoof, but God’s goodness provides them for the defence of the animal’s rights.
II. The adaptation of the world to the comfort and happiness of man. The sixth day of creation had arrived. The palace of the world was made, but there was no king to live in it. Leviathan ruled the deep; the eagle, the air; the lion, the field; but where was the sceptre which should rule all? A new style of being was created. Heaven and earth were represented in his nature. His body from the earth beneath; his soul from the heaven above. The one reminding him of his origin, the other speaking of his destiny--himself the connecting link between the animal creation and angelic intelligence. In him a strange commingling of the temporal and eternal, the finite and the infinite, dust and glory. The earth for his floor, and heaven for his roof; God for his Father; eternity for his lifetime.
1. The Christian anatomist, gazing upon the conformation of the human body, exclaims: “Fearfully and wonderfully made.” No embroidery so elaborate, no gauze so delicate, no colour so exquisite, no mechanism so graceful, no handiwork so divine. So quietly and mysteriously does the human body perform its functions that it was not until five thousand years after the creation of the race that the circulation of the blood was discovered; and though anatomists of all countries and ages have been so long exploring this castle of life they have only begun to understand it. Volumes have been written of the hand. Wondrous instrument! Behold the eye, which, in its photographic gallery, in an instant catches the mountain and the sea.
2. I take a step higher, and look at man’s mental constitution. Behold the benevolence of God in powers of perception, or the faculty of transporting this outside world into your own mind--gathering into your brain the majesty of the storm, and the splendours of the day-dawn, and lifting into your mind the ocean as easily as you might put a glass of water to your lips. Watch the law of association, or the mysterious linking together of all you ever thought, or knew, or felt, and then giving you the power to take hold of the clue-line, and draw through your mind the long train with indescribable velocity--one thought starting up a hundred, and this again a thou-sand--as the chirp of one bird sometimes wakes a whole forest of voices, or the thrum of one string will rouse an orchestra. Watch your memory--that sheaf-binder, that goes forth to gather the harvest of the past, and bring it into the present. Your power and velocity of thought--thought of the swift wing and the lightning foot; thought that outspeeds the star, and circles through the heavens, and weighs worlds, and, from poising amid wheeling constellations, comes down to count the blossoms in a tuft of mignonette, then starts again to try the fathom-hag of the bottomless, and the sealing of the insurmountable, to be swallowed up in the incomprehensible, and lost in God!
3. I take a step higher, and look at man’s moral nature. Made in the image of God. Vast capacity for enjoyment; capable at first of eternal joy, and, though now disordered, still, through the recuperative force of heavenly grace, able to mount up to more than its original felicity; faculties that may blossom and bear fruit inexhaustibly. Immortality written upon every capacity; a soul destined to range in unlimited spheres of activity long after the world has put on ashes, and the solar system shall have snapped its axle, and the stars that, in their courses, fought against Sisera, shall have been slain, and buried amid the tolling thunders of the last day. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
A people near unto Him.
Believers near to God
I. The position of the people near to God, or the relationship indicated by nearness.
1. A legal nearness. “Made nigh by the blood of Christ.”
2. A covenant relationship. A solemn mutual pledge, sealed at the Cross.
3. A filial relationship. Not more certainly will affection be felt in the heart of both parent and child among the families of men than in the “Abba Father” of the believing soul, and the tender pity of God’s gracious bosom.
4. A mystical union between Christ and the soul. All His becomes yours, and yours becomes His.
5. Partakers of the Divine nature.
II. The privileges of the people near to God. What shall we say to that protection which this nearness ensures to your soul, seeing that the place of your defence shall be the munitions of rocks, that your bread shall be given you, and your water shall be sure? Jehovah is like a wall of fire about His people. What shall we say of that provision made for you in this wilderness, where every possible want of the body and the soul meets its full and perpetual supply in the riches of Divine goodness, which are all pledged to you by the love and faithfulness of your covenant God? What shall we say of the promises “exceeding great and precious,” made to all collectively, and to one by one personally. What shall we say of providences, all arranged by wisdom which never errs, and love which never fails, and controlled by power that is never weary, so as most effectually to promote the salvation of your souls?
III. The transforming efficacy of this nearness to God. See how it will and must operate from principles necessarily at work.
1. There is the solemnity of your position. If God’s nearness be fairly and fully recognized, if He be seen as He is, and you seen as you are, in the light of His purity, will you, can you, dare you be contented to remain in the corruption of nature?
2. There is admiration of God’s character. Let His character be seen and felt as revealed in the way of pardoning sin by the Cross in infinite power and wisdom, holiness and truth, all displayed in sweet harmony and ineffable glory, while mercy casts her bright radiance over them all to assure the trembling sinner, and constrain him to draw nigh; then can you see all thee perfections engaged on the side of the sinner, engaged to sanctify and save his soul, and feel not a lofty admiration of the beauty of the Lord?
3. But admiration begets desire. If we feel admiration for any person, do we not wish to make him a friend? The moment that admiration of anything ceases, desire to have and enjoy it ceases too. But the beauty of the Lord is manifested to your faith just that you may feel the kindlings of desire to be His, and to be like Him in His loveliness.
4. But surely the soul that has such desires will frequently, solemnly, and closely commune with this infinitely lovely and blessed God. Such communion gives a consciousness of the reality of Divine things, and is fitted to stir you up and spur you on in the effort to become like your God. It thus necessarily leads to--
5. Imitation. This is the end of the process, imitation of “God manifest in the flesh.” His Word will make you wise. His truth will render you truthful. His justice will move you to rectitude. His sovereignty will make and keep you lowly. His purity will lead you to holiness of heart. His mercy and pity will make you tender, and loving, and gentle. (John Walker.)
Nearness to God
I. In what respects true believers are near to God.
1. The awful breach is healed, and they are reconciled. The separating wall of sin is broken down, and they have boldness and access with confidence to Him who would otherwise be a consuming fire.
2. The power of sin is subdued, and they are near as to union and likeness. Nearness, as to the former, is by the blood of Christ: the latter is by the influences of the Holy Spirit.
3. They are near as to communion and fellowship. Jacob had his Bethel, David his hill Mizar, and Paul, though sometimes pressed out of measure, had also his raptures in the third heavens (Isaiah 12:1).
4. They are near to Him in a way of endearment, being precious in His sight. They are near to His heart, and to His eye, and His ear is open to their complaints.
5. They are so near to Him that they will soon be with Him--at home, and at rest. Faith gives you an interest in the Divine favour, and death will bring you to the full enjoyment of it. Your warfare shall be accomplished, and the victory complete.
II. The reasons why this nearness is matter of exultation and joy.
1. This nearness is lasting: those who are thus brought near to God shall be for ever near.
2. Those who are near to God have God also near to them. He will guide, protect, and comfort His people amidst all their difficulties and dangers.
3. They have blessings and privileges which none else can enjoy. They may hear from Him, and He from them; may contemplate His glorious majesty, and commune with Him, as it were, face to face.
4. Being near to God, they are also near to heaven. Improvement--
(1) How vain are all our hopes of happiness without God (Psalms 73:27).
(2) Let us be reconciled to those providences which tend to bring us near. The severest trials are often among the means which God employs to bring us to Himself.
(3) Let nearness to God be the object sought after in every holy duty, both public and private. We may as well be in Geshur as at Jerusalem, unless we see the King’s face.
(4) Not only let us desire to be brought near in a way of interest, but to keep near in a way of communion. This will soften afflictions, heighten our mercies, fortify us against the fear of death, and be our best preparative for heaven.
(5) If the Lord’s people be near and dear to Him, let them be so to us. (B. Beddome, M. A.)
The privilege of dwelling near to God
Communion with Christ is the happiest life. If you gained all the world, and did not lose your soul, but only lost the light of Christ’s countenance for a few days, you would make a poor bargain. There is heaven in every glance of His eye. There is infinite joy in every word of His mouth when He speaks comfortably to His servants. Go not away from Him. Be like Milton’s angel, who lived in the sun. Abide in Christ, and let His words abide in you. Closer, closer, closer, this is the way to spiritual wealth. To follow afar off, and live at a distance from Christ, even if it does not make your soul to perish, yet it will wither up your joys, and make you feel an unhappy man, an unhappy woman. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 148". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
Eve of Ascension