Hear the right, O Lord, attend unto my cry,. . .that goeth not out of feigned lips.
The Psalmist is quite sure that he himself is sincere. The verses which follow seem to be a kind of anticipation of the Pharisee’s self-satisfied prayer; but they are nothing of the kind. The reference is not to sinlessness, but to sincerity. The Psalmist does not say, I am a pure man, without a stain upon the heart or hand. He says, I am a sincere man, the general purpose I have had in view is a purpose marked by honesty. He does not represent himself as pure snow in the face of heaven, but as a man whose supreme motive has been a motive of honesty and general truthfulness. Sincerity can appeal to the right. We draw our prayer out of our own character. This suppliant is so sure of his own honesty that he says, Let the whole case be settled honestly. At other times, when he knows there is not a clean spot upon his whole constitution--one sound healthy spot--he falls right down before God and weeps out his soul ill penitence . . . We should be sure of our motive before we invoke the doing of right. It is better for us to invoke the exercise of mercy. Most men will get more from pity than they ever can get from righteousness. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
Prayer out of feigned lips
It is observable that the eagle soareth on high, little intending to fly to heaven, but to gain her prey; and so it is that many do carry a great deal of seeming devotion in lifting up their eyes towards heaven; but they do it only to accomplish with more ease, safety, and applause their wicked designs here on earth; such as without are Catos, within Neros; hear them, no man better; search and try them, no man worse; they have Jacob’s voice, but Esau’s hands; they profess like saints, but practise like Satans; they have their long prayers, but short prayings; they are like apothecaries gallipots--having without the title of some excellent preservative, but within they are full of deadly poison; counterfeit holiness is their cloak for all manner of villanies, and the midwife to bring forth all their devilish designs. (Peter Bales.)
Justice, mercy, and perfection
I. A cry for justice (Psalms 17:1-7). Things in the mind of David.
1. A sense of truthfulness. He was conscious that there was no discrepancy between his speech and his spirit. The man, unless he feels that he is sincere, will never dare to appeal to heaven for justice. Virtuous sincerity requires that there should be not only an exact correspondence between the speech and spirit, but also between the spirit and eternal realities.
2. A desire for the Divine verdict. “Let my sentence come forth from Thy presence.” The human soul everywhere holds that there is justice at the head of the universe, and that it will sooner or later vindicate the right.
3. A consciousness of a Divine searching. “Thou hast proved mine heart.” A man may be deeply conscious of his imperfection before God, analyst conscious of his innocence of the charges brought against him by man.
4. A determination to be blameless in his speech. “I am purposed that my mouth shall not transgress.” What he means is, I will utter nothing wrong concerning mine enemies, nothing that can justify their harsh and cruel conduct.
5. An assurance of Divine protection. He was protected from ruin. Protected by God. And protected in connection with his own agency. God’s agency in connection with man’s deliverance neither supersedes the necessity nor interferes with the freedom of human effort.
6. A dread of falling from rectitude. “Hold up my goings in Thy paths”. This means--I am right as far as mine enemies are concerned at present. I am conscious of no wrong. I am anxious to retain my blamelessness. To retain my blamelessness I need Divine help.
7. A confidence that God will attend to his prayer. The meaning is--I have invoked Thee heretofore, and do so still, because I know that Thou wilt hear.
II. Here is a cry for mercy. “Show Thy marvellous loving kindness.” A prayer for protection from enemies. Note the character in which he appeals to God for protection. He appeals to Him as a mighty Saviour. The manner in which he desired protection. The enemies from whom he sought protection. The cry for mercy is as deep and universal as that for justice.
III. Here is a cry for perfection. Three facts deduce from the words.
1. That the death of a good man is an awaking from sleep. There is much spiritual torpor and spiritual dreaming even in the best.
2. In this awaking at death there will be the complete assimilation of the soul to God.
3. In this assimilation will consist the everlasting satisfaction of our nature. There is no satisfaction without this. The spiritual powers will not work harmoniously under the dominion of any other disposition. The conscience will frown upon any other state of mind. The Great One will not bless with His friendship any other state of mind in His creatures. Likeness to God is likeness to His controlling disposition. His controlling disposition is disinterested love, and this is that well which springs up to everlasting life. (Homilist.)
Thou hast visited me in the night.
God’s visitations in the night
God has two daily messengers of His love for men, bringing to them His gifts of love--Day and Night. Let us think of His visitations to us by night, when we are still and when He would have us reflect. The Psalm is evidently an evening Psalm.
I. How well it is that the day should close with reflection, that God should visit us thus. Rest alone would be a visitation from God, His gift. But sleep is the better when we pass to it from prayer. If a knock comes to the door at night when all is quiet how it startles us. In the day we should not notice it, but at night we needs must. And Christ may say, “I came in the day but was not heard; behold, I now stand at the door and knock.” It is well to reflect at the close of each day on each day. In the bustle of business we do not understand the meaning of our life. Perhaps we never shall till the bustle of all life’s days is done and we stand on “the safe and quiet shore of eternity.” There are, too, our own ways that need to be understood. Conscience needs to be quickened, and one day it will be. Just as the manipulations of the photographer in the dark chamber bring forth a picture which has been burnt into the plate by rays o flight before, that when completed it may be brought to light again, and men may see what manner of men they were; so in the dark chambers of the dead, in the hidden spirit world, there shall be a quickening of conscience. And God has given to us the darkness of night in which, away from busy life, we may bring forth the pictures of the day that are imprinted on conscience. Cultivate this photography of life.
II. And there is the night of trouble. God visits those who trust Him then. Let there be also in this night reflection, review. Memory is given us that we may not depend for happiness on the present. And review in this night your conduct in your joys. Ah, who is worthy of their joy? Be willing then to bear the night. “God’s blessings come in the night,” so says a German proverb. There is no night in which God is not near us. No, not the last eventide, the darkest of all In Christ we need not foal (T. Gasquoine, B. A.)
The religious aspects of night
There is no necessary contrast between what are called the scientific and the religious aspects of nature. Science keeps its eye upon the facts of nature, carefully verifies and measures them, and seeks to discover their exact relations to each other. Religion, too, is interested in nature, and behind each natural fact sees chiefly Him to whom both effect and cause are traceable. Religion is more necessary to us men than science, and therefore God has taught us religion first of all. The succession of day and night will illustrate what I am saying. We know the physical causes of night, but it has another and a higher meaning, and this is hinted at in our text. The religious aspects of night are many. It strikes us first of all--
I. As an interruption. It breaks in upon and suspends all human occupation. At the very least eight hours in the twenty-four, a quarter of a century in the life of a man of seventy-five, are withdrawn from the demands of labour, And as each day the shadow of night creeping around the world advances, millions of human workers hail the approaching pause in toil which is thus mercifully imposed upon them. Man might have been so fashioned as not to need this, but this enforced suspension of activity cannot but suggest a meaning. It suggests not merely the limited stock of strength at our disposal which needs thus often to be refreshed and replenished, but it also reminds us that we have a higher life than that of the activity of the day, and which shall last when all belonging to this shall have passed away.
II. Night suggests danger. The daylight is of itself protection. When it is withdrawn much becomes possible which it forbids. Night is the opportunity of wild beasts and of evil men. They ply their trade during its dark and silent hours. And thus St. Paul describes the workers of darkness as “unfruitful.” Our Lord compares the unexpectedness of His second coming “as a thief in the night.” If, indeed, St. Paul were to visit London on the afternoon of a bank holiday, it is to be feared that he would have to reconsider his remark that “they that be drunken are drunken in the night.” Still, on the whole, the night is the season of peril and disaster. We yet need to pray God that He would “protect us from all perils and dangers of this night.” For notwithstanding brilliantly lighted streets and well organised police there are yet special perils--such as those of fire in our large and lofty houses, from which the tenants of rude huts and shepherds cabins would find ready escape. It is with civilised as with savage man, God is, in the last resort, our only Protector.
III. Night is a time during which God often speaks to the soul of man. No believer in God’s existence can reasonably deny that He can communicate with the mind of man. We think sleeplessness a great misfortune, but it may be a great blessing. For never does God speak more solemnly, more persuasively to the human soul, than in the waking hours of night. Then conscience has a chance; we listen and hear no other voice. Conscience revives the past, and the eye of sense rests upon no object which can compete with and efface the awful impression. Then religion asserts its empire, and we acknowledge to ourselves with sorrow how much we have forgotten or despised that had the first of all claims upon us. See the many references in the Psalms to these holy uses of the night. One practical lesson, at least, we may remember as bearing upon this subject--the duty of storing the mind while we are yet comparatively young and strong with that which in the hours of sleeplessness and pain will enable us to rise up to God. A mind thus well stored need never fear that the waking hours of night are lost. (Canon Liddon.)
I am purposed that my mouth shall not transgress.--
Restraining the tongue
Such was the pious resolution of the Psalmist when the tongues of his enemies were transgressing both against him and his God. Silence would produce the better effect, both on his own mind and on his enemies.
I. The evil which the psalmist dreaded. Transgressing with his tongue. The tongue, indeed, is only the channel through which the depravity of the heart proceeds, but it is a channel of remarkable facility. It is liable to transgress--
1. Against God. By murmuring at the providence of God.
2. Against mankind. There are cruel expressions of malice and revenge sometimes uttered by one man against another to ruin his character. There are those who injure religion and their character by a propensity to speak with levity or bitterness. There are those who transgress by flattery-an evil more injurious than the keenest reproach sometimes.
II. The best means of avoiding this evil. “If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man.” What does this purpose imply?
1. A serious regard to Divine inspection and authority.
2. Attention to the state of the heart.
3. We should aim to cultivate religious knowledge, and promote, at every proper opportunity, religious conversation. The most likely way to preserve the tongue from evil is to employ it in what is valuable and useful Prepared by the secret exercises of piety and devotion, we shall enjoy the full delights of domestic and social life without injury and without remorse. (Homilist.)
The mouth kept front transgression
A friend of Archbishop Leighton said that, in free and frequent intercourse with him for twenty-two years, “I never knew him say an idle word, or a word that had not a direct tendency to edification; and I never once saw him in any other temper but that I wished to be in at the last moment of my life.”
Concerning the works of men, by the word of Thy lips I have kept me from the paths of the destroyer.
Young men warned against unsound principles
Many are the nets that are spread for the souls of men, especially of young men. By means of evil associations and unsound or unscriptural principles. Of these latter we will speak now. They may be classified under three heads.
I. The principle of expediency or compromise. Things are done to serve a present purpose without regard to their being right or wrong, or whether Christian rectitude approve or condemn.
II. Self-indulgence, or animal gratification. Here he is in danger of being misled both by his equals and by himself. It is said that appetites were given, not to be crushed but gratified; that religious requirements and natural tendencies, emanating both from God, can never be incompatible with each other, and that asceticism and austerity are signs, not of a true but of a false religion. But in this case, as in every other, be who proves too much proves nothing. The natural appetites were designed not merely for gratification, but for moral discipline. They are not to be gratified alone, but subordinated, and due subordination is not asceticism, nor proper control of the affections, austerity. Religious requirements harmonise with natural tendencies, in that they impose a restriction at the very point where satisfaction terminates and excess begins: they apply reasonable and salutary restraints. Regard first the culture of the soul and you will never compromise the welfare of the body; preserve only what is due to God and you will be in little danger of withholding what is due to man.
III. The principle of false appearances or false assumptions. For it adopts a fallacious standard, superseding God’s Word by popular opinion. It is peculiarly necessary to guard against this in an age where names, self-assumed, are a prolific source of deception, and evil often puts on and parades the semblance of good. It is the way of the world, that lives without and forgets Him. It is the way of those who are often men of high honour, but of low principle; of strict uprightness, but of lax morality; men of reputable conduct, but of no religion. And especially avoid that “path of the destroyer” amidst the works of men, and of which Solomon says, “Let not thine heart decline to her ways.” The number and effrontery of those who yield to this temptation make it peculiarly subtle and fatal. The young man, new to the world, sees what others do, and that they are not the worse thought of for it, nor think at all worse of themselves; he hears some avowing it and others vindicating it--how shall he escape? Only “by the word of Thy lips”: that word “hid in the heart,” and its principles known and embraced. So shall you be enabled to stand in the evil day. (Thomas Dale, M. A.)
Hold up my goings in Thy paths, that my footsteps slip not.
The blessing of sanctified affliction is that we are made to see our weakness. David here seems as a little child, ready to fall, stretching out its hand and crying to its Father, “Hold up my goings,” etc.
I. The believer’s position is often a very slippery one. Christ told us, “in the world ye shall have tribulation,” and this is part of it. We are sent into the world to glorify God’s holy law. And this we do by a life of simple faith in Jesus.
II. It is so even in the paths of God. Even in His very paths. Liberty may degenerate into licence; holy caution into legalism; activity into neglect of communion with God, and that into neglect of service. Reliance in Christ to forgetfulness of the Spirit of Christ; and even joy in affliction to an overlooking of our sin, which is the cause of it.
III. The petition. “Hold up my goings,” etc.
1. It is the very picture of helplessness. “I can do nothing, cannot stir a step, without Thee.” Oh! to be brought here. The omnipotence of weakness.
2. It is the language of faith. In Psalms 17:6 he says, “I know that Thou wilt hear me.” How simple but how strong this faith.
3. There is also the testimony of an upright conscience.
4. The memory of God’s past dealings with him. (J. H. Evans, M. A.)
The Christian praying to be upheld
We cannot ascertain at what period of his life David wrote this prayer. It was probably before his lamentable fall If so, we are ready to say he must have forgotten it after he had written it, for otherwise his fall could not have happened. But let us make this prayer our own.
I. True religion is a walking or going on is God’s paths. Think of a country with many tracks in it perhaps, but without any marked roads or paths; a country like one immense down or waste, where in the main men go hither and thither just as they will. Now this is how most men regard the world and their own condition in it. But God appears and marks out certain ways or paths in this world, and bids us inquire for them and keep to them. And this is true religion--obedience to this Divine call. It is a ceasing to live at random, to live as God dictates.
II. The prayer we have to consider. It Implies--
1. A lively apprehension of the evil consequences of falling. An ordinary man does not care, he knows nothing of the malignity of sin. If for a moment sin has disturbed him by reason of some unusual transgression, the effect has been very shallow, very transient. Not so is it with the traveller in God’s ways. He knows how evil and bitter a thing sin is.
2. A consciousness of his proneness to fall. Liability is not a word strong enough. All, even the holiest creatures, are liable to fall--witness Adam and the once holy angels--and even in the holiest places. But in us there is a direct tendency to fall.
3. A belief in the ability and willingness of God to thus hold us up. “Thou wilt hear me, O God,” so he says in the next verse. There is such a thing as dwelling, if not too frequently, yet too exclusively on our weakness and danger. This is better than ignorance of them, and much better than knowing them, to be careless about them; but it comes far short of the perfection or completeness of true religion. That sees not alone the evil in us, but also the fulness of help for us which there is in God. Let us think much of the helping hand of God.
III. The manner in which we may expect such a prayer as this to be answered.
1. By mercifully removing occasions of falling out of our way.
2. By calling the sustaining graces of His servants into exercise. This a more honourable way for us.
3. By sending such afflictions as are calculated to keep them from falling.
4. By keeping alive a spirit of prayer within us for His upholding. As long as God keeps you prayerful, humbly and earnestly prayerful, be the ground what it may that you go over, you are safe. (C. Bradley, M. A.)
The religious course of life sustained
Religion is intercourse maintained between God and us. What condescension on the part of God. They lose much who are strangers to Him. Let us observe David, and learn to pray as he prayed.
I. See his course. “My goings.” Religion does not allow a man to sit still. All religion is vain unless he is, so to speak, set a-going--unless he says, “I will walk in Thy truth.” His goings are in God’s paths.
1. Those of His commands.
2. Of His ordinances.
3. Of His dispensations.
II. His concern respecting this course. “Hold up my goings,” etc. It is the language--
1. Of conviction. He know the injury that would result from a fall or even a slip in religion.
2. Of apprehension, for he knew his footsteps were prone to slide.
3. And of weakness; he knew he could not keep himself.
4. Of confidence, for he was sure that God could and would hold him up. (W. Jay.)
How to walk without slipping
In considering the feelings that breathe in this prayer we note that they express--
I. A vehement desire to walk in God’s ways. There is a sense in which all men desire to walk in God’s ways. For they know the consequences of disobedience, how it provokes His anger and involves punishment. They dislike obedience, but they desire its rewards. Like a hireling, they labour at their task, but only for its promised hire. Could they only be assured that they could get the wages without the work they would gladly leave it alone. But those who have been pardoned through the blood of Jesus, though they have no fear of punishment, yet desire to walk in all the commandments of the Lord, doing what is well-pleasing in His sight.
II. A distressing sense of weakness is discovered and bemoaned in himself. It is “when he would do good,” i.e. when he desires, and in proportion as he desires, to do good that he is conscious of the evil present with him. If he does not much desire to walk in God’s ways he will not be much distressed at his failures. But if his desire be vehement it is far otherwise with him.
III. The cry. Of one who believes that the Lord is able and willing to hold him up. It is the cry of faith, not alone of desire. And the lesson of the whole is, that would we be upheld, our cry must be of vehement desire, of deep sense of need, and of firm faith. (W. Grant.)
Keep me as the apple of the eye.
The plea for Divine protection
The world is no friend to righteousness; its spirit cannot endure the restraints that holiness imposes upon its workings. Hence the world’s hostility to all those who live truly godly lives. To understand the full force of keeping one as the apple of the eye it is necessary to consider first, how the whole eye is protected, sheltered by bones and sinews, opening and closing doors, light-softening and dust-excluding curtains, and then, that the pupil of the eye, located farther in, is protected by guardians equally wonderful and peculiarly its own. There is no other part of the human body so wonderfully protected, and no other part that, when endangered, we so instinctively try to shelter from harm. And so God guards His people as tenderly as we guard the pupil of our eye; yea, as tenderly as He guards the pupil of His own eye. (David Caldwell, A. M.)
The eye, a similitude
The man knows something of himself who sincerely offers this plaintive petition, “Keep me. Is there not a sorrowful confession implied? But it implies knowledge of God too. What He is and will do. The keeping desired is that with which men guard the eye. It means, therefore--
I. Keep me with many guards and protections. The eye is kept by eye bones, eyelashes, eyelids, which serve as outworks, fences and barricades to protect the pupil of the eye, God has bestowed extraordinary pains upon all that concerns the eye. Sentries keep ward lest it should be imperilled. Whenever it is threatened, with agility so brisk that it seems almost involuntary, the arm is lifted up and the hand is raised to screen it. All the members of the body may be regarded as a patrol for the wardship of the eye. So should we pray to be kept with many protections--providence, grace ordinances, the Holy Spirit, the angels.
II. With constancy, unintermitting continuance. The eye is always guarded. Without our thinking of it. If a grain of dust enter, forthwith a watery burnout is exuded to carry it away or to dissolve it. The pain is a mercy, for it makes you restless until you get relief. When you fall asleep the curtains fall, the blinds, as it were, drop down, and the windows are shut up securely with lash and lid. So, and in yet other ways, doth the parable of the eye suggest the prayer of the text. Evermore, O Lord, watch over me. Remark here, that at no season is a Christian more in danger than when he has just been in communion with God. The footpads in olden time did not meddle with the farmers as they went to market; it was when they were coming home, and bringing back their money bags full. Our ships of war attacked the Spanish galleons not on their way to but from America, when they knew them to be laden to the Water’s edge with silver and gold. You need keeping, then, always.
III. From little evils, the dust and grit of this world. Your eye needs not to be guarded so much from beams as motes. Be this your prayer, “Keep me from what the world calls little sins.” To one, a Puritan, who was offered great preferment if he would but comply with the government demands, it was said, “Others have made long gashes in their consciences: could not you make a little nick in yours?” But those “little nicks” swiftly run to the rending of the conscience from top to bottom. There was an officer who kept in his house a tame leopard which had been born in the house. It had grown up as harmless as a domestic cat. But one day when its master was asleep it gently licked his hand. The creature’s tongue passed over a slight but recent wound. A little blood oozed out. The taste roused the demon spirit of the beast at once, and had it not been promptly shot its master’s life would have been its victim. When the thief cannot break in at the door himself he puts a boy through the window, and then the great door is speedily opened.
IV. Sensitive, tender in heart, as the apple of the eye. God has made it thus sensitive for its own protection. The conscience should be a real indicator: if in good keeping it would be a wonderful tell-tale. It will startle you from your lethargy, it will arouse you as with an alarm.
V. As the eye ought to be kept. It should be “single,” clear, far-seeing. As an ornament, for the beauty of the countenance is in the eye. So should we “adorn the doctrine” and the Church of God. Useful, a genuine Christian will pray to be useful, not like a glass eye, a mere counterfeit. And then, though the remark may seem strange and quaint, I would entreat the Lord to keep me in the head. Solomon has made the shrewd remark, “The wise man’s eyes are in his head, but the fool walketh in darkness.” I would give this a spiritual turn, and ask to be kept in Christ Jesus. Of what use were the eye of a man if not in the head? And what we, apart from Christ? There are some to whom this prayer is, nothing, for they are not Christ’s. Let your prayer be, “Lord, save me, or I perish. Once saved, you may pray to be kept. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Two Bible emblems
God’s Word and works, the two great sources of our knowledge of God. When we want to get clear and vivid conception of any truth we employ analogy and institute comparison, and say it is “as” or “like” some object in nature. Text an illustration of this. It means--
I. That the royal Psalmist prays to be Divinely protected. He did not possess all our modern knowledge of the anatomy of the eye, but he must have known much or he could not have penned this prayer. Of all the organs of the body the eye is the most delicate and precious, and is protected by the most wonderful and elaborate contrivances. The eyes are the sentinels of the body, and keep constant guard over it. They are the windows through which the soul looks out upon all things within its range. They are closely connected with the brain, and by a mysterious telegraphy of nerves convey to the brain knowledge of what is passing in the outer world. The eyes are like citizens within the entrenchments of a fortified town, surrounded by outworks, fences, and barricades. And the arms are like two warders to defend them. Note some of their protections. A protruding socket, like a wall around it: with overhanging brow to carry off drops of perspiration; with eyelashes to guard against dust and insects; with lids that automatically close at the approach of danger; with glands which secrete tears that clean and lubricate the ball of the eye; with beds, cushion like for their softness, upon which they repose and revolve with safety. All these and many more show how carefully God keeps the apple of the eye, and help us to see how David desired that God would keep him.
II. And he would be Divinely preserved. “Hide me under the shadow of Thy wings.” This emblem, like the former, is exceedingly suggestive. There may be reference to the wings of the cherubim which were the symbol of God’s presence in the tabernacle of old. David had ardent love for the house of God, he even envied the sparrows that built their nests near God’s altar. In the time of trouble he would be hidden in God’s pavilion, in the secret place of the tabernacle; and there, hiding as under the wings of the cherubim, he would find a shelter and a home. (F. W. Brown.)
They are enclosed in their own fat.
A figure for self-complacency
To be enclosed in one’s own fat means, to be wrapped up in pride and self-complacency, the effect upon weak and ignoble minds of worldly prosperity. It is said that the purely fatty part of the human body, having no nerves of sensation, can be cut and pierced without experiencing any feeling of pain. Hence, in Scripture phraseology, to say that one’s heart is fat is equivalent to saying that it is hard and insensible, void of moral and sympathetic feeling, and not to be affected by any appeal made to its pity or sense of right. It indicates a haughtiness and insolence of bearing towards others that is hard to be borne by them. Alas! how a little worldly elevation sometimes changes the best character into the worst! How it renders the man proud who before was humble; the heart hard that before was tender! To be delivered from the tender mercies of mindless wealth, of heartless prosperity, is a prayer that others besides David have breathed into the ear of Divine mercy. It was not the poor, but the proud, the prosperous, the high in station and authority, that chased the Son of God to the Cross, and reviled Him there. (David Caldwell, A. M.)
Which have their portion in this life.
The uncertainty of worldly prosperity
Like many other passages (such as Job 21:7-13; Psalms 73:12), these verses clearly show how little “the old Fathers looked,” or indeed could have looked, “only for transitory promises.” While they held, and rightly held, that under the general law of God’s providence happiness should follow obedience to the will of Him who made and guides all things, they yet recognised the disturbing influence of evil in the world, through which the unrighteous prosper, having to the full the only portion they care for (comp. Matthew 6:2-5; Luke 16:25), leaving wealth and fame to their children. At times this was to them a sore trial of faith (Psalms 73:3), sorer than to us who have the clear vision of the future life. But they felt that far above this outward prosperity was that which the worldly cannot have, the communion with God, in itself the eternal life of the soul. The sense of Psalms 17:15 cannot be doubtful. David knows that now “he shall behold the presence of God in righteousness,” and in it have the higher spiritual life. Therefore (as in Psalms 16:9-10) he draws the inference which our Lord Himself justifies, that death cannot break the tie of this communion; therefore that he shall awake in the image of God, and, so awaking, shall be “satisfied with it,” possessing it in the fulness which on earth he can only desire and long for (comp. 1 John 3:1-2). All other explanations than this sin against the whole spirit of the passage, and could never have been thought of except to support the false conclusion that, because the knowledge of a future life in heaven was not unchequed, by doubt in the saints of old, therefore it had no flashes of brightness and reality. (Alfred Barry, D. D.)
The worldly man’s portion
The world is at total enmity with God. Its spirit, maxims, and pursuits are at utter variance with the laws and spirit of God.
I. Describe the character. Among the signs and marks is--
2. They are distinguished for worldly principles.
3. Their maxims are worldly.
4. They are distinguished by their associations;
5. By the unvarying tenor of their pursuits;
6. By their worldly affections and delights.
II. The portion the world confers upon them. They do not serve the world for nought. The chief reason why it does not satisfy is--
1. Because it is unsuitable. The ethereal mind must have ethereal enjoyments. The soul was made for God and spiritual things.
2. This portion is only a present one.
3. It is uncertain.
4. It is a ruinous portion. If a man will make the world his portion he cannot have Christ’s salvation, God’s favour, or eternal life. (J. Burns, D. D.)
Men who flourish on carrion
There was a famine in the land. All birds and beasts, with the exception of the crows and vultures, and a few others of a similar species, looked ravenous and emaciated. Even the lion lay before his den so reduced by starvation as to be unable to hunt. A giraffe with drooping head ventured to approach him. “Sire,” said he, “have you observed the full crops and plump appearance of yonder vultures? Can you tell us the secret of their prosperity in these hard times?” The lion groaned, “It is as great a mystery to me as to you. But see! an eagle approaches this way, pray ask his opinion.” The eagle willingly stopped in his weary flight. And in reply to their question simply said, “I know their secret, but I mistake you, indeed, if you will be the happier for hearing it. If you would flourish as they flourish, you must bring your mind to eat carrion, and plenty of it.” (Andrew Griffen.)
Men who have their portion in this life
I have seen men so carried away with the game of chance into which they have plunged on shipboard that they quite forgot the goal for which the ship was shaping. They would scarcely lift their head a moment to look for land and port and home. Never suffer yourself to be swept along the tide of rushing years like the dumb creatures packed into cattle ships. Some men are hurried on to the goal without any thought or care for what is before them, and land upon an anathema which can never be reversed. (T. G. Selby.)
The disappointment of men who seek satisfaction in earthly treasure
Meditating at a window, in a sort of daydream, a fly continued to pass before me. Mechanically I sought to catch it. I put my finger quickly to the pane, but the fly was gone. I followed it and clapped my hand on the very spot it occupied, but I had not taken it. Yet there it was just under my hand. Why had I failed? Excellent reason, the insect was on the other side of the glass. Ye sons of men who seek pleasure in the things of this world, ye must miss it; even when it seems within your grasp ye cannot reach it. Happiness is not to be found on your side of Christ and the new birth, except in seeming. Ye are victims of a delusion, your chase is vanity, your end will be disappointment. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The city youth
To every young man there comes sooner or later the brief but startling message, “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will show thee.” You cannot always abide in the house of your childhood, But such a call to go forth is very serious. A thoughtful young fellow, who is in a house of business in the city, comes to me for a little conversation; he tells me of his religious difficulties, of his inward conflicts and his desire to live a Christian life; and ere we part I say to him, “Now, how many in your establishment seem to be at all seriously inclined?” How many in that huge drapery business? How many in that bank? How many in that workshop? Ten to one his reply is, “There is just one I know of that is a real Christian”; or, “Just two or three that take any interest in these things.” It is the old story, “Few there be that find it.” Now I ask you, “To which group do you wish to belong?” If to the men of the world, I don’t know what brought you here, nor have I any message for you; but if to the men of God, then I want to speak to you. Now, by “the men of the world” is not meant merely a shrewd, sagacious person, but one who is a mere earthworm, sinful, sordid, and greedy of gain, whose only thought is to make money and feather his nest well. Think--
I. Of these men of the world and their portion. It is a great mistake to think that as soon as you are purse rich you will be heart rich. There is many a Midas in this city today, at whose touch everything seems to turn into gold, who would frankly tell you he had a far lighter heart when, as a young clerk, he was earning £60 or £80 a year. The wealthy Sir Charles Flower only spoke for many a rich man like himself when, to a beggar who asked him for money to get a piece of bread, he said, “I would gladly give you a sovereign if you would give me your appetite.” Riches do make happy; but it is not the riches of the pocket, but the riches of the mind and heart. The riches of taste, of culture, of affection, and, above all, the riches of God’s grace. But men do not believe this. They hear it said, and then seek after riches as if riches were everything and the Bible all untrue. But let such remember that after all, let them gain what they may, it is only “a portion for this life.” Not a farthing can you take to the other side of the grave. It will be with you as with the partridge (Jeremiah 17:11). Men of the world, go you over your portion and tick off each particular, and say, “This, this, this, must be loft behind. Lord Chesterfield said, I have run the silly rounds of business and of pleasure, and I have done with them all. I look back on all that is past as one of those romantic dreams which opium produces, and I have no wish to repeat the nauseous dose.” Yes, “a portion in this life” is but a poor unsatisfying portion at the best.
II. The contrast: the man of God and his portion. “As for me,” says David in the next verse, “I will behold Thy face,” etc. He speaks of himself as quite an exception, a rare case amid the common throng. But these are the happiest men after all. David’s heart was set on God. “The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance. I have a goodly heritage.” He meant that not one of them was so happy as he. See David’s secret of happiness.
1. “I will behold Thy face in righteousness.” Yes, the first secret of a happy life is to get right with God. I know many of you feel this to be true. Then surrender yourselves to Him now. It will introduce us to a new and most blessed experience, As that thoughtful and devout French believer, Lacordaire, wrote, speaking of his own conversion, “He who has never known such a time has not fully realised life. Once a real Christian, the world did not vanish before my eyes; it rather assumed nobler proportions, as I myself did. I began to see therein a sufferer needing help; a mighty misfortune resulting from all the sorrows of ages past and to come: and I could imagine nothing comparable to the happiness of ministering to it, with the help of the Cross and the Gospel of Christ.”
2. “I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with Thy likeness.” No doubt the notion of the resurrection is mainly meant here. But we may take the awaking as telling of each morning’s awakening, and of a prospect which will satisfy your soul. Oh, tell me, have your eyelids ever opened with the earthly dawn, and found you saying, with the first moments of returning consciousness, “I am satisfied”? Rather, have not care, and depression, and a feeling of life’s monotony weighed down your own spirit, as another day called you forth to its duty and routine? Ah, you want something nobler than the prospect of gain to give a sparkle and a beauty to life, and to make the heart truly glad; and that nobler thing is the prospect of being like God. This is the prospect that cheers a true Christian, “We know that when He shall appear we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” (J. Thain Davidson, D. D.)
Men of the world
David prays to be delivered from the Wicked, that he might not fall under their power, nor be numbered with them as “men of the world which have,” etc. Now note--
I. Wicked men may have a large portion in this life. God deals thus with them--
1. To prove the extent and kindness of His providence;
2. And that judgment is His strange work, and how disingenuous is the conduct of the wicked whom He daily loadeth with benefits.
3. Wicked men, in the hand of Providence, may do some services for God or His people, and for this He will bless them (Ezekiel 29:18-19; 2 Kings 10:30).
4. Because they choose their portion here and He lets them take it, and therein all they shall have.
5. For judgment, since wealth will surely corrupt them yet more.
6. To instruct the righteous--
II. Living and dying, what the wicked have here is their all.
1. By their choice, they think this world best.
2. Their names are therefore written in earth as limited to it.
3. They are only fit for a portion in this life; and
4. They have abused their portion here, and shall never be tried with any other.
5. They are not the children of God by faith in Christ.
6. Having desired no more than the world, there is no more for them: only misery.
III. Upon what accounts their condition may be said to be miserable. It is so because--
1. They hold their portion by so uncertain a tenure.
2. Without the added joy of the love of God.
3. And without Christ.
4. Without foundation for solid peace and comfort. For their sins are unpardoned; conscience alarms; the secret arm of God is on them (Deuteronomy 28:17). Then
5. Their prosperity tends to their destruction, leading them to forgetfulness both of God and heaven.
6. And will be succeeded by such awful misery.
IV. Whence is it that saints reckon it to be so? Because--
1. They have found the world to be vanity and vexation of spirit.
2. And they see the end of all things approaching. But
3. They look by faith to another and over-enduring world.
1. With what certainty may we infer a day of judgment from the wicked having now so large a share of outward good, whilst some of the heirs of heaven have scarce where to lay their heads.
2. They reckon without looking to the end who envy the men of the world (Psalms 73:18).
3. What reason have we to pity those on whom Christ’s words will fall in their full weight (Luke 6:24). (D. Wilcox.)
I will behold Thy face in righteousness.
The vision of the face
I. The vision of the face of God.
1. The object of this vision: “Thy face.”
2. The act of beholding: glory has a peculiar respect to the power of seeing. Sight is the most perfect sense: noble, comprehensive, quick and sprightly. The act of the mind is called seeing. The blessed shall have the glory of God so presented as “to know as they are known.”
II. The soul’s participation of His likeness. How strange an errand hath the Gospel in the world, to transform men and make them like God.
1. There is a sense in which we cannot be like God. God will endure no such imitation of Him as to be rivalled in the point of His Godhead (Ezekiel 28:6-10).
2. There is a just and laudable imitation of God: we are to be imitators of God (Ephesians 5:1).
3. Man has already a likeness to God: the material world represents Him, as a house the builder; spiritual beings, as a child the father: others carry His footsteps, these His image.
4. There is a natural image of God in the soul of man, inseparable from it, its spiritual immortal nature, its intellectual and elective powers are the image of the same powers in God. There is also a moral likeness, wisdom, mercy, truth, righteousness, holiness.
5. Assimilation to God in moral perfections conduces to the soul’s satisfaction and blessedness: “We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” How great a hope is this! Were the dust of the earth turned into stars in the firmament, what could equal the greatness and wonder of this mighty change.
III. The resulting satisfaction: the soul’s rest in God, its perfect enjoyment of the most perfect good, the perfecting of its desires in delight or joy. Desire is love in motion, delight love in rest. It is a rational, voluntary, pleasant, active rest: action about the end shall be perpetuated, though action towards it ceases. It is the rest of hope perfected in fruition. (John Howe.)
Who has the best of it
This Psalm is called a prayer, and how appropriately. It is such as comes only out of a sufferer’s heart. We owe our whole salvation to Christ, but, secondarily, we recoil much through the sufferings of men. The world will never know, till its whole history is reviewed and all its mysteries explained, how much instruction, comfort, incitement have flowed from the trials and sufferings of this one man. In this respect David and Paul have done more for the race than perhaps any two men who ever lived. Their great souls were often and heavily pressed by adversities and afflictions, in order that sweet wine of comfort and strength to others might flow from them.
I. This verse is the mount of victory. The dust of the battle plain is passed over, the perplexities of life left, and here we have a clear prevision of a perfect solution, and some realisation of it also. The verse does not refer exclusively to the awaking from the sleep of death at the resurrection; nor to the perfect moral likeness of God and the beatific vision which we shall then enjoy. This is not the first interpretation that suggests itself, and ought not, however true, to be taken as its exclusive meaning.
II. What, then, is the case? The nature of it is sounded out in the very first words of the Psalm. “Hear the right, O Lord!” It is a ease of conflict as between him and other men. It is the great struggle of this life in which many are engaged; in which, if we judge simply by outward appearances, some gain a very considerable and striking advantage over others. They seem to have the best of it. To David the conflict at this time was hot and searching, with a great deal of personality in it. He speaks of “the wicked that oppress”, of “deadly enemies compassing him about”; of men who “spoke proudly with their mouth”; of men “enclosed in their own fat”--so well fed, so prosperous, so like prize men were they;--of others “lurking like the young lion in secret places, greedy for the prey”--ready to grasp advantage ready to spring on him with their teeth. Then he describes their character generally, in the fourteenth verse, in language which applies to one age almost as much as to another. He calls them “men of the world, which have their portion in this life: whose belly is filled with hid treasure”--with the things they gather, and hoard, and store away. Men, too, who keep and bequeath to their children what they have gathered. These were the men against whom David felt himself striving; he felt that if they were right and happy, he must be wrong and miserable, and vice versa. But he was quite sure that he was right and not they, and that their misery was coming. Hence he says, “As for me, I shall be satisfied,” etc. He would awake day by day, when the present sorrow had passed, as he knew it would, to see God’s beautiful likeness and to have it in a measure in himself. With this he would be satisfied. This would be victory even now. To be made and kept righteous, to see God in my life, His face in my prayers, and to watch His image forming in my soul: this is to win the battle. I will complain no more! I am satisfied! Now, this is just--
III. The judgment we ought to form in our own case. It is a question always on trial, and always coming to some settlement--How is the best of life to be found? How shall we taste the sweetness, and gather the flower, and wear the crown, and say with joy, self-respect, and full conviction, “This it is to be a man”? Here, on the one hand, are “the men of the world.” David tells us, and we know, what they are in their aims, motives, and ways, and in their successes. They get wealth, position, name, influence, and some of them a considerable measure of low happiness and contentment. See, this is the man, coming out of his chamber in the morning after sound sleep, radiant and healthy. And these are his children, to not one of whom he has ever named seriously the name of God, but to each of whom he will probably leave a good deal of money. And these are his gardens and parks, fair to the eye, and fruitful in their season. And this is his chariot, with the swift horses to bear him to the city. And in the city, when he comes, see how he is received, and what a power he is! How with his pen he can remove ships to the far ocean, and open railways on the land! And he can speak, and “make the worse appear the better reason”; and, as with magician’s wand, raise success out of failure itself. Now take a simple Christian man, who just has enough and little over, who has no name in the public, who is known but to a small circle, who can cheer a fellow pilgrim here and there, and offer a prayer at a sick bed. How small he seems in the common estimation beside this great “man of the world.” “The simple man is very well in his own place and way, and it is a good thing for him that he has the consolations of religion and the hopes of the future life to cheer him amid the struggles and hardships of his lot. But it cannot he said that his lot, even with these consolations, is at all to be compared with that of the other man in this life. After this life is over his lot will be better, but here it is worse.” “No,” says the text; “it is better now, and here. He is the great man who is good. He is the happy man who sees the face of God. He is the noble man who strives after righteousness, and who satisfies himself with the Divine likeness in his soul.”
IV. It concerns us much to get and keep this judgment of things. It needs an effort. It is an advanced lesson in Christian living. People stop short of it, and many miss it habitually. As when they conjecture that worldly men have a great deal of inward misery which they never tell--fear, guilt, and apprehension of danger haunting them like ghosts. Now, this may be true of some, but certainly not of all, nor most. They are well satisfied, and have no misgivings. But what then? Are they who are thus satisfied better off than the devout, struggling, praying servant of God? How mean of us to think so. In reality there is no comparison between the two. The tried Christian in full view of the prosperous and happy man of the world can say, “As for me, I behold Thy thee in righteousness I am satisfied with Thy likeness.” Then, again, we say that “compensation is coming--that the next life will rectify all.” That also is true. But that is not “the present truth.” The present truth is, that we have the advantage now; that we do not need to wait for the compensation; that godliness is better than ungodliness all the world over; that the face of God shining down upon a man is the supreme felicity and the last ideal; and that to awake morning by morning and realise the growing likeness of God in our spirits is joy like that of heaven. But if a man send his heart hankering after the joys of a life to come because he thinks he has not his due here, and that then and there it will be made up to him, what is this but worldliness after all? But if, on the other hand, any man loves the light of God’s face more than every visible creature and thing, and strives after His righteousness by the aids of His grace, and puts on His likeness as dress and beauty, and “awakes in it now and again to his thankful joy and satisfaction, saying, “This it is to live! let this blessed experience grow in me until it blooms and brightens into heaven”--then he may take a text like tiffs and follow its most spiritual suggestions, and lift it to its last and highest applications, make it speak the resurrection from the dead, the appearance in heaven, the immortal life. (Anon.)
The vision of visions
The mind of man is invisible, yet its workings are often evident in the changes of the countenance. Thus the playful smile indicates pleasure; the clouded brow, wrath. In like manner, though the mind of God is invisible, yet are His attributes variously manifested.
I. The face of God is any expression of His character.
1. The Shekinah, therefore, is styled His face.
2. Christ is preeminently the face of Jehovah.
II. Righteousness is our qualification for beholding the face of God.
1. God requires in us this qualification. No wonder, seeing the mire of worldliness clings to us, that we fail to experience as we might the spiritual manifestations of the Son of God (John 14:21; Ephesians 1:17-18). Divine manifestations are terrible to the unrighteous. When God “looked out” from the cloud upon the Egyptians, that was the signal for their destruction. “The ungodly shall not stand in the judgment” (Psalms 1:4-6; Revelation 6:16-17).
2. Righteousness is attainable through faith.
III. Fruition will be perfected in heaven.
1. The soul cannot be satisfied on earth.
2. Satisfaction is promised in the resurrection. (J. A. Macdonald.)
The vision of the face
The opening phrase of this verse is expressive of a noble singularity. “As for me.” It is the utterance of moral manhood. The Psalmist has been speaking of those who have their portion in this life, and he says, “Be the animals that you are! As for me, I will seek higher things. As a being made in the image of God, I will find my satisfactions in contemplation of and assimilation to that image.” “As for me” is the language of true soul nobility. And there are times when we too must dare to utter it, if we would be true to our higher nature and count for anything in the world. The men of the period when this Psalm was written had very dim and vague notions of immortality. With them a life beyond the grave was but a fitful hope or a sublime peradventure, and expressions such as this are to be interpreted of the present life and experience, and not of the heavenly state. The vision of the Divine face here anticipated is not the beatific vision after death, or that only ill a very secondary and shadowy sense, but the daily experience of the earthly life. The Psalm is poetry, couched in poetical imagery. Life to the Psalmist would be worth living just in the proportion ill which he could have the sight of God. What, then, did he mean by the Divine face? The more enlightened prophets and lawgivers of old had a profound sense of the danger of thinking of God otherwise than in His spiritual relations to men. Hence the prohibition to make any pictorial image or statuesque representation of Deity. Yet there is a very real meaning in this expression, “the face of God,” and it may be a very real vision to us all. In the face, character is preeminently revealed. The face is the man. Look into the face and you read the soul. The play of all the affections is there. There are faces that are the rendezvous of all the virtues. The face of God then stands for the nature of God; and the Psalmist’s anticipation of beholding that face meant the prospect of his happy realisation of the Divine gentleness, strength, and righteousness. It is men’s faces that are the face of God. As His spiritual qualities are bodied forth in men’s lives, so may we see Divine lineaments in the features of men. We are taught to behold “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” The true glory of God is in His moral attributes, and Christ incarnated those Divine qualities in His nature. Whoso looked up into His face saw there the glory and the beauty of the Ineffable; and so many a human countenance, if not the face, is a face of God: for the radiance of a Divine love, the lustre of a Divine purity, the patience of a Divine charity, the tenderness of a Divine sympathy is there. Each of these is a lineament of Deity. The dying Bunsen, as he looked up into the eyes of his wife bending over him, said, “In thy face have I seen the Eternal.” Few artists have dared to essay the Divine form and features. But I once saw in the gallery at Florence a picture which very much struck me, and the memory of it has been with me ever since. It was by Carlo Dolci, and entitled “L’Eterno Padre,”--the Eternal Father. It was a bold and unconventional conception. There was no attempt to deify the figure. It was just a man’s form and face, and not only that, but the face was full of human grief and misery. An aspect of ineffable sadness was in the eyes, and the whole countenance wore an expression of infinite sorrow and solicitude. And surely there must be an unutterable sorrow at the heart of the world! This vision of the face, then--when are we to see it? Tomorrow. “I shall be satisfied when I awake”--that is, tomorrow morning, every morning, this morning. Include in the Psalmist’s expression the conception of the Divine nearness. To see a face, you must be near the person. Near, to faith’s apprehension, is the Divine presence. Something more than vicinity is meant. Intimacy of fellowship is implied. Familiar interchange of thought and affection. There is another thought hinted by the figure of the face, namely, propitiousness. When he speaks of beholding the face of God, it is in the confidence that God is his friend and not his enemy. Oriental monarchs only showed the face to those to whom they intended to be element and gracious. The Psalmist was happy in the conviction that, humbly endeavouring to walk in the ways of righteousness, he could look even God in the face, and that His face would not be turned away . . . There are two elements in this satisfaction.
1. The perception of the Divine image.
2. The assimilation to that image. In contemplating that likeness we grow into it. (J. Halsey.)
The Christian’s prospect
“A Christian is the highest style of man,” and the noblest work of God. The text tells of his high and exalted state of happiness which he shall obtain in the heavenly world. It consists in--
I. The full vision of the Divine glory. Note--
1. The grandeur of the vision.
2. The manner of it. “In righteousness,” that is, the righteousness of Christ.
3. The certainty of it. Scripture and experience assure us of it.
II. The complete resemblance to the Divine image.
1. The glorious expectation--to be like our Saviour and our God.
2. The period of accomplishment. “When I awake,” that is, on the resurrection morn.
3. The satisfaction obtained.
1. The value of the soul.
2. The vanity of the world.
3. The excellence of religion. (Ebenezer Temple.)
Beholding God’s face
This is the language--
1. Of a man whose mind is made up, who has decided for himself. “As for me”--let others do as they will.
2. Of a man rising in life, and with great prospects before him. He had looked beyond this world, though he was to rise therein.
3. Of a Jew. For in Judah was God known; His name was great in Israel. And though their knowledge was dim, it was real; and here is an onlook to the blessed future life.
I. The beholding of God’s face meant the enjoyment of His favour. This its constant meaning. And in heaven “They shall see His face.” All that means we cannot know now, but this one thing we know--
II. How it will be realised. It will be in and through righteousness. For merit and meetness this is needed. Our title to behold God’s face must be righteousness, and that we have in Christ. Our meetness and preparedness for it is righteousness, and this the Holy Spirit will work in us. No one longs for the Christian heaven but the Christian soul. (William Jay.)
The believer’s vision
I. What the Psalmist means by “in righteousness.” Speak of the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ. It involves everything in it necessary to deliver and to save man forever and ever. The passive obedience closed the gates of hell; his active obedience opened those of heaven. Connected with this righteousness there must necessarily be another. Rectitude of principle. If ever we behold the face of God, either here or hereafter, in triumph, we must behold it in the image as well as in the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
II. The believer’s vision of deity. God intended we should, even in this life, have very glorious views of His perfections. The face is frequently an index to the bosom. By the face is sometimes meant the loving kindness of the Lord.
III. The believer’s prospective view. He is now fully satisfied with his God, but dissatisfied with his little knowledge of Him and his little love to Him. The discipline of life is to end in fixing the full face of His child on Himself. Application:
1. We must have righteousness in principle as well as the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ.
2. Are there any who are satisfied with the creature?
3. Are there any who would make the creature their portion forever?
4. Address those who have God for their portion. (W. Howels.)
The hope of future bliss
It would be difficult to say to which the Gospel owes most, to its friends or to its enemies. For when they have persecuted Christ’s servants they have scattered them abroad, so that they have gone everywhere preaching the Word. Jesus Christ would never have preached many of His discourses had not His foes compelled Him to answer them. So with the Book of Psalms. Had not David been sorely tried, we should have missed very many of these holy songs. This Psalm is one of those which had never been written but for his great trouble. Our text tells of his consolation in the hope of future bliss. We note--
I. The spirit of the text. It breathes the spirit of one who is--
1. Entirely free from envy. The wicked may do as they will, but I envy them not. “As for me, I,” etc.
2. Looking into the future. “I shall be satisfied.” It has nothing to do with the present. He looks beyond the grave to another world. He who lives in the present is a fool; but wise men are content to look after future things. When Milton wrote his Paradise Lost he might know, perhaps, that he should have little fame in his lifetime; but he said, “I shall be honoured when my head shall sleep in the grave.” There are many things that we never hope to be rewarded for here, but we shall be by and by. Christian, live in the future.
3. Full of faith. There is no “perhaps” about his words. “I will behold”; “I shall be satisfied.” And there are many of God’s people who can say the like. But such must expect to have trouble, for God never gives strong faith without fiery trial. He will not make you a mighty warrior if He does not intend to try your skill in battle. God’s swords must be used. The old Toledo blades of heaven must be smitten against the armour of the evil one, and yet they shall not break.
II. The matter of this passage.
1. David expected to behold God’s face. We have seen His hand in both awful and gentle forms. And we have heard God’s voice; but the vision of God, what must that be? It is said of the temple of Diana, that it was so splendidly decorated with gold, and so bright and shining, that a porter at the door always said to everyone that entered, “Take heed to your eyes; you will be struck with blindness unless you take heed to your eyes” But oh! that view of glory. Who can know what it is to see God’s face?
2. There was a peculiar sweetness mixed with this joy. For he should behold God’s face “in righteousness.” How our sins have dimmed our sight, that we could not get a clear prospect of Jesus. But yonder we shall, see Him as He is.
3. And there will be satisfaction. “I shall be satisfied.” Imagination, intellect, memory, hope--all will be satisfied.
4. But when shall this satisfaction be? “When I awake in Thy likeness.” Not till then. On the resurrection morn, when complete in soul and body, they will awake. Their bodies till then are in their graves. But then they shall be restored. When a Roman conqueror had been at war, and won great victories, he would very likely come back with his soldiers, enter into his house and enjoy himself till the next day, when he would go out of the city and then come in again in triumph. Now the saints, as it were, steal into heaven without their bodies; but on the last day, when their bodies wake up, they will enter in their triumphal chariots; and the body is to be in the likeness of Christ. The spirit already is.
III. Here is a very sad contrast implied. We are all together now, undivided; but the great dividing day will come when Christ, the Judge, shall welcome His own people, but with lifted sword shall sweep the wicked into the bottomless pit. But now, whosoever will may be saved. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I shall be satisfied.
The satisfaction of the future
I. The satisfaction of the future is often the support of the Christian in the present.
1. This fact explains the anomaly of the Christian’s earthly experience. The Christian experience is not to be ascertained by outward circumstances and conditions.
2. This fact reveals the secret of the Christian’s strength.
II. The satisfaction of the future consists in a participation in the Divine likeness.
1. The original type of the soul is to be found in God. Had we retained our pristine glory we should not have had to mourn the misery and emptiness of earth. It is the loss of purity that has reduced us so low, and made us so degraded. The soul can never be satisfied but in the complete restoration of the Divine likeness. The true Christian’s most exalted desire is, to resemble Christ in moral character here, and to be like Him in heaven.
III. The Divine likeness is communicated to the soul through the vision of Christ. By contemplating the glory of Christ’s character we become changed rote His image.
1. The Divine vision assimilates to the Divine likeness.
2. When the Divine vision is perfect the Christian’s happiness will be complete. (Homilist.)
This Psalm is called simply a prayer, which is the oldest and most comprehensive name of the Psalms. But it is the prayer of one who is in trouble. Men never pray so frequently and so fervently as then. Doubtless it is David who thus prays, and the Psalm agrees, almost line for line, with the circumstances in which he was placed when pursued by Saul in the wilderness of Maon (1 Samuel 23:25).
I. That there is no satisfaction in the things of this world. Men there were who had their portion in this life; but David did not covet their portion, for he knew that they were not really satisfied. There are such men still, but that they are not satisfied is certain.
1. From the nature of the world itself. For what is it apart from God? It is a vain delusion, an empty show, a shadow that passes quickly away (Ecclesiastes 6:1-12). Momentary pleasure it gives, but not satisfaction, not contentment, not repose. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with hearing, and hence men flit about from one object to another, never resting anywhere long, and always desiring something which they do not possess. Bitter disappointment is the lot of all who seek satisfaction in merely temporal things.
2. From the nature of the human mind. God has made us for Himself. Our capacities are large almost to infinity. We aspire after the highest good. How, then, can we be satisfied with things temporal and vain?
II. Satisfaction is realised in the service of God and in the possession of true religion.
1. Religion satisfies the intellect. Man is a creature of mind. He can think, reflect, and reason; and in the exercise of his mental powers he finds some of his richest pleasures. But where will he find subjects for thought so noble and so elevating as in the mysteries of revelation? Nature, science, philosophy will no doubt furnish him with many such subjects; but unless his mind is a strong and vigorous one they will often prove too difficult for him to understand. In Divine revelation, on the other hand, there are shallows in which a child may wade, whilst there are depths in which a philosopher may swim.
2. Religion satisfies the conscience. Man is a moral and responsible being; but he shows that he is a guilty one, and the monitor within condemns him for his violations of the law of God. What can calm it? what can satisfy it? Here the world is utterly powerless.
3. Religion satisfies the heart. Man is an emotional being. He is not a statue, or an automaton, or a curious piece of mechanism. He is not a cold intellectual being incapable of feeling, incapable of love. He is possessed of affections of the noblest kind, and he can only be happy where they are in active play. But on what object can he place them? He may love and ought to love his friends, his kindred, and his fellow me: but any one of these may be torn from his embrace, and then how lonely does his heart become. Divine revelation points to another object of affection--to Christ Jesus our Lord, and when the heart reposes in Him it is satisfied indeed (Song of Solomon 1:14-16; Ephesians 3:17-19).
III. But our text goes further, and we observe that full satisfaction will be realised when we awake with God’s likeness! The eye will be satisfied with seeing, for it will see the King in His glory (Isaiah 33:17; 1 John 2:2). The ear will be satisfied with hearing, for it will hear the music of the heavenly choir (Revelation 5:11-14; Revelation 14:2; Revelation 15:2-3). The intellect will be satisfied in knowing, for it will comprehend the grandest mysteries of nature, providence, and grace. The soul--the whole being--will be satisfied with what it feels and loves It will love throughout eternity the Triune God. (Thornley Smith.)
Two kinds of satisfaction are brought to view in this verse.
I. The natural satisfaction. The aim, the current of desires is limited to things of this life. There is danger of mistaking dissatisfaction with our earthly lot for genuine repentance. Looking for a good time in heaven, one may overlook the indispensable preparation.
II. The spiritual satisfaction. Dr. Bushnell says, “If your feeling reaches after heaven, and your longings are thitherward; if you love and long for it, because chiefly of its purity; loosened from this world, not by your weariness and disgusts, which all men suffer, but by the positive affinities of your heart for what is best and purest above this also is a powerful token of growing purification.” Compare the two satisfactions; how do they look. Compare Byron’s “canker and the grief” with Paul’s “I have fought a good fight . . . henceforth,” etc. This deep satisfaction made it possible for the once timid Peter to take the lead in the warfare in behalf of this spiritual kingdom that now extends to the ends of the earth. It gave him, and all martyrs since, that sublime patience whose persistence no dungeon walls, nor rack, nor faggot could subdue. It is a peace the world cannot give nor take away. (C. M. Jones.)
The Christian’s completed life
Men often speak and live better than they know. The text is prophetic and far-reaching in significance. It suggests--
I. The power and nature of Christian contentment. Soul rest comes from God alone. Nothing can afford the soul repose save its union with Christ in God. In vain do we look to the world for satisfaction. How transitory and unsatisfying are all worldly pleasures and pursuits. Whoever depends upon them for real happiness will be bitterly disappointed. Enjoy God rather than His creatures.
II. The Christian should not expect perfect satisfaction in this life. Not that the Christian religion does not do all that it promises to do in this world. The work of this life is only preparatory, and therefore incomplete. Imperfection is the just characterisation of this world. The Christian constantly finds himself enveloped in mystery and darkness. Anti his surroundings are unfavourable. Sin is in this world. Here he is contented, though not fully satisfied.
III. In the Christian’s completed life heaven will afford perfect satisfaction.
1. The Christian will be satisfied with heaven as a place.
2. The Christian will be satisfied with the society of heaven.
3. We shall be satisfied with our own condition.
We shall carry our intellect and our memories with us. Think of the joy that shall fill our souls when we arrive at the eternal home, enter our Father’s house, and behold His face in righteousness, and by the power of His infinite tenderness and love be drawn into such Dearness with Him as to repose on His bosom with infinite satisfaction and delight. (G. M. Mathews.)
The Lord’s people are not strangers to satisfaction now. They are satisfied early with His favour, with His goodness, with the fatness of His house. They have found the supreme good But they desire more of it. Hence David speaks of his satisfaction as future. “I shall be satisfied when,” etc. So, then, see here--
I. The insatiable ambition religion inspires. We have witnessed this grandeur and elevation of soul even in the humblest walks of pious life. How poor the aims of the worldly hero compared With this.
II. The excellency of the soul. It is the prerogative of many only to be capable of such sublime satisfaction. Other creatures have a food suited to their nature, partake of it and are satisfied. But man is not, cannot be, with aught he finds here.
III. What a blessedness that must be that can and will satisfy every longing of the soul. Yes, though it be the soul of a Newton or Bacon. Then make this prospect sure; keep it clear; bring it near. Use it daily, in religion, in trials, when you come to die The old and fictitious idea, that if a man travelled with a myrtle wand in his hand he would feel no fainting or weariness, is realised here in this blessed hope. (William Jay.)
The sailor’s satisfaction
We may here observe--
I. The genuine temper of a gracious soul as distinguished from the world--to be taken up with God as his chief good. And this is so with him.
1. From a settled conviction of emptiness and insufficiency of any created good to be to them instead of God.
2. There is everything in God that may commend and endear Him to His people.
3. ‘Tis the property of grace to carry His people to Him as their chief good.
4. Gracious souls have all found that rest, and some of them that joy in God, that nothing in the world besides can give, and which they would not exchange for anything it can offer. But--
II. What it is, with reference to God, that sums up His people’s happiness. It is the beholding His lace, and the satisfaction that results. More especially the likeness of God in Jesus Christ. Or the likeness may mean that which is impressed upon the soul, a resemblance of the Divine glory. Oh, happy they who, from seeing God’s back parts, are thus gone to see Him face to face.
III. Whoever is admitted to behold God’s face, it must be in righteousness.
1. Righteousness imputed. Jesus said, “I am the way.”
2. Righteousness inherent. And this is necessary from the nature of the thing (2 Corinthians 6:14). What would sinners do in the presence of God?
IV. However much we may enjoy of heaven here, there is much more reserved above which they shall at last obtain.
1. God’s people do have much of happiness or heaven, begun through God graciously showing Himself unto them.
2. But much more of heaven is yet reserved. And this is in order to wean them from the present world, and that they may have the quicker relish of their final blessedness. And,
3. This is what they are aspiring to, and shall at length obtain.
V. There is a fixed and proper season for the saints’ satisfaction.
1. The soul awakes when it is set free from the body. It does not descend into the grave with the body, but ascends to behold God’s face. How calmly, then, should we contemplate death.
2. Both soul and body awake at the resurrection. The body is sown in corruption, but it shall be raised in incorruption. (D. Wilcox.)
The believer’s present standing and assured anticipation
What a contrast do these words felon with what goes before. The men of the world and Himself; their satisfaction and His. This Psalm not to be applied exclusively to Christ. Much tells of Him, but much also of ourselves today. Note--
I. The high attainment of the real child of God. He gets it now; now he beholds God’s face in righteousness. Christ’s righteousness, not his own, even the best of it. And we behold God’s face thus when we appropriate for ourselves what Christ has done. If we have done this we shall live holily, because under the influence of Christ.
II. The interesting expectation. “I shall be satisfied.” How much of that likeness have I now? Ask yourselves that. The awaking, it includes both transformation and translation. Holiness and eternal life at the Resurrection.
III. The solemn assurance. “I will behold”--very bold: “I shall be satisfied.” “I hope and trust”--seems kicked out of doors. “I will,” and “I shall.” Now, intimacy with God, personal intimacy with God, is the only thing that can warrant such an assurance. Whatever you may know of doctrine, and whatever your walk may be with regard to morality (the more of it the better), I tell you, in the name of the living God, that you cannot--must not--dare not--claim this “will” and “shall” unless you know something about intimacy with God. Believe me, beloved, in that which I have often stated to you--this is the vitality of religion. (Joseph Irons.)
The satisfaction of the righteous man
Every man is conscious of desires that find here no befitting object. Nothing here comes up to the full aspirations of the soul. It is, and has been, the design of providence to teach men by example that a finite world is incompetent to fill out the demands of an immortal mind. I can never expect to be satisfied on this earth. Here the stupor of sleep is upon me. But not always shall I sleep. I shall awake. I shall behold the face of God in righteousness. In the future there are two periods when the righteous will have two reasons for exulting in their Maker. The Christian looks forward with the brightest hope to one or other of these two periods. So soon as his soul is released from the body it will rise as on the wings of an eagle to new knowledge and new bliss. Then is the eye of the intellect opened. Then the mental ear is made sensitive to every word of God as no uncertain sound. At death we pass into intimate contact with Him who keepeth all created minds vigilant in their measure like Himself. When the Christian repeats the words of the text he often alludes to the breaking up of his spiritual slumber, and says that the present world is a dream, and the bright world to which he goes is one of wakeful joy. But he often alludes to a richer scene than this. In some aspects he looks to the end of life as the end of trouble, and looks at death as a state of rest, of sleep in Jesus. A devout heart is a prophecy of ultimate enjoyment. We are sure of a holly peace if we have a holy appetence for it.
1. The righteous man will be satisfied with the Divine intellect. It is in compliance with the imperfect language of men that we speak of their Maker’s intellect. This is His power to perceive all truth--all facts and all possibilities, Heaven is the abode of minds bearing His intellectual image.
2. The righteous man will be satisfied with the Divine sensibilities. He will be satisfied with God as the Spirit all whose involuntary emotions are exactly appropriate to their objects.
3. The righteous man will be satisfied with the holiness of God. He glorifies his intellect and sensibility with perfect benevolence. Moral rectitude is benevolence. Moral rectitude is moral beauty. The Christian also hopes to be satisfied in having a form like that which he adores: in possessing, so far as a creature is able to possess, the likeness of the Creator. It is said, “I shall be satisfied.” He is to awake suddenly. As the commencement of this joy is sudden, so the date of it is uncertain. And if we are to be in this image, then we must cheerfully submit to all the influences needed for our transformation. (E. A. Park, D. D.)
The three-fold hope of the Christian
I. For the righteous there is a glorious hope. This creed concerning the future has three clauses: “I shall awake; I shall be like Christ, when I awake; when I awake like Christ, I shall be satisfied.” Simple and deep, as the very purposes of God!
1. “I shall awake.” Tired eyes fall asleep, tired feet rest; but after God’s beautiful ordinance of sleep is fulfilled we shall awake rested, refreshed, re-invigorated. What was it that David believed would wake up? What was it that David believed went to sleep? There is more than a little obscurity on this point. More than one modern writer speaks as if the soul were asleep. That we cannot think. We must apply sleeping and waking to that part of us to which it belongs. We put the body to sleep; we lay it in its narrow grave. We do not know what the Divine alchemy may do for these bodies of ours.
2. I shall be like Christ when I awake. Our bodies will be like Christ’s body. The bodies of the saints will be glorified bodies, like the body of the Son of Man. And I feel glad that He lived a little while after the resurrection.
3. I shall be satisfied.
II. The glorious hope belongs only to the righteous. The first clause indicates those who will certainly enjoy this blessed hope. Those who can say, “As for me, I will behold Thy face in righteousness.” You cannot see His face at all, if you do not see it that way. Righteousness as a state we call holiness. He who by faith in Jesus has righteousness as a standing will, also by faith, receive the grace of the Holy Spirit, which shall save him from sin and all uncleanness. We shall never be able to say, with any firmness of tone, “I shall be satisfied,” until we can also add, “Not m my own righteousness, but in the righteousness which is of God in Christ.” But that will lead to the other inevitably. (John Bradford.)
The man of the Bible
We have in Scripture a revelation of God, but we have also a revelation of man. This revelation of man, this that we call the human element mingling with the Divine in the Bible, is what makes it come home to our feelings, our conscience, our bosom, in a way that a simple revelation of the Divine thought by itself could never have done. We have much to be thankful for that God has given us the revelation of Himself through men. In this Book of Psalms it is men that speak to us under the influence of the Spirit. Look at this Psalm as representing to us the man of the Bible.
1. This man has a consciousness of a religious, Divine life in Him. It is a humble, thankful, moral, spiritual consciousness that this man, believing in God, loves Him, has communion with Him, and, under the influence of that Divine faith, keeps himself from the path of the destroyer, from the works and the society of the wicked.
2. This Divine faith, this religious consciousness in the man, develops and expands until it culminates in the persuasion of a future life, and an expectation of being with God and beholding Him. Men say there is nothing in the books of the law about a future life. But the Hebrews had a religion before they had the law. There was the patriarchal faith, the faith of Abraham and Jacob, and there was hope of the future in it.
3. This man anticipates a waking up,--that there will be something like an abruptness, something like suddenness in the crisis; that all at once be will come face to face with God, into a fulness of the revelation of the Divine countenance, and a conformity to His image. His words may have been uttered by David without his understanding distinctly what was in them but feeling that there was some great idea suggested to him by that condition of his Divine life under which the Spirit was then influencing him. The idea of a future life among the Hebrew people gradually expanded until it took the form of a resurrection. Our Lord did not bring life and immortality to light as a new thing; He took it as a thing existing in the Hebrew mind, existing imperfectly and indistinctly, and He threw light upon it, brought it out in “all fulness and completeness and perfection.
4. This man will be perfectly satisfied. If God has created a species of beings with spiritual and religious faculty; then the infusion into the spirit a participation in the Divine blessedness must be satisfaction; all the faculties regaled, every want met.
5. The man expects all this through righteousness--“in righteousness”--that is, as the outcome and end of a righteous life, heroic in its contest with evil, grand in its development of obedience and duty. That is the doctrine of the Bible from beginning to end. That is, then, the idea of the man of the Bible; believing in God, he lives near Him and with Him, and has a consciousness of a spiritual and religious life, that expands into the anticipation of a future life; that takes the particular form of rising from the lowest at one step to the highest, face to face with God, with something of suddenness. And with that he expects an ultimate and perfect satisfaction, and he expects it in the way of righteousness. Now, what do you think of that man? We are quite capable of forming a moral judgment.
Take this man, then, weigh him, measure him, judge him, what sort of man is he?
1. The foundation thought of this man must be approved and justified. If there be a God, can anything be more right or justifiable than that an individual with the capacity of religion, the power of faith, should pray to, worship, and trust God, believe in his Fatherhood, and seek to have spiritual, religious communion with Him?
2. Then take the next idea--that this religious faith expands into the anticipation of a future life. There are grounds and reasons on which common sense would say, “The man is right, the man is reasonable.” He belongs to a system in which what we call nature wastes nothing. Nature is the most thrifty thing you can imagine. There is not a single atom of matter annihilated. It changes its form, it takes another position, but it is there. Are all minds to be wasted? Is she to be extravagant just here? Nature never deceives. All the instincts, all the faculties, which are in any of its creatures, there is always something to meet them. Is nature to play loose with the moral aspirations of man, the spiritual instincts, the irrepressible anticipations of which he is capable?
3. Take the other idea. He anticipates a kind of abrupt, sudden rise. You will say, How can that be justified? Would not gradual successive steps be more reasonable? But the religion of the Bible gives us the idea of a terrible catastrophe that happened to humanity. Humanity is in an unnatural condition, and therefore there comes down the supernatural. There is the supernatural revelation of a Mediator and redemption, therefore the process is altogether changed. It seems to be more consistent under the new circumstances that a man should awake and suddenly find himself at home with God. And there will be a likeness, an awaking in His image. This man anticipates it, and he will be satisfied with it. (Thomas Binney.)
The Psalmist has a morning in his view unspeakably desirable and glorious. How are we to understand his words of mystic devotion, and ecstasy, and hope? Not, surely, of the following, morning in the. Psalmist’s life. The singer does not merely look forward to a deliverance from his present sorrows and sufferings. That is John Calvin’s interpretation. It is, however, difficult to find a worthy meaning, unless we think of the sleep of death and the radiant morning of eternity which is to follow. It may seem strange to listen to so definite a statement of the everlasting future at so early a stage in the revelation. But a devout man who is in communion with God, and who knows the delights of that matchless friendship, will reach up now and then to the conclusion that the communion and friendship are destined to survive the present world. Let us single out some of the elements of this blessedness, this satisfaction.
I. There is the beatitude of the senses. We may believe that there is aggrandisement, expansion, growth in store for our senses. Have we not hints of it already? In the Christian life on earth these bodily faculties are sometimes marvellously quickened and sharpened.
II. There is the beatitude of the mind. We think; we study; we seek after truth, and find it. It is one of the highest glories of our manhood that it is so governed by the passion for knowledge, and so resolved to grow in wisdom. Our minds, once we have learned to sit at the feet of Jesus, are admitted to new marvels and delights. We are scholars in the most blessed school. We grow not only in knowledge, but in holiness and trust and love. But much continues to be veiled and covered even from the sanctified intellect. In the hereafter we shall understand. What an awakening it will be for our intellect!
III. There is the beatitude of the memory. Such a weird and tremendous power is our memory. It retains our past, storing up our experience, letting nothing slip out of its tenacious grasp. And it reproduces our past, summoning it all back again when it chooses, to scourge as it did Manasseh, to solace and strengthen us as it did St. Paul. Memory can never be the bringer only of good tidings to God’s people in this life. Memory is too precious a chamber of the soul to be scattered and destroyed. What will make its words only good and comfortable in heaven is, that it will live there in the perpetual presence of Christ.
IV. There is the beatitude of the conscience. We carry about with us a faculty which is at once a mirror of right and wrong, and a law enacting royally the path in which we ought to go, and a tribunal condemning us sternly and terribly for our wandering from the straight road, and a voice of God Himself within our breast. A priceless and momentous possession indeed, but an exceedingly troublesome one to many of us.
V. There is the beatitude of the heart. It is the heart which loves. But what heart has gained its end and arrived at its goal? There is no satisfied heart. In the city of God all hearts are satisfied. Heaven is the heart’s harbour made after the weary and stormy sea. (A. Smellie, M. A.)
The Christian’s future likeness to Christ
David and Paul and John looked for the same blessed consummation of their happiness for eternity, in being like their Lord.
I. The assured hope of satisfaction at a future time. The cause of his satisfaction is the likeness of God. We to whom the New Testament is given know what that likeness is, for to that end is the history of Jesus Christ given us. David could only have had a vague and indistinct idea; but still it had a practical hold on his mind, and influenced his character. David’s was a personal God, a living person, to whom like a child to its parent he could run and take refuge. And therefore, as his hope here was clear and well defined, so was his hope hereafter. They always go together in this.
II. The subject matter of his satisfaction. Satisfied expresses more than joy. It is the fulness of joy. The idea is purposely contrasted with the state of things around him, in which, at the best of times, there was always something wanting. He will be satisfied. There will be nothing left to wish and long for, and it will be all comprised and contained in that one absorbing brilliance of his hope, the likeness of his Lord. Break this up into some of its particulars.
1. There are the real pleasures of life, such as do contribute to man’s happiness, and to the well-being of the world. And life has such pleasures, and many of them. But there are cares. There is no satisfying portion in our pleasures. There is, and ever will be, much that is hollow. Not so when we wake up after the Saviour’s likeness. We shall have attained to the Saviour’s likeness, and that admits of nothing higher that we can attain.
2. Look for a moment at the body. The body is a wonderful instrument. The body is not a thing to be cried down and despised, as we shall know full well when we have it in the Saviour’s likeness.
3. It is the same with the mind or intelligence. The mind presents the same absence of a satisfying fulness, that its lower companion, the body, does.
4. Paul hints that it is thus with what even now is really good.
5. Look at that which is beyond yourself. It is the same with the society you must mingle with.
III. The time specified. “When I awake.” On the morning of the resurrection. David, under all the cares of government, in all the discomforts and troubles of his family and his position, turned for consolation to that bright hope which gilds the horizon of the waiting Christian. (G. Deans, M. A.)
When I awake.--
The dream and its awakening
How does our life show itself, to the devout and reflective mind, as little better than a vision of the night! Think what dreams are in themselves, taking them generally, and then think what any devout man’s life, or any man’s life, appears when he comes to look back upon it from old age, and you will have no great difficulty in answering this question. There is an absence of method in dreams. They are incongruous, incoherent, disconnected, confused. Our dreams come like shadows, and so depart. In all this the devout mind finds resemblance to its own history. Many thoughts and feelings of a better kind have been stirring within us. But there is no order, no properly connecting link. Perhaps we should find it difficult to put anything like order into our present spiritual state and feeling, to say nothing about the past. There is a lack of any right measurement of time in dreams. In a single moment of sleep we may seem to live through weeks, and even months and years. There is no real time in sleep. All is illusive. We are equally at fault in our attempts to estimate our life. Bliss lessens it, sorrow lengthens it out. The past takes its tinge from our present condition. Surprises are rare in dreams. We may meet our own funeral procession, but we feel no surprise. Here the likeness holds good of other things. There is enough of the wonderful in our lives, and in the lives of those around us, if only we could see it, if only we were awake. There is in dreams an indistinctness and liability to fade. We see, and yet we do not see. There is a blurred image of something. We are like men attempting to catch a shadow. An old feeling is one of the most difficult things to recall, because it was dependent upon much that was temporary; and some thoughts are like feelings. But this fleetingness and indistinctness in our life is brought more vividly before us as all other impressions fade. The memory decays, or seems to decay. We find it hard to recall names. Perhaps also our perception appears to decline, through the failing of the body. Life is slipping away; and life seems then little better than a dream. Now look at the other side. If life is as a dream, death is the awakening from it. Some refer the Psalm to awakening from simple sleep. We regard them as distinctly referring to the resurrection. There is a certainty about this awakening. The evidence of the resurrection is strong and manifold. See that supplied by Christian literature; by religious observances; by Christian character and life. As death is certain, so is the awakening after death. If our life be as a dream, our death will be as the light of morning awakening us from a sleep. Consider the attractions of this awakening. There is the Divine resemblance which will be enjoyed by us in it. Death does not possess any regenerative power; but there is nevertheless the promise of completeness to the believer in the world beyond the grave. There is full contentment in that other world. We never get this out of anything here. However we plan and fore arrange, we are always stumbling upon something which brings disappointment. But there, no bitter disappointment ever comes. In that fair clime there is no tempter, no doubt, no sin. Should not the thought of this better life also check undue expectations as to the present? (J. Jackson Goadby.)
The future of the believer
I. The state to which by implication David intimates that he should be reduced. “When I awake.” From what? Sleep; but not nightly sleep, rather the sleep of death. In assimilating death to sleep David gives utterance to no fiction. In many respects they differ; yet sleep is an impressive picture of death. David does not mean to assert, that when the body sleeps in death the soul sleeps also. The soul is not inactive in ordinary bodily sleep. The death of the body is no more the death than it is the sleep of the soul, but simply a giving up the ghost,--a passing of the soul from a relationship that is seen to a relationship that is unseen. The analogy of death and sleep holds equally in the ease of good and of bad men.
II. The change which david affirms that he should undergo. He says that from the sleep of death he should awake. When, he did not know, but of the certainty of his awaking, of the nature of his appearance, and of the recognisableness of his personality when awakened he does speak. In the creed of David the awakening of his body from the sleep of death--its living reunion with his soul, was a fact--not a matter of doubt, but a matter of certainty. To this doctrine many cannot subscribe. But because it is beyond the reach of the power that is finite, does this prove that it is beyond the reach of that power that is infinite? Consider the nature of his appearance when awakened. “With Thy likeness.” The likeness of Christ’s resurrection body.
III. The felicity of which david declares that he should participate. “I shall be satisfied.” It was not with David a problematical thing, but a thing of which he was sure. The felicity of the glorified consists in their seeing and resembling Him in whose likeness they shall awake. (A. Jack, D. D.)
The Christian’s awakening
In the words of the text is an implied contrast between the present and the future condition of God’s people, in three particulars.
1. The present state is figuratively exhibited as one of sleep. He that wakes must have been asleep. David regarded this life as little better than an unquiet sleep. At times we are ready to doubt whether anything about us is real, and to suspect that we are the dupes all along of deceitful impressions. Moreover, the Christian wayfarer is painfully conscious of deficiency in that lively wakefulness which is most important to his spiritual progress. How, then, can he fail to desire earnestly the time of awaking?
2. The unsatisfactory nature of all things here below was another fact that pressed on David’s mind. In saying “I shall be satisfied,” he as good as says “I am not satisfied.” What meagre fare to a spiritual man must that be which even a natural man finds deficient.
3. Here, again, the Psalmist encounters one of those great evils, perfect deliverance from which is reserved to another state of being. That evil is the loss of God’s image. That loss is only partially repaired in any renewed soul. It is the heartfelt complaint of every pious person, that his resemblance to God is so faint and obscure. What is the aim, or substance, of religion? It is to know, to love, to imitate God, as He is revealed to us in the face of Immanuel. We are religiously happy, just in proportion as the moral character of God is transfused into our souls. This, then, is the fulness of joy to an immortal and sanctified being--we shall “be like Him.” (J. N. Pearson, M. A.)
The great awakening
A good man’s consolation in a time of severe distress. He contrasts his enemies’ condition and his own. They had their portion in this life. He looked for his in the life to come.
I. The awakening. According to the ideas commonly entertained with regard to our state now and hereafter, we are awake in this life, and we sleep at death. The text suggests another thought, namely, that in this life we are asleep, and at death we wake out of sleep. Before conversion men may certainly be said to be asleep. Sin acts as a sedative. But that is not the thought here. The Psalmist was a godly man, and yet, comparing his present condition with the future, he regarded himself as asleep. We, too, have felt at tunes that the best known and most active of our powers are comparatively dormant. And it is reasonable to suppose that there are other faculties and powers within us at present slumbering, of whose existence we have no consciousness, and for which we have no name.
II. The sight which he would witness. “I shall behold Thy face in righteousness.” The face of a familiar friend is welcome. The very sight of him sometimes does good. God’s face is invisible at present. “Now we see through a glass darkly.” How dim is the outline of His character! Many call God their Father who would be ashamed to exhibit the qualities which they attribute to Him. Sometimes God’s face does seem averted or disguised. “Clouds and darkness are round about Him.” The sight of God’s face will not afford delight to everyone. In some it will awaken terror; in others shame.
III. The satisfaction which the sight will afford. “I shall be satisfied.” The worldling is not satisfied, and cannot be. The Christian cannot find satisfaction in anything that the world offers. (F. J. Austin.)
The dream, the awakening, and the transformation
I. Man’s life is a dream. In what respect is it like a dream?
1. It is unreal. A dream is a mere phantom of the brain, an airy fiction; what the mind sees and hears is mere semblance, not substance. So is life. Every man walketh in a vain show. We live amongst shadows, not substances.
2. It is disorderly. Dreams seem to have no method, no law of succession; they are a jumble of incoherences and incongruities. How disorderly is our life, our plans and theories are conflicting and shifting.
3. It is fleeting. We can dream a poem, a history in a minute or two; dreams take no note of time. So with life: how fleet and fluctuating. It is forgettable. How soon is a dream forgotten! The grandest vision of the night often dissolves into forgetfulness at the break of day. What a tendency in this life there is to forget our best impressions and holiest resolves. Truly, life is a dream. We are often but the creatures of imagination, uncontrolled either by judgment or conscience.
II. Man’s death is an awakening. In that dread moment when the soul quits the body it wakes up to the realities of existence. The markets, governments, trades, professions, pleasures, and pursuits of the world fade as a baseless vision of the night the moment the soul opens its eye in eternity. The man is brought, not only into a life of realities, but into conscious contact with these realities--Law, Spirit, God. Death, instead of being the extinction of being, is the awakening of it out of sleep.
III. Man’s satisfaction is God’s likeness. “Then shall I be satisfied, when I awake, with Thy likeness.” In what respect? Not in the respect of might, or wisdom, or ubiquity. But in the sense of moral character, and the essence of that character is love. “God is love.” Man’s satisfaction is where? In love. “God is love, and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God.” “We all, with open face beholding as in a glass the image of God, are changed from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of Christ. (Homilist.)
The destiny of the good
I. The death of the good is an awaking from sleep. The best of men are scarcely awake here. The apostle felt this when he said, “It is high time to awake out of sleep.” He was speaking to Christians.
1. There is much spiritual torpor even in the best. Where is that earnest activity which we feel is the right thing for us?--the activity which Christ had when He said, “I must work,” etc. What Paul had, who said, “I count not my life dear,” etc. “I press towards the mark,” etc.
2. There is much spiritual dreaming in the best. Our views of Divine things are often only as the incoherent visions of a dream. At death the soul wakes up. It is a morning to it,--a bright, joyous, stirring morning. Do not be afraid of death, then.
II. In this awaking at death there will be the complete assimilation of the soul to God. “When I awake, with Thy likeness.” What is this likeness? Not a resemblance to His wisdom, power, or sovereignty, but a resemblance to His governing disposition:--love. Moral likeness to a being consists in a likeness to His ruling disposition. Variety in material objects and mental characteristics is the glory of the creation. But similarity in moral disposition is what heaven demands as the essence of virtue and the condition of bliss. All can love, and to love is to be like God. At death this in the good becomes perfect. Our sympathies will then flow entirely with His; our wills will then go entirely within the circle of His.
III. In this assimilation will consist the everlasting satisfaction of our nature, “I shall be satisfied.” There is no satisfaction without this.
1. The spiritual powers will not work harmoniously under the dominion of any other disposition.
2. The conscience will frown upon any other state of mind.
3. The Great One will not bless with His friendship any other state of mind in His creatures. (Homilist.)
The awakening of man
David therefore expected to live after death,--he should awake, and awake in God’s likeness.
I. At death the soul of the believer thus awakes. The remains of sin are done away, and nothing left but the image of God.
II. Our present state is a kind of night scene. As dreams, and like the vagaries of sleep. Only that is solid and valuable which has been connected with God. How short are waking intervals. Natural men are entirely asleep, but Christians cannot sleep, “as do others.” Yet they are often drowsy and insensible. Hence Paul says, “It is high time to wake out of sleep.” And at death they will wake out of sleep.
III. The body likewise shall awake. For the body is an essential part of human nature. But it is lying under the incapacities and dishonours of mortality. Therefore the intermediate state is necessarily an imperfect one. But the purchase of the Saviour will be reclaimed. “We wait for the Saviour, who shall change our vile body that,” etc. (William Jay.)
The final awakening of the saint
Among the beautiful epitaphs, of which the world is full, the following may be mentioned: Near Marshfield, the famous country home of Daniel Webster, is a lonely little graveyard where the great statesman lies buried. Beside him is the grave of his wife, and traced on the tombstone is this exquisite inscription, “Let me go, the day is breaking.” (T. De Witt Talmage.)
The time for satisfaction
Who has not misread this verse, by not perceiving the punctuation? How often has the comma after “awake” been struck out, and thus the whole sense of the passage lost! It has been read, “When I awake with Thy likeness”; being so read it has been violated. Observe the punctuation, and further comment is needless. We might turn it round thus, “I shall be satisfied with Thy likeness when I awake.” The man does not awake with the likeness; he is satisfied with the likeness when he awakes. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
The two awakenings
(with Psalms 73:20):--Both these Psalms are occupied with that standing puzzle to Old Testament worthies--the good fortune of bad men, and the bad fortune of good ones. The former tells of the calamities of David; the latter, of the perplexity of Asaph “when he saw the prosperity of the wicked.” And as the problem is the same, so is the solution. David and Asaph both point on to a period when such perplexities shall not be. David thinks of it in regard to himself; Asaph, in regard to the wicked. And both describe that future period as an awakening: David as his own; Asaph, as that of God. What they meant is not absolutely clear. Some would bring the words well within the limits of the present life; others see in them what tells of the future life that stretches beyond the grave. But inasmuch as David contrasts his awaking with the death of “the men of this world,” it would seem that he points on, however dimly, to that which is “within the veil.” And as for Asaph, the awaking he tells of may refer to some act of judgment in this life. But the strong words in which the context describes this awaking as the “destruction” and “the end” of the godless tell rather of life’s final close. The doctrine of the future life was never clear to Israel as to us. Hence there are great tracts of the Old Testament where it never appears at all. This very difficulty about “the prosperity of the wicked” would not have arisen had they known what we do. But in these Psalms We see men being taught of God the clearer hope which alone could sustain them. Regarding, then, the end of life as told of in both these Psalms, we note--
I. That to all men the end of life is an awakening. We call death, sleep, but we use the word as a euphemism to veil the form and deformity of the ugly thing, death. But this name we give to death tells of our weariness of life, and how blessed we think it will be to be still at last with folded hands and shut eyes. But the emblem is but half the truth. For, “what dreams may come!” And we shall wake too. The spirit shall spring into greater intensity of action. To our true selves and to God we shall awake. Here we are like men asleep in some chamber that looks towards the eastern sky. Morning by morning comes sunrise, with the tender glory of its rosy light and blushing heavens, and the heavy eyes are closed to it all. Here and there some light sleeper, with thinner eyelids or face turned to the sun, is half-conscious of a vague brightness, and feels the light, though he sees not the colour of the sky nor the forms of the filmy clouds. Such souls are our saints and prophets, but most of us sleep on unconscious. But to us all the moment of awaking will come. What shall it be to us?
II. Death is to some men the awaking of God. “When Thou awakest, Thou shalt despise their image.” The metaphor is a common one. God awakes when He arises to judge a nation. But the word here points on to the future. The present life is the time of God’s forbearance, the field for the manifestation of patient love, not willing that any should perish. Here and now His judgment, for the most part, slumbers. But He will awake. “The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night,” and the wicked will have to confront “the terror of the Lord.” For sixty times sixty slow, throbbing seconds, the silent hand creeps unnoticed round the dial, and then, with whirr and clang, the bell rings out, and another hour of the world’s secular day is gone. All present judgments--epochs of convulsion and ruin--are but precursors of the day when God awakes.
III. Death is the annihilation of the vain show of worldly life. Things here are non-substantial--shadows--and non-permanent.
IV. Death is to some men such annihilation in order to reveal the great reality. “Thy likeness.” “Form,” the word really means. Hence the “likeness” means, not conformity to the Divine character, but the beholding of His self-manifestation. Seeing God we shall be satisfied. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
With Thy likeness.--
Happiness of saints in heaven
I. There is such a place as heaven. Some imagine that heaven is a state rather than a place; but it is not easy to conceive of this distinction. The idea of locality attends all our ideas of created objects, whether spiritual or corporeal. The idea of place accompanies our idea of angels. Whatever changes pass upon glorified bodies, they must still be material, and have a local existence.
II. God manifests his peculiar presence in heaven. David expected to behold the face of God in some peculiar manner when he should awake in the world of light. In some unusual manner God manifests His presence in heaven.
III. When the saints arrive in heaven they will be completely satisfied and happy there. They will enjoy all that felicity which David anticipated. If there be perfect happiness anywhere in the universe it is to he expected in heaven, where God is, and Christ is, and where all the holy beings are collected, and united in their views and affections. Consider the various species of happiness in heaven--
1. They will enjoy all the happiness which can flow from the free and full exercise of all their intellectual powers and faculties.
2. They will enjoy the pleasures of the heart, as well as those of the understanding. These are the most refined pleasures of the soul.
3. They shall enjoy the pleasures of the heart in the richest variety.
4. They will enjoy the pleasures of society, as well as of devotion.
5. They will have ineffable pleasure from the expressions of the peculiar love and approbation of God.
6. That which will carry celestial blessedness to the highest degree of perfection is the pleasure of anticipation--the prospect of appearing before God, and beholding His face in righteousness. All the redeemed will joyfully anticipate their perpetual felicity, and rising glory to all eternity. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
The likeness perfected
Dr. Lyman Abbott says, “The artist stands at his easel painting the portrait of one before him; and I go and look at it, and scowl and shrug my shoulders, and say, ‘It is not like him; I can see the ghost of an appearance looking out through the lustreless eyes and the untrue features, but it is not my friend.’ And the artist says, ‘Wait! when I have finished the picture, and put the purpose--the soul--into it, then judge, not before.’ So Christ sits for His portrait, and God takes me as a canvas, and paints, and ever and anon I grow foolish enough to look at myself, and shake my head in despair, amid say, ‘That will never he a portrait.’ Then I come back to His promise: ‘You shall be satisfied when you awake in His likeness,’ and I am satisfied beforehand in this hope that He gives me.”
Human capacity for God
I was very much impressed some time ago by hearing one of our missionaries from Ceylon tell of the death of a poor Cingalese woman, a convert to Christ, who exclaimed with her last breath, “Oh, how beautiful God is!” You will remember that those were among the last words of a very different person, the sweet-souled, highly cultured Charles Kingsley, and you will see, I doubt not, in the coincidence of thought at the supreme moment of life between that poor Cingalese woman, who had long looked for God by the dim light of her pagan faith, and that cultured Englishman, who had walked in the broad noonday of truth with all the windows of his being open to the sun, a parable of how God, the great Father of spirits, can bring from very different points, and by very diverse paths, the alien, hungering heart of man to the enjoyment of Himself. In Charles Kingsley and in his Cingalese sister there was the capacity for the same thing, the enjoyment of God; and I believe, and you believe, that wherever a human heart beats under God’s great sky that capacity exists. Christianity does not necessarily create it; Christ finds it, and fathoms it and fills it. (R. Wright Hay.)
The likeness of God
I. What is the nature of this likeness to God? It is a spiritual likeness, an enstamping the Divine image upon the soul a moulding the soul rote the Divine similitude. The likeness of which the Psalmist speaks is a conformity of soul to God. In order to this we must undergo a great change. That likeness to God of which the righteous shall partake will consist in a similarity between the qualities of their souls and the attributes of the Divine nature. But some of the Divine attributes are incommunicable. The likeness will consist--
1. In knowledge. Our knowledge must ever be derived and dependent. The righteous may resemble God in the certainty of their knowledge, and in its clearness and distinctness. The knowledge of glorified saints, compared with what they flow possess, may very properly be said to resemble the Divine knowledge in extent. Doubtless the powers of the soul will greatly expand.
2. The future likeness of the saints to God will consist in holiness. The moral image of God is defaced and destroyed in apostate man. But in Christ Jesus the glory of our nature is restored. The restoration is only partial in this present life. But the whole body of believers shall, ere long, be made perfect in holiness. In the immediate presence of the blessed God, faith and hope shall attain perfection.
3. The righteous shall be like God in blessedness. This necessarily results from the two last. And the blessedness will be, like God’s, eternal.
II. The feelings of the blessed, when they enter upon this portion. They will feel that all their most enlarged desires have been fulfilled. It will satisfy the pious soul by filling up its capacities and wishes. Let afflicted Christians learn patience and find consolation. (W. J. Armstrong, D. D.)
The revelation of God in man
Man is capable of discovering, and has actually discovered, some true knowledge of God. The best answer we can make to the unbeliever in an objective revelation will be to say--
1. The religion which you accept on an external authority had for its origin nothing else in the world than the human consciousness which you now despise. Place all the religions of the world in their chronological order, and yon will find that each one is the revolt of independent thought against the authority of the religion which preceded it.
2. At all events, we cannot any longer abide by your revelation, for we have discovered error in it. To our minds it represents God in an unworthy and even in a degraded aspect.
3. We will tell you how our conceptions of God are determined in the first instance, how they are sustained, and how they can be corrected and improved. We look at man, we examine ourselves. In relation to puzzling problems and analogies in the outer world we feel the necessity for faith and patience towards God, such as our children have to exercise towards, the most loving, parents. The reverence, for goodness as goodness is universal m man, differing only in degree in proportion as different men have higher or lower conceptions of What goodness is. The verdict of humanity has long been passed, that morality, justice, love, righteousness, goodness, call it what you will is the best and highest in man, and the most righteous man, or most loving man is the noblest. From this we rise by one step into a conception of God’s moral attributes. God must be, at least, as good as the noblest of men. We cannot accept as a God one whose moral principles are below those of his own finite creatures. Mankind itself is the ever-expanding bible in which the Divine revelation is being written. Every religion in the days of its youth was the immediate result of some previous progress in human morality. If you want proof that the real origin of religions belief is the reverence of human goodness, take not the mere creed of Christendom, but the cherished belief of its heart. Why do Christians worship Christ as God? Certainly not because it was said that He was God, but because they believed Him to be a perfect man. They first admired and loved Him for His goodness, and then they made Him Divine, and robed Him in all the splendours of heavenly royalty out of gratitude for His human love. To those, then, who are really Christians, and really religious, we come on their own ground, and say, If it is human goodness you really worship, we can show you plenty of that, equal to Christ’s, and even better still. We can show you at least the same thing free from some of His personal errors. In almost every particular the conceptions which we have of God are more exalted and pure than any which have gone before it. They are attained, as all other conceptions are, namely, by the gradual advance in the moral and intellectual nature of man. Our faith is nobler than yours, because we have allowed ourselves to be taught by the moral progress of our own times, and by the highest instincts of our souls. To our moral instincts and our attainment of the knowledge of goodness we must add our own deep and earnest aspirations, as witnesses of what God really is. No words so well express the possession of soul by the Divine presence and its loftiest aspirations as those of the text, “As for me, I will behold Thy face in righteousness; and I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with Thy likeness.” (Charles Voysey.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 17". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany