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Rejoice in the Lord, O ye righteous.
The spirit of rejoicing: life adjusted to the will of God
“Rejoice in the Lord, O ye righteous.” It is the vital condition of all spiritual rejoicing that we are right with God. Our life must be adjusted to His will, and the adjustment must be made on every side. If our communion with the Lord is only partial, we shall not reach the condition in which joy becomes inevitable. I remember that some time ago an electric bell apparatus in my home got out of order and the bell ceased to ring. I made a careful examination, and I found that two or three of the strands, which together formed the one wire, had been broken, and along the remaining strands sufficient electrical energy could not travel to ring the bell. I rectified the severed members, and so adjusted them that they were every one in communion with the battery, and in the completed adjustment there was power enough to ring the bell. It appears to me to symbolize the condition of many a life which is partially in communion with the King. If is not that there is complete alienation; it is that there are severed strands. There are departments in the life which are not connected with the Almighty, and along the imperfect communion sufficient power does not travel to ring the joy-bells. It may be that the strand between the Lord and our pleasures is broken, or between the Lord and our business, or between the Lord and some secret realm in our life which is not known to others. This severance will have to be put right, and every side of the life adjusted to the Divine will before we can become possessed by that fulness of power which will create bell-melody in the soul. And so I am not surprised that the psalmist is making his confident appeal to the “righteous,” the rectified, those who are right on every side with God. (J. H. Jowett, M. A.)
Praise to the God of creation, providence, and grace
I. the call to praise, and its reasons (Psalms 33:1-11). The first word of Psalms 33:1 means not simply to “rejoice” (as A.V.), but to express the emotions aloud. The subjects of the invitation are addressed as “righteous” and “upright,” because this was their ideal character of what they ought to be as the true Israel of God, and to them as such it was every way suitable to show forth Jehovah’s praise. It was quite otherwise with the wicked (Psalms 50:16; Mark 1:25; Mark 3:12; Acts 17:18). In Psalms 33:2 the call is to use harp and lyre with the song, the first mention of musical instruments in the Psalter. The Hebrews used wind and stringed and percussive instruments, but their precise nature cannot well be determined.
II. God’s special favour to his people (Verses 12-22). They were His heritage; not simply a temporary possession, but one enduring by hereditary succession through a long course of ages. Their security and happiness in having Jehovah for their God is enforced anew by the assertion of His omniscience. Men can be surprised or overtaken: not so the all-seeing One. He fully understands all their doings, their origin, their motive, their purpose. All is evident at a glance. Hence His will is supreme, and all persons and things are comprehended in His control of the world. What material strength cannot do for those who rely upon it, is secured to believers by the eye of Jehovah. That eye is directed toward those who wait for His loving-kindness. The three concluding couplets finely express the attitude of the Church in all ages--waiting, hoping, trusting. “The whole history of Israel may be summed up in Jacob’s dying words, ‘I have waited for Thy salvation, O Jehovah.’” (T. W. Chambers, D. D.)
A call to true worship
I. True worship is happiness to the godly. “Rejoice,” etc.
1. It is the highest happiness of intelligent existences. Only by worship can the profoundest cravings of their natures be satisfied, or their powers be fully and harmoniously developed.
2. The godly alone can offer true worship.
II. True worship is becoming to the godly. “Comely.”
1. It agrees with his character.
2. It is congenial with his spirit.
3. It is in keeping with his obligations.
III. True worship is music to the godly. “Praise the Lord with harp,” etc. Note some of the features of true psalmody.
1. Variety. Both instrumental and vocal music are here mentioned.
2. Freshness. “A new song.” Whilst our religion should be as settled as the trunk of the oak--the forms and spirit of our devotion should be as changing as the foliage, now green with spring, now tinted with summer, now tinged with the brown hue of autumn.
3. Accuracy. “Play skilfully.” True music is sound ruled by science.
4. Hearty. “With a loud noise.” (Homilist.)
The toy which the righteous haw in God
I. the duty. “Rejoice in the Lord.” Look upon religion in its actions and employment: and what are they? “Rejoice and give thanks.” Are not these actions that are grateful and delightful? What doth transcend Divine joy, and ingenuous acknowledgments?
II. the reason. It is “comely.” Whatsoever is the true product of religion is grateful, beautiful, and lovely. There is nothing in religion that is dishonourable or selfish. Then we are to rejoice in the Lord.
1. For Himself, God is the most excellent object in the world. But whosoever are pleased with God, God is pleased with them: but to the wicked and unregenerate, God Himself (as good as He is) He is a burden. Let men pretend love to the things of God never so much, they will not relish them, unless they be born of God. ‘Tis they that are naturalized to heaven, that relish and favour Divine things. That which is born of the world is enmity against God. Our rejoicing must be with some respect to God; and though it be in other things, yet it must be in the Lord. And this is done when we acknowledge God as the Fountain of all good, and better than all other enjoyments whatsoever; and count our enjoyments as all from Him and so endearing Him to us and obliging us to Him. Now, to enforce this joy in God, we note that joy is necessary to the life of man. The apostle hath told us that worldly sorrow causeth death. Sorrow and sadness, melancholy and discontent spoils the temper of a man’s mind; it vitiates the humours of the body; it prevents the Divine, and hinders the Physician. For the Divine deals by reason; but this being obliterated, he can do nothing. And it also hinders the Physician; for if the mind be discomposed by melancholy, it doth not afford due benevolence to the body. The sour and melancholy are unthankful to God, and cruel to themselves, and peevish in their converse: so that joy and rejoicing are necessary in respect to ourselves. But also, joy is so safe for us: it will hold us back from sin, it will never be in excess, will always be sincere, and will offend none: it will keep company with gratitude and humility, and will always leave us in a good temper, which worldly joy will not do. If our triumph be in the Lord, it separates from sensual things, and from the spiritual sins of pride and arrogancy. Therefore let there be always something that is spiritual in the ground, reason, or occasion, or motive of your joy.
Praise is comely
It is nature’s sense, ‘tis the import of any man’s reason. Now because God doth infinitely transcend all the benefactors in the world, if any man doth not acknowledge His goodness, and praise Him for His benefits; he is sunk down into baseness, and fallen beneath his creation and nature. God loves us, and therefore He doth us good: we love God because we are partakers of His benefits. All disingenuity and baseness are concentred in the bowels of ingratitude. He that will not be engaged by kindness, no cords of man will hold him. Then let us obey the counsel of the text.
1. Because nothing is more due to God than our gratitude; for He loadeth us with His benefits, and is pleased to please us, and doth many things to gratify us.
2. By this we give testimony of our minds to God. For we have nothing at all to sacrifice to God, but the consent of our minds; an ingenious acknowledgment. (B. Whichcote, D. D.)
Praise is comely for the upright.--
Distinguish between gratitude and praise. Gratitude is an inward, loving sense of obligation for benefits received; praise the expression or outward manifestation of that inward feeling. Gratitude is of the heart; praise of the lip. Gratitude is a something felt; praise a something expressed.
I. Praise is comely for existence. The good man recognizes God as the Dispenser of every blessing. He holds all blessings as a loan or trust, and as a faithful steward, employs them for God, not for selfish purposes. As all the rivers return to the sea whence they came, so the upright man sends all God’s gifts back again in grateful homage and loving service to the Divine source of all good.
II. Praise is comely for redemption.
III. Praise is comely for the gift of immortality. The righteous man has something great and noble to live for, a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory to anticipate. In prospect, he has that which will fill the immensity of his being, satisfy to the full and for ever, the yearning of his great nature, so that the very thought of his immortality fills his soul with ecstasy, and his song with harmony (1 Peter 1:3). It is said that when Mendelssohn went to see the great Freiburg organ, and asked permission of the old custodian to be allowed to play upon it, he was refused. After a little kind persuasion, however, consent was reluctantly given. Mendelssohn instantly took his seat, and made the organ discourse sublimest music. The custodian, spellbound, drew near and ventured to ask for the name of the stranger. When it was announced, ashamed, and self-condemned, the custodian exclaimed, “What a fool am I to refuse you permission to play!” There is One standing by you who can bring forth the most heavenly strains of music from your heart. Place it in His hand and Christ will make every chord send forth celestial harmonies that would make all the angels cease to sing and be mute, that they might the better listen to the nobler music of Christ’s redeemed ones. (R. Roberts.)
The duty of praise
I. Good and righteous men are most obliged to the duty of praise, and most fit to perform it.
1. There are many of God’s blessings that are universal, in regard to these the duty of thanksgiving should be of as large extent. But since some men partake more particularly of His favour, they are in a more particular manner obliged to gratitude and thanksgiving.
2. The righteous are also most fit to perform this duty.
(1) Because such men are always humble, and ready to acknowledge their unworthiness of God’s goodness.
(2) Because they have a quick and lively sense of it, and are apt to be tenderly and passionately affected with it.
(3) Because they have always a solid foundation of true joy in a good conscience.
(4) Because of that fitness and congruity which there is between praise and other virtues. As the beauty of the body consists in the exact dimensions of every part, and the symmetry and proportion of the whole: so does the beauty of the soul consist in the exercise of all Christian virtues, and in the mutual relation which they have to each other: and if any one be wanting it is a plain deformity, and will be perceived immediately.
II. God is the proper object of praise. The psalmist does not tie himself up strictly to the contemplation of the Divine nature, as to its essential excellencies only, but considers them as they relate to His works, and are beneficial to His creatures.
1. Rejoice in the Lord in regard of His goodness. Whatever is pleasing to us below, is so, because we take it to be good; that is, suppose it to partake of this fountain of ever-flowing goodness. How, then, should we be transported with joy if we lifted up our thought to Him who is Goodness itself, and through His vast abundance pours it upon every creature! But yet this would not be sufficient for His universal praise, unless we consider His goodness in His works.
2. Rejoice in Him because of His wisdom; it is by this He governs and disposes of all things as in wisdom He made them all.
3. Rejoice in the Lord in regard of His power. That very power which is so dreadful to His enemies, at which the whole creation trembles, at which the everlasting mountains are scattered, the perpetual hills do bow; when He marches through a land in indignation and threshes the heathen in His anger. Power can do as much for the righteous. So that this attribute cannot be dreadful to good men, but on the contrary, must be most delightful to them. (J. Adams, M. A.)
The gratitude of the upright
1. The gratitude of upright men is wise. The praise of the Lord becomes them well, because, while they bless God for all their mercies, they arrange them in their proper order; they prize each according to its real worth, and that most of all which is of the greatest value.
2. The gratitude of upright men is real. The praise of the Lord becomes them, because, while they praise God for His benefits, they live to the glory of their benefactor. Every gift of God furnisheth us with both a motive and a means of obedience to Him.
3. Gratitude to God well becomes an upright man, because it is humble. By publishing the gifts of God’s grace, he divests himself of himself, and attributes them wholly to the goodness of Him from whom they came.
4. The gratitude of an upright man is noble and magnanimous. He takes the love of God to him for a pattern of his behaviour to his fellow-creatures. (J. Saurin.)
Sing unto Him with the psaltery and an instrument of ten strings.
A harp of ten strings
Most of us, if we praise the Lord at all, play upon one string, or two, or three, when we ought to take a harp full chorded and with glad fingers sweep all the strings. Instead of being grateful for here and there a blessing we happen to think of, we ought to rehearse all our blessings so far as we can recall them, and obey the injunction of my text to sing unto Him with an instrument of ten strings.
1. Have you appreciated the fact that on most of your tables are luxuries that do not come to all? Have you realized what varieties of flavour often touch your tongue, and how the saccharine and the acid have been afforded your palate? For the fine flavours and the luxurious viands you have enjoyed for a lifetime, perhaps you have never expressed to God a word of thanksgiving. That is one of the ten strings that you ought to have thrummed in praise to God, but you have never yet put it in vibration.
2. Have you thanked God for eyesight? Haw you realized the privation those suffer to whom the day is as black as the night, and who never see the face of father or mother or wife or child or friend? Through what painful surgery many have gone to get one glimpse of the light. The eyes--so delicate, and beautiful, and useful--that one of them is invaluable!
3. Notice how many pass through life in silence because the ear refuses to do its office. Have we devoutly thanked God for these two wonders of our hearing, with which we can now put ourselves under the charm of sweet sound, and also carry in our memories the infantile song with which our mothers put us to sleep?
4. There are many who never recognize how much God gives them when He gives them sleep. Oh, the felicities of slumber! Let all who have this real benefaction celebrate it. That is one of the sweetest strings in all the instrument of ten strings.
5. Acknowledge the power of physical locomotion. To be able to go where we wish, and all unaided--what a kindness! What multitudes have to call in the aid of crutch and invalid’s chair, and their whole life is a hinderment. How hard to get about with lack of strong and healthy and supple limbs.
6. Celebrate on the instrument of ten strings our illumined nights. They spread their tents over us, and some of us hardly go out to look at them. During the nights other worlds come in sight. Thank God for lunar and stellar illumination.
7. Celebrate the possession of our reason. Amid the increasing dementia of the world, let us appreciate the goodness of God to us if our mental faculties are in equipoise. Voyaging from New Zealand to Australia, a storm swooped upon us, and we saw all around us fragments of ships that had been caught in the same tempest; and how thankful we were, sailing into Sydney harbour, that we had escaped! So that man and that woman, whose intellect goes safely through the storms of this life, in which so many have foundered, ought every day and every night to employ one of the ten strings in gratitude for that particular mercy.
8. Another string of this instrument I now touch--friendships, deep and abiding. With one such friend you can defy the world.
9. Gospel advantages. That Gospel rocked our cradle, and it will epitaph our grave. It soothes our sorrows, brightens our hopes, inspires our courage, forgives our sins, and saves our souls. It takes a man who is all wrong and makes him all right. What that Gospel has done for you and me is a story that we can never fully tell. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.
I. His goodness to the irrational creation. Although nature is out of joint, yet even in its disruption I am surprised to find the almost universal happiness of the animal creation. On a summer day, when the air and the grass are most populous with life, you will not hear a sound of distress unless, perchance, a heartless school-boy has robbed a bird’s nest, or a hunter has broken a bird’s wing, or a pasture has been robbed of a lamb, and there goes up a bleating from the flocks. The whole earth is filled with animal delights--joy feathered, and scaled, and horned, and hoofed. The bee hums it; the frog croaks it; the squirrel chatters it; the quail whistles it; the lark carols it; the whale spouts it. The snail, the rhinoceros, the grizzly bear, the toad, the wasp, the spider, the shellfish, have their homely delights--joy as great to them as our joy is to us. Goat climbing the rocks; anaconda crawling through the jungle; buffalo plunging across the prairie; crocodile basking in tropical sun; seal puffing on the ice; ostrich striding across the desert, are so many bundles of joy; they do not go moping or melancholy; they are not only half supplied. God says they are filled with good. Take up a drop of water under the microscope, and you will find that within it there are millions of creatures that swim in a hallelujah of gladness. The sounds in Nature that are repulsive to our ears are often only utterances of joy--the growl, the croak, the bark, the howl. God’s hand feeds all these broods, and shepherds all these flocks, and tends all these herds. He sweetens the clover-top for the oxen’s taste; and pours out crystalling waters, in mossed cups of rock, for the hind to drink out of on his way down the crags; and pours nectar into the cup of the honeysuckle to refresh the humming-bird; and spreads a banquet of a hundred fields of buck-wheat, and lets the honey-bee put his mouth to any cup in all the banquet; and tells the grasshopper to go anywhere he likes, and gives the flocks of heaven the choice of all grain fields. Why did God make all these, and why make them so happy? How account for all this singing and dancing, and frisking amid the irrational creation? Why this heaven for the animalcule in a dew drop? Why for the condor a throne on Chimborazo? Why the glitter of the phosphorus in the ship’s wake on the sea, which is said to be only the frolic of millions of insects? Why the perpetual chanting of so many voices from the irrational creation in earth, and air? There is only one solution, one answer--God is good. “The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.”
II. notice the adaptation of the world to the comfort and happiness of man. He was to be king in it. Heaven and earth are represented in his nature, his body from the earth, his soul from heaven. He is a strange commingling of dust and glory. The earth for his floor; heaven for his roof; God for his Father; eternity for his lifetime. Think of his body--“fearfully and wonderfully made.” No embroidery so delicate or elaborate, no colour so exquisite, no mechanism so graceful, no handiwork so divine. And all working so quietly and mysteriously. Volumes have been written of the hand. Wondrous instrument! With it we give friendly recognition, and grasp the sword, and climb the rock, and write, and carve and build. It constructed the Pyramids, and hoisted’ the Parthenon. It made the harp, and then struck out of it all the world’s minstrelsy. Four fingers and a thumb. A hundred million dollars would not purchase for you a machine as exquisite and wonderful as your own hand. Mighty hand! In all its bones, and muscles, and joints, I learn that God is good. Behold one eye, which, in its Daguerrean gallery, in an instant catches the mountain and the sea. This perpetual telegraphing of the nerves; these joints, that are the only hinges that do not wear out; these bones and muscles of the body, with fourteen thousand different adaptations. If we could realize the wonders of our physical organization, we would be hypochondriacs, fearing every moment there must be a break down somewhere. But from birth to old age all goes on without failure. Take a step higher and look at man’s mental constitution. The powers of perception whereby we transport the outer world into our own mind; the law of association, one thought starting up a hundred and enabling us to draw a long train of thought through the mind with incredible velocity; memory, the sheaf binder that goes forth to gather in the harvest of the past. In reason and understanding man is alone. The ox surpasses him in strength, the antelope in speed, the hound in keenness of nostril, the eagle in far-reaching sight, the rabbit in quickness of hearing, the honey-bee in delicacy of tongue, the spider in fineness of touch. Man’s power, therefore, consisteth not in what he can lift, or how fast he can run, or how strong a wrestler he can throw--for in these respects the ox, the ostrich, and the hyena are his superior--but by his reason he comes forth to rule all: through his ingenious contrivance to outrun, outlift, outwrestle, outsee, out-hear, outdo. I take a step higher, and look at man’s moral nature. Made in the image of God. Vast capacity for enjoyment; capable at first of eternal joy, and though now disordered, still, through the recuperative force of heavenly grace, able to mount up to more than its original felicity. Thus has God adapted everything to our comfort and advantage. But for the soul still higher adaptation; a fountain in which it may wash; a ladder by which it may climb; a song of endless triumph that it may sing; a crown of unfading light that it may wear. Christ came to save it--came with a cross on His back; came when no one else would come, to do a work which no one else would do. See how suited to man’s condition is what God has done for him! Man is a sinner; here is pardon. He has lost God’s image; Christ retraces it. Jesus, I sing Thy grace! Cure of worst disease! Hammer to smite off heaviest chain! Light for thickest darkness! Grace Divine! Devils scoff at it, and men reject it, but heaven celebrates it! Then let us, as well we may, celebrate the mercies of the past year, and reviewing them all, confess, yea, “the earth is full of the goodness of the Lord. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
Earth’s brighter side
“The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.” When we learn from astronomy something about the grand scale upon which the universe is made, and when, by looking into the mind and heart of man, we behold what powers are hidden there, we ought at once to suspect that the career of man is projected upon a grand scale, and that the “goodness of the Lord” is ready to reveal itself in the phenomenon of human life. The fact that there is “goodness of God” in this world does not warrant us in expecting to find it everywhere. AEneas and his companions roamed through a large forest many a mile before they saw the tree that bore the limb of solid gold. They had become discouraged. Their eyes were weary of the long looking, but at last they saw the yellow among the green, and soon held in their hand the bough before which the gates of heaven were to fly open. The “goodness of God” does not lie easily found; it may not lie on every hand like mere dust or lifeless stone, but all reason and all revelation assure us that somewhere in the great forest the golden bough is growing, and before the patient wanderer through the deep shade suddenly will flash up the magic branch that will open to him all the best gates of earth and sky. Making the assumed character of God our measuring line, the “happy life” of man must be only a kind of high life. There may be tears at last in such a career. All the earth will at least expire in grief, even if it does not live in it. But the life that shall come nearest to happiness, and whose tears shall burn least, and shall mingle ecstasy with sadness, shall always be the “high life” of education and morality. In the arts, those who are entitled to speak in that domain make constant use of the terms “high” and “low art.” They seem to mean that the art is “high” when it presents pure and large thoughts, and when the execution by the hand is worthy of the thought. In walking through a gallery not long since, a great critic remarked, “There is fine work, but no subject. The execution is wonderful, the subject contemptible.” When we walk along the great scenes of earth, and behold a man absorbed in mere money-getting, or office-seeking, or in vice, we may say there is fine work, but no subject; a fine cutting of good marble to produce a figure of no possible significance. If ever we shall get any good out of these threescore years, it will be by the formula of the artists, and there is a “high life,” a doing of good work to bring out good ideas. Indeed, the fine arts are nothing else than a corner of man’s continent. They are the soul expressing a part of itself in marble, or painting, or music, or architecture. What sublimity there is in the great architecture of the world, and in the heights and depths of its music! But do these arts consume all that is noble in man? Has he no greatness left? Oh, what narrow, frail creatures we are! A high life is as possible as a high art. Moral beauty is as possible as material beauty; and in his “Dialogue” Plato said, “Great is the destiny of the soul that passes from the beauty of the world to the beauty of God.” Let us, however, turn from the theory of earth’s goodness to some survey of the fact. Wherever a heart is turned aside from mere sensuality, from the life of a mere brute, this earth has responded to the better aspiration and has shown its willingness to lead onward and upward each nobly ambitious soul. When Socrates, and Plato, and Care, and Seneca appealed to earth for something better than the vices of the sensualist, or the bloody fame of a conqueror, our little star heard their petition and covered them with gifts of mind and soul that will always surpass estimate. When Antonine the Pious asked our world if it had no power except that of wickedness, and no pleasure but vice, it answered him by bestowing upon him the crown of piety, and by filling him with the rapture of prayer. Pliny found this world large and beautiful. It was only too full of sublimity. All its truths lay before him as coloured shells upon the beach. In those days there was an illustrious company of mortals to whom earth was by no means small or unworthy. Looking back upon their lives, seeing their greatness of mind and of spirit, and recalling in what homes and in what libraries, and amid what poetry and eloquence and art they passed their days, we cannot but feel that the “goodness of God” lay all around them like a robe of joy and light. They may not have perceived nor felt deeply enough this infinite kindness, but if so that was not the first nor last time wherein the human heart has been happy without knowing from what fountain its joys have come. From these reflections may we not infer that there is in this world, so denounced and so mistrusted, a form of higher life--a life of honour, of education, of love, of Christianity--which may answer all who complain and who distrust, and may make our earth seem all full of the goodness of God? There may be gems hero for us all, only we are seeking for them upon the wrong shore. The past forms of human excellence indicate the fact that happiness cannot be found in things external to the soul. None of the glory of man to which we have alluded has come from property, or from fame, or from transient passions, but from the furniture of the mind and from the impulses and powers of the heart. From a survey of history, from an hour spent over the memory of all the illustrious ones in science and benevolence and religion, from a communion (even the briefest) with such a human-Divine being as Christ, the inference comes irresistibly that when earth is made the theatre of a conscientious and enlightened soul, struggling not toward riches but toward the useful and the good, then it suddenly beams out a star of the first magnitude. It no longer seems a burnt-up world, forsaken and forgotten of its Maker, but seems a chariot, with Christ standing beside the traveller, and with the wheels rolling across the open plain between time and eternity. (D. Swing, D. D.)
The goodness of God
Goodness is a very comprehensive quality. It is love, kindness, benevolence, that which leads you to wish well and to do good to those around you; and the earth is full of the goodness of the Lord because it is so full of His works and Ways, which are the fruits and manifestations of His goodness.
I. the formation of the earth snows the goodness of God. It is like a book, it contains geological leaves which proclaim its history. We read what it has been and what it might have been, as well as what it is. The various forms of life which have appeared upon it have just been introduced at those stages which were adapted to the structure of their being. We are created amid conditions that are just suited to our life, and fitted to make us happy. The light is just suited to the eye, the ear to the atmosphere.
II. The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord, when we consider how full it is of various forms of life. Objects that we despise and trample beneath our feet, and forms of life that cannot be seen with the naked eye are all fearfully and wonderfully made. The microscope, which reveals to you the coarseness and the defects of man’s finest works, only reveals to you more clearly and strikingly the wonderful delicacy, and harmony, and beauty of the works of God. And how many forms of life only come into existence during the sunny months or hours that are fitted to make life a luxury, and then depart when it would be a pain.
III. the ample provision which he is constantly making for all our wants, He daily spreads a feast before every living thing (Psalms 104:21; Psalms 145:15-16). What goodness the seasons annually reveal to us. Food might have been provided to sustain the life of the body without imparting anything like pleasure in the use of it. But at every stage of its preparation and use it ministers to our enjoyment. There is the blade, the ear, and the waving corn, the leaves, the flowers, the pendent fruit, which harbinger its approach, and which are a beauty and a joy. Then there is the scent which greets the sense of Smell, and the pleasant taste which gives a relish to food; visions of beauty for the eye, and music for the ear.
IV. the social relationships which he has instituted, such as family and friendly ties. The instincts and passions, the love and moral emotions which crave these relationships, are of God. Human happiness chiefly springs from these relationships. Who can estimate the amount of happiness there is to-day, not only in the homes of the Christian and the civilized portion of the world, but also in the kraal of the Caffre, the wigwam of the Hottentot, and the hole of the Esquimaux? Even the savage and the wild boast are charmed and tamed and pleased by love for each other and family ties and social intercourse, oven though the home in which they are gathered is only a lair or a den.
V. the way in which this life is made a school and a state of discipline for the life that is to come. This is not our permanent home; it is only a place in which we are being prepared for a future state. School is good for a child, though the task is often a galling yoke; and so the discipline of suffering is good for man, though at the time it be net joyous hut grievous. There is much from which we shrink in all the trials and adversities and bereavements of life; but Job may be a much better man when he comes out of this furnace than he was when he entered into it.
VI. the ample provision which he has made to take away our sins. Mercy is one of the sublimest forms of goodness. The earth is full of this goodness, because there is no nation, tribe, or individual excluded from it. Conclusion.
1. The goodness of God ought to be one of the strongest barriers that can be raised up against sin.
2. The goodness of God should lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4).
3. The goodness of God to us should lead us to be good to others.
4. The goodness of God to us in this world ought to inspire us with confidence in His goodness to us in the world to come. The nearer you are to God here the greater is your bliss. Then why should you not say and sing, even as you are passing through the dark valley to the land that is beyond: “In Thy presence is fulness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore”? (A. Clark.)
The earth “a sphere of Divine goodness
I. follow out some thoughts which this statement suggests.
1. Think of the general arrangements of the natural system around us. We may well be impressed by that beauty which God has spread as a mantle over the face of Nature; the loveliness of fields, and trees, and flowers; the dark blue of the sky, as contrasted with the soft greenness of the objects more immediately around us, and which it solaces the eye to gaze upon. But there is also utility. Everything has its use, and is in subserviency to the ends of the system to which it belongs. Then, the productiveness of the earth. What a storehouse it is for all the necessities of the creatures. And the more we come to know in detail of the manner in which the provision is made, the more wondrous do creating wisdom, and providential goodness appear.
2. All this especially appears in what respects the human family. Each land and each district has its resources for sustenance in the different products of the earth, and the various tribes of animals created for the food of man. The vast diversity is a marvellous display of the wisdom and goodness of God. Fuel also is provided; and provided, in part, by processes which have been going on for ages and ages, apparently before man dwelt upon the earth. Mighty convulsions were all overruled as the means of furnishing us with the coal that warms us, and which maintains those schemes of manufacturing industry on which the prosperity of many lands, and emphatically of our own, so much depends. And where this is deficient, or altogether wanting, great accumulations of wood subserve the same end, the trees of the forest furnishing a perpetually renewed and probably inexhaustible supply. Where again this is too scarce or too costly, the mountaineer on the lofty hill-side, or on the upland moor, may be seen gathering in the peat or turf which warms his cottage home during winter’s cold. Thus is provision made for the sustenance and, to a great extent, the comfort of men wherever their lot is cast. Over the face of the earth you see men loving their native land. Yet what a blessing, on the other hand, is the law of change! What vast benefit springs from it! When mind and body are wearied, what unspeakable refreshment comes from new scenes and associations, and the invigorating air of the hills or of the seal Thus the body rests, nervous energy is repaired, and the mind is re-invigorated for new effort or toil. Then, in God’s institutions respecting domestic life, with the beautiful charities which arise out of them and adorn them, how Divine goodness further appears! Doubtless there is much of sorrow in the earth. It entered in the train of sin. Thorns and briars, storms and tempests, disease, bereavement etc. But the triumphs of Divine goodness are seen amidst these sources of sadness. It regulates and apportions them as to the measure in which they appear. It mitigates them, too, by compensating arrangements such as the compassion which it has implanted in the human bosom, and which teaches us to sympathize with and help one another, and markedly that law by whose operation time exerts a healing influence. Above all, it does so by making pain and grief subservient to moral improvement, so that “by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.”
II. how anxious we should be that the world, which is so full of God’s goodness, should also be the region of his praise! We see the material creation everywhere teeming with the manifestations of His care for us. What displays of this, too, have all had in their own personal history. If, then, God has made the world, which is the scene of our probation, so bright and beautiful, and if His interpositions in delivering from danger and from death have been so many and so gracious, shall not all our hearts be responsive to such goodness? All reason surely is with the psalmist (Psalms 119:64). And whilst this applies to the individual, how it applies also to the world generally, and to universal man! Away in many of the most beautiful parts of that earth which is “full of the goodness of the Lord,” men wander in ignorance, superstition and sin. What a sphere for our sympathies and prayers! (E. T. Prust.)
The goodness of God in little things
I. the inanimate part of God’s creation.
1. The light. How kind in the Creator to make it pleasant. Dwellers in polar regions, as their six months’ night draws to an end, often put on their richest apparel and climb to the highest mountains, and salute with acclamations of joy the first rays of returning day. Let us be thankful for the sweet light.
2. The atmosphere which envelops us. How wise and how good that it should surround us on all sides, and yet not obstruct our sight; that it should press upon us with a weight of fifteen pounds to the square inch, and yet we be not crushed or burdened by it; that though softer than the finest down, it should yet waft the fleets of nations; that it both warms and cools the earth; that it both draws up the vapours and throws them down; that it breathes both in the north wind’s blasts and in the gales of the sunny south; and that it” both receives the noxious exhalations everywhere emitted, and yet affords for our lungs the pure air which vivifies and warms our frames. Let us be thankful for this daily benefit.
3. Water. In the form of the ocean, it is at once the proud highway of nations, and the play-ground of leviathan: the storehouse of man’s nourishment, and the great cooler and purifier of the dusty earth. And how good in God that He hath set its bounds so that it cannot pass. In the form of clouds it tempers the force of the fiery sun, and fills the reservoirs of the skies, and drapes the heavens with curtains of gorgeous hues. And how good in God to let it down gently, as from a watering-pot, instead of pouring it down all at once, to overwhelm and destroy.
4. Flowers. A little child, bounding forth one early spring morning, from a country cottage, cried out, “Look, pa, God has sent us three dandelions!” Was not that a beautiful and becoming thought?
5. The grasses of the hills and meadows. How different if the ground were everywhere dark and naked! The spires of grass are little things, and yet but for them we had not the blessed fields, with their walks in silent, scented paths, and the joy of herds and flocks, and the downy banks and knolls, and the emerald slopes that fringe the lakes and rivers, and the peaceful lawns where fall the sounds of loving voices.
6. The changes of the seasons. How monotonous if we had the same climate the year round! What diversity comes from these changes! Each season is lovely, and illustrative of the beneficence of the Preserver of man.
7. The succession of day and night. Each day we behold the rising of the sun. Aurora has never once failed, during so many ages, to announce his approach; and he knoweth his going down. Thus does he enlighten both sides of the globe, and shed his rays on all. Thus have we the day for toil--long enough to exhaust the physical energies, and call for repose; and then night comes, of sufficient length H recruit those energies. George Herbert sings of “dear night” as “the stop to busy fools,” and as “care’s check and curb.” Think of the accelerating swiftness of care, and pleasure, and wickedness, going on without interruption. What would the mad and anxious world come to, if night did not put on the brake, and fetch things to a standstill?
8. The endless forms of beauty which we meet. It is said of Linnaeus, the great Swedish botanist, that on first seeing a certain plant, he fell on his knees and thanked God for thus beautifying the earth. How much beauty do we see around us every day, and yet for this how seldom are our hearts lifted in gratitude to Him who hath made all things lovely to behold.
II. the animate but unintelligent part of creation. What object could God have had in creating these innumerable ranks of sensitive existence, except that they might taste His bounty, and enjoy a happiness peculiar to their state? Because dead matter was incapable of delight, and because the eternal Sovereign would exercise His superabundant goodness, therefore hath lie stocked the world, and worlds upon worlds, with ten thousand times ten thousands of living creatures, that His table might be filled with millions of guests, whose mouths and whose hearts He might every hour and every moment fill with food and gladness. Moreover, how kind in God to care for every one of the millions upon millions of this great needy family of His; expending upon each one an equal care, so that the least insect, living but one brief hour, does not fail of his portion. And how kind to provide for all without their labour--for it is a just remark of Pierre, that there exists not a single animal but what is lodged, clothed, and fed by the hand of Providence--without care, and almost without labour. And yet, again, how kind and wise to cause each one to subserve some useful purpose to man; making even the little flies and all the winged insects to act as scavengers, by taking up and carrying off the surplus effete matter in the vegetable creation; and all the little ground-mice and earth-worms to act as Nature’s ploughmen, or as sappers and miners boring in all directions into the stubborn soil, thus rendering it pervious to air and rain and the roots of plants!
III. the intelligent world--ourselves.
1. Our outfit, our endowments. A body, fearfully and wonderfully made; heart, muscles, ears, etc. The mind, with its subtle powers of consciousness, and reflection, and reasoning; and memory, and imagination--each faculty displaying the Divine goodness. And the same of the several senses--of sight, hearing, taste, touch, smell. And what an endowment is the gift of speech, by which we may reciprocate thought and feeling, and become acquainted one with another!
2. How every thing is contrived and adjusted to secure our comfort and good. What a mercy that many functions of the body, such as breathing, digestion, the circulation of the blood, etc., are performed involuntarily; so that they go forward without our bidding or attention! And how merciful the provisions for gratifying the senses--eye, ear, etc. Another merciful provision is the social relations.
3. Think also of God’s hourly deliverances. A man, riding down a steep hill, and reaching the bottom, said to one whom he met there, “I have had a wonderful deliverance.” “What is it?” he asked. “Why, my horse stumbled on that hill, and I was thrown over his head and not harmed.” “Indeed,” said the man, “I have had many a greater deliverance on that hill than that.” “And how? . . . Why, I have ridden down that hill hundreds of times, and my horse has never so much as stumbled one!” The moral is plain--but how do we forget it! (H. C. Fish, D. D.)
The earth full of God’s goodness
1. The goodness of God is seen in the productiveness of Nature. It is so natural to see the bread on the table, that we do not think of the subtle agencies at work in the production of the corn; how light and heat, rain and dew, and the fruitful qualities of the soil, all helped on the final result. The hard rock has been pulverized, and mixed with the dead matter of former living things, to make a fruitful soil. The sea has given of its moisture, and the sun has drawn the vapour into the upper air. The atmosphere has balanced the pregnant clouds, winds have wafted them to thirsty lands, mountains and hills have condensed them into rain. The sun also has poured down a daily stream of warmth and light, and the evening has witnessed the gentle distilling of the dew.
2. Man himself is not more wonderfully made than is the earth adapted to be his dwelling-place. He can live almost anywhere, for go where he will, he nearly always finds Nature producing the wherewithal to supply his wants. And in this abundant provision God’s goodness is shown, just as a parent’s goodness is shown towards his child in his anxiety to meet his child’s wants. It shows how provident and thoughtful, on our behalf, God has been.
3. God’s goodness is manifest, also, in the beauty of natural things. He has made the world fair enough to be the dwelling-place of angels.
4. We see God’s goodness manifested in the structure of human society. Man is compelled by the necessities of his nature to associate with his fellows. God has ordained it because in this way only could the highest joy possible to man be reached. He has made the law which governs His own life, to be the law which governs ours. Love is the law of God’s life--to live for others that He may bless them--and it is when this law is well and cheerfully observed that man’s life is most peaceful, most blessed, most akin to the life of God.
5. We behold the goodness of the Lord again in the sanctities of religion. He made our hearts capable of fellowship with His Spirit and has drawn near, so that we might receive helpful inspirations from His love. He has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, that men may feel His tenderness and be won by His grace; and, by the Incarnation of the Son of God, He has lifted our nature immeasurably nearer His own. (Joseph Bainton.)
The beneficence and benevolence of God
Our sources of knowledge of the beneficence and benevolence of God, are--
1. The earth, its inhabitants; the atmosphere, and the ruling orbs of day and night; the construction of man and of all animals, and the provisions for their sustenance and safety.
2. The fixed laws by which they are all governed; the freedom of mind with which man was created and is still endowed; as entering essentially into the explanation of apparent difficulties in the Divine providence by which he is ruled.
3. The discoveries of men, scientific, moral, and philosophical, in the remotest ages, and the revelation of God and of His works which we have in the writers of the Old Testament; and especially the authoritative teaching of Jesus Christ. The testimony of our own consciences, and the trusty evidence of intelligent, thoughtful, and religious minds, competent to give information and opinion upon the subject. (R. Ainslie.)
All goodness comes from God
Did it never strike you, asks Kingsley, that all the goodness in the world must, in some way or other, come from God? When we see the million raindrops of the shower, we say, with reason, there must be one great sea, from which all these drops have come. When we see the countless rays of light, we say, with reason, there must be one great central sun, from which all these are shed forth. And when we see countless drops and countless rays of goodness scattered about in the world, a little good in this man, and a little good in that, shall we not say, there must be one great sea, one central sun of goodness, from whence all human goodness comes?
By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth.
The Biblical conception of Nature
For this, see the first chapter of Genesis. There are two opposite extremes into which our conceptions may fall.
1. We may immerse God in Nature, if we treat Nature as possessed of properties strictly personal. A very great deal of common language is vitiated by this blunder. But will is an attribute of personality, and Nature has not will.
2. We may unduly isolate Nature as God’s workmanship from God the worker. We do this if we regard the universe as teaching us’ nothing of God, being only a whirl of material change without spiritual meaning; or as if having only a given amount of force which will run down, like a watch. But against both of these note--
I. the world is God’s creation--a separate thing, therefore, and inferior to Himself. “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made.” Now a word serves two functions.
1. It is the organ of command, conveying an act of will.
2. It is the reflection of the speaker’s self, revealing his nature. The great fact of the whole ancient world was this, that its multiform religions started from a nature basis. The sun and stars, the reproductive forces of animal and vegetable life, the decay and revival of the year, was the common fact which very early riveted the attention of primitive man, till out of it there grew up in many lands, under many shapes, a system of religious observance everywhere the same in principle. Plainly this system of religion started from the Bible truth that Nature is a revelation of God. By degrees, no doubt, the Divine idea became obscured. The sense of Nature’s unity grew feeble. Men came to see not so much one God speaking through all His creatures, as rather a separate morsel of divinity inherent in each separate creature. From using the sun, or the dawn, or the sky, or the spring, as a symbol only for that Invisible Being whose thoughts these objects revealed, men began to adore the symbol, and to forget the Invisible Person behind it. Easy and rapid was the downward plane to idolatry and polytheism and gross fetish-worship. Yet what is worth noting is, that such Nature-religions would have been impossible had not Nature really spoken to unsophisticated men a Divine message. This, be it remembered, was a very different thing from that cold logical argument of the modern theist, who infers a Designer from the observed facts of science. Not to the reason, so much as to the intuition, of early man did Nature address itself. It spoke poetry, not logic. We are far enough removed now from that early stage of human experience. The world is grown, and its work is not to worship Nature, but to master it. But we can only do this by observing the laws by which its Creator governs it. Thus both ancient nature worship, and modern nature study, both depend upon the fact that Nature, being God’s Word, speaks to us His thoughts.
II. Now compare the moral revelation with this of nature.
1. It starts from and builds upon the revelation of Nature.
2. It can only be understood if God be above Nature and yet present, self-revealed in Nature.
3. It agrees with the old. In absolute unity of plan. In orderly plan and obedience to fixed law. In the slowness and even laboriousness of the processes of its growth. In the stern maintenance of law, avenging all transgression.
4. But the Gospel goes on beyond and tells of redemption through our Lord Jesus Christ. (J. Oswald Dykes, D. D.)
He gathereth the waters . . . as an heap.--The old versions and interpreters read ‘ as in a bottle” for “as an heap,” vocalizing the text differently from the present pointing; but there seems to be an allusion to the wall of waters at the passage of the Red Sea, the same word being used in Miriam’s song; with “depths” in the next clause, there as here (Exodus 15:8). What is meant, however, here, is the separation of land and water at first, and possibly the continuance of the same power keeping them still apart, since the verbs in verse 7 are participles, which imply continued action. The image of “an heap” is probably due to the same optical delusion which has coined the expression “the high seas,” since, to an eye looking seawards from the beach, the level waters seem to rise as they recede; or it may merely express the gathering together in a mass. Away out there, in that ocean of which the Hebrews knew so little, were unplumbed depths in which, as in vast storehouses, the abundance of the sea was shut up, and the ever-present Word which made them at first was to them instead of bolts and bars. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Let all the earth fear the Lord.
The nature and influence of the fear of God
I. what is the proper awe and fear which is due from man to God? Distinguish between a servile or superstitious, and a filial or religious fear. The former we are to avoid as a dishonour to God; the latter we are obliged to as an indispensable duty, the true spring and motive of our Christian obedience.
II. some considerations which ought to possess our souls with this affection towards the deity. Can we reflect on the infinite knowledge and omnipresence of God, and not stand in awe of that Being from whom even the most secret thoughts and intentions of the heart are not concealed? Or, can we remember that He is infinitely just, without a religious concern for the event of that day, when we must appear before His impartial tribunal? But the attribute which especially demands this affection from us is His power. None can resist or interrupt the execution of His will; He has power to save, and power to destroy; nor is He accountable to any for His dominion over us. But these arguments arising from the perfections of the Deity will yet more effectually possess us with this reverence, if at the same time we reflect with a just humility on ourselves. That we are indigent, defenceless beings; the dependants of His providence; so far as we know, the lowest of all intelligent beings, whose strength is weakness, and whose wisdom is folly. And, what is yet a more mortifying consideration, we have provoked this Almighty Power by our sins; have affronted His goodness, despised His counsel, and rebelled against His authority.
III. the influence this affection will have on the conduct of our lives. In general, the effect of this fear will be a sincere, universal obedience to the commands of God. The awe of His majesty will keep us from presumption, and the promises of His mercy from despair: for, as is His majesty, so is His mercy. If this principle were thoroughly fixed in the minds of men, we should be ashamed of hypocrisy, and tremble at profaneness; neither hope our treachery could escape the notice, nor our blasphemies the vengeance of God. This affection will give warmth to our zeal, and spirit to our devotion; will animate our faith, enliven our hope, and extend our charity; will deter us from sin, and encourage us in our duty. (J. Rogers, D. D.)
The Lord bringeth the counsel of the heathen to nought; He maketh the devices of the people of none effect.
Providential deliverances from slavery
This psalm is a psalm of praise and thanksgiving upon the subject of God’s works of creation and providence; and the author seems in his enumeration of the works of God to equal the wonders of Providence with those of Creation (Psalms 33:6). Now the psalmist thus joins them together because of the deliverances that he and his people had experienced. And we as a nation have known like deliverances.
1. The providence of God presides over and governs all things, and has a peculiar influence upon all the great events that happen unto men.
2. This, as it is observable in all the great periods of every particular man’s life, so it is more especially and remarkably true, in respect of such events, wherein the fates of whole nations and kingdoms are concerned. (J. Clarke, D. D.)
Divine and human purpose
The wicked meet with a large measure of success in this world. Their success, however, does little for them after all. It does not put them in possession of solid and lasting happiness, and this may be said to be their highest aim. Their power, moreover, IS very limited at the best, and in all directions, and they are not longer lived than others. God has absolute power over them. He has so arranged, and so administers affairs, that we may describe them as circum-hedged. Neither singly nor collectively can creatures carry anything against the Divine will or power. “Counsel” or purpose may be defined--a decision or determination of the will; and purposes may be divided into good, bad, and indifferent. Practically, they may be so divided; and it is almost unnecessary to remark that good purposes never conflict with the purposes of God. He approves of them, and is on the side of all good purposes. It is bad purposes of which God disapproves, and in proportion to their inherent badness; but the badness of a purpose, let it be distinctly noted, is no proof that it clashes with the purposes of God. If it were, it would follow that not one bad purpose formed by man had ever been or could be executed; but what is the fact? Countless millions of bad purposes have been successfully carried out, and are being carried out every day all over the world. Baffled they frequently are, but by no means always. Indeed, if we had our way, they would be baffled a great deal oftener; but God’s thoughts and ways are not as our thoughts and ways. They are high above ours as heaven is above the earth. A young man, let us suppose, makes up his mind to rob his employer, and it is not long till the sinful purpose is put into execution. Query--What was God’s relation to the purpose? With the utmost ease God could have deprived him of the opportunity and the power to rob his employer. What God purposed was that, while disapproving of the purpose to rob, He would per[nit the execution of it, or not interfere by the exercise of His omnipotence to hinder its execution. Whenever the purpose of God crosses the line of human purposes, be they the purposes of one person, or any number of persons in combination, it presents an insuperable barrier--a barrier which can neither be swept away nor overleapt. As well may we essay to pluck a star from the firmament or dry up the bed of the sea, as essay to frustrate or modify or delay the fulfilment of the Divine purposes, for they are the purposes of a Being whose knowledge and power are absolute, and who can take these words into His mouth, “I am the Lord, I change not.” (G. Cron.)
The counsel of the Lord standeth for ever.
The immutability of God’s counsels
Let us make some remarks.
I. upon the divine counsels generally. There are such, and they show--
1. That God concerns Himself with our world.
2. They are of deliberation and wise purpose. Of the works of God in the material world we may indeed say, “In wisdom hast Thou made them all.” How vast and orderly is the frame of the world! But in Nature, wonderful as are these operations, there is nothing to resist, to repel, to dispute. All are His servants, and every thing fulfils His word. He saith to one, Go, and it goeth; to another, Come, and it cometh. But in His moral kingdom we see a world in rebellion. There is not a principle naturally in our hearts, but it is a rebel principle also. Every affection, every will, is ready to start up in defiance, wrestling with His authority, and pursuing a course contrary to His commands. If His government were one of rigid justice only, there would be no difficulty here. But judgment is “His strange work,” and mercy the delight of His administration. The counsel, in this case, is to make good triumph over evil, and evil itself the occasion of good. How adorable is that wisdom which, influenced by goodness, wins back a rebellious heart to love and obedience without violence to its freedom! which makes our very “wickedness to correct us, and our backslidings to reprove us!” and which, finally, although by the mysterious permission of evil, sin hath abounded, yet makes grace much more abound; so that, “as sin hath reigned unto death, even so doth grace reign, through righteousness, unto eternal life, by Jesus Christ our Lord!” Well may we say, with St. Paul, when one branch of this great subject was before him, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!”
3. They are supreme and uncontrollable. This it is which gives to good men so entire and joyful a confidence: “There is no wisdom, nor understanding, nor counsel against the Lord.”
II. But our text calls us to consider the stability of the divine counsels. “They shall stand for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations.” We may illustrate this--
1. By ancient instances of the fulfilment of delayed purposes. See the birth of Isaac, long promised, given at last. The promised seed of the woman--how long before that appeared.
2. The steadfastness of His holy law. He never swerves from it. Go to the right hand or to the left, and you fall not only into a sin, but into a peril or a misery. Other maxims deceive: His never.
3. The constant connection of painful fear and misery with sin.
4. The established order of human salvation. I see man in all ages a sinner and miserable. But there is hope for him. He was forgiven, and assured, and became both a justified and a holy man. Ages have since elapsed, but every pardoned and accepted sinner has been saved in the same way. (R. Watson.)
The counsel of the Lord
I. How blessed is it to have a personal revelation of God in the character of his son. His majesty and mercy are revealed in Christ, tested in honour and ignominy, in power and in pain. There is uniformity and radiance, a joy and rest to man in this revelation of God’s character and counsel.
II. No knowledge is so important and so practical as that of God’s plan. None so personally, universally and eternally affects us. In this plan happiness is made to correspond with piety, sorrow with sin, and the plan works with certainty; inexorable, yet simple. The force that binds the moon to the earth and the earth to Sirius is simple but sure. So in the sweep of the ages, God’s truth standeth for ever and the thoughts of His heart to all generations. Eternity itself shall emphasize and illustrate it.
III. in the development of this plan we may expect surprises to us. The plan is eternal. We are of yesterday. You admire mosaic painting for the beauty of its tint, the free, flowing majesty and grace, the delicacy and beauty of its delineations. But should a child in the artist’s studio take up a bit of ruby, turquoise, agate or pearl, and ask you what its relation was to the scene depicted--the Crucifixion or Resurrection perhaps--it might not be easy for you to explain its use, or mark its place till the master’s work was complete. When Jerusalem was razed, the early Christians were surprised and alarmed. But that event led to the spread of the Gospel, just as the Jewish act of homicide end decide instrumentally led to man’s salvation. So each event in God’s plan has its place as each capital and gargoyle has its fitting location in the cathedral. (R. H. Storrs.)
The thoughts of His heart to all generations.--
God thinks of us, and He intends that we in return should think of Him. And for us to do this rightly is true religion. What condescension and kindness are shown in God’s thinking of us. “I know the thoughts that I have toward you that they are good and not evil.”
I. the nature of God’s thoughts. All existence is the embodiment of God’s thought, but it is only as He reveals His thoughts to us that we can form any conception of them. And He has done this. The Bible is the unfolding of God’s thoughts to us as they bear on our recovery from bondage and sin. And every one desires to know what are God’s thoughts upon our sin. The sense of guilt is universal. Now God tells us that His thoughts are set on our salvation. None but He could have introduced a plan of restoration like that which the Gospel brings. And His thought includes our regeneration and renewal as well as our forgiveness. For they include the promise of the Holy Ghost. How precious, then, are God’s thoughts unto us.
II. the permanence of God’s covenant. It “standeth for ever.” (John Glanville.)
I. God has thoughts.
1. Independent--in their origin, character, manifestation.
2. Complete: they grasp the whole of a thing, and the whole of all things.
3. Unsuccessive: one thought does not start another, as in our ease.
II. God has thoughts for humanity. Three things are necessary before humanity can get any benefit from his thoughts--
1. God must reveal them. Unless He express them we shall never know them.
2. There must be a capacity to appreciate them. Without this capacity the revelation is useless.
3. There must be meditation. We cannot reach the great thoughts of a great man without study; how, then, can we expect to attain the thoughts of God without it?
III. God’s thoughts for humanity are permanent.
1. Because they embody absolute truths. They will always be what they are; they never can change.
2. Because they will ever be congruous with the moral nature. They are to the moral nature what air and water are to the body, fitted for it, and necessary to it, Without them it will die. (Homilist.)
Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.
This text holds in its grasp the secret of our own national prosperity and superiority among the nations of the world--if we have such--and its teaching, if departed from by this nation, will cause our present glory to depart like the glory of ancient Rome, or Sidon, or Tyre.
I. When the text states that the nation is blessed whose God is the Lord, and when we say to you that religion is the promoter of peace and prosperity, and the only foundation for our national permanence, the infidelity of our times and your knowledge of things suggest, that there have been nations that have been destroyed, and that are now oppressed because of their religion, Then let us carefully distinguish. There are many religions, but only one Christianity, and therefore we use the word religion; we use it because by general acceptation it has come to represent in our land and to our thoughts Christianity or the religion of Christ, and when we have drawn this distinction we must not forget that much that has come to the world in the name of Christianity is not of Christianity. You think of the cruelties, of the superstitions, and of the fanaticisms that are abroad in the world and doing their work in the name of religion, and you say, “These are not a blessing to the nation, these are a curse.” Very true. “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.” While this is but another announcement that religion is the power that elevates and blesses a nation, we will not forget that men in the past have gone forth armed with the civil sword, destroying all who doubted the truth of their systems; they have placed violence before demonstration, and have sought to establish the truth of religion as a Mohammed would establish the doctrine of the Koran. Spain and France and Italy, and Scotland and England, have each and all felt the power of the sword, the axe, and the torch in the name of religion. No, this is not the religion that blesses a nation. The religion that blesses the nation is forbearing to error and heresy; it is kind and patient and gentle; its grand characteristic is benevolence and fraternal love.
II. In discussing the blessings that come to a nation by the acceptance of religion, blessings that can come through no other medium, I do not mean to say that there are no instances of the great advancement of nations that hare not been regulated by religion, Infidelity is ever ready to point us to Egypt, to Persia, to Assyria, and to Old Greece and Rome, and say, “These were all great nations, prosperous nations, without your religion.” This I readily acknowledge, but a careful study of the history of these nations will show that their false religions contained some principles of rectitude in common with our holy religion, and in the practice of these principles great prosperity came to them and continued with them until they departed from those principles; then did their power and their glory depart from them. Would you know the secret of Egypt’s glory for ages and ages? “The father of history” tolls us that such was the spirit of benevolence in Egypt that he who refused to assist the suffering when he had it in his power to do so was punished with death. When an Egyptian died a session was called to inquire how he had spent his life, so that true merit should have its full mead of public praise, and that all due respect might be paid to his memory. Her amusements were ordered for the strengthening of the bodies and the improvement of the minds of her subjects. Her proverbs called life a vanity, the homes of her people inns, in which they served to lodge for a night, and their sepulchres habitations in which they were to abide for ages. DO you wonder that Egypt became great? In Persia a falsehood--even a political falsehood--was considered in the most horrid light, and a liar was looked upon as the meanest and most disgraceful of men. Persia conferred favours on the nations she conquered, and left them to enjoy all the emblems of their former grandeur. She educated her children so wisely that they were taught virtue even as other children were taught letters, and grief was prohibited for such youths as were of sufficient strength and had reached proper years and yet died uneducated. Do you wonder that Persia became great? Rome in her best days bent all her energies for the general good, so that the best of everything was reserved for the public--temples, baths, highways, aqueducts--all looked toward the nation’s good and the nation’s glory, and were the most magnificent, while all things for the use of the individual citizen were plain and unpretentious. “A citizen, of Rome who would present any product of the soil for sale that proved inferior to what he commended it to be, said citizen would lose his credit in all the marts in Rome and would lay himself liable to be whipped in the marketplace.” And this law that applied to the products of the soil applied equally to all branches of trade. The motto was, “No citizen of Rome must in any way wrong his brother citizen.” Do you wonder that Rome became great? It will be seen that those nations, though they did not make the Lord their God, and though they were nations with false religions, yet those false religions did contain some principles of righteousness in common with our holy religion, and these principles were the fountains of their success.
III. there are supposed blessings, and there is a shrine of desired prosperity that is better promoted without than with the religion my text commends. There are instances in which state crimes have been successful, and have been made the steps to worldly glory. There have been times when virtue was considered an obstacle to grandeur, when worldly heroes were exalted and tyrants were elevated; instances when wanton and arbitrary power marched with burning torch across the world and demanded of the peoples submission to a yoke of slavery that made them inferior to the beasts of the field. If such nations, such peoples, such rulers may be called blessed and prospered, they were obliged to ride over every principle of our holy religion to clasp that prosperity.
IV. the reasons why that nation is blessed whose God is the Lord will readily appear when we consider the principles on which the peace and prosperity of society is builded. IS it necessary that the good of the many should be prepared before the interests of the few, and where private interests clash with the public good, the public good should prevail? Is it necessary for the peace and prosperity of society that all the members of that society shall consider themselves naturally equal before the law, and that, without regard to country or colour, each shall receive the succour and protection that the law affords? Is it necessary that there should be sincerity between man and man lest deceit should serve for a veil to conceal the evil doings of the wicked from the eyes of the just? Is it necessary for the highest and best good of society that each member cultivate to the utmost his own talents and then seek to use those talents for the general good of the whole society? Then what shall so inculcate these principles as the religion my text commends?
V. If we consider the various forms of government we shall find that each nation will be happy or miserable in its own mode of governing according as it shall have accepted or rejected the principles of religion. It requires more than a form of government; more than extensive territories; more than millions of population to make a strong, blessed and a happy nation. Some nations have committed the supreme power to one whom they call a monarch. Other nations have committed the supreme power to a few magistrates, senators or nobles. Other nations have committed or distributed the supreme power among all the members of society, and they talk of a “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Each of these forms of government have their excellencies and their weaknesses; but each of them are a blessing or a curse in proportion as they accept or reject the principles of our holy religion.
VI. whatever enters into and constitutes the blessing and prosperity of a nation is cultivated by our holy religion. Commerce will flourish, because the principles of religion hold back the man of business from rash speculations, which ruin families and destroy whole communities, and, in a wider application, bring to a whole nation what is known as “hard times.” The men of business will possess such characters for truth-speaking and truth-dealing that general credit and confidence will be established, without which such a thing as commercial prosperity is Dot known. The mechanical arts will flourish, forasmuch as those who are prompted by religion will seek to improve all inventive genius for the welfare of the general public. All agricultural interests will flourish, and all mechanical appliances will lend arms of strength and hands of skill to the tillers of the soil, and the products of the soil will be all the richer, and the harvests all the more plenteous among that people who acknowledge that “the earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof.” All the liberal arts and sciences will flourish, and all their blessings will be poured out upon the nation whose God is the Lord. Rhetoric will find its inspiration in the burning Words and thoughts of prophet and psalmist. Painting will find inspiration in Moses’ mountain view, in angelic visitors, in the judgment day, when assembled worlds will be gathered at the call of the King Eternal; and on the Mount of Transfiguration, where heavenly visitors talk with Jesus, and enraptured disciples desire to tarry. Sculpture will find inspiration in Moses, and it will breathe such life into the marble that Angelo’s “Dead Christ” will make all beholders weep. Music will find inspiration in the subject of Creation, and of Elijah and of the Messiah. Haydn so sings to us of Creation that we are startled by the marching forth of worlds “when God says let there be worlds and there were worlds.” Mendelssohn so sings to us of Elijah that we hear the rumble of the chariot of fire, and the clatter of the hoofs of the horses of fire, as up the way of light the deathless prophet is borne to the city of God. Handel so sings to us of the Messiah, of His sufferings and of His death, that the heart feels indeed that “He was bruised for cur iniquities,” etc. If success in commerce, in the mechanical arts, in agriculture, and in the liberal arts and sciences constitute a nation blessed, then are the nations blessed whose God is the Lord. (W. Fawcett, D. D.)
Religion a nation’s true strength
Human society reposes on religion. Civilization without it would be like the lights that play in the northern sky--a momentary flash on the face of darkness ere it again settled into eternal night. Wit and wisdom, sublime poetry and lofty philosophy cannot save a nation, else ancient Greece had never perished. Valour, law, ambition, cannot preserve a people, else Rome had still been mistress of the world. The nation that loses faith in God and man loses not only its most precious jewel, but its most unifying and conserving force. (A. M. Fairbairn.)
He fashioneth their hearts alike.
The moral identity of human hearts
“He fashioneth their hearts alike.” All have certain instincts, passions, emotions with which conventional differences have nothing to do. “One touch of Nature makes the whole world kin.”
I. God hath fashioned our hearts alike in respect of this, that we are all self-conscious, I can think of myself as myself and no other--as one individual unit. I am myself a world, into which the great world cannot penetrate; and, in the light of my own consciousness, i am as effectually hidden as though I did not exist at all. And this does not break up the race. It unifies it. For it is the same with all.
II. In close connection with this we must take the moral sense, that is, the conviction that some things are right and some wrong. Take the rudest savage, one whose ideas as to what is right and what is wrong are all jumbled together; still he feels that there is a difference. In this also “God fashioneth our hearts alike.” Its universality makes it the foundation of law, the approver of right, and the avenger of wrong, even when human law fails to detect the criminal.
III. God has made us all for friendship, affection, mutual dependence and mutual help. God “setteth us in families.” None of us, king or subject, prince or peasant, is sufficient for himself. The whole civilization and beneficence of the world have sprung from this objective character of man. Give a man nothing to do, and he is miserable. Give a man nothing to love, and he is miserable.
IV. this outward seeking can never be fully satisfied with anything created. In order to full satisfaction it must go forward and upward to God. It calls for the infinite. In this sense, too, God “hath fashioned our hearts alike.” He has so made us that He Himself is necessary to us. “The eye is not satisfied with seeing,” and not all the resources of this manifold world can fill the void in the human heart, and lead it to say--“It is enough.” There is something unanswered still, and there ever will be till we rest in God. (A. L. Simpson, D. D)
Behold! the eye of the Lord is upon them that fear Him, upon them that hope in His mercy.
The eye of the Lord
“Behold!” It is a marked word in Scripture! Isaiah typifying the Christ that was to come, opens the glorious secret thus--“Behold My servant, whom I uphold; Mine Elect, in whom My soul delighteth: I will put My spirit upon Him; He shall bring forth judgment unto the Gentiles.” And, when that despicable creature Pilate brought forth the glorious, the insulted, and the suffering Jesus, his word was--“Behold! the man.” And so the Holy Ghost adopts this striking, telling word--“Behold[“ to captivate the heart with that which follows; giving a faithful description of She church in her chequered state of exercise and trial in all ages.
I. the character spoken of in the text--“them that fear Him.” Do you fear God? Another character is, “them that hope in his mercy.” Observe that word--“them that hope in His mercy.” That is enough! That is Christianity! But hope set up in a broken heart!
II. Upon all such is “the eye of the Lord.” Is that eye on you?
III. why the eye of the Lord is upon them--“to deliver their soul from death and to keep,” etc.
IV. the personal experience of the text. (J. J. West, M. A.)
Special pleading with the specially feeble
See the opposite in the text--fear and hope. They seem to be contradictions, but yet here they are together. That is a blessed state in which fear keeps the door and hope spreads the table; fear the watch-dog without and hope the lamp within. Then that hope in the Lord’s mercy may be the very least of His people, but they are His people, for His eye is upon them. Now, to those whose sole hope is hope in God’s mercy, we would say--
I. this hope is one, and only one. Let me ask--
1. Have you any hope in your own character? At once he replies, “None at all.” Now this is well, humbling as the admission is. O, self-truster, you are a living insult to the Cross of Christ.
2. Have you any hope in external ordinances?
3. Have you any trust in the priesthood of man?
4. In scientific discoveries? Now, to all these questions the answer is clear and explicit. He has no trust in them at all, but in Christ only. Then--
II. that this hope in Christ has good foundations. I rejoice in your sense of sin, but I lament your doubts of pardon; for consider--
1. The merciful character of God. His very name is love. And--
2. There is a gospel. There is forgiveness for the greatest sin. The very word “gospel” is full of the greatest hope for man.
3. Think of the life of the Lord Jesus hero on earth. Did He ever reject any who came to Him?
4. And of the Holy Spirit. He is provided to meet all your difficulties. And--
5. We may pray. It would be a wicked hoax if a man invited poor people to his house to receive charity, and then, when they came there, denied them relief, God does not deal with us so.
6. And how many have come to Christ and been moved by Him? I am one of them. I do not think that you are any worse than I was.
III. this hope may be yours. Let me try to chase away objections. “Oh,” say you, “I have been guilty of the worst of sins.” In the case of’ certain of you I do not believe it. You have enough to answer for without blackening yourself needlessly. But worse sinners than you have come to Christ. And may there not be a spice of rebellion against God in your humility, a little sullenness in it? Don’t put away Christ from you out of a proud despair. Accept His mercy as a commonplace sinner. And what good do you think your death, if He leaves you to perish, as you think He will, will do Him? And suppose, after all, you are one of His chosen, and that He has loved you all along, is it not sad that you should not love and trust him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Our soul waiteth for the Lord: He is our help and our shield.
Waiting for the Lord
I. the subject of the exercise--“our soul.” Not our souls, but “our soul.” Believers are said to be “of one soul.” Drops of water brought into contact will run into one. So with the souls of God’s people.
II. the exercise itself--waiting for the Lord. It includes conviction, desire, hope, patience.
III. the encouragement given--“He is our help and our shield.”
1. Their help. They need aid, and know their need.
2. Their shield, to defend from all the power of the adversary both from without and within. (W. Jay.)
A description of true worship
I. waiting on the Lord for a good reason (Psalms 33:20).
1. Waiting upon Him implies faith--faith in His existence; desire, a craving after some good; patience, biding His own good time. But how are you to wait on Him?
(1) Wholly. He must be waited upon in every event, purpose, action, and place. True worship is an all-pervading spirit, not an occasional feeling or service.
(2) Lovingly. It cannot be done perfunctorily or formally.
(3) Constantly. It is spirit running through the life, giving unity, meaning, and worth to existence.
2. Such is the waiting but what is the good reason? “He is our help and our shield.” A “shield.” If He be for us, who can be against us? God is our refuge and strength. A “help.” Life’s labours are arduous, life’s trials are heavy: He is the only effective helper in both. We will wait, therefore, on Him.
II. rejoicing in the lord for a good reason (Psalms 33:21).
1. True worship is joy--the only satisfactory and lasting joy of a moral intelligence. It is a rejoicing in His--
What is the good reason for rejoicing? “Because we have trusted in His holy name.” All joy is the fruit of that tree that is rooted in an unbounded confidence in God. All the streams that “make glad the city of our God” rise out of a settled faith in Him.
III. praying to the Lord for a good reason (Psalms 33:22).
1. Were we innocent sufferers, we should pray for justice, not mercy; but we are sinful, and mercy is what we require: mercy to pardon, to cleanse, and to qualify us for the high service and fellowship of the Holy One.
2. What is the good reason for this prayer? “According as we hope in Thee.” We pray because our confidence is in Thee, and our expectation is from Thee. Men would never pray without this hope in God, and the compass of the prayer is measured by the expanse of this hope. We ask for little because our faith and hope are feeble. (Homilist.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 33". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29