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I will bless the Lord at all times: His praise shall continually be in my mouth.
A devout hymn
I. an exemplification of true praise.
1. It is thorough.
(1) There is no praise without concentration of soul.
(2) Distracting forces are rife.
2. It is constant.
(1) In every department of action--intellectual, artistic, commercial, political.
(2) In every circumstance of life--sorrow, joy, adversity, prosperity, bereavement, friendship.
3. It is exultant. God is the sum total of all excellence, the primal fount of all joy; therefore let us boast in Him.
4. It is social. The true worshipper becomes magnetic; he draws others to the shrine before which he falls.
II. A reason for true praise.
1. Past deliverance (Psalms 34:4).
(1) He had been “delivered out of all his troubles.” His troubles were great in their variety, number, but he was delivered.
(2) He had been delivered out of all his troubles by prayer. “I sought the Lord,” etc.
2. Constant protection (Psalms 34:7). (Homilist.)
Blessing the Lord
I. A resolution to bless the Lord, or to thank the Lord.
1. The things for which we ought to bless or thank the Lord: temporal; spiritual; personal; family; national; and Christian.
2. Whom we are to bless: “the Lord,” the Giver of all; no mercy, except from Him; gives freely; bounteously, always.
3. When we are to bless the Lord:--“at all times.”
II. A resolution to praise the Lord.
1. This is a resolution which Nature even approves. “All Thy works praise Thee, O Lord.”
2. A resolution which reason sustains.
3. A resolution which Scripture examples encourage.
4. A resolution which is in analogy with the customs of social life.
5. A resolution which accords with our obligation.
6. A resolution which harmonizes with the employment of the heavenly inhabitants.
7. A resolution which, if carried out, will contribute much to life’s happiness, and promote the glory of God in our spheres of action. (J. Bate.)
My soul shall make her boast in the Lord; the humble shall hear thereof and be glad.
We all are prone to boast, and often on very slender grounds. The worst are they who boast of their own goodness. We are to glory only in the Lord. Now such rightful boasting includes the elevation of joyous feeling, and the breaking forth of gratitude and praise. And the humble shall hear thereof. Others would tell them, or, if not, the psalmist himself would. Spiritual sadness seeks seclusion, but not so spiritual freedom and joy. Like the return of health and of day, it says to the prisoners, “Go forth”; to them that are in darkness, “Show yourselves.” And the effect of this knowledge would be to make them glad. The Lord’s followers are supposed to be mopish and melancholy; but they have a thousand sources of joy which others know not of. (W. Jay.)
On glorying in God alone
What can better become us, who are the creatures of God, than to bless Him, and depend on Him? What can better become us, as Christians, than to be always praising add magnifying that God, to whose grace we owe our salvation and happiness?
I. the examples of excellent persons (Jeremiah 9:23-24; 1 Corinthians 1:29-31). St. Paul himself was an eminent example of his own doctrine; for when, to vindicate himself, he found himself obliged to recount what he had done and suffered in the cause of Christianity, together with his endowments, graces and privileges, he begs pardon for it, calls it the foolishness of boasting, and as nothing less could excuse it, he pleads necessity for it (2 Corinthians 11:20). But this apostle, who was thus shy of glorying in his excellencies and advantages, lest he should seem too tender of his own honour, how forward he is to record his infirmities, that he might advance God’s (2 Corinthians 12:9). We cannot be Christians unless God be all in all to us; unless we look upon Him as the source and spring of all good, the object of our joy and glory, and the ultimate end of our desires and hopes.
II. we have received all from him. Whether natural endowments, or worldly possessions, all that we are born to, and all that we acquire, judgment, courage, wit, eloquence, wealth, power, favour, and the like, we certainly owe to God. And if we derive all from God, acknowledgment and praise is the least sacrifice we can make Him.
III. We depend so entirely upon God, that we can reap little benefit, nay, we may suffer much prejudice by the most excellent endowments and possessions, unless they be sanctified by his grace, and befriended by his providence (Ecclesiastes 9:11). How naturally do riches breed luxury! power tyranny! honour insolence! favour and applause vanity!
IV. To boast in anything but God is a symptom of extreme profaneness and irreligion; for whence can this proceed, but from an understanding darkened by ignorance or infidelity, or from a heart alienated from God, and possessed by some vile idol?
V. The heathen thought that there was an envious daemon, whose peculiar province it was to cast down the vainglorious and insolent; but we Christians are taught that to humble “the proud is a work that god delights in (Isaiah 2:12; James 4:6). And why does God take pleasure in this? To assert His sovereignty and dominion, to imprint an awe of His power upon the minds of mankind, and to extort from the proudest and vainest of mortals a confession of their meanness and His majesty.
VI. marks by which we may examine ourselves in reference to this matter.
1. If we have grateful hearts towards God, we shall let slip no occasion which invites us to praise and honour Him. Not only those things that are new and surprising, that are unusual or extraordinary, but also the common and ordinary works of God, and His constant and daily benefits, will affect our hearts with a devout and thankful remembrance of Him.
2. If we truly glory in the Lord, and in nothing else, our admiration and reverence, our love and gratitude will discover themselves, not only in our words, but in our actions. The principle which causes us to be humble and thankful towards God, will keep us from being disrespectful and insolent towards man; and, in general, we shall think it our duty, not only to glorify God by praise and thanksgiving, but also and especially by a right use and employment of His benefits and mercies.
3. The practice of this duty does by degrees advance us to a settled state of pleasure. What can be more delightful than the exercise of love, when the object of it is most perfect? (Psalms 63:4-6). (R. Lucas, D. D.)
O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together.
A testimony meeting
“God’s praises sound best in concert.” The praise that lifts its voice in solitude is beautiful, but it is far more beautiful when heard in communion with the praise of one’s fellows. Each instrument in the orchestra is enriched by the co-operation of the others. Each member in a chorus has his discernment sharpened, and his zeal intensified by the remaining members. So in the orchestra of praise. My own thanksgiving is quickened and enriched when I join it to the praises of others. The text appears to suggest that a number of thankful souls gathered together, and, each contributing his own testimony of the exceeding graciousness of God, they joined in an outburst of united and jubilant praise. Here is one of the testimonies: “I sought the Lord,” etc. And here is the gladsome confession of quite a numerous company. “They looked unto Him and were lightened,” etc. And here, again, is the witness of an inspired and grateful soul: “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him,” etc.
1. He was burdened with “fears.” What did he make his resource? “I sought the Lord.” The seeking was a real business. Into the inquisition he put his whole soul. And what was the issue of the search? “He heard me.” The term implies heeding and responding. Man’s “seeking” was responded to by a sympathetic movement on the part of God. “And delivered me,” etc. That is a full-coloured word, abounding in strength and vitality. It suggests the act of rescuing something out of a beast’s mouth. It is from spiritual havoc of this kind that our Lord delivers us. The rescue is not partial. The relief is by no means incomplete. The freedom is absolute. “He delivered me from all my fears.” “God sweeps the field, slays the enemies, and even buries their bones.”
2. Let us listen to the second of these grateful testimonies. “They looked unto Him and were lightened, and their faces were not ashamed.” The gracious answer of God brought a benediction of light. They “were lightened.” Then before they must have been darkened. They were cheerless and depressed. They were “losing heart.” “Thy looked unto Him.” They gazed intently upon God. No snatch look, no hurried glances, no passing nod of recognition. A fixed and eager gaze. And what was the outcome of their gaze? They “were lightened.” They were brightened up, lit up, made cheerful. “Now are ye light in the Lord.” Depression gave way to buoyancy. Melancholy yielded to cheerfulness.
3. Let us now turn to the third of these witnesses, and hear his thankful confession. “This poor man cried,” etc. What had been this man’s peculiar burden? “Troubles.” He had been in a “tight corner,” a “tight place.” In his straits he “cried unto the Lord.” It was a short, sharp, urgent prayer. “Fervour is a heavenly ingredient in prayer; an arrow drawn with full strength hath a speedier issue; therefore the prayers of saints are expressed by crying in Scripture.” Again we have the confession made by an earlier witness. “The Lord heard him,” paid heed to him, and began the ministry of gracious response. “He saved him out of all his troubles.” He opened a way out of the tight place. He led him out of straits into freedom. He gave him a sense of space. “Thou hast brought my feet into a large place.” (J. H. Jowett, M. A.)
A thanksgiving sermon
I. what it is to magnify the Lord, and exalt his name. Let us not mistake in arrogating to ourselves that which is quite out of our reach, as if we, diminutive bits of God’s creation, could enrich the exchequer of heaven. No, ‘tis not at all in Himself, but only in our own minds, and others’ esteem, that we are capable of greatening and advancing the most glorious and ever-blessed God. When we conceive in ourselves any worthy sentiments, becoming the Divine majesty and goodness; are filled with an admiring sense of His transcendent excellencies, and a grateful sense of His loving-kindness” and endeavour, all we can, to propagate the same magnificent and fair idea to others: this is the utmost whereof we are capable, to glorify God in such aggrandizing representations, as show Him somewhat like Himself. And thus we do magnify the God infinitely good, when we stand in admiration of such benignity, that we should have any comfort with our lives, when we have done so much to spoil all with our sins! Yea, that not a minute should pass but brings us a new favour from above; and gives us more assurance still that He desires our felicity, and cannot design our ruin. Thinking thus well of God, we do magnify the Lord, and exalt His name.
II. the properties of this eucharistical sacrifice, and how we are to offer it.
1. It must be with the soul, from the altar of a sensible heart. To glory in Him is one way of giving glory to Him.
2. Though it must not be only a lip-service, we must not refrain our lips either. When our bodies are His temple, and our tongues the living bells articulately to sound His praise; how can we better employ the speaking faculty, than in celebrating His goodness that gave it? What we are transported with, we can hardly forbear to speak of, if we are full of it, ‘tis apt to float on our tongues: and if the mercies of God affect our hearts, ‘tis fit we should express the same, both to discharge a due debt ourselves, and also to kindle the like flame in others.
3. We must bless the Lord at all times (Psalms 34:1); not only by fits, as it pleases us, or when extorted from us upon some occasions extraordinary, but with such a heart whose pulse may be His praise. Our holy living is the most effectual thanksgiving. When we justify the Divine laws by our obedience, and thus stand up to attest their high reasonableness and goodness, instead of repining at them as hard sayings and heavy burdens; showing that really we do admire and applaud them for the blessed products of an infinite wisdom and love, to contrive and effect our everlasting happiness: then do we give them the best commendation, to make all enamoured with those sacred institutions, which they not only hear set off in hollow encomiums, but see produce such happy effects (John 15:8; Philippians 1:11).
III. the reason we have thus to magnify the Lord, and exalt his name.
1. It is the very end of our being. Man, as the priest of this inferior creation, is to offer up a general sacrifice in the name and behalf of all the rest; who in their several ways give a tacit consent, and (as it were) say Amen to the oblation: and when dumb and negligent to praise the Lord, we not only wrong ourselves, but rob multitudes that would do it, had they but our faculties and abilities to reason and express it. We not only stand for cyphers, but carry as an exorbitant rout, breaking our ranks and disordering the world, if we celebrate not His praise who has so set us up.
2. We have not only capacity, but all manner of obligations to it; even common justice hinds us to render to all their dues. Well may we extol Him, when He has done so for us (Psalms 30:1). How many great luminaries else soever there be, all disappear at the rising sun; and all other benefactors must be even nullified to omnify the Supreme.
3. As we are obliged, so by the goodness of it encouraged to it (Psalms 147:1). “It is pleasant, and praise is comely.” It gives the pious soul a sweet satisfaction, like the pleasure which an honest man takes in paying his debts. The most delicious viands are not more grateful to a healthy body, than the praises of God are to a well-affected soul. This raises us even into heaven a forehand, to anticipate the anthems of the celestial choir. And how great is that honour, to be taken up in the work of angels! How much for our own praise to praise Him, that has given us both matter and hearts for it! (B. Jenks.)
I sought the Lord, and He heard me.
The reasonableness of prayer
I. what the head, left to itself, thinks about prayer. The head, discerning only the externality of it, sees man, the creature, venturing to go into the presence of Jehovah the Creator, and ask to have just what he may wish for. That is “prayer” as many seem to apprehend it. And the apprehension is so limited, and so imperfect, we cannot wonder it should occasion difficulty. Half the trouble is gone when we have worthily stated what prayer is. It is the act of acknowledged dependence. To connect every thought with the thought of God. To look on everything as His work and appointment. To submit every wish, thought, and resolve, to Him. That is prayer. And if that be the essence and life of prayer, and we can lay firm hold of it, then we are lifted into a serene region of calm, above the tempest that rages over such things as the possibilities of answer, and the relation of prayer to law. What does the head say about prayer? It says--
1. Prayer is not unreasonable. Admit that there is a God on whom we are all dependent, and every one will be found willing to acknowledge that no act is more proper and reasonable than that in which we seek Divine favour and blessing. The Theist, who prides himself on the guidance of reason, speaks eloquently of prayer.
2. The head is fully willing to recognize the fact that, in all ages, and in all climes, men have been moved by the impulse to prayer. Everywhere man has felt the presence of One higher than himself, and has turned yearning eyes toward Him.
3. The head finds no serious objection to urge against the abstract statement that God can hear and answer prayer. If He be God indeed, and if He did create us, reason can find no ground for denying that, in His Divine arrangements, God may consider the feelings and wishes of His creatures, as well as their positive needs. The matter of prayer may be presented so that our minds cannot but find serious objections and difficulties. Sometimes it seems to be expected that by prayer we may change the order of the outward universe. We have even seen statements which assume that prayer is the means by which “our wish determines God’s will.” Against either of these representations the head properly stumbles.
II. what the head, guided by the heart, thinks about prayer. The text is a heart-inspired utterance. The heart-guided head says--
1. If God be a Father He must be a prayer-hearer. If He does not, He cannot be true to His name. Fatherhood pledges fatherly interest. If is the most simple and necessary thing that we, as children, should pray. It is the essential of His relation to us that God our Father should hear.
2. If God has promised, He surely knows how to perform.
3. The heart--guided head learns to set prayer in its proper limitations.
4. And, listening to all the objections urged against prayer, it quietly but firmly replies, “You cannot argue me out of the facts and experiences of my life. This I know, ‘I sought the Lord, and He heard me’; and I shall go on praying, for I have proved the power of prayer.” It is enough. We believe in the power of prayer. We see the glory of a praying life. (R. Tuck, B. A.)
They looked unto Him and were lightened; and their faces were not ashamed.
Good authority for a good hope
How low, oftentimes, has been the condition of the people of God! See the lamentations of Jeremiah. But he and all God’s saints have looked unto God and were lightened. Consider--
I. their expectation. “They looked unto Him.” They did so under--
1. The deluge of sin. This universal; none ever escaped it. “We are all under sin.”
2. The deluge of death.
3. Jehovah’s eternal wrath. None, by and of themselves, can escape either. But Jesus said, “Lo, I come,” and He hath rolled back the waters of each, for all them that look to Him.
4. Bondage. Israel was in bondage, and so are God’s people now. But the Lord has promised to deliver them. “The sighing of the prisoners “comes before Him, and He preserves those that “are appointed to die.” The sins of our nature are hard task-masters.
II. confirmation. They “were lightened” in mind and in soul. Let us then rejoice in our religion, and we shall never be ashamed. (James Wells.)
Looking unto Jesus
From the connection we are to understand the pronoun “Him” as referring to the word “Lord” in the preceding verse. “They looked unto the Lord Jehovah, and were lightened.” But no man ever yet looked to Jehovah God, as He is in Himself, and found any comfort in Him, for “our God is a consuming fire.” The only way in which we can see God is through the Mediator Jesus Christ.
I. First, look to the Lord Jesus Christ in his life. Here the troubled saint will find the most to enlighten him. In the example, in the patience, in the sufferings of Jesus Christ, there are stars of glory to cheer the midnight darkness of the sky of your tribulation. One glimpse at Him may well suffice for all our toils while on the road. Cheered by His voice, nerved by His strength, we are prepared to do and suffer, even as He did, to the death. We trust that those of you who are weary Christians will not forget to “look unto Him, and be lightened.”
II. Come, then, poor, doubting, trembling sinners and saints--come ye now to Calvary’s cross. Certain I am, that if we lived more with Jesus, were more like Jesus, and trusted more to Jesus, doubts and fears would be very scarce. “They looked unto Him, and were lightened.”
III. And now I invite you to a glorious scene--Christ’s resurrection. You have lost, some of you, the dearest of your earthly relatives. There are others under the constant fear of death. Come, come, behold Jesus Christ risen! For remember, this is a great truth--“Now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first-fruits of them that slept.”
IV. look at Jesus Christ ascending into heaven. You are wrestling with spiritual enemies; you are at war to-day, and mayhap the enemy has thrust sore at you, and you have been ready to fall; it is a marvel to you that you have not turned like a coward from the field. But tremble not, your Master was more than conqueror, and so shall you be.
V. “look unto him, and be lightened.” See there He sits in heaven, He has led captivity captive, and now sits at the right hand of God for ever making intercession for us. Like a great high priest of old, He stands with outstretched arms: there is majesty in His mien, for He is no mean, cringing suppliant. If thou dost not succeed, He will; if thy intercession be unnoticed, His cannot be passed away. Oh! be of good cheer, continue still thy supplication. “Look unto Him, and be lightened.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him.
Supernatural factor in prayer
The most dangerous doctrine concerning prayer is that current philosophy of the matter which presents a half-truth only; allowing the subjective value, but denying all objective efficacy to prayer--i.e. admitting a benefit, as attached to a devout habit, but limiting the benefit to the working of natural results entirely within the suppliant. The text affirms a positive advantage in prayer. Jehovah is represented as hearing prayer and interposing to save the suppliant. And the idea is further expanded by a reference to the deliverances wrought by the “Lord’s angel.” To a Jew, the angel of the Lord was a historic reality, working supernatural signs and wonders all through that wonderful career of the chosen people of God. When such events as these can be explained by natural Causes, by self-scrutiny, self-conquest and self-culture, then prayer may be brought down to the level of natural philosophy and moral philosophy. But, until then, there must remain in this mystery a supernatural factor. The Waldenses are the Israel of the Alps, who, in their mountain fastnesses, for centuries guarded the ark of primitive faith and worship, while the terrors of the Vatican confronted them--that summit of terror which was “an Olympus for its false gods, a Sinai for its thunders, and a Calvary for its blood.” Read the story of the siege of La Balsille, their mountain fortress. Hemmed in by the French and Sardinian army through the summer, gaunt famine stared them in the face; the foe guarded every outlet of the valley, and their ungathered crops lay in the fields. In midwinter, driven by gnawings of hunger to visit the abandoned harvest fields, beneath the deep snows they found God had kept the grain unhurt, and part of it was gathered in good condition, a year and a half after it was sown! In the following spring a merciless cannonade broke down the breastworks behind which they hid, and the helpless band cried to the Lord. At once He who holds the winds in His fist, and rides in the clouds as a chariot, rolled over them a cloak of fog so dense that in the midst of their foes they escaped unseen! The power of prayer is the perpetual sign of the supernatural. Jonathan Edwards may be taken as an example of thousands. From the age of ten years, his prayers were astonishing both for the faith they exhibited and the results they secured. With the intellect of a cherub and the heart of a seraph, we can neither distrust his self-knowledge nor his absolute candour. His communion with God was so rapturous, that the extraordinary view of the glory of the Son of God, His pure, sweet love and grace, would overcome him so that for an hour he would be flooded with tears, weeping aloud. Prayer brought him such power as Peter at Pentecost scarcely illustrates more wonderfully. For instance, his sermon at Enfield, on “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” which, delivered without a gesture, nevertheless produced such effect that the audience leaped to their feet and clasped the pillars of the meeting-house lest they should slide into perdition. Taste and see that the Lord is good. Put Him to the test of experimental prayer and you shall need no testimony from another to establish your faith in the supernatural answers to prayer. His providence will guide your doubting steps like that glorious pillar of cloud and fire, and in that last great crisis when heart and flesh fail, and the valley and shadow of death is before you, the everlasting Arms shall be beneath you, and your refuge the Eternal God! (A. T. Pierson, D. D.)
The poor man’s poverty, prayer, and preservation
I. the poor man’s poverty. “This poor man.”
1. It was not the poverty of social dependence. David, the writer of this Psalm, was a king; governed a great nation; ruled a people of noble history; had vast resources; had numerous friends--therefore the designation of the text cannot refer to his temporal position. The fact is that our social position is no index to our real wealth or poverty. A man financially rich, may be morally poor. A man morally rich, may be financially poor.
2. It was not the poverty of intellectual weakness. David was not poor in mind. Not merely was he a king in position, but also in the empire of thought. His mind contained great ideas of God, of the soul, of life as a probation, of the future as a destiny. The lack of mental thought and energy is no aid to prayer. Converse with God requires great ideas. The language of want is simple; but it is full of meaning. Hence David was not poor in this respect.
3. It was not the poverty of spiritual indolence. David was not a moral pauper. He had not only a great soul, but it was well peopled with all that was noble and true. Faith in God was the governing influence of his soul. He loved the house of God. He delighted in the works of God. He was attached to the people of God. His religious experience was rich. His devotion was poetic. His soul was ever occupied with eternal realities. He was not poor in this respect.
4. It was the poverty of deep and true humility. He says, “My soul shall make her boast in the Lord” (Psalms 34:2). The humble soul is always poor in faith, in spiritual aspiration, in moral service, in benevolent dispositions, in its own estimation. Herein consists His benediction--“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the Kingdom of God.” The poverty of humility is not assumed, it is not canting, it is not self-depreciative; but it is silent, it is reverent.
II. the poor man’s prayer. “This poor man cried.” Humiliation is a good preparation for prayer. It most feels the need of devotion. It is the most easily taught the meaning of worship. It is the most persevering in its exercise.
1. The poor man’s prayer was emphatic. It was a cry. David knew what he wanted. He was decided and vigorous in the articulation of his soul-wants. God allows in prayer the required emphasis of a needy but penitent spirit. It is not presumption.
2. The poor man’s prayer was earnest. It was a cry. Not a cold request. Not a calm inquiry. The more a man feels his need, the more deeply does He express it.
3. The poor man’s prayer was continuous. It was the habit of his soul rather than a transient act. Prayer should not be a momentary effort of the Christian life, but the natural communion of the soul with God, as speech is the easy and constant medium of communication with men.
4. The poor man’s prayer was thoughtful and reasonable. It was presented to the rightful object of devotion, in a thoughtful spirit. David did not doubt the fitness of prayer to save from trouble--
(4) National. Are the sceptics of our day wiser, better, happier than he?
5. The poor man’s prayer was successful.
III. the poor man’s preservation. “And the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his trouble.”
1. His preservation was associated with prayer. “And the Lord heard him.”
2. His preservation was secured by Divine agency.
3. His preservation was comprehensive and effectual. “And saved him out of all his trouble.”
1. Humility is the best qualification for prayer, and the most likely guarantee of favourable response.
2. That God is the helper of troubled souls.
3. That men in the highest stations of life need prayer. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
A poor man’s cry, and what came of it
I. the nature and the excellence of prayer.
1. It is a dealing with the Lord. The best prayer is that which comes to closest grips with the God of mercy.
2. Prayer takes various shapes.
(1) Seeking is prayer (Psalms 34:4).
(2) Looking unto God is prayer (Psalms 34:5). If you cannot find words, it is often a very blessed thing to sit still, and look towards the hills whence cometh our help.
(3) Tasting is a high kind of prayer (Psalms 34:8), for it ventures to take what it asks for.
(4) Frequently, according to our text, prayer is best described as a cry.
3. Prayer is heard in heaven.
4. It wins answers from God. More than forty years I have tried my Master’s promise at the mercy-seat, and I have never yet met with a repulse from Him. In the name of Jesus I have asked and received; save only when I have asked amiss. It is true I have had to wait, because my time was ill-judged, and God’s time was far better; but delays are not denials. Never has the Lord said to me, or to any of the seed of Jacob, “Seek ye My face” in vain.
II. the richness and freeness of divine grace.
1. You will see the richness and the freeness of grace, when you consider the character of the man who prayed: “this poor man cried.” Who was he?
(1) He was a poor man; how terribly poor I cannot tell you. There are plenty of poor men about. If you advertised for a poor man in London, you might soon find more than you could count in twelve months: the supply is unlimited, although the distinction is by no means highly coveted. No man chooses to be poor.
(2) He was also a troubled man, for the text speaks of “all his troubles”--a great “all” I warrant you.
(3) He was a mournful man; altogether broken down.
(4) He was a changed man.
(5) He was a hopeful man. Despair is dumb; where there is a cry of prayer, there is a crumb of comfort.
2. If you desire further to see the richness and freeness of grace, I beg you to remember the character of the God to whom this poor man cried. He who prayed was poor, and his prayer was poor; but he did not pray to a poor God. This poor man was powerless; but he did not cry to a feeble God. This poor man was empty; but he went to God’s fulness. He was unworthy; but he appealed to God’s mercy. Our God delighteth in mercy; He waiteth to be gracious; He takes pleasure in blessing the weary sons of men.
3. While we are thinking of the freeness and richness of this grace in the text, I would have you notice the character of the blessing. “The Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.” His sins were his great troubles; the Lord saved him out of them all through the atoning sacrifice. The effects of sin were another set of grievous troubles to him; the Lord saved him out of them all by the renewal of the Holy Ghost. He had troubles without and within, troubles in the family and in the world, and he felt ready to perish because of them; but the Lord delivered him out of them all.
III. the need and the usefulness of personal testimony. Testimony is a weighty thing for the persuasion and winning of men; but it must be of the right kind. It should be personal, concerning things which you yourself know: “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him.” Never mind if you should be charged with being egotistical. That is a blessed egoism which dares to stand out and bear bold witness for God in its own person. “This poor man cried”; not somebody over the water--“and the Lord heard him,” not a man down the next street. The more definite and specific your testimony, the better and the more convincing. I do not say that we can all tell the date of our conversion: many of us cannot. But if we can throw in such details, let us do so; for they help to make our testimony striking. Our witness should be an assured one. We must believe, and therefore speak. Do not say, “I hope that I prayed; and I--I--trust that the Lord heard me.” Say, “I prayed, and the Lord heard me.” Give your testimony cheerfully. “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him.” Do not say it as if it were a line from “the agony column”; but write it as a verse of a psalm. Your testimony must have for its sole aim the glory of God. Do not wish to show yourself off as an interesting person, a man of vast experience. We cannot allow the grace of God to be buried in ungrateful silence. When He made the world the angels sang for joy, and when He saves a soul we will not be indifferent. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The language of a cry
This poor man did not make a grand oration; he took to crying.
1. He was short: it was only a cry. In great pain a man will cry out; he cannot help it, even if he would. A cry is short, but it is not sweet. It is intense, and painful, and it cannot be silenced. We cry because we must cry. This poor man cried, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” That is not a long collect, but it collects a great deal of meaning into a few words. That was a short cry, “Lord save, or I perish”; and that other, “Lord, help me.” “Save, Lord,” is a notable cry, and so is “Lord, remember me.” Many prevailing prayers are like cries because they are brief, sharp, and uncontrollable.
2. A cry is not only brief, but bitter. A cry is a sorrowful thing; it is the language of pain. It would be hard for me to stand here and imitate a cry. No; a cry is not artificial, but a natural production: it is not from the lips, but from the soul, that a man cries. A cry, attended with a flood of tears, a bitter wail, a deep-fetched sigh--these are prayers that enter into the ears of the Most High. O penitent, the more thou sorrowest in thy prayer, the more wings thy prayer has towards God! A cry is a brief thing, and a bitter thing.
3. A cry has in it much meaning, and no music. You cannot set a cry to music. The sound grates on the ear, it rasps the heart, it startles, and it grieves the minds of those who hear it. Cries are not for musicians, but for mourners. Can you expound a child’s cry? It is pain felt, a desire for relief naturally expressed, a longing forcing itself into sound; it is a plea, a prayer, a complaint, a demand. It cannot wait, it brooks no delay, it never puts off its request till to-morrow. A cry seems to say, “Help me now I I cannot bear it any longer. Come, O come, to my relief!” When a man cries, he never thinks of the pitch of his voice; but he cries out as he can, out of the depths of his soul. Oh, for more of such praying!
4. A cry is a simple thing. The first thing a new-born child does is to cry; and he usually does plenty of it for years after. You do not need to teach children to cry: it is the cry of Nature in distress. All children can cry; even those who are without their reasoning faculties can cry. Yea, even the beast and the bird can cry. If prayer be a cry, it is clear that it is one of the simplest acts of the mind. God loves natural expressions when we come before Him. Not that which is fine, but that which is on fire, He loves. Not that Which is dressed up, but that which leaps out of the soul just as it is born in the heart, He delights to receive. This poor man did not do anything grand, but from his soul he cried.
5. A cry is as sincere as it is simple. Prayer is not the mimicry of a cry, but the real thing. You need not ask a man or woman, when crying, “Do you mean it?” Could they cry else? A true cry is the product of a real pain, and the expression of a real want; and therefore it is a real thing. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Testimony to the power of prayer
One person says, “I cried to the Lord, and He heard me.” “But,” says an objector, “that is a special ease.” Up rises a second witness, and says, “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him.” “Well, that is only two; and two instances may not prove a rule.” Then, up rises a third, a fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, and in each ease it is the same story--“This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him.” Surely he must be hardened in unbelief who refuses to believe so many witnesses. I remember the story of a lawyer, a sceptic, who attended a class-meeting where the subject was similar to our theme of this morning. He heard about a dozen tell what the Lord had done for them; and he said, as he sat there, “If I had a case in court, I should like to have these good people for witnesses. I know them all, they are my neighbours, they are simple-minded people, straightforward and honest, and I know I could carry any ease if I had them on my side.” Then he very candidly argued that what they all agreed upon was true. He believed them in other matters, and he could not doubt them in this, which was to them the most important of all. He tried religion for himself, and the Lord heard him; and very soon he was at the class-meeting, adding his witness to theirs. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The angel Of the Lord encampeth . . . and delivereth.--
Portrait of a good Man -
I. As Divinely affected. “They that fear him.” The good man is one that fears God.
II. As Divinely guarded.
1. Individually. God regards individuals, as well as nations, worlds, and systems.
2. Completely Guards the whole man, body, soul, and spirit.
3. Eternally. Through time, in death, for ever, “He encampeth round about him.”
III. As Divinely delivered. “And delivereth them.”
1. From physical evils. Infirmities, diseases, death.
2. From intellectual evils. Errors, prejudices, ignorance.
3. From social evils. The bereavements of death, the disappointments of hypo-critic friendships.
4. From spiritual evils. Impurity of heart, remorse of conscience, conflict of soul. (Homilist.)
The encamping angel
If we accept the statement in, the superscription of this psalm, it dates from one of the darkest hours in David’s life. His fortunes were never lower than when he fled from Gath, the city of Goliath, to Adullam. He never appears in a less noble light than when he feigned madness to avert the dangers which he might well dread there. How unlike the terror and self-degradation of the man who “scrabbled on the doors,” and let “the spittle run down his beard,” is the heroic and saintly constancy of this noble psalm! The “Angel of the Lord” here is to be taken collectively, and the meaning is that “the bright harnessed hosts” of these Divine messengers are, as an army of protectors, around them that fear God. But Scripture speaks also of One, who is in an eminent sense “the Angel of the Lord,” in whom, as in none other, God sets His “Name.” He is the leader of the heavenly hosts. He appeared when Abraham “took the knife to slay his son,” and restrained him. He speaks to Jacob at Bethel, and says, “I am the God of Bethel”; and many other instances there are. It is this lofty and mysterious messenger that David sees standing ready to help, as He once stood, sword-bearing by the side of Joshua. To the warrior leader, to the warrior psalmist, He appears, as their needs required, armoured and militant. The vision of the Divine presence ever takes the form which our circumstances most require. David’s then need was safety and protection. Therefore he saw the Encamping Angel; even as to Joshua the leader He appeared as the Captain of the Lord’s host; and as to Isaiah, in the year that the throne of Judah was emptied by the death of the earthly king, was given the vision of the Lord sitting on a throne, the King Eternal and Immortal. So to us all His grace shapes its expression according to our wants, and the same gift is Protean in its power of transformation; being to one man wisdom, to another strength, to the solitary companionship, to the sorrowful consolation, to the glad sobering, to the thinker truth, to the worker practical force,--to each his heart’s desire. Learn, too, from this image, in which the psalmist appropriates to himself the experience of a past generation, how we ought to feed our confidence and enlarge our hopes by all God’s past dealings with men. David looks back to Jacob, and believes that the old fact is repeated in his own day. So every old story is true for us; though outward form may alter, inward substance remains the same. Mahanaim is still the name of every place where a man who loves God pitches his tent. Our feeble encampment may lie open to assault, and we be all unfit to guard it, but the other camp is there too, and our enemies must force their way through it before they get at us. “The Lord of Hosts is with us.” Only, remember, that the eye of faith alone can see that guard, and that therefore we must labour to keep our consciousness of its reality fresh and vivid. Notice, too, that final word of deliverance. This psalm is continually recurring to that idea. The word occurs four times in it, and the thought still oftener. He is quite sure that such deliverance must follow if the Angel presence be there. But he knows, too, that the encampment of the Angel of the Lord will not keep away sorrows, and trial, and sharp need. So his highest hope is not of immunity from these, but of rescue out of them. And his ground of hope is that his heavenly ally cannot let him be overcome. That He will not let him be troubled and put in peril he has found; that He will not let him be crushed he believes. Shaded and modest hopes are the brightest we can venture to cherish. But it is the least we are entitled to expect. And so the apostle, when within sight of the headsman’s axe, broke into the rapture of his last words, “The Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me to His everlasting kingdom.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The ministry of angels
Such ministry taught throughout the Bible. We know not the nature and constitution of worlds and beings unseen. We are taught (Daniel 12:1) that there are guardian angels, and that there are evil angels (Ephesians 6:12). Their name derived from the circumstance of their being sent on various errands. The Lord frequently appeared in the form of an angel. To-day the angels take deep interest in the welfare of God’s people. Their form of ministry is changed, but not its reality (Luke 15:1-32.; Matthew 18:10; Hebrews 1:14). And why should we not believe that God aids and defends us by means of angels, as our text declares? But it is only they who fear the Lord that enjoy this guardianship. The holy angels can have no fellowship with unholy minds. Let us not question the truth of this ministry, but gratefully accept it. (J. Slade, M. A.)
O taste and see that the Lord is good.
I. A call to the enjoyment of divine goodness (Psalms 34:8). Two things are necessary to the enjoyment of this goodness:
1. Freedom from a sense of guilt.
2. A sense of true gratitude.
(1) Enjoying God’s goodness involves trust in Him.
(2) Trust in Him ensures true blessedness.
II. A call to higher religious experience (Psalms 34:9-10). We are to follow on to know the Lord, to forget “the things that are behind, and press on to the things that are before.” “There is no want to them that fear Him.”
1. Want is a calamity.
2. The higher the religious experience the less liability to want.
III. A call to the instructions of experience. (Psalms 34:11).
1. The highest teaching is the teaching of the Lord.
2. Youth is the best season for this teaching.
3. Teaching children religion is worthy the dignity of the greatest men.
IV. A call to obey the conditions of longevity (Psalms 34:12-14).
1. Men desire long life.
2. Moral excellence is conducive to long life. (Homilist)
Taste and see
This is the language of experience, and that of no common character. The psalmist desires that all who might be partakers of his trial might be sharers in his deliverance. He tells us--
I. of his experience. Paul, as David, speaks of having “tasted of the heavenly gift.” The word is most emphatic, for the sense of taste includes most of the others--sight and smell and touch. And certainly it is so in spiritual things. There are among those who are called Christians three distinct classes. There are, first, those who hear without seeing; there are those who both hear and see, without tasting; and there are those in whom all three combine--to whom “faith cometh by hearing,” in whom faith groweth by seeing, in whom faith is perfected and consummated by tasting.
II. the invitation. Those who have had the experience of the psalmist cannot but desire it for others.
III. the blessing. Such a man is blessed, even in the trust itself; and the blessing is one which not even the errors of his own weak judgment shall destroy, which not even the infirmity of his own frail purpose shall impair. (Thomas Dale, M. A.)
The invitation of the psalmist
The psalms are placed in the centre of the Bible, like the heart in the centre of the body. The heart is the seat of life. The psalms are the life of religion. Other parts of the Bible describe religion, but the psalms are religion itself. He who reads them sincerely cannot but be religious; and he who appropriates them to himself will find life, health and energy imparted to his whole spiritual being.
I. As invitation. “O taste and see,” etc. It is not see and taste. Before we taste a substance we generally look at it. But here, we must taste before we can see. There must be a relish for Divine things before we can see and enjoy God. That which we are to see is--“that the Lord is good.” The Christian knows and feels this. He sees it in Nature, in his own frame, the structure of the body, its union with the soul. And in that soul itself, and, especially, its redemption by Christ.
II. the character referred to--the man that “trusteth” in God. It is not knowledge, intellect, eloquence, believing, or even power to work miracles, or to show a martyr’s zeal, but trust is that which is here spoken of. Confidence in God is meant. Even amongst men this has great power. What will even man do for another in whom he trusts? What will not that woman do for the man in whom she confides?
III. the blessing promised. It is more the statement of a fact than a promise, for the man is blessed who trusts in God. By the very action upon his own mind and heart of the trust he places in God. It gives the soul a holy boldness, a sure peace. And not only is he blessed in himself, but he becomes a blessing to others. His light shines before men so that they, too, glorify God. (W. Blood, M. A.)
Recreating the palate
This confident and jubilant appeal comes at the end of a series of splendid testimonies such as might be heard at many a fervent experience meeting. One man confesses that he had once been enmeshed in multitudinous fears which had crippled his walk towards Zion: “I sought the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears!” A group of cheery witnesses testified that in past days their faces had been clouded with sorrow, because the sunshine had gone out of their souls: “They looked unto Him, and were lightened!” One man confessed that he had been in many a tight place, closely beset by powerful temptations: “And this poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.” And then it seems as though the individual testimonies merge into one strain of triumphant assurance--“The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him.” Now, out of these testimonies, and as their consequence, there issues a mighty appeal, “O taste and see that the Lord is good.” Do not trust to hearsay! Do not be contented with the testimonies of others, with merely theoretical knowledge! Become experimental, and judge for yourselves! “Taste and see!” But can everybody’s palate be trusted to give an accurate judgment? We know that there are serious differences in the powers of discernment in the material palates of men. One man appreciates a flavour which to another is repugnant. One palate can discern an exquisite flavour where another discovers nothing but insipidity. And may the differences not be equally manifest in moral and spiritual spheres? Jonathan Edwards described the moral sense by the figure of a palate, and he regarded it as a faculty by which we are to appreciate the differences between the evil and the good. But can a palate always be trusted? Let us lay down one or two principles which are operative in other realms than the conscience. It is perfectly true that a neglected power becomes atrophied. In art we can impair the artistic palate by communion with bad work. Ruskin is for ever emphasizing the peril of holding communion with bad artistic work. Such communion vitiates the aesthetic conceptions, and their power of fine discernment is impaired. The principle holds true of literature. If we want to keep a delicate literary palate we must maintain our fellowship with the rarest literary products. If, however, we leave the masterpieces, and take up our abode with the unrefined and commonplace, our very power will lose something of its fine perception, and may eventually cease to register any dependable judgment. Is it otherwise with the religious palate? Take what we call the moral sense. Surely our experience justifies the assertion that this particular power can be so neglected and abused by evil communion that its judgments are rendered perfectly untrue. The Bible declares that some men’s moral perceptions are so perverted that they call good evil, and evil good. Sweet they call bitter, and bitter they call sweet. They declare that “revenge is sweet,” and the mood of forgiveness is stale and flavourless. And surely we may say that even in higher regions still, in the distinctively spiritual, our powers can be so used that we cease to readily apprehend and appreciate God. It is possible for men to “refuse to have God in their thought,” and the consequence is that by their own refusal they are “given up” to “a reprobate mind,” which may at length leave them in an insensible mood which can only be described as “past feeling.” How, then, can we say to these people, “Taste, see that the Lord is good”? What would be the value of their judgment? Can their palate be depended upon? They may taste, and then turn away in sheer indifference. Now a man perfectly well knows when he is destitute of taste for these things. But has he any desire to be different? The appeal of my text is to men and women who have no taste for the highest, but who desire to acquire it. Bring thy neglected or perverted palate, and see what can be done with it! Let me reverse the order of the text, for the key of our difficulty is to be found in the second clause, “Blessed is the man who trusteth in Him.” Now, a man can begin with trust in God who has yet no taste for the things of God. Now the text affirms that the assured result of such trust is a condition of blessedness, “Blessed is the man who trusteth in Him.” In what does this blessedness consist? Let us redeem it for a moment from all suggestions of futurity, and the maturing of desire in some transfigured and glorified life. The future has vast treasures hid in its secret chambers, and he who trusts in the Lord is heir to them all! “I will restore health unto thee.” When we surrender the life to God, the wondrous energies of the Spirit commence the blessed ministry of re-creation, the renewal of tone, and faculty, and function. And in this restoration there is involved the cleansing and refinement of the palate. When we are sickly and diseased we have a distaste for the good, but when the sickliness begins to pass the natural appetite is restored and good food becomes toothsome, blow this is what the Lord accomplishes for those who put their trust in Him. He makes new men of them! We become new men and new women in Christ Jesus, and in that transfigured spiritual life is to be found our eternal blessedness. And so this is my plea to you. At present your higher taste may be a positive distaste; your palate may be perverted and untrue. When you pray you have no delight in the communion. When you sing it provides you no joy. Well now, commit yourself unto the Lord, even though in the committal there be no present delight. Offer Him all the powers of your personality, all the activities in your life, and let them be impressed and governed by His all-controlling will. Trust in Him, and the sickness shall be driven out of your soul, and your restored powers shall begin to be exercised in fine and discerning freedom. And in the general restoration your palate shall share, and you shall acquire a relish for the things that are excellent! You shall have joy in His communion. (J. H. Jowett, M. A.)
The invitation to enjoy the goodness of God
I. we are reminded that the Lord is good. He is originally, essentially, unchangeably, supremely good. I feel at a loss to express how good He is. What immense families does God continually provide for in air and earth and seal And chiefly is His goodness seen in the gift of the Lord Jesus Christ. To Him let all the contrite, the troubled, the tempted come and find help. And all this for sinners.
II. the best way of knowing this goodness is by tasting it. That is--apply it, make trial of it and prove it for yourselves. There is such a thing as experimental religion. Many have full knowledge of the theory of religion, but no experience of it. They have long known its truths, but never felt their power. Oh, the miseries of preaching to such persons, who need no information--these, who feel no emotion. Oh, what a perpetual contradiction is there between your creed and your conduct! You are not happy; and yet, somehow or other, you contrive not to be miserable! But this is not the case with all: there are some who have “tasted that the Lord is gracious.” You know that the Lord is good by your own experience. Now, you will observe, that we, at first, seek for the blessings of salvation, only from a sense of our sin and guilt; for we have not enjoyed them before. But after we have possessed, then we desire them, not only from a sense of want, but also from a sense of relish and remembrance. Yes; then we call to mind what we have been favoured with, and long for more. Then, secondly, it produces a fuller conviction of the truth of these things. Now, I think, I can trust any poor unlettered man in the presence of the most subtle philosopher, who would endeavour to persuade him that honey was sour, and that gall was sweet. Why, he would say to the tempter,--“would you argue me out of my very senses? You may reason--you may ridicule; but you can never convince me.”
III. the invitation to induce others to acquire this knowledge for themselves. “O taste and see that the Lord is good; . . . Blessed is the man that trusteth in Him.” Now, this “tasting” has several things connected with it.
1. This is very distinguishable from party zeal. There are some individuals who are never satisfied without bringing others over to their own peculiar views and feelings. It is not enough for them that persons should follow Christ, they must walk with them.
2. This invitation is distinguishable from mere relative affection, for it must reach others; it must extend to strangers. To care for our own is most praiseworthy, but our care must not stop there.
3. We must expect reproach in giving this invitation. There is something very singular in this. Who are censured for their attempts to relieve others by charity? They are not considered as interferers, if they venture to heal the sick, or feed the hungry. If persons do not approve of the manner, they give them credit for the deed. And yet when you endeavour to save others you are considered as busybodies. Oh, they will say, “You go to heaven your own way, let us go our way. We do not interfere with you: be as religious as you please, but keep your religion to yourselves.” A man cannot keep his religion to himself. If he has any, it will manifest itself. “We cannot but speak the things we have seen and heard.” (W. Jay.)
The goodness of God
1. Consideration of this subject has a tendency to fix our minds in a state of tranquillity and satisfaction. Perfect goodness is at the head of the world; and, therefore, all may be expected to take place in it that the most benevolent mind can desire.
2. The goodness of God is the proper object of our warmest praises. We must be lost in insensibility if we can contemplate it without feeling ourselves prompted to adoration and thanksgiving.
3. The goodness of God shows us the folly and baseness of sin. All moral evil is an abuse of the love, and disobedience to the authority, of that Being who is always doing us good, and whose character comprehends in it every excellence which can be a reason for affection and veneration.
4. The goodness of God ought to be imitated by us. No being can have a higher or nobler ambition. Thus shall we be His genuine offspring, and secure His particular favour and protection.
5. The goodness of God should engage us to put our trust in Him. How should the reflection that He reigns revive our hearts, and dissipate our anxieties I What may we not hope for from His boundless goodness! How safe are all our interests under His management! (R. Price, D. D.)
The saint’s experience of the Divine goodness
Though God be infinitely good in Himself, and in the dispensation of the fruits of tits goodness unto all His creatures; yet tits distinguishing goodness and blessings are extended only to whom He manifests Himself in another way than He doth unto the world, and who believe on His Son according to the Gospel.
I. these behold and experience the goodness of his nature. “God is love. In this was manifested,” etc. Would you have just views of it, endeavour to share in its blessed effects. We may say of God’s goodness, what Christ said to the woman of Samaria: “If thou knewest the gift of God,” etc. How refreshing and satisfying must be the experience of the Divine goodness and love; concerning which the prophet Jeremiah foretells, “they shall come and flow together” (Jeremiah 31:12-14).
II. taste and see the goodness of God in his attributes. His condescending grace was manifested toward you, when you were altogether unworthy of His favour. His clemency appears in the moderating the necessary chastisements which He sees needful to inflict.
III. taste and see that the Lord is good in his dispensations, both of providence and grace. “All the ways of the Lord are mercy and truth.”
1. Every blessing, every change, every bereavement shall be sanctified to you, and work together for your good.
2. You may also behold and experience that the Lord is good in the dispensations of His grace.
IV. taste and see the goodness of the Lord in his ordinances. Every Divine institution is a conduit through which He conveys His best blessings; a market place wherein they get spiritual provisions; a sanctuary where they behold His power and glory.
V. taste and see that the Lord is good in his covenant. What admirable goodness hath God displayed in entering anew into covenant with us, after we had broken the first covenant. It is the covenant of peace, of love and of life; the covenant of hope, and of the promises confirmed by the death of Christ and sealed with His blood. All good and nothing but good, grace and glory, with every good is to be found here. (W. McCulloch.)
An invitation to participate in the goodness of the Lord
I. something assumed. That “the Lord is good.”
1. God is infinitely good.
2. Independently good.
3. Absolutely good.
4. Unchangeably good.
5. Universally good.
6. Eternally good.
II. something implied. That the goodness of the Lord may be seen and tasted.
1. In the creation.
2. In the provision made for all creatures.
3. In the redemption of the world by Jesus Christ.
4. In the means of grace.
5. In the rewards of heaven.
III. something enjoined. “O taste and see,” etc. This invitation, request, or admonition is--
1. Divine in its origin.
2. Reasonable in its nature.
3. Pleasurable in its exercise.
4. Profitable in its result.
1. There is something more in religion than the mere profession, or outward form; there is the exercise of mental powers; a tasting and seeing the Lord is good. This is personal, and known only to ourselves.
2. How wretched those are who forego these pleasures--who know nothing but animal gratification and sensual pleasure.
3. Those who enjoy personal piety are anxious for others to realize the same enjoyment.
4. If the Lord is good, let us learn the design of that goodness (Romans 2:4). (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)
Experimental evidence of God’s goodness
I. the fact alluded to in the text. We minify the atonement when we consider it merely as one, perhaps the best, of several possible plans of salvation. There is no other way, no other name by which God can save, even if the nature and character of the sinner admitted of others. This plan and this name are rooted and grounded in the nature of God. “Mercy and Truth,” or Justice, “have met together”; “Righteousness,” or Justice, and “Peace,” or Pardon, “have kissed each other.”
II. the doctrine of the text. “Taste and see.” Religion is a blessed, blissful, glorious experience. It casts out fear, drives away doubt, and sweetens the whole of human life. Religion is love, and love is an experience of the mind, heart, and soul. We love a father, husband, wife, parent, and a child, and we know it. We know it by experience--by the witness of the human spirit. Love to God is lodged in human experience, in human consciousness, just where all other loves are lodged, and we may know that we love God just as readily as we know that we love our parents. We have but one witness to the fact of all human loves; but to the fact of Divine love we have two witnesses--our own spirit and the Spirit of God. This makes assurance doubly sure. Our spirit says we love God, and God’s Spirit in ours says we love Him.
III. the exhortation which is implied in the interjection “O!” Ye hungry, poor, here is bounty and richness, without money and without price. Here is a sight that is satisfying, and a taste that fills the soul with infinite fulness. It is the only goodness worthy of the name; the perfection of goodness. Ye who are trying to find God in Nature, O come here, and learn Him as He is seen in grace, and then Nature will not be so intricate as it now seems to be. O, ye doubting Christianity, whose lives are full of sorrow and darkness, come out into the light and enjoy the fulness of blessing; even the direct witness of the Holy Ghost. (R. G. Porter.)
Value of experience
The appeal to experiment is--
1. Very simple. Simple in the two senses: as opposed to what is complex, or complicated and requires an acute and trained mind. The glory of the Gospel is that it is for the common mind, the average man. He who knows enough to commit sin knows enough to be saved.
(1) It is simple as opposed to what is subtle. The snare of argument is sophistry, which can array argument so as to appear to prove what is not true. Macaulay can so write even history as to sway the reader to either side of a controversy.
(2) Very certain. Experiment may be trusted where argument is unreliable and misleading. It is safe to distrust any reasoning that contradicts known experience. Froude says prussic acid and gum arabic are essentially, elementally, the same. It is not so; but, if they are, one kills, the other is harmless. Many a logician distrusts the very argument he uses to convince others. But no sane man ever disputed the testimony of his senses.
2. In matters of religion we may not experiment by our senses, but may by our reason and conscience, which are the senses of the soul. Communion with God is the most convincing of all arguments for the Being of God, and the practical demonstration of the efficacy of prayer. No experiment is more simple in nature, more certain in results, more sublime in conclusiveness. The oratory is also the observatory whence we get the clearest views of God and celestial things. (Homiletic Monthly.)
Religion pleasant to the religious
This excellence and desirableness of God’s gifts is a subject again and again set before us in Scripture (Isaiah 25:6; Isaiah 61:1-3; Hosea 14:5-7; Psalms 81:13-16). Other passages in the Psalms speak of this blessedness, besides the text (Psalms 4:7; Psalms 16:6; Psalms 19:10; Psalms 28:7; Psalms 65:4). The pleasures of sin are not to be compared in fulness and intensity to the pleasures of holy living. The pleasures of holiness are far more pleasant to the holy than the pleasures of sin to the sinner. None can know, however, the joys of being holy and pure but the holy. Let no persons, then, be surprised that religious obedience should really be so pleasant in itself, when it seems to them so distasteful. Let them not be surprised that what the pleasure is cannot be explained to them. It is a secret till they try to be religious. None other than God the Holy Spirit can help us in this matter, by enlightening and changing our hearts. So it is; and yet I will say one thing, by way of suggesting to you how great the joys of religion are. Is there any one who does not know how very painful the feeling of a bad conscience is? Persons accustom themselves and lose this feeling; but, till we blunt our conscience, it is very painful. And why? It is the feeling of God’s displeasure, and therefore it is so painful. Consider then: if God’s displeasure is so distressing to us, must not God’s favour be just the reverse? And this is what it is to be holy and religious. It is to have God’s favour. I hope there are some of you who take a pleasure in thinking of God, in blessing Him for the mercies of the Gospel, and in celebrating Christ’s death and resurrection. These persons have “tasted” and tried. I trust they find the taste so heavenly, that they will not need any proof that religion is a pleasant thing. Let such persons, then, think of this, that if a religious life is pleasant hero, in spite of the old Adam interrupting the pleasure and defiling them, what a glorious day it will be if we are blessed hereafter with an entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven! (J. H. Newman, D. D.)
The appeal to experiment
Knowledge comes to us in three main channels: first, argument addressed to the reason; second, testimony addressed to faith; and third, experiment, which appeals to consciousness. Here the appeal is to experiment. The language is drawn from the sphere of the senses. We are told to taste and see, as though each sense were an eye, and the result was vision. There are five senses, and taste is perhaps the simplest, earliest exercised, and most satisfactory of them all. Our eyes and ears may deceive us, but seldom our taste. Experiment is here set before us as something open to all, a short, simple, safe way of testing the reality of God and His goodness. Argument is not simple nor certain, but often very subtle and unsafe. Testimony is generally safe, but may be mistaken. But experiment impresses us all as to be depended on. We none of us distrust the evidence of our own senses. The text affirms the possibility of making an experiment upon God which shall be conclusive. The agnostic says that God cannot be known, because He is outside of the sphere of sense. We answer, Of course He cannot be known by sense, but must be tested by faculties intended for such experiments, namely, our reason, conscience, love, sensibilities, and faith. (A. T. Pierson, D. D.)
O fear the Lord, ye His saints.
A noble cowardice
This means that the fear of God does not indicate a defect of the nature. Blindness is a defect; deafness, lameness--these involve privation. But the fear of God does not involve privation; it implies possession. When I go into a picture gallery, and gaze on a work of some master, and say, “I fear I shall never come up to that,” does that indicate want on my part? Nay, it is participation. It is the testimony that I am already an artist. My fear is the shadow of my love; the cloud into which I enter is born of my transfigured glory. I would not part with my cloud--not for sunbeams, not for worlds. It tells me that I have seen regions beyond. It is by the artist’s soul that I know my own inartisticness. My night has come from day; it is not want that makes me fear. Oh, Thou Divinely Beautiful, create within me the artist’s fear. Give me the sense that I cannot come near Thee, that I am following afar off. Let me feel that Thou art in heaven and I on the earth. Let me tremble before Thy beauty--tremble with the impossibility of ever being worthy of Thee. My trembling is my triumph; my crouching is my crown; my day of judgment is my year of jubilee, for my cry has come from the taste of Thy glory, there is no want in them that fear Thee. (G. Matheson, D. D.)
The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger; but they that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing.
Lions lacking, but the children satisfied
I. A short but beautiful description of a true Christian. He is one that seeks the Lord. This description of a Christian is invariably correct. It the promise set forth by way of contrast. “They shall not want any good thing.” “The young lions do lack and suffer hunger;” that is the foil to set off the jewel and make it shine more brightly. “They shall not want any good thing.” We have heard of the celebrated cheque for a million pounds which has been preserved; here is one for millions of millions. Here is a promise wide as our wants, large as our necessities, deep as our distresses. But here is a contrast. “The young lions do lack,” etc. There are certain men in the world who, like the lions, are kings over others. They are great and mighty men; they have no need of a Saviour, or of the Holy Spirit! You may think, perhaps, like David, that “they are not plagued like other men.” But you don’t know that. They are very often plagued when they do not tell you. “The young lions do lack and suffer hunger; but they that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing.” Poor and helpless though they are, having no works of righteousness of their own, confessing their sin and depravity, they shall want no good thing. Is it not amazing? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The advantage of seeking the Lord
I. the character here specified.
1. They have been given to see and feel the necessity of seeking the Lord.
2. They have sought the Lord in the appointed way.
3. Seeking the Lord is a constant duty.
4. They seek Him with earnestness and diligence.
II. the advantage of seeking the Lord. They shall not want any good thing--
1. Connected with their salvation or acceptance with God.
2. Connected with Divine providence.
3. Necessary for their protection and guidance through the wilderness of this world.
4. To comfort them in darkness and trouble.
5. In reference to communion with God.
6. As respects support in death.
7. To secure their safe arrival in heaven.
1. Learn to trace all this goodness to its proper source. God has given you His choicest gift, even Christ, therefore the inferior ones will not be withheld (Romans 8:32).
2. As nothing human can ever become a substitute for the Divine care, constantly live in its enjoyment.
3. How great must be the poverty and wretchedness of the sinner. He is destitute of all these good things. (Helps for the Pulpit.)
Struggling and seeking
I. the struggle that always fails. “The young lions do lack and suffer hunger.” The suggestion is, that the men whose lives are one long fight to appropriate to themselves more and more of outward good, are living a kind of life that is fitter for beasts than for men. What is the true character of the lives of the majority of people but a fight, a desire to have, and a failure to obtain? Beasts of prey, naturalists tell us, are always lean. It is the graminivorous order that meekly and peacefully crop the pastures that are well fed and in good condition--“which things are an allegory.” “The young lions do lack and suffer hunger.” There is no satisfaction or success ever to be won by this way of fighting and scheming and springing at the prey. For if we do not utterly fail, which is the lot of so many of us, still partial success has little power of bringing perfect satisfaction to a human spirit. You remember the old story of the Arabian Nights, about the wonderful palace that was built by magic, and all whose windows were set in precious stones, but there was one window that remained unadorned, and that spoiled all for the owner. His palace was full of treasures, but an enemy looked on all the wealth and suggested a previously unnoticed defect by saying, “You have not a toe’s egg.” He had never thought about getting a roc’s egg, and did not know what it was. But the consciousness of something lacking bad been roused, and it marred his enjoyment of what he had and drove him to set out on his travels to secure the missing thing. There is always something lacking, for our desires grow far faster than their satisfactions, and the more we have the wider our longing reaches out, so that as the wise old Book has it, “He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver, nor he that loveth abundance with increase.” You cannot fill a soul with the whole universe, if you do not put God in it.
II. the seeking which always finds. Now, how do we “seek the Lord”? We do not seek Him as if He had not sought us, or was hiding from us. But our search of Him is search after one who is near every one of us, and who delights in nothing so much as in pouring Himself into every heart. It is a short search that the child by her mother’s skirts, or her father’s side, has to make for mother or father. It is a shorter search that we have to make for God. We seek Him by desire, by communion, by obedience. And they who thus seek Him find Him in the act of seeking Him, just as certainly as if I open my eye I see the sun, as if I dilate my lungs the atmosphere rushes into them. For He is always seeking us. “The leather seeketh such to worship Him.” So that if we do seek Him, we shall surely find. We each of us have, accurately and precisely, as much of God as we desire to have. If there is only a very little of the Water of Life in our vessels, it is because we do not care to possess any more. “Seek, and ye shall find.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Come, ye children, hearken unto me: I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
The roots of the blessed life
What man is he that desireth a life that will extract the real “good” out of things, that will gather the honey in the hidden places, that will discover the essences in experiences, and get the marrow out of trifling and apparently inconsiderable events’? That is the modern statement of the problem. In what can we find the life of blessedness, full, spacious and refined?
I. the fear of the Lord. We must put aside all ideas of terror, of trembling servitude, of cringing servility. If the content included any element of terror, the spiritual life would be a doleful bondage; but there are strange conjunctions in the Word of God which make this interpretation impossible. What an amazing companionship is to be found in these words:--“Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice! . . . The fear of the Lord” is sensitiveness towards the Lord. It is the opposite of hardness, unfeelingness, benumbment. The soul that fears God is like a sensitive plate exposed to the light, and it records the faintest ray. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Sensitiveness towards God is the beginning of wisdom. Sensitiveness in music is the beginning of musical ability; sensitiveness in art is the beginning of artistic competence. Sensitiveness towards God is the beginning of expertness in the knowledge and doings of God. This sensitiveness towards God is one of the roots of the blessed life. To thrill to His faintest breathings, to hear the still small voice, to catch the first dim light of new revelations, to be exquisitely responsive to the movements of the Father, this is the great primary rootage of a full and blessed life. This sensitiveness towards God is a gift of God. “I will put My fear in their hearts.” By waiting upon the Lord, His refining ministry begins to restore the hardened surfaces of our life, and fills us again with a spirit of rare and exquisite discernment.
II. keep thy tongue from evil and thy lips from speaking guile. It is stupendously significant that in disclosing the secrets of the blessed life, the psalmist should immediately turn to the government of the tongue. Every word we speak recoils upon the speaker’s heart, and leaves its influence, either in grace or disfigurement. Therefore “keep thy tongue from evil.” Hold it in severe restriction. Venom, that passes out, also steeps in. “And thy lips from speaking guile.” Where the lips are treacherous, the heart is ill at ease. Where the lips are untrue, the heart abounds in suspicion. Where the lips have spoken the lie, the heart is afraid of exposure. How, then, can there be blessedness where there is dread? How can there be a quiet and fruitful happiness where poison is impairing the higher powers?
III. depart from evil. Turn from it. Don’t play with uncleanness. Don’t touch it with thy finger. Don’t hold conversation concerning it, for there are some things of which it is a “shame even to speak.” “Depart from evil and do good.” The best way to effect a permanent divorce from evil is to exercise oneself in active good. Where there is no positive ministry in goodness, we soon relapse into sin. A positive goodness will make the life invincible.
IV. seek peace, and pursue it. Not the peace of quietness, not, at any rate, the quietness of still machinery, but perhaps the smoothness of machinery at work. We have to live together in families, in societies, in nations, as a race. To seek peace is to seek the smooth workings of this complicated fellowship. We are to labour for right adjustments, equitable fellowships. We are to labour that the companionships of God’s children may run smoothly without a wasting and painful friction. “Seek peace, and pursue it.” We are not to give up the search because we are not immediately successful. We are not to say that society is hopeless because we make such little headway in the work of readjustment. We are to “pursue” the great aim, go chase it with all the eagerness of a keen hunter, determined not to relax the search until the mighty end is gained. (J. H. Jowett, M. A.)
The duty of teaching children the fear of the Lord
I. explain. In order to fear the Lord we must have a real sense of His being and presence. But God can only effectually teach this. But, relying on Him, we should early wish to teach our children their dependence upon God, their responsibility to Him, the duty of prayer, the preciousness of the Scriptures, the sanctity of the Lord’s Day.
II. reasons for thus teaching then.
1. To educate them without teaching them, this is a most defective education.
2. They are not qualified even for this life if they be not taught “godliness.” For it enables them to become happier and better members of society, and to more extensively benefit their fellow-creatures.
3. If the teaching of the fear of the Lord be omitted, there had better be no teaching at all. To improve the intellectual capacities without improving the heart and principles will be doing no kindness to those taught or to society at large. Therefore the importance of Sunday Schools. (E. Cooper.)
Children urged to hearken to instruction and to fear the Lord
I. why children should pay great attention to sermons.
1. Because if you do not, you cannot learn.
2. Because you cannot be made good but by learning.
3. Because ministers love you.
4. Because God Himself speaks.
II. why we ought to fear God.
1. Because He is so great.
2. Because He is so holy.
3. Because He is able to do what He will with you, both in this life and the next. (E. N. Kirk, M. A.)
What man is he that desireth life, and loveth many days, that he may see good?
The happiness of life
Why is it we see man on all sides wearying himself in the effort to obtain this and that? It can only be because they imagine that these things will make them happy. But will they? Not so. Most men are hewing out cisterns, broken cisterns, which will field no water. The sad thing is, that men never seem to realize the accumulated experience of others. How many a man has made a lifelong trouble for himself by taking true for false, and false for true! There are small ambitions, remember, as well as large ones. A clerk or a labourer may be as ambitious, everybody may be as ambitious in his sphere, as a statesman or an author in his. I say nothing of meannesses to which men must often submit if they engage in that struggle; I say nothing of the free conscience sold, of the noble independence sacrificed, of the voice of protest silenced; nothing of the fact that fame, if it be anything like fame, will raise many a pang of envy in the breasts of others; I say nothing of the inevitable disappointment, of the disenchantments of fruition; nothing of the cup of success dashed away by death or by change at the very moment that our lips seem to touch it; the very best, and even the very best circumstances, the end gained, can give no real, no deep, no lasting satisfaction. But perhaps you belong to that much larger number of sensible, practical persons who do not think much of the empty bubbles of rank and fame; they want wealth, and what wealth brings. Now if the love of money were not a disease, if it were not the fruitful mother of vices, if it were not difficult for the rich man to be humble and heavenly, if the desire to gain were not a scourge, would Christ have said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle,” etc.? There is a tribe of North-American Indians who are said to eat clay: I declare to you they seem to me to do no more for the body than the slaves of wealth in Britain do for the hungry soul, If there is no danger in wealth, or rather in the love of wealth, and the exaltation of wealth, would St. Paul have said, “They that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition”? There is only one kind of wealth which has or can have true happiness. It is a wealth far less plentiful than gold; it is the treasure, not of earth, but laid up in heaven,--the wealth which is spent in works of mercy and forethought, and the wealth which is increased by the limitation of reigning desires. And, lastly, are there none of you, especially among young men and young women, who fancy that happiness is to be found neither in rank, nor in wealth, but in the thing they call pleasure? What voices of the dead shall I invoke to describe the emptiness of selfish desire? Shall it be his, the glass of fashion and the mould of form of the last century, Lord Chesterfield? He says, “I have enjoyed all the pleasures of the world, and consequently know their value; but I by no means desire to repeat that nauseous potion for the sake of a fugitive dream.” Or shall it be his, the great lyric poet, Heinrich Heine, who in the last eight years of his lingering life, “I am,” he writes, “no longer brave, smiling, cheerful; I am only a poor death-sick and shadowy image of trouble--an unhappy man”? Enough: there is and can be no happiness in these things--ambition, money, unlawful pleasure. They are vanity; not only, alas, a mere vacuum, but a plenum of misery and wrong; not waterless clouds, but clouds that rain mildew; not empty cisterns, but cisterns full of poison and bitterness. If we want happiness at all, we must seek it everywhere, and everywhere it is of the heart. (Dean Farrar.)
I. life is a serious thing. Many do not take it seriously. Their great object is to get through it pleasurably. They glide along the stream of time into the ocean of eternity without ever having realized that “life is real, life is earnest.” It is a serious thing because--
1. It is the preparation-time for eternity. The time to seek and find in Christ the salvation of our souls.
2. It is the believer’s working-time for God.
3. It is a time of conflict with evil.
II. life is also a source of joy. Seriousness and joy are not incompatible, It is a serious thing to have the charge of a young life. Is it any the less a source of joy to have that precious charge committed to one? Life is a source of joy because--
1. God gives us innumerable blessings.
2. If we live it well it is a time of success. Even in this world God ever rewards His toilers with a sense of His presence and favour, and He often grants them true success.
3. Even here we may be conquerors in the conflict with evil through Him who loved us. (H. P. Wright, B. A.)
The way to a happy life
I. To bridle the tongue. Innumerable evils grow from this root of bitterness.
2. Slander and calumny; the inventing evil things of men, and falsely imputing them to them; this injurious practice to others is apt to provoke the like usage from them again.
II. To depart from evil, and do good.
1. The practice of virtue and religion is the natural cause of happiness. What can more highly conduce to the health of a man’s body, to the vigour and activity of his mind, to the improving of his estate, to the flourishing of his reputation, to the honour and safeguard of his whole life, than this, his departing from evil and doing good? Virtue seldom fails of its reward in this world.
2. The practice of virtue and religion never fails to obtain the patronage and protection of Divine providence. Righteousness is the image of God; true goodness, wheresoever it is, is a beam derived from that fountain of light, which God cannot choose, if He loves Himself, but cherish and bless with a peculiar favour.
III. To seek peace, and pursue it.
1. What is to be done by us in order to peace?
(1) A quiet and peaceable subjection to that government we live under.
(2) That every man keep in that place and station Divine providence hath set him, and not venture to act out of his own sphere. Did every under-mariner in a storm leave the pump and his own particular charge to instruct the pilot, or every common soldier in time of battle quit his post to instruct his captain, what tumults and confusions would this breed!
(3) A constant and conscientious adhering to the Church.
(4) That laying aside all pride and passion and self-interest, we pursue after truth with purity and simplicity of intention.
(5) That we bear with one another’s weaknesses and infirmities (Colossians 3:13). Human nature is indispensably subject to blindness, impatience and levity, mightily prone to mistake and mis-behaviour; the nature of a man’s soul is as far from infallibility as the constitution of his body is from immortality, and we can no more hope in all cases to be free from error and mistake, than we can at all times to be exempted from sickness and death. Now how reasonable is it that they should forgive, who so often themselves stand in need of forgiveness!
(6) That we pray for peace. The lusts and passions of men are by the psalmist compared to the raging waves of the sea, and the same almighty Power that sets bounds to the one, must also quiet and restrain the other.
2. How great a blessing peace is, and how highly it tends to make our days many and good.
(1) As it whets and excites diligence and industry in men’s several callings, by giving them hopes of success in them.
(2) As it gives men security in the enjoyment of their estates and possessions; in times of popular tumults the fears of losing what a man has creates him more trouble than the enjoyment gives him content.
(3) As it affords the fittest opportunity for the practice of religion and virtue, and so conduces to the happiness of the future state as well as of this. (S. Freeman, M. A.)
The elixir of life
Rosenmuller, the celebrated sacred critic, quotes the following instructive anecdote from the book of Mussar:--“A certain person, travelling through the city, continually called out, ‘Who wants the elixir of life?’ The daughter of Rabbi Joda heard him, and told her father, who bade her call the man in. When the man entered, the Rabbi asked, ‘What is the elixir of life which thou sellest?’ He answered, ‘Is it not written, “What man is he that loveth life, and desireth to see good days? let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking guile.” This is the elixir of life, and is found in the mouth of man.’” The hero of this anecdote wisely says, “This is the elixir of life.” The government of the tongue--consisting, of course, in a proper regulation of the passions--will do more both to sweeten life and to lengthen it, than all the medicines in the world. “The tongue is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison; it setteth on fire the course of nature, and it is set on fire of hell.” Most of the wars which desolate the earth, most of the tumults which afflict society, and many of the excitements which produce anxiety, sleeplessness, fever, and multitudinous disease, arise from rash, false, or malicious speaking. None but a Christian has this elixir,--no soul, but such as has been “created anew in Christ Jesus,” can enchain the malignant passions, making them captive under a reign of holy love, and pour a balm of honeyed words into the wounds of his own or his neighbour’s miseries. “The tongue can no man tame.” God alone can achieve the deed. Whoever would find “the elixir of life,” must seek it in that Heavenly Physician’s laboratory, who “healeth all our diseases,” who “satisfieth our mouth with good things,” and who “reneweth our youth like the eagle’s.”
Keep thy tongue from evil.--
Keeping the tongue from evil
1. There are different ways of sinning with the tongue. Our words may be--
(1) Exaggerated. It is easy to make light of the common expressions, “terrible, awful,” and the like; but they are on the road to sin, and betray a tendency to make more of things than they deserve, which is at bottom self-conceit.
(2) Insincere. Saying pleasant things without meaning them--the wrong and sinful side of politeness.
(3) Malicious. Speaking falsely about a person so as to hurt him.
(4) Profane. The use of vulgar and blasphemous words which young people adopt as a sign of manly independence. And that often goes further, and becomes filthy and immoral.
2. The tongue may be kept:
(1) By keeping the heart right.
(2) By persistent effort to break a bad habit.
(3) By the choice of good friends.
(4) By prayer. (G. M. Mackie, M. A.)
Keeping guard over one’s words
The Chinese have a proverb we shall do well to remember: “A word rashly spoken cannot be brought back by a chariot and four horses.” The Hindoos have a similar one: “Of thy unspoken word thou art master, thy spoken word is master of thee;” and many a heartache is caused in this world of ours by the passionate utterance of the hasty and the unkind word. Let us remember the adage trite and true: “Speech is silvern, silence is golden;” and, if we cannot speak gently, let us try not to speak at all.
Seek peace, and pursue it.--
The pursuit of peace
The more a man advances in piety the more his inward tranquillity ought to increase. The day grows calmer as the sun draws near its setting. (J. W. Alexander.)
The eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and His ears are open unto their prayers.
The countenance of the Lord is against them that do evil.
The eye of God
We all know well how much and often the Holy Scriptures speak of the blessed God, attributing to Him, under a figure, various human things, such as bodily members and organs, and mental feelings. It is an obvious caution, to warn people against understanding all these expressions literally; but it is a caution, one would think, not very necessary in these days. The opposite one, however, is needed, for in our excessive fears of corporeal conceptions of God, the thought of Him is becoming altogether vague and unreal. Our simplicity is our best wisdom, and we should think of God as He is vividly and simply and, as far as our powers can conceive of Him, truly set forth to us in Holy Scripture. The eye of God is, then, over the righteous to protect and comfort them, and His ear open to their prayers, to hear and answer them; while His countenance, not less all-seeing, is turned in displeasure and wrath upon those who do evil, so as to punish them with destruction. His eye is turned upon the good in love, and upon the bad in anger. Consider, then, ye who know well what it is to feel and love the sight of a parent’s eye turned on you in approving affection, how God desires, by speaking so, to be regarded by you as looking upon you. Think how, when you have been trying to please your earthly parents, how, perhaps, when you have been trying to overcome some unkind or unworthy temper, some angry or sullen feeling, you have felt their eye turned upon you in tender and loving approbation, and have been encouraged to conquer the evil spirit who was assailing you. And God thus represents Himself to you, and bids you remember that His eye is over the righteous. But His countenance is against them that do evil. He seeth not less the sinners. His eyes are in every place, beholding the evil and the good. Let none suppose that he shuns, or can shun, the eye of God by disregarding it. It is the folly of the foolish bird which shuts its own eyes, and then thinks itself unseen. I would I might, by God’s grace, waken up in the hearts of some of you the thought of the eye of God; the thought of the ever-present, ever-wakeful, heart-searching, tender, paternal eye of God, which is over you His own redeemed children! (G. Moberly, D. C. L.)
An encouraging theology
I. that God is specially interested in the existence of man on this earth (Psalms 34:15-16).
1. Man is His offspring.
2. Man is His suffering offspring.
II. that God is mainly concerned with the moral distinctions of men on this earth.
1. Two classes of moral character are represented in the verses, and they are spoken of--
(1) As “wicked,” and “righteous.”
(2) As those that “trust in Him” and those that “hate the righteous.”
(3) As those that “do evil,” and those that are “His servants.” His servants are represented as broken in heart and contrite in spirit.
2. He sees all the other distinctions amongst men, physical, intellectual, social, political, religious. But these moral distinctions interest Him most, they are more affecting to His heart, more vital to the happiness of His creatures, more fundamental to the weal of His universe.
III. that God evermore treats men according to the moral character which they sustain on this earth.
1. Look at His conduct towards the righteous.
(1) He superintends them; His “eyes” and His “ears” are towards them. He keeps a vigilant watch over them.
(2) He hears them. No mother’s ears are half so quick to catch the cries of a suffering child as His ears to catch the cries of His afflicted people.
(3) He is nigh them. Not in a mere local or physical sense, but in the sense of tenderest sympathy and regard.
(4) He saves them. Deep, tender, and constant is His interest in them.
2. Look at His conduct towards the wicked.
(1) He is against them for their ruin (Psalms 34:16).
(2) He allows their sin to destroy them (Psalms 34:21). (Homilist.)
The face of the Lord
Our eye is dimmer than the eye of the men of old time for the vision of the face of God. We have greater thoughts, no doubt, about His name, His nature, His purposes, His methods. But His countenance, flashing with intelligence, clouding with sorrow, beaming with love, as it looks out on us through the Creation, seems to escape us. Nature is very beautiful, very glorious, very terrible; but there is no speculation in the eye wherewith she beholds us. Less cultivated peoples seem to discern a presence, to hear a voice, to feel a touch of some living being in all the play and movement of the Creation. To our wise ones it is but the manifestation of vital force, the constant, pitiless swing of the wheels of a vast vital mechanism. But the face of the Lord, to those whose eye is open to behold it, is not veiled; it looks out on them still through its organs of expression in Nature and in man.
I. the lofty and patient method of god in guiding and ruling mankind. The face of the Lord is against them that do evil; not the weight of His hand as yet. God gives to man a large liberty to do evil. In truth, we hardly realize how large and high is His method. We constantly expect that His hand of force will close upon us in some self-willed, sinful course which we are bent on pursuing; and if He fails to meet us, if the path seems open, if the sun shines, if the birds sing, and the fruits of pleasure hang pendent from the boughs, we are tempted to instruct our own consciences, and to say, God cannot be so sternly set against our self-willed course after all. It is truly fearful to realize the rude limits of our power to corrupt, to torment, to madden His children; to make the world a place of wailing, and life a bitter protest against the goodness and righteousness of His reign. How much are you adding daily to the pain and sorrow of the Creation? Do you never wonder that the iron hand of God’s power does not close firmly round you, and make you feel that there are limits beyond which you shall not use your fearful prerogative of freedom--beyond which you shall not fill God’s seed-field with the seeds of misery and death? But the hand is still open; still dropping, broadcast, blessings on your life.
II. let us study the forms in which the face of God is against man’s evil, and how it bears upon his life.
1. There is the face of God in the daylight of Creation (Genesis 3:8-13). Shame, fear, and a great rout of base and slavish passions enter with sin, and drive out that child’s frank joy and trust with which man was made and meant to look up to God. Nature is, in one sense, impassive. But the evil-doer finds an expression on her countenance, a frown on her brow, which startles and appals him. The flash of the lightning across the murderer’s path reveals to him something more than the splendour of electric fire. The splendour departs--a dull, sad shadow settles over the world. The evil-doer loses all sense of a living presence in Nature. Life gets drained of its interest, the world of its beauty, the future of its hope. The face of God ceases to affright. It ceases even to appear behind the veil of the invisible. What does this mean? Is it that all barriers are withdrawn, and that the evil-doer has the universe and eternity before him in which to work out his malignant will? Nay, it means that the sinner has passed out of the light of God’s countenance, out of the sphere of his freedom, into the grasp of God’s terrible hand. This is what is meant by falling “into the hands of the living God.”
2. The face of the Lord is against them that do evil, in the moral instincts, the moral judgments, of their fellows, and in the whole order of the human world. A man, let us say, walks about burdened with a great, guilty secret. What is it which makes him feel as if every man whom he meets was acquainted with it, and was trying to shame him? What but the face of God looking out on him through the face of man, His image?
3. The face of the Lord looks out on men through the various forms of the discipline of life. There is a striking instance of what I mean in 1 Kings 17:9-18. Day by day you are brought into contact with a mind and a will outside you, not only by what you see, but also by what you endure.
4. The face of the Lord looks out against them that do evil, through the gathering glooms of death. A man hardened in sin may walk at ease through nil the pathways of the world, crying, Where is the Lord? in impious defiance or presumptuous scorn. But to every man in death the face reappears--never to vanish again through eternity. Men who have been recovered from apparent death, and have gone through all the experience of dying, tell strange tales of how in one burning moment the buried past reappears. The whole scroll of life unrolled, clear and orderly, before them; every thought, passion, incident, experience, standing out with startling vividness before the mind’s eyed and all in the clear daylight. No mist or confusion upon them; all risen again before the face of God. And that vision is for over. The “vain show” vanishes; the illusion is for ever ended. (J. B. Brown, B. A.)
The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken ,heart: and sayeth such as be of a contrite spirit.
The broken heart and its Divine Restorer
The Lord is nigh. Now to be nigh to one object is to be more or less distant from others. So is it with men, and human language is employed to represent what is here told us of God. He cannot really be far from any heart. But, in a very deep sense, He is nigh the broken heart--to help, to comfort, to save.
I. Look at the broken heart and contrite spirit. “A broken heart,” a “crushed spirit,” what is it? The heart before us may be Considered to be like a piece of fine mechanism disordered, or some work of art fractured--some work of art made of exquisitely delicate material, and of very fine workmanship; or like flesh when worn and bruised. We selfish men like to look on things that are pleasant, and we frequently turn our faces away from that which is unpleasant. You always find God’s face turned towards objects like unto these broken hearts and crushed spirits.
II. now to such a heart God is nigh, and such a spirit God seeks to save.
1. He “is nigh” in knowledge, He knows all its history.
2. In ministration. “He saveth such,” etc. When God heals the broken heart, it is none the worse for having been broken. An angel could not do this; God can, and does.
III. learn the lessons of this truth.
1. DO not morbidly crave for creature help and fellowship. You can do without them, for God Himself is nigh.
2. Do not think, feel, or act as if He were far off. He has all along known how you would be placed, and He is nigh.
3. Remember that the resources of God are available in the hour of greatest need.
4. Do not despond or despair. You may be broken in heart, or crushed in spirit, without despondency, or despair, being elements of your sorrow; you may either cherish these feelings or fight against them. Now the feeblest fighting against them is victorious, if this struggle be carried on in the name of the Redeemer of men. If you find yourself sinking into some horrible pit of despondency and despair, it is your most sacred duty to cry importunately unto Him.
5. Look a little further by the light of this text, and observe that a broken heart and a crushed Spirit are named not as uncommon things. These are not uncommon things in human life; and you who are accustomed to look beyond surface, and beyond curtains, and draperies, and shams, and masks, know this as well as I.
6. But look once more at the text, and mark, that God being nigh is mentioned as something ordinary. A broken heart is common--God’s saving is a common thing. Some of you need this text. You need it as a word of warning. You seem to have set yourselves in a kind of morbid obstinacy to cherish a broken heart and a crushed spirit. You seem to have determined to perpetuate your misery. Now this text tells you where to turn for help. You cannot find it apart from God. No man ever yet healed his own crushed spirit, never will. “He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.” Your fellow-Christians, religious books, consolatory hymns--all these are good so long as they lead you to God, but if they come between you and the Great Helper, you are better without them. These books cannot do the work you require to be done for you. (Samuel Martin.)
A broken heart
I. This heart feels that it deserves to be broken, deeply humbled, yea, crushed with anguish. The source of its sorrow is conscious delinquency, undeniable guilt, the abuse of many a mercy, and a heedless indulgence in many an evil passion. The sorrow thus produced is oftentimes unspeakably severe. Poverty may depress, persecution may harass, disease may prostrate, and bereavement produce painful blanks in the domestic circle; but a sorrow, more intense than is felt in all these has a place in the broken heart.
II. A broken heart is thankful that it has been broken. It feels that a power has been put forth upon it altogether foreign to itself, and apart from any means for this purpose that it could employ; and hence its adoring gratitude for the change effected.
III. A broken heart desires to be more and more broken. Washington Irving is represented to have said that “sorrow for the dead is the only sorrow from which we refuse to be divorced. Every other wound we seek to heal, every other affliction to forget; but this wound we consider it a duty to keep open; this affliction we cherish, and brood over in solitude.” Such language is, no doubt, very beautiful, and touchingly expressed. But how did this amiable student of the common sympathies of humanity forget that broken heart, of deepest interest, which refuses to be divorced from its sorrow on account of sin?
IV. A broken heart surveys with amazement the innumerable mercies with which it is encompassed. These mercies are like the stars of heaven for multitude; and there stands in the midst of them the gift of God’s Son, like the king of day amid the lesser luminaries of the sky. What a mercy is the Word of God! It testifies of Christ, and brings life and immortality to light. What a mercy is a throne of grace! I have sins, and I can go there for pardon; I have a polluted nature, and can go there for purity; I have enemies, and can go there for help; for weakness I can go there for strength; and for sickness, I can go there for health.
V. A broken heart is a tender heart--affectionate, forgiving, forbearing.
VI. A broken heart is an acquiescing heart.
VII. A broken heart triumphs in the assurance that all its sorrows shall issue in rivers of pleasure and a fulness of joy. Upon what does this assurance rest? It rests upon the fact of its own existence. Why has God broken this heart? That it may never be healed? No, no. Let us not, then, invest it with gloom, and sullenness, and sorrow. Let us invest it with joy. (Thomas Adam.)
A broken heart
A gentleman, having broken his watch glass, entered a jeweller’s to have a new one fixed. When the watch was returned, he inquired how much they would allow for the broken pieces. On being told that broken things were of no value, he said, “I have a book at home that says something is no good till it is broken.” “That must be a strange kind of book,” said the jeweller. “Yes,” said the other, “‘A broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.’” “I see you are talking religion,” was the reply. (Newton Jones.)
The obdurate heart softened
Go into a cast-iron foundry and witness the extraordinary process by which fire conquers the solid metal, until it consents to be cast or stamped or rolled into the form which the artificer requires. This is a type of God’s moral foundry, when an obdurate heart is first so softened as to feel the truth, then to weep over sin, then to be ductile, then so flexible as to be formed into a shape that pleases the Lord Jesus Christ.
Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the Lord delivereth them out of them all.
The trial of the righteous
The sum of this verse is as if he should say, Let the righteous look for more troubles than others, and likewise let them hope for greater comforts than others; for when they are well, they shall be eclipsed again, to show that their light was but borrowed; and when they are eclipsed, their light shall return, to show their difference from them whom God hateth, which fall from plague to plague, as they run from sin to sin.
I. what makes our troubles so hard to bear is our lack of patience, how great is our need of this grace! “A sound spirit,” saith Solomon, “will bear his infirmity, but a wounded spirit what can sustain?” (Proverbs 18:14). Therefore as the lid is made to open and shut, to save the eye, so patience is set to keep the soul, and save the heart; whole, to cheer the body again. Therefore if you mark, when you can go by an offence, and take a little wrong and suffer trouble quietly, you have a kind of peace and joy in your heart, as if you have gotten a victory, and the more your patience is, still the less your pain is. For as a light burden, borne at the arm’s end, weigheth heavier by much, than a burden of treble weight, if it be borne upon the shoulders, which are made to bear; so if a man set impatience to bear his cross, which is not fit to bear, it will grumble, and murmur, and let the burden fall upon his head, like a broken staff, which promiseth to help him over the water, and leaveth him in the ditch. But if you pug it to patience, and set her to bear it, which is appointed to bear, she is like the hearty spies that came from Canaan, and said, “It is nothing to overcome them” (Joshua 2:1-24.). Among the strange cures of patience, David may report of his experience what this plaster hath done for him; for, being a figure of Christ, he was always hedged about with the Cross, which proved his patience like a touchstone every day. As Christ was contemned of his countrymen, so David was contemned of his brethren (1 Samuel 26:2); as Christ fled to Egypt, so David fled unto Gath; as Christ received food of women, so David received food of Abigail (Luke 8:2); as Herod persecuted Christ, so Saul persecuted David. Thus, by his own foot, David measured the condition of the righteous, and saith, “Many are the troubles of the righteous”; and then, by his own cure, he showeth how they should be healed, saying, “The Lord will deliver him out of all.” If ye mark, the Spirit hath directed David to those two things which make us take our troubles grievously: one, because we do not look for them before they come. Therefore, as Christ told Peter before he suffered, to strengthen him when he suffered (John 21:18); so the Holy Ghost doth run upon the cross to keep us in expectation of troubles, that we might prepare faith, and patience, and constancy for them, as Noah prepared an ark for the flood.
II. The second thing which makes us to start so at the cross is, because we are like the prophet’s servant, which did see his foes, but not his friends (2 Kings 6:1-33.); so we see our sore, but not our salve, Comfort seems afar off, like Abraham in the heavens (Luke 16:1-31.), as though it would never come so low. Therefore we go about to deliver ourselves, as it is said, Psalms 2:1-12., “Let us break his bands,” as though we could deliver ourselves. But “hold your peace,” saith Moses, “the Lord shall fight for you” (Exodus 14:14). So David comes in like a pacifier, and saith, “Vex not yourselves, for the Lord will deliver you.” Bear both these sentences in mind, that you must go through a sea of troubles, and that then you shall come to the haven of rest, and no affliction shall take you before you be armed for it, or you be without your remedy: “Many are the troubles of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth him out of all.” Here be the two hands of God, like a wound and a plaster, one casteth down, and the other raiseth up. It is good for a man to know his troubles before they come, because afflictions are lightened in the expectation (Acts 9:16; Matthew 16:24; John 2:10). This is the manner of God’s proceedings to send good after evil, as He made light after darkness (Genesis 1:3). The knife of correction must prune and lop off men’s rotten twigs before they can bring forth fruit.
III. yet our troubles are but troubles. When God doth visit the wicked, His punishments are called plagues and destructions; the plagues of Egypt, the curse of Cain, the destruction of Sodom. But when He doth visit the righteous, His punishments are called corrections, and chastisements, and rods, which proceed from a Father, not to destroy us, but to try us, and purge us, and instruct us. And as Jacob was blessed and halted both at one time, so a man may be blessed and afflicted both together. Afflictions do not hinder our happiness, but our happiness cometh by affliction, as Jacob’s blessing came with halting (Genesis 32:1-32.), and as peace is procured by war. (Henry Smith.)
The good man under afflictions
I. afflictions often befall the best of men; some, that are common to them with the rest of mankind, and others, that are peculiar to persons of this character. The righteous man, as well as others, may be deserted by his friend, and abused by his enemies. Death may deprive him of those dear to him, and swell his heart with sorrow. His virtue will not secure him from infamy and contempt, from losses and disappointments in his worldly affairs; from poverty, and the thousand hardships that attend it, from bad health and painful distempers. Then, besides his own private afflictions, the good man, through the tenderness of his heart, feels the calamities of his fellow-creatures, and shares in the manifold evils he sees them suffer. Righteousness or virtue sometimes draws upon itself the hatred of bad men, with all the evils they are able to inflict. Eminent worth, which outshines others, and makes them appear despicable and mean, provokes their envy, the most bitter and deadly of human passions. Besides, integrity may lead a man to oppose the wicked in their unjust and mischievous designs; wherefore these will join themselves to such as envy him, and increase the number of his enemies.
II. why the righteous are afflicted. If God lays affliction upon the righteous, it is not because He has no distinguishing regard for them; but because their sufferings may answer many valuable purposes both to others and themselves.
1. I say, others may reap various advantages by observing the sufferings of good men. By such events God may intend to admonish us, that prosperity is not the best of blessings, nor adversity the worst of evils; since He frequently dispenses the one, and denies the other to His own children. The suffering of the righteous may also be of service to the world; as by this means their virtues are more clearly displayed, and recommended with greater force to the imitation of mankind.
2. Their afflictions often produce great advantages to the sufferers themselves. Among these, I am not afraid to mention the glory they derive from hence. Suffering virtue at least may surely be allowed to comfort itself with the foresight of that veneration, which is wrongfully withheld from it when living; but which posterity will pay with interest to its surviving memory. ,Nor is it a small advantage, that by means of their sufferings the righteous may attain a comfortable assurance of their own constancy. Sometimes also adversity is profitable to good men, as it helps to cure them of their remaining imperfections.
III. the righteous man’s supports under afflictions.
1. The native strength of his virtue, which enables him to break their forte by opposing to them a firm and constant mind.
2. Religion also lends him a powerful aid. (John Holland.)
Evil shall slay the wicked.
Sin the slayer
“Evil shall slay the wicked.” When? Now. The judgment is in process of execution to-day. Evil slays men to-day. Righteousness delivers men to-day.
I. evil shall slay the wicked. Have you ever known that to happen? Have you ever known evil to slay a man--I don’t mean the man’s body, but the man? It is a daily commonplace. When we see a man who is the victim of some sin, we do not speak of him as dying or as being slain. We speak of him as one “taking the bad way,” “going down the hill,” “going to ruin,” as one who is “becoming a wreck.” The victims of evil are dying, dying from the effects of evil, and eventually they are slain. Now, there is no form of evil which does not make for destruction, for moral and spiritual death. “The soul that sinneth shall die.” The soul begins to die at once. The poison begins to act immediately. My text does not specialize any particular evil--drunkenness, or sensualism, or gambling, or falsehood, or deceit. It speaks of them all as one, generalizes them, heaps them together and says, “Evil shall slay the wicked!” Anything that is destroying a woman’s womanhood is slaying the woman. Anything that is destroying a man’s manhood is slaying the man.
1. What makes a man? What are the supreme and characteristic glories of a true man? A good conscience, a sound heart; and a vigorous will. A healthy man has a conscience by which he knows the right. He has a heart by which he loves the right. He has a will by which he does the right. Take away any of those three from a man and the man is maimed. You do not use the title “man” of one who has no conscience. You do not use it to describe one who has no heart. You do not use it of manhood which is destitute of will. Instinctively you feel that manhood which lacks these attributes is not; worthy of the name. When these three are destroyed, the man is slain. Now, how does evil affect these primary glories of manhood?
(1) How does evil affect the will? Will, in the relationship in which I speak of it, is moral muscle. Will-power is resolution of purpose, power of determination, power of aggression or resistance. How, then, does evil affect the will? Poison weakens the body; moral poison weakens the will. Every time we give way to deceit, to temper, to passion, to lust, we make it harder to walk in the path of rectitude and truth. Every time we have dealings with evil we impair and diminish our moral resources. Evil slays the wicked man, and it begins by slaying his will.
(2) How does evil affect the heart? Have you marked what often happens when some dark evil has stolen into a Christian man’s life? Prayer is forgotten. Work is neglected. The Sanctuary is forsaken. His ardour cools, and he no longer loves the truth. His love has become perverted. How is it? When men love darkness it is because evil has injured their hearts. The heart is given us to love the truth, but evil injures the heart, abuses the heart, destroys its pure affection, and makes it the instrument of darkness. If we take evil into our life we shall lose the power to love the right; we shall be unmanned, evil which slays the wicked will destroy the heart.
(3) How does evil affect the conscience? Here is my lamp. My lamp says, “I will give light conditionally. I will give light if you will give oil.” My conscience, the lamp of my soul, says, “I will give light conditionally. I will give light if you will give oil.” If a man refuses to obey his conscience, he refuses to give it oil, and it will burn dimmer and dimmer until at last it will become a confusion of smoke. It is possible for a conscience to lose its brightness, its clear, decisive indication; nay, it is not only possible, it is inevitable if we pursue towards it a course of disobedience.
2. Well, now, here is what evil can do. It weakens my power to do the right. It destroys my love of right. It obscures my knowledge of right. It paralyzes my will. It clouds my conscience. It perverts my heart. If evil can do all these things, does it not slay? Does it not destroy the strength and beauty of human life? It takes our manhood and womanhood and by cutting down all their glories reduces them to be a mere collection of attributes of the flesh.
II. But there is another side to all this: if evil slays the wicked, righteousness delivers from death. If evil degrades our life by taking away the crown of manhood, and the beauty of womanhood, righteousness enlarges the life by nourishing it from glory to glory. Evil throws about us an atmosphere which induces death. Righteousness throws about it an atmosphere which ministers to life. What is the fruit of righteousness? Not only some heaven that is to be. Not only some great reward awaiting us in remote futurity. The fruit of righteousness is to be “a tree of life.” The righteous man, here and now, is to be like a grand, roomy, living tree, full of healthy sap, and exulting in the fulness of its strength. Every part of him is to be alive. That is the tendency of righteousness, of right living, of right doing and being; it makes for life, abundant life. (J. H. Jowett, M. A.)
None of them that trust in Him shall be desolate.
The R.V. accurately renders the words: “None of them that trust in Him shall be condemned.” When we read in the New Testament that “we are justified by faith,” the meaning is precisely the same as that of our text. Thus, however it came about, here is this psalmist, standing away back amidst the shadows and symbols and ritualisms of that Old Covenant, and rising at once, above all the mists, right up into the sunshine, and seeing, as clearly as we see it, that the way to escape condemnation is simple faith.
I. the people that are spoken of here. “None of them that trust in Him.” The word that is here translated, rightly, “trust,” means literally to fly to a refuge, or to betake oneself to some defence in order to get shelter there. There is a trace of both meanings, literal and metaphorical, in another psalm, where we read, amidst the psalmist’s rapturous heaping together of great names for God: “My Rock, in whom I will trust.” Now keep to the literal meaning there, and you see how it flashes up the whole into beauty: “My Rock, to whom I will flee for refuge,” and put my back against it, and stand as impregnable as it; or get myself well into the clefts of it, and then nothing can touch me. Then we find the same words, with the picture of flight and the reality of faith, used with another set of associations in another psalm, which says: “He shall cover thee with His feathers, and under His wings shelf thou trust.” That grates, one gets away from the metaphor too quickly; but if we preserve the literal meaning, and read, “under His wings shalt thou flee for refuge,” we have the picture of the chicken flying to the mother-bird when kites are in the sky, and huddling close to the warm breast and the soft, downy feathers, and so with the spread of the great wing being sheltered from all possibility of harm. There is one thing more that I would notice, and that is that this designation of the persons as “them that trust in Him” follows last of all in a somewhat lengthened series of designations for good people. They are these: “the righteous”--“them that are of a broken heart”--“such as be of a contrite spirit”--“His servants,” and then, lastly, comes, as basis of all, as, so to speak, the keynote of all, “none of them that trust in Him.” That is to say--righteousness, true and blessed consciousness of sin, joyful surrender of self to loving and grateful submission to God’s will, are all connected with or flow from that act of trust in Him. And if you are really trusting in Him, your trust will produce all these various fruits of righteousness, and lowliness, and joyful service.
II. the blessing here promised. “None of them that trust in Him shall be condemned.” The word includes the following varying shades of meaning, which, although they are various, are all closely connected, as you will see--to incur guilt, to feel guilty, to be condemned, to be punished. All these four are inextricably blended together. And the fact that the one word in the Old Testament covers all that ground suggests some very solemn thoughts.
1. Guilt, or sin, and condemnation and punishment, are, if not absolutely identical, inseparable. To be guilty is to be condemned.
2. This judgment, this condemnation, is not only present, according to our Lord’s own great words, which perhaps are an allusion to these: “He that believeth not is condemned already”; but it also suggests the universality of that condemnation. Our psalmist says that only through trusting Him can a man be taken and lifted away, as it were, from the descent of the thundercloud, and its bolt that lies above his head. “They that trust Him are not condemned,” every one else is; not “shall be,” but is, to-day, here and now.
III. the sole deliverance from this universal pressure of the condemnatory influence of universal sin lies in that fleeing for refuge to God. And then comes in the Christian addition, “to God, as manifested in Jesus Christ.” You and I know more than this singer did, for we can listen to the Master, who says, “He that believeth on Him is not condemned”; and to the servant who echoes, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The Gospel before the Gospel
I. what trust is. We do not need to bewilder ourselves with metaphysical and theological subtleties. We know what it is to run to a refuge from storm or danger. So, then, “none of them that flee to Him for refuge shall be condemned.”
II. the accompaniments in the devout soul of true trust in God. Has it by its side a real penitence? Does there walk behind it a consistent and steadfast righteousness? Are we not only trusting the Lord, but serving Him? If our faith has drawn after it these things, it is true. If it has not, it is no real flight to the one Refuge. Righteousness in heart and in character and in conduct is the child of trust. True contrition accompanies it in its birth, but is nourished and nurtured by it thereafter.
III. the great reward and blessing of quiet trust. “None of them that flee to Him for refuge shall be condemned.” The word in its original and literal meaning, signifies “desolate.” And I would have you to think of the profound truth that is covered by the fact that such a word should afterwards take on the meaning of “guilt.” It teaches that guilt is desolation. Again, note the profound truth that lies in the other fact that the self-same word means “guilty” and “punishment.” For that says to us that criminality and retribution always go together, and that the same thing, in one aspect, is our sin, and, in another aspect, is our hell and punishment. Then, further, note that broad, unconditional, blessed assurance, cast into negative form, but involving a great deal more than a negation, “None of them that trust in Him shall be condemned.” The reason why they that trust in Him are not condemned is because they that trust in Him, stand in the full sunshine of His love, and are saturated and soaked through and through, if they will, with the warmth and the light and the felicity of its beams. “They shall not be condemned,” and “whom He justifies them He also glorifies.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
A message to the desolate
To be desolate is to be devastated and destroyed. The ruin, whether of temple or of colosseum, is a picture of desolation. It is also loneliness. We have seen the solitary cottage among the Alps. There was no other cottage in sight, only the unbroken mountain range. We have seen the lone cabin on the plains, or the ship on the sea with nothing but the waters beneath and the sky above. These are pictures of desolation and loneliness which, I am inclined to think, find their duplicate in the life of men and women.
I. what are some of the causes?
1. To be misunderstood. The misunderstandings of life are nails to the hands or flames to the body. They cut one off from fellowship; they hurt and hinder and add to the solitude of life. Our Lord was misunderstood, lie was isolated by the very fact that lie was not understood. Therefore, upon at least three different occasions the Father encouraged Him. When He was baptized the voice of approval broke through the skies. When He was transfigured God spoke to Him and encouraged Him with the revelation of His presence, and in the Garden of Gethsemane the angel ministered unto Him. The satisfaction of His heart was found in the consciousness that while men did not understand Him God did. That saved Him from utter desolation. That saves us all from despair. To know that God knows us and understands us is to enjoy the highest spiritual companionship.
2. In proportion as we go far below or far above the common experiences of men do we experience isolation. The cathedral spire and the mountain peak are lonely. They are solitary. They enjoy no companionship. They are exceptions. So the shaft sunk deep in the earth is exceptional. A great emotion whether of joy or grief projects the life out of the ordinary; as an inlet of the sea. There is a loneliness and isolation in great thinking. Thomas Carlyle led a comparatively lonely life, a life of intellectual desolation, partly because he threaded his way up the dizzy heights of thought.
3. When you have a great sorrow it must be met and borne alone. Every soul goes through the valley of the shadow of death essentially alone so far as human help is concerned, which is to say, every heart knows its own sorrow and must bear its own burden. In the greatest griefs there is room only for the soul and God.
4. Sin leads to desolation. There is no real companionship in sin. Sin is destructive of brotherhood and fellowship. It narrows the life. The source of sin is selfishness, and the more selfish a life is the more narrow and lonely and desolate it is. Sin is desolation. It is a desert without a spring. Desolation is hell. We do not know much about the hell of the future, but we do know something of the hell of the present.
II. what, then, shall we do to escape the life of desolation? How shall we people our little world with companions and brighten it with brotherhood and blessings?
1. By a right use of the mind. We do not know precisely what or where the mind is, but we do know that it is the measure of the man. It is the eternal within us. Whatever may happen to the body, if the mind’s sky is clear, what matters it? If our minds master us, rules and lead us, we will derive an immense amount of good from life, and each one, like St. Catherine of old, will have a secret oratory within which we may retreat.
2. Trust; trust in God. This is an old and well-worn injunction. For centuries men have been urged to trust in God. Why should they? Does it put bread in the pantry and money in the bank? Does it keep disease from the children or sorrows from the home? Why should we trust in God? We should believe that God is with us always. We do or do not believe this. If we do not we are desolate. If we do we are not desolate. (W. Rader.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 34". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany