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Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness.
A gentle remonstrance
This Psalm is mainly a gentle, earnest remonstrance with antagonists, seeking to win them to a better mind. The cry for an answer by deed is based on the name and on the past acts of God. The pronoun “my” is best attached to “righteousness,” as the consideration that God is righteous is less relevant than that He is the source of the Psalmist’s righteousness. Since He is so, He may be expected to vindicate it by answering prayer with deliverance. He who feels that all good in himself comes from God may be quite sure that, sooner or later, and by some means or other, God will witness to His own work. The strophe division keeps together the prayer and the beginning of the remonstrance to opponents, and does so in order to emphasise the eloquent, sharp juxtaposition of God and the “sons of men.” Verse 6 may be the continuance of the address to the enemies, carrying on the exhortation to trust. Verses 7 and 8 are separated from Psalms 4:6 by their purely personal reference. The Psalmist returns to the tone of his prayer in Psalms 4:1; only, that petition has given place, as it should do, to possession and confident thankfulness. The Psalmist here touches the bottom, the foundation fact on which every life that is not vanity must be based, and which verifies itself in every life that is so based. The glad heart possessing Jehovah can lay itself down and sleep, though foes stand round. The last words of the Psalm flow restfully like a lullaby. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The great trials of life
1. A recognition of God’s righteousness. He might have thought upon God now as the “author” of his righteousness, and felt that all that was righteous in his own heart and life came from God; or as the vindicator of his righteousness who alone was able to defend his righteous cause; or as the administrator of righteousness, conducting His government upon righteous principles and bringing even upon him only the sufferings he justly deserved. There is something deep in the soul of man which leads him to appeal to the righteous God when he feels himself to be the victim of fraud or violence. Even Christ Himself did so.
2. A remembrance of God’s goodness. “Thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress.” The reference is to some deliverance which he had experienced. He remembered, perhaps, the goodness of God to him when, ill the field guarding his father’s flocks, he was delivered out of the paw of the lion and out of the paw of the bear; or His goodness to him in delivering him from the giant of Philistia. The memory of God’s past mercies to him gave courage to his heart and an argument in his prayer now. Because God has helped us we expect Him to help us again, and thus we plead. Not so with man. The more our fellow being has helped us the less reason we have to expect His aid. Man’s capacity for help is limited. The capability of God is unbounded.
3. An invocation of God’s favour. “. . .Have mercy upon me and hear my prayer.” Mercy is what we want. Mercy to forgive, to renovate, to strengthen the soul, to labour and to wait.
II. Rebuking. David having addressed the righteous God in prayer, hurls his rebuke at his enemies. His rebuke is marked--
1. By boldness. “. . .O ye sons of men”--ye great men of the land--“. . .O how long will ye turn my glory into shame, how long will ye love vanity and seek after leasing. In this appeal the speaker’s sense of honour, justice, truth seems to have run into a passion that fired and flooded his whole being.
2. By alarm. “. . .Know that the Lord hath set apart him that is godly for Himself: the Lord will hear when I call unto Him,” which means, “Know this, the Lord will take care of me whom He has elected King to serve Himself, and He will hear when I call upon Him.” Your opposition is futile. Beware, you are rebelling not merely against me, but against Omnipotence itself. It is a terrible thing to oppress or injure God’s elected ones.
3. By authority. “. . .Stand in awe, and sin not, commune with your own heart on your bed, and be still. Selah.”--Mind this. This command includes three things.
(1) Cease from your rage. Let your insurrectionary passion be hushed. The soul under wrong passions is like a rudderless bark driven by the tempest; shipwreck is all but inevitable.
(2) Retire to thoughtfulness. “Commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still.” It is in man’s own soul that God meets with him, and communes with him as He did of old before the mercy seat.
(3) Practise religion. “. . .Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the Lord.” What is righteous sacrifice? The consecration of our energies, our self, our all, to the service of justice, truth, and God. “. . .The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart Thou wilt not despise.”
III. Teaching. “There be many that say, who will show us any good? Lord lift Thou up the light of Thy countenance upon us.”
1. The universal craving of humanity There are many that say unto us,” etc. Men are everywhere craving for happiness. From shops and sanctuaries, from the peasant’s cot and the prince’s castle, from the bush of savages and the bench of senators, from all lands and lips the cry is heard,. “Who will show us any good?” We are children walking m the dark, who will show us the way; we are dying with thirst, who will moisten our fevered lips; we are starving with hunger, who will give us any bread? Man, the world over, feels that he has not what he wants.
2. The only satisfaction of humanity. What is it? Fame, wealth, sensual pleasure, superstitious observances? No, these have been tried a thousand times, and failed. Here it is: “Lift Thou up the light of Thy countenance,” which means the conscious presence and favour of God.
IV. Exulting. “. . .Thou hast put gladness in my heart more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased.” Some render this from the time in which their corn and wine increased, supposing David to refer to the hour when abundant supplies began to come into him, an exile at Mahanaim (2 Samuel 16:1; 2 Samuel 17:28). This may be the correct version. The language in either version expresses the feelings of a soul happy in God.
1. God made him inwardly happy, even in his poverty. He had lost for a time his palace and his kingdom, and was dependent upon the supplies of friends. Yet he was happy, and who made him happy? “. . .Thou hast put gladness in my heart.” God alone can make us happy anywhere and anywhen. “. . .Although the fig tree shall not blossom,” etc. (Habakkuk 3:17). What does Paul say? “. . .I glory in tribulation.” Martyrs have sung in dungeons, and triumphed in flames.
2. God made him consciously secure. His enemies counted their millions. His death they desired. Yet what does he say?--“. . .I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep.” God was his refuge and strength, etc. “. . .If God be for us, who can be against us?” Learn from this poem where happiness alone can be found. It is in God. An ancient Italian author, in one of his romantic legends, tells us of a tree, many branched, and covered apparently with delectable bunches of fruit; but whoso shook that tree in order to possess the fruit, found, too late, that not fruit, but stones of crushing weight came down upon his head. An emblem this of the tree of unholy pleasure. It is many-branched, it is attractive in aspect, its boughs bend with rich clusters of what seems to be delicious fruit, the millions of the world gather round it, and, with eager hands, shake it in order if possible to taste the luscious fruit. But what is the result of their efforts? Stones come tumbling down that paralyse the soul. “What fruit had ye in those things whereof ye are now ashamed; for the end of those things is death.” (Homilist.)
An appeal for mercy to the God of righteousness
I. The Psalmist’s appeal. This book is full of such appeals. It is remarkable that there has come down to us a book full of the most confidingly, reverent, pleading utterances, addressed to the unseen and eternal God. There are not many petitions in this Psalm. “Hear me when I call”--only “hear me,” that is enough. Is there no heart to respond to us? Yes, He is hearing, that is enough.
II. The grounds of the appeal. Two considerations on which the appeal is founded.
1. The character of God. Not simply “my righteous God,” but “God, the author of my righteousness, from Whom all that is true and right in me has come.”
2. And the goodness already experienced. “Thou hast enlarged me.” It was not untried mercy. No one looks to history for a message of despair--at any rate, no good man--for he always finds that the storm ends in calm, that the darkest hour precedes the dawn, that the struggles result in progress. Let us also appeal for mercy to the God of righteousness, and take the past as an argument. There has been care in the past; there has been goodness in the past: Gethsemane is in the past; Calvary is in the past. Plead the past. (James Owen.)
Thou hast enlarged me.--
Prayer and answer to prayer
I. David’s prayer for mercy desired.
1. The tide which David here puts upon God. “God of my righteousness.” That is, the God who makes me to be righteous: the Author of it. Better here, the God that shows me to be righteous, that maintains my righteous cause. Look at this--
(1) Directly in itself. God does own the righteousness of those who are His servants. This is grounded on His nature. His affection and His relation carries Him to it likewise. He is my God, and therefore the God of my righteousness. There is also His covenant and interest. In two ways God owns our righteousness. In clearing it and in avenging it.
(2) Reflexively, as coming from David; who, having righteousness and equity on his side, does now with a great deal of boldness and confidence take himself to God for redress. Whence we see what is to be practised by everyone else.
2. The request itself. “Hear me when I call” has respect to David’s complaint in case of injury. “Hear my prayer,” that is, grant me that particular request which I desire of Thee. See his desire of being heard in his performance, “when I call.” Attention must be given to the matter of prayer, that it be such as is according to God’s will; the manner of prayer, that it be with zeal, fervency, and intention; the principle of prayer, that it be done in faith. There should also be the ordering of ourselves in other things suitable hereunto, as their hearing of God Himself. Hearing of others in their necessities: abstaining from all kinds of sin whatsoever.
3. The terms whereupon he deals with Him. On account of mercy, grace, and favour. We must have recourse to His mercy, and urge upon Him this consideration above all others. Let us make much of this attribute of mercy, and improve it to our own comfort and advantage.
II. David’s acknowledgment of mercy received. God loves to manifest His power in deliverance. He brings into distress, and so from thence takes occasion to enlarge. There is a double enlargement, one of state and condition; the other of heart and affection. There is a double enlargement of spirit, the one is in order to duty, the other in order to comfort. (Thomas Horton, D. D.)
This enlargement is the great thing to be desired and sought after in all our histories. Sin dwarfs us--it lowers us alike in the scale of creation and in the scope of our immortal being. So possible is it for all true spiritual life to be crushed, all inward growth and spiritual development to be repressed, by worldliness of heart and aim. The contrast therefore is a study; enlargement of estate, or enlargement of soul. “Thou hast enlarged me. Here is a beautiful consciousness.
I. The cause revealed. “When I was in distress.” Distress had driven me to Him Who revealed me to myself. He diminished my estate and my health; but He enlarged me.
II. The question suggested. Why? Because I am a man capable of enlargement. You cannot enlarge the merely finite like this. Every spiritual advance is only a step upward and onward in the immortal ascent, every enlargement is only a prophecy of yet wider range. Not one word can be said too much of the majesty of the soul. Standing on the verge of eternity after long years of life, the soul is yet young, and feels the immortal pulses. It is just beginning to know. Unless we grow in grace we may question if we are Christians at all, for life means growth, and the knowledge of God is the infinite study of eternity.
III. The influence created. An enlarged man has a glorious might of personal influence; such a man elevates social intercourse as he moves among his fellows, and treats their interests in the light of their larger being. The enlarged man seeks to have part in the kingdom which brings life and peace to all his brethren in Christ.
IV. The expectation enjoyed. For what is all this enlargement given? Surely the Divine ministries have a worthy end and aim, or else we have a mystery in man which we have in no other sphere of use or adaptation. The soul implies Divine training and immortal rest. Heaven is the corollary of soul life. Faint not under the good hand of God, for He will exalt you in good time. The enlarged life will have a sphere, where it can enjoy and serve God, forever and for evermore. Thus, too, may we bear distress aright. (W. M. Statham.)
Enlargement in distress
This Psalm and the previous one are Psalms of distress, utterances of a soul that is crying to God out of the depths; yet, none the less, they are songs of faith, hope, rest in God. In the text we see that gladness comes out of the sorrow, and light shines out of the darkness.
I. Through distress there comes an enlargement of personal character.
1. Suffering strengthens character; brings to light the hidden qualities of a man, and teaches him courage, endurance, and self-reliance. I have read of a great botanist who was exiled from his native land, and had obtained employment as an undergardener in a nobleman’s service, that while in this situation his master received the present of a valuable plant, the nature and habits of which were quite unknown to him. It was given to the care of the head gardener, and he, supposing it to be of tropical growth, put it into a hothouse, and treated it like other hothouse plants. Under this treatment the plant began to wither and die. One day the undergardener asked permission to examine it, and as soon as he had done so he said, “This is an Arctic plant, and you are killing it with this hothouse treatment.” So he took it out to the open air, and heaped ice round it, to the great astonishment of the head gardener. The result justified his wisdom; for the plant was soon perfectly healthy and strong. This story is a parable of human character. It is ease, not difficulty, that is dangerous. Put a man under hothouse treatment, surround him with luxury, hedge him in from opposition; and you take the surest means of sapping him of life and power. Teach him to suffer; and you teach him to be strong.
2. But in a large character, sympathy must be present as well as strength. Without sympathy no character can possess that breadth which is so essential to its perfecting; and there is no such teacher of sympathy as suffering.
II. Think of the larger and surer place which suffering gives us in the world of men. There is something in the experience of suffering which enhances a man’s social influence. In every walk of life the men of sorrows are the men of power. We may not be able fully to explain why this is so; but we know quite well that the very fact of suffering gives a man a claim upon us, and a hold over us, which nothing else can give. “Under our present conditions,” says one, “there is something in the very expansiveness of joy which dissociates, while sorrow seems to weld us together, like hammer strokes on steel.” Do we not find that the influence which Jesus exerts is an emanation from His Cross? He was made “perfect through sufferings”--not perfect in His own nature, for that was perfect already, but perfect in His power to touch and save and bless; and so His dominion was enlarged through His distress.
III. No doubt David was thinking most of all of a religious enlargement--an enlargement of his heart towards God, and an enlargement of God’s mercy towards him.
1. Men are enlarged through their distress. Their horizon grows wider and deeper. The sunlight fades, the night falls; but in the darkness a greater and more glorious world appears; for the stars shine out from the immeasurable depths--those “street lamps of the City of God.”
2. Our enlargement in distress does not lie only in our new thoughts about God, but in God’s new mercies towards us. The Lord has special mercies for His children in distress, as a mother has kisses and fond soothing words for her little child who has hurt himself by a fall. Did you ever consider this, that there are stores of blessing held in reserve within the eternal treasuries, the fulness of which you can only know in the day of trial?
3. In one of two ways distress works--it makes a man either better or worse. We have seen it making people narrower and more selfish and more sullen. We have also seen it making them broader and more sympathetic, more considerate and more gracious. All depends upon their way of meeting it. Meet it in the Psalmist’s faith, hope, and patience. (J. G. Lambert, B. D.)
Him that is godly.
The godly man
“The godly.” They are evidently a distinguished, a peculiar people. They have undergone a process of change. There may be a very exalted scale of morals observed by men, but still it amounts not to the scriptural idea of godliness, for all that comes within the range of moral observance may be entirely without reference to God. Godliness is a state of mind and heart which is derived from a source higher than man.
I. The source of godliness. It must be God Himself; Almighty power, acting out the dictates of Almighty grace and love, can alone bring a sinner, from his state of abject denudation, near to God, and pour into his nature the renovating spirit that shall bring upon him the lineaments of that perfection in which he was at first created. If God “sets apart” or “chooses” a sinner, therefore, it is in order that there may be produced in him affinity to Christ, likeness to Christ--likeness to Christ in principle, in desire and intention, in motive, in affections, in actions. Incidental to this, and essential to it, is the conviction of sin which the Spirit of God creates in the heart. It includes also a closing with the terms of salvation, on the part of the sinner--the laying aside of sin in the act, though he cannot lay it aside, in his own will, in its inward power and principle--the laying aside of sin in the act, and looking for grace that shall subdue sin in its power. It includes also the acceptance of a free pardon of all past sin--an assurance of the imputation of all sin to the Saviour, in order to its expiation, and the impartation of the Saviour’s righteousness to the sinner, in order to his justification. It includes that simple exercise of faith which is of God’s bestowment.
II. The end proposed. “The Lord hath set apart him that is godly for Himself.” He is brought into a state of sonship with God. He may not at first have, but he expects to have, the witnessing of the Spirit. God has created all things in the universe for His own glory. We may at first, while contemplating the great purposes of the gospel, imagine that God’s primary end was to rescue the lost and to pardon the guilty. But by man’s creation God glorified Himself, and by man’s fall He acquired glory, inasmuch as in the recovery of man was brought into exercise that bright and blessed attribute of mercy which could not otherwise have been manifested.
III. The privileges connected with a state of godliness. “The Lord will hear when I call unto Him.” How full of privilege is this avowal and assurance! It implies that--
1. The godly man has the privilege of access, when he will, to “the King of kings and Lord of lords.” The presence chamber is never closed. The believer has a kind of precedence of others into the presence of the Sovereign.
2. The godly man has a claim upon God; and this we would put in the strongest terms. At first he has no claims on God; but being conformed to the image of Christ, or even beginning to be conformed, he immediately has a claim on Him--a claim based on God’s paternity.
3. To “hear” in Scripture language means to “answer.” The Lord will hear on account of the agreement there is between the Spirit that animates the believing heart and his own mind and intention. Tell me what is in the wide world, for which men are bartering such blessed prospects for eternity, worth a moment’s notice, when godliness, with all its happy privileges, is fully set before you at the foot of the Cross of the Redeemer? (George Fisk, LL. D.)
Stand in awe.
Awe of God
All sin is an offence against God, and nothing tends more powerfully to correct it than worthy thoughts of God, and of our relation to Him. They who have no habitual thought of God, who set Him not before them in their daily walk, find no principle and no power present with them to prevent the admission and indulgence of evil. If you would cease from shining, stand in awe. Let there be a fear and dread upon your mind, arising from a sense of the power, and holiness, and justice, and presence of the Almighty. There is nothing which can enable us to stand firm and upright in the presence of evil, but a due sense of the presence of Almighty God, and of the relation which we bear to Him under the gospel covenant. If the awful feeling, the sense which is due from every rational creature to the Creator, were formed, and cherished, and carried into the scenes of daily life it would become a powerful preservative from sin. To impress our hearts deeply consideration should be had of those declarations of holy writ which assure us that the necessity of a pious awe is by no means done away under the covenant of loving kindness and tender mercy. (J. Slade, M. A.)
The duty of reverence
I. The advantages of maintaining seriousness and devoutness of mind. The greatest of happiness consists in regulating, with propriety, the various offices of human life. Every department of life is beautiful in its season. There is a time to be cheerful, and a time to be serious: an hour for solitude, and an hour for society. A serious frame of mind is the guardian and the protector Of religion, and it also associates with other virtues which belong to the Christian character. This serious frame of mind cherishes those higher virtues of the soul which are called “the armour of God.” In the solemn silence of the mind are formed those great resolutions which decide the fate of men. This temper is no less favourable to the milder virtues of humanity. A serious mind is the companion of a feeling heart.
II. The suitableness of this temper of mind to our present state.
1. It is suited to that dark and uncertain state of being in which we now live. Human life is not formed to answer those high expectations which, in the era of youth and imagination, we are apt to entertain.
2. The propriety of this temper will appear if we consider the scene that soon awaits us, and the awful change of being that we have to undergo.
3. This frame of mind is peculiarly proper for you now, as a preparation for holy communion. (J. Logan, F. R. S. E.)
Awe and trust
Words like awe, fear, trembling appear to be almost obsolete now. Our speech finds its emphasis in such words as happiness, joy, peace, comfort. The Psalmist throws us back to quite a different plane. This man had a vision of the great White Throne. He had been contemplating the terrors of the Lord. His levity is changed into trembling; his indifference is broken up in awe. Why is there so little awe in our religious lives today? Is it because we have lost the Face of God? We gather up all the gracious promises. We lift them out of their context. Promises gathered in their relationship to warnings will tend to our good. We see the same tendency in our choice of hymns. We do not like the hymns in which the whirlwind sweeps and drives. We prefer the hymns that are just filled with honey. Many of us have lost the severities of the New Testament. It is because these terrors are left out in our religious conceptions, and in our preaching, that the frivolity of men is gratified and coddled by illegitimate sweetness. We must re-proclaim the elements of severity which minister to a bracing holiness. Men do not feel the power of the gospel when in Christ they discern nothing to fear. Thomas Boston said that the net of the gospel needed to be weighted with the leads of the terrors of the law, or it would lightly float on the surface and no fish be caught. We must steadily keep in view the sterner patches of the New Testament teaching. We must contemplate the whiteness of the Eternal, and stand in awe, “and put your trust in the. Lord.” How graciously the passage closes The awe and the trembling converge m fruitful trust! The discovery of the holy Sovereignty, the discovery of personal defilement, the discovery of a Redeemer, are consummated in the discovery of rest. When I have found my “righteousness” my part is now to trust. The awe, the purity of the holy Sovereignty will become mine. Trust keeps open the line of communication between the soul and God. Along that line convoys of blessedness are brought into the heart; manifold gifts of grace for the weak and defenceless spirit. When I trust I keep open the “highway of the Lord,” and along that road there come to me from the Eternal my bread, my water, my instructions, my powers of defence. “I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me.” I can work out my own salvation with fear and trembling.” (J. H. Jowett, M. A.)
The most prominent sin of this age is flippancy. Familiarity breeds contempt. In many instances knowledge only leads men to treat law as a light thing, and its operations with thoughtless neglect. How can this evil be overcome? The answer is not far to seek; it is by fostering in men the principle of awe that David here enjoins.
I. We should stand in awe before nature. The stupendous magnificence and mysterious changefulness of nature appeal to even the most apathetic and thoughtless. No part of nature and of human life is free from the dominion of law. Everything has its own peculiar laws.
II. We should stand in awe before conscience. The knowledge of right and wrong is co-extensive with the existence of humanity. It is the essential basis of society, and of all mutual intercourse of men. Under the shadow of this great possession all men meet as brothers. We realise the influence of conscience first as our teacher.
III. We should stand in awe before experience. Instinct is the stronger force in the animal life, and reason the stronger in human life. Experience is peculiarly the guide and teacher of humanity, and he who cannot profit by its teaching fails to progress as a man should. Experience is one long series of revelations to a man. No one can stand before the revelations of experience without feeling awed. If we reach a definite realisation of the magnificence of human life, the majesty of man, and the God-like powers, high purposes, and glorious destiny that, as Christ shows, are ours, we will be so filled with awe that sin will become an abhorrent thing to us. If we stand in awe we cannot sin. (D. L. Francis, M. A.)
And sin not.--
The nature and consequences of sin
In uttering the word “sin” how few are there amongst men, even though serious minded, who connect with it sentiments and feelings corresponding to its own true force and significance! Yet this is a word pregnant with all the terrible calamities which flesh is heir to.
I. The nature of sin.
1. Sin is a gathering evil. Its first indulgence ends not in itself, but the gratification strengthens the desire. The first act of sin will often make a second necessary, by placing us in situations which we had not contemplated.
2. Sin is a deceiving power. It always wears a mask. It allures under the semblance of beauty, hiding its serpent length among the roses.
3. Sin is a gradual hardening of the heart. Every fresh act of sin is the shutting up of some pore of moral sensibility.
4. Sin is ineffaceable. The action that is done cannot be undone.
5. Sin is a contagious evil. It affects those about us.
II. The consequences of sin. Generally the loss of health, life, reputation, friends, the loss of fortitude under trials, consolation in suffering, the loss of peace in a world of strife, the loss of hope in nature’s most despairing hour, the loss of a calm assurance at the last. Ponder the recorded judgments of God, this will strengthen your fear of Sin. And remember against whom you sin. A God, a merciful God, a Father, a King: against your Redeemer, and the interests of your immortal souls. (T. J. Judkin, A. M,)
Plain directions to those who would be saved frown sin
I. Feel reverent awe. “Stand in awe.” Tremble, and sin not. Awe is not a common emotion nowadays, Men are triflers rather than tremblers. True religion must have a savour of awe about it, for--
1. There is a God, and He is our judge.
2. There is a life to come. Behold that day of wrath when justice will sit upon the throne!
II. Thoughtful self-examination.
1. Think of the state of your heart. Are you right with God?
2. Commune with your heart in loneliness and quiet.
3. Think for yourself.
4. Keep on thinking, till you come to be still.
III. Approach unto God aright. “Offer the sacrifices of righteousness.” Interpret thus, come to God in His own way, as Israel came bringing their sacrifices. They first made confession of sin. Bring the offering which God has divinely appointed and provided. Come to God by faith in Christ; plead His precious blood.
IV. Exercise faith. “Put your trust in the Lord.” As willing to receive you. As He reveals Himself in Christ. For His Holy Spirit to renew you. For everything. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The duties of religion
Religion is to be improved by exercise and application of mind. There is a certain art of virtue. In this art no man was ever so well accomplished as the Psalmist. Here he discovers to us the gradual progress which a good man makes in this art.
1. The great business of religion is to teach us not to sin. To subdue our unruly lusts, and reduce our troublesome affections, and to bring every rebellious thought into subjection to the will of God; to restore virtue to its proper place, and reason to its due command; and to recover the natural freedom of our will from the tyranny of our passions, and the usurpation of vice. There is nothing of greater moment to us than to form our minds aright, to keep a strict hand upon our manners, and critically to confine ourselves to the paths of life. To correct our extravagance, and to keep us within the bounds of wisdom, is the proper work of religion. In our miserable lost estate, whilst we were tied and bound with the chain of our sins, God in His mercy instituted a holy religion to set us free, and restore us to that paradise of innocency from which we fell.
II. The way not to sin is to “stand in awe.” There is nothing but an awful regard for God, and a just respect for His holy attributes, that can effectually put a restraint upon us, and overrule the violence of our passions. What other design had God in imposing religious worship on us, but that it might bring us to a religious awe, that having God more immediately in our thoughts, and all His holy attributes before our eyes, we might learn to purify ourselves even as He is pure, and to abhor those sins of ours that make us unworthy of His Presence. Fear is now become a necessary qualification in man, not only to preserve his virtue, but to accomplish his nature too.
III. This religious awe is to be wrought in us by “communing with our own hearts.” It is a great art and excellence in man to know how to think; to look into the nature of human actions; to weigh well the causes and compare the consequence of things. When God reckons with the world for sin, ignorance may be some excuse, but inconsiderateness is none at all. Whensoever we find ourselves tempted into sin, and see our virtue strongly beset from without, let us retire within our own souls, and see what assistance we can fetch from thence. But we may think we have no leisure for such inquiries. Nothing is so apt to fill as vanity, and no man is more busy than he that has least to do.
IV. If we would have this “communion with our own hearts” to be effectual we must “retire into our chamber and be still.” There we may learn to compose our thoughts, and bring ourselves to a better temper; give our passions time to cool, and then our affections quickly will be changed. There is nothing like solitude and retirement to recollect our thoughts and make us come unto ourselves, after we have been reduced by conversation and enchanted by the multitude. It is a shameful thing to think how long some men can live and yet never know themselves. When we have prepared and qualified ourselves in private, then we may expect that our public devotion shall, be effectual. (Charles Hickman, D. D.)
Commune with your own heart upon your bed and be still.--
David seems to have possessed in a remarkable degree both the qualifications for public and the virtues of private life. Vigorous in action, he loved repose. We need seasons of retirement to restore the balance of things and put the claims of heaven in their right order.
I. The nature of godly meditation. We need not identify the exercise with religious contemplation, that higher form of intellectual homage which the mind, when elevated above the level of earthly things, pays to the wisdom of God. Meditation is contemplation turned within. Meditation is not to be confounded with reading. In meditation we are not learning truths, but applying them. Distinguish also from the ordinary act of prayer. It is the handmaid to prayer. It is not so much a religious act in itself as a preparation for all other religious acts. Meditation is not an act to be learned, but a habit to be formed. We attain expertness by diligent and persevering practice Much depends on power to govern our thoughts.
II. David intimates the desirableness of securing an outward solemnity and seriousness in this exercise. The entire seclusion from all human friendships, the hushing of all voices, both from within and from without, that we may be quite alone with God. There is a sort of holiness in silence. Meditation, to be profitable, must be conducted with a fixed and holy intentness of mind. A close self-scrutiny also is enjoined in the words, “Commune with your own hearts.” (Daniel Moore, M. A.)
Fond of conversation as we are, few of us converse with our own selves. Men are glad of anything--pleasures, cares, occupations, employments of whatever kinds, that will but step in between them and an uneasy conscience.
I. What is it to commune with our own hearts? It is “to examine our lives and conversations” by the rule of God’s commandments,” that we may perceive “wherein we have offended, either by will, word, or deed.” From day to day, and more especially in his private and solitary moments, the serious man “searches and tries his ways,” and makes himself to render in a serious account of his tempers, feelings, and affections.
II. Uses and benefits of this self-examination. By this means a man arrives at a knowledge of his own character. By this means we attain to a better knowledge of the Saviour--of the preciousness of His salvation. Who can be aware of the value of Christ crucified whilst he conceives he has few sins to be forgiven? Equally does that man rejoice in the blessed offices of God the Holy Spirit, by whose holy inspiration the thoughts of a vile heart are cleansed. Another use of a man’s talking with his heart is, that it puts him upon prayer. It is the parent, too, of self-distrust. Such a man may also derive from heart examination an assurance of sincerity, and that he is indeed a subject of the grace of God. (A. Roberts, M. A.)
Self-communing will produce two most happy effects.
1. It will enable us to judge aright concerning our chief good, and the true character and conduct which we ought to maintain. As perfect goodness is the great original of which every good man’s life is a copy, so we cannot judge of the resemblance of the copy without a just apprehension of the original. We must know all the features of a right mind that, upon comparison, we may discover if those of our own mind bear a likeness to them, or are in any part distorted or unlike, and to what degree this distortion or want of resemblance prevails. To know this we must “commune with our own hearts.” God has furnished the heart of man with a teacher and judge of what is right and good for him, and “to commune with our own hearts” is to consult this inward instructor and judge. All revelations from heaven are intended to enlighten this internal judge and monitor.
2. It will most effectually direct and assist us in discovering our defects and vices, and in adjusting our dispositions and actions to the right judgment it has enabled us to form. We must not take it for granted that we are free from faults. But what they precisely are, we cannot know till we have carefully considered our actions, and compared them with the rule of righteousness prescribed by the Almighty, and approved by our own minds. The fear of making mortifying discoveries restrains men from communing with their own hearts, and keeps them unacquainted with their defects, whatever they may be. When we are employed in searching out our vices, there are some of such a nature that we cannot be deceived in them, if they really do belong to us. It is well to consider what are the parts of our character which we wish to conceal from all the world. Thus we shall discover our real faults. Every action of a suspicious nature,--every action which we are afraid to let the world know; ought to undergo the most accurate review. The other things to be brought under review, when communing with our own hearts, are our supposed virtues. Many men are chiefly concerned to gain the reputation of virtue. The favourable opinion of the world, reflected back upon their own minds, establishes in them the imagination that they are really virtuous. Thus their self-deceit becomes more fixed, and harder to be cured. But a mistake here must have a fatal influence on our integrity Without knowing ourselves, we cannot correct our errors, or become wise, or good, or happy. (J. Drysdale, D. D.)
When David said to his enemies, “Commune with your own heart,” he seemed to refer them to their better judgment, when their temper was unruffled and their passions not excited. Without supposing any of you under the influence of a hateful, persecuting spirit against true godliness, it may yet, suitably and profitably, be said to every one of you, “Commune with your own heart.” The exhortation might be addressed to each distinct class of men.
I. The unconverted. Why are you unwilling to be called unconverted sinners? What is the reason you are displeased? Be candid with yourself. Does not your displeasure arise from a secret consciousness that the charge is true, and a dislike to be reminded of it? Let me exhort you to “commune with your own heart.” Take counsel now within, and consider with yourselves what is the use of performing a service which God does not accept, nay, that is really offensive to Him; for “the sacrifice of the wicked is abomination unto the Lord”?
II. The converted. You that know the truth, and serve the Lord Jesus. Some considerations render such an exhortation peculiarly suitable at the present time.
1. The remarkable character of the religion of the present day. It is an age of energy and activity, of zeal and excitement.
2. Satan is ever on the watch to do us harm. Another reason why it is seasonable to exhort you to “commune with your own hearts.” You have been invited to receive the sacrament. Self-examination is the constant habit of every Christian. But before we come to that holy feast, we have more than ordinary need to examine ourselves. (R. W. Dibdin, M. A.)
Communing has been defined as talking together familiarly. Retirement is much more common than self-communion. You may go apart from the crowd, and yet never speak to your own heart.
1. The familiar maxim, “Know thyself,” shows that self-knowledge has for ages been deemed desirable. In the ethical codes of the wiser moralists of the ancient world, the duty of self-analysis was prominent. But it is with the heart in its relation to things unseen and eternal that we are to commune. This communing must be marked by uncompromising fidelity. Honesty and impartiality should characterise our inquiries. In our self-communings, Scripture should be our guide. When we attempt to explore our vain and wicked hearts, we find that a manual is indispensable to success. That is to be found in the Bible alone.
2. The effect of self-communion. The Psalm is an appeal to God against the misapprehensions of the “sons of men” who love vanity. Their behaviour is founded on a miserable delusion. Some aspects of the stillness to which communion leads.
(1) It is the stillness of settled conviction.
(2) Of steady growth.
(3) Of assured peace.
But some men carry these self-communings so far as to destroy the peace they ought to create. They are the victims of an ill-regulated self-analysis. How does this perversion of a devout habit arise? It comes of neglecting to take with us God’s own Word, and His Son. Do not neglect this duty of self-communing because you think you have no time for it. “Commune--upon your bed” means, do it anywhere, at any time, in any place, only do it. The heart is a book which you can always read. Let us not be without some places and some seasons at which we commune with our own heart specially, some spot, some hour, in which we can say, “I am alone with God and with myself.” (A. MacEwen, D. D.)
On religious retirement
Though entire retreat would lay us aside from the part for which Providence chiefly intended us, it is certain that, without occasional retreat, we must act that part very ill. There will neither be consistency in the conduct, nor dignity in the character, of one who sets apart no share of his time for meditation and reflection. As he who is unacquainted with retreat, cannot sustain any character with propriety, so neither can he enjoy the world with any advantage. If uninterrupted intercourse with the world the man wear out of pleasure, it no less oppresses the man of business and ambition. The strongest spirits must at length sink under it. Let him who wishes for an effectual cure to all the wounds which the world can inflict, retire from intercourse with men to intercourse with God. Religious retirement is also necessary, in order to prepare us for the life to come. He who lives always in public, cannot live to his own soul. Our conversation and intercourse with the world is, in several respects, an education for vice. Breathing habitually a contagious air, how certain is our ruin, unless we sometimes retreat from this pestilential region, and seek for proper correctives of the disorders which are contracted there? The acts of prayer and devotion, the exercises of faith and repentance, all the great and peculiar duties of the religion of Christ, necessarily suppose retirement from the world. Solitude is the hallowed ground which religion hath, in every age, chosen for her own. There her inspiration is felt, and her secret mysteries elevate the soul. The great and worthy, the pious and virtuous, have ever been addicted to serious retirement. It is the characteristic of little and frivolous minds to be wholly occupied with the vulgar objects of life. A more refined and enlarged mind leaves the world behind it, feels a call for higher pleasures, and seeks them in retreat. Consider some of those great objects which in retirement should employ our thoughts.
1. Commune with your own hearts concerning God. Impressions of Deity, besides their being the principle of what is strictly termed religion, are the great support of all moral sentiment and virtuous conduct among men. Impress deeply on your mind this important truth, that there is, undoubtedly, a Supreme Governor, who presides over the universe. To commune with ourselves, to any useful purpose, is not to speculate about what is mysterious in the Divine essence, but to contemplate what is displayed by His perfections; to bring home to the soul the internal, authoritative sense of God, as a Sovereign and a Father. Him you are never to confound with the works of His hands. The pious man walks among the various scenes of nature, as within the precincts of a great temple, in the habitual exercise of devotion.
2. Concerning the world. The world is the great deceiver, whose fallacious arts it highly imports us to detect. But, in the midst of its pleasures and pursuits, the detection is impossible. It is only in retreat that the charm can be broken. Will you commune with your heart concerning what the world now is, consider also what it will one day appear to be? Contemplate the world as subject to the Divine dominion.
3. Concerning yourselves, and your real character. Men are generally unwilling to see their own imperfections; and when they are willing to inquire into them, their self-love imposes on their judgment. It is said that there are three characters which every man sustains, and these differ from one another. One which he possesses in his own opinion; one which he carries in the estimation of the world; and a third which he bears in the judgment of God. It is only the last which ascertains what he really is. Whether the character which the world forms of you be above or below the truth, it imports you not much to know. But it is of eternal consequence that the character which you possess in your own eyes, be formed upon that which you bear in the sight of God. (Hugh Blair, D. D.)
As long as people are going on in a gay, thoughtless, easy way, in good health and spirits, and their minds fully occupied, it is next to impossible that religion should gain any solid and lasting hold on their affections. People go from youth to old age with a shallow, external service, which passes for religion, but which really has nothing of it but the name. When careless, thoughtless persons are brought to a deep sense of the importance of Christian doctrine, they are often inwardly alarmed, but will not confess it even to themselves. They try to fly from it by avoiding serious reflections. But in running from these reflections, they are rejecting the healing medicine afforded by the heavenly Physician. They are advised not to trouble themselves with deep and high speculative questions; to set thought on two things--their own sinfulness and the Divine mercy. Concerning the divinely consolatory warning.
1. You cannot but observe how plain, simple, and unimpassioned, how far from all perplexing notions, and from all rapturous heights and flights of feeling, is the description here given of the repenting convert, the accepted child of God.
2. Notice in what a tone of solemn warning this passage is delivered. “Stand in awe, and sin not.” In these words is clearly implied the greatness of our danger, and of our again drawing back to sin.
3. How soothing and consoling is the view here presented to us of our religious state and duties. We are not to harass ourselves with perplexing doubts about our final acceptance, to seek after any special inward convictions, as they are called, of feeling; these, whether right or wrong, are plainly not necessary; but it is necessary that we stand in awe, and sin not, and offer the sacrifices of righteousness; then, and not otherwise, we may with cheerful, though chastened hope, put our trust in the Lord. (Contributors to “Tracts for the Times.”)
On communing with the heart
I. Consider the obligations we are under to converse with our own heart in secret.
1. Because we are rational creatures capable of thought and reflection, and the only creatures upon earth capable of religion. Without self-examination, we cannot possibly know ourselves, or what manner of spirit we are of. If we do not know ourselves, we can have no fixed or determined character, but must remain the sport of our own passions, or of those of other men, unconscious of the great end of our existence, and incapable of acting up to it.
2. Retirement is indispensably necessary for the improvement of our minds in useful knowledge, and in that knowledge especially which relates to the life to come. It is absolutely necessary that we cultivate retirement, in order to acquire a taste and a relish for those sublime truths which will hereafter occupy our attention, and delight our minds forever.
II. Consider advantages attending the faithful discharge of this duty.
1. In regard to our happiness in this world. Retirement furnishes an asylum; it draws a wall of separation between us and the scenes without, and hides from our eyes the fashion of a world that passeth away. It is in retirement that we view things as they really are.
2. The chief advantage of religious retirement consists in its loosening our attachment to the objects of sense, and in raising our desires to the things that are above, and thereby assimilating our souls to the delightful employment and happiness of the heavenly world.. This subject will furnish us with a very easy and a very certain criterion by which we may ascertain the state of our hearts towards God. (James Ross, D. D.)
Three thoughts are suggested.
I. Man has a spiritual nature. It is here called a “heart.” It stands for our whole spiritual being.
1. We have more proof that the soul is than that the body is.
2. We have an intuitive belief in the existence of the soul; and
3. The Bible most unmistakably reveals it.
II. Man has a capacity to commune with his spiritual nature.
1. He can observe all its phenomena; and
2. Trace them to their causative principles.
III. He is bidden exercise this capacity. Would he understand his own nature, let him do this. But yet more for moral purposes. For
1. We know not how evil we are.
2. We must know this ere we can seek that correction which is indispensable.
3. The correction must take place here and now. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
I. What should we commune about?
1. Our sins.
2. Our relation to God.
3. Our principles.
4. Our pleasures.
1. With dependence upon God.
2. With reference to His Word.
III. Its advantages.
1. Assistance in the performance of religious duties.
2. Direction in the use of the means of grace.
3. Power over temptations. (W. W. Wythe.)
I would introduce, must I say, a stranger? to your acquaintance; one whom it infinitely concerns you to know, and to be intimate with. Our text will tell you his name--“commune with your own heart.”
I. What it is to commune with our own heart. Communication supposes two persons, but here a man’s own heart must supply the place of both. It is what we call soliloquy. It is the soul’s inquiry into and of itself. And it may be either--
1. Direct: we can bid our soul ponder our ways.
2. By way of reflection. And this should be ordinary with us; the soul should talk over every occurrence with itself. But sometimes, when there is a more than common call for self-consultation, it should be extraordinary.
II. What should we thus commune about?
1. About our state; our former state--what we were; and of our present state--what we are. Our first salutation to one another when we meet is, “How d’ye do?”--let this be every man’s first address to himself, “Heart, how dost thou?” Especially if you are living in sin, or walking inconsistently with your Christian profession. And we should converse also about our future--what we are likely to be. Have we a good hope, or are we in danger of hell?
2. About sin.
III. When should we commune with our own hearts? When should we not? We cannot do it too often. But more especially--
1. When we are most at leisure.
2. When the conscience is in any way awakened.
3. When we are under any particular trouble. “In the day of adversity consider.” (Ecclesiastes 7:14).
4. When we engage in the solemn duties of religion.
5. The Lord’s day.
6. When we in the immediate prospect of death.
IV. Why should we do this? Because--
1. God commands it. A good man who had a wild and wicked son, whom neither tears nor entreaties nor threatenings could reclaim, left it as his dying charge to his son, and gave him an estate expressly upon this condition, that he should spend half an hour every day alone. The good man died; and the next day, the young prodigal, rather than lose his fortune, shuts himself up. But what an age did the first half hour seem I How impatiently did he count the slow-moving minutes; and as soon as ever they had gone, joyfully haste away to his gay companions. Sometimes he would spend the time in fretting at or ridiculing this odd command of his father. “What could he mean by it?” (at length he began to think); he was always kind, and could never design to vex me. And yet what good can I, get by sitting here moping and musing? I begin to grow melancholy already. However, he persevered, in obedience to the will; and at length it pleased God to give his mind such a thoughtful turn, that he came to long for the half hour as much as formerly he dreaded it. He was led on from step to step, until he became a serious and exemplary Christian. Now God hath as positively enjoined on us this duty (2 Corinthians 13:5; Galatians 6:4). Then, thinks--
2. The thing itself is reasonable. What should we think of a man who was hardly ever at home, sauntering up and down all the day long, and letting his own affairs be neglected?
3. And it is useful also. It prevents waste of time. Helps to improve ends of time. Saves from many snares. Makes us thrive in grace.
4. And necessary.
V. How must we thus commune?
4. Rightly--do not judge yourself by a false measure.
Weigh your actions and thoughts in the balance of the sanctuary (2 Corinthians 10:12; 2 Corinthians 10:18). But some of you will not do this, and the reason is--you are afraid. And yet you must die. Is it not better, then, to obey, and hear what your heart will say (G. Lavington.)
And be still.
The excitements of the age as they affect religion
We live in an age of excitement and unrest. How often brain and heart alike give way in the midday! It very naturally follows that these dancing waves of excitement break into the sacred quietudes of religion. Reverence is not superstition. As Creator, we know by faith that God made the worlds; and, as Redeemer, we know, by faith too, that the Christ works within us, as the Absolver from guilt, and the Saviour from sin. We thus revere God, and such reverence is the root of all religion. Our Saviour, in His human experience, knew much of solitude, and quiet, and worship. There is less of holy meditation and calm, thoughtful worship, than ill the old times before us. And, consequently, our religious life must lose that mellowness which comes from the quiet touch of the sunbeam, and the still air of the garden. The text suggests--
I. How little we know of ourselves. We have been surfeited with counsels concerning the dangers of introspection. But there is still need to “watch and pray,” to “look to ourselves,” to “examine ourselves.” This no one can do for us. We may become morbid analysts of moods and experiences. But how seldom do we even seek to become, in any true sense, acquainted with ourselves. There is no unexplored continent less known to us than the wonderful land within us. By “commune with your own hearts” is meant, make inquiry concerning its health and its energy, its growth and its godliness.
II. How much we need solitude. “Upon your bed.” There, where you are removed from the garish light of day. Upon our bed we have seen visions of ourselves and God which have melted us to gratitude, and moved us to tears of penitence and joy. There are places in men’s hearts “which only hear the foot of conscience at the dead of night.”
III. How much we need stillness. This brings us to the centre of our subject. We need quiet hours. We are too much in society. In still hours we learn what cowards we really are; how often we are afraid to be ourselves, and to speak and act out the truth that is in us. In still hours we learn how much Christ is to us. In still hours we learn how little anything outward can really affect us. We live more and more in what we are. In still hours we learn the value of true friends. We see that the Christlike in men is that which alone is truly to be loved and honoured. Still hours! How seldom they come to us! Should we not seek to have more? And should not our religious service itself be characterised by a greater devoutness and reverence? (W. M. Statham.)
Alone with God
There is no religion, no praise, no worship, but of the individual. The text is what must be said to every single, solitary person. It addresses him ill the most solitary, silent time--when his day’s work is done, and he is going to sleep. God spreads the curtain of darkness round about us, just that He may shut Himself in with His child. It is not bodily stillness alone. That is compelled. You cannot help going to sleep, God makes you. If it were not for this bodily sleep, we should all go mad. If there never be a silence in the soul, and a man goes on always with his own thoughts and schemes and endeavours, it brings about a moral and spiritual madness. It is not in the midst of the tumult of life that a man first of all is able to hear God. We have not got up to Jesus Christ yet; God was always with Him. So He is with us, but Jesus knew it and felt. But even He went out to the mountains at night, that there might be nothing between Him and God. I think God has sometimes great trouble in separating us far enough from Himself that He can look round and know us. It is the most natural thing that God and man should meet, and know and understand each other, that there should be the meeting together of the thought of the One with the thought of the other. If we do not do the will of God in the day, it is not likely that we will be still upon our beds that He may come and visit us. We need not be without Him during the day. Let us be jealous over ourselves. God will be readier to come to His child the next night if, during the day, he has been living childlike, walking in the steps of his Father, holding fast by Him. The one eternal, original, infinite blessing of the human soul is when in stillness the Father comes and says, “My child, I am here.” (George Macdonald, LL. D.)
I. Explain meaning of text. It is to ponder the matter over with ourselves. The wicked love not to do this. Note the place--your bed; the time--at night, when all is still. It is well to examine our actions, but best, the heart. Ask of it such questions as these:
1. Does it choose and follow after these things which conscience tells me to be right?
2. Is my conscience instructed and informed by the Word of God?
3. Have any of, or all of, my pursuits ever yet afforded me satisfaction?
4. Will the course I an, in do to die with?
5. If I should die in an unconverted state, can I endure the wrath of an offended God?
II. Enforce its exhortation. Because--
1. There are things you have doubted, but which, if you would commune with your own heart, you would find to be true.
2. Things which you have objected to, which you would see to be unobjectionable.
3. One reason why you know so little of your heart sins is that you commune with it so little.
4. There are things which you value much which you would see to be worthless. (Andrew Fuller.)
Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the Lord.
Sacrifice and trust
What are we to understand by this expression, “The sacrifices of righteousness”?
1. By way of specification. The sacrifices of righteousness are righteous sacrifices, sacrifices and oblations under the law. The sacrifice of contrition and humiliation. The sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. The sacrifice of alms and charitable contributions. The exercise and practice of righteousness. To offer the sacrifices of righteousness is to be abundant in acts of justice and equity, and righteousness betwixt man and man.
2. By way of modification or qualification, as to the manner of performance. In a righteous manner; from a righteous principle, to a righteous end. In faith, in obedience, in humility. Notice the privilege of all true Christians under the gospel. Sacrifice is not now confined to any particular place. It is performed with less difficulty. The Christian sacrifices are sanctified by the sacrifice of Christ, who has offered Himself up for us. Take the second sentence of the text, “Put your trust in the Lord.” This is a duty by itself. Faith in God is required, together with righteousness to men. Look at this duty in its connection with the first sentence, “Offer the sacrifices.” A double force in this--as the sacrifices are preparatory, and disposing to this trust; and as this trust qualifies and regulates those sacrifices. The best ground of our trust is the free mercy of God in Christ. (T. Horton, D. D.)
The sacrifices of righteousness
Taking the language of the text in its most rigid meaning, estimating our sacrifices of righteousness by the perfect rule originally given to us,--and remembering that God cannot receive anything less valuable without violating the faithfulness, and compromising the purity of His character,--we have no sacrifices to offer to Him which will justify us in expecting that, for the sake of these, we shall regain and enjoy any of those blessings which His goodness ever prompts Him to bestow upon His rational offspring, as constituting at once their honour and their happiness. Still, we are commanded to offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and we are encouraged to trust in the Lord. The two things must be consistent. It must be practicable for us, fallen though we be, to do both the one and the other.
1. Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, by cherishing those sentiments of humility and sorrow which become creatures who have lost their righteousness; and trust in the Lord, that if you do so, He will comfort you, and lift you up. Humility and sorrow, it is true, cannot compensate for the want of righteousness. They amount to a recognition of that want. Humility and sorrow answer the purpose assigned them, as being a heartfelt testimony on the part of the transgressor to the infinite excellence of God’s law, and to the fitness and importance, and necessity, of that obedience which it demands. In this there is a tribute paid to the authority of God. Presenting this sacrifice of righteousness, you need not be afraid of your offering being rejected or disdained.
2. By a believing application to the obedience of Christ, as constituting that righteousness for the sake of which God justifies the ungodly. Our humility, however deep, and our sorrow, however sincere, come far short of what God’s law requires of us. And so must all the best affections, and all the worthiest doings, of which we are capable. It is the grand object of the gospel dispensation, to provide for us that righteousness of which we are naturally destitute, but which, nevertheless, the holiness and immutability of God’s law render absolutely necessary. This provision has been made by appointing Christ as our surety and substitute. In what manner does the righteousness of Christ become ours, so that we may offer it as a sacrifice to God, and trust in Him, that, for its sake, He will forgive and bless us? It is appropriated by faith, by that faith which implies a renunciation of all dependence on our own inherent righteousness as the instituted method of justification. We offer to God the sacrifice of this righteousness when we direct our views to it, and place our confidence in it.
3. By an earnest desire and uniform endeavour to be adorned with the graces of personal righteousness. Personal righteousness is absolutely, and in every case, indispensable. Strive and pray that your offering may be cheerful, unreserved, and constant. Thus offering the sacrifices of righteousness, you may trust in the Lord that your offering shall not be in vain.
4. By striving to promote the interests of righteousness among your fellow men. No doubt our principal concern is to be holy ourselves. But if we are sincere in that work, we will be anxious that our neighbours shall be holy in the same manner, and to the same extent, and will make every exertion that may be requisite for attaining that end. And explicit obligation is laid upon us to aim at the suppression of sin, and at the prosperity of virtue among our fellow creatures. As to the means by which you are to promote this object, it must strike you at once that the grand and efficient means of diffusing righteousness is to be found in the diffusion of Christianity. Christianity is a system of righteousness. If you would secure for Christianity its purifying effects in their best style, and in their fullest measure, you must present it to men in its true and native character, as it has been set forth by God Himself. And you must exhibit its purifying influence on your own deportment. (A. Thomson, D. D.)
There be many that say, Who win show us any good?
Seeing for good
Truth and happiness go together, like light and heat in the sun. God is the fountain of blessedness, because He is the Father of lights; so that the only proper answer to the question, “Who will show us any good?” is, “Lord, lift Thou up the light, of Thy countenance upon us.”
I. The question. They who ask such a question are not happy. They have some secret cause of dissatisfaction and disquietude. There is a great blank in their moral life; a part of their very nature is left unprovided for. But they want something shown to them, something that their senses can appreciate. Yet they neglect to seek good in God. What is the true good, and who can show it to us? What is the true good with regard to our present happiness? One seeks it in the pleasures of the mind; another in the honours, dignities, and applause of his fellow men; others in wealth, ease, and competence, in prosperous schemes, and golden harvests, and plenteous stores. But these, in themselves, prove disappointing. What is the good which God shows us? The light of His countenance, so that heart to heart, and face to face, we may continue with the invisible God. How is this true good to be obtained?
II. The implied answer to the question. The good man will not be satisfied with “any” good; he must have the chief good, the best good-living water, not water from the cistern. A sense of reconciliation with God, of a granted pardon from Him, of a realised covenant engagement with Him. The chief good is thus described, to “do justly,” “to love mercy,” “to walk humbly with thy God.” (Daniel Moore, M. A.)
The natural man’s choice
No natural or unregenerate man can lift up his heart any higher than unto a worldly happiness, and content in the creature. When you have, in the most powerful and moving manner, discovered spiritual duties, and the necessity of conversion to God, yet they matter it not; they will say, “Who will show us any good?” To bring this coal of fire into your bosom, consider several propositions.
1. Herein lieth the general character of these two citizens--one builds up Babylon, the other builds up Jerusalem. The whole world consists of two sorts of men--the one who are of the world; the other, though in the world, yet not of it. Every wicked man makes some creature or other to be as a God, and so the ultimate end, to him. To clear the heinousness of this wretched temper, consider,
2. That all the good things which the creatures do afford unto us, they are but as means to carry us to a further end. They are but as the rounds of a ladder, not to stand upon, but thereby to ascend higher, even to heaven.
3. Take notice that there is a higher and grosser sort of unregenerate men than happily this expression will comprehend, and that is those who make such things as are formally and expressly evil the good things they would have showed to them. Such are all gross and profane sinners, who live in the daily practice of some loathsome sin.
4. The schoolmen do well to place in every sin a two-fold respect; there is the aversion from God, and the conversion to the creature.
5. It is acknowledged by all that there is inbred in a man an appetite or desire after felicity and happiness. There were above a hundred opinions amongst the heathen in what true felicity consists: but though some were not so gross as others, yet all come short of the true end.
6. The persuasion of what is the best good, and which is chiefly to be desired, is wonderfully diversified, according to the several inclinations, humours, and conditions of men.
7. The preferring of the creature above God, though it be the sin of all mankind, and as large as original sin itself, yet, like that, is hardly discerned and discovered. Antidotes and means against this creature-affection.
(1) You cannot address yourselves unto God in prayer while your heart is not above the world.
(2) Thy heart; it is the choicest and chiefest treasure about thee; it is too noble for any creature.
(3) Meditate on this--that all those who ever loved the creature immoderately, have at last found the vanity and unprofitableness of it.
(4) God hath mingled gall with the honey of every creature, and therefore it is that everything is obtained with difficulty, and possessed with cares, so that we might not rest in the creature.
(5) These creatures, whatever they are for comfort, they are not originally and of themselves so, but are only instruments and conduit pipes. They are defective in these particulars. They cannot give any comfort or content of themselves. They cannot fill themselves with any comfort objectively, any further than God puts into them. They are streams that have water no longer than the spring filleth them. The creature, in being but an instrument, and having all from God, doth thereby demonstrate how much blessedness is in enjoying God Himself.
(6) Lay this to heart, heaven and glory cannot be obtained without a preeminent and transcendent affection to all other things.
(7) Neglect not this meditation--what heathen and superstitious persons have done in a misguided way for some notable end.
(8) If Christ hath reproved those who were godly for their external cares, how much rather will He condemn those who are immoderately addicted to these things? (Anthony Burgess.)
The different language of the godly and the ungodly descriptive of their different characters
Scripture divides mankind into two classes, godly and ungodly. They differ as to their actual state in relation to the law and favour of God, and in their real character in the dispositions and affections of the soul. In this text we see how different are the prevailing desires of godly and ungodly men.
I. The language of worldly and unconverted men. “Who will show us any good?” All pursue the object which appears to them good. But it is only some worldly good. “Corn and wine.” In their search, of whom do they seek information? Only of men like themselves; of men who are following worldly objects. Many of the things after which worldly men inquire are lawful. The degree in which it is done often makes the inquiry unlawful. They pursue it inordinately. This is the circumstance which clearly marks their characters, and decidedly proves them to be worldly.
II. The language of the people of God. The very form which the language takes points out a marked distinction. It is a prayer, not a question. This has always been a marked feature in the people of God. They are a people who pray. They attempt nothing and desire nothing, apart from prayer. Here, for what objects do they pray?
1. For the Lord’s countenance; for His special approbation and love.
2. For the light of His countenance. Not only the possession of God’s favour, but the enjoyment of it.
1. You who are walking “in the light of His countenance,” be thankful for the great mercy vouchsafed to you.
2. Be watchful.” Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. (E. Cooper.)
The cry of the many, and the prayer of the few
I. The cry of the many. Humanity is little changed in its characteristics from what it was in David’s days.
1. This is the cry of destitution.
2. Of bitter disappointment.
3. Of sensuousness.
4. Of recklessness.
5. Of despair.
II. The prayer of the few.
1. It is directed to the proper source.
2. It supplicates the highest blessing. Show us Thy favour. Regard us with approval and complacency. Let us know ourselves the objects of Thy love. (C. M. Merry.)
The inquirer after happiness guided
All seek after happiness of some kind or other. Yet there is nothing in which men more generally fail. There must then be an error somewhere.
I. The language of the world, as expressed in this text. There are in the world mistaken inquirers after happiness, and they are many. More seek it in the wrong way than in the right. These wrong inquirers are all dissatisfied--Solomon, Colonel Gardiner, Lord Byron, Cardinal Wolsey. These inquirers after happiness are ignorant of the only real source of joy. They never seek it where it can be found. They will not seek their happiness in God. The happiness of these men is evanescent. Supposing that they are happy, their happiness does not last.
II. The contrast between the state of the worldly man and the state of the christian. The Christian’s joy is a specific joy; it is a joy immediately and directly derived from God. It is a satisfying joy. It is unaffected by external circumstances. It is an everlasting joy. (George Weight, B. A.)
The influence of Christianity in the heart, in the home, and in society
It may be asked whether the truth of Christianity necessarily follows from its joy-giving power. Such a proof is only a part of the cumulative evidence whereupon Christianity is built. There is a further and more serious objection. Arc you not, by showing that religion promotes joy, appealing to motives of abject fear and personal profit? Morality, not pleasure, should be the true end of religion. But it is just because Christianity has holiness for its object that it is able to promise the happiness which holiness involves. It does indeed appeal to hope and fear; but the fear and the hope which it invokes are not selfish; not, certainly, in that invidious sense which implies the wrong or the neglect of others. Nor can it be said for a moment that the Christian’s fear or joy ignores the claims of morality. Why, the very conviction of sin upon which such a fear is based recognises the breach of a moral law. That same fear becomes ennobled in its onward course, being daily transfigured from the dread of offending a righteous, judge into the filial fear of offending a loving Father. And as with the Christian’s fear, so with his joy and his hope. Even in its beginning, it involves a recognition of moral law, and it daily tends to further holiness. Both the Christian’s fear and joy are essentially moral in their character. But it may be asked--Is this joy really attainable? and if attainable, is it of any value? “Is life worth living?” Christless pessimism is a natural oscillation from a Christless optimism: in other words, to look for true joy in the heart, the home, or society, except as the outcome of true religion, is to build up hopes that can only end in despair. What has Christianity to offer in the place of Christless optimism? What are the virtues and the accompanying joys to which it invites us? It would be untrue to assert that morality and happiness cannot exist in any degree apart from Christianity. And we must not assume that Christianity has promised to bring about, in this dispensation at least, universal goodness, or universal happiness. Let us not look for more than has been promised. Take
1. The heart joys of the individual Christian. Christianity intensifies the joys that are common to all; there are some joys that are peculiarly her own. Such as, the power to dispel those foul vapours which, as our Lord tells us, come naturally from within, and which are necessarily destructive of all inward joy. True religion also offers the joy of pardon. But the heart joy of the Christian does not end with pardon. There is the still greater and holier joy which he feels in the consciousness of being an object of love and care to a heavenly Father, a sympathising Saviour, an abiding Comforter.
2. The home joys of the Christian. In the eyes of the Christian the very idea of home has a holy and Divine meaning that reaches far beyond its earthly significance. He has before his eyes the revelation of an Eternal Father and a Divine Son. True religion enjoins, with a terrible earnestness, those sacred obligations on the observance of which the happiness of home depends; and true religion provides a further home joy in its truth of resurrection.
3. The society joys of the Christian. True religion tends to promote joy in society. The chief source of happiness in a community is liberty, and a chief friend of liberty is true religion. What are the features which give special peace and happiness to the social circle? Are they not courtesy and unselfishness? Are not these Christian virtues? In conclusion, face this question. If Christianity be a failure, what do you propose to put in its place? (Archbishop Plunker, D. D.)
The Cynic’s query answered
The Cynics were a sect of Greek philosophers founded by Antisthenes. He was a proud, stern, and unfeeling man, of such a snarling temper as to be named “dog,” kunos, and his school, “the dog school.” He appeared in threadbare attire and was reproved by Socrates, who told him that his pride spoke through the holes of his clothes. His follower, Diogenes, outdistanced him, and appeared at noonday with a lantern, seeking, as he pretended, to find a man. When Alexander compassionately asked him on one occasion, “What can I do for you?” he replied, “Stand out of my sunlight.” He was an incarnate sneer. “Who will show us any good? Is there any good? Are we not all dupes of delusions?” The text answers the scorner’s query--“Lord, lift Thou up the light of Thy countenance upon us.” We learn that there is good. It can be unfolded and recognised. God is its root, blossom, and fruit. The Cynic is silenced. Satire has its place and function. It may cut to cure, may lacerate yet heal, may lash popular vices and effect good. But satire is earnest, while cynicism is not. Let us, therefore, look at this good which may be defended. Life is not a blunder. It is not a mirage, a stream that runs on only to be buried in sand. Good we can define and know it sharply. It can be made a part of ourselves, and we thereby be made rich and strong. We are not drifting clouds floating away to melt into nothingness. Human life may be opulent, and human destiny glorious.
I. This good we are to think about is personal. It is something realisable, actual, to be recognised by us all. The genesis of it is in God. God is the Saxon word for good. It is in the light of His countenance that we are to realise the possession of genuine good. God does not throw at us as a king in his chariot may fling coin to the crowd about him, but enriches us by reason of our likeness and affinities with Him. We are His children. The paternity of God broods over each life and blesses it. Supposing on one of these spring days there was held a council of the trees and grasses, and each leafless tree and spire of grass should say, “We must have the sun, the dewfall and the rain if we are to live. We must have not one warm shower, but many, if we are to lead on the beauty and bounty of summer. Are we certain of these things?” The sun whispers to each, “I will not forget you, but speak the word to the sea, which shall give of its waters to the cloud, and the cloud shall drop the rain. The dew shall also come, and I, the sun, the father of the earth, will shine upon you. Fear not, I will care for you.” But is not God the primal force, the unseen Creator? He speaks by sun and sea, by cloud and dew. So in the moral world He is the atmosphere in which we are to live. Warmed by His light we shall rejoice and bring forth fruit.
II. Notice the form which this good has taken. God’s beneficence is incarnated. Its concrete form is the living Christ. He is the answer to the query, “Who will show us any good?” He, the express image of God, meets man’s spiritual nature perfectly, shining into and enriching it as the sun vitalises and fructifies the earth. This higher nature needs Divine ennobling. We live in the lower too much. We materialise ourselves too much and forget our spiritual selfhood to which the abiding good must minister. He comes, not as a transient, but perennial supply; not to a transient need, but to our permanent wants as immortal beings. It is not food or raiment which we most need. Christ gives character. If that be built up in man he is a recognised child of God. It is not an easy work, the toil of a day, but that which requires earnest endeavour so long as life shall last. There are endless possibilities in each of us. What possibilities with God indwelling! A good man is a God-man. This is the grand outcome. He dwelleth in us. When then the peering, muttering cynic comes groping round with his lantern asking, “Who will show us any good?” our answer is, a good man!
III. How is such a goodness built? Only through the same line that Christ passed Himself. Every noble soul grows into other lives. Goodness grows by giving itself away. A good life is a great argument. As the sun streams into a dark cloud and washes out its gloom, clothing it with splendour, so does the Sun of Righteousness shine into a human life and make it glorious with the Divine lustre of the heavenly life.
IV. God in Christ takes hold of the whole of us, and the possession is perpetual. (J. Wesley Davis, D. D.)
The quest for good
The quest for good is a perplexing one. Its sources, like the Nile’s, are not easily found. “There be many that say, Who will show us any good?” Good in the highest sense is not the natural heritage of man. Youth with its brightness is a very short season; the burden and heat of the day come very soon; old age with its decrepitude and weakness hovers not far off. Even the best earthly lot does not satisfy.
I. There is dissatisfaction and inquiry. Alone of all the creatures, man seems to have an ill-fitting lot; and alone of all the creatures, he is conscious of his misery. Very wretched according to our standard is the life of the worm that crawls in the damp earth, or the mole that burrows blind and cold in the ground; still more wretched are the lives of those animals that riot in putridity and fatten on corruption: but whatever their lot may appear to us, they are conscious of no want, and may quite contentedly fulfil the ends of their being. It is otherwise with man. He is not in his right place; he is not “in harmony with his surroundings”; he was meant to be happier. The bee is quite satisfied gathering its honey; the sheep is quite pleased nibbling the green meadow; the swallow desires nothing better than to skim the summer air, and build its nest and rear its young under the eaves of the old castle, and be oil again in winter to the sunny south. Of all creatures, man alone feels that his lot is not satisfactory. In his nature alone there is an unsatisfied longing. He is ever on the alert to hear of “good,” in case it be the thing that will allay his craving. But commonly he looks in the wrong direction. Are there any instances of true repose and satisfaction of soul obtained from the broken cisterns? It is not on what men have, but on what they are, that their true happiness depends. And men cannot be what they should be till they come to Christ. “I am the Bread of Life: he that cometh to Me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on Me shall never thirst!”
II. There are various answers. How poor and unsatisfying are the answers often given to, the quest, for good! “I have been reading such, an amusing book,” says one, “a very delightful tale; do get hold of it, you will enjoy it so much.” “Have you been to such and such an entertainment?” asks another; “it is so superior to anything of the kind.” Or, taking some of the answers given in a somewhat different sphere of life--one tells of a market where commodities are got cheap; another of an improvement in the management of his business; and another of a way of making the house more snug, or the person more comfortable or more comely. The advertisements of the newspapers, the prospectuses of new companies, the circulars of tradesmen, the critiques of reviewers, the arguments of politicians, are all in their way answers to the question, “Who will show us any good?” All very well in their way and in their place; but very miserable surely if there is no higher level of good--no higher region to which the soul may aspire.
III. The true answer. The Psalmist tacitly puts all these aside; one blessing, and one only, fills his eye and his heart; and it deserves our best attention--“Lord, lift Thou up the light of Thy countenance upon us.” It was common among the Hebrews to speak of a person’s countenance as low or fallen when he was grieved or angry, and as lifted up when he was pleased and happy. We hold down our face when we are dejected, we hold it up when we are glad. So, also, a radiant or shining countenance stands opposed to a dark or gloomy one. The lights of the countenance, the eyes, sparkle in the one ease, and are dull in the other. The two emblems are combined in the request to God to lift up the light of His countenance on us. The thought is, “Look on us with a happy, shining face--with the happy, shining face with which Thou didst look on our Elder Brother, when Thy voice was heard from the clouds, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’ Transfer to us the satisfaction which Thou hast for Him; accept us in the Beloved. Transform our hearts into His image; make us to resemble Him, ‘the firstborn among many brethren.’” If only we are in a right relation to the Son of God, the countenance of the Father is sure to be lifted up. Has the light of God’s countenance never yet been lifted up on someone? Why should it not? “God is in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing unto them their trespasses.” We are His ambassadors entreating you to be reconciled! And the way to all good is so open and so glorious. (W. G. Blaikie, D. D. , LL. D.)
The inquirers after good
Various as are the tastes and pursuits of mankind, all are pursuing one object--to be happy. But what is true happiness, and where is it to be found? There are two classes of mankind.
I. The class mentioned in the text.
1. They are numerous. Not confined to persons of any particular age or station.
2. The nature of this restless inquiry is shown in the question itself. The question is thrown out to the whole world, to the good and the bad, to the wise and the ignorant, that each may answer it as he sees fit. How various and inconsistent are the answers made!
3. Not only are persons thus restlessly inquiring, but their expectations of finding satisfaction in it are constantly disappointed. They are perpetually trying new experiments, but always with the same result.
II. Can any satisfying good be found? Our text furnishes the answer. God’s favour, the light of His countenance, His presence, His protection, these are satisfying good. God is indeed the source of all good. Then why do not all men seek happiness in God? The temptations to make the world our portion are ever at hand, and press upon us; they appeal to our senses and appetites; they present themselves according to our ages and circumstances in life, in the various forms of profit, pleasure, or worldly distinction, and exhibit innumerable allurements adapted to every taste. Mankind, having forsaken God, find a painful void which the manifestations of His favour alone can fill. (Christian Observer.)
The open secret, or the world’s cry and Heaven’s answer
I. The world’s cry. With the question, as such, no fault is to be found, seeing it is natural to man. But the questioners are of varied type.
1. The unrestrained sensualist.
2. The orderly, selfish, even tempered, moral, prudential worldling, against whom society can bring no positive charge, but from whom it can expect no conscious benefit.
3. The striving and ambitious, whose ruling passion is acquisitiveness.
4. The recluse student, calculator, bookworm, who gives his ,life to the pursuit of knowledge. Many of them are martyrs of science. “Oh,” cried one, “for a century to study a grain of sand, or a blade of grass!” “More light!” exclaimed the dying Goethe. But many and potent as are the charms of science, if pursued as a chief aim, it can only end in disappointment.
5. There is the agnostic, and the insatiable man of action, whose delight is in adventure, discovery, heroic achievement, social influence.
6. There is the type aesthetic, the worshipper of the beautiful in literature and art. But the beautiful alone can never satisfy.
II. Heaven’s answer. It is the light of God’s countenance that will fill our hearts with gladness and peace. This “good” is--
1. Universally accessible to the earnest seeker. A certain writer speaks of “youth as a blunder, manhood a labour, and old age a regret.” God could not have meant that they should be so.
4. Without it nothing else can be of real use to us. Classical story, tells of a philosopher, who was admitted to a grand merrymaking of the Celestials. He was informed that, among the noble and majestic forms around him, there was one, and only one, earth born like himself. He was asked whether, looking at them in all the pomp of royalty, he could pick out his fellow mortal. Contrary to expectation, there was not the slightest difficulty. Though enthroned among gods, and though, like them, he carried a sceptre, and wore golden sandals, and a purple fillet, and talked and nodded as divinely, the man was instantly and unmistakably detected by the restlessness of his eye. That ,is a profoundly melancholy, and yet a triumphantly suggestive allegory. “Rest!” exclaimed Peter of Russia to his jaded soldiers; “you will have rest enough in the grave.” Is that all? Have we no “parish rights” anywhere in the universe? Yes, there is a love if you will but accept it, a power which, if you yield to it, will make this earth the very gate of heaven. (R. Griffith, F. G. S.)
The difference between worldly and godly men
I. The unrenewed men seek for happiness in worldly enjoyments.
1. The frequency of this conduct. The disposition of mind, expressed in this inquiry, belongs to every man until, by renewing grace, he is enabled to set his affection on things above. It is the language of their hearts, their lips, and their actions. There is, indeed, a great variety of objects that engage their attention and pursuit.
2. The foolishness of their conduct. Though desirous to enjoy good, they apply not to God, who alone can give that which is good. Thus they show that they are under the influence of corrupt passions, and wish to live, if it were possible, independent of God.
3. The dangerousness of their conduct. The creatures are unable to help you in your greatest extremities when you most need assistance. This practice entails upon them that follow it certain misery and woe. It gives to the creatures the glory and honour which is due to the Creator.
II. The gracious, godly man esteems the favour of God above every earthly enjoyment. When men are reconciled to other men, they view them with complacency and delight. Any good will not satisfy the godly man’s desires; the wealth of the world cannot make a portion for his immortal soul. The “light of God’s countenance” includes--
1. God’s reconciled favour and love.
2. A sense of its excellence and sweetness.
3. Experience of its joyful fruits and effects. All the temporal and spiritual mercies proceed from God’s favour and goodwill. (W. M’Culloch.)
Of the nature and pursuit of good
This question forms the complaint of many sinful, or mistaken men.
1. It may be asked by the misanthropist. Whatever such persons contemplate is viewed, not only with an expectation, but an intention, to spy out imperfection or deformity. Habits of moroseness and suspicion will contaminate the purest actions.
2. Another vain inquirer after good is the sceptic, and minute philosopher. Surrounded with mists, or dazzled with excess of light, they can never see their way clearly. Every question begets a string of possibilities. Such persons often enter into tedious and perplexed labyrinths of thought, which terminate in no practical result.
3. Another is the voluptuary, and the mere man of the world. Those who, at their first outset, so far mistake the road, as to suppose that the gratifications of sense, or the vanities of ambition, can constitute the happiness of a creature that was formed for immortality, must, in a short time, expect to be disappointed. The pleasures of novelty soon grow familiar, and those of appetite are quickly cloyed.
4. The melancholy inquiry may express the desponding complaint of those who have suffered much, and who seem to sorrow without hope. We are all children of discipline, passing through this land of shadows into a state of immortality, in which we must give account of the things done in the body. Let me advise everybody, who feels this evil doubt and despondency gathering round his mind, to approach the throne of grace with the short but energetic prayer of the holy Psalmist, “Lord, lift Thou up the light of Thy countenance upon us.” (J. Hewlett, B. D.)
The cry of the heart
Life is not all a thing of beauty. If we listen to a Psalm, it may have as many hearse-like harmonies as notes of gladness. The minor rapidly succeeds the major. Weariness is implied in this cry of the human heart. There is social, political, religious unrest. But let us thank God that it is as it is. This despair, this conflict between right and wrong, this struggle after the true way, all these tell of the grandeur and nobility of our nature. These very longings carry along with them assurances of satisfaction; these desires prophesy fruition. They tell the story of the soul’s fatherhood,--it was made for God; and He who formed the soul alone can fill it. Thus we have reached back to the Infinite at last. Oh, that I know whore I might find rest! Oh, for a living, loving, personal God! The heart must have something to love; something whereon to rest; something ill which to trust. God is not an abstraction, but a very present Help. Not afar off, but close at hand. Not merely love, but the Loving One. Not cold Omnipotence, but the Helping One. A being who rewards personal longings with personal gifts; personal cravings with personal sympathy. All this we find in the dear Christ of the Cross. He will show thee, O man, what is good. Trouble may now and then ruffle the fringes of your outer life, but the life hidden with Christ in God shall never be stirred by the winds and waves of earthly care. Founded upon the Rock, you shall never, never be moved. (John Hemphill.)
The general depression
Beneath the conventional smiles and cheerful salutations of society there lie heavy burdens on many hearts, and there may be heard “groanings which cannot be uttered.” There is on every side a great deal of care amounting to anxiety, and of depression bordering on melancholy. At present, the troubles of our fellow men are heavy indeed, through the more struggle for existence. Another cause of the general depression is the sickness which abounds. This has been a very unhealthy season. Another great sorrow is the perpetual exile of grown-up sons into distant lands. Add the trouble endured through domestic servants, and through bad children. There are unhappy souls who live in a perpetual atmosphere of melancholy, who, whatever be their circumstances, habitually look only on the dark side of things, and seem unable to do otherwise. See the exquisite beauty, and simplicity, and reasonableness of the remedy for trouble which the Psalmist recommends. His remedy is prayer. But prayer for what? He does not pray for the removal of one of life’s burdens, for the reversal of one of God’s decrees, or for the smallest interference on God’s part with the conditions in which we find ourselves. It is a prayer only for the light of God’s countenance to shine upon our souls. That is the only good worth showing or giving. That is the panacea for all life’s ills. That gives strength to carry the burden, instead of taking the burden away. That gives courage to face our danger, instead of taking the danger out of our path. That is the only cure in heaven or earth for depression of mind. “The light of God’s countenance” is a way of expressing the soul’s vision of God--seeing Him, and knowing that He sees us. Some of us may drill ourselves into a hardened stoicism. That is not happiness, it is death. Many think to be happy by the removal of their present troubles. It is a mistake. In trouble man learns that he needs God. In his darkest hours man has seen the brightest visions of the ineffable glory. (Charles Voysey.)
A restless quest of satisfaction
There is said to be a strange plant in South America which finds a moist place and sends its roots down and becomes green for a little while until the place becomes dry, when it draws itself out and rolls itself up and is blown along by the wind until it comes to another moist place, where it repeats the same process. On and on the plant goes, stopping wherever it finds a little water, until the spot is dry; then in the end, after all its wanderings, it is nothing but a bundle of dry roots and leaves. It is the same with those who drink only of this world’s springs. They drink and thirst again, blown by the winds of passion and desire, and at last their souls are nothing but a bundle of unsatisfied desires and burning thirsts. We must find something better than this, or perish forever. Summum bonum:--
1. In the history of ancient Greece we read of two sages--the Weeping and the Laughing Philosopher. The one saw nothing but the dark side; the other looked always at the bright. We all know people belonging to both of those schools. It depends very largely on natural temperament to which of the two any person belongs; for some are naturally melancholy, others sanguine. Partly, too, it may depend on fortune; an early disappointment or the treachery of a supposed friend may poison a man’s mind to all healthy influences; whereas those into whose soul the iron has never entered are disposed to think lightly of the sufferings of others.
2. Somewhat analogous to this division of mankind is that in the text; only, it goes far deeper. It speaks of a dissatisfaction with life which is consistent with much surface gaiety, and of a satisfaction which may be felt amid misfortune.
I. The restless human heart. You may have seen a picture called The Pursuit of Pleasure, in which pleasure is represented as an airy winged figure of dazzling beauty, floating just above the ground, turning her enchanting face towards those who are in pursuit of her; but still retreating from them, as she draws them on. In the forefront of her pursuers are the young, with flushed faces and confident eyes, almost touching with their outstretched hands the fringes of her robe. Farther behind are those who have been longer in pursuit; they are falling back in the race, and there is the dread of disappointment in their eyes; but their determination is all the stronger not to miss the prize. In the rear are those following in despair; and some have stumbled and fallen, and are being trodden upon as the mad pursuit rushes by. Is it not too true? Who can say, My desires are fulfilled, and I am satisfied? If the blinds were drawn up from the windows of our hearts, what would be seen within? The pain of desires which have found no fulfilment, the disappointment of hopes once cherished but abandoned now, the dread of coming change, which may strew the ground with the fair fabric of our prosperity. So difficult is it to catch the butterfly of happiness, and it is still more difficult to keep it. The men of thought and the men of action and the men of leisure arrive by different ways at the same result. They are seeking some great good which will satisfy the heart, but they have not found it; and they are going about asking, Who will show us it? And then life is so short. Now or never you must find the secret. Are we to live and die without once clasping our fingers over the prize, without once getting our hearts filled to the brim?
II. The heart at rest. “Lord, lift upon us the light of Thy countenance.” He is not asking, “Who will show us any good?” for he knows the secret, he has found the supreme good, and he has nothing else to desire but this--that more and more God would lift on him and those for whom he speaks the light of His countenance. What does it mean? The phrase is a very Oriental one. It is derived from the experience of an Eastern court. The light of the countenance is the expression which it wears when it is pleased. We know on what conditions God is now well pleased with the children of men. He is always well pleased with Christ, and with all whom He sees in Christ. This, therefore, in the language of Christian experience, is the solution of the problem--to have Christ, and ever more of Christ. How is this the solution? How, in other words, does Christ give the heart rest?
1. He does so by taking it off itself. When the kindness and love of God are revealed to the heart, when the self-sacrifice of Christ becomes the great theme of our joy and hope, a similar disposition is begotten in us: we love all those whom God loves and for whom Christ died, and we are ready to serve them, because Christ has said, Inasmuch as ye do it to the least of these, ye do it unto Me. You cannot help thinking well of mankind when you are trying to do them good, and you can never despise any soul if you believe Christ has esteemed it worthy of His life.
2. Not only does Christ draw the heart off itself, but He also gives it an object large enough to satisfy its desires. It possesses the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Who can estimate all that this implies? How can anyone with such a heritage go about moaning, c, Who can show us any good?” No, “the voice of rejoining and salvation is in the tabernacles of the righteous”; “the shout of a King is in their midst.” The human heart is large and hungry; but Christ can fill it, and He can keep it full.
3. This is a satisfaction which will never fail, but become deeper and more precious at the very stage when all other satisfactions are failing. It is not a wise view of religion which represents it as a substitute for all the good things by which life is enlarged and enriched--such as knowledge, love, health, work, and success. Rather is religion the sunny atmosphere in which all these things are to be enjoyed. (J. Stalker, D. D.)
Heavenly satisfaction best
“The old Rabbis say that when the famine came on in Egypt and the storehouses were opened, that Joseph threw the chaff of the grain upon the Nile, that it might float down the river and show those who lived below that there was abundance. So the blessings of this life are nothing more than the husks of God’s bounty, compared with spiritual joys and heaven.”
Lord, lift Thou up the light of Thy countenance upon us.
The light of God’s countenance
I. What is the light of God’s countenance?
1. That we are noticed by the Divine Being. He takes cognisance of your affairs.
2. That He is interested in us, as a father in the doings of his children.
3. That we are the objects and recipients of His favours. He favours our undertakings, circumstances, and conditions.
4. That He approves of our acts--accepts and fills us with peace.
5. That He helps us. God’s favour is no empty pretence--His aid comes timely.
6. That He blesses us. His benediction conveys the good.
II. The results. It puts “gladness into the heart.” Why? Because--
1. It is the countenance of a powerful, wise, omnipotent Being.
2. It is the exuberant gladness--overflowing joy--beyond any worldling’s mirth--unending. How disquieted should those be from whom God’s face is averted and for whom there is on His countenance a frown! (William Landels, D. D.)
The godly man’s choice
1. A gracious heart doth more esteem the favour of God, and the light of His countenance, than any earthly thing whatsover. What does the phrase “the light of Thy countenance” express? It supposes that all our iniquities and sins are pardoned and blotted out. So long as our guilt is upon us, and God seeth that, He turneth His face from us. There is implied, God’s favour and love toward us. The original and cause of all God’s gracious mercies in time. That God hath a peculiar respect unto His children. The efficacy and powerful effects thereof; for as the sun by its beams doth enlighten the whole earth, and give life and motion to everything, thus also doth God where He favours. This acting of God’s face in reference to the godly, emptieth itself in two ways, in respect of outward and temporal mercies; and in respect of spiritual mercies.
2. The qualifications or characters of those who do value and desire God’s favour above everything else. They are such as have a deep and true sense of the guilt of their sins. Such are often afflicted, persecuted, and of great exercises in this world. They who renounce their own righteousness. They who are spiritually-minded. They who live by faith, and are affected with things as revealed by the Scripture. They can esteem the favour of God, who have had experience of the sweetness and excellence of it. They who have the Spirit of God working in them. They who walk closely with God. (Anthony Burgess.)
The chief happiness of man is found in the enjoyment of God
All the various pleasures which this world affords are unsatisfying in their nature, and transitory in their duration. Happiness is the one object in pursuit of which all men are engaged.
1. True and satisfying enjoyment is not to be found in the pursuit or possession of the things of time. There is an obvious and acknowledged disparity between all the objects and pursuits of time, and the capacity of that being which was formed after the image of God. Various are the expedients which the wise men have recommended for the attainment of happiness.
2. The chief end of man, in so far as happiness is concerned, is the enjoyment of God Himself. Jehovah is the infinite source of all good. If a consciousness of His favour and love can be acquired, this will give the assurance of every blessing. The very conviction that God is, is a source of joy unspeakable. The contemplation of the relations in which the eternal God stands to us, is the source of His highest enjoyment. Above all, it is the knowledge of God as in Jesus, his reconciled Father, his covenant God, that gives him peace, and confidence, and joy. It is thus that, even now, Jehovah is enjoyed by all His believing people. (Alexander Turner.)
The source of the Christian’s joy
I. What are we to understand by the light of God’s countenance. The light of one’s countenance denotes that peculiar aspect which bespeaks affection and favour. By the light of God’s countenance we understand that clear and full manifestation of God to the soul, which assures it of an interest in His favour. There is a manifestation of God to the soul of the Christian, which is not enjoyed by other men, even with the Bible in their hands, nor always by the Christian himself. Though he does not pass beyond the limits of the written revelation, yet he sees in a peculiar manner what lies within its limits. He sees God, the great object of this revelation, in the light and radiance of reality. This manifestation of God is made to the Christian in the exercise of holy affections, and he is therefore assured of the Divine favour through the promises. In proportion to the strength and intenseness of holy affections, the misgivings of doubt, and fluctuations of faith, vanish. The assurance consequent on this manifestation of God to the soul is through the medium of the Divine promises. Whether God has promised--whether God is faithful, is not a matter of doubt to the Christian’s mind.
II. Why the christian desires the light of God’s countenance above all earthly good.
1. He thus values and desires it, as it removes a sense of quilt from his mind.
2. He desires it for its own inherent consolation. This state of mind implies the serenity of unreserved confidence. Confidence in God, under a full manifestation of God. In this state there is a peculiar manifestation of God’s love to the Christian. There is, also, between the soul and God, a delightful fellowship of affection and of interests.
3. He desires it, as it gives assurance of those future blessings which are the objects of hope. Thus we see why Christians so often mourn the hidings of God’s face. The subject addresses those who have been taught to value and desire the light of God’s countenance above all things. (N. W. Taylor, D. D.)
Men’s true happiness consists in the favour of God
1. There is necessarily implanted in the very nature of man a desire of promoting his own happiness. This is a self-evident truth, and needs no proof. The only difference in men lies in determining wherein their true happiness consists, and by what methods it may best be attained. True religion is so far from discouraging men in their search after happiness that it forbids not the enjoyment of any one temporal blessing which God has created for the use of man, but only disorderly instances and unreasonable excesses.
2. Wicked and corrupt men seek this happiness in the sinful enjoyments of the present life; and their choosing to do so is their great error and folly. The enjoyments of this world are ranked by St. John under three heads, “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life”: that is, pier, sure, riches, and honour. Every one of these has a great mixture of evil attending it, has at best much emptiness and imperfection in it, and has much unsatisfactoriness and disappointment going along with it. They are not at best complete enough to satisfy the mind of man; and if they were, they cannot continue long enough to maintain and preserve its happiness. Whatever will make the mind of man happy, must be able to satisfy it both in its whole capacity and in its whole duration. Whatever is not sufficient to effect this, cannot be man’s chief and final happiness.
3. Virtuous and good men place their chief happiness in the knowledge and favour of God, in the practice of virtue and true religion; and their acting according to this principle is the greatest and indeed the only true wisdom.
(1) Wherein does this true happiness consist? Partly in their contemplating with delight, and meditating with pleasure, on the perfections of God the supreme good. Partly in the sense of God’s present favour to them, arising from the consciousness of their agreeableness and conformity to His holy and Divine will. They know that God’s favour and protection always accompanies righteous and just men. The favour God bears to virtuous and good men, they find belongs to themselves; and this affords them at all times and in all cases, a solid and rational satisfaction. Partly in the expectation of eternal rewards, with which hope they are supported here, and the actual possession of them, which they shall enjoy hereafter.
(2) In what respect it excels the happiness of sensual and corrupt minds. I shall only observe that this happiness, which is the reward of virtue, exceeds all other pleasures infinitely in the two forementioned qualifications of happiness, namely, perfection in degree, and continuance of duration (Psalms 16:11). (S. Clarke, D. D.)
The great desire of the saints
However all men have a common nature, yet grace makes a vast difference among them. As it makes difference in their understandings, so in their wills. In this text the world is divided into two parties. In some things they agree; as in the sense of defects; and in their desire of supplies. There are some things in which they differ, as the object of their desires; the ways they take for accomplishing their desires; the success of their desires. Doctrine: It is a great desire of gracious souls to have the light of the Lord’s countenance lifted up upon them.
I. Speak to the case here supposed. The saint, the child of light, may sometimes sit in darkness. How far may this darkness proceed? It may go so far that they cannot see to read their evidences for heaven; they cannot see above them, nor look up to heaven. The very thing that was their light before may be as darkness to them. They may be unable to discern their best friend from their foe. They may lose sight of their guide, and of their way-marks. They may be weary of their very lives.
II. The desire of the gracious soul. To have the light of God’s countenance implies a state of reconciliation with God; the Lord’s laying aside any special controversy with the soul; a communication of gracious influences, and an intimation of God’s love to the soul. (T. Boston, D. D.)
The blessed man
Here we are taught how to carry and behave ourselves in times of danger.
I. A disposition in all men to seek after something that may make them happy. It is true, indeed, that naturally men do not distinctly know wherein their happiness lies; but, as Aquinas observes, there is a general knowledge of happiness, add there is a distinct and right understanding of it. Now though all men have not this distinct knowledge of our happiness, yet all men have a special knowledge of it, and they know that it is good for them to be happy; surely, therefore, there is a disposition in all the children of men to seek after something that may make them happy.
II. Men are generally mistaken in the matter of their happiness. Is not he mistaken herein that doth bless himself in the way of his sin; or in the enjoyment of the creature? Some place their happiness in pleasure, or riches, or honour, or power, or health, strength, and beauty of body, or knowledge, wit, and learning, or in moral civil life. But what creature excellency is there that can give happiness to the sons of men? Certainly none. How comes it to pass that men are thus mistaken? Sometimes the mistake arises from ignorance of the right and true notion of happiness; or from the misapplication of the true notion of happiness; or because men measure their happiness by their present want; or because they do not hearken to and consider what is spoken to them about true happiness.
III. There is a generation of men who have found this blessedness. They are blessed because their sins are forgiven: when the Lord teaches them the mysteries of the kingdom. They are blessed who wait at the posts of wisdom, and are made wise thereby; they who are meek; they who know and do the work of their place and office; they who wait for the coming of Christ; they who die in the Lord.
IV. Wherein doth this true happiness consist? In the shine of God’s face. The face of God is His favour. If God hath ever blessed you in truth, then hath His face shined upon you. (W. Bridge, M. A.)
True happiness found in God’s favour only
In this text two different and opposite characters are introduced. The true Christian differs widely from all others, with respect to the ultimate object of his desires and pursuits. His treasure is in heaven, and there his heart is also. He draws all his hope and happiness from the favour of God, and the enjoyment of His love.
I. The disposition of unregenerate men, as represented in this text. “Who will make us to see good?” To see good is an expression which denotes the enjoyment of it. This desire, and the manner in which it is expressed, imply--
1. A departure flora the original constitution of human nature. Man was a creature flamed to derive all his happiness from intercourse with his Maker. While he continued in a state of rectitude, he enjoyed consummate blessedness. Man, in innocence, found in the Divine favour and fellowship a source of happiness pure and inexhaustible. What a melancholy change sin produced. Communion with God was wholly interrupted. Man came to ask for “any good,” any present, sensible, worldly good.
2. An idolatrous attachment to the world. Fallen man having cast off God, exalts the world into His throne. All natural men set their hearts on some created good, from which they expect their best happiness. Whatever draws the heart away from God, and occupies His room in the affections, is a sin of the deepest dye, it is the vilest idolatry.
3. A disposition strictly to examine all the sources of worldly bliss. Every object that promises entertainment is greedily embraced.
4. The question is expressive of the dissatisfaction attendant on all earthly pursuits. Many are the expedients which are devised by the lovers of this world to obtain the “good” which they do ardently pant after, but they all fail of success. The world, with all its splendid ornaments, is a mere picture of felicity, and ever disappoints and deceives its votaries. True peace and rest they never find.
5. A disposition to renew the pursuit after worldly happiness, notwithstanding repeated disappointments.
II. Contrast the disposition of these with that of renewed and sanctified souls. The text gives the breathings of their hearts. The terms used are figurative, but highly significant. God is a Spirit, and therefore hath no bodily members. He is pleased to address men in their own language. Men express favour or displeasure by the different appearances of countenance which they assume. The “light of God’s countenance” denotes a sense of His love as a reconciled Father in Christ Jesus. This ardent desire to enjoy the smiles of God’s benign countenance includes in it--
1. Some knowledge and experience of the condescension and grace of God in accepting sinners through Christ Jesus. God has manifested His love in providing a Saviour for us exactly suited to our wants.
2. This prayer is expressive of supreme delight in communion with God. Nothing is more characteristic of a Christian than this. He pants after the Divine fellowship, as the principle of all his enjoyment, the very happiness of his being.
3. Cordially to join in this prayer of the Psalmist, supposes the high value and diligent use of every means of Divine institution where God has promised to meet with His people.
4. It also implies a longing desire for the full enjoyment of God in heaven. Conclusion:
(1) Let everyone here inquire what is the temper of his mind and the tendency of his heart.
(2) See the extreme folly of those who yield themselves to this worlds influence for the attainment of happiness. (T. Chalmers, D. D.)
The hindrances to our living in the light of God’s countenance
What David here speaks of was not a glowing and happy state of feeling exercised upon spiritual subjects, but something more substantial and real. Feelings are ever varying in their ‘clearness and amount. It was not of so uncertain a thing as the ebb and flow of this changing tide of emotion. That of which he spoke was the practical carrying out into the events of daily life of that great truth which lies near to the foundation of all religion--that it is the very condition of our individual and eternal being and consciousness that we should be really nearer at all times to the great God than we can be to any other being.
1. The first hindrance Christians find is, allowing themselves in a formal and indevout character of service. If we rest in the acts of worship or devotion, we lose that which is their chief benefit, communion with God. The same loss is incurred by making religion to consist in “feelings” of devotion.
2. Christian men form too low a notion of the holiness which God has put within their reach. They are too apt to think of holiness as mainly valuable because it is an evidence of faith. Hence, when they are satisfied about their faith, they are in danger of becoming somewhat languid in seeking after holiness.
3. Another hindrance is a multitude of worldly cares. There is such a natural agreement between our heart and earthly things, that they are apt to lay hold again and again of those affections which we perhaps had hoped were truly weaned from them, and set upon things above. Two chief means by which the power of the world may be resisted are, first, on the appearance of the danger, honestly examine whether you are not multiplying cares which you are not really called upon to meet, and which therefore are more than you can bear. And, secondly, do all this worldly business as unto the Lord; endeavour to bring the presence of God into it all.
4. The want of earnestness is a hindrance. This is seen in many ways--in the evident coldness of prayer; in frequent absence from some among the means of grace; or in a careless walk, and remissness in resistance of temptation; and in their being ready to acquiesce in such a state as that in which they must continue. The want of earnestness may spring from different causes. It may be the effect of a lurking infidelity. Another cause of this inaction is a secret hope that some time or other you will find it easier to turn to God, to serve Him heartily. Sometimes it pleases God to withhold spiritual comforts, and the sense of His gracious presence from the soul, even when we cannot find any cause of carelessness in the believer. This is, when it happens, a fearful part of the believer’s discipline. Doubtless it is sent to work some blessed end. (Bishop Wilberforce.)
A satisfying view of Christ
An earnest Christian woman lay upon her deathbed in a Boston hospital. She had devoted herself to an unselfish life, and contracted the disease that caused her death, in spending her life for others. The night she died she said to her attendants, “Please raise the curtain.” There, on a great church opposite the hospital, flooded by moonlight, stood Thorwaldsen’s statue of the Master. Long and silently she gazed upon it. “Don’t drop the curtain,” she pleaded. “I want to look at Christ.” Our doubts, our sins, our troubles, our perplexities, are all curtains that fall between us and the true meaning of a simple Christian life. Raise them and look at Him. Happiness in God’s favour:--Four things briefly put about the happiness that comes of God’s smile.
1. It goes to heighten other joys where they are possessed. There are such joys, sources of satisfaction for the intellect, for the social heart, for every want of man except that of the soul. Let this deepest need of man be met, and all other things will yield more good.
2. Further, true happiness remains when other sources of joy have passed away. Failures, reverses, losses, are always saddening; but have we not known men m whose heart happiness has held its seat even amidst the wreck of their fortunes? Yet again, the joy of God dwells within the soul of many a man who never had many other sources of comfort. God’s poor are gladdened by the light of His countenance.
3. Lastly, this happiness will be enjoyed in proportion as we are seeking it. The Christian living beneath the sunlight is the happy Christian. The Christian who often lives without seeking it, lacks the joy. So, then, here is the secret of a happy life--it is with God. It is living in friendship and fellowship with God; it lies in the consciousness of His favour and love. The one spot on earth where happiness is to be found is the heart of a good man. (J. B. French.)
Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased.
Thanksgiving for harvest
1. The joy in harvest is based on the successful result of labour. Labour is God’s law, and obedience to it secures a result corresponding to the means used, and that result is a real blessing in the ratio in which God is recognised and honoured, by obeying Him in the law which He has enjoined. Spiritual blessings are only attained through spiritual means. How few men recognise, in God’s ministration of natural plenty, a silent sermon on the passage, “He giveth all things richly to enjoy.” A Christian looks upon a plentiful harvest, not simply as a pledge of cheaper bread, but as a mark of God’s approval of the industry which wrought for this end. All industrious nations are thriving, though all are not God-fearing nations.
2. Joy in harvest commemorates the termination of solicitude, in reference to a favourable season for ripening and gathering in the crops. Scripture alludes to many of the trials and disappointments of the husbandman. There is a proverbial impatience and murmuring among tillers of the soil. A like impatience is not rare among some Christians. The harvest, as an annual ripening and realising of profit, should suggest annual inquiry into our own scale of personal maturity in the things of God. Has the past year yielded a good spiritual return for mental toil, and thought, and prayer, and the means of grace?
3. The joy of harvest reasonably includes the prospect of an adequate supply for our own and others’ necessities. There is danger, as well as misery, m a public deficiency of the necessaries of life. The law and the loaf flourish best together.
4. The joy of an abundant harvest should stimulate us to renewed and enhanced confidence in God. If He thus blesses the labour of the field, doubt not He will bless every believer in his personal calling. (Joseph B. Owen, M. A.)
Christianity is a religion of gladness. You cannot have one Divine idea in you without being glad. You cannot have any Divine ideas so long as you are unpardoned. It is the distinction of the gospel to proclaim possible forgiveness, and when forgiveness has taken effect then joy begins; on every bough of every tree there is a singing bird. But until we are pardoned, and pardoned at the Cross, we cannot admit God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost into our hearts to abide with us and sup with us and manifest themselves to us, and therefore we cannot have this simple, pure, celestial, inexhaustible joy. Christianity gives joy unspeakable, joy unutterable. Joy has no words; joy takes up all our little words, and uses them, and then says, I want more, more, another language, and because it has no more articulation it bursts forth into songs without words, it mingles with the melody of the spheres. To that high festival we are called! But is not the religion of Christ a religion of melancholy? No. It has in it the deepest melancholy ever known, but one thing is so often forgotten by Christian evangelists: Christ died only once. They will not think of that--only once. He did die--died as never man died; He was despised and rejected of men, He gave His back to the smiters and His cheeks to them that pluck off the hair; but He died only once. He lives for evermore. Why do we not at our Eastertides remember this?--the death for a moment, the life forever! So we come up out of darkness to sing of light; we leave the desert, one little mile long, and enter upon the boundless paradise of God. Do not condemn yourselves because you have not a continual consciousness of this joy. Much of that want of consciousness may be due to physical infirmity; we are fearfully and wonderfully made; the body may be having the upper hand for a time. Then some men’s self lies such a long way within themselves they have to shed off coat after coat, to slough off bad skin after bad skin a thousand in number, before they get at their real Ego, their real I, their real and divinest self. Some of us have a hard fight. Some of you think you are going to lose. Hear me: you are not. “Gad, a troop shall overcome him, but he shall overcome at the last.” For the moment he is down, but God is in him, and he will spring from the dust, and at the last even the poor tribe called Gad shall sing of victory, sit down with conquerors! (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
The duty, method, and importance of being happy
There are wants of the soul which no earthly good can satisfy. The happiness to meet these wants consists in a calm, cheerful, submissive, contented frame of mind.
I. This happiness is not only a privilege, it is a sacred and most important christian duty.
1. By far the greater part of the unhappiness which people complain of, is of their own procuring, and is to be set down as resulting, not from any unavoidable necessity, either in nature or circumstances, but from a perverted free agency, from violating some of the laws of our being, from voluntary indiscretions, errors, and sins. Remove the sources of unhappiness, and little comparatively would remain to embitter the cup of life, or make us unhappy. If the unhappiness is caused by ourselves, then it is our “duty” to cease from so profitless, so bad a work.
2. It is our duty to be happy, because it is our duty to be right--right in our feelings, principles, habits, and aims; and just so far as we are so, we must, and we shall be happy. The happiness of which I speak is in the state of the mind, and independent, in great measure, of outward circumstances.
3. God wishes us to be happy. This cannot be doubted by any who believe that God is a Being of infinite wisdom and goodness. True, in our present state, there are many things within and without, which tend to perplex and try us, and, in point of fact, do often greatly interrupt and disturb our happiness. These, we have seen, are partly our own procuring. So far as they come in the course of Divine Providence, they are means designed of our Father in heaven to promote our present and future happiness. They are among the “all things that work together for good.”
4. Look at the constitution of man as made in the image of God, and formed to share, in his measure, in the happiness of God. A law pervades your whole mental constitution, making it certain that the right normal exercise of your powers and affections can result only in making you happy.
5. From the abundant means God has provided to render you happy. He who made you, and made you to be happy, has provided means adapted to gratify all your desires and aspirations, so far as they are right and proper. The means God has provided for our happiness do not stop in the things of earth and time.
II. The method or way to be happy.
1. We must leave off making ourselves unhappy. Turn out all those consumers of happiness which are so apt to find a home in the bosom. Their name is legion, and by many they are indulged and nursed to the overthrow of all internal peace and comfort.
2. Cultivate kind and benevolent affections--love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, meekness, goodness, truth. These virtues, in habitual exercise, as they are required to be, cannot fail to diffuse sunshine and pleasantness over the whole mind and life.
3. Note the Saviour’s prescription for being happy, as contained in the opening of His Sermon on the Mount. “Blessed are they, etc. What is the principle, the source, of the blessedness expressed in these different terms? Plainly it is internal; it springs from the affections.
III. The importance of being happy. It is not necessary to dwell on this. It is not, however, common for happiness to be inculcated as a duty. It is usually regarded as a matter which everyone must be left to dispose of as he chooses, without incurring any moral responsibility. (J. Hawes, D. D.)
Religion no enemy to joy
Joy and pleasure are things so truly desired by all mankind, that religion suffers by being thought an enemy to them. Religion restrains us from nothing, but what our own reason and interest should restrain us from, In all harmless and innocent satisfactions, that neither entrench upon the honour of God, nor the rights of others, nor our own peace and quiet, we have leave to pick and choose.
I. The nature of this inward joy and pleasure. Not a natural gaiety and cheerfulness of humour, or a few light and transient fits of mirth, nor yet any strong and confident presumptions of God’s love and favour, or any rapturous transports, and sensible ravishments of joy. That which I intend is, a solid and rational satisfaction of mind, in the goodness and soundness of a man’s estate towards God, and flows usually from these two things--from a sincere and regular discharge of our duty, which brings its own comfort and tranquillity along With it. And from a cheerful reflection upon a man’s innocency, and the integrity of his actions, when a man dares look back upon what he has done, and knows that he has the testimony and approbation of heaven on his side, bearing witness to the vote and suffrage of his own conscience.
II. What influence religion has upon the joy and pleasure of a man’s mind.
1. Religion restores a man to the grace and favour of God, and assures him that his sins are pardoned, and his peace made with heaven.
2. A course of virtue and religion subdues our inordinate appetites and vicious inclinations, which are the great fountains of inquietude and trouble. Religion circulates through all our powers, disposes every faculty to act in its due place and order, and determines every affection to its peculiar object.
3. A pious and religious life secures to a man the peculiar care and protection of the Divine Providence, than which there cannot be a stronger support and comfort to the mind of a wise and good man.
4. Religion refreshes the mind of a good man with a joyful assurance of the glory and blessedness of the Other world.
III. The excellency of the pleasures of religion, above all the delights and pleasures of this world. “More than when the corn and the wine increases.”
1. The delights of this world are gross and corporeal, and affect only the external senses, and are the pleasures of the brute, rather than of the man.
2. The pleasures of religion are more solid and satisfying than anything this world can afford. They fill our appetites, and fix our desires, and settle the soul upon the right basis and temper.
3. Religions pleasures are more large and comprehensive, they take in a vaster compass, the delights both of this and of the other world.
4. The pleasures of religion have infinitely the advantage of all others in point of duration and continuance. They abide with us when other comforts fly, or are rifled away from us The sum is this--“the work of righteousness is peace, and the effect of righteousness is quietness and assurance forever.” (William Cave, D. D.)
The saint’s gladness
The chief distinction between a child of God and a man of the world lies in the prevailing tendency of their desires.
1. The Psalmist’s description of opposite characters. See the description of worldly men, in Psalms 4:6 : It is obvious--
(1) That this question betrays a great degree of inward dissatisfaction and perplexity. They say “any good,” anything to fill up the craving vacuity of our minds. At the time of the question they cannot find anything in their lot that deserves the name of good.
(2) The only good they inquire for is some present sensible enjoyment, which may be pointed out to the eye of sense, They look not “at the things which are unseen and eternal.”
(3) They make no discrimination of the objects which they seek after.
(4) They do not turn their thoughts at all to God. They seek counsel from others, but none from Him. Turn to consider the temper of a child of God. He too seeks “good”; but
(i) It is not “any” good that will satisfy him. He cannot feed upon husks. He seeks the “chief good.”
(ii) He knows where that good is to be found. The favour of God, and the sense of His loving kindness, are the only sources of true happiness. The worldly mind is in a state of perpetual fluctuation.
(iii) The child of God goes directly to God Himself, and begs the blessing from Him.
(iv) The Psalmist, in the name of the godly, uses this prayer in direct opposition to the carnal language, of worldly men. Intimating to us, that a child of God can relish no sweetness m any inferior good, till he be assured of the Divine favour.
2. The propositions which arise from this comparison.
(1) Worldly men have little cause to rejoice in the temporal advantages which they possess. These outward things may consist with the present misery of the person who possesses them. Indeed, these things are frequently the means of making men miserable, and of fixing them in that deplorable state. These things may end in misery, and leave the owner in everlasting woe.
(2) Consider those solid grounds of joy which belong to the people of God. He is possessed of the joy which results from comparing his present and happy condition with the misery in which he was once involved. Source of joy to a child of God, also consists in the actual honours and privileges conferred upon him. He is advanced to the dearest and most intimate relation to God, adopted into His family, and invested with all the rights of a son. The joy of a saint also proceeds from the contemplation of those future blessings which are yet only the objects of hope. These sources of joy are of such a nature as that no outward distress or calamity can take them away.
Improvement of this subject.
1. Inquire which of the characters described by the Psalmist belongs to us.
2. I exhort those of you who are yet carnally minded, to think seriously of your condition.
3. Let those who have been taught to value the light of God’s countenance above all things, learn to be humble and thankful. (R. Walker.)
Christians should reflect on their felicity
“Living in Rome, a famous antiquarian and artist (Winkelman) tells how he gave himself half an hour every day to meditate on his Italian happiness. Thousands have lived in Rome with the same pure sky smiling over them, and the same articulate antiquity on every side accosting them, and never been aware of their felicity.” And is it not thus with the average Christian life? For the want of reflection and a calm survey of our standing and inheritance in Jesus Christ, our icy and gladness are intermittent instead of perennial and abiding. (James Hamilton, D. D.)
Happy without a fortune
Recovering from an illness, Mr. Wilberforce remarked, “I can scarcely understand why my life is spared so long, except it be to show them a man can be as happy without a fortune as with one.”
A happy life
Now, as they were going along and talking, they espied a boy feeding his father’s sheep. The boy was in very mean clothes, but of a very fresh and well-favoured countenance, and as he sat by himself, he sang--
“He that is down needs fear no fall;
He that is low no pride;
He that is humble ever shall
Have God to be his guide.
I am content with what I have,
Little be it or much;
And, Lord, contentment still I crave,
Because Thou savest such.
Fulness to such a burden is,
That go on pilgrimage:
Here little, and hereafter bliss,
Is best from age to age.”
Then said their guide, “Do you hear him?” “I will dare to say that this boy lives a merrier life, and wears more of that herb called heart’s ease in his bosom, than he that is clad in silk and velvet.” (John Bunyan.)
I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for Thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety.
Signs of a quiet spirit
In the text are two subjects. David’s privilege or happiness itself. The ground or foundation of this his happiness. In the letter and proposition of it, we have the comfortableness and advantage of natural rest. In the scope and drift of it, we have the comfortableness and advantage of God’s favour. The security and fearlessness of a godly person, who is in the love and favour of God, and hath this evidenced and made good to his soul. He is one that is free from all inordinate disturbance, and disquietness of spirit. Those who are reconciled to God, and in His love, have privileges beyond others, so as “in patience to possess their souls,’ in the midst of the greatest outward trouble. This is grounded upon that persuasion which they have of God Himself, and of His affections towards them. It is implied, that none can well thus compose themselves, but those which are thus affected. None can lie down in peace and sleep securely, but those who have made their peace with God, and are in favour with Him. A guilty conscience can never lie down in quiet. Great estates in the world are, for the most part, occasions of great distraction and disquietness of spirit, and such as are subject to break men of their natural rest. Why could David sleep with his estate, rather than his enemies with theirs? Because his was sanctified and sweetened to him by the love of God. Note the ground of the godly man’s composure. “Thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety.” The blessing itself--a safe and secure habitation. As we desire to dwell safely, let us be careful to dwell holily: and that includes piety and religion; justice, honesty, and righteousness; peace, friendship, love and quietness of spirit; charity and giving to the poor. This blessing flows from God Himself. It is not a business of mere casualty, there’s a providence in it. Not a business of mere endeavour, it comes by the blessing of God. (T. Horton, D. D.)
How to close the day with God
This may be understood, either figuratively, of the repose of the soul, in the assurance of God’s grace, or literally, of the repose of the body, under the protection of His providence. The Psalmist having given the preference to God’s favour above any good, having chosen that, and portioned himself in that, here expresses his great complacency in the choice he had made. Those who have the assurances of God’s favour toward them, may enjoy, and should labour after, a holy serenity and security of mind. It is the privilege of good people that they may be thus easy and satisfied; and it is their duty to use the means appointed for the obtaining it. The Psalmist, after an anxious day, now retires to his chamber with the words, “I will lay me down in peace, and sleep.” Here we have David’s pious thoughts when he was going to bed. Observe his confidence in God, his composedness in himself Doctrine: As we must begin the day with God, and wait upon Him all the day, so we must endeavour to close it with Him. Let us retire to lay us down. Some sit up to do mischief to their neighbours; others sit up in pursuit of the world and the wealth of it; others sit up in the indulgence of their pleasures. But let us lay down with thankfulness to God, and with thoughts of dying; with penitent reflections upon the sins of the day, and with humble supplications for the mercies of the night. We should be convinced of it that we are still contracting guilt. We should examine our consciences, that we may find out our particular transgressions of the day past. We should renew our repentance, for whatever we find has been amiss in us. We should make a fresh application of the blood of Christ to our souls, for the remission of our sins, and the gracious acceptance of our repentance. We should apply ourselves to the throne of grace for peace and pardon. Let us also lie down with humble supplication for the mercies of the night. We must pray, that our outward man may be under the care of God’s holy angels, who are the ministers of His providence. We must pray, that our inward man may be under the influences of His Holy Spirit, who is the author and fountain of His grace. And when we lay down, our care and endeavour must be to lay us down in peace. Let us lie down in peace with God; for without this there can be no peace at all. Let us lie down in peace with all men: we are concerned to go to sleep, as well as to die, in charity. Let us lie down at peace with ourselves. But when may we lie down in peace at night? If we have, by the grace of God, in some measure done the work of the day, and filled it up with duty. If we have by faith, and patience, and submission to the Divine will, reconciled ourselves to all the events of the day so as to be uneasy at nothing that God has done. If we have renewed our repentance for sin. If we have put ourselves under the Divine protection. If we have cast all our cares for the day following upon God. Having laid ourselves down in peace, we must compose ourselves to sleep. It is by the power of God’s providence that we are kept safe in the night. (Matthew Henry.)
Sleep is the image of death. Jesus Christ abolished the terrors of the first death, the death of the body. In the text is not a prayer of David, but a determination on his part. To a certain extent, peaceful sleep depends upon ourselves. A peaceful state of mind has a great deal to do with the power of enjoying God’s gift of sleep. And, similarly, a peaceful death depends on ourselves. There is such a thing as the quietness of a stupefied conscience. How may we, as far as conscience is concerned, carry out the resolution that we will lie down in peace?
1. By doing all that in us lies to preserve a peaceful conscience during the day. Begin the day with earnest prayer. Our morning prayers may show us what we wish to be, but the temptations of the day show us what we are. Our consciences cannot but be injured, if we are guilty of faults and errors during the day, and take no account of them at the dose of the day. Self-examination gives an earnestness and a reality to the prayer for pardon. If it be true that the last sleep of all makes the sleep of each night more solemn, it is also true that each night’s sleep makes the last sleep of all less strange. What is each day but a picture of the whole life, and each night but a picture of death? Then we must do all that in us lies to preserve a peaceful conscience during the years of life. (W. H. Ranken, M. A.)
The Christian good night
This is one of the many verses in the Bible, especially in the Psalms, which, must come home to every heart of man, if read with any degree of simple faith. It sets full before us the most comfortable and refreshing picture or a devout, sober, honest person, after his day’s work is ended, his passions kept in order, his sins repented of, and his prayers seriously said, laying himself down to his night’s rest, in the full consciousness that he is neither alone nor unguarded; that as there has been a merciful Eye watching over him, a mighty Hand stretched out to guard him, through the dangers and temptations of the day, so it will be with him in the night also. This entire rest and tranquillity of God’s faithful servants, when they lay them down on their bed at night, is beautifully expressed in the text, “I will lay me down ‘all together’”; all my powers of mind and body agreeing, as it were, one with another; not torn by violent passions, by desire on the one hand, and remorse on the other. How catholic, how universal is the thought expressed by the Psalmist. There is no one condition of life that it suits better than another. The need of taking rest is an universal law of God’s providence over men here in this lower world. As death, so sleep may be truly called a great leveller. As sleep is the image of death, and as the slumber of every night is a kind of sacramental token of that last long sleep, these words may be used for a dying Christian also. Only a Christian has a warrant from Holy Scripture to regard death as no more than a quiet sleep. The Father, acknowledging them as His children, receives them at their death into the everlasting arms. As all the blessings which we have or hope for depend on the Passion of our Lord and Saviour, so this blessing of taking our rest, whether in our bed or in the grave, seems to bear an especial relation to the mystery of the burial of Jesus Christ. Our warrant for our hope is that the Son of God died for us, bought us to be His own in such sort, that we should be really joined to Him, mystically made members of His body. As members, inseparable members, of the Man Christ Jesus, we hope to have our bodies buried with Him; and for our souls, our true selves, we hope that when they pass away from our bodies they may be with Him that day in Paradise. Except we have this hope in us, we cannot apply to ourselves the comfortable words of this Psalm. How is it that in sleep, and still more in death, Christian men may humbly depend on a peculiar presence of our Lord Jesus Christ to guard them?
1. Because He is King, who has promised, “He that keepeth thee will not sleep.”
2. In this act of lying down comes in the remembrance and the power of our Lord’s sacrifice. That deep sleep of His, on the Cross and in the grave, has sanctified and blessed the sleep of all penitent Christians for all time to come, whether in their beds or in the bosom of the earth. Sin and its punishment, disease and misery, is the great disturber of sleep. Then to have a reasonable hope, grounded on a good conscience, that blemished as you are with many infirmities, you have not forfeited the blessing of Christ’s death; this is the secret of good nights, and a comfortable death time. Again, we are taught in Holy Scripture to regard the Holy Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ as one very especial safeguard for the sleeping, until they wake, and for the dead, until they rise again. (Contributors to “Tracts for the Times.”)
A good night watchman
I have noticed in the books of travellers, this observation, “We found it exceedingly difficult to obtain a tent keeper who could keep awake at night.” One gentleman speaks of discovering a thief in his tent, and when he went outside to call the watchman he found that the man had gone so soundly to sleep that he could only be aroused by one or two gentle kicks. When a man has been travelling with you all day, it is unreasonable to expect him to keep awake through the night to, take care of you. Hence the beauty of the words, “Behold He that keepeth Israel.” etc. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent