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I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined unto me, and heard my cry.
Waiting for the Lord
There is a Divine law of waiting which has an essential connection with the larger law of giving.
I. In waiting for god we discover our distance from him. God may be near us, and we far off from Him.
II. Waiting fosters the sense of a need which God alone can satisfy. The sense of the depth of guilt must be gained by sounding.
III. Waiting reveals the goodness of God. If the sinner reviews his life, the sense of the Divine mercies is blended by his sense of guilt. He sees the golden roll of the providences of his life. The goodness of God leads him to repentance.
IV. Waiting leads to a discrimination between the form and the spirit of religion (Psalms 40:5-8). Every one who has come into covenant with God in his heart, and is now living in covenant with Him, has a book in his hand. It describes his duties and his rights in relation to God; and he promises to make it the guide of his life. As Christ engaged to fulfil the volume of the book as it applied to Him, so we engage to fulfil it as it applies to us.
V. Waiting shows us the importance of an open confession of God. The selfishness of sin is now revealed to us as the inner depth of its guilt. Will you, if God comes now and lifts you out of this pit, confess Him; will you try to live as a secret disciple, or will you publish what He has done for your soul; will you take a public position, and let your light shine? (Monday Club Sermons.)
The Christian’s patience
Patience, as it is not apathy, is not sluggishness, or indolence. There are circumstances which justify haste. For example, we do not walk, but rush out of a house on fire, or falling, a sudden ruin. Patient waiting for the Lord is quite consistent with boldness in design, and energy and promptitude in action; and only inconsistent with those unbelieving, impetuous, ungovernable, headstrong passions which breed impatience, and lead people be run before Providence instead of waiting on it. Of this let me give you two examples.
I. By contrast illustrate what it is to wait on the Lord.
1. Look at the conduct of Abraham. On his leaving Ur of the Chaldeans to wander a pilgrim in the land of Canaan, God had promised that he should become the father of a great nation. But though the father of the faithful, he formed an unhallowed alliance with an Egyptian; then, with terrible consequences following, he failed to wait patiently for the Lord.
2. Look at the conduct of Rebekah. The Lord had promised that to her younger son Jacob the covenant blessing should be given. But she could not see how this was to be, and so, becoming impatient, she takes steps to anticipate God’s time, and lays her hand on the wheel of Providence. Rash woman! she will hurry on the event, and so contrives that lie and deception on Isaac which blasted for ever their domestic peace. Rebekah and he ran before Providence; they did not wait patiently on the Lord.
II. Look at David’s own example of waiting on the Lord. A merchant in times of bad trade, or other trying circumstances, instead of trusting in God to bring him through his difficulties, or sustain him under them, has recourse to fraud; or a poor man, instead of trusting Providence with the supply of his wants, and committing his children to the care of Him who hears the young ravens cry, hard-pinched and pressed, puts out his hand to steal. But how often David was tempted to impatience. How long he had to wait ere the promise made to him was fulfilled. How faint his hope of ever reaching the throne appeared; yet David hoped in the Lord, and patiently waited God’s way to put him in possession of the kingdom.
III. Consider how we are patiently to wait on God.
1. We are to wait patiently on Providence in the common affairs of life. To the neglect of this may be attributed not a few of the failures that happen in business. People are impatient to get on in life; to acquire a competency; to be rich.
2. We are to wait patiently on God under the trials of life. He who went forth so magnanimously against Goliath turns pale with fear before those who neither had the giant’s stature nor the giant’s strength. Where is now the man, whose faith rising with the trial, once said, He that delivered me from the paw of the lion and the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine! But he feigns madness, letting his spittle fall on his beard, playing himself off for a fool. What a contrast to the heroic trust of Daniel, who, after the night spent with the lions, into whose den he had been cast, was able to reply to the anxious king, My God hath sent His angel, and shut the lions’ mouths that they have not hurt me. And who wait on God piously, prayerfully, patiently in their trials, shall have the same tale to tell; the same experience--He will shut the lions’ mouths, that they shall not hurt them.
3. We are to wait patiently upon God to complete our sanctification. We cannot be too earnest, too diligent, but we may be too impatient. Take comfort! “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation!” The river may appear flowing away from the sea, when, but turning round the base of some opposing hill, it is pursuing an onward course. The ship may appear to be standing away from the harbour, when, beating up in the face of adverse winds, she is only stretching off on the other tack, and at every tack making progress shoreward, though to others than seamen she seems to lose it. It is star by star that the hosts of night march out; it is minute by minute that we grow in other things. Here also, then, let us wait patiently for the Lord. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
Waiting for the Lord
Some may remember the feeling of disappointment with which in their youth they read the last line of Longfellow’s “Psalm of Life.” “Learn to labour and to--wait.” Any one could understand the difficulty of labour, but how easy if one had only to wait t But experience has taught us a great lesson, that all labour is light compared with the labour, the stress, the suspense and weariness of waiting. The word “patiently” is not in the Hebrew, but it is implied. Such waiting is full of heroic elements--fortitude, resignation, faith, expectation, perseverance. As long as anything can be gained by effort it will be active, for it is too earnest to sit and rest when it should stand and work; but when the desired good is something beyond its reach, when personal exertion proves unavailing and help from others is impossible, then its agitation will be calmed and its hope invigorated by its determination to wait patiently for the Lord. There are exigencies in life when comfort can come from no other source. The providences of God are often so dark and full of seeming menace that the soul perturbed by them is like the ship in which Paul sailed when no small tempest lay on it, and when for many days neither sun nor star appeared. A drifting soul is in more jeopardy than a drifting ship. Again, patient waiting for the Lord gives solace and strength to the Christian when disheartened by the slow growth of his own spiritual life. Such dissatisfaction with self, when accompanied by longing for a more entire conformity to the Divine image, is the sure evidence of a gracious state, though it be not recognized by the subject of it. To eradicate all that is dark and defiling from the soul, and to cultivate the plants of righteousness until they are laden with their mellow clusters, require not only diligence but time. “Be patient, therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth,” etc. So, too, wait patiently for the Lord when discouraged because you see so little fruit of your labour (Psalms 126:6). (M. D. Hoge, D. D.)
Reminiscences of a godly life
I. He recollects his personal devotion.
1. The nature of his religious exercise. He “waited patiently for the Lord”; it was the habit of his soul.
(1) Belief in the Divine existence.
(2) Sense of dependency upon God.
(3) An expectation of good from the Almighty.
2. The result of his religious exercise. “He inclined unto me and heard my cry. He came near to me.” It is the prayer of the whole life that the Almighty hears and answers. It is not a spasmodic shriek, it is a settled, sacred state of being (Isaiah 57:15).
II. He recollects divine interpositions. “He brought me up also out of an horrible pit.” The spiritual state of truly good men.
1. It is a Divinely restored state. From what a wretched state has the sinner been delivered.
(1) State of darkness--a pit. The sun that bathes the world in its brightness breaks not the dense gloom of the pit.
(2) Misery--horrible pit--cold, black, dense, tumultuous.
(3) Helplessness. “Miry clay”--ever sinking into mud of moral corruption, all the faculties of being submerged and held fast.
2. It is a Divinely established state. Hast “set my feet upon a rock.”
(1) His intellect is established in truth.
(2) His heart is established in love.
(3) His purpose is established in conduct.
3. It is a Divinely progressive state. “He has established my goings.” Onward! is the watchword of the godly man. The point reached to-day is the starting-point for to-morrow.
4. It is a Divinely happy state. “He hath put a new song in my mouth.” Godliness is happiness.
5. It is a Divinely influential state. “Many shall see it and fear.”
(1) Godliness is conspicuous. You cannot conceal the true light.
(2) Godliness is reverenced. “And fear.”
(3) Godliness is blest. He who lives a godly life becomes unconsciously the influence of bringing others to God.
III. He recollects the happiness of religion (Psalms 40:4).
1. True religion is trusting in the Lord, not in man.
2. True religion, because of this, is ever connected with blessedness.
(1) Reason shows this.
(2) History shows this.
(3) Consciousness shows this.
IV. He recollects general interventions of mercy. “Many, O Lord my God, are Thy wonderful works,” etc.
1. They are wonderful. Wonderful in their variety, condescension, forbearing and compassionate love.
2. They are intelligent--not accidental, capricious or impulsive. They are the results and embodiment of thought. All God’s works are thoughts in action.
3. They are innumerable. Can you count the sands on the sea-shore, or the drops that make up the ocean? Then you may sum up the mercies of God to you. (Homilist.)
It would be far easier, I apprehend, for nine men out of ten to join a storming party trying to take the citadel of the enemy than to lie on a rack or hang on a cross without repining. Yes, patience is a strength; and patience means not merely strength, but wisdom in exercising it. We, the creatures of a day, make one of the nearest approaches that is possible for us to the life of God. St. Augustine has finely said of God, “Patiens quia aeternus” (“Because He lives for ever He can afford to wait”). The greatest heroes among men are they who “wait patiently.” (Canon Liddon.)
He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay.
Out of the pit
I. His condition.
1. He was sunk in deep and dark depression. He was what we describe as “down,” brought very low, plunged into great despondency and despair. We very well know what brings men into the pit. Grief can do it, and failure, and a multiplicity of tasks. But, above all, sin takes the “lift” and buoyancy out of life, and makes it the victim of an appalling gravitation which sucks it into abysmal depths of helplessness and darkness and despair. This is the horrible pit in which we have all been sunk.
2. A second element in the condition of the psalmist is interpreted by the descriptive word “horrible,” “the horrible pit,” or, as the margin gives it, “the pit of noise.” And is not this the modern experience? When a man is in the pit he is addressed by confused and confusing voices. One man calls to us and tells us that our depression is purely imaginary, we are the victims of our own thoughts and dreams. Another declares that we are a little “out of sorts,” and that the doctor will put us right in a week. A third avers that “more need we the Divine than the physician.” It is a “pit of noise” and confusion.
3. A third element in the suppliant’s depression is described in the phrase, “the miry clay.” Surely we know the experience in our own life! The ground slips from under our feet. We have no foothold. There is nothing solid, nothing dependable.
II. His resources. “I waited patiently.” His being was collected, and all fixed in intense expectancy on God.
1. “He inclined unto me.” The figure is exquisitely helpful. “He stretched right out and down to me.” His arm was long enough to reach me, even when I was in the deepest pit.
2. “And beard my cry.” Just as the mother, when the house is filled with company, hears the cry of her babe in the chamber above. Or just as a shepherd hears the faint lone cry of the lost lamb in some ravine on the open moor.
III. His deliverance. “He brought me out.” That is to say, He lifts me out of my captivity. We cannot struggle out. Struggling will only aggravate our bondage. When we are in the Slough of Despond One comes to us called “Help.” “He set my feet upon a rock.” Hitherto I have been in the miry clay, the victim of uncertainties, despondencies and doubts. But now He has “enlarged my steps under me,” and I find myself upon the highway of the Lord. “And He hath established my goings.” Thus He not only lifts and confirms me, but He vitalizes my soul. We all know the ease that comes to the feet when we have been trudging through heavy mire and we find ourselves upon a well-made turnpike road. As soon as we come to the good road we say to one another, “Now we shall be able to step out.” That is the suggestion in the psalmist’s phrase, “and hath established my goings.” We are able to step out, nay, to go as those who are “marching to Zion”! (J. H. Jowett, M. A.)
The supreme change
I. What the grace of God delivers from.
1. A position of degradation--“A pit.”
2. A position of misery--“A horrible pit.”
3. A position of danger--“The miry clay.”
(3) Death (Jeremiah 38:9).
II. What the grace of God brings men to.
1. A condition of spiritual elevation--“up.”
2. A condition of spiritual stability--“And set my feet upon a rock.”
3. A condition of spiritual advancement--“And established my goings.”
4. A condition of religious happiness--“And He hath put a new song,” etc.
III. In effecting this change the divine being and the sinner have their distinct provinces to occupy.
1. The sinner prays--evidencing--
(1) Deep sense of need.
(2) Deep consciousness of helplessness.
(3) Trust in “the mercy and power of God.
2. The sinner waits--
(1) In earnest expectation.
(2) In the assurance of help being granted.
3. The Lord inclines His ear and hears the cry.
4. The Lord puts forth His saving power--“He brought me up.”
1. To believers.
(1) Spiritual elevation no cause for boasting.
(2) Spiritual stability no cause for self-confidence.
(3) Spiritual advancement to be carefully maintained.
(4) Religious happiness to be continued and increased.
2. To unbelievers.
(1) Yours a position of degradation, misery and danger.
(2) This position gradually becoming worse.
(3) Escape is possible by penitential application to God (Hosea 13:9). What a future sinners must have if they remain in the pit! What a future sinners may have if they turn to Christi (Julius Brigg.)
Brought up from the horrible pit
This passage has been very frequently, and rightly, used as telling the experience of God’s people. Yet I am not certain that the first verse could be rightly uttered by all of us. Could we say, “I waited patiently for the Lord”? Might it not be more truthfully said of us, “I waited impatiently for the Lord”? Alas, patience is still a scarce virtue upon the earth. Therefore, though we may regard the psalm as in a secondary sense belonging to David, in the first instance a greater than David is here. For the first person who uttered these words was the Messiah. Our text, therefore, belongs primarily to Him. Note, then--
I. Our Lord’s behaviour as here set forth.
1. He waited upon the Lord. He did so all His life, but this waiting became more conspicuous in His passion and death.
2. And patiently. His atonement had not been complete had it been otherwise. No expiation could have been made by an impatient Saviour.
3. And prayerfully. Let Gethsemane tell. Jabbok is outdone by Kidron. See, then, our pattern. Have we waited, and waited thus?
II. Our Lord’s deliverance.
1. It is represented as a bringing up out of a horrible pit. I have been in the dungeon at Rome in which, according to tradition, Peter and Paul were confined. It was, indeed, a horrible pit, for originally it had no entrance but a round hole in the rock above; and when that was blocked neither light nor fresh air could enter. No being has ever been so cruel to man as man. Man is the worst of monsters to his kind, and his cruel inventions are many. Now, our Lord was like a man put into a pit. Hence he was quite alone. Thus it happened to our Saviour. All His disciples forsook Him and fled. And in total darkness. Midnight brooded over His spirit. And full of distress. The grief and sorrow which He felt can never be described. He felt care upon care, night blackening night. But He was brought up out of all this; at that moment when He said, “It is finished”; and at the resurrection and by His ascension to the right hand of God. Now His sorrow is ended.
2. A second figure is used to tell of His grief. “Out of the miry clay.” In such horrible pits the imprisoned wretch often found himself sinking in the mire. And our blessed Lord found when He was suffering for us that everything appeared to give way beneath Him. But He was brought up like Jonah was from the deeps. And He was set “on a rock.” He stands on a firm foundation in all that He does for us. Judgment and truth confirm His ways. When He saves He has a right to save. And His goings are established for continuance, certainty, victory. Best of all, there is a new song in His mouth, “In the midst of the church will I sing praise unto Thee.” The song of heaven is “the song of Moses and the Lamb.”
III. The Lord’s reward. “Many”--not all, but many--“shall see it and fear,” etc. They shall, for He hath the key of all hearts. They shall see; see Him as their Saviour, and shall fear. It makes men fear to see a bleeding Christ. And best of all, they “shall trust in the Lord.”
IV. The Lord’s likeness in his people. All this may be repeated in them. Like sorrow, but let there be like waiting, and there shall be like deliverance. Sinner sinking in guilt, He can deliver you. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
History of the soul’s salvation
I. The believer’s safety.
1. The author of it. “The Lord” (Psalms 25:5).
2. The nature of it. “On a rock” (Psalms 27:5).
3. The individual realization of it. “My feet” (Psalms 31:8; 2 Timothy 1:12).
II. The believer’s walk.
1. A firm footing. Feet on a rock. “Wherein we stand” (Romans 5:2).
2. Steady progress (Psalms 37:23; Psalms 16:11). “Established my goings.”
3. Safe keeping (1 Samuel 2:9; Jude 1:24).
III. The believer’s sons.
1. The song of reconciliation (Isaiah 12:1).
2. The song of deliverance (Exodus 15:1-19).
3. The song of victory (2 Chronicles 20:17-26).
IV. The believer’s influence.
1. “Many shall see it” (Matthew 5:16).
2. “Many shall fear” (Acts 2:37; Acts 2:43).
3. “Many shall trust in the Lord” (Acts 2:41). (E. H. Hopkins)
The pit of destruction
It is possible that the reference may be to a mode of hunting, anciently practised in the East, and still practised in some parts of the East, in the interior of Africa, and in some of the Polynesian Islands. When a dangerous wild animal was to be captured, a largo hole was dug in the ground. At the bottom of the pit thus dug a goat was placed as bait, and the opening of the pit was covered with light branches and foliage. The wild animal, attracted by the bleating of the goat, made a spring in the dark for the goat, fell through the branches, and was securely trapped. From this point of view David had fallen, or been tempted into, a pit of sin; and had been plucked by the mercy of God from the clinging mire of its bottom and the slippery clay of its sides, and placed upon the sure foothold of a rock.
And set my feet upon a rock and established my goings.--
Fixity and progress
What a strange contradiction--rest and movement, fixedness and pliability, stedfastness and variation. How can a man be made to run by his fixedness? How can his power of motion be increased by that which is supposed to rivet him to the spot? In all things of the spirit, is it not ever so? Is not the rapidity of my movement always in proportion to the rootedness of my conviction? The firmer is my rock, the more established are my goings. It is the resting soul which flies. I have no wings until I have a fixed heart. The dove that descends upon the Jordan must first light upon the Son of Man. Is it not written (Isaiah 40:31)? What is that but to say that the rock makes the outgoing? I never do such work as when I am at rest. It is the calm within makes the power without. The soul whose works have followed it is the spirit of the man who has rested from his labours. (G. Matheson, D. D.)
And He hath put a new song in my mouth.
The new song on earth
I. We have here A man wondering to find himself singing. God had put a new song into his mouth, and it was a marvel even to himself. What makes you wonder so? Other people sing: why is it at all a wonder that you should? He answers, “It is a wonder that I should sing, because I have been so used to sighing. I had my evening moans and groans, for sin was heavy upon me, and an angry God seemed to make the darkness about me a darkness that might be felt. Had you seen me then, you would not think it strange that I should be a wonder to myself that now I sing.” Well, I can see why you are astonished at your singing; is there any other reason? “Yes,” he answers, “if you had known me a little farther back, before I came under the hand of God, and was awakened to a sense of sin, you would have known a fellow that could sing; but the wonder now is that I can sing ‘ a new song.’ I am glad, sir, that you did not hear me sing in those days, for my songs would have done you no good. It is not only called a new song because it is new to us, but because it is so uncommon. Rich and rare things are often called in the Bible new. There is a new covenant, a new commandment, etc. And, oh, the praises of God are indeed rich and rare! And, truth to tell, there is a wonder about our new song because it is always new. Do you ever tire--you who love your Lord--do you ever tire of Him? You who praise Him, do you ever weary of singing His praises?
II. We have here A man who is resolved to keep on singing, for, you notice, he says, “He hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see, and fear, add shall trust in the Lord”; so that this man means to keep on singing. I must have you back again, old friend, and ask you why it is that you mean to keep on singing. He answers, first, “Because I cannot help it.” When God sets a man singing, he must sing. Good Rowland Hill once had sitting on the pulpit-stairs a person who sang with such a cracked, squeaking voice that it put the dear man out of heart; and this person with the cracked voice of course sang more loudly than anybody else. So Mr. Hill said to him, while the hymn was being sung, “Be quiet, my good man, you make such a dreadful noise that you put us all out.” “Oh!” said the man, “I am singing from my heart, Mr. Hill.” “I beg your pardon, my friend,” said the preacher, “go on, go on, go on with your singing if it comes from your heart.” So we would not stop any man, whatever his voice is, if he sings from his heart. But do not sing before everybody; perhaps it would be casting pearls before swine. “Oh!” says he, “but I must; I mean to sing before many.” Why? “Well, I used to sing before many in my evil days. I was not ashamed to sing for the devil. When I ought to have been ashamed I was not; and now that I ought not to be ashamed, I will not be ashamed, and I will sing. Besides, why should I be so tender and considerate of their nerves? They are not thoughtful about mine.” Still, do you think that it is worth while to sing at this rate? “Yes,” says he, “I do, for I believe that it is good for them to hear it.” Do you? What good can it do them? And he answers me thus. “Look at your text, sir, and you will not need to ask me that question; what does your text say? . . . Many shall see, and fear, and shall trust in the Lord.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The saved man’s new song
When Charles Wesley was impressed with the thought that he ought to live a different life to that which he was living, a more distinctly Christian life--he was anxious from this very point to get a satisfactory answer to the question, “Is it necessary to acknowledge Christ openly, to tell to people that I am a Christian?” And, walking in the streets one day, he met a holy, saintly Moravian minister, and he asked him, in the course of conversation, “Is it really necessary that I should openly confess Christ?” That good, blessed man said to him, “If you had a thousand tongues, use them all in telling of your Saviour.” Well, he sought and found the great blessing of peace through Jesus Christ; and then you know what followed, and what always comes in Christian experience. He did not need to ask men whether he should tell others that he had found the pearl of great price; he sat down, and he wrote that hymn--
Oh, for a thousand tongues to sing
My great Redeemer’s praise,
The glories of my God and King,
The riches of His grace!
Many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the Lord,--
The power of a good life
We are not alone in anything we do. We are connected from the cradle to the grave with many others. We have our family, and our kindred, our social friends, our business connections, our neighbours and fellow-citizens. Upon all these we exercise influence, both consciously and unconsciously. By our uprightness they are strengthened, by our courage they are cheered, by our perseverance they are confirmed in the love of right. Every person is thus a preacher to his neighbour; and the most powerful of all eloquence is the eloquence of a virtuous life. It is a testimony to the whole world that religion is not utopian. It can be practised and realized; for here it is done. When a parent adds to the gentle precepts of true religion delivered to his children, the practice of a just, a patient, loving life, he preaches to his household in golden words. When a Christian tradesman shows a spirit of honour and rectitude in his dealings, a desire to afford full justice to his customer, as well as to himself, he preaches with the utmost force the sermon, “Go thou and do likewise.” The best sermon any one can preach on patience is actual calmness under provocation. The preaching of truly good lives is what the world now most needs. It is the one sweet note having the power to reduce to harmony all the discords of mankind. (J. Bailey, Ph. D.)
Blessed is the man who maketh the Lord his trust.
The blessedness of making the Lord our trust
I. What is implied by our trust.
1. That it rests in the Lord Himself.
2. It sets aside all self-confidence.
II. Some reasons why the man who makes the Lord his trust is blessed.
1. He acts in accordance with the Divine will.
2. There is stability in his trust; you may always depend upon it.
3. It bestows true manly dignity and freedom from all servile fears.
4. It gives quiet composure to the mind. (W. H. Horwood.)
The Lord our trust
The psalmist here expresses--
I. A peculiar habit of mind. What is implied in trusting in God?
1. A knowledge of His character.
2. It implies the consciousness of reconciliation.
4. Piety or devotion.
II. The happiness connected with this trust in the Lord.
1. See it by way of contrast. For how insufficient and unstable are the objects in which the world trusts. Riches, skill, virtue and the like.
2. In the perfections of the God in whom we trust. Think of all His attributes and each will minister to this happiness.
3. In what is prepared for such, both here and hereafter. (W. Wright.)
I. Faith has the divine approval. Wherever there is faith God is pleased with it. He has made it the main requirement of His gospel. It is the one thing needful in prayer. It is the mode and manner of the spiritual life, for “the just shall live by faith.”
II. This is highly reasonable. We love to be trusted, and are much troubled when we are not. It is our proper position towards God, and it supplies the link between us and Himself. The complete confidence of the heart is the essence of obedience and the fountain of it. And it is no objection that faith, trust, seems such a small matter. But within the compass of it there lies a force whose power would be difficult to measure. It is a virtue which contains within it seed enough to sow all the acreage of life with holiness.
III. And faith is blessedness. For in trouble it assures us that “all things work together for good.” And it releases from trouble. Read this psalm. It creates within him a deep peace and a holy elevation of character. We put down our foot on what seems thin as air and, behold, it is firm as a rock beneath us. But some one says, “I could not live with nothing to depend upon.” Is God nothing? The believer has nothing more, and what does he want more? And faith makes blessed in death. For the believer knows he cannot truly die. If ye will believe, ye shall have both heaven on earth and heaven in heaven. God uplift us from the miry clay of unbelief to the rock of confidence in Him.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Trust in the Lord--the only way to happiness
“As happy as a king” is a common phrase; but history almost seems to say, “As miserable as a king.” In his last will Henry IV. spoke most sadly of his life, which he had “misspended.” The last words of Henry VIII. were, “All is lost.” “I, Eleanor, by the wrath of God, Queen of England,” so wrote Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen of Henry II. Queen Mary begged that, when she died, not even the semblance of a crown might be put upon her brow. “I am aweary of my life,” said Queen Elizabeth to the French ambassador. And in the present time we have all seen how much there is in the lot of the Czar of all the Russias that none of us would like.
True happiness can never be realized, either by king or peasant, apart from God, and the wise king said very truly, “Whoso trusteth in the Lord, happy is he.”
Many, O Lord my God, are Thy wonderful works which Thou hast done, and Thy thoughts which are to us-ward: they cannot be reckoned up in order unto Thee.
God’s wonderful works and thoughts to us-ward
I. Let us recall some of the wondrous works and thoughts of God to usward during the year.
1. The first wondrous mercy is life itself, How wonderful is life! We lavish upon it our choicest and fondest expressions. With what jealous care we guard it. What are all our daily toil and efforts but a battle for life! When the last stroke seems about to fall, how, do we quiver and weep! When that stroke is suspended, what joy thrills through our frame! Life with its five mysterious senses--life, with its powers of knowing--life, with its susceptibilities of loving and aspiring--life, with its sublime sense of duty, and with its affections and hopes that soar towards God and heaven--is a treasure that makes the weakest man the possessor of boundless wealth. But life is not more sweet and precious than it is frail. At any moment the small dust of the balance may turn the scale against us. A slight pressure of the brain, a pause of the breath, and all is over. Life is a frail ship that ploughs the great ocean amidst hurricanes and lightnings, by quicksands and rocks. How wonderful is it that this frail ship should sail for twenty, forty, seventy years--that this breath should flow on--this flower bloom, not for one, but for many years!
2. We have another illustration of the wonderful works and thoughts of God to us-ward, in the means of life and the comforts of life. Life hangs on the power of God, and no means can give life one moment longer beyond God’s will; but life cannot be maintained without means, and those means of life are truly wonderful. The head of a family knows best how much work and thought must go to the getting of food and raiment and other needful things for the children. But what are his work and thought to the work and thought of the great Father of all for each of His children? Think of what is needed for each harvest; what exact adjustment of natural laws so as to suit the different stages of the plant. And these wondrous works of God are not mere works without soul in them. They are His thoughts also. We do not praise the earth, or the clouds, or the sun, but we thank God. But I would notice as the crowning example of God’s many and wonderful works and thoughts to us-ward.
3. His works and thoughts in regard to the supreme purpose and aim of life. Life and the means of life are not the end, they are only the means of a greater end. They only give us a basis. We still want a structure to be built upon them. And our Father in heaven knows that the gift of health and life and all temporal blessings Will be no blessing, but only a curse to us, unless we rear upon these the structure of right principles, and holy affections, and Christian usefulness--in a word, all the work of faith, and hope, and charity. He has destined us for these as our chief end.
II. The good effects which should follow such a review of God’s works.
1. There should be grateful acknowledgment of His mercies. Gratitude ploughs up the field which is to others only a barren waste, and plants it, and keeps it fresh and green with its tears of joy. The whole past life is the field which it ploughs up, and out of which it makes to spring all that can refresh and strengthen us.
2. The grateful review of the Divine works of mercy will inspire us likewise to be workers of good--to be good, like Him, that we may be His children--to be merciful as our Father is merciful.
3. Lastly, let the grateful review of the wondrous works of God to us-ward produce in us, not only the works of mercy, but the thoughts also of mercy, the spirit of mercy and charity. (J. Riddell.)
Two innumerable things
(with Psalms 40:12):--So, then, there are two series of things which cannot be numbered. God’s mercies; man’s sin. We always should begin with grateful remembrance of God’s mercy. His wondrous dealings seem to the psalmist’s thankful heart as numberless as the blades of grass which carpet the fields. They come pouring out continuously, like the innumerable undulations of the ether which make upon the eyeballs the single sensation of light. He thinks not only of God’s wonderful works, His realized purposes of mercy, but of “His thoughts which are to us-ward,” the purposes, still more wonderful, of a yet greater mercy which wait to be realized. As he thinks of all this “multitude of His tender mercies,” his lips break into this rapturous exclamation of my text. But there is a wonderful change in tone in the two halves of the psalm. The deliverance that seems so complete in the earlier part is but partial. The psalmist sees himself ringed about by numberless evils, as a man tied to a stake might be by a circle of fire. “Innumerable evils have compassed me about.” His conscience tells him that the evils are deserved; they are his iniquities transformed, which have come back to him in another shape, and have laid their hands upon him as a constable does upon a thief. “Mine iniquities have taken hold upon me.” They hem him in so that his vision is interrupted, the smoke from the circle of flame blinds his eyes. “I cannot see.” His roused conscience and his quivering heart conceive of them as “more than the hairs of his head.” And so courage and confidence have ebbed away from him. “My heart faileth me,” and there is nothing left for him but to fling himself in his misery out of himself and on to God. Draw some of the lessons from the very remarkable juxtaposition of these two innumerable things--God’s tender mercies, and man’s iniquity and evil.
I. To begin with, if we keep these two things both together in our contemplations, they suggest for us very forcibly the greatest mystery in the universe, and throw a little light upon it. The difficulty of difficulties, the one insoluble problem is, given a good and perfect God, where does sorrow come from? And why is there any paid? And men have fumbled at that knot for all the years that there have been men in the world, and they have not untied it yet. Is it true that “God’s mercies are innumerable”? If it be, what is the meaning of all this that makes me writhe and weep? Well, when such moments come to us, do not let the black mass hide the light one from you, but copy this psalmist, and in the energy of your faith, even though it be the extremity of your pain, grasp and grip them both; and though you have to say and to wail, “Innumerable evils have compassed me about,” be sure that you do not let that prevent you from saying, “Many, O Lord my God, are Thy wonderful works,” etc. Remember, the one does not contradict the other; and let us ask ourselves if the one does not explain the other. If it be that these mercies are so innumerable as my first text says, may it not be that they go deep down beneath, and include in their number the thing that seems most opposite to them, even the sorrow that afflicts our lives? “Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth,” makes a bridge across the gulf which seems to part the opposing cliffs these two sets effect, and turn the darker into a form in which the brighter reveals itself. God’s innumerable mercies include the whole sum total of my sorrows.
II. The blending of these two thoughts together heightens the impression of each. All artists, and all other people know the power of contrast. White never looks so white as when it is relieved against black; black never so intense as when it is relieved against white. Only observe that, whilst the psalmist starts from the “innumerable evils” that have compassed him about, he passes from these to the earlier evils which he had done. It is pains that says, “Innumerable evils have compassed me about.” It is conscience that says, “Mine iniquities have taken hold upon me.” His wrongdoing has come back to him like the boomerang that the Australian savage throws, which may strike its aim but returns to the hand that flung it. It has come back in the shape of a sorrow. And so “Mine iniquities have taken hold upon me” is the deepening of the earliest word of my text. God’s mercies never seem so fair, so wonderful, as when they are looked at in conjunction with man’s sin. Man’s sin never seems so foul and hideous as when it is looked at close against God’s mercies. You cannot estimate the conduct of one or two parties to a transaction unless you have the conduct of the other before you. You cannot understand a father’s love unless you take into account the prodigal son’s sullen unthankfulness, or his unthankfulness without remembering his father’s love. So we do not see the radiant brightness of God’s lovingkindness to us until we look at it from the depth of the darkness of our own sin. The stars are seen from the bottom of the well. Man’s sin has heightened God’s love to this climax and consummation of all tenderness, that He has sent us His Son. Man’s darkest sin is the rejection of Christ. The clearest light makes the blackest shadow; the tenderer the love, the more criminal the apathy and selfishness which opposes it.
III. The keeping of these two thoughts together should lead us all to conscious penitence. The psalmist’s words are not the mere complaint of a soul in affliction, but they are also the acknowledgment of a conscience repenting. In like manner the contemplation of these two numberless series should affect us all. It is a very defective kind of religion that says, “Many, O Lord my God, are Thy thoughts which are to us-ward”; but has never been down on its knees with the confession, “Mine iniquities have taken hold upon me.” But defective as it is, it is all the religion which many people have. I would press on you all this truth, that there is no deep personal religion without a deep consciousness of personal transgression. Have you ever known what, it is so to look at God’s love that it smites you into tears of repentance when you think of the way you have requited Him? I, therefore, urge this upon you that, for the vigour of your own personal religion, you must keep these two things well together.
IV. Looking at these two numberless series together will bring into the deepest penitence a joyful confidence. There are regions of experience the very opposite of that error of which I have just been speaking. There are some of us, perhaps, who have so profound a sense of their own shortcomings and sins that the mists rising from these have blurred the sky to them and shut out the sun. Some of you, perhaps, may be saying to yourselves that you cannot get hold of God’s love because your sin seems to you to be so great, or may be saying to yourselves that it is impossible that you should ever get the victory over this evil of yours because it has laid hold upon you with so tight a grasp. If there be any inclination to doubt the infinite love of God, or the infinite possibility of cleansing from all sin, bind these two texts together, and never so look at your own evil as to lose sight of the infinite mercy of God. It is safe to say--aye! it is blessed to say” Mine iniquities are more than the hairs of mine head,” when we can also say, “Thy thoughts to me are more than can be numbered.” There are not two innumerable series, there is only one. There is a limit and a number to my sins and to yours, but God’s mercies are properly numberless. My sins may be as the sand which is by the sea-shore, innumerable, the love of God in Jesus Christ is like the great sea which rolls over the sands and buries them. My sins may rise mountains high, but:His mercies are a great deep which will cover the mountains to their very summit. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The marvel of God’s thoughts
Phillips Brooks thus seizes and emphasizes the message of the spring. “When the spring comes, the oak-tree with its thousands upon thousands of leaves blossoms all over. The great heart of the oak-tree remembers every remotest tip of every farthest branch, and sends to each the message and the power of new life. And yet we do not think of the heart of the oak-tree as if it were burdened with such multitudinous remembrance, or as if it were any harder work for it to make a million leaves than it would be to make one. It is simply the thrill of the common life translated into these million forms. The great heart beats, and wherever the channels of a common life are standing open the rich blood flows, and out on every tip the green leaf springs. Somewhat in that way it seems to me that we may think of God’s remembrance of His million children.”
Sacrifice and offering Thou didst not desire; mine ears hast Thou opened: burnt-offering and sin-offering hast Thou not required.
Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me.
Christ the only sufficient sacrifice
Among the many irrefragable proofs that we belong to a fallen race, is the misconstruction which men have put upon the clearest revelations of the Divine will. The Lord had appointed that, in their approaches to Him, the Israelites should offer sacrifices as an acknowledgment that their sins could not be remitted without the shedding of blood. The sacrifices both made clear expression of the fearful guilt of sin, and foreshadowed the atonement Christ should make for the transgressions of His people. But the Jews, as a nation, were not impressed with horror of sin, neither were their thoughts led forward to the promised Redeemer. In their shameful misconceptions of the Divine character, they often impiously imagined that, if any of them committed a trespass, he had no more to do than to kill a bullock or a sheep, in sacrifice, and his guilt would be forgiven him.
I. What kind of atonement is required. It must be costly, for man’s guilt is great. Hence--
1. It must be equivalent in value to the souls of the redeemed. Such is the stern doom of justice: else man cannot be saved.
2. There must be a connection between those for whom the atonement is offered and the party who suffers.
3. He who was to die for man must be innocent. No halt or maimed victim could be accepted in the ancient sacrifices: it must be perfect. But how could man furnish a perfect sacrifice for sin?
4. The victim must be willing. An involuntary, forced sacrifice would be cruel tyranny.
II. How all the qualities requisite for a perfect atonement have met in Christ.
1. There was sufficiency in value, for Christ was the Son of God.
2. He had connection with these for whom He died; for He was man as well as God.
3. He was perfectly innocent--“He did no sin.”
4. He was a willing victim. (George Innes.)
Jesus the true Messiah
I. It is intimated that, whenever the Messiah should come, the sacrifices and ceremonies of the mosaic law were to be superseded by him. Jewish writers contend for the perpetuity of the ceremonial as well as of the moral law; but in this they are opposed, both by Scripture and by fact.
1. As to Scripture (1 Samuel 15:22; Psalms 50:7-15; Psalms 51:16-17; Isaiah 1:11-12; Jeremiah 7:21-23; Daniel 9:27; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 8:13; Hebrews 10:17-18).
2. Whether Messiah the Prince be come or not, sacrifice and oblation have ceased. We believed they virtually ceased when Jesus offered Himself a sacrifice, and in a few years after they actually ceased.
II. It is suggested that, whenever Messiah should come, the great body of scripture prophecy should be accomplished in him. “In the volume,” etc.
1. The time when Messiah should come is clearly marked out in prophecy (Genesis 49:10; Haggai 2:6-9; Daniel 9:24-27).
2. The place where Messiah should be born, and where He should principally impart His doctrine, is determined (Micah 5:2; Isaiah 9:2).
3. The house or family from whom Messiah should descend is clearly ascertained.
4. The kind of miracles that Messiah should perform is specified (Isaiah 35:5-6).
5. It was predicted of Messiah that He should, as a King, be distinguished by His lowliness, entering into Jerusalem, not in a chariot of state, but in a much humbler style (Zechariah 9:9).
6. It is predicted of Messiah that He should suffer and die by the hands of wicked men (Isaiah 49:7; Isaiah 53:9; Daniel 9:26).
7. It was foretold that the Messiah, after being cut off out of the land of the living and laid in the grave, should rise from the dead.
8. It was foretold that the great body of the Jewish nation would not believe in Him; and that He would set up His kingdom among the Gentiles (Isaiah 53:1; Isaiah 49:4-6).
III. It is declared, that when the Messiah should come, the will of God would be perfectly fulfilled by him. “I delight to do Thy will.” The will of God sometimes denotes what He approves, and sometimes what He appoints. The first is the rule of our conduct, the last of His own; and both we affirm to have been fulfilled by Jesus. (A. Fuller.)
“Lo, I come”
I. The sweeping away of the shadow.
1. When the Son of God is born into the world, there is an end of all types by which He was formerly prefigured. When the heart is gone out of the externals of worship, they are as shells without the kernel. Habitations without living tenants soon become desolations, and so do forms and ceremonies without their spiritual meaning. Toward the time of our Lord’s coming, the outward worship of Judaism became more and more dead: it was time that it was buried.
2. As these outward things vanish, they go away with God’s mark of non-esteem upon them: they are such things as He did not desire. The spiritual, the infinite, the almighty Jehovah could not desire merely outward ritual, however it might appear glorious to men. The sweetest music is not for His ear, nor the most splendid robes of priests for His eye. He desired something infinitely more precious than these, and He puts them away with this note of dissatisfaction.
3. They were so put away as never to be followed by the same kind of things. Shadows are not replaced by other shadows.
II. The revelation of thy Substance.
1. The Lord Himself comes, even He who is all that these things foreshadowed.
(1) When He comes He has a prepared ear. The margin hath it, “Mine ears hast Thou digged.” Our ears often need digging; for they are blocked up by sin. The passage to the heart seems to be sealed in the case of fallen man. But when the Saviour came, His ear was not as ours, but was attentive to the Divine voice.
(2) He came also with a prepared body (Hebrews 10:5).
2. He who assumed that body was existent before that body was prepared. He says, “A body hast Thou prepared me. Lo, I come.” He from old eternity dwelt with God: the Word was in the beginning with God, and the Word was God. He was before all worlds, and was before He came into the world to dwell in His prepared body.
3. The human nature of Christ was taken on Him in order that He might be able to do for us that which God desired and required. An absolutely perfect righteousness He renders unto God; as the second Adam, He presents it for all whom He represents.
III. The declaration of the Christ made in the text. “Lo, I come.”
1. Observe when He says this. It is in the time of failure.
2. When our Lord comes, it is with the view of filling up the vacuum which had now been sorrowfully seen. He gives to man in reality what he had lost in the shadow.
3. When He appears, it is as the personal Lord--the Infinite Ego. Everything is stored up in His blessed person, and we are complete in Him.
4. Observe the joyful avowal that He makes. This is no dirge; I think I hear a silver trumpet ring out, “Lo, I come.”
5. He comes with a word calling attention to it; for He is not ashamed to be made partaker of our flesh. Others have cried to you, “Lo, here! and Lo, there”; but Jesus looks on you, and cries, “Lo, I come.” Look hither; turn all your thoughts this way, and behold your God in your nature ready to save you.
6. I hear in this declaration of the coming One a note of finality. He is the fulfilment of all the requirements of the human race, as well as the full amount of what God requires.
IV. The reference to preceding writings. He says, “to, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me.” If I preached from the passage in the Epistle to the Hebrews, I might fairly declare that in the whole volume of Holy Scripture much is written of our Lord and prescribed for Him as Messiah. Preaching as I am from the Psalms, I cannot take so long a range. I must look back and find what was written in David’s day, and within the Pentateuch certainly; and whore do I find it written concerning His coming? The Pentateuch drips with prophecies of Christ as a honeycomb overflowing with its honey.
V. The delight of him that cometh.
1. He came in complete subserviency to His Father. Though high as the highest, tie stooped low as the lowest.
2. He had a prospective delight as to His work (Proverbs 8:31).
3. He had an actual delight in His coming among men. To Him it was joy to be in sorrow, and honour to be put to shame. Do you think that lightens our estimate of His self-denial and disinterestedness? Nay, it adds weight to it. Some people fancy that there is no credit in doing a thing unless you are miserable in doing it. Nay, that is the very reverse. Obedience which is unwillingly offered and causes no joy in the soul, is not acceptable. We must serve God with our heart, or we do not serve Him.
4. Need I tell you what must be the delight, the heavenly joy of our Lord, now that the work is finished? He is now the focus, the centre, the source of bliss. What must be His own delight! We often say of the angels that they rejoice over one sinner that repenteth. What means the presence of the angels? Why, that the angels see the joy of Christ when sinners repent. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
“Lo, I come”
The times when our Lord says, “Lo, I come,” have all a family likeness. There are certain crystals which assume a regular shape, and if you break them, each fragment will show the same conformation; if you were to dash them to shivers, every particle of the crystal would be still of the same form. Now, the goings forth of Christ which were of old, and His craning at Calvary, and that great advent when He shall come a second time to judge the earth in righteousness, all these have a likeness the one to the other. But there is a coming of what I may call a lesser sort, when Jesus cries, “Lo, I come “to each individual sinner, and brings a revelation of pardon and salvation; and this has about it much which is similar to the great ones.
I. The Lord Christ has times of his first comings to men; “Then said I, Lo, I come.” What are these times? Mayhap some here have reached this season, and this very day is the time of blessing when the text shall be fulfilled: “Then said I, Lo, I come.” Go with me to the first record in the volume of the Book, when it was said that He should come. You will find it in the early chapter of Genesis.
1. Jesus said, “Lo, I come,” when man’s probation was a failure. “Adam being in honour continued not.” At that point we read in the volume of the Book that the Seed of the woman should bruise the serpent’s head. Then our Redeemer said, “Lo, I come.” Hearken to me; you also have had your probation, as you have thought it to be.
2. When man’s clever dealings with the devil had turned out a great failure.
3. When man’s covering was a failure.
4. When all man’s pleas were failures.
5. When man’s religion had proved a failure.
II. Christ comes to sinners in the glory of his person. “Lo, I come.” What does He mean?
1. He means the setting of all else on one side.
2. Before Him there is a setting of self aside. Lo, he comes to clothe you from head to foot with His own seamless robe of righteousness. He annihilates self that He may fill all things.
3. Here is a glorious setting of Himself at our side and in our place. Jesus is now the one pillar on which to lean, the one foundation on which to build, the one and only rest of our weary souls.
4. He sets Himself where we can see Him; for he cries, “Lo, I come”; that is to say, “See Me come.” He comes openly, that we may see Him clearly.
5. Our Lord sets Himself to be permanently our all in all. When He came on earth, He did not leave His work till He had finished it. Even when He rose to glory, He continued His service for His chosen, living to intercede for them. Jesus will be a Saviour until all the chosen race shall have been gathered home.
III. Christ, in his coming, is his own introduction.
1. Here our Lord is His own herald. “Lo, I come.” He bids you look on Him when you beseech Him to look on you.
2. He comes when quite unsought or sought for in a wrong way. “Lo, I come,” is the announcement of majestic grace which waiteth not for man, neither tarrieth for the sons of men.
3. Our Lord Jesus is the way to Himself.
4. He is the blessing which He brings.
5. He is His own spokesman.
IV. Christ, to cheer us reveals his reasons for coming.
1. It is His Father’s will.
2. His own heart is set on you.
3. You have need, and He has love, and so He comes.
V. Christ’s coming is the best plea for our receiving him, and receiving him now. Receive Him! If you are in yourself sadly unready, yet He Himself will make everything ready for Himself. Shut not out your own mercy. A pastor in Edinburgh, in going round his district, knocked at the door of a poor woman, for whom he had brought some needed help; but he received no answer. When next he met her, he said to her, “I called on Tuesday at your house.” She asked, “At what time? . . . About eleven o’clock; I knocked, and you did not answer. I was disappointed, for I called to give you help.” “Ah, sir!” said she, “I am very sorry. I thought it was the man coming for the rent, and I could not pay it, and therefore I did not dare to go to the door.” Many a troubled soul thinks that Jesus is one who comes to ask of us what we cannot give; but indeed He comes to give us all things. His errand is not to condemn, but to forgive. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Delight to do the will of God
I. Some cases in which the christian delights to do the will of God.
1. In the acts and offices of religious worship.
2. In the faithful discharge of those duties which he owes to his fellow-creatures.
3. In the good government of himself, and the practice of temperance and self-denial.
II. Some of the chief fruits or effects of it.
1. Cheerfulness, an habitual vivacity and gladness of heart in the exercise of our moral and religious duties, both in the time of our wealth and in the time of suffering and tribulation.
2. A firm confidence in God’s protection and goodness, a cheerful apprehension of His perpetual presence and overruling providence, and a deep-rooted persuasion of His merciful disposition towards us, and of the truth and excellence of His promises.
3. A humble but stedfast hope of everlasting happiness, grounded on His promises in Christ, and brought home to the mind of the believer in the way of just inference and reasonable collection. (Bishop Bethell.)
Christ’s delight in the work of redemption
I. Why it ought to be a pleasant and grateful thing to Christ to take a body of flesh and lay it down by death again for the redemption of sinners.
1. It became Christ to go about this work with cheerfulness and delight, that thereby He might give His death the nature and formality of a sacrifice.
2. It ought to be so in regard of the unity of Christ’s will with the Father’s. The work of our redemption is called “the pleasure of the Lord” (Isaiah 53:10), and what was the Father’s pleasure could not be displeasing to Him who is one with the Father.
3. This was necessary to magnify and commend the love of Jesus Christ to us, for whom He gave Himself. That He came into the world to die for us is a mercy of the first magnitude, but that He came in love to our souls, and underwent all His sufferings with such willingness for our sakes, this heightens it above all apprehension.
4. It was necessary to be so for the regulating of all our obedience to God according to this pattern, that seeing and setting this great example of obedience before us, we might never grudge nor grumble at any duty or suffering that God should call us to.
II. Whence it came to re so pleasant and acceptable to Jesus Christ to come into the world and die for poor sinners.
1. That in His sufferings there would be made a glorious display and manifestation of the Divine attributes; yea, such a glorious display of them as was never made before to angels or to men, nor ever shall be any more in this world.
(1) For though the wisdom of God had made itself visible to men in the creation of the world, yet there it shone, but in a faint and languishing beam compared with this.
(2) The love of God had appeared before in our creation, protection and provision, yet nothing to what it doth in our redemption by the death of Christ.
(3) God had given several sad marks of His justice before, both upon the angels that fell, and in the overthrow of Sodom, etc.; yet never was the exactness and severity of justice so manifested before, nor ever shall be any more, as it was at the death of Christ.
2. Another delightful prospect Christ had of the fruit of His sufferings was the recovery and salvation of all the elect by His death; and though His sufferings were exceeding bitter, yet such fruit of them as this was exceeding sweet; upon this account He assumed his name Jesus (Matthew 1:21), yea, and His human nature also (Galatians 4:4-5).
3. The glory which would redound to Him from His redeemed ones to all eternity; for it will be the everlasting pleasant employment of the saints in heaven to be ascribing glory, praise and honour to the Redeemer. (John Flavel.)
I delight to do Thy will, O my God.
Duty a delight
“I delight to do Thy will, O my God.” In other words, God’s pleasure is his pleasure. “Yea, Thy law is within my heart,” the object of choice and love.
I. We instinctively recognize here an expression of the highest type of piety, This marks the psalm as Messianic, since it was fulfilled only in Christ. The piety here breathed is not to be thought of as beyond the imitation of every disciple. Jesus stands as the Divine model and pattern of a believer’s life. When we look at the believer’s experience we find it in three stages. First, a sense of danger, when fear rouses him to flee from the wrath to come; then a sense of duty, when conscience urges him to do that which he feels to be right; and last, a sense of delight, when choice impels him to do and bear God’s will. Duty has become delight. This last stage of experience is the highest, and heaven only is higher.
II. To delight in God’s will supplies the noblest motive, The roads of duty and delight never cross each other. Piety is not so much any conformity of outward life, as it is a disposition toward the divine, which, in a growing Christian will become more and more habitual as a law of life, and in a sense unconscious. A young disciple is like the musical pupil, who, in playing his exercises, keeps thinking how he is sitting, holding his hands, and managing his fingers. The mature disciple is more like the master in whom practice and habit have made it possible to lose sight of what is merely mechanical in what is spiritual about music, till he forgets the instrument in the inspiration of musical enthusiasm, and becomes no longer merely a practiser of scales or an imitator of others, but a creator and composer of musical harmonies. He who makes it his habit to aim after true holiness will find more and more that it ceases to be an effort to be good and to do good, as he rises to real and almost unconscious sympathy with goodness.
III. The text expresses also the highest spiritual liberty. In civil government, the nearer we get to a true idea or ideal of liberty, the less does government seem to exist at all, for the highest freedom involves unconsciousness of restraint or constraint. The Christian is the Lord’s freeman; it is the sinner who is wearing a yoke of bondage; and he who has escaped the obedience of fear and learned the subjection of love enjoys the highest liberty of the sons of God. And we misrepresent Christianity before others whenever we lead them to suppose that it rules by the iron sceptre of duty. He who will surrender himself completely to its sway shall find the Christian experience such a blending of God’s life with man’s life as maketh His will our will, and His service perfect freedom!
IV. The text expresses the truest preparation for a life of service to Christ. When duty becomes delight we are fitted for our highest usefulness, for that is inseparable from the highest piety, the noblest motive, and the truest liberty. Those who most win souls are those who delight to do God’s will. If others see that it makes us happy to be disciples of Christ, that we are under no constraint, galled by no fetters of conscience, confined by no severe restrictions; that we are simply walking at liberty because we love to do God’s will, we become to them living epistles. Men may feel little interest in hearing another say what he is forced to utter because he feels that he ought; but no man will lack attentive audience who speaks from a full heart, which would burst if denied expression. Ordinarily a sculptor does not himself work the marble: he fashions the clay model, leaving to the mechanical workman to work out in stone what he has not the imagination to invent, or think out in mind. What a wide difference between them! The workman, for a certain sum, undertakes the task of giving to the creation of the artist’s genius simply a more enduring form. He feels, perhaps, but little interest in his wearisome work. His aim at most is to be rigidly accurate and correct in copying the model. Everything is done by rule. How different the experience of the sculptor! He finds in his work a rest, a relief. An image is stamped upon his mind, his brain burns, his heart throbs! The Greeks called such a state of mind “enthusiasm”--an inspiration from God. We are too often only the mechanical workmen when we ought to be sculptors of life.
V. Helps to attaining delight is duty.
1. We must habituate ourselves to think of God’s law in its true light. We do great injustice to Him when we construe the rule of duty as an arbitrary regulation. The more we learn to interpret His commands by His benevolence the more shall we delight to do His will.
2. There must be holy fellowship with God. No unregenerate man can know such experience of delight in duty, for it is born only of the Spirit.
3. There must be a full surrender to God. No man delights to do God’s will whose whole will is not given up to God.
4. Duty will become delight in proportion to our faithful discharge of duty itself. The more complete your obedience, the more positive your happiness. We are reminded of the beautiful myth about the “wingless birds,” who first took up their wings as burdens to be borne, but found them changing to pinions, which, in the end, bore them. We are the birds without wings. God puts our duties before us to be patiently assumed for His sake. But, though at first they are loads, we shall be able afterwards to say, with Rutherford, “The cross is the sweetest burden that ever I bore: such a burden as wings are to the bird,” that help it to soar; “or, as sails are to the ship,” that help it to catch the breeze that wafts it to the desired haven. (A. T. Pierson, D. D.)
The will--before, in, and after conversion
The Word of God presents to us the action of the will during three phases of experience: first, during that period in which man asserts his independence, and refuses to submit to the claims and authority of God; secondly, during the period of transition, in which he is abandoning his claims to independence, and is learning to submit to the yoke of Christ; thirdly, during the subsequent period of self-surrender and self-consecration.
I. The will before conversion. “God is not in all his thoughts.” “The mind of the flesh is enmity against God.” Man may be unconscious of the enmity, but it surely exists; and there needs only an authoritative assertion of the Divine will to provoke the human will and call it into action.
II. The will in conversion. Hew does a man pass from a state of active or passive antagonism to the will of God into one of holy and willing conformity to that will? It is difficult to answer this question in few words. Whilst every true conversion is one in its essential features, as involving the active turning to God in repentance end faith, conversions vary greatly in the causes which lead to them and in the phases through which they pass. Thus, it is difficult to define with any accuracy the precise action of the will in conversion. It is important, however, to recognize in the process the existence and activity of two forces: that of Divine grace, and that of human effort. It is the magnet of the Cross which draws men’s hearts to God; “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me.” It is the supreme love of Jesus Christ living, labouring, suffering, dying for sinful men, which touches the heart, attracts the affections and expels the old love of the world by introducing a higher and more absorbing love in its place. The heart thus won, the will resumes its rightful authority.
1. The choice now made is free, for it is the choice of the will acting without compulsion, choosing that which it approves as the noblest and the best.
2. The choice is decided, for it recognizes the righteousness of God’s claim upon the unconditional submission and allegiance of man.
3. The choice is lasting, for being made after full consideration and without reserve, it knows no regrets, and has in it all the elements of permanency.
III. The will after conversion. Scripture teaches and experience proves that by reason of the law of sin yet abiding in our members we cannot always do the things that we would; still “to will is present”; “we delight in the law of God after the inward man.” The will after conversion, therefore, is no stranger to conflict, for sin yet dwells within; but throughout the struggle with evil it is at one with the will of God; its language is “not my will but Thine be done.” (Sir Emilius Bayley.)
I have preached righteousness in the great congregation: lo, I have not refrained my lips, O Lord, Thou knowest.
There is a recluse and sequestered piety in the world which shuns expression. It preserves decorum and propriety; but it rarely speaks out for Christ. We are all acquainted with praying, pious, upright people, strict observers of the moral law, who yet have never been heard, at any time, to give utterance to their religious convictions, or to stand forth in defence of the faith against its assailants, or in the way of exhortation to holiness.
1. In this matter our age stands in strong contrast to some former notable periods. In the days of Whitefield and Wesley men everywhere and in all conditions made religion a matter of common converse. Then great reforms took place. The traffic in slaves was stopped; the condition of prisoners improved; Church missions and Sunday schools were established. Then society was almost universally stirred and excited by the most glorious themes of the Gospel.
2. Observe how desirable in every way is the practice of converse upon the things of God. Christianity is no private monopoly, no exclusive, personal possession. It is a social religion, because it is made to be talked of, and talked into every sphere of life, and to rule and govern them all.
3. It is, then, very clearly our duty to use the faculty of speech for God’s glory, for the health and strengthening of human souls. All the processes of building and uprearing in this world are prized by men. But by just so much as souls are nobler, grander structure than houses or palaces, or bodies, so the vital energy of pure and holy speech, dropped into the outward and inner ears of men, startling, quickening, sobering, prompting, guiding, elevating, sanctifying them, to good resolves, to noble acts, to self-devotion to God and man, to purity, to excellence and heavenly-mindedness; so the work and power of holy speech towers immeasurably above all the constructive work of architects and builders in this outward, visible world.
4. You tell me it is bard to talk about religion. Many people are reluctant and unwilling to speak concerning this most sacred of all themes, lest they should be betrayed into a habit of cant; which is the simulation of feeling when one has no feeling. Others are afraid of becoming flippant about holy things. And, first let me say there can be no general rule given concerning religious conversation. Perhaps the nearest approach one can make to a precept are the words of St. Paul (Colossians 4:6). That is, our conversation should be saturated with pious and religious prudence flowing from the Holy Spirit. In ordinary conversation we should talk with such a sense of sacred propriety, with such Christian cheerfulness, with such generous courtesy for the opinions and feelings of others, that although the name of Christ be never mentioned, people may gather that we have been with Him, and that His Holy Spirit is the prompter of our life and thought. On the other hand, there are times when our discourse should be most direct and distinct. When we are dealing with the sick, with people who are anxious and inquiring, with indifferent and careless people, then circumlocution or indirection is a great fault. Be faithful to souls, in your conversation as well as in your walk and bearing. But bear in mind two things.
(1) That no stilted, formal, unmeaning words on religion will reach any man’s soul. If you are not impelled by duty and interest in men to talk with them concerning religious matters, hold your tongue.
(2) Join to this the duty of avoiding all debate and wrangling upon religion. The work of Christians is to persuade and invite the careless; not to dispute with them. (A. Crummell.)
The Master’s profession the disciple’s pursuit
These are the words of the Lord Jesus Christ spoken by Him through the spirit of prophecy in the Old Testament. And--
I. Our Lord did undoubtedly fulfil them. He concentrated every faculty and power to this work; He testified frequently to the greatest crowd. His preaching was never heartless. As if He had said, “Thy righteousness is in my heart, but I have never concealed it there.” And He always kept to vital matters--to God and His attributes. “Thy righteousness, Thy faithfulness,” etc.
II. Let us strive to be able to say the same. It is certain that many will never be able to, for in all our churches there is a very large proportion of idle people. I hope they are saved; the Lord knows whether they are or not, but whatever else they are saved from, certainly they are not saved from laziness. They must imagine that they are ornaments, for certainly they are of no use, so far as any good offices are concerned. Nor will cowardly people be able to make this protest. The retiring disposition of many Christians is seen in somewhat the same way as that of the soldier who, when a charge was ordered, felt himself unworthy to be in the front ranks. Nor again will spasmodic people--people who begin things with much zeal, and then drop them. But many men of one talent will. I have known many such--good, earnest, humble, patient, praying toilers, hidden in obscure villages, with an extremely narrow sphere. And some, too, to whom larger talents have been entrusted. Let all such resolve to be able to lay claim to its praise.
III. If we can, much comfort on many solemn subjects will be gained. The death of so many unsaved men; their hereafter, so awful; the doom of the heathen, the uprisings of error--for the blame of this wilt not lie at our door. Now, are not some of you ready to undertake this work of going forth as God’s missionaries? In the sight of God ask yourselves--is it not your duty? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I have not hid Thy righteousness within my heart; I have declared Thy faithfulness and Thy salvation.--
Those who know God will confess Him
The psalmist here tells not only of what was an actual fact, but what is more, that he could not help thus testifying of God’s salvation. What I propose, accordingly, at the present time, is to speak of the necessary openness of a holy experience; or, in other words, of the impossibility that the inward revelation of God in the soul should be shut up in it, and remain hid or unacknowledged. I shall have in view especially two classes of hearers that are widely distinguished one from the other; first, the class who lude the grace of God in their heart undesignedly, or by reason of some undue modesty; and secondly, the class who, pretending to have it, or consciously having it not, take a pleasure in throwing discredit on all the appropriate expressions of it, such as are made by the open testimony and formal profession of Christ before men. The former class are certainly blameable in no such sense or degree as the others. They are naturally timorous and self-distrustful persons, it may be, and do not see that they are distrusting God rather than themselves. They seem to themselves to have been truly renewed in the love of God, but they have some doubts, and they make it appear to be wiser that they should not, just now, testify their supposed new experience. In opposition to both these claims we would affirm the necessary openness of a holy experience. For--
1. Such experience is even an impulse to self-manifestation, as all love and gratitude are. It wants to speak and declare itself as naturally as a child will utter its first cry. Thus, if one of you had been rescued, in a shipwreck on a foreign shore, by some common sailor who had risked his life to save you, and you should discover him across the street in some great city, you would rush to his side, seize his hand, and begin at once, with a choking utterance, to testify your gratitude to him for so great a deliverance. Or, if you should pass restrainedly on, making no sign, pretending to yourself that you might be wanting in delicacy or modesty to publish your private feelings by any such eager acknowledgment of your deliverer, or that you ought first to be more sure of the genuineness of your gratitude, what opinion must we have, in such a case, of your heartlessness and falseness to nature? In the same way how can the young convert keep from saying, “Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare,” etc. etc.
2. Such an inward change is in its very nature the soul and root of a corresponding outward change. It is the righteousness of God revealed within, to be henceforth the actuating spring and power of a righteous and devoted life. It will inform the whole man. It will glow in the countenance. It will irradiate the eye. It will speak from the tongue. It will modulate the very gait. The good tree will show the good fruit. It cannot go on to bear the old, bad fruit out of modesty, or a pretended shrinking from ostentation; it must reveal the righteousness of God within, by the fruits of righteousness without, else it is only a mockery.
3. If any one proposes beforehand in his religious endeavours, or in seeking after God, to come into a secret experience and keep it a secret, his endeavour is plainly one that falsifies the very notion of Christian piety, and if he succeeds or seems to succeed, he only practises a fraud in which he imposes on himself.
4. It is not less clear, as I have already said incidentally, and now say only more directly, that the grace of God in the heart, unmanifested or kept secret, as many propose that it shall be, even for their whole life, will be certainly stifled and extinguished. The thought itself is a mockery of the Holy Spirit. The heart might as well be required to live and not beat as the new heart of love to hush itself and keep still in the bosom. Nothing can live that is not permitted to show the signs of life.
5. This is the express teaching of the Gospel, which everywhere and in every possible way calls out the souls renewed in Christ to live an open life of sacrifice and duty. He calls upon them to endure hardness, to make a loss of all things for His sake, to be His witnesses before men; leading always the way by their own bold, faithful testimony. The nearest approach to such encouragement anywhere given, is that which is afforded by the ease of the two senators, Joseph and Nicodemus. One of them, we are told, was a disciple secretly, for fear of the Sews. And the other came to Jesus by night, to inquire of Him, that he might not be counted a disciple. Both of them appear to have kept silence on His trial before the council, letting the decision go against Him there, and taking no responsibility on His account. But after He was crucified, they came to ask the body, and brought spices to embalm it. They were good, as disciples, to bury Jesus, but not to save His life, or serve Him while living. The truth is, that there is a very heavy shade over these two delicate and courtly friends of Jesus. They were men of society, and therefore saw the dignity of Jesus; but if you would like to be reasonably confident of your salvation, it certainly becomes you to do something a great deal more positive than to let your Master die, making no stand for Him oven in the council where His death is voted, and then come in with spices to bury Him. The most fragrant spices are those that honour one’s life, and not the posthumous odours that embalm His body. How singular is it, too, that not even the Pentecost calls out these disciples of the tomb. It is as if they had been buried with their Master and had not risen. In that wondrous scene of fellowship, where so many from all parts of the world are surprised to find themselves confessing and embracing, in open brotherhood, strangers of all climes and orders, and selling even their goods to relieve the common wants, it does not appear that any spices of the heavenly charity are brought in by these two. The real truth is, in respect to almost all these pretenders to a secret religion, that they are persons who know nothing of it. They are moralists, it may be, practising at what they call a virtue by themselves, but they do nothing that brings them into any relationship with God. It is not the righteousness of God which they have hidden so carefully, but it is their own--which, after all, is not hid. What value there may be in discoveries of Christian experience. Some of the best and holiest impulses ever given to the cause of God in men’s hearts are given by testimonies of Christian experience. They may be abused, but that is no reason against their proper use. Besides, there is a higher view of these personal testimonies and confessions. All these experiences, or life-histories of the faithful, will be among the grandest studies and most glorious revelations of the future. Exactly as an apostle intimates in those most hopeful, inspiring words of his, “When lie shall come to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired in all them that believe.” May He not be glorified in them here, and, in some feebler measure, admired for the testimonies yielded by their experience as their warfare goes on. How many are there in our Christian communities that are living afar off and apparently quite inaccessible, who, if, at a certain time in their life, they had gone forward and taken the places to which they were called, would now be among the shining members of the great body of saints. Then testify freely, act but naturally, live openly the grace that is in you. (Horace Bushnell, D. D.)
Innumerable evils have compassed me about.
Out of the depths
I. A soul beset.
1. He is made to see the countless number of his sins. It is wonderful what a ray of light will do; the sun suddenly shines into a room, and the whole air seems full of innumerable specks of dust, dancing up and down in the sunbeam. The light does not make the room full of dust; it only shows you what was always there, but which you did not see until the sun shone in; and if a beam of God’s true light were to shine into some of your hearts, you would think very differently of yourselves from what you have ever done. I question whether any one among us could bear to see himself as God sees him.
2. He is greatly perplexed by a sort of omnipresence of sin. When conscience wakes up the whole hive of our sins, we find ourselves compassed about with innumerable evils; sins at the board and sins on the bed, sins at the task and sins in the pew, sins in the street and sins in the shop, sins on land and sins at sea, sins of body, soul, and spirit, sins of eye, of lip, of hand, of foot, sins everywhere, every way sins.
3. He is so beset with sin that it seems to hold him in a terrible grip. If you have a number of sins which have once taken hold on you, you will be something like a stag when the whole pack of hounds has seized him, and his neck and his flanks and every bone in him seem to feel the hounds’ teeth gnawing at them.
II. A soul bewildered.
1. He did not dare to look his sins in the face.
2. He is unable to excuse himself.
3. He dare not look up to read God’s promises.
III. A soul fainting. “Free grace and dying love”--I delight to ring those charming bells; oil, that every ear would welcome their blessed music! Poor fainting heart, do thou specially hear the gladsome tidings of free grace and dying love, and catch at the message, and rejoice in Christ to-night! The Lord grant that it may be so!
IV. A soul pleading.
1. It is a prayer distinctly to God.
2. It is an appeal to the good pleasure of God. Divine sovereignty is not to be denied. No man has any right to God’s grace; if it be given to any one, it is given by the free favour of God, as He pleases, and to whom He pleases. But do thou, as a suppliant, take this lowly ground: “Be pleased, O Jehovah, to deliver me, for Thy mercy’s sake, for Thy goodness’ sake! Universal Ruler as Thou art, and able to save whom Thou wilt, for the rights of life and death are in the hands of the King of kings, be pleased, O Lord, to deliver reel” That is the way to plead with God. And then you may, if you like, use that last sentence: “Make haste, O Jehovah, to deliver me!” You may plead urgency; you may say, “Lord, if Thou dost not help me soon, I shall die. I am driven to such distress by my sin that, if thou dost not hear me soon, it will be too late. O Lord, help me now!” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Let such as love Thy salvation say continually, The Lord be magnified.
Loving God’s salvation
All who are saved unto eternal life not only accept God’s salvation from a sense of their absolute and urgent need of it as the alone method that meets their case, but they fall in love with it, give it their best affections. Experiencing its benign, restorative influences, they delight themselves in its Divine Author--“the God of their salvation”; but they do not, cannot overlook the salvation itself. And the word of this salvation has been sent to us. One should have thought that all would have welcomed it. But the case is far otherwise. However, there are those who love God’s salvation and their number continually increases. But with these it was not always so. They, too, for a long while did not desire it, and “they hid as it were their faces from it, despised it and esteemed it not.” But now it is all their desire, for a great change has been wrought in them. And the reasons that rule both those who hate and those who love God’s salvation are the same. This may seem a paradox, but it is sober truth. For the reason why this salvation is loved is because it engages to deliver wholly from sin, in our love of it and in our living in it. No doubt others love salvation in the sense of deliverance from sin’s direful consequences hereafter. There is no need that a man should be born again in order to his loving God’s salvation in this vague, outward, selfish sense. Every man is deeply averse to pain and perdition, and cannot endure the thought of them. Self-love in the form of self-defence is a universal law relating to life of every sort, even the lowest in the vegetable creation, and particularly in sentient existences, both on land and in the sea. This is so well established that it has passed into a proverb that “self-preservation is the first law of life.” The sensitive plant is an instance in point. The sponge also may be adduced as another. Naturalists tell us that, in its native home in the deep, it will draw itself together of its own accord in order to escape destruction. Being often devoured by the fish for food, it quickly discovers their approach, and to protect itself against their marauding designs it contracts itself voluntarily into a much smaller space than it can be squeezed into forcibly; but the danger over, if it be fortunate enough to escape, it again expands itself into its usual size. It will not yield itself up to be devoured so long as it can help it. There is scarcely need to add that no creature will willingly suffer, especially what threatens life, without a hard struggle and a persistent resistance to the last. Hence we find mankind generally coveting earnestly to be saved in the sense o! escaping from misery and enjoying bliss. At least they choose heaven rather than hell, though they will not accept it in the only way in which it may be had, and the only way in which it is worth having. They are deeply in love with forgiveness of sins and immunity from suffering their penal consequences, but they utterly regret the way in which all this may be secured. Pardon and safety they will accept, and if they can be assured that they have nothing to fear, it will be a great relief to them; but when you speak about conversion, contrition, resisting sin, and mortifying and renouncing it, and doing the will of God, they will not listen, but prefer not to be saved titan to part with their sins. But those who love God’s salvation love it for these very reasons, that it parts them for ever from their sins, slaying them within them, and leading them on to purity of heart and life. For salvation is not merely deliverance from danger and distress. However indispensable this experience may be to the spiritual life, it ought by degrees to be comparatively lost; at least that another greater--yes, I advisedly say greater--should supersede it and occupy its place, namely, what to do to be healed, to be spiritually well. Strange to say, here men quarrel with the salvation of God instead of allowing it to do its proper work upon them by eradicating sin from their nature. But for this selfsame reason it is ardently loved by those whose hearts are in the right. Again, what has been sought to be proved will be seen still further by adverting to the freeness of the salvation. This will further illustrate and establish the truth of my statement, for it is a well-known fact that God’s salvation, by reason of its entire and absolute freeness, is at a discount on the one hand, and at a premium on the other. Next to the entire moral recovery it effects, its freeness alike stirs up hatred and produces love; and men fall out and fall in with it for the selfsame reason. Salvation by grace gives hope to the poor, needy and lost sinner, who is conscious of his great misery, unworthiness and ill-desert. How highly he prizes this graciousness! If its gratuitous freeness spoils it to blind, conceited unbelief, the selfsame peculiarity makes it doubly precious to the believer, and evolves his devoutest affection. And, blessed be God, it is a most convenient as well as a most profitable transaction for us. If we bring to this salvation our darkness, we shall have its light; our poverty, we shall have its riches: our guilt, we shall haw its pardon; our misery, we shall have its happiness. (Thomas Rees.)
I am poor and needy, yet the Lord thinketh upon me.
God thinks upon His people
I. A humble condition. “I am poor and needy.” Now, a man may be thus--
1. Spiritually--sin has brought them thus low.
2. Experimentally-for they feel it.
3. Comparatively--that is, with the treasures of grace he denies and wants, and which are for him in Christ.
4. Temporally--by reason of earthly affliction and loss. When this comes, remember your Elder Brother, Christ, who had “not where to lay His head.”
II. Examine the glorious assurance.
“Yet the Lord thinketh upon me.” This is--
1. The language of confidence, and that it is well ground is proved by the relations which God holds towards us. He calls Himself deliverer, friend, husband, Father: by His promises and by His works. See how much he has done to justify your hope. Had he a mind to kill you he would not have shown you such mercies as are yours. And how many things there are worthy of particular review in your own history. Think of them.
2. It is the language of wonder. For think of the conduct of men; the greatness of God; our unworthiness.
3. And of consolation, “Yet the Lord,” etc. This is enough, and will more than counterbalance all my distresses. This is how it is the believer stands while others sink. Can we say this of ourselves? Is this your portion? How anxious are men to gain the notice of their fellow-creatures, especially if they are a little raised above themselves in condition! “Many will entreat the favour of the prince, and every one is a friend to him that giveth gifts.” But in this case you are never sure you shall succeed; and you have gained nothing if you do. Whereas here the success is sure, and the success is everything. Pray, therefore, with Nehemiah, “Think upon me, O my God, for good. Seek the Lord, and ye shall live.” O believer! If God thinks upon you, ought you not to think upon Him? David did. If He minds your affairs, be not you forgetful of His. Ever ask, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” Ever cry, “Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth.” (W. Jay.)
God’s thoughts of us
I. A description of human nature under ordinary conditions.
1. Some are poor and needy through ignorance. We cannot understand--
(3) God. His providences are an unceasing mystery.
2. Some are poor and needy through guilt. Human sinfulness is like a cheque on the bank; it may go far and remain in circulation long; but it will come eventually and be presented for immediate payment. Duke Albert of Polanda, so runs the old story, bore on his armour the emblem of entire trust: just the hull of a ship, having only the main-mast and its top-piece, without any tackling or canvas whatever. But there was this motto underneath: Deus dabit vela: “God will furnish the sails.” Thus he claimed that heavenly forces would be supplied with Divine instrumentality when need should arrive.
II. The comforting assurance of divine aid.
1. God thinks about us. Simpler minds than ours are often more truly devotional: the Savoyards have the beautiful name for one of their finest mountain flowers, “pain du bon Dieu,” the bread of the good God; for they say that by its white and delicate blossoms it reminds them of the manna, feeding Israel in the wilderness.
2. God thinks a great deal about us. His thoughts are so many, that they “cannot be reckoned up in order” (Psalms 139:17-18).
3. God thinks about us always very kindly. Promises are just God’s thoughts stored up for men.
III. A legitimate ground for full assurance of aid.
1. Some say that God is too far away to think of us here. Once, when a sailor had come in, saved from shipwreck, he said to those, who asked him about his days and nights out on the waters of the lonely ocean, that his greatest alarm was that God could not be made to hear up so high in the sky, beyond even the stars. Now, it is of no use to reason about this. We must just let the Lord tell us the truth in the matter; He knows, and He says that “the Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon Him,” etc.
2. Some say that God is too great to think of us here on His footstool. It might do, perhaps, in the case of a kingdom going to pieces, or a ship driving on the rocks, or a dynasty breaking; but not in our vexations and daily disquiets. This is no way to argue. God is great; indeed, He is so great that He can look placidly down upon each one of us, as we keep coming to Him, ever kindly bidding us a morning or evening welcome; no more forgetful, no more impatient, no more worried than we are when our own boys approach us with their difficulties.
3. Some say that God is too holy to think of us here. When we think of Him as residing in the shadowless purity of heaven itself, we are hardly willing to believe He cherishes any thought for rebels like men. But then we certainly know that He hates sin; that is one point gained, at all events; for if we are sinners, God cannot possibly be indifferent to us. He cannot bear to have one speck of moral defilement anywhere within the borders of His realm. So He is gently and tenderly on the side of every man who wishes to be pure.
4. Some say that God is too happy to think of us here. He does not need us. Why should He bestir Himself or disturb Himself in any way in our behalf? Such a question shows how poorly we reason. It is true that God is happy; but something makes Him happy. His enjoyment has an intelligent basis; it has a society of companions to share it, and contribute to it. And because He desires it to continue and to increase, He is always beneficent and active, making Himself happy, everywhere sowing sunlight that He may harvest gladness from each field of the wide universe.
IV. A prayer for a faith of appropriation in ourselves. If God really wishes to help us, and we wish to be helped, why should there be any delay on either side?
1. Why should God tarry in taking away our daily harassments? He has told us that we are to have “no thought for the morrow,” because He has all the “thoughts” that belong to it in our behalf. We have only to ask Him, and then trust Him.
2. Why should God tarry in banishing our unnecessary apprehensions? What has rendered the world more unhappy than anything else has always been some great worry anticipated, which never happened after all.
3. Why should God tarry in relieving our doubts? It is said that Shakespeare once thought himself no poet, and Paphael’s heart grew silent and discouraged, so that he was overheard to say he should never be a successful painter. He who has an all-powerful helper needs only to look to Him to keep His promises.
4. Why should God tarry in removing our disciplines? One day, when the young lad Goethe came from church, where he had listened to a sermon in which an attempt was made to justify the Divine goodness, his father asked him what he thought of the explanation. “Why,” said this extraordinary youth, “the matter may be much simpler than the clergyman thinks; God knows very well that an immortal soul can never receive any injury from a mortal accident.” Why not trust Him with our whole souls, then? (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
The uncommon faith
The two parts of the text form an antithesis of the most divergent contrast. The order in which they stand invests them with considerable attractiveness; at least the interest with which we may now take them up is not a little enhanced on this account.
I. The humble confessions.
1. It is a very becoming confession. From a moral or spiritual point of view, we are, indeed, as poor as poverty itself.
2. This confession should therefore be unaffectedly veracious and sincere. Can it be either desirable or reasonable that we should do anything by way of making ourselves out to be poor and needy, except as we really are so?
3. It is only as the effect of a gracious operation of the Spirit that the confession of the text is ever candidly or cordially made. Hence it is easy to understand how this humble confession should be accompanied, as here it is, by so confident a persuasion. If the Spirit is at work within you, showing you what you really are, discovering your exigencies to the discernment of your individual consciousness, He at the same time discovers the means of supplying these exigencies, and the absolute infinitude of resource to provide the whole of that supply.
II. The confident persuasion.
1. That it is a warrantable persuasion may be easily enough proved. For, if the Lord makes any poor and needy, He is certainly thinking of them, the dispensation itself shows that He is doing so. Besides, is it nothing to the shepherd of a flock that one of his sheep has wandered, though it be even the least and the weakest of a hundred in a fold, will he not leave the ninety and nine, and search after it alone?
2. It must also be very readily admitted that this persuasion is one which is fraught with unspeakable comfort and consolation. “Yet the Lord thinketh upon me.” It takes us back to the Divine constitution of the covenant of the rainbow (Genesis 9:16). Oh, the sweetness, the perfect deliciousness, to taste of faith in this, “And I will look upon it.” “Yet the Lord thinketh upon me.”
3. Hence, in every way this is also a most satisfying persuasion. To say, “Yet the Lord thinketh upon me,” may not appear to be saying much. In a sense it may be saying very little. The utterance occurs in another psalm--“I hate vain thoughts,” that is, thoughts which do not go beyond themselves, which dissipate themselves in waste, never embodying themselves in living form, in substantial action--thoughts which are inoperative, unprofitable. But the Lord’s thoughts are never “vain,” unproductive, empty; they are invariably sovereign, invincible, almighty. (E. A Thomson.)
The greatness and frailty of human nature
Human life, in its frailty, exposure, brevity, could not be more aptly described than it is here--“poor and needy.” And yet, if man occupies a place in the Divine Mind, if God, who made him, thinks of and cares for him, he is great, and he may be rich and strong.
I. Man’s feeling of poverty and need. Had we been less rich, we had not been so poor; less richly endowed, we had been more at ease. It is because man has reason, conscience and affections that he feels thus. The brute may groan; the man weeps.
II. The particular providence of god.
1. There is much in the events of life which makes it hard for a man to believe in this assurance. We read of explosions, cyclones, hurricanes, and our faith staggers. One man makes a mistake in his calculations, and hundreds of brave, unoffending men sink like a stone in the depths of the sea. Where is the evidence, we are tempted to ask, of the Divine regard for individuals? But when we express the conviction that God thinks of us, we are not therefore bound to vindicate His ways, or fathom the designs of His inscrutable providence. The declaration of the text is a flashing avowal of faith in the midst of much that is mysterious.
2. I think it is harder to grasp this great truth because of the massing together of great multitudes of people in our modern towns and cities. Every person in that enormous crowd has his own little world of interests, duties, affections, associations. Is it possible, can it be, that He from His throne “beholds all these dwellers upon earth”? Truly the Lord has much to see to, and there are many beds in the wards of the world. And yet to reason so is to attach the ignorance and the limitations of the finite mind to a mind which is infinite.
3. The deeper insight which man has to-day into the vastness of the universe makes it harder for us to realize the great truth of the text. In view of the wonders of astronomy what a pigmy is man! And yet, if myriads of ages have been required in which to make this earth a suitable residence for man, it may be that God has some regard for him. True, he is a reed, but, as Pascal said, he is a thinking reed, and the God who made him to think may think of him,
4. Besides, the wonderfulness of the infinitely little is even greater than that of the infinitely great. God, who elaborates the planet, polishes the atom. If “He telleth the number of the stars, and calleth them by their names,” why may not He think of man?
5. But does God think of man? We will go at once to the highest, the all-conclusive evidence. It is in Jesus Christ that we are sure of God. He is the embodied thought of God--the Word made flesh. He cared for individuals. Look at the teaching of Jesus Christ. “Ye are of more value than many sparrows.” “The very hairs of your head are all numbered.” “The Father Himself loveth you.” Look at the Cross of Jesus Christ. If a man does that, if he yields to the love that has its eternal sign there, the last vestige of doubt will vanish, and he will cry, “He loved me, and gave Himself for me.” (J. Lewis.)
I. A true estimate.
1. Our general condition--“poor.”
2. A pressing want--“needy.” The one thing needful with David was the smile of Heaven. Christ in the heart is our pressing need. Distressingly poor is that life which has no God in it.
II. A marvellous fact. “The Lord thinketh upon me.”
1. Grasp the greatness of the fact. To make man, to support man, to save man, and to commune with man are the collateral thoughts.
2. Grasp the directness of the fact. In moments of loneliness remember that though some are dead that were wont to have you in remembrance, and others have forgotten you, God is thinking of you now, and we know what He thinks, for we have the mind of Christ.
III. A blessed assurance--“Thou art my help and my deliverer.”
1. God is our “help” for work.
2. God is our “deliverer” from trouble.
IV. An earnest longing--“Make no tarrying, O my God.” This is almost the language of impatience, at least it is the language of a burning desire. (T. Davies, D. D.)
The good man’s refuge in affliction
I. Afflictions befall god’s dearest children.
1. If Christ had not suffered, who had been saved? If He had not been pierced through with many sorrows, not one of the sons of Adam had possessed any true comfort or sound solace.
2. And His members must be like the bush in the fire, for several reasons.
(1) Are they not the Lord’s garden-plots? Will He not plant and sow them with the sweetest seeds and most fragrant flowers? Shall He not then dig them up and break every little clod to pieces?
(2) The faithful are likened to trees, and must not they be pruned and lopped?
(3) God’s children are compared to good corn, not cockle; we must expect then to be shaken with the windy and blustering storms of the wicked. The rooks of our times will be pecking out the ripest grain; and every ravening fowl fly over us and defile us; go through us and bruise us; or fall upon us and rob us; yea, our God Himself will cut us down, thresh us and grind us; for it’s corn that must be put on the mill, not chaff: wheat that must be winnowed, when cockle is to be abandoned, burned.
(4) How often are the godly compared to a temple I and may not every particular person resemble a stone in divers things? We must be cut out of the rock of our natural estate; and it’s no easy matter to be endured, afterwards squared and hewn, that we may be fitted to lie close and comely in the building; and this will be felt a painful polishing; yet this must be done, or we are undone. Rough stones are cast into the foundation, but they that be appointed for the pinnacles and principal places must have the more picks, the greater polishing, else they should not be of (or at the best but deface) this holy temple, this stately building.
II. The Lord doth not separate his affection from his children in affliction.
1. The Lord is not subject to forgetfulness. He knoweth who are His; and His eye is always over them.
2. Nor is He subject to change. Whom He loveth once He loveth ever.
3. Let us examine and see what is the cause of separating affection; and shall we not find it either in the agent or object? In the lover, God, we see no cause can be found: surely, nor in the thing beloved. It is plain that no trouble destroyeth the image of God or maketh his the more prone to sin; but rather it hath been a means to move them to leave it and amend. For in trouble they will pray more fervently; pity others more compassionately; make vows, and resolve to serve God the more strictly than ever in the days of prosperity. Why, then, should the Lord withdraw His affection from them? for love leaves hold but when the object grows worse and worse.
4. This reason may also confirm the doctrine. He should be more unnatural than mere natural men (who take the most pity of their own being in the greatest distress), if He should forsake His children in their affliction. Nature itself, in these straits, will not be wanting; and shall the Author of all graces be found failing?
III. THE favour of God in affliction only giveth the faithful satisfaction.
1. The Lord is the only object of their love, and He in whom their soul principally delighteth: wherefore, enjoying Him, they have all they would.
2. Because they believe and know that all shall work together for good at their latter end.
IV. The Lord will deliver the faithful from all dangers; free them in a convenient season from all afflictions.
1. He hath so promised and purposed; and shall not His counsel stand, and His word abide for ever?
2. And this He will do for love of His children. This, then, being thus, be of good comfort for the present, fear not any future dangers; but pluck up your hearts, and gird up the loins of your minds; go on through good report and evil report; be resolute soldiers of Jesus Christ; march on valiantly, and fear not their fear. For manger their malice, David shall serve his days; Paul finish his work, and John’s life be prolonged until his task be ended. And every upright and honest heart shall have all tears wiped from his eyes, fetters from his feet, manacles from his fingers; run to and fro in the new Jerusalem that is above. (John Barlow.)
The gardener’s care extends to all
“Oh!” you say, “I am such a little plant; I do not grow well; I do not put forth as much leafage, nor are there so many flowers on me as many round about me.” It is quite right that you should think little of yourself; perhaps to drop your head is part of your beauty. Many flowers had not been half so lovely if they had not practised the art of hanging their heads. But “supposing Him to be the gardener,” then He is as much a gardener to you as He is to the most lordly palm in the whole domain. In the Mentone garden grow the orange and the aloe, and others of the finer and more noticeable plants, but on the wall to my left grow common wall flowers and saxifrages and tiny herbs such as we find on our own rocky places. Now, the gardener has cared for all of them, little as well as great. In fact, there were hundreds of specimens of the most insignificant growths all duly labelled and described. The smallest saxifrage will say: “He is my gardener just as surely as he is the gardener of the Gloire de Dijon or the Marechal Niel.”
The Divine regard for the needy
When the shepherd comes in the early morning to his flock, does not his eye single out the sick, and does he need forgiveness if for a while he devotes all his skill and his care to those sheep which need it? He does not reason with himself that the largeness of the flock, and his anxious care that all should be fed renders it impossible for him to bind up that which is broken, and heal that which is diseased, but, on the contrary, his attention to all is proved by his special interest in the particular cases which most require his tenderness. Or take another parable; the watcher on the sea beach, with his telescope in his hand, paces to and fro, and keeps guard for his appointed time. He looks through the glass again and again, but a glance contents him so far as most of yonder gallant vessels are concerned, which are now in the offing; but by and by his glass remains steadily at his eye; his gaze is fixed, and in a few moments he gives a signal to his fellows, and they haul the boat to the sea and launch her. What has there been so peculiar about this craft that it has gained the watcher’s attention and stirred him to action? He saw signals of distress, or by some other token he knew the ship’s need, and therefore he bestirred himself, and engaged every willing hand to lead her help. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 40". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30