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God is our refuge and strength.
A psalm of war and peace
The psalm is divided into three parts, as the Selahs at the end of the third and seventh verses indicate. The first is shorter by one verse, but, were the refrain added to it--it has been said that it was once there--then the psalm stands with a symmetry almost unique. As it is, it has not many rivals. This treasure-house of sacred emotions is built of polished stones, and they are fitly set.
1. The first part teaches us to test and try our faith. The singer anticipates a wider storm, and in imagination launches forth in troubled seas. He imagines a break-up, the sea prevailing on the shore, mountains shaken with the swelling thereof; yet through all his faith remains, and he calmly trusts in God. By anticipation he makes preparation for such a crisis, and disciplines his soul to face such an emergency. Our faith is not for an hour or a day: it is to be our mainstay through life and in the hour of death: it is meant to steady and strengthen us in every calamity, however sad, and in every crisis, however sudden. Let us do with it as men do with the anchor chain--try it in fair weather, subject it to a strain greater even than it will likely be called on to bear. Many a faith, once strong, is allowed to rust into weakness, just through sheer neglect.
2. The second part teaches us wisely to remember and profit by the past. Jerusalem had been besieged by the mighty Sennacherib, and delivered miraculously; and the remembrance of the experience strengthened their faith. That night, when the foe surged around her and beleaguered her gates, was a night of omen and portent; but the watchers, in the stillness of the night, still heard the sound of Siloa’s brook as it rippled and tinkled through the silence; and they knew that God was with them. We, whose national life is seldom perilled either when the heathen rage or kingdoms are moved, must never forget that there are mercies as great surrounding us as if our path was more troubled. When the summer sun shines and the moon walks forth, we have in them as great tokens of His goodness as was displayed in the deliverance of Jerusalem. Pity the man whose life has gone well with him and who cannot say, The Lord is good: He has been with me.
3. We learn from the third part rightly to act with regard to the present. The time of war is over, its fierce flame has spent itself in desolation. We walk over the battlefield, and feel the silence which has fallen. Then the Divine command comes: “Be still, and know that I am God.” All the peace there is on earth has risen out of the storm of war. Its hills were shaped into beauty amid the storms of nature: the grass grows from the detritus and wreck of storms: our liberties have all been purchased in war: Jesus Christ Himself comes from Bozra with dyed garments.
4. Such was the song of war the Hebrew singer sang; now it is the song of the gospel of peace and of victory; for “peace hath her victories no less renowned than war.” By the heading, “A Song upon Alamoth,” you will see this was a song for the dance, a song for the women to sing. It could be given to those with the gentlest hearts and silentest lives, as well as to those who had brave deeds to do. It was eminently Luther’s psalm, on which he founded his own hymn, and is plainly fitted to be a song of the Church. (J. A. Black, M. A.)
The moral mirror of the good
I. The earthly scene of the good is that of tumult and opposition.
1. To remind us of the constant presence of moral evil.
2. To heighten our aspirations for a peaceful future.
II. The present resources of the good are adequate to every emergency.
1. Their resources are in God.
2. Their resources, being in God, are ample.
(1) They are ever present, lie is ever present: “God is in the midst of her”; we have no distance to go.
(2) They are ever certain. “God shall help her, and that right early,” or at the breaking of the morning. Deliverance is often delayed till the last moment, but it will come. Abraham in offering Isaac; Israel at the Red Sea, etc.
III. The spirit of the good may, even now, be calm and triumphant. “We will not fear.” We will “be still, and know that He is God”; and more, we will sing in the fiercest tumult, “The Lord of Hosts is with us,” etc. (Homilist.)
God our refuge
There is an allusion to the cities of refuge.
I. What God is to the Christian.
1. A refuge, which greatly excels those cities of Israel which were appointed for refuge to the man-slayer. It is in Jesus: is very near to the guilty; believing brings him into it at once: it is not temporary, but eternal: those refuges were only for the innocent, but this for the sinful: those were only for protection, not for liberty; only the death of the high priest made the refugees free, but this, how different: those were of no avail to the feeble and weak, they were not helped in any way to escape.
2. Strength: through His Spirit promises means of grace.
3. A very present help in trouble: such as the day of contrition, of temptation, of trial, of death.
II. The confidence the believer has in God.
1. He says he “will not fear.” Inside the city of refuge the refugee was safe: so the soul in Christ (Romans 8:1).
2. God, being his help and strength, the want and loss of everything is supplied.
3. This absence of fear is not temerity. They have abundant reason for saying, “Therefore will not we fear.” (Pulpit Analyst.)
Man’s refuge, strength and help
The author of this psalm is unknown, but the occasion, it is almost unanimously agreed, was the deliverance of Jerusalem from the army of Sennacherib. Christians in all ages have drawn encouragement and strength from its promises and triumphant declarations. Luther, in trouble, was accustomed to say to his friend Melanchthon, “Come, Philip,. let us sing the forty-sixth psalm”: when his face would brighten like the sky after a summer shower. Even the profligate Byron, infidel, yet true poet, breaks forth in lofty strains as he tells us how “The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold.”
I. God as a refuge. God’s children often need such refuge. A bird pursued by a hawk took shelter in the bosom of a man, who said to it, “I will not kill thee nor betray thee to thine enemy, seeing thou hast fled to me for sanctuary.” Christ came into this world that the soul hunted by the fierce hawks of temptation and sin might have a safe refuge.
II. God as the strength of the believer. Many would be Christians if they could only be assured that they would be eminent Christians. God never promises that, but only strength and grace. We are entirely dependent on Him for this. It has enabled men to--
1. Endure great trials.
2. To conquer. As the old crusaders put upon their bannered cross, “In hoc signo vinces,” so many a believer to-day faces and conquers his enemies in the strength that God gives.
III. God is also a very present help in trouble. This world, beautiful as it is, has its dark and gloomy side. No one is exempt from trial. A motherless little girl was asked, “What do you do without a mother to whom to tell your troubles?” She replied, “My mother told me before she died to go to the Lord Jesus. She said that He had always been her friend, and that if I would go to Him He Would always be my friend.” “But,” said the questioner, “He is a great way off, and has so much to do; He cannot attend to you.” “I don’t know how much He has to do,” said the child, “but He has said He would take care of me, and I believe He will.” Would that we all had the faith of this orphan child. (Robert Bruce Hull.)
The safe shelter
There are many who make their wealth their refuge. Others trust in their health and strength. They say, “Look at this strong arm, this robust chest, and this firm body! Talk of death: ah! ah! see my strength!”
I. The character of our God offers to us a sure refuge, for there is no deception in Him. You have had fathers and mothers whose noble testimony to the character of God has been before you. They trusted in Him; and were their lives a failure?
II. Our father God is a refuge from all the attacks of satan. Our Father will not allow the devil to battle with His children above their tiny strength.
III. Our Father is a refuge from the wicked desires of our hearts.
IV. Our heavenly Father is our refuge from the allurements of the sinful world. Keep as far as ever you can from the paths that lead so many to a ruined life and an agonized death.
V. In Jesus we see that god is our shelter from the smitings of a convicted conscience.
A very present help in trouble.--
Since the days of King David the forty-sixth psalm has been a song of comfort for God’s people. It was the song of the Christian martyrs of Europe, and of the persecuted Quakers of this country; and when our English dragoons pursued God’s people in Scotland as if they were wild beasts. We cannot all bear trouble alike. Some men pass through deep waters without apparently feeling it very much, while others appear old almost before they are young men in years. Trouble comes in different ways. Sometimes through trade or business. When you lose your money, why should you also lose your peace? If your joy rests on your money, I would not give twopence for it. God is never so near as when we are in trouble. If this be so, let us march bravely under our burden, like Christian soldiers. Others may have trouble because they are vexed by a few enemies. If you are successful in any great and good work, men of feeble and envious mind will seek opportunities of showing their spite; but it ought not to vex and annoy you. And others may be in some trouble because of bereavement. (W. Birch.)
Our present help
Some years ago on fine Saturday afternoons it was my custom to scamper in the fields with some of our fatherless children. Once we went round by Salford to Weaste Lane, returning by the river bank and the adjoining fields. We were very weary and hungry when we reached Throstle Nest, and much disappointed to see no ferry-boat there to carry us across the river. After shouting to the opposite side until we were hoarse, we gave it up in despair, and I said to the children, “What shall we do?” Little Annie, a tiny girl with golden hair, replied, “I don’t care, while you are here!” Does our God ever forget to attend to the requests of His people? When He has been very busy with revivals in ten thousand worlds, does He say to His angels, “Ah, angels, I am sorry I forgot to attend to that poor man in his trouble”? No, no! Our God never forgets. He is always a present help in time of trouble.
I. The Lord is our present help when we are tried by temptation. When Joseph was being tempted every day, the wife of his master may have said, “Nobody shall know”; but God was Joseph’s present help in that continual temptation. “How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” The fact of God’s presence is the most powerful remedy against every temptation.
II. The Lord is a present help when we are enduring trouble. All God’s people are tried. If we were not tried we should not be worth much in the battlefield of faith. Only tried veterans can be relied on in a difficult enterprise. “These are they who came out of great tribulation.” If you are tried, be not disheartened; remember that God will be a present help to enable you to bear up in every trouble. It is God’s will to try us, because it is the only way to make us meet for the grandeur of heaven.
III. Our God is a present help when we are striving to attain a noble life. Notice the student working hard, long after the midnight hour has struck. See, be binds a wet cloth round his head to calm the fever of his brain; and the world says it is all right; yet when they see a man struggling to overcome bad passions and acquire virtue, they have but little sympathy; but God beholds all your weary battles, and encourages you with His presence.
IV. Our God is our present help when he assures us of salvation. You may have heard of a ship which sailed off from a sinking vessel and left the crew and passengers to perish; but our God, in Christ, shall leave no sinner to perish in the ocean of iniquity, without making an effort to rescue him. Whosoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. You may reply, “Ah, but, sir, Christ would refuse me, because my soul is diseased.” Some insurance societies might refuse your body, but Christ will never refuse any man’s soul. A man who is in very bad health, and in despair about his life, goes to a physician and tells him all about his case. Having listened to all lie has to say, the doctor comes up to him with a cheerful face, saying, “Well, I can guarantee to cure you.” Why, the man goes away almost better! Now, Christ says to every soul that is diseased with sin, “I can cure you.” And He has cured myriads of such souls. (W. Birch.)
Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed.
Deliverance from fear
Charles Wesley preached from this text, I think, in City Road, in the year of the London earthquake. People fled terror-stricken from their homes and crowded City Road Chapel, feeling that if disaster were overtaking the world safety might be found in the company of godly people. The great preacher thundered forth, “Therefore will we not fear,” etc. It was a great moment, and yet some of you doubtless will remember that the founder of Methodism himself at a certain crisis in his life passed through an antithetic experience to this. John Wesley records in his Journal that when he was crossing the Atlantic a storm came up which threatened to overwhelm the vessel in which lie was borne, and he cried out for fear. He felt ashamed of his terrors when he came to think of them afterwards. “I, a Christian man, afraid in the presence of death.” What brought his shame home to him was the spectacle of a group of people--Moravians they were--men, women and little children--singing, some of them kneeling, some of them standing, in a tiny circle on the deck of the ship--singing as fearlessly as though they were on their own hearthstone; and he thought to himself, “These possess something that I do not possess.” And the time came when John Wesley was as remarkable for his absolute fearlessness in the face of overwhelming odds compared with which most religious workers of the present day have a very easy time indeed. The time came when he could not only say but help other people to say, “Therefore will we not fear,” etc.; and He was able to make that Old Testament experience his just because he had come into a closer relationship with Him who says, “It is I; be not afraid.” Though the Christian may have much to do with pain, there should be in his experience no place for fear. Take three examples--three orders of experience shall I call them?--and describe them. Take one who has a business worry. Alongside of him suppose one who brings a home sorrow; and we ought not to omit the man who knows himself to be guilty of moral transgression. To begin with, then, there may be here a small tradesman who has been overtaken, like many other people, by bad times. Your assets are good enough, but you cannot realize them, add yet you are being pressed to meet claims, perfectly just, but which, If they are pressed to the full, will ruin you. You are working so hard, yet you never have an hour free from worry. Now, what is really the matter with you? Is it not fear of something? It is not just what you passed through yesterday. If you knew every day was to be no worse than yesterday--hard though it was, and extensive as your efforts were, and difficult some of the problems undoubtedly are--if you could be sure that things would be no worse, it would not look so very sad. What is the reason? Those who are near and dear to you are part of your problem. If you could only get rid of all fear concerning their future and your own as bound up with theirs, would it not make a difference? Now, not far from such a person there is another whose heart is full of pain, caused not by one thing merely but by fifty. Perhaps within recent days sickness has invaded your home, and misfortunes never come singly, That sickness means more than the suffering of the loved one whom it has attacked. It means disaster in some other form. It means there is less money coming in; it means perhaps that you are called upon to make sacrifices that you can only make up to a certain point. Then in the train of this there comes, perhaps, the loss of friends, the loss of reputation, or you have to suffer from being misjudged. Somebody is saying something about you. You do not like it--none of us cares about false accusations. Now, you cannot but feel, and imagination helps you a little, that these things one on top of another constitute an immense problem and make life more dark for you. Supposing, now, that I could stretch forth my hand and sweep all the fear out of your experience, you have got none left; supposing things were just as bad as they were yesterday, supposing they were worse to-morrow, but no fear--what a difference that would make to the strength with which you would meet the problems of your life--yes, and to the fashion in which you would overcome the adversary that besets you to-day. Now we come to the third. Years ago you contracted a bad habit.. You thought very lightly about it then, you fancied you could do wrong with impunity, and you knew that while it was wrong you went on till you found you were growing a devil out of your own substance, and he will not leave you now that you want him to go. He has got his steel talons fixed upon your throat and is tearing the manhood out of you. Your friends are beginning to whisper about you, and your own heart is filled with foreboding, and it will only be a matter of time before you are wrecked--wrecked not by what any man has done to you, but by what you have done to yourself. You have trifled with moral questions in the past. You have been a strong man and could afford to give range to your passions, but now you feel a very weak one indeed, and far weaker than you would care to own. Now, how do you feel about your experience? What is most wrong is that you have very little hope of getting free. If you could only see a way out of the moral entanglement, if you could only be perfectly sure that a battle for righteousness, however late it was taken, would be a successful battle. It would lighten your load, and you would go home feeling a far different man. Now, there are more ways than one of getting rid of this enemy, of which we are all sooner or later conscious--fear. Some people take the wrong way. I want you to take the right way. For some natures the way of escape has been to fling oneself into the arms of a greater enemy. That is the reason why so many unlikely men, for instance, take to the wine-cup. Morbid excitement, or some anaesthetic that will dull thinking are the way in which some people try to get rid of the fear that blights and blackens their life. The philosophy of “Let us eat and drink and be merry, for to-morrow we die” has its adherents still, and certain it is that it is a miserable cheeriness, a wretched, cynical sort of happiness which comes by that means. Deliverance from fear under such circumstances is never complete. Observe the hunted looks in the eyes of the man who is trying to forget himself, who leads the laughter in a company, but should not be laughing at all. You know that fear is not gone, it is only waiting outside the door. Very different is the man who cultivates a habit of mind or an order of character which meets hardness with hardness. Sometimes we are almost compelled to admire the dauntlessness of a bad man. He knows he has made the world black. His heart may be very sore, but he does not give way. Sometimes the people upon whom we are hardest in our censures deserve our pity more than our censures. We think them unscrupulous and unrepentant, whereas remorse, which is just next door to repentance, has gripped them. Well, that is one way. I believe it is possible for a man to gradually, as it were, harden his feeling until pain does not make the same inroad upon him as it did at first, and it is possible to expel fear by defying it and keeping on in the old, bad way. But there is a better way than that; that way is a poor sort at the best, and oftentimes it breaks down completely in the stress of life, and you will see a man become as a little babe, weak as water, when fate has tried him beyond a certain point, and his philosophy all goes for nothing. “Therefore will we not fear,” he says, as long as he can, then one day comes the dread spectre before him and overshadows him, and he sinks before it in the darkness of despair. The real way is not to destroy fear, but to expel fear by faith. Watch your own little child, and he can teach you something. The child is troubled with a real trouble. Look upon him with love, and the sunshine breaks over his little soul. He will enjoy life even when it is dark to you; if only you are there. He somehow feels that his father is good for anything. And that trust of his is justified. The more he trusts you the better you like it; the more complete and beautiful the innocent loyalty that he offers to you, and his confidence in your strength, the more willing you are to rise to fulfil his expectation. I wish we could do as our Master taught us to do, and learn that the fatherhood that we see is just that--a corner of the reality. It is the pale glimmer of the light from which it came. “If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more your Heavenly Father “Now, that is the simple duty, but expanded it means a great deal. Trust what? Well, I say this--trust in the essential rightness of things; trust that, though life seems to be organized so that hardness is part of your lot; trust, too, that there is such a thing as the peace passing understanding which comes to the soul of the man who is willing to place himself upon the altar for righteousness’ sake. Believe this also, that when you trust God it is not yours to dictate, but God. God is master of the issues of your life; what have you got to be afraid of? (H. J. Campbell, M. A.)
Earthquake but not heartquake
All who are truly the chosen of God should exhibit a fearless courage.
I. The confidence of the saints. It is altogether beyond themselves. There is nothing about what is their own, but their confidence is all in God. This confidence is gained by an appropriating faith. “This God is our God.” And is greatly sustained by a clear knowledge of God. Pope said, “The proper study of mankind is man.” It is a deplorably barren subject. Say, rather, “The proper study of mankind is God.” “They that know Thy name will put their trust in Thee.” All this will be certified to us by our experience. You that know the Lord, can you not say by experience, “God is our refuge”? Look at the little chicks yonder under the hen. See how they bury their little heads in the feathers of her warm bosom! Hear their little chirp of perfect happiness as they nestle beneath the mother’s wing! “He shall cover thee with His feathers,” etc. We can also say that God has been “our strength,” and “a very present help in trouble.” We feel something of the mind of Sir Francis Drake who, after he had sailed round the world, was buffeted with a storm in the Thames. “What,” said he, “have we sailed round the world safely, and shall we be drowned in a ditch?” So do we say at this day. Helped so long and helped so often! But in order to realize this fearlessness we need an immediate enjoyment of the Divine help. “God is my refuge and strength.”
II. The courage which grows out of it. This courage is very full and complete. “Therefore will not we fear.” It does not say, “Therefore will not we run away, or even faint, or swoon in dread,” but “we will not fear.” And this courage is logically justifiable. The believer’s fearlessness is founded upon argument. Hence it says, “Therefore we will not fear.” For nothing that happens affects God, the ground of his confidence. Now, this fearlessness is exceedingly profitable. Serenity of spirit, such as was ever in Jesus; no temptation to do wrong. And it brings great glory to God. I knew a youth, near forty years ago, who was staying with relations when a thunderstorm of unusual violence came on at nightfall. A stack was struck by lightning and set on fire within sight of the door. The grown-up people in the house, both men and women, were utterly overcome with fright, the men even more than the women; all sat huddled together: there was a little child up-stairs, and, though anxious about it, the mother had not courage enough to pass the staircase windows to bring the child down. But this youth was quietly happy. The babe cried, and he went up and fetched it down and gave it to its mother. He needed no candle, for the lightning was so continuous that he could clearly see his way. He sat down and read a psalm aloud to his trembling relatives, who looked on the lad with loving wonder. That night he was master of the situation, and all felt there was something in the religion which he had lately professed.
III. The conflicts to which this fearlessness will be exposed. It will be tried in ways novel and unusual. “Though the earth be removed.” Sometimes mysterious and threatening: “the mountains carried into the midst of the sea.” If we saw that we should be at our wits’ end to account for it. Some trials also appear to he utterly ungovernable. “Though the waters thereof roar,” etc. And sometimes the fear of others affects us. “The mountains shake with,” etc. Conclusion. If war should come, as it may; or anarchy and a break-up of social order; or trade fail, or persecution come back; or heresy prevail. Fear not. I remember years ago meeting with that blessed servant of God, the late Earl of Shaftesbury. He was at Mentone with a dying daughter, and he happened that day to be very downcast, as, indeed, I have frequently seen him, and as, I am sorry to confess, he has also frequently seen me. That day he was particularly cast down about the general state of society. He thought that the powers of darkness in this country were having it all their own way, and that, before long, the worst elements of society would gain power and trample out all virtue. Looking up into his face, I said to him, “And is God dead? Do you believe that while God lives the devil will conquer Him?” He smiled, and we walked along by the sea, communing together in a far more hopeful tone. In the Book of Revelation tremendous events are foretold, and they will come, but we need not fear. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Fearless fronting of the future
I. There may be great tempests in the future, The annals of the past are filled with records of social earthquakes and raging tempests. “The mountains,” the largest things in human life, thrones, governments, fortunes, have been carried into the midst of revolutionary seas, which have roared and heaved, and with their dashing floods made things stable as the “mountains shake.” What has been may come again. Into whatever domain we step there is commotion: in the realms of politics party is contending with party and kingdom with kingdom; in the realms of commerce what fierce competitions--every little spirit is striving for the mastery; in the realms of literature opinions battle with opinions and systems with systems; in the realms of religion, in the very heart of the holy city, “the waters roar with the swelling” of acrimonious controversies and sectarian feuds. Of all revolutions, none is greater to the individual man than death, involving the utter disorganizing of the body, the disruption of all material ties, and the launching of the soul into the awful mysteries of retribution. And then, in the future not only of ourselves but of all departed and coming men, there are revolutions more terrible than any that has yet happened.
II. There need be no dread for our future. “God is our refuge,” etc.
1. His protective sufficiency. Infinite in its amplitude, impregnable in its resistance, interminable in its duration. We can be involved in no difficulty from which He cannot extricate, exposed to no danger from which He cannot shelter, assailed by no enemies from which He cannot deliver.
2. His perennial grace. “There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God,” etc. What is the true “city of God”? Not architecture, not an assemblage of buildings, not a place of habitation; but the community of godly spirits. This is the city of Elohim. A city pure, harmonious, ever-growing. As the stream that issued from Eden to water the whole garden, so the gracious influences of Heaven, like a river, roll through all the parts of this blessed community. This river of grace has never failed, and never will, hence let us trust in Him.
3. His providential interposition. “What desolations He hath made on the earth.” Mark them well. Not the desolation of virtue, order, or peace, or aught that ennobles or beautifies human nature. But desolations amongst the desolators of human rights, of human happiness and progress. He destroys the works of the devil. With confidence in such a God as this, we need not fear. (Homilist.)
There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the Most High.
The city and river of God
There are two remarkable events in the history of Israel, one or the other of which most probably supplied the historical basis upon which this psalm rests. One is that singular deliverance of the armies of Jehoshaphat from the attacking forces of the bordering nations, but I think rather that the more ordinary reference is the correct one, which sees JCr/ this psalm and in the two succeeding, the echoes of that supernatural deliverance of Israel in the time of Hezekiah, when “The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold,” and Sennacherib and all his army were, by the blast from the breath of His nostrils, swept into swift destruction. Now, these verses are the cardinal central portion of the song. We may call them The Hymn of the defence and the deliverance of the city of God. The main turning points in them are--
I. The gladdening river--an emblem of many great and joyous truths. This river is God Himself in the outflow and self-communication of His own grace to the soul. The stream is the fountain in flow. Concerning this communication note--
1. The manner of it. In the previous verses you can hear the wild waves of the sea dashing round the base of the firm hills, sapping their strength, and toppling their crests down in the bubbling, yeasty foam. Remember how, not only in Scripture but in all poetry, the sea has been the emblem of endless unrest. Its waters, those barren, wandering fields of foam, going moaning round the world with unprofitable labour, how they have been the emblem of unbridled power; of tumult and strife, and anarchy and rebellion! Then mark how our text brings into sharpest contrast with all that hurly-burly of the tempest, and the dash and roar of the troubled waters, the gentle, quiet flow of the river, “the streams whereof make glad the city of God,” the translucent little ripples purling along beds of golden pebbles, and the enamelled meadows drinking the pure stream as it steals by them. Thus, says our psalm, not with noise, not with tumult, not with conspicuous and destructive energy, but in silent, secret, underground communications--God’s grace, God’s love, His peace, His power, His Almighty and gentle Self flow into men’s souls. The extremest power is silent.
2. Their number and variety. “The streams whereof,” that is to say, “the divisions whereof.” As Eastern rivers are broken up into canals that are led off to each man’s plot of ground. Listen to words that are a commentary upon this verse, “All these worketh that one and the self-same Spirit, dividing unto every man severally as he will.”
3. The effects of this communicated God. “The streams make glad.” They to whom this stream pours shall know no thirst; they who possess it from them it shall come. Out of him “shall flow rivers of living water.” “The least flower with a brimming cup may stand, And share its dewdrop with another near.” The city thus supplied may laugh at besieging hosts. With the deep reservoir in its central fortress, the foe may do as they list to all surface streams; its water shall be sure, and no raging thirst shall ever drive it to surrender.
II. Then notice secondly, substantially the same general thought, but modified and put in plain words--the indwelling helper. “God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved: “God shall help her, and that right early.” Or, as the latter clause had better be translated, as it is given in the margin of some of our Bibles, “God shall help her at the appearance of the morning.” There are two things then. First of all, the constant presence; and second, help at the right time. “The Lord is in the midst of her”--that is the perennial fact. “The Lord shall help her, and that right early”--that is the “grace for seasonable help.”
III. The psalm having set forth these broad grounds of confidence, goes on to tell the story of the actual deliverance which confirms them, That deliverance comes from the Conquering Voice. “He uttered His voice--the earth melted.” With what vigour these hurried sentences describe, first the wild wrath and formidable movements of the foe, and then the one sovereign word which quells them all, as well as the instantaneous weakness that dissolves the seeming solid substance when the breath of His lips smites it! How grand and lofty the thought I the simple word conquers all opposition. He speaks and it is done. “The depths are congealed in the breast of the sea!” As if you were to lay hold upon Niagara in its wildest plunge, and then with a word to freeze all its descending waters, and stiffen them into immoveableness in fetters of eternal ice. So, He utters His voice, and all meaner noises are hushed. “His voice the earth melted.” How grandly, too, these last words give the impression of immediate and utter dissolution of all opposition! All the Titanic brute forces are, at His voice, disintegrated, and lose their organization and solidity. “The hills melted like wax; The mountains flowed down at Thy presence.” The psalmist is generalizing the historical fact of the sudden and utter destruction of Sennacherib’s host into a universal law. And it is a universal law--true for us as for Hezekiah and the sons of Korah, true for all generations.
IV. The act by which we enter the city of God. “The Lord of Hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge.” There must be personal appropriation. We must make these truths our own, grasping them by faith, and unite ourselves with the great multitude who are joined together in Him. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The security and happiness of the Church
I. What is here meant by the city of God. Two descriptive pictures are laid before us. One is a scene of wild commotion. The earth is removed from its place; the mountains are carried into the midst of the sea. The other scene stands out in marked contrast to this. A placid river runs through a sheltered valley; utterly unaffected by the elemental disturbances which surround it, and sending to every part of the city, through which it flows, its calm fertilizing streams of health and peace. The scene of tempest and commotion is the world. The scene of silent usefulness, and sheltered repose, and enjoyed and diffused blessing--the city watered by a river--is the Church of God. And how true is the picture as seen in the respective destinies of secular communities and the one spiritual community of God’s Church I The spiritual Zion has always been able to hold her own. It has been God’s stronghold, having “salvation for its walls and bulwarks,” and girt round on every side by the everlasting hills.
II. The spiritual happiness of the true church of God.
1. It is implied that, in this city of God, there is much of inward tranquillity and peacefulness. A contrast is presented between the calm which reigns in the city, and the tempest which is raging outside. It is the calm of the Divine presence. “God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved”--neither by weapons turned against her, nor dangers threatening her, nor calamities and fears casting her down. But let us not lose ourselves in generalities. The tranquillity of the Church is the tranquillity of every individual member of that Church. It is the calm repose of sonship--the sense of deliverance from a bondage state; the pleasant consciousness of pardon and acceptance--all the tumult of inward guilt subsiding into a great calm. Again, it is the tranquillity of men under absolute control and guidance in relation to everything that concerns them. They are not their own, being bought with a price. But they are bought only to be under a happier service--“being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ.” Yet is this law not their yoke, but their relief. They are relieved from the embarrassment and tyranny of their own erring and mistaken choices.
2. Observe, as another feature of the spiritual happiness of the Church, the rich provision made for all her members, a provision both of grace and glory. A river is an emblem of copiousness and depth and vitality and continuance. But not by the parent river only is the city of God gladdened. It receives blessing through a multitude of tributary streams. “There is a river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God.” Thus there is the stream of revealed truth and knowledge; the pure deep living waters of inspiration; that word of the Gospel which, beginning with Moses and the prophets, and widening as time flowed on, at length emptied all its treasures of grace and truth into that crystal sea of light, which contains the full and perfect revelation of the mind of God. And then there is the stream of holy ordinances--the Sabbath with its tranquil devotions.
3. “Make glad,” observe it is said; the expression intimating that among the inhabitants of this city of God there is true gladness and rejoicing. It is true gladness, the gladness of rational and responsible beings, the calm gladness of a relieved conscience, of an interest made sure in the great propitiation, of a conscious abiding under that light of God’s countenance which makes over to us Heaven’s best, and earth’s best too--“Thou hast put gladness in my heart more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased.” (D. Moore, M. A.)
The city of God
I. The city.
1. God is its founder.
2. God is its lawgiver.
3. It is a defenced city (Zechariah 2:5).
4. It is an exalted city. The character of the King raises her in the scale of importance. The Lord Jehovah has His palace within her; there He, at times, manifests the glories of His character and the splendour of His majesty. This city is also exalted by the numerous and valuable privileges she enjoys; every subject has free access to a throne of grace, there to present his suit, to make known his grievance, and to supplicate every needful favour. There is also perfect freedom in this city; no galling shackles, no dreaded fetters, are employed to enslave, but every subject of Christ enjoys the sweetest liberty in walking according to the given law of heaven. Here it is freedom to obey and liberty to serve.
II. The supply of this city.
1. The good providence of God is a stream which continually follows the Church. A thorough conviction of the superintendence of an all-wise Providence is productive of the greatest joy and satisfaction to the Christian. He rests satisfied, depending on the word of truth that “all things shall work together for good.”
2. The Holy Scriptures are a stream from the Deity, inasmuch as they are emphatically the revelation of God, and they contain matter of joy to the Christian in many respects. In this volume he finds information for the mind, the strongest motives to Christian obedience, a sacred impulse to his zeal, an increasing ardour to his affections, and new encouragement for hope.
3. The influences of the Spirit. He who hath begun a good work will carry it on.
4. Its joy “shall make glad the city of God.” The gladness of the Church comes from God, a pure spring, so that it must be pure in its nature. Indeed, He alone is the source of all the believer’s comforts, however numerous and various they may be. (D. Jones.)
The security and happiness of the Church
Note the contrasted scenes. One, of wild commotion--the sea is roaring and troubled: the other of quiet peace. A placid river runs through its sheltered valley, undisturbed and undisturbable.” The scene of tempest and change is the world: of quiet peace, the Church.
I. The security of the church. Trace its history from first to last and see how it has been preserved.
II. Its tranquillity. For therein are to be found men who are--
1. At peace with God.
2. Under the holy government of their Lord, which restrains all passion and temper.
3. In communion with God.
4. In the use of religious ordinances.
III. The supply of the church. “A river.” Think of the source, the continuance, the fulness, of this stream of heavenly truth, bright and pure.
IV. The gladness of the church.
1. It is noble and worthy of rational beings.
2. It is satisfying.
3. It is sanctifying.
4. It is benevolent.
5. It fits us for scenes where gladness is eternal. (R. Watson.)
The river of God
The fourth chapter of St. John and Psalm sixty-three show that by the river spoken of, the Holy Spirit of God is meant. Under the figure of a river the properties and excellencies of the Spirit of God, hero described as flowing through the Scriptures and the Church, are set forth.
I. A river flows from a fountain, and this river “proceeded out of the throne of God and the Lamb,” the infinite bosom of our Father and our God.
II. It is exhaustless as the fountain from whence it flows.
III. It is in places shallow, whilst in others its depths cannot be fathomed.
IV. It is accessible to all.
V. Fertility follows it.
VI. Its channel is the lord Jesus Christ.
VII. It is a highway by which great treasures are conveyed to us; and it is a great means of communication between us and heaven.
VIII. It rises to the height of its source.
IX. It rears all down before it by its force and pressure.
X. It is a defence to the city which it surrounds.
XI. It rears off all impurities.
XII. It is a gladdening spectacle. Then let us value the work of the Holy Spirit. (J. Cummins, D. D.)
The river of mercy
I. The river. This I take to be the mercy of God; His kindness to the miserable. Just, He must needs be, for He would not be merciful if He were not just. But there are manifestations of His justice in which He takes no joy. “He taketh no pleasure in the death of the sinner;” but “He delighteth in mercy.” And sometimes its exhibitions are very tender--“it droppeth as the gentle dew from heaven upon the place beneath.” And how copious its store! it is a river, not a rill that can be turned aside by any pebble in its bed; but a river that sweeps triumphantly over and through every obstacle.
II. The streams Some rivers are fed by streams; not so this one” it gives out streams but receives none, like the river of Damascus, whose branches surround the city. These streams are--
1. Pardoning mercy.
2. Purifying mercy: for it would be of little use if purity were not given as well as pardon.
3. Pacifying mercy--to keep me quiet in the midst of this unquiet world.
III. The fruit. The river is to make glad the city of God. That is, God’s Church and people; and the great purpose of the river and all its streams is--to make them glad: to bring up a smiling landscape around them, to fill their lips and hearts with praise.
IV. Its source. It is far above out of your sight. So is it, even, with earthly rivers: they do not at once reveal their source. You must travel up and up the stream, and leave plain for hillside, and still press on ere you come to the fountain head. And for this river you must ascend to the boundless lake of Divine love.
V. The channel--the Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him it flows down to man.
VI. The power that brings the streams close home to us, so that we may have the blessing, is the power of the Holy Spirit. See what He has already done in the Scriptures and in the Church. (F. Tucker, B. A,)
The river through the city
I. An illustration of the gladness given by God to his church. The mercies of God, to the Jews, were like a river constantly flowing, making glad the city. The figure is suggestive. A river is a great boon to any city through which it passes so long as it keeps within its accustomed channels. It gives brightness to a city. It lends interest, makes picturesque by its bends or its tree- and reed-fringed banks. It is a means of intercourse with other places. Imagine Paris without the many-bridged Seine, or London without its ship-burdened Thames. A river may be a constant bearer of material blessings. By its ebb and flow it blesses a city in various ways. It bears away refuse, and brings back vitalizing influences. A river can make glad in that it bears the necessaries of life to a beleaguered city, which but for the roadway of water could not be reached. At the relief of Londonderry, what joy when the ships pressed past the intercepting booms and came right up to the wharves, and rolled to a famishing people and cattle the barrels of flour and bundles of fodder. Jerusalem had no such rivers as those we have been speaking of. It had a torrent sweeping by in Kedron at times. Soon it dropped down to a trickling stream which might make melody and gladness as it flowed. Suppose it had been always full and steadily flowing, it would have brought gladness. If Jerusalem had no such actual river she had another stream that blessed her, that of Divine mercy. The psalmist is speaking of spiritual things, for he refers to the Holy place of the Tabernacle of the Most High. All God was to the Jewish nation He is to His Church this day.
II. The constituents of this gladness.
1. The special relationship established.
2. The revelations vouchsafed.
3. In the intercourse main-rained.
4. In the blessings bestowed.
5. In the holy effort called forth.
6. In the praise evoked.
If God has given us reasons for joy, we ought to do all we can to increase the volume and force of the stream of joy rippling or rolling by to others. (Homiletic Magazine.)
The river of Divine grace
I. The grace of god compared to a river.
1. However large in its volume as it gets nearer the sea, every river is small in its beginnings. Thus, also, it is with the grace of God in the soul of man. The most experienced believer will testify that if he would trace back the work of grace, which has grown so steadily, to its first beginnings, the contrast is most marvellous. If he can at all identify its first commencement, he will tell you that it was some apparently trifling incident in his life--a word in season--an earnest sermon--an unaccountable thought--a sleepless night--a witty, but godly rebuke--a mother’s parting charge--a loved one’s consistent Christian influence and conduct--or a sudden check in a career of cruelty and sin.
2. It is possible for a river to be much contaminated by what is thrown into it, as it passes through populous towns; but it is impossible to change the nature of the water which is thus contaminated. Give the careful chemist a sufficient quantity of the most polluted river-water, and he can obtain from it, by filtration, distillation, and re-distillation, the pure and wholesome fluid which God has provided for us, and which He has guarded from defilement by decreeing that it shall everywhere and always have one fixed and unaltered composition, and that its constituent gases shall be so closely united that they can only be separated by a difficult and expensive process. Take the water of any river, fresh from its source, and you will readily perceive that it is pure in its nature. Need I say that it is so with the grace of God?
3. The grace of God, like a river, is perpetual in its movements. The lake may be stagnant, unless some river runs through it; the canal must be kept as free from any current as possible; but the river is always on the move. So it is with the grace of God in the soul of man. However hidden it may be, it is ever living and ever moving. Geographers tell us that the river Guadiana, in Spain, conceals itself in the earth for some fifteen miles of its course. But it is still there. In like manner, however concealed, the grace of God is at work in the heart of every believer.
4. It is peaceable in its course. “Still waters run deep.” There may not be the stillness of the stagnant lake; but there is the quiet, or even the silence of the flowing river. But we must not take this characteristic of God’s grace as a recommendation to us to shut up our cares or joys into our own souls, and never share them with others. God’s people should not be silent when there is opportunity to declare what He hath done for their souls.
5. The grace of God, like a river, is powerful in its current. It is said that the Rio de la Plata, a South American river, which is two hundred miles broad where it enters the Atlantic Ocean, is so powerful in its current, that fresh water may be taken up by vessels sailing near it for many a league from land. But what is this physical force, compared with the irresistible power of the grace of God?” Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power.”
6. It is plentiful in its supply. The river runs through meadow, and garden, and country, and city, serving some useful purpose wherever it goes. Here it nourishes the cornland upon which the precious crops are springing up; and there it affords a ready means of watering the carefully-tended garden. In one place it turns a mill, to afford maintenance to an honest family and grind corn for hundreds of other families; in another place it supplies water for a canal, to convey these products of industry to the populous town or the factor’s store. Ever increasing, as it nears its destination, boats and even ships are borne upon its plentiful waters, until at last it joins the great and wide sea. Is it not so with the grace of God? Does not the figure fall far short of the fact?
II. The church of God compared to a city. A city affords security for life and property. It furnishes facilities for the transaction of business. It ensures liberty to every honest and faithful citizen: and it provides society for all who reside in it. This is precisely what the Church of God affords to its individual members--the most complete security for the believing soul, through the blood of the everlasting covenant; the only thorough liberty which the soul can experience, for “if the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed”; and the highest form of human society upon earth; for the apostle says (Ephesians 2:19-20). The Church of God may be called a city, because it is a community in which law and order find their highest developments. “The love of Christ constraineth us” (2 Corinthians 5:14), is its unfailing spring of Christian obedience and activity. The Republic of France used to stamp upon its coins “Liberty, Egalite, Fraternite”; but never did any government in this world succeed in realizing such an ideal of human happiness. True liberty, true equality, true friendship and brotherhood, are to be found only in the Church of God. It is a city set on an hill that cannot be hid. It may be called “the city of God,” because it abounds with houses of God--it is “the holy place of, the tabernacles of the Most High.” Its walls are Salvation, and its gates Praise.
III. The means of grace compared to streams. Just as the faithful Israelites drank of the spiritual Rock which followed them, and “that rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:4), so with us to-day. There is the Word of God, ever ready to furnish us with some refreshing stream of Divine comfort and strength. There is the throne of grace, ever open to our supplications in time of need. There is the public worship of God, where we may taste afresh the calm which comes from the assurance of sins forgiven. There is the preaching of the Gospel, which should be to us “as cold waters to a thirsty soul,” and as “good news from a far country.” There are the occasional services of the Church, by which we are studiously and solemnly reminded of the immense privileges which belong to those who are truly servants of God. And there are, particularly, two copious and important streams, which deserve to be far more reverently and extensively used and appreciated--the Sacraments of the grace of God, Holy Baptism and the Holy Communion. (J. Mitchell.)
Gihon and the river of life
The allusion in the text is probably to Gihon, a copious fountain, whose streams were so abundant that they were like a river. It made the hearts of the people glad; and if we lived under the same climate as they, and had as great a scarcity of water as Jerusalem naturally had, we should have been glad too. But oh! how does it lead us up to something higher than this! How does it lead us up to the “River of life,” “the Gospel of the grace of God,” which has gladdened the Church of God in all ages, which gladdens it now, and which will gladden it to all eternity!
I. The contrast.
1. In the certainty of supplies. Gihon might have been dried up; in times of great heat, the most abundant fountains in that country are often dried up; even Jordan, their greatest river--their only great river--is sometimes brought so low as to be reduced almost to a small stream. But when does the river of grace ever become dry?
2. Gihon’s waters were but shallow. But who can fathom the depth of this river, the love from which it springs?
3. The course of Gihon might have been diverted, might have been turned into a new channel. When Jerusalem was besieged, it is not told us whether Titus turned the current of Gihon; yet it-might have been so. But who can turn the current of God’s grace? Who can dam up that stream?
4. There is a contrast in the quality of the waters. No doubt the inhabitants of Jerusalem drank of this river, and were glad. They drank and were refreshed, and thanked God. Yet it only slaked their thirst; it did not go above that. But what is there not in the pardon of my sin? what is there not in the acceptance of my person? what is there not in the clear witness of the Spirit with my spirit that I am a child of God? If you enjoy that it shall be something more than slaking the thirst of the body.
II. The resemblance.
1. The waters of this Gihon were brought to Jerusalem by an aqueduct, and carried by conduits through the streets into the temple. It went through one of the high hills of Jerusalem. Hezekiah, therefore, must have had great difficulty. And the whole current of the Gospel must run through difficulties--what to the natural sense would appear impossibilities.
2. There is another strong line of resemblance, which is, that the Lord employs human agency. God was at no loss about Gihon; had He a mind, it would have bubbled up in the midst of Jerusalem; He wanted not the hands of men; it might have sprung forth at the base of that hill on which the temple was built. But Hezekiah’s zeal must be called forth--his loss of money, his loss of time, his patience in the midst of disappointments. The water was brought into Jerusalem, and it was brought by human agency. God delights in human agency. When that agency is laid in the dust, laid low at the foot of the Cross, He delights to make use of it. It is His glory to work by human instrumentality. (J. H. Evans, M. A.)
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved.--
The security of the Church
I. In what sense God may re said to be in the midst of the church.
1. By His Word.
2. By His ministers.
3. By His Spirit.
II. The happy consequences of his presence in reference to her final safety and her timely deliverance from present troubles.
1. How great are the privileges of true believers.
2. How necessary it is to ascertain our individual interest in these blessings.
3. How great is our encouragement to prayer. (W. Mayors, M. A.)
God shall help her and that right early.--
God our helper
I. Israel needed the divine help and trusted in God for deliverance. The Church of to-day in its growth in grace needs like deliverance, but is at times slow to confess this.
II. God makes his people sensible of their need when they forget it. He did so by Israel. He said, “I will go and return to My place till they acknowledge their offence and seek My face; in their affliction they will seek Me early” (1 Kings 8:38-39).
III. Such sense of need requisite to make men seek his assistance in prayer. (J. Foot, D. D.)
Come, behold the works of the Lord, what desolations He hath made in the earth,
The desolations of the Lord, the consolations of His saints
a declaration of what has happened. “Come, behold the works . . . desolations He hath made.” See them--
1. In the effects of wars, plagues, famines, revolutions, etc. But these are but the rough physic wherewith God will purge the diseased body of this earth from its innumerable ills.
2. In the overthrow of false worships. Idolatry, Rome, etc.
3. And false philosophies.
4. In the putting an end to war.
II. A prophecy to be fulfilled. It will be one day. Men ask, “Wherefore the delay?” and many say, “This is Divine sovereignty.” Take care we do not make Divine sovereignty a sepulchre for our sins. Now, in reference to the delay in missionary success, it is owing, in part, to want of unanimity; to false ideas about God doing His own work; to want of real love to missions. I do not think Edward Irving right, who in his great sermon on missions maintained that we ought to send out our missionaries without purse or scrip, penniless. We do not believe that. Therefore we must have help. But we need most a real revival at home. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
God alone exalted
I. The active agency of God.
1. In the multiplied disasters which abound. The various elements of nature, the raging hurricane, the thunders rolling along the sky, the lightnings flashing from cloud to cloud, the volcano vomiting rivers of fire, and the earthquake shaking kingdoms and levelling cities with the ground--all are His servants.
2. In the removal of the calamities by which we may be surrounded.
II. The exclusive sovereignty of God.
1. The duty urged. “Be still.”
2. The reason adduced. “Know”--
(1) That God’s supremacy is absolute.
(2) That His justice is unimpeachable.
(3) That His wisdom is unerring.
(4) That His goodness is unbounded.
3. The assurance given. “I will be exalted,” etc.
III. The gracious protection of God. “The Lord of hosts is with us,” etc.
1. The condition on which it is enjoyed. We must submit ourselves to the Lord and acknowledge His righteous claims before we can have Him on our side.
2. The blessedness it involves. “Happy is he,” etc.
3. The effects. It should banish every painful apprehension, and fill us with transporting joy. (Expository Outlines.)
He maketh wars to cease unto the ends of the earth; He breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; He burneth the chariot in the fire.
I. As it affects the happiness of mankind. Think of--
1. Its rapid extinction of innumerable lives without concern.
2. Think of the manner of their death. Far from their native home, no tender assiduities of friendship, no well-known voice, no wife, or mother, or sister, is near to soothe their sorrows, relieve their thirst, or close their eyes in death. Unhappy man! and must you be swept into the grave unnoticed and unnumbered, and no friendly tear be shed for your sufferings, or mingled with your dust?
3. But think, also, of the condition of those countries which are the scene of hostilities. How dreadful to hold everything at the mercy of an enemy.
II. The influence of war upon the morals of mankind. It is both the offspring and the parent of injustice. The injury which the morals of a people sustain from an invading army is prodigious. The agitation and suspense universally prevalent are incompatible with everything which requires calm thought or serious reflection. In such a situation is it any wonder the duties of piety fall into neglect, the sanctuary of God is forsaken, and the gates of Zion mourn and are desolate? Familiarized to the sight of rapine and slaughter, the people must acquire a hard and unfeeling character. Let us now turn to the pleasing part of our subject, which invites us to contemplate the reasons for gratitude and joy suggested by the restoration of peace. Permit me to express my hope, that along with peace the spirit of peace will return. How can we better imitate our Heavenly Father, than, when tie is pleased to compose the animosities of nations, to open our hearts to every milder influence? Let us hope, more mutual forbearance, a more candid construction of each other’s views and sentiments will prevail. No end can now be answered by the revival of party disputes. Our public and private affections are no longer at variance. That benevolence which embraces the world is now in perfect harmony with the tenderness that endears our country. Burying in oblivion, therefore, all national antipathies, together with those cruel jealousies and suspicions which have too much marred the pleasures of mutual intercourse, let our hearts correspond to the blessings we celebrate, and keep pace, as far as possible, with the movements of Divine beneficence. (Robert Hall, M. A.)
Methods for abolishing war
There are three methods at least adapted to crush this monster of war, and to banish it from the habitations of men. One is political, another is educational, and the other is Christian. The one pertains to the science of government, the other to the science of teaching, and the other to the science of remedial mercy. The first is good, the second is better, the third is best of all--it is infallible.
I. Thy, political method. There is, I think, a form of human government adapted not only to arrest the progress of this demon, but to bind him in indissoluble chains. What is it? A cosmopolitan administration, a great federal government for the world, a government which shall bear, with some modification, the same relation to all the present kingdoms of the earth, as the Government of America to all the States with which it is united, or as the various counties and boroughs of England to the British rule. But how would such a world-wide government “cause wars to cease from the ends of the earth”?
1. It would promote free mercantile intercourse. Mutual temporal interests, if not strong enough to bind hearts in harmony, are strong enough to yoke limbs and brains together in a common work.
2. It would lead to the destruction of nationalities. Nationality is a “middle wall of partition” that keeps men asunder, and makes those on each side feel jealous and suspicious of the other. It is a false glass through which we look at other nations. A glass which magnifies their vices and minifies their virtues. Nationality is an insolent, swaggering, greedy, heartless monster on the earth.
3. It would lead to the abolition of the despotic power. Who are the men that create wars? Not the people--not the farmer, the manufacturer, not the mechanic, and the labourer; but the arrogant and ruthless despots who by villainy or fortune have gained their way to power. Such men would have but little power in a thoroughly cosmopolitan government.
II. The educational method. What is this method? The indoctrinating of men with a true knowledge of their duty, their rights, and their interest. Whence is the knowledge of duty to be obtained? We have the revelation of an infallible ethical Teacher--One who was sent into the world by God to teach man his duty both to himself and his fellow-man.
1. Work into the people of the earth the conviction that all men are equal in the sight of God, that one man has rights as well as another, that each holds his being and his powers in trust from the Almighty, and must render to Him an account at last. And what then? Why then every man would respect his own individuality, employ his own individual talents, and work out his own individual beliefs, and despots would have to fight their own battles; men would no longer consent to be engines worked by tyrants.
2. Were men permeated with this true idea of their obligation to their fellow-men, could war exist a day? No. Men would feel that war was not only a curse to the community, destroying the Jives of men and the means of human support, creating misery in all directions, and entailing poverty on posterity, but also a huge crime before Almighty God.
3. War is a tremendous mistake, not only in morals, but in policy. In what does the interest of a nation consist? In the means of support, comfort, and education. On what do these depend? On the amount of a nation’s skilled industry. Anything that checks productive industry is a national curse. War is the greatest adversary to the prosperity of a community; war is destruction, both of the produce and of the producing power.
III. The Christian method. What is this method? The conquering of evil by good. This is something higher than ethics, Diviner than all mere human teaching. This is the essence of Christianity. Christianity is essentially pacific. This may be argued from the teachings of the New Testament, from the biography of Christ, which is Christianity, and from the fact that its universal triumph will issue in universal peace. (Homilist.)
Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.
Stillness and the knowledge of God
There is a class of persons who are designated by divines and Church historians as Quietists. They have not formed a community, but they have been found in all communities. They are not distinguishable by their doctrines so much as by a certain temper or habit of mind. They are to be traced among the Religious Orders of the fourteenth century, amidst the tumults of the Protestant sects in the sixteenth, in our Civil Wars, in the splendour and corruption of the French capital under Louis XIV., in the bustle and restlessness of those days. Now, it is not fair to judge of these men from the representations of their opponents, or even from their own accounts, unless we know their surrounding circumstances; but in so far as they showed dislike to energetic qualities, to conflicts, and to mixture with their fellow-men, so far their spirit seems alien from that which we discern in the holy men whom the Bible tells of. For they seem to be living always in contention and strife, and they confess that they are meant to live in it. How can a Quietist accept the Psalms? must it not be to him a very uncongenial book? How could the man after God’s own heart have been a warrior and yet have given thoughts and prayer and music to the Church in all periods? For there is a Sabbatical character in these psalms. They have a quiet of their own; all feel that. It has been their charm to the weary and tempest-tossed pilgrims; they have taught man how to commune with his own heart, how to be still, how to rest in the Lord and to wait patiently for Him. And through man knowing thus the secret of being still, he has been able to toil manfully. And this is the quietism of the psalms, quietism in the midst of action, which only one who hears the call to act, and obeys it, can understand or prize. The ground of such quiet is given in our text. Only the belief of a Presence near us, with us, can inspire habitual awe, can keep us steady when all things are rocking around us, can take away the eagerness to move, or the cowardice which paralyzes movement. “Be still and know.” You cannot know this deep and eternal truth unless you are still. If you keep the waters of your spirit in continual stir, you will see nothing in them, or only the reflection of your own perturbed self. “Be still and know that I am God.” You may wonder to observe how often this form of speech is adopted in Scripture. He says, “I am God,” not a conception of your minds, not One whom you make what He is by your mode of thinking of Him, but a living Person. And He is not a mere Being, not a mere Ruler, but the perfectly good Being, the perfectly righteous Ruler. And He alone can show you what the perfect goodness is. Israel had been trained in a school of suffering to feel the emptiness and falsehood of all visible creature worship, and that God alone was the Unseen King and Deliverer; they must seek in stillness to know Him, and must confess Him to be the Lord of their once revolted spirits, which in their efforts to be independent had become abject slaves. But the lesson would have been imperfect without the words that follow: “I will be exalted among,” etc. Israel was not to despise the nations round about, or to think them of no value in God’s sight. To do that was to despise God. Even as a comfort in any disaster, individual or national, the belief in God’s presence, in His personality, in His goodness, would have been unsatisfactory, if it had not been accompanied with this belief in His power, with this assurance that it would one day make itself manifest over the universe, and would crush all that opposed it. It is a great question for us to ask ourselves, whether both these dangers are not assailing us at this time, and from the same cause? The words, “Be still and know that I am God,” sound like strange words in the ears of most of us. “How can we be still,” we ask, “while all things are in movement, while all things are unsettled? How can we be still while every one is hasting to be rich, hasting to get beyond his neighbour? How can we be still when all the political world is full of slumbering fires, ready to break forth? How can we be still while all the religious world is full of controversies, tumults, hatreds?” The answer surely should be, “Because there is all this mutation, restlessness, insecurity, therefore this is the very time to obey the command, Be still. For assuredly if we do not, we never shall know that the Lord He is God; we shall not believe, however we may pretend it, that He abides, and that He is with us, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the depths of the sea.” And if we have not that belief, what other can we have? What other will be worth anything to us? (F. D. Maurice, M. A.)
God’s working in the world
The words, “Be still, and know that I am God,” have usually been taken as an invitation to believing hearts to trust and not be afraid. It is very natural that this should be so, especially as that interpretation harmonizes with the prevailing message of the psalm. As a matter of fact, however, they seem to have been addressed to the enemies of God’s people, those who were making war upon them oppressively. The words are not a message of soothing but an utterance of prohibition: Do still. Desist from making war upon My people, and know that I am God, God whose will it is that all nations should own His sovereign sway.
1. Let us consider the words first from this point of view, which is that of the psalmist. Then we can go on to think of them in the sense in which faith has loved to interpret them. “Be still from war, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth.” Admittedly, when God is exalted among the nations in the earth, there will be no more war. Where selfishness and tyranny have given place to obedience to God and consequent love to man war cannot possibly be. It is quite true that God has made desolations in the earth by means of war. From the history of Israel to the history of England the Spirit of the Lord has come upon God-fearing men, and bidden them make war either in self-defence or in defence of the weak against some tyrant. On the other hand, it is equally true that God maketh wars to cease unto the ends of the earth. The more God-fearing a nation becomes, the more reluctant it is to make war. The knowledge of God involves forbearance towards enemies, the desire to use every persuasion rather than come to an open rupture. Above all, it involves regard for human life and for the sentiment of goodwill amongst men, which is more precious even than life. God says that men are not to learn war any more, but to learn to know Him. Let be, and know that I am God; and let all the nations know. Go ye into all the world, not carrying weapons of war, but the Gospel of peace.
2. In the second place, let us take the words of our text in the more generally accepted sense. It is almost a commonplace that men in the midst of trial do not think of the love of God except to conclude that tie has forgotten to be gracious. And yet all the time He is keeping watch, as much is the time of darkness as in the light. I sometimes think that life is like a voyage regarded from the point of view of a passenger. Some travellers are good sailors, others are not. Some make their voyage easily, others not; but the captain of the vessel is equally concerned for the lives and safety of all. While you are lying in your berth ill during the storm you don’t blame the captain because the sea is rough. You do not see the man at his post on the bridge while you are below, but you are quite sure he is there. You saw him there during the fair weather when you were on deck. You noticed his vigilant care even when the sea was calm. You do not imagine for a moment that his vigilance is relaxed during the storm. God is watching over your soul in all its voyage through life. No storm can endanger your safety if you are trusting Him. But you will make shipwreck of your life if you take the control of it out of His hands in time of storm. I do not wish to pretend for a moment that faith is always easy, that it is easy to put a restraint upon impatience. But the effort must be made. It is calamitous if in the storms of life we lose our faith in the Captain. If we obey His order, “Be still, and know that I am God,” our confidence and peace will be maintained. Trouble does not always become easier to bear with time: sometimes it becomes harder; and there is nothing left but a choice between faith and despair. George Eliot well expresses this when she says: “The first shock of trouble may produce an excitement which is transient strength. It is in the slow changed life that follows--in the time when sorrow has become stale--in the time when day follows day in dull unexpectant sameness, and trial is a dreary routine--it is then that despair threatens; it is then that the peremptory hunger of the soul is felt, and eye and car are strained after some unlearned secret of our exist once, which shall give to endurance the nature of satisfaction.” Whether we recognize it or not, glumness is the result of shutting the door of our heart against the Holy Spirit, and putting our foot against it. No sufferer is ever glum who says, “I cannot close my heart to Thee who seekst me through pain.” They sometimes call it” temperament; it is selfishness pure and simple, the refusal to cultivate a heart at leisure from itself to soothe and sympathize, the refusal to cultivate the sympathetic spirit which rejoices with those that rejoice and weeps with those that weep.
3. We are not all sufferers, by any means, and many of us are active workers for God. There is a message for us also in this verse, “Be still, and know that I am God.” We sometimes leave too small a part for God in our work. We think that our carefully prepared sermon or lesson will do its own work, and forget to pray that the Holy Spirit may carry it home. We can teach truth. God alone can make that truth life-giving. Recall the legend of Pygmalion and Galatea. The sculptor Pygmalion had made a perfect statue of a beautiful woman. She was so beautiful that he fell in love with her. But one thing he could not do, and that was to give her life. So he prayed to the goddess of love and she granted his petition and touched the statue into life. Burne-Jones has painted the incident in four scenes, which he calls--“The Heart Desires; . . . The Hand Refrains; . . . The Godhead Fires; . . . The Soul Attains.” Every Christian worker must pass his work through these four stages if he is to be successful. (R. M. Moffat, M. A.)
The realm of silence
The realm of silence--do we know anything about it? In these days of push and rush and roar, is it possible to got any appreciation for the calm and unruffled and retired spaces of existence? When one begins to speak of stillness some are afraid. “Everything was so still, I was frightened,” said a lady friend to me of her experience in a retired part of Wordsworth’s Lake District. Be still--and know. There are some forms of knowledge which necessitate stillness. Self-knowledge, God-knowledge--these can never be had until we have learned to be still. “Stand still and see the salvation of God.” “Their strength is to sit still.” If God had not divided our life into days, and compelled us to sleep, we should run out our energy in a very few years of perpetual dissipation. In some countries it would not be necessary to insist, on stillness as a condition of knowledge. Where people are temperamentally cairn and reflective we might leave the parts of the Bible which insist on a wise passiveness in life. There is a difference--an immense difference--between the spirit of the old Bible times as represented in the Psalms and our own as represented in the newspapers. “The times explain everything:” fuss, and excursion, and noise, and rattle, and panic, and dissolution, and bank-failure, and bankruptcy, and political crises. It is very significant how all the greatly inspired men were trained in the school of silence. Moses, hidden away forty years in the loneliness of sheep pastures, and again forty days in the depths of Sinai, and when he came down his face shone. That told the story. Ezekiel, sauntering by the way of the river alone. Isaiah saw the King in His beauty when no one was with him. Daniel was accustomed (it was an old habit of his) to go into the quiet of his chamber three times a day. Paul must spend three lonely years in Arabia. John must go to Patmos before he could write the Book of the Revelation and see earth and its history from the height of heaven. Without large spaces of stillness there can be no deep thoughtfulness--Sabbath. And an age which is all rattle, and roar and noise, and self-advertisement, and theatricality needs, if any age ever needed it, to be called back to the fact that there is a kind of knowledge which can never be had except in stillness. But to-day there is no silence, no privacy, and men seldom hear the voice of God speaking in the depths of their own spirit, as did Elijah in his cave. We are full of opinions. They have floated our way and got lodgment, like thistledown in the hair, but they are not ours. They belong to the general community. Nothing is really ours which is not a conviction, something in which we are rooted and grounded. The point I want to make emphatic is this: that every man has his own personal relation to God, positive or negative, as every flower has its own personal relation to the sun; that there are forms of knowledge which are external and common--like bought furniture in a house, these belong to us in communities--but there is a knowledge which is to be had only in the stillness of devout meditation--the soul’s personal knowledge of God. “Be still, and know that I am--that I am God.” It does not come from effort. It comes from reposefulness. Often it is true of men, “Their strength is to sit still”; to sit still as the painter before a great master, simply receiving, as a child reposing in its mother’s arms. The more active, busy and forceful our external life is, the greater the necessity for Sabbath spaces of stillness in the unrevealed centres of our human life. The storm-swept lake reflects no stars, and the perpetually busy, energetic and unquiet life, like “the troubled sea which cannot rest,” makes no response to the overarching heavens, gemmed with those Divine promises of immortality which have purified and ennobled the souls of God’s elect saints. Let us remember that all depths are silent, depths of space as well as depths of thought. The o’erbrooding heavens are silent, speechless to all but the most meditative souls. Extreme emotions of all kinds are silent. (R. Thomas.)
There is not a heart assailed by trouble, and trembling at the prospect of further ills to come, to which the voice of encouragement and heavenly assurance is not at this moment saying, “Be still, and know that I am God.”
I. It is addressed, above all others, to the careful, who knowing not what a day may bring forth, out of that ignorance draw fear and anxiety that knows no rest. Is there One who feeds the young lion and clothes the grass of the field, and shall He not much more feed and clothe thee, O thou of little faith? If God be for thee who can be against thee?
II. He who is earnestly looking for the truth, with serious search and humble inquiry and importunate prayer seeking to be taught more of the love of Christ and the will of God, and who makes it part of his daily joy and duty to search the Scriptures that so he may grow in the knowledge his soul desires, that man finds his task a healthy exercise; no feverish excitement waits upon his inquiry, but more and more of peace is shed over his heart and life as he advances in this heavenly knowledge.
III. Impulsive hearts that rise with every hope and sink with every discouragement in the work of life, full of purposes and aims for good, seizing upon every instrument to help them, and finding the insufficiency of each, and with every successive failure adding to that store of disappointment which may one day overlay the springs of hope within them; or minds of steadier energy ever active and not easily east down, who have thrown their strength into labours of love and usefulness, but are struggling to do the Lord’s work without the arm of the Lord, who are ever ready to charge their failures upon secondary causes, and to impute their successes to the instruments used in effecting them, these perhaps are taught at length that “the race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong,”
IV. When ambition is fretting the mind and distracting it with worldly hopes and jealousies, when the flattery of man on the one hand and the selfishness of man on the other are stirring up delusive expectations and creating bitter disappointments, when all the influences of earthly desire and the fascinations of wealth and honour and ease are leading a man on to trust the shadows of strength which many have fatally trusted before, to believe in idle promises, to exaggerate unmeaning professions, to sacrifice an honest independence, to let meanness creep into his spirit and the fever of self-seeking into his veins, the Word of the Lord says to that foolish heart, “Cease ye from man whose breath is in his nostrils, for wherein is he to be accounted of? Be still, and know that I am God.”
V. When we are called upon to work out our own salvation it is with fear and trembling indeed, but with the calm assurance nevertheless that it is God which worketh in us to will and to do of His good pleasure. Be still then and put your trust in the blood of the everlasting covenant; work, but work in peace and the spirit of an unofficious service; seek your God, not as the prophets of Baal did, with extravagant zeal and obtrusive crying and impatient torturing of their flesh, but as Elijah the prophet of the Lord, who in calmness and confidence “at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice came near and said, Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that Thou art God in Israel and that I am Thy servant,”
VI. “To strive about words to no profit but to the subverting of the hearers,” to make religion the work of a babbling tongue and a contentious spirit, to think that the victory of truth is to be won as nations win their victories in the field, by planting army against army, meeting rage with rage, and stratagem with stratagem, and clamour with clamour; this is not pleasing to the Lord, who says--(2 Timothy 2:24).
VII. And ye, the Children of habitual sadness, who live among the memories of the past and carry sorrow with you as your heart’s raiment, and would not part with that familiar companion which lives with hope and faith in your breast, and is sanctified with that holy communion, forget not that human grief carries with it and will always retain the seeds of mortal rebellion; the impulses of natural affection and the longings of human passion will break out from time to time; and many a heart whose burthen has long been cast upon the Lord, which has long been familiar with the love of Christ, which has long felt the consolation of prayer and the strength of the Word of God, has moments when it would seem as if the whole lesson of trust must be learnt again, moments of unrest and craving in which it longs for the voice that shall gently call it back to the Cross and whisper, “Be still, and know that I am God!” (A. D. Macleane, M. A.)
The command is assuring. Fear not for the ark, for the kingdom, for yourself. God will not fail.
I. Why we need this injunction, “Be still!”
1. On account of our ignorance and presumption, we see but a fragment of God’s design and work. If we saw the whole campaign and consummation!
2. Haste and rashness of our judgment.
3. Conclusions without taking God into account.
II. The stillness enjoined not that of indolence, indifference, stoicism or despair, but of humility, observation, expectation.
III. Thus see God in all, riding the whirlwind, bringing forth judgment unto victory. (Homiletic Review.)
Be still and believer
It is not easy to be still in this rough and restless world. Yet God says, “Be still”; and He says also (Isaiah 30:15).
I. Be still, and thou shalt know i can put all enemies to shame.
II. Be still, and thou shalt know that i can uphold my own truth in a day of error. IS not My truth precious to Me? And My Book of truth, is it not above all books in Mine eyes? I am God.
III. Be still, and thou shalt know that i car say to the nations, peace, be still. The waves rise, but I am mightier than all. These tumults do not touch My throne. Take no alarm because of this world-wide resistance to My authority and law. I am still God.
IV. Be still, and thou shalt see the glorious issue of all these confusions. This world is My world, and thou shalt see it to be such; this earth shall yet be the abode of the righteous. (H. Bonar, D. D.)
The use of religion in a time of affliction
I. Our duty. “Be still.”
1. A negative kind of submission; I mean the restraints we ought to lay upon our angry and tumultuous passions. This is the first thing to be attempted, when perhaps we can proceed no farther.
2. To be still is to preserve a calm and composed temper of mind under affliction.
3. A higher degree of patience and submission than even this is required of us; and that is, to justify, approve and commend the Divine proceedings.
II. Our obligations to the practice of these great and difficult duties.
1. There is a God. Set Him before you, in all His adorable perfections. Apprehend Him present--immediately present with you, closely watching and accurately observing all your thoughts, reasonings, dispositions and affections.
2. God, who is thus a witness of what passes in our breasts, is the great Governor of the world, and hath a concern in bringing about those events which occasion all this tumult of our passions.
3. The God who does it has an unquestionable right to do 2:4. While God thus proclaims Himself a Sovereign, He would have us consider Him as most just and wise in all His proceedings.
5. The goodness of God, and the covenant-relation which subsists between Him and us.
6. All that God does is in reference to some future design.
III. The regard we are required to pay to these interesting truths. It is our duty to--
1. Well weigh and consider them.
2. Believe them.
3. Apply them to ourselves, and to our own immediate circumstances.
4. Use fervent prayer.
1. As to such who make light of their afflictions, or, to use the words of Scripture, despise the chastening of the Lord. That insensibility which you account your happiness is not the stillness and composure which the text recommends. Know the rod and who hath appointed it. Inquire wherefore it is he contends with you. Implore the forgiveness of what is amiss. And rest not satisfied without feeling the salutary effect of your affliction, to embitter sin to you, to wean your hearts from the world, and to raise your affections to heaven.
2. As to those who are apt to faint under the rebukes of Providence--a temper to which Christians are usually more prone than to that just described. With you I most tenderly sympathize. Let me, however, entreat you to turn your attention for a while from your affliction; think with yourselves how much worse your condition would have been if God had treated you according to your deserts; consider the mercies you still enjoy; above all, take sanctuary at the throne of grace, and there pour out your tears of sorrow to Him who hath an ear to hear, and a heart to pity, the afflicted.
3. As to those who are enabled to practise the great duties I have been describing, how great is your mercy! You may well glory in your infirmities, since the power of Christ thus rests upon you. An end, an important end, is already attained by your having been afflicted. Oh, let patience have its perfect work! (J. Stennet, D. D.)
I. The general principle conveyed in the words. The spirit of man must be taught by the Spirit of God, or it cannot know Him; and being taught implies receiving impressions; it implies a gradual advance in knowledge, the pupil imbibing the mind of the Teacher, and becoming more and more like Him till it knows even as it is known. Now it is beyond question that this education of the spirit for God is the highest work of man; and must it not then require the shutting out of all other sights and sounds that the heart may be alone with God? Why you think it needful to sit alone hour after hour, day after day, to unravel the intricacies and overcome the difficulties of business! You think it a matter of course that if you are to master a book, or a subject, or a science, you must have leisure from distracting occupations, and give yourself for a time to that one thing I If then to learn man’s business requires stillness from other work; if to understand any of God’s works demands stillness from other thoughts, shall we not, to know God Himself, need stillness of spirit, stillness alike from the bustle of active life, and the engrossment of thinking upon earthly things, and the distraction of fear, add the uneasiness of anxiety?
II. Its particular application of the text to ourselves.
1. Let it speak to the man who is engrossed in work, trade, business, or profession. The week is gone. Sunday and working day are past. And when was the spirit still and alone with its God? When did it read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest His holy, Word? When did it examine itself, and confess its sins, and dwell on God’s promises, and listen for the whispers of His Spirit, and as a docile pupil receive and reflect His mind?
2. Let the text speak to those who are distracted by sorrow, fear, or anxiety. The heart broken by sorrow chafes and frets, and is often too unsettled for a season calmly to receive the lesson which God is come to teach. The spirit trembling in fear looks to the right hand and to the left, and despairing of human help is too agitated quietly to wait for God. “In quietness and in confidence shall be your strength.” “Be still, and know that I am God.”
3. This text will speak to those who resist God’s Spirit and oppose His will. (Canon Morse.)
Quietude necessary for a fuller knowledge of God
I. A word of warning addressed to nations when inflamed with the passion for conquest and aggrandizement. War is a time when the worst passions of men are roused, the purest motives of the most patriotic are misunderstood, political life is embittered with the acrimony of party strife and ambition, the unscrupulous are tempted to make capital out of the public troubles, and the mind is too disturbed and demoralized to rise to the calm sublimities of Divine things. Not in the wild commotion and brazen clangour of the battlefield, not in the whizzing hurricane of national strife and uproar, not in the rush and fret of excessive worldly care, is the knowledge of God best acquired; but in the solitude of retirement, in the hush and stillness of some meditative retreat, where the tocsin of war is never heard, and the roar of cannon and clash of arms never penetrate--“Be still, and know that I am God.”
II. A word addressed to the sincere inquirer after the knowledge of God, by purely intellectual means. Not in the strain and tussle of intellectual strife, not in the fret and ferment of the proud and restive mind, can God be known; but when the baffled inquirer acknowledges his weakness and defeat, when he looks with humble wistfulness into the darkness that has deepened around him, when he surrenders and stakes his all on the mercy of the Unseen--then, in that solemn moment of pause and conscious self-helplessness, God draws near, and there glows before the soul a sublime vision of the greatness and goodness of the only living and true God--“Be still, and know that i am God!”
III. A word addressed to the man who is tempted to murmur at the hardships of a suffering lot. Life has its sombre side to all, more or less; and bravely as we may strive to look at the bright side, and to make the best of things, there are moments when our way is dark. Can it be wondered that from the pierced heart of suffering humanity a cry of anguish should rise that now and then overpowers the meekest submission and the most heroic patience, and find a plaintive voice in the trembling remonstrance--“O Lord, how long? Why these repeated strokes? O my God, I cry in the daytime, but Thou hearest not, and in the night season, and am not silent!” It is then that God draws near and speaks--“Be still, and know that I am God. Cease thy sad complaining. Be hushed, my child. Know that I am here. I have not forgotten thee. I am ruling still. It is thus I am leading thee to teach thee. Know that i am God, even thy God!” There! thou art blessed. (G. Barlow.)
The repose of faith
In all the more delicate cases of surgery the success of the operation is hardly more dependent upon the skill of the practitioner than it is upon the quietness and self-control of the patient. To suppress all irritability and nervous alarms;: to submit, in entire reliance, to the course of discipline recommended; to endure pain without flinching, and to encourage, as far as possible, every hopeful impression; all these conduce directly to a happy issue; while they render the task of ministering to the relief of the sufferer himself a labour of love, and afford an edifying and comfortable and blessed example to all around him. Now, this is just the temper recommended in the text, as one of the truest characteristics of God’s servants.
I. What it does not mean. We are not here recommended to sit down in a state of utter indifference and inaction, waiting with folded hands until God shall marvellously interfere for our deliverance.
II. What it does mean. “Be still;” cease from all vain opposition, from all ineffectual struggles; restrain all petulant curiosity; subdue all unruly desires; submit meekly and thankfully to His irresistible authority, and be convinced, whatever may befall you, that the Judge of all the earth shall assuredly do right.
III. Apply the commandment to particular cases.
1. With regard to worldly successes and worldly reverses, what continual cause we find for mistrusting our first impressions respecting them! That which seems most adverse to our happiness often proves the very means of establishing it upon a right foundation; while the realization of our most ardent desires entails countless evils and disappointments which far outweigh all the joy of success. In the Lord’s Prayer there is but one direct petition for earthly good, and that couched in the most moderate terms, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Every other need is embraced in that humble expression, “Thy will be done!”
2. Look now to God’s dealings in things spiritual. No doubt there is such a thing as a wholesome and righteous uprousing of the powers and desires which God has bestowed, lest they sink into mere lethargy and insensibility; but there is danger, on the other hand, of our mistaking an active state of the soul for a fruitful one. Our Lord speaks of the good seed which is received in an honest and good heart as bringing forth fruit “with patience.” It is no forced and hasty growth, shooting out in the showy but unproductive luxuriance of leaves, and bearing little, if any, perfect grain; there is a solidity and strength in the stem, and a gradual development of power, which gives certain promise of a plentiful harvest in the end. (T. Ainger, M. A.)
Lessens from the tomb
The old proverb says, “Speech is silvery, but silence is golden,” and there are times when its truth becomes apparent. And where can silence be so fitting as when God has spoken in one of those sudden and mysterious dispensations of His providence, asserting His own sovereignty and instructing His erring creatures? The presence of death, the immediate contact with the unknown realities of the world of spirits, are surely, at any time, enough to sober the most reckless, arouse the most indifferent, awe the most trifling, and still the most giddy spirit. But when there are circumstances throwing around the event more than its ordinary awfulness--when a few brief hours or days have sufficed to change the bloom and vigour of health into the cold unbroken silence of the tomb, then, surely, must the effect be yet deeper, and the soul, filled with an overwhelming awe, may well say with David, “I was dumb with silence--I opened not my mouth, because Thou didst it.”
I. The mode in which the angel of death does his work is fitted ever to impress on us this lesson. It might have been that a generation should have had its allotted time and its peculiar work--that side by side the companions of childhood and youth should have pursued their path, till for all it terminated at the same moment in the grave. The term fixed for human life might have been uniform add invariable. Every element of uncertainty might have been removed, and a man have been able from the very dawning of intelligence to calculate and anticipate the hour of his death. Need I say how great a change would thus have been introduced, or indicate how evil the effects that would have been produced on the majority of men? The thought of death would have been put away until the dreaded hour approached God has mercifully not left us thus. He has encircled us with monitors to remind us of our mortality, to silence every thought of self-confidence, to make us feel how frail we are. We are told of the great Sultan Saladin, that in the midst of the magnificence by which he was surrounded, he had a slave whose business it was daily to remind him that he was mortal. Wise, indeed, to perceive that the consciousness of his power, the pride of majesty, the adulations of those round him were fitted to banish this thought from the mind, and that the fact, thus liable to be forgotten, was that which ought to be ever present to the mind. Yet, surely, there were voices distinct enough to render such a monitor needless. Death doing his work around us is ever speaking to us. Sudden death, especially, should produce this impression. Now, God by such deaths rebukes our carelessness and pleads with us on our own behalf. Yours may be the next door at which Death shall knock.
II. Let us learn a lesson of resignation, A more wretched feeling cannot come across the soul in moments like these, than the agonizing doubt of the reality of God’s providence. A calamity, sudden, terrible and overwhelming, has come upon us--the reason staggers and the heart sinks beneath the blow. The whole appears so contrary to every principle of God’s government, and every conception of His love, that we begin to ask, “Is there a God that judgeth on the earth? Is there a Judge of the whole earth who will do right? Are we the children of a loving Father who makes all things work together for good?” If so, how can these things bey “Surely Thou hast made all men in vain.” Happy for the spirit that in such dread hour can hear and obey the voice, “Be still, and know that I am God.”
III. Let us cherish patient but confident hope. There is deep significance in the apostle’s words, “We sorrow not as those who have no hope.” We must sorrow. These partings rend oar hearts within us, and we cannot but sorrow. But we must not so discredit our profession and misrepresent the Gospel as to sorrow with that wild despair which may not unnaturally be associated with unbelief. Our burden may be very heavy, but hope relieves its pressure, and as it whispers in our ears tales of the “far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,” not only helps us to toil on, hut teaches us some of the songs of Zion to which we haste, with which to beguile the way. That hope, which rests on the promises of a faithful God, and therefore cannot make ashamed, is your strength and consolation. (J. G. Rogers, B. A.)
I. An implication of resistance. For when it is said, “Be still,” resistance, turbulence, commotion are implied. And there is in all men a disposition to resist, to murmur and to rebel. Sometimes--
1. Against the dispensations of Providence, when there are afflictions. And sometimes--
2. Against those of Divine grace. Now--
3. Why is this? It is owing to human ignorance and human sin.
II. An assertion of supremacy. “Know that I am God.” Note--
1. The fact--“I am God.” He is here asserting His superiority to the idols of the heathen. But the recollection of His supremacy will help us to cease from rebelling against Him. We think of His absolute and unimpeachable sovereignty: His pure and equitable justice.
2. Let us apply this fact. Let it be understood, admitted, and let it have all the influence which its importance demands.
III. A claim of submission. “Be still”--be silent and submissive. As Eli, say, “It is the Lord.” (James Parsons.)
Be still, and know God
Every period and every place have their peculiar obstructions to the Christian life. The mistake committed by theologians is in making the Devil but one, when his name is Legion. The great inductive philosopher assigned four kinds of prejudices to man. The devils might have a similar classification, and there is one of those which come from the market, or from intercourse and association with mankind, that might without slander be called the Devil of Haste. We live in an age of hurry. Life, that was formerly likened to a journey, a voyage, or a pilgrimage, has become a race, a chase, in which not bit and bridle, but spurs and whip, are deemed the rider’s best equipment. A late writer has said that “a railway train should be the emblem on our shield, with the motto, Hurrah!” In short, the devil of Haste has entered in and possessed us. He hurries us so fast that we have no time to “be still and know God,” no place quiet enough to read our Bibles and say our prayers. Or, if he should put his hand upon religion, he wishes, to use the vulgar phrase, to “put it through quick,” and he has therefore a high estimation of camp-meetings and revivals, and the whole enginery of fear and excitement, as speedy labour-saving machines to accomplish a work which, in the slower times of prophets, apostles, martyrs and saints, it was thought could only he effected by a lifetime of prayer and charity and self-denial. This style of Christianity will be perishable, we apprehend, as it is rapid. Character is not a blow struck once, but a growth. And we see this same forcing method employed in education: everything must be done rapidly. We have short, twelve-lesson modes of learning, forcing processes of prizes, and embittering emulation to stuff the youthful memory with the largest amount of studies, whether understood and digested or not. Hence tender plants are watered so much that they are drowned. The fuel is heaped so abundantly on the fire that every spark goes out. But this hot and impatient mode of life leaves a host of duties not done, a multitude of truths not meditated, a world of pleasures not enjoyed, and a constellation of graces and virtues not cultivated and assimilated. Who indeed can doubt that, if men would oftener stop in their hurried life and recur to the First Great Cause, and cast a look to heaven while toiling and worrying themselves among their earthly cares, they would be far better armed against temptation, and that fountains of unfading happiness would be opened to the thirsting soul? Who is weak when the thought of God is in his mind? Who is wretched when he consciously rests on an Almighty arm? Alas! how much of the time we call life is really the death, the deadness, of the living part! We vacate the ample palace of the soul, to take up mean and miserable quarters in the hut of coarse and brutish worldliness. How much we need to do what we were told when children to do in reading, mind our stops! Did a day never pass when close and absorbing business so steeped your senses in forgetfulness, that even the thought of God, much less a calm and conscious leaning upon Him, a felt uplifting and grateful opening of the heart to Him, as the Fountain of light and love, never for one blessed instant visited you from twilight to twilight? The prisoner of worldliness is sunk in a subterranean dungeon, whose solid darkness is not pierced by a solitary ray. Let us know that quicksilver is not the only metal, nor lightning the only clement. Instead of this feverish and eager rushing across the stage of life, as of the horse plunging into the battle, we will lift up serene brows to the calm heavens, and we will repeat in a low tone that beautiful strain, which has been chanted for two thousand years, to quiet the restless bosom of humanity, never more restless than here and now--“Be still, and know that I am God.” (A. A. Livermore.)
Submission to God
I. A submission to whatever God commands.
II. A submission to whatever God does.
III. A submission to the various ways in which he is pleased to carry on his work, either in our own souls or in the souls of others.
IV. A submission to God, in reference to whatever he has promised. (N. Bangs, D. D.)
Confidence in missions
Our knowledge of the vastness of the heathen world has a distressing influence, our knowledge of the strength of its superstitions, of its false religions. There is the tardiness of the purposes of God, the slowness of His procedure. It may be said that this is characteristic of tits ways and works. Dwell on this thought, that in God we may have the stillness of confidence in regard to the future of His gracious rule among the heathen.
I. The heathen belong to God. He makes the claim, “All souls are Mine!” But “other sheep I have.” He is the God of the valleys as well as of the hills. The Asiatic is as nearly related to God as the European, and the African is as dear to Him as an Englishman.
II. In the lowest and the most ignorant of the heathen there is a capacity for God. When we speak of “the heathen world” we know that we are to distinguish between some races and others. Among some we find old civilizations, philosophies and religions; China and Japan are different from Africa; India and Ceylon are different from some of the islands of the seas. But the people who have the greatest knowledge and civilization are as much in need of the Gospel as those most deeply sunk in the abyss of barbarism and ignorance. “Leave them alone to work out their own salvation if they need it, by and by they will evolve into something better.” Yes, we are thankful for the conviction that they will evolve into a higher state, but there are means essential for this purpose. The same Gospel is needed by the most advanced as by the most degraded, by the barbarians of Melita, and the philosophers of Athens, by the painted savage and the proud Brahmin. There is a capacity in the very lowest for God. When you deal with the dullest, the most stolid, the most ignorant, only get beneath the crust of habit, formed by years of sensuality, indifference, and prejudice, and you will find a home for the truth--a something within responding to the Word without. “I will be exalted in the earth.” We are warranted in saying that the victories already achieved are such as to encourage and strengthen confidence; but our firmest ground of trust is this, we know that He is God. (James Owen.)
Knowledge and silence
The message of my text, broadly stated, seems to be this: that the soul must make for itself a great silence from all other voices ere it can hear aright the Divine messages which give it the fullest and deepest knowledge of its God. And so all knowledge more or less needs silence, that it may sink into the soul and become part of its own inner and essential life. And it is in silence, too, that there grows that power that is the first-born child of knowledge. Silently the mightiest and most enduring forces act; silently the silver moon drags along the trailing skirts of her glory the ocean’s heaving tides; silently the frost binds in icy fetters the great lakes and flowing streams; silently the vernal sun breaks again those wintry chains and sends forth the rivers to leap in recovered freedom on their course to the far-off sea: silently the trees put forth their branches and gain the strength that shall enable them to hurl back defeated the fury of a hundred storms; silently the harvests ripen under glowing sun and silver moon and quiet stars; silently the great planets perform their measured march across the infinite fields of night. And as in nature, so in mind; it is silently that thought is added to thought, and there is erected the stately palace of intellectual truth or artistic beauty; it is not in the noise or din of the street, not amid the clamorous calls of the market or the forum or the banquet-hall, but in the silence of the chemist’s laboratory or the astronomer’s watch-tower or the philosopher’s study; it is there, it is thus, that the great triumphs of human intellect, the most splendid achievements of human genius, have had their birth. What wonder, then, that God should demand silence as one of the needed conditions for the attainment of that supremest knowledge, that most transcendent power of which our poor humanity is capable--the knowledge that He is God? (Canon O’Meara.)
Knowledge through silence
“Be still and know.” How can God give us visions when life is hurrying at a precipitate rate? I have stood in the National Gallery and seen people gallop round the chamber and glance at twelve of Turner’s pictures in the space of five minutes. Surely we might say to such trippers, “Be still, and know Turner!” Gaze quietly at one little bit of cloud or at one branch, or at one wave of the sea, or at one ray of the drifting moon. “Be still, and know Turner.” But God has difficulty in getting us still. This is perhaps why He has sometimes employed the ministry of dreams. Men have had “visions in the night.” In the daytime I have a diviner visitor in the shape of some worthy thought, or nobler impulse, or hallowed suggestion, but I am in such feverish haste that I do not heed it, and pass along. I do not “turn aside to see this great thing,” and so I lose the heavenly vision. If I would know more of God I must relax the strain and moderate the pace. I must “be still.” (J. H. Jowett.)
I will be exalted among the heathen.--
The exaltation of Christ among the nations
There is nothing more remarkable in the history of the Hebrew people than their connection with surrounding nations. That connection is strikingly predicted in the covenant which Jehovah made with the founder of their race: “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” This promise began to take effect immediately upon its announcement. “Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it, and was glad.” And the Spirit of Christ pervaded and conducted the history of Israel. There can be no doubt that that measure of truth which is now found in the ancient writings of other faiths was for the most part derived from the connection of Israel with Egypt, with Babylon, with Syria, Persia, and India. The advent of Christ brings us to the perfect fulfilment of the Abrahamic promise. The wonderful declaration of Christ--“And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto Myself”--was explained; first, by the lifting up of the Crucifixion; secondly, by the resurrection of the Crucified; and thirdly, by the command of the Risen Redeemer. “All power hath been given unto Me in heaven and on earth. Go ye, therefore,” etc. In this command the mission of exalting God among the nations was directly entrusted to His apostles and followers by the Head of the Church. The Church has no other business on earth but to exalt God among the nations. Her gifts, her ministries, her sacraments, her literature, her spiritual authority have neither divinity nor meaning except in so far as they bear upon the conversion of the world to Christ. For the exaltation of God among the nations is the ascendency of Christ, to whom God hath given “the name which is above every name.” (Philippians 2:9-11). If it be true that in spite of freedom of inquiry, and that licence of speculation which has accompanied the advancement of science, there never was a time when the Church exercised so wide a beneficence as she does to-day, when her followers were so many, so courageous, and so united; when her influence upon the politics and literature of the nations was so commanding, we must ascribe it to the revival of foreign missions. That spirit of enterprise and unselfish love which is the direct inspiration of missions must be the animating genius of all Church work. The ascended Christ pervades by His Spirit everything that touches the mind of nations--the tides of public opinion, their ebb and flow, the changing bases of the religious sentiment, the circulation of literature, the strife and the issue of the battlefield, the revolutions of commerce, and the fate of governments. Christ is in all these movements. He appropriates every force, and uses it for the exaltation of God among the nations. The ultimate fate of the Christian religion is a subject of intense interest even to those who do not believe in its divinity. I refer to the thoughtful men who study the forces that are moving the world. These intellectual observers see in Christianity a tremendous power with a history behind it, and a prospect before it, which not only places it above the frvalship of other faiths, but leaves it absolutely alone as the one religion which educates the highest principles of humanity, and commands the civilization of the world. They assail its dogmas, they predict its fall; and yet are compelled to acknowledge that, in spite of the disunion which distracts its labours and weakens its federations, its march upon the convictions of mankind was never so swift, never so triumphant as it is to-day. The becoming attitude of those within the Church in their observation is stillness. Not the stillness of inactivity, nor the stillness of a sullen disappointment, and still less the quiet of a settled despair. When God says, “Be still,” He enforces the stillness of waiting--of watching the unfolding of ways and the development of thoughts which are as much higher than ours as the heavens are higher than the earth. But why should we be still? Because we know in part, and, therefore, prophesy--that is, utter Divine things--in part. We are ignorant of God’s plan and God’s method. But there are two things on which our ignorance may rest itself. First, the immutable declaration, “I will be exalted among the nations”; secondly, the proofs that this declaration is in process of fulfilment. Let us leave God to work out the realization of His designs in His own way. If the light of His operations is not clear to our understanding, if surrounding events appear to contradict our impression of His mind and character, can we expect any other result when passing finite beings are watching the steps of the Infinite? (E. E. Jenkins, LL. D.)
The Lord of Hosts is with us.
God with us
The Lord of Hosts--that means the God of power; the God who has all hosts of all sorts at His beck and under His control; the great King whom all created powers, whether marshalled in heaven or ranked on earth, somehow must obey. The Lord of Hosts is the God of Providence, therefore--the circle of whose wise government embraces the least and greatest persons, forces, things. The God of Jacob--that means the God of covenant-keeping; the God who promises, and never breaks His promises. And our Scripture asserts that He is with us, that He is our refuge. “We are thus reminded of the double prop on which our faith rests; the infinite power, whereby He can subdue the universe unto Himself; and the fatherly love, which He has revealed in His Word. When these two are joined together, our faith may trample on all enemies.”
I. This God is with Us as an inward invigoration. “There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God.” No city was supplied with water as was Jerusalem within itself. For there was within Jerusalem a living spring beneath the temple vaults. It was this spring whence the water welled to fill the two Siloam pools. In this way this God of power and of promise will be with us, if we will have it so. Even as Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit as the fountain of living water within the believing man. God shall be, for such a man, internal supply and strength, making the man the master of difficulties, not the slave of them. Right here is the mightiest need for all of us--that we have God thus with us, in the meaning of within us, by the Holy Spirit.
1. It is the cure for cold and laggard hearts.
2. It is the inspiration of delightful and loving service.
3. It is the power and defence against bad habits.
4. It is the sweet expeller of all unbrotherliness.
II. This God of power and of promise will be with us also as a helping presence. “God is in the midst of her,” etc.
III. This God of power and of promise shall be with us as a masterful deliverance (Psalms 46:6). (W. Hoyt, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 46". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter