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Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised.
A song of deliverance
The psalm has manifestly some historical basis. What is it? The psalm gives these points--a formidable muster before Jerusalem of hostile people under confederate kings with the purpose of laying siege to the city--some mysterious cheek which arrests them before a sword is drawn, as if some panic fear had shot from its towers and shaken their hearts--and a flight in wild confusion from the impregnable dwelling-place of the Lord of hosts. Now, there is only one event in Jewish history which corresponds, point for point, to these details--the crushing destruction of the Assyrian army under Sennacherib. The psalm falls into three portions.
I. There is the glory of Zion (Psalms 48:1-2). Those words are something more than merely patriotic feeling. The Jew’s glory in Jerusalem was a different thing altogether from the Roman’s pride in Rome. For, to the devout Jew, there was one thing, and one thing only, that made Zion glorious--that in it God abode. The name even of that earthly Zion was “Jehovah-Shammah, the Lord is there.” They celebrate concerning it that it is His city, the mountain of His holiness. This is its glory. And it is no spiritualizing or forcing a New Testament meaning into these words when we see in them the eternal truth, that the living God abides, and energizes by His Spirit and by His Son in the souls of them that believe upon Him. It is that presence which makes His Church fair as it is, that presence which keeps her safe. It is God in her, not anything of her own, that constitutes her “the joy of the whole earth.”
II. The deliverance of Zion. The psalm recounts with wonderful power and vigour the process of this deliverance (Psalms 48:4-8). Mark the dramatic vigour of the description of the deliverance. There is, first, the mustering of the armies. “The kings were assembled”--we see them gathering their far-reaching and motley army, mustered from all corners of that gigantic empire. They advance together against the rocky fortress that towers above its girdling valleys. “They saw it, they marvelled”--in wonder, perhaps, at its beauty, as they first catch sight of its glittering whiteness from some hill crest on their march--or, perhaps, stricken by some strange amazement, as if, basilisk-like, its beauty were deadly, and a beam from the Shechinah had shot a nameless awe into their souls--“they were troubled, they hasted away.” The abruptness of the language in this powerful description reminds us of the well-known words, “I came, I saw, I conquered,” only that here we have to do with swift defeat--they came, they saw, they were conquered. In their scornful emphasis of triumph they are like Isaiah’s description of the end of Sennacherib’s invasion, “So Sennacherib, King of Assyria, departed, and went and returned, and dwelt at Nineveh.”
“The trumpet spake not the armed throng,
But kings sat still, with awful eye,
As if they surely knew their sovereign Lord was by.”
One image is all that is given to explain the whole process of the deliverance, “Thou breakest the ships of Tarshish with an east wind.” The metaphor is that of a ship like a great unwieldy galleon caught in a tempest--compare the destruction of the Spanish Armada. However strong for fight, it is not fit for sailing. And so this huge assailant of Israel, this great “galley with oars,” washing about there in the trough of the sea, as it were--God broke it in two with the tempest which is His breath. You remember how on the medal that commemorated the destruction of the Spanish Armada--our English deliverance--there were written the words of Scripture: “God blew upon them and they were scattered.” What was there true, literally, is here true in figure. And then mark how from this drastic description there rises a loftier thought still. The deliverance thus described links the present with the past. “As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the Lord of hosts, in the city of our God.” And with all the future--“God will establish it for ever.” God will establish Zion; or, as the word might be translated, God will hold it erect, as if with a strong hand grasping some pole or banner-staff that else would totter and fall--He will keep it up, standing there firm and stedfast. If it had been possible to destroy the Church of the living God it had been gone long, long ago. Its own weakness and sin, the ever-new corruptions of its belief and paring of its creed, the imperfections of its life and the worldliness of its heart, the abounding evils that lie around it and the actual hostility of many that look upon it and say, Raze it, even to the ground, would have smitten it to the dust long since. It lives, it has lived in spite of all, and therefore it shall live. “God will establish it for ever.” In almost every land there is some fortress or other which the pride of the inhabitants calls “the maiden fortress,” and whereof the legend is that it has never been taken, and is inexpugnable by any foe. It is true about the tower of the flock, the stronghold of the daughter of Zion. The grand words of Isaiah about this very Assyrian invader are our answer to all fears within and foes without, “Say unto him, the virgin, the daughter of Zion, hath despised thee, and laughed thee to scorn.”
III. Zion’s consequent grateful praise and glad trust. The deliverance deepens their glad meditation on God’s favour and defence. “We have thought of Thy lovingkindness in the midst of Thy temple.” And it spreads God’s fame throughout the world (verse 10). (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth is Mount Zion.
I. A rehearsal of Jewish history. This is necessary in order to understand the inner meaning of this psalm. Israel’s history begins with Abraham. His life nomadic, wandering, a wilderness life. And so with Israel for centuries it was a forced desert experience.
II. The divine philosophy of it. It was to make up the longing for rest, for a settled habitation and a national life. They had learned enough to know that cities enable men to unite, to concentrate for great material purposes. Cities not only symbolized but secured possession, fixity, safety, growth, nationality. Hence their joy in Jerusalem of which this psalm is an utterance.
III. And to all this the christian life correspends. God’s call separates, but ultimately unites. Let us anticipate our future in “the city of habitation.” (J. McDougall.)
The charm of Zion
(with Psalms 12:1-8):--There is comfort for us in the thought that Zion’s beauty was spiritual; there is also warning. Wanting spiritual power, certain churches would have something left, a remaining charm. Their architectural monuments, their imposing ceremonies would still command a measure of deference and support, But wanting spiritual power, we are destitute indeed. Our Churches consist of persons who have made deliberate profession of faith in Christ; faith whereby they enter into spiritual union with Him. He is their Head, they are His members.
I. Charm in our church life must therefore ever be dependent, first, upon the actualizing of this relation, by real communion with Christ. The unreal has no charm for God, and He purposes that it should have none for man. The Bible makes this clear, and experience echoes Bible teaching. Real communion with Christ is not sentiment. It is the surrender and reinforcement of the will. It is obedience, love, self-sacrifice supernaturally sustained. It is sharing the spirit and life of Jesus.
II. Another essential to charm in the Church is sympathy. The New Testament incites to brotherly love, bearing one another’s burdens, looking on the things of others, and such like. In the first age, before the art of sublimating precepts into metaphors was discovered, these incitements found response; love was patent, sympathy flowed freely. The stream of sympathy flows still, but its course is often blocked by boulder-like conventionalities; and, where communion with Christ is defective, it fails at the spring. The social meeting, not unknown among us, merits study and development: the meeting in which our members get to know one another, discover that Christian fellowship is compatible with social friendship, and find opportunity for quiet natural speech upon the things of God.
III. This brings me to another matter which must contribute charm to our Church life, namely, the disclosure of joy in God. Our recoil from cant has silenced the sincere. Yet, doubtless, every Christian should reveal, in look and word, the wealth of joy he has discovered in the Gospel. Of course, it is “bad form” to be demonstrative; to advertise one’s emotions. It may be. But the stony immobility that never calls attention with enthusiasm to marvels of nature or miracles of grace is insulting to God; a fraudulent witholding of His due praise.
IV. Something should be added about aggressive activity. If the Church is to maintain and increase her charm she must make it clear that she holds no truce with the giant wrongs under which men suffer. In warring against these the Church has done, and is doing, nobly. We claim, too, that she has supplied inspiration for’ humanitarian enterprise effected under other auspices. When our best men take their seats in Town Council, the Church is present in their persons, and is a good councillor. Yet her watchword must be “Forward.” The dullest scorner must be left without excuse for echoing the stupid libel that our churches are Pullman cars for heaven, the passengers caring only for their travelling comforts and safe arrival. (G. Hawker.)
The beauty of Christ’s Church
The situation (of Mount Zion) is, indeed, eminently adapted to be the platform of a magnificent citadel. Rising high above the deep Valley of Gihon and Hinnom on the West and South, and the scarcely less deep one of the Cheesemongers on the East, it could only be assailed from the Northwest; and then “on the side of the North” it was magnificently beautiful, and fortified by walls, towers and bulwarks, the wonder and terror of the nations. Alas her towers have long since fallen to the ground, her bulwarks have been overthrown, her palaces have crumbled to the dust, and we who now walk about Zion can tell no other story than this to the generation following. There is another Zion, however, whose towers are still more glorious and shall never be overthrown. (W. M. Thomson, D. D.)
God is known in her palaces for a refuge.
The secret of national greatness
It is not the nation makes the people, but the people make the nation. On the rulers depends the nation’s prosperity. When God is honoured in the palace He will be worshipped in the cottage. When Atheists make laws, sedition will be the offspring.
I. Influence always descends. It is like the rain and dew. The less follow the great. Great power, great wealthy, great minds always lead.
II. The great affect the great. The kings of the earth saw and were troubled. Palace religion is more displayed than that of the cottage. God has His own work for the insignificant, but the great have also their higher sphere.
III. National religion is national preservation. The kings hasted away. Their hostility was vain in the presence of Him who was the Refuge of the palace. (Homilist.)
God known as a refuge
Even false worship argues a constitutional capacity for the true.
I. The conception of God is the greatest thing in man. In proportion as it is lost or distorted, human dignity decays, and the race sinks nearer the level of inferior creatures. The mould on which he was made is the cause of man’s original greatness; but when he ceases to lay himself habitually back upon his origin, his being shrinks down again into the dimensions of a lower species.
II. God is. This is the first proposition in the inspired confession of faith (Hebrews 11:6). An atheist may reason against the existence of God, and a worldly man may keep God out of all his thoughts, but neither the one nor the other can blot God out of being. Although we practically banish God out of our little spot of time, He will meet us when we enter His great eternity.
III. God is known. Observe Paul’s method in reasoning with the Athenians regarding the altar which they had dedicated to the unknown God, and the cognate argument which he addressed to the idolaters at Lystra (Acts 14:15-17; Acts 17:22-29). This is an inspired recognition of natural religion. The revelation which has been imprinted on earth and sky does not go far enough for the necessities of the fallen; but it is true as far as it goes. Men ought both to perceive its meaning and trust in its truth.
IV. God is known in her. “God is known,” may be taken as the motto of natural, “God is known in her,” as the motto of revealed religion. Wherever Christ is admitted King into a believing heart, there are the thrones of the house of David, there the temple stands, and thence sweet incense rises morning and evening to Heaven. Wherever many such believers are congregated, there is the city of the great King; wherever there are believing men and women, there is a peopled Jerusalem; and of that city it is the distinction still that God is known in her.
V. God is known in her palaces. The psalm commemorates a revival in high places (2 Chronicles 17:1-19; 2Ch 18:1-34; 2 Chronicles 19:1-11; 2 Chronicles 20:1-37.). When grace was poured into the heart of the king, all ranks felt the benefit. The human skull, where the material organ of thought resides, has been called the palace of the soul. The princely spirit that dwells beneath that stately dome counts and keeps the whole world its tributary. In a princely way this king of the creatures has caught and tamed the powers of nature, and yoked them to his chariot. At the door of that regal residence a Stranger stands and knocks. Hear His voice, “If any man open, I will come in.” This is God our Saviour. When He is admitted, God will be known in that palace; for, “He that hath seen Me, hath seen the Father.” Not Christ in heaven, but Christ in you, is the hope of glory.
VI. God is known in her palaces for a refuge. The idea, the existence, the knowledge of God, whether among rich or poor, become for us all or nothing, according as we recognize Him as our refuge, or fear Him as our foe. For poor, blind, guilty, dying creatures, such as we are, there are only two ways open--we must either flee from God, or flee to Him. To those no good can happen, to these no evil. One thing is needful; and this is the meaning of a Gospel ministry, “Be ye reconciled to God.” Make Him your refuge, and you will find the way is open, the welcome prepared; all things will work together for your good. (W. Arnot.)
As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the Lord of Hosts, in the city of our God.
“As we have heard, so have we seen”
This is seldom true. In many places we see what we have not heard, and what we have heard we do not see. But when you come into “the city of the Lord of hosts,” the reports about it are true, and the truth exceeds the report.
I. It is most important that we listen to true witnesses; for, else, we shall not be able to say, “As we have heard, so have we seen.” It is of the first importance to you all that you should hear the Word of God, and receive the truth as it is in Jesus; so that, both in the throng of life, and when you stand upon the borders of death, and in the changeless state of eternity, you may be able to say, “We thank God for the Gospel which we heard; for what we heard with our ears has been verified in our lives.”
II. Good hearing leads on to seeing--“As we have heard, so have we seen.” Some of you have heard, and heard, but have never yet seen. The man who is content with one inlet to his mind, namely, his ears, but never uses his eyes, must imagine that God has made a mistake, and has given him more senses than he needs. Surely this argues a want of sense. “O taste and see that the Lord is good.” You will ask how can a hearer of the Gospel become a seer of it?
1. He can do this by examining the facts which lie hears stated, and judging whether they are really so. The Scripture tells you that your heart is deceitful--see whether it be net so. It tells you that there is a natural inclination in man towards evil--study yourself, and see whether this is not the case.
2. We further see what we hear when we obey the commands and receive the blessings promised upon obedience. “if we confess our sins,” etc. “Come unto Me,” etc.
3. We also turn hearing into sight when, receiving the blessings which are promised to faith, we enter into a new life.
III. Seeing wonderfully confirms the truth of what we hear. I am sure I can appeal to those of you who have seen the Lord in His glory, so as to abhor yourselves in dust and ashes, and to those of you who have seen yourselves, so that you have been ashamed and confounded at your own ways. I say, I can appeal to you to confirm the most solemn statements of Holy Scripture. However much its denunciations may make you shudder, your inmost soul consents to the truth of them. Brighter things, however, have we heard and seen. We heard that there is a calling of God, whereby He separates His chosen from the rest of mankind. We heard, too, that if we came to Jesus as we were, He would receive us; and He did receive us. Then we heard that there was such a thing as regeneration. “Ye must be born again.” Many of you know the great and radical change, because you have experienced it. Further, to show you how experience supports the Word of God, we were told many times over that God hears prayer. We were reminded of the Saviour’s words, “Ask, and it shall be given you,” etc. Have you not prayed yourselves out of the dark into the sunlight; prayed yourselves out of the depths of despair up to the throne of God?
IV. When hearing turns to seeing, and is confirmed by it, then it leads to witnessing. So many are decrying the truth, that, if in your heart and conscience you have proved it true, you are bound to give to the Lord the testimony of even a stammerer. Your mouth is as God made it: use it as best you can, and speak up for His name and cause. Oh, for more of the missionary spirit, more telling out to the ends of the earth of what the Lord has done I What were the stars, if they did not shine? What were the sun, if He did not make our day? What were the rivers, if they did not water the lands? What were the sea itself, if it did not act as the pulsing heart of the world? What are Christians, if they do not shine as lights? Piety bottled up is dead. Religion put into a tin and hermetically sealed is useless.
V. Hearing, seeing, witnessing, god will give you a yet fuller assurance than you have as yet. “God will establish it for ever.” That is the conclusion which the saint comes to, when he has tried the truth for himself, and borne witness to the result of his trial. God will never leave His Church. God will never forfeit His word. God will never desert His Gospel. His honour is bound up in the whole enterprise that Christ undertook, He must go through with it, and He must arrive at a glorious conclusion. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
“As we have heard, so have we seen”
The psalmist not only rejoices because of deliverance, but because that deliverance has proved that the commonplace present is as full of God as was the miraculous past, and has turned tradition into experience. The miracles of the Exodus have been repeated before the eyes of the psalmist’s generation. “As we have heard, so have we seen,” etc. And because the present has been the repetition of the past, the future shall be the continuation of the present. “God will establish it for ever.”
I. The pledge of security in the name of the city. “The city of the Lord of hosts”--what does that great name for God mean? It means, I take it, very much the same thing as Jesus Christ praised the Roman-centurion for having groped his way to discover; that all the universe is like an embattled legion, subject to the command of one authoritative Imperator, or Emperor, the Lord of hosts. Well, then, if the city is His, who is going to take it? What about Sennacherib? He may muster his hosts as he likes, but “in the morning they were all dead corpses,” and Sennacherib went away back to Assyria to pray to his god. Much he made of that; for whilst he was praying his sons cut his throat; and that was the end of the worship that is given to “the hosts,” and not to the Lord of “the hosts.” But that is not all. The city is “the city of our God.” He is Lord of the hosts, but there is a relation more tender and blessed between us and Him than there is between them and Him, for he is “Our God.” And how does He come to be our God? By what He has done, and by what we have done. The relation is reciprocal; His side of it is His taking us for His and telling us that He has done so; our side of it is our taking Him for ours by faith, love and obedience, and by our hearts’ speech saying to Him, “Thou art my God.” Then we may rest secure, if “the Lord of hosts is with us,” etc.
II. How all the wonders of the past are repeated today. That sounds paradoxical. “The age of miracles is past,” say many sad hearts. We do not “see” as “we have heard,” and we sometimes begin to doubt whether we have heard aright, just because we do not see what has been told us. Well, for all that, the triumphant word of my text is true to-day, as true as it was in regard to those who saw the miracle of the dead Assyrian hosts. My life is as full of God, if I like to make it so, as ever was the life of any patriarch or prophet or apostle of them all. Earth is as much crammed with God as it used to be. Not only is the reality of this working the same, but I venture to say the manner in which He now does His great things for us is an advance on the manner in which He did them of old. It is better to have a Christ in the heart than a Christ working miracles beside us; better to be guided by the Divine Spirit that dwells in us than by the pillar of fire and cloud. It is better to be committed to the responsibility of our own judgments, and our own purified hearts, than it is to hear a voice from heaven saying to us in articulate syllables what we ought to do. And they who are, or, if they will, may be, “strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man,” do not need to envy those of old to whose palsied limbs the hands of the Saviour gave power, or to whose blind eyes he gave sight.
III. The confidence for the future which springs from experience. It is always safe to reckon on God’s future, and to infer what it will be, from God’s past. You cannot do that with men, you can do it with Him; because He is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. We get tired of helping people, and say, “I have done it so often that I really cannot do it any more.” God says, “I have done it so often that I will not cease doing it.” Men’s purposes change; His do not. Men’s resources get exhausted; His never. If we are trusting to Him we can boldly say, “Tomorrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant.” It is always safe to reckon on God’s future being of a piece with God’s past. Therefore, the city and the citizens, each one of whom has a personal relation to God, must live for ever, in order that they may possess all that God can give them. That is a plain way of putting what can be put in more graceful language, by saying that the experience of communion with God here is the best proof, to any of us, of immortal life hereafter. Because God has given us what He has given, and been to us what He has been, and done for us what He has done, it is impossible to believe that there can come an end to the relation between Him and us, and that the man who has clasped God’s hand can ever die.” He shall establish it for ever.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Testimony confirmed by experience
1. The Church, like a parent of a family, gives a volume into the hands of those who join her communion, bidding them receive it as Divine, and study it as the word which can alone guide them to glory. And her members, like the children of the household, have no better reason, at first, for receiving the Bible as inspired, than because they have heard so in the city of the Lord. They yield so much of respect to the directions of their authorized teachers, or to the impressions which have been graven on them from infancy, as to give their homage to a volume which is presumed to bear so lofty a character. But then, though it may thus be on hearsay that they first receive the Bible as inspired, it is not on hearsay that they continue to receive it. We speak of those in whom the Word has “wrought effectually”; and we confidently affirm of them, that, though at one time they believed in the inspiration of the canonical Scriptures, because their parents taught it, or their ministers maintained it, yet now are they in possession of a personal experimental evidence, which is thoroughly conclusive on this fundamental point.
2. But there is yet a more obvious application of the words of our text. It is said of God by Solomon that He “requireth that which is past.” He seeks again that which is past, recalling, as it were, the proceedings, whether in judgment or mercy, of departed ages, and repeating them to the present generation. And it is on this account that there is such value in the registered experience of the believers of other days, so that the biography of the righteous is among the best treasures possessed by a church. It is, in one sense at least, a vast advantage to us that we live late in the world. We have all the benefit of the spiritual experience of many centuries, which has been bequeathed to us as a legacy of more worth than large wealth or far-spreading empire. We have not, therefore, to tread a path in which we have had but few precursors. Far as the eye can reach, the road we have to traverse is crowded with beckoning forms, as though the sepulchres gave up their host of worthies that we might be animated by the view of the victorious throng. And this is an advantage which it is hardly possible to overrate. You have only to add to this an acquaintance with the unchangeableness of God, and there seems all that can be needed to the encouragement and confidence of the righteous.
3. If there be one passage of Scripture which we venture to put into the lips of redeemed men in glory, it is our text; in tiffs instance we may be confident that the change from earth to heaven will not have made the language of the one unsuited to the other. Oh, as the shining company take the circuit of the celestial city; as they “walk about Zion, and go round about her,” telling the towers thereof, marking well her bulwarks, and considering her palaces; who can doubt that they say one to another, “as we have heard, so have we seen in the city of our God”? We heard that here “the wicked cease from troubling,” and now we behold the deep rich calm. We heard that here we should be with the Lord, and now we see Him face to face. We heard that here we should know, and now the ample page of universal truth is open to our inspection. We heard that here, with the crown on the head, and the harp in the hand, we should execute the will and hymn the praises of our God, and now we wear the diadem, and wake the melody. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
We have thought of Thy lovingkindness, O God, in the midst of Thy temple.
Thought--its highest theme and material aid
Three points stand out distinctly in the text, all of which are closely connected.
I. The mental art is thought. “We have thought.” It is you that think, not your body. But all mental acts are not thought. Memory, consciousness, sensations, emotions, are not thought, though they may be productive of it. Thought is judgment. We think when we analyze, compare, classify. Now, this faculty has certain properties, as--
1. Power; for it is the mightiest of all forces. The entire universe is the outcome of the thought of God.
2. Pleasantness, which rises at times to ecstasy. Pleasure is connected with the use of all our faculties, and not least with this of thought.
3. Universality. All can think. This is a thinking age, but it can never get beyond Jesus Christ, for He is the wisdom of God and the light of the world.
II. The theme of thought--God’s lovingkindness. Yes, perhaps, some of you say, a noble and inspiring subject of thought, truly. But is there not a prior question? Is it a fact that God exists and that He loves? We live in a perplexing world, and strange and bold theories are afloat. How shall we know that God is, and that He loves? Begin with the fact nearest you, and which you do not and cannot question--your own personal existence. Each of you can say, “I am.” Equally certain is it you did not make yourself. You come from a source adequate to such a result, and that source we call God, by which word we mean one equal to such a workmanship as you are. And now, admitting you had a Creator, what is there in you that indicates His heart towards you? What is there that shows love? Look at yourself fairly, beginning with your body, and take part after part. Your eye; what would you have lost if born blind, and what have you gained by seeing? Your ear; what do you owe for that? Your hands; what have they done for you? Is speech worth having? Any benevolent meaning in putting your palate at the entrance of food into your body?--in protecting the drum of the ear?--in giving you a curtain for the eye?--in covering the brain with a helmet of bone? Work without sleep would bring on madness, and at night the curtain is drawn, and you get your needed rest. What as to yourself, viewed as distinct from this wonderful framework? You have consciousness, sensation, memory, judgment. Can any calculation adequately convey to you the value of these endowments? You have, moreover, a moral sense, a heart, a will. And for these moral capabilities and cravings there is an abundant response in the hearts around you, and the proofs of a supreme moral Ruler--proofs which remain such, whatever your disposition towards them, and your ignoring of their voice. Having studied this personal Bible--yourself, extend the same thoughts to your nearest of kin, your household, your neighbourhood, your nation, your race--think of mankind in all generations. Add to these data all other living beings that do and have existed from the beginning as far as your imagination can give them room, and then ask, Did all the good and enjoyment embraced within this whole come out of indifference, malevolence or love?
III. Material aid. We do not need the particular help which the ancient Jews had; but we can no more dispense with material appliances in our religious services than we can cease here to be clothed with flesh and be denizens of a material globe. We have God’s own original temple--the house in which Adam, Noah, Abraham, David, Christ worshipped, a house the marvellous Divine teachings of which science is every day unconsciously unfolding to the eye of faith--a house big enough and free enough to hold all men at all hours, without money and without price, a house in which we “all live, and move, and have our being.” Here we can all think on the Divine love, and pray. Nor, whatever you may specifically and religiously do in things material, would we ever have you despise or neglect this really Divine temple with all its marvellous aids to religious thought. But, while doing that, you can and ought to do the other thing also. You ought, out of the stones and clay of this inexhaustible storehouse, go and make other buildings specially adapted to the purpose of religious thought and worship, and not only build them, but use them, and induce all you can to avail themselves of their help. (J. C. Gallaway, M. A.)
A worthy theme for thought
Who were these people who declared to the Lord that they had thought of His lovingkindness in the midst of His temple? According to the title of the psalm, they were the sons of Korah--the singers in the house of the Lord. I think it is suggestive that they did not say, “We have sung of Thy lovingkindness.” They had done that; but they said, “We have thought”; and there are some singers who have not done that, for they have sung solemn words thoughtlessly, caring only for the music, and not for the meaning.
I. Their occupation was gracious. “We have thought of Thy lovingkindness, O God.”
1. Thought is a noble faculty; the power to exercise it distinguishes men from the brute beasts. We grovel when we are under necessity to perform the acts that relate only to the body; we rise as we are able to perform the functions of the mind and heart.
2. God’s lovingkindness is a theme that is specially worthy of thought. It is an amazing thing that He should ever have so highly favoured such unworthy persons as we are, and favoured us so long, tenderly, and perseveringly.
3. Such thought as our text describes is essential to all true worship. It is very much in proportion to our thought that we do really worship. Suppose we sing the praises of God without thinking; is that praising Him? Nay, no more than if we could have taught a parrot, or constructed an automaton to make the same set of sounds.
4. This task of thinking of God’s lovingkindness ought to be a very easy one, for there is abundance of material to think of in God’s lovingkindness. I beg you to consider the various acts of Divine grace, all of which are full of the lovingkindness of the Lord--the everlasting covenant, personal election, redemption, effectual calling, adoption, sanctification, final perseverance.
II. The place was appropriate. “In the midst of Thy temple.”
1. If we are in the midst of God’s spiritual temple, His true Church, we may well think of His lovingkindness in permitting us to be there. Some of your old companions are not here; perhaps they even ridicule the idea of coming to such a place as this. Possibly some of your former associates are now where hope and mercy can never reach them.
2. Standing in the midst of that temple, which is the true Church of God, we cannot help thinking of the lovingkindness of the Lord, for every stone in that temple testifies to His lovingkindness. These are the living stones that are “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto a holy temple in the Lord.”
3. We may also think of the lovingkindness of the Lord in the midst of His temple, because everything in that temple reminds us of His lovingkindness. There was, for instance, the altar of burnt offering; and we can say, “Thank God for the lovingkindness which has provided for us the one great atoning sacrifice by which our sin is for ever put away.” There stood, too, the golden altar of incense; and every thoughtful believer says, “Thank God for the lovingkindness which has given us Christ to be our Intercessor before the throne of God on high, where His prevailing prayers are continually ascending on our behalf.” There also stood the shew-bread upon the sacred table; and we say, “Thank God for Him who, as the Bread of life, is the ever-present and ever-satisfying food for His people.” There, too, was the golden candlestick or lamp-stand; and we can say, “Thank God for His lovingkindness in having provided all-sufficient light for His people.”
III. The result was beneficial.
1. They were made joyous (Psalms 48:11). So, think of the lovingkindness of the Lord to you, and see if that does not make melody in your heart unto Him, and cause the big bells in your soul to ring carillons of praise so full of jubilant gladness that your very body shall seem as if it could hardly bear the joy. I have sometimes seen an old church steeple rock and reel when a marriage peal has been run out from the ancient belfry; and, in like manner, at times, one has felt so happy that the poor physical frame seemed as if it could scarcely endure such excess of bliss as the soul was delighting in the lovingkindness of the Lord.
2. Thinking upon the lovingkindness of the Lord would unloose our tongues (Psalms 48:12-13). If you have really tasted of God’s lovingkindness, you must tell others about it. You cannot keep as a secret the love of God to you. The first instinct of a new-born soul is to tell its joy to somebody else.
3. As we think of God’s lovingkindness, we shall be confirmed in our loyalty to Him (Psalms 48:14). “This God is our God;” He was our father’s God, and our mother’s God, and the God of the dear ones whom He took from us to be with Him in heaven; and “this is our God.” He is the God to whom we looked in the day of our soul’s distress, when we saw Him in Christ Jesus, reconciled unto us through the death of His Son; “this God is our God for ever and ever.” He is the God who has heard our prayers, the God who has been with us in our direst extremity; He is the God on whom we have cast our unworthy selves, trusting Him with our souls, and our all, for this world and the world to come, “this God is our God for ever and ever.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Thy right hand is full of righteousness.
In the classic pictures of the gods, some held in the right hand an olive branch, some a sceptre, Neptune a trident, Apollo arrows, Mercury a wand, Minerva a scroll, Venus a golden apple. It is a proof of superiority in this picture from the psalmist that his Deity seemed to reach forth a right hand full of righteousness. The word “right” comes through all the civilized languages, without much change, from an old classic radical, signifying straight or true to a rule. When the old mason found his work answering to the plumb-line, he said rectus; or answering to his level, or to his model, he said rectus. Hence righteousness signifies abounding in, conformity to a moral ideal, full of correspondence to some perfect rule of action or being. Religion has a less clear significance. When we have said that it is a spiritual binding of man to God, we have said all we know about the world’s primitive significance. The relation between man and man is called society; between man and country, patriotism; between man and God, religion. Religion aspires to an ideal--that which it sees in God. Righteousness and religion must, therefore, be closely related. And to see this more clearly think of man’s unrighteous conduct--what a history that is. No ancient sword was ever stayed while it had power to kill, or victim to be killed. Julius Caesar is said to have slain one million, two hundred thousand human beings; and the conquerors of Jerusalem put to death three million. Man has been a worse foe to man than have all the beasts of the forest, and all the storms or plagues of nature. Unrighteousness is the great foe of the human race. If one will sit down with this black history open before him, how beautiful upon its background will all deeds of righteousness appear, deeds that conformed to infinite right of neighbour. Whether you recall all the tenderness there has been in the world between parents and children, between friends, between rulers and subjects, and the justice of law and of the courts, each fact will reveal at once the divineness of righteousness, its whiteness, its sweetness. In estimating the worth of right, it is a great mistake if you limit this righteousness to the obedience of statute or common laws. Such limitation gives an honest man or a law-abiding citizen, but not a righteous man; for righteous means abounding in right, in fitting, in appropriate action. When you watch by the bedside of the sick, or teach the ignorant, or comfort the sorrowful, or give to the helpless poor, you are acting righteously, because there are unwritten laws of humanity; there is an ideal law out of the statute, and above the statute, to which the deed conforms, and from which secures its title of righteousness. Whether there could be high and correct action without religion I am unable to say. I know of no data from which to draw a conclusion. The world has never made the experiment, for religion has always rushed to the field so early in all national life, that man has never been able to know what he might have done without that element. Blair, long ago, said, “You may discover tribes of men without policy, or laws, or cities, or arts, but not without religion.” Plutarch had said the same. Hence it seems that the nature of man is such that it will never give science an opportunity to learn how perfect a righteousness there might be without the influence of a God. But how is it to be explained that a sense of righteousness and a belief in God appears simultaneously and invariably in higher forms of society? It is no accident any more than the simultaneity of the harvest field and the warm sunshine. God’s right hand is full of righteousness, and the right hand of righteousness is full of God. As a fact, all those who have been the students or servants of right have been believers in God. It is the man of science that generally moves away from the idea of God. Atheism has always been a camp-follower of the naturalist. From Lucretius to Huxley it has been so. But all the toilers in the domain of right, from Justinian to Webster, from Plato to Grotius, from Solomon to Franklin, have been near and firm in their friendship for the Divine idea. “True religion is the foundation of society.” This is not from Huxley, but from Edmund Burke. “Religion is a necessary element in any great human character.” This is not from Darwin, but from Webster. We mean no insult to the students of science, but mean that, as a fact, the study of law has always led the mind toward the Deity, and has thus revealed the casual connection between right and God. The inferences from this dependence of human purity upon God must be these--
(1) Christ, in unfolding the character of God, in tearing down all idols, and in filling the universe with one spirit, infinite and blessed, has done a work that should bind Him upon the forehead and heart of man.
(2) If God is the ideal of justice, it becomes the Christian world to see to it that His character is so painted that the human mind can look up to Him and feel the grandeur of the ideal, not to be repelled, but charmed and conquered. The blessed name must be freed from the whole terrific associations of ages of cruelty and brute force, and so set before mankind in the spotless robes of justice, that the human heart may ever gladly and securely rest therein. (David Swing.)
Walk about Zion, and go round about her: tell the towers thereof.
The love of Zion
So they revered the city on the hill. Their affections clustered round about its sacred courts. They loved the very tracks which led to it. “Blessed is the man in whose heart are the highways to Zion.” The beaten roads were trodden deep in their affections. The stones of the building were clothed in rich and mystic meaning. “Thy servants take pleasure in her stones.” A radiant history made worship eager, grateful and assured. “We have heard with our ear, O God; our fathers have told us what work Thou didst in their days, in the times of old.” The hoary pile was beautified with the association of the spiritual splendours of other days. They gloried in their heritage. Such was the sentiment of the olden days. The nation found its unity in its common love of Zion. There are now many Zions. The exaltation of one particular mountain has ceased. Spiritual affections no longer find their points of convergence in a lonely and isolated temple. To-day religion has many homes, but because of the many abiding-places the strength of the general fellowship need not be impoverished. The zealous reverence for particular faiths creates the religious atmosphere of a people. Here, then, is our own Zion. What is the significance of this building to the family which gathers within its walls? To an uncounted host the plain old pile is a dear and honoured home. The very stones are revered. They are the shrine of a sacred sentiment. Here our fathers met and prayed. Hero they had such visions of the Master as made them bold to confront the world. But it is not only that these stones are the shrine of a sacred sentiment; they are to many of you the house of a sacred experience. It was here you first saw the face of your Lord. It was here you were born again. I do not wonder that you love the old Zion. Every other place is a strange and unsuggesgive lodging: this house is your birthplace and your home. “Tell the towers thereof!” What are the towers of our faith? Here is the primary stronghold: Christ is the alone-exalted head of the Christian Church. No one shares His headship or pre-eminence. No one can claim a deputed sovereignty. There is only one throne, and to that throne we may all come boldly, and find grace and mercy in every time of need. Christ is the alone-exalted head of the Christian Church. That is one of the strong towers of our faith. “Tell the towers thereof.” Here is another of our strongholds: The Christian Church is constituted of Christian believers. The confines of a country do not mark the boundaries of a Church. Geographical measurements cannot delimit the magnitude of a Church. The Christian Church begins where Christian believers begin; it ends where they end. “Tell the towers thereof.” Here is a third of our strongholds: Every body of Christian believers enjoys the guiding presence of the Holy Ghost. He has called Himself the Spirit of “Counsel and of Might,” and as such will He stand revealed. “Mark ye well her bulwarks!” Yes, what are the bulwarks of our faith? What is the character of its walls? What is the nature of its defence? The defences of our faith are the resistance of its own redemptive grace. Spirituality is to be safeguarded by the spiritual. The bulwarks of a saving grace are to be found in the powers of its own salvation. “Consider her palaces!” Yes, we are not afraid to consider the home-life created and sustained by the forces of our faith. “Consider her palaces,” her dwellings, the family life which is nourished behind the ramparts of our faith. Can you conceive of any surer and firmer cement for the solidarity of a home than the immediate fellowship of each member with the Christ, in the common bond of the Holy Ghost? The palaces created by our faith, its family and its social life, are the abiding-places of the Eternal God. “Walk about Zion, go round about her: tell the towers thereof, mark ye well her bulwarks: consider her palaces, that ye may tell it to the generations following.” Is it worth the telling? Or shall we close the book and shelve the story? Can the twentieth century do without our faith? Is there no need for our towers, and our bulwarks, and our palaces? Have we a gospel which will redeem the coming man? Have we a faith which will sanctify the coming home? Have we a hope which will be directive and preservative of the purest elements in the State? Then let us proclaim it, and let us make provision for its proclamation. (J. H. Jowett, M. A.)
The unity of the Church
The walk about Zion is an examination of her position and extent; going round about her implies a complete view of the entire circumference of the holy city. Filling her towers is an examination of her resources; marking the strength of her bulwarks is to admire her stability; considering her palaces is to exalt and glorify the majesty of her internal state. The study of the external and internal condition of the Church fills the heart with rapture and the lips with praise. In figurative martial terms the psalmist celebrates the position, strength, glory and perpetuity of the Church. Based upon the eternal rock, it will stand until the long-groaning creation awakes to hear the Easter hymn that is to be sung in the Jubilee of the final Sabbath. The uppermost questions that now challenge the attention of the chief nations of the world are of and concerning the Church. Much is being said about organic unity, which is another thing than ecclesiastical unity. A forest may be a unit--that is, one forest, all its parts nursed on the same soil and under the same conditions of climate, but it is not an organic unit, for it contains twenty species of trees, all trees, indeed, but not the same in trunk, fibre or branches. They grow together, but they have each their own special development. When, therefore, we talk of organic unity among Protestants, let us remember that the unity of a common life does not imply the necessity of ecclesiastical consolidation. Still, various branches of the Evangelical Catholic Church are every day coming nearer toward one another. And they are coming in virtue of the assimilating force that is deeper than creeds, and deeper far than preferences for mere forms, whether of worship or of government. That force is defined in Holy Scripture as “the Unity of the Spirit.” And this is the only unity for which we need to pray or labour. To understand this unity, consider the meaning of three words.
I. Christianity. The Rationalist regards it as a system more or less divine which must needs be measured by human reason before it can bind the consciences of men. This low and inadequate view may be Protestant as against the superstitions of the Papacy, but it is not evangelical, inasmuch as it denies the infallibility of Scripture, the vicarious atonement of our Lord and its related doctrines. But Christianity is the complete revelation of the Divine will in the Scriptures. It is Christ revealing Himself to the human consciousness.
II. The church is one in historical transmission; and it is catholic, including all who fear God. Ecclesiastical arrangements are not of its essence, and do not interfere with its real unity, which is that of the Spirit. Rome has been fighting on a thousand battlefields to compel an external unity, but human nature will never submit to it. Such unity is but a dream, an ecclesiastical device.
III. Religion. This is to some--
1. An intellectual conception only. To others--
2. Feeling, rapture. To others--
3. A devout performance on the Lord’s day. But--
4. To the evangelist it is faith and holiness. (Elbert S. Porter, D. D.)
The beauty and strength of Zion
A diligent search into, and consideration of, the means and causes of the preservation and protection of the Church in the greatest dangers and difficulties, is a duty incumbent on us for our own support against sinful fears, and to enable us to that testimony which is required for future generations, to encourage them to trust in the Lord.
1. What is to be understood by the preservation and protection of the Church, so as we may look neither for less nor more than what we are like to meet with?
2. What is meant by searching into, and considering of, these causes and means of the Church’s preservation? “Walk about Zion, tell her towers, set your heart to her bulwarks, consider her palaces,” etc.
3. What are those causes and means of the Church’s preservation, those towers and bulwarks which will not fail, whenever Zerah or Sennacherib comes, or whatever attempts are made upon Zion?
4. What reason is there why we should thus search into and consider these causes of the Church’s preservation and protection?
5. What is the testimony which we have to give concerning this matter to the ensuing generation? “That ye may declare it to the generation to come.” (J. Owen, D. D.)
A view of national felicity, the cause of gratitude to God
I. The natural advantages of our situation.
1. Our soil is fertile, liberally rewarding the husbandman with “grass for cattle, and herb for the use of man”; with all the necessaries and many of the luxuries of life.
2. No country in the world is more sufficient for itself, or more independent of every other; while from innumerable ports we disperse our superfluities and the fruits of our industry to every nation under heaven.
3. Our climate is mild, temperate and salubrious. We are neither scorched by excess of heat, nor made torpid by intense cold.
4. Our people are hardy and vigorous; patient of toil; docile, generous and open; attached to their country; intrepid in war, industrious at home.
II. The excellence of our government.
1. Ye have personal liberty, which, as it cannot be taken from you without a crime, so neither can ye alienate it of yourselves but for a time, and upon such terms as still keep you under the protection of the laws, to guard you from abuse, and to secure your hire.
2. Ye have political liberty. Every man is allowed to declare his sentiments concerning the measures of government, and to animadvert on them in the most public manner.
3. Ye have religious liberty in a very eminent degree. Every man is allowed to hold his own creed, and to worship God in his own way.
III. The favour of providence. (J. Adamson, D. D.)
The Church of God
I. The church of God is our birthplace. Angels said, “This man was born there.”
II. The centre of our chief social attractions. Are not our grandest associations connected with the house of God? These are the men that are to stand by us in times of trouble. These are they who are to counsel us when we go astray. These are the men who are to carry us out to our last slumber when we have done with our earthly toil. Oh! I want to be surrounded by church friends, some to counsel me, some to encourage me, some to cheer me and strengthen me. I want to sit with them, and sing with them, and pray with them, and die with them.
III. The home of our children.
IV. A refuge. Seafaring men do not always expect smooth sailing. Neither ought we on the sea of life always expect to have smooth sailing. You have not always had it the way you wanted it in the past. You will not always have it the way you want it in the future. But when trouble came you went into the house of God and found it a refuge. You had your troubles explained to you.
V. Our monument. It seems a very silly thing to expend one or two or three thousand dollars on a tombstone. But that which you do for the Church of God is your eternal monument. It is a living memento.
VI. The gate of heaven. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
The threefold glory of the Chureh
I. Her towers. These naturally represent the great truths that are lifted into prominence. There are some ten great truths curiously related and parts of one system. Five of them are like corner towers--the Being of God is central to all--then the doctrine of the Son, the Spirit, Man, and the Word of God. The intermediate connecting truths are the Mediation of Christ in Atonement, the Mediation of the Spirit in Regeneration, Justification by Faith, the Inspiration of the sacred writers, and the right of private study of Scripture. No one of these truths can be sacrificed without weakening the whole structure.
II. Her bulwarks. These as naturally represent the great barriers or defences of the Church, which act as restraints against wickedness and worldliness, serving both to keep in disciples and keep out evildoers. The Church has certain separating barriers which define her province and life, and restraining barriers which repel and restrain evil. No small part of the service of the Church in the world is found in the resistance to evil. What the dykes are to Holland the Church is to the community: it keeps out the flood of evil.
III. Her palaces. These suggest beauty, honour, delight, privilege, and may stand for all the privileges of the children of God.
1. Worship, with all the ordinances, sacraments, prayer, praise, etc.
2. Fellowship, both with God and saints.
3. Holy living and growing both in knowledge and grace.
4. Service to God and man. (Homiletic Review.)
The great city
Cities are prominent waymarks in human history. With them began the distribution of rights from the few to the many. Cincinnatus at his plough had his patriotism fed by voices from the city. Cities show us the most of man; they exhibit what life can be made; they fortify genius so that its power runs not to waste; and out of the struggles of commerce, the breadth of view concerning human relations to which commerce leads, has sprung the best thought of what is duo from man to man. When Henry the First--called “The City Builder,” gave to cities peculiar privileges to induce his people to congregate, unwittingly he laid the grand basis of opposition to the Feudal system, and the legal foundation of popular rights. The people united to ward off the attacks of the lords or barons; union gave strength; the limit of locality made them develop their resources; commerce, art and wealth increased within their walls; energy grew and multiplied; the people became wealthy, respectable, educated and refined; better laws and institutions were desired; and thus the principle of human rights, leading to political equality, was gradually developed. Towers and bulwarks, high walls and fortified castles, were the defences of old; to walk about an ancient city was to mark these things; and the great story that was carried down from one generation to another was of hugs walls and mighty gates--stories which we can hardly believe as we see the variety of these defences in the presence of modern arts of destruction. Then cities had to be set upon a hill, that no mountain might give the archers of the enemy a position of assault; or they must be reared, like Babylon and Palmyra, in the midst of a vast plain. But not so now. He who now walks about a great city to note its strength, its defences, its promises of superior greatness, does not mark down upon his map of survey walls, towers, bulwarks, palaces; for he looks into the character of homes, the intelligence and virtue of families, and he counts up schools and institutions of learning, benevolence, religion. Undazzled by all the glitter and show of wealth, unimpressed by the stately palaces, unmoved by the boasts of trade and commerce, and disregarding the growth of material prosperity that makes the grand exhibition of thronged streets and crowded marts--the river dotted with the white sails, amid which the floating vapour from the steam craft rises as incense, sending the thoughts out to sea and to the infinite, unimpressed, in his deepest nature, by all this, his great question is, How true is it that God and the Lamb have their thrones and servants here? How much is God the light of this city? How much of all this glory is as the costume of this oriental bride adorned for her husband, as we think of the city wedded to Christ? No interest of the city can be secured by deserting the Church or profaning the Sabbath. Religion is the patron of all good. She consecrates the child to God, that daily duty towards it may be more and better felt. She invokes a blessing in the school, and sanctifies education as the process of unfolding the mind, as the sun opens the flower, ripens the fruit, gives the seasons of the year. She comes to the workshop and to the lad at his apprenticeship everywhere, telling him labour is a great ordinance of God, and bids him aim to do well his task as a part of religious duty, assuring him that all effort or improvement has its relation to the moral culture and condition and prospects of the soul. Join the elements of duty thus presented, and we may be able to speak in Scripture language, with more than its original meaning, of “the crowning City, whose merchants are princes, and whose traffickers are the honourable of the earth.” The city will be great. To walk round about her will be to walk about Zion, and to find something worthy of telling to the generations springing up around us. God will be known in her palaces for a refuge. (H. Bacon.)
A walk about Zion
As the Jews were very proud of their temple, and greatly inclined to magnify themselves on account of it, we feel as if we could sympathize with them in their joy and admiration when we picture them walking about Zion literally, and marking the towers thereof; but it may not occur to us, when under this feeling, that we ourselves, as a nation, have a far more magnificent temple than even the Jews had, for we have part and portion in the great Christian temple of which Solomon’s was after all but the appointed type or symbol. The foundation of our Zion is not concealed. It is all before us in explict revelation, and the great master builder Himself thus brings it fully into view, “Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation, a stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation.” And, alluding to it still further, in telling believers on whom they rest, it is said of them that they “are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone.” So close is the spiritual connection between Christ and believers. But we wish to show now that it is for the sake of the Church the world itself exists.
I. The importance to be attached to the towers and bulwarks of Zion, and the duty of all to help in maintaining them. The world is spared for the sake of the Church to be redeemed out of it, and the Church is to aid in gathering together the souls that shall be saved. How much, then, does the world owe to the Church, for it is only for her sake that it is preserved. As the Canaanites were for Israel, who should inherit their land.
II. All people in a Christian land, whatever their position, are under strict obligation to aid in tee building of Zion, Now, this duty is binding, not on private individuals only, but on men in their official capacities as kings, rulers and having authority. It would be strange if those who, by their position, could do most for this work, were free from obligation to do anything. All past history, as given in Scripture, contradicts those who would have no connection between the Church and the State. For kings and governments have helped the Church, have been commanded to do so, and been blessed for that which they have done. Then, “my soul, come not thou into their secret.” Who would separate what God has joined? (J. Allen.)
Mark well her bulwarks; consider ye her palaces.
Bulwarks and palaces
The psalm speaks of Jerusalem, the pride of the Jewish heart, and the boast of the Jewish glory. It is described from two points: from that of admiring friendship, and from continuous enmity. In this symbolical poem the kings are represented as enemies.
I. Bulwarks symbolize power and strength. I fail to discern any of the marks of decay and weakness with which the Church of God in our day is charged. Her towers are growing stronger, her glory more resplendent, her foes decrease, and her friends become more numerous. Some of the manifest emblems of power are--
1. Christian civilization. The very air men breathe is charged through and through with Christian thought.
2. The Bible, for it is a great source of power. One of the surest proofs of its power is the virulence of its enemies. Men would not attack a book which is a dead letter.
3. The vast accumulation of wealth, and the number of churches. These are signs of power. The value of Church property in our land is unparalleled, and increases greatly every year. There is not a single heathen temple in process of erection in the world. The Church gives hundreds of thousands a year for mission world. Her light flashes away up in frozen Greenland, in Central Africa and in Polynesia. Christ will be universal King.
II. Riches and glory are indicated by the palaces of Zion.
1. There is the palace of assurance--the doctrine of the witness of the Spirit. These need no witness of guilt--of that men are conscious. When pardon comes we have the witness of the Spirit that we are taken into the family of God.
2. The palace of Christian fellowship.
3. That of Divine communion. Zion with her towers, her bulwarks, her palaces, is the joy of the whole earth. Now she is the Church militant, but shall be soon the Church triumphant. (J. H. Bayliss, D. D.)
This God is our God for ever and ever.
He is so. Nothing else is so as He is. Our time, wealth, children, bodies, souls are not, strictly speaking, our own. But God is. And we may know and claim this. David was ever making such claim. Oh Lord, he says, my strength, my rock, my fortress, etc. And this relationship is not of our making but of His. We choose and give ourselves to Him, but it is by His grace. And the relationship is permanent--for ever and ever. Every other relation breaks up; but this, never. And the soul exults in this relationship. (W. Jay.)
God with all His perfections, the Christian’s God
It is the unspeakable privilege of believers that God in Christ is their own God, and will be so for ever. In the Old Testament it was the joy of the devout Jew that God was his God. And the believer in Christ has the like joy. But only through Christ, who is called Immanuel, that is, “God with us.” Eminent believers are represented as having a special interest in God. The patriarchs; Moses; the psalmists; David. And we may well rejoice in our relation to God, for He is almighty, wise, holy, just, omnipresent, patient, sovereign, good, merciful, love, faithful. Then, can we say, “This God is our God”? (G. Burder.)
Great and awful is the subject which this Sunday brings before us--the greatest and most awful of any. It is not a simple historical fact, like those which we commemorate on other great days of our Church; like the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ on Christmas Day, or His death on Good Friday, or His resurrection on Easter Day, or the descent of the Holy Ghost on Whit-Sunday, that we have to do with now. It is the revealed truth respecting God Himself; the unfolding to us, as far as we can receive it, of the name and nature of the Almighty. But this mystery has its practical side. Take--
I. The name of father. What word could more truly convey the love of God to us?
II. The name of the son. What a revelation this is; how it brings heaven very near to us and clears the way for sinners to draw nigh to the holy God.
III. The name of the Holy Ghost. He it is who makes us holy, raises us from the death of sin to the life of righteousness and so fits us for the eternal inheritance. He is our Instructor; the Spirit of counsel, of knowledge and true godliness; the Spirit of God’s holy fear. (R. D. B. Rawnsley, M. A.)
Bold yet unanswerable
There are three ideas in the text.
1. In the words “This God,” we have a bold and unanswerable assertion.
2. In the statement that “This God is our God” we have a personal possession.
3. As He is our God for ever and ever we have an eternal joy. (W. Birch.)
The English word God is an Anglo-Saxon word, which gave not only the name, but told the character of God. For it means also “good.” God did not show the glory of His face to Moses, but He blessed him with a revelation of His name. In the name Jehovah there are eleven different meanings, each of which describes the character of our God. Let me mention them in their order. The ever-existing Being whose nature and disposition are eternally the same; the strong God who can do all things; the merciful Being who is full of tenderness and compassion; the gracious One whose heart is goodness, humility and love; the long-suffering Friend who is never irritated with His people, and who suffers long and is kind even unto the unthankful and the evil; the bountiful Provider who overflows with beneficence; the true One who never deceives nor can be deceived, and who is the fountain of truth ever pouring wisdom and knowledge unto men; the Keeper of compassion for the suffering, the erring, and the penitent to all generations; the unselfish Being who himself bears the pain of iniquity, and who pardons transgression and washes away sin; the impartial Ruler who acts rightly to every creature; and the faithful Judge whose wise laws pour blessings on the righteous and inflict punishment on the wicked, and from whose just sentence the impenitent sinner cannot escape. Let this God be our God for ever and ever.
I. Our God is a consuming fire. I was taught as a child to dread God. He was said to love me only when I was obedient, and to make a place for me in hell when I was not a good child. Feeling conscious that I was more bad than good, I dreaded God; and had a great fear of going to sleep lest I should die and see Him before morning. It was teaching as unwise as it was untrue. What a revelation when I read in the New Testament that Jesus was God! And when I felt He loved me, and listened to my prayer, and smiled upon me, I went forth to tell a little playmate who, like me, had lost his mother, that Jesus would be a gentle mother to him.
II. Our God is also a practical God. He teaches men the science of self-government. His intention is that His people shall be conformed to His likeness; and in order that they may copy Him, He gives the Divine nature to all who ask. God would have us run willingly in the path of His commandments. Some parents never let their children out of their sight, and so protect them from evil; but it would be better to teach them the fear of the Lord, so that they may be able to resist temptation and practise goodness. It is good to be saved from sin by any means, but it is best when our own principle holds us back from it. And so God does not hold us from temptation by outward force, but by the inbreathing of His Spirit; He would have us obedient children who love to do His will. God also deals practically with nations as with individuals. He is teaching nations the art of self-government, and is training men to see that war is not only a blunder, but a crime.
III. I should like to have shown that our God is a personal God. He knows you, He loves you, and He is now present with you! Speak to Him in prayer; He hears you. Seek His Holy Spirit; He gives it to you. Trust Him. (W. Birch.)
This God is our God
The revelation of the Deity to mankind may be represented as a twofold revelation. It has pleased God to disclose Himself to us in His works; that is, in the facts and the phenomena of the material and the intellectual universe. And it has pleased God furthermore to disclose Himself in His Word; that is, in the writings of holy men of old, who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. To each of these communications it becomes us to give reverent and earnest heed. We have, then, two sources of information concerning God. We have--let us call it so, according to the ordinary phraseology--natural religion; and we have revealed religion. Not contradictory, remember, at any point; not contradictory in any measure whatever, No, they are not at variance with each other; they are not independent of each other; they are not indifferent to each other. Truth cannot be opposed to truth. I have been led to say this in consequence of the particular cast and the phraseology of my text--“This God is our God.” The question comes immediately, what God? what God is your God? All nature comes and proffers its answer, and all Scripture comes and proffers its answer. They do not contradict one another, but they beautifully combine to give us an answer in which we may all rejoice. Who is your God? you may say to the good man in the hour of his rejoicing, who is your God? He that treated the heavens and the earth, and who loved the world so as to “give His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” “This God is our God for ever and ever, and He will be our guide even unto death.” Now, my business is to speak of the blessedness of the man who is able to appreciate this great truth, and my hope is that I may prevail upon many of you to ask whether that privilege may not become your own. It may, if you will. Do you, as I go on from point to point affirming that “this God is our God,” do you say, “May He be mine too”? “This God.” What God? Think--
I. Of his infinite power. In creation, by a word; the earth and man, his body and soul. What power is here. This is my God, this God that has done all things that can be conceived of, whether “in heaven above, in the earth beneath, or in the waters under the earth.” “Comes there before you now dangers, jeopardy, adversaries? Comes there before you now something that you are anticipating, of which you stand in dread? and you feel, would to God I had defence and protection for ever? Say to Him, “Who is our God? Thou art my portion saith my soul.” Before you say it, He will answer. Who is our God? He it is who created the heavens and the earth by His mere commandment, and who could unmake them all to-morrow by a similar commandment, again upholding all things by the word of His power. He is our Father, and we are His sons and daughters, according to His promise.
II. The infinite wisdom of God. Do you not know what marks of consummate sagacity are meeting us at every step? There is that great and wide sea of which I spoke; possessed of an ingredient that maintains it in its purity, and yet getting discharged of that ingredient naturally and advantageously day after day! The great wide seal The source of the fertilizing shower, the great receptacle to which those fertilizing showers return! Mark the wisdom there! There is the sun placed just in the position necessary for the beautiful diffusion of its light and heat; and here is our earth in its relation to the sun, so revolving as to obtain the benefit of its sunshine and of its warmth, and so related to it as to give us all the seasons in their turn. Wisdom again!
III. The unspeakable mercy of God. For this see how righteousness and love, justice and mercy were harmonized.
IV. His unchangeableness. And He waits to be yours. To reject Him is to perish. (W. Brock.)
The right God
It is all important that we should worship the right God now, in our text the psalmist made--
I. A blessed selection. “This God,” amongst all other gods, shall be our God. For there were many gods of different name and nature. Some for one country and others for another. But in our day all Christian nations profess, whatever be their sect or denomination, to worship the same God. There are many Churches. Roman Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Mormon and others. Now, which is the true Church, and what God is the right God? And we must each one make our choice. It is a responsibility that we cannot transfer. It is said that every man makes his own god. And it is true that a man will of necessity ascribe to God those faculties and attributes which he himself possesses and values most highly. “To the merciful thou wilt show thyself merciful.” Every rightly educated man in a Christian country must, after studying the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ, believe in God our Father. If he be a man of balanced judgment, that is, if his mind be formed mentally “on the square,” in my opinion, he must admit that the highest ideal, the noblest character, the most beautiful disposition that can possibly be described in human language is that of the Divine Being, our heavenly Father, as revealed by Jesus Christ. What a beautiful name is that of Father! And He is the Father of our spirits which, though the body may perish, are indestructible. And God is revealed as a pardoning God, freely forgiving our sins.
II. The blessed decision. “This God is our God.” Believe in God’s power and willingness to save us. Trust Him utterly, and through Jesus Christ He will save us. (W. Birch.)
The eternal Guide
It was an old Athenian custom to celebrate at the public expense the funeral of those citizens who had honourably fallen in war. At the close of the first year of the war between Athens and Sparta, Pericles was chosen to deliver the funeral oration. His eloquent words have been preserved for us in the pages of a Greek historian. He calls upon his fellow-citizens to fix their eyes on the present greatness of their city, and he continues, “When you are impressed by the spectacle of her glory, reflect that this Empire has been acquired by men who knew their duty, and had the courage to do it. The sacrifice which they made was repaid to them; for they received, each one for himself, a praise which grows not old, and the noblest of all sepulchres. Make them your examples. Congratulate yourselves that you have been happy during the greater part of your days; remember that your life of sorrow will net last long, and be comforted by the glory of those who are gone; for the love of honour alone is ever young, and not riches but honour is the delight of men when they are old and useless.” How striking is the contrast of this utterance with our psalm. This, too, has a national character. It records the defeat of the enemy, and, like the speech of the Athenian, points to the unimpaired glory of the national centre. Zion stands unharmed. No hostile army lies at her gates. Behold her in her beauty! Thy lovingkindness, O God, is in the midst of Thy temple. Our future is in Thy hands. “This God is our God for ever and ever. He will be our Guide even unto death.” The contrast is instructive. There can be no question as to which member of it appeals to us--it is the Hebrew net the Greek standpoint that is ours. Not great statesmen, generals or scholars do we regard as the ground of our hope, whether national or individual, but God. If we have cause for congratulation, the cause is the Lord.
I. The psalmist makes the past throw light on the future. He notes how God has interposed for His people, and upon such facts he bases his assurances for the future. Such is God--so mighty and so careful for His people. Our God, who has made our cause His own; for ever, for He is always the same. And as He has been, so He will be even unto death. And certainly, if the psalmist had been the most learned of historians, if he could have anticipated the large and minute knowledge and the elaborate philosophies of history which mark the present, he could not have reached a wiser conclusion. For if, in our studies, we leave God out of history or of personal experience, these give us no ground of hope for successful guidance in the future. If any one is satisfied to believe that he has reached his present success, or that the world has attained its present point of progress through human wisdom alone, I wish him joy of his conclusion, and should be interested to know how he reconciles it with the facts. The administration of the world has clearly proved itself to be altogether too large a thing for either the individual or the collective wisdom of mankind.
II. And God is our God. He is not merely an abstract fact, but a personal possession. “This God is our God.” This permission to appropriate God is one of the most precious revelations of Scripture. God gives Himself to us. God’s giving Himself in Christ is no new gift. He had done that long before Christ came. The psalmist had said, “Thou art my God, O God.” That little word “my” represents the eternal relation of God to His people. And if God is ours, then, whatever is in God is available for us, is ours. A good many of you do not practically believe that. If you did, you would not worry and fret as you do. You will not accept God’s large meaning. If a rich and wise man in whom you have perfect trust should come to you this morning and say, “For the rest of your life you shall absolutely command my purse, ray knowledge, my experience,” you would appreciate that, and would believe it, and would get substantial help and comfort from it. And yet God says to you nothing less than this. I am your God. All that you can receive as a man I put at your disposal. That is your new-year’s gift if you will believe it. Some things God will net give you because they would hurt you. Other things He will not give you because you could not use them if you had them. In giving you Himself God gives you more than all His gifts combined.
III. This possession is for ever and ever. More than this year’s future is assured. No king, no capitalist can say what you can. They cannot say of their crown, their gold, “This is mine for ever.” The head that wears the crown must be laid low, and the rich man’s gold pass into other hands. But God is ours for ever and ever.
IV. The thought is made specific--God is our God as our guide. This idea of guidance is frequent in the Scriptures. See Israel in the wilderness. And our Lord, in the beautiful figure of the good shepherd--“He goeth before them.” And in heaven, “the Lamb shall lead them to fountains of living waters.” Such is God, our God, our Guide, an approved Guide. The history of His guidance, the map of the tracks by which He has led His people, is before us. The first instance has yet to be shown of one who has fared other than well by following God as a guide. Do you cite me the great army of the sorrowing, the persecuted, the martyrs? They have not fared ill if their own testimony is worth anything. They have had their choice. They could have forsaken God if they would, but they chose to follow Him through suffering to death. On their own testimony they fared better with God and with tribulation than with the world and without God. And our Guide has unerring wisdom (Psalms 73:1-28.). “Thou shelf guide me with Thy counsel.” Is it not worth trying? Suppose that for this year you literally accept it as the law of your life, to let God take care of you. Keep your hand in God’s, your eye upon His face; do what He tells you; do your best, and believe with all your heart that God will do the best for you. I care not how many troubles and disappointments you shall meet--if you do not say at the close of the year that it has been the happiest, or rather the most blessed, year of your life, come to me and tell me I have misread God’s promises. And what is this blessed promise but that which we find in Christ’s words, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” (M. R. Vincent, D. D.)
He will be our guide even unto death,--
How perfectly qualified God is for this office. In a journey it is unnecessary for the traveller to know the road; but the guide ought to know it; and when he is well acquainted with it and we have full confidence in him, we shall feel satisfaction notwithstanding our ignorance. Abraham went out not knowing whither he went; but he knew with whom. And so Job, amid all his perplexities, comforts himself with the thought, “He knoweth the way that I take.” And our Guide indulges us with constant intercourse, and is equal to all our exigencies. He defends us, and is patient under all our provocations. And He continues with us all the way, even unto death, yea, and through it, “through the valley of the shadow of death.” (W. Jay.)
God our Guide
1. If we were going to ascend Mont Blanc, we should seek for a guide in whom we could feel confidence; he must be a man of experience, one who had travelled that way many times, who knew every danger and how to avoid them; he must be a strong man, and one who would be able to render aid in case of accident, one who would not desert us in the hour of need, but stand by us even unto death; and many a guide has lost his life in these perilous ascents in the effort to save the traveller in his care. The guide would expect us to follow him, and to obey him, and no one would neglect to do this. So in our journey through life, One has offered to be our Guide and lead us safely to the heavenly Jerusalem. There are many dangers by the way, many pitfalls for the unwary and ignorant, and those who insist on going alone are sure to get lost; let us choose this Guide, for He has experience, He has travelled this way before, and He knows every step. He is a guide we can have such confidence in, we need never doubt Him for a moment, but He must be obeyed, we must follow Him just as He tells us.
2. Into what paths will He guide us? He led the children of Israel through the desert, but into a land flowing with milk and honey. And sometimes He leads His people through darkness, but the way leads up to light, through sorrow up to joy, through tears up to happiness; separations will end in reunions, weakness in strength, sickness in health. He will lead us into that land where shall be no more hunger nor thirst, where the sun shall not light on us, nor any heat. For He shall lead us unto fountains of living water, and God shall wipe away all tears from our eyes; and there shall be no night there. What a glorious Guide and Leader! (L. Shorey.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 48". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany