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O God, Thou art my God; early will I seek Thee.
The greatest things of the soul
I. The greatest hunger of the soul (Psalms 63:1). The soul wants God, as the thirsty land the refreshing showers, as the opening flower the sunbeam.
II. The greatest faith of the soul (Psalms 63:3). Lovingkindness is indeed better than life; it is independent, it is the cause of life, the redemption of life: It is lovingkindness that supplies the wants, gratifies the desires, develops the powers of life. All the elements of soul-joy,--gratitude, admiration, moral esteem, benevolence,--are awakened by lovingkindness. Lovlngkindness is heaven. Faith in this lovingkindness is the greatest faith--greatest because it is the most soul-sustaining, soul-inspiring, soul-ennobling.
III. The greatest exercise of the soul--praise. It is not a service, but a life. It is not that which merely “goeth forth “ in sacred music and on sacred occasions; but, as a sap in the trunk of the tree runs through all its branches and leaves and blossoms, so true praise runs through all the activities of human life.
IV. The greatest satisfaction of the soul, David’s great desire was, “To see Thy power and glory as I have seen Thee in the sanctuary.” The blessedness of such a soul is ever with it. “The pleasure of the religous man,” says Dr. South, “is an easy and portable pleasure, such a one as he carries about in his bosom, without alarming either the rage or the envy of the world. A man putting all his pleasures into this one is like a traveller putting all his goods into one jewel; the value is the same, and the convenience greater.”
V. The greatest study of the soul (Psalms 63:6).
1. Man can think upon God--not merely on what He has done, but on what He is, Himself.
2. Man, can think upon God on his bed. When all other objects are shut out from him, when the beautiful earth and the star-spangled heavens are excluded, God cart be brought into the soul as the subject of thought. No study so quickening. The thought of God vivifies the faculties and stirs the heart. None so humbling, With God before the eye of thought, all egotism wanes and dies. None so spiritualizing. With God before the mind’s eye, fleets, armies, markets, governments, the solemn globe itself and all it contains, dwindle into insignificance. None so enlightening. The study of God lightens up all the fields truth. All the branches have their root in God.
VI. The greatest trust of the soul (Psalms 63:7). (Homilist.)
This psalm was composed in the wilderness of Judaea, where the privations he sustained lent language to devotion, and ardours to piety. It shows David as he really was, resting On the promises of God, and supported by earnests and pledges of his future hope. It is a more luminous display of ancient piety.
I. Ancient piety is founded on filial confidence: “O God, thou art my God; early will I seek Thee.” A culprit cannot have this confidence in his judge, because he comes clothed with power to punish his crimes. But here the psalmist says, “Thou art my God”; mine by covenant; mine by promises; mine by innumerable blessings and answers to prayer; yea, thou art mine by full consent of heart, and by daily acts of faith, and devotion to all Thy holy will.
II. Piety is supreme in its aspirations and desires after God: “My soul thirsteth for Thee, my flesh,” etc. A prince whose heart was less impressed with piety than David’s might have said, “These sands and deserts, which afford neither bread nor water, are not places for religion. Restore me to the throne, and then I will be religious; put the sceptre into my hand, and then I will defend the saint; give me the means, and then I will make all my people happy.” Ah! promises of future piety do not gain much credence in heaven. The bosom-sin which seduces the heart in the desert would seduce it on the throne. Not so David: he would bring burning coals to the altar, that its ardours might glow the more when allowed to tread the hallowed courts. He asks for God alone.
III. There is a reality in the consolations of religion; and a reality which surpasses all terrestrial enjoyments (Psalms 63:8).
IV. Piety: it abstracts the soul from the world; diverts it from the keen sensations of adversity; and so unites it to God, as to communicate a plenitude of Divine felicity (Psalms 63:5-6). Devotion elevates the soul to the true source of felicity, to drink of streams which are never dry. The mind, contemplating its God in the wide unfoldings of revelation, spontaneously kindles with the fire of the altar, and with grateful utterance of the heart.
V. The enjoyments of piety are inseparably connected with the exercises of devotion (Psalms 63:5). While the psalmist was musing on all the ways of providence and grace, the fire kindled in his heart.
VI. It was by these exercises, and by experience, that the ancient saints became decided in character, and attained the full assurance of faith and comfort (Psalms 63:7). Those who waver in the faith, and are inconstant in duty, and whose religion is only like a winter’s sun, find a failure in bringing the plants of grace to perfection.
VII. The brightest trait of piety is yet to come: she holds fast her assurance and joy in the times of affliction, and foresees deliverance before the arm of salvation can actually appear. In all her troubles, the voice of despair is never heard. She lays hold on the promises, and embraces the sure mercies of David. Hear the psalmist’s words in the wilderness, when all his enemies account him as lost and undone (Psalms 63:9-10). You who may be tried in various ways, and with the long-continued strokes of affliction, take to yourselves the full cup of comfort from the Word of the Lord. David’s God is your God, and He will deliver you in His own time, and in His own way, out of all your troubles. (James Sutcliffe, M. A.)
David’s owning of, and application to, God
I. His owning of God. “O God, thou art my God.” This was a good beginning, and a very fair preface to that which follows after. And it is that, indeed, which lays a foundation to all the rest. It is that which must be necessarily premised in all our addresses to God, and petitions for anything from Him.
1. It is an expression of faith. David calls God his God, as having taken Him so to be to him. God is in a common and general sense the God of all men, as He is said to be the Saviour of all men (1 Timothy 4:10). Namely, in regard of common and general blessings which He bestows upon them, of Creation and Providence. But for believers, and those which are His children, as the prophet David here was, He is their God more especially, in a more peculiar manner, above any besides; He is to them a God in covenant, engaging Himself to them, to do them good, and to provide graciously for them. And they call Him their God thus, and with this emphasis upon it.
(1) The benefit of it is very great; yea, in effect all things else. To say, God is ours, is to say, The whole world is ours, and a great deal more; it is to give us title to everything which may be requisite or convenient for us. Whatever we can desire or stand in need of, it is all wrapt up in this, “Thou art my God.”
(2) It is an hard thing, too, it is a matter of difficulty. There are two states and conditions in which it is very difficult to say, “O God, thou art my God”; the one is the state of nature and unregeneracy; and the other is the state of desertion, and the hiding of God’s face from the soul.
2. It is an expression also of obedience and self-resignation. Those whom God is a God to, He does bestow special favours upon them; and those to whom God is a God, they do return special services to Him; which is here now considerable of us. And so we shall find it to be all along in Scripture (Psalms 118:28).
II. His application to Him.
1. His resolution, what he would do, “Early will I seek Thee.” He promises to seek after God, and to do it betimes, which is an enlargement of it; where, while he signifies his own purpose, he does likewise signify our duty; while he tells us what shall be done by him, he tells us also what is to be done by us, namely, to seek the Lord early; not only to seek Him, but to be forward in our seeking of Him.
(1) Early as to the time of the day. Early, that is, in the morning. We should give God the first of our thoughts every day.
(2) Early, as to the time of our life, in the morning of our age. For men to defer their repentance and reformation to their old age, and when they have spent all their time before in the pursuit of their lusts, to think to seek God then, and that will be time enough;--that’s but a vain conceit and imagination in them.
(3) Early as to the time of God’s judgments, and providential dispensations. We must seek Him early, that is, before He fetches us to Him, and compels us, as it were, to the seeking of Him. It is better in regard of piety, and it is better in regard of safety. It is more ingenuity in us in respect of God, and it is more wisdom in us in respect of ourselves. For hereby we save both Him and ourselves a great deal of labour, which otherwise He is put unto with us; and we may escape a great deal of smart which otherwise through our own wilful-nose and neglect happens unto us.
2. His intimation of the state and temper which he was now in, or the ground and reason of his resolution.
(1) The object of his desire was God Himself. As he is in a state of darkness, so he longs for God in the clearer evidence and more comfortable assurance of His favour and good-will towards him. As he is in a state of weakness, so he thirsts for God in She impartment of more of His grace, and strength, and assistance to him. As he is in a state of strangeness, some kind of distance and alienation from God; so he does also long for Him in the intercourse of communion with Him.
(2) The intention of his desire. His own necessities, and the sense and apprehension of them. This puts him upon this desire. A good Christian hath so much need of God, as that he cannot be well satisfied without Him. The amiableness of the object does provoke and excite the desire. God being so exceedingly lovely and admirable, as indeed He is in His own nature, it cannot but draw on those which do discern it, very much to desire it; and there’s experience also in it which does promote it, and help it on.
3. The subject of the desire, which is here signified to be the soul and the flesh; hit soul properly, his flesh by way of sympathy with it; they are both of them in it.
(1) In the midst of any outward and temporal deficiencies, we should consider and reflect upon our spiritual.
(2) The best way to correct and qualify our desires as to temporals, is to fasten them upon spirituals. When we would restrain any inordinate longing for some outward or earthly accommodation, or suppress any grief, either of the like nature, we cannot better do it, than by provoking ourselves to the desire of spiritual comforts. This helps, first, by way of diversion, and turning the stream of the affections another way, and so breaking off the violence of it, that it prevails not upon us. And then further, there is that also in spirituals which does supply and make amends to us for any temporal deficiency. (T. Horton, D. D.)
The saint claiming God as his God
I. Concerning the Deity whom faith claims. There can be no claiming or believing till He be known. It is therefore proper to begin with a display of His glory.
1. Every perfection in His glory. Had we the tongue and the voice of the seraphim, we could not declare it all. Paper broader than the earth, ink deeper than the sea, pens stronger than iron, and hands readier than the quickest scribe, could not write the thousandth part of it.
2. God is the Creator and Preserver of all (Isaiah 42:5).
3. God is the spring and fountain of our reconciliation by the death of His Son.
4. God is the promiser and the lawgiver. Without the promise, we could not observe the law, and without the law, we would abuse the promise.
5. Our blessedness is in God (Psalms 62:1-12).
II. Concerning the claiming of property in God.
1. The Word is the ground of our claiming property in God.
2. Believing in God through our Lord Jesus Christ is the exercise of our claim. Christ and God are not divided and separated, in our believing and claiming. God was, and is, and will be in Christ. Christ was, and is, and will be in God.
3. The promises of the covenant encourage our claiming interest and property in God through Christ Jesus the Lord.
4. The exercise of the heart which believes and claims interest and property in God is recommended by the example of Christ. In the anguish and bitterness of distress He cried, “My Father,” and “My God.” And no sooner was He delivered from the power of death by a glorious resurrection, than He said, “I ascend to My Fatter and your Father, and to My God and your God.” Follow His example.
5. The Spirit of adoption constrains to this exercise of the heart. Without His presence and operation, no man believes and claims interest and property in God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
6. No law condemns this exercise of the heart. Believing and claiming interest and property in God through Jesus Christ is against no law. Is the law against the promises of God, or the promises against the law of God? God forbid.
III. The manner in which interest and property in God should be claimed in believing.
1. In Christ. Christ is the true, and living, and only way to God. “No man,” said He, “cometh to the Father but by Me.” In claiming interest and relation in one, we claim interest and relation and property in both. The guilty and polluted cannot approach the holiness of the Lord but through, and by, and in a Mediator, whom He hath made unto them wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.
2. In humility. When we venture into the presence of the high and holy One, and say, “O God, Thou art my God,” humility of mind is our adorning. Our unworthiness as creatures, and our pollution as sinners, should produce in us the deepest debasement before Him.
3. With reverence. “Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him.” When the humble spirit is before Him, saying, “O God, Thou art my God,” it doth not allow itself to forget and disregard these instructions.
4. With confidence (Psalms 48:14).
IV. Concerning the seasons in our exercise of believing and claiming relation, interest, and property in God through Christ.
1. The season of labouring. God is the glory of our strength; and believing and claiming Him in Christ, what service may we not undertake boldly, and what labour may we not endure joyfully.
2. The season of suffering. We need to abound in the believing exercises of the heart to God-ward through Christ, in order to draw in strength from the promises to endure it, and encourage and confirm hope of deliverance out of it.
3. The season of trouble and vexation of spirit.
4. The season of heaviness and grief.
5. The season of temptation. By steadfast believing, and continuance in well-doing, ye will, through the grace, and Spirit, and word of Christ, defeat every attempt to invalidate a claim, standing on His own My God and your God, My Father and your Father.
6. The season of dying. Steadfast believing in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the atonement, will make us smile in the face of an enemy at whose appearance our heart would otherwise be alarmed and dismayed. (A. Shanks.)
God and the soul
The text might form a motto for what is termed, in the modern phrase, “personal religion.” No religion, of course, can deserve its name if it be not personal at bottom, if it do not recognize as its basis the case of the personal soul face to face with the personal God. But, even with a view to the perfection of the individual himself, religion may, nay, it must, embrace other interests besides his own. Each time that, in the earliest creed, we formally profess our belief in God, we also profess our belief in the Catholic Church and the Communion of Saints. But at least in David we have a notable example of a sensitive, tender, self-analyzing soul, living in sustained communion with God, while yet deeply sensible of the claims of the civil and religious polity of Israel. “My God.” The word does not represent a human impression, or desire, or conceit, but an aspect, a truth, a necessity of the Divine Nature. Man can, indeed, give himself by halves; he can bestow a little of his thought, of his heart, of his endeavour, upon his brother man. In other words, man can be imperfect in his acts, as he is imperfect and finite in his nature. But when God, the Perfect Being, loves the creature of His Hand, He cannot thus divide His love. He must give Himself to the single soul with as absolute a completeness as if there were no other being besides the soul which He loves. And, on his side, man knows that this gift of Himself by God is thus entire; and in no narrow spirit of ambitious egotism, but as grasping and representing the literal fact, he cries, “My God.” Therefore does this single word enter so largely into the composition of Hebrew names. Men loved to dwell upon that wondrous relation of She Creator to their personal life which it so vividly expressed. Therefore we find St. Paul writing to the Galatians as if his own soul, in its solitary anguish, had alone been redeemed by the sacrifice of Calvary: “He loved me, and gave Himself for me.” But hero let us observe that there are two causes within the soul which might indispose us for looking more truly and closely at the truth before us. Of these causes, the first is moral: it is the state of unrepented wilful sin. It is hostile to the assertion no less of the love than of the rights of God. It is averse from Him. It has other ends in view which are so many denials of His supreme claims upon created life. It cowers with involuntary dread at the sound of His voice among the trees of the garden. If the depraved and sinful will, still clinging to its sin, could conceivably attain to a spiritual embrace of the All-Holy God, so intimate, so endearing as is that of the psalmist, such nearness would be to it nothing less than repulsive; it would be scarcely less than an agony. The other cause is intellectual. It may, without offence, be described as the subjective spirit, which is so characteristic and predominant an influence in the thought of our day. In plain English this spirit is an intellectual selfishness, which makes man, and not God, the monarch and centre of the world of thought. Man is again to be, as of old with the Greek sophist, the measure of all things. God is as but a point on the extreme circumference of His creature’s thought. Nay, more, in its more developed form, this temper makes God Himself a pure creation of the thought of His creature; and, by doing so, it at length denies His real existence. An educated man of the present day who would look God really in the face has perhaps no greater intellectual difficulty to contend with than the trammels and false points of view which strictly subjective habits of thought have imposed upon his understanding. While these habits are dominant in a man, God may be a portion, nay, the most considerable portion, of his thought; but God will not be in any true sense the man’s God, before whom his soul bows, Among the many truths which the Supreme Being has disclosed to us men about Himself, there are two which, beyond others, are peculiarly calculated to enable us to realize our real relation towards Him. The first, the truth that God is our Creator. The second, the truth that He has made us for Himself, and is Himself the end and the explanation of our existence. The most simple and obvious truths are, as a rule, the most profound; and no apology is needed for asking each one of you to reflect steadily on the answer to this question, Where was I one short century ago? The lowest and vilest creatures were more than we; in that to them a being had been given, while as yet we were without one. Rut at this moment we are in possession of that blessed and awful gift which we name “life.” We find ourselves endowed with an understanding capable of knowledge, and with a heart formed for love. We cannot but ask how we came to be here, and we cannot worship God unless we believe that it was He who made us. Yet, though we witness around us the wreck of serious convictions, and the despair of true and noble hearts, and the triumph of false theories, and the additional difficulties of our daily struggle with unseen foes, and (it may be) with the results of our own past unfaithfulness to light and grace, we have but to look within ourselves to trace without doubt or misgiving the true law of that life which our God has given us. By gathering up the scattered fragments of the shattered statue, we can recover, if not the perfect work itself, at least the ideal which was before the Eye of the Artist. In this place we are sufficiently familiar with the presumption that there must be a correspondence and proportion between a faculty and its object. Why, then, does the human intellect crave perpetually for new fields of knowledge? It was made to apprehend an Infinite Being; it was made for God. Why does the human heart disclose, when we probe it, such inexhaustible capacities for love, and tenderness, and self-sacrifice? It was made to correspond to a love that had neither stint nor limit; it was made for God. Why does no employment, no success, no scene or field of thought, no culture of power or faculty, no love of friend or relative, arrest definitely and for all time the onward, craving, restless impulse of our inner being? No other explanation is so simple as that we were made for the Infinite and Unchangeable God, compared with whom all else is imperfect, fragile, transient, and unsatisfying. (Canon Liddon.)
The saint resolving to seek his God
I. Concerning seeking God. This includes--
1. Our belief of His existence and attributes.
2. His relation to us in Christ, created by sovereign goodness, and set in an everlasting covenant.
3. Our blessedness in Him. In lively piety the belief of this is firm and operative.
4. Our duty to worship and glorify Him in the way appointed by Himself. Hearing the Word, receiving the sacraments, singing of psalms, with humiliation, thanksgiving, and prayer, are ordinances of worship; and observing them in their seasons is seeking God in convocations and assemblies. Reading, and prayer, and praise, and instruction, are duties of piety; and performing them is seeking Him in households and families. Reading, meditation, and prayer, are holy services; and doing them is seeking Him in closets and secret places.
II. Concerning seeking God early.
1. Early in respect of life. As soon as we awake into being, capable of exercising ourselves unto godliness, it should be distinguished by seeking the knowledge of Him who gave us our spirit and our breath. Before the world seize the heart and fill it with vanity and care, it will be your wisdom who are young to seek after God; for He is your life and the length of your days.
2. Early in respect of fervour. O that all our heart, and all our soul, and all our strength, and all our mind, were in the exercises of our piety toward the Lord our God!
3. Incessantly in respect of time or continuance in well-doing. Whatever hour it be in the day of life, it is early with the pious mind. Early in the morning of youth, early in the noon of manhood, early in the evening of old age.
III. Concerning the resolution or determination of the pious man to seek God early.
1. Inclination is in a resolution or determination of mind for the exercise of piety.
2. In the resolution of the heart there is complacency in the exercise of piety.
3. Ardour in the resolution for piety. Coldness in seeking God is an infirmity of which pious men are ashamed. It quenches and grieves the Holy Spirit, who is the principle of their life and ardour.
4. Contention with the enemies of piety in the heart and in the world. Resolution to seek God early is lifting up a standard of opposition in the presence of a deceitful enemy, which hath made a settlement for itself in our heart. (A. Shanks.)
I. How should we seek God?
II. Where should we seek Him? In the closet. In His Word. In the ordinances.
III. When should we seek Him? Early in life. In advance of temporal things.
IV. Why should we seek Him? He is the soul’s life--“God.” His nature is communicative--“My God.” (W. W. Wythe.)
My soul thirsteth for Thee.--
The soul’s thirst and satisfaction
(with Psalms 63:5; Psalms 63:8):--
1. The soul thirsting for God. (Psalms 63:1). Now, the psalmist is a poet, and has a poet’s sensitiveness to the external aspects of nature, and the imagination that delights in seeing in these the reflection of his own moods. So, very beautifully, he looks upon the dreary scene around, and sees in it symbols of the yet drearier experience within. He beholds the grey monotony of the waterless wilderness, where the earth is cracked with clefts that look like mouths gaping for the rain that does not come, and he recognizes the likeness of his own yearning spirit. He feels the pangs of bodily weariness and thirst, and these seem to him to be but feeble symbols of the deeper-seated pains of desire which touch his spirit. All men thirst after God. The unrest, the deep yearnings, the longings and desires of our natures--what are they all except cries for the living God, the tendrils which are put forth, seeking after the great prop which alone is fit to lift us from the mud of this lower world? But the misery is that we do not know what we want, that we misinterpret the meaning of our desires, that we go to the wrong sources for our need; that when our souls are crying out for God we fling them worldly good and say, “There, satisfy yourselves on that!” At man that has a wild thing in a cage, and does not know what its food is, when he hears it yelping, will cast to it what he thinks may fit it, on which it eagerly springs, and then turns from it in disgust. So, men seek to feed their souls on the things of earth, and, all the while, what they are crying for is, not earth, but God. Shipwrecked sailors drink salt water in their wild thirst, and it makes them mad. Travellers in the desert are drawn by the mirage to seemingly shimmering lakes, fringed with palm trees; and it is nothing but sand. “My soul thirsteth for Thee.”
II. The seeking soul satisfied (Psalms 63:5). The imagery of a feast naturally follows upon the previous metaphor of the soul’s thirst. Now, it is to be observed here with what beautiful and yet singular swiftness the whole mood of the psalmist changes. People may say that that is unnatural, but it is true to the deepest experiences, and it unveils for us one of the surest and most precious blessings of a true Christian life--vim that fruition is ever attendant upon desire. God’s gifts are never delayed, in the highest Of all regions. In the lower there often are long delays--the lingerings of love for our good--but in the loftiest, fruition grows side by side with longing. The same moment witnesses the petition flashed to Heaven, as with the speed of lightning, and the answer coming back to the waiting heart; as in tropical lands when the rain comes, what was barren baked earth in a day or two is rich meadow, all ablaze with flowers, and the dry torrent beds, where the stones lay white and glistening ghastly in the hot sunshine, are foaming with rushing streams and fringed with budding oleanders. This verse also tells us that the soul thus answered will be satisfied. If it be true that God is the real object of all human desire, then the contact of the seeking soul with that perfect aim of all its seeking will bring rest to every appetite, its desired food to every wish, strength for every weakness, fulness for all emptiness. Like two of the notched sticks that used to be used as tallies, the seeking soul and the giving God fit into one another, and there is nothing that we need that we cannot get in Him. Further, as our psalm tells us, the satisfied soul breaks into music. For it goes on to say, “My mouth shall praise Him with joyful lips.” Of course, the psalmist had still many occasions for sorrow, and doubt, and fear. Nothing had changed in his outward circumstances. The desert was still round him. The foe was still pursuing murderous in heart as before. But this had changed--God was felt to be as close as ever He had been in the sanctuary. And that consciousness altered everything, and turned all the psalmist’s lamentations into jubilant anthems. It transposed his music from the minor key, and his lips broke into songs of gladness. Translate these particulars into general thoughts, and they are just this:--No sorrow, nor anxiety, nor care, nor need for vigilance against danger ought to check the praise that may come, and should come, from a heart in touch with God, and a soul satisfied in Him. It is a hard lesson for some of us to learn; but it is a lesson the learning of which will be full of blessedness. There is a bird common in our northern districts which people call the storm-cock, because his note always rings out cheeriest in tempestuous weather. That is the kind of music that the Christian’s heart should make, responding, like an AEolian harp, to the tempest’s breath by music, and filling the night with praise. It is possible for us, even before sorrow and sighing have fled away, to be pilgrims on the road, “with songs and everlasting joy upon our heads.”
III. The satisfied soul presses closer to God (Psalms 63:8). Literally translated, though, of course, much too clumsily for an English version, the words run--“My soul cleaveth after Thee,” expressing, in one pregnant phrase, two attitudes usually felt to be incompatible, that of calm repose and that of eager pursuit. But these two, unlike each other as they are, may be, and should be, harmoniously blended in the experience of a Christian life. On the one hand there is the clinging of satisfaction, and, on the other hand, the ever-satisfied stimulus to a closer approach. The soul that is satisfied will, and ought to, adhere with tenacity to the source that satisfies it. The dove folds its pinions when it reaches the ark, and needs no more to wing its weary way over sullen waters, vainly searching for a resting-place. Nomad tribes, when they find themselves in some rich valley, unload their camels, and pitch their tents, and say, “Here will we dwell, for the land is good.” And so we, if we have made experience, as we may, of God and His sweet sufficiency, and sufficient sweetness, should be delivered from temptation to go further and fare worse. And then this clinging, resulting from satisfaction, is accompanied with earnest seeking after still more of the infinite good. In other regions, and when directed to other objects, satisfaction is apt to pass into satiety, because the creature that satisfies us is limited. But when we turn ourselves to God, and seek for all that we need in Him, there can be no satiety in us, because there can be no exhaustion of that which is in Him. The blessedness of search that is sure of finding, and the blessedness of finding which is calm repose, are united in the Christian experience. And we may, at every moment, have all that we want given to us, and by the very gift our capacity, and therefore our longings, be increased. Thus, in wondrous alternation, satisfaction and thirst beget each other, and each possesses some of the other’s sweetness. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The saint thirsting for God
I. Concerning the fountain of living waters.
1. Where is the fountain of living waters? It is everywhere.
2. What is in the fountain of life? The incomprehensible Being with whom it is speaks of Himself in this sovereign exclusive style, “I live.”
3. What comes out of the fountain of life? “Every good and every perfect gift.” Particularly the Mediator and His fulness. The reconciliation of the world. The forgiveness of sins. The justification of the ungodly: The sanctification of the unholy. Grace and glory.
4. Which is the way of a thirsty man to get a drink of the fountain of life? “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” ere,
II. Concerning thirsting and longing for God, with whom is the fountain of life. The rise, the tendency, the strength, the operation, and energies of these holy affections, may be observed in the following particulars--
1. The thirst for God is the desire or longing of the new heart.
2. The thirsting and longing of the renewed mind for God are influenced by the knowledge and taste of His favour in Christ Jesus. Before we thirst for God, or long for him, we must know that He is, and taste that He is gracious.
3. The thirst or longing for God is attended with crying and tears. This mourning and crying among the sons of regeneration is not the noise and din of peevishness and discontent. It is the crying of the spirit of adoption in their heart, for the nourishing and strengthening of their life, with those pleasures and joys which they believe are in its fountain.
4. Thirsting for God, the fountain of living waters, increases with indulgence. The more freely and abundantly the thirsty soul is indulged in drinking at the fountain, the keener and more vehement is its thirst.
5. In thirsting and longing for God, there are strong mixtures of faith, and love, and hope, and joy, and the other graces of the Spirit.
6. Providential occurrences give the new heart a keener sensibility in thirsting and longing for God.
III. How thirsting and longing for God, the fountain of living waters, contribute aid to the sustaining of the liveliness and vigour of piety, when cut off from the rivers and streams of the sanctuary.
1. These energies of the new heart in a dry and thirsty land, keep its intercourse with the fountain lively night and day.
2. Assurances of favour through the offices of the Mediator are sent down from the fountain to the thirsting and longing soul.
3. In thirsting and longing for God in a dry and thirsty land, experience shoots up and rises be a great height.
4. In thirsting and longing for God in a dry and thirsty land, the fruit of righteousness sown in the new heart springs, and grows, and ripens, and comes to maturity.
5. In a dry and thirsty land, piety is removed from the fat places of the earth which are full of things unfavourable to its growth.
In conclusion, observe--
1. The difference between animal and spiritual thirsting.
2. Intercourse with the Deity through the Mediator is not confined to courts, altars, and tabernacles. The whole wilderness of Judah, dry and thirsty as it might be, was a chamber of audience, into which David had access to the Deity day and night, to complain, to petition, and consult; and all around was court, altar, tabernacle, and holy of holies. He longed notwithstanding to be restored, and no wonder. Institutions for the multitude that kept holyday in the city were more desirable than the chamber opened in the field to an individual,
3. The Lord is not harsh and unkind, in schooling His chosen in a wilderness, and trying them with hunger and thirst. Their education in the science and exercises of piety requires it, and His intention is to do them good at the latter end. (A. Shanks.)
The Christian’s longing
All mankind are athirst. The human soul is made capacious; so capacious that nothing else can fill it, but that immortality for which man is created, and the favour and enjoyment of that God whoso creature he is. There is a relationship between the Capacity of the soul and Him who ought to fill it, such that its happiness depends on its union with Him, and is derived entirely from Him; and man, even when ignorant of God and alienated from Him, finds no real satisfaction from any other source.
I. Acceptance. This is the first stage of the desire after God, for it is the desire of the heart-stricken sinner (Psalms 27:9; Psalms 31:16; Psalms 35:8).
II. Acquaintance with God. The desire for this must be a feature of the advanding Christian. Love begets love, and hence--“we love Him (God) because He first loved us,” Now, in proportion as we love any one, we desire better acquaintance, in order that we may appreciate his excellences.
III. The believer longs for communion with God. The more we love and reverence any one, the more must we long to be admitted to the privilege of intimacy, and the more highly shall we value that privilege, and fear its loss if we possess it.
IV. The Christian’s earnest desire is for conformity to the will and to the image of God. The faculty of imitation is instinctive. Hence the contagion of evil example; hence the instinctive imitation by children of their parents. This faculty is not destroyed in the believer, but, through grace, receives a new bias, his love and reverence for God naturally creating the desire to imitate His perfections, and thus to attain a growing conformity to His likeness. (R. J. Rowton, M. A.)
David’s desire for God’s presence
I. The prayer. With David life would lose its light, its worth, its meaning, all its delight and all its joy without God. Ask him whether man could do without God, and he would toll you that without God this world is lodgings; but with Him it is Homo--Homo--a very different thing. He would tell you that without God there is no sunlight on the world, no meaning in history, no hope for humanity, no prospect. That without God there is nothing to enfranchise the soul, to emancipate it, to enlarge it. But with God’s presence it has dignity, it develops its forces, and with Him it is secure. He would tell you that without Him the soul has no model on which to mould its life, no motive with which to animate itself in conflict, no quiet resting-place. David, above all things, wants God. He wants God--in the sense of wanting the Presence, Love, Protection, and Vindication of God. There are few people in the world that have not, in some direction or other, a conflict going on, a cause to be maintained; and one of life’s keenest pains is, when doing one’s best, to be left to think that after all God does not care, and will not espouse the right, but will leave it to sink or swim, and let the wrong come off defeated or victorious, as chance may have it. David desired otherwise, and believed it. He wanted God; he expected and desired that God would plead the causes of his soul, and wherein he was right, would take his part and give him his heart’s desire. Thus, in the last place of all, there comes in the wish which would have been first, second, third, fourth, and everything probably in our ease.
II. The lessons of this prayer.
1. Do not tightly part with your belief in God. It is a very comforting thing that in the long run, all religions questions resolve themselves into the great question as to whether there is or is not a God to trust. Come with the believers, and live not in the God-forsaken world, without any light loft in it, and no Rock of Ages on which to rest. Don’t live in such a world as that, but live in the world whose canopy is the wing of God, and whose centre is the pierced heart of Calvary. You will find your blessedness in such a life. Men don’t gather blessedness off briars, and joys off thistles.
2. Pray more fervently. The fault of our prayers is their littleness, we ask and distress God by the smallness of our asking. Ask for Himself, His glory, His beauty, His love, to rest upon you, the shadow of His wing, the whisper of His love; not small mercies, but great ones. And in order to be able to pray, do as David tells you he did, “follow hard after God.” (R. Glover.)
The paramount need
What thirst means in a tropical wilderness none but those who have passed through it can tell. It is an overpowering and a paralyzing need. All this the psalmist had felt. As in the long marches through the desert sands, in the awful blaze of an Eastern noon, he had sighed for the pasture lands and the springs, so life seemed but a dry and weary waste until his soul was satisfied with the sight of God. It is a parable of the life, not of the psalmist only, but of the world; it is a picture of God’s education of our race. Just as He did not teach our forefathers the arts of life--the use of iron and of fire--by an immediate inspiration, but let them find them out by slow and gradual processes, as the need of them was felt; just as He has not put intellectual truths into our minds at our birth, but lets us work them out as the satisfaction of a felt desire, so it is with religion. He does not all at once satisfy our mouths with good things. He teaches us through the discipline of thirst and want. He lets each age tread its own path, work out its own problems, cope with its own difficulties, and be brought to Him at last by the constraining force of an unsatisfied desire. I might show that the parable is true of many ages, but I will take only two--the first ages of Christianity and our own. If we look at the first ages of our faith we see that it did not all at once convince men of its truth, as the sun that rose this morning told all who had eyes to see that a light was shining. Men came to it by many paths, and the greatest of all those paths led them through the splendid scenery of philosophy; for it was an age of culture; education was general in almost all the cities of the Roman Empire, and the basis of education was philosophy. Men were as familiar with some of the technical terms of metaphysics as they are now with some of the technical terms of chemistry or of physiology. To the better sort of men at the time, philosophy was a passion; it absorbed all the other interests of life. They not only lived for their beliefs, but were sometimes ready to die for them. And they were beliefs for which a man might be content to die. I should be the last to attempt to disparage the work which philosophy then actually accomplished; but it was no substitute for religion. It failed, and that on so large a scale, and among so many types of character, that the experiment need never be tried again; there was the demonstration for all time that the soul had a thirst which philosophy could not satisfy; it was the need of God, of a God whom men could love, of a God err whom they could lean, of a God to whom they could cry out in their despair, and their failure, and their sin: “My soul longeth for Thee.” Side by side with philosophy was superstition. There were fantastic forms of worship, new divinities, and new modes of approaching them; but all these were various expressions of one overpowering thirst; and in the discipline of God the thirst was for a long time unsatisfied. It was not until all other waters had been found to be bitter that the masses of educated men came to drink of that living water which the Christian faith supplied--the water of the knowledge of God in Christ, which is, in the believer’s soul, “a well of water springing up unto ever-lashing life.” That was one fulfilment of the parable. It is being fulfilled again before our eyes in our own time; we, too, are passing through another kind of scenery, a scenery so new and vast that we must be ready, as I doubt not that God is ready, to forgive those who, in their wonder at the newness and vastness of it all, have come to think that this at last is a satisfaction for the soul, and that in this crown of all the ages we have found in nature a substitute for God. Alike from the mountain-tops and the ravines and the far-off stare and from the depths of the deep seas, there shine out splendours upon splendours of new knowledge, and new possibilities of knowledge, which seem to lift us into a higher sphere of living than that which to our forefathers was possible. It is splendid scenery--the world, has never seen its like--but, splendid as it is, there are needs, the deepest needs, of the soul which it does not, which it cannot, satisfy. In time there comes to all men the sense of thirst. There are few who rise at all times, there are none who rise uniformly at all times, to the heroic height of doing good for goodness’ sake, and of furthering justice for justice’s sake. The baffled efforts of the struggle for righteousness, the defects of truth, the relapse from self-control, make men weary before the day is spent; and across the evening of life, if not across its morning, there rises the sharp and sudden cry, a thirst which God alone can satisfy. And, on the other hand, in the rebound from the superabundant talk about religion which characterizes our age, from the battles of the Churches and the unsubstantial theories which claim the place of Divine verities, there are those who substitute for the whole of religion that part of it which consists, in active philanthropy. For this, again, I have no word but that of praise. Without this religion can hardly be said to exist, but it is not religion; for though religion must move about the world with the busy feet of an angel of benevolence, benevolence does net of itself satisfy the soul’s thirst for God. The soul comes back hungry from its errands of mercy--it needs a Diviner motive and a Diviner satisfaction. The beginning of it is neither the love of righteousness nor the practice of benevolence, but the thirst for God. Where that thirst exists there is religion; where that thirst is absent, there, in spite of all that a man may profess, religion is absent also. And that thirst is satisfied. I will speak for a moment of its satisfaction not in society at large, but in the individual soul. The satisfaction is as real as the need, and He has placed it within our own power. To the simpleminded psalmist, living as he did before the age of philosophy--I had almost said before the age of theology--the satisfaction was to appear before the visible symbol of God’s presence at Jerusalem. That, too, brethren, is part of the parable. It is true for all time. The soul’s satisfaction is to realize the presence of God. The other name for it is faith. It is the seeing of Him who is invisible. (Edwin Hatch, D. D.)
It is not every one who can sympathize with the intensity of devout feeling here expressed. One must have seen the power and the glory in bygone days, to thirst and long for God like this. All, however, can understand something about it; all, at least, can stand apart and admire the man with thoughts so elevated, affections so pure, a soul so predominant over sense, that his very sensuous nature longs, not for the objects of sense, but for God! In all ages we find instances of this passionate devotion, which appropriates to itself the language Of human affection, and applies it to the Infinite One. Now, what estimate are we to form of the devotion which assumes this character? Shall we condemn it as enthusiasm, or commend it as the pure and natural development of the affections towards God? Shall we cherish it in ourselves? or restrain such assimilations to human loves? I think we shall better be able to answer when we have examined a little into the conditions under which it arises. First, then, it is quite evident, those rising to this intensely passionate longing after God must have a great power of giving a reality to their ideas--I mean, of realizing their ideas as substantive, present existences. For God being known to us only in thought, must be represented by this realizing faculty of the mind as personally present with us, or no deep emotion can be awakened towards Him. You may contemplate His works, you may take the Bible and draw out a history of all He has done for man’s salvation, you may reason most correctly upon the relations He sustains to your soul, you may ascribe to Him all goodness, truth, and holy beauty, all imaginable perfections; but unless you have the power of believing in the substantial reality of your ideas, no passionate love or desire (which can cling only to persons as known) can be excited within you. There may be trust, there may be reverence, there may be the deliberate surrender of the will to the great and glorious Being conceived in thought; but there can be for a merely logical, intellectual abstraction no passionate love. This, then, being undoubtedly the case, a second condition arises, namely, God, in order to be thus loved and desired, must be brought within the compass of human imagination, idealization--that is, being thought of and realized as personally present, the mind must form of Him some representation to itself, some conceivable and embraceable idea. Passionate love and desire cannot embrace the infinitely vague. Hence the fact that, within the Christian Church our Saviour and the Virgin have been made more frequently the objects of this passionate devotion than the Infinite Father. Well, then, if these be the conditions of this passionate love and desire for God, it already is evident there must be some element in it which needs toning down or modifying in some way or the other. For, whatever brings the glory and infinitude of the Creator down to the limitation and level of the creature must have an element of evil in it. We may take it as an axiom that, Whatever tends to exalt our notions of His perfections and glory, whatever tends to fill us with deep and humble reverence and awe, with adoration and lowly worship, that is leading us on the right road to a knowledge of God; and whatever limits, circumscribes, defines our image of Him, reduces Him within the narrow outlines of our delineations, that falsifies and corrupts our knowledge. False devotion pretends to know. It has come face to face with God, it says, and loves. Vain dream! It has rather created an image, out of its sanctified fancy, and for that burns with passionate desire. And yet, we must be just. There is a truth in this imaging of God in the mind. It is not altogether a false representation of Him which the mind creates for itself. The elements Out of which the representation is made are true, so far as they go. Have you ever seen the canvas intended for a great picture, after the artist has worked two or three days only upon it? That is like our sanctified imagings of God. All the right colours laid on, all the lines in the right direction, but what resemblance, nevertheless, is there to the perfected work? The sun is imaged in a clew-drop; but who could learn by looking in the dew-drop what are the majesty and glory of the sun? They are, then, divine properties which the soul loves in its image of God, but divine properties limited and reduced to created patterns. Those who know God and think of Him as the omnipresent Spirit, the all-efficient power whose operations extend through, and whose nature is manifested in, all creation, cannot but adore and love as they contemplate His nature in these created manifestations. To them He necessarily is the one, all-sufficing, all-efficient God, the one joy and blessedness of all creatures. And, knowing Him thus, they cannot but desire to know Him more fully, to share more largely in the communications of His nature, to come into closer union with Him. For, to put it in another form, this is nothing more than desiring to share in, and partake more and more of, whatever is true, beautiful, and good in the world, to enter more and more into the blessedness of all true, beautiful, and good thoughts and feelings, For, not in His inmost being is God known or can He be enjoyed; but in these manifestations of Him,--in all His glorious and beautiful works, in all the glorious and beautiful thoughts He creates within us. And it is in keeping with this that the psalmist tells us in the text that his soul and flesh long for God, to see His power and glory so as he had seen them in the sanctuary. He did not dream that he, the finite, could appropriate to himself all the glory and power of the Infinite One. There is, therefore, no extravagance of language, transferring the passionate feelings awakened by human love to the Creator; but, what he prays for, longs, thirsts for, is to see more of God in His manifestations--more of that power and glory which he had already discerned as he heard the Levites chant His holy praise, and had joined in the sacrifices, the prayers, the worship of the temple. Whatever brought to him truer and more beautiful thoughts, purer and more ennobling feelings, that would fulfil the desire and satisfy the longing of his soul. (J. Cranbrook.)
I need not remind you how true it is that a man is but a bundle of appetites, desires, often tyrannous, often painful, always active. But the misery of it--the reason why man’s misery is great upon him--is mainly, I suppose, that he does not know what it is that he wants; that he thirsts, but does not understand what the thirst means, nor what it is that will slake it, His animal appetites make no mistakes; he and the beasts know that when they are thirsty they have to drink, and when they are hungry they have to eat, and when they are drowsy they have to sleep. But the poor instinct of the animal that teaches it what to choose and what to avoid fails us in the higher reaches; and we are conscious of a craving, and do not find that the craving reveals to us the source from whence its satisfaction can be derived. Therefore, “broken cisterns that can hold no water” are at a premium, and “the fountain of living waters” is turned away from, though it could slake so many thirsts. Like ignorant explorers in an enemy’s country, we see a stream, and we do not stop to ask whether there is poison in it or not before we glue our thirsty lips to it. There is a great old promise in one of the prophets which puts this notion of the misinterpretation of our thirsts, and the mistakes as to the sources from which they can be slaked, into one beautiful metaphor which is obscured in our English version. The prophet Isaiah says, “the mirage shall become a pool,” the romance shall turn into a reality, and the mistakes shall be rectified, and men shall know what it is that they want, and shall get it when they know. Brethren, unless we have listened to the teaching from above, unless we have consulted far more wisely and far more profoundly than many of us have ever done the meaning of our own hearts when they cry out, we, too, shall only be able to take for ours the plaintive cry of the half of this first utterance of the psalmist, and say, despairingly, “My soul thirsteth.” Blessed are they who know where the fountain is, who know the meaning of the highest unrests in their own souls, and can go on with clear and true self-revelation, “My soul thirsteth for God.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
In a dry and thirsty land, where no water is.--
A wilderness cry
Chrysostom tells us that amongst the primitive Christians it was ordained that this psalm should be sung every day. If we do not follow that Custom, it is not because it is unsuitable. The psalm may be said or sung all the year round. In all the seasons of the soul, its spring, summer, autumn and winter. By day and by night. But the psalm especially belongs to those who, through any cause, feel themselves to dwell in a desert land, The stages of Israel in all their history, in Egypt and out of it, and onwards, are gone over in our spiritual history. And even when we are in Canaan, we may, like David, be driven, out of our home, and find ourselves in the wilderness again.
I. True saints are sometimes in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is. For--
1. All things are changeable, and living things most of all. A man of stone changes not, but the living man must sorrow and suffer as well as laugh and rejoice.
2. And in some senses, to a Christian, this world must always be a dry and thirsty land, We are not carrion crows, or else might we float and feed upon the carcases which abound in the waters around our ark. We are doves, and when we leave the hand of our Noah we find nought to rest upon. Even when the world is at its best, it is but a dry land for saints.
3. And we carry an evil within us which would cause a drought in Paradise itself if it could come there (Romans 7:1-25.), We may have been so unwatchful as to have brought ourselves into this condition by actual faults of life and conduct.
5. Sometimes it is brought about by our being banished from the means of grace. Poor as our ministry may be, there are some Christians who would miss it more than their daily food if it were taken from them. It is a sore trial to such to be kept sway from sanctuary privileges. 6, And by denial of the sweets of Christian intercourse. David had poor company when he was in the wilderness, in the days of Saul; his friends were not much better than freebooters and runaways. And sometimes God’s people are shut up to similar company.
6. Sometimes a man may be treated with gross injustice, and endure much hardship as the result. David did; so may we.
7. Domestic conditions, and health, and physical conditions, may grievously depress the soul. Thus, there are many reasons why the best of saints are sometimes in a dry and thirsty land.
II. But God is their God still. “O God, Thou art my God.” Yes, he is as much our God in the dry land as if we sat by Siloa’s softly flowing brook. God is the God of the wilderness. Was He not with His people there?
III. When we are in a dry and thirsty land, our wisest course is to cry to Him at once. When you feel least like praying, then pray to Him the more, for you need it the more. Do not, any of you, practise the sinner’s folly: he declares that he will tarry till he is better, and then he never comes at all. Seek the Lord at once, Practise the Gospel principle of “Just as I am.” Say, “I must have a sense of His love, and I must have it now.” Make a dash for it, and you shall have it. Therefore, do not be afraid to cry out to God. Our heavenly Father loves to hear His children cry all the day long. Rutherford says, “The bairn in Christ’s house that is most troublesome is the most welcome. He that makes the most din for his meat is the best bairn that Christ has.” You may not quite agree with that as to your own children, but it is certainly so with our Lord. Desire, then, and let those desires be vehement. Jesus will joyfully hear you. Only be thou careful that thou be not content to be in a dry and thirsty land, away from God. Do not get into such a state, and certainly do not stay there. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
To see Thy power and Thy glory, so am I have seen Thee in the sanctuary.
The power and glory of God, the believer’s attraction to the sanctuary
Desires are, in some respects, better evidences of real religion than actions themselves, You may be compelled to act,--you cannot be compelled to desire, Desires are free-born; they spring forth, spontaneously, from conviction and disposition. Good desires are proofs of something good, pledges of something betters and parts of something the best of all. Now, of the desires expressed in the text, let us note--
I. Their character. They are distinguished by--
1. Their object: which is God. The natural man desires not God, but the regenerate must have the Lord. He seems to say, “Lord, I must have Thee.”
2. Their intensity. See the terms by which they are expressed--“early, thirsteth,” “longeth.” All this expresses no ordinary desires; Herod would see our Lord perform miracles, but would not step abroad for the purpose. Pilate asked, “What is truth?” but did not wait for an answer. Balaam said, “Let me die the death of the righteous,” while he showed no concern to live their life, or to walk in their ways; for, as an old writer remarks, “There are certain trees which produce double blossoms, but which, nevertheless, bring forth no fruit.” But as religion is the one thing needful--absolutely needful--needful on all occasions and in all circumstances, so its exercise and the feelings pertaining to it are all peculiar and supreme. It matters not what the feelings be, whether of self-abasement, of sorrow for sin, or of hope, or joy. It deeply affects the heart, it is not a mere subject of speculation, or a creed or a ceremony, but a life. Is it thus the Scripture speaks of religion? Does it not tell us that it is not a name to live, but life itself?--that it is not the form of godliness, but the power thereof? If religion be anything, it is everything; if it be important at all, it is all-important. What can equal the grandeur of the soul and eternity?
II. Their enhancement, This arose from the fact that the psalmist was now an exile and a wanderer, shut out from the sanctuary and the sacred worship of God. Hence, he envied the very birds who could build and feed and lay their nest near the house of God. Absence sharpens affection; and want, desires. Indeed, we seldom know the worth of a thing till we are made to feel the want of it. Then take heed how you use God’s grace now, for if you do not use and improve His gifts he will remove them from you, or you from them, as He can so easily do. By any one of many changes you may be plunged into spiritual barrenness, and have to cry, “My soul thirsteth for Thee,” etc.
III. Their aim. Observe--
1. What David wishes to see--God’s power and glory. He means not alone the manifold proofs of God’s power, but the glory that belongs to the purposes for which this power is exercised. See this in the glory and power of our Lord Jesus Christ in all His works of grace so mighty and yet so merciful.
2. The place of its display: it is “the sanctuary.” Not that it is seen there only. God is everywhere, and everywhere God. He was found visibly and sensibly in the temple of old; but He is now really in our Christian assemblies. Though He is not obviously there to the natural eye, faith can realize Him there; faith can reckon upon the undeniable fact; we perceive His agency there. And this glorious power is seen not only in conviction, but in conversion. And it is seen, too, in the consolation of believers.
3. David’s actual experience of these displays--“I have seen Thee,” says he, “in the sanctuary.” He was certain of the reality of the thing. A believer can come to this conclusion, and is not to be ridiculed or reasoned out of it. He can, and does, say, “I sat under His shadow with great delight, and His fruit was sweet to my taste.”
4. The usefulness of this experience. It stimulated him to seek after yet more of what he had already enjoyed. “To see Thy power . . . so as I have,” etc. Now, such experience not only stimulates to seek more, but it tends to preserve the soul in the love of God, and also to recover him when he has been led astray. The unregenerate man knows nothing of all this. You will never hear to purpose till you so hear that your souls may live. You singers! if you do not sing with melody “in your hearts to the Lord” here, you will not be found among the blissful number of those who shall celebrate His praises in the courts above. And you hearers, if you are only that, what will the Gospel be to you? But you believers, rejoice. (W. Jay.)
The duty, object and results of a devout and diligent attendance upon sanctuary worship
The desire of David was to see the power and glory of God; but he desired more than the manifestation thereof which the works of nature could afford; he would know God as revealed to his soul. We learn, therefore--
I. That the desire of every Christian is, or should be, to know more and more of the glory of God.
II. The accomplishment of this design is to be sought by diligent attendance upon the worship of the sanctuary.
III. The effects of such increased knowledge of the power and glory of God.
1. Deliverance from the power of the world.
2. And from doubts caused by the aspect of providence.
3. Strength renewed to go on our Christian course afresh.
4. The crucifixion of our lusts and corruptions.
5. Increase of humility.
6. Courage for our conflict with our last enemy, death. (J. A. James.)
The desire to see God’s power and glory in thy sanctuary
I. His desire itself.
1. He desired the ordinances. That which carnal and worldly spirits count a burden and tediousness to them, the children of God look upon as a privilege, and do reckon it as their greatest advantage; and so should we, and rejoice in it, and much desire it, as David here does, who is herein a pattern unto us.
2. He desired the glory and power of the ordinances. There is a double power and glory in the ordinances. The one is as to the performance of them; and the other is as to the success and effect.
(1) As to the performance, when there is a life and vigour and activity, which does put forth itself in them. It is not the mere opus operatum, so many duties performed as a task, and there’s an end of it, which makes the ordinances glorious; but when there’s a gracious and heavenly spirit, which runs along in them, which accordingly is that that every Christian should especially look after in the undertaking of them. This is obtained especially in this way. Namely, first, by preparation to them. We must be careful to remove all hindrances and impediments from us. Now, these they are of two sorts. First, all sinfulness and defilement. Secondly, all worldliness and earthly entanglement.
(2) The like also as to the effect, when they do work effectually and powerfully afterwards. This is also to be looked after by us; and which David without all doubt did look after, that his heart might not only be warmed by the ordinances in the very time of performance, but even then also when he was gone from them; so as the strength and lustre of them might appear, and show itself forth in his life and conversation.
II. The limitation or amplification of this desire. “As I have seen Thee in the sanctuary.” Which words may admit of a double reference and interpretation in them. Either thus, That I may see Thy power and Thy glory in the sanctuary, so as I have seen Thee. Or else thus, That I may see Thy power and glory now in the wilderness, as I have seen Thee in the sanctuary. According to the former sense, it is an earnest desire of the restoring of him to the opportunities of the public ordinances which he had formerly enjoyed. According to the latter sense, it is the like desire for a supply of the public ordinances, by God’s gracious presence with him in private, now that the public were denied and kept from him. Which way soever we take it, there is matter of observation in it.
1. That I may see Thy power and glory in the sanctuary as I have seen Thee. And so he desires to be restored to the public ordinances, and to his former enjoyment of them. He would have communion with God in public; and he would have that communion which he had formerly with Him.
2. That I may see Thy power and Thy glory here in the wilderness as I have seen it sometimes in the sanctuary. And so it is a desire of a supply of the public ordinances, by God’s gracious presence with him in private instead of it; where, supposing his desire (as it was) to be rational and regular in him, there is this exhibited to us in it, that God, in the necessary want and restraint of the public ordinances, is able to make it up to us another way; He can make a wilderness or prison, or sick-chamber, or bed to be a sanctuary, if He so please; yea, He pleases sometimes so to make it; upon which ground David here does desire it as otherwise he could not have done in faith and good assurance of obtaining it. Look, as the presence of a prince is that which makes the court, so the presence of God is that which makes the sanctuary, where God will express Himself after a more full and gracious manner, that is, indeed, His temple, and so to be accounted by us. Now, this He can do, and often does, even in deserts themselves--
(1) By the bringing to our remembrance those truths which we have formerly heard. As it is with some salve or medicine which we lay up and keep by us, we know not the virtue of it till such time as we come to use it, and to stand in need of it; even so it is likewise with many doctrines and truths in religion. This is, therefore, one work of the Holy Ghost, and that whereby he does supply the defect of the public dispensations, by bringing home to our consciences in private those truths which have heretofore in public been imparted and communicated to us.
(2) By the giving of new experiences occasionally from the present condition, in which we are both of the temper of our own hearts, as also of His own grace, and strength, and assistance of us. In times of freedom we learn what we should be, but in times of restraint we learn what we are.
(3) By working in us a greater longing and desire after the public ordinances.
(4) By His own more immediate applications of Himself to us. The ordinances are nothing else but the conveyances and transmissions of Christ and His Spirit to us in an ordinary way. Now, God, if He please, can do it more immediately, and does in such cases, as He denies them. He expresses His own love, and good-will, and favour, and acceptance of us; stirs up good thoughts, and gracious and holy desires and inclinations in us; sheds abroad His love in your hearts, and becomes all in all unto us; and what He will be one day perfectly in heaven, He is now in part, and imperfectly already here. (T. Horton, D. D.)
The saint longing to see God in the sanctuary
I. Concerning the sanctuary.
1. The place of presence. The Lord is there.
2. The place of friendship. Let us wonder and praise. God glorious in holiness, and people defiled with sin, meeting in friendship and love!
3. The place of converse.
4. The place of audience. The throne of grace, where the poor and needy in every nation are supplied according to his riches in glory.
5. The place of worship. The ordinances in our sanctuaries are not the inventions of priests, as the scorner calls them in his sport, but the institutions of wisdom and mercy.
6. The place of communion.
II. Concerning the power and the glory of the Deity seen in the sanctuary. Power is the energy of the Deity, which worketh all things. Glory is the splendour, on the face of His energy, which renders it mighty, and effectual, and exceeding great. Both are recognized and praised in His sanctuary by the worshippers in spirit and in truth.
1. By the worshippers the power or energy of the Deity, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, is recognized and praised in the sanctuary.
2. The splendour or glory on the face of the energy of the Deity is recognized and praised in His sanctuary. Every voice in it, every harp, every psaltery, sounds the high praises of His energizing word, who spake and it was done, who commanded and it stood fast.
III. Concerning seeing the power and glory of the Deity in the sanctuary.
1. The sensible administration in the sanctuaries attracts the eyes of worshippers. We behold our teachers and rulers, hear the sound of their voice, and unite ours with theirs in thanksgiving and praise. We behold a table sanctified with the Word of God and prayer, and covered with memorials of the body and blood of the Lord. In one ordinance we behold the sprinkling of water, and in another the breaking of bread, which are sensible actions appointed, and designed to aid our minds in commemorating, magnifying, and praising redeeming love.
2. The glorious beauty in the sanctuaries feeds and satisfies the understandings of worshippers.
IV. Concerning longing to see the power and glory of the Deity in the sanctuary.
1. Longing to see and enjoy the Lord our God in the sanctuary appears to be a reasonable inclination, from the glory in Him that is seen.
2. This strong and fervent inclination appears reasonable from the pleasure in seeing the power and the glory of God in the sanctuary. When the pleasures of imagination disperse; when the tree yields no fruit, the stalk no meal, the stall no herd; when mirth and humour blow every way, as the smoke of the chimney, and philosophy holds out its hand to the empty soul in vain, an eye-glance of the power and the glory in the sanctuary discovers a fund of pleasures, which satisfy, enrich, ennoble, and exalt the rational and renewed mind.
3. This longing of the new heart to see God in the sanctuary appears to be a reasonable inclination, from the gain to the new creation in seeing the beauty of His power and glory. Its gain is better to them than gold, yea, much fine gold. (A. Shanks.)
The Christian longing to see God in His temple
David’s heart must have been in a happy state when he wrote this psalm. Note--
I. How he speaks of God. “O God, Thou art my God.” It tells of his great joy in God. And this when he was in great distress. So did our Lord on the cross call upon God, as, “My God, My God.”
II. How he says he will act towards God. “Early will I seek Thee.” There shall be practical results from his calling God, his Go.d. These, often wanting. But had he not found Him already? Yes, but the more we have of God the more we desire. And he will seek Him early--in the first morning hour; and first of all, without waiting to seek others first, as we too often do.
III. How he desires God. “My soul thirsteth,” etc. Only those who really know God can speak in this intense way. But they can and do.
IV. Where he seeks God. “In a dry and,” etc. There are places where we are tempted to sink down in wretchedness and despair. But not so David. God often sends His people to such dry places to quicken their thirst after Him.
V. What he seeks from God. “To see Thy power and,” etc. We should have thought that deliverance from his troubles would have been the object of his prayer; but no, only that he may see God. And God’s people do, often, now, in the sanctuary, behold God’s power and glory. The Gospel preached, the sacraments we observe, all help herein. Oh, what blessedness this Gospel can give. But we shall never know it until we intensely desire it; until we seek early and thirst and long after God we shall not see Him. The psalm tells us that we may be happy, for God will abundantly satisfy the soul, and you shall feel that His lovingkindness is better than life. (C. Bradley.)
We may judge of ourselves by our desires, and if the stream does not rise so high as we could wish, let us observe the direction in which it flows, and if it be towards God let us be comforted. Natural men live without God in the world. But such as David long supremely after Him, and so after the revelations of His grace and power as seen in His sanctuary. David’s desire was excited--
I. By his present condition. He was “as in a dry and thirsty land, where,” etc. We never know the worth of blessings till we know the want of them. “How mercies brighten as they take their flight.” Thus sickness endears health. Upon this principle the Lord acts, and it will account for many of His dispensations.
II. His former experience. He had met with God in the sanctuary as His people yet do. Others know not such experience. And vet they come there led by all manner of motives. But such coming will not avail before God. May David’s experience be ours. (W. Jay.)
God sought in the sanctuary
It is not enough to make use of ordinances, but we must seek if we can find God there. There are many that hover about the palace and yet do not speak with the prince; so possibly we may hover about ordinances and not meet with God there. To go away with the husk and shell of an ordinance and neglect the kernel, to please ourselves because we have been in the courts of God, though we have not met with the living God, that is very sad. A traveller and merchant differ thus: a traveller goes from place to place only that he may see; but a merchant goes from port to port that he may take in his lading and grow rich by traffic. So a formal person goes from ordinance to ordinance, and is satisfied with the work; a godly man looks to take in his lading, that he may go away from God with God. A man may make a visit only by constraint and not by friendship; it is all one to him whether the person be at home or no; but another would be glad to find his friend there; so, if we from principle of love come to God in the duties, our desire will be to find our living God. (T. Manton, D. D.)
Because Thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise Thee.
The saint’s estimate of God’s lovingkindness
This psalm is called “A psalm of David when he was in the wilderness of Judah.” What prayers have been prayed by men in the wilderness,--by men in the darkness and mystery of life,--by men in their perplexity seeking for guidance,--by men whose “souls were discouraged because of the way.” What prayers from men in dungeons,--from men in darkened homes,--from men who said “that all God’s waves and billows had gone over them.” Men pray better in darkness than in light, in adversity than in prosperity; they pray then with their whole heart--they mean what they say. If you had written your prayers, and had affixed the titles, you would find the heading of one, “A prayer after I had fallen into some great sin.” It would contain the wail and lament of the heart, it would breathe the truest contrition and reveal the sorrow of a broken heart. It would be your penitential psalm. You would find another headed, “A prayer after backsliding.” In it you would see the shame and humiliation which marked your return to God, and the fresh and earnest consecration of yourself to His service. There would be singular tenderness about it, for its words had been baptized with tears. Another prayer would have this title, “A prayer after I had lost my child.” There are men who have a conscious thirst for God. “O God, Thou art my God; early will I seek Thee: my soul thirsteth for Thee, my flesh longeth,” etc. Now, do you thirst for God? Can you say that the lovingkindness of God is better to you than life? Life stands to us for all that is valuable and precious, and if we wish to express our estimate of something that is all the world to us, we say--It is dear as life. “What is a man profited, if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Life is valuable not only in its highest, but its lowest forms, without its accessories and its ministration. I do not speak of the life that is “clothed in purple and fine linen, and that fares sumptuously every day,” but life in toil and penury. Let a man be stript of everything--like a tree on an eminence, which has been scathed by the lightning, which boars the marks of many a storm, and tosses its bare branches in the bleak wind--and he will cling to life as much as if full of strength, as if he were crowned with verdure and fruitfulness. Take life in its best estate, surround it with all that can meet its needs, and even its imaginings--life in a palace rather than a cottage--there is something better, grander--something without which life is not worth living. “Thy lovingkindness is better than life.” Why is lovingkindness better than life? Because it meets all the needs of life. Man has a physical nature, and its needs are met in the outward world, or it could not live. Light is for the eye--music for the ear--a thousand influences minister to the senses. Man has a higher nature; he has mind, he has capacity for thought; he has an emotional nature, a heart with boundless wealth. What is mind without culture, education, converse, literature? What is the heart without friends, relatives, love? Without lovingkindness how little is known of life! God can come to man; lie can dwell in man; He can reveal His love to man. The mind has life only in receiving truth. The heart has life only in love. You have life only in God. There is a sense in which the lovingkindness of God is so much better than life that it even reconciles us to the loss of life. We are delivered from the fear of death. “To die is gain.” So shall we, divesting ourselves of the mortal, become immortal. (H. J. Boris.)
God’s lovingkindness better than life
I. The proposition.
1. To take it literally; God’s lovingkindness is better than life; that is, than life properly so called, namely, this temporal life which we lead here below.
(1) It Is better than life, by taking life in the perfections and excellencies of it; if there be anything more than ordinarily desirable or commendable in this natural life, Shore is that in the favour of God which does transcend it and go exceedingly beyond it.
(2) It is better than life, by taking life in the imperfections and defects of it; if there be anything wanting in this life, which does fail and come short of our desires, there is that again in the favour of God which does abundantly supply it, and make it up. Now, the improvement of this point by way of application comes to this--
(1) It seems to teach us what we should chiefly look after and pursue. Let us with Mary choose the better part, let us not forsake the better, and give ourselves wholly to the worse.
(2) This gives us a hint of the excellency of a Christian’s condition above all other men in the world. All the happiness of others is confined only to this life; it they be miserable here they are the miserablest creatures that are, they have nothing in the earth to sustain them, and uphold them. Yea, it is otherwise now with the children of God, if they should miss of these earthly comforts and their cheerings of this natural life here below; yet they have somewhat better to refresh them, and to keep up their hearts. If their hopes were only in this life, they were of all men most miserable, as the apostle speaks. But now this is their comfort, that they have hope of better than life, even of the favour and lovingkindness of God. God’s favour is better than life, because it brings us to a better life. It is better than life temporal, because it brings us to life eternal (2 Corinthians 5:1).
2. We may also take it in the moral, according to that which it implies and holds forth to us; and that is this, That God’s favour is better than all. The lovingkindness of the Lord is the greatest happiness and advantage of a Christian. And here again, for our further explication and enlargement of this truth in hand, we must know, that by God’s lovingkindness we may understand two things especially: either first of all, the affection; or secondly, the expression of the affection, either as it is immanent in Himself, or else as it is transient upon us. You know that in parents and friends there are both of these considerable. There is the favour in the thing itself; and there is the breathings of this favour in regard of outward manifestation of it towards the person whom it is fastened upon. Now, both of these from God to a Christian are exceeding beneficial and comfortable; God’s favour, as ye may take it for His love; and God’s favour, as ye may take it for His embracements and love expressed. Now, the application of all to ourselves will run out in a fourfold question. How shall we know whether we have it? How shall we get it if we want it? How shall we keep it when we have it? How shall we recover it when we have lost it?
1. How shall we know whether we have it? This is known divers ways.
(1) By His countenance. God looks otherwise upon us, as Jacob to his wives about Laban (Genesis 31:5).
(2) By His presence and communion. Can two walk together and not be agreed? God converses with those which are His favourites (Genesis 17:22). Talked with Abraham. And so with Moses (Exodus 33:11).
(3) By His love-tokens and sprinklings of favour. The hidden manna (Revelation 2:17). The earnest of the spirit (2 Corinthians 1:22), etc.
2. How shall we get it if we want it?
(1) By labouring to be acquainted with those which are about Him. Thus men get to be acquainted with great ones.
(2) Circumspect carriage and behaviour, walking exactly (Ephesians 5:15).
(3) Industry and diligence in a man’s place.
(4) Study the temper and disposition of Him whom we seek to.
3. How shall we keep it when we have it?
(1) By universal compliance; indulge no one lust whatsoever.
(2) By sobriety and humility of enjoyment, not proud and lifted up.
(3) By shunning of all occasions of offence.
4. How shall we recover it when we have lost it?
(1) By an ingenious acknowledgment of our miscarriages past.
(2) By doing our first works (Revelation 2:5).
(3) By double diligence and zealousness for time to come.
II. The inference. “My lips shall praise Thee.” When it is said here his lips, we must not take it exclusively, his lips and nothing else; but effectively, his praise should break forth at his lips; this he promised. As where the inward man is rightly qualified, it will show itself in the outward. The connection seems to be double; either referring to the former verse, “Early will I seek Thee, because Thy lovingkindness is better,” etc. And so here’s an account of his importunity. Or else referring it to the latter, “My lips shall praise Thee, because Thy lovingkindness is,” etc, And in this latter we now take it. David praises God for the excellency of His lovingkindness. First, what it was in itself, in its own nature, considered in God Himself; God is to be praised for that which He is (Psalms 92:12). Secondly, for what he was to David; because I do enjoy this lovingkindness of Thine, which is better than life. David did not bless God only for a notion, but for an experiment, and the sense of God’s love to Himself. And here now comes in the second notion of God’s lovingkindness in the expression of it. First, out of a principle of joy which is communicated and full of diffusion. Secondly, out of a principle of love, as desiring to make others which were his brethren sensible of the same favour. Thirdly, out of a principle of thankfulness and ingenuity. Here’s the difference betwixt the saints and the world. The world thinks the favour of God not worth the observing; God’s people do much rejoice in it, and bless Him for it. (T. Horton, D. D.)
The wisdom of the human mind is manifested by the estimate which it forms of principles and of things. But, as it requires a good ear to be a judge of music, and a good eye to be a judge of colours, so it requires an enlightened and spiritual mind to form a just estimate of things eternal. We often estimate things by comparison; we draw our conclusions of their importance and value from their different natures, use, and duration. Thus we compare gold with silver, and jewels with gold; and we say gold is better than silver, rubies are better than gold; but “skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath, will he give for his life.” Such is the estimate which men form of life, that they will give gold and silver, and all that they have for food, when they are likely to perish without it. But David rises still higher in his estimate, and says, ‘Thy lovingkindness is better than life.”
I. We have an interesting subject. The Iovingkindness of God.
1. The excellence of the principle. Its want the cause of all misery; its presence, of all joy.
2. Its comprehensive import. It includes all the attributes of God. All are of His love. We sometimes speak of water as conveying to our minds an idea of that one element; but to vary it, we speak of the ocean; and for limitation, we speak of the Atlantic, the Pacific, the German Ocean; to limit ourselves still more, we speak of the sea; and then we name the Red Sea, the Mediterranean, the Baltic Sea; sometimes we speak of the shores it washes, as the Ganges, the Mississippi, the Thames, or we name some of its various forms, as rain, dew, snow, etc. But we are still speaking of water; it is still the same element we have in view. On the same principle we speak of the subject in the text. When God pities the miserable, we call it compassion--when He shows favour to the unworthy, we call it grace--when He exercises it in a way of pardon, we call it mercy--when He fulfils His promises, and accepts the penitent, and justifies him, we call it faithfulness: still it is only lovingkindness--it is so many various means of making us happy. “Thy lovingkindness is better than life.”
3. Its powerful and beneficial influence. The power of love has often been evinced. “God so loved the world,” etc.
4. Its duration. It is immutable, it is “everlasting love.” Those who are delivered from guilt and depravity by it shall be preserved by it for ever.
II. An important truth affirmed. “Thy lovingkindness is better than life.
1. It makes up all the deficiencies of life.
2. It alleviates life’s sorrows.
3. It adds blessedness to the blessings of life.
III. The resolution here formed. “My lips shall praise Thee.” For the manifestation and the application of Thy love. My lips shall do this, by commending Thee to others. (J. Griffin.)
Lovingkindness better than life
This utterance is somewhat extraordinary, for--
1. What is lovingkindness without life? Had we no existence, though lovingkindness flooded the universe, it would he nothing to us. Life is necessary to discern and appreciate lovingkindness.
2. What would life be without lovingkindness? A desert unrelieved by a single blade, a midnight without a ray. Certainly “lovingkindness is better than life “ in such a state. In truth the language implies that life in itself, life even apart from lovingkindness, is a good thing. To be is better than not to be. In many respects the text has a meaning.
I. Lovingkindness is independent of life. Had no creature existed, had the Eternal existed alone, without one solitary existence in any part of immensity, lovingkindness would have been as full and complete as now. It would have been the life and consciousness of the Infinite. “God is love.”
II. Lovingkindness is the cause of life. The universe is a tree rooted in the river of love, ever growing, ever green, ever fruitful. From love it sprang, by love it grows. As clouds to the ocean, so is all life to lovingkindness, they rise from its boundless billows and break into their fathomless depths again.
III. Lovingkindness is the redemption of life. Lovingkindness expressed, embodied, and administered by Christ redeems the fallen race. What lovingkindness there is here, “God so loved the world,” etc. “He that spared not His only son,” etc.
IV. Lovingkindness is the heaven of life. It is the beauty of every leaf, the fragrance of every flower, the brightness of every star, the life of every breeze, the music of every sound, the charm of every scene, the flavour of every fruit in Paradise. (Homilist.)
Something better than life
I. The text refers to something, that is good--“Life.” Life is a mystery which no subject of it can understand, any more than a machine can understand the force that propels it. God understands it, because He is its Author. Life in man is threefold; animal, moral, intellectual. In these there are degrees. This trinity of life in man lifts him up to supremacy among all earthly living existences. Man, with his threefold life, has accomplished marvellous things for himself and for humanity, looked at only as an inhabitant of earth. But good as life may be, as a gift from God, and used by man in the spheres of his present being, there is something better. Hence--
II. Let us notice in the text what that something is: “Thy lovingkindness is better than life.”
1. The lovingkindness of God is better than life in its nature. What is life but a dream, a vapour, a shadow, a tale that is told, subject in its brevity to numberless vicissitudes? But the lovingkindness of God is a substantial reality. It comes to us in ten thousand ways of good things, both in providence and in the Gospel.
2. It is better in its promises. What are the promises of life but few and feeble? But the lovingkindness of God comes to us not only with promises of present good, but with “exceeding great and precious “ promises of good things in the future.
3. It is better in its pleasures. The pleasures of life are carnal, fickle, superficial, unsatisfying. But the pleasures of God’s lovingkindness are spiritual, real, enduring, satisfying. God’s lovingkindness is a “feast of fat things.” It is a river. It is the fulness of God.
4. It is better in its pursuits. The pursuits of life, how low, how little, how transitory! But the pursuits of God’s lovingkindness, as it influences us, are prayer, praise, obedience, and heaven; spiritual, noble, eternal.
5. Better in its issues. The issues of life are often disappointment, mortification, loss, and inevitably death. But the issues of God’s lovingkindness are the realization of our hopes, answers to our prayers, increase in every good thing, and at last everlasting life.
III. The reason for praising God, as contained in the text.
1. To praise God for His lovingkindness is good. It is pleasant. It is comely (Psalms 145:1).
2. It is in harmony with all His works: “All Thy works praise Thee”; with the angels; with the saints glorified.
3. It is a becoming return for God’s lovingkindness. If a father does well for his child, does not the child praise him? If you give a charity to a beggar of an unusual kind, does he not praise you? Then, how much more ought we to praise our God for His unmerited, abundant, and unparalleled lovingkindness bestowed upon us! “My lips shall praise Thee.” In the congregation of Thy people. In my family. In my private life. In all times and places. (J. Bate.)
I. How it is manifested.
1. In the gift of Christ.
2. In affliction.
3. In providence.
4. In the promise of the future life.
II. Its value. “It is better than life,” because--
1. Not brief as is life.
2. It fully satisfies.
III. The effect it should have upon us. “My lips shall praise Thee.” This should be--
1. A life work.
2. A heart work.
1. We all receive of God’s lovingkindness.
2. Do we all praise Him? (Frederic Bell.)
Gratitude and devotion
I. The favour recognized. “Thy lovingkindness.”
1. Its source. “Thy.” The fountain of wisdom, love, and power.
2. Its quality. “Lovingkindness.” Not kind acts merely, but the kindness of love.
3. Its constancy.
4. Its comprehensiveness.
II. The estimate formed. It “is better than life.” The second death consists not in the destruction of being, but of well-being. Sin destroyed man’s eternal well-being, but the “lovingkindness” of God restores it.
1. It harmonizes man with his surroundings.
2. It extracts the sting of death.
3. It sanctifies life’s sorrows.
4. It endears and sweetens life’s comforts.
III. The resolution made. “My lips shall praise Thee.”
1. Piety is intensely personal. “My lips.” If “my lips” have no praise, my heart has no love. Internal life must find external expression.
2. Piety is joyous devotion. “Shall praise.”
3. Piety is personal, joyous devotion to a personal God. (Thomas Kelly.)
The saint celebrating the lovingkindnees of God
I. Concerning the lovingkindness of the Lord. It appears--
1. In the constitution of the Mediator between God and man.
2. In the establishment of the covenant with His own Son in the office of mediation.
3. In the mission of His only-begotten Son to do the work of mediation in our nature;
4. In reconciling sinners to Himself by the death of His Son.
5. In drawing men to Christ.
6. In crowning men in Christ with all spiritual blessings.
7. In the work of providence. This work is long, and exceeding broad. Hold the glass to the right eye, and look through it on these pieces or dispensations which seem to have a dark ground, and praise the lovingkindness of the Lord, and magnify the work that is after the counsel of His own will.
II. Concerning the comparative excellence of the lovingkindness, which is a glory in the face of God reconciling the world to Himself through the mediation of His beloved and only begotten Son in our nature. Comparing it with life, the psalmist pronounces it better.
1. Lovingkindness appearing in the face of God toward us in Christ Jesus is earlier than life.
2. Longer than life. In its duration is neither beginning nor end of days.
3. Richer than life. Lovingkindness is the fountain of redemption, reconciliation, pardon, acceptance, holiness; of the earnest, the seal, the anointing of the Spirit; and of all the streams of grace, and mercy, and goodness, which enrich the valleys of Zion, and make her wastes to shout and sing.
4. Sweeter and more pleasant than life.
5. Gives seasonings and relishes to the blessings and comforts of life.
III. Concerning our praising the lovingkindness of the Deity. This includes--
1. The perception of His lovingkindness in Christ Jesus by the understanding. Christ dying for sinners is the commendation of loving-kindness.
2. The belief of His lovingkindness with the heart. If we believe, we will praise; and when we praise, we will believe.
3. The exercise of our affections toward the lovingkindness which is a glory of the face of God in Christ Jesus. The lovingkindness of God is transcendently amiable. When He lifts up the light of it upon the new creation, their affections are aloft, and mount up in joy and praise with wings as eagles. Their affections are fruits of His Spirit, dwelling and working by His Word in their heart.
4. A conversation becoming His lovingkindness.
5. Offering thanksgiving continually for the kindnesses of His love in Christ Jesus. Let the praises of it be founded with the voice of thanksgiving in His courts, and around His holy hill, in our chambers, and houses, and villages, and in all the forests and wastes where we sojourn. (A. Shanks.)
Thus will I bless Thee while I live; I will lift up mine hand in Thy Name.
David blessing God and praying to Him
In this verse we have David engaging himself to God in two particulars. First, to the blessing of God, “Thus will I bless Thee while I live.” And secondly, to praying to Him, “I will lift up my hands,” etc.
I. David’s engaging himself to blessing, “Thus will I bless Thee,” etc.
1. The thing itself promised is blessing; David promises to bless God. This at the first hearing may seem to carry some kind of difficulty in it. The apostle’s rule (Hebrews 7:7) is, that without contradiction the less is blessed of the greater; if so, how can we be said to be blessers of God, who is so infinitely superior to us? For this we must, therefore, know that there is a double kind of blessing; the one imperative, or by way of authority; the other declarative, end by way of publication. According to the first sense, so God blesses man, namely by making him blessed. According to the second sense, so man blesses God, namely, by declaring Him blessed, and by acknowledging that blessedness which is in Him. This is that which ties upon us all as a duty to be performed by us, and accordingly we shall find often mention made of it in Scripture, in sundry places--as for instance Psalms 103:1,
2. It is exquisite upon a twofold ground. First, the goodness which is in Himself. And secondly, the overflowing and communications of this goodness to us; each of these call for this our blessing, and do engage us thereunto. There are two ways especially in which God is blest of His creatures. The one is objectively by way of representation; and the other is significatively by way of publication. According to the first sense, so all His creatures bless Him (Psalms 19:1; Psalms 147:3). But according to the second sense, so He is blest only by angels and men, who are, therefore, to do it with so much the greater intention.
2. What is it to bless God thus? We may take it in these explications.
(1) Sincerely, in the uprightness and integrity of our hearts.
(2) Affectionately, as having our hearts much enlarged in us. As God loves a cheerful giver, so He loves a cheerful thanksgiver; that is, such an one as is thoroughly apprehensive of the greatness of the mercy itself, and which accordingly has his spirit much advanced and enlarged about it.
(3) Spiritually. This is another thing which belongs to this “thus”; when we bless God by the assistance of His Spirit, and in the name of His Son, that is, to bless Him as we should do for the mariner of it.
3. The extent, and that is in these words, “While I live”; whereby he signifies that it was not only a sudden fit or mood in him, but an habitual frame and disposition of spirit. This is thanksgiving in those which are God’s servants, it is a constant and settled thing in them; that mercy which they receive but once, yet they are thankful for always, and they do more or less remember it all their lives long. This there is very good ground and reason for, if we examine it, and search into it.
(1) God’s dealing with us In regard of His mercies, which He does extend unto us all our lives long. His goodness runs through the whole course of our lives, and every moment of them we have some touch and sprinkling of it; therefore it is but requisite that our praises should be so likewise.
(2) If we consider the nature of God’s mercies in themselves, not only for the continuance, but the quality, they are such as nothing less than a life is sufficient for the celebrating of them; a few days, or years, are too little and scanty for such a performance; especially if we speak of the great mercies of all, which is the love of God in Christ, and those spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Him; they are such as call for a life indeed for the publishing of them.
(3) Do but consider how much we provoke God by our sins. We offend Him while we live, and therefore while we live we should praise Him, that so we may in some measure make amends for those offences. So, then, every day will I praise Thee, because every day I sin against Thee.
II. David’s engaging himself to prayer. “I will lift up my hands,” etc.
1. The duty itself.
(1) An expression of homage and obedience to God. They hereby signify that they are at His disposing, and stand in need of His owning of them.
(2) An opportunity of converse and communion with Him.
(3) A means for the diverting of evils from us, and the obtaining of blessings.
2. The manner or carriage of it. “In Thy Name.” This does include divers things in it.
(1) The Person to whom the prayer is made, and that is God, and He alone.
(2) It shows the manner in which it is done, and that is according to the will of God, with His allowance and approbation of us; we must not ask anything of God loosely and carelessly, we do not care how, but with reverence and awfulness, and humility, and submission to His good pleasure.
(3) By Thy assistance, by Thy Spirit helping of me (Jude 1:20; Romans 8:26-27). It must be the voice of God’s Spirit in us, this is to pray in His Name. (T. Horton, D. D.)
Praising God while we can
I went one day with Billy Bray, says the Rev. F.W. Bourne, to see a dying saint whose character had been unblemished for many years, but whose natural disposition was modest and retiring almost to a fault. His face wore a look of ineffable dignity and repose, lit up with a strange unearthly radiance and glory. He was just on the verge of heaven. He could only speak in a whisper. He said, “I wish I had a voice, so that I might praise the Lord.” “You should have praised Him, my brother, when you had one,” was Billy’s quiet but slightly satirical comment.
My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise Thee with joyful lips.
A taste for devotion
I. What we understand by the piety of taste and sentiment. Suppose two pupils of a philosopher, both emulous to make a proficiency in science; both attentive to the maxims of their master; both surmounting the greatest difficulties to retain a permanent impression of what they hear. But the one finds study a fatigue like the man tottering under a burden; to him study is a severe and arduous task; he hears because he is obliged to hear what is dictated. The other, on the contrary, enters into the spirit of study; its pains are compensated by its pleasures; he loves truth for the sake of truth; and not for the sake of the encomiums conferred on literary characters and the preceptors of science. So he who has a speculative piety, and he who has a piety of taste and sentiment, are both sincere in their efforts; both devoted to their duty; both pure in purpose; and both alike engaged in studying his precepts, and in reducing them to practice; but oh, how different is their state! The one prays because he is awed by his wants, and because prayer is the resource of the wretched. The other prays because the exercise of prayer transports him to another world; because it vanishes the objects which obstruct his divine reflections; and because it strengthens those ties which unite him to that God whose love constitutes all his consolation and all his treasure.
II. What judgment we should pass upon ourselves when destitute of the heartfelt piety we have just described.
1. When the privation is general; when a conviction of duty, and the motives of hope and fear are ever requisite to enforce the exercises of religion; when we have to force ourselves to read God’s Word, to pray, to study His perfections, and to participate of the pledges of His love in the Holy Sacrament. It is not very likely that a regenerate soul should be always abandoned to the difficulties and duties imposed by religion, that it should never experience those comforts conferred by the Holy Spirit, which make them a delight.
2. The privation of divine comforts should induce us to pass severe strictures on ourselves, when we do not make the required efforts to be delivered from so sad a state.
III. The causes which deprive us of the piety of taste and sentiment.
1. With the exception of those called heroes in the world, mankind seldom sacrifice their ease, their sensuality, their effeminacy, to high notions, to ambition, and the love of glory. And how often have the heroes themselves sacrificed all their laurels, their reputation, and their trophies to the charm of some sensible pleasure?
2. The imagination captivates both the senses and the understanding. A good which is not sensible; a good even which has no existence, is contemplated as a reality, provided it have the decorations proper to strike the imagination.
3. A present, or at least, an approximate good, excites, for the most part, more vehement desires, than a good which is absent, or whose enjoyment is deferred to a remote period.
4. Recollection is a substitute for presence; I would say, that a good in the possession of which we have found delight, pro, duces in the heart, though absent, much the same desires, as that which is actually present.
5. A good, ascertained and fully known by experience, is much more capable of inflaming our desires, than a good of which we have but an imperfect notion, and which is known only by the report of others.
6. All things being equal, we prefer a good of easy acquisition, to one which requires care and fatigue.
7. A good beyond our reach, a good that we do not possess, and that we have no hope so to do, does not excite any desire.
8. Avocations fill the capacity of the soul. (Jas. Saurin.)
The saint assuring himself of satisfaction in God
I. General observations concerning satisfying the new creation.
1. Their souls need to be satisfied.
2. That which satisfies the soul comes from above,
3. There is enough in God to satisfy the soul.
4. The Lord hath satisfied the soul.
5. The Lord promises to satisfy the soul (Psalms 132:15; Psalms 37:19; Psalms 22:26; Isaiah 58:11; Psalms 36:8).
These, and all the promises of God, are faithful sayings, and pleadable at the foot of His throne. In believing and pleading them, the race of new creatures, who exercise themselves unto godliness, will be forward to confess, where it is proper to tell their experience, that their souls have been satisfied as with marrow and fatness.
II. Show what is in the goodness and lovingkindness of God to satisfy the soul, as with marrow and fatness. “Marrow” is an oily substance which is enclosed in some of the bones of certain animals. It strengthens them, and promotes their growth, and the health and vigour of the whole body. “Fatness,” in the language of Scripture, is used to signify the best of anything. “The fatness of the earth” is a soil which, under the influence of the heavens, bringeth forth abundantly. “The fatness of the olive” is a tree that bears the best and greatest abundance of fruit. And “the fatness of the house of God” is the abundance of grace, which enriches and satisfies the souls of His people.
1. The glory of the attributes of God satisfies the soul.
2. The soul is satisfied with the truth of the Word of God.
3. The beauties in the works of God satisfy the soul.
4. The richness of the gifts of God satisfies the soul.
5. The variety of blessings in the fulness of God is satisfying to the soul.
III. Show on what grounds new creatures assure their hearts of the satisfying of their soul, as with marrow and fatness, in God everywhere.
1. The excellence of His lovingkindness.
2. The richness of His goodness--a treasury that is never shut, and never empty.
3. The freeness of His mercy--an attribute which is satisfying to the souls of the poor and needy everywhere.
4. The might of His power.
5. The glory of His holiness.
6. The truth of His faithfulness. The regular and uninterrupted succession of summer and winter, cold and heat, day and night, is a demonstration of the faithfulness of God in ruling the heavens according to His own establiShment; and ground to our faith to assure our hearts, that His establishment with Christ is firm and sure.
7. The uncertainty of His unchangeableness.
8. The prevalence of mediation. The promises of God in Christ the Mediator are all yea and amen, and pleadable in His name. On this ground we assure our hearts that His promises in Him shall be performed, and our souls satisfied in their performance as with marrow and fatness. (A. Shanks.)
Satisfaction found in God
We can have as much of God as we desire. There is a quest which finds its object with absolute certainty, and which finds its object simultaneously with the quest. And Chose two things, the certainty and the immediateness with which the thirst of the soul after God passes into a satisfied fruition of the soul in God, are what are taught us here in our text; and what you and I, if we comply with the conditions, may have as our own blessed experience. There is one search about which it is true that it never fails to find; the certainty that the soul thirsting after God shall be satisfied with God results at once from His nearness to us, and His infinite willingness to give Himself, which He is only prevented from carrying into act by our obstinate refusal to open our hearts by desire, It takes all a man’s indifference to keep God out of his heart, “For in Him we live, and move, and have our being,” and that Divine love, which Christianity teaches us to see on the throne of the universe, is but infinite longing for self-communication,. God’s love is an infinite desire to give Himself. If only we open our hearts--and nothing opens them so wide as longing--He will pour in, as surely as the atmosphere streams in through every chink and cranny, as surely as if some great black rock that stands on the margin of the sea is blasted away, the waters will flood over the sands behind it. So, unless we keep God out, by not wishing Him in, in He will come. The certitude that we possess Him when we desire Him is as absolute. As swift as Marconi’s wireless message across the Atlantic and its answer, so immediate is the response from Heaven to the desire from earth. What a contrast that is to all our experiences! Is there anything else about which we can say, “I am quite sure that if I want it I shall have it. I am quite sure that when I want it I have it”? Nothing! There may be wells to which a man has to go, as the Bedouin in the desert has to go, with empty water-skins, many a day’s journey, and it comes to be a fight between the physical endurance of the man and the weary distance between him and the spring. Many a man’s bones, and many a camel’s, lie on the track to the wells, who lay down gasping and black-lipped, and died before they reached them. We all know what it is to have longing desires which have cost us many an effort, and efforts and desires have both been in vain. Is it not blessed to be sure that there is One whom to long for is immediately to possess? Then there is the other thought here, too, that when we have God we have enough. That is not true about anything else. There is always something lacking in all other satisfactions. They address themselves to sides, and angles, and faces of our complex nature; they leave all the others unsatisfied. The table that is spread in the world, at which various longings and capacities seat themselves as guests, always fails to provide for some of them, and whilst some, and those especially of the lower type, are feasting full, there sits by their side another guest, who finds nothing on the table to satisfy his hunger. But if my soul thirsts for God, my soul shall be satisfied when I get Him. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The saint delighting in praise
I. The theme of praise.
1. The Lord Himself.
2. His name.
3. His power.
4. His mercy.
5. His lovingkindness.
6. His holiness.
7. His goodness.
8. His faithfulness.
9. His word.
10. His wonders.
II. The expression of praise.
1. By words.
2. By voices.
3. By actions.
III. The cheerfulness which enlivens the exercise of godly men in praising the Lord.
1. Cheerfulness arises from God and the things of God, which are themes of our praise.
2. Cheerfulness in praise arises from the anointing and sealing of the Holy Spirit.
3. Cheerfulness in praise arises from the blessings with which it enriches experience. The Lord is good and kind to His people in their glorifying Him with praise, and shows them His salvation.
4. Cheerfulness in praise arises from hope of acceptance in the beloved. This hope is lively and joyful, founded in the mediation of the great High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus, and confirmed with promises sprinkled with His blood.
In conclusion, observe--
1. The mouth of the man of piety is his organ of praise. Regeneration renews the whole man after the image of God, but creates no faculties and members. By this grace the faculties and members are renewed, and fitted to the dignified uses for which they were originally created; and in these uses are, Or ought to be, employed by pious men, every day, and everywhere.
2. In using their mouth as their organ of praise, the lips of men of piety are anointed with oil of joy.
3. The exercise of pious men on earth is continued in heaven. (A. Shanks.)
Praising God with joyful lips
There are three things which do here open the mouths and lips of such as David was--
1. Joy; that is a spreading affection, which does not keep within its bounds, but does dilate and expatiate itself, that others may joy with it; and so here, it is joyful lips. David did so please himself in the expectation of those gracious opportunities which he now prays for, as that he promises himself a great deal of joy and rejoicing from them.
2. Love, and that to others with whom he conversed. This, it made him to speak likewise, that having found this sweetness in his own soul, he might make others likewise in some degree partakers of it. Now, while he was in the wilderness, he was solitary, and all alone by himself, he wanted the opportunity; when he came into the sanctuary, he hoped to have the mutual benefit of the communion of saints; and so in this respect should come with his mouth to praise God with joyful lips.
3. Thankfulness likewise to God. This it does also vent itself here. “My mouth shall praise Thee,” that is, celebrate Thy goodness towards me. It is the best recompense which we can make to God for all His favours and kindnesses to us, even to praise Him, and bless Him for them. (T. Horton, D. D.)
Have I not remembered Thee in my bed, and thought upon Thee when I was waking?
The saint devout by night
Night piety is--
1. Commanded (Deuteronomy 6:7; Joshua 1:8; Lamentations 2:19).
2. Exemplified (Psalms 119:55; Psalms 119:147-148; Luke 6:12).
3. Profitable (Psalms 16:7; Psalms 77:6; Psalms 1:2).
I. The object of night piety.
2. Our God.
3. One who is awake at every hour of the night. At any of the watches, there is access by Christ into the secret of His presence.
4. One who makes the night a season of visiting some of His chosen with the kindness of His love (Psalms 17:3; Psalms 42:8).
II. The exercises of night piety mentioned in the text.
1. Remembering the Lord upon our bed is first mentioned; remembering what He is, what He hath done, what He hath promised, what He hath commanded, what He hath given, and what way He hath led us through life by His providence.
2. The other exercise mentioned in our text is, meditating on the Lord in the night watches. This also includes several particulars; as thinking on Him, believing in Him, hoping in Him, praying to Him, and glorifying Him with praise.
III. The profit of night piety. They minister--
1. To the satisfying of the soul.
2. To the filling of the mouth with praise.
3. To the sanctifying of the lips to express the praises of the Lord with joy and gladness.
4. To the preventing of the intrusions of evil thoughts upon us, which often disturb and spoil the exercises of our night piety. (A. Shanks.)
Remembrance of and meditation on God
I. Remembrance of God.
1. The thing itself. There are three sorts and several kinds of God’s dispensations to us, in reference whereunto especially we are to remember Him.
(1) As to His work of creation, His making and framing of us. Not to remember the Lord which is our Maker and Creator, is very gross and incongruous. This deserves our remembrance especially, it is very useful to us for several purposes. As first, to strengthen our faith; He that made us He will also preserve us. To commit our souls to Him as to a faithful Creator. He that created us will raise us again. And as to strengthen our faith, so likewise to quicken our obedience, and to teach us to give up our souls and bodies, as a living sacrifice to Him, it is very pertinent to remember God thus, namely, in reference to this His first work of creation.
(2) In reference to His work of sanctification, as our Redeemer; His now making us, and framing us again, remember Him so; and that both as to the work of grace itself in us, as also in reference to all good means, for the strengthening of it.
(3) In reference to His work of providence. God has many thoughts of us (Jeremiah 29:11; Psalms 136:23; Genesis 8:1; Genesis 19:20; Genesis 30:22; Malachi 3:16). Now, forasmuch as God does thus carefully remember us, there is all the reason that may be why we should also remember Him. To help and strengthen our memories in this particular, let us be careful of these directions. First, get into ourselves strong apprehensions of God, and of that goodness and excellency which is in Him. Apprehension is a great help to memory; that which is deeply fastened and settled, and rooted in us, it will not so easily be forgotten of us; it is so with things, and it is so with persons, they are all there easily remembered where they are well apprehended. Secondly, let us labour to have good affections toward Him. If we love God we shall not forget Him, but we shall often have thoughts of Him; He will come into our minds, even in some absence and remoteness from Him, wherein we do not, perhaps, enjoy Him in His ordinances as formerly we have done. Thirdly, let us view His tokens and pledges, and remembrances of Himself, which He has left with us, as the Word and Sacraments, and the like. These are remembrances of Him, and accordingly we should apply ourselves to them under this notion; we should make use of them to such a purpose as this is.
2. The circumstance of place, for the performing of it. “On my bed.” The bed may be looked upon as a place for the remembrance of God in it according to a threefold notion. Either first of all, as a place of choice; in the bed to choose rather than anywhere else, where I am left to my liberty. Or, secondly, as a place of necessity; in the bed at least, where I cannot anywhere else, as having restraints upon me. Or thirdly, as a place of indifferency; in the bed as well as anywhere else besides, as it happens, and falls out unto me. And here again there are two things further considerable. First, a Christian’s privilege. And secondly, a Christian’s duty upon this privilege. The privilege of a Christian is this, that he may remember God in his bed where he can nowhere else. A Christian’s duty is this, that he ought to remember God on his bed, where he hath nowhere else to remember Him; he is not to neglect such an opportunity as this is. Here is a third now which we may add to the rest, not only a Christian’s privilege, and a Christian’s duty, but likewise his practice in the example of the prophet David; he did it for his particular, and hereby shows us what is likewise the nature and disposition of many others besides in this respect, even to remember God in their beds; where they are restrained from the more public enjoyment, yet to think of Him even in those restraints (Psalms 42:4).
II. Meditation on God.
1. The thing itself. Meditation is beyond remembrance, for that may be only transitory and flitting, this is fixed and settled, and does signify a further fastening and continuing of our thoughts upon that which they are pitched upon.
(1) The attributes of God; His goodness, and wisdom, and power, meditate on them; they are such as are very worthy of our choicest thoughts, and we cannot think too much of them, so far forth as they are revealed unto us.
(2) His works which flow from His attributes, do much call for our meditation.
(3) Also the Word of God (1 Timothy 4:15). It is meditation which makes us to profit and thrive by that which we hear, which without this is very much lost. As it is not the meat while in the stomach, but digested and thoroughly concocted, and altered and changed, and so dispersed into the several parts of the body, which causes nourishment and increase; even so is it also here in spirituals.
2. The amplification of it from the circumstance of time, “in the night watches.” This was the time which David took for this performance. As for the place, on his bed; so for the time and season, in the night. He brake his sleep to think upon God (Psalms 77:4). But why then, of all other times? Why does David choose to meditate on God in the night? Or why should any other do so in imitation of him? Surely there is very good ground and reason for it, as will appear to us in sundry regards, which we may take notice of.
(1) As freest from distraction, and the cumbrances and troubles of the world.
(2) As it is most subject to temptation and assault from Satan. We have never more need to betake and apply ourselves to God, than then, when we are in greatest danger of the devil, who is our spiritual enemy. Now, this we are at such a time as this is. He is a spirit of darkness, and so watches for a time of darkness, especially for the laying of his snares, and making his onsets upon us, as robbers they wait for the night; so then does this spiritual robber of souls. Then he may here work upon the fancy as he hath opportunity for it.
(3) As the time when conscience most works, and God Himself does usually draw near and apply Himself to us (Psalms 16:7; Psalms 17:3; Job 35:10). These things laid together, do make very much for such a performance as this is; and not only for meditation, but prayer, as the Hebrew word Hagah will bear it. We have herein the example not only here of David in the text, but also of some others in Scripture. Thus our Lord spent whole nights in prayer (Luke 6:12). Anna served God with fastings and prayer night and day. Paul had his labours, and lastings, and watchings (2 Corinthians 6:5; 2 Corinthians 11:27). And so for others. We know how in the primitive times they had their vigils and meetings in the night, which though at first had a good ground for them, in regard of the persecution by heathens; yet afterwards upon as good ground for their abuse were taken away. But, however, the moral and analogy holds good, and is in force still, which is this, To watch unto prayer, and not to omit such seasons as the night for ejaculation and lifting up our hearts to God in it, as David professes here of himself. (T. Horton, D. D.)
I. It is directed to the most influential subject--Meditation on God--
1. Serves to rouse the intellectual faculties to their highest effort.
2. Serves to prostrate the soul in humility.
3. Serves to spiritualize all the sympathies of our nature.
4. Serves to assimilate the character to the Perfect One.
II. It is employed in a most influential season. “In the night watches.” Night is pre-eminently the season for solemn thought.
1. It gives the mind an inward direction. As all outside of him is thus entombed in silence and sable, his soul becomes solemnly conscious of itself and its responsibility.
2. It gives the mind a solemnity of mood. Night is the emblem and minister of seriousness. A thought which heaves the whole nature with solemn emotions in the night, has often but little influence over us in the day. (Homilist.)
Meditating upon religion
The life of God in the soul of man, the Christian life, is marked, amongst other things, by religion gradually gaining possession of the thoughts. It has been said that if we thought about religion as it deserves, we should never think about anything else. Nor can we, with strictness, deny this. For religious concerns do so outweigh all others in their importance and value. The wonder is not that men think so much but so little of it. The cast and turn of our infirm and fleshly nature lean all on the side of our thinking not enough of spiritual things.
I. Our nature is affected chiefly by what we see; the unseen has, therefore, but little power.
II. And we regard the things of religion not as near to us, but as distant. Like children we are affected only by what is present and near. But though this delusion be so general it has no foundation in reason. We do not so act in regard to our worldly affairs.
III. The spirituality of religion also hinders our thinking of it. All religion which is effectual must be spiritual. But our nature cares not for that which is purely spiritual. Therefore we need to pray for the help of the Spirit of God. (Archdeacon Paley.)
Because Thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of Thy wings will I rejoice.
The remembrance of past mercies an inducement to present confidence in God
This psalm is not one of complaint or sorrow, nor of settled joy, but of the transition from the one to the other. David has just recovered his confidence in God, and feeling assured that his soul will soon find rest and confidence in Him. Believers, now, are often in this state of mind, in this transition state. Oh, let us see to it that we go forward, as David did, and not backward into deeper gloom; for this is possible: we may sink down as well as rise. That we may rise, note how David acted in such case.
I. He states a fact--“Thou hast been my help.” And surely we can say this; indeed, we must say it, for the Lord has been our help. When in our sin, He became our Saviour, and by His Holy Spirit turned us to Himself. We have had other helpers, but none such as He. And every true believer recognizes this. Others practically regard themselves as their own real helpers, not God.
II. A resolution founded on the fact. “Because . . . therefore in the shadow of,” etc. “The shadow of Thy wings” signifies the parental protection of God, His watchfulness, love and tenderness. The whole sentence expresses--
1. The most assured safety in God. As the chickens deem themselves safe while under the wing of the mother-bird, so are God’s people safe under His protection. And not only safe from danger, but hidden from it: it cannot find them.
2. A determination in the psalmist to fly to God for safety. When he says he will rejoice in the shadow of God’s wings, he plainly intimates that he will betake himself there (Psalms 57:1; Psalms 143:9). We are not to look for God’s mercy without seeking it. “The name of God is a strong tower,” but “the righteous” will, must, “run into it,” would he be “safe.” The everlasting wings are spread out for us, we must run and keep beneath them would we be safe.
3. An anticipation of pleasure and joy in God’s protection. “I will rejoice,” not merely be safe, but be happy. He is not going to a shelter he is driven to, but to a home he loves. These two ideas of safety and comfort in God are ever kept together in David’s mind (Psalms 23:4; Psalms 90:1-17 :l). And--
4. This resolution is grounded on the fact the psalmist set out with. “Because Thou hast been,” etc. It is a poor use to make of God’s mercies to get only a present comfort from them; the memory of them ought to be treasured up for use in future trials.
III. The earnestness with which the psalmist carries his resolution into effect. “My soul followeth hard after Thee.” In affliction we are apt to be languid and wanting in all energy, It seems to say, “If I am to have comfort, the Lord must come and bring it to me, I cannot turn to Him and seek it.” But how different David’s thought. Oh, let us rouse ourselves, determine to use a holy violence with ourselves when we are in affliction. What we want is such an enjoyment of God as will leave us neither time nor inclination to dwell upon our troubles. Let all remember, there is rest and happiness in God, and especially for every penitent contrite soul. (C. Bradley, M. A.)
The sheltering wing
I. We have a grateful record. “Thou hast been my help.”
1. God awakened us from our folly and sin.
2. God helped us when we sought pardon and deliverance from the burden of sin.
3. And when we have been in despair God has been our help.
4. And when we were without strength, sick, or in peril of ruin. And to render us this help Christ died on the cross.
II. It is a safe shelter. “In the shadow of Thy wings will I rejoice.” Likewise the Christian, remembering that God has been his help up to the present time, shelters himself from temptation, trouble, and trial, knowing that He who has delivered him in the past will not leave him in the toils of the present or the hardships of the future. God shelters us from the allurements of this world. We need a shelter from the darkness and trouble of the present life.
III. An expression of joy. “I will rejoice.” O, ye Christians, rejoice, likewise, for God is your Keeper. (W. Birch.)
The argument from experience
The rejoicing told of here is--
I. Reasonable. “Because”; none can deny this basis of consolation. It is not founded on God’s promise--though that could never be broken--but upon past experience. God has been our help.
II. Personal--“My help.”
III. Real. It is far more than rest or quiescent peace. The psalms are full of the gladness of the Lord. Much joy is superficial. What depths of melancholy there are in hearts that know not God.
V. Prophetic. What can the future bring for which Christ cannot prepare us? This, then, is to be written on our banners, “In the shadow of Thy wings will I rejoice.” (W. M. Statham.)
Experience and assurance
1. David had experienced Divine help. The Roman used to speak of Deus ex machina; God appearing in an unexpected manner in the midst of a history to rescue the hero, and change the scene. This is no figure of speech in the life of faith. Every now and then we have witnessed a distinct interposition, a stretching out of the Divine hand, an inroad of the supernatural. To us has it been true, “He bowed the heavens also, and came down.” Others might think our experience fanatical, if we were to tell it as we see it; but this we cannot help. To us it has been a real manifestation of the Divine thoughtfulness on our behalf. Looking back upon our lives, we cannot help saying deliberately, and as cool statement of fact--The Lord has been our help.
2. David had often experienced this help. He does not make this statement in reference to one solitary incident in his life, or he would have said, “Thou wast once my help”; but he sees a continuity in the lovingkindness of the Lord his God. He means, “Thou hast all along been my help.” In doing his duty as patriot and king, God was his help, and enabled him to walk uprightly in his government. In his sufferings the Lord was his help, and enabled him to be calm and brave. In the time of danger God was his help, and kept him from the hand of the enemy. And now, in this psalm, though David is in the wilderness of Judah, and probably hunted by his own son, yet he sings unto the Lord, “Thou hast been my help.” I do not want you to stop with David any longer. I beg you, now, to come nearer home, and review your own lives.
3. These helps rendered to David had been very choice ones. He had often been helped in special ways. God had taken great care of him. He was the favourite of Providence, and the darling of Heaven. Has it not been so with some of you? Have you not enjoyed choice morsels of experience? Are there not incidents in your life which you could scarcely tell, lest the hearer should smile at your credulity?
4. God’s help has also been continuous to us. In the time of our darkness we could not see the link; but, looking back, we can see it now.
5. Observe also that the Lord has granted us educative mercy. David says, “Because Thou hast been my help.” He says not, that He has wrought everything for us, but He has set us working also. You see, if you do a thing for a man, it is well; but if you help him to do it, it may be better for him, for thus he learns the way.
1. What we have experienced of God’s goodness is a revelation of Himself: God’s actions are Himself in motion. If, then, we have experienced God’s power, He is powerful; and we know that anything is possible to Him. If I have experienced His acts of faithfulness, I conclude that He is always faithful, and that He will keep His promise and His covenant, and will be true to all those who trust in Him.
2. This reasoning is good, since you have to do with an unchanging God. If you have changeable man to deal with, there will be no logic in your reasoning; but when you think of Jehovah who changeth not, then you may infer great things, and the severest logic will support you. He was my help, He is my help, and therefore He will be my help, even to the end.
3. This kind of argument is very sure to a man’s own self, and he is the person most concerned. We know whom we have believed, and we are persuaded that He will not fail us. We know what we do know; and if we cannot tell it to others, we are none the less sure of it ourselves.
4. It is clear that this is an accumulating argument. The young man who has known the Lord twelve months, and experienced a great deliverance, is sure that the Lord is to be trusted. But when he has passed twenty, thirty, or forty years of the same experience, his assurance will be doubly sure. To a believer in Christ every day teems with providences and mercies. This tree beareth its fruit every month, and the fruit feeds faith wondrously.
1. Contented assurance. David, grateful for past help, holds himself still, and happily awaits the purpose of the Lord. He manifests no fear, no fret, no hurry, no worry. Neither does be cast his eyes towards man. “Thou hast been my help,” saith he; and he looks that way.
2. Patient assurance. It is not ours to hasten the Divine vengeance, nor to wish for a personal triumph; but it is ours to feel the bliss of safety in nearness to God.
3. The assurance of faith. “Because Thou hast been my help, therefore”--what? “In the light of Thy countenance will I rejoice”? No: he had then but little light; he was “in the shadow.” The wilderness cut him off from beholding God in the sanctuary. If you cannot see the face of God, His shadow may give you peace. Lord, I will pray to Thee to lift up the light of Thy countenance upon me; but if Thou dost continue to hide Thyself, I will still trust Thee, and be sure that Thou art the same God of grace. Knowing that Thy shadow is full of defence for me, I will rejoice therein.
4. Continued assurance. We read not, in the shadow of Thy wings have I rejoiced, but, “I will rejoice.” He is rejoicing, and means to go on rejoicing. His joy no man taketh from him. He will rejoice so long as he has a God to rejoice in.
5. The best of all is, this is rejoicing assurance. The text does not say “Because Thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of Thy wings will I trust,” but, “in the shadow of Thy wings will I rejoice.” That is going further than silent submission, or humble trust. David is in the dark; but, like the nightingale, he sings in it. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
David’s experience of God’s help
I. David’s experience. “Thou hast been my help.”
1. This implies his necessity. First, as having much work. Secondly, as having many enemies. Thirdly, as having but little strength. Those which are in these circumstances have need of help to be administered unto them. And this is the case and condition of all Christians.
(1) They have much work, a great deal of business to be despatched by them, which they are not able very well to run through of themselves. Take the meanest Christian that is, and in the lowest rank and order amongst men, yet he has work enough to do if it be but to save his own soul, to live soberly, and righteously, and godly in this present world. But if he be anything higher, then it is so much the more; in the family as a master, or in the church as a minister, or as a magistrate in the commonwealth. Here, now, the greater occasions and opportunities that there are of doing good, the greater is the work itself, and the more need of help in it.
(2) They have many enemies. These two they do usually and commonly go together. Much work to be done, and many enemies to oppose themselves against it (1 Corinthians 16:9).
(3) They have but little strength, or, indeed none at all.
2. He hath help afforded him by God Himself.
(1) He is a strong helper.
(2) He is a ready helper. He is a God at hand, and not a God afar off, aa the Scripture often expresses Him. When trouble is near, He is near too; which is a matter of very great comfort and encouragement to all those that depend upon Him.
(3) He is the only help also. There’s none can help without Him, nor, indeed, none besides Him. The improvement of this point to ourselves, in a way of application, comes to this purpose--
1. As a word of comfort and consolation to the people of God in all those difficulties and distresses which they are surrounded and encompassed withal; that they have such an One as this to help them, and to relieve them, and to be assistant unto them.
2. We may make use of this point also in a way of excitement, and that to a threefold performance, which is very rationally consequent hereupon.
(1) If God help us, let us then also help Him.
(2) If God help us, let us then also help ourselves.
(3) If God help us, let us then also help one another.
II. The improvement of this experience.
1. David’s purpose or resolution, which he takes up to himself.
(1) By the shadow of God’s wings we are especially to understand His providence and fatherly protection; and we find mention of it often in Scripture (Psalms 17:13; Psalms 57:1; Psalms 36:7). It is an expression of safety. Look, as the chickens are safe while they are under the wings of the hen, even so are God’s people safe while they are under His providence and protection; and there is nothing which is such a defence and safeguard and security to them as this indeed is. Those which are kept by Him, they are kept safely, neither shall they need anything to fear in the days of evil and trouble which are upon them. It is an expression of secrecy. The wing hides and conceals those which are kept under it; as it preserves them from danger, so it likewise keeps them from discovery. Thus does likewise this wing of God (Psalms 91:4; Psalms 17:8; Psalms 31:20; Jeremiah 36:28). It is an expression of tenderness and singular affection (Deuteronomy 32:11-12).
(2) While he says that herein he will rejoice, there are these things implied in it, as considerable and pertinent unto it. Recourse unto them. Complacency and contentment in this condition. Thanksgiving and outward expression.
2. The occasion or ground of his resolution; and that is, the experience of God’s former goodness to him. This is signified in the connection of these latter words with the former, because, therefore; because Thou hast been my help hitherto, therefore will I rejoice in Thy protection for time to come. Here’s the force of David’s reasoning; and the reason it holds good upon a twofold consideration. First, in a way of confidence. Secondly, in a way of acknowledgment. I will trust in Thee, and still wait upon Thee in a way of dependence. And again, “Because Thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of Thy wings will I rejoice.” That is, I will publish this protection which I have from Thee in a way of thankfulness. According to the first notion so there is this in it, that good Christians do improve former experiences to future dependence. According to the second notion, so there is this in it, that good Christians, where they do receive mercies from God, will be there careful to acknowledge and to be thankful for them. (T. Horton, D. D.)
A joyful syllogism
I. The cause.
1. A grateful memory. One glad necessity of the new life is, “Thou shalt remember all the way,” etc. Unbelief, on the other hand, has a bad memory (Psalms 106:13).
2. A personal possession. “My God.” The soul lifts its hand, not to grasp abstract truth, nor a doctrinal system, but a personal God. Mix in holier company, rise to higher employments, the Christian may and shall; but to rise to higher rank is impossible, for here and now we are children of God by faith in Jesus Christ.
3. A present joy. How precarious the present life of man! Riches fly, comforts die, friends fail, thrones reel, crowns fall, death levels; but those things which cannot be shaken remain (Hebrews 12:27).
II. The effect.
1. Refuge--ample, accessible, friendly.
2. Rest. The helpless leaning on the helper; the sinful on the sinless; the aching, guilty head, resting on the bosom of Christ. (Homilist.)
The saint rejoicing in Divine help
I. The help which the Lord hath given and experience recorded.
II. The shadow of the wings in which those to whom the Lord has been their help, hope He will be their help in all times to come. Here is all that favour, and mercy, and kindness, and good-will toward men, which the cherubims with their wings covering the mercy-seat prefigured.
III. The joy and gladness which hope of help in God raises in the shadow of His wings. This arises--
1. From what pious men see in the shadow of His wings. In all events and occurrences, they see not instruments, but perfections; not men, but God, sanctifying Himself, and magnifying Himself in exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. This view of His administration, under covert of which they have sheltered themselves, raises and enlivens their joy, and creates and confirms their hopes of all things issuing in His glory and their good.
2. From what they hear (Psalms 62:11-12).
3. From what they believe. Under the wings of the overshadowing providence of God is an eminent seat where His people sit and rejoice in His salvation.
4. From what they receive. The Lord is kind to His people in the shadow of His wings, and lets them want for nothing (Psalms 84:11). (A. Shanks.)
What the Lord is to His people
1. A place of refuge. “The shadow of Thy wings.”
2. A fountain of joy. The mercy-seat shadowed with the wings of the cherubims brought to his remembrance God, whom he believed to be gracious and merciful, and filled him with joy in committing himself to the care and protection of His overshadowing providence. The same sacred symbol reminds us that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself,” and should fill us with all joy and peace in sheltering ourselves under His care and love.
3. A very present help. In believing, in praying, in doing, in suffering, were ye not helped? and it is your duty and honour to acknowledge it to His praise.
4. A quiet and sure habitation.
5. A treasure which faileth not. (A. Shanks.)
Ways in which God helps us
This verse, like an old Roman deity, has two faces, one looking backward and the other forward--the backward look of testimony and the forward look of trust. To the Romans, Janus presided over all beginnings; he opened the year, and the first month is called “January” after him. They represented him with two faces because every door looked two ways, and he was the opener. It would be well if we could in our soul-life put this text where the Romans saw Janus. I propose, therefore, to remind you of some of the common, usual ways in which we receive help for life, and to give these facts the religious interpretation, to regard such help as help from God. It is evident, is it not, that we could not start life without help, that we begin in utter dependence? And what is the fact, then? The fact, then, is that other lives are at our service, that when we can do nothing for ourselves everything is done for us. The mother did not make her own heart; the God who gave it her I will adore as One who plans to help me in the most wonderful of all ways. And when you come to do what men call “helping yourself,” “making your own way,” even then you are only using the various helps which are provided for you. Do you start life on the level on which a child started, say 100,000 years ago? If not, what makes the difference? That difference is made by the upward struggle of humanity from that time to this, and you are a debtor to every one who contributed to that progress. Every individual has a certain inheritance, a certain capital from the experience of the race. The gains which the ages have won are in some measure worked into the very constitution of your being. Primitive man could not, by any effort, have used his hand for purposes for which you can use yours without difficulty. You have an immense advantage there, and you got it how? Through the gradual growth of skilful manipulation during thousands of years. Natural evolution is the manifestation of mind in method; it is God’s way of doing things; it is upward creation. And further. The victories which others have won, the achievements of the past, are not only in some measure worked into the very make of our being, but they also constitute the environment of our life. Do you ever think of the help you get to live through the great privileges of a free press, of free institutions, of freedom in religion? What are all these? Are they not the purchases of the martyr spirit in bygone times? Men went down to death in order to win freedom to worship God. Again. Think of the help you may get from the lessons of personal experience; from your contact with and observation of things and men. There is scarcely a limit to what we can learn in this world. Some lessons we learn in the sunshine and some in the shadow; some in the thousand glories of a summer morning, and the deep eternal peacefulness of a cloudless sky, and some from the scowl of a tempest amid the barren desolation of the wintry blast; some we learn over the cradle in laughter and song and prophecy, and some at the graveside, in mourning and with tears. Now, I want you to think again that in all the lessons you have learned from your joys and your sorrows, from your defeats and your victories, from your hard struggles as well as from your sojourn near the still waters and in the green pastures--in all these God is the one Helper. He gave you a mind to think, a heart to feel, a world to live in, and a spirit greater than the world, able to look out over its boundaries into another. But is there still no other way in which God helps us? I think there is. It is the way which made the old Hebrews speak so much about angels; which made Paul speak of the Lord appearing to him in the night; which makes some men believe in spirits, and others talk of “being struck with an idea,” or “having an impression.” The great fact behind all these is that man often finds help arising within his soul. He may be quite alone, away from friends; he may not be aware of having been helped by any word or counsel from any one, and yet there in solitude he rises to master his trouble. Could that have happened if that man had been really a mere unit, absolutely cut off from the Universal Life? The question itself is absurd. It is only by virtue of his relation to that Universal Life that the man is a man at all. And that power which rises in him, unmediated so far as he knows, wells up from the eternal fountain of Divine life. (F. R. Williams.)
My soul followeth hard after Thee, Thy right hand upholdeth me.
Endeavour and support
I. The effort which the Christian makes. “My soul followeth hard after Thee.” This seen in his--
1. Uniform obedience to God. This obedience spiritual, of the heart; and universal.
2. Lively faith in the promises.
3. Communion and fellowship with God. Hence he follows hard after God as his guide, his refuge and his portion. Are we doing this?
II. The support which the Christian receives.
1. God delivers their feet from falling, His right hand upholds them.
2. Their hearts from fainting. Learn, then, to love the ordinances of the sanctuary and to improve them; and to ascribe all our good to God. (W. Tonse.)
The saint following hard after God
I. Following after God is the motion of the soul--
1. In knowledge (Hosea 6:3). The knowledge of the only true God, as God and our God, is the principle and root of piety (John 17:8). Lift up thy voice and cry for it. Follow hard after it. Search for it as for silver. Dig for it as for hid treasures. Read daily. Pray fervently. Think seriously.
2. In faith. “Believe in God,” saith our Saviour, “believe also in Me.” If we believe firmly, we will follow hard after Him. Following hard and believing firmly, is following and believing with vigour, and ardour, and constancy.
3. In love. The love of God shed abroad in the heart kindles in it love to Him; and the love which it kindles, impatient lest it lose sight of Him, follows Him with ardour. It cannot bear the thoughts of distance. It wishes to be near Him, and to enjoy the comfort of His presence.
4. In hope. Are we in prosperity? Let us follow Him in hope of its continuance. Are we in adversity? Let us follow after Him in hope of its removal. Are we in darkness? Let us follow after Him in hope of light. Are we in danger? Let us follow after Him in hope of salvation.
5. In desire. Desire is the stepping of the soul in the way toward God, the fountain of our blessedness and glory; and the stronger and more lively desire is, our motion in following after Him will be quicker and faster.
6. In obedience. New obedience is the motion of the soul after God in the way of His commandments.
7. In communion. God looks down on His chosen following hard after Him, and they look up to Him. In speaking and hearing. He speaks, and they hear.
II. The ardour of the soul following after God which the text expresses by the word “hard,” includes--
1. Keenness in respect of desire.
2. Diligence in respect of means.
3. Vigour in respect of exertion. With all our heart, soul, strength, and mind.
4. Perseveringly in respect of continuance.
5. Affectionately in respect of complacency and delight. This is ardour in piety. What more concerning it can we say? Alas! it is above our experience. O that the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord were shed abroad more diffusively in our heart by the Holy Ghost! (John 7:37).
III. The ends and purposes for which pious souls follow hard after God.
1. That they may see Him in His beauty and glory.
2. That they may be near Him.
3. That they may hear Him.
4. That they may be helped. They have weights to carry which are too heavy for their weakness, and exertions to make in obedience and self-denial which are above their strength. Of themselves they are nothing, and can do nothing but as succoured from above. Believing and feeling their own insufficiency, they would be always near their help.
5. That they may be enriched. God is rich, rich in mercy, rich in goodness, rich in grace; and in following after Him His people are enriched and filled with His goodness. The riches of His glory is their treasury; and Christ having the key that opens it, and authority and power over all it contains, their wants are supplied, and their souls filled with all the fulness of God.
6. That they may be preserved. Their adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about seeking whom he may devour. The world is a numerous and formidable party, devising their hurt. Yet are they in safety, because they follow hard after God their preserver.
7. That they may be brought to His kingdom and glory. He is the breaker up of their way before them, and that they might not err, or go wrong, and come short, He hath appointed the Captain of Salvation their leader and commander. (A. Shanks.)
I. Describe this state of experience. It implies--
1. A renunciation of the world. This results from a conviction of its vanity.
2. A deliberate choice of God, as the only adequate good of the soul.
3. A vehement and intense desire after Him.
4. The exercises of faith and hope.
II. Investigate the reasons why it is so rare. It is obvious few Christians enjoy this experience. The principal causes of their languor are--
1. Inattention to the state of their own hearts. They are not recollected; thy do not examine themselves closely. Hence they are ignorant of their real condition, and do not keenly feel their wants.
2. Permitting the objects of sense to make too deep impressions. These naturally tend to blunt the edge of holy desire, and to divide and weaken the soul.
3. Neglect of the instituted means.
4. The indulgence of wrong dispositions, etc. Unbelief, pride, vain curiosity, levity, censoriousness, uncharitable or useless conversation, etc.; all these, like cold water, tend to damp and weaken, if not wholly to extinguish, the desire for God.
III. Represent it as the most desirable experience.
1. It is the best security against the allurements and troubles of the world. A heart earnestly pursuing God has no leisure to gaze on the seductive charms of temporal good, and no disposition to pierce itself with the thorns of worldly solicitude.
2. It renders every duty delightful. In this state nothing is done through custom, formality, or any other inferior motive--but every duty is performed with the highest views.
3. It prepares us for the largest communication. We always receive from God what we earnestly and faithfully seek from Him (Luke 2:9-10). By this holy fervour the soul throws itself open to receive all the fulness of God--the shoreless, fathomless ocean of good.
4. It advances our sanctification, and consequently qualifies us for glory. (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)
The divinity of a true life
I. God is the Supreme Object of a true life. “My soul followeth hard after Thee.”
1. As the centre of my affections. I want to fix, settle my heart, with all its varied sympathies and affections, in Thee. Thou art the original centre of my soul; but I have lost Thee, and now my intense desire is to come back to Thee.
2. As the guide of my life. I want a guide; I have lost my way; the path is intricate, perilous, and very dark.
3. As the companion of my heart. I want a friend, some one who understands me, can sympathize with me, calm my agitated nature. My sense of desolation sinks me like lead, saddens me as a thunder cloud.
II. God is the sustaining power of a true life. “Thy right hand upholdeth me.”
1. “Thy right hand” in the blessings of material nature.
2. “Thy right hand” in the beneficent influence of Providence.
3. “Thy right hand” in the moral forces of the Gospel. It is God’s power alone that can sustain the soul in its strugglings after life. (Homilist.)
The Christian’s pursuit
I. What is implied. Following hard after God supposes--
1. A previous acquaintance with Him. Holy affections are not heat without light, but light and heat combined; the mind is both illuminated and sanctified.
2. Ardent and intense desires.
3. Laborious exertion.
4. Perseverance in seeking. His seeming slights shall only increase their importunity.
II. Why David thus followed hard after God.
1. Guilt and distress followed hard after him.
2. His enemies followed hard after him.
3. He had followed hard after other things to no purpose.
4. We may add, the powerful attractives of divine grace. The reason why David followed after God was, that goodness and mercy followed after him. (B. Beddome, M. A.)
David following God, and upheld by Him
I. David’s carriage to God.
1. The inclination of a Christian’s heart to God, and his simple propensity towards Him. There are three notions in which we may took upon God, according to either of which the soul of a Christian is inclined and carried after Him. First, as the Author of nature. Secondly, as the Giver of grace. Thirdly, as the Bestower of glory and eternal life. All these three are considerable in God, and in reference to all of them are a Christian’s desires after God, and his soul does propend towards him.
2. A Christian’s importunity. A good Christian, if he be in some distance and separation from God for a time, yet cannot long be content to be so. This may be made good unto us according to a twofold explication; whether ye take it of a distance and separation in regard of spirit, a state of spiritual desertion; or whether ye take it of a distance and separation in regard of the means; a deprivation of the public ordinances and ministerial dispensations. A good Christian cannot long content himself in either of these estrangements from God; but while it is thus with him, his soul does follow hard after him. Let us therefore so carry ourselves that we may not provoke God to deal thus with as. It is a great deal better for us, and more kindly, and more to be wished for, that our desires should be carried after these things for the excellency which is in the things themselves, and our own closing with them, than from want and deprival of them. For which cause it concerns us to prevent God, that He may not be forced to deal so with us.
3. A Christian’s adherence, “My soul cleaveth to Thee”; so some translations render it; and indeed it is most agreeable to the original text, which signifies to adhere (Genesis 2:24; Proverbs 18:24). This cleaving implies three things: union as the foundation of it; fastening as the progress of it; perseverance as the accomplishment. Now, to quicken us so much the more to the practice of this present duty, which is here in David’s example commended to our imitation, let us further consider this with ourselves, that there is nothing else which is, indeed, fitting for our souls to cleave unto but God alone.
II. God’s carriage to him. “Thy right hand,” etc.
1. By the right hand of God, we are in one word to understand, His strengthening and confirming grace; which is called His right hand, in regard of the powerfulness of it, and dexterity for the preserving of His people. This is that which (as David here signifies) is extended and stretched forth to this purpose, as to himself, so to all other Christians, “who are kept by the power of God, through faith unto salvation” (1 Peter 1:5). This upholding of God’s right hand, thus explained, is often mentioned to us in Scripture (Psalms 138:7; Psalms 139:10; Song of Solomon 2:6). And many such places as these, all coming to this purpose, to show unto us God’s almighty power and grace in the supportment of His servants. This is seen, and does discover itself especially in two particulars.
(1) As to matter of sin, upholds me that I fall not into that.
(2) As to matter of affliction, upholds me that I sink not under that.
2. But why is the power of God in His stablishing and assisting grace expressed by the name of His “right hand,” here and in other places? We may conceive for three reasons especially.
(1) As it is a hand of strength, the right hand is such, it has more strength than the other hand has. And so is it with the grace of God. “The right hand of the Lord hath the pre-eminence,” as we find it twice there repeated (Psalms 118:15-16); hence, also, called a right hand of power in others (Matthew 26:64; and Mark 14:62), etc.
(2) As it is a hand of readiness, it is more expedite and ready to be used than the other is, and therefore we express all expediteness by a word taken from hence, which we call dexterity. So is God’s grace where it puts forth itself, it is very ready and expediting, and He Himself is ready presently to use it upon any occasion, for the good of His servants.
(3) As an hand of success. It is the right hand so, forasmuch as whatever it takes in hand prospers to it, and does infallibly obtain its effect. (T. Horton, D. D.)
The saint upheld by God’s right hand
I. The course of piety.
1. Begins in reconciliation.
2. Goes along the way of God’s commandments.
3. Ends in everlasting life, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
II. The upholding of the soul in following hard after God in the course of piety.
1. The dominion of grace in the soul is maintained. Upheld by almighty strength, it lives and reigns.
2. The dominion of grace in the soul is extended. Under this influence faith increases, hope expands, holiness brightens, and the cross becomes light and easy.
3. The purposes of the heart under the dominion of grace to follow hard after God in the course of piety are accomplished by His upholding the soul with His right hand.
III. The right hand with which David believed himself to be upheld.
1. His power. Upheld by this attribute which is omnipotent, no weight can crush, no calamity can overwhelm, and no enemy can break the purposes of the pious heart, and turn it off the way of God’s commandments. What can He not do? what will He not do? what is He not ready to do for those who are upright before Him, and keep the way of His testimonies?
2. His mercy. In the upholding of power, mercy shines; and in the upholding of mercy, power exerts itself gloriously. What upheld you when your foot slipped? was it not mercy? What kept you out of the gulf of despondency? was it not mercy? What succoured you in the hour of temptation? was it not mercy? What strengthened you under burthens and vexations? was it not mercy?
1. In the practice of unfeigned and lively piety there is reward.
2. Pious souls are upheld in their course.
3. Pious souls are sensible of their being upheld by the right hand of power and mercy.
4. Pious souls acknowledge their upholding by the right hand of the Lord to His praise (A. Shanks.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 63". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany